Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Arugula and Beer and "Elites"

Amanda Marcotte (who is apparently embroiled in some conflict over her book, but whatever) points to something that people seem to miss a bit.

Where do wine coolers sit on the elitism scale? Sure, they’re about as cheap and disgusting as you can get, more so than even Budweiser, but they are also known as girly drinks, and the slur of liberal elitism is just as much about feminizing someone as it is invoking class anxiety.

People, "elite" as it's being applied against Obama (or other Dems) has nothing to do with actual elitism. Real elites (hell, even the "real" stereotype) don't drink wine or beer necessarily; they drink expensive single-malt scotch. They don't eat arugula or NOT eat arugula... they eat whatever's trendy and expensive.

No, this is all about masculinity, and by that I mean "not gay". It's about what straight men supposedly do that gay men don't. "Real" men don't drink wine... gay men do! "Real" men don't pay attention to what they're men do! "Real" men know how to bowl... and gay men don't! "Real" men don't live in cities and drive hybrids! Gay men do!

(Real men drive pickup trucks and live on a "ranch", you see, though since not everybody can afford a ranch an overpriced, poorly made house in the exurbs will do in a pinch.)

When David Brooks et al are attacking Obama for being an "elitist", for drinking wine and eating arugula they're not saying he thinks he's above regular people. They're saying that he's womanish. They say he's fey. They say he wants to be "sodomized". They're calling him a "Batty-Man".

That's what this is about. "lol ur a fag" cleaned up for television. Nothing more.

Wright's Return

Digby isn't terribly impressed by Wright's comments.

I'm not either.
I have frankly been a little bit confused by the reaction to Reverend Wright's recent comments around the sphere and even here on this blog. I thought most people in the Netroots were big Obama supporters and yet they defend Reverend Wright, which I find rather surprising considering what he did.

It's true that after Obama's Philadelphia speech, I too defended Wright's sermons and even got a more positive sense of Barack Obama's worldview as a result of hearing what he'd said and listening to Obama's explanations for them. Other than a vague sense that he was something of a showboater, I was not hostile to to the man.

But Wright's latest round of media appearances have not seemed to me to be any kind of defense of liberalism or the black church or even Black Liberation Theology so much as one man's desire to deny a rival his destiny. This was personal and I find it very creepy.

John Amato shared some of my impressions:

Seeing Wright go on Moyers Friday night—at first, I didn’t understand why he’s doing this. Why did he need to come out now and use such loaded rhetoric that the media would pounce on? In the middle of a ugly primary race, he makes himself the story for another three news cycles. Then after I watched his National Press Club appearance, I wondered if he was actually trying to hurt Obama’s chances of winning even the primary because his ego wouldn’t allow him to hang back until December to have his say. It seems Obama has the same feelings.
And rightly so. Reverend Wright called into question the entire premise of Obama's campaign, a campaign built on changing the very nature of politics, when he said, "he did what politicians do." There was no need for him to speak out now except to gin up the controversy at the worst possible time. Any person of sensitivity would have at least waited until this tough, hard fought primary had ended. It was a self-aggrandizing, personal attack and it says something important about the man....

...Clearly [Obama] sees it as a betrayal and a deeply personal one. And so it was. So much so that I felt uncomfortable even watching it. Obama trusted Reverend Wright. As he pointed out, Wright had married him and Michelle, baptized their children, prayed with them over major events in their lives. Obama was very generous with him in his Philadelphia speech, offering a personal endorsement of his good character. And yet, knowing that Obama is fighting this ridiculous rumor about being a Muslim, Wright shows up at the National Press Club with bodyguards from the Nation of Islam and praises Farrakhan? Outrageous.
This all really doesn't seem to have an upside for anybody.

Wright looks like an asshole. Sorry for the language, but it's true. Had he said he understands Obama et al that'd be one thing, but his comments about Obama being "just a politician" are an asshole move of the highest order, one he's smart enough to understand the consequences of. Plus, by repeating the AIDS nonsense, he's lost all credibility. Foreign policy is debatable, as is white America's reaction to America's black churches, but the AIDS comments are beyond the pale. I had thought that these were remnants of past ignorance, long remedied. A bit too charitable, I suppose. He's getting fame, but it's more infamy than anything else.

(The sad thing is that the US Government is somewhat culpable for the spread of AIDS in that it ignored its existence and threat. But that's a more complex and difficult issue of rampant homophobia and ignorance; far easier to claim a conspiracy. Bit like the "truthers", that.)

Obama has to deal with this, and with the man he refused to "throw under the bus" doing the same thing back to him. There is a bit of an upside to it all, in that Obama can now repudiate the man without worrying about looking like a traitor, but the whole "20 years" thing has gained salience. Obama deserved credit for not willing to abandon a friend that he disagreed with; I still believe that, and always will. But he did, apparently, misjudge Wright's character.

Yet Clinton and McCain are now in tricky positions as well. Clinton has to play this very carefully. She's already on the verge of having to sacrifice the African-American and progressive communities if she wants the superdelegates to overturn Obama's near-insurmountable grassroots advantage. That would almost certainly cost her the election; the white middle class voters that she's counting on in the primary aren't likely to be overwhelming supporters in the general, and the ones that would vote for her are the ones who are almost certainly willing to vote for any Dem.

As for McCain, he has to deal with the reality of his own party's racial issues. Hit Wright too hard, and it will almost certainly embolden the racist, nativist elements in the party to come out in force. We're already starting to see hints of that, and they're already going to be pressing McCain to see just how much of a conservative he really is. While the black vote is already lost to the Republican, this could have an effect on OTHER minorities. If Obama is the nominee (as is still almost certainly the case) and the bleeding out of white Obama supporters is halted over the summer and fall, this could come back and bite McCain in the face. Remember, the press has a short attention span, and we've already seen their tendency to "build up and knock down". They haven't knocked down McCain yet, but he has to be aware of the possibility and plan for it.

Digby also brings up a really important point: that much of this is tied to the Dem's hamfisted attempt to wrap themselves up in religion. That was always a key part of Obama's campaign, one of the ones that I was never a huge fan of, and we've once again seen the Republicans pull the "strength into weakness" trick. But digby understands the broader point:
Amy Sullivan, one of the primary proponents of putting religiosity at the center of Democratic politics doesn't seem to know what to make of the problems Wright has caused for Obama. Apparently, she never considered the possible downsides of hewing so closely to religion that people think it's definitional. She and he friends didn't seem to realize that all the blather about secular Democrats was never about religion, but about social conservatism. You get no points for going to the "wrong kind" of church. You'd think they would have figured that out a long time ago.
Bolding mine. This continues to be the Dem's biggest weakness: they mistake methods for reasons. They see religion being used to attack Dems, and they think that the reason is because Dems aren't religious enough. So they emphasize their religion, and are surprised when it doesn't work. It doesn't work, though, because the reason has been, and always will be, to serve the interests of conservatism.

If they go to church? It's the wrong church. If they go to the right church? They pray the wrong way. They pray the right way? They're not "real" Christians because of disagreements with social conservative positions on issues.

The Dems need to figure out that they can't win this game. Not at this point. Not when the Republicans have become so very good at it. Obama can't win it, Clinton can't win it, Kerry couldn't win it, nobody can win it.

