Senate Democrats: Fighting Hard for Your Two Dollars

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

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Senate Democrats have drawn a line in the sand and they're sounding like they mean it. After efforts to raise the minimum wage were stymied by those champions of the small businessman, Senate Republicans, Dems are talking like people who've had an infusion of spinal fluid. Harry Reid has vowed to block Congressional pay raises until a minimum wage increase is passed.

"We're going to do anything it takes to stop the congressional pay raise this year, and we're not going to settle for this year alone," Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a Capitol news conference.

Minimum wage workers haven't had a raise in 9 years. Our Congresspeople -- you know, the people that we pay with our tax dollars -- have had several. Their total "cost of living" increase works out to roughly $31,600 dollars. Having voted themselves increases that average out to about $15 per hour, granting minimum wage earners an increase of $2.10 over the next two years is the least they can do. Literally. In fact, as a remedy to the greater problem of poverty and wage disparity, it's fairly laughable. Tying together Congressional salaries and the minimum wage certainly makes for a great rhetorical hook, but it's also very safe political territory.

In contrast to the GOP leadership, the American public overwhelmingly favors a minimum wage increase. In fact, most Americans would be more likely to vote for a Congressional candidate who favors increasing the minimum wage.

I certainly hope they succeed in their efforts and put a little more money into the pockets of our lowest wage earners, but a little is exactly what it would be.

According to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis:

  • The federal minimum wage has remained at $5.15 for nine years.
  • Since its last increase in 1997, the minimum wage has lost 20 percent of its value.
  • The minimum wage is at its lowest level in terms of purchasing power in fifty years.
  • At 31 percent, the minimum wage is at its lowest as a share of the average American wage since 1947.
  • It takes a full day of work for a minimum-wage worker to buy a tank of gas.

I just don't think incrementally raising the rate by a couple of dollars over the next two years will exactly lift people out of poverty. It is entirely possible that the price of gas per gallon, alone, will rise that much, or more, over the same time span.

I have, frankly, lost patience with rhetorical flourishes like this one from Charles Schumer:

"It is shocking that in this Republican do-nothing congress, even the minimum wage is something that they won't go for," Schumer said.

There are many terms I would use to describe the Republican controlled Congress, but "do-nothing" is not one of them. I can't help wondering what focus groups helped Schumer pick that particular turn of phrase, but it is typically tin-eared. The GOP has accomplished one of the most massive transfers of wealth in American history. That's sure as hell not nothing. Democrats have done little to stop and many have voted with them on numerous tax-cuts that have emptied the nation's coffers into the pockets of the very, very wealthy.

As American Prospect points out, while only 12 percent of Americans currently fall below the poverty level, the fortunes of most Americans are falling relative to increases in the cost of living.

Today, with only 12 percent of Americans officially poor, the challenge of leadership is more complex. Yet four Americans in five have had basically stagnant living standards since the mid-1970s. That's because three decades of economic growth have gone almost entirely to the top, not merely the top 20 percent but mainly the top 1 percent.

In other words it isn't trickling down. The gap between average workers and the upper echelons of management is ever-increasing.

Chief executive officers in the United States earned 262 times the pay of an average worker in 2005, the second-highest level in the 40 years for which there is data, a nonprofit think-tank said on Wednesday.

In fact, a CEO earned more in one workday than an average worker earned in 52 weeks, said the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Economist Paul Krugman has long claimed that we may, in fact, be entering another Gilded Age, with a new class of robber barons. In this seminal piece originally published in the paper of record in 2002, he charts the thirty year rise of a new elite and the disappearance of the middle-class. To be super-wealthy is fashionable, once again, after a brief hiatus in the 50s and 60s. Sadly most Americans are in denial that these "tectonic shifts" have occurred. Says Krugman:

My sense is that few people are aware of just how much the gap between the very rich and the rest has widened over a relatively short period of time. In fact, even bringing up the subject exposes you to charges of ''class warfare,'' the ''politics of envy'' and so on. And very few people indeed are willing to talk about the profound effects -- economic, social and political -- of that widening gap.

Yet you can't understand what's happening in America today without understanding the extent, causes and consequences of the vast increase in inequality that has taken place over the last three decades, and in particular the astonishing concentration of income and wealth in just a few hands. To make sense of the current wave of corporate scandal, you need to understand how the man in the gray flannel suit has been replaced by the imperial C.E.O. The concentration of income at the top is a key reason that the United States, for all its economic achievements, has more poverty and lower life expectancy than any other major advanced nation. Above all, the growing concentration of wealth has reshaped our political system: it is at the root both of a general shift to the right and of an extreme polarization of our politics.

Last week the Washington Post reported on the disappearance of the middle-class neighborhood.

Widening income inequality in the United States has been well documented in recent years, but the Brookings analysis of census data uncovered a much more accelerated decline in communities that house the middle class. It far outpaced the decline of seven percentage points between 1970 and 2000 in the proportion of middle-income families living in and around cities....

The Brookings study says that much more research is needed to better understand why middle-income neighborhoods are vanishing faster than middle-income families. But it speculates that a sorting-out process is underway in the nation's suburbs and inner cities, with many previously middle-income neighborhoods now tipping rich or poor.

As the article states, there is research to be done on why middle-class neighborhoods are disappearing faster than middle-income people, but I could point to a couple of possible reasons not addressed by the Post. The most obvious is that housing prices are terribly inflated, with even those little suburban matchboxes from time of yore going for sums unaffordable to the average wage earner. Beyond that much of the housing boom has been of the McMansion variety, marketing well-appointed, pre-fab monstrosities to the extraordinarily well-heeled. Housing prices have outstripped income growth for the majority of Americans. So the rapid polarization of American neighborhoods doesn't surprise me all that much.

I was raised by one of those men in a "gray flannel suit," Krugman describes. My grandfather was one of those men for whom capitalism had worked; rising from a working class background to the level of a top executive. But the excesses of the modern CEO would have sickened him.

He housed his family in one of those suburban matchboxes that sprung from the ground like so many mushrooms after WWII. He ran a large division of a major corporation and, as such, was the chief executive of one of the major employers of our town. It was a puzzlement to many why so many of the men who worked for my grandfather, lived in houses so much larger and grander. My grandfather was not given to such pretensions and couldn't see the point in heating so much unnecessary house. He lived a modest, if very comfortable, life.

At the time of his retirement, CEOs were earning a little more than 20 times the salaries of working stiffs. He thought that was too grave a disparity and argued with his executive colleagues about it. He was a product of a bygone era and with the advent of the Reagan years I saw him struggle with a kind of culture shock, as he watched the world go mad. He had survived the Great Depression, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and lived the American Dream, as the New Deal made the rise of the middle-class possible. He watched it begin to slip away and raged against the dying of the light. I am only grateful that he did not live to see the rise of this new plutocracy because it would surely have killed him. Though I cannot help but wonder what he would have made of the Senators of the Democratic Party, to which he donated lavishly in his day, quibbling over an all-be-it very necessary $2 wage increase, while the entire middle-class way of life is disappearing.

Cut and Run Republicans, Part 2

Sunday, June 25, 2006

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In addition to underequipping troops deployed to the bloody Iraqi theater, the Bush Administration is also failing to support them when they return. It may seem a little unfair to single this Administration out on this, as this country has never done right by its veterans, but the disconnect between rhetoric and reality is too pronounced to ignore. Bush has claimed the mantle of "war time president," and has parlayed that title into carte blanche authority to unwrite our civil liberties. He makes many of his speeches before the captive audiences of military bases and academies, where our people in uniform are compelled by the UCMJ to show unwavering support for the Commander in Chief. He adopts pseudo-military regalia like some stunted version of a third world generalissimo. No other President in US history has adopted military trappings, including the former 5 star General Eisenhower, who always appeared in civilian attire. But Bush routinely coopts martial glory like it's cool.

