Saturday, July 12, 2008

Do the right thing, get fired

By Libby Spencer

The news is all about Tony Snow today. Under the mantra, speak no ill of the dead, I'm just going to say of all the official spokesliars for this administration, he was the least odious and may he rest in peace. My condolences to his family and friends.

His untimely death will dominate the cycle, while stories like these will pass almost unnoticed.

When Gina Gray took over as the public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery about three months ago, she discovered that cemetery officials were attempting to impose new limits on media coverage of funerals of the Iraq war dead -- even after the fallen warriors' families granted permission for the coverage. She said that the new restrictions were wrong and that Army regulations didn't call for such limitations.

Six weeks after The Washington Post reported her efforts to restore media coverage of funerals, Gray was demoted. Twelve days ago, the Army fired her.

Tony Snow was probably a decent guy in his personal life but he very much helped make wrongheaded policies like these possible. He cashed in on the evil side of politics. Yet, they'll be singing his praises for the next few days while we'll probably never hear about Gina Gray again, even though she actually tried to make a difference for the better.

That's just not right.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Nicolas Sarkozy, terrorist-loving traitor

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Syrian President Bashar Assad is in Paris to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And, as the BBC is reporting, the two are getting along rather well. Sarkozy is set to host a meeting between Assad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, a meeting that could lead to renewed diplomatic ties between Syria and Lebanon. Meanwhile, Sarkozy has announced that he will visit Syria later this year.

All in all, "[t]he Paris visit is a big boost for [Assad], helping Syria to break out of its diplomatic isolation." All thanks to Nicolas Sarkozy.

That is, George W. Bush's friend Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bush and Sarkozy are good buddies, you see, not like Bush and Chirac, and Sarkozy is about as pro-American (and pro-Bush) a French president as one is likely to find in a country that is famous for being anti-American, or at least generally hostile to America in a friendly love-hate sort of way.

But now that Sarkozy has shown himself to be such a good friend to Assad? Will that not drive a wedge into his friendship with Bush? After all, Bush is an all-or-nothing, with-us-or-against-us, good-and-evil sort of guy. And, while Syria may not be Iraq (and Assad not Saddam), it is certainly not "one of us" in Bush's worldview.

What's more, Obama, Pelosi, and other Democrats have been ridiculed by Bush's right-wing cohorts for wanting to open up relations even with America's less-friendly adversaries around the world -- you know, because talking to one's adversaries can be far more productive -- far more conducive to peace and progress -- than threatening them with Bush- and Cheney-style saber-rattling. For Bush and those like him, even talking is appeasement, and hence weakness -- which means that Sarkozy, Bush's buddy, must be an appeaser, too.

The rest of us know that talking can not only be productive but also an expression of strength. Bush would rather bomb now and talk never, but talking first and seeking peaceful, diplomatic solutions to the world's problems is a rather more noble way of doing thing in a world that is increasingly, to use the fashionable word, global. Sarkozy understands that, I'll give him that, as do some of Bush's other European friends, like Germany's Angela Merkel, as do Obama, the Democrats, and Republicans like Chuck Hagel.

While Bush has isolated and alienated America from the rest of the world, much of the rest of the world, including France, is taking the lead in working to secure peace and progress.

It is important, I think, that America assume a position of leadership once again. But it won't happen under Bush, or what remains of the Bush presidency, and it won't happen under McCain, the McCain who has become Bush-plus.

I have written before that America needs Obama more than ever. So does the rest of the world.

Enablers of terrorism?

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Tony Snow (1955-2008)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Tony Snow -- former Fox News host and Bush press secretary -- has died. He was 53.

Like many who dislike Bush and the Republicans and Fox News, I never much liked Snow. Or, let me be more precise, I never much cared for him in his official capacities as Fox host and Bush mouthpiece. (Of course, I do not know what he was like in person, but he seemed to be a very likeable man, and those who knew him spoke highly of him, and are doing so now -- make sure to check out the reaction at Memeorandum.)

And yet, even as Bush mouthpiece, spewing spin as the spokesperson for a failed presidency mired in lies and delusions, there always seemed to be something genuinely classy and upright about him. Perhaps it was because he was a smooth broadcaster who was comfortable in front of the cameras and chummy with his ex-colleagues, the White House press corps, but he stood out well above Bush's other press secretaries, the arrogant, smarmy Ari Fleischer, the in-way-over-his-head Scott McClellan, and the amateurish, cartoonish Dana Perino. Through his entire time at the White House, I may rarely have liked or appreciated what Snow was saying in defence of his boss, but at the very least I respected him in a way that I haven't most other members of the administration.

But let's put politics and partisanship aside. It is a sad loss and a sad day. Tony Snow, from everything I could tell a good and generous man, will be missed.

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U.S. strike kills 47 civilians in Afghanistan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's much easier to support the war in Afghanistan than the war in Iraq -- the former has always been far more justifiable than the latter, of course -- but not when this sort of thing happens:

A U.S. coalition force air strike on Sunday killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, an Afghan official said on Friday.

The U.S. military is denying that civilians were hit -- it was targeting militants, it is claiming, but:

"I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday's incident told Reuters on Friday. "There aren't any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometers near to where the air strike took place. Fourty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children," he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.


An investigation has also been launched into another U.S. air strike carried out two days before Sunday's incident in which local officials say 15 civilians were killed.

I'm not one to think the worst of the U.S. military, but these are obviously rather disturbing incidents. As with the Iraq War, there is already the problem of mismanagement of the Afghan War by the U.S., gross mismanagement compounded by failure (to track down bin Laden, for example) and lack of commitment (with Iraq drawing most of the attention after the initial rout of the Taliban). Needless to say, the killing of civilians doesn't help matters. At best, giving the military the benefit of the doubt, it is a result of appalling negligence.

And so what of the legitimacy and purpose of the U.S. and coalition effort in Afghanistan?

One wonders.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Iraq is a dilemma for the candidates

By Carol Gee

The 2008 presidential election will be decided by uncomitted swing voters at the center, according to a story from McClatchy about recent public opinion polls. A new Pew poll shows Obama ahead. To quote:

The presidential race remains volatile and unpredictable, largely because of a huge bloc of undecided swing voters.

"The middle of the electorate is reasserting itself in this election," according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.

Among all voters, Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain by 48 to 40 percent. Pew polled 2,004 people by land line and cell phone from June 18 to 29. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

. . . Some 44 percent said they most wanted candidates to discuss the economy, with Iraq a distant second priority at 19 percent.

