Archive for the 'Ask Winston' Category

Dear Winston, the media sucks and welcome to Big Brother edition

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Dear Winston,

Why are you always so down on the major news media?  Surely, they can’t be doing that bad a job. 


Wondering in Wellington

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Dear Wondering,

Your question reminds me of a story I heard Alistair Cooke (I think) tell about Winston Churchill once, a thousand years ago.  It went something like this:

Churchill was in a tavern with his friend and scientific advisor, Professor Lindemann: he asked him, “Prof, if you were to take all of the beer, wine and other spirits I’ve consumed in my life and pour them into this room, how much of it do you think would be filled?”

Lindemann set to work immediately on the relevant mathematical equations, concluding at last, “Winston, according to my calculations, if you were to pour all of the alcoholic beverages you’ve consumed in your life into this tavern, you’d fill it all the way up to the tip of your nose.”

At which point, Churchill, looking up at the high ceiling above him, answered,

“So little time.  So much yet to be done.” 

Frankly, my friend, your question about the major media puts me into something of the same state of mind: there’s simply no way, without filling an entire book, I could even begin to adequately explain why so much of what the major media has been doing in recent years appalls me.  So, instead, I’m going to settle for giving you one example.

As you know, the approval rating for Congress now stands at a staggeringly low level: when last tallied, only 18 percent of Americans approved of the job Congress is doing.  As Glenn Greenwald and other boggers have noted, there’s no mystery in this.  Disapproval of the Democratic Congress is unusually high because, unlike the usual situation where members of the majority’s own party drive congressional popularity ratings up at least a little, in this case, rank and file Democrats are as down on Congress as Republicans.

There’s also no doubt as to why that’s true: Democrats (and many independents) are furious at congressional Democrats for repeatedly caving into Bush’s demands, particularly on the subjects of civil liberties and the war in Iraq.


Dear Winston, Mitt’s a mite and the truth will out edition

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Dear Winston,

Can you believe that Mitt Romney is leading in the polls for the GOP primary in New Hampshire?  This guy flip-flops more than a fish stranded on the beach.  Would the Republicans really nominate him?


Stunned in Stanford

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Dear Stunned,

I sort of doubt the Republicans will nominate Romney, but then I find myself sort of doubting that they’ll actually nominate any of the collection of losers fighting for the GOP nomination.  (Who would have thought that Newt Gingrich and I would actually agree on something?) 

But, obviously, the Republicans will eventually have to settle on one of the available candidates.  That is, unless they decide to exhume Ronald Reagan’s body and run him posthumously, something I wouldn’t completely rule out given the absurd degree their hero worship (the 22nd Amendment, which limits a president to two terms, would seem to preclude this approach, but I’m sure Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department would have no problem recognizing a “Dead Guy Exception,” if they thought it necessary to maintain Republican control).

But assuming the GOP bypasses the Dead Reagan Gambit, realistically, Romney probably has about as good a chance as anyone of pulling off the nomination. In many ways, even with Rudy Giuliani leading in many of the national polls, the Mittster seems to be the dude with the momentum (at least pending the formal launching of the even more ridiculously overrated candidacy of Fred Thompson). 

Since I’m a Democrat, what really interests me, of course, is how strong a candidate Mitt will make in the general election if he does win the nomination.  Otherwise stated, how tough is it going to be for us to kick his sorry little butt all the way back to his vacation home at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  So let’s add things up.

On the positive side, in terms of his potency as a candidate, he looks really good on television in an “I hire my own high dollar makeup people” pretty boy way.  He also has the credentials to run the tired old “I’m a successful businessman and therefore know how to get things done” line, although his business dealings as a corporate raider may not seem all be that attractive upon close examination.  As for positives though, that’s about it.

Turning to the negative side, we have, as Charles Dickens might have said, a ponderous list to contend with: to begin with the most obvious problem, he’s a flip-flopper’s flip-flopper who wears his willingness to say whatever it takes to win on his sleeve; he strongly favors a war that’s overwhelming and passionately opposed by the American people (note to inside the Beltway pundits — no pro-war candidate is going to win in 2008, regardless of how much you love him); he’s been groveling regularly at the feet of the party’s extreme right wing — a bunch who are increasingly unpopular with most Americans; and he has a gift for regularly making a fool of himself in ways that tend to stick to a candidate, like his famous hunting faux pas.

Are you shaking in your boots yet, Democrats?  Yeah, me neither.