This morning I read that many of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning to the US to live in the streets. This is not new, certainly, but at a time when Republicans are labeling multiply decorated Marine John Murtha, who served in two wars, as a "cut and run" Democrat, it underscores a tremendous audacity. The Republican Party has held both houses of Congress for the better part of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Is this the best they can do by the warriors they so love to lionize when it suits their purposes?

Thousands of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing a new nightmare -- the risk of homelessness. The government estimates that several hundred vets who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are homeless on any given night around the country, although the exact number is unknown.

The reasons that contribute to this new wave of homelessness are many: Some are unable to cope with life after daily encounters with insurgent attacks and roadside bombs; some can't navigate the government red tape; others simply don't have enough money to afford a house or apartment.

Homelessness is one of the many problems a tragically underfunded VA is saddled with. Another is the underlying cause of a good deal of that homelessness; post traumatic stress disorder.

About one-fourth of all homeless adults in America have served in the military -- most of them minority veterans.

There are now about 200,000 homeless vets in the United States, according to government figures.

"In recent years, we've tried to reach out sooner to new veterans who are having problems with post-traumatic stress, depression or substance abuse, after seeing combat," said Dougherty. "These are the veterans who most often end up homeless."

Earlier this week Knight Ridder reported that combat stress cases are well above anticipated numbers and the VA cannot cope.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is on a pace to see nearly 20,000 new cases of post-combat stress this year among service members who've served in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than six times the number of cases that officials had expected.

The reason for such high numbers is not mysterious.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been particularly stressful because they involve urban warfare amid civilians who are hard to distinguish from the enemy. There are no front lines or safe areas, and the enemy uses improvised bombs and ambushes.

Remember those heady days when we were told our troops would be greeted with flowers by the Iraqi people? Our troops are paying the price for that total lack of foresight, both here and at home, and without the support they need from the government that dispensed them into that nightmare.

A statement from the Democratic members of the House VA Committee said that even as the number of post-traumatic stress disorder cases increased, the VA had cut back the number of PTSD therapy sessions for veterans by 25 percent in the past 10 years.

In a related issue, the Government Accountability Office recently found that the Pentagon didn't seek further mental-health treatment for eight out of 10 soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who showed signs of post-combat stress.

William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, responded that the GAO report was "flawed."

Well that flawed report seems to have forced the hand of the DOD which subsequently announced it will form a Mental Health Task Force. I'll withhold judgment until I see what remedies are prescribed by said task force, but the recent history of the Republican run executive and legislative branches gives little reason for optimism.

This country has a long history of treating our fighting men and women like so much disposable flesh. But the cynicism of a "war time president" who cuts back on services for veterans at the precise time it is creating so many of them is hard to overstate.

Republicans love to slap magnetic yellow ribbons on their SUVs and scold the left for not "supporting the troops" but as a party they can be counted on to "cut and run" when our troops need them most.

Cut and Run Republicans

Saturday, June 24, 2006

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My husband informs me he nearly drove his car off the road yesterday listening to Diane Rehm's news roundup. The reason for his shock and outrage? An email Rehm received from one of her listeners named Carol. The podcast is available on the WAMU website. Here is my attempt at a transcript of the pertinent portion of the broadcast:

My son is an Army PFC assigned to Military Intelligence based in Fort Hood, Texas. He's going to deploy to Iraq in early August. Last week his unit was informed that due to budget cutbacks, they would have to buy some of the equipment they'll need. He is infantry assigned to an M1 [probably Rehm's misreading of MI: Military Intelligence] unit and need ammo bags, a scope, rails, magazines for his rifle, and a holster for his issued handgun. He was told the Army will eventually issue magazines but they would be old and used and might not work properly so they should buy their own if they could. They were advised to look in pawn shops and Ebay for gear. [Emphasis added] The total for these items will be around a thousand dollars. My son brings home less than eleven hundred dollars a month.

Carol goes on to explain that she and her husband will foot the bill for their son's proper armament, but expresses concern for those families and soldiers who are not as well heeled. Why, she wonders, is Congress wasting its time on petty bickering, when we are sending our troops into battle without the proper equipment.

The bigger question is why they simultaneously look the other way while companies like Halliburton blow billions on no-bid contracts. Just this week a Republican majority tabled an amendment that would have called for oversight of the company with a notorious record of waste, mismanagement, and worse. So the message from Republicans is that taxpayers can eat losses of billions of dollars to a company which has been discovered supplying our troops with expired food products and contaminated water, and, on top of that, military families have to pay out of pocket for the basic equipment they will need to fight in an increasingly dangerous war.

One arcane detail raised by Carol's email is that her son has been issued a sidearm, which is not de rigueur for enlisted ranks, but rather for officers. Those units that are receiving them are most likely those that are being deployed to urban regions and doing some of the most dangerous fighting in Iraq. Pistols are generally used for close quarter combat. This is informed conjecture, on my part. It could just be that their supply office had a glut of pistols without holsters and are just throwing them whatever they have in lieu of what they actually need.

It seems to me that the only "cut and run" that's occurring is Republicans abandoning our troops while they are on the ground in an ill-advised war that is spiraling out of control. Hawkishness and jingoism will only take you so far and seems increasingly deficient against the backdrop of escalating bloodshed in Bagdad where a state of emergency has been called more than three years after this mission was declared accomplished. The military serves this Administration very well, providing air craft carriers to use as props for photo ops and as recipients for services that poison them while enriching White House cronies.

Staring Into the Abyss

Friday, June 23, 2006

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I adore Ron Suskind. I've been a major fan since he created shock waves with his profile of Karen Hughes in Esquire. Andy Card spilled his guts to the reporter and the most a madly backpedaling White House could do to discredit his reportage was complain that the color-blind Suskind had misrepresented the carpet as blue. I knew then that Suskind had a gift; an intangible quality that makes total strangers want to pour their hearts out to him. I have that knack myself, and avoid crowds for that reason, but I imagine for a reporter it's a major asset.

Public figures love to confess their fears and regrets to Suskind, and more than any other reporter, he has been able to part the curtains on the internal dynamics of the most shrouded White House in American history. From the tragic John DiIulio's pronouncement that the Administration was being run by the "Mayberry Machiavellis," to the inscrutable Paul O'Neill's tell-all-to-Suskind "The Price of Loyalty," to the cultish fervour of a White House that eschews the "reality based community," Suskind always gets the goods. So I am very much looking forward to reading "The One Percent Doctrine." More so after reading this review in Salon.

"License to Lie" by Gary Kamiya is worth reading as a stand-alone piece, even if it means sitting through the ad, just for insights like this:

Suskind's great achievement here is to reveal how the Bush administration short-circuited and ultimately corrupted the way America's government is supposed to work. Actual coups d'├ętat are lurid and violent and attract attention. As Suskind reveals, Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice and Rove pulled off a much more sophisticated job: a bureaucratic coup d'├ętat. Without firing a shot, they silenced critics, squelched unwanted facts, and created their own false but salable reality.

And this:

And if it is necessary to understand our enemy, it is also necessary to understand the risk that we could become the very thing we fear. Nietzsche wrote, "He who fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster himself. And when you stare long into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you." Secrecy and lies in the service of a higher good -- it has a Marxist, a fascist, a theocratic sound. Little by little, under the guise of "national security" -- since the birth of the republic, always the greatest threat to American values -- Cheney and his blustering, deeply devout accomplice have steered America away from its priceless legacy as a land governed by laws, debate and transparency, and toward something none of us would want to recognize.

Aaaannndd this:

Perhaps then we can ask how it happened that the government of the United States was hijacked by a bullying, fact-averse religious fanatic and his puppetmaster, an evil courtier out of Shakespeare. How we were plunged into a disastrous war simply because a cabal of ideologues and right-wing zealots, operating in autocratic secrecy, decided they wanted war. And how all of the normal workings of a democratic government -- objective analysis, checks and balances, transparency -- were simply trashed by an administration waving the bloody shirt of "terror."

