Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Swiftboats Hit the Beach

The WMC/Federalist Society/Gableman campaign to undermine the good work of the State Bar’s Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee (WJCIC) continues apace.

The intent of this coordinated effort continues to be to impugn the integrity of the Integrity committee, so as to limit its effectiveness when it inevitably weighs in on the scorched-earth tactics soon to be employed by those who would replace a fine, historic justice on the Supreme Court – Louis Butler – with a job-hopping judge from Burnett County who attained his current position (almost) magically – with no application, no recommendation from the judge selection panel and with hefty contributions to the campaign of the Republican governor that appointed him. Knowing that their planned attacks on Butler will plow new ground in Wisconsin judicial races – thereby attracting predictable criticism by those who (rightly) do not want to see judicial races fought like garden-variety congressional street fights – the right-wing forces are trying to kill the independent WJCIC messenger.

Or, at least, the electoral version of "kill", which is – to swiftboat. One of the Federalist Society stalking horses for the WMC/Gableman campaign – Don Daugherty – comes right out and says how much he wants to swiftboat the WJCIC in a memo to the Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe (printed, Sykes-like, in a post by Federalist Society member, WMC video star and first-year law professor Rick Esenberg). "I guess we can be fairly accused of wanting to ‘swiftboat’ (or, as I prefer, to ‘bork’) the WJCIC," brags Daugherty in the memo that is hilariously designed to try to snow its readers into believing how non-partisan he is on the Butler-Gableman race.

This is an interesting admission, to say the least. I’m not sure it’s hit Webster’s yet, but the conventional wisdom definition of swiftboating is pretty clear – the distribution of lies for political advantage. Showing his hard-right political stripes, Daugherty says he prefers to say he wants to bork, a reference to the process where the worst Supreme Court nominee in fifty years – Robert Bork – was confronted with his own ridiculous positions in a Senate hearing and was therefore denied a seat on the Court (see any of Bork’s post-nomination writings to see how grateful we all should be that he was not confirmed). The difference is that Bork was doomed by the truth and John Kerry was beaten with well-paid lies, but if Daugherty wants to equate the two, that’s his problem. The bottom line is that he intends to do the WJCIC damage because it will interfere with WMC/Gableman campaign tactics.

Oh, wait – he denies that. "I am not publicly supporting either Justice Butler or Judge Gableman," he writes, with the emphasis, no doubt, on the word "publicly". "We are simply exercising our right to publicly question the wisdom behind the WJCIC." Oh, sure. It just happens to play in the hands of the WMC/Gableman campaign tactics. Just a coincidence. Nothing to see here. Move along.

I don’t mind being told things I know aren’t true during a political campaign, but I do resent having my intelligence insulted. Daugherty and three others got "publicly" involved in the WJCIC "issue" way back on January 18th, when they were allowed an op-ed piece in the Journal Sentinel (without a mention of their Federalist Society ties) to preemptively attack the work of the WJCIC. Now, a month-and-a-half later, the Federalist Society has sprung for CRC Public Relations – the PR firm from Alexandria, Virginia that handled the original swiftboat liars, to get Daugherty and the other signatories to the op-ed to go out and – I guess – read the op-ed in public or something. Again, just innocent, good-government advocates, with an honest disagreement with the State Bar’s WJCIC. Hiring the swiftboat PR firm. Saying that he wants to swiftboat or bork the WJCIC. Acting in concert with their friend Esenberg, who starred in a video for the WMC as part of their anti-Butler campaign.

Right. What would be so wrong with Daugherty and company just coming out and saying they are trying to pave the way for the WMC move to the gutter (coming soon to a television near you) and argue it on the merits? Why even pretend to not have an interest in the election or admit the benefits of not having a watchdog to WMC/Gableman?

In his memo, Daugherty refers to the e-mails between WJCIC members distributed by Club for Growth, another right-wing Republican third-party that has poked its nose into the supposedly-nonpartisan judicial election. The innocuous e-mails were treated like smoking guns by the usual suspects looking to knock off the WJCIC. In the most interesting ones, the members of the committee wonder out loud why Gableman was refusing to sign their clean-campaign pledge. This led to accurate descriptions of the roles of the Republican hack managing Gableman’s campaign ("Darrin [Schmitz] is the legitimate child of the demon RJ Johnson an advocate of wedge politics from whence all the trouble arises.") and Charlie Sykes ("Replying to Charlie is the equivalent of getting into a pissing contest with a skunk." Indeed...). As I've asked before, is the truth a defense? There is nothing wrong with the committee trying to figure out what the resistance is and how best to overcome it in light of who they are dealing with. The wing-nuts’ problem with these e-mails is not that the committee got it wrong, but that they got them too right.

This is all inside baseball at this point to most people. When WMC/Gableman finally drops the other shoe, we’ll see why it was so important for them to try to change the rules and the history of judicial elections in Wisconsin. Daugherty, Esenberg and the others simply seek to minimize the impact of the good judgements of the WJCIC, opening the door to the judicially-improper harsh attacks that they know is the only way for Justice Butler to lose.

Those unable to live with their inability to win fair elections try to change the playing field. They cheat. They lie. And, now -- they swiftboat.

BTW: Daugherty's memo to McCabe says that the Federalist Society is going to sponsor a "debate" about the WJCIC's role in the public education process. He says they don't know who might represent the "other side". As always, I'm available.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sin of Un-Pride

If you thought they were human, you’d almost have to feel sorry for the ridiculous people who populate the right-wing radio and blog echo chamber. Last year, they lost their White House mentor, Karl Rove, who kept them supplied with talking points and message assignments. After spending months (no – years) on the "Stop Hillary Express" and flirting with losers like Giuliani, Thompson (both of them) and (holding their noses) Romney, they ended up with the inconveniently off-message John McCain as the GOP nominee. Rudderless and clueless, they flopped around on the deck of the U.S.S. Nutbag like so many netted fish, looking for a way back to the shrinking pond of their own relevance.

