Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fight The Power

Today Matt Yglesias unfortunately wrote:
I’ve generally liked Chuck Todd’s emergence as a TV talking head,
Chuck Todd is and was a snivelling little hack who they coached and dressed up a little better so that he would give a more serious impression. Check out some of his greatest hits. Chuck Todd’s profession is being a propagandist.

Russert was the same thing. Everyone knew his presentation was garbage, but then after he died, the Machine closed ranks to make sure he was eulogized non-stop for a week or two. Now Media Matters has oddly taken his name off their list of big-offender media personalities, even though he was one of the worst ones, and since he was a conscienceless soldier for the Machine, it’s entirely appropriate to keep his name up there so people can easily check out the examples of his disgusting corruption and better understand the reach and quality of conservative media corruption.

Commenting on the media running McCain's ads for him for free on major networks and times that would require big bucks to advertise during, Steve Benen meekly writes:
But why would major news outlets repeatedly fall for the same trick, even when they realize the ads are created for the sole purpose of free media attention? There are competing explanations, but my hunch is a lot of outlets are just lazy, and video press releases make their jobs easier.
Considering all the other biased stuff that comes out of the mainstream media, it's well-passed the point of being certain by now that they're in cahoots.

This is a real problem, so we've got to think of a way to solve it.

All the times you see stuff from the mainstream media that looks liberal, it's just a red herring. The conservative reach is far in the mainstream media, and they can influence any story or headline in any mainstream media news report they want, even if they haven't actually bought off or intimidated every single mainstream media employee yet. The point of this is so the public won't realize they have a controlled mainstream media yet, since the public isn't so uniformly conservative to support that yet.

I doubt the public ever will be that conservative, but we still suffer from the results of having all these lies infiltrate our mainstream media news. So we've got to deal with the problem frankly and seriously.

Matt Yglesias, Steve Benen, and Kevin Drum have all taken a sharp turn for the worse in their writing over the past year or so. I have no doubt that they are all real liberals (and their past writing was very sane), but I do very much doubt that they have gone untouched by conservative coercion, and in my opinion, they are all now basically Republican propagandists.

When Steve Benen, Kevin Drum, or Matt Yglesias write something critical of the mainstream media, what they are doing is no different from the mainstream media's not acting overtly and uniformly like a conservative loud-speaker. It helps cover up when they write other things that are very wrong or inappropriate or otherwise propaganda. The blogs allow people who notice the mainstream media is corrupt to have a "pressure release valve" that keeps them from getting too fed up with the system, because they show that at least someone else notices the problems (but isn't even taking them that seriously, even though they amount to a controlled news media system, a symptom of fascism). But the blogs do the same thing as the mainstream media, and mix reality in with conservative propaganda, even though they give a slightly higher dose of reality for the (minority) slice of the population that is not dumb enough to un-critically accept the mainstream media.

August 27

On August 27, 1963, W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American civil rights activist and co-founder of the NAACP, died in Accra, Ghana.

Another Lil Something . . .

. . . I'm going to talk about because people in the media say it's important (or they at least used to):

If for years it's been the received wisdom that politicians should always wear dark suits-- and (even better) red ties-- and that there is even something psychological behind it, why are both Barack and Biden now sporting light-colored suits every once in a while?

I thought Hillary's pink suit during her convention appearance seemed a little bit odd, too. Something about it being her first big public appearance after losing the nomination + not being picked for VP, I guess, and pink being "the girl color."

Is some fascist dictating the wardrobe selection now?

Things You Don't Hear Very Often

UPDATE: Here is another interesting thing about cowboys you don't hear very often: while most of the modern world, and probably guys like Hitler and George W. Bush, have thought of cowboys as being an almost uniformly-white class of people, that actually wasn't the case at all of the actual Old West. Being a cowboy in the Old West was a very working-class profession, and cowboys were often immigrants. Around 30% of cowboys actually weren't even white, but were African American, Native American, or Hispanic. The idea of cowboys as an all-white thing isn't something that came from the cowboys themselves-- rather it's something that came from writers of fiction novels back east, or from the sons of settlers in Western towns and cities who profited from the place that the original cowboys and settlers tamed (think of them as the west's original conservative, suburban, middle-class pansies-- the original George W. Bush's). They wanted to take the cowboy legend of the place they were living in and turn it into their own thing that pleased them the most, including an all-white cast of characters that was completely at odds with the real Old West. The real Old West-- at least as far as the cowboys-- was a lot more like The Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman in Unforgiven.

* * * * *

Here is an interesting parallel between our President, George Bush, and Adolf Hitler that you don't hear very often.

George Bush lives on a fake ranch (really a pig farm converted into a home) in Texas when he isn't in Washington, and he likes to talk like a cowboy and pretend that he's a cowboy even though he's really from the Northeast.

And what do you think Adolf Hitler most liked to read in his spare time? It wasn't books about political theory, books praising the culture or history of Germany, books about warfare, or even racist propaganda books. Little Adolf liked to read cheapo cowboy novels by the writer Karl May. These were the type of thing that didn't reflect the Old West accurately at all, but rather turned cowboys into super-hero type figures. A lot of men read them like boys read comic books, or like men read Tom Clancy novels today.

This, of course, doesn't mean that cowboy = Nazi, or that everyone who dresses like a cowboy or likes some aspect of country-western culture is bad or racist. And it's also not the type of thing I usually spend my time pointing out on this blog. But since the media has acquiesced over the past few years in the face of a propaganda assault making cowboys and NASCAR fans out to be something like the Nazi German idea of a German Volk (if not a racial ├╝bermensch), I just thought I'd point out a parallel that is very clear, and based on well-known facts, but that no one bothers to mention (perhaps because it's a little more direct and clear than is comfortable for the Republicans).

Barack Obama

Someone was just telling me that before anybody tells him "all the criticism of Barack" they should show evidence that people were "flipping out" about John Edwards in 2004. Exactly. If Barack is inexperienced now, why wasn't it so obvious to all the media types that John Edwards, with similar credentials in 2004, was "inexperienced"? Calling Barack Obama too inexperienced is nothing more than a euphemism to say that Barack is black and that there is something wrong with all black people.

