Because sometimes, there's just nothing more to say

From the AP:

J-Lo, Affleck dominate worst-film awards

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By David Germain

Feb. 28, 2004 | LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The honeymoon's over for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, but their mob-comedy flop "Gigli" really cleaned up Saturday at the Razzies, the first movie to take all six top trophies in the annual dishonorable-mention awards.

Golden Raspberry Awards voters picked "Gigli" as 2003's worst picture, Affleck as worst actor, Lopez as worst actress and the two as worst screen couple. "Gigli" filmmaker Martin Brest also took the Razzies for worst director and screenplay.

"Gigli" hit theaters last summer amid the tabloid frenzy over Affleck and Lopez's on-again, off-again wedding plans. They finally announced in January the romance was off.

The movie, which starred Affleck as a thug smitten by Lopez as a lesbian crime colleague, fell short of the record seven Razzies won by "Showgirls" and "Battlefield Earth."

"But those are much better bad movies, if that makes any sense," said Razzies founder John Wilson. "If you sit through them with the right people or the right brand of liquor, they can be strangely entertaining.

"But I don't care how medicated you are or what people you're watching it with, `Gigli' is just a pain in the posterior. It's one of those things that is, as opposed to enjoyably embarrassing, it's just skin-crawlingly embarrassing."

"Gigli" cost $54 million to make but earned back just $6 million.

Among other "winners," Sylvester Stallone padded his Razzie resume with a record 10th prize, this time for worst supporting actor in "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over." Stallone's past Razzies include one for worst actor of the 20th century.

With the 25th annual Razzies coming up next year, the group is considering a special career-achievement prize for Stallone, Wilson said.

In "Spy Kids 3-D," "he plays five characters, so technically the whole supporting-actor category could have been made up of his performances," Wilson said.

Demi Moore took the supporting-actress Razzie for her comeback role in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," which also was named worst remake or sequel.

"She tried to come back, and we said, `No, thanks. We chased you away before. Go away again,"' Wilson said.

The storybook adaptation "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat" won the Razzie for worst excuse for a movie.

Another top nominee, "From Justin to Kelly," was shut out in the awards balloting by the roughly 600 Razzie voters.

The group decided to give the movie -- a spring-break romp featuring "American Idol" stars Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini -- a special "governor's award" for distinguished underachievement in choreography.

Am I the only person who finds the Razzies far more entertaining than the Oscars? Someone on Kos earlier today suggested that Billy Crystal should come out carrying the microphone stand over his shoulder like it's a cross while he's being beaten by actors dressed as centurions. Call the CBS person who pretends to worry about scandalous behavior!!!!! That would be worth tuning in for.

Sign the petition

Even if the idea of same-sex marriage makes you a little uncomfortable, you should still sign this petition. The US Constitution is no place to enshrine bigotry or to validate discrimination.

Who's Sauron--bin Laden or Bush?

That's the title of an interesting article available at you're not a member, you should be, and if you don't want to pony up the cash, sit through the commercial to get a day pass.

Let me get one point out in front of this discussion. My literary training is heavily influenced by a group known as the New Critics. They basically argued that a critic should look at the

text as an autotelic artifact, something complete with in itself, written for its own sake, unified in its form and not dependent on its relation to the author's life or intent, history, or anything else.
And that's pretty much where I come down on the issue as well. Attempting to deduce an author's intent is a dodgy proposition even when you've got the author hooked up to a polygraph and are willing to apply electric shocks to sensitive areas of his or her bodies if you don't like the answers they give. But I digress.

That doesn't stop people from trying to argue that important pieces of literature (or even unimportant ones) are allegories or moral warnings to society both at the time they were written or today.

And so the argument about The Lord of the Rings.

Over the years, the series has been dismissed "as hippie-dippie pablum, an incense-scented ur-text of the New Age movement." But recently, religious conservatives have been making claims on it as an object lesson of sorts, a quasi-prophetic tale of the clash between western (read "christian") civilization and, as the article puts it, the "evil [that] lives due east and has a really bad complexion."

Not I must admit that I haven't read these books in around 18-20 years, and I'm only 35, so my recollection of them is a bit hazy, but I do know that when I was reading them as a teenager, I was more taken in by the language and the adventurous nature of the story than I was thinking about the clash of technology versus nature. I wasn't making political connections, looking for American versions of Galdalf and Frodo, or (at the time) Soviet Saurons and Sarumans.

But oh, how times have changed.
Though Tolkien himself considered "The Lord of the Rings" a Christian (and specifically Catholic) work, he took pains to keep overt religious elements well below the surface. Only by digging through the voluminous appendices at the back of "The Return of the King" does one learn that the Fellowship of the Ring's departure from Rivendell -- the beginning of the mission to save all of creation from unredeemed evil -- comes on Dec. 25, while the timing of other plot developments roughly corresponds to the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the harrowing of Hell. Meanwhile, the pre-Christian ingredients of Middle-earth -- the Elder Edda, "Beowulf," the Icelandic sagas, the Finnish "Kalevala" -- are fairly obvious, as is the affection with which the author uses them. Tolkien's soul was in the Lord's keeping, but his heart -- like that of his friend, C.S. Lewis -- quickened to a pagan drumbeat....

Christian analysis now appears to be the dominant mode of writing about "The Lord of the Rings," and enthusiasts are ready to argue everything from the Eucharistic nature of lembas bread to the influence of Catholic liturgy on Tolkien's style. (Joseph Pearce's "Tolkien: A Celebration," offers a good sampling.) Last summer, Christianity Today devoted an entire issue to Tolkien, and a scan of scholarly literature shows plenty of academics arguing for Tolkien's place alongside overtly religious writers like Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton.

So it seems everyone wants a chunk of Tolkien now, well, except for the really crazy christians who want to burn everything that even mentions magic. But culture warriors might want to be careful about jumping too heavily on the bandwagon, especially as regards this little situation we've got going on in Iraq. The analogy of Gondor and the noble humans (the ineptly named coalition forces) racing to fight Sauron's evil army (Saddam Hussein) only makes sense if there are old fuzzy pictures of Gandalf shaking hands with Sauron from 20 years ago and then when the armies of Man get to Mordor, the gates are hanging by one hinge and the orcs are hauling ass for cover.

Steven Hart, who wrote this article, though makes one last delicious point about the differences between Tolkien's conservatism (which featured a distrust of power) and the current "conservatives".
Contemporary conservatives, by contrast, are very much enamored of power -- indeed, it is hard to imagine any other way to define them. Certainly none of the qualities that used to typify conservatives -- fiscal prudence, limits on spending and checks against the spread of government power -- can be found in the Republican-run halls of power. All of which should make Gollum, the river-dwelling hobbit who becomes entranced by the Ring of Power and pays for it with his soul, an ominous metaphor. He never hesitates to exploit a wedge issue, be it Frodo's trust of Sam or the distribution of lembas bread, and is savage in combat until defeated, at which point he whines endlessly about how unfair it all is.

How is Agnes like George W. Bush?

See for yourself:

His bullhorn is going to be valued at around $200 million, and will be just about as devoid of content.

Speaking of jury duty

So I got my service deferred today, mainly because the case I might have been a juror on was a 3-4 week affair and I'm ditching San Francisco soon for south Florida to see my girlfriend during Stanford's spring break. Not that I'd have been on the jury anyway--it was a mesothelioma lawsuit and the defense certainly wouldn't want someone as, ummmm, cavalier toward the rights of corporations to make hazardous materials as I am to sit in judgment. But I couldn't take the chance that I'd wind up on the jury and out of Florida, and so I am to return in just over a month to take another shot.

But on a far more serious note, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas death sentence yesterday. They gave it the double whammy, finding 7-2

that prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of Delma Banks Jr. by withholding information that his defense lawyers could have used to discredit a key prosecution witness during his 1980 sentencing hearing.

By a vote of 9 to 0, the court also ruled that Banks should be allowed to appeal his murder conviction because prosecutors may have improperly withheld information during the phase of the trial in which jurors found him guilty of killing 16-year-old Richard Whitehead -- a crime he denies committing. Banks is black; Whitehead was white, as were all 12 jurors.

Now before ripping into now-President-formerly-Governor-of-the-Sovereign-State-of-Texas Bush, as I would otherwise be tempted to do, the article does say that he had no role in the case. Just wanted to clear that up, because I'm not one to take cheap shots unless they're accurate cheap shots.