As I predicted several times, they have found some of their annoying, tinny voices again by finding a fresh canvass to paint on. Now that Barack Obama is the frontrunner and likely Democratic (or, as they say so cleverly, "Democrat") nominee, they are falling all over themselves finding different ways to say "liberal", "unaccomplished" and "scarily inspirational". The same radio comedians who, just weeks ago (when she was still winning), were recoiling in awe at how unbeatable Obama would be compared with the damaged Hillary are chuckling in unison at the now-hapless would-be messiah from Illinois (via Kenya and Kansas). When they are not devising hilarious comedy routines surrounding variations on his funny name (Obarama, Obamuslim, Obamalamadingdong, etc. - stop, yer killing me), they are comparing his potential leadership to that of Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, which, I’m guessing, they do not mean as a compliment.

And now, displaying the charm and class you always knew they possessed, they are going after Michelle Obama. While still in Wisconsin last week, Michelle had the nerve to say that she was "proud" or "really proud" of her country for the first time in her adult life because "I think people are hungry for change". This led to all sorts of caterwauling on the right that echoed through the mainstream media for the rest of the week, and even into the Sunday morning talk shows this weekend.

Obama was judged guilty of the sin of un-pride. All over mainstream radio and right-wing blogs, the self-righteous took turns waxing sanctimonious about how proud she should be. Those whose job it is to be proud of the pride that they had were proud to be as proud as they were and outraged by her un-American unpride. They made lists of pridefull things that she should be proud of. "What is that matter with her that she was not proud of [insert favorite jingo moment]."

Many of the things mentioned had nothing to do with being an American. Rescues of babies in wells and miners in caves are accomplished by first-responders all over the world everyday, but, somehow, when it’s done in America, it’s just that much more special. I hate to tell these people who seem to need to hang on to this myth, but the fall of the Berlin Wall had very little to do with the USA, much less with Ronald Reagan. The Eastern Bloc collapsed of its own weight, not because we sat around and berated them for five decades. Some even mentioned prideful Olympic moments. I actually can’t think of any in the past 25 years – you mean like Marion Jones?

As we all know because it was discussed ad nauseam during the week, Michelle became an adult in 1982. Let’s see...1982...second year of Reagan, not a good time for anyone with any sense. After the Reagan fiasco, Bush 41, the let’s-beat-up-Clinton years and – sheesh – Junior Bush. What the hell is she supposed to be proud of? The invasions of Grenada and Panama? Private illegal support of the contra terrorists in Nicaragua? The funding of same through arms sales to Iran? The nightmare of an eight-year Republican witch-hunt of a successful Democratic president, resulting in a partisan impeachment over adultery driven by a couple of sleazy congressmen who soon thereafter had to resign over...adultery? Is she supposed to be proud about the disgusting series of Bush nightmares: Florida 2000, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld, swift-boating, Gonzales, Cheney, Katrina, the bankrupting of the federal government, Iraq (4,000 dead soldiers), Iraq (30,000 maimed and wounded), and more Iraq ($500 billion down the toilet and counting)?

The demanding of national pride is a phony litmus test to the right-wing charlatans who wrap themselves up in the flag because beneath they have no clothes. Those who have ransacked the nation for the sake of their own power and have been wrong about absolutely everything for the past 25 years now want you to bow to the altar of their fake patriotism and profess your allegence to their nonexistent accomplishments. What a bunch of hooey. People should not only be forgiven for recognizing that there has been far more despair than pride in recent years – they should be rewarded for their insight. They shouldn’t be browbeaten into backtracking, which Michelle O. was required to do after her "gaffe".

I remember going to a Brewers game in the spring of 1977. I found myself singing that horrible song (music-wise, dammit), The Star Spangled Banner for the first time since Watergate. Jimmy Carter was elected, and our national nightmare of Richard Nixon and the puppet who pardoned him really was over. Yes, there was change and, yes, there was hope. And, yes, I was proud that the country that I loved had turned that page. No matter which Democrat wins this year, I’ll stand at Opening Day 2009, my heart will swell and I’ll sing again. And I’ll watch the fair-weather patriots sit on their hands, mutter into their beers – and dream of darker days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For Those About to Vote Obama

These are some thoughts for those – in the majority of my readership, I assume – who are planning to go out today and vote in the Wisconsin primary for Barack Obama. As I said quietly a couple of posts ago, I am going to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton – proudly and unapologetically. She is singularly qualified to be the person to lead us out of the wilderness of the Bush nightmare; to put the pieces of our broken, corrupt government back together and move it forward in a positive direction.

Yeah, I know – you don’t think so. You think Hillary is irredeemably damaged and Obama is fresh. You think Hillary is divisive and Barack is uniting. You think Obama will win against McCain and Hillary will lose. I think you might be wrong. Just think about these points, and then go ahead and do whatever the hell you think is right.

1) There is Nothing Wrong with Hillary

Look...Can you think of any two people in this world who have had more brutal treatment at the hands of more talentless hacks than Hillary Clinton and her famous husband? Seriously. Not only were both of them undermined in the most unfair, lying ways by a determined right-wing echo-chamber since they dared to pop up out of Arkansas in 1992 – they also were never accepted by the Democratic and media establishment in Washington, who not only allowed, but facilitated phony "scandals" like Whitewater, the travel office and, yes, Bill getting some from/with an intern in the hallway next to the Oval Office.