Therefore, if you hear anybody say this euphemism, or see anybody write it, your appropriate response is to immediately retort the charge with the facts that demonstrate that Barack is experienced compared to other people who are running for or who have run for the Presidency.

Biden-- Wish He Was Hillary

This is my basic feeling, which I'll elaborate more below: I still don't understand it, and I think it's kind of a slap in the face for a guy who bills himself on change to reject bringing the first woman VP into the White House with him. At the same time, he's also sinking her chances to eventually run for Pres again. It would have sent a lot better message if Barack had kept her included: that the individual components of the liberal coalition-- for example, working class women and working class racial minorities-- are not divided, and if one part is down, the others can be counted on to reach over to help them up.

In my honest opinion, we should not see Hillary just as an individual because that is not simply what she is, and that is not the context. This is about the history of the whole nation, and what message we send. If Hillary is good enough (and by all measures, she was-- remember, she was the other power-slugger in the primary, as far as popularity and money-raising ability, besides Obama) then she should have been picked. Biden is by comparison a second-stringer. And on top of all that, arguably, the field of candidates running against her shouldn't have even demonstrated so much whole-hearted competition (including from Obama) because Hillary was "next in line" out of all of our people who wanted to be President.

Now Obama is leaving her stuck in the mud more or less apparently just because of some things she said or the media said about her. The stuff about paying her debts doesn't count as sticking up for her (it's a token move, not meaningful political support), and Hillary's trying to trade off the convention to get some money to pay her debts actually just makes her look bad (it doesn't do anything positive for her political career).

The case for Hillary being "next in line," in case it wasn't obvious enough to you, was this: she had comparable popularity to Obama, and she was older and more experienced (especially having been much closer to the White House for eight years, which the media chauvinistically ignored (abetted by the bloggers) simply because she was the First Lady-- but she was an educated, invloved, insider First Lady, not just a celebrity or a mantlepiece). Skipping her for Obama possibly ruins her chance to run and therefore leaves our long-term field of Presidential candidates with less total talent for the future.

Even I don't think that argument necessarily wins. For one thing (which is the most important thing you can say in Obama's favor), Obama has turned out to be significantly more popular than Hillary, including (and most crucially) as compared to John McCain-- at least so far. But I'm worried by what I see as signs that the Republicans wanted us to pick Obama (the corrupt mainstream media just didn't go after him hard like they went after Hillary during the primary). That support for Hillary from Rush Limbaugh? A red herring. You really think that guy is dumb enough to tell us who he actually wants us to pick? Remember, Rush Limbaugh is the guy who has been excoriating Hillary constantly-- until she became a Democratic Presidential candidate.

Magnifying all this is the fact that we should have had other Presidential and Vice President prospects (that were arguably very superior to either Barack or Hillary) available now and for future campaigns, but we lost them due to chance or to weird circumstances. Kennedy's son, who could have been a sure-shot for us to win the Presidency a couple of times (once he grew up a little more and hopefully was persuaded to turn to politics), was killed in a mysterious plane crash. And Eliot Spitzer was exposed in an affair, just when it looked like only Republicans were getting caught doing that (again and again) since after Bill Clinton. But, now we don't have these people, so the loss of Hillary hits harder. If John McCain squeaks by Obama, all we're going to be left with is regret over what our powerhouse ticket (Obama and Hillary) could have been like, and the cold consolation that a bunch of sleazy mainstream media writers or TV talking heads had speculated that the White House wasn't big enough for Hill, Bill, and Obama.

As for all the bad things people say about Hillary: the absolute limit of what you can realistically say bad about Hillary (that is, what you can attribute to her and not to her staff) is that she played a little rough while she was campaigning-- and that is hardly an unprecedented, or even an unusual, practice.

A lot of things we're doing now just seem to fly in the face of what should be basic smarts, basic considerations, and standard methods of doing things for us.

I really feel like we're the geeks in high school who are getting directed to the non-existant pool on the roof by the Republicans.

Incidentally, another thing that's funny about the life of JFK, Jr., is that there are stories out there that make it sound like something happened to his wife that made her go kind of nuts after he married her or sometime before they died. You hear a lot of things about her that make it sound real natural that he was impressed with her class and wanted to marry her. But there was some story about them in Rolling Stone (I think) after they died that claimed that she would get into screaming fights with him in which she would call him a "faggot" and that she would do things like make them late going places because she would change her mind three times about what color she wanted her toenails to be after the beautician had already put the nailpolish on.

The Future Of Our Country

What I’d really like to see from this business about McCain’s homes is more people talking about how it fits into all of our ideas, instead of just using it as an insult against McCain personally.


Why does a person need anything like 7 or 12 homes when other people are poor and live in crowded, miserable places?

Why is it that a person can own 7 or even 12 homes (McCain owns several house-shaped, house-sized structures on one of his seven properties– structures that families could be living in– therefore he or his wife actually own something like 12 homes) in this country? How does the system let them get and keep so much wealth they don’t need– even enough to leave fortunes to their kids?

Why do we allow people to own as many as 7 or 12 homes in this country?

We can even start looking forward to the future: since it’s so obvious that no one actually needs as many as 7 homes, and in the future of dwindling resources it’s going to become harder and harder for everyone to get by, we can start talking about changing the laws to do things like prevent people from owning as much extraneous property for their own use (for instance, making a law that specifically prohibits owning 7 or more homes, any of which you don't rent out or don't actually live in for more than one month out of each year).

It’s time for the common people to start talking about things like this and to start fighting for things like this. We can’t expect the rich people to do it. No rich person, when push comes to shove, really cares about any of you or their country. Why else would we have a rich class? When they have all that money and property and the security that comes from it, the security and comfort it provides to them is too attractive, and you can expect that no rich person over the age of 18 who knowingly owns 7 houses really cares what happens to any of us so long as they have their property and security. We just have to conclude from that that it has to be us who fights for the interest of the country and its people, and these people who have to have their excess taken from them.