The only way to win is not to play; to ignore the snipes, build your own narrative, and run with that. Sure, you should respond, but not with "nuh-uh, I AM good enough, see?" You'll never be good enough for them. Riposte their attacks and hit back on all the things that they are terrible at.

With Republicans? That's pretty easy.

Problematic Analysis

I'm normally a big fan of Feministing. And I'm a committed supporter of feminism.

But as someone who's also a committed supporter of interactive gaming as an art form, may I simply suggest that anybody not willing to even consider the thought of playing a game like GTA4 refrain from throwing out any and all attacks that might occur to them after watching one clip? Especially of a "free-form" game that specializes in extremely dark humor?

After all, someone who had ever played a game ever might know that games have, yes, had female protagonists. Sometimes, they're even violent. Someone who had played a GTA game might also know that the characters are deliberate comedic caricatures, whether male or female, and that the series has featured female characters who are just about as developed as their male counterparts. (Though, again, they are all caricatures played for comedic effect, as anybody would figure out after about, oh, five seconds of playing the game.)

The commentariat there are a bit more divided, though again between the "I've actually played one of these games" group and the "I'd never touch it, clearly it's sexist trash, though I'm not sure what they're about other than hookers." A few people started yelling about all the rape (which the game has never contained in any way, shape, or form) or killing children (there are no children or animals in any of the games, for obvious reasons.)

Again, as a committed supporter of feminism, it really bothers me that people would harm the movement by reinforce the most negative stereotypes about its supposed humorlessness, hypersensitivity, and unwillingness to engage with the subject of its critiques. And I know for damned sure that loud-mouthed, ignorant jeremiads against gaming isn't going to do anything to close the abyss between the feminist movement and the growing number of Americans who play electronic games.

(Though I will say one thing: We've definitely hit the point where a GTA-style open world game should have a female protagonist. It'd be a tough sell in a series focusing on the hyper-masculinized and -sexist world of organized crime, but it's certainly possible.)

It's not that I don't think that there might be troubling elements to modern gaming. But the feminist critique of GTA4 smacks right into the wall that I see all the time: substituting easy criticism of what doesn't exist, for a complex critique of what does.

Hat tip: the somewhat NWS "Reverse Cowgirl", who thought the whole thing was a hill of crap, though for far more complex reasons.

Edit: Here's a good example of what I'm talking about. From one of the commentators on Feministing:

As an aside, there's a new competitor to World of Warcraft coming out, Warhammer Online, that limits the classes that male and female players can be. This makes absolutely no sense, and is one of the reasons I won't be buying it.

Here's the response:

That stinks about Warhammer. I don't know why they can't try to make things at least a bit more neutral. I mean if I can't be a female character, at least try not to have all the female characters in the game be damsels in distress or prostitutes with no names.
Warhammer is a fantasy game, from an established fantasy setting. Said setting includes several species with no female gender (Orcs, specifically), others who are beings of pure destruction of no gender whatsoever ("Chaos" beings), and one where only females can join a certain group of murderous savages, and said group consists of one of the classes (the Dark Elves' "Witch Elves").

Now, there's something to be said for a critique of a setting like this, though Warhammer has been around for longer than the blog's author, and sexism in medieval societies is kind of a given. But the game designers actually had very good reasons to restrict genders for some of the classes. But instead of taking all of three minutes to google up this "Warhammer" thing and find out why these restrictions existed, there was this jump to "ooh, that's terrible" and unthinking agreement.

Yes, these are just two posters in a long thread, and a later poster set them straight. But they're just an easy example. There are lots of others.

Next Edit:

The best one? The person saying "It's not like this game has any structured plot with a complex resolution like a book or a movie. So let's cut the crap." Actually, that's exactly what it's like, why the game has received universal plaudits for its "surprising narrative richness", and why you don't have the choice of protagonists.

Tomb Raider and Metroid Prime don't give you the choice of being male, and GTA4 doesn't give you the choice of being female, precisely because they do have a "structured plot with a complex resolution."

(Shortly thereafter, somebody trotted out Craig Anderson.)

Honestly, the only useful thing that came out of the whole discussion, and almost any discussion of this, is that Rockstar needs to put a female protagonist in a future GTA game. I'm wholeheartedly in favor of that, and of said female protagonist being able to do all the nasty things the male protagonists can do in the current games. Fair's fair. Get to it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama's Running Mate!

Well, not really. But he, and everybody else, was inspired by the passion of Jean Weiss, 82, who told him:

"Don't hit on Hillary," Weiss advised, "Bring us all back. Let her do that stuff. Leave her alone, you don't need to do that. You are higher than that."

The video's all over Youtube.

Also DailyKos.

(He did answer her question about water, by the way. Just not on the video.)

In the Interests of Fairness

I'm thoroughly in agreement with Kos that Obama's Fox News appearance was dumb, dumb, dumb. They're going to pocket the victory and keep on attacking their asses off.

Still, it's odd that Kos would use language this vehement:

Brilliant! Fox ignores the entire interview, except the part that gives them permission to keep harping on Wright. Boy, no one could've predicted that! Note that while Fox itself ignored the bulk of their interview of the likely Democratic nominee on a show that supposedly covers the campaign, they did have time to show Bush pretending to conduct a military band and McCain saying healthcare was too expensive (because what ... he cares?).

Success! But of course, Obama's appearance was a great thing because nothing Obama does can be questioned by mere mortals!

Whatever. Stupid move, and in the end, ends up legitimizing the network while they continue spending their every waking moment trashing his very existence.

Is Moulitsas a little bit disenchanted with the Senator from Illinois, perhaps?



Hillary enjoys the hell out of it. Taibbi:

But of the three candidates, no one can touch Hillary Clinton for her expertise in dispensing federal pork. She is fast becoming a sort of Heavyweight Earmark Champion of the Beltway -- one think-tank analyst has even dubbed her the "Queen of Pork" -- who excels as a favor trader not only in sheer quantity but in brazenness as well. A recent examination of this year's earmark requests shows her solidifying her champion status more and more with each passing year, even under the ostensibly bright lights of a presidential campaign...


Hillary's defense earmarks benefited some of the world's largest weapons producers, many of which have factories in New York. Among the most prominent include Northrop Grumman, which Hillary singled out for $6 million to develop a new radar system; Plug Power, for whom Hillary secured $3 million for a backup power system for Pentagon operations; and Telephonics, which Hillary gave $5 million for an intercom system for Black Hawk helicopters.

Her biggest coup of all was a multi-billion-dollar contract she helped to secure for Lockheed Martin to build the Marine One presidential helicopter -- a project derided by insiders as a typical example of Pentagon waste. "Oh, the presidential-helicopter thing is a classic boondoggle," says one congressional source. "They could have taken any old Black Hawk helicopter, put a nice interior in it and a decal on it, and it would've been OK. Instead, we got this thing that costs four times as much. It's nuts." Indeed, the Pentagon confirmed in March that the helicopter Hillary made sure would be built at Lockheed's plant in Owego, New York, would, in fact, cost $400 million per unit -- more than the modified Boeing 747 used as Air Force One. You heard right: $400 million for a single fucking helicopter.

With most of her earmarks, Clinton makes sure to get a return on her investment of taxpayer money. Lockheed donated $10,000 to Hillary's Senate campaign in 2006 and provided her with plenty of free rides on its planes. Plug Power officials have reportedly donated some $7,100 to her campaigns since 2003, and several Northrop executives gave the max to her presidential campaign. In that light it seems odd that Hillary was critical of a deal to award a refueling tanker project to Northrop -- except that she has also received maximum contributions from executives at the rival bidder, Boeing. Meanwhile, employees from Corning, for whom Hillary secured a $1 million earmark, donated $133,000 to her presidential campaign. The list goes on and on.