But there is little reason for optimism that such a reckoning will take place anytime soon. The Democrats' failure to address the historic debacle that is the Bush presidency is so vast, so complete, that it must stem from reasons deeper than merely its pathetic fear of appearing to be weak on "national security" -- that meaningless shibboleth invoked by political consultants who would nervously triangulate if they were being devoured by a great white shark.

Sadly, I share Kamiya's pessimism. Works like Suskind's are revelatory to those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear. But nothing seems to pierce the bubble of illusion that keeps, the Bush White House, both houses of Congress, and the DC Press Corps, thoroughly insulated from the reality based community.

She's Not a Lesbian -- She Just Plays One at Parties

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

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Lovers IV

I avoided reading this article in Salon for a day and a half because I knew it would make me want to vomit blood. And lo... No, it is not news to me that young girls are marketing themselves as sexual exhibits for male entertainment, nor that faux lesbianism is all the rage. I just prefer not to think about it. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon sums up this horror pretty succinctly.

On that subject, there’s an article in Salon about the “new” trend of straight girls making out with each other because merely clinging to assholes in backwards baseball caps and begging for their attention doesn’t radiate the concept of Desperation clearly enough. But it’s actually worth sticking through, because after the lurid set-up, the author addresses how deeply homophobic the act is, since it’s a way for the male audience to lull themselves into believing that women are so wholly their property that even lesbianism exists to please men.

Salon gives us a peek into this brave new world, where women have been liberated from the bonds of sexual repression only to lunge into the open arms of sexual exploitation.

[Alexandra] and a friend were drinking at a party, and some guys dared them to kiss ... so they did. "It was like, look, I'm the center of attention! Everyone's looking at me and cheering me on. It felt good being in the spotlight," she says. Then she adds, "And the kissing itself didn't really bug me. From then on it became a normal thing to do."

I know that's what I'm looking for in a kiss; that it not "bug" me. So I guess this is the modern version of, "Close your eyes and think of England."

"I think it's empowering to these girls," Jay says. "Immediately after, guys come up and are like, Do you want to do that with me? It's a quick fix to get a guy's attention."

That's right, Jay. Female power is contingent on male approval.

But for girls who get it on with other girls as a performance for guys, questioning their sexuality doesn't seem to enter into the picture. In fact, they feel free to hook up with other girls precisely because it's understood -- by the girls involved and their spectators -- that all parties are straight. "Girls kissing each other didn't start until my senior year of high school," Nina says. "If it had started earlier, it would've been seen as gay, and we would've been afraid that guys would think, Oh my God, they're lesbians."...

The general consensus among straight girls who make out with other girls seems to be that kissing is fine, but there are two caveats: You can't go further than that, and you have to be watched -- by males.

In other words it's cool for a gal to be sexually adventurous as long as it's completely inauthentic and she derives no sexual pleasure from it. No, we certainly can't have women exploring what turns them on unless what turns them on is turning men on.

None of this is really new. Girls have long been taught to trade on their sex appeal. Now whole new generations of young women are learning to market their sexuality, in increasingly degrading fashion, and they're not even holding out for jewelry.

After two months at Northeastern, the "girl-on-girl" make-out session had become inevitable at parties, but Julie still hadn't kissed a woman herself. Then she and a female friend showed up at a party without the $5 cover charge, and she suddenly realized that girl-on-girl action could be a form of currency. "I said to the guy, 'What if we make out? Will you let us in for free?' He said, 'Yep, do it.' I knew it'd be something that [the guys] were into which would get us what we wanted -- to save $10."

Some years ago I was at my favorite dance club chatting with one of the bouncers. He always had the best stories and on this night he shared with me his irritation at how many non-regulars tried to beat the cover, which was kept artificially low at $3. He told me that a young woman had come to the door and reacted with exasperation at being asked to pay the cover.

"I don't have to pay the cover," she said. "I slept with the owner."

"You slept with the owner," he said. "Who hasn't slept with the owner? Everyone here has slept with the owner!"

"Yeah, well. I slept with some of the bartenders," she said.

"Oh," he said. "Well, have you slept with even one of the bouncers?"

"No," she said.

"Three dollars," he said.

A humorous anecdote, but, not without an element of tragedy. "That's what she thinks her body is worth?" I said to him, "Three dollars?" No, he admitted. He really hadn't considered that.

As shocked as many people are to learn that young girls are being this sexually permissive and experimenting, however disingenuously, with the taboo of sexual fluidity, we are largely inured to the all-too-familiar undercurrent of female sexuality as a currency. We think of it as normal that a woman would trade on her natural assets to attain everything from free drinks to financial security. Sadly, what many of them actually want is love.

Long-term dating isn't the goal of the straight-girl make-out, says Julie; hooking up with the guy watching is. But she concedes that many girls attempt to hook up with a guy in the hopes that he'll become a boyfriend. "One of girls' fantasies of hooking up with a guy you like is that they'll want to date you, but that's a tried-and-failed situation. If you go home with a guy [right away], you have a minimal chance of him taking you seriously."

Yes, Julie. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Knocking Is Just Good Manners

Thursday, June 15, 2006

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Or so my mother taught me. But neither etiquette, nor Constitution, nor legal precedent, shall bind the hands of law enforcement. The Supreme Court that Bush built has decreed that violating that pesky Fourth Amendment should not stand in the way of evidence gathering.

Drugs or other evidence seized at a home can be used in a trial even if police failed to knock and announce their presence, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a major shift in its rulings on illegal searches by police.

The 5-4 decision in a Detroit drug case undercuts a nearly century-old rule that says evidence found during an unlawful search cannot be used. The decision also offers a sign that the court might be more apt to strengthen the hand of police with Justice Samuel Alito in the place of retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Yes, the Bush appointee that Senate Democrats cravenly rubber-stamped most recently has tilted the court in a direction some call "conservative" but would be more fairly described as "fascistic."

The libertarian Cato Institute also denounced the ruling. "Because of today's decision, we can expect to see an even more pronounced increase in the use of illegal, military-style no-knock raids," Cato policy analyst Radley Balko said.

It only gets worse from here, folks. We'll all be Mr. Buttles soon enough.

Kos: Anonymity is for Cowards

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

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After days of grandstanding on Daily Kos about Armando's God-given right to be an anonymous blogger. After all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the villainous National Review, who outed his "secret identity" as an attorney, The Great and Powerful Kos has offered a pronouncement:

The poor gazillionaire consultants in DC are too cowardly to make their criticisms publicly, so they hind behind a cloak of anonymity....

They cowardly hide behind the blind quote, lest they be called on their bullshit. I have no problem attaching my name to my criticisms. Why don't they?

I don't know Markos. Why doesn't Armando? And why do so many of your loyal kossacks think it's positively noble to hide your true identity. Well, at least until some anonymous person goes after their beloved Markos. As I said before, it's the hypocrisy, stupid.

Note: Special thanks to Simon Malthus for bringing this to my attention.

New Media Same as the Old Media

Monday, June 12, 2006

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Last week lots of VIBs (Very Important Bloggers), and a good number of those who bask in their reflected glory, tromped off to Las Vegas to participate in the first annual Yearly Kos convention. Much ado about nothing, methinks, but it has forced its way into my consciousness, none-the-less. I've been to conventions in Vegas. Vegas is the place for conventions; not because of the gambling, not because of the "entertainment," not because of the hookers, not even because of the cheap breakfast buffets, but because it has one of the largest convention centers in the country. It's a city well set up to accommodate conventioneers. Yes, the reason really is that boring.

