Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I've digested the election and it still tastes like week-old cheese
I'm not going to sit here and deny that I've been in a depressive funk since November 2nd, better known now as Black Tuesday, because quite frankly, I have been, and people have noticed. Today someone told me I needed to "get some sleep" despite the fact that I snoozed for 9 hours last night. Part of the funk has been a natural reaction to a tremendously dispiriting and crushing loss at the polls, and facing the reality of total Republican control of the federal government. Part of it has also been yet another setback for the graduate student union at Penn, GET-UP, which was really counting on a Kerry administration to help reverse the National Labor Relations Board's decision to strip graduate employees at private universities of the right to organize. And part of it is that I just don't like to lose, especially to that clodding band of inept ideologues and mouth-breathing moralizers known as the Bush coalition.

But equally depressing has been the pervasive, and probably necessary, Democratic soul-searching -- you know, what did we do wrong, how can we change, why aren't we loved? We Hearted Ohio and Florida, but Ohio and Florida didn't Heart us back. Is it because we didn't quote the Bible enough, or because we didn't trash Janet Jackson, or because we watch too much Will & Grace, or because we weren't willing to join our loving God in Hating Fags, or because we refuse to join the reactionary right in denying women their reproductive rights, or because John Kerry didn't connect with Hamburger Nation, or because we didn't personally hunt down, kill, scalp, and fry enough terrorists, or because we didn't run a Southerner or a Midwesterner or because blue-staters don't understand what makes people tick in the "Heartland"? I've got my own answers to most of these questions, and my own ideas about how to win in 2006 and beyond, but I have to confess that it's all got me feeling a little bit run-down. And feeling like we need to remind ourselves why it's good to live in Blue America and to be on the side of justice, progress, and humanity.

So here's 10 things to start us off, things that I'm proud of and make me believe that eventually we'll win:

1) The Democrats are the party of the cities and inner-ring suburbs, of neighbors and neighborhoods, of integration and unions, of culture and immigrants, of restaurants and theaters, of small grocery stores and businesses; the suburbs and "exurbs", the land of Applebees and Wal-Mart, freeways and sprawl, segregation and market extremism, fear, loathing and isolation, belong to our opponents.
2) The Democrats are the party of compassion, of a minimum wage and the right to form unions, of obligation to your fellow human beings. Our opponents stand for unbridled corporate individualism.
3) The Democrats are the party of reproductive freedom, of equal wages and rights for women, of encouragement for female professionals, of the first female Vice Presidential candidate. Our opponents stand for wage hierarchy and traditional gender roles.
4) The Democrats are the party of immigration, of welcoming newcomers to America, of integrating but not assimilating them, of providing decent wages and a modicum of benefits for those who contribute to society. Our opponents stand for nativism, racism, and closed borders.
5) The Democrats are the party international cooperation, fair trade, nuclear common sense, and compassionate internationalism. Our opponents stand for aggressive unilateralism, unrestricted trade, first-strike nuclear posturing, and militarism as a first and best option.
6) The Democrats are the party of equal rights, tolerance, and pride for gays and lesbians. Our opponents stand for, and explicitly base their electoral strategy upon, loathing of gays and lesbians, restricting their rights, and maintaining their status as second-class citizens.
7) The Democrats stand for the preservation of open spaces, the integrity of national parks and forests (whether they contain oil or not), the strengthening of clean air and water laws, and better fuel standards for cars and trucks, and of energy independence. Our opponents stand for unabashed exploitation of all natural resources, bigger SUV's, and gutting the environmental regulations that have helped stem the tide of industrial destruction over the past 30 years.
8) The Democrats stand for the principle that every American has the right to health care. Our opponents, alone in the industrial, civilized world, stand for the principle that your level of life-saving medical treatment depends on how much money you make.
9) The Democrats believe in honest negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians for a just resolution of their dispute. Our opponents have aligned themselves with people who believe that no resolution is possible or necessary.
10) The Democrats believe that income inequality is a threat to democracy itself. Our opponents are unrepentant purveyors of top-down class warfare.

I could go on, but it's late. I know we lost, but I'm still proud of who I am and what I believe in, and I'm not about to give it up. I'm sorry if some of these positions are temporarily unpopular or out of style, but if you start basing your principles on what's popular, you've pretty much turned yourself into a focus group. I say no retreat, no surrender. Surrender is depressing.

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Wal-Mart sales down
Earth's #1 union-buster takes a dive. How upsetting.

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Monday, November 29, 2004

Via Oliver Willis, create your own Brand Democrat agitprop. It's so much fun, it almost makes me forget about Black Tuesday.


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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Today's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper Prize:
"There is another side, too. Over the first six months of this year, assaults on Metro bus drivers increased 50 percent from the previous year. I won't excuse these assaults. But they do merit explanation. Might not buses hours late raise the temperature of individual tempers?" - Paul Jacob, Townhall.com

Wait, I thought we weren't supposed to explain violence! Wouldn't that be hating America or something? I suppose assaulting people is only all right (or perhaps explainable) when the victims are government employees performing the anti-American task of driving buses and steering trains in the public transit system. Jacob's rant is another in a long line of brain-dead diatribes against public transit, which again and again commits the unforgivable sin of not turning a consistent profit. Someone should tell Jacob how much the highway and road system costs every year. Does it turn a profit? No? But it's still vital, right?

Look, I'm sure people have some legitimate beefs with public transportation, but until they get it through their thick skulls that the transportation infrastructure is not, strictly speaking, a capitalist enterprise, we're going to have the same ridiculous argument over and over again. Memo to flat-Earth conservatives: highways are not "profitable" without massive subsidies. Is it too much for the cities to get the same treatment as the rest of the country? Or is this one more part of red-state America's war against urbanites?

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The Blue State-Yellow State Divide
You think America is divided? These are the election results from Ukraine -- the blue represents Putin's puppet, Yanukovych, who allegedly had the election results fixed in his favor. There are oodles of ethnic Russians located in Eastern Ukraine, which looks to its neighbor for economic and cultural succor. Kiev, the capital, is located in the yellow slab of Ukraine, which went overwhelmingly for Yuschenko, the opposition leader, who has also promised to pull troops out of Iraq. I don't know if you can see the percentages for both candidates in this map, but if not, check it out at DailyKos. Only Yuschenko came even remotely close to winning an Oblast (state) in his opponent's territory.

This is a recipe for civil war if I've ever seen one. There are rumors bouncing around "the internets" that Russian troops have been seen in Kiev and elsewhere. The parliament has declared the results of the election invalid, and more ominously, Eastern governors have stated that if Yuschenko is installed, they will hold referenda on secession. Here in Philadelphia, Christine and I saw some members of the local Ukrainian population demonstrating at Independence Hall, holding Ukrainian flags and signs which read "Putin: Hands off Ukraine!" and performing some kind of national dance.

The Bush Administration, shockingly, has come out on the right side of this dispute. There seems to be a fairly clear international consensus that something is rotten with the results of the vote, and the fairest thing would be simply to hold a new election. Apparently even the Russians have consented to such an outcome.

And even though I'm certain that Yuschenko was the real winner, and that his election would be a victory for the forces of democracy, probably the worst thing that could happen would be for him to be declared the winner without a new vote. It would almost certainly trigger a series of calamaties that could result in violence and secession. And no matter how divided the country, secession is almost never a good idea. Breaking up a divided state usually just creates an international problem out of a domestic one (see India-Pakistan, 1947). Furthermore, no matter how "pure" each territory is supposed to be, there will be millions trapped in the "wrong" state, fearing persecution, and such situations tend to lead to further bloodshed. And violence is just about the last thing anyone wants.

I hope.

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Is Anything the Matter With Kansas?
My father passed along a copy of Thomas Frank's very popular new book, What's the Matter With Kansas?, which, judging from his slot in the New York Times Book Review this week, has catapulted him into the mainstream punditocracy. For liberals aching to understand how George W. Bush could possibly have been returned to the White House, this isn't a bad place to start.