Dear Winston: the impeach Libby edition

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Dear Winston,

I can’t begin to describe my frustration over the fact that Alberto Gonzales is still in office.  He’s been an absolute disaster as attorney general: he flaunts the law, runs the Justice Department like a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP and runs roughshod over civil liberties.  Still, nothing happens.

The only possible solution I can see is for Congress to impeach him, but that seems like a long shot. 

What do you think, Winston?  Should the Democrats start impeachment proceedings against Gonzales?


Fed Up in Philadelphia

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Dear Fed Up,

Would pursuing impeachment proceedings against Gonzales be the smart thing to do politically?  Congressional Democrats probably don’t think so, and they may be right.  The Beltway punditocracy would be up in arms.  One can almost see David Broder chuckling at his keyboard, enchanted with his own pop culture savvy, as he writes, “Today, congressional Democrats jumped the shark.”  Would most of the public see it that way?  I doubt it, but they might.

But I also don’t care.  As a political animal, it’s a rare day you’ll hear me discount the importance of political consequences, but when it comes to Gonzales and the Justice Department, the politics be damned.  Every now and then being a chicken shit just isn’t good enough for elected officials.  Every once in awhile, political courage needs to amount to something more than a campaign slogan.

What’s at stake here is nothing less than the rule of law in the United States.  And if Democrats won’t go to the wall for that, then just exactly when will they? 

Bush’s modus operandi (faithfully carried forward by Gonzales) has been clear for a long time: first, he ignores any statute or constitutional clause he finds inconvenient and then does whatever he damn well pleases; second, when called on his lawlessness, he simply refuses to back down no matter what until, eventually, everyone gets bored and moves on.


Dear Winston: the Supreme Court could suck even worse edition, and more

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Dear Winston,

I know that most of the regulars at The Last Chance Democracy Cafe are hardcore Democrats.  But in light of the way the Democratic Congress caved on the Iraq funding bill, can you give me one good reason why I should ever support them again?


Furious in Fresno

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Dear Furious,

Believe it or not, there actually are a lot of good reasons for liberals to continue voting Democratic, even if we sometimes have to hold our noses while we’re doing it.  But the one overriding reason, against which all others pale in comparison, is the future of The United States Supreme Court.

And, yes, I know how sick many liberals are of hearing what some call the “Supreme Court scare tactic” — the argument (the very one I’m making now) that we need to keep voting Democratic, despite the party’s shortcomings, because otherwise that awful bogeyman of an ultra-right wing Supreme Court will jump out of the closet at night and get us.  As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in a column for The Nation back in August of 2000, titled Vote for Nader:

Ah, the Supreme Court! Never mind that pro-choice Justice O’Connor was a Reagan appointee or that Clinton’s man Breyer is one of the most economically conservative Justices around–the Supreme Court gets dragged out every four years to squash any attempt to escape the Democratic Party.

But, of course, Ehrenreich was dead wrong in most of her underlying assumptions in 2000, as she herself has since reluctantly admitted.  Sadly, the Big Bad Bush Wolf she downplayed the fear of turned out to be pretty damned big and bad after all.  And frighteningly, the Big Bad Supreme Court Wolf may very well turn out to be far worse over the long haul. 

Bush will disappear in shame into the mists of history soon (I won’t say he’ll disappear “soon enough” because tomorrow morning wouldn’t be soon enough, but he will be gone relatively soon); the extremist Supreme Court he’s leaving behind, on the other hand — a Court that will become even more extreme and long-lasting if the Republicans win the presidency and the Senate next election — may well be with us for another generation if not longer.


Dear Winston: Advice to the politically lovelorn

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Dear Winston,

Why do you think abstinence only sex education has been such a miserable failure?  I’ve never been a supporter of the idea: our kids need a well balanced approach to sex ed — one that teaches the benefits of abstaining from sex, at least until they’re older, but that also provides information on effective birth control.

Still, I’m a little surprised by the studies showing that abstinence programs have had absolutely no effect on adolescent sexual behavior: I didn’t expect them to work well, but I did think they’d have some small impact.  But it’s now obvious, based upon the study results, that the fact a kid signs an abstinence pledge makes it no less likely that he or she will be sexually active.

So tell me Winston: What gives here?


Surprised in San Diego

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Dear Surprised,

When it comes to teenage sex, we have a choice as a society: we can choose to live in the real world, with all its warts and blemishes, or we can create a make-believe world that’s more to our liking.

When we choose the first, we come one step closer to actually solving our problems.  When we choose the second, we sleep more happily at night as our problems fester. 

