Politics Feed

Asking the Wrong Question

Oppressive governments often lock up writers, artists, intellectuals. They lock them up because such people are dangerous to those in power. In the United States, we mostly don't have that problem. This is partly because of the first amendment, but also because American writers, artist, and intellectuals are mostly tame.
The lack of politics in art and literature is seen as a virtue as though there were a pure aesthetics that could only be tainted by the addition of politics. In the US, this is partly the legacy of McCarthism. While our arts are sometime offensive, they do little to change the structure of power.
And so it comes to me as a shock that in Paris there is a terror attack on cartoonists. Cartoonists? Really? Cartoonists.
Many of my friends and many people I admire seem to feel that is this is a good moment to engage their critical skills, to evaluate the worth of the long and successful careers of the recently deceased cartoonists. In other words, what did these artists do wrong that made people want to kill them? I don't think that's the right question.

Continue reading "Asking the Wrong Question" »

Vote today, but first check out soft money spending in Congressional elections

Please remember to vote today.

Before you vote, entertain yourself with a look at OpenSecrets.org to see who spent what to buy your vote in this election, especially in races for the House and Senate. Here, for example, is New York's 21st district, where the Conservative soft money in play totals more than either candidate raised individually and soft money has been spent 85:1 to defeat Democrat Aaron Woolf.

Continue reading "Vote today, but first check out soft money spending in Congressional elections" »

Conservative outside organizations are spending 85 times more than liberal organizations in NY-21.

NY21I live in New York's 21st Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Bill Owens, who is retiring. It was the 23rd District when Owens was elected, by there has been redistricting since then. Three candidates are running for Owens' seat. Aaron Woolf, the Democratic candidate, is endorsed by Bill Owens and also by Charles Schumer. Elise Stefanik is the Republican candidate. And there is also a Green Party candidate, Matt Funicello.

NY-21 congressional district has an adult population of under 600,000. When Bill Owens was first elected, there were about 150,000 votes cast. I don't know what the expected voter turnout is, now that we are the 21st District.

A lot of PAC money is being spent on this election. I looked at OpenSecrets.org to have a look at how much.

The candidates themselves have raised about 3.7 million dollars, with Woolf a bit ahead of Stefanick, and Funciello having raised about enough to buy a car.


Outside spending on the race is huge. 

Conservative organizations are spending nearly 2.4 million dollars, more than either major candidate individually. $2,317,000 of that comes from just four organizations: American Crossroads associated with Karl Rove and Ed Gillespe (see donors), the National Republican Congressional Committee, New York 2014 (see donors; note that their donor list has a lot of the same names on it as American Crossroads), and the US Chamber of Commerce, which does not disclose donors.


Conservative outside organizations are spending 85 times more than liberal outside organizations in NY-21.

Major players in this race seem to be hedge funds such as the Elliot Management Group. Much of the money seems to be traceable to billionairs on this list published by the Huffington Post.

Outside organizations are spending about $4 per adult (not per voter) in the New Yor State North Country to pay for this election. And that's not including whatever the rich may have donated to individual candidates. In total, more than $10 per adult is being spent here.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of PAC money were spent on the primary to knock Matt Doheny out of the way to make Stefanik her place on the ballot. He has since been nominated for a judgeship and so is not elligible to run against Stefanik as an independent.

Whatever political will either major party might have had in the North Country, it has apparently been strangled by billionaires. Were this not ordinary it would be shocking.

Offensive GOP Mailer Attacks Localovore Movement

I just got a really offensive GOP attack direct mail piece aimed at Aaron Woolf who is running for Bill Owens' House seat againt Karl Rove-backed Elise Stefanik.

Their point of attack is Woolf's association with organic food through his ownership of a grocery store in Brooklyn. It looks like a nice place, the kind of place that our local farmers have been selling their producrs through as the North Country's farming economy makes a comeback.

ApplesauceThe authors of the mailer seem unaware of the resurgence of small farms in the North Country, many of which are organic or feature naturally grown food. I myself grew (uncertified) organic apples last season and through the Grange Co-packers in Whallonsburg put up apple sauce for commercial sale. The packaging was somewhat like the GOP's imagining of what "Woolf's Pickles" might look like.

His other main sin, in addition to peddling organic food, is that he is, gasp, a filmmaker. Perhaps the GOP doesn't know this, but we have filmmakers here too. Much of Kathy Leichter's Here Today was filmed in Wadhams. There are a number of other small films being produced locally. I just spent the morning finishing a screenplay.

Last fall's I Love NY commerical featuring an orchard was even filmed here. At my orchard.


That's my barn. And those are my apples on the trees. (We had already harvested in that area, so the film company had people in the previous day wiring the apples back on the trees.)

Dear NYGOP: 

Here in the North Country, not only do we care how our food is grown and value small scale agriculture and organic food, but we also have a thriving arts culture. Perhaps some of you might come for a visit before you write your next attack ad.

And you know what the North Country really can't afford? Last winter's heating bills, and the House GOP's plan to roll back the clock on health coverage.


Driving around Vermont, Thinking


photo by Tony Hisgett

Friday and Saturday, I spent a lot of time driving around Vermont. I also spent a lot of time thinking while driving. I was thinking about whether to expand on my most recent blog post and what it is safe to say. These were the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in Vermont.

The leaves were at peak and the air was still, so there were many reflections. (Unfortunatly, I didn't stop to take pictures.)

Continue reading "Driving around Vermont, Thinking" »

Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

Continue reading "Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging" »

Handmade #Occupy the Adirondacks Christmas Wreath

Occupy the Adirondacks & Have a Merry Christmas! #occupy

This handmade wreath was made out of chicken wire and pine cones by one of my children as a 4-H project this past weekend. The Guy Fawkes mask was added this morning: the handmade wreath was a little oblong from the weight of the pinecones, and the opening in the middle seemed just right for the mask on my bedroom wall. It hangs on our front door which is right next to our bookstore, Dragon Press Bookstore, a science fiction specialty shop in Westport, New York.


Oppression, Feminism, & Motherhood

I was on several excellent panels at Anticipation which I hope to write about later, and on one panel that was hopelessly ill-construed. It was a panel on which four white people were assigned the task of discussing whether ethnic and sexual minorities ought to write for the mainstream sf audience or whether they could or should write for more specialized audiences more connected to their concerns, and if they were to do that, how would they make it into the SF canon (this last point was illustrated by a quote from Joanna Russ.).

One of the designated panelists did not attend the convention, one overslept and missed the panel by accident, so it was me and this white guy who later remarked online that he has clearly been assigned to the wrong panel. 

This was not THE most socially awkward panel assignment I've ever been given. That would be the panel entitled "Politics & Bad Manners" at a Minnicon many years ago, where as I recall one of my fellow panelists was dressed in a monk's habit, and everyone but me had known in advance that this was the annual Libertarian revival panel. I  spent the panel defending things like the existence of public sidewalks. But this pannel at Anticipation was certainly up there.

Several audience members seemed to have a lot to say on the actual topic assigned, so I invited "Ide Cyan" and a woman whose name badge said "Isobel" to join me as panelists. "Isobel" declined, but made many productive comments from the audience. "Ide Cyan" joined me on the panel, but only after anxiously showing me her name badge so I would know who I was tangling with. She tried hard as a panelist, but also was extremely tense and trembling and talking very fast, as though frightened of me. (I think that is the first time I've ever been on a panel with someone who appeared physically frighten of me.)

The panel went how it went, which is as well as could be expected given both the panelist problem and an oddly constructed mandate. (Canonicty is a completely separate issue from the economic and artistic viability of subgenres with specialized audiences.) I'm told that Jo Walton had written beautiful and lucid panel descriptions that were then mercilessly pruned by a clumsy editorial hand. I think this panel description was one of the victims.

"Ide Cyan" argued that the central issue was oppression. I attempted to get her to unpack her argument, and asked interview style questions about what she meant by oppression. Another blogger has described her as becoming "tongue-tied" when presented with this line of inquiry.

After the panel, I invited her to join me for a cup of tea for further discussion, but she declined; she and a group of other audience members, who seemed to be a portion of Fail Fandom, left as a group. According to their blogs this group went off and discussed how appalling it is that I claim to be oppressed because I am a parent and because of where I live.

Before departing, "Ide Cyan" instructed me to read Joanna Russ's book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, a book which as it happened was sitting on my night table. A while back I blogged my dismay with the opening chapter. It is a book that Joanna worked long and hard on, the book in which she intended to reconcile socialism and feminism, and which was published too late to have the impact it might have had because it took her so long to write. (Our collective recollection is that she was already working on that book when I attended the Seattle Clarion in 1984; its copyright date is 1998.)