The Yearly Kos drew lots of big name politicians and first string journos and got a good bit of coverage. So why do I think it's a wash? Because it is emblematic, not of the ascendancy of blogging as a political force in our troubled nation, but of our failure. What started as fertile ground for an insurgency against the hidebound mass media and its enmeshment with the political process it is supposed to be policing, is proving to be nothing but a pale imitation of that media

Case in point: "How Much Is That Blogger In the Window?" asks Salon's Michael Sherer. Sherer, who recently profiled "blogfather" Jerome Armstrong, turns now to the politician Armstrong consults for, Mark Warner. How interesting that the Presidential hopeful who pays Armstrong to help him court the netroots also threw top dollar -- 50k actually -- at the gathering of bloggers in Vegas.

To date, no other candidate has rented an Elvis impersonator to perform for supporters in a circular viewing station 1,000 feet above the Vegas strip. And no other candidate has tried to ply voters with the deadly trifecta of a vodka-chilling ice sculpture, a chocolate fondue waterfall, and free roller-coaster rides.

So will bloggers be wooed by this type of seduction? Some will. Some won't. But arguably the most prominent among them was acting like the Prom Queen.

Moulitsas, who has not endorsed any presidential candidate, repeatedly praised Warner for hosting the Friday night party and being an early endorser of the conference. "We are all going to have quite a bit of time to make up our minds," Moulitsas announced at the Stratosphere. "I've got to say, though, as a first date, this is pretty cool."

From his perch at Daily Kos, Markos continued to extol the virtues of the candidate.

Warner sent a strong message not just to us, but to the media and political establishments that the netroots matters. And in politics, $100K is pocket change. Better spend it on a blogger party where the candidate socialized with regular people than on bullshit television ads or crappy consultants....

To be honest, much of the anti-Warner tirades seemed to be coming from supporters of other candidates angry that Warner scored some points (and Warner did score points).

Disturbingly he points out that another major blogger shares his views. Dave Johnson from Seeing the Forest knows the importance of marketing.

Governor Warner has not just established himself with the blogosphere. By placing himself as a top blogosphere contender, he has positioned himself as a top contender, period....

By making himself important to the blogs, and at the same time increasing the importance of the blogs to the national political process, he is making himself a front-runner. At the same time, by increasing the credibility of the blogs now, he is strengthening their power and effectiveness as a channel for use by the eventual nominee.

So the reasoning here is that Warner has ensured his position amongst the bloggerati not by outlining the best political platform, nor by addressing the concerns that moved bloggers all the way from their comfy couches to the chairs in front of their computers, but by throwing the biggest, bestest party ever.

To be fair there were many other politicians there who spoke frankly with bloggers about issues. And I am not the only blogger who thinks Warner's stunt and others like it undermine the greater goals of citizen journalism. Hence the need for Kos and others to rush to Warner's defense and explain to us why we're wrong. But the signs of incipient media whoredom are everywhere.

A San Francisco Chronicle write-up of the event demonstrates the power of the mighty croissant to build bridges, even when Governor Bill Richards made the appalling social faux pas of low-balling the bloggers ages.

Still, [Justin] Krebs admits, maybe the croissants helped soften the crowd on such missteps. "The next time he does something bad, maybe somebody on a blog will give him a pass once, instead of pounding on him right away."

I fear Krebs, who founded "Drinking Liberally," or drunken liberals as I like to call them, is right. A lot of bloggers will prove to be cheap dates; selling their souls for far less than extravaganzas like Warner's big do.

The writing has long been on the wall that this wonderful new medium of blogging would go the way of all flesh. For all our criticism of the way most of the mainstream press has served to protect the institutionalized corruption of Washington, many bloggers routinely genuflect in front of their own sacred cows, and will undoubtedly do the same when people like the generous Mark Warner are placed on the altar.

As I recently wrote here, there is rigorous enforcement of group-think and manufactured consent in the blogging community. Perhaps the best example of the pressure to sacrifice ideals to sacred cows lies in the recent "outing" of Daily Kos heavyweight Armando. As I wrote before, the talking point that what happened to Armando was wrong, wrong, wrong, was swiftly established and reinforced. Most bloggers fell in line, but the activity on Booman Tribune is illustrative of what happens when bloggers questioned this conventional wisdom. It's worth noting that it is the only site I saw where these questions were well-aired at all. Booman still allows for diversity of viewpoint on his site, though he seems to be under tremendous pressure not to, and the "keepers of social norms" were hard at work to whip those miscreants who questioned Armando's holy martyrdom into shape.

The other day someone called Brian Nowhere wrote an excellent diary on the Armando episode. The bulk of discussion it inspired, though, was on how inappropriate it was, resulting in its editing. The diary appears here. For the unexpurgated version you'll have to go to his site. Here's a sample of Nowhere's inflammatory diary.

The leader of the civil rights movement was not known simply as Martin.

The leader of the yippies was not known as just Abbie.

And aren't we all glad that The first & biggest name signed at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence is not JHcock1776?

The guy who stood up and said "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" did not have the luxury of using the pseudonym JFK1943

The journalist who had his career dashed against the rocks by Karl Rove didn't have the option to just open a new CBS account under the screenname ratherNotBKnown.

But the most egregious example of censorship came from someone called suskind, who immolated his own diaries rather than allow comments which were "hurtful" to Armando to continue to flicker. A complete discussion of this occurrence is here and it is well worth reading. Did Armando ask suskind to hit the kill switch, or did suskind do it on his own volition, as he claims, only to be scolded by the Wal-Mart attorney afterwords? Here's the thing. It doesn't matter. As with the mainstream press, much of the censorship in the blogosphere is self-imposed, a reflexive impulse to serve those cows on whom sacred status has been conferred, whether or not they request such adulation. Suskind's act of conscience threw hundreds of comments worth of discussion on Armando's predicament down the memory hole. Or as spiderleaf put it:

This is really not cool. I thought your comment in the last suskind diary was top notch. Should have been out there for more debate and discussion.
I also took quite a bit of time to write in those and am pretty pissed off to have wasted my time like that.

Actually I'm calling bullshit. I think you're right, there is a reason they were deleted. And it wasn't for a freeflow of information.

The other colleen explains what led up to this dramatic show of allegiance to Armando.

Yes, there were several people who were trying to martyr him and were disappointed and angry there wasn't sufficient outrage. Those attempting to generate outrage then proceeded to compare Armando's situation with Hitler's Germany (Catnip) and another (suskind) compared Armando to MLK. I wanted to issue smelling salts.

Those of us hurting Armando's feelings by being insufficiently sympathetic were told we lacked the 'big picture', had no principles, lacked compassion and that if we're not there for Armando, DK and the blogs won't be there for us when we're in need. (as if they ever have been)

At the end of his last diary Sus announced that "the left" had a sense of "entitlement" and that our main complaint here was that he is a corporate lawyer. It was a manufactured conclusion, not borne out by the responses. Most folks decided that Armando made it extremely easy to identify himself and a good many of us (myself included) have a difficult time believing that Armando will stop blogging.

And Marisacat gives voice to exactly why Armando may have found it all so terribly "hurtful."

Plus although there has been excellent commentary (Brian Nowhere in particular but also others) w/r/t "privacy'...
the enduring issue is blogging as a "progressive" - that is the preferred term of these fellows - in fact a self styled "prgressive" thought leader, one might even say...

all the while not just a corp atty/of counsel for his firm... but a major player in the legal game to wedge Wal-Mart into PR.

Tells me all of my assessments of the coordinated nasty online blogger game of roping in liberals left progressives to a rigged game for the party (think Hillary) was right on.
Plain old tired vote delivery.

For one, these are the old Democratic thug plays.

Thrashing and bashing the alternative views... holding themselves up as "leaders" all the while something else entirely.

It is called disclaimer and there is a reason he chose to blog pro-business, pro-Kelo pro-eminent domain and not provide a disclaimer.

Two faced.

