Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: November 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Lost Opportunity

Evel Knievel died earlier today, and he wasn't even jumping over anything. But at least he settled his lawsuit with Kanye West before he was gone. That connection even got his obituary to appear in the NME.

If you weren't around in the '60s and '70s, you'll probably never believe quite how iconic a figure Knievel was. Jumping his motorcycle over cars and busses, being played by George Hamilton in his biopic, attempting to jump his rocket sled across the Snake River Canyon. These were gigantic events to kids at the time.

The Snake River Canyon jump was spectacular in its failure. I never quite understood exactly what happened there. Knievel was known for jumping motorcycles, and if he'd tried it with a motorcycle, then that would've been something. It would've been unlikely that he could've made it, but it would've been something. But to try it with a rocket sled--why shouldn't we expect a rocket to make it from one side of a canyon to the other. And yet, he didn't. Everybody I knew was watching on TV, and I still remember how the rocket quickly petered out in the middle of the canyon and floated to the bottom on a parachute. In many ways it was the "Geraldo opening Al Capone's vault" of its day, but it only made him bigger. He went on to leave George Hamilton behind and star in his own movie, Viva Knievel, with a supporting cast that included Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, and Leslie Nielsen, back when he was still doing serious roles. He had a good run in the spotlight, but he disappeared fairly quickly by the time the '80s rolled around. Apparently he'd been sick for a number of years, after undergoing a liver transplant in 1999.

Goodbye, Evel.

Notes from the Other Side

Via Whiskey Fire, here's a jaw dropper Jonah Goldburg posted yesterday at the National Review blog The Corner.

A friend sends this quote of the day along:

Your debate with Beinart made me remember this great Evelyn Waugh quote. It'd be interesting to hear a Ron Paul acolyte respond to this point:

"It is in the nature of civilization that it must be in constant conflict with barbarism. Very few empires have been the result of a deliberate ambition. They have grown, inevitably, because it has been found necessary to expand in order to preserve what is already held. The French had to annex Algiers because it was the only way in which the Mediterranean could be made safe from pirates. Empire moves in a series of 'incidents,' and these 'incidents' mean that it is impossible for a country to live in isolation. Barbarism means constant provocation."

From "We Can Applaud Italy" (1935), in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh.

(And no, your eyes aren't deceiving you. Jonah gave us an indented quote inside an indented quote, with the quote marks around the second indented quote just for good measure.)

In case dates aren't your strong point, Evelyn Waugh would've been applauding Italy in 1935 for Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia shortly before World War II. But just so nobody got the wrong idea, at some point after he posted this, Jonah added the following:

Update: Just for the record, the above post does not, in fact, constitute an endorsement of Waugh's applause for Italy. I just thought the quote was interesting.

In plain English, that update could also read: "Although I don't necessarily approve of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, fascists do sometimes have good ideas."

While I was unadvisedly browsing around The Corner, I also stumbled over a post by Kathryn Jean Lopez that quoted Rush Limbaugh in praise of Fred Thompson. No, don't worry, I'm not going to subject you to the whole thing, but it did include this little gem: "Conservatives don't want to use the government to empower themselves. They want to get government out of the way to empower other people." So the whole point of the Bush administration's push to new heights of authoritarian executive power is to empower other people. Thanks for the clarification, Rush.

As if all this wasn't enough to let me know I was in the wrong place, K-Lo also posted a video of James Taylor on Sesame Street. From what I understand, JT probably doesn't appreciate the association, either, but that's still major strikes against them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Obama Isn't . . . Is He?


Barack Obama got hit today with a front-page Washington Post piece that's nothing more than an excuse to spread false rumors. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

In his speeches and often on the Internet, the part of Sen. Barack Obama's biography that gets the most attention is not his race but his connections to the Muslim world.

Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.

Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible, as did Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the only Muslim in Congress, when he was sworn in earlier this year.

The rest of the story goes down from there. Obama is put into the position of denying something that everybody agrees never was true in the first place. But the whispers get people to pay attention to the rumor, and it digs its claws into people's subconsciouses whether they're aware of the truth or not.

It's surprising that the Post is unaware of this fact, but this is just an example of how the right-wing smear machine works. (Yes, that's just me being "ironic" again. Of course the Post knows how the game is played, and of course they act like such an idea has never occurred to them.) As long as this is a subject of front-page coverage, the rumor stays alive and continues to undermine Obama.

The worst part about this article is that, although they admit Obama's a member of a United Church of Christ congregation right at the top, they spend the rest of the article acting as though the Muslim rumor is still an open question. We're given the fact that 45 percent of people in a Pew Research poll would not vote for a Muslim. (How is that relevant when he's a Christian?) We've got Obama aides who "sharply disputed the initial stories." Isn't that what one does with untruths? We've got history of who's been spreading the rumors. (Surprise! It's right-wing media.) We've got right-wing talkers repeating the debunked rumor. (Which is what they do--they're not interested in finding the facts, they're just pushing their agenda.) And we've got examples of Websites where this rumor has been repeated, including "another e-mail, on a site called that tracks Internet rumors." doesn't track rumors, it (mostly) debunks and (occasionaly) verifies them. Here's the actual Snopes link. You tell me whether it merely repeats the rumor or extensively rebuts it.

How are we ever going to have informed voters or even reasonable issues-based political discussions when the mainstream media insists on distilling even verifiable facts down to a he-said/he-said? (Yep, that's a rhetorical question. We all know the real answer.)

UPDATE--In Friday's Washington Post, Tom Toles adds to the fun with another Obama rumor we should maybe get started.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Where Ideas Come From

There's an interesting tempest brewing over at Comic Book Resources. Chris Knowles has an intriguing-looking new book, Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, exploring the mythic and perhaps unexpected underpinnings of comics superheroes. As part of a quick piece promoting his book, he mentioned a theory that the cover of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, had been heavily influenced by the 15th-century Heracles and the Hydra, by Pollaiolo. He goes into detail here, but I think he's stretching. He also doesn't do himself any favors when he keeps referring to writer Jerry Siegel's influences rather than artist Joe Shuster's, but he states at the article's comment boards that he assumes Siegel told Shuster what to draw, so at least he tells us where he stands.

