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Sunday, February 29, 2004

AP Story on Blogs

This says between 2 and 7 percent of adult Internet users in the US have blogs, with only 10 percent of those updating daily. My favorite factoid is that, "About 11% of Internet users report visiting blogs written by others. Most often, they were for blogs written by friends. But blog readers are more likely to go to journals kept by strangers rather than by family members." I wonder if that's because we don't really want to see the private musings of our family members (or don't know our family members even keep blogs, thank God).

Manichean Lysenkoism

Recent intellectual left-wing critiques of President Bush have been stretching the boundaries of my vocabulary, and I'm supposed to be a well-educated person. Hopefully Democrats are planning on using slogans this fall that actual people can understand. In case they don't, though, I'll provide a public service here.

I finally looked up "Manichean" when I heard it used a few times to describe President Bush's worldview after he announced his support for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. For example, here's Noam Scheiber:

On the one hand, social conservatives tend to have a Manichean view of the world and, as a result, tend to take a maximalist approach to their agenda. If, for example, you truly believe homosexual behavior is an abomination, then it does you no good to condone it in some circumstances but not others. Social conservatives deduce their policy positions from their principles, and there's no such thing as standing on half a principle.

Manichean thus describes a view that is black-and-white, all-or-nothing. One could use the term to describe Bush's approach to the war on terror too ("you're with us or you're with the terrorists"), and a Google of "Bush Manichean Worldview" reveals that many have (and more with "Manichaean", the alternate spelling). The actual definition refers to, "A believer in the doctrines of Manes, a Persian of the third century A. D., who taught a dualism in which Light is regarded as the source of Good, and Darkness as the source of Evil." Whether the modern Christian faith is also based on such duality sounds like a lengthy and controversial religious discussion I'm not qualified to participate in. I would remind participants that the Bush administration is not necessarily a reflection of Christian doctrine.

Lysenkoism, which has a far more recent origin, has been a term that has come up recently as a description of the administration's science policy, as in this Kevin Drum post entitled "Conservative Lysenkoism....The Definitive Report":

They don't want to hear about facts and they don't want to hear about research. Rather, they seem to think that somehow the world will conform to their views regardless of what the reality actually is, and anyone who says that the reality is different is simply a political enemy to be ignored or smeared as circumstances require. It's scary.

In short, Lysenkoism is a term for science that is really pseudo-science corrupted by outside ideological influence (here's another post on "Bush's Lysenkoism" from Brad DeLong). TD Lysenko was a Ukrainian agronomist who grew in stature within the USSR by emphasizing results he wanted to achieve over legitimate scientific inquiry, as this informative page explains:

Lysenko was very much a part of this campaign, stirring up a negative attitude to basic research and virulently demanding immediate practical results. He was capable of the crudest anti-intellectualism, remarking on one occasion: "It is better to know less, but to know just what is necessary for practice." He also was inclined to enunciations of the wildest voluntarism: "In order to obtain a certain result, You must want to obtain precisely that result; if you want to obtain a certain result, you will obtain it .... I need only such people as will obtain the results I need". Older scientists were, of course, horrified at such talk, so utterly alien to the habits of mind in which scientific method was grounded.

Lysenko interestingly was never a member of the Communist Party, but according to Helena Sheehan, "Lysenko's voluntarist approach to experimental results and to the transformation of agriculture was the counterpart of Stalin's voluntarist approach to social processes, undoubtedly a factor in Lysenko's managing to capture Stalin's imagination in this period." We've heard a lot about comparisons of Bush and Hitler, but not so much about these implicit comparisons of Bush to Stalin.

Now that I actually understand what the hell I've been reading, I'm even more committed to removing the Manichean Lyseknoism of the current administration from power.

NY Debate Wrap

It was a lively hour in this morning's New York debate, with candidates and reporters repeatedly battling to get a few words in. I was left wondering how they possibly did these things with as many as ten candidates for so many months. An Edwards attack on Kerry cited the same article analyzed in today's edition of VandeHei Watch, which I have now updated to include Kerry's response to the story.

Al Sharpton made sure everyone knew he was present by attacking both Elizabeth Bumiller and Dan Rather for ignoring him:

SHARPTON: If we're going to have a discussion just between two -- in your arrogance, you can try that, but that's one of the reasons we're going to have delegates, so that you can't just limit the discussion.

And I think that your attempt to do this is blatant, and I'm going to call you out on it, because I'm not going to sit here and be window dressing.

BUMILLER: Well, I'm not going to be addressed like this.

SHARPTON: Well, then, let all of us speak... I want us to be able to respond, or then tell us you want a two-way debate.

RATHER: Here's where the thing is. We certainly want to hear, I think you will agree, the voters have spoken.

SHARPTON: No, the voters have not spoken. We've only had -- he's [Edwards--DK] won one primary. He's come in fourth seven times.

BUMILLER: How many delegates...

SHARPTON: What you're trying to do is trying to decide for the voters how we go forward. The voters need to hear this morning from four candidates, or say the media now is going to select candidates.

RATHER: Reverend, we've heard from you, we're going to hear from you. I don't understand what the argument is.

SHARPTON: I had to fight to speak on Haiti, I had to fight to speak on trade. You got a guy with one primary that you're pretending he's -- Gary Hart won more primaries than Mondale.

Let's have an open debate and go into Super Tuesday, or say that you guys want to decide the nominee.

RATHER: Reverend, debate them, not me.

Well then! I think Sharpton has a point here. If the network people are just going to ignore Sharpton and Kucinich, as they were clearly trying to do this morning, they shouldn't invite them to the debate. But since they were invited, they should get equal speaking time with Kerry and Edwards. There really should be enough time to go around with only four of them, and ignoring half the candidates is pretty awkward, plus Sharpton charged at another point, "as long as we try to stifle the discussion, it feeds into the Ralph Naders of the world that say the only way to deal with this is to leave the party."

My blame for the repeated interruptions and tension over who had a chance to talk goes to the panel. The reporters kept trying to interrupt candidates without giving them adequate chances to address the questions they had posed. If they had just let things go, the candidates would have had more opportunity to get their points made. That is to say nothing of the questions, which included turkeys like, "John Kerry, have you learned anything from seeing how people like John Edwards more than they like you?" and "Is God on our side?"

I also enjoyed how Dan Rather announced the unlucky number of 13 minutes remaining right before asking a question about gay marriage. The number was a bad omen for Kerry, who delivered his worst answer of the hour to that question, refusing to explain why he felt the need to differentiate between gay and straight couples with regard to marriage rights.

Saletan thinks Edwards scored points by attacking Kerry on trade and the budget. I disagree since I thought Kerry's responses were pretty strong, but then again I'm biased toward Kerry in scoring the fight. Edwards' "I've seen the effects of job loss!" schtick is unimpressive to me--everyone knows job loss is bad. The litany of trade agreements Edwards rattles off as things he opposed, in trying to distinguish himself from Kerry (including ones with reasonably well-off places like Chile and Singapore), are small potatoes compared with the China agreement he and Kerry both voted for. Saletan also ignores the important second part of Kerry's budget reply--that the Post left out his Medicare modifications--instead focusing entirely on the more questionable stimulus accounting.

MORE: Drudge is headlining, "KERRY NOT SURE GOD ON AMERICA'S SIDE." Apparently right-wingers would prefer we be like the Taliban and see our leader as the instrument of divine power.

VandeHei Watch: 2.29.04

Jim VandeHei and Brian Faler are on page A5 of the Sunday Washington Post with an article that focuses on John Kerry's plans for the federal budget, cataloguing his taxation and spending proposals that he has announced thus far in the campaign. The problem I have with the article is that despite most of its content being an innocuous catalogue of these things, its angle that is played up suggests that Kerry's numbers don't add up. "Kerry's Spending, Tax Plans Fall Short: Review of Proposals Shows Expenditures Exceeding Savings by $165 Billion" screams the provocative headline. Once you read the piece, however, you realize this is just based on the reporter's own estimates, the accuracy of which we are unable to check, and a few quotes from an unnamed source:

But a review of his campaign proposals shows that the Democratic front-runner is promising to spend at least $165 billion more on new programs during his first term in office than he could save with his tax plan, a mix of breaks for the middle class and increases for corporations and the most affluent. The $165 billion figure does not include the cost of several proposals Kerry has not fully detailed or backed with estimates.