Frank's thesis is fairly simple -- modern conservatism is 19th-century populism in reverse. It harnesses cultural anger and resentment toward an imagined "liberal elite" to serve the economic interests of the upper class. It is thus a movement beset by a terrible, but mostly unseen paradox, in that working stiffs all over the country are voting for politicians who promise to ban abortion and gay marriage, but ultimately end up cutting income taxes and abolishing the estate tax. People in Kansas, and by extension the rest of America, are voting against their clear economic self-interest in order to advance a culture-war agenda foisted upon them by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. Frank focuses almost exclusively on the politics of Kansas, his home state, along with a few choice conservative authors and public figures, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and David Brooks. He also bears a pretty mean grudge against the Democratic Leadership Council -- the DLC -- and Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Gary Hart, among others.

In his portrayal of the Kansas "Cons" (as opposed to the Rockefeller Republican "Mods"), Frank's analysis is priceless, detailing for his audience any number of small-town loons and dreamers, from state politician and anti-evolution crusader Kay O'Connor to a man who had himself elected as the pope to protest the Vatican's capitulation to liberalism. And though he doesn't offer us much in the way of statistical evidence, he paints a pretty compelling portrait of a state in both demographic and economic decline. Like many of the states of the Midwest and Great Plains, more people are leaving Kansas than arriving, in large part because its small towns have been devastated by the decline in small farms and businesses, which Frank argues have been replaced by Wal-Mart and corporate agriculture. It is not a pretty picture, and Frank ends the book by depressingly hinting that Kansas-style politics may soon be coming to a multi-plex near you, since trends in his home state often metastasize and infect the rest of the country.

The primary trouble that Frank is going to run into is that he assumes his economic predilections are no-brainers. He writes:

For decades Americans have experienced a popular uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. In Kansas, we merely see an extreme version of this mysterious situation. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistably against the arrogant. They are shaking their fists at the sons of privilege. They are laughing at the dainty affectations of the Leawood toffs. They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills, hoisting the black flag, and while the millionires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. "We are here," they scream, "to cut your taxes."

I'd be the last person on Earth (well, ok, maybe not the last) to defend GOP economic policy, which some respected experts believe is leading to "economic armageddon", but Frank has to acknowledge that there are aspects of conservative economic philosophy which appeal to the working classes, and which tie in to the party's appeal to the masses against the arrogant liberal elite. This idea of the government taking your taxes and sending it to "government schools" and radical artists, to "welfare queens" and tax cheats, is rather powerful stuff, moreso than Frank would like to acknowledge. And if you buy into the supply-side philosophy, there isn't so much of a disconnect, of a Marxist "false consciousness" aspect, to working-class support for the Republicans, than the author might like to imagine. People, in general, don't like paying taxes, both because most Americans don't fully understand all the services that government (often silently) performs, and because one party or the other is always telling them it's unjust.

Frank's book would be much, much stronger, if he took this argument head-on instead of pretending that it either doesn't exist, or else is so patently false as to be obvious to any right-thinking observer. I happen to believe that progressive taxation is just and productive, and that the lower and middle classes get much, much more back from their taxes than they put in, but this isn't something that goes without saying. Likewise, the case against free trade is far from clear, as is the case against Wal-Mart and corporate farming. I hate Wal-Mart and I'll never set foot in one of them, and I'm also not much for corporate farms, but to most Americans, these are just devices to make the goods they buy cheaper and more widely and conveniently available. If Frank is going to undermine these notions, he has to make the case, with statistics, stories, and logic -- of the same quality and scope that he applies to the many diseases of Kansas politics. Without them, his book is just a polemic -- an entertaining and worthwhile one, but a polemic just the same.

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Friday, November 26, 2004

George W. Bush is the Beating Heart of Americanism
I cannot describe to you how creepy this is. You're looking at a real billboard that was erected alongside a highway in the great state of Florida. The reason it's scary is because I once visited a real, live totalitarian country called Syria, where they have billboards like this up on every other street corner. Their language is a little more florid than what's on this billboard, but the general idea is the same. When I first saw this story kicking around the Web I assumed it must be fake, one of those things that is bound to get debunked by Netlore in a few days. But if you believe this Orlando letter-to-the-editor writer, it's for real. You have to wonder how many of these things are out there polluting America's skylines.

Now, I don't think George W. Bush has any aspirations to be the next Hafiz al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria (although I wouldn't put it past some of his supporters, namely the ones who put up this ridiculous billboard). But I do find it somewhat disturbing that some Americans seem to crave the same manner of warped and insulting propaganda that you see in the most closed-down autocracies on the planet. It also reminds me of the cult-of-personality-like devotion of some of Bush's most fanatic partisans, who routinely say that they "love" him. And when they say "I love George Bush!" they don't mean it the same way normal people do when they say, "I love Kate Beckinsale" or "I love curly fries." They mean the kind of love that can only happen between a man and a woman under Ohio state law.

I think this kind of substance-less hero-worship is seriously corrosive for our political culture. Can you imagine the Pennsylvania Turnpike adorned with billboards of Big Ed Rendell, "Our State Leader"? I'm sure you can't, because you probably think of your political figures as public servants and human beings rather than as transcendant and God-like figures that should be revered and obeyed (either that or you don't live in Pennsylvania and thus aren't familiar with our bear-like governor). I can assure you that this is not how many of the more extreme figures in the evangelical movement look at George W. Bush -- many of them believe that he was quite literally chosen by God to lead America at this, it's moment of greatest danger. People like that probably imagine that people like me (who voted for John Kerry: Not Our Leader) don't know that George W. Bush is in fact, our leader, and that I'd better fall into formation, get with the program, and support the War President in our time of national peril.

Now, I'm not going to deny that George W. Bush was just re-elected as President of the United States. And I'm fairly certain that I could give the correct answer to "Who is Our Leader" on a citizenship quiz. But I don't need to be reminded of it by some anonymous ad-buyer on my highways, who seems completely oblivious to the blisteringly obvious authoritarian overtones to their billboard. Save the landscape-scarring billboards for vodka or casinos, or better yet, tear the fucking things down altogether. Why should any corporation own the horizon?

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Pro sports and the little guy
Tom Schaller of DailyKos has an intriguing post up about the whole Pacers-Pistons debacle that's been grabbing headlines for a week now. The gist of it is that perhaps we shouldn't be so hard on professional athletes, many of whom have extremely short careers and never become millionaires. The implication is also that the antipathy toward the player's unions in the NBA, NHL, and MLB is somewhat misguided. Schaller writes:

Yes, many of these professional athletes are millionaires, and surely some subset of these are "spoiled" or "pampered." But not all make millions per year, many have short-lived careers, and some are carrying not only their immediate but extended families on their back. (Including Artest, by the way...but read more about him in Sally Jenkins' column today.) And if you think pro sports, especially football, doesn't take a toll, consider that NFL players have lower life
expectancies than their age cohorts, and that guys like Bill Walton (who played hoops, not football) can hardly stand up for more than an hour before their knees give way. They get millions because that's what the market yields for persons who are among just a few hundred that can perform in their profession at such a high level; corporate CEOs (many of whom perform much worse) make the same supply-and-demand claims to justify their salaries.

Now, that's all well and good as far as it goes. Professional sports players deserve to be compensated what the market will bear (as long as the league can maintain competetive balance), and I'd much rather my cash go to the players than the owners. The trouble is that the unions no longer seem to be fighting for the little guys in pro sports -- it's all about fighting a salary cap so that A-Rod can make $27 million a year. If it was really about the little guy, the unions would be fighting to lower the number of years to qualify for a pension (it's 10 in baseball), to make sure college players complete their diplomas before entering the NBA or NFL (so if they flame out they aren't completely lost), and demanding significant raises in the minimum salary. They'd be fighting for the guys who make it to the Show for two or three years and then get hurt or injured and have nothing to fall back on. But let's be honest -- that's not what they're doing.

And yes, I read Jenkins' column about Artest, and I'm not really moved. This is a guy who's been around the NBA since 1999, and surely will have the opportunity to make many more millions over the course of his career, so long as he keeps his fists at his sides. In fact, he's already earned well over a million dollars this year, which, even after you take out those evil taxes (which aren't 39 percent anymore, Sally), and the evil agent fees, is still a significant amount of money, more than most people earn in 10 years. It's noble that Artest wants to take care of his entire family with his salary, but that shouldn't excuse him from responsibility for what he did in that arena. What if someone had gotten killed? Would be we still be getting a weepy tribute to Artest's father had the flying chair ended the life of an innocent bystander?