What I find most interesting about this is that it brings back the subject of the varied influences held by earlier comics creators. Far too many modern-day creators have no influences but the comic books they grew up on. They don't know literature, mythology, fine arts. The earliest creators weren't scholars by any means, but they had been exposed to a wider variety of material than we seem to be today. This was again brought home when many of the British creators came into the American industry in the '80s. American comics had been harder for them to get ahold of when they were growing up, so they'd seen a wider variety of materials. Comics are always given a shot in the arm when their creators have a broader knowledge of the arts and the world than just old comic books. Next year is the 70th anniversary of Action #1, so we've had any number of generations of writers and artists who are mostly responding to the comics that have gone before them. Their work too much reeks of making copies of copies of copies. I don't know that we can find new comics creators who've never had an interest in comics, but would it hurt for the current (and upcoming) creators to broaden their horizons a bit more? To allow themselves to be influenced in something outside of comics history? I suspect some of this is happening more in the realm of webcomics, which I have to admit that I don't follow very closely. But lets bring it into print a little bit more, too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good News on the Radio

If you've followed this blog for a while, you've seen me complain about the Chicago Air America station (though not lately--the last was almost two years ago to the day). My main complaint is that the station, WCPT, isn't able to come up with a 24-hour signal in the third largest U.S. radio market. They claim that "few" AM stations in Chicago broadcast 24/7, and as I don't have actual figures, I'll take them at their word. Furthermore, those "few" stations are owned by various giant radio conglomerates who'd never sell to a little-old liberal station, so there's nothing they can do. Maybe so. I'm not as prepared to believe it's as impossible as they seem to think, but I'll admit that they've got better access to the actual figures, so I won't keep flogging the same horse. I will bring up the question of what's so important about staying on AM (and the corresponding what's wrong with FM), but I'm sure they've got a ready answer for that, too.

Hey, wait a minute! Didn't the headline say there was actual good news in this post? Yes, there is. WCPT hasn't extended their broadcast day, but they have strengthened their broadcast signal. To do that, they moved three notches down the AM dial, from 850 to 820, and boosted it up from 2,500 watts to 5,000 watts (which they claim is "the best signal of any major AM station in Chicago"; I'm not sure how that squares with the 50,000-watt signals of WGN, WLS, WBBM, WSCR, WMVP, or any others I'm not aware of). The signal is noticeably better. You can hear them in more places around the Chicagoland area, so that has to count for something. This just happened yesterday, so I've listened in my car, but I haven't checked them out at the house (because I don't get home until after dark, and they can't broadcast later than--never mind).

The current WCPT lineup is a mix of Air America and other progressive shows, so it makes pretty good listening, at least when I'm in the car. Congratulations on the better signal, folks. Now we just have to work on keeping it on the air to 6:00 PM and beyond.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Echoes of Iraq, and Forever

We're being ill served by our elected "representatives." The Democrats were given majorities in both houses of Congress more than a year ago in anticipation of their making the Prez come to heel in Iraq. But his overwhelming charisma, or massive popularity, or political moxie, or . . . something or other, has thwarted them at every turn. For the most part, they've simply given him what he wants, apparently helpless to stand up against him. And what's it gotten them? Nothing that I can see, unless you want to mention lower approval ratings than the Prez himself. But what's it gotten him? It's gotten him time, time to work out the details of a permanent presence in Iraq. Earlier today, he released a joint statement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki outlining a "long-term relationship" between the two countries. If you don't want to read the full statement itself, the White House also offers a handy-dandy fact sheet to make the whole thing more understandable. Of course, if neither of those options quite floats your boat, maybe you'd be better off with Spencer Ackerman's excellent reporting in TPMMuckraker. I don't have much to add to Ackerman, actually, so I'll just quote a significant paragraph to pass on:

Notice also the timetable. The U.S. and Iraq will negotiate another year-long United Nations mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which will expire (I think) in late December 2008. According to today's declaration, following the forthcoming renewal at the U.N., "we will begin negotiation of a framework that will govern the future of our bilateral relationship." That means that during Bush's last year in office, the administration will work out the terms of the U.S.'s stay in Iraq in order to, at the very least, seriously constrain the next administration's options for ending the U.S. presence. Even if Bush doesn't take the audacious step of signing a so-called Status of Forces Agreement -- the basic document for garrisoning U.S. forces on foreign soil -- while he's a lame duck, the simple fact of negotiations will create a diplomatic expectation that his successor will find difficult to reverse.

So far Chris Dodd is the only presidential contender that I've seen respond to this, and his response is pretty unequivocal: "In a Dodd Administration, there will be no permanent bases in Iraq." Who else on the Democratic side opposes the plan (I can't imagine that anybody who's not Ron Paul has a chance of being against this idea)? Now's the time to make yourself heard.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On Boycotts and Just Not Wanting to Buy Something

After Friday's post about Buy Nothing Day, I got to thinking about boycotts. From where I sit, a boycott is the decision not to do something you'd otherwise normally do in order to make a statement of some kind. That could be a political statement, and economic statement, or any other kind of statement you might like to make. I mentioned that I didn't shop at Wal-Mart, but I'm not sure I'd completely call that a boycott. There are political and economic reasons that I don't shop there, but even before I knew about those, I didn't particularly like the feel of Wal-Mart, so I still didn't shop there. If Wal-Mart turned around on the policies I disagree with, I'm still not sure that I'd start to shop there.

In planning this post, I'd intended to talk about a recent experience I had in Ontario. We were up there a little while ago (in fact, I wrote a post extolling the virtues of Shreddies as we were returning), and we had lunch at a chain restaurant in the Toronto suburbs. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk ordered a hamburger medium rare and was told that it was illegal in Ontario for a restaurant to serve a hamburger cooked any less than medium well. Based on that experience, I was intending to use the example that if I lived in Ontario, I'd never get a hamburger when I was eating out. I didn't think I'd be boycotting hamburgers, just that I didn't happen to want one cooked as thoroughly as they were required to be cooked.

But then I went looking for the law that said hamburgers had to be cooked to a certain level of wellness. I was going to rail against the nanny state and complain about government sticking its nose in where it doesn't belong. Unfortunately, I couldn't find such a law. I did find a reference on Chowhound in which some anonymous commenter said that although they weren't aware that it was actually illegal to serve rare hamburger, they didn't know of anybody in Toronto who actually would (so I guess that just about clinches it). I also started wondering if the beef manufacturers might have something to say about such regulations. Surely beef sales in restaurants would suffer if the law said it had to be overcooked--wouldn't they be up in arms?

I'm curious now. Do any Canadian--or more specifically Ontario--readers know anything about such laws one way or another? Was Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk's server simply looking for greater authority for a restaurant policy? Can I actually order a hamburger in Toronto and receive it cooked the way I want it? I may just have to boycott Ontario restaurants until I can get an answer of some kind or other.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Facing Down Our Future (or Not)

I hate to keep using the excuse for not keeping up, but I've been very busy at work for quite some time, and I'm not finding the time to browse the world's newspapers (and on the Internet, news sites) as I might like. So it may be my error that I'm not seeing all the coverage of the myriad problems facing us these days. We get some amount of some things getting better in Iraq, but not as much of some political things not getting better there. We hear about the sub-prime mortgage losses and how they're affecting Wall Street, but except for vague hints, we don't look at the looming problem they represent. We see the Prez do his best to knock down the constitutional restraints from establishing an imperial presidency, but we have to catch the implications of those moves ourselves.