But there are two sets folks who do deserve a sharp kick to the groin over this matter--the Texas prosecutors who knowingly allowed false testimony by two of their witnesses to go unchallenged, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which has now had 2 Texas death penalty cases sent back by the Supreme Court--a court, I might remind you, hasn't exactly been chomping at the bit to stop executions.

Note to the 5th Circuit--if this Supreme Court has reversed you on two death penalty cases in two years, you might want to tighten up your act a little. I know it's easy to get distracted in The City that Care Forgot, but these are real people you're allowing to be sentenced to death. The least you could do is put down the Hurricane for a minute and notice the irregularities. Just a thought.

Oh, and just to keep the google-bombing fun and alive, I'd like to wish Senator Rick Santorum a happy same-sex wedding/belated Mardi Gras boob-flashing/general bacchanalia kind of day.

I have jury duty today, so I won't be posting at any length until later. I'll let everyone know how it went when I get back. Wish me luck.

It ain't Nader

The blogosphere and the media whores have all been atwitter over Ralph Nader's decision to run for President again, this time as an independent. Democrats are outraged, calling him every name in the book. Republicans seem to be somewhere between joyful and bemused, but I think they realize that Nader's run this time will be no reprise of 2000, and are just putting as hopeful a spin on it as they can.

But folks, Nader's not the problem, and never has been.

Nader has never cost the Democratic party a single seat in Congress. Nader has never cost the Democratic party a single statehouse. Nader has never appointed a Supreme Court Justice, or any judge for that matter. Even if we assume that Nader did cost the Democratic party the White House in 2000, he didn't cost us the Senate in 2002, and certainly didn't cause us to repeatedly lose seats in the House.

We did it to ourselves.

The Democratic party leadership has to take part of the blame, certainly. The congressional leadership's decision to take Iraq off the table prior to the 2002 elections was a disastrous one, and their deference to the current President over the last 3 years has done huge damage, not just to the party, but to the nation as a whole. About the only thing they've done that's been worth a damn has been to stop a handful of judges from being confirmed, and two of those have been seated anyway thanks to recess appointments.

Nader didn't have anything to do with any of that.

So leave him alone. For the record, I don't like the guy. I think he's a legend in his own mind who once, long ago, was a pretty good consumer advocate. And I think he's an easy scapegoat.

Problem with scapegoats is that once you find one, you stop looking for the source of the shitpile you found yourself in to begin with.

The Democratic party is in a shitpile of its own making. We've run sorry campaigns. We've gotten away from our core values--values, I might remind you, that gave us dominance--not just majorities, dominance--in the Congress in years past. We went corporate, and forgot that the Democratic party was the party of the working people, and that the Republican party was the party of the fatcats. And worst of all, we tried to be just like Clinton.

Folks, Clinton was an anomaly. He was a master of seduction. Sid Blumenthal recounts in The Clinton Wars how Clinton seduced Newt Gingrich into bi-partisanship more than once--Gingrich! Clinton was the consummate politician, and all you have to do to realize just how unique he was is look at the lack of success of those who have tried to emulate him. Al Gore. Joe Lieberman. Tony Blair. The list could go on and on.

There's not going to be another Clinton anytime soon from the look of things, and honestly, I don't want another one. I want the Democratic party to return to its roots. I want it to protect unions again. I want it to rein in corporate America again. I want it to protect those who need protection the most. But most importantly, I want it to be progressive again, taking the fight to the Republican party on issues that affect the rights of all citizens and looking out for all of us, and not just a priviliged few. The American people agree with the Democrats on the issues--poll after poll shows this--and yet the party has sold out again and again and again, and we won't be a strong party again until we recognize what our problem is and what we have to do to solve it.

The Democratic party has problems, folks, but Ralph Nader ain't one of them.

My sweetie on the Dean Blog

My girlfriend has discovered this knack for getting attention from political types. She's had a letter read on air by Lou Dobbs (image below).

And this time, she's today's guest blogger for the Dean blog. Check out her story. Here's an excerpt.

I still remember the first time I saw Howard Dean: it was at one of the small, hardly watched debates on c-span last summer. He stood up and talked like a normal human being. He didn't "nuance" and he wasn't slimy, like some used car salesman. I remember at one point, the moderator mischaracterized something he said, and Dean corrected him royal. I hit the internet, read all about him: I read all the other candidate's websites too, but I kept coming back to Dean for America. When came up, and I was able to watch Dean's speeches -- I remember one in (I think?) Sacramento that made me well up in tears I was so moved!!! -- I knew I would follow this man anywhere. I'm a student, and I don't have much money, but I sent Dean For America $100. I hadn't even voted in 10 years, but I knew I would vote for this man, and how! I sent money whenever I could, probably around 10% of my income for 2003.

I can personally testify to all of that. We drove across the country last summer, from south Florida, where she is currently, to San Francisco, where I am currently, both of us with rally signs and bumperstickers on our vehicles. Our first meetup was in Santa Fe, where the only people we knew were Amy's brother and his family, and we wrote letters to people in Iowa. We sent money we didn't have to send, because we believed in him, and in the message he was giving to the Democratic party. And this blog is an extension of that motivation that was sparked in me.

Dean's campaign for the presidency may be over, but the spirit he sparked in many of us is still alive. Here's the new call to action.
I believe that every person has the right -- and duty -- to use their vote and voice for whatever candidate they support. I also believe that your greatest power -- and it is a great power, if you use it -- is within the Democratic Party.

I believe that in one week you can send a strong message to the party and media by demonstrating that you are not giving up, and showing how serious you are about taking back the soul of the Democratic Party -- you can, in one week, recruit and identify 100 new Democratic office seekers inspired by Dean.

There are at least three things you can do to help make this happen:

1. Think about running yourself and research local options

2. Call/email at least one person who has impressed you and ask them to run

3. Identify open races at the state/county/congressional district level and share them with your local group and this blog.

Power lies in action.

I can't run yet, because I'm not situated in a community for the long term, but I plan to be as active as I possibly can be, and who knows what will happen once I get a little more permanent. One thing's for certain: I'll never be apathetic about this sort of thing again.

The American Prospect says goodbye to Dean

The American Prospect has quickly become one of my favorite non-blog political resources on the Web. The funny thing is that I was drawn to the magazine by its blog, a group project that includes writers like Michael Tomasky, Nick Confessore, Garance Franke-Ruta, Matthew Yglesias and many others. I like to think of the magazine as a slightly less loopy version of The Nation.

And of late, they've been spending some time on Howard Dean's campaign as retrospective--what sort of long-term effect, if any, will he have on the party, and the like. Along those lines comes this article, four different impressions of the campaign by Tomasky, Franks-Ruta, Simon Rosenberg, and Confessore. It's Confessore's that I want to focus on, although I think all four make salient points.

After making the usual noises (Dean wasn't my first choice, but he gave the Democrats a backbone, blah, blah, blah), Confessore writes:

But Dean's most important contribution was to show the Democrats how to organize a political party in the postindustrial age. To use a software analogy, every political campaign has both applications (policy proposals) and an operating system (volunteers, professional staff, fund raising, and ground organization)....

Dean's legacy, in other words, is not an ideological one. But he did give the Democrats a new operating system. Until now, every other campaign, Republican or Democratic, has run on some version of Windows -- the model in which candidates use direct mail and other 1970s-era innovations to raise millions of dollars, largely from wealthy individuals, and hire consultants to communicate with ordinary voters through television ads. Republicans have always been more successful with this model than Democrats. (You could say Democrats ran on Windows 3.1, while GOP candidates had long ago upgraded to XP.)....

Dean's campaign, as I am not the first to note, was the political equivalent of Linux. That's true both literally -- like Linux, Dean's campaign was "open source," allowing ideas and innovations to filter up from grass roots and permeate the entire operation -- but also in the sense that it was a radical departure from the old campaign model. By harnessing existing information technologies to lower the cost of organizing a genuine grass roots and raising small-dollar contributions from them, Dean gave the Democrats a glimpse of how they can rebuild their party infrastructure, reconnect with average Democrat voters in a powerful, organic way, and raise enough money to be competitive again.

And in one important way, he's right--one of the themes of the Dean campaign was to get those people who have given up on politics a reason to get involved again. I heard the story more times than I could count--people who had never contributed money to a campaign before, people who had never been to a political meeting before, people who had never voted in a primary or put a bumper sticker on their cars or even written a letter to the editor before were being inspired to do all these things and more. It was open-source campaigning.

Now we just have to make sure that we don't let the source code to our new Democratic party get subsumed into the old party atmosphere, and smothered before we can grow it into the dominant operating system.

White House Predicts Larger Tax Refunds

Don't believe the hype.

