Friday, March 31, 2006

Damn My Garrulous Mindset

Alright, you called my bluff -- I ain't stopping. Even though the visual of Harry devoting his spare time to taking pride in watching our reader numbers go up, all the while refusing to post drives me just a little bonkers, I'll pretend that the blogging trio to which I referred in my first post still exists.

In any case, as I stated yesterday/earlier today, I had to catch up with quite a few issues of the Times. One article that caught my eye centered on an interesting new dynamic between the Bush administration and the press corps. Bush, whose apathy and antipathy for the press needs no embedded link to prove, has actually been going out of his way to chat off-the-record with D.C.-based journalists. It really takes me by surprise, as it did the always-stellar Katherine Q. Seelye: "This appears to be the first time that the Bush Administration has systematically brought in members of the White House press corps," she notes.

Here's what's baffling, though. The Times apparently declined to participate in this seemingly harmless-to-quite-beneficial mutual understanding session. Philip Taubman, the Times' Washington bureau chief, said in a statement that his paper declined "after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush." Now, this don't make a lick of sense. Journalists of every stripe engage in off-the-record chats all the time to gain the context and analytical awareness that Harry hates so very much. To use the archetype example of the benefit of background conversations, would the Times have declined to meet off the record with Mark "Deep Throat" Felt because they insist on everything learned being immediately told to the readership? As Seelye's article points out, reporters can always go back and follow up on the record. This just feels like a missed opportunity for the Times -- a way to try to understand a politician who frequently ridicules the very public service they provide. One last thought: Can this move be seen as anything but yet another sign of the Bush administration on damage control? I guess you know what they say about desperate times...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

When In Rome...

So, I spent Monday and Tuesday in Virginia, did not bring my laptop and hardly even saw a computer. Little down-time, less sleep. (And I only forgot my cell phone charger in the hotel room. Just one item? A new record!) In any case, I came back today and just turned on my laptop for the first time since the weekend. Imagine my surprise when I saw that no one had posted on this blog since Sunday, giving APR a full three days of radio silence. It appears that Harry and Jerry have decided to cancel all posting on this site for reasons passing understanding. Well, I'm not one to go against the grain so I guess this is the last-ever post of A Proportional Response. Good night, everybody! It's been fun!

(As a parting gift, here's the greatest television show never aired. Hell, it's the greatest opening credits never aired...)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

It's Called a Win-Win

Republicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place on immigration reform, and that can only be good for the Democrats in 2006 and '08. The Times today reports on the difficult position in which the swirling discussion of immigration has put some Republican elected officials in recent months.

If they support proposals from President Bush or John McCain and Edward Kennedy -- offering some version of "amnesty" to illegal immigrants currently living and working in the United States -- they'll be painted as anti-law, anti-American traitors of the Republican Party. If they support a bill that recently passed the House, any inroads the Republicans have made in the country's Latino communities will wash away (see: Pete Wilson and Prop. 187).

Oh, what is a bigoted Republican who values his ties to big business to do?


The New York Times reports today about something that is really going on in classrooms in low-income neighborhoods because of testing requirements -- math and English are valued above all else. Social studies and science are classes from which people have no problem pulling children for extra support, and students at my school spend twice as much time in math and English as in science and social studies.

Having math and English be a larger part of students' days is not such a bad thing -- indeed, social studies should be a history-focused literacy class. But de-emphasizing or taking away social studies or science altogether is simply wrong. Why shouldn't students in low-income areas be just as well-rounded as those in the suburbs? States must confront the bigger problem in their low-income schools -- keeping experienced teachers on the job so they can make the most of the class time they have. Taking away classes that help students learn history and how the world works does more harm than good.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

'Can analysis be worthwhile?' 'Is the theater really dead?'

Sorry to jump into this journalism debate way late, but my main reaction to Harry and James' battle in the middle of the week is that reasoned, informed, well-written analysis is exactly why The New York Times and, when I'm in town, The Washington Post are a religion for me. Both papers do a phenomenal job of not only reporting the news, but putting it in context. And that's why I can't stand cable news channels -- they frequently fall egregiously on either side of the tightrope print journalists (and to a certain extent radio reporters like those on National Public Radio) are supposed to walk in writing educated news stories. Everyday, one can see the nightmare that is Harry's proposed no-analysis news.

Cable news is either all hard news with no context (Jon Stewart frequently parodies cable news as a bunch of guys next door with videocameras) or all "analysis," which is often no more than either speculation or pure opinion. Print and, to a certain extent, radio are perfect media with which to report the news and provide consumers context -- you can both paint a picture of the story and tell readers why it's important. Television just doesn't lend itself to doing so -- the power of images draws reporters and producers toward "it bleeds it leads" type stories (shootings, bomb scares) or political ping-pong, like one can see on cable news channels at every hour of the day. In the end, cable news outlets have dumbed down the general public's understanding of current events and cheapened our national political dialogue.

Reasoned analysis is essential to any quality newspaper, and reporters are well positioned to give readers that analysis. As James can attest, reporters on beats spend hours each week talking to the people who are making news and follow every minor development in their beat area -- more than almost anyone else, they become experts on their beat topics. I'd say an expert who is paid to keep genuine opinions out of their pieces (and any accidental subjectivity is checked by two or three editors at any major newspaper) is the perfect person to deliver analysis.

Reporters are not simply another person with a point of view on daily happenings (as Harry seems to say in his 7th-grade exploration of point of view -- literally, I'm doing that exercise in my class next week). Reporters are genuine observers who, in almost every case (there are mistakes made in every profession), are not tied to any outcomes in the stories they write. Every single point of view in Harry's post comes from an interested party, which makes it completely unrelated to journalism (except at the base level of writing about something that happened -- journalism is about far more than that).

The bottom line is that James is 100 percent correct -- there is no question that good reporting needs analysis.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Can You Attack the Notion of Teaching Tomorrow? I'm Awfully Tired.

Seriously, I'm pooped. I've got one more late night of defending/ explaining the idea of journalism, and then you've got to move to Jerry's field. Or, maybe, say, politics.

In any case, the entire premise of this thing is so inherently flawed, I'm honestly not being facetious when I say I don't know where to begin. Look, the very definition of one person viewing an event and telling others about it leads to the concept of a "point of view." Your examples are strange beyond belief. The stories of you traveling to work aren't different perspectives; they're different actions and thus worthy of their own articles (minus the opinion words like "carelessly" or "needlessly," as we'll discuss later). But, yes, you sojourning to work and bumping into a friend in the Metro is equally as legit a story as you traveling to work and arriving 10 minutes late. The issue for the reporter in charge of writing about your commute is the question of which is more significant -- the friend or the tardiness. Different reporters can emphasize and pick at different aspects of one news story. This is being human and why we don't have one Press Agency, like the Chinese, giving one perspective on the day's events. To use a better example of points of view (and I'm not totally sure why we're discussing such a pedestrian issue here), imagine the New York Times Co. bought the naming rights to Yankee Stadium. The Washington Post mainbar would report the news as fact; Sports Illustrated would report the impact to the game, the Wall Street Journal might emphasize the impact to NYT stock, your oft-read Editor and Publisher would absolutely write a piece on the newspaper's ability to objectively cover the team, and so on.

But more than that unequivocal variation, independent reporters within the same field can respond to the news, well, independently. Maybe the Post reporter's sources discussed how much money was spent, and so the reporter categorizes the amount as "higher than expected" or something. But maybe the LA Times, through interviewing and personal experience on the beat, sees the sale as a profound shift in George Steinbrenner ideology and focuses on the Yankees organization. And still maybe the Chicago Tribune guy's sources are whispering in his ear that this is a sign the NYT is desperate for advertising and thus goes in that direction. The difference between this reality of people having many perspectives and your bizarro walking-to-work discriptions lies in your adverbs. None of these reporters would use the words "needlessly" or "rudely" or "mistakenly" in discussing the sale. Hence: the difference between news analysis and injecting opinion. Remember the original source for this Writing 101 conversation? Briefly stated, the reporter clearly stays within the definition of providing analysis and only allowing expert sources to pass judgment. But if she had called Bush's rhetorical strategy "bizarre," as a source does, that would have crossed the line into injecting opinion. We clear?

Reporters are human beings, which is why we enjoy reading the newspaper. Otherwise we'd just read the ticker on the bottom of cable news channels. Analysis, while oftentimes different from our own, illuminates issues and elucidates us to notions we may not have otherwise had about a common topic. However imperfect the reporting process may be, I'd hope that we've learned that an inquisitive, analytical press is a powerful check against destructive forces in our communties and our nation. In an effort to bend over backwards to be "fair and impartial," our nation's reporters can perform a disservice by acting as unwitting cheerleaders and rubber-stampers. Frankly, I would like to see more analysis, not less. The news media too often treats political figures with almost-regal reverence, no matter how few clothes the emperor in question may be wearing on a given day.

