Friday, October 01, 2004

Further thoughts on the debates, and blog-based reaction thereto:

Severest cognitive dissonance: the vacation president talking about how hard, how hard, how hard it truly is to do his hard, hard work.

Worst confusion: Bush wondering what "global test" Kerry was talking about for preemptive action. Kerry said what he meant: that the maintenance of future alliances, and, as someone once said, "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind", requires that you be able to offer a reasonable explanation for what you were doing afterwards. Was Bush just not listening? The Republicans seem to think that Dubya scored major points here: it might be worth asking them what they were.

Some thoughts on the debates, and blog-based reaction thereto:

Favorite blog-based fact check of Bush, in an incomplete and highly partisan survey of the blogsphere: Julian Sanchez on Hit and Run:

Bush (approximately): "He says we didn't have allies? What does he say to Tony Blair? What does he say to Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland?"

President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland: "They deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride."

Favorite blog-based fact check of Kerry, in the same spirit: Bill Peschel, in the comments to this post on The Truth Laid Bear:

So Kerry things [sic] the biggest security problem in the world is nuclear proliferation. Last I checked, terrorism is killing more people than nukes.

Favorite fact check within the debate itself: Kerry pointing out that "we were attacked" is a lousy reason to invade Iraq if they weren't the people who attacked us.

Final thought: Yes, Kerry seemed presidential, dignified, and demonstrated complete mastery of English grammar, even (mirabile dictu!) in sentences involving multiple subclauses, while Bush failed dismally in all three respects. And Kerry acknowledged that our current Iraq policy isn't working, while the only thing Dubya had to say in its defense was that if people would just stop questioning it, it would have to start working eventually. So, if you had to pick a winner, Kerry won in a walk.

But the thought I walked away with was "gee, is that the best we can do?" The format of the Lincoln/Douglas debates was an hour speech from one candidate, an hour and a half from the second, and then a half hour reply from the first to wrap up. In contrast, no one at last night's event got to speak for more than a couple of minutes at a stretch. Josh Marshall observes that "Bush didn't seem to have any really clear idea what his administration's North Korea policy even is." Well, he probably doesn't -- but even if he did, the format of these debates just doesn't give him the time he'd need to even explain, let alone to justify, a complicated diplomatic strategy.

Then again, since his support seems to rely on his own supporters not knowing what he stands for, perhaps that suits him just fine...

Thursday, September 30, 2004

So Martha Stewart's headed to prison, the chosen scapegoat for corporate governance scandals. Bernie Ebbers walks free, but then again, he was the well-connected head of WorldCom, not a somewhat annoying domestic diva from Connecticut. And his lies hurt millions of people; you have to have some respect for the grandeur of it all.

As to Martha, she'll be spending five months at a prison in Alderson, West Virginia -- she would have preferred prisons in Connecticut or Florida, but the Florida prison has hurricane damage, and prison officials say they didn't want New York paparazzi staking out the one in Connecticut. At least they know what to do with her:

Daniel Dunn, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman, said that once there, Ms. Stewart would be assigned to work seven and a half hours a day in prison programs that include food service, groundskeeping and sanitation.

By the time she's through with that place, they'll be ready to reopen it as a three star hotel.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

David Neiwert, in a new series of articles, is saying the f-word:

Certainly, one only needs review the current state of affairs to recognize that the "conservative movement" -- especially as embodied by the Bush administration -- has wandered far astray from its original values. Just how "conservative" is it, after all, to run up record budget deficits? To make the nation bleed jobs? To invade another nation under false pretenses? To run roughshod over states' rights? To impose a radical unilateralist approach to foreign policy? To undermine privacy rights and the constitutional balance of power? To quanitifably worsen the environment, while ignoring the realities of global warming? To grotesquely mishandle the defense of our national borders?

Mind you, it is not merely liberals who have observed this transformation. It includes a number of longtime conservatives who remain true to their principles as well.

The "conservative movement," in the course of this mutation, has become something entirely new, a fresh political entity quite unlike we've ever seen before in our history, but one that at the same time seems somehow familiar, as though we have seen something like it. ...

Call it Pseudo Fascism. Or, if you like, Fascism Lite. Happy-Face Fascism. Postmodern Fascism.

To justify the "fascism" part of the tag, Neiwert cites their dogmatism, the culture of fealty to the movement, their nationalism, their warlike policies, their attempts to demonize and silence the opposition, their contempt for legal norms, and their powerlust -- acting as if they had a decisive legislative mandate for their program despite the actual electoral returns, which give them at best a slim majority in a deeply divided country. On all of these, he's more eloquent than I am. But why "Pseudo"? Quoting Neiwert, he says of the movement:

-- Its agenda, under the guise of representing mainstream conservatism, is not openly revolutionary.