Candidate positions on Iraq -- Today's post is a political follow-up to a previous S/SW post on how the U.S. has its plate full with the war situation in the Middle East. One of the new things in the war situation is a change of command. The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm General David Petraeus as the new head of Centcom, and named Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno as Petraeus' replacement in Iraq. Each of the presidential candidates has refined his stance on the war in Iraq, according to a recent Washington Post story by Ann Kornblut and Michael Shear:

Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday dismissed criticism that he is abandoning his principles to move toward the political center, saying he has been consistent in embracing moderate views on several issues, especially his belief that pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq must be done "carefully."

Obama addressed what he called "this whole notion that I am shifting to the center, or that I am flip-flopping," with a firm denial that he has tilted his emphasis away from swiftly bringing the war to an end. "Don't be confused: I am going to bring the Iraq war to a close when I am president of the United States of America," Obama said.

. . . Sen. John McCain, who has repeatedly derided calls for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, suddenly found himself confronted with the American-backed Iraqi leadership raising the prospect of exactly that.

For the first time, Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki said Monday in a statement that the two countries should consider deciding the future of U.S. troops with "a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal."

On Tuesday, McCain's top foreign policy adviser declined to criticize Maliki, and his campaign sought to portray those comments as consistent with the Republican nominee's long-standing position.

What's next? With McCain trailing in the polls, the Republicans have "opened another front in the campaign" with a new GOP website, according to McClatchy. With Obama's trip to Europe and the Middle to capture the next headlines, Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens gives us an important "take" on Obama's popularity in the European community. He adds a foreign policy caution:

Deep in European foreign ministries, of course, there are hard-bitten diplomats cautioning against all this euphoria. The new president, whether Mr Obama or Mr McCain, will face the same problems. He will put the US national interest first. And the leader of what is still the world’s most powerful nation will never think like a woolly postmodern European.

Mr Obama plans to visit Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel as well as Europe’s three biggest capitals. He will see for himself, these diplomats say, the intractability of the challenges. It is not enough that he is an engaging fellow; and, of itself, engagement will not persuade Iran to surrender its nuclear ambitions.

. . . I have written before about the contradiction in Europe’s view: a demand for US power and a deep distrust of it. Thus on the one hand there is a certain satisfaction that the debacle in Iraq has demonstrated the limits of Washington’s reach. America may still be the sole superpower but it is no longer the hyperpuissance. It must rely on others (Europeans) if it is to act effectively in the world.

On the other hand, there is an assumption that it is still America’s job to fix things. Why should Europe spend more on defence when the US has more ships and warplanes than the rest of the world put together? Of course, Europe shelters under the US security umbrella. But do not ask it to risk too much of its own blood and treasure in the effort to make the world a safer place.

It will be very informative to hear what Senator Obama learns on his trip abroad. Until then, I'll refrain from comment.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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McCain's media base holds

By Creature

According to Mark Halperin (Time magazine), if Barack Obama fails to win the presidency, we will be pointing to this week as the beginning of the end.

I guess, in a world where SocialSecurityGate, WhinerGate, ViagraGate, WishingDeathOnMilionsOfInnocentPeopleGate, TimetableGate and SteelerGate barely rippled across the media pool, Halperin may have a point. Either that, or his preference for BBQ is clearly showing.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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By Capt. Fogg

The latest crock of fake, puffed-up anti-Obama outrage now arriving at in-boxes all over the internet is purportedly from a disabled Marine who allegedly spoke to the Senator from Illinois at some rally at a local college:

Senator Obama; I work with disabled veterans throughout the VA Hospital system, what is your plan for our veterans, especially our disabled veterans who use the VA Hospitals for their care. I stated we need mandatory funding for our VA system to ensure the care is available when needed, especially in light of the current situation in Iraq and the numbers of troops who are coming home with severe disabilities.

He told one of his aide's [sic] to get my name, blew me off, did not answer my question and I never heard from him or the aide again.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED that he or his "aide's" didn't answer every comment from every one of the thousands of people he addresses every day! After all, John McCain and George Bush and "go fuck yourself" Cheney are very responsive to every individual veteran's request, aren't they?

Is this who we want as our "Commander in Chief"? [sic]

He wouldn't even answer a "veterans" [sic] question, regarding other veterans. Take it for what it's worth.. just thought I'd pass on my experience with Mr. Obama.

Well Mr. Veteran, if you really exist as other than the figment of the Republican hate machine, you have a hell of an ego to go with your piss poor and very selective memory as to the Republican Party's treatment of veterans. I will take it as worth less than nothing and if this is the honesty level of McCain supporters, I would vote for anyone you oppose.

If this is the best you can do in the manufactured outrage department you might as well confess that you have some other interest in promoting the guy with a pretty lousy record of promoting better conditions and care for our military because the country's experience with the Republicans has united it as never before against these pirates -- and apparently against you.

I'm getting pretty tired of your jingo jive about "commanders in Chief" as well. The President needs to be and do vastly more than to send people to war and command a warrior nation. In fact when he does, it's usually the mark of his failure as a leader and sometimes the mark of his using the military as a pawn in some perfidious and profitable game. Yes, our administration and the Republicans for whom they stand have sold you out, and whether or not Barak Obama had time to address your far from unique concerns in person, John McCain, the man the Senate Ethics Committee found guilty of "poor judgment" will continue to sell you out and sell us all out if he's allowed to.

Perhaps you've received the same viral e-mail. Perhaps you just deleted it -- certainly you're smart enough to see it for the pathetic nonsense it is, but perhaps, like me, you told the sender to take his puerile propaganda and stick it, whether it cost you a friend or not. I care too much about America's future to keep friends like that.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's the rebuttal, stupid

By Creature

This is why Barack Obama will prove to be a winning candidate.

Update: And, while we're on the Gramm subject let's remember he's personally responsible for economic mess that he says we are all whining about. John McCain may not know much about the economy, but it seems his top advisor knows even less.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The U.S. has a lot on its plate

By Carol Gee

The people of the United States have "big helpings" of problems on our plates right now. The economy has either moved overseas or is in serious decline. We are into the difficult transition of moving to new non-poluting energy sources. Many Democrats are disappointing those of us still in the party, and Republicans are in desperate straits. The United States Congress is as bad a failure as the Bush administration, most recently demonstrated by the passage and signing of an unconstitutional FISA bill. The SCOTUS is stacked with too many conservatives and teetering. With such a full plate, how can we have any heart for thinking about what is going on in the overseas wars?

And the nation remains at war in Iraq and Afghanistan -- This interminable war in Iraq is just too much about which to also worry, so we stay in denial that it is a huge problem. And nobody can agree on what to do next. Though Germany plans to increase its number of troops by 1000, Afghanistan is still a very dicey deal. Even Congress, according to an excellent feature in The Washington Post, is "at war with itself over the war." A troop draw down has begun last month in Iraq, according to Reuters (6/23/08), but U.S. military leaders maintain that "Iraq still needs our help." To quote:

Iraqi troops are not ready to take full responsibility for security and combat operations in any part of the country, said Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq.