In other words the real issues raised by Armando's "outing" were being discussed by people who still care about progressive values, instead of the more common lockstep marching behind the "outing is just wrong" meme. We can't have that now can we? How sad is it that in the brave new world of blogging there is already such a pitched battle over the free expression of dissenting viewpoints?

So forgive me if I'm not terribly hopeful that the blogosphere will cleave to ideals over personalities when the Mark Warners of the political world come-a-courting.

Loving Boobies -- Hating Women

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Comments: (3)

I've been following with some interest the travails of Lady Heather Mills McCartney, now estranged from her husband, former Beatle -- and man of a very young Curmudgette's dreams -- Sir Paul McCartney. It hasn't gotten a lot of coverage in the US but the British tabloids are going nuts over some images of the former model they are calling hardcore pornography.

The photos were purchased by The Sun and depict some nudity and erotic content. The Sun only ran them heavily edited, explaining that:

Many of the images are too explicit to print in a family newspaper.

Coming from a paper famous for its topless "Page 3" girls, that's just funny. Looking at the online version of the paper today, these are the choice items I notice in the sidebar. Of course there is a link to the newest Page 3 girl, with the text:

Danni, aged 19, from Coventry
See loads more girls on our super cyber site

Then there is a link to "Gizmo" with a thumbnail of a bikini clad woman demonstrating the comfort of an inflatable chair. The associated page is adorned with women in various states of dishabille sporting power tools.

From this paper we get the following moralizing text in one of its numerous articles on the images of a young Heather Mills.

One shot shows Heather naked and smothered in baby oil as she performs a sex act on a nude male porn star. The curly-haired man is then photographed performing an act on her with the help of a sex toy.

In other shots Heather appears to act out bondage scenes with whips, handcuffs and edible underwear.

Dressed in red stockings, suspenders and a corset — and with long red-painted nails — she looks like the madam of a sleazy brothel.

Oh no! Not red fingernails!! Clutch the pearls!

This is not just hypocritical. It's deeply telling and emblematic of a long-standing schism in our attitudes towards women. As much as we love looking at women's bodies and using them as props to sell everything from cars to, well, women's bodies, we deplore female sexuality. A sexual woman is just too threatening to be allowed any kind of autonomy. She must be labeled, defined, constrained, diminished, and, even, owned.

According to Mirrorshade Mind over at Booman Tribune, a woman has only two choices, being objectified or hiding her body and sexuality completely.

If women don't want men to look at them as "sex objects" then they have the choice of wearing the required dress for women of the Taliban overlords when they had control of Afghanistan.

Women in America get upset when their physical attributes go un-noticed by males they want to attract. They also get upset when a male can't take his eyes off the cleavage long enough to look them in the eye. So for males it is a no win situation.

That's right. To be a sexual woman is to be an object; a thing. If we have lovely breasts, we can't possibly have eyes... or opinions, or souls. The whole of us is never greater than the sum of our body parts. Or as susanw put it:

So according to you, we should just cover up. The same solution men have imposed for thousands of years. Let's try something new, shall we ? Why don't you make an effort to treat women like HUMAN BEINGS.
And if you won't, don't be surprised when we blow you off, shut you out, and suggest that you grow up, because we don't have to take this crap anymore.

I don't want my personhood reduced to a piece of ass.

I'm sure you find that hysterical and overly dramatic, but somehow I developed the notion that I have worth transcending my vagina.

I think the entire diary and comment section are worthwhile reading. It's a study in the disconnect that occurs when women and men debate the way female sexuality is viewed by the culture as a whole. In fact, I recommend looking through Booman Tribune's entire coverage of the anniversary of the Daily Kos "Pie War," for the same reason.

Perhaps it is too fine a point for many to grasp that as long as women exploring their eroticism are classified as whores, we will express ambivalence at having our bodies used as marketing tools and decorations. We are vilified one minute and trivialized the next.

As for poor Heather Mills McCartney, I thought what I saw of the oh-so-shocking pics were fun, in a very dated, 80s sort of way. Such a brouhaha over a little baby oil and b&d. My goodness. I suppose I could question them on aesthetic grounds. Artistically they don't hold a candle to the work of my favorite erotic photographer Brad Wallis. That's right. Curmudgette has a favorite erotic photographer. Let the vilification begin.

Armando Outed

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Comments: (11)

Never mind what I thought that meant when the phrase started popping up all over the place last night. No. Armando's effeminacy is not the issue of the day. Armando has been outed as, horror of horrors, an attorney. What? You already knew he was an attorney? You and every other reader of the Daily Kos family of sites. But the National Review Online dug for the real dirt. Not only is Armando an attorney. He's apparently a corporate shill, representing of all damned things Wal-Mart.

Armando announced last night that he will take his ball and go home. Leaving the blogosphere no poorer, in my opinion. The reaction from kossacks has been swift and sure to condemn this violation of the sanctity of Armando's private life. But how private was it? He posts under his own name and tells all the world that he's an attorney. In the, I'm roughly estimating here, millions of posts with which he has deluged numerous websites, he has revealed many more of his particulars. It can't have been hard to reverse engineer his identity. If he was so interested in protecting his privacy, why didn't he make an effort to do so? I have no beef with anonymity -- note the dearth of information about me on this site -- but it does require a modicum of restraint. Armando is not the first and will most certainly not be the last "anonymous" blogger to be undone by a colossal ego and need for attention.

Noticeably absent from the outcry over Armando's martyrdom is any discussion of the issue raised by the National Review. It's the hypocrisy, stupid. But then, anyone who thinks Daily Kos is truly a progressive website, leading the charge against the corporatists who are choking the life out of democracy, isn't paying attention.

Look. I don't begrudge Armando his right to make a living. And I know enough about law to know that a big part of a lawyers job is to protect the law itself. (For example, I fully support the ACLU in its defense of odious clients like the Nazis in Skokie, IL, to protect the Constitutional freedoms of all Americans.) For all I know Armando is protecting the one aspect of Wal-Mart's business practices that is noble and true. I can't imagine what that would be, but that's neither here nor there.

I get it. I know bloggers take very seriously the right to privacy and anonymity, even if that amounts to keeping the blogosphere safe for liars, frauds, and hypocrites. It was definitely brought home to me when I published this piece on soj and was vilified by the multitude and banned from Daily Kos, even though it was soj who outed soj. Not me.

The thing that comes through loud and clear from both the National Review expose and the resulting brouhaha, is how very seriously bloggers take themselves. Kos, who is far from anonymous, comes across as stunningly arrogant. In other words the piece is accurate. It quotes from an interview he did with a Swedish magazine to great effect.

"I wouldn't want to be a senator or congressman. I'm able to influence politics much more effectively doing what I do. Now I can shape the national political debate. The only way I could exert more influence would be if I were president. But I’d never want that guy’s job. Never."

Wow! And there's more:

"I get lots of calls from people who want to learn how to leverage the Internet…The Swedish social democrats, for instance, asked me to come to Sweden to hold a talk, but I didn't have the time. Soon they'll have to come to Berkeley to learn the ropes."

I'm trusting that the translation is accurate and it sure as hell sounds like Kos.

At some point bloggers are going to have a make a decision about what is more important, anonymity or credibility. It's very hard to be taken seriously as an expert -- and many claim all sorts of expertise -- if you won't disclose your credentials. Anyone can say he's an attorney. We now know that Armando really is one. Some of us are a little surprised. We don't know how he finds the time. But Armando would prefer to say he's an attorney than to have us know that he really is one. Such a conundrum.

You want fame? Well fame costs.
-- Fame

Kennedy Debates Manjoo: Manjoo Debates Straw Man

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Comments: (0)

Well it's a start. Salon is one of the only major press outlets willing to wade into the election fraud issue with both feet. Most major outlets have either ignored Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone expose, or invited him onto "news" shows only to shout him down and insult him. (e.g. CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Fox's Neil Cavuto.) By welcoming Kennedy onto their pages to debate Farhad Manjoo, Salon advances the cause of public discourse over an issue too many people wish would just go away.