The NBA players' union is just digging a hole for itself on this one. By fighting Stern's entirely reasonable suspension of Artest and the other Pacers, it is damaging the reputation of unions everywhere, and further eroding public trust in professional athletes, most of whom, as Schaller points out, do a lot of good things with charities, in addition to providing the quality entertainment that millions of Americans seek and enjoy. But as long as the unions are seen to be more concerned about the Sprewells and the Artests of the universe than they are about the guys who are still getting screwed by the system, they aren't going to get very far in the realm of public opinion.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Powell says U.S. "cannot accept" Ukraine election results
Color me surprised: the administration has sent Colin Powell out to denounce the manipulation of the Ukrainian elections, defying Czar Putin. The Ukrainian opposition has launched a general strike in protest. They are to be commended for the use of non-violence in fighting this horrific miscarriage of justice.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Freedom on the frog march
Ukrainian opposition leader Victor Yuschenko deprived of electoral victory by fraud, thousands demonstrate. Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin supports Viktor Yanukovych, the choice of the Russian-leaning East of the country. Yuschenko has pledged to pull peacekeepers out of Iraq.

So which side will George W. choose, the side of freedom and democracy, or of electoral fraud and support for the Iraq War?

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Recommended book: Steve Coll's Ghost Wars
I'm about halfway through this magnificent documentation of America's involvement in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1991. To make a very long story very, very short, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Jimmy Carter authorized a covert plan to funnel money and arms to Islamic militants waging guerrilla warfare against the Russian army. While the fact that Carter initially approved this program is often overlooked, the campaign was expanded by Reagan's CIA chief, William Casey. During this period, Congress secretly authorized billions of dollars in aid for the rebels, which was funneled through Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, and was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Saudis.

The left often claims that the U.S. "created" Bin Laden through this program, but the reality is much more complex. It is true that Bin Laden was one of many Islamist militants operating in Afghanistan at the time, but there is no documentary evidence that he had anything to do with the CIA, at least according to Coll. In any case, American dollars provided training, equipment, and support for the rebels, many of whom trained in austere camps on the Pakistani-Afghan border. The Pakistanis, led at the time by an Islamist-leaning autocratic general by the name of Muhammed Zia ul-Haq, had their own interest in containing Soviet influence in the region, and in bolstering Islamic radicals. The Saudis for their part used their money both for weapons and for a series of radical Islamic madrassas, or schools, along the border, which peddled their peculiar fundamentalist version of Islam, known as Wahhabism.

Coll makes it very clear that Casey led a group of people at the CIA who were willing to do anything and risk anything to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan, even to the point of authorizing rebel raids into Soviet territory, incidents which, if discovered, could have triggered a major international diplomatic crisis. It also becomes clear in the book that the CIA preferred dealing with the most radical and authoritarian groups operating in Afghanistan, because they also happened to be the most deadly. The irony of it all is that it was one of the most successful operations ever undertaken by the CIA. The arms (including some Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which are still at large today) and cash succeeded in bolstering the Islamic insurgency against the Soviets, and turned Afghanistan into the Russian Vietnam. At least 15,000 Russian soldiers (and probably many more) died in Afghanistan, and at least 37,000 were wounded. The Soviets finally withdrew ignominiously from Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War.

The trouble with this relatively unknown history is with the unintended consequences of U.S. policy. The Afghan war bred an entire generation of violent, fundamentalist Islamic radicals, taught them how to fight, how to organize, how to hide, and how to cripple an advanced military superpower. When the Cold War came to a close, the U.S. dropped Afghanistan like a hard-thrown pass on a December day, abandoning the country to a civil war that gave rise to the Taliban. It is not just al-Qaeda and Bin Laden that were an indirect consequence of America's covert aid to the rebels, but rather the strengthening of the whole radical Islamic network which spans from North Africa to South Asia. The post-war chaos in Afghanistan led directly to a harbor for al-Qaeda, but Afghanistan also convinced a generation of militants that religious war is not just possible, but effective and just. The thinking historian must then ask this question: was the damage done to the Soviets in Afghanistan worth the cost of the subsequent problem with violent, apocalyptic Islamic militants?

To deal in counterfactuals is a very tricky business indeed. Without U.S. involvement, there would still have been a substantial resistance to the Soviet invasion and the communist puppet regime. It is highly likely that Saudi and Pakistani intelligence would have collaborated to funnel aid and arms to the rebels. But the immense amount of cash transferred from the U.S., along with advanced weapons systems like the Stinger missile, which were unavailable elsewhere, almost certainly helped transform the rebellion from a nuisance to a catastrophe for the Soviets. On the other hand, no one has ever been able to show conclusively that the war in Afghanistan contributed directly to the downfall of the Soviet Union. The Russian economy was in miserable shape in any case, and it would be hard to argue that Gorbachev would not have initiated his reforms in the absence of war on the Soviet Union's southern perimeter. Not only that, but the Soviet Union in the 1980s was a hollow empire, and hardly the expanding threat envisioned by America's right wing.

The macro-lesson of this story is that the United States consistently neglects to think through the long-term consequences of short-term actions. Whether it's coddling the hated Shah of Iran in the 1970s, funneling arms and intelligence to Iraq in the 1980s, or toppling a weak and isolated Saddam in 2003, the orchestrators of U.S. foreign policy seem incapable of forseeing the negative ramifications of their actions in the Middle East, what Chalmers Johnson calls "blowback." This is particularly true when the policy in question is smashingly successful in its short-term goals. U.S. aid to Saddam in the mid-1980s prevented the Iranians from making a decisive breakthrough into Iraqi territory, and eventually turned the tide of the Iran-Iraq War. The American-led war to topple Saddam's regime 18 months ago was a tremendous success in its stated goal of regime change.

It's the aftermath which is the sticking point. It is entirely possible that an anarchic, failed Iraqi state without Saddam will be a much greater threat to world peace and prosperity than an Iraq led by a contained and weakened Saddam. Sadly, I suspect that historians will be writing about the "blowback" of America's ill-considered war in Iraq for some time to come.

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Today's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper Prize: "Why didn't we liberate Fallujah nine months ago? Because the war against the war waged by the Democratic Party made it politically too difficult in an election year. That's why the Fallujah offensive began after the election result and this is why criticism in time of war is a serious business and why the outrages of this campaign -- the hysterical exploitation of Abu Ghraib, the reckless accusations that the President lied, that the war was a "fraud concocted in Texas" for the benefit of Haliburton is more than the usual political mudslinging. Those who have laid these charges at the President's door, who have forced delays in the conduct of the war and shaped its tactics -- Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Michael Moore -- have done more than slander the commander-in-chief. Because he is the commander in chief and America is at war, they have gotten Americans killed as well." -- the always-unhinged David Horowitz.

So let me get this straight -- the Democrats criticize this increasingly ugly catastrophe of a war, which was and is a legitimate campaign issue. George W. Bush -- our steel-jawed War President -- then responds by conducting the war as part of his re-election campaign, capitulating to insurgents and then delaying the assault on Fallujah until after the election, and this is somehow Michael Moore's fault? Listen, Horowitz, you hate-filled crypto-fascist, the only person that has gotten Americans killed in Iraq is George W. Bush himself, the architect of America's greatest strategic calamity in 30 years. Stop hiding behind the bogeymen of the left, and start facing up to the consequences of your own failed policies. If trashing Fallujah were truly the answer (which it isn't) then Bush should have done it a year ago, no matter what Howard Dean was saying.

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Americans reject modernity and reason
45% of your fellow Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Never mind that there are libraries full of research documenting the evolution of ancient man to modern "Homo Sapiens Sapiens," and that mankind in its present form has existed for about 200,000 years. To such people this evidence is either fraudulent or God's attempt to test their faith.

Only slightly better in one in three Americans believe that evolution is supported by the evidence. About the same percentage of Americans believe that the Bible should be taken literally word-for-word. Are these folks for real? I hope they're not responsible for constructing buildings in California, because "Masonry bonded with wooden beams is not loosened by an earthquake. " (Sirach 22:16 NAB). Word-for-word, you say? As you wish.

How does one reason with such people? It's no wonder that we have to re-enact Inherit the Wind every month in some provincial backwater (or some state school board). The only reasonable conclusion is that a significant number of Americans have medieval notions of science and reason, untouched by the enlightenment. People like that are beyond the scope of reasoned discourse about politics and science. They are entitled to believe whatever they like, even if their beliefs are completely out of line with the rest of the civilized world. But we should call them what they are -- fundamentalists -- and they should be regarded as such in the public sphere. Rather than embarking on a quixotic quest to convince them to vote Democratic, we should be waging a war to ensure that their Dark Age ideas about history and science are relegated to the lunatic fringe where they belong.