. . . the Pentagon pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq after a buildup last year. By August, five combat brigades will have withdrawn, leaving about 140,000 U.S. troops in the war zone. Commanders then will assess violence and the condition of Iraqi troops as they weigh whether more American forces can be withdrawn by the end of 2008.

The latest news about Iraq often comes from Professor Juan Cole, who writes Informed Comment. On June 9, Cole reported that the chances of getting a Status of Forces Agreement have markedly declined. Prime Minister Malaki wants a timetable for troop withdrawal, and that is a part of his party's platform for the fall elections. This post also contains details about many deaths still happening in Iraq -- U.S. soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, insurgents, civilian contractors, etc. And some of the deaths are, according to The Washington Post (7/10/08), happening as a result of "a powerful new weapon." To quote:

U.S. military officials call the devices Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, or IRAMs. They are propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by 107mm rockets. They are often fired by remote control from the backs of trucks, sometimes in close succession. Rocket-propelled bombs have killed at least 21 people, including at least three U.S. soldiers, this year.

The U.S. has its plate full because of eight years under the unitary presidency of George W. Bush and his administration, and due to Congress' failure to do its primary job under the constitution in the face of this stampeding president. I wish the Democrats would consider impeachment, but, again it is ducking, or "bowing," as Glenn Greenwald puts it. We have a plate full of hard to stomach food these days, and insufficient implements with which to eat. Actually, I feel a bit sick to my stomach at this moment. You'll have to excuse me.

Today in history: July 10, 1787. Constitution Convention - Washington reported to Hamilton on difficulties at Constitutional Convention.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Media narratives, flip-flops, and the numbers

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Judging from the way the major news media, as well as some in the blogosphere, are covering the presidential race, you'd think Obama was on the verge of a major collapse, or that his campaign had turned into a complete disaster, and that the race had turned into McCain's to lose.

Flipping this way, flopping that way, pissing off the netroots and his heretofore enthusiastic progressive base on FISA and corporate immunity, appearing to shift on Iraq, assaulting the Constitution like a conservative, talking up guns and a closer union of church and state, veering shamelessly to the center on core issues like abortion and death penalty, sounding more and more like a Republican (and like Hillary in the long lead-up to the Pennsylvania primary) with each passing day, and exhibiting, as one of his more well-known and outspoken supporters labels it, "hubris," a campaign "far too cocky for its own good" -- with all this, and more, it hasn't been one of Obama's stronger periods, and he's been taking some major hits, not least because of how the media have presented it all.

Meanwhile, McCain's been having his own problems, but there hasn't been nearly as much talk from the talking heads about his own and much more egregious flipping and flopping and flipping back again on major issues like Iraq and immigration, nor about his ongoing attempts to suck up to the right, particularly to the religious right, and his otherwise completely ridiculous policy positions, including the absurd claim that he will balance the budget and an economic plan that even sympathetic conservative economists are generally uncomfortable with, and his abject ignorance on issues like Katrina and birth control.

Of course, it's not like Obama is getting purely negative media coverage -- maybe it's time for a pro-Obama SNL skit? -- and it's not like McCain continues to get a free pass from the media. But it does seem to me that Obama is being held to a different standard than McCain is, perhaps because expectations for Obama are so high -- and so low for McCain.

Regardless, the numbers tell a different story -- that is, not that one that has Obama on the verge of collapse. As Nate Silver points out, McCain is ahead in Missouri, but not by much, and his lead may be the results of a major advertising campaign there. Obama is ahead in New Jersey -- it's close, but Obama's massive money advantage should give him a boost there once the campaign gets underway in earnest. And Obama has even pulled closer in Alabama, as Republican a state as there is. Meanwhile, a new poll has Obama and McCain tied in another long-time Republican stronghold, North Dakota.

In other words, don't get lost in the weeds. The media have their own narrative to tell, and, as usual, it's not, if I may put it nicely, an entirely accurate one. Obama has high expectations to meet, and he hasn't been meeting all of them in recent weeks -- and I admit that I am genuinely disturbed by his position on FISA, his rethink on Iraq, and his shift to the right on several important issues -- but he's still doing extremely well where it matters: in terms of popular support.

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Eat your gender: commercial critique part 2

By LindaBeth

I like the multiple entendre to this post title...but unfortunately this post isn't about one of the awesome interpretations. It's about gendered eating in recent advertising.

I'm a bit late on some of these commercials, but they go better together in one post anyways.

Unapologetically Female and Feminocracy both have great assessments of Adam Corrolla's (yeah, of the Man Show, known for it's sexism, which clearly makes him the ideal spokesperson for what men like) ad for Taco Bell and his insistence to "eat like a man."

"You deserve a meal made for men." Let's break this down.

What makes this meal "made for men"? It's a lot of food. Plus as Feminocracy suggests, there's bacon (ya know, the fattiest meat there is). And men "naturally have" (dubious) and more importantly are socially allowed to have big appetites (hell, can have appetites. Period.) Women should surpress their appetite, not only to conform to impossible body standards that require women to be thin yet curvy, but also to be in complete obsessive control of the main thing that matters to female value: our bodies. (See Caroline Knapp's excellent book Appetites on how women are compelled to surpress their appetites across the board: not just food, but sex, and other areas.)

Not only can men have big appetites but they are socially permitted to satisfy them, which is where the "you deserve" comes in. Hell, more than that, they're encouraged to satisfy them. Because real men eat based on taste and without worrying about calorie content. And it's of the utmost importance to be a "real men," the opposite of which is, well, being "a girl" or "a fag," both of which are the ultimate insults for a male. As Unapologically Female says:

Real men can pack away large amounts of crappy fast food! And you want to be a real man, don't you? (Not one who's girly.)

Further, the all-deserving privilege:

Go ahead, men. Satisfy your hunger. Indulge without fear of judgment. And don't bother thinking about how only you, and not women, are afforded this luxury.

And why does Taco Bell insist on make female consumers invisible and irrelevant?

Enter Quiznos.

Where we find out that "real women" need what's not "lacking any meat."

Which means Real Women aren't lesbians. Or vegetarians. And that real women, perhaps, don't actually want food but really just want (penis-based) sex.

And what was it about suppressing women's appetite and pleasure in eating?

