Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs, 1912-2008


Studs Terkel dies

The author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol has died. "My epitaph? My epitaph will be 'Curiosity did not kill this cat,'" he once said.

Studs was an important writer, one who loved the real people, the people we fight for in the Democratic Party. When I heard that he had died, along with a great sadness, my first thought was, "I hope he cast an absentee ballot."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This is really an update from yesterday's post about Ted Stevens. As it happened, I've been watching reruns of Season Five of the best television series ever, and last night's episode was the one where Clay Davis finally went to trial over his bribery charges. If you haven't seen Season Five you should stop reading now, but if you have, you'll remember that in this episode, when the law has him dead to rights, with incontrovertible evidence that he was using charities to enrich himself and he'll finally get what he deserves, Clay Davis takes the stand, and using all his political gifts, convinces the jury either that he had a perfectly innocent explanation of where the money went, or that it was about time that one of theirs got off. Anyway, a manifestly guilty Clay Davis walks, unbowed, and, among other things, the ego of the prosecutor is to blame.

Kind of ironic given the timing. Not too far from the B'more courtroom where Clay Davis got off, the manifestly guilty Ted Stevens gets the bracelets, figuratively anyway.

And if he were of a mind to do so, Ted Stevens might borrow a line from Clay Davis and intone,

Monday, October 27, 2008


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Different Kind of Republican?

So you know the story the R's have been trying to sell: Sarah Palin is a new kind of Republican; not as corrupt, more mavericky.

The news of the last few days, which may not seem too important taken separately, really seem to reveal that she is every bit as venal and self-dealing as the old Alaska hands like Ted Stevens. I think these stories about the expense accounts and so forth are not a side show at all, but reveal the candidate's character.

Big money first. The story that broke overnight tells us that the Republican National Committee dropped $150,000 on her, spending money at Nieman-Marcus, Saks, and Barney's. Obviously she needs to look good, but $150K? That's what Josephine the Plumber spends on clothes? Sure, they eventually cooked up the story that they're giving the clothes to charity after the campaign, but I'd like to see that in writing from before the shitstorm started, wouldn't you?

Then, we also get the story that in her job as governor of Alaska, Palin charged the people of Alaska over $20,000 to fly her kids around the country on various jaunts, put them up in hotels, and otherwise show them the high life. Then, when she gets caught on it, she goes back and doctors her expense reports to they look like official state business, but those claims are particularly transparent.Possibly the worst of it was when she flew her kids to the National Governors' Association convention.Expense forms describe the girls' official purpose as "NGA Governor's Youth Programs and family activities." But those programs were activities designed to keep children busy, a service provided by the NGA

to accommodate governors and their families, NGA spokeswoman Jodi Omear said.

In other words, she takes her kids to a convention, puts them up in the babysitting service they set up for governors' kids, and then claims that they were on official state business because they got in on the babysitting program. Nice, huh?

And, following the rule that three data points make a trend, we can go back to earlier in her career as governor. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

So what do these incidents have in common? In each case, what we see is Sarah Palin using her official position as an elected official (or candidate) to enrich herself. You could argue that the thing with the kids is just because she's a devoted mother who wants to spend time with her family, and I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with charging the state for what is a purely personal expenditure.

How is this any different from Ted Stevens letting someone build a house for him?

I guess it's a good thing that the McCain-Palin slogan of the week is "Country First", and not "State First".

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two big endorsements for Obama

You already know about Powell's endorsement of Obama. You could well say that you don't care, since he forfeited all claim to be taken seriously when he lied to the UN. I think it's kind of a big deal because, whether he deserves to be taken seriously or not, there are still plenty of people who do.

Now there are two new big endorsements.

Zbigniew Brezezinski's endorsement isn't really new; he's been supporting Obama for a long time. I was never a big fan of his. When he worked for Carter he was a real hawk, possibly based on his own experience, but still, consistent with Carter's conservative administration. He has been highly critical of Bush's war, though, and what he has to say about Obama is great, not only because it's one more voice for our guy, but because of how he makes it clear that it is Obama, not McCain, who has the character, judgment, and gravitas for the position. Plus, he utterly silenced Joe Scarborough this morning, always a good thing.

