Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sarah Palin: The White Oprah?

The conservative on-line magazine Newsmax has an item about Sarah Palin becoming "the White Oprah." Actually, it would be more accurate to refer to Palin as becoming the "white conservative Oprah."

Why not?

Everybody would win.

Sarah Palin would win because she's now too big for Alaska and needs a national stage.

Conservativism would win because they really need a cult figure who's more alive than Ronald Reagan.

And there would be nothing better for the left than having Sarah Palin on national television for an hour every day. My left-wing feet get very happy thinking about Palin's patter about the real meaning of Pentacostalism, God's plan for the Israelis and Palestinians, and why all those little embryos should be kept in cold storage rather than used for health research.

Personally, I can't wait to see Fox's launch of Sarah! She'd practically be a recruitment machine for the left.

Barbie Without Barbie Commercials

Should parents who support feminism ban Barbies from their households? Salon has an article on a discussion between two parents in separate households about how they gradually accepted Barbie for their daughters despite their initial desires to ban them.

On Friday, Babble hosted a parental "smackdown" over Barbie. In one corner: Jeanne Sagera, a parent who once had "feminist outrage" over Barbie but ultimately gave in and allowed her daughter to play with the infamous plastic female. In the other: Mike Adamick, who never wanted a Barbie in his house, but ultimately gave in and allowed his daughter to have one. Let's get ready to agree!

"Now I've seen the actual impact of Barbie up close and I'm not too worried" So, despite dubbing it a "smackdown," it wasn't so much a face off between warring parenting views as it was commiseration over giving in to the pull of plastic-perfect doll. Sagera writes that she was anti-Barbie until she witnessed her daughter's joy at receiving a mermaid Barbie. Then she rationalized that, though Barbie has "impossibly big boobs and and impossibly small waist," she is "hardly the only doll to be lacking in realism."

Barbies are a feminist problem because they're one of the leading representations of women in terms of the destructive appearance ideal of being very thin and having large breasts at the same time. Barbies can be harmful to girls because they encourage girls to believe that they need to look like Barbies and that they should consider plastic surgery and be perpetually worried about their weight in the effort to attain the Barbie ideal. There might be a problem with boys as well. Awareness of Barbies might also encourage little boys to believe that the only attractive girls are the ones who look like Barbies.

The RSI household is unique in that I teach feminist political thought and am aware of feminist issues while Mrs. RSI is fairly traditional in being loyal to women as a gender but not particularly interested in feminism. I think Mrs. RSI likes it that I have a feminist awareness, but it fairly cautious about it herself.

As our daughters started to reach "Barbie age," the Barbies came in because Mrs. RSI had no particular problem with them. I remember being reluctant but eventually giving in. Barbies are cheap if you just buy the doll and don't get committed to the various Barbie fantasies and all of the clothes and accessories that go with that. I have to admit that I'm fairly favorable toward anything that's cheap and a Barbie was a $7 birthday or Christmas present in an expensive world. So I started buying Barbies for the girls as well.

But Barbies weren't harmful in our house either. That's mostly because the girls had no context for adapting a Barbie ideal. The RSI household does not have television. So, they saw no Barbie commercials, no clothes commercials, no make-up commercials, and no hair commercials. Not being pervasively exposed to the "Barbie ideal" through the media, the girls did not associate the Barbie ideal with their Barbies. If I remember correctly, Miss Teen RSI was mostly interested in decapitating the Barbies and playing with them in the tub while Miss Tween RSI liked to line up all her dolls--Barbies and non-Barbies alike--and give them time outs. Miss Tween RSI got a lot of time-outs herself. I guess she wanted to share the wealth.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. It's hard to say at this point, but my guess would be that my daughters have adopted the Barbie ideal without associating it with Barbies. Miss Teen RSI is a slave to make-up and dresses in middling fashion and there's no reason to think that Miss Tween won't be. It's extremely difficult for girls to escape from fashion whether they get it from their Barbies or not.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Obama Landscape

One of the things that's hard to figure out is the layout of the American political landscape as the Obama administration takes shape.

Here's a hint: one question is what the Obama administration is going to do when the Republicans reject compromise on the economic stimulus package.

The first weeks of the Obama administration will be probably dominated by the efforts to pass a large-scale stimulus package to counter the effects of the deepening recession.