-- It is not yet a dictatorship.

-- It does not yet rely on physical violence and campaigns of gross intimidation to obtain power and suppress opposition.

-- American democracy has not yet reached the genuine stage of crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root.

At which point, I start wondering whether Neiwert is being shrill enough. These statements are less about what the conservative movement actually is than about how it chooses to present itself. To take the points in order:

  • The movement may not be openly revolutionary -- but that's because the element that actually advocates revolutionary change in society, the radical Christian right, is carefully kept off stage in public forums. Likewise, Ashcroft and co. give lip service to the notion of preserving Americans' constitutional rights, but the Republican Congress is now trying to legalize secondhand torture (by "extraordinary rendition" to countries that routinely practice it) for terrorist suspects. This from an administration whose Joint Terrorism Task Force has been conducting surveillance of Quaker anti-war activists. (Jeanne D'arc tartly observes that "even as we put on a show of punishing people for torture, the Republicans are writing it in to law"). They say they're not revolutionaries, but they also say that Democrats want to ban the Bible.

  • Likewise on the second point; Dubya's not a dictator, but he might still like to be; heck, he's been caught more than once saying so out loud.

  • Violence isn't routine among this crowd, but intimidation certainly is, in large ways and small. The freeperati brag about it. And they've had some big scores -- like recently taking advantage of CBS news's misstep with the Burkett memos, and using that to intimidate them into squelching a better researched and more damaging report on Dubya till after the election, at the earliest. And then there's theft and vandalism, as noted by Neiwert himself, which can have no other purpose. And it's not just amateur wingnuts either -- Dubya tries to keep anyone who is not a declared supporter away from his public appearances, and has the secret service arrest people who make it through the cordon and do so much as show a sign or wear a T-shirt indicating support for the Democrats.

  • Lastly, Neiwert observes that American democracy has not reached a stage of full-blown crisis. Which is true -- but it's a statement about American society, not the conservative movement. And the movement tries to create the impression of a crisis every chance they get. That's what "9/11 changed everything" means.

In the second piece of the series, Neiwert quotes a reader:

Classical fascism is dead, and has been for a long time, despite the fevered wishes of skinheads and American Nazi Party members. But *fascism* as an ideology remains: it's the Devil of the 20th Century, and its best trick was fooling people into thinking it doesn't exist anymore, or that it was defeated in 1945, or that they'd know it when they see it (propaganda is another boogeyman that people are confident that they recognize on sight, even though the best propaganda never gets seen for what it is).

As an example of the point of propaganda, I give you what happened when Atrios started listening hard to CNN:

I've noticed watching Wolf Blitzer over the past few days that the reality as presented by the Bush administration is the reality that he, and much of the rest of the TV news media, convey to the public. It isn't simply a disagreement over certain issues, it's the digestion and regurgitation of an entire alternative reality world which has been served up by the Bush administration and eagerly spit back out by those in the media. It isn't simply about successful framing of the issues, they've managed to provide an entire canvas, a brilliant oil painting of bullshit.

It's impossible for Democrats and other people who are actually living in this world and not the one which the Bush administration has erected around the CNN studios to break through this. It's one thing to challenge errors, or provide a different spin, or reframe an issue. It's another thing to have to tear down the very fabric of this alternate reality.

The Bushies love to mock people for "living in a September 10 world" (apparently not bothered by the fact that on September 10th it was they who were tragically living in that world), but they and much of the rest of our news media are living in a May 2nd 2003 world, where the mission has been accomplished, the "schools" are being rebuilt, electricity is being restored, and progress is being made.

In that world, there is no fascism in America. You don't see what people really are when you look at the masks they are wearing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Google's founders pledge that they will always abide by a simple and comprehensive ethics policy: "don't be evil." In fact, they do users of their services all sorts of favors. For instance, as their spokeswoman said Friday, "Google has decided that in order to create the best possible search experience for our mainland China users [our Chinese news service] will not include sites whose content is not accessible" because the sites themselves are blocked by the Chinese government's "Great Firewall". Because letting the Chinese see even a little of the news that their government is trying to deny them might just make them feel bad.

via Slashdot and p2pnet; note that the p2pnet article also suggests a possible chink in the Great Firewall for those in need.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Robert Moses, highway czar of New York City for decades, was a man ahead of his time. In his classic biography of the man, Robert Caro recounts one of the ways:

Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes ... was staggered when he learned confidentially that [Moses's] Triborough Authority was planning to condemn close to a square block of buildings ... evict their tenants and build a 2000-car parking garage [at an already bottlenecked bridgehead]. ... But at lunch with Triborough general manager Peter Reidy and [Jack] Straus [of Macy's] on another matter one day, the Traffic commissioner heard Reidy -- according to Barnes, under the influence of one too many -- mention to Straus "this garage that we're working on with you people."