A policy adviser with Kerry's campaign said the candidate can fulfill his promise to cut the deficit in half by 2009 by slashing spending in other areas and "shedding" or "paring down" some proposals if necessary. Kerry also anticipates stimulating the economy with greater spending during his first two years in office, the adviser said.

The Massachusetts senator has vowed not to touch entitlement programs such as Social Security, which eat up a huge chunk of tax dollars, forcing a likely squeeze or freeze of popular programs to make his deficit-cutting goal. The adviser said it is not uncommon for a campaign's political team to overpromise during the primaries and then turn to the policy staff during the general election battle to cram the pledges into a workable budget.

The authors never tell us where the $165 billion figure comes from. I checked the economic plan on John Kerry's web site and found no numbers that could lead to a projection of such a shortfall, and I haven't located any independent calculations by think tanks either. Without providing information on where the numbers come from, the authors lack credibility in making this charge. It seems pretty basic that in an article trumpeting a budget figure the reader should know the basis of that figure, and VandeHei and Faler fail this basic test. The statements attributed to the unnamed source are also meant to convey that the campaign admits the budget gap exists, but the source never actually does admit this.

Then there is the larger point that even if budget numbers are off a little bit at this point, that's not a big deal. VandeHei and Faler try to make the case that this is a major problem, quoting a Gore 2000 official who says it's important to have the budget numbers sound, but this isn't the case at this point. Kerry undoubtedly will lay things out in greater detail once the general election battle is joined, showing how he accounts for his claims (I see proposals on his web site that are not mentioned in the WaPo article, by the way).

The more general proposals Kerry makes at this stage are intended rather to give voters a sense of his governing priorities and how he would seek to achieve them. No president ever gets his entire program passed without Congress changing or blocking some significant pieces of it, and circumstances can change during the course of the election year, forcing modifications. Projections of the future budget picture are inherently rough too, as the Bush administration has shown by creating much larger deficits than expected a few years ago.

Oh yes, and by the way, the Bush administration has the country on the way toward $2.75 trillion of more debt over ten years--hardly a record of sound fiscal policy-making--but since this is a negative Kerry piece, VandeHei and Faler don't mention this until the seventh paragraph, quickly moving on. The budgetary question voters really should be asking themselves is this: could Kerry possibly do any worse than Bush has?

UPDATE 2/29 4:30pm: This issue of whether Kerry's budget figures add up made it onto the Sunday morning debate. Edwards used it to attack Kerry when he said, "Well, The Washington Post today just analyzed his proposals, and its the same old thing. Here we go again. In fact, in fact, he overspends, in terms of being able to pay for all of his proposals, he overspends by $165 billion in his first term, which means he would drive us deeper and deeper into deficit." Thanks to Edwards bringing it up, we were able to hear Kerry's response to the article:

I think John would have learned by now not to believe everything he reads in a newspaper. And he should do his homework, because the fact is that what's printed in The Washington Post today is inaccurate.

A stimulus is by definition something that you do outside of the budget for one year or two years. The Washington Post included the stimulus when they figured the numbers. The stimulus is what you do to kick the economy into gear so that you can reduce the deficit.

Secondly, they did not include the reduction of the $139 billion of the Medicare bill which I have said I am sending back to Congress because it's a bad bill. I voted against it, it's bad.

Now, when you add up my stimulus that's outside of the budget and the Medicare numbers that they didn't even include, you do not go over, I do not spend more...

At that point Kerry was cut off--it seemed like everyone got cut off the entire debate without being able to finish an answer--but we got the gist of his response. Stimulus shouldn't be counted toward the budget (a questionable assertion, though the president's not counting Iraq spending is no better), and there are other elements of his proposals that were left out, as I presumed, which is definitely a legitimate gripe. Again, though, I'm not sure how Kerry knows what was in the calculation and what wasn't since the article gives limited clues.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Oscars-Watching

Wonkette links to the Oscars drinking game. I prefer the BBC version, though it sounds like it will involve an awful lot of drinking. People are scared about what those zany political-activist movie stars might say, which is really lame. Michael Moore's tirade last year was the most entertaining part of the show.

Kerry and the Locals

Saturday's Globe has a story on "To Some Constituents, Kerry Still a Puzzle" describing how John Kerry doesn't exactly have the most enthusiastic home-state backing a politician has ever enjoyed. The piece explains what I've been trying to say for a while on this page about this, and it includes the following excellent anecdote:

Even among higher-level politicians, Kerry is not exactly known for his personal touch. Some stories have made it into State House lore: most famously, perhaps, the time in 1996 when William Reinstein, a lawmaker from Revere, with his colleagues looking on, introduced himself to Kerry as "Representative Butchy Cataldo," a former legislator. Kerry fell for it; slapping him on the back and telling "Butchy" how good it was to see him again.

The latest line of attack on Kerry seems to be that National Journal has rated him the "most liberal" member of the Senate, producing critiques like this. Unfortunately for Kerry-bashers, the story is more complicated as Eugene Oregon reports after actually reading the National Journal article (what a novel idea!), which is subscription-only, hence no direct link, yet quoted liberally in the linked blog post.

Pick the Oscars

This seems like the way to waste some time online today. Here's the official site and here's a pick 'em contest with prizes. And another, and another (win an Edmonton Public Library t-shirt!) and another. This looks like the best contest going, though it requires abc.com registration to enter. CNN has one too. You can probably find more.

I also took the quiz "Which Country Are You?" and got Singapore.



You're Singapore!

You're small but well-built and people are a little afraid of you.  You might even walk with a cane that people find somewhat menacing, rather than seeing it as an aid to your mobility.  You like an urban lifestyle, with little time for nature or the more rural pleasures of life.  This fast-paced lifestyle suits you, and you wish everyone around you would just shape up.
Take the Country Quiz at the href="http://bluepyramid.org">Blue Pyramid

Not bad, except for the part about the cane (?). Schroeder may be amused if he sees this.

Friday, February 27, 2004

9/11 Commission Deadline Extended

Hastert relented under heavy criticism and agreed to let the 9/11 panel investigation continue two more months, setting a new deadline of July 26 instead of May 27. Josh Marshall has been making a convincing case that Hastert was really taking the heat for the White House all along and that the plan didn't work out. The unexplored angle here: that new deadline is the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the report is sure to divert some attention from the Dems. That's one reason (aside from the obvious appearance of looking obstructionist) I thought the extension was in the White House's interest.

Larry King's Insulting Performance

Aeolus reminds me of how annoyed I was by Larry King's shabby treatment of Kucinich and Sharpton in last night's debate. When Kucinich advocated a non-profit single-payer healthcare system, King dismissed it as "socialism" immediately.

Reverse Censorship of "The Passion"?

There's been plentiful discussion these past few days about how the Super Bowl halftime wardrobe malfunction gave religious conservatives just the opening they needed to demand removal of programming they consider immoral, such as Howard Stern's radio show. I've not posted on this since my anti-censorship stance is pretty straightforward and doesn't add much to the debate. But another angle to the story came to me as I was reading Roger Ebert's four-star review of The Passion, which ends with this:

The MPAA's R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic.

So in addition to the idea that speech deemed unacceptable by religious zealots is facing tougher scrutiny, we now see the view from Ebert that content that is favored by religious groups may be getting a free pass from regulators, even if it oversteps the normal bounds that everyone else must abide by.

The great irony of the Howard Stern brouhaha: more media time for Michael Savage, who infamously was fired from his MSNBC show for making derogatory remarks to a gay caller. Savage was on both CNN and ABC last night.

John Kerry, Soviet Dupe?

"Things are really getting harsh," Howard Kurtz notes, in citing NRO's Ion Mihai Pacepa:

To me, this assertion sounds exactly like the disinformation line that the Soviets were sowing worldwide throughout the Vietnam era. KGB priority number one at that time was to damage American power, judgment, and credibility. One of its favorite tools was the fabrication of such evidence as photographs and 'news reports' about invented American war atrocities...

As a spy chief and a general in the former Soviet satellite of Romania, I produced the very same vitriol Kerry repeated to the U.S. Congress almost word for word and planted it in leftist movements throughout Europe.

Kurtz mildly calls this "a stretch." Since this keeps coming up, I suggest anyone interested read Kerry's testimony on the atrocities, in which he clearly states that these are things that his fellow veterans had told him they had done (hat tip: Mark Schmitt). Fred Kaplan also has a good refutation of GOP criticisms of Kerry's voting record on defense issues.

Hair's Johnny!

Headline ripped from yesterday's Globe:

"Bless you," Johnny Damon said yesterday as he entered the Red Sox clubhouse. "Bless you all."