Joanna Russ was my first science fiction mentor. She was my professor at the University of Washington for two years. I spent many happy hours taking up her office hours when everyone else was scared to talk to her. A few decades ago, I knew her pretty well. She was in chronic pain. She was on heavy-duty anti-depressants that messed up her short-term memory in ways that were sometimes comical. She is also a genius, and I treasure the time I spent sitting at her feet (sometimes literally) listening to her hold forth.

That having been said, I don't think What We Are Fighting For? works in the way she intended. In trying to reconcile socialism & feminism, she has for the most part left out the problem of motherhood and the relationship between the parent and the State. Her discussion of motherhood is extremely slight. The most extensive passage I was able to find, via index and skimming, is a mother-blaming section on the role of families in perpetuating oppression and sexism. (p. 347) Clearly, something had to go or this book never would have got finished, but I think it is unfortunate that the oppression of mothers by the State was omitted from discussion.

So what is oppression? Its definition is not one of Joanna's central concerns in this book; she is writing for an audience that thinks it already knows what oppression is. Oppression is depression — "a feeling of being oppressed"; persecution —"the act of subjugating by cruelty";  and subjugation — "the state of being kept down by unjust use of force or authority." In my daily life, I have experienced all three in connection with being a mother and it is not a minor thing. It is a major force in my life.

I seriously doubt that Joanna Russ I know would argue that I and other American mothers are not oppressed. And I wonder by what right self-described feminists discard out-of-hand claims by individual mothers that they suffer oppression.

Is 21st century feminism really feminism at all? If it has abandonded mothers as such, it has abandoned its task of advocating the liberation of women. 

Cynthia Burack: "A Note about Politics"

Burack.healing I picked up Cynthia Burack's Healing Identities: Black Feminist Thought and the Politics of Groups (Cornell University Press, 2004) on our book shopping trip to Maryland a month or so ago when we collected a debt I was owed in books.

IMG_4251.JPGI have just started reading it this morning while snapping occasional shots of this morning's Lake Champlain sunrise -- it's a cloudy day, so the good shots only happen every couple of minutes.

The book's introduction begins with "A Note about Politics," which is a cool little piece all by itself.

No less a political observer than Henry Adams remarked in the early twentieth century that politics can be understood as the "systematic organization of hatreds."1 In face, hatreds are not always terribly well organized, but Adams's comment nonetheless captures a key reality of political life. Group hatred is "like a sturdy weed: you can weed several times a day and, in the morning, there it is again."2 Groups matter in part because of the vast harm those motivated by group identifications can do.

. . . Feminists tend to stress the coalitional political and social justice opportunities created by groups, while mainstream political thinkers tend to stress violent, dangerous, and unstable aspects of groups. All are right, of course: in group relations people can exhibit both extraordinary forms of cooperation and seemingly irrational forms of contentiousness. (p. 1)

1. Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, vol. 1 (New York: Time, 1964), 6.
2. Andrei Codrescu, The Devil Never Sleeps, and Other Essays (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), 129.

This passage is particularly interesting to me in that I am coming to believe that one of the primary usages of the Web 2.0-style Internet is various forms of scapegoating, in which individuals or groups are named as the cause of the problems of and as a threat to other group.  I find the emerging situation very worrisome.

SHOCK: Michelle Malkin helps Bill Ayers sell books!

Malkin writes:

God damn America . . .
and lets her readers know where to meet Bill Ayers and where to buy his book and get it signed:
He’ll be at Georgetown Law School on Monday and at a book-signing at Busboys & Poets at 14th and V St in Washington DC on Monday night at 6:30PM.
Is Malkin palling around?

Any why does Michelle Malkin hate America?

GOP Vocabulary Word of the Day: to nationalize, "To convert from private to governmental ownership and control."

Providing further evidence that the Republicans have run out of the conservative solutions generally associated with their party and are now borrowing from the far left, the US government has nationalized AIG. From Floyd Norris, writing in the Business Section of The New York Times:

Socialism, 21st Century Style
The government tonight nationalized the American International Group, the financial giant that could not find anyone else willing to lend it the billions of dollars it needed to stay afloat.

That is not the official version. Fed staffers, who briefed reporters at 9:15 tonight, don’t even want us to say the government will control A.I.G. The government will name new management, and will have veto power over all important decisions. And it will have a warrant allowing it to take 79.9 percent of the stock whenever it wants. But they contend there is no control until the warrant is exercised.

President Truman once tried to nationalize the steel industry, arguing that a strike that halted production in wartime created a national emergency. The Supreme Court ruled that was illegal. This time, however, the company agreed to the nationalization. It was the only way to get the cash it desperately needs.

And from The Washington Post:

Invoking extraordinary powers granted after the 1929 stock market crash, the government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group to preserve a crucial bulwark of the global financial system.

The move to lend the Wall Street giant up to $85 billion in exchange for nearly 80 percent of its stock effectively nationalizes one of the central institutions in the crisis that has swept through markets this month.

Not long ago, the Republican party was associated with the notion of "privatization" and in the last eight years, many formerly governmental function were privatized.

Today's question for John McCain: what else would he nationalize if elected President? Or is he still in favor of privatization?

My reading of McCain's position in Social Security as described on his campaign website is that he still favors a partial privatization.

Reform Social Security: John McCain will fight to save the future of Social Security and believes that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes. John McCain supports supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts -- but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept. John McCain will reach across the aisle, but if the Democrats do not act, he will. No problem is in more need of honesty than the looming financial challenges of entitlement programs. Americans have the right to know the truth and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens our future prosperity and power.

A week or so ago after the government -- as Forbes put it -- "effectively nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," DialyKos summed up the new GOP position as Privatize Profits, Socialize Losses.

See also CNNMoney's video Government's growth spurt.

McPalin Culture Wars Round-Up

A couple of favorite pieces:

First, there's the New York Times op-ed Running Against Themselves:

The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington — the White House and Congress — for most of the last eight years.

Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News: Palin isn't making this easy
I don't think John McCain understood exactly what he was doing picking Palin. He was looking for a new face in a party dominated by old faces, a Republican who wasn't tied to the rest of the Republicans (read: George W. Bush). But what he also got was another battle in the culture wars.

I leave it to Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to give us the lesson.

It's Giuliani - not your typical Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights and wearing dresses at New York balls - who was Palin's warmup act. And in fact, he did about 20 minutes of standup, mostly mocking - and that's the right word - Barack Obama to the delight of the crowd, but in way that had to be cringe-making for much of the rest of America watching at home on TV.

Indeed, I don't think the political strategist who have brought us to this point understand how complex and unpredictable the politics of mommyhood are. (And no, Sarah, your family doesn't have "the same ups and downs as any other.") To work full or part time or to stay home with ones kids are complex decisions about which American women pronounce judgement upon each other every day. Every school PTA is split between the stay-at-home and part-timer moms who do most of the PTA work, and the full-time working moms who (despite Palin's PTA credentials) mostly don't.

Every employed mother has decisions to make about when to work and when to drop everything and take care of the needs of a child, and mothers pass judgement on each others' choices every day. New baby, special needs child, pregnant teenage daughter, five kids -- each of these individually might cause even a suburban upper-middle class mother in a left-leaning community to be subjected to peer pressure to surrender her ambitions in favor of taking care of her family. How can this fly?

Are questions about whether Sarah Palin should be spending more time taking care of her family fair? Perhaps not, but our culture isn't fair to mothers, and worse, mothers are not fair to other mothers.

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece entitled The culture wars are baaack!:

For a while back there, I thought the culture wars would not be a big deal in this election. We had two serious men of substance who had vowed to grapple with the serious issues of the day - the staggering economy, America's shattered moral leadership in the world, the health-care mess, loose nukes, stuff like that. Silly me! It turns out the real issues are abortion, evolution v. creationism, the role of God in public life, why Sarah tried to get her no-good ex-brother-in-law fired, what's up with her mother-in-law, and whether she herself was pregnant when she got married.
In it she quotes a McCain adviser:
"Frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man," snapped John McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt. "A lot of women will find it offensive."
Oh, were Sisterhood that power! Wouldn't it be nice if women didn't say terrible things about other women's mothering choices all the time?

In his speech last night Rudy Guiliani asked, "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her child and be vice president?" They dare, Rudy. They dare. They dare all the time.