I always thought both Clintons deserved some sympathy and support for suffering at the hands of these various knobs, but, alas, the conventional wisdom remains that they somehow got (and get) what they deserved. Hillary, for her part, ignored all that noise and became a successful, landslide-margin senator from New York. Despite her success, she remains the repository for all manner of ill will and the target of insufferable hate from insecure people who project their various sexist issues regarding successful women onto her. She is either a closet lesbian seeking to emasculate men everywhere or she is a pathetic anti-feminist for climbing to power on the back of her horny husband. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.

If she was any other independently-successful wife of a successful political husband – say, Maria Shriver or, yes, Michelle Obama – she would be celebrated as just the kind of talented woman who should break the glass ceiling in the White House. But, because the Democratic and media elite decided long ago to foster bizarre stereotypes about both Clintons, she is not allowed to be judged on her own merits. Many of those following the Clinton Rules (definitively nailed by Paul Krugman in this recent column) are like the guy at the end of the bar who just wants to be agreeable – everyone else is laughing at her/them, so he will, too.

2) Listen to Them

Have you heard the wing-nuts in the last week? After holding their fire for months - hoping that Obama would be it - the right-wing figures Obama is finally the frontrunner and the presumptive nominee. Now they are piling on with the usual bullshit, comparing him to Jimmy Carter, George McGovern; calling him dangerously messianic (one particularly deranged commentator comparing his movement with the Crusades); he says nothing; he says too much; he is socialist; the most "liberal" senator and candidate ever...etc.

Obama himself says he wants to get above and beyond the "partisanship of Washington", but he can’t do it unilaterally and can’t really believe that the right-wing – which has nothing going for it but the politics of personal destruction – would give him a pass. They won’t and they aren’t. By the time they get done with poisoning the political well about Obama in a general election, you are going to wish you had only to defend the quaint, familiar supposed deficiencies of Hillary Clinton. They are going to paint him as weak, unaccomplished and radically liberal. And that’s before they get into the personal stuff they will dig up, which we have to assume is fertile ground for a former community organizer in Chicago, or anyone else with a real life.

Translation: A Republican campaign against Obama will be just as personally ugly as a campaign against Clinton. Those expecting a change in the political tone from these people are dreaming. I think it is entirely possible that the Republicans will eat Obama alive, or at least cast enough of a poisonous spell that the electorate will think it safer to go with the known war-hero McCain. Those who think he has so much integrity he can withstand this kind of attack without being affected are kidding themselves. Which leads us to...

3) Obama Has Already Peaked

National polls currently show Obama beating McCain by several points in a general election. The same polls show Clinton pretty much tied (not behind, as you have been told). This is all meaningless, of course, but it is given great weight by those wrongfully considering Obama more electable. Given that we are only in the beginning of the anti-Obama right-wing campaign and that the long knives of mainstream media reporters are out to make their nut by taking him down a notch or three, I think you can pretty much count on this being the high point of Obama’s popularity – it’s all downhill from here. Hillary, on the other hand, can only go up.

When she began her New York senate campaign, the chattering class said she was shrill, rigid, demanding – all the things she is called now by those who don’t know her and hope the worst for her. Unlike recent political has-been Rudy Giuliani, however, the more people see of her, the more they like her. There is no reason to think that won’t be the case in the general election, especially when she is compared to the clueless John McCain. Polling nationally now, most people don’t really know either McCain or Clinton. Once they get to know each – and, more importantly, their positions on the dramatic challenges facing our country – they will know that McCain’s compelling personal story will never make up for the utter wrong-headedness of him and his dying party. Hillary can drive that nail into the Republican coffin as well as – I would say, better – than anyone.

As I've said before, if Obama's the nominee, I'll be with him 100%. But those of you thinking you are making your/our political efforts easier by nominating him are kidding yourselves.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Star Wars .01 – Darth Cheney’s Revenge

What comes up must come down. Even some expertly-placed satellites fall victim to the laws of physics eventually and find themselves doomed to the vagaries of atmospheric drag. The bigger ones can cause trouble. In 1979, the world watched and worried as the giant Skylab experimental space station lost its mojo and dropped out of orbit, eventually landing harmlessly in the Indian Ocean. In 1977, a Soviet spy satellite spun out of control, complete with an on-board compact nuclear reactor, landing in the Canadian Arctic and scaring the heck out of some amateur adventurers (with cold CIA agents in hot pursuit). Orbiting man-made objects, large and small, burn up in the atmosphere frequently. It’s a cost of doing orbital business.

It used to be that the governments responsible for falling space junk would simply watch, worry and warn, with only slightly more credibility than Chicken Little. But that was before the radical Bush administration decided to take charge of the laws of gravity. A U.S. spy satellite that failed as soon as it was launched a little over a year ago is coming home, uninvited. As always for the Cardboard Cowboy from Texas, it’s shoot now and ask questions later. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight has decided to shoot a rocket into space to destroy the damn thing.

According to the military – an always-important caveat – the satellite, rigidly identified as USA 193, presents more danger than just the usual metal rain and craters that attend these sort of events. They expect that about 1,000 pounds of a propellant containing hydrazine would survive reentry and all sorts of skin rashes and difficult breathing for those who might come in contact with it would result (from this entry on something called ToxFAQs, it doesn’t seem that bad). I mean, it’s not like it’s plutonium or some of the other stuff they cavalierly send up to float around in the heavens on a regular basis. Considering the fact that the thing has at least a 70% chance of landing in water, what’s the big deal?

Ah, but, like circling vultures, the Bushies thrive – still – on the opportunities presented by tragedy and failure. Why let it fall to the earth on its own? Let’s crank up the machinery and SHOOT IT DOWN!! We get to advance the wacky Star Wars (SDI) agenda and technology, take a giant leap in the militarization of space and get the jump on any other country that thinks it might go head-to-head with us in space shoot-‘em-ups. One more perpetual project by the military industrial complex that the next president will have to try to shut down. Cue Mister Burns: Exxxcellent...