Rich people may say that they care about other people, and may even donate to Obama and try to change things, but in the final analysis, it is all superficial because when the chips are down and the decisions really count, they wil side against you and side in favor of their money and security. That is why things don’t change in this country–- because the common people don’t realize this, and rich people aren’t motivated to change things for us. So it has to be the common people who pick up this work.

We have big corporations in this country that more or less monopolize huge industries, and they pay no taxes back into the system. Instead, the rich get more and more taxes removed from them: the individuals who work for these corporations at the highest levels of authority, and the people who stand to gain the most from the financial success of these corporations.

People like John McCain, Geoge Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld all come from this class.

Meanwhile we have poor people in this country who can't get enough to eat, don't get a decent education, or live in squalid, miserable conditions. When people who could grow up into happy, law-abiding citizens are so weakened by this evironment that they become criminals, we send them to abusive prisons where even today prisoner-on-prisoner or guard-on-prisoner rape is an epidemic, and we tell ourselves that it's all okay because we give them television, or because the government and the media lie to us and tell us all that the conditions of our country and the people who get locked up are much different than they actually are.

What we should be talking about is allowing the government to confiscate, or confiscate huge portions of, the largest industries. The government can oversee the management of these indutries, and we will still have a capitalist system, but instead of all the profit from the biggest businesses going into the piggy banks of a few people who were born into the upper-class, it would be used and distributed more equitably to make our world and our country better for us all to live in.

These are the people who have been ruining our environment so that people get skin cancer and all other kinds of cancers, and selling us cigarettes even though they knew they are poison. We have been letting them get away with it. We should not let these people do us the insult of waving their 12 houses in all of our faces and not start talking in a really serious way about fixing things.

Another thing I think the public's finding out McCain owns 10 or 11 or 12 houses is a good occasion for is noting that our society is living off the backs of de facto slave labor.

If you go and take a look on any consumer product in your home, you're almost bound to find the words "Made in China" or "Made in Malaysia" or "Made in [some other Third World country]" printed on it somewhere. These people get paid virtually subsistence wages-- and a total rip-off for a First World worker-- to work under absolutely horrible conditions, live in a hovel in East Asia, and die of treatable diseases. Their bosses treat them like rats and dominate their personal lives. Basic protections in America, like pregnancy leave, are forbidden in those places. Any time you read about an ancient civilization like the Romans and how they profited from their slaves, you might as well walk up to a mirror and take a good look in it, because you are the exact same thing. These industries keep the rich rich, and we regular people get all our stuff perhaps at a slightly cheaper price-- or maybe not (maybe the rich just tell us that's how it works out so that we won't complain so readily about the oppression of the factory workers). We take our bribe and we keep our mouths shut. If we ever complain or ask about it, we're told some absurd answer like that the Third World people deserve it or that it has to be this way. Or we're absurdly told that the workers in those factories are lucky because they have jobs and other people in those countries don't! Imagine that idea-- being lucky to work like a slave!

The people who most insist on these lies to us, or most insist on believing them, are a bunch of middle-aged Republican white guys who wear suits and work in air-conditioned offices for tens of thousands of dollars a year, and convince themselves that they're tough, working-class people while they check up on their stocks in The Wall Street Journal and on their Fantasy Baseball teams each day. Well the facts are, maybe if some more money could come into the countries (like through higher wages) where real working-class people are working to produce your T-shirts, appliances and furniture, it would spur more development, and all the people there who are unemployed now would be able to work at jobs like selling retail stuff to their countrymen.

It's time for real American working people to speak, think, vote and act in solidarity with working people all across the globe instead of continuing to let McCain's people divide and conquer us like we're a bunch of stupid rats.

Of course, right now Americans don't have realistic options besides buying things that are made in sweatshops-- and we don't even want to relocate all these industries to America, either (what would be better is if we just made it a condition of selling consumer products in the U.S. or of having any offices or investments in the U.S. for these kinds of corporations to pay their foreign workers some kind of a U.S.-mandated minimum wage). But we definitely can stop talking and acting as if we like and accept this McCain-like plutocracy, and we can start looking for home-grown alternatives to giving money to the rich. We can do things like start backyard vegetable gardens (or buying plots of land specifically for crops) instead of paying so much for corporate food, and we can start DVD-sharing co-ops with our social networks (Think how many friends you and your friends have, including on MySpace or on Friendster! Of you have a few hundred or even a thousand people in your extended social network, you can get them all in on it. Just put a limit on how many DVDs each person can borrow a month (not returning a DVD on time gets you kicked out), get a geek to set up a privacy-protected website to manage it, and you can save money from at least down-grading your NetFlix membership to a cheaper version of the membership.). The answers are out there, and we just have to reach for them-- and if we don't, we're culpable. But if we do, then triumph is inevitable.

What's The Bottom Line On McCain?

Kevin today writes:
Is John McCain an unrepentant warmonger who wants to cut taxes so his beer heiress wife can take home a few more dollars per year? Beats me. But as a campaign attack tactic, it ain't gonna work. Instead, why not concentrate on character critiques that have some real grounding in reality? Just to give a few examples:

McCain is old and gets confused occasionally.

McCain is running an ugly, smear-based campaign.

McCain has a legendarily short fuse.

McCain is annoyingly self-righteous.

McCain's straight talk has evaporated in the face of his need to win evangelical votes.
A more believeable way of putting it than "unrepentant warmonger who wants to cut taxes so his beer heiress wife can take home a few more dollars per year" is to say that he's a racist who believes in the plutocratic system. He's public-spirited in a psychotic sort of way, and he likes the security, acclaim and sense of achievement he gets from fighting effectively for his little cause. And he probably doesn't mind if becoming President ups his chances of becoming hugely rich and influential, either.