She is apparently breastfeeding. Wouldn't it have been fascinating if Sarah Palin gave last night's speech while breastfeeding her infant? (I have nursed an infant from the podium, though out of necessity, not for fun; it's a good way to keep a baby quiet while mommy talks to the audience when the expected convention childcare does not materialize.) Having her pregnant daughter hold the baby doesn't deflect the scrutiny that a new mother out in the world is subject to. And Palin hasn't really explained who is taking care of the kids. The implication of what is left unsaid is partly that the kids will take care of themselves and each other, an impression I wouldn't dare give at the World Science Fiction Convention, let alone the national convention of a political party.

Jonathan Freeland, The Guardian also discusses the culture wars theme: Who knows if Palin will bring victory or defeat? But the culture wars are back

In his stirring speech last week, Obama urged America not to "make a big election about small things". Yet here we are, discussing not Sarah Palin's record or programme but Jesus, guns, and as one feminist blogger put it yesterday, "the uterine activity of her family". This is a setback for women, especially in a year that seemed to promise a breakthrough, but it is also a setback for America itself.
For obvious reasons, conservatives would like to see this mess in a different light. Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative think-tank Concerened Women for America writes,
The media’s frenzy over the Palin nomination contrasts negatively with the positive way that the Palin family is coping with their daughter’s pregnancy; it shows how out-of-touch the media is with the rest of America and how distorted their view is of pro-life Americans who put feet on their policy stances. . . . The media frenzy also demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of social conservatives and the importance of the social issues for most Americans.
Is the fuss all about whether Palin is alienating the very conservative base she was supposed to lock in? I don't think so.

What Palin and her complications represent is a social conservative running against a broad personalized non-political type of social conservatism concerning childbearing and childrearing; she presents an entirely new model of conservative motherhood that bears a lot of explaining in order to seem like responsible behavior.

UPDATE: See also Nancyy Gibbs in TIME: Can Palin Escape the Parent Trap? and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on Making Light: Pay attention to the little man behind the curtain.

What Were McCain's Advisers Thinking? The Republican Party Just Gets Wilder!

When I was in elementary school (in maybe 1970?), my mother ran for the Washington State Legislature and I door-belled for her campaign. She would take one side of the street and I would take another. I remember distinctly being told by one lady on a front porch that I was a smart and beautiful little girl and that she wasn't going to vote for my mommy because my mommy should be at home with me and that I should tell her so. And so despite the strong odor of Reality Show that Sarah Palin brings to the presidential election, I am deeply uncomfortable with what I see being said about her.

I was particularly uncomfortable about Maureen Dowd's breast pump remark, because there is a significant minority in our country who feel that lactating women should be completely invisible. Women are such easy targets for vicious Internet memes.

Who knew that the news coverage of the Republican National Convention would be all about how McCain's Veep choice is HOT and her daughters are easy? Culminating in the oh-so-tasteful comparison between Britney Spears's little sister Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin?

TeenpregnancyI wonder how the editors of the Christian Science Monitor can with a straight face publish the headline McCain pick of Palin helps win over party's conservative base; it begins:

Moments after Senator John McCain announced his running mate - Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken abortion opponent - his campaign sprang into action to fan flames of enthusiasm among his party's demoralized conservative supporters.

At a lunch in Minneapolis, two of his top advisers - Charlie Black, a veteran political operative, and Dan Coates, a former senator from Indiana - were extolling Palin's virtues to about 150 influential evangelicals as evidence of McCain's ideological commitments.

Charlie Black, what were you thinking?

I have a really odd connection to Charlie Black, though we've never actually met or spoken: We were both conned by the professional con artist Joseph A. Cafasso during the same time period during the summer of 2005. There used to be more about this on my blog, but I took it down after legal threats seemingly made on his behalf by one of his close associates who is ironically a former CNN exec. On January 15, 2007, she wrote:

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NON-NEGOTIABLE WITH ME OR CHARLIE OR ANYONE ELSE WHO IS AFFECTED! TAKE THAT STUFF DOWN NOW! . . . Cramer -Take this shit off the Internet! No one wants to have a conversation with you. We would rather you vanish as fast as you invaded our lives! Either take this crap down or you will be sued!

So. All right then. (Quoting from private email? Absolutely. Fair use? Yup.)

In any case, what I wonder -- as I see the Palin PR disaster unfold -- is whether Black was fooled again as he was fooled by Cafasso. Or whether he's just fooling himself.

PalinwatchthumbnailIn February, Firedog Lake's Christy Hardin Smith wrote an interesting profile of Black which mentions his association with international con man Ahmed Chalabi. Yesterday, Firedog Lake posted a "Sarah Palin Goodbye Watch."

Put down your best guesses for when, why, and how Sarah Palin will bail from the GOP ticket.

So far the blog entry has 360 comments. (Their server seems to be having some problems, so be patient if the links don't work.)

Meanwhile, the Financial Times editors, presumably also with a straight face, publish the following headline: McCain counts on character to clinch it while at the same time running an image of McCain with Bristol Palin and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston.

Looks like the Republican Party is in full swing, and the party is getting wilder and wilder. What's next? These are not your daddy's Republicans!

Fortune reports that there is an online prediction market on "whether Palin will be dropped from the ticket": Betting on a Palin withdrawal.

Intrade, an online prediction market based in Dublin, created a contract Tuesday morning on the likelihood that John McCain will drop Palin as his running mate. After opening at a probability of just 3%, the odds on Palin being cut from the ticket hovered around 14% yesterday. Predictions plateaued today at 10%, perhaps in response to yesterday's speeches by Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman. Both praised the governor for her reformist qualities.

. . . Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern's ticket in 1972.

See also The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

I am not placing any bets. I am just rubbernecking at how fast Bristol Palin has become an instant Pop Tart and Sarah Palin the new Victoria Principal. One message for the rest of us is, Don't aim too high. Don't let this happen to you.

CNN's current at 7:52 PM 9/3/08: Palin to slam Obama in convention speech. What an awful political spectacle it will be to see if she can conceal her anger at what has happened to her over the past few days. Will she be saccharine or Janis Joplin? Or will she not be able to contain the anger? Can we look away? And don't you feel like a voyeur?

So. Sarah Palin: Victoria Principal, Harriet Miers, or Janis Joplin? What do you bet? Watching this shows just how tough Hillary is.

Press Swarm Forming over at Hillary's in Chappaqua

On my way back from buying some rock garden plants in Mt. Kisco, I passed by Old House Lane in Chappaqua where there is currently a press swarm forming outside the Clinton's house. Presumably they are awaiting some word from Hillary Clinton about the status of her candidacy, or perhaps they are hoping to chat with Bill.

I haven't seen this kind of press swarm over there since Bill Clinton left office.

L. E. Modesitt on the Way Washington Works

I was reading an interview with fantasy and science fiction writer L. E. Modesitt, Jr. and came across a marvelously chilling passage about what he learned from his 17 years working in the belly of the beast that is Washington, DC:

. . . the way Washington works is not the way people really want to think of Washington working. For example, you see movies like No Way Out, you see all these Washington films—people are dying all over the place. In the whole time I worked in Washington, I don't know of a single death that was caused by somebody else. Washington doesn't work that way. Washington is too cruel to kill anybody outright. Now, the number of suicides—that's another question.

"Washington will take away your livelihood. I know people who cannot do what they once did because of Washington. They will alienate your family and your friends; they will destroy your life, and they will destroy your family, but they won't kill you. They leave that up to you.

During his time in DC, he was the Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the EPA, and also a staff director for a US Congressman.

The discussion was in the context of his novel The Green Progression, Modesitt's only commercial failure. I read it (maybe 10 years ago?) and thought it was a pretty good book.

(PS: If you hadn't guessed by now, we're working on anthology story notes here in Pleasantville.)

Schaller on Cherry-Picking the Election Results

Thomas_schaller In the NYT Midterm Madness blog, there is an interesting opinion piece by Thomas F. Schaller (yes, I did eventually relent and pay for Times Select) addressing some of the stranger post-election blather: The (Fictional) Triumph of the Conservative Democrats:

Two narratives have begun to emerge from the 2006 Congressional elections. The first is that Democrats didn’t win so much as Republicans lost. The second is that the Republicans who lost were beaten by a bunch of conservative Democrats.

There’s some truth to the first one: The election was a negative referendum on President Bush and the Republican Congress, specifically their mismanagement of Iraq, their ethical problems, and their inability to balance the federal budget or refrain from trying to distract Americans public with noisy wedge issues rather than provide solutions to more pressing problems.