A journalism professor I once had wrote on his Web site the following quote, attributed to Ralph Emerson McGill, former newspaper publisher and Pulitzer Prize winner: "Objectivity is a phantom. In chasing it, we have dulled our stories. We too often made them frightfully boring, plodding unfoldings of events, in which the words ... were strung together like mud balls when they might as well have been pearls." Indeed, to remove all depth and color from our newspapers, because of an unfair expectation of a Puritan avoidance of personality, would result in feckless slop -- and worse, America would possess a less vigilant press and a dimmer light cast on the most critical of issues.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Yes, My Title Was Clever

I want to thank James for his well written answer to my question and his warm welcome back to this forum (how many posts do I need to get my name un-crossed out?). But here's my issue...

I agree on the need for analysis to help people understand news. But it seems that analysis is inherently tainted by its infusion of news and point of view. I see the spectrum from news to analysis to opinion to be as this: objective fact -> point of view infused analysis of objective fact -> point of view not necessarily with any objective fact.

The problem is that point of view varies from person to person and is influenced by many sociological factors including their ideological bend, race, income, religion, etc.

For example, the simply story of me traveling to work today can be described in several ways:
My point of view: "Harry casually made his way to work today, bumping into a friend in the metro."
My boss' point of view: "Harry traveled to work today, arriving 10 minutes late."
The PETA point of view: "Harry carelessly crushed an entire neighborhood of ants today on his walk to work."
The Sierra Club's point of view: "Harry needlessly kicked some dirt today on his walk to work destroying the natural habitats of downtown DC."
My Treo's point of view: "Harry rudely dropped me today while playing solitaire on his walk to work."
A liberal's point of view: "Harry walked to the Conservative Democratic organization at which he is employed needlessly crossing a picket line and purchasing a coffee from a large corporation which enslaves its workers."
A conservative's point of view: "Harry walked to his lefty foreign policy organization today hugging a tree on the way while plotting to destroy the social fabric of America."

The point is that every event can be portrayed in a million different ways based on the assumptions with which one approaches reporting. The question I pose for my James and that other guy is how do we avoid tainting reporting of news and legitimate analysis with unintended biased points of view?

Welcome Back, Harry, Ya Moron

Well, well; look who decided to show up. Hopefully the coma you fell into didn't kill too many brain cells, you blond bastard. Now howsbout you stick around, eh? You were supposed to be batting clean-up around here, remember?

Of course, for all Harry's political acumen, his awareness of the journalism industry and public service benefits are sorely lacking. His post below, oddly titled "Op-An" (does he mean "op-ed"? is he inventing the term "opinion-analysis?"), displays the reason I don't post about rules-based international political theory as it relates to E.U. nation-states: I have no f'ing clue what I'm talking about.

Harry's larger question, should opinion and analysis be in newspapers, is disappointing to hear, as a hard-working journalist. First though, I noted that Harry quotes a piece by Editor and Publisher in his post. I had no idea Harry regularly read the trade mag. Wow, really? Does Harry also subscribe to Romenesko? Does he peruse CJR? Does he have an email alert set up for every Jack Shafer missive?

Anyway, the question is a common one, but usually asked by those who insist in combing newspapers for a hint of "media bias." While that can be a tougher (and far more irritating) beast to tackle, Harry's wondering of the value of analysis in our daily papers is a simpler discussion. There are three major rationales for analysis like that provided by Harry in his post, or even a few steps beyond.

First, and most basic, some topics are simply too complicated for average Joes and Janes to understand. If an article were to note that certain budget items were cut and funding moved between various budgetary units, and not provide context or analysis of what that meant, I as a reader would be lost. I don't have a great head for numbers, and I frequently find myself skimming the first few grafs of number-intensive articles specifically to get to the analysis, so I can wrap my mind around the news.

Which leads to my second point, which posits the question: What makes for a skilled reporter? To be sure, writing ability is a large aspect. But what is accumulated as journalists gain expertise? The ability to analyze. Harry mentioned the Times offered a comparison for the new Supreme Court Justice so those who do not work closely with the Judicial Branch (all of us) can get an idea of who he is. Good reporters should aim to provide everything they know to their readers, without forsaking confidentiality, etc. If everyone in the Beltway is calling Alito "Scalito," that's a comparison the rest of the country deserves to know just as much, I'd argue. Sure, such a mention includes the nebulous notion of "opinion," as do sentences like "Rick Santorum is socially conservative" and "President Bush can be folksy during press conferences." Point is: The more reporters understand what they report, the more they can fill in the cracks with the knowledge they gain.

Thirdly, an analytically oriented reporter seeks out spin, and hates it. Sometimes reporters are forced to write fluff pieces or press releases (happens all the time during campaign reporting) but bad reporters hear spin and report it as fact. A good reporter reports the spin, but also illuminates the perceived reality. To make the point, imagine the White House decides to go on an environmental blitz, and loudly declares on the talk shows that Bush is a long-standing eco-friendly president. A lazy reporter would write down the quotes and file the story. But a smart reporter would give this bit of news a second look (another term for an analytical look) and might report something like, "...But the President's record to date belies the sudden push, as environment issues have not seen a prioritization in the past six years in this Oval Office." Shitty writing notwithstanding, this sort of analysis would be labeled by Harry as not belonging in the news article. But it's what the reader wants and deserves -- context and a deeper understanding of the issues.

Clearly there is a line to be drawn -- where is the division between that sort of analysis and outright opinion? There is no hard answer to this; good reporters are human beings constantly seeking to get better and locate that line. I think it's safe to say that most reporters will hew closer to a cut-and-dry reporting approach and as they grow comfortable with their surroundings will include more context and analysis. Frankly, without it, we could do away with reporters altogether and just have robots "write" our news articles. Hell, we could just run bullet points without context or analysis and leave it up to the reader to discern which end is up. But readers widely request newspapers to provide more in-depth analysis about the day-to-day policy making of their elected leaders (trust me) and as long as reporters and editors can find the balance between advocating a position and fleshing out their reportage, I say it's a good thing.

What if God Was One of Us?

I have always been one willing to keep an open mind when it comes to the issue of faith-based initiatives. After all, religious charities do some really good things (when was the last time you worked at a food kitchen that wasn't in a church?)

But an article in today's Washington Post raises some interesting questions. The Post reports that "under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies...that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues."

It is important to note what this article doesn't do. It doesn't accuse the Administration of corruption. And it is clear that for the most part it is a coincidence: "Programs such as the Compassion Capital Fund, under the Health and Human Services, are designed to support religion-based social services, a goal that inevitably funnels money to organizations run by people who share Bush's conservative cultural agenda." To be clear, "the distribution of new money to conservative organizations is a small part of an estimated flood of $2 billion a year in federal grants to religious and religiously affiliated organizations." And "for decades, in Democratic and Republican administrations, well over $1 billion annually has been going to such groups."

But I think it raises a valid question. Should the government be allowed to fund "Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C.," a group with a deeply conservative social philosophy...promot[ing] abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base?"

"During the Clinton years there was a "liberal tilt of federal grant money" with "taxpayer funds [going] to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs."

Is this just the Republicans turn to do their thing? Or is there a real problem here? Is there a difference between a religious anti-abortion group getting federal money to do sexual education and a secular abortion-rights group getting federal money to do sexual education?

Given America's history, religion and government is something we always need be cautious about. Yet, given the religiosity of the American populace, religion is something the government can and should be able to use to achieve good. I'm not sure I know where to draw the line.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I was not going to comment on James' praise of AP's watchdog journalism since its a debate that I've had with him and the other journalistically inclined blogger on APR a few too many times. Until I discovered this article by the industry's own journal about the exact piece James was so quick to applaud.

The real issue here is the distinction between news, analysis and opinion? I don't want to engage journalism theory - I would certainly be destroyed by James and Gerald. But it seems to me that the line between news, analysis and opinion is problematic. And the question of whether opinion and analysis should be in NEWSpapers is really worth addressing.

A review of recent New York Times "News Analysis" pieces leads me to believe that this type of writhing is designed to argue a point. For example, a January 13 news analysis on Judge Alito is summarized as follows: "Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s judicial philosophy appears to align him with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas," while a news article the same day on Wal-Mart health insurance is summarized: "The Maryland Legislature passed a law that would require Wal-Mart to increase spending on employee health insurance."

News is a statement of fact; analysis is the argument for a specific way of understanding news; opinion is an argument for a specific point of view. I've already argued with James and Gerald that opinion doesn't belong in newspapers. News analysis is the kind of journalism you should find in an intellectual political journal like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly or The New Republic. Maybe my colleagues can convince me it is the kind of journalism that I should find in the Washington Post or New York Times.