The "younger" (or younger-seeming, I guess) is jealous of the other woman's pleasure in eating. So far so good. She thinks it should be her eating. (Hmmm, wait a sec-why her? Because she's somehow better? Don't know about this part.) My guess is that we supposed to think she craves the food, but can't indulge in food in order to maintain her "better" appearance but the plain, homely woman doesn't have such problems (or maybe she can't afford it after extensive cosmetic surgery?!) After which she says to the homely woman, "I hate you." Technically it should be that "she hates her" because she has tasty food, but we all know the cultural subtext. This commercial "works" because it's not just about wanting the tasty food. She hates her because she is able to eat, where women aren't supposed to indulge in food. Even more so, she "hates" her because clearly she doesn't care that much about her femininity like the "hot" woman does (signified by her homeliness and "unattractiveness," or at least her less attractiveness), that she can therefore actually eat. As in, "gee, I wish I didn't care so much about my appearance that I could eat like you do and hate you for it."

Then the homely woman says: "Really? Wow." She's pleased and shocked that OMG this "hot" woman hates her! Because we should all crave other women's hatred and jealousy of our pleasure especially if they're hotter than us. Uggh. And the sandwiches being "big taste in a smaller size"? You know, perfect for women. Double uggh.

I just saw that Melissa at Shakesville posted yesterday on the Taco Bell commercial as well.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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The Ugly American

By Capt. Fogg

The recent HBO John Adams series showed lawyer and statesman Adams a bit out of his depth at the court of King Louis in Paris. Brilliant, educated, but shabby and with provincial manners, he never fit in and apparently was a bit amusing to the effete Parisians. Unlike "life-of-the-party" Ben Franklin, he was unable to make his backwoods background work for him.

I can't compare George W. Bush to John Adams. Out of his depth even in shallow waters, Bush is always the life of the party if it happens to be at a fraternity house filled with spoiled and boisterous sophomores. So he seems to have come across at the G8 conference in Hokkaido -- as the back slapping and prolix uncle nobody wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving, the insurance saleman you avoid at parties: chewing with his mouth open, calling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi "Amigo," and with mouth and microphone wide open, braying about fireworks, his bicycle, his birthday party, his mother's knees; all the things that are important to his position as the center of the universe; all the things that make him look like a damned and boorish fool abroad, and got him elected back home.

How long, how long has our self respect been gone
How long, how long, baby how long?

With apologies to Leroy Carr.

(Cross posted from
Human Voices.)

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"Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't posted anything on the recent G8 summit in Japan, mainly because, from what I could tell, it was just the same old bullshit from the same old bullshitters. With global warming one of the key issues on the table, it's tough to get too excited over the prospect of Bush, Harper, Merkel, Sarkozy, and Berlusconi -- what an astoundingly and abominably appalling list; they and Brown, who is somewhat better then they are on the environment, are the leaders of the world's major democracies? -- actually doing something productive about our most pressing crisis.

I can't even get excited in a negative way: Expectations were very low going in, those expectations were met, and the do-nothingness will go on regardless of what is said publicly. The summit didn't get much attention in the U.S., what with media attention fixated on whatever sensationalism can be distilled from the Obama-McCain race, and perhaps understandably so. The G8 in general is only mildly interested in doing anything about global warming -- Bush not at all -- and the summit was, as usual, little more than a glorified photo-op.

As The Independent is reporting, though, Bush did use the occasion to signal, if only privately, just where he and the U.S. are with respect to our most pressing crisis:

President George Bush signed off with a defiant farewell over his refusal to accept global climate change targets at his last G8 summit.

As he prepared to fly out from Japan, he told his fellow leaders: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

President Bush made the private joke in the summit's closing session, senior sources said yesterday. His remarks were taken as a two-fingered salute from the President from Texas who is wedded to the oil industry. He had given some ground at the summit by saying he would "seriously consider" a 50 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

Seriously consider, Dick Cheney's ass. It's not happening -- and it's not good enough anyway.

Bush just told us all to fuck off. Thankfully, he'll be fucking off himself soon enough -- no, not soon enough, but soon. Then, perhaps, our expectations can go up, the G8 can be a bit more productive, and it'll be worth paying attention.

But that will take genuine American leadership -- and hence a genuine leader in the White House. For all the hits Obama has been taking recently over FISA, Iraq, abortion, and the like, what is still clear is that he, and only he, is the candidate with what it takes to provide that leadership.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Constitution shredded

By Creature

I knew Barack Obama's yes vote for the constitutionally-flawed, immunity-laden FISA bill today was all but certain, but now that's it's done I'm even more furious than before. To give Bush what he wanted, to cover-up massive telcom and administration law-breaking, to throw in with the GOP and the likes of Rockefeller and Feinstein (on the Democratic side) is beyond the pale. Thanks for nothing, Barack Obama. If you ever return to teaching Constitutional law I hope you're proud that you are personally responsible for having one less amendment to teach.

Update: Senator Feingold is hopeful that under an Obama presidency today's FISA disaster can be fixed. Since I don't have much choice in the matter, I'll take my cues from Russ and keep my fingers crossed.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Examining an obsession about civil liberties

By Carol Gee

"Privacy advocates," "civil libertarians," "Fourth Amendment Constitutional activists," "Left Wingers," "Right-leaning members of the Libertarian Party," "Online activists," I am one of you. We are, indeed strange bedfellows.

What is the reality? I am trying to figure out why I have this obsession about protecting U.S. civil liberties. I wonder whether I am being too paranoid about the U.S. government spying on Americans. I am very curious about the actual facts of the current administration's (what I believe to be illegal) domestic surveillance program. I think about what it is about all this that is so bothersome to me, and to the others of us who regularly blog about the issue. I often look to those whose expertise has been so pivotal in this fight. Glenn Greenwald at, whose links I have liberally used in this post, often states the reality in which I believe. Today's includes good insights on the administration's apparent motives for its massive spy effort. To quote from his current post:

. . . the reality is that the Government and the telecoms broke the law not for weeks or months, but for years -- well into 2007. They continued to do so even after the NYT exposed what they were doing. They could have brought their spying activities into a legal framework at any time, but chose instead to spy on Americans in exactly the way our laws criminalize. Manifestly, then, national
security had nothing to do with why they did it. The Bush administration chose to do so because they wanted to eavesdrop without oversight and to establish that neither Congress nor the courts can limit what the President does, and telecoms did not want to jeopardize the massive
government surveillance contracts
they have by refusing.

Congress is not the least bit obsessed about this constitutional assault. Are they right and are we the ones who are losing our minds? We strange bedfellows feel that we are losing our constitutionally protected Fourth Amendment civil liberties of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. I wonder why our elected representatives in Congress are not as obsessed about this as I am. After all, they are the ones who took the oath to uphold and protect the Constitution. I never took such an oath. Why does it seem to matter more to me; I am just one little blogger regularly pecking away about FISA at my little notebook's keyboard. But big blogs are also obsessed. "The FISA cavein is Congress' shame," says "Scarecrow" at Firedoglake. In one succinct and searing post this writer says it all, and so much better than I have been able to manage, given my current obsessive funk. To quote rather extensively from this fine writer's main points:

For six years, the Bush Administration and the nation’s communication companies have been illegally spying on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails. They did this in direct violation of the Constitution’s 4th Amendment and a federal statute – FISA. Both laws emphatically forbid such surveillance unless the government first obtains a warrant from an independent (eg, FISA) court.