But the second narrative is a fiction. And it is puzzling that Republicans and conservatives are the ones peddling it.

. . . Conservative talking heads usually rush to paint Democrats as a pack of tin-eared, out-of-the-mainstream liberals. That’s why it’s so surprising that some of these same voices are now cherry-picking the results in an effort to perpetuate the fiction that Republicans lost, but conservatives somehow won. It suggests that this year’s defeat so stunned the conservative movement, it lost its messaging mojo, too.

For liberal Democrats, that may be the biggest victory of all.

The Republican spin machine is sounding awfully dizzy these days. Guess they need a little while to re-adjust their political inner ear (or maybe just to get over their hangovers).


Political inner ear collage by Kathryn Cramer using appropriated images.

A Great Press Photo

CowboyBush.jpgThis is my favorite press photo of Bush in quite a while. It sums up a whole lot about what is wrong with this administration, the whole not-too-bright fantasy of cowboy dominion: that every white guy with a gun and an American accent paid by an American company riding off to do whatever is A OK; that the oil industry should have free reign in America's wide-open spaces, and everywhere else, for that matter; that if wire tapping's OK in a Hollywood movie, it's OK for the NSA; that our war in Iraq is faith-based and that what the administration needs to win the war is for us all to just believe.

With apologies to J. M. Barrie:

"Do you believe?" he cried.

The troops and civilian contractors sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to their fate.

They fancied they heard answers in the affirmative, and then again they weren't sure.

"What do you think?" they asked Bush.

"If you believe," he shouted to the American people, "clap your hands; don't let the troops die."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

The actual news story the images illustrates is: Secret bugging vital to war on terror, Bush says. The real photo-caption reads:

Secretive service: President Bush admits the clandestine wire taps during his radio address. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta

(In fairness to the President, I should say that I think the cowboy art has been in the Whitehouse for a while.)

Pentagon News of the Weird

From the San Jose Mercury News: Sources: Rumsfeld will resign in '06; rumors swirl about Lieberman

WASHINGTON - White House officials are telling associates they expect Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to quit early next year, once a new government is formed in Iraq, sources said Wednesday.

Rumsfeld's deputy, Gordon England, is the inside contender to replace him, but there's also speculation that Sen. Joe Lieberman - a Democrat who ran against Bush-Cheney in the 2000 election - might become top official at the Pentagon.

That's not as farfetched as it might first appear.

On the one hand, it's way past time Rumsfeld stepped down. But Lieberman? Lieberman? How icky! I mean, that's just gross.

See also The Village Voice.

Somalia & Our Two Party System: "Cut Run" vs. "Finish What We Started"? Or, Bush's Third War

Over the past couple of weeks, the meme of the "Cut & Run" Democrats vs. the "Finish What We Started" Republicans has been a big Republican talking point.

And here's a nice graph from Blogpulse showing how blogs ingested the message:


One of the key examples used in this rhetoric is the US pullout of Somalia in 1993. And there's some very weird stuff going on involving Somalia just now.

Here's Rush Linbaugh a couple of days ago:

Remember the history of bin Laden. Bin Laden only went to places that were stateless. He went to Somalia, a bunch of warlords, he could control them. Somalia. Afghanistan. All stateless. Taliban took over in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was running Somalia. Still may be.

Is the "Finish What We Started" wing of the Republican party considering going back into Somalia to take on Al Qaeda and the pirates? Mogadishu is the locus of the psychogeography of their rhetoric, after all. What a venue it would be for demonstrating that our president is Man Enough to finish what the Democrats couldn't.

SO, are we headed for Bush's third war?

Freedom of the Press, 21st Century Style: Freedom to Stop the Presses?

From the Christian Science Monitor: British paper: Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera. And just so the press gets the idea of where it stands in the 21st century pecking order, the British government responds by invoking the Official Secrets Act. God, what a mess!

A leaked memo in Britain has once again caused an uproar. This time, the British government has acted to prevent any further publication.

The Times of London reports that the attorney general of Britain has warned British papers that they will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they publish details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which Mr. Bush is alleged to have suggested bombing Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV channel based in Qatar.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed ... editors including that of The Times that “publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.”
The Guardian reports that this is the first time the British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prevent publication of the details of a leaked document. "Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."

On Tuesday, the British paper the Daily Mirror published the details of a government memo, marked Top Secret, that recorded a conversation between Bush and Mr. Blair that took place in the White House last April 16. The Daily Mirror's editor said he informed Downing Street that he was going to print details of the memo, but was not told at the time to stop. That order did not come until the day after the first story appeared in the paper.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Freedom to Stop the Presses?

Iran Nonproliferation Act: the Republican Congress’ $30 Billion Dollar Blunder

Written By Guest Blogger Karen Cramer Shea.

In 2000 the Republican Congress conceived the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which forbids buying anything from the Russians for the Space station unless the President certifies that the Russians aren’t exporting nuclear, chemical or biological weapons technology to Iran. In April our agreement with the Russians ends and we will have to start buying access to the space station. which is now illegal under the ITA.


From the Washington Post

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on space and aeronautics is a space station advocate and the author of the law's space station restrictions. Lawmakers added the space station clause as a stiffener. "We wanted to put [everyone] on notice that we should not have high-level cooperation, even in space, if the Russians were using their technological skills to help Iran build a nuclear weapon," Rohrabacher said. "It was a very good idea.

"The Iranians have made it clear they are moving forward on the bomb," Rohrabacher said. "Even though I have more focus than most people on making the space station a success, I am not going to do anything that would signal a weakening of our resolve."

The INA is very much like Cleavon Little as Bart in Blazing Saddles saying “Nobody moves or the nigger gets it” while holding the gun to his own head. Since the Russians seem to be selling nuclear technology to the Iranians, WE will no longer have access to the space station in April. The Russians on the other hand will have seats they can sell to tourists.

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard any politician do. The congress has a choice surrender the space station to the Russians or repeal the Act and yell from the highest peaks that everyone can feel free to sell nuclear technology to the Iranians. With the Iranians part of the axis of evil and the President sounding like he might go to war with Iran, that is the last thing we need. Repealing the act would look treasonous if we actually did go to war with Iran. Imagine the political rhetoric about appeasement of Iran costing US lives.

Now we either lose our $30 Billion space station or we spend more than that in defense costs to make up for looking weak on Nuclear Proliferation. Tails they win, heads we lose. All because the republicans couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Every parent knows you don’t make threats you are unwilling to carry out. In this case the threat is more of a reward. And if when they passed the act the republicans were willing to sacrifice the station to make a minor political point they are guilty of throwing billions of dollars and the lives of the crew of Columbia away.

By passing INA the Republicans seem to have been acting like children who don’t understand the stakes they are playing for. Now, what ever happens we lose.

if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

This morning, Nicholas Kristoff chastises the media for writing so little about genocide and Sudan. He's right to do that, of course. But he also fails my Sudan Test: if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

Sudan has oil. Lots of oil. How does Kristoff describe Rice's trip to Sudan:

Condi Rice finally showed up in Darfur a few days ago, and she went out of her way to talk to rape victims and spotlight the sexual violence used to terrorize civilians. Most American television networks and cable programs haven't done that much.

While I'm all for the world knowing more about the abundant use of sexual violence for political ends in Africa, does Kristoff believe that she was sent there to talk about rape?

Here's the problem: Sudan has all this oil. "We" (i. e. the Cheney energy commission) want it. But the local authorities have some very bad habits, one of which is genocide. When you do read about genocide in Sudan in the US media, it is usually framed in terms of Arab terror.  The reality is a lot more complex. I gather that the problem for a company doing business in Sudan is that the local authorities will slaughter people and raze villages for the convenience of oil companies. And there is no good way for squeamish companies to keep them from doing this. (See Madelaine Drohan's chapter "Talisman in Sudan" in her book Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business.) So companies from countries that make decisions based on human rights have been forced away from the trough.

Luckily for the Sudanese oiligarchy, the Chinese government doesn't care much about the human rights of Africans, and the Chinese oil companies are happy to take up the slack.  My impression of Cheney's secret energy plan is that it allows the US to have an ever-rising need for petroleum and that our two Humvees in every driveway will partially fueled by African oil. And so there is a conflict between our goals and there goals. (China has a really large population: what must China's energy goals look like?)

This does not stop some enterprising individual Western entrepreneurs such as Mark Thatcher from horning in on the action. More recently, British businessman, Friedhelm Eronat bought oil rights in Sudan. What is Eronat's real nationality?