The other new endorsement for Obama is a real blast from the past. You may remember Kenneth Adelman from the days when he was Reagan's guy on arms control. These were in the days when people were talking about the nuclear freeze, and in his confirmation hearings he couldn't go so far as to say it might be good if there were no nuclear weapons. A real paleo-conservative.

Today in the New Yorker, George Packer reports that Adelman is backing Obama. Here's why Adelman says he's doing it:

Primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment.

When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I’ve concluded that that’s no way a president can act under pressure.

Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate.

That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency. But that selection contradicted McCain’s main two, and best two, themes for his campaign—Country First, and experience counts. Neither can he credibly claim, post-Palin pick.

Of course, McCain still isn't alone. He has the support of mass murderer and war criminal Henry Kissinger, for instance. Still, if there was anyone who could claim to be a serious thinker supporting McCain, that person has long since left the room.

Or, to put it another way, when McCain was selling experience he could claim that experience got you maturity, stability, character, and judgment. He has since thrown all those away, so what does he have left?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell Discusses His Endorsement of Barack Obama

I'm not sure how this will play. After all, many people will rightly say that Powell utterly relinquished any claim to integrity or public regard when he went to the UN and lied about the reasons for invading Iraq.

Still, another way of looking at it is that someone who has been up to his elbows in the criminality of the Bush regime, and has now endorsed the opposition to the third Bush term, speaks with a legitimacy that many lack. To the extent that Powell has credibility left with people oriented to the military, including both active duty and former members of the military, I think this is a great thing.

I thinki it's also significant that Powell specifically singles out the deceptive, negative advertising that the McCain people have engaged in, and he engages in none of the pretense that McCain isn't responsible for it that has become so popular among people who have trumpeted their "disappointment" in McCain. (Case in point: David Brooks.)

Here is a particularly well-reasoned statement on the latest meme they're trying to push, the idea that Obama is a socialist:

The message this week is that we're going to call him a socialist. Mr. Obama's now a socialist because he dares to suggest that we ought to look at the tax structure that we have.

Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to the people who paid them, in roads, and airports, and hospitals, and schools, and taxes are necessary for the common good, and there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is, and who should be paying more or who should be paying less, and for us to say that that makes you a socialist is I think an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate.

He goes on to say that even though he doesn't like paying taxes, he also doesn't like trillion dollar deficits and the other things that Bush's tax policies have brought us. Contrast that with Palin's statement that it isn't patriotic to pay taxes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What the hell--fry him.

The right wingers like to hold themselves out as "pro-life", and when they go to appoint judges they pretend they are appointing people who will be pro-life. (Of course, that's when they're pretending, as McCain did tonight, that they don't consider ideology, but just competence.
Anyway, when you dig a little deeper, you realize that pro-life, in their parlance, doesn't actually mean supportive of life at all, does it?

Here's another example of what I'm talking about. Ever since the death penalty was reinstated, one pretty basic assumption has been that there's something slightly wrong with the idea of executing someone who didn't actually commit the crime. Sorry, I know that may be going way out on a limb for some people, but I happen to believe that: even if we are going to execute people, we should only be executing people who have done something wrong.

Apparently, those of us who think that way have it all wrong. At least, that's according to the Supreme Court.

Here's the situation: Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of killing a police officer back in 1989, primarily based on eyewitness testimony. Contrary to popular opinion, eyewitness testimony is actually the least reliable form of testimony, but it's admissible, and it can get people sent away for it.

In this case, though, since the trial, all but two of the prosecution witnesses who had linked Davis to the killing have recanted their testimony, claiming police coercion or questionable interrogation tactics. Five newly discovered witnesses have said that another man committed the crime.

He's been convicted, all his appeals are done, but he still had a shot at the Supreme Court. Almost all the cases the Supreme Court handles are discretionary, and they reach the Court through the process called a petition for a writ of certiorari. It's purely a matter of discretion whether the Court will take the case or not, and it takes four votes to accept the case. The votes aren't recorded, there is no written opinion issued, just a one-liner that the petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

So I just ask you: what the hell is wrong with these people, that they can't be bothered to decide a case when a man who apparently didn't commit any crime may be about to be executed?