Heads turned as Damon, fully bearded, with his brown hair flowing to his shoulders, submitted one of the best impersonations of Jesus of Nazareth this side of "The Passion of the Christ." But no one knelt before him.

Perhaps someone is taking the Mel Gibson movie a little too seriously? Or maybe he's just trying to beat out Pedro Martinez for the title of ugliest hair on the Red Sox.

This is about as exciting as spring training gets (that is to say, not very), so I can't really understand why every Boston TV station has to have their people down in Fort Myers giving live reports every night. A few years ago Bill Simmons catalogued the types of stories that get recycled during spring training every year, summing things up nicely.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Bartman Ball

In case you haven't been following this vital story, the baseball that was touched by fan Steve Bartman during last fall's playoffs, dooming the Cubs' chances, is going to be blown up tonight on TV (ESPN and MSNBC will have the ceremony). They have an elaborate schedule of events lined up, culminating in the demolition, which has been planned by a Hollywood special effects expert who has done such films as Jurassic Park. I'm not making anything up.

Here's an article on the ball's final day of existence, here's an interpretation of the ball's final public statements, and here's a debate over whether the ball should be preserved. Chicagoans have clearly lost their minds.

This is the highlight of a strong night on the TV, including the California debate, a Frontline special on Iraq, and an excellent NBA doubleheader on TNT.

Sick/Funny

Jesse Taylor links to an article in The Hill on plans for the Republican convention this summer, which includes this line from a GOP official:

"Or, and this is a real possibility, we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero," he added. "It's clearly a venue they're considering."

Pandagon commenter Mr. happy is right when he asks, "Doesn't it ever occur to anyone that a political acceptance speech ATOP A MASS GRAVE might be a bit offensive to many people?" I can't imagine this will actually happen.

Beefcake Brown

Earlier this week I commented on the March 2 special election for State Senate between Democrat Angus McQuilken and Republican Scott Brown (McQuilken is endorsed in today's Globe). Now Ben from Romney is a Fraud has made a great discovery of Brown's past life as a self-absorbed model (see the posts for today and yesterday).

The campaign strangely enough issued a press release Tuesday about McQuilken entitled "Where's the Beef?" Brown doesn't exactly leave much to the imagination in some of his photos--perhaps he wants McQuilken to do the same? Ben also asks, "Why does Brown keep telling everyone he meets that he's against gay marriage? Who is he trying to convince?" I'm not linking directly to the photos here; click the RiaF link to find them, as well as some great Brown quotes from a 1982 Globe article. Supposedly Brown did some ads for Jordache back in the day, and Ben has asked for email leads.

The Scott Brown web site is flashy and pictures the state rep with Mitt Romney. Like Romney, Brown has a ridiculously telegenic family (including a wife who is a local TV reporter), though his modeling highlights must not have made the cut for this photo album.

A Blogging Milestone

Last night I received my first angry email response to the stuff I've written about gay marriage (I'm not sure if my buddy got the address from this page or a comment elsewhere):

You would be better suited to changing society to fit your law than changing the law to fit your view of society. Society in the USA does not fit with your rogue viewpoints ATM. Please take your civil disobedience to another country. We don't need social deviants like you.

Well, he was considerate enough to say "please," so it's off to Canada for me! People advocate for changes in the law all the time, and it's a rather basic element of the system. I'm actually against the "civil disobedience" in San Francisco, if that's what my pal is referring to.

Chicago law professor Cass Sustein's op-ed in today's LA Times might be an edifying read for this correspondent.

"I'm Done With That Question": More Kerry Over Edwards

John Kerry has to be feeling lucky that his oft-critiqued statements on gay marriage today look absolutely statesmanlike compared with John Edwards:

Speaking to reporters yesterday afternoon, Edwards explained that he personally opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions, and believes each state should set its own marriage policy.

When asked why civil unions could not simply be called marriages, Edwards said, "My answer is the same."

Asked why states, not the federal government, should decide policy, he replied, "Because it's something I think should be decided by the states."

And when asked to explain his personal opposition to gay marriage, he snapped, "I'm done with that question."

It's reasonable to be asked to explain why you hold the positions that you do, Senator Edwards. "Just because" is not an illuminating response.

The Globe leads with Kerry's comments, his most extensive to date, on the same subject. At least he mentions some of the issues involved and he hasn't been testy with reporters' questions, to my knowledge. Nevertheless, "New England's largest gay-targeted newspaper, In Newsweekly, cited Kerry's 'flip-flops' on the issue of gay marriage in an editorial to be published today that endorses his rival, Senator John Edwards, for the Democratic presidential nomination." I can understand them being annoyed with Kerry over this, but they don't seem to realize that Edwards is hardly better.

The Times has endorsed Kerry over Edwards today, citing Edwards' lack of experience in foreign affairs. I largely agree with the editorial, though this line is overly generous: "What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple." It's hard to make the case that Kerry has not taken muddled positions to protect himself politically in several instances over the years. In fact, the Times goes on to contradict itself two paragraphs later: "Unfortunately, so far in this campaign Mr. Kerry has shown little interest in being daring, expressing a thought that is unexpected or quirky on even minor issues. We wish we could see a little of the political courage of the Vietnam hero who came back to lead the fight against the war." So which is it, thoughtfulness or political calculation?

Public Support for Protectionism

Jim Glassman writes on TCS that the companies Lou Dobbs singles out for "Exporting America" actually had an aggregate 72 percent return in the past 12 months, compared with 39 percent for the S&P 500. Unfortunately, Dobbs and others have been banging the protectionist drum with effect, as Julian Sanchez cites Tyler Cowen who cites a USA Today article on a study finding that, "High-income Americans have lost much of their enthusiasm for free trade as they perceive their own jobs threatened by white-collar workers in China, India and other countries, according to data from a survey of views on trade." The numbers have turned sharply:

The poll shows that among Americans making more than $100,000 a year, support for actively promoting more free trade collapsed from 57% to less than half that, 28%. There were smaller drops, averaging less than 7 percentage points, in income brackets below $70,000, where support for free trade was already weaker.

The same poll found that the share of Americans making more than $100,000 who want the push toward free trade slowed or stopped altogether nearly doubled from 17% to 33%.

That's disheartening to read for free-traders like me. Maybe Tom Friedman and his anecdotes can save us.

VandeHei Watch: 2.26.04

Ceci Connolly had another article on drug importation from Canada in Wednesday's Post. It's an important issue but I'll be sticking with the campaign journalism in this space, which she may return to this summer. For now, it looks like I'll be watching Jim VandeHei who is on the front page of Thursday's Post.

Up front, I admit the premise of the article is correct. It is hypocritical for Kerry to denounce "Benedict Arnold" companies and CEOs and to accept money from companies that fit his own description of such firms and individuals. In fact, the whole "Benedict Arnold" line is foolish and I wish he's drop it from the stump speech.

That said, I think the article is rather lacking in perspective and VandeHei is once again going to end up providing Bush/Cheney '04 with advertising material, as he did with his inaccurate claim about Kerry and special interest money. VandeHei seems to sense this line of criticism of his reporting, so he gives the overall dollar figures early on:

Executives and employees at such companies have contributed more than $140,000 to Kerry's presidential campaign, a review of his donor records shows. Additionally, two of Kerry's biggest fundraisers, who together have raised more than $400,000 for the candidate, are top executives at investment firms that helped set up companies in the world's best-known offshore tax havens, federal records show. Kerry has raised nearly $30 million overall for his White House run.

So it's a few hundred thousand dollars he's focusing on out of $30 million total raised, about 2 percent. He's not making much of a case for this being on the front page, especially since, as VandeHei admits, "Given the vast sums raised during the presidential campaign as well the growing number of companies with offshore operations, it seems almost inevitable that candidates would receive contributions from some of them." What is the cutoff point at which these contributions become more than just incidental happenstance and a real inconsistency with the campaign message? Two percent seems rather arbitrary.

While the charges about Kerry taking special interest money and the exposes of his fundraising have been all over the Post front page lately, there has been little examination of Bush's much larger fundraising apparatus that has raked in over $100 million in an uncontested primary season. It would be understandable if readers came away with the impression that the Democrats were the party of shady financial backers, which is hardly the case, based on the relative volume of Post coverage on the parties' fundraising practices (see here). VandeHei also senses this critique and dismisses it in one sentence:

Bush has taken exponentially more from these companies than Kerry, though the president has not made a major campaign issue out of clamping down on them.