UPDATE: Via Chris Bowers at MyDD, you can see some comparative data here. Only in Poland and, to a lesser extent, Russia, can you find advanced Western countries with minority support for evolution. What I find almost as disturbing is that nearly 50 percent of Americans believe in Hell, a figure matched only in the extremely troubled and violent land of Northern Ireland. In no other advanced Christian-majority country does even 30% of the population believe in Hell.

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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Amputees to Iraq
Is this for real? I saw the link on a Kos comment thread, and I can't believe it. Either way, it's very sad. Thousands of American men and women have been crippled in this needless war, and they don't show up in the KIA totals you see every once in a while in the papers. Among the many permanently crippled:

One of those amputees is Marine Corp. Peter Bagarella, who attended the groundbreaking with more than a dozen other amputees, families and military personnel. On foot patrol this summer with his unit in western Iraq, the 21-year-old from Cape Cod, Mass., stopped to examine a suspicious object. "The next thing I know, my eyes turned white and my ears were ringing," he said.

"My left foot fell off, it was just gone, and I went blind because shrapnel got in my eyes."

Bagarella had his left leg amputated below the knee, suffered hundreds of tiny shrapnel wounds in his right leg and left knee, and has impaired vision. Walking carefully with his new prosthetic and a cane, he said the new center gives survivors hope they can lead the kind of lives they had before getting injured.

I'm all for giving amputees hope and the treatment they deserve, but I think the long-term solution would be to remove the source of maiming, which is the Iraq War. Get the elections over with, get the Arab League in there, and get the hell out. The whole thing was a colossal mistake, and it's getting worse every single day.

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Marketing the Democrats
Atrios is right -- Oliver Willis is really onto something here. While I think most of his slogans are a bit too cheeky to sell in Middle America, the idea is perfect, and this poster in particular is quite strong.

I was chatting with a Republican friend the other night, and she agreed that Kerry's primary problem was a lack of a coherent, simple set of beliefs that can be packaged and sold to the American people -- a package that can outlast any single, charismatic leader. Part of that campaign must be building the "brand" ID of the Democrats as a party. To do that we have to venerate our own popular historical figures -- FDR, JFK, Clinton, just as the Republicans push the hero-worship of Reagan. It would also be helpful to rehabilitate the historical legacy of Jimmy Carter, because when he went down he took the party with him.

I have one big quibble with Oliver's campaign here, and its the "Since 1794" bit. I don't think we want to go back that far. Yes, it's true that the Democrats are the world's oldest political party, but for quite some time the party was associated with the defense of slavery, and subsequently with Jim Crow and its various evils. I see no particular reason to remind people of this shameful legacy, even indirectly.

The other trick, of course, is to find a set of upright public figures to espouse these ideals, to marry the Democrats' domestic advantage on pocketbook issues with a strong liberal internationalist foreign policy outlook which avoids the dangerous and chauvinist militarism of the neocons and the neo-isolationism of the protectionist and pacifist wing of the left. We need someone who can lead the party nationally and locally, who can lead an electoral charge and lead a rebuilding of the party's grassroots infrastructure.

Easier said than done.

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That didn't take long at all
House thugs tack anti-abortion provision onto crucial spending bill. Barbara Boxer, God bless her soul, has said she will "stand on my feet" to stop the language from going into the final bill. Where is the rest of the opposition on this one? Isn't this one of those times when it kind of sucks to have red-state, pro-life Sen. Harry Reid as the minority leader?

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Friday, November 19, 2004

The Inky's On Santorum's Trail
Santorum, caught red-handed milking $100 grand from Penn Hills, PA's school system, pulls his kids out of the government-funded "cyber school" they were attending. They will now be home-schooled, God help the little bastards. What's that you were saying about the evils of Big Government, Rick?

As one school board member quipped, "It may have been technically legal, but it certainly pushed the ethical boundary."

I have a feeling that's going to be the epitaph for the modern GOP.

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Persecute, kill the book-hoarders!
Is there really enough room in our over-stuffed prisons for people who forget to return Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? It seems there's a new Library Sheriff in Bay City, Michigan, and he's coming for people with overdue library fines. We're talking jail time, people. It's about time we re-established law and order in the public library system.

Do not mess with Frederick J. Paffhausen. Don't even think about it. Bring back The Da Vinci Code on time or it's off to Guantanamo with you.

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Kerry sort of un-conceding?
An email message from John Kerry popped into my inbox this afternoon, hinting that he isn't sure the election is over either:

Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted -- and they will be counted -- we will continue to challenge this administration. This is not a time for Democrats to retreat and accommodate extremists on critical principles -- it is a time to stand firm.I will fight for a national standard for federal elections that has both transparency and accountability in our voting system. It's unacceptable in the United States that people still don't have full confidence in the integrity of the voting

This doesn't sound like a guy who thinks there's zero chance he could win. With a reputable research team at UC Berkeley calling for an investigation into the Florida vote, anything is possible in Ohio. Could "the Closer" still pull this one out? I seriously doubt it, but I wouldn't rule it out, and neither will he. Even if he still ends up on the losing end of a recount, at least he's finally gotten behind the call for voting machine transparency.

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

You just never know when diarrhea will strike!


Whaa happened?

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The ridiculous MNF controversy
I must admit that although I had people over the for Eagles-Cowboys game on Monday night, we had the Terrell Owens - Nicollette Sheridan segment on mute, so I didn't really watch what was going on very closely. Here is what happened:

The segment opened with actress Nicollette Sheridan, clad in only a towel, standing near Owens in the Eagles' locker room. On ABC's new hit series, Sheridan plays a character named Edie Britt, a multiple divorcee who has had a number of sexual conquests in her fictional neighborhood.
Sheridan: "My house burned down and I need to take a long, hot shower. . . . So where are you off to looking so pretty?"
Owens: "Baby, it's 'Monday Night Football.' Game starts in 10 minutes."
Sheridan: "Oh, you and your little games. . . . I've got a game we can play."
Later, with her back to the camera, Sheridan dropped the towel and Owens said, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win one without me."

Apparently, this has the "moral values" crowd up in arms, just like the Janet Jackson incident from the 2004 Super Bowl. I say phooey. There will be those who argue that Democrats need to get out in front of issues like this, but I think that people need to get over themselves. And if the Democrats sell out and start supporting censorship, that will be the day I walk out of the party. If some Tipper Gore-lite politician tries to win swing votes by denouncing this segment, it will only demonstrate that politicians are completely out of touch with the most important problems facing the country. I mean, really, what's the bigger problem here -- a racy promo, or the 68 American soldiers who've been blown to bits fighting the increasingly fruitless and bloody counter-insurgency war in Iraq this month?

If parents don't want their kids seeing the naked backside of some Desperate Housewife, they should have the TV tuned to PAX or Nickolodean. It's a free country, and the moral values zealots are always stressing self-reliance and responsibility. How about they rely on themselves to keep the TV off during prime time? Read the kids a frickin' book.

Also, it's a good thing T.O. decided to ditch Sheridan and play the game -- he scored three touchdowns. The thought of all those passes going to the wretched Todd Pinkston...it's just too much.

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Hey Santorum -- GOTCHA!
Apparently Rick Santorum, the deranged homophobe who is also Pennsylvania's junior senator, keeps a house in nowheresville, PA just to milk the township of $100,000 a year for his kids "education."

I love it when members of the party of "self-reliance" and "moral values" are caught doing something truly immoral. Only 23.5 months to go before we can throw one of America's saltiest wingnuts out of office.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Apoplectic neo-cons
At some point you have to wonder if round-Earth Republicans will someday come to regret their alliance with the lunatic Israeli right-wing fringe. Now that Arafat is dead, there is essentially no excuse for Bush and Sharon to continue ignoring the festering sore at the heart of Middle Eastern turmoil, better known as the Iraqi quagmire the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It appears as though Bush will be forced to try his dumb luck at diplomacy. But don't tell the fanatics that the jig is up. Over at FrontPage Magazine, where everyone to the left of Evan Bayh is a fifth-columnist, Don Feder tells us:

In reality, Arafat reflected the Palestinian mentality perfectly. Like him, the Palestinians are bloodthirsty, treacherous, sadistic, nihilistic anti-Semites who would rather kill a Jew than have a decent life.