Obama laid out the general contours of the stimulus package again today. It will be worth close to $800 billion with about 60% new spending and 40% tax cuts and the new spending will be oriented toward education, health care, alternative energy, and infrastructure spending. Thus, the new spending is going to be a vehicle through which the Obama administration seeks to enact longstanding Democratic domestic policy priorities.

Although Obama proposed middle-class tax cuts during the campaign, the prominence of tax cuts in the mix is already seen as a compromise gesture toward Republicans.

But the Republicans are going to reject the compromise. The Republicans can accept the tax cuts, but they will reject the new government spending. Republican spokespeople already have their arguments lined up. The Republicans claim that large scale government spending didn't work during the Great Depression and it won't work now. They'll also claim that Obama is promoting "hysteria" about the economy and that the current recession doesn't require such drastic remedies. Finally, the Republicans are setting themselves up to argue that Congress isn't giving the stimulus package the detailed committee consideration that it needs.

But the bottom line is that any compromise with the Obama administration on government spending will be unacceptable to conservative activists. The hard right that would rather have a depression than more large-scale government spending. As a result, Mitch McConnell will refuse compromise and do everything in his power to scuttle the stimulus package.

So, the question is what will the Obama administration do when it becomes clear that the Republicans will be recalcitrant?

Will they totally cave and abandon the spending programs in favor of the massive tax cuts that the Republicans want? That's what the Democratic Congressional leadership did on Iraq war funding. They gave Bush everything he wanted without condition.

Or will they mostly cave and go for a token program of government "investments" in a package largely devoted to tax cuts? That's what the Democrats did on warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity legislation last year and Obama himself went along with it. The Democratic leadership got very little of what they wanted while mostly giving away the store on telecom immunity. Even the Republicans were surprised.

Or will Obama and the Democratic leadership call out the Republicans for refusing to do what's necessary in the face of a rapidly deteriorating economy and fight them?

This is what it's going to get down too. Barack Obama has a strong instinct for bipartisanship and compromise. The Republicans have just as strong an instinct for rejecting compromise.

Something will have to give.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What Is Harry Reid Good For?

Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake is not my favorite liberal blogger. Her blackface rendition of Joe Lieberman is still the most racist thing I've ever seen out of the left blogosphere.

But Hamsher might be spot-on about the clumsy way Democratic majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada has handled the Roland Burris fiasco in the Senate.

Basically, Hamsher argues that Reid tried to bluster his way through indicted Blago's nomination of Roland Burris to replace Barack Obama but had every one of his bluff called by Blagojevich, Burris, and the Republicans.

Here's part of Hamsher's post:

I want to play poker with Harry Reid. Really I do.
Rather than call for a special election in Illinois, Reid sends a letter to Blagojevich signed by everyone in the Democratic caucus asking him to step down. They assert that they will not seat anyone he appoints.


Blago wipes his ass with it and appoints Burris anyway.

Burris holds a press conference and announces he will be in D.C. on Tuesday to be sworn in with the rest of the Senate. Bobby Rush plays the race card. Reid does not see the handwriting on the wall.

He counters by calling Secretary of State Jesse White, who has already said he won't sign Burris's certification, and encourages him. What White is doing is most certainly outside his legal authority -- the Secretary of State doesn't have veto power. But Reid not only gives White a high five, he tells him they'll use this to keep Burris from being seated.

Then he smugly chortles about how he'll manipulate Senate procedure and punt to the Rules Committee, and assures everyone that they will drag things out for months if necessary until Blago is impeached and his successor appoints someone else. And he does it in the press.

Upon reading this, Cornyn announces that Franken won't have a signed certification either, and the GOP will use it to keep him from being seated,

And Hamsher keeps going in a funny and telling post. It's all true. It's all embarrassing for Reid and it might just be the beginning of many leadership failures for the Congressional Democrats.

But I'm also wondering if Reid's manuevering didn't have the effect of minimizing the damage.

The real danger of the nomination of Roland Burris was that it would infect Senate Democrats with with the taint of Blago's corruption from the beginning of this session of Congress.

But even if Reid eventually caves, that won't be the case.

Reid fought the nomination in the name of preventing Blagojevich from making a Senate appointment that Blagojevich has already been indicted in federal court for trying to sell. It was the right thing to do and Reid had to do it or it was going to look like "business as usual" in Washington.

