Archive for June, 2008

Coming up at the café (new faces, at least for now)

Monday, June 30th, 2008

From Steve: as cafe regulars know, every now and then I’m required to abandon my post here as proprietor of The Last Chance Democracy Café to join Dick Cheney in his secure location (or something like that). I expect to be gone, at least for the most part, for the next two weeks. At you can check for my announcements or, if you wish to, order a custom essay.

The good news is that our friends at BuzzFlash have once again kindly agreed to fill in with some (no doubt, better than our usual gruel) guest blogging.

So please be sure to check in regularly and give them a full throated Last Chance Democracy Café welcome!


The irony of McCain playing the fear card: he’s the scary one

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

There once was a man named McCain
Whose speeches could be quite inane.
But no need for concern
‘Cause Obama he’d burn,
When the fear card drove voters insane.
But cruel fate it did hold some surprises
And the fear card would bring no reprises.
Though he huffed and he puffed
Still his strategy muffed,
For it was he caused our frightful surmises.

The Republican campaign message is nothing if not blunt: vote for us or die. None of that prissy Ivy League subtlety and nuance for these guys, boy howdy: nope, just good old-fashioned American scaremongering.

Somewhere Joe McCarthy is smiling.
Let’s touch on just a few recent examples:
Newt Gingrich (yeah, he’s still alive) in responding to the Supreme Court granting limited judicial review to detainees at Guantanamo Bay said, “This court decision is a disaster which could cost us a city. And the debate ought to be over whether or not you’re prepared to risk losing an American city . . .” 
Rudy Giuliani speaking of all the Democratic candidates said, in effect, that if a Democrat wins in November America will be at risk for another terrorist attack on the level of Sept. 11.
John Bolton recently predicted that Israel will attack Iran if Obama is elected, since, you know, they’ll be afraid that Obama will simply be too wimpy to hold Iran in check.
And, of course, most recently, McCain campaign honcho, Charlie Black, famously opined that another terrorist attack on American soil “certainly would be a big advantage” for McCain.
Will this “we’ll scare your vote out of you” strategy work this time? There’s certainly some reason for optimism it won’t. After all, similar Republican fear tactics fell flat in the 2006 congressional elections (although they were a smashing success in both 2002 and 2004). And this year, so far anyway, people seem more interested in domestic issues — the economy, health care, energy costs — than in terrorism based scaremongering.
But, lest we forget, John McCain has friends in high places (you know, that big White House) — folks who’ve repeatedly demonstrated moral scruples so low that they would bring swift condemnation from of a two bit con man (including a willingness to misuse terrorism alerts for political gain). So who knows what potentially game changing new “threats” may materialize just in the nick of time this election year.
Clearly, Obama needs to continue to aggressively combat GOP claims that he’s somehow soft on terrorism. And his campaign seems to be doing a good job, though his flip-flop on FISA went too far in the direction of pandering and did more harm than good.

But what about the other side of the fear card? What about the side of the card that features the image of the really scary dude in this race — you know, a guy by the name of John McCain.

When will that side of the fear card become an issue in the race? 
Admittedly, part of what makes a McCain presidency seem so frightening is simply intuitive: as I’ve said before, there’s just something about the man that any time I think of him being president, I’m struck by the uneasy sense that he may wake up in the middle of the night sometime and decide to nuke Iceland, just because he’s pissed off at glaciers.  

But, unfortunately, there’s much more than mere intuition at play here: there’s a mountain of troubling evidence. There’s his famous hair trigger temper, his clear love of all things war and his consistent bad judgment in foreign affairs. This is a man, after all, who was one of the chief drum beaters in favor of a war in Iraq that has proven to be one of the greatest blunders in the nation’s history: yet, he appears to have learned nothing from the experience.

Indeed, he seems bound and determined — eager even — to double down on his Iraq foolhardiness in Iran.

Talk about something that ought to scare the hell out of us.

So there’s the irony: there definitely is a fear card that could quite legitimately be played in this race: it just isn’t the one that everyone’s talking about.

Thank you Senator Dodd

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Once again Chris Dodd raises his voice in defense of our liberty.

Bush’s (most) unspeakable crime

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Of all of George W. Bush’s crimes — unnecessary war in Iraq, subversion of the constitution, torture, wholesale looting of the treasury for political gain, political subversion of the Department of Justice and so much more — ultimately, the worst, the most unspeakable, has to have been his refusal to face the reality of global warming. His other crimes have merely damaged the nation and subverted our liberty: this one puts at risk the future of the world.

