Saturday, July 05, 2008

Time For Us To Go

Here's a Fox headline and sub-headline for a story on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:
Al-Maliki: Iraq Defeated Terrorism: Iraqi prime minister says recent crackdowns
against Sunni extremists and Shiite militias have lead to their defeat.
Doesn't that mean the U. S. can withdraw its troops before the 2008 elections. Given that the terrorists and the militias have been defeated, we should be able to withdraw with no threat of an al-Qaeda takeover, no threat of a genocidal bloodbath, and no threat of Iraq becoming part of the Iranian sphere of influence.

If President Bush really wants to help John McCain win, he would start withdrawing American troops now.

A Conservative Great?

Mark Levin's item about the death of Jesse Helms for the National Review Online is entitled "Death of a Conservative Great." That says a lot about the "conservative movement" and its roots in the defense of "traditions" like racial segregation, keeping women in the home, and forcing gays to remain in the closet.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Jesse Helms is Dead and the World's a Better Place

I just saw on that former Sen. Jesse Helms from North Carolina has died at the age of 86. Having lived in North Carolina for five years myself, I can honestly say that the world will be a better place without him.

One of the tragedies of human existence is that a hard-driving hater like Jesse Helms can be just as smart, talented, and ambitious as somebody like Martin Luther King. Everything Helms did in the name of racism, homophobia, male supremacy, and militarism was so destructive because he was extremely clever, competent, and hard-working.

Coming into prominence in 1972, four years after the death of Martin Luther King, Helms dedicated his whole political career to resisting and undoing everything that King tried to accomplish. That should be no surprise. Helms was involved in segregationist politics in his first work on the Senate campaign of Willis Smith in 1950, spoke out against Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement during the sixties, and led the opposition to the King holiday during the 1980's. He was also vociferous in his opposition to abortion rights and stigmatizing of gays and lesbians.

However, the most important fact to understand about Helms and his viciously reactionary politics is that he failed. African-Americans, women, and gay people have all dramatically improved their standing in American society despite the best efforts of Jesse Helms and the conservative movement.

Jesse Helms may have fanned the fires of hate, but he could not stop progress. He may have made the United States a worse place to live than it should have been, but he could not take the country back to the segregated world of the fifties that he preferred.

The final perversion of Jesse Helms' life was that he died on the Fourth of July. Too bad he didn't live to see Barack Obama elected president.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama and the Perils of Flip-Flopping

A TIME TO LEARN. Hopefully, Barack Obama is continuing to learn what it's like to be a Democratic presidential candidate. Certainly, there was a lot to learn today. At his first news conference today, Obama indicated that he might "refine" his Iraq policy upon conferring with the commanders on the ground. Obama didn't realize this, but that word "refine" would spark a media/blogosphere firestorm which would force him to call a second press conference to explain that he wasn't going to change his position on withdrawing the troops from Iraq. He still wants to withdraw American troops within sixteen months of taking office.

The main thing that Obama needs to learn is why there was a media firestorm over one little word like "refine."

THE TWO MAIN LESSONS. Obama claims not to read liberal blogs. He should really think twice about that. As any self-respecting liberal blogger would tell him, Lesson No. 1 is that the mainstream media is primarily a medium for conveying right-wing rumors and stereotyping of Democratic presidential candidates to the broader public. As Mark Halperin of Time once claimed, Matt Drudge (of the right-wing gossip site "The Drudge Report") rules their world. So do Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly.

Lesson No. 2 is that the right allows two options for Democratic presidential candidates. Either Democratic candidates are dangerous, leftist, nut jobs who hate god, raise taxes, and are out of touch with the mainstream or they are opportunistic flip-floppers who would do anything to get elected. If Democratic candidates are John Edwards types who stand for liberal or progressive principles, the right stigmatizes them as "out of touch." If they're Bill Clinton types who seek compromise, bridge-building, or common ground, the right views them as unprincipled flip-floppers, and also scorns them as "weak" and "spineless" for "caving" into the Republican agenda. It's a simple but effective formula. Whichever way a Democrat turns, the right has a stereotype for the occasion.