As a result of the summer's tax cuts, the Treasury Department expects the government to mail $195 billion in tax refunds this spring, a $37 billion increase over last year.

Anyone want to tell me again what the deficit was last year? And what it's projected to be this year?

Don't get me wrong--if I qualify for a refund this year, I'll take it and spend it. I'm too poor not to. But let's call this what it really is. This isn't a refund--it's a cash advance on the mightiest credit card of all, the national debt. And the interest rates will only go up from here on out.

Who Really Killed Howard Dean?

The press did according to William Greider of The Nation, and they're damn proud of their work.

He starts this piece by writing In forty years of observing presidential contests, I cannot remember another major candidate brutalized so intensely by the media, with the possible exception of George Wallace. For a little perspective if you're younger than I am, remember that Wallace was famous for his "segregation now, segregation forever" speech. Not auspicious company for the good doctor as far as press coverage is concerned.

But there's no way to do this piece justice without quoting a huge section, so what the hell.

The party establishment, limp as it is, was correct to target Dean with tribal vengeance. From their narrow perspective, he represented a political Antichrist. The unvarnished way he talked. The glint of unfamiliar, breakthrough ideas in his speeches. His lack of customary deference to party elders (and to the media's own cockeyed definition of reality). What the insiders loathed are the same qualities many of us found exhilarating. I already feel nostalgia for his distinctive one-liners:

"Too many of our leaders have made a devil's bargain with corporate and wealthy interests, saying 'I'll keep you in power if you keep me in power.'"

"As long as half the world's population subsists on less than two dollars a day, the US will not be secure.... A world populated by 'hostile have-nots' is not one in which US leadership can be sustained without coercion."

"Over the last thirty years, we have allowed multinational corporations and other special interests to use our nation's government to undermine our nation's promise."

"There is something about human beings that corporations can't deal with and that's our soul, our spirituality, who we are. We need to find a way in this country to understand--and to help each other understand--that there is a tremendous price to be paid for the supposed efficiency of big corporations. The price is losing the sense of who we are as human beings."

"In our nation, the people are sovereign, not the government. It is the people, not the media or the financial system or mega-corporations or the two political parties, who have the power to create change."

Do you not remember those remarks? Dean's best lines--evocative suggestions rather than explicit policy pronouncements--were not widely reported.
I was a Dean supporter for over a year and I don't remember those quotes explicitly. Imagine you're a person who's only looking at the candidates with a cursory eye in the time you have between your nine-to-five and Survivor : Disneyland and you're depending on a combination of Rather, Brokaw, or God forbid, Begala and Carville for information on the candidates. Dean lands somewhere between the Energizer bunny and Lyndon Larouche on that comparative scale. Hell, it's amazing that he got a single delegate.

But the good news is that Greider thinks that something good can come out of this (as do I, but Greider has far more of a voice than I do).
He (Dean) confirmed the existence of an energetic, informed dissent within the husk of the Democratic campaign veteran told me 70 percent of the citizens on Dean's much-admired computer list are over 30--a broader base than the stereotype. On the other hand, 25 percent of the money contributed came from people under 30--impressive too....
This momentous knowledge is liberating--if people figure out how to use it in other places. I can imagine, for instance, insurgent challenges launched by young unknowns against Congressional incumbents, especially in Democratic primaries. Most of these incumbents haven't faced serious opposition in years. At a minimum, it would scare the crap out of them--always healthy for politicians. In my Washington experience, nothing alters voting behavior in Congress like seeing a few of their colleagues taken down by surprise--defeated by an outsider whose ideas they did not take seriously.

Greider is spot on right here. We will have accomplished nothing if we don't scare the shit out of the establishment Democrats on Capitol Hill. The Blog for America and Joe Trippi's new blog Change for America are good places to start. If you're a Dean supporter, keep going to the sites, keep giving money, keep expressing your opinion on what we need to do to change this country.

And most importantly, get involved with local politics and let the people you come in contact with know that you're involved because of Howard Dean. Let's kick some ass, folks.

One more thing about last night's Eric Alterman appearance, and then I swear I'll let it go.

I was reminded of this by Nick Confessore's piece on the American Prospect weblog which talks about the problems the National Guard and Reserves are having with recruiting, the stop-loss orders that Rumsfeld has issues, etc.

Alterman noted that one of the biggest problems in dealing with the "War on Terror" or terrorism is that we're not really in a war on"terror." Terrorism is a tool used by the people we're fighting against. When FDR gave his "day that will live in infamy" speech, he wasn't asking us to go to war against "sneak-attack-ism;" he was asking us to go to war against Japan. The same is true of us--our was isn't against terrorism; it's against Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups who have declared war on Western culture.

It's an important distinction, because as many who have come before have noted, we'll never win the "war on terror." It can't be won--as long as there are groups who are outgunned and can't meet in open conflict with those they battle, there will be terrorism. But we can defeat Al-Qaeda and we can do much to improve the conditions in that part of the world from which Al-Qaeda gains much of its manpower and money and eat into their recruiting base. But we'll never do it unless we understand exactly what it is we're fighting against.

So tonight, Eric Alterman was in San Francisco at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books to promote the aforementioned The Book on Bush, the new opus penned by himself and Mark Green. I have only read the first few pages, but it looks to be worth the cash.

A couple of caveats to begin with. The first weblog I ever noticed (completely by accident, I might add) was Altercation. That was over two years ago, and now I spend a (too) large portion of damn near every day both reading weblogs and posting on them and of course, posting on my own. And since I try to find articles or opinions that aren't already covered everywhere else, I spend a lot of time scanning the political or national news pages, often to no avail. Fortunately, I'm a night owl, so I tend to read tomorrow's news before I go to bed and talk about it here so if nothing else, I beat a lot of these guys to the punch.

Not that it does me a damn bit of good.

But back to Alterman. He's gotten a lot of crap from Dean supporters both at Altercation and at Kos for what we perceive is his having it in for Dean. I still think that at one time he did have it it for him, but one thing has always come through in his writing, and its making its way to the forefront more clearly now--Alterman likes what Dean did for the party last year. He loves it, in fact. Tonight he gave Dean effusive credit more than once for lighting the fire beneath the Democratic party in general and under the two leading candidates for the nomination in particular.

What he didn't like was Dean the candidate. I disagree of course, but that's what this whole primary thing is about. But the overall message Alterman conveyed was that because of people like Dean, we come into this election year with hope, hope we didn't have after election day 2002. We know it won't be easy to unseat Bush, but at least now we feel we've got a fighting chance. We feel like we can take it to the radicals in charge and come out ahead.

Alterman's also glad that the Democratic primary battle is shaping up the way it has thus far, for the same reasons many other pundits are glad. the longer it goes on, the more the Democratic party message gets out there, and when the election is about message, we win, because the American people agree with us on the substantive issues. Our problem is and has been for a long while now, framing the debate.

So how do we do it? Here's an idea, courtesy of Alterman. When we're talking about taxes, don't talk about "the rich" or "the middle class." Those terms are vague and too many people who don't fall into those categories think they do and so are afraid they're in for a hike. Put a hard number on it. When people ask if their taxes are going to go up, tell them that if they make more than $200K a year, the answer is yes (I think that number should be half that, but that's another story), and that if you want to keep more of your tax money instead of putting it into infrastructure and security and education, then you need to vote Republican. They probably do anyway, so it's no great loss.

But if they make less, then tell them no and mean it. That's how you frame the debate.

But we're not there yet. There's a lot of road between now and November, and who knows what kind of crap lays ahead of us. The media is doing a better job recently, but we can't count on them to keep it up. Bloggers are doing their part to hold journalists' feet to the fire, but it takes more than that. It takes an informed electorate to make sure the current charade comes to an end. Instruct yourselves.

More on this in a minute, but just to get the party started, here are two very low quality pics of my encounter with one Eric Alterman, author of this book.

Back with the highlights of the night in a little bit.

Congratulations to the new Democratic party Representative from the state of Kentucky, Ben Chandler. I haven't blogged about this because, well, Kos, Eschaton, Josh Marshall and the rest of the blogosphere have been doing a massive job on it and hell, I'm just a guy in his apartment on the west coast who's supposed to be writing poetry.

But the point can't be made enough--this is the first special election a Democrat has won since the last Bush was in office (you know, the one that didn't suck by comparison with the current one), and we won this one deep in Bush country. That's got to shake up Roveco, especially considering that the current Republican senator from that state, Mitch McConnell, had stuck a lot of his personal rep on the line for Chandler's opponent, Alice Forgy Kerr. A couple of weeks ago,this race was tight, and then Dick Cheney started campaigning for Kerr and her numbers went south fast, so fast that this was a walkover at 55-43. That's a solid ass-kicking.