As I said, maybe I'm missing coverage of all this in the mainstream media (and please point me in the direction where I can find it if I am), but the whole United States seems to be in massive case of denial. We don't want to accept any of the problems facing us. This can be seen most obviously in the presidential primary races, where hardly any of our real problems are being addressed. Does Hillary have a plan to rollback the imperial presidency? Why should she? How many presidents have we have who've said, "I have plenty of power--we need to strengthen the legislative branch again"? (There actually have been a couple who've been concerned about such things.) Although I might expect Obama or John Edwards to be a bit more willing to explore the issue, I haven't heard any firm comments on it from either one. Certainly no one on the Republican side (except Ron Paul) would want to limit the executive--they just think that the advancements Cheney and the Bush administration have made are a good foundation they can add on to.

The economy should be a major concern these days, but at best it gets some attention in the subtext of other sound bites or actions. Losses from the sub-prime fallout continue to climb, but other than express some sympathy for those who've lost (or will lose) their homes, nobody's got much of anything to say on the matter. Even more, there appear to be no consequences for those who bear a great deal of responsibility for all this. Here's some of Paul Krugman yesterday:

Bad housing investments are crippling financial institutions that play a crucial role in providing credit, by wiping out much of their capital. In a recent report, Goldman Sachs suggested that housing-related losses could force banks and other players to cut lending by as much as $2 trillion — enough to trigger a nasty recession, if it happens quickly.

Beyond that, there's a pervasive loss of trust, which is like sand thrown in the gears of the financial system. The crisis of confidence is plainly visible in the market data: there's an almost unprecedented spread between the very low interest rates investors are willing to accept on U.S. government debt — which is still considered safe — and the much higher interest rates at which banks are willing to lend to each other.

How did things go so wrong?

Part of the answer is that people who should have been alert to the dangers, and taken precautionary measures, instead blithely assured Americans that everything was fine, and even encouraged them to take out risky mortgages. Yes, Alan Greenspan, that means you.

But another part of the answer lies in what hasn't happened to the men on that Fortune cover — namely, they haven't been forced to give back any of the huge paychecks they received before the folly of their decisions became apparent.

In other words, they've had no incentive to do anything other than exactly what they've done. And the presidential candidates don't especially have an incentive to tackle the tough issues (and every incentive not to). We're never going to get anywhere until we start looking at out problems. But who wants to waste time with that, right?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Keep Your Money in Your Wallet

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, so that must mean today's another Buy Nothing Day. If you didn't get up in time for J. C. Penney's 4:00 AM sale, then your Buy Nothing Day is off to a good start. Traditionally it's been believed that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, and while I haven't seen stats as to whether it's the busiest day with the largest crowds, it's not the biggest spending day. Still, why does anybody want to go out to fight huge crowds to get a couple of pretty good deals? From what I've seen in the ads, the deals aren't that good, and they can hardly be worth the aggravation of fighting too many people in too small a space. So why not just turn avoiding the crowds into a protest by boycotting consumerism? I know it's our patriotic duty to keep the economy afloat by buying too much stuff, but it's not going to be too long before our overwhelming consumer debt is going to do us in. As energy costs (and subprime mortgages) go up, we'll have a harder and harder time staying ahead of all the rest of the money we owe. A little bit of not buying today won't turn our credit problems around overnight, but it can be a start.

Buy Nothing Day is today for the U.S. and Canada, and it's tomorrow in the U.K. and around the world. According to the site, two stores in Toronto have made this Sell Nothing Day--they're closing down. Who among us can match that kind of dedication? I guess the real question, though, is will those shop owners refrain from going elsewhere to buy anything themselves.

And that's where Buy Nothing Day becomes more complicated. It's not Buy Nothing at a Mall Day. It's not Buy Nothing Wherever There's a Big Crowd of People Day, it's Buy Nothing Day. Buy nothing at the grocery store. Buy nothing online. Buy nothing at a restaurant. Buy nothing that you'd normally buy during the course of a regular day. That takes a bit more effort. Certainly I'm not going to run from store to store for door-buster sales. I'm not going to go to Wal-Mart (of course, for me every day is Buy Nothing at Wal-Mart Day). But it should also be Buy Nothing at the Gas Station if you need to fill up your tank or Buy Nothing at the Corner Store if you need a quart of milk. For that you might need some advance warning (which means I should've posted this last week--sorry). Good luck.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful that no uninvited mutants are at my table. How about you?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What to Watch

There are a couple of stories percolating along during the Thanksgiving break, and just when no one's supposed to be watching is when the real drama might start. I'm not at all prepared to guess how long it will last, but for the moment, at least, the Democrats are showing off their spine again. I may have been premature in writing off the Democratic failure to make an effort to get their $50 billion Iraq bill through the Senate. Once their bill I'm still disappointed that they couldn't even get enough interest going to make it look like they were trying, but in the past couple of days, I've realized that passing it was never the point. If they'd passed the bill, which tied the money to drawing down troops from Iraq, the Prez would've vetoed it, and the Senate never would've had a possibility of overriding the veto. This way, by rolling over and letting the Republicans maneuver themselves into blocking the bill, they've been left with an issue that has legs. Although Congress last week appropriated more than $400 billion for the Pentagon, the Prez and the Pentagon are pleading poverty and threatening to slow the Defense Department to a crawl without the separate money for Iraq. Representatives Jack Murtha and David Obey called them on it yesterday, reminding us that the Pentagon had recently been voted a full budget except for Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's some of what Murtha had to say:

This week around our Thanksgiving tables there'll be two families. One who say they support the troops -- and they do -- but they have sacrificed very little. They haven't had their taxes raised. They haven't been drafted, and they don't really participate in the war. The other are military families who have husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters in the war theater. It's them who shoulder the burden of the president's Iraq policy. America owes them our thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend.

He's exactly right. Unfortunately, this is when the current Democrats tend to fold in these kinds of negotiations. They take a strong stand, look like they're going to do what it takes to hold onto it, and then acquiesce to whatever the Prez wants. They need to keep holding the line on this to remind us all why we voted for them in the first place.

Normally at this point, I'd be pretty pessimistic about the Democrats' likelihood to keep fighting the fight. But there's another development that's giving me hope. Harry Reid's taking steps to keep the Prez from appointing odious candidates to open offices. He's been nominating people that everybody knows couldn't be confirmed by the Senate, but he's holding on to those nominations and appointing them without Senate approval as soon as the Senate leaves town. This time around, having seen the writing on the wall from too many recess appointments, Reid is making sure the Senate never goes out of session. He's arranged pro forma sessions in which one senator can open and close the Senate, keeping it out of recess. Tuesday was Jim Webb's turn. The only senator in the chamber, he gaveled the session open and then gaveled it closed a mere twenty-two seconds later. He knows how to give good soundbite and called the activity "an exercise in protecting the Constitution and our constitutional process."