And I disagree much that "as a campaign attack tactic" this "ain't gonna work." Note that the main thrust of the Republicans' propaganda is to convince people that they are "of the people" and we're not. Since we're the populist party, and ultimately populism is always a winning argument in a democracy, they try to deceive people about it as much as possible. I think we can be more persuasive and substantive by using my description of McCain above instead of solely by using Kevin's suggested lines.

I think Kevin's suggested points about McCain are alright, but the most devastating critique of him is the one Kevin seems to be trying to kick under the rug so we won't see it-- that McCain doesn't really care about regular people. I think it's important not to come across as if all we have to say against him are that he has a few character foibles. If we overdo that, then we may make ourselves look real bad in the eyes of ignorant people who will for no other reason start wondering if McCain's policies are really better than ours. Actually, over-focusing on Kevin's points, escpeically to the avsolute exclusion of others, sounds like it could be a formula to get elderly (core-voter-demographic), racist Evangelicals (i.e., the conservative base) caring about this campaign again, and up off of their tuckasses to work against us.

August 18

On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was ratified and adopted.

On August 16, (I missed this one the other day!) 1845, the anti-slavery writer and activist Fredrick Douglass left America for England and Ireland where he travelled and gave many highly-attended lectures for 2 years.

The Rick Warren Debate

Of the Rick Warren debate, Kevin writes:
The CNN talking heads all thought the big difference between the two was that McCain came across as direct and forceful while Obama came across as thoughtful and nuanced, but that's not quite how it struck me.

For better or worse, Obama seems to have chosen to treat this event as sort of an intimate evening with Rick Warren — that just happened to be nationally televised. McCain, by contrast, treated it as a straight campaign event: he had his stump speech talking points ready, and he was eager to cram as many of them into his 50 minutes as possible.

I don't know if this was a good decision on Obama's part, but I don't have any doubt that he'll choose a much more direct speaking style at his three face-to-face debates with McCain.
First of all, let me say that I think the whole idea of a nationally televised, ostensibly non-partisan campaign event held before a character like this (Rick Warren) as the moderator is ridiculous, and it is more of the same-- it's just like all the staged, biased, anti-liberal debates the Democrats willingly took part in, one after another, during the primary campaign. And there wouldn't have been an event like this moderated by a Catholic bishop or a Jewish rabbi, I'm sure.

Responding more directly to Kevin's and to CNN's comments, perhaps Obama felt it was important for him not to be seen as being overly confrontational with this person, and that's where Obama's style was coming from. I don't know if our side can profit from a lot of our politicians playing it the other way-- being overtly more critical of the religious right while everybody is paying attention-- but if a lot of conservative Christians aren't motivated to come out and vote on their issues this year, it seems like a reasonable conclusion to make that Obama wouldn't profit by poking the hornets' nest.

I've written before that I think Obama might be getting pushed around by the Republicans (that is, that they might be intimidating him into making some bad moves or spreading their propaganda here and there-- I thought perhaps the same thing was happening to Hillary during the primary). I didn't watch much at all of this event, so I don't know if Obama hit any icebergs I didn't see, but from what I watched he presented himself very well according to his normal style. If there was any pro-Republican or pro-conservative stuff in what I did see, I think it was very subtle, along the lines of being a little too careful about stepping on religious conservatives' toes (and thus giving the impression that everybody in our country quietly tip-toes around the Evangelicals).

The Bandwagon Effect

I expect you may hear a lot of stories like these-- basically, the press claiming that John McCain is more popular than the numbers show he is, or otherwise minimizing the importance or size of Barack's lead-- and to some of you it might not be obvious why those stories are out there.

I think the reason the distortions are being made is because of a well-known psychological characteristic of humans called "the bandwagon effect" that the Republican propagandists are aware of and are intentionally trying to exploit. You may recall that when you were in grade school, children in your class often ganged up to behave in a bad way, or to express belief in some answer to a question, when they should have known better (that is, that the behavior or answer was bad or wrong). You may even have been surprised at which particular children ultimately jumped on the bandwagon from time to time. It turns out that it's natural for people to want to do what "everyone else is doing"-- our psychology as a species tends to compel individuals more or less to follow the group. But figuring out when the unpopular answer is the better one takes rare discernment and personal psychological strength. So if it doesn't look like John McCain is at least kind of popular, it makes it unattractive in a very basic way for more people to decide to become McCain supporters. The press simply can't report frankly on McCain's unpopularity or on Obama's popularity (as long as a distortion won't be obvious to most of the audience) because otherwise McCain can't extend his support-- a lot of people won't want to become McCain supporters if they don't think a lot of other people support him, too.

August 15

On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair began on some excess land of a farm in Woodstock in upstate New York and lasted until August 18th. The event featured some of the most popular rock and roll performers of the time and drew a huge crowd of hippies, who camped out on the festival grounds to attend the entire three-day event.

Media Finally Notices McCain's Affairs Again, But Only As Little As Possible

The Carpetbagger Report writes:
After Sean Hannity argued on the air that those who are unfaithful to their spouses don’t deserve the public’s trust, Alan Colmes mentioned that John McCain is an admitted adulterer. First, this caused Hannity to go completely berserk. Second, good for Alan Colmes.
I might think it made sense for a person reading this to say, "Wow! Alan Colmes is great!" and perhaps even look him up on Wikipedia (if you didn't know he was the co-host of the show-- which is on Fox-- anyway). But if you consider that this is probably the only mention McCain's affairs are getting out of all the mainstream media coverage of Edwards' affair-- and thus (1) isn't going to make any real difference (2) except as an item to be passed around on liberal blogs, thus making Fox and Colmes look a little more fair (and thus making Dems who hear about the reamrks perhaps less motivated to oppose the Republicans)-- Colmes' remarks appear a lot different.

So this remark looks like nothing more than just another fig leaf, providing an opportunity for a lot of political-minded liberals to rationalize things and simply look the other way when the media ignores McCain's affairs.

Has the threat that our entire nation will be destroyed passed yet?

Someone like John McCain would probably tell you "No."

Atrios today notes the statistic that "41,059 people were killed in highway crashes" last year.