Part of the reason Chandler was able to compete is because of the money he raised through ads on the blogosphere, and Atrios makes a wonderful point about fundraising tactics here.

I get a reasonable amount of political junk mail. Frankly, most of it goes into the trash unread these days. But, to the extent that I do read it I have the impression that it reads something like this:


There's a kind of "we're pathetic and can't do anything unless you send us a couple of bucks" vibe. Now, that may in fact be true - that they're at a financial disadvantage. But, look - nobody likes a loser.

I'd prefer direct mail which went something like:

Last week we took Tom DeLay out back and kicked the crap out of him. This week, we plan to do it again. Help support this ass-kicking! For only $25, your name can be on a bootprint on DeLay's mottled ass!

Democrats are tired of being on the defensive. We've been on the defensive since the Failed Clinton Presidency began being reported 2 hours after election day '92. It's time for those days to be over.

Now I'm not going to say that Howard Dean was solely responsible for the new attitude that the Democratic Party has been showing of late, but he's certainly a large part of it and I think he deserves better than he's gotten at the polls of late. And no, I don't know what I'll do if he endorses Edwards, like some think he will. Could I bring myself to vote for someone not Dean in the primary if it meant I didn't have to support Kerry in November? Suddenly, that answer isn't so easy anymore.

The brilliance of Paul Krugman isn't in his style or his ability to pull off a nattily-attired phrase (although he does both with great skill). It's in his ability to discover that which the opposition has tried so hard to obfuscate. His subject this week? The health-care situation in the US.

Of course health-care is a major issue in the US. If you don't have it, you're taking a major chance. If you do, you're probably worried about losing it, as the Gallup poll Krugman quotes indicates. And indeed, the President's economic report devotes an entire chapter to it.

Problem is, it's treated much like global warming is by this administration--it's not really a problem and even if it is, there's not much we can do about it anyway.

Although more than 40 million people lack health insurance, this doesn't matter too much because "the uninsured are a diverse and perpetually changing group." This is good news? At any given time about one in seven Americans is uninsured, which is bad enough. Because the uninsured are a "perpetually changing group," however, a much larger fraction of the population suffers periodic, terrifying spells of being uninsured, and an even larger fraction lives with the fear of losing insurance if anything goes wrong at work or at home.
That pretty much describes me to a tee. The only reason I have health insurance right now is because Stanford requires it as a matter of enrollment (and I can't afford it at that). But once I leave here, I'll be without it again, and the coverage I could most use right now (vision and dental) I don't have.

I don't know if Krugman is being sarcastic with his next point, or what, but while he gives the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt by saying:
The report also seems to have missed the point of health insurance. It argues that it would be a good thing if insurance companies had more information about the health prospects of clients so "policies could be tailored to different types and priced accordingly." So if insurance companies develop a new way to identify people who are likely to have kidney problems later in life, and use this information to deny such people policies that cover dialysis, that's a positive step?
he fails to note that this kind of rhetoric is typical of the Bush administration. Bush is looking out for the insurance companies, not for the people who need the insurance. And why, after three years of this, should we expect anything less? If Bush has an option between doing something for the Lords or the Serfs, he takes the Lords every time.

One last point, and only because I didn't know this going in. To all those people who continually argue that the private sector is so much more efficient that the government,
A recent study found that private insurance companies spend 11.7 cents of every health care dollar on administrative costs, mainly advertising and underwriting, compared with 3.6 cents for Medicare and 1.3 cents for Canada's government-run system.
No wonder there's so much opposition to a single-payer plan in the US.

I mean, I tried my hand at selling insurance many, many years ago and sold exactly one policy that was cancelled before it was even delivered--you can use that as a basis for a judgment of my honesty if you wish, since I've never heard of a person too crooked to make it in the insurance biz (I failed at selling used cars too)--but even with my limited experience in the field, I had no idea that the business was that inefficient. Is it too late to give Kucinich's plan a second look? I'm not suggestng he ought to be the candidate, but let's dust off his single-payer plan and give it a look, why don't we?

I spent a good part of my day in downtown San Francisco today, in the blecchy rain, and watched gay people get married. It was beautiful. Pics are here. I'll give you a sample.

These are the people who are going to destroy marriage in the US. Scary, aren't they?

Have I mentioned how much I love this city?

The older William Safire gets, the more ludicrous he is, except when it comes to media consolidation. He's been one of the louder voices on the right opposing the trend toward media conglomerates, and on this at least, he's been consistent.

If one huge corporation controlled both the production and the dissemination of most of our news and entertainment, couldn't it rule the world?

The media giant known as Viacom-CBS-MTV just showed us how it controls both content and communication of the sexiest Super Bowl. The five other big sisters that now bestride the world are (1) Murdoch-FoxTV-HarperCollins-WeeklyStandard-NewYorkPost-LondonTimes-DirecTV; (2) G.E.-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (3) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (4) Disney-ABC-ESPN; and (5) the biggest cable company, Comcast.
The only player missing here is ClearChannel Communications, which Eric Boehlert from Salon has done a wonderful job reporting on in the past.

Safire's vision for the future of media?
If the $50 billion deal is successful, the six giants would shrink to five, with Disney-Comcast becoming the biggest.

Would Rupert Murdoch stand for being merely No. 2? Not on your life. He would take over a competitor, perhaps the Time-Warner-CNN-AOL combine, making him biggest again. Meanwhile, cash-rich Microsoft — which already owns 7 percent of Comcast and is a partner of G.E.'s MSNBC — would swallow both Disney-ABC and G.E.-NBC. Then there would be three, on the way to one.
I like Safire, am not sanguine about the potential of Michael Powell, the antitrust division of the Justice department, or the Senate actually stopping any of this from happening, especially under a second Bush term. (I'm not particularly sanguine about it under a first Kerry term either, but that's another topic.)

Here's where Safire falls short:
The growing danger, however, is that media giants are becoming fewer as they get bigger. The assurance given is "look at those independent Internet Web sites that compete with us" — but all the largest Web sites are owned by the giants.
He fails to recognize that many of these companies are ISPs in their own right. Comcast, AT&T, AOL, etc., together control a significant portion of the internet access market, so while there's online dissent for now, who's to say that the giants won't find a way to consolidate control in this new medium as well? One thing is certain--they will try.

There's a new addition to the links list--Joe Trippi, late of the Howard Dean presidential campaign, has started his own blog here. You want to see why Dean did as well as he did and why Dean's supporters are so passionate about their guy? Go there and read and join the revolution.

I've also added this banner:

It's no surprise to anyone that I'm in favor of same-sex marriage (or at least it shouldn't be) but it's time that this subject was treated as the civil-rights issue it truly is, so click on the banner and sign the petition.

And thanks to the guys over BOR for adding me to their links list. I'm checking them out every day, and so should you.

I'm a little bummed right now. I'm a bit of a NASCAR fan. I saw Dale Earnhardt win Daytona once and lose it a dozen times, once by cutting a tire on the last lap. I saw him die while covering Michael Waltrip's rear. I saw the last race Richard Petty ever won, and I can even remember the old-timers like Cale Yarborough and Benny Parsons.

So today ought to be a banner day for me--Daytona signals the start of the racing season. Little Dale's out front. DEI always runs well here. The weather's gorgeous from what I hear. Not even the fact that the President is giving the signal to start engines bugs me too bad.

No, what bugs me is that apparently San Francisco doesn't have a broadcast NBC affiliate, and since I don't have cable, I can't watch it. And to add insult to injury, there's apparently no way to follow the race online without shelling out some fundage I don't have. So I'm bummed. Maybe I'll find a bar with a tv that'll let me tune in while I sip a coke.

Update: I found it on AM radio, so I sat down with a book to listen and passed out because I'd slept so little last night, and of course, Little Dale won. Congrats man--wish I'd seen it.

I've been in some conversations with people over at Kos concerning what should happen to Blog for America should Dean's campaign for the Presidency come to an end without the nomination.

One point to make--I'm still voting for Dean in the CA primary even if he's pulled out of the race by then. I've stressed over this too badly for too long not to vote for him, even if I have to write his name in.