The links between the right-wing communication apparatus and the mainstream media is also pretty simple. First, the "out of touch nut job" and "opportunistic flip-flopper" stereotypes are conveyed as accusations by Republican spinners, conservative op-ed writers, and right-wing radio talkers and bloggers. For anyone interested in how the stigmatizing works, Sean Hannity is pretty close to being a stereotyping machine. The networks and cable then adopt the stereotypes as the main template from which they report information and "raise questions" about Democratic candidates. Most reporters and anchors might be registered Democrats but they function as an reliable funnel for right-wing views on Democratic presidential candidates. They tend to like conservative spin-masters like Karl Rove. They also like the hyped-up aggression and cynicism of the Republicans and have considerable disdain for Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? What happened to Barack Obama today was that the mainstream media was in Democrat as "opportunistic flip-flopper" mode because of Obama's flip-flop on the FISA bill. McCain surrogate Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas was already baiting Obama about his Iraq stance last week. Others were referring to Obama as weak and spineless. Owing to the strange alchemy of politics, last weeks's stereotypes became this week's expectations. According to Talking Points Memo, rumors were already circulating before Obama's press conference that he was going to change his stance on Iraq. By using the term "refine," Obama turned the "expectations" that he himself created with his FISA stance into the raging inferno of "breaking news."

THE CHOICE. My opinion is that Obama wants to have progressive principles and be open to negotiation, compromise, and seeking common ground with the Republicans. But I don't think he's going to be able to get away with that during the presidential campaign. He's going to have to choose his poison--either allow himself to be stereotyped as an "out of touch nut case" or as an "opportunistic flip flopper." During the Democratic primaries, Obama chose "progressive principles" and "out of touch" stereotypes and won. Maybe there's a lesson there.

Flowers Great/Beatles Annoying?

THE TIME OF THE SEASON. A couple of days ago, I drove to Lexington on Route 64 and was glad to see the periwinkle colors of corn flowers in bloom. The delicate-looking blue of the corn flowers contrasted sharply with the bright yellows of the black-eyed susans that were also plentiful in spots. Corn flowers not only have a fragile beauty, they're hardy little things as well. Roadsides look like tough environments, but corn flowers pop up all over the place.

I also saw a lot of rust-colored grasses. I don't know enough about plants to distinguish grass from wheat, but I swear that I saw some corn growing on the highway median as well.

CONFESSION TIME. I'm completing my third year of piano lessons and I have to confess that I find Beatles music to be pretty annoying to play on the piano. I didn't like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" at all and I'm not having a fun time with "From Me to You" either. It's like their early music had a tinny, rigid kind of sound that's sort of grating. I actually like playing "doo-wop" songs like "All You Have to Do is Dream" much better.

I know I'm a bad person.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Patriotism Left and Right

The Fourth of July holiday used to be about fireworks, parades, barbecues, apple pie, and visiting relatives you were glad you moved away from.

Now the Fourth is also about who loves America more . . . or less.

In USA Today, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg lays out a case that Barack Obama and people on the left aren't patriotic because they aren't happy with America "as it is."
"Definitions of patriotism proliferate, but in the American context patriotism must involve not only devotion to American texts (something that distinguishes our patriotism from European nationalism) but also an abiding belief in the inherent and enduring goodness of the American nation. We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is."
But there's a problem with Goldberg's definition. Practically nobody in the United States thinks that America is "good as it is" right now. Recent surveys of whether the United States is on the right track indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans are dissatisfied. The numbers range from 76% of people polled by Newsweek answering that the country is "seriously off on the wrong track" to 84% of those polled by Gallup claiming that they are "dissatisfied" with the way things are going. Others are undecided. None of the current polls have more than 17% of the population as being satisfied with the current state of affairs.

According to Goldberg, that would mean that no more than 17% of the population is patriotic.