The Guardian reports:

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest that Mr Eronat, who lives in a £20m house in Chelsea, swapped his US passport for a British one shortly before the deal was signed with the Sudan regime in October 2003.

US citizens are barred from dealing with Sudan under sanctions dating from 1997.

(Do read the whole article, plus the Sudan Watch discussion of Eronat.)

Roberts: Partisan Hack or True Believer?

Nathan Newman makes some interesting points about Bush's Supreme Court nominee:

Don't Judge His Words, He Was a Partisan Hack

So why is he considered a blank slate?

Because we aren't supposed to judge what he said in those years, since he was working for other people.  Or so argues his defenders such as Juan at the Volokh Conspiracy, who says you can't ascribe any personal views to words Roberts wrote:
Attorneys have an ethical obligation to zealously advocate the position of their clients. An attorney in Roberts position had an express duty to advance his client’s – the federal government's – policy position as effectively as possible...The idea that the specific language used in a legal brief advancing his client’s position establishes Roberts' personal views is quite a stretch.

Of course, deciding to spend years working for this particular client, the Reagan administration, says a lot about Roberts' personal views, but Juan is right in one sense: Roberts has spent his career as a mind-for-hire on behalf of the rightwing Republican agenda.   Whatever he said was done to advance his career with no intellectual integrity, since according to his defenders, he didn't believe a word he said.
So if his career is one of years of political hack partisanship, sprinkled with a few years acting as a well-paid hack on behalf of corporate interests, why should we believe Roberts has the temperment to be an independent Justice?

He's been a hired gun for his whole adult career, save the last two years on the DC Circuit-- which now appears just to have been a chance to grease the wheels for his elevation to the Supreme Court as part of the Bush political team.

Also, I had some recollection of having seen Roberts' name while researching the Endangered Species Act opponents, the Pacific Legal Foundation. Sure enough. Here he is in a 1999 case (LLOYD A. GOOD, JR. v. UNITED STATES in the U.S. Fed Circuit Court of Appeals), concerning a proposed residential development in Lower Sugarloaf Key, Florida. If you've ever been to the Florida Keys, you know the area has a n extremely fragile ecosystem. As I understand it from a friend who lives there, the local governments  were so wholly in the thrall of local real estate developers that the Feds had to step in and severely restrict development. This case plays out against that background. The case seems to be about whether a landowner can dredge really a lot of salt marsh over the objection of the Federal Government.

Attorneys in the case arguing the side of the property owner are were: Richard R. Nageotte , Nageotte, Nageotte & Nageotte, of Stafford, Virginia, argued for plaintiff-appellant. Of counsel was John G. Roberts, Jr. , Hogan & Hartson, of Washington, DC,  and  James S. Burling , Pacific Legal Foundation, of Sacramento, California, for amicus curiae Pacific Legal Foundation. With him on the brief was Peter G. Gioia , Pacific Legal Foundation, of Stuart, Florida. (On the other side were the US Government, National Wildlife Federation, and the Florida Audubon Society.)

So there's our man, shoulder to shoulder with the most rabid opponents of the Endangered Species Act, presumably arguing that digging up the salt marshes is the right and only thing to do and that privileging the "rights" of species over property rights is unconstitutional. (That's the PLF's usual rap.)

I should add that this is not the kind of job you send a partisan hack for. This is a job for a true believer.

ANOTHER VIEW: The American Voter Project on Roberts:

The end of progress on environmental issues such as clean water and air, safe cars and safe food. All of these things are at risk if the laws that made them possible are struck down for economic reasons rather than moral common sense reasons. Judge John G. Roberts is the wrong person at this time for the court. He has already stated that the Roe decision was “wrong” and he has written opinions that question the validity of the Endangered Species Act. Judge Roberts sided with the District of Columbia on a law that was so distasteful it was changed. A 12 year old girl was arrested, had cuffed and taken away in a windowless police vehicle for eating a single French fry on the Metro which is the name of D.C. transit system including the subway. When the girls mother sued over the law on equal protection grounds that an adult would have been cited and not arrested, Judge Roberts held that arresting juveniles and not adults was rationally related to “the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts”.

The law raised such a furor it was changed yet this Judge felt it was ok. There will be other cases like this and if and when they make it to the Supreme Court with Judge Roberts as a member the nation will not be better off but less of a place of progress.

Certainly, Bush could have found a worse candidate, but Democrats should not let themselves be talked into the idea that the confirmation process is a remake of Sophie's Choice. Can Roberts be stopped?

Stealth Candidate or Harbinger of the Coming Dystopia?

With Edith Clement's name circulating as the rumored Bush nominee for Supreme Court, the question that occurs to me is whether the Rove scandal has cost Bush the opportunity to get through a rightwing ideologue, or whether she is just the kind of dystopian candidate we expected from the Bush administration.

Nathan Newman emailed his lowdown on Clement, which is up on his blog. Aparently, she's a known Endangered species act opponent. (Roe v. Wade is not the only t hing we need fear losing!) That puts her clearly into the dystopian realm for me.

UPDATE: ABC is reporting that Clement got a call saying she is NOT the one. We'll see.

NYT Roadkill

This New York Times article on the Rove scandal appears to have been run over by several trucks. Apparently, it has gone through a couple of drafts online. It is so mangled in its current state that its first sentence seems to mean that Rove, not Novak, was working on an article:

Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, spoke with the columnist Robert D. Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified a C.I.A. officer who was undercover, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said.

This piece would have gotten a failing grade in a freshman writing course. If the NYT is too entangled in the scandal to report clearly on the matter, why are they bothering?

Is there any good reason to believe their source isn't Rove himself?

(via Atrios.)

Human Intelligence Needed: Enquire at the Desk

I thought about satirizing this, but I don't have time this morning and this here cake doesn't need icing anyway:

Form CNN: Bush: Better human intelligence needed

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday that the United States needs better intelligence gathering to further gains in the so-called global war on terrorism.

Intelligence agencies need to improve in one particular area, he said.

"Human intelligence, the ability to get inside somebody's mind, the ability to read somebody's mail, the ability to listen to somebody's phone call -- that somebody being the enemy," Bush said in an interview with CNN senior White House correspondent John King.

Lack of human intelligence has been blamed for the belief that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq before the war. Their presumed presence was the stated rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, but the U.S. government recently abandoned efforts to find them.

Bush noted that a group has been formed to determine what needs to be improved.

It really is too bad that his current hired help just doesn't have very much human intelligence. I hope to God that they're able to find some soon. Perhaps this group could also be tasked to look into the shortage of common sense among Bush administration officials.

Ohio Recount?

The Green Party has raised the money necessary to pay the fee for a recount of the votes for president in Ohio:

Green Party Campaign Raises $150,000 in 4 days, Shifts Gears to Phase II.

On Thursday, David Cobb, the Green Party's 2004 presidential candidate, announced his intention to seek a recount of the vote in Ohio. Since the required fee for a statewide recount is $113,600, the only question was whether that money could be raised in time to meet the filing deadline. That question has been answered.

"Thanks to the thousands of people who have contributed to this effort, we can say with certainty that there will be a recount in Ohio," said Blair Bobier, Media Director for the Cobb-LaMarche campaign.

"The grassroots support for the recount has been astounding. The donations have come in fast and furiously, with the vast majority in the $10-$50 range, allowing us to meet our goal for the first phase of the recount effort in only four days," said Bobier.

Bobier said the campaign is still raising money for the next phase of the recount effort which will be recruiting, training and mobilizing volunteers to monitor the actual recount.

The Ohio presidential election was marred by numerous press and independent reports of mis-marked and discarded ballots, problems with electronic voting machines and the targeted disenfranchisement of African American voters. A number of citizens' groups and voting rights organizations are holding the second of two hearings today in Columbus, Ohio, to take testimony from voters, poll watchers and election experts about problems with the Ohio vote. The hearing, from 6-9 p.m., will be held at the Courthouse, meeting room A, 373 S. High St., in Columbus. The Cobb-LaMarche campaign will be represented at the hearing by campaign manager Lynne Serpe.

A demand for a recount in Ohio can only be filed by a presidential candidate who was either a certified write-in candidate or on the ballot in that state. Both Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik will be demanding a recount. No other candidate has stated an intention to seek a recount and no other citizen or organization would have legal standing to do so in Ohio. The Cobb-LaMarche campaign is still exploring the possibility of seeking recounts in other states but no decision has been made yet.