Oh yeah, but they're pro-life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Well, McCain obviously took his Geritol

Although I'm not sure that it helped.

I don't know where he got that nasty, reptilian attempt at a smile. Maybe he got smiling lessons from Cheney. You could see it building as soon as he thought he had the goods on that young whippersnapper, but it's a smile that really gives you the creeps.

Another comment that a friend of ours made is that she isn't sure America wants a sarcastic president, but that's what McCain was offering. If part of the race is to get people to like you, I don't think this worked on a personal level.

And then there were the lies. It was pretty hard to sit there and listen to McCain make stuff up about Obama's plans right after Obama said what his plan was. How is that a smart debating strategy?

This is another step down what's looking like a historic road.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The hate, up close and personal

If you're a regular reader here, you probably don't spend too much time with the Obama haters. Thankfully, neither do I. Sure, we read about them in TPM, with their yells of "Terrorist" and "Kill him", but they don't seem to rear their ugly heads around here too much.

I just got exposed to them, not exactly in person, but in enough of a dose to get a real sense of their vicious attitude. Over at Facebook they have a group called Anti-Obama and Damn Proud of It, and these people will give you a view of every backwards, misinformed, bigoted attitude you could ever hope to see.

For example, one of the first things you see is a charming joke about Obama being assassinated after he's inaugurated. No kidding. Then, if you delve into the discussion boards, you can find such highly relevant discussions as the one speculating about whether Obama is the antichrist. And they're not kidding about it.

You can see repeated claims that Obama supporters think he's the Messiah., more than anyone's fair share of ridiculous posts rehashing minor slips of the tongue, and a rich and plentiful supply of posts making liberal mention of his middle name, his claimed religious background, his claimed racial background, mocking the very idea of racism in the United States; oh yeah, and unfounded questions about whether he was actually born in the United States.

There is one young guy named Rishi who has posted a large number of pro-Obama stories, and I just friended him to support what he's doing.

You might want to jump over there and see what it's like. It's pretty annoying to read, but on the other hand, this is really all they have, and these people are the best and the brightest among the Obama haters. In other words, they're totally out of ideas.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman Wins Nobel

Two initial provisos:
1. I know the Nobel Prize for Economics isn't really a Nobel Prize.
2. I've never taken a class in economics.

That said, I think it's great news that Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Prize in economics today.

I never knew much about Krugman or his work, except for the fact that he writes for the Times and teaches at Princeton, until I got one of his books, The Great Unraveling, which recounts some of the economic failures of the Bush Administration, many of which were not, it must be noted, mistakes at all, but simply designed to benefit the wealthy supporters of whom Bush is a client.

I strongly recommend The Great Unraveling and The Conscience of a Liberal, as well as his regular Times column and blog.

The wingers don't really see it, but Paul Krugman actually has plenty of real academic credentials and is the author of one of the most commonly used basic economics textbooks. This award, recognizing not his polemical work but his technical economic work, should provide further support for the legitimacy of his work.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Here's how desperate they're getting

We know that McCain and his assorted troglodyte supporters have gotten desperate in recent weeks. Virtually 100% of McCain's advertising buys are for attack ads (has anyone seen a McCain ad that wasn't an attack?), every poll is against them, and nothing they do seems to work. But they've been told that the attacks work, and they know they worked when Bush used them against McCain, so that's all they have left, and that's what they're doing.

Here is a particularly absurd example of that very tactic, from an outstanding example of the right-wing troglodyte class. Jack Cashill writes for WorldNutDaily and has, among other things, published books about how the Clintons killed Ron Brown, how TWA Flight 800 was shot down by the Navy and covered up, and how intellectuals are destroying the United States. Who better to get out the real truth about Barack Obama?

In Cashill's fevered imagination we now see a Grand Unified Field Theory of Barack Obama. Not only is he an intellectual, not only is he a protege of Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers, but Bill Ayers wrote his book.