A Simple Query, With Clenched Fists

Q: With its revenues hurting and actual reporting jobs being cut, does the Washington Post (whose coverage even its own companies are already lambasting) really need to take the resources to create a "conservative" blog in sole response to right-of-center outrage with the perceived-to-be "liberal" column/blog it currently runs, conceding a point many would (rightfully) spend a lifetime opposing?

A: Sometimes, I hate this industry.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition Doesn't Work

I'm not sure why The New York Times continues to cover this crap. Bush's repeated (ironically) strategy is to repeat the exact same thing until he's blue in the face in hopes of convincing a few people that his bungled initiatives/wars are good for the country. Of course, this strategy has failed Bush repeatedly, but that doesn't seem to matter. And it doesn't seem to matter to the national news outlets that each speech is old news. I feel like I read about a barnstorming "we're going to win in Iraq" tour about a month ago. And I certainly read about a similar effort last year when Bush was unsuccessfully pushing his social security reform proposals.

I can't wait until we have a president who thinks governing is about more than being a used car salesman -- you're not just supposed to put new shine on old jalopies; you're supposed to come up with innovative proposals, and then back them up with multi-faceted, fact-based arguments to draw support. I can't wait until the Mark Warner administration.

Comedic Portion of Today's Infotainment

Parallels Between My Living Through Two Years of Middle School And The Two Terms Of The Bush Presidency

The writer forgets to mention "Newfound apprehension for all things science" and "Assumption that whatever's next simply has to be better." But still, a clever list.

Film Addenda

Add one more movie to the already fairly exhaustive list of politically themed movies on the horizon: It's slap-your-forehead obvious: Susan Sarandon as Cindy Sheehan. First reaction: meh. But this woman did lose her job, her marriage, her religion, all due to her protesting. I guess it could be an interesting flick.

Anyway, in movies I'm more likely to see, I neglected to mention "Bobby." The film, written/directed by Emilio Estevez (!) and due for a fall 2006 release, revisits the night Robert Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968. The script takes place against the backdrop of the cultural issues gripping the country at the time, including racism, sexual inequality and class differences. Interestingly, it will look at how the lives of those at the hotel that evening intersected. How many lives, you might ask? Well, cast in the movie are, unbelievably: Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, William H. Macy, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, Heather Graham, Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Shia LaBeouf, James Marsden, Jacob Vargas, Brian Geraghty, Joshua Jackson, Joy Bryant, Svetlana Metkina, Kip Pardue, David Krumholtz, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and, uh, Harry Belafonte.

And lastly, there's some news about the film adaptation of "Against All Enemies," roles for which I cast in that earlier post (excellently, I might add, although I couldn't find a good Andy Card -- any thoughts?) but did not include President Bush because I assumed he'd be off-screen. Turns out my hunch was correct. It's also reported that the film is pretty much "men and women in suits jawing with each other about strategy." Honestly? I can't wait.

Monday, March 20, 2006

No Redeeming Quality -- Just Throwing Red Meat

It does make you think, I suppose. Does Clinton hear impeachment proceedings if his term comes after the Bush presidency? I'd argue the Republicans would look like inattentive hypocrites. Meh, whatever -- I'm just glad Doonsbury re-ran my favorite story arc last week:

The President's Word-a-Day Calendar Is Working

That's the only explanation for The Most Surprising "Vocab Word" Used In A Bush Q&A:

Q: Could you explain why living within the legislation that allowed your administration to get a warrant from a secret court within 72 hours after putting in a wiretap wouldn't be just as effective?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate the question. He's talking about the terrorist surveillance program that was -- created quite a kerfuffle in the press, and I owe an explanation to.

Let's ignore, through gritted teeth, the dangling preposition and focus in on Bush's use of a true SAT word. This wasn't part of the pre-written speech; he really did use "kerfuffle" off the cuff. I now eagerly await him describing America's "zeitgeist" and his own personal "cathexis." Of course, upon further reflection, it's possible that some advisor told him to use "kerfuffle" in describing the wiretapping agitation because the American connotation for the British term describes a relatively minor inconvenience or fuss -- and maybe "uproar" was believed to give the opposition more credibility. Also, I love how he shoulders the outrage onto "the press" as if only a few dozen reporters, and not nearly half of America, found fault with the program.

Wonkette cracks wise after the same press conference/Q&A session, as well as during.

Watchdog Journalism Scratches Me Where I Itch

The Associated Press is often given the burden of investigatory and enterprise reporting without the "credit," because so often their scoops are picked up the organizations we traditionally assocatiate with news-gathering: newspapers and, to a lesser extent, radio and TV. But the AP traditionally has more resources devoted to enterprise reporting because the agency needs not cover City Council meetings and other more pedestrian newspaper necessitites. So whenever the AP does well, it's nice to give them the credit. (I've done so already on this blog, actually, during the Cheney's Got a Gun saga.)

In any case, here's a piece that a White House press corps reporter may be a bit gun-shy about pursuing: Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches. Forget for a second that its a point Jon Stewart has been hammering his audience with for months now. This is an analytical piece that needed to be written, a bit of common sense injected into a national politic currently fraught with hogwash and bombast. I hope this AP story ends up running in a whole bunch of papers as this semantical argument favored by Bush personally drives me wild. Bravo, AP writer, for taking the close look.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

How Will Bush Go Down in History?

Bush will go down in history much like Reagan did -- hated in perpetuity by the left and adored by the right. Bush, like Clinton and Reagan, is a lightning rod on both sides of the aisle -- his party loves him (even in tough times, like the entire last year) and the opposition absolutely can't stand him.

Much like Reagan, Bush is seen as the face for his administration and nothing more, and the similarities go on. Reagan was lampooned for his "hands-off managerial style" (or disinterest in actually doing the job he was elected to do). Reagan was seen as intellectually vacuous and overly simplistic. Reagan was plagued with second-term blunders. Reagan drove up federal spending (mainly on the military), and the deficit, to record levels. Reagan's presidency is credited for its foreign policy crusades/triumphs, despite his incoming lack of interest in or prior experience with foreign policy.

In 20 years, people who are now teens and 20s Washington, D.C. operatives will reminisce about the Bush years and credit his administration for their passion for politics. Democrats will still hate Bush and everything he stood for, thinking it impossible that anyone would adore such a bumbling, failed presidency.

Projecting much longer than that is tough. Depending on which direction Iraq and the Arab world are heading in a few years, Bush may be widely credited for his courageous and visionary foreign policy leadership (much like Truman -- thought of as simplistic, inexperienced and hands-off and hated during and just after his presidency, but though of in retrospect as one of the best presidents in history). If his work in the Middle East turns out as it seems it will (rescued only by a more cooperative, rational successor), he will be seen as one of the worst presidents ever -- an incompetent manager who failed his own country and compromised the security of freedom-loving people everywhere.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

They Love Liberalism in Charleston

As if having a Democratic ticket of a three-term Congressman and a guy who was outed as being an alcoholic and pill-abuser while serving in the Cabinet wasn't breaking the rules to begin with, check out the electoral map a few weeks before election day in the weird, wonderful world of The West Wing. First of all, unless there's some serious West Coast sweepage for the Dems -- and the Republican challenger is from California, mind you -- I think this election is going GOP. But imagine living in a world where South Carolina breaks ranks with the entire South and votes Democratic. Also, the writers of the show have given Missouri to the Dems, but not Ohio or Iowa. Ah, fantasy...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sometimes Pithiness Just Works

"I really do believe this man will go down as the worst president this country has ever had."
-- Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in The New York Times.

I am actually curious what the history books and textbooks will say. Had Bush not won his first term, I really think historians would have highlighted his supposed CEO-style of governmental management with all that talk about him being the first president with an MBA and the corporate hours and so on. But when was the last time you heard that analytical view of the Bush administration? Or taken seriously?

"Snakes on a Plane" Did Not Make the Cut

It appears we've fallen, here at APR, into some fairly rough roles. Jerry writes a daily analysis post, by and large. I write smaller, more frequent pieces, often broaching the lighter side of the news. And Harry just sucks ass.

With that in mind -- and considering I just spent a long day in Sacramento -- I'd like to strain this blog's defining role and stretch ourselves to the closest boundary of pop culture. Below, I've crafted a list that I've actually been building in my mind: political movies coming down the pike that APR readers might want to know about. This doesn't include documentaries, like the piece about Al Gore and global warming, and is instead only major motion pit-chers.

Thank You for Smoking opens this week. (Trailer) It takes a satirical look at lobbying (Big Tobacco, primarily) and makes a Senator from Vermont (played by APR favorite William H. Macy) the Birkenstock-wearing villain.