On the one hand, it's 41,059 each year. But on the other hand, how many people in America ride in cars each year? 299 million?

Also, I'd like to see the number after it is corrected for certain risk factors, like driving after 10 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night (when a lot of intoxicated drivers are out), driving for 8-10 hours without a break, driving while intoxicated yourself, etc. My guess is that the number of people who die in car accidents that don't involve any risky driving, but instead only morning and afternoon work commutes, weekend trips to the mall, and picking kids up from or driving kids to sports practice and to see friends, is much, much smaller.

Anyway, it certainly puts into perspective those less-than 3,000 deaths due to a small gang of thugs that the Republicans, as a sound bite, began to say showed that our whole country was at threat of being destroyed by Al Qaeda.

Yeah, Al Qaeda could have threatened the future of our society-- if we responded to 9/11 by (1) disbanding the FBI, all our national security and intelligence agencies, all our military intelligence units, all our airport security and border security, (2) armed Al Qaeda, and (3) then invited Al Qaeda to recruit a bunch of Muslims and come over here and invade our country. Then Al Qaeda would have been a threat to our existence. But considering Al Qaeda's actual characteristics and capabilities in 2001 (and considering ours), Al Qaeda wasn't such a threat-- Al Qaeda was just a bunch of terrorists we had to pick up and put in prisons. It's not as if we're a nation like Israel, that is something like 30% or 40% Arab, and has Palestinian rebels bombing people sometimes every week or two for months.

But let's get back to what that number means for us besides what it says about Republican lies. Consider that a lot of people in America used to die from diseases that are now treatable, like childbed fever. A lot of women used to get burned to death because cooking was done at big hearths/fireplaces, and women were forced by societal conventions to wear big, flammable dresses with long trailing skirts that covered their whole bodies and were made of a lot of material. A lot of factory workers used to die because of accidents before liberals and unions won laws that protected the workers better.

But none of the things that caused all those deaths were as necessary as transporting yourself in a car is nowadays. Dying or being injured is actually a fact of life. Deaths that are the bigger tragedy than these autmobile deaths are those that come from something like a war that was chosen by a specific President and that could have been easily avoided.

All that said and done, if you can squeeze in riding a bike or walking into your routine somehow when you would otherwise have taken a car, it may be a good thing for you, for our country, and for our planet-- but unless you were typically making that trip by car under the influence of some risk factors like those I mentioned above, doing this is probably not going to save your life.

Elizabeth Edwards

JFK's son, considering his glamorous image and life-story, probably could have gone on to be a very successful, Obama-like political candidate for our side. And Eliot Spitzer certainly set an example of how a man in public service can take on the rich and fight big, immoral corporations who cheat on their taxes and are ungrateful for the fact that they get to be so big and rich because they got their start in our country. Certainly, if his marital infidelity hadn't been revealed, Eliot Spitzer could have been an almost Obama-like political figure and probably a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate. And Bill Clinton would have been remembered better if the Republicans didn't spend millions of dollars of public money in a ridiculous, protracted investigation to publicly prove that he had an affair. And it can be argued that John Edwards' political career was over before any of the stories of Edwards' cheating came out, but one thing certainly wasn't over until then-- Elizabeth Edwards' ability to effectively fight for Obama to be elected President.

This is an angle to the whole cheating incident (and revelation) I didn't even think of until a little while ago. Since Obama asked Elizabeth Edwards to work on his healthcare policy for him, he de facto asked her to campaign for him. And there is a lot Elizabeth Edwards could have brought to the campaign. As a woman, she would have brought a demographic balance to the image of the campaign. As a brave person afflicted with a terminal illness, she was a more sympathetic figure than hard-nosed political battler Hillary Clinton (at least in terms of how a lot of the public has come to see Hillary). As a graceful person, she could have brought some of what Laura Bush brings to George W. Bush's public image, giving him a better association in the eyes of much of the public. And as the wife of John Edwards-- who before the stories of his cheating came out looked like a knight in shining armor-- she would have been a consolation-prize to many people who used to really like John Edwards, whether they ended up voting for him in the primary campaign in the end or not. But this was all before the revelations about the affair instantly turned her into a touchy figure to bring out in public, since she would remind people of what happened and lead a lot of people to associate Democratic politicians with marital infidelity as things get down to the wire in Barack's camapaign. If this hadn't happened, some public appearances and nice public speeches by Elizabeth Edwards could have consolidated a lot of Barack's support quite nicely.

As often is the end result when something horrible and unfortunate happens (and especially after the press gets to make a circus out of it), in the case of Elizabeth Edwards a Democrat's public misfortune has become a great political boon to the conservative Republicans.

Dishonest McCain

People who support McCain-- and the media-- have a lot of claims to make about his Vietnam War actions and treatment in captivity. But in his political life, McCain constantly says one thing and then does another. In other words, he now lives his life like a dishonest person, and this is easy to show. The media, however, is quick to help create an image of honesty and integrity for McCain, always rushing to call him a maverick-- even though the media should know that McCain's actual voting record as a maverick is very sparse, and that what he actually does is says he is going to go his own way in statements to the media, and then he follows the very conservative Republican path in his actual (media-ignored) voting in the Senate. This calling him honest and a maverick is, also, the perfect cover for someone who lives dishonestly-- if you create the widespread impression that everybody thinks you're honest, then people will simply take it for granted that it's true unless perhaps they actually read with their own two eyes (an underreported account of) how you actually behave.

So if McCain is very dishonest now, why should we believe that everything that's said about what he did during the war in Vietnam is true?