True, Reid was ineffective in fighting the Burris nomination. True, Reid looked stupid. He looked like he was racially insensitive as well.

But in fighting the Burris nomination, Reid did manage to cut his losses in a no-win situation for the Senate Democrats.

And that's pretty much what Harry Reid is good for, acting with stubborn, hedgehog resolve to cut the losses for the Democrats when they can't really win.

It's not exactly visionary leadership, but it's the best Senate Democrats can do.

Lucky to be Good . . . or Great!

Having started reading the management guru book Good to Great, I'm getting the idea that luck is a big part of corporate success. CEO's of good companies, great companies, and not-so-great companies attribute their results to luck.

As a result, luck must have something to do with it.

Unsurprisingly, Collins disagrees. In the first couple of chapters, he attributes the success of "Good to Great" companies to the "Level 5 leadership" of "humble but determined" CEO's.

Hopefully, it'll get better.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A New Adventure

Fresh off our somewhat less than triumphant trip to Huntington, the RSI family is planning an expedition to the Obama inauguration.

Burdened by an evil head cold, RSI is rather grumpy about the idea.

The Brilliance of the Panetta Appointment

Barack Obama's nomination of Leon Panetta to head the CIA is an excellent move and should help Obama manage many of the problems of the CIA. Panetta was a 7-term Congressman from California who served as the head of the Office of Management and Budget and Chief of Staff during Bill Clinton's first term between 1993 and 1997. Since the 2000 election, Panetta' has been circulating as part of this country's policy elite. Panetta frequently appears on television to discuss politics, heads up his own public policy institute, and was a member of the Iraq Study Group.

Unlike Rudy Giuliani, it appears that Panetta actually went to the meetings.

Like all of Obama's legal and intelligence appointments, Panetta is "committed to breaking with some of the past practices" of warrantless wiretapping, torture, and rendition of suspects to be tortured in other countries.

But that's not the end of the story.

The CIA is not the same as the Department of Justice or the Office of Legal Counsel. John Yoo may have proposed the guidelines that allowed illegal practices like torture. Attorney General John Ashcroft may have signed off on those illegal practices and the "Principles Committee" of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and others may have approved the specific implementation of those practices.

But it was CIA personnel who implemented the illegal practices authorized by the upper levels of the Bush administration legal apparatus. CIA people did the interrogating, supervised the waterboarding, set up the stress positions, calibrated the sensory deprivation, and engaged in all the other practices that constituted torture. CIA personnel also supervised the extraordinary rendition (i.e., kidnapping and torture) program and kept in touch with the interrogation apparatus in countries like Egypt and Romania.

In other words, CIA personnel carried out the crimes against humanity authorized by their superiors. Many if not most of those people believed that what they were doing was productive, important, and morally right.

And they're still going to be working for the CIA.

So will all the operatives who disapproved of Bush administration practices and/or leaked about them to the media.

As a result, the Obama CIA will probably be divided between those who were unhappy with the approach and those who are unhappy about moving away from the Bush approach. And it will probably be a big mess. There will be lots of complaints to the mainstream media, bloggers, and friendly members of Congress. Back-biting will flourish, pseudo-scandals about "intelligence failures" will emerge, and morale will be low.

That's why Panetta is such a good appointment. Panetta's a hard-headed guy who knows what he's doing bureaucratically and represents himself well on television. He's as good a bet as anyone to be able to manuever through all the land mines that are going to come out of the CIA over the next four years. What makes Panetta such a great pick is not so much that he wants to get away from Bush legacy. Rather Panetta is capable of dealing successfully with all the problems involved in getting away from the Bush legacy.

Good call Mr. President-elect.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Let Coulter Be Coulter

CANCELING COULTER. It's been announced that Ann Coulter's appearance on Tuesday's Today Show to promote her new book was canceled. That's a bad idea. It was also a bad idea for Media Matters to launch a campaign against Coulter's television appearance. Keeping Coulter out of the public eye is bad political morality and bad politics. If anything, sensible people on the left should be trying to make Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh even more prominent than they are now.

Why is an embargo on Ann Coulter bad political morality?

One word: censorship.