They are no more ready to live in peace than the Huns of Attila or the Germans under Hitler.

At the end of The Road Map -- to be presided over by the Quartet: the UN, EU, Russia and the U.S. -- lies Auschwitz.

Well all-righty then. Mr. Feder apparently believes that no negotiations with the Palestinians are possible, because in his mind the Palestinians are all -- every one! -- Nazis who want nothing more than Jewish heads on pikes. I suspect that Mr. Feder and his gang of hysterical anti-Arab racists will be in for quite a shock if Bush decides to put any real weight behind a peacemaking initiative. At that point we'll see whether this weird coalition of American Likudnik extremists and Republican pragmatists was anything more than a short-term alliance of convenience.

If Bush really wants to make peace in the Middle East, he'll have to stand up to Feder, David Horowitz, Chuck Krauthammer, Bill Safire, Daniel Pipes (who he appointed to the U.S. Institute of Peace) and the whole ignominious crew of extremist apologists for Israeli occupation. Forget the coming civil war in Israel between the government and the settlers -- keep your eye on the upcoming civil war in the American right wing, between those who recognize that America has a keen interest in a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and those who think that Israel has a right to the "Biblical" lands of "Judea and Samaria" and that the millions of Palestinian inhabitants of those lands should be kept in a condition of resentful, abject poverty and statelessness in perpetuity.

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Football can't unite America
Blue America took its revenge on Red America tonight, as the Eagles pasted the Cowboys, 49-21. But since the election, blue-state football teams are 15-14, while red-state football teams are 14-13. Clearly, this country is terribly divided.

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Wingers against Specter, cont'd
It just never ends. Now he shouldn't chair the judiciary committee because of some obscure vote that he didn't cast for gun legislation in 1989. If Republican moderates had any dignity at all, they'd jump ship en masse -- Snowe, Collins, Specter, Chaffee, Hagel, McCain -- the whole lot of them.

As always, though, Republican dignity and $1.25 will get you a bottle of Coke.

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Monday, November 15, 2004

The "ownership" economy
Go read this extremely disturbing article in Slate. What it details is nothing short of the squashing of the New Deal bargain and the rise of unfettered corporate profiteering, at the expense of the government and employees. And remember that when Bush talks about an "ownership society," he's referring to the idea of transferring all the risks inherent in capitalist society to the individual, and exempting businesses from any responsibility to their employees or to the greater good.

The idea of the "medical savings account," is just an appealing-sounding way of convincing you to pay for your own health costs while simultaneously enriching the investment companies who will handle the transactions. Absolved of any responsibility for providing health care or retirement benefits to employees, companies will continue to increase profit margins without simultaneously increasing wages or hiring more workers. And because Republicans now have their greedy little hands all over the levers of power in Washington, no one is going to do anything at all about it.

Welcome to the New Economy.

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Today's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper Prize:
"Due to massive Islamic immigration over the past several decades -- immigration that has brought the repressive teachings of sharia into soon-to-be Muslim majority Dutch cities -- it is Holland, not America, where religious fanaticism is ascendant, theocratic dictatorship is really a possibility and Manhattan is definitely expendable. Amid the tulips, windmills and jihadist mosques, Holland now contends with the same murderous forces of reaction that American and Iraqi troops face in Fallujah." - Diana West, Townhall.com

Actually, Diana, you ignorant paranoiac, Muslims are about 1/16 of the Dutch population, and comprise no more than 10% in any major city. I know it's tought to do real, actual research on your columns, but you could at least try. For the record, the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh was despicable, but no reason to demonize the entire Dutch Muslim population, a plurality of whom hail from Turkey, hardly a hotbed of Islamic militancy. And if the Netherlands were truly facing "the same murderous forces of reaction that American and Iraqi troops face in Fallujah," then Amsterdam would look like Grozny. The Dutch, like most countries, have a problem with a dangerous and lunatic Muslim fringe, but let's not blow things entirely out of proportion.

Finally, no one in America is seriously concerned about Inquisition-style theocracy in the United States. What we're concerned about is the creeping hollowing-out of the barrier between church and state in this country, and the correspondence between evangelical desires and Bush Administration policy -- from abortion to gay marriage. It's scary, and it's real, unlike the thesis of your deranged column.

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Does this mean we can't bomb them?
Apparently Iran has cut a deal with the EU to stop enriching uranium. If the deal holds up, it would probably look very bad for the U.S. to send B-2's to obliterate Iranian nuclear facilities anytime in the near future. Boy, Michael "Tehran or Bust" Ledeen's gonna be pissed!

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Left Behind for the blue-state crowd
I was chatting about the depressing state of American politics with a friend last night, when the conversation turned to the ascendancy of the religious right. Somehow we started talking about Left Behind, the popular evangelical novel and film series based on the idea of the Rapture. For the non-religiously indoctrinated (like me), this involves the End of Days, in which all the devout Christian fundies are whisked away to Heaven and everyone else is "left behind" on Earth to deal with the Antichrist, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who is bent on world domination. To give you a peek into the mind-set of this crowd, here is an excerpt from Steve Travers, who wrote one of the 1,998 (!) Amazon.com reviews of the first installment:

"It is amazing to me how many people refuse to acknowledge the Truth about God, Christ, Satan and the universe, despite what is presented to us every day. The way Nicolae mesmerizes people in the book hits home, and reminds me of my theory that many successful people in Hollywood, rock music, or other endeavors of fame and fortune very possibly made deals with the devil, and their achievements are a result of their Faustian bargains."

I remarked to my friend that it would be pretty funny to write the anti-Left Behind, from the perspective of atheists, non-fundamentalist Christians, and the four billion devotees of other religions who would probably be quite happy if all the John Ashcrofts, Pat Robertsons, and Jerry Falwells of the world were suddenly transported elsewhere. Earth's fun quotient would instantaneously triple.

At least we would finally be free to teach evolution in schools without having to re-enact the bloody Scopes Trial every time some fundie wants to teach your children about "intelligent design." Think about it -- No more pretending that preaching abstinence is a good sex ed. program. No more banning Catch-22 and Huck Finn, no more networks refusing to air moving, important and disturbing war films because they might take some heat from religious activists and the increasingly-creepy FCC. No more right-wing loons insisting on posting the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, no more white-supremacist millenarian cults that force bloody showdowns with the federal government, no more having to defend Roe v. Wade like it was written yesterday by some "activist" appeals court judge instead of 31 years ago by the Supreme Court of the United States, no more attorneys-general who aren't allowed to dance, no more Federal Marriage Amendment. And so on.

In short, I can't describe to you how happy I would be if the entire membership of the American Taliban moral majority were granted their most fervent wish. If they could take everyone in al-Qaeda and Hamas too, plus all the medieval fascists who are now busy expelling alcohol retailers and Christians from Iraq, all the deranged Hindus who like to burn down mosques in India, and anyone else who can't grasp the very simple concept of tolerance, kind of a multi-faith fundamentalist trip to the moon, the world would be a much better place. In any case, I think it would make for a pretty funny satiric play.

And I said "satiric," not "satanic."

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Will Specter get a callback?
Which party is supposed to be intolerant of abortion views that are not in line with the party platform? Pro-choice Senator Arlen Specter of PA is really getting the squeeze from anti-choice fundamentalists in his cult party:

Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee (news -web sites) in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.

Specter, R-Pa., will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.

How is he supposed to "prove" it? Should he deliver a baby on the Senate floor? The man's been approving pro-lifers his entire career, and all he said was that the Christian Coalition Republican leadership in the Senate would have a tough time ramming pro-life absolutists through the Senate. In other words, he was telling the truth. And we all know where that gets you in Bushworld.

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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Dear Prudence: God just won't leave me alone
Apparently God is an incessant nag. Former Reds slopballer Frank Pastore describes what it's like being down, really down with the G-O-D:

"First, when you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit will not leave you alone (John 14:16-26). God wants you to celebrate His creation. He said you must be like a little child. (Matt. 18:3). Have you ever taken a little child to something really neat like the Grand Canyon? He'll look for a few seconds and then say "Lets go home." And you can say, "Look, it's the Grand Canyon, the GRAND CANYON!" and he says "Yeah, I see, let's go." You can't seem to get across the magnitude of it's beauty. Well, God is like that. Every day He shows you His creation and says "Look at that!" and He won't leave you alone until you really see it."