But Hillary's most brazen earmark this presidential-election season had nothing to do with defense. It had to do, oddly enough, with rock music. Back in June 2007, Hillary attempted to write a $1 million earmark for a museum commemorating the Woodstock festival in Bethel, New York. Not that anyone should have anything against Woodstock, but it seems weird to ask taxpayers to pay for it -- especially when the project is principally funded by one of America's richest men, a media mogul named Alan Gerry. Listed as number 297 on the annual Forbes list of wealthy Americans, Gerry reportedly has a net worth of $1.6 billion. Beyond the fact that he hardly needs the money, there is this to consider: On June 30th of last year, exactly three days after the earmark was officially inserted into an appropriations bill, Gerry and his wife both made maximum donations to Hillary's presidential campaign, totaling $9,200.

The deal stank, even by congressional standards. When Republican opponents introduced an amendment to kill the earmark, the measure passed easily. "Most of our amendments fail by fifty or sixty votes," says John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, an anti-earmark crusader who introduced the amendment to kill the handout. "But this one passed with no problem. It was so over-the-top.
Not that McCain is exactly innocent of big ol' earmarks. The man was part of the Keating 5, for heaven's sake.

To be fair, Obama's also caught up in it:

Hillary isn't alone among the candidates in selling us down the river for a few campaign contributions. Unlike Clinton, who has only disclosed the pork she actually succeeded in doling out, Barack Obama has supplied reporters with a list of every earmark he requested. But the list only served to highlight Obama's own pork, including $8 million for a "High Explosive Air Burst Technology Program" that would have been overseen by General Dynamics. Obama's Illinois finance chairman, James Crown, not only sits on the board of General Dynamics, he and his wife are both Obama bundlers who have raised more than $200,000 for Obama's campaign. Obama was also alone among the remaining candidates last year in using his leadership PAC to hand out money to politicians whose support he sought in his presidential run.
Yep, he's got earmarks too. It's how you become and stay a Senator.

But this gets to the Clinton strategy of being part of the machine, co-opting it to their purposes, and "playing the game." Well, kids, this is the game. This is how it's played: big ol' defense earmarks that move billions of dollars of contracts around in order to get a couple hundred thousand dollars in bundled campaign contributions.

I'm not saying you shouldn't recognize it. But I am inclined to look unfavorably on someone who wraps themselves up in it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another Open Letter to the LPoC (Bloggers Edition)

Dear Liberal Bloggers:


Going over my RSS reader, I'm noticing a shocking lack of, well, shock. This is one of the worst weeks in the Conservative Party's post "progressive" history, and the perfect moment to sink the knives in and give happy, gleeful twists... and yet what do I see?

Ruminations about Albertan budgets!

Apologies for minivans!

Bits on Earth Day!

And bits on Colbert from last week!

And all this while they're so off message that a bunch of Conservatives are pathetically whining about the raiding cops "pushing their way in" and wearing Flak jackets!

For all the crap that Cherniak takes--especially from me--at least he's been on the ball on all this.

Do you think Kos would stand for this? NO! Do you think Digby would stand for this? NO! Do you think those "Bloggin' Tories" would stand rest on their hideously enlarged knuckles for this?


They'd be making all kinds of fun insinuations and accusations and jokes and barely disguised "analysis" that all amounts to "hah, hah, your guy's a loser and he's going to end up dying alone in a gutter!" That's what you need! That's what you want!


(Regards, that one person with the historical/fictional pseudonym.)

Two Other Observations:

First: There seems to be a bit of a disconnect in how people are looking at voting. They're focusing on whether or not groups will vote against Obama in the general by looking at whether they're voting against him in the primary.

But that's wrong. People do vote against candidates, but they also vote for them. Anybody who voted for Hillary and not against Obama will likely vote Obama in the fall. And anybody who did vote against Obama may well vote against McCain in the fall, as they dislike McCain more than Obama.

That's why you can't claim that the primary results show that Obama is alienating anybody, as opposed to Clinton attracting them for whatever reason. The basic mechanics of voting simply don't work like that.

Second: I don't want to get all postmodernist, but the American media is Othering the HELL out of blacks at this point. Everybody's looking at working-class blue-collar white men and whether or not they're likely to support Obama in the primary in, say, Indiana... but North Carolina's blacks are completely written off in the coverage. "Well, they're black, we don't need to even pay attention to their votes" is the order of the day. This despite the fact that any Democratic candidate is going to need their votes more so than the vanishingly small number of true swing-voters that fit that blue-collar male demographic.

(If Republicans didn't attract blue-collar males who weren't already Democratic for economic reasons, there wouldn't be a Republican party. Obama's would have a hard time erasing that advantage, but Hillary "Hillarycare" Clinton wouldn't have a prayer. Sorry, but she wouldn't.

Speaking of Hacks, it's ABC!

Yep, ABC, the "all 'bout Clinton" network, which has written a lovely little hit-piece on Obama called "Why Can't Obama Close the Deal?" Filled with suppositions, Clintonista quotes, and grade-A bovine digestive byproducts, it omits a simple question:

"If not Obama, then who?"

ABC (and others, who seem to be fully off Obama at this point) are focusing on Obama's various weaknesses with the "heartland". You know, the "heartland?" That part of America (supposedly) filled with low-brow whites that media types are completely unfamiliar with and thus lionize all the more?

It's nonsense if you look at it over time, his numbers have been improving with these demographics, but it's not important.

Here's what is. If not Obama, then who? Well, that's easy. Clinton.

And Hillary Clinton has been getting an easy, easy ride from the media these days. Even with that stupid Bosnia thing, they aren't asking the real question, which is what her weaknesses are. And yes, she has them, and people acknowledge it, but her main weakness is something they don't discuss: the convention itself.

It's been said before, but it bears repeating: she cannot win the pledged delegates. The Democratic primary system simply doesn't work like that. Screw the "math" line, people's eyes glaze over if you use that word, just acknowledge that she can't win the pledged delegates. The only way she can win is if the superdelegates override the pledged delegates.

And that would be disastrous. Everybody knows that. Nobody will admit it who isn't already in the Obama camp, but that would be disastrous. She'd be seen as illegitimate. She'd be seen as someone who couldn't even beat Obama. She'd be seen as everything negative about the Dems, with the media leading the charge.

(That's something she doesn't get. Every "strength" she has against Obama will become a weakness against McCain. The demos she wins against Obama would be automatically put in the "Maverick" camp by the media during the general. Even if she can win them, it will be portrayed as a weakness by the gatekeepers. And the "experience" and "judgement" arguments will be a bloodbath. That's one of the reasons Obama's a stronger candidate- he has answers to his deficiencies on those. She doesn't.)

In the wake of the convention, the Dems would fall apart. Blacks would stay home, and probably never come back. Progressives would stay home or go Green. Fundraising would flatten. Some bloggers would half-heartedly support the party, but would have received their own "fuck you" from the party as well. Many would probably bail out; not necessarily going Green, but focusing on local races and ignoring the presidential elephant in the room. The volunteer numbers would crater. It'd be a disaster. Clinton would lose, the 2008 advantage would be squandered, and the various factions in the party would blame each other for the loss.