Now, as I mentioned below, I think it's important that the people, like me, who have become motivated by politics for the first time (ever or in a long time) stay motivated. Even if our guy was derailed by a hostile press and a machine that wanted their guy over ours, we have made a major change in Democratic party politics. All the candidates are now trying to raise money over the internet and are talking directly to the grassroots in some ways--some more successfully than others--but what Dean has shown is that you can motivate a lot of people to give a little money. Others had tried it--Lamar Alexander and Jerry Brown come to mind--but Dean made it work, thanks to his message and his leadership.

So Howard Dean, I have a challenge for you if you decide to get out of the race for the Presidency. I want you to help us continue the revolution by helping us locate worthy people who are running for office as Democrats throughout the country, for the House, for the Senate, for governorships and other statewide offices. I want you to help us find people who share your vision of what the United States should be, and help us help them get elected. I want you to help this group of people you have inspired stay inspired by giving us a new task--changing the country from the bottom up instead of from the top down.

Help us do that--we need a leader. We're begging for a leader. Most of us would follow you through fire if you asked. So ask us, and we can change this country back into what it needs to be.

A goodie to add to the favorites menu on your browser--The Smudge Report. Like the Drudge report, only factual. Enjoy!

Also, I'd like to welcome Burnt Orange Report, and Under No Circumstances to the links list on the side there. Good stuff to read.

This article over at caught my attention, mainly because I hadn't heard much about how well Kerry was raising money since he caught the momentum wave, and the rate at which money is coming into the Dean campaign has indeed slowed in recent days.

The article is a little short on specifics, although it does say

Kerry plans to spend much of next month traveling coast-to-coast, aggressively wooing the donors who sat on the sidelines in 2003 or who bankrolled Democratic rivals Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, aides said. The courtship is well underway -- at least a dozen major fundraisers from other camps say they have agreed to work for Kerry -- and the campaign collected $6.5 million in the 23 days after his Iowa victory.

There's more on his strategy--how as soon as a candidate drops out of the race, Kerry's on the phone to their former fundraisers and the like. To the Kerry campaign's credit, they admit they don't know how to tap into the Dean well (he might try being a real person instead of just a candidate, but it's a little late for that).

But they know they've got a tough row to hoe.
The next hurdle will be winning over Dean and his donors. In recent weeks, Democratic National Committee leaders have traveled to Vermont, Massachusetts and North Carolina trying to extract pledges from the three camps that they will raise money for the eventual nominee. Sources said Dean has not made such a promise, but at a minimum might assist the party with its fundraising.
Everywhere you go on the blogosphere, you see Dean supporters pissed at the system at the very least, and at Kerry directly in many cases.

But we need to harness the energy and the money that these people can bring, and I'm talking about myself here. So here's my suggestion to both John Kerry, and Howard Dean, if he should drop out of the race in the next month or so.

Don't ask us to give money to the candidate, and if you're the candidate, don't ask us for money. Many of us will resent both the candidate (if it's not Dean) or will resent Dean for asking us to transfer our allegiance. Instead, get Dean to start fundraising for Congressional seats throughout the country. That way you keep people excited and giving money, you get them directly involved in their communities, and you keep these people feeling like they have a stake in politics again. Remember, the most important demographic of Dean supporters is that they're people who have never given or worked on a campaign before. So whaddya think?

Because I'm in a light-hearted mood. This is where I've been in this great country of ours.

create your own visited states map

Thanks to Tuesday Heights for the link.

Anyone who reads this article and still thinks same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to marry is an asshole, pure and simple. There's so much joy in this article that to deny anyone this happiness is criminal.

Emotions run high as gay couples say, 'I do'
Hugs, cheers and tears at City Hall ceremonies

Rona Marech, Chronicle Staff Writer

Toni Broaddus and Janice Wells had their parents listening in on cell phones. Leonardo Montenegro cried. John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney kissed for second after second after second, as friends, supporters, politicians and journalists swirled around them.

They came in wedding dresses and tiaras, in suits and ties, in sneakers and baseball caps. Some had made plans, others left work in a rush when the call came at midday: Get to City Hall. Now.

However they arrived, few of the scores of gay couples who wed Thursday in San Francisco seemed to have any doubt that getting married here, under the glare of television cameras, was the right thing to do.

"It's a personal moment and an incredible historic event. It's hard to describe how that feels," said Broaddus, who has been with Wells for 11 years. "We've been together so long and have known we wanted to spend our lives together. To actually do it is incredibly profound and wonderful."

Two hours later, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, married them on the steps of City Hall, and in the eyes of the city they are legal spouses.

"It felt like it was too big for words," Broaddus said. "It's too big. It's really big."

By 1 p.m., the line at the clerk's office for applications was out the door and down a long hallway. When they got their licenses, the couples found that the words "bride" and "groom" had been changed to "first applicant" and "second applicant."

People hugged and cheered and wept as they talked about what was happening.

"I'm very happy," said Bruce Janis, 47, crying and laughing at once as he waited to marry 32-year-old Somsak Bauood. "I've been around long enough to have had my head beat up by police just for being gay. To be here today to get married ..." He choked back more tears.

"I'm getting old and sentimental," Janis said. "I don't cry like this normally."

Down the hall, marriages were being performed on the front steps, in the atrium, and in every available pocket of space.

Former Supervisor Leslie Katz, who had been deputized to perform marriages, presided over the ceremony for Andrew Nance, 38, and Jim Maloney, 42.

"I know how committed you are and the love you share. You serve as a model for so many of us," said Katz, who went to college with Maloney. They said, "I do," and she declared them "spouses for life."

"It reminds me how important rituals are in our lives," Maloney said afterward, standing beside his new husband, who he met at a San Francisco cafe 14 years ago. "As gay men, we've been denied these rituals. I thought it would be political, but it was quite emotional. I feel a greater connection to Andrew than I felt before. It created an additional bond."

While waiting for the marriage license to be processed, the rush of calls to parents and siblings and friends began.

"I'm glowing. I'm glowing," Nance said. "It's very moving to say you love someone deeply enough to say you'll spend the rest of your life with them."

Maloney said: "I really didn't expect to feel different afterward, but it was a very powerful experience. I'm kind of giddy."

"Spouse for life." I like the sound of that. Hey Amy, if we ever decide to get married, how's about we use that terminology instead of "husband and wife?"

One last point to make about this decision on same-sex marriage by Mayor Newsom.

This decision aside, Newsom is a moderate, business-friendly Democrat in the mold of Willie Brown. He had the Big Dog and Al Gore campaigning for him the day before the election against Matt Gonzales.

Could Matt Gonzales, had he won, pulled this off successfully? Maybe, but not without taking a lot more flack for it and having his party dismissed as a result. Gonzales is a Green, and unfortunately, even in California, the Green Party is still a fringe group. Had Gonzales been mayor and tried this, critics could have pointed to it as a stunt by the lunatic fringe and gotten away with it. That's harder to do with Newsom.

Admittedly, we are talking about San Francisco, a city I have come to love in the short time I have lived here, but a city known as "the left wing of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." In comparison to the nation at large, the political demographic here isn't exactly mainstream. After all, in the last mayoral election, the lone Republican in the race finished 6th behind 4 Democrats and a Green. But the revolution has to start somewhere. Thanks again, Mayor Newsom.

Paul Krugman is at it again.

And God is he good at what he does.

In this issue, he takes a seemingly innocuous event--the inclusion of 27 glossy photos of George W. Bush in the 2004 budget--and uses it as a brilliant metaphor for what's wrong with Bush's presidency.

We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.

What the budget does not include, however, is money for the troops in Iraq beyond the month of September--while at the same time running up another $500 billion in debt for the year. So how to defend such dishonesty?
But when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets — or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence — their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president's character. How dare you question Mr. Bush's honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity?
Partisan critics like me and the people I hang out with have long known the flight suit was stuffed with something considerably less substantial than even Derek Smalls' foil-encased cucumber. But Krugman lists Bush's foibles in one breathtaking section:
There is, as far as I can tell, no positive evidence that Mr. Bush is a man of exceptional uprightness. When has he even accepted responsibility for something that went wrong? On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that he is willing to cut corners when it's to his personal advantage. His business career was full of questionable deals, and whatever the full truth about his National Guard service, it was certainly not glorious.

Old history, you may say, and irrelevant to the present. And perhaps that would be true if Mr. Bush was prepared to come clean about his past. Instead, he remains evasive. On "Meet the Press" he promised to release all his records — and promptly broke that promise.

I don't know what he's hiding. But I do think he has forfeited any right to cite his character to turn away charges that his administration is lying about its policies. And that is the point: Mr. Bush may not be a particularly bad man, but he isn't the paragon his handlers portray.