So it looks like the Democrats are standing up against the Prez today. Will they continue to do it tomorrow? Well, I for one have my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I can't believe I haven't written anything on the writer's strike yet. I've started to put something together a couple of times, but a distraction of some kind has come up or I haven't had time to find the links I wanted to include. That's no excuse. So here we go.

The Writer's Guild of America has been on strike against television and movie producers for about three weeks now. Depending on where you've looked, the strike's been well covered or barely covered at all. Since the writers are striking against (among others) the TV networks who buy shows, the networks themselves have oddly not paid a whole lot of attention to the work stoppage. If you've been following the strike, then you know what it's about, but if it's been going on without your paying much attention to it, you may not be so sure. One of the most basic maxims about writers is that "writers write." In the case of screenwriters, if they find some extra time on their hands, they also make videos and put them online. It's hardly a surprise there are a couple of videos that explain the WGA's position. The first one's been to by everyone from Atrios to The Beat, and with good reason, because it's a very clear summation of what's going on. In the broader sense, this strike is about what most strikes are about: The workers want a larger share of the profits. In this case, studios, networks, and production companies are putting their products online and not paying anything extra to the writers. Lots more people are seeing the writers' work, but the writers don't get to share in the windfall. Oops.

Of course, the big producer argument is that there's no money in online activity. I guess that would be why Google and Amazon are such steals in the stock market. To see what film and TV executives have said about potential profits online in other contexts, the writers have another helpful video. I'm certainly not the first one to suggest this, but if the issue is that you can't make a profit online (and I'll admit that I so far haven't made my fortune through this method), why not just agree to share the nonexistent profits and get the writers to shut up? If there's no money to be made, then why not give a couple of percent of it? You could even go whole hog and offer 10 percent. Why not? If you're not making anything, then you're not paying anything.

For some historical context, take a look at Mark Evanier in The New Republic, a different kind of venue for him. If you want to see the international ramifications, click over to the LA Times for this article by a friend of mine, Sheldon Chad. And to keep up with the details and developments of the strike, you could do far worse than follow the United Hollywood blog. It may get particularly interesting following the holiday, as the producers return to the negotiating table. But is this a sincere effort at finding a solution to the strike, or are they just trying to manipulate the situation? You want to be hopeful, but some of their other actions suggest otherwise.

Although I don't think the movie business will be particularly hurt over the long term by this strike, it could, depending on its length, cause major pain to the TV networks. They've already been hurting as viewer numbers have been shrinking over the last few years, and the longer they allow the writers to remain out, the better chance that people will tire of reruns and reality shows and discover that they don't feel so compelled to watch TV anyway. I don't expect many viewers who discover they don't need the TV as often as they used to rush back to it once production of new shows starts up again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pure Pop Culture

In case you missed it last night, here's a couple of links to the guest appearances of Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes on The Simpsons last night. This one has better quality, but this one includes the little coda at the end of the episode. Enjoy them for as long as Fox will allow them to remain on YouTube.

[UPDATE--That first one's dead now, but here's another one that's still better quality than the longer one.]

The comics material was pretty funny, but more so if you recognized the various in jokes. Of course, it necessitated a certain suspension of disbelief. When it comes down to it, the entire premise was ridiculous. Moore, Spiegelman, and Clowes were all appearing at a signing at a new store that was competing with Comic Book Guy's Android's Dungeon. Now, any fanboy worth his salt knows that Alan Moore doesn't do signings. What could the writers have possibly been thinking?

But there were a lot of fun references and ideas. I loved Art Spiegelman putting on his Maus mask to go into battle. If he'd only had a couple of brushes, as well, he could've been a two-fisted painter. It's no surprise at all to find out that Lisa identified with Enid and Rebecca of Ghost World, and it's only appropriate that she's deflated when Clowes shares his schematic for Batman's utility belt. And who doesn't pine for those days under Alan Moore's charge when Radioactive Man was a heroin-addicted jazz critic who wasn't even radioactive. And where do I have to stand in line to get my own DVD copy of Watchmen Babies in "V for Vacation"? I can't wait to see Li'l Rorschach and Li'l Ozymandius surfing their troubles away with Young Dr. Manhattan along for the ride.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Well, that was anticlimactic. After a big buildup, the Senate bill to fund the Iraq war with $50 million tied to troop reduction died a very quick and nearly anonymous death on Friday. ThinkProgress gave it five lines. I couldn't even find the story at Atrios or Talking Points (although Greg Sargent has it at TPM Election Central). Apparently Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to go around normal Senate procedure to introduce a rival bill that would supply more money with absolutely no oversight whatsoever. Democrats rejected that, but they couldn't overcome veto threats from the Republicans. There had been some talk about having Republicans fight for their right to strike, making them go through the motions and deliver an actual filibuster against this bill, but as it turned out, nothing much happened, and the funding bill just simply disappeared.

Fortunately, we're not finished yet. The Prez has already stepped up and accused the Democrats of not supporting the troops in his weekly radio address. Although the Democrats seemed to let this fall through the cracks, the true test will remain whether the Democrats hold on to their position or if they cave once again and vote for funding with no restrictions whatsoever.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Rather Unpleasant Subject

I generally try to run a nice, respectable, family-friendly blog here. I try to keep the language pleasant, the subject matter above board, and the tone reasonable. I have an 11-year-old nephew who on occasion has demonstrated enough familiarity with the blog that I suspect he drops in from time to time, and I don't particularly want him to find anything that might cause him concern (any more than the current political climate has been enough to cause any clear-thinking person concern). But every now and then something comes long that's so sharp and so funny that you just have to link to it.

Over on his site and at AMERICAblog, Cliff Schecter has been pushing a video from Brave New Films that collects a nice montage of clips from Fox News that go beyond the pale of what you'd expect to find in a responsible news broadcast. To let everybody know just what's in the video, it's cleverly entitled Fox News Porn. It's a hilarious send up of the double standard of America's favorite conservative shill network. Nothing here was added--it's all straight from Fox News broadcast. It's hot enough that YouTube added an "18 and older" screen, and Digg banned it entirely from their site (although they later relented and reinstated it). Go ahead, take a look. It's even got its own Website. The two-minute film is nothing that you haven't seen on Fox News (not that you'd be watching swill like that). And besides that, it's hilarious.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

We're finally all the way finished. Regular readers may remember that this blog went into something of a black hole about three weeks ago when Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk headquarters was in the midst of a move. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I changed residences, but there were still a couple of loose ends. One prominent one was an offsite storage area that we've had for quite some time. Our monthly rent was coming due tomorrow, but we're now in a large enough place that we can accommodate the extra stuff, so we decided to move out. When we moved the first time, we did the sensible thing and hired movers. This time, though, since our space was only 5 feet by 10 feet, we figured we'd just take care of it ourselves. We knew that much of the stuff in there was boxes of books and record albums (remember them?), but somewhere in all our flurry to get things done, we seemed to have forgotten how much such things weigh. All I can say is that boy, are my biceps tired (I knew there's be a price for avoiding the gym), and my, isn't it nice to have all our possessions under one roof. Some of these boxes haven't been unpacked since we left Los Angeles a dozen years ago, and it will be fun reacquainting ourselves with albums in boxes marked with such alphabetical spreads as "Aphex Twin-Bowie" and "Pere Ubu-Sinatra" (yes, Spencer, we do sometimes mark our boxes).