Sorry, but it is. By ignoring this ABC (and the rest) are lying to you by omission. We can't compare Obama against some platonic Democratic ideal, and we can't compare him against Hillary in a race that wasn't already decided. If Hillary had remained the frontrunner from the beginning, it'd be an entirely different scenario. If this were still a primary race, it'd be different too.

It's not.

I'm not totally comfortable with Obama's policies, and I do think he made some mistakes in Pennsylvania, though not as many as the barking idiots seem to believe. But the decision is clear, as much as ABC and its ilk is trying to hide it. It's Obama, or it's mutually assured destruction. Those are the choices.

Choose wisely.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There's a Scent in the Air

Anybody else scenting the delicious aroma of, well, giant hack?

Seems to be coming from over here.

Yep, when faced with a controversy between the Conservative Party of Canada and Elections Canada, an unbiased election body that's probably the single thing that America most needs to copy from the poutine-and-back-bacon crowd, who is she betting on?

The CPC.

Look, I know you have a big stake in Harper's continued success, because you'd rather chew glass than have Stephane Dion as the Prime Minister. I know the spectacle of Steve-o and his crew getting caught up in a scandal arguably as bad as the Liberal one you've been riding for years is a disaster scenario. And I know you want to say that if Harper and his minions get a majority then they'll change the government enormously.

But seriously:

Over the past decade, Elections Canada has gone from election watchdog to arbiter of Canada's democratic life, taking on a more central role in every aspect of federal electoral politics, including the leadership campaigns of the various parties. It has never been easier for a politician to run afoul of its regulations.

But in this affair, its moral authority is on the line.

By calling in the RCMP to assist them in executing a warrant against the governing party, election officials had to know that they were hanging the Conservatives out to dry, creating a perception of guilt that will not be easily dissipated and a sense of wrongdoing that may yet not live up to the facts.

Having forced his way into the filing cabinets of the governing party, elections commissioner William Corbett has now staked his credibility on building an airtight case.

Not only is this piece flagrant goalpost-moving that would give Sully pause in his Bush-loving heyday, but it shows that you actually agree with the contention that the scandal is somehow a little legal conflict between "Elections Canada" and "The Tories", instead of what it actually is: an investigation of election cheating.

And there's more.

But that's not even necessarily the worst-case scenario. Should the Conservatives take a hit at the ballot box on account of this affair and it then turns out that Elections Canada was not able to make a winning case against them, the episode would leave an indelible black mark on the agency's reputation.
This is like saying that the police shouldn't execute search warrants because they might not be able to make a case. Wait, no. That is exactly what she's saying.

And as for the moral aspect of Harper being caught cheating, but getting out on a technicality and an unbiased regulatory body receiving a "black mark", and what that would mean for democracy in both Canada and abroad? Or even the slightest word about the ethical implications of the subject of the investigation? Not a blessed word. That might mean the Liberals win a few seats in Quebec!


Sweet Mollycoddling Crapola

Krugman just justified his damned blog right here:

Nordhaus, among other things, wrote a hostile review of Jay Forrester’s World Dynamics, which led to the later Limits to Growth. The essential story there was one of hard-science arrogance: Forrester, an eminent professor of engineering, decided to try his hand at economics, and basically said, “I’m going to do economics with equations! And run them on a computer! I’m sure those stupid economists have never thought of that!” And he didn’t walk over to the east side of campus to ask whether, in fact, any economists ever had thought of that, and what they had learned. (Economists tend to do the same thing to sociologists and political scientists.The general rule to remember is that if some discipline seems less developed than your own, it’s probably not because the researchers aren’t as smart as you are, it’s because the subject is harder.
Bolding is mine, because it's the good bit. The attitude of economists towards other social scientists has always intensely annoyed me; figuring out how one divvys up the resources is relatively easy to compute compared to, say, social dynamics. Yet we get the spectacle of economists trying to "explain it all" using logic that would cause helpless gales of laughter in anybody familiar with the fields in question.

(That's why I've never been totally impressed by Levitt, by the by. His books are an interesting read, but I wouldn't bet the farm on 'em.)

In any case, kudos to the Professor for not acting like, well, every other economist in the world. Nice change.

Edit: Ahahahaha I hadn't read his latest column yet.

Nine years ago The Economist ran a big story on oil, which was then selling for $10 a barrel. The magazine warned that this might not last. Instead, it suggested, oil might well fall to $5 a barrel.

In any case, The Economist asserted, the world faced “the prospect of cheap, plentiful oil for the foreseeable future.”

Last week, oil hit $117.

Oh Economist editors, you're such lovable hacks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shifting Goalposts

Remember when Hillary needed to win Penn. by 20% to stay? And then remember when she needed to win it by 10% to stay in? Well, now the various networks are saying "SHE WON! THEREFORE SHE'S STILL IN!"

Look. Folks. I know you want this to keep going. I know that the second the Dem primary ends you lose all those easy stories. But come on. Unless the margin widens, she's not going to beat the percentage she was supposed to beat to stay in.

Get the fork.

Edit: Or perhaps not? She won by about 10%, and that was the expected margin. I'm still not seeing a path to victory here--I truly doubt that Hillary supporters will switch to McCain en masse were Obama the nominee--but the slugfest may continue.

Re-Edit: The Obama spin, courtesy of Kos:
To: Interested Parties

Fr: The Obama Campaign

Re: A fundamentally unchanged race

Da: 4/22/08

Tonight, Hillary Clinton lost her last, best chance to make significant inroads in the pledged delegate count.

The only surprising result from Pennsylvania is that in a state considered tailor-made for Hillary Clinton that she was expected to win, Barack Obama was able to improve his standing among key voter groups since the Ohio primary. For example, among white voters, Obama narrowed the gap with Clinton by six points. Among voters over 60, he nearly cut the gap in half, from 41 points to 24 points. And Independent voters – the group that will decide the general election and a group Obama is particularly strong with – were not able to vote in Not surprisingly, she led by as much as 25 points in the weeks leading up to the election.

As he has done in every state, Barack Obama campaigned hard to pick up as much support and as many delegates as possible and was able to stave off Clinton from achieving a significant pledged delegate gain from Pennsylvania.

The bottom line is that the Pennsylvania outcome does not change dynamic of this lengthy primary. While there were 158 delegates at stake there, there are fully 157 up for grabs in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries on May 6.

And that's it, isn't it? Network spin aside, Penn. wasn't supposed to be a win, it was supposed to be a stomping. It wasn't anything of the sort. And since I assume that the "not able to vote in Not surprisingly..." bit was SUPPOSED to say that Independents couldn't vote in the Dem primary, this really was Hillary's to win, and puts the lie to the "independent minded Hillary supporter" line popular on CNN right now. Hillary's the candidate of the machine, the machine is very much operational in Penn. and it did its job.

Nothing wrong with that, but the real story is that Hillary didn't do better.

Re-Re-Edit: Hmm...according to the Penn. election site, the spread is actually 54.3% to 45.7%. Rounding the former down and the latter up, you get a 54-46 spread, or 8%. Double digits that ain't. Networks don't care, and Hillary's going to keep on going, but it's something to consider.

So! Pennsylvania

The choice is yours. (Well, was yours. Not sure when the polls close.)