If the special interests charge is any indication of how the Bushies will take this article and run with it, though, they will happily go around repeating VandeHei's charge of Kerry hypocrisy now that it's in the Post. In doing so, they themselves will be capitalizing on the same sentiment that is driving Kerry to appeal to voters along these lines. Indeed, White House backtracking from Greg Mankiw's controversial statement on outsourcing last week was an indication that they recognize at least the need to cater to this point of view. The argument, then, is not entirely about consistency with one's formally stated views but also what the campaigns seem to be acknowledging as legitimate positions through their actions, in this case the position that off-shoring jobs and using tax havens are wrong. That means it does matter how much money BC04 has taken from such companies, and all VandeHei tells us is that it's "exponentially more" than Kerry.

The Post obviously has the capability to find the dollar figure and they should have published it. Such a disclosure would have gone a long way toward preventing the Bush campaign from hypocritically touting Kerry hypocrisy on this issue.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Gay Marriage Haiku

Elton Beard paraphrases Bush's announcement of support for the amendment banning gay marriage in haiku form:

A state has no right
to disobey the diktat
of my deity.

While I'm passing on frivolous items, I been meaning to post Jay Leno's joke on Ralph Nader from the Tonight Show a few nights back: "Nader says he's so serious about running this time around that he's even going to press his suit."

Woodward's Political Porn

I've been reading Bob Woodward's Shadow the last few days and it's very good, much better than the other books of his I've read. What's so fun about it is the juicy details Woodward reveals.

For instance, Woodward abslutely takes a crap on the Ford presidency. Not only does he make a big deal out of how the secretary of defense ignored direct orders from Ford, but also Woodward describes Ford's penchant for having a few martinis with lunch, a custom he supposedly picked up while serving in the House of Representatives. As president, though, boozing at noontime wouldn't cut it: Woodward recounts one luncheon speech Ford gave in which he ended up saying nuclear deterrence as "insurance." Advisors actually had to confront Ford about not drinking during the daytime! I would've thought this was a pretty basic rule for someone who is serving as leader of the free world. For some reason I never learned about all of this in the one college class I took that covered the Ford presidency. Perhaps that's because the professor was... a former aide to Gerald Ford.

In my reading I've also learned that the first ever investigation under the Independent Counsel statute was into whether Jimmy Carter's chief of staff snorted cocaine in the basement of Studio 54. Even in the rather dry detail of Iran-contra, Woodward throws in some good stuff about Nancy Reagan's astrology obsession and White House staffers' fears that Reagan was growing senile. I imagine the Clinton section will be pretty damning once I get there since no one is coming out looking that good so far.

She Said No!

There's a great Sports Filter thread going on the story of a woman who declined a marriage proposal at an NBA game over the weekend in front of thousands of people. The guy who popped the question has probably had a rough couple of days.

El Pelo de Pedro

And now for something very important: check out Pedro's hair. I had a good laugh when I saw the curly monstrosity sitting atop Martinez's head on the news last night, and Sean McCarthy reminded me of it today.

Romney's Kerry Dis

OK, so governors and senators from different parties in the same state probably aren't going to like one another. Still, is publicly dissing one another like this called for?:

Ironically, one of the few Republicans to argue that Kerry, if nominated, would be a relatively easy opponent for Bush was the governor of Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Although acknowledging that the 19-year Senate veteran is "well-spoken and very bright, a skilled debater, with a record of distinguished service in Vietnam," Romney insisted that anyone "would be hard-pressed to say he has been a distinguished senator."

"What has John Kerry ever fought for and won for Massachusetts or the nation?" Romney asked.

Romney, who ran unsuccessfully against Kerry's colleague Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) before winning the governorship, suggested that businesses and individuals who need help in Washington turn first to Kennedy. Kerry, he said, "fought well in the jungles of Vietnam, but in the jungles of Congress, I haven't seen it."

Which leads me to ask: what has Mitt Romney ever fought for and won for Massachusetts or the nation?

Stupidity also reigns in this article on Massachusetts reaction to the president's gay marriage announcement yesterday. "My thoughts upon hearing the president's comments are that he seems to have captured almost precisely the pending compromise amendment that has been offered by Senate President [Robert E.] Travaglini and myself," said Speaker Tom Finneran. He seems to be ignoring the minor detail that the Massachusetts compromise amendment makes provision for civil unions while the Musgrave amendment Bush supports in the Congress would actually prevent civil unions from being a possibility for the states to enact (notwithstanding statements to the contrary from right-wingers trying to obscure the truth).

John Kerry, the Movie

Via Political Wire, I see this:

Filmmaker George Butler, who made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name with his documentary "Pumping Iron," will now point his camera to the left. Butler just got the rights to make a nonfiction movie out of Douglas Brinkley's bestseller "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War." Like the book, the flick will chronicle Kerry's metamorphosis from soldier to anti-war activist, and obviously, it has to be done before November...

FMA

Why is everyone reacting so strongly to the president's announcement he wants to write anti-gay discrimination into the US Constitution? There have been signs for a while that he would go this direction. Some people have been claiming the White House didn't want to take this stand, but I would argue that they're doing exactly what they've done in most policy areas: pleasing the base, in this case the wacko religious conservatives.

Shockingly, I happen to disagree with Bush's stated reasons for supporting an amendment. He acknowledges that the Defense of Marriage Act prevents one state's decision to allow gay marriages from imposing on the other states via the "full faith and credit" clause, but still he argues that DoMA could be overturned:

Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not, itself, be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage. Furthermore, even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.

It's silly to preempt a decision striking down DoMA when the law hasn't even been challenged in the courts yet. Even if it were, the Supreme Court would be very likely to uphold it, and only if it were struck down, then I could see some rationale for people who oppose that ruling pushing for an amendment to reverse the result. As for disputes within states and cities, those matters should be left to state and local officials--remember federalism? Bush's whole argument is a ridiculous smoke screen for what is simply a policy of discrimination against homosexual citizens, denying them equal rights under the law.

I am also quite disappointed with the statements out today from both the Kerry and Edwards campaigns. Both are very similar, claiming Bush is playing politics with the Constitution in order to change the conversation away from the weak economy, etc. While that is all true, I was sad that neither candidate bothers to mention the obvious objection here, that Bush is discriminating against gays. Since when is advocating for tolerance of everyone a political position that Democrats have to shy away from? Kerry and Edwards get low marks for their lack of political courage today on this issue. Edwards even begins his statement, "I oppose gay marriage," just to make that clear. In effect he's saying, "I'm no homo lover" as a disclaimer right off the top.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan has had tons of angry responses to Bush's announcement on his site all day (this seems to be the major post, though he has several others related). While he's eloquent in making the argument, I have difficulty understanding these people who have been backing Bush and are suddenly taken aback by him supporting a ban on gay marriage. Did they somehow get the mistaken impression that Bush was a great crusader for people's rights? Maybe they had that idea based on Bush sending poor defendants with inadequate legal representation to die while governor of Texas, or perhaps they were confused by the appointment of renowned progressive John Ashcroft as attorney general. To put this bluntly: if you're a gay rights supporter who has backed George Bush thus far, you're a moron. Congratulations on seeing the light.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Other March 2 Election

Lots of primary results will be coming in a week from tonight in the presidential race, but closer to home, I'll also be watching a key special election for the Massachusetts State Senate. The Globe has a good article on the race today, which is garnering lots of attention because it pits a Democrat, Angus McQuilken, who favors gay marriage against a Republican, state Representative Scott P. Brown, who wants to ban it.

This is seen as an early test of the clout of the pro- and anti-amendment forces, and both the Coalition for Marriage's Ron Crews and Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus are quoted in the article, supporting their respective candidates. This is unlikely to affect the voting when the state Constitutional Convention reconvenes on March 11 since Brown has already been voting to ban gay marriage as a House member and McQuilken probably wouldn't be sworn in by the time the ConCon returns if he were to win. You can bet the rest of the state legislators, all of whom face reelection in the fall, will be watching closely, though, to see how the issue plays with voters.

The irony of the situation is that the special election came about due to the departure of openly gay State Senator Cheryl Jacques, who left for a top post with the Human Rights Campaign. The lead of the article brings up an old quote by Brown from two years ago, commenting on Jacques and her pregnant female partner:

"It's unusual for two woman having a baby," the Wrentham Republican said then. "It's just not normal, in terms of what's normal in today's society."

McQuilken was chief of staff to Jacques. You think this race might be personal?