The down side of spending most of the day clearing out the storage area is that I haven't much kept up with what's been going on today. I suppose that's what Saturdays are for. Still, if you want a link of some sort, take a look at Salon's Ask the Pilot column on how a pilot with an iPhone can trump the O'Hare control tower, a topic we were talking about ourselves not too long ago.

(Just a quick aside before I post. My, how times change. THe Microsoft Word spell check doesn't recognize Sinatra. It thought I might've been trying to type Sumatra or Sonata.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three Cheers for Senate Judiciary

After the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to include telecom immunity in any eavesdropping and wiretapping bill, it seemed unlikely that it would be stripped out before going to a vote in the full Senate. Fortunately, however, the Judiciary Committee came riding to the rescue. In a markup session today, procedural maneuvers enabled Chairman Pat Leahy to vote the bill, without telecom immunity, out of committee and onto the Senate floor. Greg Sargent has the details at TPM Election Central. Russ Feingold tried to take immunity out the old-fashioned way, by offering an amendment. Unfortunately, committee members--including some Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 10-9--voted Feingold's amendment down. But when Arlen Specter offered a "compromise" that would still have let the telecoms off the hook, he encountered what Sargent described as a "procedural difficulty." This allowed Leahy to circumvent the vote on the amendment entirely and move to vote on the bill without any reference to immunity at all. He held all the Democrats, including likely defector Diane Feinstein, and passed the stripped bill out of committee.

Sargent also reported that aides to Harry Reid suggested this Judiciary Committee version is the one most likely to be considered by the full Senate. If that's the case, any consideration of telecom immunity would have to be introduced all over again by a new amendment. If that comes to pass, Chris Dodd has already gone on record as being willing to filibuster against it. I won't be optimistic enough to suggest that this in itself is enough to ensure immunity won't come back to bite us, but it is one more barrier.

Sometimes things work out the way you'd like them to.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting Our Hopes Up Again

It seems that Congress is following through on the threat Democrats hinted at in last week's rushed vote on Mukasey. Both houses are pushing through Iraq war funding measures that include provisions for starting to withdraw troops. Last week, Congress passed bills for funding the Pentagon in general, which the Prez signed yesterday (although he vetoed a domestic spending bill in the same signing session). That protected both the Senate and the House to hold a vote on Iraq money tied to troop withdrawal with some protection from the accusation that they don't support the troops (not that this means that charge won't be leveled against them).

So now they've actually followed through and introduced that bill. The House wasted no time in passing their version 218-203 today. For their part, the Senate is considering the idea that if Republicans want to filibuster the bill (and you know they do), then they should be required to actually, you know, filibuster. Majority Whip Dick Durbin sent up a trial balloon this morning, pointing out what we all could see: that this is a good way to get attention. It would certainly make it clearer to anybody not paying close attention that the Republicans are actively seeking to thwart the will of the American people by keeping the fighting going in Iraq. Republicans, no surprisingly, are presenting their own bravado front, claiming to look forward to such an eventuality. Arizona's Jon Kyle said:

Republicans, I think, would not at all be unwilling to talk about the necessity of supporting the troops by giving them the funding necessary to carry out their mission. If Democrats are going to force us to talk about that, I think they'll find a very willing partner in talking about it.

Sure, Republicans would get to fill their time with whatever they wanted to fill it with, but if Democrats played their cards right, the focus could remain on the Republicans desire to thwart any kind of troop withdrawal. Democrats would have to stand their ground, of course, and flinching or caving completely after a Republican filibuster would harm them immeasurably more than just giving up on the whole idea right now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gore Dodges the Draft

This seems to be taking its time percolating through the mainstream media, but Al Gore today officially requested that the various Draft Gore movements end their efforts to get him on the ballot and bring him into the presidential race. The Draft Gore Political Action Committee has shut down, and other organizations have privately advised their members to stop their efforts. Although their home page doesn't reflect it yet, here's part of a letter that went out to organizers from

We have received a communication from a member of Al Gore's staff discouraging our efforts to put Al Gore's name on any primary ballots. This includes California, New York, Massachusetts, and the write-in effort in New Hampshire, as well as any other states that are working to get him on the ballot. Accordingly, effective immediately, we are recommending that all groups cease their signature collection and related fund-raising activities.

. . .

We'll be putting out more communications in the days ahead, but for now we felt it was urgent to get this information out to people so they wouldn't put any more time or money into the effort. I hope we can turn our grief and disappointment into something more positive and productive in the future.

I never had a sense that Gore was going to return to elective politics--not this year, anyway. I think he'd make a good president, but he's already shown us that he makes a lousy candidate. Still, if we needed a final confirmation, this appears to be it. There'll be no deus ex machina, at least this time around. You go into an election with the candidates you have, not the candidates you might want or wish to have at a later time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quick Hits

It's pretty well known that the Prez doesn't go out of his way to acknowledge and meet with living veterans, but now he's starting to avoid dead ones, as well. Yeah, I know that he spent Veterans Day in Texas, and he went to an American Legion post for a ceremony honoring a few soldiers who died in Iraq, but it rubs me the wrong way that he left the high-profile appearance at Arlington Cemetery for Dick Cheney. At other times I might not feel so strongly, but we're in the middle of a war that, no matter what the administration might claim, cannot be justified. The Prez is asking troops to die for a misbegotten adventure that just leaves them trapped in a crossfire of an alienating civil war halfway around the world from their country. He hasn't yet gone to one funeral of a soldier who died in the line of duty in Iraq. The least he could do on Veterans Day (of all days) is to head down to what is probably the nation's focal point for honored veterans. You know, solidarity and all that stuff.

I didn't address the situation of Dennis Kucinich and his impeachment resolution in the House. He told The Washington Post that he expected it to be quickly tabled, but in an attempt to embarrass the Democrats, House Republicans voted for the measure and kept it alive. Finally, to keep from debating the issue immediately, Democrats successfully sent the measure to the Judiciary Committee. Theoretically, the committee would then kill the resolution by ignoring it, but the Judiciary chairman is John Conyers, who never completely bought in to Nancy Pelosi's position that impeachment was "off the table." Although the Republicans still reportedly think an impeachment discussion would hurt Democrats, I don't see how a fair and reasonable examination of the administration's wrongdoing does anything but tarnish the Bushies further.