. . . the US Senate is planning today to grant immunity to the lawbreakers, while sanctioning more warrantless surveillance, weakened oversight and a sham investigation.

. . . it wasn’t just a few, scattered incidents of warrantless surveillance, nor was the spying directed solely at suspected “terrorists.” The spying was massive, sweeping, and undifferentiated. Everyone’s privacy was vulnerable. . . the Bush Administration diverted, stored and searched through millions of our communications looking for . . . what? . . . we won't know how our private information becomes misinterpreted and misused – that is, used against us, without us knowing why or being able to do anything about it.

. . . Can you imagine the leaders of our present Congress signing the Declaration of Independence? Would any of them have insisted that the Constitution not be ratified unless it included a Bill of Rights?

. . . The nation’s founders were not such frightened people. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in open defiance of the world’s most powerful empire, a regime that would certainly have hanged them if they failed in their efforts to become free men. Now our Congress cowers because they fear a President with 25 percent approval ratings and a Republican Party that the electorate can’t wait to throw out of office.

Fourth Estate and candidate failures to uphold the Constitution obsess me. I ask why has the mainstream media, except for The New York Times, been mostly silent on this extremely important issue. And, most disappointingly, why does protecting civil liberties not matter as much to my chosen presidential candidate as it should. Sarah Wheaton at the 7/3/08 New York Times blog, "The Caucus," explored Senator Obama's dialogue with his supporters who disagreed with his stance on the current FISA bill up for debate today. To quote: “This was not an easy call for me,” Mr. Obama said in a statement posted to the diary of Joe Rospars, a top Internet adviser to the campaign. “I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect.”

This examination of our obsession about civil liberties tells me that neither I nor my fellow protesters are crazy. We are focused, honed in, tuned in to a reality that is a big problem for the nation. It is good to remember that I am not the only one who feels this way. It is upsetting to remember that there are far too few of us to matter at this point. But that does not mean we will give up our obsession. We must not; too much depends on it.

Update: This is a sad day in FISA's history. The Senate approved HR 6304 by a vote of 69 ayes and 28 nays. Glenn has the full story, including the defeat of three "improving" ammendments prior to the final vote. Obama voted for the bill; Clinton against it. He also reports that Congress has now dropped to single-digit approval ratings. Is anyone surprised?

This day in history: July 9, 1787 - Constitution Convention. Convention discusses committee's report on ratio of representation in House.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Pat Buchanan, Nazi

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not traditional conservative, or paleo-conservative, or nativist, or even historical revisionist. Or any other such euphemism. No, there's only one word that suits Buchanan now, and that's Nazi.

As TNR's James Kirchick is reporting today:

On June 29th, MSNBC personality and three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan appeared on a neo-Nazi radio program to promote his new revisionist history of the Second World War, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. James Edwards is the host of the program "Political Cesspool," the stated mission of which is to "represent a philosophy that is pro-White."

In his book Buchanan argues that it was wrong for American to have intervened on the side of the allies in World War II, and that it would have been better if the Germans had won the war (and then acted as a bulwark against Bolshevism). (Not better for the English and the French and the other allies, not better for the Jews, not better for the other peoples being exterminated by the Nazis, but what does Buchanan care? He's a Nazi.)

And the show on which he appeared is not just pro-white but anti-Semitic and pro-Holocaust denial. Of course, that's right up Buchanan's alley. He's a Nazi.

Like Kirchick, I'm both not surprised and appalled that Buchanan is still a regular on MSNBC, still welcomed at the higher levels of the mainstream media. (MSNBC is NBC!) But I guess that tells us a lot about MSNBC, and the mainstream media generally.

As long as they keep putting Buchanan on air, they're providing a high-profile platform for a Nazi.

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Once a stripper, always a stripper

By LindaBeth

This kind of bullshit phrasing happens all the time.


"Ex-Stripper Claims Affair With Alex Rodriguez, Calls Cindy 'Smart'"

She's not just a woman; she is was a stripper!

a) Does it really matter? Is cheating with a stripper somehow "worse" than with a "regular woman" (because see, strippers aren't just regular women who have a job to pay the bills, they're some sort of non-human exotic sex-being!) Would a headline similarly read "Accountant Claims Affair with A-Rod"? I think not.

b) She was a stripper. She is no longer. Why must women who are sex workers always and forever be accompanied with the adjective "ex-[insert sex industry job here]"?

Of course I know the answers to my own questions. It's still utter bullshit.

(And this comes from our ever-"progressive" news source Huff-Po...ya know, the ones who recently celebrated Independence Day with a pictorial of women and men in flag-inspired bathing suits "hottie" female celebs in flag-printed bikinis.)

Not to mention that A-Rod's marriage is none of our damn business and is nowhere near newsworthy.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

I apologize. I've been bloggingly negligent today. It's just that I've been spending my time trying to figure out my new iPod Touch. Which is freakin' awesome.

Be back soon.

(So stay tuned.)


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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The truth

By Carl

The mystery of life is understanding what truth is, and when it matters.

Think about it: what is truth? Truth can be defined as the presentation of things that are factual, but in the presentation, fact goes away.

Spin, in other words. If I take a photograph of a man sitting on a bench, factually, the man is sitting on the bench, but what is the truth of the picture?

After all, he could be Aqualung, spitting out pieces of his broken luck. He could be an undercover cop, waiting for a mugger. He could be a father or grandfather, watching his child. He could be contemplating suicide.

What is missing is context. Truth, you see, is context. If the photograph tells a story, then you can begin to understand the truth of the picture, but it goes even deeper than that.

Even telling a story with a photograph, we can see that we are getting the photographer's truth, and that's not necessarily the truth you need. You need your truth.

A photograph represents a split second in time from the photographer's perspective and incorporates his entire life's experience in that moment. He is revealing to you his truth, but not yours. You may agree with his truth, or accept it, but that is only half the story you need. You need your truth, which is what does HIS (or her) truth mean to you? How does his truth interact with yours?

To put it another way, how likely would you be to bring sunscreen if Fox News told you it would be sunny today?

Which brings me to blogging and politics. Truth is all around you: John McCain has his truth, so does Barack Obama. Both of their truths are intended to influence you to vote for them, and both of their truths, while true, in that moment are also lies!

We're seeing this in the outrage of the left over Obama's move to the middle. He presented a truth to us that said "I'm with you," and then turned his back on that truth.