Manjoo has also taken a lot of heat for stating disagreement with Kennedy. Salon was deluged with letters from readers disgusted with the continued dismissal of questions about 2004. But as a firm believer in reasoned debate over demagoguery, I would far rather see Kennedy taken to task than ignored.

I have two major problems with those, like Manjoo, who want to forget 2004 and move on to "election reform." One is that they nit-pick statistical data, determine that there's no way to say for sure that Kerry should have won, and call the whole examination a wash. The other is that they keep redirecting attention to long-standing voting problems, rather than looking at the very dramatic problems that have brought this issue to a head. In short they are minimizing the central issue: the relentless Republican aggression on voter rights.

However Manjoo and others have characterized Kennedy's article, Kennedy himself never claims that the election was stolen. He stops well short of drawing that conclusion. The title of the article ends in a question mark, and the sum of the entire article poses a question: If the will of the voter had not been subverted in multiple ways, who would be President now? Or, to quote Kennedy:

For the second election in a row, the president of the United States was selected not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks. Given the scope of the GOP machinations, we simply cannot be certain that the right man now occupies the Oval Office...

None of Kennedy's critics have chosen to address the stated issue of an election tainted by uncertainty. Most of the debate that has ensued in the wake of Kennedy's article has been with a straw man. It's very easy to dismiss the position that says, Kerry should have won. It's much harder to address the issue of just how many ways voter intent was subverted, how much doubt that casts on the outcome, and what it means for future elections.

Whether or not enough voters were suppressed or enough ballots were misread by optical scanners in machines owned by Republican concerns to have swayed the final result doesn't alter the fact that these things occurred and will continue to occur if not addressed proactively. Attempted theft is cause enough to face down a GOP that can be counted on to put its thumb on the scale every election day.

Even the New York Times, a paper that has long avoided this issue, called a spade a spade in today's editorial.

If there was ever a sign of a ruling party in trouble, it is a game plan that calls for trying to win by discouraging voting.

The latest sign that Republicans have an election-year strategy to shut down voter registration drives comes from Ohio. As the state gears up for a very competitive election season this fall, its secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, has put in place "emergency" regulations that could hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices. The rules are so draconian they could shut down registration drives in Ohio.

Sadly, none of this is new. It's become standard operating procedure for the GOP to subvert voters from getting to the polls at every turn. And Manjoo's argument that Republicans are being disenfranchised, too, and therefore it's not partisan, does not hold water. What becomes clear to anyone regularly observing these machinations is that the Republican Party appears to have decided that they benefit by eliminating as many voters as possible, and if a few Republicans get caught up in the net, oh well. As long as they're registering aggressively and properly their motivated base in churches, they seem willing to take those odds.

There is too much happening that is far too outrageous to be called "voting problems as usual." From the Brooks Brothers riots shutting down the recount in 2000 to the CEO of Diebold promising to "deliver" Ohio for Bush, the public record of these events beggars belief in a fair-but-flawed voting process.

Manjoo and other critics minimize and ignore stunning outrages -- like the fraudulent security lockdown of one of the last vote counting facilities to tally in Ohio, Warren County, for which there is no record of any terrorist threat -- and focus on the unanswerable question of whether or how disenfranchised voters would have voted for Kerry. That's just counting the dancing angels on the head of a pin while our electoral system lay dying.

There is plenty of evidence that the will of the people was subverted. How that will would have expressed itself in an unfettered process can only be estimated.

Even Manjoo concedes that Blackwell was up to no good.

There's no argument that he used those powers for partisan gain. As Kennedy documents, in the months prior to the election, Blackwell issued a series of arbitrary and capricious voting and registration rules that could well have disenfranchised many people in the state.

But to prove Blackwell stole the state for Bush, Kennedy's got to do more than show instances of Blackwell's mischief. He's got to outline where Blackwell's actions could possibly have added up to enough votes to put the wrong man in office. In that, he fails.

Again, Kennedy didn't fail. He didn't make the claim. The straw man of Manjoo's imagination did. Kennedy simply put forth evidence that there was an effort to subvert the process, which Manjoo concedes, and that the will of the people was not fairly demonstrated at the polls.

Similarly, we know that a Republican operative orchestrated a phone line jamming operation in the 2002 New Hampshire gubernatorial race to block Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts and that he and two others went to jail for it. Do we know if incumbent Jeanne Sheehan would have defeated John Sununu? No we don't. But that doesn't mean a crime did not occur. We know, with absolute certainty, that an orchestrated effort to interfere with the right of the people to participate in an unfettered voting process took place. By Chris Bowers logic, as outlined here, the answer to such things is for Democrats to stop being lazy and unjam those phone lines. (I don't know... with their teeth or something.)

As far as I'm concerned the people who characterize a clear pattern of voter disenfranchisement as long-standing voting issues are missing the forest for the trees. Whether or not we can prove who should have won, we cannot deny that there is a clear pattern of Republican intent to subvert the will of the people. If we don't address that and deal with it head on, any hope of "election reform" is doomed to fail, as is our democracy.

Click-Click-Click: NSA on the Line?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Comments: (0)

Big Brother is Watching You

Newsweek's Anna Quindlen writes:

I used to hear strange clicking sounds on my telephone and assume it was Verizon's usual level of service. Now I figure it's the National Security Agency.

I'm with you Anna. I've heard it too. So have those I've been talking to. A friend of mine first pointed it out a little less than a year ago. We were mostly exchanging "girl talk" but our long conversation drifted into the political here and there. We share a contempt for all things Bush. "What's that clicking sound?" she said excitedly. After that I started paying attention. Lo and behold, when my phone conversations drift into criticisms of the war, the economy, Bush the Liar, Cheney the Undead, etc., I start noticing audible clicking sounds. It happens when I talk to friends. It happens when I talk to my sister. All of whom, by the way, are right here in the good old US of A. So, yeah, it could be the woefully crappy Verizon service. Or it could be that saying anything negative about this misadministration gets you surveiled, and Fourth Amendment be damned. No, I no longer feel secure in my person.

It is indeed an outrage, that the big phone companies serve customers so poorly and the authorities so cravenly, that the so-called war on terrorism is so ineptly waged that billions of pages of numbers seemed like a useful tool. We can never forget that these were the same folks who intercepted two messages from Afghanistan on Sept. 10, 2001: "the match begins tomorrow" and "tomorrow is zero hour." No one understood except in hindsight, but hindsight was the only way the messages were seen. They weren't translated until Sept. 12, and zero hour had come and gone.

Oh, right. I don't feel any safer, either.

Bill Maher on Censorship: Curmudgette on Web Communities

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Comments: (6)

I love this quote from Bill Maher in his Time interview.

I wish more people were provocative. I wouldn't ever say there's censorship in this country. But there's a lot of peer pressure. Because when anybody says anything that's the least bit feather ruffling, everybody just goes nuts. If anybody in this country is forced to undergo a single moment of discomfort, the person who caused it just must go away.

I've always been a bit of a feather ruffler so I suppose I'm more keenly aware of this than others may be. In recent years I've been observing the peer pressure phenomenon in the "liberal" blogosphere. I admit it surprised me at first. It made no sense to me that sites that were springing up in cyber space largely as a reaction to the repressive tactics of the Bush regime were, themselves, so repressive. In time I came to see it for what it is: human nature. Without carefully instituted policies in place to protect free speech and provide for the unfettered freedom to state minority viewpoints, human beings just run roughshod over each other.

