Saturday, May 12, 2007

Worse Than the Usual Bad News From Iraq

MORE THAN MORE OF THE SAME. Not that there is actually any good news from Iraq, but the bad news seems particularly bad today.

A PATROL GONE WRONG. There were two things that were disturbing about the attack on the patrol that killed 5 Americans and resulted in 3 captured. Most importantly, the attack was an indication that Sunni insurgents are able to launch larger-scale operations than they had in the past. Also, insurgents were able to accomplish their mission before the American troops could call for air support, a sign that their tactics are becoming even more sophisticated. Needless to say, neither of these things is a sign that the surge is having a negative effect on the Sunni insurgency.

A GENERAL CALL FOR HELP. It was also a bad sign that General Benjamin Mixon publicly claim that he needed more troops to fight insurgents in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. There is speculation that Secretary of Defense Gates has told generals like Mixon to speak their minds about insufficient troop levels because Gates himself is sceptical of the surge policy. I'm more than sceptical myself, but it's still deeply discouraging to think that Bush, Cheney, and their chickenhawk/weenie boy constituency at the American Enterprise Institute are still pushing a surge policy that doesn't have the respect of the people trying to carry it out.

TOO MUCH STRESS TO THE SYSTEM? Mixon also had choice words for the Iraqi government.

Mixon was withering in his criticism of the Iraqi government, saying it was hamstrung by bureaucracy and compromised by corruption and sectarian discord, making it unable to assist U.S. forces in Diyala.

Of course that's not much of a surprise to anyone who's been following news of the Iraq War with any closeness. However, Mixon's criticism does raise the possibility that the surge is more than Iraqi political and military institutions are capable of handling at the present time. It may be that an American withdrawal would draw down the civil war to a level that the Iraqi government could better handle.

A Few Positive Words About Hillary

I'm still at a very low level of bronchitis/flu hell. Here's something I posted at MyDD last night.
Congratulations to Morehead State grads.

Ultimately, I suspect that it is too early to comment on the chances of Clinton, Obama, or Edwards as presidential candidates. None of the top Democratic contenders has blown it yet, but they also haven't shown that they can pull out a tight primary with the adrenalin flowing, the negative ads flying, and GOTV operations in full swing.

So, maybe Chris Bowers at MyDD is hyperventilating over nothing in worrying about Hillary Clinton locking up the Democratic nomination.

But, it's not too early to say a few positive words about Hillary Clinton.

1. Hillary Clinton seems to be a genuinely popular candidate. Hillary gets no puffing from the mainstream media, little love from the Democratic establishment, and open hostility from the netroots. Yet, she remains a strong front-runner for the Democratic nomination despite facing strong opponents running smart campaigns.

2. Chris says that a Hillary victory "would feel like the complete triumph of the insider machine over the grassroots." Why? From my reading at Slate, the Democratic establishment isn't any more enthusiastic about a Hillary candidacy than the netroots. That's because they think she can't win, they don't want another eight years of Clinton drama, and they don't particularly like her or Bill anyway. The "insider machine" doesn't seem to have a horse in the nomination battle. They didnt' have one in 2004 either.

3. Hillary Clinton is "liked" by her supporters. According to the Gallup Poll Chris links, people who support Hillary like her experience, toughness, knowledge, and work as a Senator from New York. Perhaps these people should be recognized as "grass roots" as well. I disagree with Hillary about the war and her approach to the corporate sector, but I think her qualities of experience, knowledge, and determination will be very important for governing successfully from 2008-2016. It's going to be a tough, grueling eight years of cleaning up after the Bush administration. And all of that is while dealing with daily attacks from the right-wing media and a generally poisonous political environment. To me, Hillary is the candidate with the best chance of being successful in an extremely demanding political environment.

4. Hillary has an experienced and talented organization, but they haven't been tested yet in this campaign. So, I don't believe they have been a decisive factor to date.