Warned by a sharp glance from Straus, Reidy stopped talking, but Barnes had heard. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "They both squirmed around," he says, "and finally [Straus] said, 'Well, Bloomingdale's and Alexander's are up there. We feel we ought to have a branch up there, too.'" And then they revealed that atop the garage was to be built a seven-story department store which would be leased to Macy's. To his astonishment, Barnes realized that Moses was planning to use powers and funds of a public authority ... to condemn a score of buildings, evict the tenants, and turn it over, complete with Authority-financed parking facilities right in the store, to a private business.

Unfortunately, as I say, Moses was ahead of his time. Barnes was able to get the plan quashed with a single phone call to Mayor Wagner, who took about five minutes to withdraw his approval from the scheme after Barnes threatened to tip off the press. But that was then. And in 2004, with government efforts to clear inconvenient homeowners off the land from Connecticut and Ohio to Alabama -- for research labs, new condo development, and in one case, a shopping mall -- ongoing despite reports in the press, Dwight Meredith tells us that Moses's time would be just about now.

Meredith post via Avedon Carol; Caro passage from "The Power Broker", chapter 33, p. 742 of my edition.

Atrios lately has been wondering out loud whether Dubya isn't letting the American electoral timetable dictate our counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq. Well, why should that be different from anything else his administration does?

In recent weeks, federal agencies across the vast Washington bureaucracy have delayed completion of a range of proposed regulations from food safety and the environment to corporate governance and telecommunications policy until after Election Day, when regulatory action may be more politically palatable.

The delays come after heavy lobbying by industry organizations, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the cattle and feed industries, the four regional Bell operating telephone companies, big health care providers and timber and mining interests.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

And now -- art. The DeCordova Museum in Lincoln has a wonderful show just up of work by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, showing their pictures of Robert cast as "everyman" in an ill-fitting suit, coping as best he can with absolutely desolate hallucinatory dreamscapes, strewn with smokestacks, fields of light bulbs, and in one piece, a wickerwork radar dish. One picture shows him sewing up a rift in the earth, another pulling it back to adjust the gears of the machinery beneath; in yet another, he is trying to reattach a limb to a tree in a field of sawed-off stumps.

If this is the kind of thing you like, then you're already trying to figure out how to see it. It's at the DeCordova through January; the Toale gallery in Boston has a smaller show of ParkeHarrison work through mid-October, featuring some of the same pieces. Either is very worth your while.

By the way, not apropos of that or anything else, I have a few free gmail invites which I'm not sure what to do with. They're free to interested and reasonably friendly parties, while the supply lasts...

One of the traditional Jewish prayers for Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is an alphabetical confession of sin, using the Hebrew alphabet -- in effect, "we have committed every sin in the book from aleph to tav". Some prayerbooks translate the list not literally, but by an equivalent list in English, which has the congregation confessing to, among other things, xenophobia and excessive zeal.

In past years, my main thought on this was, "my, they were straining for an 'x'". This year, though, at a friend's break-the-fast party, I found myself talking to someone who was taking, in effect, the Little Green Footballs line on Islam -- that the radical Salafi teachings of the Saudi clergy, and of folks like the Taliban, who want to put women in shrouds and ban them from having any professional careers, are mainstream Islam, which has to be stamped out everywhere it appears. I replied that Indonesia -- a major Muslim country by any reasonable standard -- recently elected a female President (which is not a ceremonial post there), and that the best known advocates of what he was describing as "mainstream Islam" there are terrorist groups which are trying to overthrow the elected government. He didn't exactly concede, but he abandoned the argument.

In fact, it's eliminationism, not tolerance, that's new in the Muslim world -- the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides had a day job as Saladin's personal physician, and wrote in Arabic, at a time when the Jews of Europe were being slandered with blood libels, herded into ghettos, and subject to massacres and expulsions. But it has somehow become acceptable in America to tar all Muslims by their worst extremists, and to flatly defy the existence of the more moderate elements which still comprise the bulk of worldwide Islam -- and which we desperately need as allies to contain the lunatics. That's xenophobia writ large. It's a serious sin. And if we keep it up, we're going to pay for it.