In attempting to make a joke, Mitt Romney instead made an odd and nonsensical statement about Adam and Eve that instead spotlighted how odd and nonsensical Romney is himself. As mentioned in Jake Tapper's blog at ABC News, Romney commented on the large leaves on a tree in an Iowa yard. "Adam and Eve would not have looked as promiscuous if they had had leaves this big." So it's the amount of clothes one wears that determines how promiscuous he or she looks? Did Adam and Eve look more promiscuous when they were naked before eating from the Tree of Knowledge (which made them ashamed of their nudity)? But where this whole thing falls apart is in the concept of promiscuity. By definition, Adam and Eve couldn't have been promiscuous because the idea couldn't have existed for them. Miriam-Webster Online defines promiscuous as "not restricted to one sexual partner." But Adam and Eve were restricted to one sexual partner because no other potential sexual partners existed! There was Adam, and there was Eve. If either one of them wanted to have sex, there was only one place they could turn. It didn't matter how large or small their fig leaves were.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

This should've been posted at 11:00--sorry.

Also called Remembrance Day or Armistice Day around the world, November 11 commemorates the armistice that ended World War I in 1919. The day was originally set aside to honor those who served in World War I, but in the United States in 1954, the name of the day was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, and its scope was broadened to recognize all those who have served in the U.S. military. This would probably be a good opportunity to pay attention to the veterans who comprise one in four of our nation's homeless. Support the troops? Sure. But support the vets, too!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last Time for Tipping

Here's a quick coda to the Hillary Clinton tipping story. In addition to the follow-up story NPR had on their Website, David Greene followed up his story on Morning Edition the next day. He admitted that he should have approached the Clinton campaign for a comment about the alleged forgotten tip for his original story because he never wanted the tip to be the focus of the story. That's either disingenuous, or he hasn't been paying attention. He or his editors should have been aware that neglected tips have been an issue for Hillary Clinton before. He (or his editors) can't have believed that if they just barely mentioned the charge that Hillary stiffed a waitress (and a single working mom, at that) that no one was going to pick up the ball and run with it. If he truly didn't want the focus to be on the neglected tip, he shouldn't have mentioned it. (Of course, I can't imagine a working reporter these days making that decision.) In discussing his handling of the story, though, Greene never mentioned the fact that he got the free meal wrong, as well. In my mind, that's the set up that allows the no-tip angle to make sense. Had he checked to see whether the food was actually free, he might've got a better sense of the situation with the tip.

The final soundbite on this issue (that's been repeated by everybody, so I may as well join the crowd) belongs to Anita Esterday, the waitress in question who stands by her memory that neither she nor the other waitress who waited on Hillary received anything that day. When contacted by The New York Times at her home to follow up on the story, she reportedly said:

You people are really nuts. There's kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there's better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn't get a tip.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mukasey, Inevitably

So the Prez gets what he wants, not that there was really much question that he was going to. This time around, though, there's not a clear-cut good or bad answer. Both choices of Mukasey or not-Mukasey were pretty unappealing. Mukasey demonstrated that he had no intention of standing up to torture, but then, no one who would be acceptable to Bush was ever going to do that, anyway. On the other hand (if there is another hand), it's not beyond the Senate to take up that matter themselves. Yeah, I know, this is the current Democratic Senate we're talking about, the opposition Senate who rarely say no the Prez. But it's possible. In his apology for supporting Mukasey, in The New York Times this week, New York Senator Chuck Schumer wrote:

Judge Mukasey's refusal to state that waterboarding is illegal was unsatisfactory to me and many other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Congress is now considering — and I hope we will soon pass — a law that would explicitly ban the use of waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques.

If Mukasey won't get on the record about waterboarding, at least the Senate can.

But because nothing is easy for Senate Democrats, the circumstances surrounding the vote itself have seemed a bit suspicious. Early this morning, I watched an e-mail exchange develop over the question of why Hillary and Obama didn't vote against the nomination. Further investigation revealed that Chris Dodd and Joe Biden hadn't voted, either. Bill Richardson noticed that and wasted no time in issuing an attack against the four. Throughout the day, TPM Election Central was following the story and first weighed in with the fact that the vote on the nomination was announced at the end of the day Thursday, catching most Senate staffers by surprise. The four senators running for president couldn't be guaranteed that they could return from their campaigns in time to even cast a vote. A little while later, TPM Election Central returned with more of the story. The vote was rushed as part of a deal with Republicans to get a vote on a defense appropriations bill that excluded funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. That bill was passed a short time after the Senate approved Mukasey. That may cause the presidential senators a few instances of embarrassment for missing an important vote (though not one in which they could've affected the outcome), but it provides the Senate with a bit of protection to send the Prez Iraq-funding bills tied to troop withdrawal without fear that they can be accused of not supporting the military. Whether they'll have the backbone to use that strategy remains to be seen, but at least they've got the opportunity.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why Doesn't Hillary Have a Dedicated Staffer for Tipping?

That's the question I asked myself when I heard a report this morning on NPR that described a waitress in Iowa who recently served Hillary Clinton for lunch and mentioned that she didn't get a tip. The story reported that the meal was "on the house," so I suppose there could be an argument that if one tips on the bill, 20 percent of 0 is 0. Still, even if the restaurant comped the meal, the wait staff didn't necessarily comp their service, so they still deserved to be compensated.

I was reminded of a similar story from Hillary's first senatorial campaign. She had a free breakfast in a restaurant in upstate New York and consequently left no tip. That caused a minor storm of controversy on Drudge and elsewhere, so I figured that it's a bad sign Hillary didn't learn her lesson. Just have a staffer who always carries cash to leave behind whenever the campaign stops to eat somewhere, no matter what the circumstances of the meal might be. If a server serves, leave money.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the whole situation in Iowa may not be so clear cut. I wasn't the only person to notice that line in the story, and it hit the blogs early in the morning. The Hillary campaign jumped on it, insisting that they did indeed leave a tip. What's more, according to a follow-up NPR story on the controversy their first report had triggered, the campaign also produced a $157.46 charge receipt for the meal NPR had earlier identified as free of charge. The campaign claimed to have left $100 in cash for a tip, which, of course, is impossible to trace. Further muddying up the waters is the role of the restaurant's manager, who AP reports confirms as taking some responsibility if the tips were not distributed properly, but who NPR reports as not being present that day. Even if the manager wasn't there, however, NPR tells us that he confirms a $100 tip was shared among some employees but that no money was left where Hillary and her immediate party sat.

So was there a tip? I tend to believe that there was. Surely Hillary would learn something after being pilloried for making exactly the same misstep in New York seven years ago. And the no tip claim comes from NPR, which has not to my knowledge clarified why the Clinton campaign paid $157.44 for a meal it claims was on the house. Still, if the campaign still has no dedicated staffer whose only responsibility is to make sure appropriate cash is left whenever Hillary and her entourage stop for a meal, they should definitely hire one.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

He’s Number 1!