Contrary to Goldberg, I view conservatives as more dissatisfied with the current direction of the United States than liberals. Of course, there are things that liberals are unhappy about and want to change, including the war in Iraq, global warming, racism, exorbitant corporate salaries, high poverty rates, homophobia, and misogyny.

But there are many things that liberals of all stripes are fairly happy about these days. The Obama and Clinton campaigns are both strong indications of progress on the racial and gender fronts. Likewise, there's a relatively high level of personal freedom in the United States. That includes freedom of expression in various media, sexual freedom, access to contraception, abortion rights,. the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians as full citizens, freedom of religion, and freedom to reject religion. People in the "liberal coalition" are highly aware of various kinds of oppression in American society but can realistically view the United States as a relatively progressive society despite all the resistance and backsliding on social progress.

In his patriotism speech, Barack Obama viewed the ability of the United States to make continual progress in relation to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence as the cornerstone of American greatness.

". . . Patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America's ideals - ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion . . . I learned that what makes America great has never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better. I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief."

To the contrary, conservatives all over the country view the United States as in a state of terminal decline and decadence. The right-wing identifies abortion with murder, sexual freedom, liberal divorce policies, and popular culture with decadence, and secular liberals as the heirs of fascism. Conservatives are extremely suspicious of "global cities" like Miami, New York, and LA, treat the East and West coasts as foreign countries, and are even starting to view the suburbs around the cities as beyond redemption.

Conservatives identify "America" with rural life, evangelical religion, "traditional values" about sex, and traditional suspicions of African-Americans, gays, "women's libbers," labor unions, and others who were dissatisfied with social hierarchy. But they also see that America as dying out and being replaced by a multi-cultural nation that they don't view as their own.

Conservative media figures are forthright in their disgust over the current state of American life. Conservative jurist Robert Bork expressed that dissatisfaction in the title of Slouching Toward Gomorrah. More currently, popular right-wing radio talker Michael Savage cries into his mike about American decline for almost three hours a day, five days a week. Just last year, Thomas Sowell was so unhappy about American "decadence" that he started musing about a military coup as the only way to put the country back on the right track. Expect right-wing unhappiness with the U. S. to intensify if Obama is elected and withdraws the American military from Iraq.

Of course, conservatives can still stir up some positive passion for "traditional institutions" like the military and police. They also have a strong identification with the American flag. But what conservatives identify with the flag is a traditional world that no longer exists. In the South, an uncomfortably sizable minority of white people display the Confederate flag to emphasize their identification with a particularly noxious version of the American past.

It's somewhat of an irony, but when you see a conservative person handling an American flag, that person might be raising, lowering, and folding the only part of American life that he respects or cares about.

That's how narrow conservative patriotism is starting to become.

Bush Takeover of the McCain Campaign

John McCain rearranged the deck chairs on his presidential campaign today. Evidently unhappy with a string of gaffes and poorly staged events, McCain handed over the keys to his campaign to Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt and Schmidt responded first by giving a "Rudy" style inspirational speech to the McCain campaign staff.

Color me cynical, but I bet they were not overly impressed by that. Professional athletes are known to be unimpressed with inspirational talks. The same is probably the case with professional political operatives.

My guess is that the changes in McCain's campaign aren't going to accomplish much. Rick Davis, the guy that McCain removed from day to day control of the campaign was the last of the real "McCain guys." Rick Davis, John Weaver, and Mike Murphy were the guys who were with McCain from the first days of the "Straight-Talk Express" in 1999 and were instrumental in helping McCain shape his "maverick" image. These guys didn't get along with each other at all and weren't very good at organizing a national campaign, managing finances, or overseeing the daily battle over the news cycle. But they knew John McCain, were loyal to John McCain over everything, and their style was McCain's style.

Now that Davis has been kicked upstairs to "long-range planning," the McCain guys are out of the McCain campaign and the "Bush people" are in charge. Steve Schmidt earned his spurs as a communication aid for Bush-Cheney 2004 before moving on to Arnold Schwarzennegger's 2006 re-election bid. Other veterans of the Bush/Rove team include Nicolle Wallace, Greg Jenkins, Mike Duhaime, Taylor Griffin, and Matt McDonald.