There's an interview with David Cobb on Democracy Now in which he explains the timing of the demand for recount:

Well, we're not allowed under law to actually demand the recount until the republican Secretary of State, Blackwell, actually officially certifies the results. He has not done so. They're still counting, that we know of, over 153,000 provisional ballots. That high number of provisional ballots is actually part of the problem, by the way, where only he and his office has the final say on how and where and under what circumstances those ballots will be counted. But as soon as that certification takes place, we will be demanding and filing in every single count[y] in the state of Ohio for a full recount. Under Ohio state law, they must certify the results by December 3, but they might do it earlier, so we're prepared immediately to file that recount.

There is information on how you can help on Cobb's campaign site.

(I should say that for me what is most important about the Ohio recount effort is that the Ohio voting process was an international disgrace and it is essantial to the integrity of the US electoral process that people who run elections know that shoddy work will be checked.)

ALSO, there is a four minute NPR segment on the potential Ohio recount.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio: 93,000 more votes than voters.

I've been waiting for the mainstream media to catch up with what I've been reading about probable voter fraud these past couple of days. And here it is: Keith Oberman on MSNBC.

Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County’s website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I’ll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.


Talk about successful get-out-the-vote campaigns! What a triumph for democracy in Fairview Park, twelve miles west of downtown Cleveland. Only 13,342 registered voters there, but they cast 18,472 votes.

Vote early! Vote often!

Read the whole thing.

(Via the Yorkshire Ranter.)

Reasons to Be Cheerful

If life were fair, I would be in Nante, France enjoying Utopiales. I had plane tickets, train tickets and everything. But my child care arrangements fell apart. David and I were planning to travel with our good friends Jim & Kathy Morrow. This was going to be one of those really fun deductible junkets. David got to go with Jim & Kathy and I got to stay home with the kids.

Also, there is this social problem caused by my cold. I'm having a really hard time carrying on conversations because of chest congestion. Multi-sentence utterances send me into fits of uncontrollable coughing requiring albuterol. I feel sort of OK as long as I don't talk.  But I like to talk. (Yes, I know this means that I call the doctor first thing in the morning; his office is closed on Thursdays and I know better to go to the ER unless I can wheeze for them.)

All of this having been said, I'm in a pretty good mood. I've read a whole lot about bleak depression following the election. I just don't feel it. I keep finding reasons to be cheerful, not out of sheer determination but quite spontaneously. My kids are a delight.

If life were really fair, we would all have gone to Nante and somehow childcare arrangements would magically appear in France, allowing me to attend the fine Utopiales program. I like to travel with my kids. And in my utopia, the school district would praise my decision to broaden my son's horizons by taking him along to France; but while we have one of the best public school districts in the country, that is not one of their virtues. They're really determined to keep us from accumulating "illgeal absences."

And if life were really really fair, I would currently be sipping good French wine instead of Pleasantville Red, and the French would be congratulating us on our choice of a new president.

But life isn't fair. I'm not sure whether I'm feeling cheerful because of these obstacles or in spite of them. Certainly, there are things I'd like to change about my life and the world. But it's just not getting me down.

Even without the election, under these stressful circumstances I have plenty of reasons to feel miserable. (Mommy duty, even with David home, runs more than 90 hours a week.) I guess what I'm finding out is that my basic life choices are leading me in a good direction, providing biochemical reasons to be cheerful. So I'm taking my reasons to be cheerful where I can find them really quite effortlessly.

I leave you with a quote from Winnie the Pooh (as quoted in Winnie-the-Pooh's Little Book of Wisdom):

When your house doesn't look like a house and looks like a tree that has been blown down, it's time you tried to find another one.

PS: It amuses me to tell you that the top search words for my blog at the moment are: bush and hitler, large penis, how to fix a tv, male lactation, and bush is the anti-christ. I enjoy the emergent narrative: a voter trying to adjust his TV set to escape the images of a hermaphroditic Bush/Hilter/Anti-Christ coming in through the set; a form of found poetry, I guess.

Manhattan's Mandate

I was just checking out the results of local elections on the Journal New site -- The New York Journal News is a paper that covers Westchester, Rockland, & Putnam counties -- and discovered that they have the New York State Presidential Election results broken down by county and, for NYC, by borough.

Remember the tiresome wingnut refrain that those of use who oppose Bush just don't remember September 11th? How would we expect those who best remember 9/11 to vote in the presidential election? On the one hand, New Yorkers tend to be liberals; on the other hand NYC elects Republican mayors with some frequency. And on that all-important third hand 9/11 is supposed to have changed everything and also Manhattan was the site of the Republican convention.

So what would you guess Bush was able to draw in Manhattan? 50% of the vote? 40%? 30%? 20%? Nope. With all precincts reporting, Bush drew just 95,362 votes in Manhattan -- 16.61%. Manhattan told him to fuck off.

I would be curious to know if there is any other metropolitan area anywhere in which Bush did so poorly.

MEANWHILE, Fafblog is full of fun:

The election results have come in and they have surprised no one... no one on the side of Giblets that is! It is Giblets in a landslide! Giblets by a whopping three percentage points! Only 49% of the population rejected Giblets! VICTORY! AMERICA HAS SPOKEN!

With this broad mandate, it is time to push aside the mealy-mouthed timid campaign rhetoric Giblets has toyed with before! Giblets will not be "conciliatory" after this historic moment! Tariffs on reading! A flat tax on gay sex! Mandatory prayer before monuments to the Ten Commandments in every class room! A war in every garage, a tortured Arab civilian in every pot! The streets will run with the blood of liberals!

But do not think Giblets will continue to divide the country. Oh no. The days of the bitterly partisan "pro-Giblets" and "anti-Giblets" Americas are over. Giblets is a uniter, not a divider. And he will unite America... UNDER THE CRUSHING FORCE OF HIS IRON HEEL!

Arianna on the Election Results

Much as I'm interested in anatomizing what went wrong in the 2004 voting, I'm with Arianna Huffington on this one:

This election was not stolen. It was lost by the Kerry campaign.

The reason it's so important to make this crystal clear — even as Kerry's concession speech is still ringing in our ears — is that to the victors go not only the spoils but the explanations. And the Republicans are framing their victory as the triumph of conservative moral values and the wedge cultural issues they exploited throughout the campaign.

But it wasn't gay marriage that did the Democrats in; it was the fatal decision to make the pursuit of undecided voters the overarching strategy of the Kerry campaign.

This meant that at every turn the campaign chose caution over boldness so as not to offend the undecideds who, as a group, long to be soothed and reassured rather than challenged and inspired.

The fixation on undecided voters turned a campaign that should have been about big ideas, big decisions, and the very, very big differences between the worldviews of John Kerry and George Bush — both on national security and domestic priorities — into a narrow trench war fought over ludicrous non-issues like whether Kerry had bled enough to warrant a Purple Heart.

This timid, spineless, walking-on-eggshells strategy — with no central theme or moral vision — played right into the hands of the Bush-Cheney team's portrayal of Kerry as an unprincipled, equivocating flip-flopper who, in a time of war and national unease, stood for nothing other than his desire to become president.

Yes, sure it was really close, if things had gone a little differently, or if Diebold's machines weren't in use, Kerry might have won by 15 votes. But given the nature of the Bush presidency -- the man is a flaming incompetent -- it shouldn't have been close. Kerry blew it over the summer. True, Bush has the incumbent advantage and the advantage of being the wartime president he dreamed of becoming. But Kerry spent much of the summer on really pointless things.

(Via The Gamer's Nook.)

AND FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE, The Onion has this to offer: U.S. Inspires World With Attempt At Democratic Election. (Via Glen Engel-Cox.)

Ohio Voting Infrastructure

From the comments section at Ohio Voter Suppression News:

I was in Youngstown on Election Day and I visited a number of polling places with Election Protection. The Dep't of Elections was woefully unprepared for this election. Long lines caused waits which were at least 2 hours long during the midday period, traditionally the slowest period. They simply did not have enough machines. The ones they had often went down or mis-registered votes. People pressed Kerry and the confirmation screen showed Bush. Many people didn't realize there was a confirmation screen so who knows how many votes were lost that way. The polls were understaffed with workers (mostly older folk) who had little or no familiarity with computers or the election rules. There were Reupublican challengers at many polling places but they did not challenge many voters - they didn't need to. The voters were suppressed by the voting infrastructure which made it a great chore to vote.

While this election had the heaviest voter turnout since 1968, nationwide, we are really only talking about a 60% turnout instead of the 54% turnout in 2000, an increase of only 11% above the rate of growth of the population. Now admittedly, this increase was probably not uniformly distributed.