American Dreamz will open April 21. (Trailer) More satire, this of a number of timely topics, from a bumbling President, a conniving overlord-Vice President, consumer pop culture (including Jerry's favorite television show) and even a dash of terrorism.

Flight 93 will open April 28. (Trailer) Don't expect a lot of laughs on this one. This is a real-time account of United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that passengers crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania in lieu of destroying (reportedly) the White House.

World Trade Center will open August 11. (Photo) Similarly themed, love-him-or-hate-him Oliver Stone will direct (but not write, as he did with JFK) a true story about two Port Authority cops who were the last two survivors extracted from Ground Zero.

The Good Shepherd will open Dec. 22. (Photo) Eric Roth ("Munich," "The Insider") wrote the screenplay and Robert De Niro will direct and star in a close look at the early history of the CIA.

All the King's Men will open in December. (Trailer) Steven Zaillian's ("Schindler's List") adaptation of the classic novel charts the rise and fall of a charismatic Southern politician. The plot follows a once-idealistic then quickly embittered reporter who unwittingly fuels his corrupt political ambitions. I haven't read the book or seen the Best Picture-winning 1949 version, but it's based on Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana, so I guess we know how this is going to end.

Flags of Our Fathers has no opening date yet. (Photo) Clint Eastwood will direct a screenplay by Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby," "Crash") based on the account of the six Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II.

Charlie Wilson's War has no opening date yet. Aaron Sorkin -- my single favorite writer, regardless of medium -- is adapting George Crile's book (which I unwittingly convinced my parents' entire book club to read -- seriously) about a Texas Congressman's funding the Mujadeen in Afghanistan, which as we all know has had some rather negative long-term results. Among the best books I've ever read and, let's face it, I would pay money to see Sorkin adapt a telephone book.

Stop-Loss has no opening date yet. This will begin filming in the Spring and will depict American soldiers who face being sent back to the front lines in Iraq because of a controversial statute invoked by the Defense Department.

This Variety article reports that Paramount hired Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") to write a film about last fall's Dover, Pa., legal battle on intelligent design in public schools. (The same article mentions another movie I haven't heard about yet, The Invisible World, a drama about the abduction of a female journalist in Iraq.)

Another article, this one from Reuters, reports that Haggis has announced he will direct "Against All Enemies," a project based on Richard A. Clarke's best-selling memoir chronicling the Bush administration's handling of terrorist threats. (APR casting call! Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Karen Hughes, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney.)

I wasn't going to include this because I wanted to stick purely to the political, but I just so happened to read today that the producers of "Nativity" casted the role of the Virgin Mary in their female-dominated film on Jesus' birth.

And, by the way, the film name in the post title is the real thing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Budget Hypocrisy

Republicans have an incredible, and ironic, ability to flip-flop. One day, they're decrying their own lack of budgetary discipline over the last six years, and the next they refuse to submit to budget rules that would keep spending -- and fiscally irresponsible tax cuts -- under wraps.

The "pay-go" rule -- any spending has to be offset by tax increases and tax cuts have to be offset by spending cuts -- is a common-sense way to keep Congress from its often unchecked deficit spending on pork-barrel projects. Senate Republicans opposed the rule because it would keep them from making permanent President Bush's gigantic tax cuts of the past several years (because they know they've trimmed about as much fat from the federal budget as they can). It would have prevented them from letting millionaires keep more of their money while piling debt on everyone's grandchildren.

Looks like the Democrats have two winning campaign themes (beside the positive ones I know they're brainstorming right now) -- not only are the Dems the party that cares about the little guy (and backs it up with the requisite tax readjustments and targeted spending), but it's also the party of responsible financial management (last balanced federal budget? Early in the Bush administration, after excellent budget discipline by Clinton). Vote Democrat and stop the Republicans' destructive habits.

Ralph Lauren Will Never Sponsor Us Now

I love reading the New York Times' corrections. Call me a masochist, but perusing journalists' daily failings makes me appreciate the Gladiator-like industry I've (stupidly) chosen for myself. I wish other jobs had that sort of public face; I would buy such a publication that published every error or misstep committed by members of certain professions.

Anyway, today in the Times are two great corrections. The first reads: "The cover photograph in The Times Magazine on Sunday rendered colors incorrectly for the jacket, shirt and tie worn by Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor who is a possible candidate for the presidency. The jacket was charcoal, not maroon; the shirt was light blue, not pink; the tie was dark blue with stripes, not maroon."

I mean, it's not Time Magazine and OJ Simpson, but this is pretty egregious. Back when I was living on a college campus, certain things gave me undeniable first impressions. Chief on that list were men in pink shirts. Now, I own a shirt that has thin pink stripes (purchased in Delaware; don't ask) and it's currently home to a mothball farm in the closet. No, when we're talking about pink shirts, they just carry a different vibe to me -- and that's just in walking past some preppy kid in front of Kresge Hall. Now imagine you're running for president of the United States and your biggest publicity to date transforms a normal dark suit with white shirt into a maroon jacket with pink shirt? Remember Wesley Clark and the sweaters, Al Gore and the earth tones, Bush and his cowboy belt buckle and boots? The clothes make the man and the Times just told the world that Mark Warner not only wears pink dress shirts but wants everybody to know about it. Of course it's hard to really complain about the red-wardrobe coloration when the Times photographer made Warner wear Michael Richard's fake dentures from "UHF." Eh, what's up, doc?

Also in today's corrections: "An article in The Arts on Feb. 11 about the federal investigation of Anthony Pellicano, a former Hollywood private detective, referred incorrectly to computer data seized in a raid on his office in 2002. (The error also occurred in articles on Feb. 6 this year and on Oct. 19, 2005.) Investigators said they had recovered storage devices witha capacity of 3.868 terabytes of data, which they said would be the equivalent of two billion pages of double-spaced text. They did not find two billion pages of notes and wiretap transcripts." (Emph. added.)

Ha! C'mon, Times reporter! A billion pieces of paper would take, I would think, quite a number of investigators to carry. APR contest! How many people do we think would be needed to carry 2,000,000,000 pages of notes and transcripts from Pellicano's office, anyway?

The GOP Pitches a Big Tent

In my second straight chauvenistic post -- really, very unlike me -- the National Republican Congressional Committee is reportedly going to be hosting a guest who brings new meaning to the term "press the flesh." Yes, joining President Bush for dinner on July 14 will be former gubernatorial candidate and adult film actress Mary Carey. The release has her joking: "I'm always excited to learn more about what's going on in our nation's capital, since most people in the porn industry think an Iraqi pullout is a form of safe sex." Good one! Ooh, ooh, how about this: Carey's excited to visit D.C. because most people in the porn industry think a leak investigation is what horrified couples do with a broken condom.

Anyway, it appears the dinner may actually have a policy effect as Carey said, of Karl Rove: "I know that he's against gay marriage, but I think I can convince him that a little girl-on-girl action now and then isn't so bad!" Atta girl, Mary. You get 'em. In answer to the obvious question here, she was invited to go with her boss, Kick Ass Pictures president Mark Kulkis, who is, wait for it, an Honorary Chairman on the NRCC's Business Advisory Council. His company's motto? "No Fake Boobs & No Condoms." Well, that actually does sound like family values to me... Carey, who plans to run for Lieutenant Governor of California this year, attended a similar invite-only fundraiser dinner for Bush in 2005, exclaiming "I love Bush because he's really hot!" (This is why Lieberman hates the cool kids.)

No word on what exactly she means when she says, "I'm going to need a lot of support from Republican lawmakers nationwide -- however I can get it." Maybe she's referring to that old Republican stand-by of draping herself in the flag.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Electoral College Change Would Be Unlikely, but Nice

Amen to the New York Times editorial page today for its whole-hearted endorsement of an effort get rid of the Electoral College. I read something about this a few weeks ago and was intrigued. It's unfortunate that everyone with any power over this (beside the people, that is) is likely to be whole-heartedly against it.

The idea behind the latest push is to skip amending the Constitution (past efforts to get rid of the Electoral College have failed to jump the mountainous hurdles that stand in the way of any amendment process) and go directly to state legislatures to make changes that would make the supremely unfair and antiquated Electoral College irrelevant. Basically, states would commit to throwing all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, making the Electoral College what it should be -- purely symbolic.

Of course, making presidential elections national affairs (as opposed to really big deals in 13 of the country's 50 states) would hugely complicate the jobs of candidates and political parties, so you can bet they'll be quietly trying to stymie any effort to bring this to more than a hand-full of states. Let's just hope state legislatures in enough solid red and blue states will have enough of a backbone to pull the trigger on this, because it could create a beautiful era of political involvement in this country.