Twice in one short paragraph Frank Pastore tells me that his God simply will not leave me alone if I let Him into my life. I can't begin to express to Frank how creepy this truly is for most sane people. I'd gamble that at least a bare majority of normal human beings don't wish to be harassed by some freakish Saturn salesman God to keep looking at the beauty of creation until they feel compelled to render it IN CAPS.

Some things just don't excite other people as much as they excite you. Recently I tried to convince my girlfriend that it was really quite a remarkable statistical rarity for us to both be dealt pocket kings on the same hand of a five-person Texas Hold 'Em game. I thought it was REALLY AMAZING, but unfortunately all she ultimately cared about was that we had both split two dollars from the guy who called us to the river with a pair of queens. I tell you what though, I wish Frank Pastore's God had been around to browbeat her into believing she had just taken part in some kind of spiritual experience. I REALLY DO.

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Friday, November 12, 2004

Today's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper Prize:
"Under no circumstances is Jehovah, the God of the Bible, and Allah, of the Koran, the same. First of all, the God of the Bible is a God of love and redemption, who sent His Son into the world to die for our sins. Allah tells people to die for him in order to get salvation, but there is no understanding of salvation. Allah was the moon god from Mecca. That is why Islam has the crescent moon. The flag of Turkey has a crescent moon with a star in it. Well, the crescent moon is because Allah was the moon god, and that is the deal. But we don't serve a moon god. We serve the God of creation, the Creator of everything." -Pat Robertson

No siree, we certainly do not "serve a moon god," not around here. The administration, if you'll recall, does worship the Mars god. That is the deal. Mars, my little bitches!

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Black Tuesday wreaks havoc on my fantasy football league
5 managers renamed their teams in favor of Canada or John Kerry.

And yes, I really do Heart John Kerry. Still.

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All your allies are belong to us
More tough luck for the Coalition of the Willing: Prosecutor recommends 8-year prison sentence for Italian PM. I guess Preznit Bush had better start studying up on how to pronounce the next PM's name.

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Get Saved!
Ok, I give up. I've decided to join the Moral Majority, and you should too. Head on over to Jerry Falwell's site, and give it up for the Faith and Values Coalition . As our favorite radical cleric says:

Without a doubt the most important message of all times is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other name on Earth, beneath the Earth or in the Heavens above by which a person can be saved except through the name of Jesus.

Man, I thought the most important message of all time was the one store detective Don Brodka left on the answering machine for Marge and Homer after Bart got caught swiping Bonestorm from the Try 'N Save. But I guess I'm just a Godless heathen consumed by the dark forces of paganism. I have but one question before I fork myself over for salvation-- did Christ really die for all of our sins? Because last night I had a Citywide Special at the bar, and it just seems like a PBR and a shot of Jim Beam is a really stupid thing for him to go and die for.

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Nostradamus I'm not
I'm not going to lie to you -- writing and thinking about politics these days is about as much fun as watching Requiem For A Dream on an infinite loop, or sitting down for an all-day marathon of Neil Labute movies. So I'm going to post about something else. That something else is what a monstrously awful prognosticator I actually am. Here are the predictions I made about this year's baseball season, with my smart-ass comments underneath. The numbers in parentheses represent the number of games by which my prediction was off.

NL East Tough division should see good 3-team race.
Philadelphia 95-67 (9) Spring training has not been encouraging
Florida 93-69 (10) Counting them out is a serious mistake
Atlanta 87-75 (9) It ends. This year. And then it gets worse.
New York 80-82 (9) With a little luck, could even compete.
Montreal 70-92 (3) Baseball’s Marco Polo takes a dive.

NL Central Half tough division, half patsy central
Chicago 98-64 (9) Is Borowski the real deal? Rotation is stacked.
Houston 96-66 (4) Ditto, but losing Billy Wagner effects the whole bullpen.
St. Louis 84-78 (21) Mediocre pitching can’t compete.
Pittsburgh 70-92 (2) Mediocre pitching locks up 4th place.
Milwaukee 69-93 (2) It’s going to be a long season.
Cincinnati 65-97 (11) That pitching is bad. Supa-bad. Offense is also overrated.

NL West This division got mediocre in a hurry.
Arizona 88-74 (37!!!) Sexson, Johnson, and Webb win a weak division.
San Diego 85-77 (2) Huge improvement not quite enough.
Los Angeles 85-77 (8) Winter spent standing still was very costly.
San Francisco 80-82 (11) The bottom falls out of this operation.
Colorado 74-88 (6) Jeremy Burnitz? Vinny Castilla? Is it 2004 or 1994?

AL East ’27 Yanks might have trouble winning this one.
New York 106-56 (5) Only Sheffield’s thumb and Brown’s health could derail.
Boston 99-63 (1) Tim Wakefield + B-H Kim spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
Toronto 93-69 (26) Would easily win AL Central.
Baltimore 83-79 (5) Could win AL Central with difficulty.
Tampa Bay 61-101 (9) Would Win Pacific Coast League with difficulty. Overrated.

AL Central Worst division since 1973 NL East. Will winner be .500?
Minnesota 82-80 (10) Name one player that truly scares you.
Chicago 80-82 (3) Could win if back of rotation pulls through.
Kansas City 76-86 (18) No team with Brian Anderson at #1 wins anything.
Cleveland 70-92 (10) Prospects don’t win big-league games.
Detroit 58-104 (14) Subpar acquisitions + worst team ever = really bad team.

AL West Toss-up between Anaheim and Oakland
Anaheim 94-68 (2) More questions in rotation than you might think.
Oakland 92-70 (1) Simply not enough offense to take the division.
Seattle 87-75 (24) Boone is the only offensive threat, no #1 starter.
Texas 68-94 (21) The Rangers have sucked the entire Bush administration.

The most egregious pick was clearly the Diamondbacks to win the NLWest. It's not often that your division pick ends up being the worst National League team since the 1969 Montreal Expos. They were so bad that no one other than Randy Johnson won more than seven games, and Shea Hillenbrand led the team with 80 RBIs. But that's the nature of the business. I correctly predicted the winners of every AL division, but I botched each division in the NL. Minnesota answered my smarmy challenge with Cy Young winner Johan Santana, who put together perhaps the most dominating three months since Bob Gibson in 1968. Vinny Castilla and Jeremy Burnitz, who I mocked, both hit more than 30 home runs and drove in well over 100 runs.

Hey, I tried.

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A helping hand for Bush
Of all the insulting, ridiculout bullshit I've read from triumphant Republicans in the last week, this has to be the worst. From NRO's Deroy Murdock:

Democrats should return the favor. With their program in flames, Democrats should help Bush enact his agenda. Both parties should let vigilance, freedom, and opportunity guide their actions.
Hey Deroy: Fuck you and your agenda. And I hope that's the party's attitude. If we "help Bush enact his agenda" then the Democrats are truly a gaggle of sellouts and don't deserve anyone's vote. Bush can probably get his agenda through Congress without our party prostrating itself before Bush's alleged mandate. They should stand and fight, or switch parties. Compromise is for losers.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Is the conventional wisdom upside down?
The story of values costing the Democrats the 2004 presidential election is being increasingly challenged. A few days ago, Paul Freedman argued that it was terrorism, not values, which was the big story in the campaign, and that Democrats had not managed to convince voters that they could be trusted on national security. Freedman notes that the gay marriage-ban states had only marginally higher turnout in 2000, and that Bush's margin in these states actually decreased slightly from 2000 to 2004.

However, to really evaluate the effects of the gay marriage bans in those states, we would need to know what kind of voters were providing Bush's margin of victory in each case. If moderates broke for Kerry in 2004 in Ohio, for instance, then it is still possible that Bush's nearly-identical margin of victory would have had to come from fired-up values voters. It is also telling that Freedman refuses to acknowledge another big change between 2000 and 2004 -- the fact that more Americans identified themselvs as conservatives and fewer as liberals. I'm still not sure we have quite enough information to decide once and for all what won or lost this election for the candidates. But in any case, Freedman's article has been widely read and discussed, and it seems clear that morals and values weren't the only story in this election.