But consider this: the wait times for voting have got to figure into existing computer models of voting behavior. What these long wait times mean is not that vast legions of new voters came out of the woodwork, say, doubling the number of voters, but rather mostly that those voters who turned out in places where the infrastrucure is poor were much more reluctant to be discouraged from voting: they refused to leave. That a moderate increase in voter turnout can produce wait-times measured in hours means that there are some areas where voting is habitually discouraged.

This has got to figure into partisan strategies for influencing election infrastructure. The math is just too easy for it not to. X number of minutes to vote times Y number of voters times Z voting machines produces the total time necessary for a given numberof people to vote at a polling place. From there, you can calculate wait times. And from there, it's not too hard to plug in factors like how long the average voter is willing to wait. If no voter is willing to wait more than, say, 15 minutes, you can have relatively short lines. If the voter is willing to wait an hour, the lines get longer. If a significant percentage of voters are unwilling to leave without voting, you get the kind of catastrophic waits seen in Ohio. All of this depends on a willingness to exclude voters from participation. What I see from the wait times in this election is a process that relies on it.

Also, there was an awareness the age of the poll workers combined with th increasing complexity of the voting process would pose a problem. See this USA Today article from August:

Panel cites poll workers' age as problem

The biggest threat to November's presidential election is not balky voting machines or a terrorist attack, but the potential for confusion and mistakes by the nation's aging corps of 1.5 million precinct poll workers, federal election officials say.

The current corps of poll workers is well short of the 2 million needed for a national election. The average age of a U.S. poll worker is 72, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

"If they don't get it right, someone could be denied their opportunity to vote," says Paul DeGregorio, one of four members of the commission. The panel was created by Congress in 2002 to make sure federal elections run smoothly. Already this year, problems have cropped up during primary elections, he notes.

In addition, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 has imposed new procedures for elections, including ID requirements for first-time voters who registered by mail and provisional ballots for voters not immediately found on voter rolls.

"There's a growing complexity at the polling place," says DeForest Soaries, the commission chairman. "If all we do in November is what we did in 2000, that's going to be a problem."

Here is the Election Assistance Commission's Best Practices Tool Kit.

In July, the Caltech-MIT voting Technology Project issued a report, Immediate Steps to Avoid Lost Votes in the 2004 Presidential Election: Recommendations for the Election Assistance Commission (pdf; html), which contains this interesting sentence:

According to the U.S. Census in 2000, approximately one million registered voters said that they did not vote because the polling place lines were too long or the hours for voting were too short.

Howard Dean This Afternoon

I like this item from the Democracy for America blog. This is Howard Dean this afternoon:

Montana, one of the reddest states, has a new Democratic governor.

First-time candidates for state legislatures from Hawaii to Connecticut beat incumbent Republicans.

And a record number of us voted to change course—more Americans voted against George Bush than any sitting president in history.

Today is not an ending.

Regardless of the outcome yesterday, we have begun to revive our democracy. While we did not get the result we wanted in the presidential race, we laid the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leaders.

Democracy for America trained thousands of organizers and brought new leadership into the political process. And down the ballot, in state after state, we elected Dean Dozen candidates who will be the rising stars of the Democratic Party in years ahead.

Tens of millions of us are disappointed today because we put so much of ourselves into this election. We donated money, we talked to friends, we knocked on doors. We invested ourselves in the political process.

That process does not end today. These are not short-term investments. We will only create lasting change if that sense of obligation and responsibility becomes a permanent part of our lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

We will not be silent.

Thank you for everything you did for our cause in this election. But we are not stopping here.

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.


I was just on BBC Africa Live talking about the presidential election. I think I had a good soundbite ready. Having blogged earlier in the day was great preparation. I used my line about Ohio not being a fledgling democracy; going on to say that Ohio election officials should have been much better at equipping the polls. I did not try to talk about Nash equalibria.

What I found most interesting about the program was listening to election observers from Africa expressing concern about American electoral process. The flyer I blogged yesterday, instructing Kerry voters to vote Nov. 3rd, was raised by an election observer from Ghana who was appalled that election officials in Ohio's Franklin County laughed off the flyer instead of treating it with the seriousness he thought was appropriate.

Seen off Rt. 117 in Chappaqua, New York

My daughter's preschool is about two blocks from the Clinton's house on Old House Lane in Chappaqua. This morning when I dropped off Elizabeth, I saw this home-made sign at the intersection of Orchard Ridge and Rt. 117. I stopped to take a picture. (I saw the back of the sign when taking the picture. On the back it says Proud to be an American with a picture of an American flag.) The same house had a home-made sign that said Welcome Home, Mr. President. when Bill Clinton was released from the hospital after heart surgery not long ago.

MEANWHILE, computers have been giving me a really hard time this morning. Movable Type has been running even more slowly than usual, making it extremely difficult and time consuming to fix typos on my previous post. And it was like pulling teeth to get the Hillary picture out of Sprint's PictureMail service. My brain is running slowly because I have a bad cold and a sinus headache. But computers don't have this excuse. Anyway, I'm glad to finally get this picture up.

Also, the BBC has an appointment to interview me by phone about the election at 1PM my time. I'm not sure how they picked me. They may have called because of my blog or my books, but for all I know they could also have picked me out of the phone book.

What We're Looking at Here Is a Nash Equilibrium

From Kevin Drum in the wee hours comes this insightful post:

A COUNTRY IN AMBER....Based on how the final few states are looking at the moment, the most remarkable thing about this presidential election is how nearly identical it is to 2000. Right now, it looks like no more than two or three states will flip from red to blue or vice versa.

As I said the other day, a difference of one or two percentage points makes a big objective difference, since one guy wins and the other doesn't, but it means almost nothing about the direction of the country. We're almost exactly where we were four years ago.

Which, really, is an amazing thing. You'd think an event like 9/11 would act as a catalyst that blows apart existing political dynamics and realigns the electorate, but instead it seems to have cemented it into place. Not only are we at the same place we were four years ago, but the divisions are actually more entrenched than ever.

It hardly seems possible that this can last forever, but if 9/11 didn't realign the electorate, what will?

And indeed, I can name four or five things that seem as if they've changed everything, but perhaps they've changed nothing. Perhaps US politics is locked into a Nash Equlilbrium, a concept in game theory originated by John Nash. Wikipedia has a good description of the Nash Equilibrium. Here is the most crucial bit:

A Nash equilibrium for a mixed strategy game is stable if a small change (specifically a infinitesimal change) in probabilities for one player leads to a situation where two conditions hold:
1. the player who did not change has no better strategy in the new circumstance

2. the player who did change is now playing with a strictly worse strategy
If these cases are both met, then a player with the small change in their mixed-strategy will return immediately to the Nash equilibrium. The equilibrium is said to be stable. If condition one does not hold then the equilibrium is unstable. If only condition one holds then there are likely to be an infinite number of optimal strategies for the player who changed. John Nash showed that the latter situation could not arise in a range of well-defined games.

Regardless of how Ohio comes out, neither political party got what they wanted from this election. That much is obvious.

(And it isn't pretty to have the election decided by a state where the wait to vote could be up to eight hours. Presumably, local government knows how many registered voters live in each precinct. There is no good excuse for this I can think of. Is Ohio some kind of fledgling democracy? Surely they've held elections before and have the know-how to apportion voting machines. Yes? For places that had really long waits someone must have set a maximum figure for acceptable voter turnout that is significantly below 100%.)

One somewhat creepy aspect of this election was the extent to which the candidates were similar. The New York Time remarks:

Since World War II, no two candidates have had such strikingly similar backgrounds of class and privilege, with so many points of overlap. These two not only attended Yale University two years apart, but were also members of the same secret society there, Skull and Bones.

There is a certain uncanniness to a political evolutionary process that would produce such similar candidates. This was not a Coke vs. Pepsi election in which the candidates were marketed as being as similar as possible like Bush vs. Gore. But in the fundamental things that we think or as molding human character, they are more similar than Bush and Gore.

Regardless of how Ohio turns out, it seems to me the biggest question is how we're going to get out of this box. If in fact we are looking at a Nash equilibrium, the only way out is to think outside the box; WAY outside the box.

UPDATE: I see that Jordan Ellenberg (Princeton mathematician and novelist) was exploring this idea on a more limitied scale in Slate on October 25th.