Specifically, does anyone else find it unusual that a man who signed a statement against America because he was "broken" (by his own admission) by torture would then turn around and refuse to leave captivity as some kind of defiant protest? Do people who are scared and intimidated by physical torture usually turn around-- somehow get a lot of guts back-- and basically ask for more imminent torture just to make a token protest? Sure, there is the line that McCain didn't want better treatment because he claims the Vietnamese were trying to demoralize low-ranking prisoners by making them believe that more-important prisoners were cooperating with their captors-- but during wars, it's normal for some prisoners to be released before others for a variety of reasons (rather than everyone all at once). There was no reason for the lower-ranking men to think that John McCain was betraying them if he got to go home because he was famous or important. Surely, any one of those men would have liked to have been in McCain's shoes, and to get to go home early. So the story seems really unlikely to me, and I think it's more likely that McCain didn't try to get out because he thought it was futile and thought the person who was telling him he had a chance to get out was wrong. Or, maybe he made a stupid gamble, believing that there must be some pressure on the Vietnamese if they wanted to release him, and that consequently he could get all of his fellow prisoners out (and look like a hotshot) if he insisted (that is, he thought that he was going to be imminently released at that time anyway, even if he said "No" at first). Or perhaps this whole story was fashioned almost out of the air after-the-fact.

August 14

On August 14, 1935, the Social Security Act was passed, creating America's state-run old-age retirement system.

Suburbs And Gasoline: Disagreeing With Kevin Again

Kevin writes:
THE BURBS....Matt points us today to a discussion on the Freakonomics blog about the future of suburbia in the face of increasing gasoline prices. The consensus view is fairly grim, but it reminds me of a few random points about urban land use that have been on my mind for a while. There's no big overarching point here, and nothing especially original, just a few thoughts that don't seem to get much attention in blogospheric discussions of the burbs.

First: Will rising gas prices inevitably push people into the cities as they become desperate to cut down their commutes? Maybe, but it's worth keeping in mind that commutes go in both directions these days. There are plenty of jobs in the exurbs (Joel Garreau's "edge cities"), and although individual circumstances vary widely, this means that an awful lot of commutes today are entirely voluntary. As gas prices go up, workers will start taking jobs closer to home (wherever that may be) or will move to be closer to work (wherever that may be), and commuting will be reduced substantially without any change in infrastructure or land use planning at all.

Second: A focus on increased density is going to mean a funny political switcheroo for a lot of liberals. We're mostly accustomed to fighting evil corporations on behalf of the little guy, but it turns out that most suburban (and many urban) zoning regulations have been put in place by exactly the little guys we're used to teaming up with. Developers, on the other hand, would happily build out every last acre to the maximum possible density and maximum possible profit if only they were allowed to. So if we're in favor of higher density, we're frequently going to find ourselves siding with big developers and very much against local public opinion — and believe me, you haven't really taken on the task of changing public opinion until you've sat through a planning commission meeting trying to out-talk an angry mob of homeowners who are dead set against a proposed zoning change that might affect their property values by 1%. Strange bedfellows indeed, but those are the bedfellows we're going to have to get used to.
First, I have to say I really disagree with Kevin's second point. I'll get back to that in a bit.

Here is my opinion of what this will do to the country vis-a-vis demographic shifts. White people who work or want to work at big offices / places of employment (like big corporate offices, hospitals, universities, and law firms) in cities (all kinds of cities, including little ones) or big, developed, almost-city-like suburbs will want to live closer to where their work is located. That means a lot of (mostly white) middle-class people moving closer to these cities (but not necessarily into them). The result is that around these cetral locations, population becomes denser. Demand and prices for the housing these people want will go up a little, so long as it doesn't outstrip what they save on gas by changning location.

This will lead to a lot of freed-up properties in the places the exodus comes from. Real estate prices in these areas will corresponding go down. Once all the dust settles there (once unsellable properties there are torn down and redeveloped, or are bought up by people there who want to move into them from more modest housing) who will want to live there? I think it will be workers who are going to work in the same towns as the office workers who moved, except they are of much more modest means than the office-workers-- i.e., foreign-born working-class people. These people are needy enough to be willing to make long mass-transit commutes to work instead of driving, or to even ride a bicycle a very long distance to work.

Racially, this means that a lot of cities (or suburbs near to cities) will become a lot more white, and a lot of suburbs will become more non-white.

I'm not confident on what this alone does to politics. Doubtless, and especially in the 2000 and 2004 "red" states, some conservative whites will end up becoming less racist or closed-minded once economics forces them to move out of white areas they've lived in their whole lives and towards more diverse and cosmopolitan areas. But there will probably also be whites who are so racist that they'll cling to their suburbs even though it hurts. They'll be shooting themselves in the foot, but will be so fixated on their prejudiced feelings that they won't notice it, and as gas prices (often) make them poorer and poorer (for the lower middle classes), they'll get angrier and angrier. It won't help that minorities (who ride bikes and take trains) will keep moving into their communities. I'm not talking about a resurgence of the Klan or anything like that, though. I actually doubt that the net effect of racial population shifts is going to be a lot of political fuel for the conservatives.

Next: I disagree with Kevin's observation about the political switcheroo, and I think it's a really weird, bad point to make.

Why would we ever side against the little guy? We are, by definition, on the side of the weak and common.

If more humble people want to live closer to work because they need more fuel-efficient living, then it's those people whose interests are going to do a switcheroo (regardless of whether those people are very liberal or not)-- it's not just insane ultra-liberals who are going to want something (more urban-centered housing) that nobody needs or wants. It's going to be people who would have been much more likely to be in favor of parks and open spaces in the '80s, '90s and '00s who someday are going to be saying that the government needs to allow more building of apartments in large suburbs to accomodate them finding a job that makes sense economically for them.

A final point: As people move out of their less-dense suburbs, and cities and dense suburbs become more developed, there is still going to be a demand for open spaces and relaxation in parks. So perhaps the thin suburbs of today will be redeveloped as parks, open-space amusement and the like by public decrees as well as by private entrepreneurs. Maybe the greening of America will happen, just by different means-- instead of by flower power, by necessity and capitalism.

Kevin Finally Speaks Decisively, But Seems To Give Bad Counsel

Kevin wrote this post to respond to a Barack Obama campaign ad, and he seems to be encouraging behavior the Republicans would like to see in us (like refusing to consider political tactics because of an emotional response).