I kid you not. Cashill has strung together a pastiche of questionable methodology; unremarkable parallels, like the fact that both Obama and Ayers use words like "ship", "storm", and "horizon" as metaphors, or the fact that both Obama's and Ayers's memoirs include minor chronological errors; and finds that these facts all lead inexorably to one conclusion: Barack Obama could not possibly have written his memoir, so it must have been written by Bill Ayers.

And you'll like this part. Here is what Cashill identifies as the single most persuasive piece of evidence tying the Obama memoir to Ayers:

As a writer, especially in the pre-Google era of Dreams, I would never have used a metaphor as specific as "ballast" unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Seaman Ayers most surely did.

Get it? At the time this was written, Obama was nothing but a thirty-four year old graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, so he couldn't possibly have know what ballast is. But you know who did? Seaman Bill Ayers!

If that's not a smoking gun, I don't know what is. Gotcha, Obama! Might as well resign right now, Jack Cashill has you dead to rights.

It's only fair to point out that this clown went to my high school, as did Pat Fitzgerald. I'd be curious about what the Jesuits who taught me would say about this ridiculous display.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tonight's VP Debate

As bad as Palin's been all week, we knew that she couldn't live down to that level of ineptitude tonight. Literally anything she said tonight wouldn't be as bad as everything she said to Katie Couric. As it turned out, that's pretty much what happened: as expected, she exceeded expectations.

But what does that mean? She didn't make any stupid statements. Her statements and arguments were almost devoid of content. As before, she adhered very closely to her preloaded talking points, including repetetive claims that she and McBush are "mavericks". Lucky thing we weren't playing the Palin drinking game tonight. Nevertheless, content or no, she was perky, spunky, and stuck with her scripted persona. It was like watching Biden try to debate Kelly Ripa.

Biden, on the other hand, was great. There were a few points where his remarks probably got deeper into the details of what happens in the Senate than was good for him. On the other hand, he displayed a breadth of knowledge, judgment, and a commitment to the real people of the United States that was very impressive. One of the television commentators said it was the best debate of his life, and I'm prepared to accept it. While in past years he's come across as a lightweight, too fond of the cute smile and quip, tonight, he was a statesman.

The TV commentators were observing that Palin's performance were designed to, and did, shore up support among the Republican base. Maybe so, but that's fine with me. At this stage in the campaign, if the ticket that's behind has to devote this effort to shoring up the base, that means they're not passing, or even catching up, they're just trying to avoid losing any more ground. Maybe they did that, but that's probably not good enough for them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An Appetizer

You're probably looking forward to tomorrow's VP debate, aren't you? Admit it, I know you are.

Sarah Palin may do better than we expect, but her performance so far has exposed her grossly inadequate command of any single area of American government. From the economy, to foreign affairs, to national defense, she can't say anything without coming across as an idiot, which means that, despite her reputation as a scrapper, it's hard to believe that any reasonably intelligent debate moderator (and Gwen Ifill more than meets that standard) should eviscerate her. Hell, Katie Couric has been able to do it, and her primary, if not only, qualification is that she's cute as a button.

CBS has released more of the interview, and it isn't getting any better. As you know, the Supreme Court has been the favorite target of the right wing since the 1950's. Remember "Impeach Earl Warren"? Remember Gerald Ford's repeated efforts to impeach William O. Douglas? So you might find it shocking that Sarah Palin can't even recite a single Republican talking point about the Supreme Court. Not only does she get the Republican position on Roe v. Wade wrong (their argument is not that it should be a state issue, but that the fetus is a living human being with a right to life, and when Bork was nominated he would have completely disagreed with her statement that there is a constitutional right to privacy), but she can't mention a single other Supreme Court decision she disagrees with. What about Medina, Miranda, and the other precedents that keep the cops from beating confessions out of subjects? What about all the other exclusionary rule decisions? What about allowing affirmative action? What about one-person-one-vote? Every statement she makes, like the repeated references to this history of this great country, sounds like the kid using two inch margins and triple spacing in a vain attempt to meet the page requirement for that high school paper where they haven't done any of the work.

So while you wait for tomorrow's debate, sit back and enjoy this.