But here's the thing: in his mind, both truths are his truth. The context, as with the photograph, is what matters.

The context here is that Obama wants to be President. What else did we expect from a man who rose four years ago from state legislator to Senator and now to Democratic candidate for President? He sat down, figured out a strategy to win the nomination and then the general election and is carrying it out perfectly.

We bought into his truth but the truth we bought into was not the truth he really had.

(crossposted to S
imply Left Behind)

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Librarians attack

By Capt. Fogg

It's understandable that John McCain wants to distance himself from George Bush. No one can blame him, even though he seems to be intent on carrying out Bush's agenda to a significant extent. Bush has the popularity of leprosy at the moment, and it's clear that party loyalty no longer extends to allowing comparison to the sitting president. I can, however, blame his campaign staff and the Denver, Colorado police for denying the right of a 61 year old librarian to be on public property for a public meeting, carrying a sign proclaiming McCain=Bush.

The banshees at Fox and the snickering snots who listen to them will never let you hear the end of the Obama campaign workers who asked two women wearing Muslim head scarves not to sit where the camera could see him, but they weren't escorted out to the street by the police, weren't issued a ticket for trespassing or told they would be arrested for constitutionally protected behavior.

Of course, the cable news opinion shouters who still support Bush have a chance to show that the McCain campaign has insulted them and the president and the party, but I'm willing to bet we won't hear anything but silence from them and from John McCain. Republican apologists have little to build a defense on other than the grave danger posed by nice old lady librarians with opinions, but they will probably try.

I hope I can be forgiven for suspecting that McCain will be another president who thinks the constitution is a stumbling block and try to scare us out of our desire for freedom.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Monday, July 07, 2008

WTF of the Day: Yet another personal privacy violation

By LindaBeth

From the Daily Mail:

A woman claims her life has been ruined by someone who set up a Facebook website page in her name describing her as a vice girl.

Kerry Harvey, 23, says she received obscene pictures on her mobile phone and unsolicited calls from would-be ‘punters’.

The forged profile featured her photograph, correct date of birth, middle name and mobile number, listing her job as ‘prostitute’.

The Facebook page is down now, but this is especially disheartening:

She also reported the abuse to police but was told it would cost too much to track the culprit.

Not to mention this classic blame-the-victim:

‘Generally, people can try and avoid false profile pages by posting as little personal information as possible - not just on social networking sites but anywhere on the net.’

This is nearly impossible. A Google search of your name gets you your address very easily. And if you’ve ever done anything interesting enough to be reported in a newspaper, then be damned! We must not live too publicly, we must pretty much live in a hole and not interact outside of face-to-face contact. Not that that would be a bad thing, especially in today’s society. But I’m really sick of this attitude that it’s our responsibility to have our lives completely offline to avoid this kind of thing…all too much like the “her clothing meant she was asking for it” rape apology. Theft is still theft even if your house is unlocked.

It is far to easy to use the internet as revenge and exploitation. The article lists several examples of online fraud. Add to these the high profile case of the Myspace hoax created by a mother-and-daughter that negligently caused the suicide of a young girl, the all-too-often posting of sexual photos and videos of ex-partners without any consent (and I’ve personally only ever seen women’s likenesses posted), and as I’ve written about previously, we clearly have a social problem. It seems that teens and young adults are hurt more than anyone, and that women are disproportionately affected. We need a solution that takes into account the realities of 21st century life and technology. And we need it before more (women’s) lives are ruined.

And gee, it wouldn’t hurt if women’s identities and reputations weren’t so problematically inseparable from their identity as a human being. That would be nice too.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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Jesse Helms: "senile racist buffoon"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Generally, I'm with Capt. Fogg -- but let me add a few things:

1) Now that he's done being waterboarded (i.e., tortured), Christopher Hitchens is back to being alternately inane (e.g., when he writes about Iraq) and edifying-perceptive-funny (e.g., when he writes about pretty much anything else), and his "Farewell to a Provincial Redneck," which includes the quoted part of the title of this post, is right on the mark: "The way to mark Helms' passing is to recognize that he prolonged the life of the old segregated South and the Dixiecrat ascendancy and that in his own person, not unlike Strom Thurmond, he personified much of its absurdity and redundancy."

2) Jonathan Chait, quoting Obsidian Wings, is right on the mark, too: "Hilzoy has a lot of detail about Helms' "particular vision" of civil rights. Among other things, Helms was an avowed believer in black intellectual inferiority, an hysterical opponent of interracial marriage, called the 1964 Civil Rights Act 'the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress,' and said of civil rights demonstrators, 'The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights.' Helm's 'vision' of civil rights for African-Americans was that there should be none."

(Update 1: Chait's TNR colleague Issac Chotiner looks at the right's racism-excusing love-in with Helms.)

(Update 2: For more, see Steve Benen's response to the National Review's love-in: "Helms' legacy is one of hate, segregation, and white supremacy. His name should be an embarrassment to the conservative movement that looks to him as a leader." It should be, but it isn't. Which says a lot about the conservative movement and its policies, positions, and priorities.)

3) Even the oft-seemingly-senile David Broder gets it. WaPo has reposted his 2001 piece, "Jesse Helms, White Racist": "What is unique about Helms -- and from my viewpoint, unforgivable -- is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans."

I wouldn't call that "unique" (there have been many others who have done the same, just as there are many who do so now), and Broder is far too soft on Helms (who didn't just "pick at the scab" but actually kept wounding the body politic), but there's something to be said for calling a racist a racist.

And Jesse Helms was, among many other reprehensible things, a racist.

And worse.

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Final showdown on FISA

By Libby Spencer

Following up on Carol's excellent post, I also want to take a moment to urge you to take action on FISA today. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow so it's time for one last push to try and browbeat our feckless Senators into upholding the rule of law. Christy has the latest tools. I'm sure you need no further instructions outside of this info.

We are asking Senators to vote IN FAVOR of the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy Amendment (S.A. 5064 to H.R. 6304). We're asking for a NO vote on cloture, and a NO vote on the final bill as well.

Be sure to include this in your communications, since I've found the staff is often woefully uninformed on what legislation is pending. So call, send a free fax, or just send an email but do it today -- please.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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When does the rule of law not apply?

By Carol Gee

When our current president (OCP) first took the oath of office it was questionable whether it was a lawful election. But the Supreme Court of the United States had arbitrarily declared George W. Bush the winner of the 2000 election. Therefore his oath was taken under the rule of law, by our system of government. The application of the rule of law by OCP and his administration has been spotty ever since. It began with an emphasis on oil for the big corporations. Vice President Cheney saw to it that big oil had every advantage, and the deliberations regarding those plans have been unlawfully secret ever since. It plays out similarly to this story (hat-tip to betmo, who said, "this is perhaps the best analysis i've read yet of what's going on in africa..."), all over the world of oil: And, yes, I DO take it personally, May 13, 2008, headlined, "The REAL truth about the U.S. in Ethiopia and Somalia... Yes, it's about OIL and a 'narrow, extremely violent kleptocracy'..." And in the case of the United States, the word is Corporatocracy.