We knew our George would amount to something one day. After years of getting closer and closer, he's finally beaten his long-time rival Richard Nixon for the public's contempt. In a USAToday/Gallup poll released yesterday, 50 percent of respondents--yes, that's right, half--stated that they "strongly disapprove" of the president. Nixon, before impeachment efforts were underway in the House of Representatives, had polled at 48 percent strong disapproval. By that point--as I remember it, anyway--there was pretty relentless media drumbeat against him and his Watergate wrongdoing. Nowadays, although there's a lot of negative talk toward Bush on the Internet, big media is not so focused on the anti-Bush sentiment. They can't ignore it completely, anymore, but it's far from overwhelming. That means that the people who strongly disapprove have figured their position out for themselves. Interestingly, only another 14 percent fall into what is likely the "somewhat disapprove" category, as the total disapproval numbers just reach 64 percent. Fortunately for George, though, 31 percent still approve. Unfortunately for us, however, that 31 percent appears to contain the Democratic Congress, who still can't seem to find the spine to stand up to the administration effectively. If anybody knows exactly what number the "strongly disapprove" has to reach before it will get Congress's attention, please let us know so we can start working on it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Homophobic Fearmongering Fails in Kentucky

Today is election day in various parts of the country (but not in Chicago!). There are a few governor's races to be had, but the one I'm most interested in is the Kentucky race. I didn't get a chance yesterday to ask if any of our Kentucky readers got a call from Pat Boone in support of the corrupt, indicted incumbent Ernie Fletcher and pinning the "homosexual agenda" on his opponent, Steve Beshear. Pat asked voters if they wanted Kentucky to be another San Francisco. Setting aside the fact that Kentucky is a landlocked commonwealth and San Francisco is a city by the sea, I'd be willing to bet that San Francisco has better restaurants. And would this mean Kentucky's getting cable cars? Such a call might be a wee bit alarmist, but it's probably fair enough game in an election. Another call that was going around, however, doesn't appear to be quite so up and up. It claims to be from (here's a link, but their server seems overloaded at the moment, so I couldn't check it myself), the Website of the Fairness Campaign, a gay rights organization in Kentucky, and it extols the virtues of Beshear and his gay-friendly policies. The Fairness Campaign denies setting up the call, of course, because even though Beshear has had a commanding lead in the polls, why introduce something that would be counterproductive. The Fletcher campaign denies it, and Eric Kleefeld at TPM Election Central even tracked down a former Karl Rove operative now living in Kentucky who also claims to know nothing of any such call. It didn't have the desired effect, as the almost-complete results show Beshear a winner by more than 17 points, but it'll be interesting to see if anything develops over the next few days. And I'm still curious to hear if any of our Kentucky readers received either of these calls.

Going Way Out on a Limb

Matthew Yglesias has a sterling suggestion: Progressive candidates should start promoting progressive positions. Here's a short list of possible talking points he came up with.

It's remarkable the extent to which you almost never see leading Democrats articulate commonplace notions like "starting a war with Iran would be a strategic disaster for the United States," "expending finite resources investigating people who there's no probable cause to suspect is probably a waste of time," "we should focus on fighting al-Qaeda rather than other Muslims who haven't attacked us," "invading Iraq was a huge mistake," "Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt founded the UN because a strong UN is good for America," "getting other countries to follow non-proliferation agreements is going to require us to follow them too," or "reviving the Israeli-Arab peace process would make it easier for us to find Muslim allies." Now I'm not going to promise anyone that those exact phrases are ones it would be smart to use. But the ideas are important ones, and the real political professionals need to think about finding the best ways to express them.

I must be much farther over to the left than I ever realized. Not one of those suggestions seems overtly progressive to me. They just seem to be common sense. Simple common sense.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Keep in Mind

I haven't been following every single news item and opinion piece on the matter, but I haven't come across much discussion about how the instability in Pakistan might affect India, its primary nuclear rival. At the very least, they're watching with interest. Yet another wild card to shuffle into the deck.

Quick Hits

Over at Comic Book Resources, there's a discussion of what effect the WGA writers' strike will have on comics. The short answer is that some TV writers who've been neglecting their comics work will have plenty of time to get back to it. The longer answer, though, is that the strike probably won't last long enough to get any new comics projects off the ground. CBR also links to a blog post on the strike by comics writer turned screenwriter Brian K. Vaughan.

Via Rich Johnston, Suburban Glamour creator and Phonogram co-creator Jamie McKelvie is borrowing a page from the recent Radiohead experiment and urging people who torrent his work for free to come by and drop a little something into his Paypal account. If it works at all, I suspect he'll let us know soon enough.

Can somebody please tell me the difference between Fruity Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Berry Pebbles? Are Fruity Pebbles supposed to have orange or grape or watermelon or kiwi or something in addition to the obvious berry flavors?

I Forgot, Forgot the Fifth of November

Ugh. Here's another late comics cover intended to commemorate a day that's already mostly passed. Fortunately, like Halloween, Guy Fawkes Day celebrations take place primarily at night, so that's still ahead of us.

Here's part of what Alan Moore had to say about his country almost twenty years ago in the introduction to the comic above.

Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I'm thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore.

Come to your own conclusions.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is Anybody Going to Look into This?

The recent spate of iPhone ads seem to be part of an effective campaign--real people talking about how useful their iPhones are. It's an old strategy, certainly, but it gets pulled out again because it works. But there's one ad that seems just a bit questionable. An airplane pilot explains how he uses his iPhone effectively overrule the control tower. He's on the ground at O'Hare waiting for clearance to take off, but because of some rain in the forecast, the plane is put on a three-hour delay. I'm not sure whether the passengers stuck on the ground were allowed to restart their wireless devices, but the pilot wasted no time in firing up his iPhone. He went to, where he found a more up-to-date forecast. The showers had apparently already passed, so there was no need to keep delaying the flight. He radioed back to the control tower to point this out to them, and within half an hour, his flight had been cleared to take off. Great news all around.

This incident raises a number of questions, of course. The big one, obviously, is what kind of state is our air traffic control system in that it can be so easily trumped by a pilot with an iPhone? Where does the O'Hare control tower get its weather information that's so blatantly inferior to what any of us can get right this minute at Would we be better off if we just piped the Internet into the control tower and let the controllers use whatever Websites were most helpful? Or maybe we should just dispense with all the clearly outmoded equipment in the control tower and give each controller an iPhone. We already know that the air traffic control system uses AT&T, so why not just go the extra mile to the iPhone? It might make morale go up a bit if in between tracking flights, the controllers could check out the latest video on YouTube.

(Hat tip to Jason for pointing this ad out to me.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pakistani Instability

This doesn't bode well. For better or worse, Musharraf's Pakistan has been a key component of the U.S. strategy in the War on Terror. Pakistan is a nuclear Islamic state, but we felt some sort of comfort in believing it was our nuclear Islamic state. But recently, elections have been causing them trouble. Pervez Musharraf won another term as president nearly a month ago, but he may or may not have been eligible to run. That was a question the Pakistani Supreme Court was expected to answer next week, but it appears to be moot at the moment. The Supreme Court, in fact, was one of the main targets in Musharraf's state of emergency. It was quickly surrounded by troops, and the chief justice was replaced. There's also been a crackdown on TV and radio that's been critical of Musharraf.