5. Hillary seems to be overcoming the image of being "opportunistic." Perhaps that has to do with her refusal to apologize for her original Iraq War vote when it would have been easy to do so. Now she is being seen more often as a "moderate."

6. Hillary is running in a tough Democratic primary campaign against attractive opponents. If she wins as a front-runner, she'll deserve considerable credit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Will Cheney Hold America Accountable?

Sometimes, you do have to wonder whether the Bush administration is going to allow a transition in 2009.

As has already discussed on this site, heavyweight conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Thomas Sowell, and Harvey Mansfield have been musing lately about the benefits of military coups and one-man rule. The question of now allowing a Democrat to take office has not yet emerged, but right-wing intellectuals are starting to question the appropriateness of American democracy at this point in time.

Dick Cheney sounded like he was exploring the same kind of territory in a Fox interview today. Sounding like he had been rehearsing this for a while, Cheney stressed that "we didn’t get elected to be popular. We didn’t get elected just to worry about the fate of the Republican Party." It's not the Bush administration that has been tested and has failed, it's the American people who are being tested.

In this light, the Iraq is a "fundamental test of the character of the American people." What's most important here isn't that Cheney is telling 2/3rd's of the American public to fuck ourselves in the same way that he told Pat Leahy to "fuck yourself" or that he's telling the Republican Party to fuck themselves (which must have been reassuring to all those Republican moderates worrying about re-election).

Instead, what's most important are the implications of the American people failing this "fundamental test" of our character.

The test is coming up in 2008. The Republican candidate is going to be a war supporter and there's a very good chance that he will lose to a Democratic candidate who has pledged some sort of withdrawal. Is the Bush administration then going to find a way to find the American public "accountable" for our "poor choices?" Who knows at this point, but the thought gives the election a little added interest.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where Incompetence is King

There is a story on Fox about the Rove/Gonzales Justice Department investigating Michael Moore for violating the embargo on Cuba when he took chronically ill 9-11 first responders to Havana to receive health care.

Talk about the Alberto Gonzales of investigations. This investigation is so stupid it had to be approved by Gonzales himself.

Moore's latest film Sicko opens in Cannes next week. Moore couldn't have gotten more and better publicity for the new film than a federal investigation if he had an advertising budget of $500 mill. I bet the party at Moore's residence will still be going tomorrow at noon.

At the very least, Michael Moore should thank Alberto Gonzales by putting in a plug for the Bush administration at the end of the credits:

"The Bush Administration: Where Incompetence is King!"

Best Wishes to Tammy Faye Baker

It appears that Tammy Faye Bakker Messner of Praise the Lord and Jim Bakker fame is dying from cancer. There's a note on Fox that she's down to 65 pounds and is now refusing more chemotherapy.

I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina from 1976 to 1981 pretty close to the height of Jim and Tammy's Praise the Lord television show and ministry and visited the Heritage USA complex that brought Jim Bakker down when I was living in Charlotte.

With her heavy make-up and bubbly personality, Tammy Faye was easy to stereotype as a religious bimbo. However, I always found Tammy Faye to be sincere and kind of winning even though I'm an atheist. I was particularly moved by her testimony once that she converted to Christianity when she felt the "love of God" come over her. I thought that a sincere and affecting testimony even though I don't believe that there is a god to love her. Love is an important thing to be able to feel and Tammy Faye's testimony to the love she felt had an honest directness to it that I found moving.

Best wishes to Tammy Faye at this difficult time. I hope she pulls through.

Does Dale Jr. Need More Man-Love?

This from Lars' Anderson's article on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s decision to leave the DEI racing company owned by his step-mother Teresa Earnhardt.

[Dale] simply did not feel appreciated by Teresa. It doesn't matter if he is the most popular guy in NASCAR; he still wants to be appreciated by his boss. He wants an owner who is going to be there at the track each weekend, which Teresa hasn't been. He wants an owner to give him a big bear hug in Victory Lane like Rick Hendrick does to his drivers.