The chance to take a free shot at the dead satellite was obviously too much for the inventive war mongers of the administration to pass up. When China did the same thing to one of their own satellites a year ago, the U.S. got all huffy about how the exercise was "inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation between the two countries". The planned U.S. shoot-down also flies in the face of international conventions (such as the Outer Space Treaty) and serious concerns about the militarization of space. But, as we all know all too well, the Bushies consider internal consistency and international law for suckers. This presents a whole ‘nuther area for this band of rogues to undermine America’s moral authority in the world – hey, time is running out!

The continued development and perfection of anti-satellite weapon technology has all kinds of implications for the future -- all of them bad. If a satellite can be intercepted with a ballistic missile, why not by a fellow warrior satellite? Maybe we should outfit the space shuttle with "defensive" machine guns on the wings – I mean, you never can be too careful. Do we know where all the communication satellites are for China and Russia? Do they know where ours are? See, that’s the thing about opening this deadly door – after we do it, anyone can. It won’t be too long before we’ll be worrying less about dirty bombs on land than terrorist attacks on decadent DirectTV orbiters. Talk about getting us where we live.

Dig these quaint principles from the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United States in 1967:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental activities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

It’s all so Kumbaya, isn’t it?

Scene: Darth Cheney is led to the balcony of his lair at his undisclosed location. He sees the star-like satellite streaking across the sky in low orbit (you can see it, too). Raising a gold silk bandana in his right hand, he nods to his minions; they indicate their readiness. A military drummer rolls on his snare. The cloth falls from his hand and hits the red carpet just as the rocket finds its target, exploding like white fireworks, a trail of permanent space debris trailing from the site of the blast.

Darth Cheney allows himself a thin smile. Exxxcellent...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Audacious Epiphanies

I had an unexpressed thought early last year (really – I did) that the Democrats this year should run their selection process somewhat like American Idol. Not that they should all submit to the judgements of a smarmy, self-promoting cheesy-music hack like Simon Cowell. My idea was that the candidates should treat the process like summer camp, high-fiving each other in victory and defeat, giving hugs all around when they get booted or move to the next level. In the end – at the convention – they would all stand behind the winner, joining hands and singing in unison as they scatter across the country to take it back from those dumb-ass Republicans. There is a certain joy we should allow ourselves. We always thought we were right about a lot of things, but with the whole country finally turning on the radical Bush/GOP agenda, we never thought we were this right.

Though not by design, it has pretty much turned out that way. Everyone played nice until Iowa, and then those who needed to get out got out, with grace and support for whoever wins. John Edwards fought an excellent fight with the most dynamic populist message, but it was not to be in this historic year and he had perfect timing leaving the race, taking the best wishes of all with him. Now, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stand alone, practically tied, but Obama has the momentum and new frontrunner status. And, here, this is no longer a spectator sport. Wisconsin votes on Tuesday, and, suddenly, they are here.

Obama spoke in Madison at a new building, a block from one of my many apartments on Dayton Street. His wife, Michelle, was hanging with some other women at Ma Fisher’s, of all places (alas, not at 2 in the morning). Chelsea Clinton was at UWM and in the Great Hall at Memorial Union in Madison, the same room where my own infamous Mother’s Day concert took place in 1982. Bill Clinton showed up this week at the Italian Community Center, where I first shook his hand during the ‘96 campaign. Both Hillary and Obama are attending the Founders Day dinner at the Midwest Airlines Center, on the site where I and many ither parked our cars for years.

So this is the time when these national, ultimately historic figures traipse across the fields of our existence and memories. It is here in these familiar places where they insert themselves and we take their measure. Although they come and they go and try to make a personal connection, chances are our decisions will be informed not so much by any contact we can make with them in the next couple of days as by the continuing reality show that is their campaigns as extensively covered on cable TV.

This campaign has been going on for more than a year now; every dreary and inspirational moment captured and talked to death on cable. Despite the life-sucking coverage and look-alike-sound-alike appearances by the candidates – Obama’s rally on Tuesday night could have been in Maryland or South Carolina; except for the kid in the sombrero, Hillary’s in-the-round deal in Texas the same night could have been anywhere – there are still a couple of moments (one for each candidate) in the past couple of weeks that stand out and threw my decision who to vote for on Tuesday into temporarily murky confusion.

I had my Hillary epiphany while watching her on Letterman the night before Super Tuesday. Dave was conducting a very friendly, substance-centered interview with her. She was discussing the ins and outs of various plans for health care, mortgage-crisis relief and whatever and everything she said was clear, concise and right.

I tried to imagine Obama doing the same thing. I couldn’t see it. Obama would be too busy trying to promise to get the middle somehow, using any problem to riff about how the bickering has to stop and how we should find common ground and the rest of it. It would be a passable answer, I guess, and I know he’d eventually get to the right place. But Hillary’s "ready on Day One" line is not an insignificant claim. She is an exquisite policy wonk – maybe even more than Bill – and the Bush crew has gotten things so horribly messed up, we need someone with her kind of specific plans and skills.

My Obama epiphany happened while watching the coverage of the Potomac primaries this week. He crushed her 2-to-1 in Maryland and Virginia and the chattering heads on TV were saying that she was giving up in Wisconsin and backing up to her last stand in Ohio and Texas in March. Obama had run the table since February 5th and taken a slight lead in delegates. At the night’s climax, Obama spoke from the Kohl Center.