Congress, a co-equal branch of government to the executive, has been unable or unwilling to hold OCP and the members of his administration to account. Declaring early in her term as Speaker of the House that "impeachment is off the table," Representative Nancy Pelosi has given OCP "free reign/rein" to operate outside the rule of law. Even after it came out that the basis for going to war in Iraq was deliberately falsified, no high official has been held to account for operating outside the rule of law. The mechanisms for being able to get away with lawbreaking have included lack of Congressional oversight, asserting presidential powers under "unitary presidential theory" authority and the use of undue executive branch secrecy, as in this story. Think Progress headlined the story, "ACLU: Pentagon made unprecedented effort to hide human cost of war." To quote:

The ACLU today released documents regarding Navy investigations of civilians killed by coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report notes that the administration has gone to unprecedented lengths to control and suppress information about the human cost” of the wars.

This first workday after Independence Day 2008 means that Congress will soon get back to work making new laws. Are they also bound to operate under the rule of law? Or can Members and Senators make the law and have it come our any old way, willy nilly? It looks as if "willy nilly" is about to happen once again with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Here is the latest from's Glenn Greenwald, one of our most articulate FISA gurus:

  • Saturday July 5, 2008 -- In "The political establishment and telecom immunity -- why it matters," he makes these points. To quote:

    . . . the political elite are using to justify this bill, accompanied by the standard invocations of "National Security" which our Foreign Policy elite condescendingly toss around to justify whatever policy they're claiming is necessary to protect us. . . political establishment is not only about to pass a patently corrupt bill, but worse, are spouting -- on a very bipartisan basis -- completely deceitful claims to obscure what they're really doing. . . I would really like to know where people . . . get the idea that the U.S. President has the power to "order" private citizens to do anything, let alone to break the law . . . That just isn't how our country works and it never was. We don't have a King who can order people to break the law.

  • The courts have intervened, but often to no avail. "Another ruling by a federal judge" was Greenwald's July 4 post, in which he pointed out Congress' complicity in sanctioning law-breaking. To quote:

    A Bush-41-appointed Federal District Judge yesterday became the third judge -- out of three who have ruled on the issue -- to reject the Bush administration's claim that Article II entitles the President to override or ignore the provisions of FISA. Yesterday's decision by Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California also guts the central claims for telecom immunity and gives the lie to the excuses coming from Congress as to why the new FISA bill is some sort of important "concession." More than anything else, this decision is but the most recent demonstration that, with this new FISA bill, our political establishment is doing what it now habitually does: namely, ensuring that the political and corporate elite who break our laws on purpose are immune from consequences.

    Judge Walker's decision (.pdf) was issued in the case of Al-Haramain v. Bush.

It will take years to repair the damage, if ever. But OCP's tenure is almost over now, you say. Get over it! Well, NO, is what I say. There is still time to act to block the abominable FISA s0-called compromise. Another favorite guru, Firedoglake posted the phone numbers we can use to call members of congress to urge them to stand up for our civil liberties under FISA. To quote:

And repeating myself once more time: "It's pretty simple, no immunity for the telecoms. Call your Senators today and tomorrow and the next day. Call them until they get this simple message: No Immunity for the Telecoms! And put the pressure on Obama. Make him step forth and take leadership. He asks us to believe we have the ability to bring about real change in Washington. Let's get him to make real change in Washington -- this week, on this issue." Here are the toll-free katymine numbers to use to make those call to your Senators and Senator Barack Obama:

1 (800) 828 - 0498
1 (800) 614 - 2803
1 (866) 340 - 9281
1 (866) 338 - 1015
1 (877) 851 - 6437

Dial like our Constitution depends on it, because it does.

These days in history: Constitutional Convention - July 6, 1787. Convention debated committee report on state representation in Congress. On July 7, 1787: Madison addressed convention on topic of representation in Congress.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Obama in Denver: So you thought you might like to go to the show

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's so funny because it could be true. From The Plank's Jason Zengerle:

As if expectations for Obama's convention speech weren't already ludicriously high, it now looks like he's going to give it in a 75,000-seat football stadium (as opposed to a 20,000-seat basketball arena). Meanwhile, in a bid to further lower expectations, McCain is expected to announce that he's moving the site of his convention speech from Minneapolis's Xcel Energy Center to the lounge at the Holiday Inn out near the airport.

The part about Obama is true. It will be announced today (Marc Ambinder is reporting) that Obama will accept the nomination not at the Pepsi Center (the arena) but at Invesco Field (the stadium). (Update: It's official. David Plouffe says so. It's the "Open Convention.")

The part about McCain could be true. (Why is Colbert is holding a green-screen challenge to make him exciting? Because he isn't.) I would go further, however. Even the Holiday Inn lounge could be too big a venue for him. So why not the Larry Craig Memorial Public Washroom Stall out at the airport for some toe-tapping convention speechifying? It's the right size and there's a toilet right there on hand should the overflow of bullshit need to be flushed.


But, if I may, there's a serious side to this, too.

First, when is it too big? I realize that size can matter and that the sheer spectacle of an Obama speech at such a venue would be awesome.

It's just that I'm reminded of what the sociologist Elias Canetti wrote about the herd mentality in his monumental work Crowds and Power:

The first thing which strikes one about the pack is its unswerving direction; equality is expressed in the fact that all are obsessed by the same goal, the sight of an animal perhaps, which they want to kill... In order to attain what it is after, it must have speed, cunning and endurance, and must not allow itself to be deflected. It urges itself on with its joint clamour, and the importance of noise, in which all the voices of the individual creatures unite, should not be underrated. It can swell and diminish, but it is persistent: it contains the attack.

He was referring to smaller and more primitive hordes here, but the dynamic is much the same, if not much worse for larger crowds. At what point does the individual lose his or her individuality to the group? At what point does the group or the crowd become its own self-sustaining organism?

I'm also reminded of how Pink Floyd treats this dynamic in The Wall, where the line between the rock star and the fascist leader becomes not just blurred but non-existent, with the fans unable even to tell the difference:

So ya
Thought ya
Might like to
Go to the show.
To feel that warm thrill of confusion,
That space cadet glow.
I've got some bad news for you sunshine,
Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel,
And they sent us along as a surrogate band
We're gonna find out where you folks really stand.