Imagine this: People in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are whipped into a frenzy over a presidential election in the future. Not only will everyone's vote count, giving people more incentive to pay attention to the campaign, but people won't have to travel thousands of miles to make their door-knocking efforts mean something. Communities everywhere -- not just in the Midwest -- will have neighbors talking to each other and trying to convince those deciding votes to check the right box. People from all social strata -- not just the young or financially comfortable -- will get an opportunity to engage in grassroots political efforts.

If the effort were successful, parties and candidates would no doubt be concerned about getting enough volunteers to make personal connections with millions more voters, but I think they'd be surprised at the number of people who are willing to work hard but haven't been able to because of the electoral map. People in the country's small states would certainly be concerned that they'd be ignored in favor of the country's urban centers, but again I think they'd be surprised. Much like the way candidates don't ignore rural areas in big states with large cities like Ohio and Pennsylvania, candidates would absolutely understand the importance of swinging rural voters in the heartland.

Regardless of anyone's concerns, people in the non-battleground states -- red and blue -- should be clamoring for this change, and I hope state legislatures controlled by both sides of the aisle will step up to the plate on this effort. It's time for our quadrennial political showdown to stop excluding 74 percent of the country.

Speaking of Six Years Ago...

I just have one question after reading the Times this morning: When did Katherine Harris get what could only be called a tremendous rack? (Click the photo to enlarge.) Since when did this woman start looking like a Barbie doll?

It's Funny Because It's True

This one goes out to a buddy working for Focus Features -- let's call him Millard Film-more -- in New York City.

I had a lot of blogs to catch up on today, and I stumbled across something that delighted me so. It's a week late, and only partially a political reference, but me gustalo. Not necessarily because the joke is funny, although it is, but because it reminded me of a simpler time, chads and butterflies and all that the year 2000 had to offer (yes, i just censored myself). In any case, this visual gag, courtesy of defamer, works for me.

Feels Like the First Time

Remember the Daily Show montage with President Bush saying "No timetables, no timetables, no timetables?" No? Well, funny thing -- the President has really emphasized his lack of desire to set a timetable/come up with a precise exit strategy. I'm not sure if this is mind-blowing news or just regular ol' "big" news, but the President has apparently decided on a time-table. It couldn't be less specific, and it's still maddeningly under-realized, and -- for us semantics-loving wordsmiths -- he chooses to call it a "transition," but in spite of all that, Bush has announced a timetable for the “transition” of Iraqi occupation.

A more cynical blogger (is there any other kind?) would note that the new poll numbers that came out the day previous put Bush's approval ratings at a comically low figure -- 36 percent. An unbelievable 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's job. And now, a sudden change, a sorta-kinda policy "transition" allowing for most of Iraq to go to Iraqi troops (who have been picking it up SO well). So let's see. That means that days after the November elections, the USA will begin its "transitioning." And do they think we really won't see that as a "withdrawal"?

Monday, March 13, 2006

BREAKING NEWS: Clooney *May* Be a Democrat

For Jerry, who understandably admitted wanting to be -- given all of humanity to choose from -- George Clooney as his ideal persona: On the Huffington Post, which given its impressive stable of writers it's a wonder I don't follow more regularly, Clooney joins the blogosphere with a stunning announcement:

"I am a Liberal. There, I said it!"

No More 'Compassionate Conservative' Lies?

Encouraging news for Democrats out of Memphis Sunday. Four major Republicans look like they'll make budget austerity a major theme of their potential presidential races, perhaps bringing a little more honest face to Republicans' continual efforts to shift the tax/spend scale toward America's richest citizens.

Republicans rhetorical return to their historic fiscal home should be welcome news for the Democrats -- they shouldn't have to worry about the Republicans (dishonestly) co-opting the issues on which they're strong. With Bush signing a prescription drug benefit that looks good from the outside (but whose holes are as big as a donut's) and talking regularly about an "ownership society" from which everyone can benefit (but which, in reality, only benefits the well-off), it was tough for Democrats to convince those rural values voters that they were the party of the little guy.

The next two years will be the time to regain that title. Republicans will inevitably harp on the runaway costs of programs that people care deeply about, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, giving Democrats the opportunity to regain their mantle as the party that cares about society's neediest and the slightly better off (and perhaps a chance to talk more honestly and "compassionately" about the fiscal reforms those programs do indeed need to keep them sustainable over the long term). Add in some solid education reform proposals and some much-needed tax readjustment (a hike on the top bracket and a cut for the middle-class -- the formula that, with Bill Clinton's leadership in 1993, carried us to the biggest economic expansion in U.S. history in the late '90s) to winnow the budget deficit, and the Democrats are set up nicely for '06 and '08.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Oh, to be a Congressman or woman in this day and age. Knight-Ridder reported this weekend that taxpayers are paying for more than a million bucks in car leases for our leaders in Washington -- details can be seen in this list of car leases by Congressional members. In the full article, the reporter (who must be curious where his next paycheck is coming from) notes that some leased two or three cars. There's nothing partisan about this story -- equal offenders from both sides of the aisle. Even APR favorite Rep. Charley Rangel (D-N.Y.) drives his 16-square-mile Manhattan district in a Cadillac DeVille that costs $1,000 a month. Rep. Michael Ross (D-Ark.) spent a total of $36,300 for an Expidition, a Ford 500 and a Ford Crown Victoria. The writer notes with an eyebrow raised that the "median income of Ross' constituents is about $30,000."

The President finally admitted America is addicted to oil. Perhaps it's because a Congressman can spend almost twice my annual salary on automobiles (not to mention the requisite 44 cents per mile in taxpayer-paid gasoline)...

APR: Relaying You Others' Solid Points since 2006

The blogosphere is abuzz over Sen. Russ Feingold's announcement that he will seek to censure President Bush over the wiretapping imbroglio. (Don't you think that on the list of oddly fun words, both "blogosphere" and "abuzz" have got to be on it?) In any case, my thoughts are probably typical of the common left-of-center American: Nice concept, Russell, but the move will end up having the same force and worth of something like this. In any case, unrelated news has Sen. Bill Frist as the can't-be-any-less-formal straw poll winner for GOP 2008 hopefuls. Sorry, Bill -- This makes you, if possible, an even bigger target for attacks. With that in mind, I simply have to recommend you, the anywhere-from-five-to-fifty people reading this right now, to note his rather bumbling speech given to too-human George Stephanopoulos. Because I deem watching the "morning shows" an utter, utter waste of time, I'll use a transcript from another blog:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're against it. Are you going to allow it to come up for a vote?

FRIST: Well, George, this is the first I've heard about it. I really am surprised about it because Russ is just wrong. He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong. And as I was listening to it, I was hoping deep inside that that the leadership in Iran and other people who have the U.S. not in their best interest are not listening because of the terrible signal it sends.

As bloggers everywhere noted, Frist couldn't sound more like a schmuck here. Yes, what a horrific signal such a minor reminder of our democratic ways, full of rules and accountability, must send to those who seek to destroy our freedoms. Surely Congress exercising one of its rights is just the wrong message to send to America-haters.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're saying that censure resolution weakens America abroad?

FRIST: Yes. Well, I think it does because we are right now in a war, in an unprecedented war, where we do have people who really want to take us down and we think back to 9/11 and that war on terror is out there. So the signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our Commander in Chief, who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world and, again, that's why I'm saying as leader at least of the Republican side of this equation, that it's wrong, because leadership around the world of our sworn enemies are going to say, well, now we have a little crack there. There is no crack. The American people are solidly behind this president in conducting this war on terror.

I'll let DailyKos poster take it from here: "There is no crack" except the crack Frist must be smoking to make the wildly inaccurate claim that Americans are "solidly behind" Bush on the War on Terror. Only 52% of Americans support Bush's handling of the War, a 30 point drop since the invasion of Iraq.

Frist is doing what all Republicans do when they are weak and faced with accountability: they lie. He claims that it's inappropriate to question the Commander-in-Chief, but his party was relentlessly doing the same thing in numerous contexts back in the late 1990s. This is the same Frist who pursued impeachment as President Clinton exercised his Commander-in-Chief authority to bomb Iraq in 1998. At the time, Frist took a position in polar opposite to the one he holds today. He argued that the action in Iraq should not preclude a vote on impeachment: there should be a "temporary delay" in the impeachment vote, he said, but "it should be brought to a close quickly because the House should perform its constitutional duty." (The Hotline, Volume 10 No. 174, December 17, 1998).

DailyKos continues to note that this is the same guy who had no qualms about making this statement while our Commander-in-Chief publicly outlined a strategy for U.S. ground troops in Kosovo:

I will have no part in the creation of a constitutional double-standard to benefit the President. He is not above the law. If an ordinary citizen committed these crimes, he would go to jail. Many senators have voted to remove federal judges guilty of perjury, and I have no doubt that the Senate would do so again. Those who by their votes today confer immunity on the President for the same crimes do violence to the core principle that we are all entitled to equal justice under law. [...]