A few other Massachusetts political notes to pass on (I'm trying to come up with a good name for a regular feature on this area, let me know if you have ideas). First, the Herald ran a stupid article today complaining about how the Democratic presidential contenders hadn't made appearances in Massachusetts. Obviously it makes sense for them not to do this since Kerry is going to beat Edwards handily and there are nine other states voting the same day where they have more of a potential to affect the number of delegates they win next week by campaigning (Kucinich has been dropping in to ultra-liberal spots like Cambridge, hoping to grab a few delegates). Despite this logical outcome of neither major candidate visiting the state, the Herald gave some of its news page over to potshots at Kerry.

Bay State Republicans were quick to poke fun at Kerry, comparing him to Al Gore, who lost his bid for the presidency in part because he lost his home state of Tennessee.

"It's very ironic. Usually, the only time we see John Kerry [related, bio] is in an election year,'' said Republican Party Executive Director Dominick Ianno.

The odds of Kerry losing to Bush in Massachusetts are precisely zero. I wonder why the Globe didn't bother running such a non-story pointlessly attacking Kerry?

Finally, a federal court has upheld a state legislative redistricting challenge from minority groups claiming the district map violated their civil rights. This is interesting because it's a big blow to the autocratic House leadership group led by Speaker Tom Finneran, who is basically accused of lying under oath in the court's opinion.

''Although Speaker Finneran denied any involvement in the redistricting process, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite,'' the ruling said.

Now they have to come up with a new map, and it will be fascinating to see whether that map is deemed acceptable. Could this potentially be a controversy that finally loosens Finneran's stranglehold on legislative power?

Rod Paige's So-Called Apology

By now you all know Rod Paige called the NEA a "terrorist organization" yesterday. TBogg points to what is being called an apology by the education secretary, but for some reason it strikes me as lacking in sincerity.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today issued the following apology for his remarks about the NEA.

"It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics the NEA's Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind's historic education reforms. I also said, as I have repeatedly, that our nation's teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA's high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live. But, as one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better."

Think there still might be a little friction between the NEA and Paige that lingers, despite these words of conciliation?

Kerry's Latest Gay Marriage Dodge

Yesterday Kerry refused to comment on gay marriages in San Francisco, pleading ignorance:

Democratic front-runner John Kerry yesterday claimed he's unfamiliar with the much-publicized gay marriages being conducted by the mayor of San Francisco, so he can't express an opinion about whether they're right or wrong.

"I haven't made any judgment about it. I haven't really kept up with exactly what he is doing," Kerry told a press conference at York College in Queens.

There have been more than 3,000 gay marriages in San Francisco over the last two weeks in heavily publicized acts of civil disobedience that have touched off a national debate.

Eventually, he is going to have to take a position on this issue. It's not very convincing that Kerry would have no opinion on something that's such a hot topic, and if he truly doesn't, then that's a problem too. If you're running for president, aren't you supposed to have views on such things?

Edwards' Foreign Policy Inexperience

Hey, check it out, a negative article on John Edwards. This piece in the LA Times highlights Edwards' apparent lack of familiarity with foreign policy issues, beginning with his misunderstanding of a current trade dispute with the EU and moving on to a broader discussion of Edwards' seeming ignorance:

In recent days, Edwards has been pressed by reporters for his views on foreign policy matters. He generally has responded without much specificity.

On Monday, he was asked about the uprising in Haiti and a U.S.-brokered proposal to end the strife. The plan, which so far has not been accepted by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, would allow the beleaguered leader to finish his term in 2006 if he accepts the appointment of a new prime minister approved by rebels and allows parliamentary elections that should have occurred last year.

"I think for the time being, that's the correct approach," Edwards said. "I think we just have to continue to evaluate it."

Last week, Edwards offered vague answers in discussing U.S. policy toward Asia, and North and South Korea.

Edwards said his approach would be "something different than what the administration has, which is almost a nonexistent policy." He also said Bush has "alienated a lot of the South Korean leadership."

When asked a general question about U.S. relations with Germany--one of the European nations that has opposed U.S. policy in Iraq--Edwards said he thought "our transantlantic relationships are very important, including our relationship with Germany."

I don't doubt that the general direction of an Edwards administration foreign policy would be better than that of a Bush administration, but I do think his lack of knowledge about these things is rather alarming. This is a main reason why Kerry is a better candidate.

Introducing... VandeHei Watch: 2.24.04

Since Ceci Connolly isn't writing much of anything these days for the Washington Post, I'm adopting one of her colleagues to pick up the slack. Rest assured, when Ceci returns, I'll be here waiting.

I've mentioned a few times that my alternate WaPo Watch subject is going to be Jim VandeHei. Wonkette points to an interesting article in The Washingtonian that reports the following:

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei has made his mark as the hottest new member of the traveling press corps. VandeHei, who just turned 33, was the first reporter to examine and expose Howard Dean's history of hasty, factually frail statements. His stories before the winter holidays started to change the public perception of Dean, and then he exposed the former governor's tenuous relationship with religion.

As for John Kerry, VandeHei put some potholes in the senator's way with a story about the contributions he had gleaned from special interests even as he railed against them.

For the journalist adopter, those two paragraphs should set off sirens. It shows how twisted the system is when a young reporter becomes "the hottest new member of the traveling press corps" by writing stories that "change the public perception" of a candidate for president. It shouldn't be the writer's stories that do such a thing, but rather the actions and statements of the actual candidate that cause such a change (see Jay Rosen for some discussion of "the press as a player").

The special interests charge against Kerry has also turned out to be bogus--a minor detail, right? Peter Beinart wrote a strong piece on this last week, which I cited in this space over the weekend, rebutting the VandeHei article's claim that Kerry has taken more special interest money than any other senator in the past 15 years:

The first argument is the simplest: Kerry takes money from special interests, too. Last week, the Bush campaign released a Web video titled "Unprincipled, Chapter 1." Kerry, the video charged, takes "more special interest money than any other senator." That's based on a January 31 Washington Post story, which noted that Kerry "has raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years."

But the Post figure is misleading because it ignores the fact that Kerry has largely eschewed money from political action committees (PACs), a major source of funds for most of his colleagues. When you combine money from paid lobbyists and PACs--which makes sense, since they're both conduits for "special interests"--Kerry actually ranks ninety-second out of 100 U.S. senators. That doesn't make him pure, but it makes him purer than most serious candidates for the White House. And it puts him on a different planet from President Bush, who accepted more money from lobbyists last year alone than Kerry has in the last 15.

Despite the inaccuracy of VandeHei's claim in the January 31 Post article, the argument was picked up bb Bush/Cheney '04 and repeated as fact by the New York Times, among others.

In short, VandeHei is richly deserving of adoption, so here we go...

Tuesday's article runs on A10 under the headline "Past Votes May Dog The Kerry Campaign." It focuses on the legitimate problem Kerry faces of framing his argument against Bush in light of his votes in favor of the Iraq War, Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, fast track, etc. This subject is especially topical in light of the opening salvo Bush fired in a speech on Monday night.

Most of the criticism is fair, in my view, which, I admit, is one that isn't very sympathetic to Kerry to begin with. I am of the opinion that the area in which Kerry's record has been distorted most frequently of late is trade, and that also is the case with VandeHei's article. VandeHei is correct to point out that John Edwards' harping on how he opposed NAFTA at the time it was passed isn't backed up by much evidence. He goes on to quote a recent Kerry get-tough-on-trade applause line and suggests hypocrisy:

Yet in the Senate, Kerry voted for a Bush trade agreement with Chile and Singapore that some Democrats complained did not mandate tough enough labor and environment standards. Kerry also voted twice to provide Bush greater authority to negotiate trade agreements by granting so-called "fast track" power, which requires a straight up-or-down vote from Congress and precludes the House and Senate from amending the trade pacts.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who endorsed Kerry after dropping out of the race, has complained that the trade pact with Chile and Singapore and the fast-track bill "failed" to protect workers, human rights and the environment.

Two points here. First, the fact that "some Democrats" along with Dick Gephardt disliked the Singapore and Chile trade agreements doesn't automatically make them bad. Singapore and Chile, in fact, are both countries that are rather well off compared with other US trade partners, so many of the typical concerns aren't as relevant. The fact that Gephardt endorsed Kerry also should suggest that Kerry's trade views can't be irreconcilable with that of the left-leaning Democrats either.