The world of heterosexual homoeroticism is an amazing thing. But it's evident from this quote that Lars Anderson believes that Dale Jr. needed a little more man-love in his life. Not being a man herself, Teresa Earnhardt just couldn't give that to him. But if Teresa really had appreciated Dale Jr., she might have HIRED a big strapping guy to give Dale Jr. a bear hug after his victories. There must be some sort of service for that in North Carolina. Maybe a little massage too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Limbaugh: Looking for the Racism Line

Here's Rush Limbaugh's "Barack the Magic Negro" performance from Crooks and Liars. A couple of comments.

THE RACISM LINE. Part of what Limbaugh is doing is trying to find the "racism line" in relation to the candidacy of Barack Obama.

On one side of the "racism line" is racism that can be interpreted as satire or humor--in other words as within the bounds of morality and political correctness. That's how Limbaugh and his followers hope "Barack the Magic Negro" will be interpreted. That's why they emphasize the "Sharpton rant" and the fact that the whole idea was taken from an LA Times op-ed rather than being their own expresion of racist sentiments.

On the other side is racism interpreted as being racist, vicious, bigoted, and otherwise immoral--the kind of racism that can make you a former media personality like Don Imus or Jimmy the Greek.

The problem for Limbaugh is that the line seems to be shifting in such a way that there is much less room for politically correct racism from the right-wing than there used to be. To me, this is a sign that the country is becoming less tolerant of the right rather than an indication of declining racism.

Still not good news for Limbaugh though.

THE GOP RACISM DEFICIT. Somewhat of a surprise here is that Republican candidates are having such a hard time defining a politics of race for the 2008 election. Rudy Giuliani is the only Republican candidate who's put out a racial narrative on how his ability to control blacks (and black crime) in NYC is evidence that he can control the terrorism from the (non-white) Arab world. But Giuliani is flagging and the other Republican candidates look like they're not going to pick up the banner of racial politics. In other words, Limbaugh is somewhat alone among major Republican figures in flying the banner of white racism.

LIMBAUGH'S WEENIE-BOY CIGAR. The Crooks and Liar picture of Limbaugh with a huge cigar in his mouth is vintage Limbaugh stuff. Only a super weenie-boy like Limbaugh would advertise himself sucking on such an obvious penis substitute. Guys like Limbaugh are hyper-masculine precisely in proportion to their inability actually to deal with women.

Iraq: The Pre-Game Show is Over

I seem to have the flu. So blog posts are going to be short, but infrequent.

But that doesn't mean that I wouldn't make a better vice-president than Dick Cheney.

Today, Cheney is telling Iraqi politicians that it's "game time" and that they have to come up with compromises concerning de-Baathification and oil rights in the next few months.

What's the last four years been: the pre-game show?

Back to slowly and painfully grading exams.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dems Bring Out The Short Leash

Daily Kos and CBS both report that House Democrats are getting ready to propose legislation to fund the Iraq War for only two months. The idea is to make the President come back for war funding again in July and September and was developed by John Murtha and David Obey.

In essense, what the Democrats are courting is a second veto of Iraq war funding from President Bush. Perhaps "seeking" is a better word. Murtha and Obey have to know that President Bush is likely to veto a two-month funding bill. That's especially the case with the kicker they're putting in that Congress has to decide in July whether they are going to fund another two months of the war or fund a withdrawal of American combat forces.

The President and the Republicans have been playing chicken with the Democrats ever since Democratic majorities took over the House and the Senate in January. They've been especially eager to paint the Democrats into the funding cut-off corner. But the Dems have responded to every Republican gesture by becoming more aggressive--by moving from non-binding resolutions to deadlines for withdrawal to the possibility of legislation mandating the withdrawal of combat forces. Even if the Obey/Murtha legislation is vetoed, the Democrats have introduced the powerful new idea of mandating withdrawal into political debate.