"The President broke his oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. He likewise broke his oaths to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

As the GOP's apparent Golden Boy, this must be a scary time for Frist -- if Bush goes down, so does he and so he has no choice but to defend the president through any definition of logic or fair play. So much of the Republican Party's m.o. lately has been rote lying through teeth and it seems that won't be stopping anytime soon.

That's Heavy, Doc!

Someone sent me a link to this story from the American Prospect on what Democrats need to do to talk culture to the electorate. I would call it fascinating, because it did illuminate to a degree, but I got lost in some of the impenetrable verbage. With all the talk of "measurable components of worldviews," "anomie-aimlessness" and Tim Kaine's religious strategy, it's an op-ed article only a Princeton grad could fully appreciate. (And I ain't one of those.)

Then I saw on kausfiles a somewhat coarse summation of the American Prospect piece, in which Kaus ennumerates six main "ideas" he took from the article, which he understatedly calls "dense and academic." (Scroll down to Saturday, March 11). Here are his verbatim thoughts, which I found helpful and thought you might as well:

1) Underneath, America's becoming like a videogame--"a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia." Yikes.

2) The half of the population that votes reacts against the growing anomie by embracing "moralistic politics." That's especially true of lower-income voters, who need moral order to survive in a more chaotic social environment.

3) In fact, "traditional values have become aspirational," complicating Tom Frankish efforts of Democrats to get less affluent voters to drop the Republican cultural nonsense and vote their pocketbooks.

4) Suddenly it's 1960 again, and Democrats like Franke-Ruta are worrying how to deal with "relative affluence" and "relative isolation" in a "post-scarcity society."

5) The last time around, in the actual 60's, JFK's Democratic answer to affluent isolation was not so much to embrace traditionalist values as create new, patriotic values ("Ask not," etc.) Is this national service answer now a) a harder sell than ever, b) needed more than ever, or both? If not national service, is there another non-traditionalist Dem morally-ordering institution out there? My instinct is that in 2006 health care--the social effort to beat back death and disability--is a more potent basis for egalitarian community than Peace Corpsing. For one thing, it's solidly rooted in individual self-interest.

6) Webbische Dean-friendly "progressives" like Franke-Ruta aren't likely to be the paleoliberal threat to the Democratic party many centrists fear. Why? As Matt Bai has pointed out, they have little allegiance to old Dem interest groups--unions and civil rights groups, in particular. At bottom, they're desperate reformers open to new ideas.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Embrace the Big Tent

QUAKERTOWN, PENN. -- Driving through small-town America makes one realize how much the Democratic Party needs to embrace the big tent. One can feel life's simplicity in small towns like Quakertown and Pennsburg, and with numerous churches along every road, one can see how the Democratic base must stop putting candidates up to social-issue litmus tests. We shouldn't feel queezy embracing candidates who can make a difference for the poor and middle class (and narrow the gap between this country's rich and poor, which has widened considerably over 30 years of mostly-Republican leadership) just because they don't share our beliefs on an issue that is really tiny in the scheme of things.

Bob Casey, Jr. is one such candidate. He can neutralize the values voters in small towns like this one with his (and his father's) anti-abortion track record, and he'll do a lot more for the people who really need help (the youngsters we always talk about helping, as opposed to the youngsters Gov. Michael Rounds is talking about) than Rick Santorum.

New Democratic Slogan

Fantastic piece in today's New York Times magazine on the Democratic Party's chances for a Gingrich-esque, 1994-style revolution. I was planning on posting some comments but Jerry just reminded me the Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic ballgame is on, so tough luck. The one thing I will note is a quote from Rahm Emmanuel (who the writer calls an "observant Jew," a label I think is getting pretty hackneyed -- just once I want to read about a politician who is "a casual, cultural Jew, one who eats a bacon-cheeseburger, but no bun, on Passover"). Emmanuel responds to an interviewer's question with a sentence I want to see on a bumper sticker on my Honda in the next six months:

"I'm talking about the fucking election here, bucko!"

Sure beats "Honest Leadership, Open Government," that's for damn sure.

Friday, March 10, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Sue 'Em

The California Democratic Party is apparently suing Everyone's Favorite Republican Senator for a very un-McCain fund-raiser for Gov. Schwarzenegger, scheduled for March 20. (Here's the invitation.)

The Orange County Register (via a reporter I once co-bylined with) reports: The complaint stems from a large donor fundraising event with Sen. McCain on behalf of Gov. Schwarzenegger scheduled for March 20, 2006 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, where platinum sponsorships go for $100,000.

The state party filed the complaint with the FEC this week alleging that John McCain violates his own federal campaign finance law that "restricts federal officeholders from taking part in such political fundraisers," according to the release.

Basically this combines two strong tenets of modern American culture: irony and litigation. I wonder if this thing will have legs...

Fun With Anonymous Insider Polling

I don't even remember how I found this in my clicking through blog links -- and it hardly qualifies as worthy of a posting because it's from a year ago -- but I amused myself with this Washingtonian ranking of members of Congress. (I guess the magazine does more that just publish photos of disgraced lobbyists.) Anyway, the part I enjoy the most is the politely worded "No Rocket Scientist" categories:

1. Tie: Rick Santorum (R-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA)

2. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
3. Tie: George Allen (R-VA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK)

1. Tie: Duke Cunningham (R-CA), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Karen McCarthy (D-MO), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA)

I guess the Duke-ster had a bit of a reputation before he, you know, was sent to prison for eight years. And I remember Loretta Sanchez always hyping her exercise regiment -- guess her colleagues heard enough about it too. And I wonder if Santorum's first place vote is partisan or just indicates that he really is as dumb as he seems to me, every time I read about him.

Also in the polling: Evan Bayh looks good in a bathing suit!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Needed: Innovative, Not Destructive, Education Policy

The Democrats' 2008 presidential candidate, regardless of whom it is, must have a solid education plank on his or her platform. Democrats and Republicans both must realize that it's not enough to pay lipservice to "improving education" -- candidates in every election cycle ever have been in favor of that vague idea. What we need now is innovative ideas that candidates are actually willing to fight for.

This is partially a response to Mr. Polkuote's blistering attack on vouchers from the other night (with which I, by the way, 100 percent agree). Democrats can't just attack testing and vouchers without any concrete reform alternatives. I'm not saying I have any better ideas at this point, but Democrats who have full staffs working on this (not to mention countless thinktanks and researchers looking at what works) must come up with something better and make it a main campaign issue -- that's the kind of urgency the system needs. We need policies that will keep the best, most experienced teachers in urban schools. We need policies that will help public school systems recruit the country's best minds to run their districts and schools. And we need policies that set high expectations for student achievement and give them the support they need to get there (regardless of where they live, what color their skin is or what income their parents earn).

Let's also not get lost in the politics, as I said in my post the other night. The ideas behind testing and vouchers are not all bad. Testing certainly shouldn't be stressed as much as it is today (and it shouldn't take away nearly as much instructional time as it does), but it can help give us a bare-bones barometer of how well schools and school districts are educating their students (and help make personnel and resource decisions based on the results). Vouchers are not going to fix education -- they'll much more quickly destroy it -- but, with proper first-amendment protections and safeguards against corruption, they can be a help to a few families that badly need it in the short-run.

The bottom line on this whole issue is that Democrats and other voucher opponents will have a lot more credibility when they propose positive alternatives that help inner-city students in the short-run and show our society's commitment to fixing our cities' broken schools in the long-run.

Over the past 20 years, we've heard general, blanket defenses of public education's virtues. But we've heard a strange silence on how to make those virtues obvious to parents of students who go to school in places where all of their teachers have one or two years of experience and violence is the norm. Let's hear something concrete and comprehensive, and we may just bury vouchers forever.

If There Was Ever a Good Time to Vote Out the Republican Party, it would be NOW

"'If there was ever a good time for Congress to figure out oversight, it would be in the sixth year of a presidency,' said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 House Republican, well aware that the party in power typically loses seats at the midpoint of a president's second term."

(Washington Post: Suddenly, a Rebellion in the G.O.P. on a Singnature Issue)

Um, is he serious?

Methinks The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

I wasn't going to opine on Jerry's post in which he bemoans his baseball hero and mine, Barry Bonds, for using steroids to provide us with so many great memories over the past decade. But then he had to go and lure me into the debate, and so I meekly write this post, fearful of how else I can be played like a fiddle.