One of the cable news guys told us that he had teleprompters set up for the Madison rally, which is not always the case. He used the set-up to maximum advantage – his first speech as a frontrunner had him digging into McCain and ignoring Clinton. Like all of his primary-night speeches, it was a good one, bu this one had rhythm, poetry and some real meat on the bones of the possible (if not probable) campaign against McCain. It was inspiring in many ways, not only for its powerful delivery (I wouldn’t be surprised if he rehearsed this one a couple of times) but for its messages. For a moment, I set aside my concerns about what might happen to him when the Republican attack machine gets cranked up to define him. I was ready to go to the mat for him – ready to help make it happen.

Cooler heads have prevailed later this week, as the right-wing – after spending the last week trying to convince you how "unbeatable" he was – finally started testing its anti-Obama strategies. Obviously taking him seriously for the first time, the talking points went forth and all the wing-nuts had something to say about his alleged lack-of-message or his dangerous liberalism. As if to admit their state of desperation, national and local squawkers are now freely throwing around the S-word – socialism – to describe every manner of Democratic design. What we can expect from them – at least until some scab comes out of the woodwork to accuse him of being a secret Muslim or attending communist cell meetings – is the shotgun approach, where they hit you with everything until you become uncomfortable enough with him that you settle for McCain. That’s how Bush beat Kerry.

The funniest attack on Obama is that he is "messianic" – that he is too inspirational, in a way that could lead to some sort of "totalitarianism". This hysteria is brought to us by the same people who want to exhume Ronald Reagan, the master of meaningless hyperbole, such as the "shining city on the hill" and other such nonsense. They accuse Obama of offering hope and unity as a subversive lie. "We can found paradise on earth through a benevolent state," the increasingly-reactionary Rick Esenberg falsely paraphrases. "The government can love you." Elvis Costello sang about the lure of political charisma years ago – You think they’re so dumb/You think they’re so funny/Wait until they get you running to the/Night Rally – but he was talking about brownshirts (and, maybe, Romney). To imagine that thousands would come out of Obama rallies in some sort of trance-like state gives Obama too much credit and his advocates none at all.

Besides the beginning of the anti-Obama campaign on the right, Hillary also got some good news later this week – finally being declared the winner in New Mexico and out-polling Obama by a wide margin in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The campaign is, indeed, going to compete in Wisconsin and a Rassmussen poll today shows only a 4-point difference here.

After all this, I ended up the week where I began. If Hillary has a chance here, I’m going to vote for her. But I'm going try to catch them both in person over the weekend. The Democratic race is exciting, historic, and we can't miss either way. The weather notwithstanding, this is a great weekend to be in Wisconsin.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

False Prophets of the Right

I went to see There Will Be Blood this weekend, expecting Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson to live up to their distinguished pasts and their current rave reviews. I must say I came away disappointed. The dark boy-finds-oil/boy-gets-rich/boy-goes-nuts movie does not have much humor or understandable passion; nor can we generate any empathy for a central character with irredeemable deficits. In the category of no-happy-ending stories told last year by talented movie makers, the Coen brothers’ stark No Country For Old Men is imminently more memorable and a much better film.

One thing Blood gets right, though, is the display and ultimate exposure of the False Prophet. Paul Dano (the disturbed teenager in Little Miss Sunshine) is magnificent as the young evangelical hustler who gives false hope to the poor dirt farmers being exploited by the outside oil men. Ultimately, he has to decide whether or not to confess his religious sins in exchange for financial redemption. Unlike Day-Lewis’ similarly insincere prostration before him years earlier, Dano is not rewarded.

On our country’s right-wing, the purveyors of lies and phony faith face a similar denouement. Stripped of their primary function as remote-controlled Bush/DeLay enablers, the nut-right flounders in a wilderness of their own making. Bereft of issues or candidates that fit their outdated designs, they find themselves boxed in by the echos of their own megaphone pronouncements. Although they claimed to be in a battle of ideas, their political convictions floated with the winds of Bush whims and ineptitude (example: nation-building was bad, until Iraq). Now, they are stuck with themselves, trapped in empty rooms with a dwindling number of fellow travellers.

Consider, for instance, the hilariously-titled "Defending the American Dream" dog-and-pony show in Pewaukee on Saturday (sympathetically live-blogged starting here). A production of the right-wing front-group Americans for Prosperity (the rest of us being against prosperity, I suppose), the program featured third and fourth-rate speakers, baying at the suburban moon about everything from taxes to "earmarks" to global warming. With "stars" like third-tier mainstream radio wing-nut Vicki McKenna (who spends much of her imported-from-Madison radio show on WISN complaining about the shrinking options for her to smoke her Camel Lights in public) lighting the way, conference attendees would be forgiven if they thought they were being led into one of Blood’s black, shaky drill-pits without the government safety protections they rail against so much.

The danger that these charlatans might have people buying their snake oil again is as slim as the roster of speakers. National movement "intellectual" Dinesh D’Souza had to share stage time with local pikers like Sheriff David Clarke and Judge Mike Gableman, who continued to push the judicial election envelope, claiming (according to the blogger) that Justice Louis Butler’s alleged "judicial liberalism makes Wisconsin less safe". Empty suits like J.B. VanHollen, Scott Walker and Paul Ryan abounded...is this the best Republicans can do around here? The answer is "yes" – all the better for those of us on the other side.

As described on the blog, the whole event seems not very inspiring, by any stretch of the imagination. Those deluded souls looking for dynamic tools to fight on had to leave disappointed. The conference was apparently nothing but the converted preaching to and telling lies about themselves.

A session about global warming gets a lot of play by the blogger, so we can see how truly out-of-touch the nut-right is on that vital topic. Global warming is one of the their favorite protect-the-rich hot-button topics, where they ignore science and exploit the obvious ("Hey, it’s freezing outside – some ‘warming’, huh?"). Besides the predictable shoot-the-messenger ridicule ("Gorebal Warming", "Algore Goracle" – stop, yer killing me), the session apparently cranked up its message with hysterics and very little science. "Biggest threat to freedom", "draconian measures" "slow down the economy" – whatever. They even trotted out their favorite former weekend-weatherman, Republican Assemblyman Jim Ott, to wax skeptical about the problem, although he still trotted out some solutions like conservation and (wait for it...) more nuclear. Let’s just say that, if their campaign to stay stupid on the environment is successful, I hope they all leave their forwarding addresses behind so we can find them when the coasts start dissolving.