I'll respond to this sentence from Kevin's post:

The main reason the ad is dumb is because it's so painfully juvenile: you called us a celebrity, so we're going to call you a celebrity! Nyah nyah nyah.

I don't think it's necessarily juvenile or that there is necessarily anything wrong with it. Politics between the Democrats and the Republicans isn't a cocktail party discussion between two old, sincerely fond friends in front of some of their other friends. It's a battle over power. When McCain uses these kinds of techniques on Barack, he opens himself up to having these techniques that Dems are reluctant to use in the first place turned back on him-- and these are techniques that have proven to make a big difference for the Republicans, even when their substantive policies are terrible. By absolutely refusing to use these tactics, we are abandoning our voice with a large segment of the population that those kinds of statements actually appeal to. That's just dumb. You may not personally like the behavior, but Barack's battle isn't a battle to behave in a way that would be impeccable in any context, it's a battle to win over a political enemy to gain power.

Anyway, even though the Republicans go overboard with those kinds of attacks, it's also going overboard in the opposite direction if we pretend that there is nothing at all to the voters' concerns that a Presidential candidate is too egotistical or spends too much money on things like shoes. They are, after all, running for the most powerful officially/publicly recognized political position in the world. The trick I think is not to go overboard in how we answer those kinds of concerns (for instance, not to become dishonest and pretentious), or to turn our politics into a politics of hoopla and bluster, where the best liar will win and policy will be forgotten-- that does not serve freedom (because likely the Republicans have a lot more chance of winning elections if that is what the norm of the political discourse of the country becomes).

It's kind of hard to see how saying something that responds very directly to the kind of attacks that gain the most traction for the Republicans is a bad idea (especially when we don't say "I'm not a celebrity, you are" but rather "I'm not a celebrity, you are, and here's why: X, Y, and Z"). But Kevin doesn't even say it's a bad idea, he just says that it's "juvenile," and of course, none of us have ever even heard that a lot of voters tend to side against a candidate because they perceive him or her to have made a juvenile attack or statement once. It's more like just a Republican mind-f*ck: "Hey, don't put out messages that work for your side-- you don't want to be juvenile, RIGHT???"

August 11

On August 11, 1917, Inge Scholl, the anti-Nazi activist and member of the White Rose group, was born.

A Reminder

Since my last post was kind of depressing, I just want to remind everybody that things can change in this country, and Barack's persistent popularity is an indication of this. It's just going to take time.

Latest Mainstream Media Corruption And Hypocrisy

One of my readers wrote the following in the comments, so I want to post my response to it to make sure it gets noticed by readers who don't check out comments:

I feel sorry for Elizabeth Edwards. . . This whole Edwards scandal will probably make the media dig up McCain's affair with Cindy McCain and ask why McCain left his first wife.

Actually, that isn't happening.

I feel sorry for Elizabeth Edwards because the slimeball corrupt media and the Republicans are publishing this stuff about her private life (here is what I have to say about the media reporting on politician's sex-lives in general). But it's pretty natural that a lot of relationships fall apart, even though we often wouldn't like them to. John Edwards just isn't the best person for her, apparently, and you can't make an unsuitable person become a suitable one just by the happenstance of marrying them.

Here's what Joe Klein wrote-- here's how he opens up his blog post yesterday: "I never much liked John Edwards as a politician...and I guess we now know that he's a heel as a human being, too. But that doesn't mean his tawdry personal life is any of my concern."

(the ellipsis is in the original, apparently included just to give Joe's post a propaganda-conducive "tone of voice")

Way to sound like you're being paid by the Republicans, Joe. Objective and non-partisan media: Goodbye.

Elizabeth Edwards' misfortunes besides what people like Joe Klein are doing to her for the idiot corrupt Republicans may be bad, but at least they're normal. But with how the media is blowing up over her husband's affair, she's getting outrageous treatment-- being singled out to be put up in the stocks in front of the American people over an event in her life that's about as typical as getting into a traffic accident (in scientific polls, about 40% or 50% of people claim to have cheated on someone they were in a relationship with).

And the reason she's being singled out is because her husband's a Democrat!

And if you're one of those Democrats who is inclined to bend over for the Republicans whenever they give a spoiled-brat excuse, instead of seeing the truth that is standing plainly in front of your face-- i.e., if you think I'm just acting like a conspiracy theorist because you've heard of Republican affairs through the media-- ask yourself why the media isn't using this as a chance to remind people about the McCain affairs! Answer: it's because the corrupt, pro-McCain media wants to pretend that the McCain affairs don't exist at this point. They could point out the Giuliani affairs too.

If the ever get around to doing it, they'll probably have only one piece on one national network's stations (or only some of them) and they'll write it and present it in such a way that all the Democrats' affairs are listed first, and then there is a pause to make you think the list is over (in the hopes that at that point you'll stop paying attention and start talking to one of your kids), and then the news-reader goes on in a droning and unnoticeable way to mention a few (but not all) of the Republican affairs and sexual encounters. Count on it.

With everything else the Republicans do, I also wouldn't be surprised if they do "stings" on Democratic politicians to try to get their wives to become dissatisfied and bitchy with them, and then to get the politician to have an affair (which can later be revealed). What happened to Eliot Spitzer stinks of revenge, after all the justice he wrought. I'm not saying that that Democratic men are immune from having affairs, but they are a different breed than slimeball Republican men and I think they makes them less naturally prone to this kind of thing. What I am saying is that this is the kind of hardball, slimy game the Republicans are playing in every way, so even this is the kind of thing one should almost expect from them.

Vacationing In Hawaii Elitist: Since When?

It's annoying that our side has to respond to ridiculous attacks like this one, but I'd like to put in my two cents this time.