As I said immediately after Black Tuesday, I believe it is the ability of the GOP to wrap their agenda in a coherent cloak of values and ideology that allows the party to appeal to those most concerned with morality. The Democrats need not compromise on core principles of reproductive freedom, gay rights, and free speech to pick off some of these voters; they need instead to articulate the Democratic agenda in terms of liberalism's core values of justice, equality, and fairness, and to undermine the GOP agenda in moral terms. This involves not simply picking an issue or two -- the minimum wage and stem-cell research, for instance -- and reframing them as moral imperatives, but rather making liberalism itself the object of a positive and uplifting ideological project. As Kennedy said in this oft-circulated quote:

"What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a 'Liberal.'"

The Democrats should not run away from this word, but should take every opportunity to define and defend liberalism and expand upon its intellectual foundation. Part of the problem is that liberals have spent the greater part of 25 years defending the accomplishments of the New Deal against assaults from the right, and have thus not contributed very many compelling new ideas to the sphere of public debate. This is partly a problem of the right dominating the think-tank culture and the left dominating the Ivory Tower, but it is also evidence that liberals have not been very good at getting in front of our most pressing problems and offering bold and convincing policy alternatives. Here's just one of many, from Matt Miller:

"Miller explains why the current debate over a "living wage" -- now enacted in 80 cities, with more coming -- isn't serious about the 15 million people living in poverty despite living in homes headed by full time workers. The problem is that while liberals are right about the injustice facing unskilled workers, they're wrong about the economics of fixing it. It is simply not possible to solve the problem on a sustainable basis, Miller shows, by mandating that private firms pay wages as high as $10 or $12 an hour for employees who, in economic terms, are "worth" only six. The living wage laws that have been enacted have passed, paradoxically, only because their scope has been narrowed so as to have almost no impact -- a weird rallying cry for a movement! But at least the left is trying. While liberals settle for baby steps, the right merely sidesteps with calls for "education and training" that can't help those not destined to be retooled into software whizzes. Our national "living wage" debate amounts a showdown between the inadequate and the ineffectual. Shouldn't there be a better way?

Miller says yes -- starting with a national commitment that full time work should deliver at least $9 an hour. But they key is to make sure this cost isn't all be borne by the employer. Miller would guarantee $9-10 an hour for full time work via a sliding-scale tax credit to employers (based on an plan crafted by Columbia University economist Edmund Phelps). The "grand bargain" here requires the left to stop trying to place the full burden of a living wage on employers, while the right accepts the need to have government fund the rest. Business should love it, because workers could be hired for as little as $6 an hour, with government putting up $3 to match it. Since the social benefits of work (in terms of less crime, welfare dependency, etc.) exceed less skilled workers' productivity (which limits what employers can offer in wages), it makes sense for society to subsidize the difference."

The living wage issue could be a big winner for the Democrats if they were willing to get behind it with a solution that didn't rely entirely on either the government or on private employers. Ditto for health insurance. Ditto for a whole host of pressing social problems for which conservatives have no convincing ideas. Ditto for tax reform.

These should be liberal issues, framed in liberal terms, backed up with a strong, liberal conception of morality and values. Get behind them, articulate them firmly, defend and expand the ideology, and watch the electoral map change.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dumbest Thing I've Read Today
Shorter Barbarer Lerner: Anyone with troops in Iraq was for Bush!

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On the orgy of Araft death-glee
The mainstream media is falling all over itself writing gleeful obituaries for Chairman Arafat. Many pundits can hardly contain their euphoria.

I happen not to think very much of Arafat's leadership, particularly over the past few years, to say the least. But whatever you may or may not think of him, if you have any interest in ever making peace with the people he leads, you cannot tapdance on his grave like you just won the lottery. It's a bit disgusting, and it will only further alienate the Palestinians. Remember that it was not Arafat who refused to negotiate for the past four years, it was Sharon. It is difficult to read an account of the Camp David debacle without concluding that Arafat was, in the end, at least somewhat responsible for the outcome, but by January 2001 he had more or less accepted Clinton's terms for peace, and negotiators had hammered out the outlines of a comprehensive agreement at Taba. Furthermore, a wide-ranging, if imperfect, agreement was negotiated in 2003 between Israeli opposition leaders and Palestinian negotiators. It was called the Geneva Accord, and it was completely ignored.

Negotiations have not happened for the very simple reason that Ariel Sharon does not want them to happen. Most observers know what it would take to get the Palestinians to sign an agreement, but the current leadership of Israel has no interest in that agreement because it would involve turning almost all of the West Bank over to the Palestinians, allowing a token number of refugees to return to Israel, and dividing Jerusalem. For a number of reasons, Sharon will not countenance such an agreement, and at the time being, neither will the Israeli public, which seems convinced that giving in to Palestinian demands would only increase the amount of terrorism directed against them. For Sharon, yielding 97 or 98 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control would involve a repudiation of his entire career and philosophy -- the man was, after all, the architect of the settlement expansion during the 1980s.

Palestinian terrorism is certainly a problem, and no one can blame Israelis for being afraid of getting blown to bits on their way to work. But the long-term problem of religious fanaticism in Palestinian society is not going to be solved by keeping several million stateless, resentful paupers ghettoized in the West Bank for another twenty years while Israel consolidates its control over the settlements and the resources of the land it conquered in 1967. Building a wall may stop the bleeding, but it will not heal the wound. Only a peace deal -- the outlines of which are maddeningly clear -- can take the first, crucial step toward reconciliation and hope.

If Arafat does indeed pass away, the world will soon see whether the Gaza pullout plan is the first step toward a genuine peace, or rather an elaborate ruse which will allow Sharon and the settlement bloc to cement Israel's control over the West Bank. I'm not optimistic.

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Well, duh
The New York Times reports that "scores" of insurgents left Fallujah before the American assault which began two days ago, and that now they're coordinating attacks on Americans in other parts of the country. This should not surprise anyone, as I noted earlier. Fallujah was perhaps the single most telegraphed military assualt in the history of warfare, with the exception of the Iraq War itself, which was originally planned in 1996 by the group of paranoid and dystopian ideologues now running our foreign policy.

Despite the fact that many rebels have fled, it does appear that some have decided to stand and fight. Juan Cole writes that 23 American soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians and soldiers have been killed in the past two days, and that American forces are facing probably the most determined opposition they've experienced since arriving in Iraq in March 2003. What a revolting mess the whole thing truly is.

But thanks again, America, for re-electing the architect of the most disastrous strategic blunder in a generation!

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Today's Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper Prize: "Imagine waking up almost 4 years from now. It's November 5th, 2008. The day after the next Presidential Election. You turn on your radio and the next thing you hear is " PRESIDENT ELECT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON." Sounds pretty scary doesn't it?? Fear is a great motivator, and if the thought of 4 years of Hill and Bill doesn't scare you, then I don't know what else would!" -- blogsagainsthillary.com

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- the wingnut paranoia about Hillary Clinton is beyond self-parody at this point. I think there's almost no chance that Clinton will win the nomination in 2008 even if she seeks it, because the primaries are heavily slanted in favor of the Southern states (Iowa and New Hampshire notwithstanding). She'd get blown out on Super Tuesday by someone like Mark Warner or Wes Clark. That said, I'd almost love to see her elected, just because it would cause the loons over at Free Republic to implode like a nuclear reactor in The China Syndrome. The venom directed her way is weird, misogynist and entirely unbecoming.

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Exurban Nightmare
David Brooks describes the so-called "exurbs":

Ninety percent of the office space built in America in the 1990's was built in suburbia, usually in low office parks along the interstates. Now you have a tribe of people who not only don't work in cities, they don't commute to cities or go to the movies in cities or have any contact with urban life. You have these huge, sprawling communities with no center.
I cannot think of anything less appealing this side of the Taliban. No wonder people are afraid of gays, liberals, feminists, and secular humanists -- they've probably never met any! I lived in a kind of exurb in 2000-2001, a place called Mahwah, New Jersey, about an hour's drive from New York City. Mahwah also had "no center." Major office parks were clustered along the freeway and the state highway. Nothing could be reached on foot and there was no community to speak of.