This is the right path for the Democrats to take. The main imperative for the Democrats is to take control of the war out of the hands of the Bush administration and then end direct participation by American combat forces.

Sending up another bill to be vetoed is another step toward ending the war altogether.

Kentucky Republicans Pledge to Ignorance

I heard on my local NPR station this morning that all three of the Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidates--Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Ann Northup, and Billy Harper--pledged in a debate last night to support the teaching of "intelligent design" in public school science classes.

The ironic thing about "intelligent design" theory is that it's fraudulent Christianity just as much as it's fraudulent science.

As religion, "intelligent design" is a fraud on the Bible and a fraud on the biblical ideas of God's role in shaping the world. There's good reason for that. "Intelligent design" ideas are shaped much more by the imperative to create a religious response to modern science than they are to the religious vision of Christianity. As a result, there's precious little Christianity in "intelligent design."

As science, "intelligent design" is a fraud on scientific method because it begins with pseudo-religious speculation rather than experimentation. To function as science, "intelligent design" advocates would have to design experiments that isolate the "hand of God" in the big bang, the formation of human eyes, and other manifestations of God's impact in the shaping of creation. If the Christian god did create the universe, this shouldn't be hard to do. After all, the evidence of God's work should be everywhere.

But I'm not holding my breath.

In endorsing "intelligent design," Republican gubernatorial candidates are pledging themselves to both religious and scientific ignorance.

Unfortunately, that's not a surprise.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sympathy for Paris Hilton

So Paris Hilton is going to jail. It sounds like a Stephen Foster blackface minstrel song to me--

Paris Hilton goes to jail, do da do da
Paris Hilton goes to jail, Oh do da day
Lock her up all night
Lock her up all day

Paris Hilton, she got nailed
Its exactly what I say

If I knew Paris Hilton in person, I probably wouldn't think that much of her. It doesn't sound like she has that much contact with her own affairs. As she said about her failure to read her mail, she has "people who do that." It sounds like she has "people" to do everything which doesn't sound much like living to me.

In thinking about Paris Hilton though, I'm not focused on Ms. Hilton herself. I'm thinking more about the low hum of national celebration for her upcoming 45 day incarceration. In reading the comments from the "experts" on MSM and Fox, I get the overwhelming sensation that "people" have been waiting for Ms. Hilton to fall like this for a long time.

Lights are out at eight,
Doing laundry every day,
Paris Hilton's going to jail,
To the slammer they say.

Where I have sympathy for Paris Hilton is that I believe her life is essentially a highly-paid rape trial. Just as defense lawyers bring out details of a woman's life to prove that she was "guilty" of her own rape, the paparazzi bring out the most mundale details of Ms. Hilton's clubs, dancing, clothes, boyfriends, and girlfriends to prove that she is guilty of "living like that." Every word Paris Hilton says to anybody and every word anybody says about Paris Hilton is recorded to further manifest her guilt.

I imagine that Paris Hilton's admitting guilt for drunk driving and violating probation was not that big of a deal for her. After all, her life is one extended series of guilty verdicts. Just for "living like that."

Why should the most recent guilty verdict make that much difference?

It's just that now people get to see Ms. Hilton pay for her life of crime.

And it's much too satisfying for us.

Bush: Creating New Liberals Every Second

BUSH'S NEW LOW. Last Friday, President Bush's approval rating was 28% in a Newsweek poll. It's hard to say what was driving Bush's numbers down. It may be gas prices. It may be the combination of bigger insurgent attacks and more American casualties in Iraq. Or it may be that the recent Democratic and Republican debates have focused attention on the President.