Whether we on the left like it or not, Ann Coulter is a major figure in American society. She also makes her living primarily as a writer and promotes her books through media appearances and interviews. Coulter is best known for her television appearances, but she also gives interviews to talk radio and magazines and does speeches at universities and mega-churches. Preventing Coulter from making public appearances in venues that would otherwise welcome her is a form of censorship. As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, freedom of thought involves promoting ideas as well as publishing them. By seeking to prevent Coulter from appearing on Today, Media Matters was circumscribing her ability to promote her ideas, limiting the discussion of her ideas in the public realm, and thereby censoring her.

Given that censorship is bad political morality in any kind of free society, Media Matters is morally wrong in their effort to get NBC to cancel Coulter's appearance.

WORTH HER WEIGHT IN GOLD. It's also important to emphasize that keeping Coulter off the Today show is bad politics. In many ways, Ann Coulter is the most recognizable face of movement conservatism in the United States. Where conservative celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly all live in their own version of right-wing caves, Coulter is out in the world mesmerizing audiences with her daring defiance of contemporary political morality, i.e., "political correctness." Where Limbaugh et al., gingerly venture over the line into racism, homophobia, and misogyny, Coulter goes all in by arguing that women shouldn't have the right to vote, calling John Edwards and Al Gore explicatives for being gay, and calling African-Americans everything but the n-word.

This is why the left hardly has a better friend than Ann Coulter. Coulter is the telegenic face of conservative hatred of black people, gays, women, Hispanics, Jews, and women. Not that the non-white, non-male, and non-Christian population hasn't already gotten the message, but Coulter is a constant and especially prominent reminder that the Republican Party is the party of social bigotry in the United States.

In other words, Ann Coulter is worth her weight in gold to the left. If anything, Media Matters and Huffington Post should be booking more shows for Coulter rather than keeping her from appearing on already scheduled programs.

So, let Coulter be Coulter. It's the right thing to do and it's good liberal politics.

The Downside of Sainthood

It's widely acknowledged that Mrs. RSI is a saint, not least for tolerating all my blogging about her.

But sainthood has its downside.

Today, Mrs. RSI accepted an offer of part-time employment with the local school system . . . and promptly negotiated her pay rate down five dollars an hour.

Gotta Love Her.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Speed Bump in the Sit-Com Life

Mrs. RSI and I joined some friends for an evening in Huntington, WV on Saturday. We had dinner, shared some wine, and made some witty comments. I told an especially funny story about how I got a new package from UPS every day.

A gratifying and relaxing evening was had by all.

Well, not exactly.

Let's begin with Mrs. RSI. She had been struggling all week with mold at her mother's house in Florida and was looking forward to coming home on Saturday. But the first sign of pratfalls to come happened when connecting flight to Atlanta was delayed for a couple of hours in Sarasota.

It turned out that delay didn't matter. That's because because she was delayed for eight hours by fog and mechanical problems in the Atlanta airport. Finally, a weary Mrs. RSI was able to catch a flight for Charleston, WV rather than her initial destination of Lexington, KY.

And even the Atlanta delay had an element of luck. Mrs. RSI's Delta ticket said Sarasota to Atlanta to Lexington but the Delta computer had Sarasota to Atlanta to Memphis to Cincinnati to Lexington.

Given weather conditions and "mechanical difficulties," it might have taken her a week to make that trip.

Although Mrs. RSI's luggage did arrive at the Lexington Airport sometime around midnight.

My day was a lot simpler. Following up on Friday night's awful virus disaster, I spent seven hours on the phone with Microsoft and McAfee technicians where I battled their technicians to a standstill. It turned out that my almost complete ignorance of computers was well-matched with the impenetrable South Asian accents of the technicians.

Let's just say that progress was slow.

But I did get to have dinner with our friends in Huntington and thoroughly enjoyed our package discussion.

Then I had to drive to Charleston to pick up Mrs. RSI. Fortunately, I got lost three times going to the Chuck Yeager Airport in Charleston and got to the airport only one hour before Mrs. RSI's much delayed flight.

And then we had a lot of laughs driving to the hotel in Huntington and telling each other about all the disasters we had barely avoided.

Yes, the sit-com life.

Nothing better.

However, when we were getting ready to leave this morning, we saw that our car had been vandalized. Somebody pulled the front bumper away from the car and almost sliced totally through the bumper.

I think it will be covered by insurance but it's nasty stuff.

And, having hit one of the speed bumps in our sit-com way of living, we drove our battered car home.