In any case, he is correct. I do disagree with the widely accepted sky-is-falling premise re: Bonds and steroids. To begin with, we're talking about a game, albeit a popular and lucrative one -- but a game nonetheless. (And this is a guy who took an extra long lunch break today to watch the U.S.-Canada World Baseball Classic game in its entirety.) Sports Illustrated did not report that Bonds bet on Giants results, or threw games, or once killed a man, or stole money, or wrote policy based on campaign checks. No, Barry Bonds, over the years, did certain things that were in no way contrast to -- watch my language here -- what his industry's culture permitted.

This tearing-of-clothing caterwauling routine I keep reading about -- from "serious" news columnists to the otherwise snarkiest of blogs -- would be a whole lot easier to swallow if Major League Baseball, his team, the media, government or even the fans had raised even a peep of protest years ago. Everyone, including the people most invested in the matter, had all the evidence they needed to raise concerns in the late '90s and, as has been reported frequently, nobody did. Hence the title of this post, the reference to which I'll just assume everyone understands. Anyway, like I keep saying, what Bonds did (and, for what it's worth, countless other players -- don't forget, only Bonds has the profile to merit this much research) is just as "illegal" in my eyes as speeding on the highway. Sure, it's against the law, and sure, if we're dumb enough to get caught we deserve what punishment we get. But everyone does it -- it's just simply accepted as part of our culture.

Set aside the more sexy issue of steroids for a second. Greenies and uppers have been around the game for decades, at least as far back as the 1960s. There is no doubt about it -- without these pills, ballplayers would be fatiguing in massive and notable ways toward the final quarter of the marathon season. Where is the outrage that so many players used sorta-kinda illegal enhancements then -- and continued to widely do so up to this year? So suddenly, it's the modern era, players are naturally bigger and stronger, flights are longer, playoffs go deeper, media and public demands are more intense and the enhancements grew up along with the game. I'm not condoning their use, I repeat, I'm just noting that no one else did for years and years and years. I was never in a baseball locker room in the 1990s. I didn't have the access hundreds of men and women did and so my blissful ignorance is understandable. But for the same reporters and baseball officials who wink-winked a generation of players dependent on various pills and injenctions to now beat their chests in outrage of Bonds' habits is silly at best, hypocritical at worst.

I specifically protest a number of Jerry's claims. But I do not argue with him that the only solution to this murky morass lies within the federal government fashioning a broad ruling on the matter and ending this chapter. The game will suffer, and so be it, but the hearings must become legislation, stat. It's not unlike gun laws, really -- Americans can own as many steroids as they like, but it is government's job to make sure legions don't die from them. But I argue with some of Gerald's larger generalizations. To begin with, Bonds was not paid tens of millions of dollars because he's a role model. He's thrust into being a role model because some people (like me) have messed-up priorities and idiolize anyone genetically lucky enough to earn such a salary. At no point do owners give out contracts to nice guys over good players. Players are paid to hit, throw and run -- if they also happen to embrace the public, bully for them. If not, they're still gonna get paid. So enough with the "how could Bonds let down the kids" boo-hooing -- he never asked to be a role model, he has no intentions of living the life of a role model/saint and he shouldn't be expected to simply because his DNA is superior. We have to stop confusing the ideal and the reality.

Secondly, Jerry wants to cheat on his taxes because Bonds made cheating kosher. Well, cheating on taxes directly hurts others by limiting funds that go to all sorts of important causes and, as I've stated, Barry hasn't directly hurt a soul. But more importantly, this just isn't a slippery slope situation. When Clinton was getting hummers in the Oval Office, does Jerry really think that oral sex in this country skyrocketed? When Enron folded because of illegal bookkeeping, does Jerry think CEOs all over America rushed to open their own off-shore accounts? When the Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass scandals were brewing, does Jerry truly picture hordes of journalism-school kids snapping their fingers and saying, "Of course! Plagiarism!" I just don't see Bonds having the kind of effect others envision. Lastly, Jerry's "when we buy that ticket, we're paying for something with integrity" bit is totally hogwash, and he knows it. I've sat through dozens of baseball games with Jerry (although it's been way too long) and not once have we driven home from a real snoozer with him saying, "I liked it. There was a lot of integrity." We all root for our teams to do well, and if not that, then for the pitchers throwing gas, the bashers hitting 'em into the next county and the speedsters stretching everything into a triple. That's what we pay to see -- if some "integrity" happens to get into my fun at the ballpark, huzzah. But it's entertainment, highly religified entertainment. (Of course, when the players struck for more money in 1994, that was devoid of honor -- but that's a whole 'nother thing.)

Anyway, I didn't really get around to the points I initially wanted to make -- including that Bonds-haters should keep in mind last year, when after missing 150 games and allowing for the most rigorous testing in MLB history, he still hit an unworldly home run every eight at bats -- but I think I responded to the general notions floated by Jerry and the rest of the rabid jackals yipping themselves into a frenzy over the Chronicle reporters' revelations. I love baseball as much as the next guy (providing I'm standing next to Jerry and not Harry, that is) but I fail to see how we can all be so ashamed. When Mark McGwire became a muscle-bound home run machine, we loved him, but hated Bonds. So an insecure Bonds did what he thought we must want, and followed down McGwire's path. So who's really to blame, here? The answer, sports fans, is not black and white.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'd Call This One a Mixed Bag

Hamas' kids site is down. Good thing? Probably. Too many Palestinian children are betrayed by their own people who train them in hating Israelis, not in math, science or literature.

But let's be serious. The site was fucking awesome.

But She Told Me She Was On The Pill

Remember all those times you were banging some random chick who promised you she was on the pill, so you didn't wrap it up, but it turned out she really wanted you to be her baby's daddy? And then she made you pay child support so that she could use all her strip club tips for her coke habit? So you were forced to live on the street. And then you got the shit kicked out of you by some teenagers looking for a good time. But fortunately it was all caught on surveillance camera and they were arrested and forced to serve life in prison.

Right...well, good news!

Looks like the National Center for Men is on our side. In a case, nicknamed Roe v. Wade for Men, being filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan the National Center for Men is defending a 25-year-old computer programmer ordered to pay child support to his ex-girlfriend who got pregnant even though she told him she was unable to.

On behalf of all then men who went looking for a one night stand and ended up paying child support for 18 years, lets hope Mr. Roe wins this one.

Dear Congress: Get Tough on Steroids, Because Baseball Won't

I'm a very hurt fan. The man I have watched for countless hours, the baseball player I have cheered on for 13 years, the superstar who has made my jaw drop numerous times and carried my favorite team for half my life is a sham (and an asshole to top it off). It's not like I didn't know it was true -- I just didn't want to believe it. I took the ridicule from friends in college and I've stood up for him in arguments with friends at work. But yesterday, I couldn't say anything.

In a coming book excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated, Lance Williams and Mark Fainauro-Wada (both of The San Francisco Chronicle -- I've always been a proponent of that fabulous paper) apparently present irrefutable evidence that Barry Bonds did steroids habitually between 1998 and 2002. He took injections when his power numbers dropped off during the season and took a pharmacy's-worth of different kinds of drugs, even learning to inject himself, over the advice of his "trainers" and doctors. Basically, all the amazement was just a big farce.

Baseball officials (including the Giants' owners) noticed that Bonds and tens of other players were getting unnaturally bulky as the 1980s and '90s progressed, but they didn't ask any questions because they didn't want to bite the hand that was feeding them (or paying for their new ballpark). One could say that steroids rescued baseball from the strike and brought more fans into ballparks and in front of their TVs than anyone would have ever thought possible. And how could they have been expected to heed the moral call and blow the whistle? The fans (including me) were loving it, so why ask questions?

That's why Congress needs to step in and hold Major League Baseball to a higher standard. The United States government needs to send the message that steroids aren't the path to greatness -- they're a path to early death (see: Ken Caminiti and, likely, a number of other baseball players in the coming years). We can't trust the private market to do so -- it's already failed us on this one (and on any number of other moral quandaries). In the end, that's one of the government's basic jobs -- to stop the populace from things that are attractive but harmful to the people who do them and others. Sure, they held hearings about the issue last year and threatened to take action, but this time they must do something.

Baseball has a steroid testing system in place, but baseball officials' unwillingness to ask questions when it was readily obvious that something unnatural was going on with the game's biggest (figuratively and literally) sluggers makes me unable to trust that the program will be run thoroughly and fairly. The federal government should use the threat of taking away baseball's anti-trust exemption to enforce a rigorous, thorough anti-steroid program.

You may say lawmakers in Washington have much more important issues to deal with right now -- terrorism, rebuilding New Orleans, gutting programs that help poor people survive while helping the richest get richer -- but this arguably ranks up there. Professional sports stars set an example for hundreds of thousands of young athletes who need to be shown that you can't do something as dangerous (and fake) as steroids without serious immediate consequences (and without understanding the hidden, down-the-road consequences). One can easily broaden the fact that athletes set powerful examples to cheat in any other part of life -- if Barry Bonds can boost his stat-sheet by cheating on his muscles, why can't I boost my bottom line by cheating on my taxes? And finally, Americans spend billions of dollars on sports every day, and they pay for something with integrity (I know I'll get arguments on that one, but it's what I feel), to which steroids are antithetical.