For what it's worth, the Bush administration tried to convince Musharraf not to make this move, but despite what we'd like to think, he hasn't been "our" dictator in quite some time. And this move can't be much of a surprise. Musharraf originally took power in 1999 in a coup, so in many ways this is nothing other than a return to form.

Although this seems primarily aimed at the Supreme Court and its potential decision to remove Musharraf from power, Musharraf blamed his move on pro-Taliban militants who have been experiencing recent success against the Pakistani military. We'll just have to wait and see whether or not this makes the army any more successful. Also in the wait-and-see column are parliamentary elections scheduled for January. Musharraf made no mention of them in his declaration of emergency. All in all, if his whole point is to make sure he stays in office, you've got to admit that there are few more effective methods of accomplishing that goal than simply taking over the government.

Dems Cave (Again)

Well, that was quick. I didn't think that we'd likely be talking about this again until Monday, but it appears that some Democrats didn't want to keep the suspense up over the weekend. Senators Schumer and Feinstein, who both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have agreed to vote to confirm Mukasey as attorney general. Presumably any leverage that might have existed to force the Bush administration to deal with Democrats on the issue disappeared along with the suspense.

I can't say I'm surprised. I predicted he'd be confirmed yesterday morning. But it would've been nice if they could've done it in such a way that didn't convey their turning over and lying dead in front of anything the Prez might want.

Over on Talking Points Memo, John Dean makes an unfortunate comparison to a previous president he knew, but he also includes a nice compromise on Mukasey that Dems can still push (not that they will, mind you).

Since Judge Mukasey’s situation is not unlike that facing Elliot Richardson when he was appointed Attorney General during Watergate, why should not the Senate Judiciary Committee similarly make it a quid pro quo for his confirmation that he appoint a special prosecutor to investigate war crimes? Richardson was only confirmed when he agreed to appoint a special prosecutor, which, of course, he did. And when Nixon fired that prosecutor, Archibald Cox, it lead to his impeachment.

Before the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee completely cave-in to Bush, at minimum they should demand that Judge Mukasey appoint a special prosecutor to investigate if war crimes have been committed. If Mukasey refuses he should be rejected. This, indeed, should be a pre-condition to anyone filling the post of Attorney General under Bush.

That's all well and good, but somehow I think the final situation will tend to reflect Atrios's take rather than Dean's.

It seems that the senators want Mukasey to declare numerous acts of the Bush administration to be violations of law, constitution, and treaty, without taking the next logical step... which is calling for the investigation, prosecution, and imprisonment of those who authorized and committed those illegal violations.

You need political will to do anything close to what Dean has suggested, and that's what seems to be particularly lacking in this Senate.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Honoring the Rule of Law (or Not)

The Prez's nomination of Michael Mukasey seemed awash in good feelings shortly after it was announced, but the nominee's inability to come down on whether or not waterboarding is torture seems to have cast a shadow over the whole affair. First of all, it's silly that he can't pin down a yes or no answer. Of course waterboarding is torture. It's been considered torture for decades, and there's really no question about the answer. On the other hand, though, it's completely understandable that Mukasey can't provide that answer. If he answers that it's waterboarding, and if U.S. interrogators have been using the technique (which we don't know for sure, even if the administration is reacting just as you'd expect them to if they were), then if he becomes attorney general, he'd have little choice but to address the illegal behavior. The Bushies have no interest, obviously, in putting an attorney general into office who's going to turn around and prosecute them. (And they've declared that if they don't get Mukasey, then they don't want anybody--he's our only choice.) So we're stuck in this purgatory of vague, mealy-mouthed answers to blunt, obvious questions. We can't say what's against the law and what's not without calling the administration on the carpet.

I think that's also the issue with the telecom immunity. If the telecom companies that helped the administration spy on their customers are held accountable for their actions, shouldn't the administration itself, which encouraged and enabled those companies to do what they did, also be held accountable? But we've got no stomach to hold the Bushies (with approval ratings currently in the mid 20s) accountable for much of anything, so everybody is likely to get a free pass. Recent developments suggest that it won't be completely smooth sailing for Mukasey, but I'd be surprised if the Senate turns back the nomination. More likely is that some Democrats will get to vote no and display their hard line against torture while a reasonably solid majority approves the nomination and Mukasey takes the oath of office. We simply don't have the wherewithal or, it seems, much of a desire, to follow the rule of law these days.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Couple of Links to the NYTimes

Even though it's Thursday now, you should travel back in time to Monday to read The New York Times' opinion page. In a guest editorial, Studs Terkel, a resident of the blacklist in the fifties, provided a timely review of government surveillance in this country during the twentieth century. It was pretty dire for most of the time, but there was what has turned to be a short-lived respite during the 1970s.

In 1975, the hearings led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho revealed the scope of government surveillance of private citizens and lawful organizations. As Americans saw the damage, they reached a consensus that this unrestrained surveillance had a corrosive impact on us all.

In 1978, with broad public support, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed national security investigations, including wiretapping, under a system of warrants approved by a special court. The law was not perfect, but as a result of its enactment and a series of subsequent federal laws, a generation of Americans has come to adulthood protected by a legal structure and a social compact making clear that government will not engage in unbridled, dragnet seizure of electronic communications.

But, of course, it didn't last. The current administration started dismantling the system as soon as they could get away with it, and now they're trying to collude with Congress to let them keep doing it (just this once, I'm sure). And let's not even mention telecom immunity. But even so, Terkel manages to end on an upbeat note.

I have observed and written about American life for some time. In truth, nothing much surprises me anymore. But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.

Also on Monday, Paul Krugman wrote an excellent piece on the fear that's gripped far too many in this country. He does a fabulous takedown of much of the neocon argument about why Iran is a threat to us.

Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran "as soon as it is logistically possible."

Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the "main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11." The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world "shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes." Indeed, "Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia."

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn't actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it's not an ideology; it's a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn't. And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let's have some perspective, please: we're talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden's.

Meanwhile, the idea that bombing will bring the Iranian regime to its knees — and bombing is the only option, since we've run out of troops — is pure wishful thinking. Last year Israel tried to cripple Hezbollah with an air campaign, and ended up strengthening it instead. There's every reason to believe that an attack on Iran would produce the same result, with the added effects of endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and driving oil prices well into triple digits.

Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk.

There's much more at the link (and read the whole thing by Studs Terkel, while you're at it). After you check out both of these pieces but are still looking for something to read, take a look at this comparison from Sunday between the dynamics of our political time and those of the French Revolution by François Furstenberg, a history professor at the University of Montreal. Let's just hope he's not saying what I think he's saying about the guillotine.