I was born in 1979 and have almost always lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in NJ. My mom had a well-paying public job (around $40K-$80K depending on how experienced she was). My dad worked in the private sector, and frequently in contract positions, and jobs in his field had a similar (but sometimes slightly higher) pay range. However, my dad was never much of a go-getter and can be really abrasive, so he had about 29 different jobs over a 30-year period or so, and was between jobs for almost as much as half of my childhood, if I recall correctly. So he made about half as much as he could have. Nobody else in our neighborhood had so much that our dad felt like he couldn't tell us kids we couldn't get toys or do all other sorts of things we wanted to do that cost money all the time when we were growing up. There were lots of things we didn't have, but that other families in our neighborhood had, and that we didn't get until years (sometimes many years) after other people first got them (things like a microwave oven, a cordless phone, and so on). Us kids never had TVs in each of our rooms (one or two of us eventually got little ancient black-and-white ones that had an antennae rather than cable, and that could only get about three stations, from some relative), and we weren't bought cars by our parents when we were teenagers (which seems to be common practice in a lot of middle-class families nowadays) except for my big brother (After high school, my parents bought him a very cheap, ugly, and old surplus Ford Pinto from the Post Office, which was getting rid of them. It quickly terminally broke down, and my parents didn't replace it.). So that's how much money we had in our household of four children, and that was our perspective. Other parents in the neighborhood had a lot of less-than-white collar jobs, or more unprestigious white collar jobs like my parents had. I can't remember ever knowing a kid from my elementary school whose parents were doctors or lawyers or anything like that (One dad was a cop, another was a garbage-man who became a cop after many years, at least one mom was a nurse, at least one dad was a carpenter, one dad owned a little Chinese restaurant located in a strip mall, one etc. The most preppy were a couple who were both college professors (but they were not hob-nobbing with amazing scholars or anything like that, though- their subject was library science or something like that), but they were the ones who didn't fit in with the neighborhood, and actually originally were from some place out of state.). And the bar that used to be located a few blocks from my house always had its pretty fair share of fistfights.

That may seem like a lot by way of explanation, but I just want to show where I'm coming from, in case points of view from another area of the country (but a similar demographic) just happen to be different. Now on to discussing vacation:

By the time I was a young teenager, going to Hawaii for vacation seemed like it had become a cliche: everyone wanted to go there, as far as I had ever heard. That's hardly elitist. Elitist, as far as I've ever heard, is going to places like Martha's Vineyard, to all the little vacations spots where only the rich go. In between elitist and middle class are maybe things like going abroad and going to ski resorts. People who don't have a lot of money go to Hawaii, but they only go for 1-3 days, or they go for a week at most. If you want to say Obama is elitist for not going to national parks (a little boring for a grown man with a sophisticated mind, if you ask me) I think you at least have to take into account that people tend to go to national parks instead of Hawaii when they don't want to go through the hassle of getting on a plane because they have young kids, or bear the extra expense of going on a plane because of the cost of raising kids. Obama is hardly in a position where planes are a hassle to him or money is still tight for him. The Republicans are picking on him for going after the American dream. To me, this criticism really seems to have a lot more to do with jealousy or with trying to take advantage of jealousy than it is legitimate.

The only thing you can say clearly about social class and going to Hawaii I think is that you can't be absolutely poor and go to Hawaii. You could probably just about pay for at least a few days in Hawaii by clipping coupons all year long, or getting a grocery store's club card and trying to buy things that are on sale and stock up a lot, or picking up a little second job, like a paper route or a seasonal job, for a month or two.

Despite all this, one thing I will say is that going on vacation at all is probably not the best PR for Obama, and that Americans would probably like to see their candidates fight tooth-and-nail every step of the way instead of taking a break in the middle of a campaign. Remember, the Republicans want you to see Obama as the stereotypical dumb, lazy black guy, so it makes it very hard for them to do that-- especially in light of all Bush's and McCain's partying and vacationing-- if Barack never takes a break during the whole campaign.

But if you really want to know what's elitist, it's sending a bunch of working-class and middle-class people off to die in Iraq for some bullshit reason and acting like you don't even care-- not going to Hawaii on a vacation once.

Let's Not Talk About The Edwards Affair

I'm sad to see prominent bloggers Kevin Drum and Steve Benen basically not sticking to their guns over what's okay for the media to talk about with regard to politicians. I'm pretty sure I've seen Kevin or Steve write before that the media shouldn't talk about politicians' affairs at all-- they seem like that kind of liberal, of which their are many among the more politically-aware type-- yet now they are basically participating and encouraging that kind of talk.

This isn't to say that they, I, and liberals in general haven't talked and written a lot when a Republican is discovered to have had an affair. But that is totally different. But when the Republicans have affairs, they show themselves to be politically hypocrites, so that is worthwhile news. Otherwise, whether someone had an affair or not is a person's personal, private life, and no one's business. Strangely, Kevin and Steve are now leaving out their usual, "I don't think we should talk about the affair, but since everyone else is already doing it anyway..." clauses this time. This is basically encouraging the talk.

It is the Republicans who turn their own family matters into public business by putting themselves up on a pedestal, claiming to be so unblemished that they can tell everyone else how Americans should live moral lives in every detail. It is they who elevate all sorts of aspects of sexual morality into bigger issues than whether a massive, deadly war is a wise choice for America to make or whether the war is run correctly or not. So it is a Republican's affair that is news, not a Democrat's, just like it wouldn't be news if a pro-gun Republican was discovered to own a gun and to hunt. So what? He thinks hunting and individual ownership of firearms among private citizens is moral and appropriate. Debate his stance on the issue and the reason he gives for it, and don't make an ass out of yourself by gossipping over what he does in his spare time. Similarly, Dem politicians don't think a private person's sex life is an appropriate issue for the public to take an interest in or to legislate control over through their elected legislators-- and they're right.

Good politicians should not be published for choosing the career they did by having every mistake they might have made in their personal life dragged out into public discussion.

David Gregory, Faithful Republican Servant

Here is the latest gem from David Gregory. I can't remember if I've ever written anything saying so, but I've felt for a long time that he was no good. Like everyone else, I used to think he was cool when he was just a reporter asking questions at the White House. But as soon as he started to give his own opinions, it became pretty clear that he is not on our team at all. Just chalk him up as another dishonest person among many of that type.