Thank you Mr. Krugman. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Credit to Burnt Orange Report who crosslinked at The Daily Kos

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that:

History was made at 11:06 a.m. today at San Francisco City Hall when Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon took their wedding vows, becoming the first same-sex couple to be officially married in the United States.

Mayor Gavin Newsom had stated (and I had noted below) that he was going to push for this, but I never expected it to happen this fast. Neither, apparently did gay marriage opponents.
City officials, in fact, rushed to issue the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples as quickly as possible for fear that opponents would seek a court injunction to stop them. Officials alerted only a handful of people that they were ready to act, wanting to keep it secret until the papers were signed and the "I do's'' were spoken.
Newsom may be cannier than I ever gave him credit for. With all the hubbub over the Massachussetts lawmakers attempt to get areound their Supreme Court's ruling, Newsom was able to shuttle this through with little national attention. Now it's done and will be challenged in the courts, no doubt in the 9th Circuit, the one most conservative pundits excoriate as being the most liberal in the land. This could end up before the Supremes in Washignton very soon.


Here's part two of the Salon piece I blogged late last night.

The majority of the article is based around the experiences of Jennifer Albright, a former Assistant District Attorney from Albuquerque, NM, and Abby Puls, a court translator from Grand Rapids, Michigan. In both cases, these were people who were involved in peaceful protests and whose careers were threatened by undercover police infiltrating the groups they belonged to.

The charges are the same--both Albright and Puls were accused of blowing the covers of undercover cops. Both deny the charges, and neither have ever been officially charged with that activity, which leads me to believe that any proof the police have of these charges is tenuous at best. But the question that remains unanswered in all of the cases Goldberg cites in her two part series is "Why are the police infiltrating these groups in the first place?"

One answer is of course, money. Federal funding is always in demand, and a police force that joins the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) gets more of it, especially if it can produce results in the form of arrests and convictions. This creates unnecessary tension between police and protest groups who are out generally just to make a statement and nothing more.

Albright points to another potential factor, however.

She believes the police are motivated at least in part by personal hostility. "My point of view, which I tried to discuss with my boss before I was fired, is that I'm being retaliated against by the police department," she [Albright] says. "Many law enforcement officers have prior military service. In talking to some of the officers, they seemed to take a real personal affront to anyone thinking the war is wrong. They said, 'That's a personal attack on us.' Somehow they equate themselves with the military."
That's a dangerous attitude to have if you're in the business of maintaining order, but it's becoming more and more common. In Goldberg's earlier piece on the FTAA protests in Miami, she describes the police department as geared up for war, continually taunting and goading protestors, beating and humiliating them without cause or provacation.

Police have the duty to keep order, but do not have the right to become spy rings infiltrating legitimate protest and political discussion groups. Last I heard, it was still legal to express your disapproval of the government both publicly and privately without fear of retribution.

The last part of the article deals with the reasons why the threat to civil liberties is geater today than it was in the days of COINTELPRO. The answer is quite simple--the advances in telecommunications and computing power makes it easier and faster to share information. The problem is--once information gets into the system, it's hard to make sure it gets out, and that's a problem if the information is either inaccurate or was illegally obtained. That worries Chris Pyle, a politics professor at Mount Holyoke College.

That's bad news for protesters interrogated by the New York City Police Department about their political activities last year. As the ACLU reports, between February and April of 2003, the "NYPD had forced hundreds of protesters charged with minor offenses to surrender information about their political affiliations and prior protest activity. That information was being collected on a recently disclosed form titled 'Criminal Intelligence Division / Demonstration Debriefing Form.'"

In response to an ACLU complaint, the police department stopped the interrogations and promised to destroy the records relating to them.

But Pyle says that once created, such files have a way of proliferating -- and smearing the reputations of those on them, in a kind of Orwellian version of the game "telephone." "After Sept. 11, the FBI sent out a list of 'persons of interest' to a few corporations, casinos and airlines in a desperate attempt to increase security," he says. "These security departments then copied the lists, integrated them with their own lists and sent it to their friends. Within a month, there were 50 of these lists on the Internet. They'd been reproduced and reissued, by intelligence agencies, police departments or corporations from as far away as Brazil and Italy. But now most of the lists said these are terrorists or terrorist suspects, not persons of interest."

If I'd been arrested in New York, I'd be pissed now, especially if I was one of the many who claim (as there are at every mass protest arrest) to be an innocent bystander, wrong place at the wrong time, because if you're on a watch list somewhere now, forget ever trying to get on a plane, especially overseas. Think it's hard to get your name cleared after an identity theft? This is a thousand times worse.

Does the FBI have a file on you?

Are you sure about that?

Discovered this little gem thanks to my new friend over at the Muddle Headed Wombat.

It dates back over a year and a half, but it's still disturbing, at least to me, that a group would give out donor cards so that parents could insist upon their deaths that their children not be adopted by homosexual couples.

Seems to me that a more effective way to handle adoption concerns post-mortem would be to do as my parents did and assign a guardian in a will. I'm not British, so I can't say I know even the basics of the law, much less the intricacies, but in US law, it's my understanding that the wishes of the parent, if they are expressly laid out in the will, are paramount, and then family members would be next in line, unless there's some sort of forced heirship written into the law.

This smacks more of a deliberate desire to state a group's opposition to a gay lifestyle than of anything else, in my view.

A little shout out to the troll who ran through the comments last night--grow some balls and post your email address and a nickname.

Another front has opened in the war over gay marriage, and it happened, no surprise in San Francisco.

New Mayor Gavin Newsom, the guy who eked out a victory over the Green party thanks in part to some last minute campaigning by the Big Dog and other major Democratic party figures, has asked the city clerk to make whatever changes are necessary in order to ensure that marriage licenses are issued without regard to gender or sexual orientation. Newson is the guy accused by many San Francisco activists of not being "liberal enough" for their liking, and for the record, I voted for and had a sign in my window for his opponent, Matt Gonzales.

This is more than just grandstanding by a city mayor, however.

State Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, plans to introduce a bill this week that would legalize same-sex marriage in California. It would expand the state's domestic partners law to allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, claim an exemption from property reassessment upon the death of a partner, and travel across state lines without jeopardizing their marriage rights.

"It's a one-two punch,'' Leno said of his and Newsom's efforts.

There's a history of San Francisco successfully challenging the state when it gomes to GLBT rights.
The city passed the first law in the nation requiring city contractors to provide the same benefits to their employees in domestic partnerships as married workers receive, and it successfully defended the policy in court. The city assessor also has awarded domestic partners the same rights as married couples when it comes to property transfers.

Here's hoping it sticks.

People with far larger audiences than mine will no doubt link this article on today's main page, so the best I can hope for is that my night-owl habits will allow me to beat them to the punch. Here's hoping.

All vanity aside, this is one of the most frightening articles I've read in a long time. When Kos and others were posting about the subpoenas being issued by Ashcroft et al to the students at Drake University, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't really articulate what it was. And I tried, trust me.

Now I know what the big deal is, and how that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not old enough to know anything firsthand about COINTELPRO, and I've never really gotten into that sordid part of law-enforcement history, but I know that the possibility that police and FBI agents are snooping in on peaceful dissenters pisses me off. Mcihele Goldberg writes:

But once again, protesters throughout America are being watched, often by police who are supposed to be investigating terrorism. Civil disobedience, seen during peaceful times as the honorable legacy of heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., is being treated as terrorism's cousin, and the government claims to be justified in infiltrating any meeting where it's even discussed. It's too early to tell if America is entering a repeat of the COINTELPRO era. But Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Law in Manhattan, says, "There are certainly enough warning signs out there that we may be."

Even more frightening is the degree to which the Ashcroft Justice Department is extending its talons in search for terrorists.
Avery suggests that such investigations will have a chilling effect on the planning for future protests. "The risk is that if there's some kind of demonstration or protest activity that involves trespassing, [the JTTF] is saying they can ask people what political meetings have you been to lately, who was there, what did you talk about," says Avery. "People are allowed to meet and talk and debate political issues without being spied on by the government." At least, they used to be.

What's next? Watch lists for posting negative thoughts about the administration on an internet forum? Will I be held up at the gate when I fly to see my girlfriend in a few weeks because I openly consider the Bush administration to be the worst thing to happen to the US since New Kids on the Block? Or more importantly, because during the run up to the war in Iraq, I participated in a protest (although no one was arrested) on my college campus?