The expectation is that the Bush/Rove people will be more disciplined and aggressive. Rove campaigns focus on driving the daily message, orchestrating smear campaigns, and micro-targeting potential supporters. But it's difficult to see this working with McCain's campaign. How is McCain going to settle on a single overarching theme when his positions are so consistently inconsistent? McCain wants to address climate change and override environmental protections, support campaign finance reform and violate campaign finance laws, clean up politics and rely on lobbyists to run his campaign, and represent a clear break from the Bush administration and support the war in Iraq, more corporate tax cuts, and torture. Boiling all those contradictions and more into an overriding theme will require more genius than the Rove people might be capable of.

Likewise, the Bush people now running McCain's campaign can be expected to get a lot tougher with Obama. That means launching smear campaigns like the Swift Boat ad of 2004. But swiftboating Obama is dangerous because he's African-American and Republicans are broadly seen as unethical and racist. Derogatory racial comments would damage McCain more than they would damage Obama. The same also seems to be the case for Willie Horton-style racial stereotyping. Karl Rove and the right-wing blogs have been experimenting with racial innuendo for months (here and here) but haven't hit on anything that would make Obama look bad without opening the Republicans up to accusations of racism. Plausible deniability is the name of the race-baiting game and nobody on the right has figured a way to cast aspersions on Obama as an African-American without being stigmatized themselves as racists.

It looks like 2008 is a tough year for smear artists.

There's also the candidate. Most of the dumb moves and gaffes coming out of the McCain campaign have been committed by John McCain himself. John McCain, not Rick Davis, has been referring to Putin as the President of Germany, mixing up the al-Qaeda and Iran, and committing similar blunders. Now McCain's in Columbia chasing the chimera of illustrating how Obama would be the first "protectionist president since Hoover." Talk about a waste of time and resources. The Bush people in McCain's campaign might be thinking that John McCain can become as disciplined and on-message as George Bush or Ronald Reagan. But efforts to discipline McCain might backfire and cause the candidate to be alienated from his own campaign.

In the final analysis, John McCain's main problem is "the man in the mirror." I doubt that the Bush people now running his campaign have a cure for that.

Rare Good News for Clippers

As a fan of perennially struggling teams like the LA Clippers, Atlanta Falcons, and Pittsburgh Pirates, I'm glad to see reports that the Clippers are on the verge of signing point guard Baron Davis away from the Warriors.

They could use the good news.

It also gives the Clippers a decent team of Baron Davis at point, Elton Brand and Joe Thornton at forward, Chris Kaman playing center, and some combination of recently drafted Eric Gordon and Cuttino Mobley at shooting guard. Last year's leading scorer, Corey Maggette, might also re-sign.

That's not murderers row but it's a team that would compete for a playoff spot in a tough Western conference.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Anne Boleyn's Biting Cat

NOT REALLY. This was the best title I could come up with as I was watching the truly wretched movie "The Other Boleyn Girl." I don't know who was the most miscast--Eric Bana as Henry VIII, Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, or Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn. But I really felt sorry for Kristin Scott Thomas as the Boleyn girls' shrewish mother.

Onto the Cat. Lawyers, Guns, and Money has a "Friday Cat Blogging" feature. But I'm not in such a generous frame of mind toward domestic felines. Yesterday, the RSI family experienced an all-too-typical comedy of errors with a cat that our daughter was pet-sitting and ended up with Mrs. RSI getting a nasty injury.

First, I got a call from Miss Teen RSI about the cat being injured. Using all of my "veterinary expertise," I then determined that the cat had three puncture wounds (from another cat) and needed to go to the vet. Lucky for me, the cat didn't bite me as I was loading it into the pet carrier.

Mrs. RSI wasn't so lucky. It turned out that I couldn't take the injured cat to the vet. I was so allergic to the dear little thing that I had to hand him off to Mrs. RSI after a mere mile of driving.