And if anyone needed additional proof of the criminality of Bush’s conduct, then slap an exhibit sticker on this article from The Times:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

When I read this, I was reminded of a series of café episodes I wrote a couple of years ago about a fictional trial of George W. Bush for crimes against humanity on this very point: somehow, today, the story seems a good deal less far-fetched.

If you missed the series the first time, or would just like to revisit them, go here:

The Anchorage Trials – 2036

Abstinence only “sex education” and what’s wrong with Democrats

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Old conservative boondoggles never die, and sometimes – given how wimpy Democrats can be — they don’t even fade away.

Abstinence only “sex education” has been repeatedly proven to be an utter and complete boondoggle. It doesn’t delay the onset of sexual activity or reduce the number of sexual partners teens have. What it does do, however, is to increase the likelihood that early sexual activity, when it does occur, will be unprotected, thereby greatly increasing the risk of both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, federal abstinence funding has served as a giant pay off scheme to ultraconservative pro-Republican religious organizations.

As the ultimate proof of how counterproductive this has been, as discussed in a new AP report, states have been dropping out of the program in droves, voluntarily giving up the federal funding rather than accepting fairy-tale inspired restrictions on what they’re allowed to teach. Barely half of the states are still in the program, an extraordinarily small number considering the usual eagerness of state official s to accept “free money” from the feds.

And two new states, Arizona and Iowa, have announced that they’re now joining the parade of states out of the program.

Let’s add things up: abstinence education not only doesn’t work, it actually harms our children by putting them at risk for unwanted early pregnancies and disease. It also helps Republicans politically by funding far right organizations.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that when the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, the party’s long suffering base was optimistic that this monstrosity would finally be put to death.


You see, it turned out the Democrats in Congress had a much better idea: instead of abolishing abstinence funding, they decided to increase it.

Why? According to Congressional Quarterly, it was supposed to be the bait to get Republicans to support the budget as a whole:

Lawmakers say the olive branch extended to Republicans increases the likelihood that the bill will pass the House with a veto-proof majority. It also sends a strong signal that Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., will avoid controversial social policy changes this year in the interest of moving bills.

Could there be a better example of what’s wrong with the Democratic congressional leadership? The GOP, during their years in power, would never have dreamed of such a sellout. True, they were always more than happy to loot the treasury for useless programs — but ones that pandered to their base and lined the wallets of their supporters. They drew the line at useless programs (and for that matter useful ones) that pandered to or lined the pockets of the opposing party’s supporters.

While I would certainly never encourage congressional Democrats to model themselves after the gang of thieves who ran things in the bad old Republican days, perhaps in this one respect the Republicans may just have had a point.  

My favorite George Carlin bit

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

What better way to elegize a fallen comic than to remember his work. I think my favorite Carlin bit, ironically enough, relates directly to the cause of his death.

An update on the comedian health sweepstakes. I currently lead Richard Pryor in heart attacks 2 to 1. But Richard still leads me 1 to nothing in burning yourself up. See, it happened like this. First Richard had a heart attack. Then I had a heart attack. Then Richard burned himself up. And I said, ‘Fuck that. I’m having another heart attack!’

RIP, George Carlin.

Feel free to add your favorite Carlin memories in the comments’

Obama and the day Santa Claus died

Friday, June 20th, 2008

We knew it had to happen, but we might have hoped it would not happen quite so soon. Barack Obama, the vessel into which so many progressives have poured our own dreams of virtue, is gone. Obama the politician, the real Obama, the one who was actually always there, stands before us now, unencumbered by our illusions.

He’s still the hope of a generation: just not as great or pure a hope as we might have wanted.

I’m disappointed, of course, by Senator Obama’s decision to support the so-called FISA compromise (more accurately described as the FISA craven surrender), but I can’t say that I’m that surprised. This is the Obama of The Audacity of Hope, as opposed to the Obama of Dreams from my Father: the Obama with his eyes well fixed on the prize.

As I said a little over a year ago, in response to reading The Audacity of Hope:

I had an ulterior motive for wanting to read Obama’s book.  It wasn’t the fact that many reviewers have said, very unlike most books by politicians, this one is beautifully written (and it is).  No, I tore into The Audacity of Hope not so much in search of a good read, but in search of the real Barack Obama.

I want him to be as good as he looks.  I want him to be the inspirational leader we need to take us into tomorrow (hell, to catch up with today, for that matter).  But the truth is I don’t know him very well.  Beyond the pretty face and the pretty words much of the man remains a gaping mystery.  So I went looking for him.