Your first choice is a Senator who, apparently, has a dismally dysfunctional organization, blew an early lead, is overblowing her experience, and almost has no shot of winning... but continues to battle it out anyway. Assuming she isn't poisoning the well, you have to respect that.

Your other choice is another Senator who is a ridiculously good speaker, a somewhat weaker debater, has a few friends that perhaps, well, don't display the media savvy that one would prefer, is preciously naive about moral hazard in health care, and has rhetoric about uniting America that, unfortunately, brings to mind Grover Norquist's dictums about date rape.

Have fun.

(Then again, either of them is preferable to the guy that calls his wife a c--t in public. SCREW that guy.)

Dear Stephane Dion...

Good Job.

"The allegation is that the Conservative party cheated at the last election... tried to cover it up after and (were) caught," Dion told reporters in Montreal.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe called the prime minister "a control freak" for a weekend attempt by the Tories to leak details of the allegations to select reporters in advance of Monday's court-ordered release...

...Dion said the money could have influenced the outcome of the January 2006 election, which saw the Grits ousted from power and the Tories form a minority government.

"Yes, it may have had an effect," Dion said. "We'll never know for sure, but you don't cheat for nothing. You cheat because you want to have an effect. You want to have more voters for you in an illegal way."

Well done.

You too, Jason.

Remember kids: "Cheat" early, and "cheat" often.

"The First 21st-Century Campaign"

That's what the National Journal is calling Clinton/Obama. Or maybe even just Obama, as Clinton seems a bit behind:
More fundamentally, this transformation may be changing the model of what it takes to succeed in presidential politics. Since the first televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, and the rise of the 30-second TV commercial later in that decade, the ability to communicate effectively on television has arguably been the key to winning the White House; a close second has been the ability to tap big donors for the money to air plenty of TV ads. Those traits remain enormously valuable today.

But now the ability to inspire large numbers of supporters to work on your behalf—by contributing financially, participating in outreach programs organized by the campaign, or informally talking to friends and family—is joining and, perhaps, eclipsing those television-inspired skills in importance. The change is still incipient, but the unprecedented scale of the Clinton-Obama race suggests that presidential politics may be moving from the television-based network era to an Internet-based networked era in which candidates who can attract and inspire vast networks of supporters will enjoy potentially decisive advantages over those who cannot.

Many observers in both parties think that Obama has seized the advantage over Clinton and moved to the brink of winning their party’s nomination largely because he has aligned his campaign with the bottom-up principles of the networked era, while Clinton initially sought to run a more traditional, top-down campaign. Obama’s success against a rival who began the race with overwhelming advantages by most customary yardsticks—name identification, support from elected officials, and the backing of an established nationwide roster of donors—may go down in history as the tipping point in the way that presidential campaigns are organized and executed.

“I actually believe the Clinton campaign will be the last top-down campaign on the Democratic side,” says Joe Trippi, the veteran Democratic organizer who ran Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 and John Edwards’s effort this year. “Candidates are going to come into this understanding that they’ve got to figure out ways to be a bottom-up campaign and to make people understand that, ‘yes, you have a voice, and I want you to use your voice.’ ”

The concrete elements of this are familiar to most SotH and blog readers in general; online social networking, blogging, small online donations, etc. I'm not convinced that this is new, as I agree with Yglesias that Dean was doing a lot of this back in 2004. But Obama's people have married it with other campaigning techniques that Dean hadn't, including some that didn't really exist yet. Facebook and YouTube were around in 2004, but they weren't the behemoths we see today.

Plus, there's one other factor you can't ignore: Obama has pretty much sewn up the nomination, barring a fantastic reversal. Dean used these techniques, but Obama is winning with them. Can't argue with that.

What grabs me about this whole thing is that it may well diminish the importance of television. If it does that, then politics as a whole might be better off. A political landscape that has less to do with silly attack ads, immense lobby dollars and media consultants than activist social networking and small citizen donations? Oh HELL yes, give me some of that.

(And here's another open letter to the Liberals, because I do enjoy these. You functioned as a nearly activist-free, base-free, brokerage party of power for decades. You did it because that's how politics worked. Guess what? That's now officially irrelevant. That base you've been famously neglecting are the only ones who can rescue you.

Not the various former leadership candidates who are still jockeying for power. Not new advertising strategies. Not a new policy document. Certainly not Whatzisname and his 20th century attitudes towards 21st century technology. Nope. You need that base, and you have to give them a reason to care. The Conservative base cares. The NDP base cares. The Bloc base cares. What about yours?)

It's Primary Day!

Vote early and vote often, Pennsylvanians.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Open Letter to the Canadian Liberals:

Because, hey, I like liberals.


Use that word. Whenever you're talking about the In 'n Out scandal, the lawsuits, the breaking of elections law... say they "cheated".

Saying "defraud" and "mislead" and "misdirected" and whatnot isn't going to hit the public where they live. It isn't going to make them feel that what happened was wrong. No, it's cheat all the way. Everybody knows what cheating is, and everybody was taught as a child that cheating is wrong. Don't fight that. USE it.

Say "they cheated". "They are being investigated for cheating". "Elections Canada says they cheated'. If in question period, ask about why they thought they could "cheat and get away with it". Yes, acknowledge that there's a lawsuit and whatnot, but let's face it- if they could sue you, they would have already, big ten-dollar words or no.

They said the same thing about you with that advertising nonsense. So throw it right back in their faces, the big cheaters.

Edit: Or, if you want to get cute...

"I'm not saying they cheated...."

"We need to fully investigate this possible cheating..."

"Some people would call this cheating..."

"Don't you want the public to be confident that their government didn't cheat?"

"investigation for possible cheating..."

And so on. If you can't out-and-out say "cheat", dance around "cheat". As long as the word "cheat" ends up in there somewhere, that's what people will focus on. In fact, using a bunch of long obtuse words might help there, because people will fixate on the shortest, clearest, sharpest word. You want that word to be "cheat".

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's Not That I'M Saying that Obama's a Terrorist...

"It's just that the Republicans will say he's a terrorist".

Yes, that's apparently the new Clinton Strategy. A supporter of hers (considering the tight command and control in her campaign, that means her) is circulating an essay hauling out all the connections Obama supposedly has with former members of the Weather Underground. Here's TPM:
A high-ranking labor supporter of Hillary Clinton is distributing to union leaders and to Democratic strategists a document detailing the radical activities of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, two former members of the '70s group the Weather Underground, who decades later, in Chicago, crossed paths with Barack Obama.

The document - a three-page emailed essay by Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Association of Machinists as Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) -- takes both literary and political license to
outline what Sloan believes would be the thrust of a hypothetical Republican campaign against Obama focusing on his tangential connection to Ayers and Dohrn.

The goal of the essay appears to be to discredit Obama as the
prospective Democratic presidential nominee.

[Huffington Post link.]
I think we can safely say that there's a bit of coordination going on here. Hannity hauls out this nonsensical talking point, and then a few scant days later Clinton backers are putting out detailed essays on the subject? Um, no.

No, I'm smelling scorched earth here.

She can't win the nomination. That much is clear. He's too close, he's too bulletproof, and she's simply not up to the job of beating him or anybody else. Had she been willing to marry her "fightin' attitude" with real consistent progressivism when she was a Senator, that'd be different; she'd be the female Edwards, and quite probably unstoppable. But she tried to have it both ways: she tried to play the centrist to position herself for the general, and tried to play the fightin' Dem to position herself for the primary.