Mrs. RSI completed the journey, but she ended up being bitten three times on her fingers as she was helping the vet's assistant. Mrs. RSI sought medical attention after her little fingers began to swell. Those little fingers kept swelling after Mrs. RSI started first on anti-biotics, then on pain medicine. Finally, Mrs. RSI went to the emergency room at 10:30pm where they subscribed yet another anti-biotic.

The Movie is truly wretched. The Other Boleyn was a semi-trashy historical novel but it had some bounce to it. That's not the case with the movie which has about as much bounce as a pillow that's been thrown. A lot of the actors look like they're in pain.

Then, there was the unconvincing rape scene.

Back to the Cat Again. Mrs. RSI's finger kept swelling and getting more painful overnight. So, there were more visits to medical personnel and a couple more trips to the pharmacy. Before the swelling began to abate, it looked like she was going to be admitted to the hospital so the anti-biotics could be administered by IV.

Oops. Jane Seymour just made her first appearance. Henry doesn't love her. The pressure's on. She's going to have sex with her gay brother. I think Anne might lose her head over this.

Tomorrow, Mrs. RSI goes to yet another doctor. It turns out that fingers are delicate things even if cats aren't.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Attacking McCain's War Record?

As a person of the left, I'm not going to pretend to be neutral here. I'm supporting Obama and I believe the Democrats should criticize McCain and go after him hard.

But I also have to admit that people on the left have never been very good at the fine art of mixing personal and political criticism.

During the 2000 election campaign, there was a drumbeat of liberal sneering about George W. Bush being "stupid." All that sneering did was make liberals look like snobs while ignoring Bush's long history as a party animal and the fact that he had driven two businesses into the ground. Bush isn't stupid, but he's always been immature, reckless, and lazy. The left should have done a better job of bringing that into focus.

Now, there are some on the left who are attacking John McCain's war record. Wesley Clark does raise a valid point that serving as a fighter pilot doesn't qualifiy anybody to be president. But the good folks at are also reminding people that McCain cracked under torture and made a propoganda video. According to the Politico, others are suggesting that McCain "must have killed civilians" during his 23 sorties over North Vietnam.
"I wouldn't characterize anybody who fought in Vietnam as a war hero," said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the theatrical anti-war group Code Pink. "In 23 bombing sorties, there must have been civilians that were killed and there's no heroism to that."
"Must have?" Ms. Benjamin is implying that McCain killed civilians (and is thus a kind of war criminal) without any evidence. Talk about stupid! And ineffective. If people actually want to hear those kinds of smears, they'll dial up Karl Rove or Grover Norquist instead of a Democrat.

What progressive activists and liberal bloggers need to do is to be tough with McCain in a way that raises doubts McCain's ability to govern effectively.

Let me give a couple of illustrations of how John McCain could be effectively attacked.

McCain proposes to lower taxes on corporations like Cindy McCain's $100 million beer distribution business. Given that Cindy McCain already owns seven houses, it's more than fair to point out that she doesn't really need another tax break. Lowering corporate taxes is an incredibly bad idea and John McCain's personal affairs can be used legitimately to illustrate the point.

McCain also advertises his ability to work "across the aisle." However, McCain actually does very poorly at working the Republican side of the aisle and a number of his colleagues think of McCain as a preening narcissist who blows his top if his doesn't get his way. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is one of the more emphatic Republian critics: "The thought of [McCain's] being president sends a cold chill down my spine . . . He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

How does John McCain propose to govern as president if he can't any support from his fellow Republicans? If his proposals get filibustered by Senate Republicans?

These are the kinds of tough questions that need to be asked about John McCain. But people on the left need to start being as smart as we think we are.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bad News for Miley

Miss Tween RSI, age 11, has totally sworn off Hannah Montana--says that Miley Cyrus is getting to be too much like Britney Spears.

Now she is watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

That's bad news for the Hannah franchise. Britney too I guess.