But I don’t think I found him in his book.  What I found, instead, is a beautiful, but also very carefully crafted, persona: I found the person Obama wants us to believe he is.  As to whether he really is that person though, this book gives me not a clue.

Why do I say this?  There’s just something far too convenient in where he draws the lines for his deeply felt beliefs.  He thinks (correctly) that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime and is dangerously flawed . . . yet (there are an awful lot of yets with Obama) he still thinks it’s appropriate for society to execute the really, really bad murderers as opposed, I guess, to the only sort of bad murderers.  Being the unquestionably brilliant man he is, Obama must know this is a distinction without meaning, and utterly beyond definition.

But given the public’s view on capital punishment, it is a convenient one to draw.  This convenience of belief recurs often, troublingly so.

And no, of course, this makes him no worse than any other politician.  But you see, I was hoping for something better than no worse.

There is also an unmistakable element of intellectual dishonesty in how Obama tries to paint his self-portrait as the sensible man in the middle — as the one reasonable soul in an ocean of partisan fanatics.  He often commits the sin of false equivalency.  Yes, conservatives are bad about this, he will say, but then he will always quickly add that liberals are equally bad about that.  But the truth, of course, is that usually they aren’t.  How could they be?  As of the time he wrote the book, liberalism had been all but politically powerless for over a decade.

I’m far from giving Obama a thumbs down.  I’m still very intrigued — still very hopeful.

But I’m not sold.  Not yet. 

I eventually settled on supporting Obama, of course, and it’s a decision I don’t regret. But I did it with my eyes open. I believe he has it in him to be a great president, perhaps even a transformative one, but he’s a politician not a savior. 

He’s a politician who today sold out the Bill of Rights — if to only a limited degree — for a few votes.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, although swallow it we must and will. That’s the thing about democracy: all the fancy words notwithstanding, in the end things usually come down, at least in some sense, to a contest between what’s ugly and what’s uglier. And the choice between the two can make all the difference in the world.

Santa Claus is dead! Long live the politician!

Question of the day: how can we best combat the media’s McCain love?

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Figuring out how best to respond to the corporate media’s love affair with John McCain isn’t just the question of the day: it’s the question of this campaign.

McCain has a lot of things going against him in this race, from the way he’s joined at the hip to George W. Bush, to subtler issues such as his age (oldfartgate anyone?). But he has one huge advantage: the establishment media, with all of its power, is head over heels in love with him. It always has been. Indeed, he once famously described the media as “my base.”

You can bet the farm that if McCain wins this year, it will be largely because of how the media covers the race.

But then what else is new? This is, after all, the same corporate media that bought into the GOP’s “Al Gore’s a pathological liar” fairy tale hook, line and sinker back in 2000.

And, yes, it’s the same major corporate media that was more than happy to act as a press agent for the Swift Boat Liars in 2004.

But then, as a number of media types ultimately confessed, major media reporters and pundits just didn’t like either Al Gore or John Kerry. They viewed them as aloof and insufficiently solicitous. So naturally, taking them down a notch or two was more important than the health and welfare of the country. Besides, as we all know, George W. Bush was the sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with and, thus, was clearly the better choice for president.

And what about this year? Well, we’re barely into the general election campaign and already media hotshots are complaining about the way Obama’s campaign is treating them (and, yes, they even use the word aloof — the more things change, the more they . . .). Meanwhile, in what is, no doubt, a harbinger of things to come, they are already busy showering affection on McCain.

Face it: like it or not, the media’s love affair with John McCain is a fact. The only question is what we can do about it.

Obama’s ability to raise historically large piles of cash (he may raise as much as a half-a-billion dollars according to some predictions), obviously, will be a big help. It’s a lot easier going over the media’s head directly to the people when you have an almost unlimited checkbook. So, as crass as it may seem, one thing Obama supporters have to do is to continue dipping into our checking accounts.

But we can do a lot more than that. We can commit our own voices to holding the major media accountable. When the coverage is unfair, we need to scream at the top of our lungs. The right wing has been doing it for years, “working the refs” with great success. This time it’s our turn.

Organizations like Media Matters and (and progressive bloggers) will help, but there’s a lot individuals can do. We need to shower media outlets with letters and emails every time a biased report appears. Hell, I’m not against people politely confronting reporters and pundits in person on the campaign trail (or on their book tours), demanding to know why they’re going so much easier on McCain than Obama. Then there’s just the simple business of speaking the truth in our personal lives. When a friend, relative or acquaintance spouts off some BS McCain talking point picked up from the media, don’t just say, “Screw it, it’s not worth the hassle.” Make the extra effort to set the record straight.