Abstinence only education is part of a make-believe world — one created by adults, of course — in which stern lectures about the sins and dangers of premarital sex have more influence on adolescents than hormones and peer pressure.

But that isn’t the world we live in.


Dear Winston, sixth edition

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Dear Winston,

Winston, how would you pigeonhole Maureen Dowd, The New York Times columnist, in terms of her political ideology?  People say she’s a liberal, but she seems to spend more time running down liberals (and Democrats in general) than conservatives.

So, how about it, Winston?  Am I missing something here?


Dowdy in Delaware

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Dear Dowdy,

Maureen Dowd is not now and has never been a liberal, or for that matter a conservative.  She’s an egotist. 

One almost gets the impression that she would gladly see the poor go hungry, the environment go to hell and the war go on forever if that would give her one really good catty quip to use in one of her columns.

Always approach Dowd the way a wise mate (if there were such a thing) would approach a black widow spider: you can enjoy the beauty of her occasional anti-Bush tirades, but never forget that she’ll turn on you in the end.

(Actually, the belief that black widow spiders always eat their mates is apparently a myth.)

BartCop has a nifty way of describing her: he always uses the tag: “She hates everybody.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.




Dear Winston, fifth edition

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

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Dear Winston, fourth edition

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Dear Winston,

I keep reading stuff about how narcissistic we have become, especially young people. Things like Myspace, Facebook and YouTube (and commentators at blogs) are always cited as examples of this dangerous phenomenon that threatens the very foundations of society. It seems to me that these things are symptomatic of the opposite - a craving for connection, commonality and community. What do you think?


Curious in New Mexico — where the chilies are hot and the women are hotter
(This is a reader submitted letter taken from the comments.)

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Dear Curious,

What I find to be particularly absurd is how often these expressions of grief about the Internet’s alleged adverse impact on the purity of America’s soul come from major media pundits — you know, the folks who so love to look down their often very long (in the Pinocchio sense) noses at bloggers and other “new media” commentators for their alleged narcissism: Seriously, do these folks not own mirrors? 

Take a look at this definition:  Narcissism: Excessive love or admiration of oneself.

Now, ask yourself to whom this applies more: A teenage girl who likes to post links to her favorite musicians and actors on her personal webpage or, say, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Matthews or Howard Kurtz?

Not a particularly tough call is it?

Let’s just take the case of Hitch the Snitch, the former “liberal” columnist for The Nation turned neoconservative-warmonger: Here’s a man who literally perspires arrogance (or is it Johnnie Walker Black?), this despite having been wrong just about every time he’s opened his mouth in recent years, especially on the subject of Iraq.  The same can be said (except maybe for the Johnnie Walker Black part), of course, for pretty much the entire editorial staff of the Washington Post and most of the rest of the DC punditry.

I must confess to harboring a secret wish that one day the density of the combined narcissism of these professional gasbags will become so great that it will curve in upon itself producing a singularity — a black hole whose gravitational pull will be so strong that not even Bill O’Reilly’s ego can escape.

Besides, if blogging and otherwise posting on the Internet is narcissistic, doesn’t the same conclusion naturally follow for all other forms of writing?

In terms of the human motivation at play — which, of course, is what we’re concerned with in discussing narcissism — there’s really no difference between John Updike penning a Pulitzer Prize winner and Jake the used car salesman down the street pecking away at his PC preparing a post for his sports blog that’s been visited a grand total of 17 times (it was his mother, but even she lost interest eventually).  Both are writers.  Both are spewing their souls into the great meat grinder of public judgment — even if the most common judgment returned for the Jake’s of the world is simply that of being ignored.


Dear Winston, third edition

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Dear Winston,

What can we do about the cowardly corporate media?

Disgusted in Detroit
(This letter is a cut down and altered version of this reader submitted note)

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Dear Disgusted,

How about shipping large chunks of the corporate media off to China?  I mean, why should the People’s Republic settle for our manufacturing jobs, when we have so much more to give?

On a serious note, intelligently discussing the sins of the major media, both in terms of its cowardly failure to challenge Bush & Co.’s lies and more generally in its unmistakable drift rightward is a challenge.  This is a subject that cuts a broad swath that runs from grand old media outlets (ABC News) that have knuckled under to corporate pressure in subtle ways, to your standard substance-free — defend the status quo at all costs — inside-the-Beltway-Broderism, all the way to purebred right wing outlets epitomized by Fox News.  And while they have all committed sins in support of Bush & Co., especially in echoing the drumbeat to war, they don’t all neatly fit into the same bucket.  This can make the corporate media a hard skunk to get your fist around.