Alas, after all that dream-defending, the right-wing faithful left the conference the same way they came in – doomed to electoral defeat and exposed as the frauds that they are. Like dirt-farmer preachers and megachurch frauds, they use their mainstream radio forums and "think"-tanks to probe the ignorant, the weak and the fearful for softness and then pounce, holding them upside-down until every shred of money and/or ideological support falls out of their pockets. They shrink from fair fights and make self-righteous judgements about those who dare to challenge their lies and devices.

When enlightened congregations rise up and toss their false preachers from the pulpit, the disgraced would-be clergy wander from place to place, looking for the next gullible target. When the wing-nuts lose their political sponsors and their audience, where will they go?

The American people might forgive them for their sins, but, first, we should demand that they declare their False Prophecy for all to see and hear. Admit they were wrong, admit they never believed it, admit they lied. Since they have no self-respect and we have nothing to bail them out with, it might be hard to motivate them to take that step. But, as their ideas fail in the diverse ideology of the near-future, they may be desperate enough to seek a little secular redemption. Then, like Dano’s preacher, they will get an answer – one way or another.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Romney Bites the Dust

One of the joys of this very entertaining political season is that you get to see more than one Republican bite the dust, humiliated in defeat. Who could restrain themselves after the gloriously sullen exit of Fred Thompson, the darling of the right-wing bloggers? How could you deny the joy of seeing the self-appointed mayor of 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, slink off the national stage with his one delegate after spending $50 million, or whatever?

These are heady times, where the inflated heads of self-righteousness meet their just rewards rather than be rewarded. Thompson left to save what is left of his TV career (anyone in the market for a cranky elitist?); Rudy left to save his consulting firm (although who would pay for his great advice is anyone's guess). Both started their campaigns in the rarified air of media anointment. Both were forgotten the moment they walked off their last podium (in Thompson's case, sooner). As he mumbled into his tie after his embarrassing crash in Florida, Giuliani could barely look up, for fear someone else in the room would see him and decide not to vote for him. Fred couldn't be bothered to even show up in public -- he is the first loser to quit by e-mail, the last insult to the public of a classless man.

I always hoped for more from Mitt Romney. I wanted Romney to get the GOP nomination so bad. No one else represented so exquisitely all that is bad in American politics -- the greed; the say-anything-to-win emptiness; the soulless Bob-Forehead public facade; the willingness to use fear to drive aimless citizens into his empty arms; Bush with better hair. His nomination would have put in high contrast all that is wrong with the Republicans and all that is right with the Democrats. With Romney as the GOP nominee, we could have expected 30 more seats in the House and a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. The resulting 40-state landslide would have driven the Republicans out of power for good.

Alas, cooler heads prevailed in the GOP primaries to date. Apparently, those calling themselves Republicans have grown up, at least a little, from the thumb-sucking Bush indulgences that we have suffered through for eight years. While the nut-right evangelical fringe coalesced around nice-but-wrong Mike Huckabee, enough of the rest went to nice-but-wrong John McCain by default. Meanwhile, anyone with any sense turned their backs on the cold, calculating Romney, who is to human warmth as the equator is to icebergs. How bad can you be personally if you are less-liked in the candidate green-rooms than Rudy Giuliani? The often genuinely-funny McCain spent the last couple of debates delightfully poking sticks in Romney's narrow eyes, while the clueless Mitt was left to wonder why all these people were laughing at him. Because it was fun, you dork.

Also not laughing and not getting how funny they are is the mainstream radio and blogger wing-nuts, who in recent days hitched their last hopes for fooling America into another Bush-like term on Romney. After making sure he sold his soul, Fox Noise gave Rudy tons of free exposure and love, none of which translated to anything but falling poll numbers. Local bloggers fell for Thompson like the little puppy dogs that Fred couldn't even be bothered to bend over to pet. When the aw-let's-get-it-over-with bandwagon started rolling for McCain in the past couple of weeks, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by self-appointed "true conservatives" reached jet-takeoff decibel levels, broadcast over tinny AM radios turned up to 11. Many of them put their hands over their black hearts and pledged never to vote for him, as if the mere threat of non-support by a cheap punk like Sean Hannity means anything to anyone.

The same week many of the Reagan-fetish faithful jumped onto his campaign boat, Romney pulled the plug and left them all to drown. Appearing at the epicenter of the nut-right intellegencia -- the C-PAC convention -- Romney let 'er rip in a horrible screed of flaky extremism. For instance, he blamed pornography (?), promiscuity (??) and "the twisted incentives of government welfare" (wha?) for godless single-motherhood. He declared a new axis of evil, saying "America must never be held hostage by the likes of Putin, Chavez and Ahmadinejad." Manipulative and self-aggrandizing even in defeat, he claimed he was only getting out so that he wouldn't "make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win...Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," said the Mitt-ster, between clenched teeth, setting up the strawman that only the blind can see.

It was the kind of smarmy speech that a loser gives when he is abandoning his party and hitching his star to his future role as party savior in four years. He knows McCain will get trounced and hopes that it will be blamed on McCain's imaginary rejection of "conservative principles" (talk about an oxymoron). He will spend the next four years posing for holy pictures at the Reagan library, sitting in with radio squawkers and cruising the conservative hook-up bars, trying to buy the love that will never be his.