A FURTHER THOUGHT: A couple of people who know something about math have suggested that I'm oversimplifying. Well, of course I'm oversimplifying. The presidential election is way too complicated a system to make detailed mathematical arguments regarding Nash equilibria. But like the concept of fractals, where the existence of the concept gives you a feeling of recognition when you look at (say) a piece of cauliflower, I find the Nash equilibrium concept very suggestive of the current shape of US electoral politics.

Glad I Didn't Stay Up

I'm up briefly at 2AM because my cough medicine wore off. An hour ago, Kevin Drum wrote:

CNN just reported that there are 200,000 provisional ballots in Ohio. So if anyone wins by less than 100,000 or so, we won't know the winner until the provisionals are counted. And who knows how long that could take?

UPDATE: Apparently the answer is 10-11 days.

What a mess. And I see that even though the networks have calld Florda for Bush, even Florida is going to take a while: Florida official: Tally of absentee ballots may stretch into Thursday

To Stay Up or Go to Bed?

I'm back from the airport. David, who is flying to France, wanted to listen radio most of the way to the airport. We were listening to 1010 WINS News's really inane coverage. While we were driving the polls in various places on the East Coast were closing. When polls would close they would begin calling states for one or another candidtate but with no information about the margins or what percentage of the vote had been tallied. Coming back, I listened to music instead.

I've got a really bad cold, so I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to last this evening. When I was driving, I was really eager to get back to my computer and find out what is going on. But now that I'm here, my bed is looking awfully inviting. Also, now that I'm home and not on the highway, I can take cold medicine, which will probably make me drowsy.

Also, it seems to me that the media is going to be a lot more cautious about calling the race, given what foolish mistakes were made four years ago. (Never mind that people are still voting and will be for a while.) I feel lucky not to have TV reception. If radio was that bad, I can only imagine what the TV coverage is like.

Looking around, I think I would be best off going to bed now and then checking on things at about 3AM. There's too little conclusive data available and I know too muh about numbers to think that 10PM's data is that much superior to the 2PM exit poll numbers. It's not soup yet.

The Onion Nails It

This is the satirical story in The Onion from earlier this week: Republicans Urge Minorities To Get Out And Vote On Nov. 3

The Onion Staff must have gotten a sneak peak at the Republican play book, because look at this from Ohio Voter Suppression News today, election day:

My boss was canvassing this morning for ACT, putting out GOTV door tags in a predominantly black neighborhood on the near east side of Columbus. Repugs had been there first, putting up door hangers that read: Vote for George Bush/Dick Cheney on Tuesday, November 2: Vote for John Kerry/John Edwards on Wednesday, November 3. Incredible!

Cheryl Morgan on the American Zeitgeist

I think there's something intensely revealing about our current state of affairs in this passage:

While I was away Kevin was practicing for becoming a Master Costumer by entering the Halloween contest at work. He won a nice bottle of bubbly, which I shall enjoy drinking at some point. But I was more interested in his report of one of his fellow contestants. In America Halloween is an excuse for any type of fancy dress, not just spooky stuff. So one of Kevin's co-workers came as a hippy. But her "Make Love, Not War" placard was written in Italian so as not to cause offence.

Two things occur to me here. Firstly, while it was perfectly OK to say "Make Love, Not War" in America back in the 60's, now it is regarded as offensive and liable to cost you your job. And second, it is assumed that if you write something in a foreign language (even if it is pretty damned obvious what it is likely to say), Bush supporters won't have a clue what it means.

Being only 42, I can't say what would and wouldn't endanger your job in the 1960s. I entered the first grade in 1968. But I think Cheryl captures the essence of this historical moment.

The Day Before

There are a number of interesting things going on.

Josh Marshall reports that an outfit called the Florida Leadership Council has issued a Beslan-inspired scare flyer presumably intend to illustrate what will happen if Bush doesn't win. Go to their web site and listen to their sound effects. I think I know what they have in mind for people like me. Perhaps the rise of rightwing terrorism really is on the way. That's certainly the vibe I get from their site. (I'm a little surprised Josh didn't mention the gunshot sound effects.)

Kevin Drum and Ronald Brownstein (writing for the LA Times) have written pices along similar lines, pointing out that regardless of how the election turns out tomorrow, as an attempt to expand the Republican base, the Bush administration has been a failure.

Atrios notes that an Ohio judge has barred vote challengers from the polls.

Let's Do It!

I have this warm, happy feeling that we're going to do it; we're really going to do it. We're going to rise up and go to the polls and vote George W. Bush out of office. I'm no longer interested in the nuances of polls, though they send much the same message. I just feel it. I feel like we've all joined hands and are going to walk in on Tuesday and do it.

It's Lonely at the Top

Check out one of the new Bush commercials, which could easily be titled "It's Lonely at the Top" (actually entitled "Whatever It Takes"). Bush plays for our sympathy, telling how hard it is to president when bad things happen. Get a whole box of kleenex before watching. It's got a real tear-jerker sound track! Can someone redo it with the Randy Newman song in the background?

This one strikes me as really grasping at straws. Let's put him out of his misery, relieve him of the terrible suffering of being a wartime president, and vote him out of office.

(The other two ads, The Choice and No Limits, are just low-end attack adds more at home in a campaign for state legistlature than in a presidential campaign.)

UPDATE: I find I can use iTunes to play the Randy Newman song and also view the commerial simultaneously. You can hear Bush fine, but Newman drowns out the sappy music. Newman croons the refrain, It's lonely at the top at just about the same time the face of the stricken blonde widow comes on. Works real well.

Meanwhile, mithras the prophet at dailyKos notes that in the commercial Bush is apparently addressing an army of clones. You would think the campaign could afford someone better at Photoshop.

So, Is Bush Really the Anti-Christ?

Remember Anthony LoBaido, the self-published Christian fantasist and mercenary groupie I wrote about the other day? Well, he's got another series, this time for The Sierra Times ("An Internet Publication for Real Americans "), this one austensibly about the Texas A&M bonfire disaster. But being the kind of writer he is, by the end of Part 1, he has wandered pretty far afield from his original topic:

In my aforementioned Iraq II column I also stated Bush Jr. might well come to be seen as the "Mabus" Nostradamus called the "third Antichrist." (Linking Bush Sr. and Jr. to Mabus was NOT my own revelation, but that of another person who published this theory on the internet.) This notion about Mabus makes a lot of sense when you consider there is no "h" in Latin. Turn the "a" upside down and invert the "m" and you have G.W. Bus(h). Nostradamus often wrote in anagrams to hide his work form the Spanish Inquisition - the culture that spawned the Conquistadors. "Mabus" might well be the amalgamation of Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. Or is it merely an anagram of "Saddam?"

This is not to say poor George Bush Jr. is the singular Antichrist. Would the Antichrist put a stop to partial birth abortion, fight against pornography, stand up to Mainland China, cast a hard eye on Zimbabwe and Venezuela and/or fail to send a representative to the re-inauguration of South Africa's Marxist and America-hating President Thabo Mbeki? But there is a spirit at work in this regard and it is a force affecting all of us in some way. The Spirit of (the) Antichrist is an ancient and very real phenomenon. . . .

Let's ask if there will be a future draft? It would take away many home-schooled American children, ending the last hope of a free, moral America. The Congress recently voted down the draft bill idea by a 400-plus to virtually nil vote. That's good news. But we need more troops. We're even taking a third of our troops out of South Korea to use them elsewhere. Recently South Africa's Afrikaners sent 1500 white mercenaries to fight for America and the UK in Iraq. We have Russian immigrants and women on the front lines. Like Rome at the end of its reign, we have become dependent on mercenaries. Nations that rely on mercenaries usually meet with big troubles; France, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Angola, Burma and many others to name a few modern examples.

Of course we know that no real man would either send or tolerate women on the front lines. That is how cowardly our nation has become. That is how cowardly our leaders (Bush Sr. and Co.) are. Our military academies are not teaching men to be leaders like the warriors of old. American Indians would never send their women into combat. They knew and still know women are sacred, whether they (women) acknowledge it or not.

This whole line of "reasoning" leaves me quite speechless. But hey, if he can wonder if Bush is the Anti-Christ, you can too. Let's all do it!

(In case you're wondering, I think LoBaido is for real.)

Very Plain

Presidential clarity:

He said that, after a debate with Kerry, "I made it very plain. We will not have an all-volunteer army." The crowd fell silent. "WE WILL have an all-volunteer army," Bush said, quickly catching himself. "Let me restate that. We will not have a draft."

(Via atrios)

PS: Michael Bérubé is really fun on the subject of Lynn Cheney here and here. This is not to slight the inimitable Fafblog.