And to be fair — it’s a perpetual flaw of we liberals, you know, this obsession with fairness — but to be fair, the major media isn’t even universally right wing.  As Eric Alterman has pointed out, reporters actually trend slightly left of center on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and the like.  It’s when we get to bread and butter economic issues, such as the nation’s growing economic inequality, the pro-corporate viewpoint tends to reign supreme.  And given that money means power, this is a very big deal.

What to do about it?  Well, it would be nice if we could grow a few more liberal billionaires, or at least convince the few we have to invest heavily in media outlets, but I wouldn’t count on it.  Taking over a major holding from a multinational corporation is easier said than done.  So even if George Soros were to get it into his head to buy up some national media outlets, it’s far from clear he could pull it off (remember all the fuss it caused when he tried to buy a tiny percentage of a baseball team).  

No, I’m afraid we’re going to have to do this the hard way — building from the bottom up.  It’s the stuff we’ve talked about again and again at the Last Chance Democracy Café, about growing a liberal infrastructure of think tanks, advocacy groups, media sources and maybe even silly little Internet cafes.  And it’s also about giving the media hell when they do act like right wing shills.  Fortunately, these are both things the progressive community has started doing much better lately.

And one other thing: When the major media does do a good job, say the way the old Knight Ridder honorably refused to join the pro-war press stampede during the buildup to the Iraq war, we should let them hear about that too: First, because it’s the right thing to do and, second, because it will give us more credibility when we read the riot act to less deserving outlets.

And rest assured that we will have many occasions in the years ahead to do just that.



*   *   *
*   *   *

Dear Winston,

Don’t you think we should impeach Bush preemptively?  I mean, if we can have preemptive wars, why not preemptive impeachment?

Mighty Mad in Michigan
(This letter is a cut down and altered version of this reader submitted note)


Dear Winston, second edition

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Dear Winston,

I am from a family of NeoRepublicans but they don’t call me a commie pinko tree-hugging peace-loving freak anymore. In fact, lately, they refuse to even talk politics. Gee, is it me? Don’t they love me anymore?

Feeling Blue in Indiana
(This letter was reader submitted by alwayshope.)

* * *

Dear Feeling Blue,

Look at it this way: If you had to defend George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, would you want to talk politics?



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* * *

Dear Winston,

Am I wrong to be terrified about what Bush may do in Iran? I just can’t get over the thought that if he decides he wants to bomb there, no power on earth will be able to stop him. And everyone with any expertise at all on the subject seems to agree that attacking Iran would prove to be a disaster for our country.

I don’t know Winston — maybe I’m just paranoid where Bush is concerned. But I can’t get over the feeling that we’re all like passengers who, while flying at 40 thousand feet in a jet running low on fuel, suddenly discover that both the pilot and the copilot both gone stark raving mad.

Terrified in Toledo

* * *

Dear Terrified,

To begin with, you are most definitely not paranoid, a condition defined as, “Exhibiting or characterized by extreme and irrational fear or distrust of others.”

Given what has happened during the last six years, only a fool or a very loyal Republican (there I go being redundant again) would be anything but worried sick over what sort of mayhem this White House may be planning.

These aren’t just liars; they’re unapologetic liars. And they aren’t just incompetents: They’re incompetents filled with an overflowing faith in their own infallibility.

Without a doubt, the next two years are going to be among the most dangerous in the history of the republic. We have a president who worships the aggressive use of military force as devoutly as Bill O’Reilly worships the sound of his own voice. War has become both a sacrament to him and the ultimate proof of his manhood. And as with many true believers, he seems incapable of hearing any music except that coming from his own choir.

As late as a year ago, I tended to doubt that Bush would actually attack Iran: “Where would the troops come from?” I would say. “And think of how much danger that would create for our troops in Iraq, not to mention for all other Americans because of the inevitable increase in terrorism that would come in response,” I’d continue. “Surely, not even Bush would be that reckless.”

But it’s clear now I was wrong. When aggressive use of warfare is your God, concern about blowback becomes just one more treasonous heresy to be condemned or even stamped out.

There’s little question that if he gets the chance Bush will take us into Iran, although probably by way of a major bombing campaign as opposed to a full-scale ground invasion. And if he does this, it will be a mistake that our great-great grandchildren will still be paying for many decades from now.

So I’m sorry not to be able to give you a cheerier answer, but the truth, Terrified in Toledo, is that you strike me as one of the sanest people I’ve “spoken” with in a long time.