KILLING THE REPUBLICANS SOFTLY. Of course, it's probably all of the above. The Bush administration seems to have created a perfect storm of negativity for itself. And now, the negativity surrounding Bush is spilling over to Republican candidates for the presidency. The same Newsweek poll has Giuliani losing to all three of the major Democratic candidates--Hillary Clinton by 3, Obama by 7, and Edwards by 4. The Landslide Logic that RSI identified last December still applies. As President Bush becomes progressively more unpopular, he becomes a bigger drag on Republican presidential candidates. What makes it worse if you're a Republican is that Bush's popularity among Republicans makes it necessary for GOP candidates to pledge themselves to Bush and the war. Like President Bush, Republican candidates are getting caught in a perfect storm of negativity and their numbers will eventually start looking like his.

THE LIBERAL CREATION MACHINE. Daniel Gross has an observation about liberals in today's Slate.

"In my neck of the woods, the heartland of Bushenfreude, new bumper stickers have begun to appear on the Audis, Volvos, and Priuses driven by liberal-leaning financial-services professionals: "1.20.09."

When did "financial-services professionals" become so liberal that their bumper-stickers are displaying the date Bush leaves office? Of course, there are many factors in the drift of wealthy Northeasterners to the left--the right-to-life movement, creationism, the Terry Schiavo case, and the Republican war on science. However, the biggest thing is the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. It's creating a new wave of liberals out of the traditionally Republican constituency of wealthy Northern suburbanites.

Another much smaller constituency that's becoming more liberal is scientists. Scientists used to be a conservative group because of their discomfort with race politics, gender politics, and the "touchy-feely" dimension of liberalism. No more. Now that conservatives are waging war on evolutionary theory and climate science and the Republican Party has become the party of ignorance, scientists are starting to become more liberal.

TWO ROUTES TO LANDSLIDE. The Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement are depressing the Republican vote in two ways. The right wing has made themselves generally repugnant with their incompetence and corruption. At the same time, the right has been rapidly splitting off constituencies like northern suburbanites and professional scientists from their coalition. The result is that Bush's approval numbers are down in the 20's and the numbers of Republican presidential candidates are beginning to head in the same direction.

The ultimate destination is a Democratic landslide in 2008.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mitt Romney's Inner Bob Barker

The Republican debate reminded me of the old Sting lyric about politicians--"they all seemed like game show hosts to me." Actually not all of them. Just Mitt Romney. He's got the hair, the smile, the glibness, and the natural optimism of a guy who thinks everyone else is a sucker.

In fact, Romney should give up the presidential campaign right now and go to work as Bob Barker's replacement on "The Price is Right." Like Barker, Mitt could keep going with the show until he's in his 80's.

More important, Mitt would do much less harm than he would in politics.

Weenie-Boy Masculinity and the Right

WHAT'S UP WITH WEENIE BOYS? I think I'm going to start a series on "political weenie boys." There are forms of masculinity that are particular to the Bush administration and the right-wing and the best term I've come up to characterize this kind of masculinity is "weenie boy." I'm not entirely comfortable with the term "weenie boy" because it can imply that there is a masculine ideal and that deviation from that standard is an indication of deficiency. I don't believe that at all. Personally, I like the idea of a thousand masculinities blooming and all of them able to recognize women as equal selves and citizens.

However, we're a long way away from that in the United States and "weenie boy" is a good way to describe right-wing guys who articulate their politics in terms of heightened macho images. George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and the right-wing political theorist Harvey Mansfield all strike me as weenie boys and they've all contributed mightily to the toxic character of American politics.

As the U. S. makes the transition out of right-wing government, it's important to consider the weenie boy elements of right-wing politics both as a way to understand the Bush administration and the mentality of the conservative opposition to a future Democratic administration. As much as we might want to wish it were not the case, the weenie boy politics of the right-wing will continue to be a powerful force in American society for some time to come.

Might as well be prepared. As a result, this is my first effort to discuss what it means to be a weenie boy.

EXACTLY WHO IS A WEENIE BOY? That's a big question for the Bush administration and the right-wing. There are four key traits for weenie boys in politics.