Having lost the golden opportunity to trounce Romney, the most flamingly reprehensible GOP candidate we are likely to see in our lifetime (Bush wasn't a candidate; he was a prop), Hillary or Barack will now face John McCain, a genuinely humorous and likable elderly war hero -- Bob Dole without the edgy dark side. It will be more civil, but it won't be as much fun. Mitt Romney comes out a loser on many levels, but he never really got the historical thumping he deserved.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ignoring Butler's Real Record

I get to do what I want on this blog, but I see it with more of a political/sociological/media-criticism/music/movie/TV focus than legal. However, essential to the slowly-building WMC campaign against Justice Louis Butler is an attempt to twist sound legal reasoning for the strictly political purpose of getting rid of his historic, talented and independent voice on the Supreme Court in favor of the WMC recruit that is running against him. As such, evaluating the surrogate campaign of legal "scholarship" emanating from the growing right-wing of the Marquette Law School involves some legal analysis. This can put several of my seven regular readers to sleep. To them I say: be patient. I mean, it is Super Tuesday, after all, and after that, there will be precious little time left to kick Mitt Romney around the block. I’ll be there for you.

As I discussed previously, WMC is using surrogates to set the stage for their attack on Butler. WMC's official campaign won’t make its full-fledged public debut until a barrage of advertising and mainstream radio wing-nut squawking starts two weeks before the election on April 1st. They have already prepared an inadvertently-comical video featuring freshly-minted Marquette law professor and long-time right-wing blogger Rick Esenberg to show to groups of business people at lunches throughout the state. Dan Suhr, a research assistant of that same first-year law prof (just a coincidence, they say) has been producing a series of hit-pieces that purport to involve legal scholarship, waxing hysterical about how Butler’s work on the court contributes to "the further detriment of the safety, prosperity, and health of the citizens of many states, especially Wisconsin." All of this is used by the WMC network of radio and blog water-carriers for legal-sky-is-falling caterwauling, laying the base for the multi-million dollar ad campaign to come.

Mysteriously anonymous lawyer-blogger Illusory Tenant has gone after Suhr for his various leaps of logic and fact, and has engaged Esenberg in a series of highly-entertaining smack-downs over the substance of Suhr's leaflets. Although Esenberg claims his law student is a big boy who can speak for himself, he has recently spent a large amount of time and untold acres of his server’s hard-drive defending Suhr from IT’s solid assaults (without, so far, calling him vitriolic). I don’t know why Esenberg is so defensive about Suhr’s work, since, they say, the professionally-designed "research briefings" have emerged spontaneously, like the Immaculate Conception, without direction from Esenberg or money from the WMC. Maybe he thought this kind of pseudo-studious clap-trap could be distributed with impunity. Welcome to the era of the internets, Rick.

I’m not going to get in the way of IT’s delicious slicing-and-dicing of Suhr’s "work", but the young man made a comment on his right-wing blog recently that calls for some "strict scrutiny". During a joint appearance on an internet call-in show recently, Justice Butler responded to Judge Gableman’s fairly aggressive attack on him for his record in criminal cases by saying that he only ruled for the criminal defendant in 3% of the cases before the court, if you included the rejection of petitions for review. Suhr declared this "spin", because it included the petitions for review. Well, does "no" mean "no", or not? You’d expect that kind of distinction from a partisan hack, but then Suhr writes the following: "If the Gableman campaign is making a statistical assertion: in the majority of cases, Butler votes for the defendant, then they are only counting cases where the Court issued a decision." If ?!? Well, is Gableman claiming Butler finds for the defense "in the majority of cases", or not (I don't think he is)? And, if he is (he's not), is that contention anywhere close to true?

Suhr knows – or should know – the answer to that. At one point, Suhr claimed to have read "40 or so" opinions written by Justice Butler and you would assume, while searching the Supreme Court records for Butler "gotchas", he noticed how many times the justice joined majorities or dissents in criminal cases. He knows Butler hasn’t ruled for the defendant in the majority of cases, but he floats the idea out there in the middle of his post, muddles the Gableman position with an "if" and pretends like it might be true. He knows it isn’t. He wouldn’t spend his time parsing the words and exaggerating the impact a few select cases if Butler found for the defendant in a majority of cases; it would be up in the lead of his press releases, er, research papers.

In my spare moments between Super Bowl commercials, I reviewed all the criminal cases decided by the Supreme Court in the past two years, back to January 2006. My very informal review showed Justice Butler joining opinions or dissenting for the defense in 13 cases; while voting to uphold convictions in 18 cases -- not nearly a "majority" for the defense. Some of the cases finding for the defense were unanimous. In one interesting case, for those like Suhr who claim that Butler is anti-law enforcement, Butler joined Justices Crooks and Prosser in dissent when the majority of the court allowed the state to use an incriminating statement made by the defendant police officer during an internal affairs investigation, even though the officers had to talk to internal affairs or be fired. In his dissent in that case, State v. Brockdorf, Justice Butler wrote: "Every investigation must be done in a thorough and thoughtful manner. And when problems occur with individual officers in the performance of their duties, law enforcement must be able to police itself in a constitutionally permissible fashion." Law enforcement policing themselves...doesn’t sound very "anti-law enforcement" to me.

But, like all good propagandists, Suhr and his benefactors aren’t concerned with even the arguable truth as much as with the impression that his words leave. Suhr’s glossy publications (my favorite: A Bibliography of Everyone Who Said Anything Bad About Butler) are like the sloppy posts on the Drudge Report, to be used as fodder for willing mainstream radio and blog wing-nuts to cite to as authoritative legal analysis. We’ll see more of this, as well as the campaign to fight judicially-appropriate campaign tactics as WMC and its surrogates try to wrest the seat from one of the most talented jurists in Wisconsin history.