The closest I came to making a friend in that place was at the New York Sports Club, which charged such an outrageous fee that I always entered and left the place in a huff. I can say unequivocably that my year in that fun-forsaken "exurb" was the most unpleasant 12 months of my entire life. The only saving grace was Mahwah's proximity to a few patches of wilderness. But I've always felt that if you're going to forsake the pleasures of city life, you may as well live in a rural area, where you at least are compensated by the pleasure of having no one around and by having nature close at hand. I am completely mystified by the exurb phenomenon. Perhaps I should hold my nose and buy Mr. Brooks' book.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

Facing the Senate catastrophe
It really burns me when people dismiss the Democratic losses in the Senate as part of some kind of historical realignment of the South with the Republican party. As the prominent Kos guest blogger *DemFromCT* wrote, " The fact that southern states elected GOP senators is no more shocking than the idea that New England states may someday elect Dem senators to replace the last of the GOP moderates (assuming they, themselves, don't switch parties the way Jim Jeffords did)."

The general attitude seems to be that the Dems lost Senate seats in red states, and that this sort of thing is inevitable if mildly regrettable. This is just wrong. If followed through to its inevitable conclusion, then the Democrats will face a structural deficit in the Senate of about 60-40 for the next generation. It is easy to see why this is so just looking at a simple chart of what I'll call "misplaced" senators -- Republicans serving in states Kerry won by 3 percent or more, and Democrats serving in states Bush won by 3 percent or more.

Misplaced Republicans:
Susan Collins (ME)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Norm Coleman (MN)
Gordon Smith (OR)
Rick Santorum (PA)
Arlen Specter (PA)
Lincoln Chafee (RI)

Misplaced Democrats:
Mark Pryor (AR)
Blanche Lincoln (AR)
Ken Salazar (CO)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Evan Bayh (IN)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Max Baucus (MT)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Harry Reid (NV)
Kent Conrad (ND)
Byron Dorgan (ND)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Robert Byrd (WV)
John Rockefeller (WV)

Simply put, there are twice as many misplaced Dems as there are misplaced Republicans. You can argue that Nevada and Colorado are trending Democratic, so maybe the number of is 12 instead of 14, but either way, the Democrats must find a strategy to defend red-state seats or accustom themselves to being the minority in the Senate for a long, long time. If the seats above switched to the "correct" party, we'd be looking at 62 Republicans and 38 Democrats in the Senate.

Now of course, some of these folks are popular and will be around as long as they wish regardless of other partisan trends in the state (Dorgan, Chaffee, Bayh, Lincoln, Specter). But some will retire, and some will be challenged. If we can't do any better in heavily red states like North Dakota and Arkansas, we're going to be in serious trouble in the long-term. What kind of strategy should we be looking for?

For one thing, the Democrats should not be so endangered in the plains states. The party need not tilt toward extreme protectionism in order to be pro-farm. The Dems should also think seriously about making plains-state depopulation an issue, because small towns are dying in the middle of the country faster than rain forest in Brazil, and no one seems to know how to address it. If the Democrats could come up with some kind of positive "Agenda For Small-Town America," we might be able to hold those seats even if our most popular figures retire or move on.

The second thing is that we've got to pick off those blue-state Republicans before they can pick off any more red-state Democrats. Beating Santorum should be one of the biggest Democratic Senate priorities in 2006, especially because the guy truly is a loon. That means running a GOTV effort that matches the one PA managed this year. And the party should put serious pressure on Chaffee, Snowe, and Collins to switch parties or face extinction.

The third and final thing is to find some kind of strategy for the South short of compromising our most important ideals and values. We simply cannot afford to abandon that much of the country to the other guys without a fight. Unfortunately, I have no idea how we should do this.

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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Five songs to cheer up depressed liberals
I sat in my office all morning on Wednesday and listened to music to lift myself out of the depressive funk I fell into around midnight on election night. Here's five songs that should get your feet tapping again:

1. The Littlest Birds, The Be Good Tanyas
2. Your Lips, Olu Dara
3. Big Brown Eyes, Old 97's
4. Kissing the Lipless, The Shins
5. The District Sleeps Alone, Postal Service

Okay, so not all of these songs are technically happy songs, but if you don't listen to the words too carefully, they're a sure-fire cure for the blues. Download 'em and listen to 'em. You'd also be supporting some kick-ass artists.

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A thousand words
I think this pretty much sums up how blue-state America is feeling right about now. I can't believe we just lost another frickin' election to George W. Bush = I can't believe we just lost to a team with a quarterback named Roethlisberger.

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Philly needs a shrink
The collective mental health of Philadelphia -- which went overwhelmingly for Kerry -- took another drubbing today when the Pittsburgh Steelers utterly demolished the formerly unbeated Philadelphia Eagles, 27-3. The city looked dazed from Wednesday to Saturday, as forlorn Democrats reluctantly dismantled their Kerry-Edwards signs and tried to pretend that they weren't in for another four years of Junior. This certainly didn't help.

Meanwhile, SEPTA, which runs all public transit in the city, announced that unless it gets a major cash infusion from the state, it will cut 1/6 of its workforce, raise fares, and end all weekend service. That's right -- all weekend service. Of course, the Pennsylvania state legislature is controlled by everyone's favorite majority party, and hence getting that money is likely to be difficult if not impossible. Any public transit service that fails to provide service on Saturday and Sunday is essentially useless, since hundreds of thousands of people work on the weekends. I'm not surprised that angry Republican lawmakers would try to strangle the cities that gave Pennsylvania to John Kerry, but still, it sucks. Especially for those of us who rely, partially or entirely, on public transit to get around Philadelphia.

This is essentially just one more way that the Republicans' strategy of starving government to death while giving you tiny, targeted tax breaks just ends up costing you much more money in the long run, as public goods are either withdrawn or underfunded, passing the cost and the misery onto the taxpayer. If SEPTA indeed raises its fares 50 cents, that could cost riders up to a dollar a day, more than wiping out that $300 rebate some of us received a few years ago. But that's all part of the strategy. As Lenin famously remarked, "The worse the better."

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Today's Brig. Gen. Jack. D. Ripper Prize: "With the liberals' billions of dollars spent, all the months and years invested, all the conjured-up hatred of and hard-spun misinformation regarding Bush, with the illegitimate exit polls and the self-deceived congratulatory pats on the backs, they hoped that their amoral vision for America would be bought by the majority. Instead, all of this has concluded with Bush stomping Kerry like a cockroach. That's got to leave a mark. Yes, the cocksure Dim-o-crats' vision for America landed them not in the White House but in the Out House, where they belong." -Doug Giles, Townhall.com

Ah, nothing like a cockroach metaphor to get that reconciliation started! Giles makes the same idiotic mistake of thinking that Bush won the biggest victory in history because he got the most votes in history (once again, it's called population growth, you idiot) when in fact he won with a bare majority. Go read the article yourself -- it's sad that people with a third-grader's grasp on the English language can now win a coveted spot as a columnist for this much-read website, but then again, it's more or less indicative of the level of public discourse these days, isn't it? Incidentally, that goes for ticked-off liberals calling Bush voters "Dumb F**ks" or referring to red-staters as "pig fuckers." Enough already.

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Elections and martial law
Does it strike anyone else as something of a bad omen for the Iraqi elections that the unelected Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has declared a 60-day state of emergency? I don't blog too much about Iraq, both because I'm not there, and because other people have more and better things to say about it than me, but the latest developments there are quite disturbing. A little more than a month ago, the U.S. sent forces into Samarra and claimed that they had "tightened their grip" on the city. Unfortunately, the insurgents seem not to have gotten the memo. The fact that the U.S. can send forces into a city, ostensibly pacify the place, and then watch in horror as it explodes as soon as they leave indicates that the rule of law is ephemeral indeed and tends to vanish whenever U.S. troops move along their way. It particularly does not bode well for the assault on Fallujah.

Now, it may be that the thousands of insurgents who have been holed up in Fallujah will stand and fight, and of course lose, to the vastly superior U.S. forces now massed around the city. But it seems far more likely that many of them have already moved on, since the U.S. has been telegraphing this maneuver for more than a month, and since anyone with an internet hook-up knew it was going to be postponed until after the presidential election. I have little doubt that the U.S. will roll through the city and claim that it has been pacified sometime this week. But the question on everyone's minds should be -- is the city actually pacified, and has this engagement succeeded in crippling the insurgency, or just in transporting it to another locale? If the sophisticated operation in Fallujah is successfully packed up and unloaded in some other city, this means two things -- one is that counter-insurgency efforts are unlikely to ever be fully successful, and two, that the insurgency has considerable support from some elements of the population. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that this is the case.

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