Second, and related to this, at what point, if at all, are people turned off by this? Put another way, will there be any pushback against Obama for giving his speech at such a large venue. Even if the spectacle is awesome, even if the 75,000 in attendance are really into it, will it drive a wedge between Obama and the audience watching the spectacle on television? Will it increase the distance between Obama and the voters? Will it create (or enhance) the perception that Obama is an elitist who is simply too detached from, and hence out-of-touch with, mythical Main Street America? After all, McCain may be a terrible orator, but at least most people can relate to an old guy who doesn't speak so well in public. Few of us can relate to a rock star.

Questions, questions.

It's still a good idea, I think, and I certainly don't mean to suggest that Obama will turn into a fascist Pink. But I do worry that politics-as-spectacle can be taken too far and that this could be too much -- or at least could be close to being too much.

It will up to Obama to keep it real, as they say, and not to let either the awesome spectacle, or the troublesome group dynamic, overwhelm him.

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A paradigm is more than two bits

By Carl

When considering the state of the American political and governing system, it is probably a good idea to think about the flip side of the coin: the governed.

I've always believed that it is important to stress to Americans that there is no free lunch. For too long, politicians on both sides of the fence have strived hard to come up with painless solutions to thorny problems, not trusting the American people to be a rational, intelligent and reasonable community of people.

That's probably an accurate impulse. I can't really blame Republicans for offering tax cuts to ignore or Democrats for offering grandiose schemes to solve intractable problems. The sense I get is that Americans of all stripes would prefer someone else handle the problem.

We're spoiled, in other words. This sense of "it's somebody else's responsibility" plays out in so many facets of life, it's not even funny.

You get hit by a car. You sue the other driver. He hires a lawyer and sues you back to try to prove that, indeed, it was your fault for stepping in front of his car.

Voter turnout in elections has been abysmal, even in 2004 when people took up voting arms against a sea of trouble and likely again this year, despite Barack Obama's encouraging and energizing candidacy.

You see a woman in an emergency room collapse.
She lays there for 24 hours and dies. No one does a thing. Why? Because someone else should have handled it.

You walk down a street and a piece of newspaper blows across and wraps around your ankle. You stand next to a garbage can, yet rather than reach down, pluck the paper and toss it in the bin, you shake your foot and off it flies to litter again. Serial litter, I like to call this.

We fight a war in a far-off land, and the only sacrifice we're asked to make is to load up on debt and shop some more. Arguably, given what has happened, this might turn into the ultimate sacrifice for many of us, but that's a different story.

We ask so much of our country. We give so little in return. Perhaps in addition to a Bill of Rights, we should look into establishing a Bill of Responsibilities.

A Google search turns up roughly 300,000 hits on that term. Some of these "bills" are simply outrageously idiotic: really, the best someone could come up with was "you have the responsibility to be a loyal citizen of the United States of America"?

Memo to the Roses: WE ARE! (I won't embarrass them with a link)

I did find a
rather intriguing Bill, and I wanted to share it with you:

Freedom and responsibility are mutual and inseparable; we can ensure enjoyment of the one only by exercising the other. Freedom for all of us depends on responsibility by each of us.

To secure and expand our liberties, therefore, we accept these responsibilities as individual members of a free society:

1. To be fully responsible for our own actions and for the consequences of those actions. Freedom to choose carries with it the responsibility for our choices.

2. To respect the rights and beliefs of others. In a free society, diversity flourishes. Courtesy and consideration toward others are measures of a civilized society.

3. To give sympathy, understanding and help to others. As we hope others will help us when we are in need, we should help others when they are in need.

4. To do our best to meet our own and our families' needs. There is no personal freedom without economic freedom. By helping ourselves and those closest to us to become productive members of society, we contribute to the strength of the nation.

5. To respect and obey the laws. Laws are mutually accepted rules by which, together, we maintain a free society. Liberty itself is built on a foundation of law. That foundation provides an orderly process for changing laws. It also depends on our obeying laws once they have been freely adopted.

6. To respect the property of others, both private and public. No one has a right to what is not his or hers. The right to enjoy what is ours depends on our respecting the right of others to enjoy what is theirs.

7. To share with others our appreciation of the benefits and obligations of freedom. Freedom shared is freedom strengthened.

8. To participate constructively in the nation's political life. Democracy depends on an active citizenry. It depends equally on an informed citizenry.

9. To help freedom survive by assuming personal responsibility for its defense. Our nation cannot survive unless we defend it. Its security rests on the individual determination of each of us to help preserve it.

10. To respect the rights and to meet the responsibilities on which our liberty rests and our democracy depends. This is the essence of freedom. Maintaining it requires our common effort, all together and each individually.

Freedom is a balance of rights and responsibilities. If one only assumes the rights of freedom without taking responsibility to see those rights are secured and maintained, one loses the rights.

If one only secures the rights of freedom for oneself, without ensuring those rights for everyone, one loses freedoms.

If one abuses, distorts, or otherwise diminishes the rights of freedom, abrogating one's responsibilities for that freedom, then one loses one's freedom anyway. Karma's a bitch.

If only enjoys the freedom to enjoy one's property, one's life, one's liberty, one's pursuit of happiness while even one other person is unjustly deprived of his or hers, then one loses his freedom too.

We've seen that. We've seen that in this administration and in administrations throughout at least my lifetime. And one could make the argument, indeed, that because Americans have never had the responsibilities inherent in freedom, Americans were never truly free.

Oh, we could fake it, to be sure. When this land was wilderness and a man or woman could ride an entire day without seeing another person, you have the illusion of freedom.

Oddly enough, those same people took it upon themselves to ensure their own freedom by standing up for themselves when that freedom was threatened.

A community, you see, is a balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of the population. We are the most important unit in our own lives, but we are not the most important individual in anyone else's life. We can't be. As I like to say, I don't care what anyone else thinks because no one else is going to climb into my coffin with me when I die.

That statement, however, implies that I can live with myself well enough that even
I get into my coffin when I die!

Vigilance, involvement, activism: community.

I would quibble with some of these statements from the Freedoms Foundation. I'm drawn to article 9 as one that could use some fleshing out and tuning up, because it allows for all sorts of bizarre interpretations ("Why, I own this Abrams tank because you never can tell when Osama and his minions will come strolling down Cherry Lane, bent on taking out the Gas-N-Gulp!")

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

Right there in the Preamble to the Constitution is our mandate: to create community. A nation. A secure foundation to build our hopes and dreams on. To prevent tyranny and injustice, in whatever form it may take. To raise our families. To be free, all of us, not only those of us with money who can buy a home in a gated community (an oxymoron, that... "gated community"), but you, me, your children, my children, her children, his children.

As we ponder how to fix the things that are broken in America, we might want to pause a moment and see if as we point fingers, we aren't pointing many more back at ourselves.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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