Against other inconsistent candidates without the push of history behind them, it might have worked. It doesn't work against Obama, though, because he's done the logical thing, marrying relatively centrist policies with "not left, not right, but American" rhetoric. I don't necessarily agree with it. I never have. But it works, in a way her bit didn't, because he had the ability to sell it hard. And he could probably carry it into the General. And she knows it.

So she's trying to kill the candidacy. Yes, ok, it's not absolutely certain that that's what's going on. But considering how her supporters are hauling out barely-disguised Republican attacks, the sort of stuff that Clinton would consider completely illegitimate under any other circumstances, what else am I supposed to think? Sure, Obama's online supporters have been obnoxious at times, but trying to tie Obama to the Weather Underground and Hamas? You'd have to have Obama people unironically claiming that Hillary killed Vince Foster to get to that point, and that simply ain't happening.

And if she still thought she would win, she'd be hesitant to pull out this sort of thing. Why? The general. While the Republicans will probably throw the kitchen sink at any and every Dem, the Dems can get a fair bit of traction by saying that said attacks are typical insane Republican nonsense. The electorate is very much sick of it, and the Republicans will almost certainly go over-the-top in their attacks, which provides an opportunity for counter-attacks that might well get more traction.

But now Hillary can't counter-attack at all. She's wrapped herself up in mudslinging. Yes, she claims she can handle it better than anyone else, but she can't. Nobody does mudslinging better than the Republicans. Nobody. Even though she's a manifestly better candidate than McCain (really, she is) she'd get slaughtered. And she knows it. So why throw everything and anything at Obama, leaving herself totally open during the general?

Because she doesn't care about winning anymore. It's possible that this is just a last desperate bid for the nomination because she truly believes that Obama cannot possibly win, but that's pretty unlikely, and why ruin what small shot he does have and any possible influence with his administration she could curry?

No, at this point, she just wants to see the bastard lose. She'll play ball with the Republicans, throw every charge she can think of, play any sort of game, to see the speechifying bastard eat his words and regret having ever messed with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After all, she's always talking about how she's good at fixing things, right? Well, now we know.

She'll fix him, but good.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Fox News probably shouldn't have interviewed this guy. It, er, didn't go well.


Friday, April 18, 2008


Edwards was fantastic last night on Colbert, by the way. Obama was ok, Hillary was kind of stilted (clearly not used to this kind of thing), but Edwards nailed it. The EdWords was the funniest thing in the whole Philly series, and that series was pretty good.

The Public is Displeased

Is ABC's failure complete? Well, we know that the bloggers are up in arms over the ridiculous debate on Wednesday. Sure, the wingnuts are happy, but they'd be happy if all the questions were "why do you love Satan, Osama, and Marx so much?" They can be safely ignored.

The media appears to be ticked, too. I had wondered whether they'd let it go in order to defend their own, but once a few voices started saying "this is terrible", I think everybody realized that a pile-on was going to happen, so they commenced with the piling-on. Self-fulfilling prophecies are occassionally kind of nice that way.

But what about the public? Well, Brooks argued (in his typical insipid, insulting way) that the public was all for it, because they care about character issues. That would be a fair point, if what ABC was badgering the candidates on were legitimate character issues. They aren't. He knows they aren't, but he knows the side his bread is buttered on, and knows that his job is to attack Obama now. So he does it. Still, he does raise the question: does the public care?

Well, care of Glenn, we have an answer:

Here is one poll in which the Philadelphia Daily News asked its readers what they thought of the way the ABC debate was conducted:

I don't know how reliable the polling method was, but still, that's rather decisive -- 85% said the debate was either "disappointing" or "terrible" due to its focus on petty matters. It's the exact opposite of what their self-anointed Spokesman, David Brooks, claimed they believe.
Yeah, so despite Brooks' frantic (and lonely) spinning, the public clearly saw it as nonsense too. Which makes sense; while "character" might matter in situations like the 1990s where prosperity and peace reigned, these days there are gigantic problems out there and they're pretty worried.

Even 2004 wasn't that goofy an election. Bush won partially because of the gay marriage thing, but he also won because of a very real perception of insecurity, and Republicans' control of that issue. That doesn't mean the public is all of a sudden going to start voting based on flag pins.

I know Brooks has a job to do, and people to please (hint: not his NY Times editors), but he should probably let this go.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thought So

Blogotopia (c/o Skippy!) is about as outraged as I was expecting, with probably the best castigation of the miserable performance by Gibson 'n Co last night belonging to Greenwald.

Last night was a perfect microcosm of how our political process works. The Right creates stupid, petty personality-based attacks to ensure that our elections aren't decided on issues (where they have a decisive disadvantage). Media stars -- some due to sloth, some due to ideology, some due to an eagerness to please the Right and convince them how Good and Fair they are -- eat up the shallow trash they're fed and then spew it out relentlessly, ensuring that our political discourse is overwhelmed by it, our elections dictated by it. That happens over and over. It's how our media and our elections function. Last night was just an unusually transparent and particularly ugly expression of it.
No doubt.

But the big question was whether or not ABC would succeed in turning the attention on to Obama, instead of themselves. It was always a gamble to run such a ridiculous debate. If they got away with it they'd get controversial footage and lots of cred with the wingnuts who feed on this sort of thing. If they got called out, it could be a serious embarrassment.

The gamble didn't come out. When you've got Time Magazine castigating your questions as moronic and your moderator for having only a faint grasp of elementary logic, you've got serious problems. Whiny rightists aside, Time isn't exactly the friendliest venue for progressives. But here we are:

Last night at the National Constitution Center, at a Democratic debate that was hyped by ABC as a discussion of serious constitutional issues, America got to see exactly what Obama was complaining about. At a time of foreign wars, economic collapse and environmental peril, the cringe-worthy first half of the debate focused on such crucial matters as Senator Obama's comments about rural bitterness, his former pastor, an obscure sixties radical with whom he was allegedly "friendly," and the burning constitutional question of why he doesn't wear an American flag pin on his lapel — with a single detour into Senator Hillary Clinton's yarn about sniper fire in Tuzla. Apparently, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos ran out of time before they could ask Obama why he's such a lousy bowler.
Yep. They're in trouble. Sure, it'll probably blow over eventually, certainly before McCain hauls out this footage in September or October to use against Obama, but in the meantime progressives are going to be ridiculously angry, and their fellow newsmedia types are going to lap it up.

ABC's Expectations, ABC's Reality

So, just what the hell happened last night?

Well, I'll tell you.

ABC played a simple and heretofore quite reliable game when they decided on the format and questions for their debate. They assumed that once the debate was over, nobody would care about the questions or the questioners. The discourse would be whether or not "Obama won" or "Hillary won" or whether both were damaged and McCain came out ahead. It makes sense. American television newsmedia aren't really going to criticize each other for bad journalism--except for the Fox News guys, whom ABC corrected assumed would have loved this--and such a small amount of the public actually watches these things that ABC could assume that they wouldn't even know that the debate had had issues.

(Even issues so serious that the audience booed the moderators.)

They certainly didn't need to worry about the candidates. If Obama (the punching bag of the night) complained, he'd be portrayed as a whiner and a ninny by the media protecting its own. Hillary wouldn't want to, this probably helped her. And McCain? Well, let's just say that Disney will have made some friends tonight, friends that'll come in mighty handy when they start making the next big push to DRM everything in sight, and push back the copyright date again.