In at least two of the the cases Goldberg cites, the groups that were infiltrated by local police departments were groups that had--up until this happened--good relations with the police. Whenever they were planning a protest, they used a police liaison and ensured that there would be no violent outbreaks. These aren't rock-throwing anarchists trashing the neighborhood Starbuck's because of a local WTO meeting--these are peaceful activists. And in at least one case, it seems to me that the undercover cop was looking to entrap the group.
Peters remembers unloading her car outside the church where the training was held when she saw a couple walking by, looking like they were "killing time" before finally going inside. The man, a muscular guy who looked to be in his 30s, introduced himself as Chris Taylor and said the woman with him was his girlfriend. In fact, his name was Darren Christensen and he was an undercover officer, as was Liesl McArthur, the woman he was with. As the Rocky Mountain News reported in December, much of his usual undercover work involved "being solicited on line for deviant sex."

Unlike Hurley, Christensen immediately made the activists nervous. "A couple of people from the group came up and said, 'Who are they? Do you know them from any other events?'" says Peters. "He was pumping for information, asking questions about whether there was a group that was more radical and had a different focus, more like the black bloc or the anarchists."
Am I alone here?

Goldberg's article also gives a rundown of the safeguards that were put in place after COINTELPRO came to light, and how Ashcroft has gutted them during his tenure, and it also goes into a bit about why local police departments may be raising their own threat levels. I'll give you a hint--it has to do with money.

This is part one--I'll report on part two tomorrow late night.

Even Utah is turning on Bush.

No, I'm not suggesting that suddenly Utah is potentially a blue state in 2004, but they are getting tired of his crap, at least as far as NCLB is concerned.

n a rebuke to the Bush administration, the Utah House voted yesterday to prohibit the state's education authorities from using any local money to comply with the president's signature education law, No Child Left Behind.

The vote, by a Republican-dominated chamber, comes after weeks of criticism by lawmakers arguing that the federal education measure impinges on the state's right to set its own education agenda and that the cost of compliance would be too high....

The bill that the House approved instead permits the state to spend the $103 million, but not a penny of state money, to meet the federal law's requirements, state officials said. It passed the House by a vote of 64 to 8, with 3 abstentions.

Representative Martin R. Stephens, the speaker of the House, called the measure a "statement bill."

"We are not opting out of No Child Left Behind, but there is some disparity of agreement about whether it's fully funded," Mr. Stephens said after Tuesday's vote. "So as we implement the law, we'll find out. If it is fully funded, then we'll implement it. And, if it's not, if there are requirements for which there are not enough federal funds, then we won't."
Steven O. Laing, Utah's state superintendent of public instruction has said that he thinks the bill will become law.

I haven't thought the ramifications of this kind of action out completely, but my gut instinct is that it's at least an interesting way to combat the unfunded mandate issue. If it works, you can bet that whatever future mandates come down from on high will include some hefty penalties for failure to comply. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

I like Eric Alterman. What Liberal Media? was a seminal work on my path to political activism and examination of the way the media works, and I have every intention on going to see him talk about his new book in San Francisco on the 18th. But when it comes to his boy Kerry, he's got a blind spot.

From today's Altercation:

The next time you read from someone like Mickey Kaus or Jake Tapper about what a captive of “special interests” John Kerry is, remember this: Bush has so far raised 28 times the amount of PAC money that Kerry has. Of course, next thing you will hear is that it does not matter who has raised more—or even 28 times as much- because this fundraising stuff itself is not important but rather is a “perfectly legitimate synecdoche for this type of Kerry behavior,” as Mickey might say.

I say, "Oh cut the crap, please, will you?” (No link on the “twenty-eight times" figure because it appears in a forthcoming story that Mike Tomasky and I co-authored for The American Prospect.)

Sorry, Eric. In another election cycle, say the one four years ago, when the Democratic party was still largely dependent on soft-money and corporate contributions, that may have been the case, but with the rejuvenation of the grassroots fundraising thanks to Dean, Clark and lately, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, the question of where a candidate gets his or her money is a very important one.

I'm not suggesting that Kerry should be disqualified as the candidate, but the other candidates make a good point when they challenge Kerry's new found populism. Fair's fair, Eric. If you can continually spread the (inaccurate) meme that Dean's raison d'etre is anger, then I can remind people that Kerry, while more populist that Dubya, is still part of the same old corporate money machine.

Scott McClellan is squirming bad on this Bush in the National Guard issue. He's on CNN right now for the morning news briefing and no matter how bad he spins, the reporters are hammering him. Go watch.

If there's a better day for the op-ed page than Tuesday, I'll be damned if I know it. Tuesday is the day we get Paul Krugman, E. J. Dionne, and when he's making sense, Richard Cohen.

First, Krugman--have I mentioned how much I love this guy? He breaks down the employment news into wonderfully simple terms.

The only seemingly favorable statistic is the unemployment rate, which has recently fallen to 5.6 percent, the same as in November 2001. But how is that possible, when employment has grown more slowly than the population, or even declined? The answer is that people aren't counted as unemployed unless they're looking for work, and a growing fraction of the population isn't even looking. It's hard to see how this is good news.

Other indicators continue to suggest a grim job picture. In the last three months, more than 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work more than 15 weeks. That's the worst number since 1983, and a sign that jobs remain very hard to find — which is what anyone who has lost a job will tell you.

One last statistic — not about jobs, but about wages. Since the last quarter of 2001, real G.D.P. has risen 7.2 percent. But wage and salary income, after adjusting for inflation, is up only 0.6 percent. This matches what the employer survey is telling us: America's workers have seen very little benefit from this recovery.
The last bolded part reminds me of something I heard Jim Hightower say during the Clinton administration. When Clinton noted in the State of the Union address that his administration had created 23 million jobs, a waitress said "Yep, I've got three of them." But under the Bush administration, you can't even find those three jobs to make ends meet.

Richard Cohen puts the lie to Bush's Meet the Press claim that he obviously completed his service in the TANG (Texas Air National Guard) because he was given an honorable discharge. He does this by comparing Bush's service to his own, which was also questionable, by his own admission.

But Cohen's not the president and not running for re-election, which he says makes a difference.
Now George Bush, who faced this question the last time out, has to face it again. The reason is that this time he is likely to compete against a genuine war hero. John Kerry did not duck the war.

But George Bush did. He did so by joining the National Guard. Bush now wants to drape the Vietnam-era Guard with the bloodied flag of today's Iraq-serving Guard -- "I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard," Bush warned during his interview with Russert -- but the fact remained that back then the Guard was where you went if you did not want to fight. That was the case with me. I opposed the war in Vietnam and had no desire to fight it. Bush, on the other hand, says he supported the war -- as long, it seems, as someone else fought it.
And that's my major beef with Bush as far as military service is concerned. I don't care if you used your daddy's influence to get out of the draft and get into a cheesy unit learning to fly outdated planes. I don't care if you got a medical deferment or found another way to avoid serving--I'd have done the same in their shoes. But first of all do your duty and then don't act like a goddamn war hero strutting onto aircraft carriers like you did something special.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes that while Bush/Rove have been credited with attempting to avoid the pitfalls that Bush 41 suffered during his re-election campaign, they may have done themselves in by failing to realize why Bush 41 lost in the first place.
The president and Karl Rove, his top political adviser, see Bush 41's problem as his estrangement from the Republicans' conservative political base. The first Bush raised taxes, so this Bush will cut them once, twice, many times. The social conservatives didn't trust the elder Bush. So this Bush will make sure that they keep faith with him as a man who keeps the faith.

Here's what's missing from this analysis: The first Bush didn't lose because of defections from the right. He lost because mainstream, middle-class Americans decided, fairly or not, that their president just didn't understand much of anything about their lives. They were worried about their jobs, their health care, their pensions, their housing and sending their kids to college. Voters freely conceded that the first President Bush was first-rate when it came to foreign policy. That just didn't happen to be what they voted on in November 1992.

The current President Bush is putting himself in exactly the same place. If Americans want a war president, he's their man. But in light of the failure to find those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, many voters now wonder whether that was a war that needed to be fought.
Now lest you think Dionne has forgotten about the 9-11 attacks or the propensity for the Bush administration to go onto orange alert whenever the job numbers are down or there's a scandal brewing, he follows up with this:
Do not for an instant underestimate the capacity of Bush and Rove to find ingenious ways of focusing our minds on terrorism by the last three weeks of the campaign. They played Democrats for chumps on security issues in 2002. They're certain they can do it again.
I think the difference this time is that Bush is becoming the boy who cried "wolf" and this time, the people who would normally come running to save him are too busy looking for a job.

My favorite grammy moment from last night had to be this duet:

Where was this guy in 2000?