Second, the fast-track vote is distorted by Gephardt's comment. As VandeHei notes in the first paragraph, the vote on fast-track authority doesn't by itself approve any particular trade agreement, so it's silly to claim that fast track by itself hurts workers or the environment. It simply means that Congress votes on trade deals up or down, without amending. If the president doesn't have fast-track authority, it is basically impossible to negotiate any free-trade agreement since the partner country won't want to be subject to revisions by the Congress. It's a good vote by Kerry because it at least makes the striking of sound trade deals possible in the future. If a trade pact is bad news, it should get voted down on its own merits in that case. VandeHei leaves the reader without the benefit of this obvious rebuttal to the criticism of Kerry's trade policy votes.

Moving on, while VandeHei discusses John Edwards' positions on trade in comparison with Kerry's, VandeHei never mentions that Edwards also voted for the Iraq War, Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind, just as Kerry did. That's important to know because the subtext of the piece is that Kerry may not be a good choice for the Democrats to run against Bush on the basis of this voting record. VandeHei should let readers know Edwards has precisely the same problem. That said, I disagree with VandeHei's claim that this could lead to a lot of people backing Nader:

Because Kerry essentially advocates trimming, tweaking or tightening these Bush policies, voters seeking more dramatic changes might turn to independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader as they did in 2000, some Democrats say.

There are also "some Democrats" out there who think this election will be much different from 2000 and the Nader vote will be very small (case in point: Ryan Lizza). Why does VandeHei only present one side of the picture? Presumably he wants to paint as gloomy a picture for Kerry's chances as possible so that he can hang on to his reputation for shaking up the race.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Celtics Boycott

Chuck Hirshberg argues on Page 2 today that Boston Celtics fans should boycott the team. He cites Danny Ainge promising not to trade Antoine Walker in the press and then trading him anyway. He also points out that owner Wyc Grousbeck told the Boston Business Journal that the team can tank since there's no competition in Worcester, basically arguing that he can take a fan base and its money for granted.

Hirshberg is right. The team has been needlessly blown up with Danny Ainge claiming all the while that he has some unspecified "plan" to return the team to a championship level. Ainge ran a very good coach out of town in Jim O'Brien, he has demoralized the remaining players, most importantly Paul Pierce, and his moves have not actually done anything to put the Celtics in a position to win in the years ahead. It has been sickening to watch, and ownership doesn't seem to care.

I'm making my personal boycott official tonight, the nonsensical trade deadline deal and the humiliation against Portland being the final straws. I remain an NBA fan who will simply watch other games. Thursday night's TNT lineup is looking sweet this week, with Dallas-San Antonio and Lakers-Sacramento, so I'll get my fix that way. Perhaps we'll see some common sense out of the C's front office in the coming weeks since the team has lost 12 of 13 and the stuff is really going to start hitting the fan.

It's On!

Get ready to hear more of this in the coming months:

"The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions," Bush said. "They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." His supportive audience erupted in laughter and applause.

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter disputed Bush's list of purported flip-flops. Kerry opposed Bush's tax cuts for the richest Americans and stands by that; voted for NAFTA and stands by it; voted for the Patriot Act, but believes the Justice Department is using it to trample civil liberties; and stands by his vote to authorize force for Iraq, but believes Bush's prosecution of the war "created a breeding ground for terror" and alienated allies, Cutter said.

Bush's line is going to be very effective because it's accurate. The response from the Kerry spokeswoman is pathetic because she essentially confirms Bush's critique by saying Kerry backed both the Patriot Act and Iraq War but doesn't like how those votes have turned out. That's called changing your mind. "If you knew how those votes would turn out, would you make them again?" is a question I guarantee Kerry will work hard to dodge. The spokeswoman also omitted that Kerry has said he wants to revisit NAFTA when he gets into office to look again at labor and environmental issues, which hardly qualifies as standing by his vote unequivocally. He also opposed the entirety of the Bush tax cuts package, though now he says he wants to keep the cuts that went to the middle class and get rid of those for the rich.

I'm not saying all of Kerry's votes are illogical--splitting hairs like this can make sense in some instances. It's just troubling that Kerry seems to split hairs on every damn thing, and consequently, painting him as a waffler is ridiculously easy to do. (Edwards, I should add, is vulnerable to similar attacks because of the positions he has taken.)

My Blog Advertisers

Some blogs have ads for Congressional campaigns, but here at Dimmy Karras, I've been sporting an advertisement run by Chris P. Carrot for president. This is bizarre, even for PETA, and that's saying something.

Also spotted atop this page recently was an ad for Civil War 2061, which seems to be the fantasy scenario of some Southerners about a second US Civil War commencing in the bicentennial year of the start of the first one. The descriptions of the seven regional militias reveal the creators' biases: the "Yankees," based in Massachusetts, are called "clever, shrewd, arrogant," while the "Texas Rangers," by contrast, are, "risk-takers, individualists, self-reliant, and proud" (that is, until the Rangers trade their star shortstop to the Yankees). In this instance, I think the Google ads algorithm may have failed.

The Passion

Reviews are popping up of the Mel Gibson torture movie that is coming out on Wednesday. David Denby in the New Yorker makes a good case for not seeing it:

For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagrely involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus’ message of love into one of hate. ...

By contrast with the dispatching of Judas, the lashing and flaying of Jesus goes on forever, prolonged by Gibson’s punishing use of slow motion, sometimes with Jesus’ face in the foreground, so that we can see him writhe and howl. In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical details--an arm pulled out of its socket, huge nails hammered into hands, with Caviezel jumping after each whack. At that point, I said to myself, "Mel Gibson has lost it," and I was reminded of what other writers have pointed out--that Gibson, as an actor, has been beaten, mashed, and disembowelled in many of his movies. His obsession with pain, disguised by religious feelings, has now reached a frightening apotheosis.

Not that I was going to see it anyway. Others will, though, and I can't fathom the appeal of watching a man be tortured and killed. Isn't that what Saddam Hussein did for fun at his palaces?

Andy Rooney took some shots at Mel Gibson last night too, asking, "How many million dollars does it look as if you're going to make off the crucifixion of Christ?" This happens to be an argument I don't agree with, based on my belief in free expression. Gibson should be able to make a movie about whatever he wants. I don't buy the fears of anti-Semitism either since I think people should be responsible for their own actions, rather than blaming a movie or anything else for their misdeeds. I just think the movie sounds pretty tasteless, and I'm confused by religious people who are so excited to go see such glorification of violence.

Dems' Hypocrisy on Trade and Iraq

Bruce Bartlett makes an interesting argument I agree with:

As Gerard Baker of London's Financial Times observes, Democrats universally condemn President Bush for acting unilaterally in Iraq, alienating our allies, and showing disregard for multilateral institutions like the United Nations. Yet, often in the same speeches, they will demand that the administration act unilaterally to restrict imports, with no concern for its impact on our trading partners or our obligations to the World Trade Organization.

It is always nice to see someone else frame issues in such a way that one's own positions appear to be logically consistent.

Kerry Over Edwards

I read the Kos endorsement of Edwards over Kerry and feel compelled to say that I feel precisely the opposite. Kos doesn't make a lot of sense here--he doesn't even touch on any of the relevant policy issues in explaining his choice--dismissing "those silly 'electability' arguments" before he goes on to endorse a version of them, namely that Edwards is more likely to elect a Democratic House and Senate. His bitterness over Kerry allegedly ignoring the blogosphere also seems a rather unsound basis for picking a presidential candidate.

I would suggest that issues do matter, and control of the governing apparatus per se isn't enough; it matters what Democrats do with it. This seems kind of basic to me, like something I shouldn't have to explain to anyone. Anyway, even by the Kos rationale of winning back Congress, I think Kerry makes more sense because he'll simply be a more effective president. Edwards can be the most telegenic guy in the world, but that won't matter if his policy choices don't work out and voters lose confidence in Democrats.

This brings me to something I've been slowly realizing in the past few weeks and that crystallized for me when I watched This Week yesterday morning. I won't bother running through a long list of issues, especially since I don't have a strong preference between the two men on most of them. I will say that Kerry conveys to me a feeling that he is more at ease with foreign and defense policy areas, whereas Edwards seems rather too eager to show he's competent there.

But what really has sealed the decision for me has come in their differing statements on trade. Edwards claims of the pain of lost jobs, "I've seen it personally," like that makes him any more fit to try to do something about it. Everyone knows that lsoing jobs is a bad thing. This exchange with Stephanopoulos was also telling:

Sen. Kerry has a legitimate position [on trade]. It's just different than mine. And we have a very different record on this issue. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement. I voted against the Singapore trade agreement. I voted against final fast track authority for this president. I voted against the African trade agreement. I voted against the Caribbean trade agreement. Sen. Kerry voted for all of those.