That’s how real change occurs, after all — one hard fought conversion after another.

This country belongs to us, not Time Warner, General Electric or any of the other huge media conglomerates. This year, for a change, let’s let them know that we know it.

GOP bait and switch — offshore drilling edition

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

It’s a little tricky being a Republican politician these days: given that the public disagrees with just about everything your party stands for, you’re forced to bounce from one subterfuge to another, always keeping your true motives hidden in the shadows.

What this means is that to be successful, a Republican politician, in addition to the usual political skills, must also be a grand master in the art of bait and switch.

– Concerned that the public won’t go along with starting a war in Iraq for the purpose of testing the latest neoconservative dreams of glory? No problem — just say those four magical little words: weapons of mass destruction.

– Worried the electorate won’t be tickled pink by the thought of massive tax cuts for the wealthy? Don’t give it another thought: we’ll simply package it as “middle class tax relief,” forgetting to mention that 80 percent of the benefits go to the super wealthy.

– Your poor little head is troubled by opposition to a legislative attempt to help polluters get away with polluting? Worry not even a single hair on your precious little head, my love: all we need to do is to give it a name like “Clear Skies Initiative” and everything will be alright.

Bait and switch — we do love you so!

The latest dish in the GOP bait and switch banquet comes in the form of renewed calls for increased offshore drilling. We know that under even the most optimistic of projections there simply isn’t enough oil in protected offshore locations to make a spit in the ocean’s worth of difference to the nation’s energy needs. So how can a political platform calling for a drilling rig off of every pristine beach possibly be a winner politically?

Ah, but once again you’ve underestimated the power of the almighty bait and switch! You see, Bush and McCain aren’t calling for renewed drilling per se: they’re calling for letting each state decide on its own. This isn’t about offshore drilling at all. It’s a matter of respecting states’ rights.

(Is it just me, or did you just hear the faint rumble of laughter coming from the graves of Lester Maddox, George Wallace and the other “states’ rights” racists of an earlier age?)

The idea of letting each state set its own policy on offshore drilling is, of course, absurd. To borrow from John Donne, “No state is an island, entire of itself.” Oil leaks from drilling sites off of the coast of, say, South Carolina won’t discriminate on which state’s beaches they foul. As North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley well stated:

It doesn’t work for states to decide. If the state above or below you has a problem it affects your shores as well,” he said. “It’s too much squeeze for the juice when you look at real estate on the coast, recreational fishing and tourism that could be adversely affected by some problem.”

But then that’s the glorious thing about bait and switch: it doesn’t have to actually make sense, it just has to sound like it does. 

Would an October surprise even work?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Democrats have been worrying a lot lately about a possible October surprise. You know, some dramatic game changing event deliberately dropped into the closing months of the campaign in the hope of saving John McCain’s bacon: something along the lines of war with Iran, catching Osama bin Laden or McCain proving the Beltway pundits right by actually walking on water.

So does worrying so much about this (other than the walking on water part) mean we’re paranoid?

Let’s check the definition:

Paranoid: Exhibiting or characterized by extreme and irrational fear or distrust of others.

Nope, no paranoia here: There’s obviously nothing irrational about fearing that George W. Bush will do anything — and I mean anything — to keep his team in the White House. He’s proven as much on multiple occasions, most shamefully through the deliberate manipulation of terrorism alerts for political gain. Besides, Bush & Co. have plenty of incentive to continue their pattern of gaming the machinery of American democracy. If nothing else, how happy can they be over the prospect of having Barack Obama’s Department of Justice investigating their various crimes?

No, it seems pretty clear that the irrational thing would be to not worry about an October surprise. 

But would one even work?

It might, I suppose, but personally I doubt it. Bush, the most politically obsessed president in memory, in terms of subverting federal policy for political ends, overplayed his hand long ago. No one believes him anymore. In fact, even if he were to act in absolute apolitical sincerity in, say, launching a few missiles at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a month or two before the election, people would still assume the worst.

He’s earned our abiding distrust the good old-fashioned way — by lying almost every time he opens his mouth. 

Sporting his impressive 24% approval rating, no one is ever going to give Bush the benefit of the doubt again.

I don’t doubt that he may well try to help McCain through an October surprise, but my money’s on it backfiring in a big way