I know my arguments are an anathema to some (see: Mr. Polkuote's post in a matter of hours), but I'm in too much pain to see the only reaction to obvious widespread steroid use be a nearly toothless MLB testing scheme.

Livin' On A Prayer

While I'm throwing hate on anything that smells like church-state comingling, it's worth noting a story in today's Washington Post on faith-based initatives that -- once again -- don't make a lick of sense.

The Post reports: President Bush ordered the Department of Homeland Security yesterday to create a center for faith-based and community initiatives within 45 days to eliminate regulatory, contracting and programmatic barriers to providing federal funds to religious groups to deliver social services, the White House announced last night ... Bush also called on the department by September "to identify all existing barriers ... that unlawfully discriminate against, or otherwise discourage or disadvantage the participation" of such groups in federal programs.

It's simply absurd that federal Homeland Security dollars would be used to subsidize religious groups. I know some churches do a lot of good in the community, but (not unlike the voucher concept) the policy is poor. These neighborhood religious groups historically do not coordinate well with FEMA and other federal political agencies. Isn't the better solution having local political experts -- in cities, counties and local emergency agencies -- better trained and more effectively relied on?

Voucher Hatred

I don't necessarily disagree with everything Jerry wrote, and so I won't waste our time going through point-by-point. Certainly the whole system needs a shake-up, and perhaps the best way to grab public education by the scruff of the neck and shake it is by offering alternatives. However, there are a few pieces Jer did not mention in his reasoned posting. Namely the fact that voucher programs offer nothing more than a lifeboat to the tiny percentage of students for whom vouchers will make the slightest difference.

First some minor bones to pick: With a vast number of private schools being religious in nature, one wonders how voucher advocates can sleep at night knowing they’re draining public tax-dollars for religious schools. They seem to forget the Lemon test, a standard created by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, government could not, in the justices’ words, “excessively entangle” in religious matters. And yet, in his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2005, President Bush pushed for a $50 million national program for children to -- as the AP puts it -- “attend private and religious schools at federal taxpayers’ expense.” A slight violation of the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause, methinks.

This proposal from Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige (who bizarrely labeled the nation’s largest public teacher union a “terrorist group” in 2004) sends an indubitable message that we are giving up on America’s public education efforts. No one denies that vouchers would assist a few kids, and assist them very, very, very well. But the grandeur of America lies in the fact that our national programs are for all people, regardless of ethnic background, academic ability or financial standpoint.

The troubling fact of private schools lies in the nomenclature -- they are “private” and thus allowed to discriminate on any variety of grounds. Private schools often reject applicants for low academic achievement or financial troubles, but that’s not the worst of it. Some of these institutions may promote agendas counter to our national ideal. Under a voucher system, the government may give public funds to subsidize schools run by culturally extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan or Islamic fundamentalists. Who’s to say that Brown v. Board of Education won’t be thrown out the window as our tax dollars are handed to deliberately segregated high schools?

Advocates argue that vouchers allow poor families to send their children to schools previously available. Alas, the truth suggests otherwise. The average $5,000 voucher would make little difference to most poor students facing some private schools’ tuition of over $10,000 a year. Advocates would fill private schools with middle-class students and a few of the best students from inner cities. Public schools would find themselves with fewer dollars to educate the poorest of the poor and the other students who, for whatever the reason, did not make the private-education cut. This scenario cannot be considered healthy for public education.

To say that vouchers pose a threat to an ethical and Constitutional code intrinsic to American democracy is only part of the argument. When all is said and done, they also make for weak public policy. I'll even note Milwaukee’s $75 million voucher program frequently used as a national model. Even if they've cleaned up most of their mess, as Jerry notes, Mandella Academy for Science and Math officials originally signed up more than 200 students who never enrolled. The principal still cashed $330,000 in state-issued tuition checks and bought himself and his staff Mercedez-Benzes. Also, the founder of another school -- one that received almost $3 million in voucher money over three years -- previously served, unbeknownst to parents, a decade-long term in prison for rape. (Unlike public schools, private school staffs and faculties do not have to undergo criminal background checks.)

Problems in voucher-accepting schools aren’t limited to Wisconsin. In 2000, the Cleveland Plain Dealer disclosed crises forcing at least four local schools to close. The paper verified that the Islamic Academy of Arts and Sciences housed students in an “unsafe building” and had a convicted murderer on its staff. A second school, Golden Christian Academy, had no real problem -- aside from a complete lack of teachers. (Students apparently watched lectures via videotape in a church basement.)

But here’s the truly terrifying part. These schools never have to describe or explain their methods or track pupil performance. There is no accountability, no grading rubric, no way to know if the students are being educated in any real fashion. This is akin to the federal government supplying NASA with millions of dollars and not asking for any status updates -- ever.

As should be expected, a few subtleties evade proponents of vouchers. For the sake of argument, let’s say that taxpayers fully fund tuition to these parochial schools. What about money for necessary books or uniforms? What about transportation for these poverty-stricken children, many of whom are from families without cars? What about the extra-curriculars that countless studies say are so important for young people’s growth?

This is not to mention the fact that private schools aren’t required to offer special education programs for children learning English, speech therapy or learning disabilities. Public schools have to adhere to guidelines that keep in mind all children’s concerns, but private schools are exempt from these codes. The point is this: Any proposal that purports to supply education choice to under-privileged children cannot ignore those things beyond tuition that bar many people from private education.

In conclusion (finally, I know), the response to our broken educational system is not to slap on a few band-aids and hope that does the trick. Siphoning badly needed resources from our public schools while we whistle a happy tune simply amounts to gross negligence.

But All The Cool Kids Are Doing Jihad

I don't speak Arabic, but this Hamas-sponsored kids site just doesn't seem right. I mean, jihad on horseback was so 200 years ago.

Some brief observations:
Since when did Palestine start looking like Wyoming? It's like they took that kid on the horse with the crazy-ass sword and put him in a scene from Oregon Trail.

Speaking of which, what's the deal with the kid on the horse with the crazy-ass sword? Kind of reminds me of this Mongolian soldier who greeted Bush on his recent trip to Asia.

And does that smiley face on the right side freak out anyone else? And click on the smiley face link. The doctor holding a hammer and saw kinda scares me. I mean, a doctor with a shot or a tongue depressor, fine. But who wants to think about a doctor sawing off the lower half of your leg? And more importantly, what's he going to do with that hammer?

We should, however, note the progressive nature of the site, which an Israeli news site observed "is egalitarian in its encouragement of martyrdom, with a prominently featured drawing of a religiously garbed girl" holding a sling shot. If Hamas has it their way, women won't be able to do much of anything, but at least they'll still be able to get their Jihad on.

Anyway, since I work for a "next-gen" political organization, I figured I might have some useful tips to help Hamas reach out to the next-generation of suicide bombers. So I decided to write a letter.

Dear Hamas,

If you're trying to get more young'uns into terrorism, you're gonna need to do a better job of making it cool. Take a note from my government: kids like surfing squirrels and space exploring cats. To make Jihad the hot new thing for the kiddies, you gotta go with something a little more in.

For example, those crazy shoes with the wheels in the back of the soles so you can walk or skate. I'm telling you, all the 10-year olds are wearing them. Strap a suicide bomb on a kid in those things and you have the perfect mix of utility and style.

Maybe you don't get the J. Crew catalogue over in the Gaza Strip, but March fashions are "inspired by the brilliant sunsets and rugged beauty of the American southwest." So this guy's gotta go. Try a tweed jacket, some worn-in blue jeans and a hot redhead at your side like this guy.

And where is my girl's ipod? No respectable 15-year old young co-ed would be without those white headphones dangling from her ears and "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" blaring from her Mini.

And lets be honest with ourselves. You like sex, I like sex and, yes, kids like sex too. So lets make this thing a little more risque. For example, replace the girl on the front page with 70 virgin hotties in low-cut, fitted, knee-length burqas. Email it out to the teenage boy targeted listserv, I guarantee, bombs won't be the only thing "exploding" that night.

I hope you find my suggestions helpful. While my work for you is pro-bono, I would not protest if you sent a few of them virgins my way so I could pro-bono them, if you get my drift (wink, wink. nudge, nudge. say no more, say no more?)


Note: If our Arabic speaking readers (CIA translators - you know who you are) could translate this shit, that'd be just dandy. Your assistance will be paid pro-bono (know whatahmean, know whatahmean?)