Stephanopoulos: You both voted for China.

Edwards: We both voted for China, that's correct.

Quick, which trade agreement do you think has a larger impact on the economy, the one with China or the one with Chile? I half-expected Edwards to go on listing how he voted against the Vanuatu trade deal or the Lichtenstein agreement here. He's blatantly pandering to protectionists to try to win votes, and I believe that this pandering would have a strongly negative effect on US trade policy in a hypothetical Edwards administration. Op-ed columnists have been rightly noting this, from Tom Oliphant to Tom Friedman to even Bill Safire (ignore the tax cuts mumbo-jumbo).

Of course, Kerry has engaged in some damaging rhetoric too, but based on listening to both men, Kerry seems to be engaging more in vague posturing to try to protect his flank while Edwards I fear really means it. And I'm not certain to vote for Kerry either--I'm still considering voting for Dean on March 2 as my own way of protesting the two major candidates, neither of whom I care for. I think it's silly how some Dem talking heads gush that we've had a very strong primary field this year when the two best, Clark and Dean, have been knocked out already.

Liberal Bias at the Globe!

No, not really. Today's ombud column shows some people have deluded themselves into thinking that's so, however:

"I wish the Globe would explain its idea of fairness. It spends thousands of dollars trying to prove that President Bush missed a few meetings of the National Guard, and then there's a report that Kerry might have committed adultery, and they dismiss it with two lines," said Jim Mahony of West Roxbury.

Yes, and the Globe has always been such a backer of Kerry's... Oh wait. Then there's the inconvenience of the two situations not being at all comparable. Chinlund writes, "the reporting has revealed that military records don't reflect what Bush maintains is true -- that he kept up his required National Guard duty in Alabama. That is a fact and worth reporting, just as the Globe in 1992 aggressively reported on Bill Clinton's draft records." On the other hand, "By the time the rumor appeared on the Drudge Report website on Feb. 12, the Globe had already spent two weeks trying to verify a similar rumor about Kerry, to no avail." It seems rather straightforward that the paper should cover something when there's evidence and not cover something when there is no evidence.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Schwarzenegger and Nader, Together at Last

What a duo on Meet the Press today! Can you imagine what the conversation in the green room must have been like? The egotistical Nader must have been steamed that the muscle-bound, media-hyped film star was upstaging his little announcement, pushing him into the second half hour segment. Schwarzenegger is the king of the Golds Gym gang bangs, the groper on movie sets, the Hummer driver. Nader, by contrast, is a never-married man in his 70s who lives in Dupont Circle and has been a campaigner against auto industry products like the Hummer for decades. A political satirist more skilled than I am should take a shot at this one.

Anyhow, their two interviews were quite a pairing as well--two very different kinds of lunacy and incompetence. Arnold started off on a nice note by saying he wasn't happy to be on the program but that he had to make the appearance to campaign for the bond issue ballot questions that are coming up in California:

And so this is why it is very important for people to vote yes on Prop. 57 and 58, and that's why you see me campaigning up and down the state and doing as many interviews as possible, including sitting here today with you, although I love you, Tim. But, I mean, you know, we are out there, you know, promoting and campaigning this because it's very serious.

Yeah, those damn interviews, in which you might get asked tough questions, they're a real drag (you had to see his body language and hear his tone of voice on this one). Fortunately Arnold avoided the Sunday shows during the recall campaign last fall. My favorite part was when Schwarzenegger admitted to having made some mistakes since taking office:

Like for instance with the budget, I remember when we made the midyear adjustments, I made certain decisions of programs, for instance, for the mentally disabled and I made certain cuts. And then after that, when I talked about it, I didn't realize that I made those cuts, so I had to go back and just say, "Look, I made a mistake. I made those cuts. I did not intend to make those cuts. I want to put it back." ... It was like literally two or three days later when we--I mean, I read it, number one, in the paper, and then we talked about it in our family. And, you know, I have been a big promoter and always involved with Special Olympics, with helping people with mental disabilities. And I said to myself, "What am I doing? I'm now making cuts in programs for mentally disabled? That's not good." I mean, so then I went back and made the adjustment.

So he made a mistake by cutting funding for programs for mentally disabled people, and he only realized what he'd done and tried to change it after he read about it in the paper. Does he have any idea what he's doing? It sounds like he is just signing things that his advisors put in front of him without knowing what they are.

The Schwarzenegger interview was quite cordial, with Russert even flattering the governor by playing a clip of the movie Demolition Man, a futuristic film in which reference is made to a past Schwarzenegger presidency. That all was by way of introducing the question of whether he would run for president if the Constitution were altered to allow it. Arnold tried his best to look humble in responding.

By contrast, Ralph Nader was confronted with all of the calls by Democrats for him not to run for the presidency, leading him to issue a charged denounciation of those who have made such calls. He must be annoyed that the idea of Schwarzenegger running is treated as a fun hypothetical and the idea of him running causes such angry exchanges. Arnold, of course, is willing to take one of the major party labels, which makes a difference (being telegenic and likeable probably does too).

Nader lived up to my expectations of inane babbling. He seemed to call everyone and everything "corporate"--an evil epithet in his world--and he made some amazingly illogical claims. This was a joke:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq?

MR. NADER: He would have. I think he was a hawk. He may have done it in a different way. He and Clinton got through Congress a regime-change resolution as a pillar of our foreign policy.

Never mind that Gore has been giving speeches for months now denouncing the president's war in Iraq and that he endorsed Howard Dean. His mention of the Clinton administration policy toward Iraq echoes the RNC talking point that is meant to absolve the president of responsibility for misleading the country into war (and he cites the policy inaccurately to boot). This was another joke:

The military industrial complex, as Eisenhower pointed out, is getting bigger and devouring half of the federal budget's discretionary expenditure. And we have no major enemy left in the world, no Soviet Union, no Communist China.

Can you say "terrorism"? I highly doubt that railing against defense spending will be a winner with the elctorate at large this year. This sounds like something he must have used in his 1996 campaign, and it's past time to update it.

He cast aside legitimate questions with meaningless sound bites, as expected. The Nation magazine was dismissed as the "liberal intelligentsia", whatever that is supposed to mean. "You'd never find that type of thing in Canada or Western democracies in Europe." I laughed again at that one; tell the voters we should be more like France, there's another winner.

I can't see how this performance won Nader any votes, though I'm obviously biased. I just wished we could've seen any Nader-Schwarzenegger interaction (or had them appear jointly)--that would've been priceless.

Trackbacks!

I learned from reading Atrios that trackback is now available for people with Haloscan accounts. Still not sure if this means I'll end up in trackback lists of people I link to--we'll see.

New Mass Gay Marriage Poll

The Globe is leading with the poll results in Sunday's paper. Some of the numbers are here.

The people surveyed opposed legalizing gay marriage 53-35, a turnaround from the 48-35 margin in favor three months ago. The Catholic Church's campaign seems to have had an effect, as Catholic opposition increased from 47 to 66 percent. A strong majority (60-31) favors civil unions as well, but interestingly none of the three amendments considered by the legislature in the recent Constitutional Convention achieved majority support in the poll. This adds to my suspicion that the public is divided in such a way that even though majorities want to ban gay marriage and allow civil unions, no single amendment may be able to garner enough support to pass, in which case the SJC ruling will stand.

The SJC's favorability rating has declined due to the constant attacks on it, and strangely Tom Finneran's parliamentary trickery actually seems to have made him more favorable with voters. A large majority wants this on the ballot, as one would expect to see, though there appear to be other more pressing issues for voters: "Asked what are the important issues facing the state today, 7 percent cited gay marriages and civil unions, while 18 percent chose the economy; 18 percent, health care and health insurance; 14 percent, unemployment; 11 percent, education; and 8 percent, taxes." And that's in a poll that's all about gay marriage, which probably inflated that 7 percent number some. Much as the GOP will try to use this as a wedge in November, the fact remains that even at the center of the firestorm on gay marriage, other matters matter more to people.