Seems perfect. And yet.

Head over to your favorite blog. (Aside from this one, naturally.) If they discuss the debate, they're going to discuss how nonsensical it was. They're going to mention that the first hour was hit-pieces on Obama. They're going to mention that ABC made a big show of the flag pin nonsense. They're going to mention that one of the questions was about an association that Obama may have had when he was eight years old. They're going to mention that Charlie Gibson thinks that $200,000 a year is "middle class", despite only 3.4% of the population making anywhere near that much, and that he thinks that Reaganomics actually works.

And yes, they're going to mention the boos.

And the mainstream sources? Well, I don't know if they'll mention it, but I wouldn't be surprised; and if they do mention that the bloggers are angry, they'll have to say why, and then all of a sudden ABC's assumption that their own behavior will be ignored will fall away as quickly as our patience watching the blithering thing. Sure, it's probably not going to cost ABC ratings, but there's going to be an awful lot of pissed off people online who are going to be watching ABC's coverage very closely.

ABC had best be very, very careful with their coverage if they don't want a small mistake or slightly torqued headline to blow up into a national issue.

As for Clinton and Obama? This might have been a big boost for Clinton, but the race is over.

Ah, So That's How it Works

So, apparently, ABC runs a debate where the first full hour consists of various ludicrous attacks on Barack Obama. Then, when he eventually gets tired of everybody repeating the most ridiculous forwarded-email-style attacks on him, the media carefully avoids the entire question of the validity of the debate itself, and announces that his opponent won.

Thus, no doubt, setting up for the NEXT presidential debate, which will be forty-two different variations on "when did you stop eating puppies, Mr. HUSSEIN OSAMA" with nary a peep from the various "political analysts".

American media really is broken, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wanted: Relevant Questions

Since ABC can't seem to find any for this ludicrous "debate", we might as well start writing our own.

Edit: No, really, this is one of the most ridiculous farces I've seen in recent memory. "Do you believe in the American flag?" What, is he going to say no?

Re-Edit: Oh, no. When they get to the relevant question, Gibson starts spouting Voodoo economics?

Re-re-Edit: I've never watched a debate where the audience hissed and booed the moderator before. This is historic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Yes, Bill Kristol, Barack Obama is a communist because he said that people turn to religion in times of suffering.

I don't actually blame Kristol for this. Go read it: it's a mindless babble of talking points and prejudice, and I don't think he can help that. But why on earth did his editor let it happen? You'd think someone at the NYT would say "I don't want this put under our masthead. This is ridiculous. This is Corner-level tripe."

But he didn't. And now the Old Gray lady looks that much sadder.


You know, I had no idea that the whole "bitter" thing had come from a Huffpo piece, and that's an interesting story in-and-of itself. A very interesting story, and Jay Rosen wrote it.

Would Russert pick up on the novelty of the situation? An Obama supporter and donor, who also wrote regular dispatches for Huffington Post's pro-am campaign news site, OffTheBus, recorded Obama's words at an April 6th San Francisco fundraiser, and then wrote about what concerned her in them. From there it exploded. Pretty good story! (As the Guardian recognized today.) Plus, it would allow Russert to sound a savvy warning: "Heads up, candidates, your supporters include bloggers and they exercise their First Amendment rights. Barack Obama found that out this week...."

Tim and his staff decided on erasure. You'd have to ask them why. Mayhill Fowler's Obama quotes were shown on screen, but Meet the Press made no mention of her, or OffTheBus, or the Huffington Post. Like most surgeries of this kind it was done with the passive voice:

Last Sunday Barack Obama went to a fundraiser in San Francisco, made some comments. They became public late on Friday afternoon....

They became public because Mayhill Fowler reported them for OffTheBus Friday afternoon. Russert used Mayhill's quotes again on another story she broke earlier in the week. The Boston Globe became the "source" on that one, a designation wholly fictional.

It's not surprising to me that Tim erased Mayhill. And it's not a shock that some misguided Obama supporters tried to turn her into an enemy of the regime, which she is not. Or that Jay Newton-Small of Time magazine changed her scoop into a leak from someone inside the campaign to the Huffington Post.

We're in uncharted territory here.
I've been saying that "bloggers aren't journalists" for a while now. I still believe it; the most vital role of bloggers is independent opinion and analysis, because while only a few journalists will have access to a story, anybody can try to figure out what it means. Whereas a journalist has to worry about access and timing, a blogger doesn't. They can be pretty much anybody, anywhere, so they can write whatever they see as appropriate.

That said, though, if a blogger does break something, they deserve credit. Sorry, but that's just a basic rules of citation, and Russert broke it. He should definitely apologize to Mayhill. What interests Rosen, though, is a bigger question of what, exactly, a blogger or "citizen journalist" should do. After all, Mayhill donated to Obama, and Huffington's site is filled with loyalists, so the journalist's prized objectivity is out the window. Does that make it valid? Does that make it news? Does that make it journalism? Well, now, that's the question, isn't it?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lesson of Obama's Current Problems

I enjoyed Thomas Frank's book too, but I'm not going to campaign on it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Uh, Goody?

Krugman has good news!

The Telegraph:

Afghan farmers are this year sowing wheat instead of poppy - not because they have suddenly been converted to the argument that producing heroin is not in the national interest.

Market forces have been the deciding factor - with wheat prices doubling in the past year, and the street price of heroin falling, it is now more cost effective to grow wheat.

Via Yves Smith.
Uh, well, ok. Not "good" news, per se.What's that other word?

Oh, yeah. "Horrifying". That's it. "Horrifying" news. When HEROIN is cheaper than food, you know you have a bit of a problem.

Monday, April 07, 2008

So Much for Mark Penn...and Any Pretention of Clinton's Acumen

Yep, he's gone.

Well, ok, not "gone". He's still going to be polling and whatnot. But he's not going to be grand high poobah any more. And THAT is surprising.

Why? Well, because of optics. Yes, the optics of that whole Colombia thing were--and are--absolutely terrible. no doubt about that. Clinton savaged Obama over the NAFTA thing, and then her main strategist does the same damned thing, with a far more controversial playmate than Canada.

But then again...

Let's face it, the news cycle isn't that long. It's very unlikely that the Colombia thing would have created a lasting impression among the primary voters that she's trying to sway, and the media would have been distracted by some other shiny object long before it made a difference. Look at Wright... he's already fading into "Wright who?" irrelevance in the eyes of many, and that's a far nastier problem than a little chat with the Colombians would ever have been.

The worst thing to do is to renew that news cycle, yet that's exactly what she did. By ditching Penn, she renews all the discussions of Colombia by adding a new insidery wrinkle to the story. (And the media adores inside baseball. Whatzisname got that right, at least.) Every news story out there is going to recap, yet again, the situation that led to Penn leaving.

She also plays heavily into the media's treasured narrative of her campaign being disastrously embattled. That means that the news cycle for this is going to be pretty damned resilient, and every single time they talk about it, they'll refresh Colombia in people's minds.

This is supposed to be the invincible political team that was going to steamroller their way to the nomination? To heck with Obama, I'm glad that these guys got "vetted."