Web sites are private property not "free speech zones." Site owners do not have to respect First Amendment protections. That much is a fact. But you'd think that some of these site owners would display enough self-awareness not be total hypocrites; criticizing Bush for silencing dissent one minute, silencing their own dissenters the next. Unfortunately each site develops its own culture and its own taboos, which are enforced not only by the management but by self-appointed enforcers of societal norms. The result is that most of these sites ultimately become stifling environments and self-reinforcing echo-chambers of group-think.

Beyond banning and the much abused "troll rating" systems, there are a number of increasingly predictable shaming tactics designed to quell dissent in web communities. Here's a rundown of common devices used to silence any view that runs counter to the status quo and causes what Maher calls "discomfort."

  • If you hate this site so much, why are you here? Don't let the door hit you in the ass.

  • [Insert the name of site owner here] can ban anyone he/she wants. Nothing is stopping you from starting your own blog if you want to talk about [insert issue/viewpoint here].

  • Aren't there more important issues you could be devoting your energy towards? Why are you wasting time discussing this when [insert daily headline issue here] is going on?

  • Why are you attacking other liberals?! We should be working together! Save your criticisms for the Republicans who are ruining this country.

  • [Insert name of site owner here] is very tolerant of alternative viewpoints. Just last week so-and-so wrote something really outrageous (that wasn't outrageous at all) and he/she wasn't banned. It's just that [insert name of recently banned person here] went too far.

  • This site is very tolerant. I am very outre and I've never been silenced. (Generally stated by very boring people who think they're terribly shocking.)

  • I've always known [insert name of site owner here] to be very fair. I'm sure he/she has his/her reasons and it's not my place to question them.

  • We're guests here. Management is gracious enough to let us use this space to post and comment. (More like guest workers; providing the content and page views that sell the ads that pay for costs and profits.)

  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (Translation: We only deal in conventional wisdom here, even though we love to think of ourselves as terribly groundbreaking.)

  • We don't discuss that type of thing here. This is just not that kind of site. So-and-so was banned for that. That's not a threat. I'm just sayin' is all.

  • To make a tasty [insert recipe for some bizarre food item here]. (I will never understand this device as long I breath Terran air.)

The Fraud That Dares Not Speak It's Name

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Comments: (3)

When I saw Robert F Kennedy Jr.'s story on election fraud in Rolling Stone, on Thursday night, my first thought was, Oh what will the Very Important Bloggers do with this? It has been entertaining, if predictably disheartening to watch it play out. In their endless mimicry of the mainstream press they claim to transcend, many of the blogosphere heavyweights are still wishing this issue into the cornfield.

Over at Daily Kos -- you know, the biggest progressive web community site in the blogosphere -- the most activity on the issue has been, of course, in the member pages. Steven D has had a diary on the recommended list for nearly 24 hours and counting. It's a good diary and, in it, he dared to utter the following:

"You cannot say: By the way, there's something wrong with our electoral system."

Indeed, that is the message we have had consistently drummed into our stunned, outraged, unbelieving hearts and minds, not only by the traditional media who failed miserably in their duty, but also by our Democratic leadership, our Democratic political consultants, and even by leaders of the progressive "netroots," among them Armando and Markos Moulitsas, [emphasis added] who have impugned the motives, and often the sanity, of anyone who suggested that the 2004 presidential election was fraudulent, and that John Kerry should have won.

His sentiment was echoed throughout the 450+ posts (and counting) by a number of frustrated kossacks. From environmentalist:

To me - (12+ / 0-)

the most important and bothersome thing about Steven D's excellent post is how Kos and Armando essentially sought to silence any voice at Dkos that made the same points the Rolling Stone article did. Armando attacked me numerous times when I talked about it. Self-censorship occurs even in the most progressive of blogs.

But Armando, the enforcer, thinks silencing the "fraudsters" is a good idea:

Steven (2+ / 0-)

The Rolling Stone article is complete horseshit.

This is a rehash of all of the worst theories.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. should be ashamed of himself.

He has destroyed the issue of voting reform forever with this.

I will not engage you in reliving November and December 2004.

S uffice it to say that this thread is the worst indictment of the fraudsters and reconfirms that Markos was right to ban the fraudsters.

I imagine he will have to do it again.
[emphasis added]

Hooray for Booman Tribune, a big influx is coming your way.

Yes, bannings and threats of bannings. What a shock. And Armando's public disparagement of RFK continues throughout the thread. This is my favorite:

What I wouldn't do for a good 9/11 Diary (1+ / 0-)

RFH, Jr has embarrassed himself.

One of the worst rrsearched and error filled articles ever. [emphases added]

So does Armando speak for Daily Kos, or even for Kos himself, when it comes to the election fraud issue? If the front page is any indication, yes. The only election fraud story I observed there yesterday was one Kos himself elevated from the diary section; a deeply weird piece by Chris Bowers entitled, "Demand Election Reform, But Only If You Mean It." In it, Bowers takes a different approach to intimidating those of us who dare to publicly question the 2004 election. He excoriates us for "laziness."

Bowers actually wrote two diaries on this issue yesterday and both appeared on that other shining light of the liberal blogosphere, the brainchild of the "blogfather" Jerome Armstrong, MyDD. So let's take them one at a time, starting with his lambasting of the lazy and tin-foil hat wearing "stolen election" crowd. Bowers starts with a litany against the "nut jobbery" of people like Beverly Harris and a disparagement of any evidence that Kerry could have won the popular vote. Exit polling data is just hocus pocus to Bowers. Let's compare that to RFK's assessment:

Over the past decades, exit polling has evolved into an exact science. Indeed, among pollsters and statisticians, such surveys are thought to be the most reliable. Unlike pre-election polls, in which voters are asked to predict their own behavior at some point in the future, exit polls ask voters leaving the voting booth to report an action they just executed. The results are exquisitely accurate: Exit polls in Germany, for example, have never missed the mark by more than three-tenths of one percent.(17) ''Exit polls are almost never wrong,'' Dick Morris, a political consultant who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats, noted after the 2004 vote. Such surveys are ''so reliable,'' he added, ''that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries.''(18) In 2003, vote tampering revealed by exit polling in the Republic of Georgia forced Eduard Shevardnadze to step down.(19) And in November 2004, exit polling in the Ukraine -- paid for by the Bush administration -- exposed election fraud that denied Viktor Yushchenko the presidency.(20)

So exit polling is good enough to expose fraud in other countries when America's favored candidates lose, but not in our own backyard. The reason? Republicans were unlikely to respond to pollsters. Kennedy quotes respected pollster John Zogby and other evidence that this deus ex machina explanation to the utter failure of exit polling to predict the outcome is nonsensical.

Industry peers didn't buy it. John Zogby, one of the nation's leading pollsters, told me that Mitofsky's ''reluctant responder'' hypothesis is ''preposterous.''(36) Even Mitofsky, in his official report, underscored the hollowness of his theory: ''It is difficult to pinpoint precisely the reasons that, in general, Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polls than Bush voters.''(37)

Now, thanks to careful examination of Mitofsky's own data by Freeman and a team of eight researchers, we can say conclusively that the theory is dead wrong. In fact it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were more disinclined to answer pollsters' questions on Election Day. In Bush strongholds, Freeman and the other researchers found that fifty-six percent of voters completed the exit survey -- compared to only fifty-three percent in Kerry strongholds.(38) ''The data presented to support the claim not only fails to substantiate it,'' observes Freeman, ''but actually contradicts it.''

What's more, Freeman found, the greatest disparities between exit polls and the official vote count came in Republican strongholds. In precincts where Bush received at least eighty percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of ten percent. By contrast, in precincts where Kerry dominated by eighty percent or more, the exit polls were accurate to within three tenths of one percent -- a pattern that suggests Republican election officials stuffed the ballot box in Bush country.(39)

So where a number of respected statisticians conclude that the exit polling data points to a pattern of election fraud, Bowers dismisses it as CT wackiness.