More Nader Bashing, Kerry DYKWIA? and "Stand by Your Ad"

More Nader bashing as I brace myself for the Russert interview in the morning: If you haven't seen this yet, go check it out. Matt Yglesias links to a few of the anti-Nader greatest hits, including Jon Chait's merciless review of Nader's book from November 2002. This piece should effectively put to rest any thoughts about Nader possibly having a just motive in running. The whole thing is a pretty devastating indictment of Nader with many great bits, including this preview of what we'll probably see on Meet the Press:
Throughout the campaign, Nader brushed aside concerns that he might help elect Bush by employing one of several blithe quips. If asked about being a spoiler, he'd invariably reply, "You can't spoil a system that's spoiled to the core." If asked about helping defeat Gore, he'd answer, "Only Al Gore can defeat Al Gore." Another Nader favorite was, "Would I be running if I were concerned about taking votes from Al Gore? Isn't that what candidates try to do to one another -- take votes?" Not since Steve Forbes has a presidential candidate turned aside unwanted queries so robotically. Nader's one-liners were pure, made-for-television nonsequiturs, all refusing to engage on any substantive level the fact that his candidacy might prove a decisive factor in Bush's election.

Let's see how many of those he fires off when Russert inevitably touches on the obvious concerns. I'll probably feel like doing this to my TV.

Moving on to this site's other favorite whipping boy, I see that even Dave Barry has a John Kerry "Do You Know Who I Am?" story. Jonah Goldberg earlier this week cited Back of the Envelope, who recalled that Barry wrote the following on September 14, 2003:

In conclusion, I want to extend my sincere best wishes to all of my opponents, Republican and Democrat, and to state that, in the unlikely event I am not elected, I will support whoever is, even if it is Sen. John Kerry, who once came, with his entourage, into a ski-rental shop in Ketchum, Idaho, where I was waiting patiently with my family to rent snowboards, and Sen. Kerry used one of his lackeys to flagrantly barge in line ahead of us and everybody else, as if he had some urgent senatorial need for a snowboard, like there was about to be an emergency meeting, out on the slopes, of the Joint Halfpipe Committee. I say it's time for us, as a nation, to put this unpleasant incident behind us. I know that I, for one, have forgotten all about it. That is how fair and balanced I am.

One of Barry's assistants has emailed that Barry isn't making this up and you can read the column this comes from here. Encountering Kerry in Idaho of all places has to be some really bad luck.

Peter Beinart has the best rebuttal I've seen of the Bush campaign's "special interest" anti-Kerry argument in his column a few days back. First, there's the statistical rebuttal to the Washington Post's charge that Kerry has taken more special interest money than his Senate colleagues:
But the Post figure is misleading because it ignores the fact that Kerry has largely eschewed money from political action committees (PACs), a major source of funds for most of his colleagues. When you combine money from paid lobbyists and PACs--which makes sense, since they're both conduits for "special interests"--Kerry actually ranks ninety-second out of 100 U.S. senators. That doesn't make him pure, but it makes him purer than most serious candidates for the White House. And it puts him on a different planet from President Bush, who accepted more money from lobbyists last year alone than Kerry has in the last 15.

Beinart also makes the "whose interests are 'special' anyway?" argument toward the end, framing it quite nicely.

The truth is that Bush, like most Republicans, is more influenced by corporate "special interests," and Kerry, like most Democrats, is more influenced by noncorporate "special interests."

You can argue that Kerry's selective use of the term is fair. After all, if an interest is "special" because it is narrow, then Bush's backers deserve the term more than Kerry's, since big companies represent a narrower group of people than labor, environmental, or consumer groups. (There are exceptions: The GOP-leaning National Rifle Association and Christian Coalition have broader memberships than the Democratic-leaning trial lawyers.)

But, ultimately, the semantics don't really matter. Rather than screaming about who is more indebted to special interests, the Kerry and Bush campaigns should simply admit that they have ties to different ones and defend their associations. The president, I suspect, would have the harder time.

Yes, that's the editor of TNR writing an article defending John Kerry, stop the presses.

Mickey Kaus is criticizing the "Stand by Your Ad" provision of the new campaign finance law, arguing that requiring candidates to appear in commercials to say they "approved this message" is a First Amendment violation. Legal details aside, he makes a few silly claims in the course of this argument.

First, Kaus asks, "how does requiring that the candidate himself or herself appear--as opposed to just requiring that funding be disclosed by someone, somehow--shed the 'light of publicity' on campaign financing?" This is simple: it's a far more obvious form of disclosure than requiring fine print on the bottom of the screen no one will notice, or having these things listed on some web site most people won't check. Making the candidate say the magic words ensures that any viewer will know the ad is from that person's campaign.

Kaus adds, "the provision was explicitly designed to protect politicians from negative ads. And it's helped turn the Democratic primary race into an uninformative blandwagon in which voters know much less, at this stage, about the characters of the two leading candidates than in previous multicandidate primaries." He's correct there haven't been many negative ads during the Democratic primaries, but he's wrong to attribute this entirely to the new advertising rules. Far more important in this development has been the impression that negative advertising can backfire, as it certainly did for Dick Gephardt in Iowa.

Finally, Wonkette noticed the same silly reference in Friday's article on Bush campaign ads to the preparation of a few anti-Kucinich scripts. She also links to this, which I've yet to figure out. "The classic children's book icon, Grandfather Twilight, broke twenty years of silence to endorse Congressman Dennis Kucinich for President in 2004. 'In these extraordinary times we must act with extraordinary sincerity,' he said." OK then...

Bad Times in Celticsville + Williams Joins Clarett

Being a Celtics fan isn't much fun right about now. A sign your basketball team is in trouble: the head honcho from the front office holds a team meeting and gets this response:

Ainge turned to captain Paul Pierce and asked what he thought of the game. According to the source, Pierce said nothing. Ainge next turned to Mark Blount and asked what he thought of the game. Blount said, "It was long."

That's Danny Ainge talking to the Celtics in a team meeting after their last-second loss to the LA Clippers Thursday night. Shockingly, it appears Ainge's pep talk was ineffective. In Portland tonight, the Blazers scored the game's first 22 points on the way to routing Boston. Once Chucky Atkins gets it going, though, watch out!

One more sports item, which I think qualifies as additional evidence the Maurice Clarett early entry NFL Draft case was properly decided: Mike Williams now appears likely to leave USC for pro football. He's 6-5, 230, a physical specimen who runs over college-level defensive players, so the argument that he's not ready for the NFL on a physical level is silly. He was the best player on a team that won a share of the national championship, and he's a lock to be a top ten selection according to a team official quoted in the MSNBC article, yet at age 20, he would be barred from entering the NFL on the basis of the previous rules. As I argued when the case was decided, this issue isn't about one guy, Maurice Clarett--about whom there are more legitimate questions about whether he will succeed in the pros--but rather allowing young men the opportunity to play in the league. Williams is, without a doubt, ready to make the jump, and barring him from the league on the basis of an arbitrary age requirement would be unjust.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Teresa

Another reason to be nervous about John Kerry as Democratic nominee: his eccentric wife. I think she's cool, yet her unpredictability is a frightening prospect for the fall. The Sunday Times profile of Teresa Heinz Kerry notes she may become a lightning rod for Republican criticism, like Hillary Clinton, and it also points out something I've noticed:

When they traveled together in New Hampshire, he routinely stood by watching admiringly as she rambled on in a near whisper, her flowing hair hiding her eyes. "Isn't she spectacular?" Mr. Kerry would say.

Oddly, Ms. Heinz Kerry seems not to return the favor: when he is speaking his wife often wears a pained, or even bored, expression. She says it is merely the look she gets when she is thinking deeply. Or she pleads shyness, saying Mr. Kerry's growing crowds at times have overwhelmed her.

Or maybe she's on board with the Kerry Windbag Watch (though she seemed to be making the constipated face even back a few weeks ago when Kerry was doing well with his stump speech). Or maybe the botox and other work she's had done makes it so she can't smile?

The NYT profile says conservative radio is already going after her, including some discussion of Kerry's kiss of Teresa on stage in Wisconsin Tuesday night--supposedly she scowled to the cameras and looked disgusted afterward. Her wardrobe is being mocked as well, which reminds me of Howie Carr joking she wore her shawl the night of the New Hampshire victory long enough to win the bet.

And I can't figure out why she didn't figure more prominently in the speculation about the Drudge rumor being untrue. Would you cheat if your wife were worth half a billion?

MORE: The "About Teresa" page of the Kerry campaign site has a few photos that show what I'm talking about. There's also the archive of Teresa blog entries there. The Washington Post has a Sunday article saying there is still some legal ambiguity about whether she can use her personal fortune to help her husband's presidential bid.