I'd predict the doom of the Hillary campaign, but honestly, there just doesn't seem to be much point. Even if she wins Pennsylvania, this is going to dog her until the moment she's finished with this election. Obama's almost better off just ignoring her and going after McCain at this point. Leave the poor woman to the tender ministrations of her own disastrous team.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Errr... Second Life Goes Governmental?

Huh. Apparently Congress had a subcommittee hearing about virtual worlds, which is interesting/odd enough. What's truly weird is where they had it: Second Life.

Okay, this might be a little confusing, but here goes: A virtual depiction of the Rayburn House Office Building meeting room was projected on television screens on the wall, so that real-world attendees could take a look at the small virtual crowd that logged on for the event. Attendees logging in from Second Life, meanwhile, could watch the proceedings in a video screen projected on the wall of the virtual room. The real-world guests included executives from Linden Lab, IBM and a tech firm that helps nonprofit organizations take advantage of virtual worlds.A self-admitted group of virtual-world newbies, the politicians, led by Rep. Ed Markey (D - Mass.), asked a wide-ranging group of questions. In an era where technologies can catch on and become mainstream quickly, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet wanted to know some basics. Could Second Life be used as a place to launder money? Are children safe in online worlds? Are there churches in there? Are you making any money?

"We have never seen any evidence of such activity going on in Second Life," said Linden CEO Philip Rosedale, on the matter of whether criminals could use his company's online world as a place to launder money. Rosedale argued that Second Life is a self-policing community, and that users would likely be quick to report any online behavior that seemed to indicate users posed any real-world threats.

As the politicians and the witnesses discussed the potentials of the online virtual world, the online visitors logged on in Second Life chatted away on the screen in conversations that ranged from the topic at hand and beyond:

"I think senators are superdelegates but not all reps."
"I love flip4mac."
"They should really move the x and the c away from each other on the keyboard." (this following a warning that the video might freeze for "just a sex.")

I think Second Life is a bit overrated; Stephenson's metaverse it ain't. It doesn't have anywhere near as many users as it hypes, and those users that are there are often there for, well, less than honorable reasons. And, naturally, the questions were the same "Oh God save us from the e-predators!" nonsense that tends to dominate political attitudes towards the virtual.

Still, it does reinforce the idea that our virtual and "meatspace" lives are slowly moving together, and that the virtual world's affect on humanity will continue to grow.

(As for my own take? I argued a little while back that there was a division between those who treated the Internet as an enhancement of real life vs. those who treat it as a separate world altogether, distinct from the one they live day-to-day. It's at the root of the pseudonymity debate; if you think of it as the former then a pseudonym makes no sense, but if you think of it as the latter then a pseudonym seems almost necessary. So go read it. )

(Plus, you get to read someone with this weighty a pseudonym use the phrase "fart around". And who doesn't enjoy that? If that isn't a good time, you should probably close the browser and get some work done.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Ok, to be honest, I'm not quite sure how to summarize the Fellowship easily. I've been wrestling with Jeffrey Sharlet's disturbing examination of them for a little while now, but it's long, and it defies shorter description.

Here's one quote:

Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, Virginia, is known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the organization that sponsors it, a group of believers who refer to themselves as “the Family.” The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

The organization has operated under many guises, some active, some defunct: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the Fellowship Foundation, the National Fellowship Council, the International Foundation. These groups are intended to draw attention away from the Family, and to prevent it from becoming, in the words of one of the Family's leaders, “a target for misunderstanding.” The Family's only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”

In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. In 1978 it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a worldwide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides' eventual peace accord last July. Such benign acts appear to be the exception to the rule. During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa's postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century's most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. “We work with power where we can,” the Family's leader, Doug Coe, says, “build new power where we can't.”

At the 1990 National Prayer Breakfast, George H.W. Bush praised Doug Coe for what he described as “quiet diplomacy, I wouldn't say secret diplomacy,” as an “ambassador of faith.” Coe has visited nearly every world capital, often with congressmen at his side, “making friends” and inviting them back to the Family's unofficial headquarters, a mansion (just down the road from Ivanwald) that the Family bought in 1978 with $1.5 million donated by, among others, Tom Phillips, then the C.E.O. of arms manufacturer Raytheon, and Ken Olsen, the founder and president of Digital Equipment Corporation. A waterfall has been carved into the mansion's broad lawn, from which a bronze bald eagle watches over the Potomac River. The mansion is white and pillared and surrounded by magnolias, and by red trees that do not so much tower above it as whisper. The mansion is named for these trees; it is called The Cedars, and Family members speak of it as a person. “The Cedars has a heart for the poor,” they like to say. By “poor” they mean not the thousands of literal poor living barely a mile away but rather the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom: the senators, generals, and prime ministers who coast to the end of Twenty-fourth Street in Arlington in black limousines and town cars and hulking S.U.V.'s to meet one another, to meet Jesus, to pay homage to the god of The Cedars.

There they forge “relationships” beyond the din of vox populi (the Family's leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride) and “throw away religion” in favor of the truths of the Family. Declaring God's covenant with the Jews broken, the group's core members call themselves “the new chosen.”
And that's just an early bit of it. Shallot delves into an organization which, at its core, appears to be all about converting the powerful to its neo-theocratic cause and helping its neo-theocrats to become powerful. It's very good at what it does.

Here's another quote:

The day I worked at C Street I ran into Doug Coe, who was tutoring Todd Tiahrt, a Republican congressman from Kansas. A friendly, plainspoken man with a bright, lazy smile, Coe has worked for the Family since 1959, soon after he graduated from college, and has led it since 1969.

Tiahrt was a short shot glass of a man, two parts flawless hair and one part teeth. He wanted to know the best way “for the Christian to win the race with the Muslim.” The Muslim, he said, has too many babies, while Americans kill too many of theirs.

Doug agreed this could be a problem. But he was more concerned that the focus on labels like “Christian” might get in the way of the congressman's prayers. Religion distracts people from Jesus, Doug said, and allows them to isolate Christ's will from their work in the world.

“People separate it out,” he warned Tiahrt. “'Oh, okay, I got religion, that's private.' As if Jesus doesn't know anything about building highways, or Social Security. We gotta take Jesus out of the religious wrapping.”

“All right, how do we do that?” Tiahrt asked.

“A covenant,” Doug answered. The congressman half-smiled, as if caught between confessing his ignorance and pretending he knew what Doug was talking about. “Like the Mafia,” Doug clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt's face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it's honor,” Doug said. “For us, it's Jesus.”

Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden.” The Family, of course, possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.

That's what you get with a covenant,” said Coe. “Jesus plus nothing.”
I could quote the whole thing, but I won't. Instead, I'll simply ask that you read it, and ask yourself whether association with this group is worse than association with Wright. Surely the press has already pretty much decided, but any group this powerful and secretive isn't going to get a real examination in the press anyway: they know that they could make a lot of very powerful enemies by doing so. (Look at how successful Moon has been.) Wright's easy; he's marginal. These guys, though? They're pretty much off-limits.

Even to the big bloggers, it would seem. There was a bit of a flap last week, and then nothing. I was expecting to find scores of pieces on the subject, but it just evaporated even as Wright continues to be a talking point. Of course, it didn't get any press back in 2007, either, so maybe that's no surprise there. But a piece this long about something this relevant would logically get a lot of responses, and it didn't.

It's kind of funny. People are going bananas about nonsensical conspiracies about world banking or 9/11 or somesuch... yet something like this is ignored.