1. The conventional masculine ideal. First and crucially, weenie boys fervently believe in conventional standards of masculinity. They look to the sports stars, Brad Pitt-type entertainers, rock stars, big men on campus, and "popular" guys as models of what they themselves want to be--athletic, good-looking, at ease with themselves and at ease with good-looking women, not having to kow tow to authority. In this sense, weenie boys identify conventional masculinity with an easy and natural success in high school and college and the logical projection of that success into business and marriage. The role models of conventional masculinity might not think that way about themselves. But that doesn't matter to the weenie boy mind. What does matter is the image.

2. Weenie-Boy Failure. The second characteristic of weenie boys is that they live in contradiction to their masculine faith because they do not conform to the conventional masculinity they admire. In the language of Harvey Mansfield, weenie boys are frustrated because they can't be "manly" and this is the way they experience it themselves. George W. Bush always had the basics of weenie-boyness because he admired the kind of physical domination exercised by sports stars while not having the size, coordination, or self-discipline to be a good athlete himself. The same was the case with Rush Limbaugh who worshipped athletes and entertainers but didn't seem to have the social skills needed to leave his room as a teenager.

Of course, not everyone who is not conventionally masculine is a "weenie boy." Lots of musicians, computer geeks, bookworms, gays, and other kinds of guys would not be "weenie boys" because they don't particularly buy into conventional masculine standards of physical strength, social self-assertion, dress, and the like. Sneering at athletes as idiots, the popular types as snobs, non-conventional guys don't feel the same tense contradictions that weenie boys feel.

3. Hyper-masculine Compensation. That's not all there is to weenie boys though. The third characteristic of weenie boys is that they adapt heightened or hyper-masculine images for themselves as a way to compensate for their lack of success at conventional masculinity. In their computer games, pornography consumption, sports fanaticism, or action/horror movie fetishes, weenie boys identify with a fantasy masculinity that is far more powerful, dominating, and violent than the conventional masculinity from which they're either excluded or marginal. Here, the right overlaps a great deal with mainstream popular culture which is also permeated with extremely heighted images of masculinity. Conservatives are often big fans of cowboy or action movies that pose outsized versions of masculinity. For example, the main examples of masculinity used by Harvey Mansfield in Manliness were John Wayne movies and Gary Cooper in High Noon. Apparently, reality wasn't masculine enough for him. For more current weenie boys, it's the heightened images of Rambo, Grand Theft Auto, pornography, and heavy metal that defines masculinity.

4. The Gift. To a certain extent, the whole world of computer gaming, horror flicks, and heavy metal music would have a dimension of weeniness to it. What makes someone a political weenie boy is a political gift that enables them to turn their imagery of heightened masculinity into political action. People on the left generally think of their opponents on the right as lesser beings because of the individual right-winger's bullying, dishonesty, rigidity, and delusions of grandeur. But it is important to recognize that Rush Limbaugh has a gift for creating impromptu right-wing dialogue, sticking it to the left, and promoting conservative delusions. As rigid, delusional, and self-aggrandizing as George Bush is, he had the political talent needed to project himself as a regular guy while promoting a right-wing agenda. From all accounts, Paul Wolfowitz was a tenacious and successful bureaucratic in-fighter as he promoted "regime change" in Iraq.

The ultimate triumph of the right-wing weenie boys though was making their own fantasies of out-sized masculinity into the dominant image of political manhood in the United States. This is what killed "big man on campus" types like Al Gore and John Kerry. Both Gore and Kerry were thorough embodiments of conventional masculinity. They were both popular, relatively secure guys who were ambitious, served in the military, and worked their way up the ladder. With the cooperation of the media, however, the right-wing weenie boys were able to trump the conventional masculinity of Gore and Kerry and make the "natural," "assumed" manliness of the Democrats look artificial, contrived, and effeminate.

In many ways, the success of George Bush and the invasion of Iraq represented the political triumph of toxic weeniness in American politics. If the Democrats and liberals want to prevent the re-emergence of weenie-boy politics after the Democratic landslide of 2008, we need to develop a more critical perspective on the weenie boys now.