It pains me to say this, because I've been watching and noting the transformation of Al Gore over the last 2 years, but if the guy who's been making speeches for Moveon and for the Democratic party lately had been this outspoken and fired up during the 2000 campaign, well, we might not be facing the prospect of holding our noses when we pull the lever this time around.

Here's the lede from the paper of record:

In a withering critique of the Bush administration, former Vice President Al Gore on Sunday accused the president of betraying the country by using the Sept. 11 attacks as a justification for the invasion of Iraq.

"He betrayed this country!" Mr. Gore shouted into the microphone at a rally of Tennessee Democrats here in a stuffy hotel ballroom. "He played on our fears. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place."
and in a statement that may prove prescient, Gore compared Bush to Nixon when he said
...President Richard M. Nixon had used "the politics of fear" to make his father, Albert Gore Sr., out to be unpatriotic and an atheist. And when his father lost, Mr. Gore said, his father said: "The truth shall rise again."

He said he recalled that defeat because "the last three years we've seen the politics of fear rear its ugly head again." Like the Nixon administration, Mr. Gore said, the Bush administration is not committed to principle but is obsessed with its re-election.

Thank you Al, for showing us, if nothing else, that Democrats are at their best when they're passionate about what they stand for. Maybe the candidate this time will learn from the example you and Howard Dean (assuming he doesn't pull the "come from behind" strategy off) have set over the last year. Thank you for saying loudly and publicly what many of us have been saying privately since November 2000.

Okay, I just finished reading the transcript, and I have to say that I think Russert's claim to be a tough interview is now fully in the shitter. No tough follow-ups, no challenges on instances of factual incorrectness, and only a couple of instances where he brought up inconsistencies between things Bush or his administration had said and what they're saying now.

The majority of the talk had to do with the war in Iraq. Let me tell you what Russert didn't ask about--he didn't challenge Bush on the naming of Laurence Silberman to the Intel Commission, which Josh Marshall so neatly dissects here. Russert also didn't ask him about the Plame affair, the Office of Special Plans (basically Cheney's and Rumsfeld's personal intel agency), or the alleged connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. And that's just in the first half of the interview.

So what did Russert ask the President about? The first question had to do with the Intel Commission and why he had opposed the creation of it in the first place. Bush's reply?

Well, first let me kind of step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations. So, we need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence.
So, the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents as well. This is just a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.
There is a lot of investigations going on about the intelligence service, particularly in the Congress, and that's good as well. The Congress has got the capacity to look at the intelligence gathering without giving away state secrets, and I look forward to all the investigations and looks.
Again, I repeat to you, the capacity to have good intelligence means that a president can make good calls about fighting this war on terror.
That's a lot of verbiage. Too bad it didn't actually answer the question, namely, why Bush had been hesitant, even outright opposed to naming the commission in the first place. But did Russert follow up? Nope--just switched gears into Britain and comparisons to the Blair commission.

But let's move on to the justification for the war in Iraq. Look at this little exchange:
President Bush: The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon.
Russert: But it may have been wrong.
President Bush: Well, but what wasn't wrong was the fact that he had the ability to make a weapon. That wasn't right.
Russert: This is an important point because when you say that he has biological and chemical weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles
President Bush: Which he had.
Russert: and they could come and attack the United States, you are saying to the American people: we have to deal now with a man who has these things.
President Bush: That's exactly what I said.
Now, despite the fact that we have found exactly zero chemical and biological weapons and that the unmanned aerial vehicles we did find were little more than amped-up hobby store planes, it seems as though Russert is making Bush's case for him.

And later, while on the same subject, Bush let this stunner loose:
I repeat to you what I strongly believe that inaction in Iraq would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time I'm not saying immediately, but over time which would then have put us in what position? We would have been in a position of blackmail.
Whatever happened to the guy who said "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

But that was nothing--he followed it up in this exchange:
Russert: On Iraq, the vice president said, “we would be greeted as liberators.”
President Bush: Yeah.
Russert: It's now nearly a year, and we are in a very difficult situation. Did we miscalculate how we would be treated and received in Iraq?
President Bush: Well, I think we are welcomed in Iraq. I'm not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we're not. We are welcomed in Iraq.
bolding mine Thanks Mr. President. I'll be sure to pass that sentiment along to the grieving families both in the US and in Iraq.

Eventually the interview turned away from Iraq, and toward a far more pressing matter--Bush's Vietnam record. We all know how this discussion goes--Bush says he served honorably in the Air National Guard, and was honorably discharged, end of story. Predictably, Russert doesn't challenge him on this, nor does he ask Bush about the strings that were obviously pulled to get him into the Guard, and only manages to extract a feeble promise to release all his military records while simultaneously stating that they may be lost. But he did provide this little nugget:
The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.
bolding mine So a political war is bad, Mr. President? Hmmmm. Looks like that lesson didn't take either.

The last part of the interview dealt with economics and was about as inconsequential as the rest, but I'm not going into detail because I've run on at length on this long enough and because I have just about enough economics knowledge to keep my checkbook balanced on a good day. I'll leave that to others. Suffice it to say that the pattern continued--Russert tossed a softball, Bush answered with something that made no sense and Russert went on to the next one. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, and all little media whores cash their checks and thank the President for his "middle class tax cut."

I'm reading the transcript of President Bush's appearance on Meet the Press this morning. I haven't looked at any other blogs yet today, although I'm sure plenty of people have already posted on this, mainly because I wanted to get a first-hand taste of this piece without being affected by any other analysis. I'm about a third of the way through it and thus far, it's a case of the same old crap in the same old tortured English. I'll post some examples in a little while, but one thing to realize is that Bush's malapropisms aren't funny; they're a distraction, a sleight of hand, because if we're laughing at the way he talks, we're not paying attention to what he's saying, and that's where we get into trouble. More on this in a bit.

This is why Paul Krugman may go down as one of the saviors of the US. Okay--I overstate the case, but only slightly. When you want lucid, well-written commentary about the state of the country and why we're in the mess we're in, Krugman is a great place to start.

He's reviewing two books in this article, Kevin Phillips' American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, and Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, and suffice to say, Krugman makes me want to run out and buy both of them, even though I have neither the money to spend nor the time to read them.

I'm not going to go into Krugman's review with great depth--that's your job as readers--but I will highlight a couple of very interesting passages.

In the opening passage, Krugman gives us a little detail on the Halliburton gas overcharge mini-scandal in Kuwait, and connects the Kuwaiti gas supplier with the Saudi royal family and thence to the Bush family. Notice this passage:

In any previous administration—at least any administration of the past seventy years—this sort of incestuous relationship among foreign governments, private businesses, and the personal fortunes of people in or close to the US government would have been considered unusual and prima facie scandalous. What we learn from Kevin Phillips's new book, however, is that this kind of intertwining of public policy and personal self-interest has been standard operating procedure not just for George W. Bush, but for his entire family.

It gets better.

Phillips doesn't just bash the current President. He ties together the whole clan, from Jeb's S&L dealings in Florida before he becamse governor, to Neil's problems with Silverado S&L, to Marvin's Kuwaiti dealings with the Saudis, and back farther. He discusses Poppy's part in the Iran-Contra scandal, in the old whisperings that the CIA negotiated with Iranian mullahs in 1980 to doom Carter's presidency, and especially on the part that Bush played in the US backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq during the Reagan administration.

Suskind's book got a lot of play in its revelation that Iraq was on the Bush administration's mind from day one and not as a result of the September 11 attacks. Krugman says that's unfortunate because there's a lot more to the book than just Iraq, and explains that "the main virtue of The Price of Loyalty is what it tells us about the administration's values and mode of operation."

O'Neill basically confirms what John DiIulio told us a while back--that no decision is made in the White House unless it helps politically. O'Neill adds that nothing is done that doesn't help corporations as well. He also goes into the vast gap between Bush's private and public personas.

I think Krugman really nails the Bush administration with this paragraph:
What emerges from Suskind's book is a picture of an entirely cynical administration—much more cynical than Nixon's, in which the corruption was localized, and large parts of the policy process continued to be run by serious, even idealistic people. (Old hands at the Environmental Protection Agency describe the Nixon administration as a golden age.) Under Bush, it seems, political rhetoric bears no relation to reality—what officials say has nothing in common with what they do, or what they think. And policy decisions are driven almost entirely by politics, by what the political arm thinks will play well with "the base."

and he follows it up with a comparison to Machiavelli, noting that The Prince was not a discussion of what to do with power once one has it--it's a treatise on how to gain and hold on to power in the first place.

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