Bowers assures us that the answer to our flawed election system is not major news organs undertaking exposes. It's boots on the ground. We're just not working hard enough, says Bowers. He then tortures his readers with a lengthy anecdote about his own election day effort to address the confusion caused by the use of his middle initial on write-in ballots. I have no doubt that it took a good deal of effort for Bowers to ensure his votes were counted and the story ends happily with his election day victories. For Bowers to compare his few day's of dealing with a bureaucratic snafu with the kind of outright subversion of voter intent that is catalogued so painfully in Kennedy's article -- with the explicit chicanery of Ohio's Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell that took months of court wrangling to only minimally unfuck -- is a hubris I can't even begin quantify.

A quick scroll through any of the DKos threads on this issue attest to just how hard a number of those lazy fraudsters worked to try to ensure a fair election in 2004, but it's apparently not enough to prevent Bowers self-righteous whining. I strongly recommend taking a gander at them, starting with Steven D's recounting of some of his own exertion in battleground Ohio. But my sentiments regarding Bowers sanctimony are best summed up by someone called spiderleaf on Booman Tribune.

Grassroots is all well and good except when you're facing a Ken Blackwell, Diebold and the GOP and all you've got standing behind you is a Green party candidate.

Kinda like bringing a knife to an Uzi fight.

Bowers second writing to appear on MyDD verges on the surreal. Where he only a couple hours before dismissed the nuts and bolts of Kennedy's case as so much hugger mugger, he now mysteriously deduces that the Rolling Stone piece is "RFK Jr's Message of Hope." He reads it as a call to arms over the following:

  • Voter participation is down, and not equal to the levels of what should be a healthy democracy. In 2004, 60% of the American population aged 18 or older turned out to vote. While that was praised as a high number, and better than almost any other election since 1972, even that total is not good enough. Midterm elections in America now regularly see voter participation under 40%. Off-year and primary elections now regularly see voter participation under 20%. The lowest turnout rates tend to happen among low-income groups, young groups, and minority groups. That is not good for America, and it is not good for democracy.

  • Our electoral infrastructure does not guarantee that every vote in counted. In fact, pretty much every election in America will have at least 1% of the people who tried to vote not see their votes counted, and in some cases the numbers will be much higher. Through bad machines, bad ballots, cancelled registrations, "spoiled ballots," too few voting machines, challenged ballots, and many other means, in every election millions of votes are not counted in our electoral system.

  • Fundraising. Despite some improvements, large donors still hold far more sway over our electoral process than average Americans. We still need comprehensive voting reform that frees candidates from having to spend to much time raising money, prevents special access from large donors, and still allows average activists to have agency withint he electoral system.

Somehow, in Bowers mind, an article cataloguing elements of criminal misconduct and outright fraud -- an article brazenly entitled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" -- becomes a motivational text on repairing long-standing flaws in the system.

The Daily Kos and MyDD are not the only sites to tiptoe around the elephant in the living room -- we've still heard nada from Atrios, for instance -- but they are two of the highest profile and most outrageous. And sadly Daily Kos exerts an influence well beyond it's own e-pages.

I'm not saying Kennedy's article is unassailable or that it should be embraced uncritically by the blogosphere or anywhere else. Salon's Farhad Manjoo, for instance, takes many of Kennedy's assertions to task in a detailed rebuttal. But there is a world of difference between disputing Kennedy's conclusions and shutting down debate. The answer to conflicting perspectives is usually found to lie somewhere in between. By helping the GOP and the mainstream press that does its dirty work to ridicule, marginalize, and silence, those who raise legitimate questions about the anomalies of the 2004 election, the blogging elite do a massive disservice to the discovery of truth that can only come through rigorous examination.

Battered Democrat Syndrome

Friday, June 02, 2006

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Newsweek's Michael Hirsh speculates this week on a Democratic Party so paralyzed by fear that it appears the entire party needs therapy.

They resemble nothing so much as ill-adjusted adolescents, afraid of their own shadows, much less the presidency. What are they afraid of? Themselves, essentially: their past, their own left, the populist rhetoric of their leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Al Gore), the left-wing loony stigma represented by “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore (every Dem’s favorite bugaboo). Above all they fear seeming and looking soft. They are all afflicted with varying degrees of megalophobia, a fear of assuming power. Even Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos” wouldn’t take this case.

This is not a new notion. Where Hirsh gets a little lost in the minutiae of political losses and labels that have rendered a Democratic establishment inexplicably cowed by a Republican Party in total disarray, a very good diagnosis came from one Mel Gilles over a year ago. The Democratic Party suffers from "battered woman syndrome."

Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the new language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"

And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.

They will tell you, every single day.

What Hirsh misses is that the ostensible reasons that Democrats have been whipped into submission don't matter.

The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that we are the victims of verbal, mental, and even, in the case of Iraq, physical violence.

As victims we can't stop asking ourselves what we did wrong. We can't seem to grasp that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating.

I have known some battered women. The shattering blows to the ego are often more crippling than the physical damage, and only serve to make the victims more dependent on their abusers. The parallels to our current political landscape are actually hard to miss. We now have an opposition party incapable of resisting a Republican Party which has demonstrated proficiency in only one thing: reckless assault on everything and everyone, foreign and domestic. And we have a Democratic Party that perceives itself as weak and therefore looks and acts weak.

Hirsh, much like Mollly Ivins did months ago, exhorts the Democrats to acknowledge and state the bleedin' obvious to a public long past ready to hear it.

No one looks like a wimp when he or she tells the truth. And the public is crying, pleading for someone to tell the truth.

Speak For Yourself, Jerome

Thursday, June 01, 2006

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I'm afraid all this talk about being the "blogfather" is going to Jerome Armstrong's head. He seems to feel entitled to speak for all the blogosphere when he makes statements like these:

"The blog world is not really ideological," Armstrong contended, between bites of curried tofu. "We are pragmatic. It's not about grandstanding, and saying this is the ideal way to go."

This statement reveals far more about Jerome's bias against principled writing than it does about the blogosphere. That Jerome and his cohort Markos Moulitsas Zuniga are strangely bereft of any political ideology has been well established by their own statements. But some of us do have principles, values, and ideals and do not consider it "grandstanding" to articulate them.

What Jerome calls "pragmatic" I call craven. His association with the milquetoast Warner -- who rejects calls to bring Bush to account for his crimes, supports parental notification for abortion (otherwise known as a death sentence for many teenage girls), and refuses to take a stand on Iraq -- is all the more reason to jettison him as any kind of symbol for the lefty blogosphere.

Jerome is not the spokesperson for the left, right, or center blogosphere, whatever his pretensions. Jerome is not so much a blogger as political operative. He even said so.

I'm not going to be posting or blogging here any longer while working campaigns. There's no upside and the downside of posting personal opinions, where it's easy to mark it as a political ploy by the opposition, is plenty. If you do see me blogging, it will be with the campaigns or committees sites or blogs I'm working.

Not that he stuck by that declaration. But then that's why he attempted to retire his keyboard in the first place. Blogging gives people ample opportunity to resurrect his own words to demonstrate his hypocrisy.

And if you continue to harrass people by taking up past comments and trying to attack them for it, you'll be hiking.

The Salon piece on Armstrong is worth reading but more for what is between the lines. It glosses over the deeply divisive behavior of Jerome and Markos when they abruptly pulled their support of Paul Hackett in favor of Sherrod Brown, at a time when it was well known that Armstrong was in Brown's employ. And it does not begin to illuminate the character of people so debased that they would use terms like "Hackett Fedayeen" to malign and intimidate supporters of a US Marine who fought in Iraq.

The problem with Michael Scherer's profile of Armstrong is the same as with any writing that attempts to label the blogosphere or designate it's "leaders." The blogosphere is extremely diverse and not easily categorized. That's the beauty of it. That's why people like Armstrong are never as relevant or iconic as they are portrayed to be. And thank God.