Back to you, IT.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Obama's Outrageous Fortune

I didn’t know Harry Smith was still on TV, much less raising the scary specter of assassination with Ted Kennedy when discussing Barack Obama on Tuesday morning. The rejuvenated Kennedy kept his cool at the clumsy historical reference, while Smith tried twice to get him to admit that "agents of change" are bound to get whacked sooner or later.

If it was given to Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy’s endorsement would have been treated like an irrelevant handout from a liberal has-been. But, because he endorsed the MSM’s favorite anti-Hillary, Kennedy was the subject of misty-eyed, passing-the-torch tributes from old-school Washington types like Chris Matthews. After taking a week off from its vehement anti-Clinton story lines after Hillary surprised in New Hampshire, the cable chatters were back on the Obama bandwagon before and after South Carolina, focusing most of their heavy-breathing on things Bill Clinton did and didn’t say. They apparently do not appreciate Bill’s fairly astute media analysis, such as when he accurately accused them of giving Obama a free ride on the "fairy tale" of his Iraq war record or when he got in the face of a CNN reporter for trying to stir up non-existent racial issues in the campaign for their own entertainment and ratings. As usual with Bill, the truth is not a defense.

Even wing-nuts like Sean Hannity managed to get through the 24-hour Kennedy endorsement news cycle without the usual snarky references to Chappaquiddick that informs so much of nut-right "discussion" of all things Teddy when he dares to try to do something that they disagree with. You wonder if the mainstream radio squawkers reveling in the Kennedy endorsement as a Hillary slap-down found themselves rolling their eyes in the studio as they bit their usually harsh Teddy-tongues. But that would be giving them too much credit for self-reflection, so, never mind.

Back to Smith’s assassination allusions...

I was in third grade when the nuns came in tears to tell us that JFK had been killed. Ever since I saw the Zapruder film played clandestinely in the UW Memorial Union in 1973, when Time-Life still had it under seal, I knew there was no way Oswald acted alone, if he acted at all. The killing shot that spread JFK’s brains all over the trunk of the limo – the pieces of which Jackie tried to crawl out to retrieve – was so obviously from the front of the car, any suggestion that the shot came from behind is ridiculous. I was in Dallas several years ago and visited the museum that now sits on the 6th floor of the Book Depository. It was an interesting tribute to the official version of history, but not nearly as interesting as walking around the Killing Field itself. Driving out of the parking lot, I was, by accident, driving the same path as the motorcade. I drove the convenient curves of the road slowly (but not as slowly as Kennedy’s driver) and, at one point, found myself facing the fence behind the grassy knoll, right at the point when JFK caught the head shot. As with the Zapruder film, what do you expect me to believe: the Warren Commission or my lying eyes?

"Back, and to the right. Back, and to the right." HBO has been running Oliver Stone’s JFK on one of its side-channels recently and I caught myself watching it again last weekend. Donald Sutherland’s "composite" spook and his "ask yourself who benefitted" speculation notwithstanding (although I wouldn’t put anything past LBJ), I thought the movie got the scattered facts of the conspiracy theorists mostly right, although the seriousness of the subject matter deserved a little more care, even for Hollywood. For his sins, Stone ended up as a subject of scorn for daring to violate the ultimate historical taboo – one of the first victims of a new kind of assassination, that being the politics of personal destruction through ridicule (see below). It is a vehicle that the right-wing echo-chamber has used effectively for subjects dangerous to their agenda, and it has proven much more useful to them than a head-shot in a plaza somewhere.

I’ve always thought that whoever did whatever in the 1960s got the "right" people. Would the world have been better, more peaceful, less Vietnam-ish had Kennedy served for eight years instead of three? Imagine Martin Luther King as elder statesman during our multi-cultural revolution – at least he would have been around to knock down the absurd appropriation of his words by wing-nuts who claim that he would be against affirmative action, etc. Imagine Bobby riding the crest of the anti-war wave and his own magnetism (which, sorry, Obama does not get close to) in 1968 into the White House. Some of those who could see that possibility quite clearly put an end to that. It is hard to believe that the history that was changed – for the worse, in every way – by coincidental events driven by random nut-jobs.

For all the buzz-killing security that surrounds political events, shooting at a candidate or president is sooo 20th century. I mean, who was the last one to take a bullet, Reagan? Nut-cases, as part of an organization or otherwise, have other ways to "do" people who threaten their grand designs. People with a message or a cause – from Stone to Michael Moore to Cindy Sheehan – or successful politicians – from Al Gore to John Kerry to Howard Dean – are subject to ridicule by the right-wing echo-machine and that attitude is incorporated by self-appointed MSM know-it-alls. They end up as good as dead politically, without the added benefit of martyrdom. The only thing those subject to the politics of personal destruction get pointed at them is fingers, as people point and laugh.

A talking-point for the wing-nuts this week was that the Clintons were following one of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in their campaign against Obama. They cited this one: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage." It was a lie about the Clintons (one of the quotes supposedly indicating ridicule of Obama was that Bill called him a "highly intelligent symbol of transformation" – rough stuff, that) but it is another example of the right accusing Democrats of doing something they do every day as a matter of strategy and design. Harry Smith’s hysterical concerns notwithstanding, Obama doesn’t have to worry so much about a bullet as he does about the stink bombs that are sure to come flying from his temporary wing-nut friends after (if) he wraps up the nomination.

On this point, Paul Krugman got it just right this week:
  • Those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1). The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.

As I’ve said before, you won’t even recognize Barack Obama by November if he is the nominee. Even if the GOP goes ahead with the congenial John McCain, their surrogates will try to destroy Obama by defining him in bizarre ways and ridiculing him with whatever they can find to blow out of proportion. No metal detector will protect him from the slings and arrows of his own outrageous fortune.