Filibuster and the Right of the Minority
The New York Times ran an opinion piece calling for the end of the filibuster in the Senate
. Certainly filibusters can be vexing when you are part of the majority that wishes to pass a bill. But the United States was not established to be an absolute democracy in which plebiscites determine all policy. In the tenth Federalist Paper, James Madison argued for the need to guard against factions of like-minded people whose interests might run contrary to the rights of others. The consideration was central to the formulation of our government and is no less important today than in the 18th century.
In fact, given the pressures to conform, to adopt either this or that political philosophy, I think today we see the demon of the majority. One group feels that it should be able to compel another to act the way it finds fitting. Given the pressure that political representatives feel to conform to public whim to more certainly enable their reelection, the filibuster is one of the few mechanisms left that can give a concerned minority the ability to say, "Stop. You may not run roughshod over us simply because it seems possible." Certainly restore the process to one that requires active participation, a single person or group to undertake the effort to actually waylay debate. But to call for the end of the filibuster is to call for the reign of popularity. That may seem desirous today, but supremacy of popular vote is a fickle thing, and tomorrow you might long for the ability to stop the wheels of progress.
Labels: filibuster, Politics
Open Mouth, Insert Politician's Foot
It's almost too easy to find gaffes among the political during the election. But this one is too good. "Joe the Plumber" became a subject of the final presidential debate. Turns out he's not a licensed plumber and his name isn't Joe
. Apparently he has become popular among some parts of the Republican party for criticizing Barak Obama's tax policies. Maybe they should have made sure that he could get his own name and background right first before relying on his political rhetoric.
Labels: mistakes, Politics, presidential election
Jackson Browne Suing John McCain
I guess it's a tradition for politicians to sling mud, though John McCain's campaign seems to be doing more than its share
. But now it's stepped over the line: the copyright line, that is. A recent television ad made use of Browne's song Running on Empty
, only the composer, traditionally a supporter of the other side of the political fence, says that it was done without permission
. Oops. That would push the McCain camp from doing the possibly distasteful and even maybe unethical to the all-out illegal, as that woudl be a violation of copyright law.
The complaint alleges that McCain, the RNC and the ORP recently released a television commercial "in which McCain mocks the suggestion" of Obama "that the country can conserve gasoline by keeping their automobile tires inflated to the proper pressure," and that during the commercial Browne's song "Running On Empty" plays in the background.
We'd better through in the outright wrong as well, given that low tire pressure can lead to a significant drop in gas mileage.
Browne's complaint goes on to allege that he "is not the first victim of McCain's creation of false endorsements and manifest lack of respect for the intellectual property rights accorded to musicians by the United States Constitution." As examples, the complaint then asserts that McCain and his agents have made unauthorized use of musical works by ABBA, John Mellencamp, and Frankie Valli.
Oh, mamma mia, what is McCain going to say now?
Labels: copyright, Politics
McCain Showing True Stripes?
Although I've liked John McCain somewhat in the past, I've gravitated away because of the sense that he's yet another politician who will ultimately do or say anything to get elected. Jonathan Alter's article detailing lies that McCain's campaign has been spreading about Obama
does nothing to assuage my discontent. I'm no big fan of Obama either, but when a man apparently allows lying to be done in his name, you have to wonder just how we're supposed to define the word "honorable" these days.
Obama Has Gas Problem
I'm been mildly dumbfounded at Barak Obama's insistence that we need to open the strategic oil reserves to lower the cost of gas in the US. First, in case he hadn't noticed, the price of gas has
been dropping, because oil prices are the lowest they've been in three months. Why? Because all the people who had been speculating on the price of oil are getting less sure of unrestrained prices and profits as the economy slumps.
Also, how much did he really think that the price would drop? A nickle? Maybe the 18 cents that he said would be a useless nudge when McCain and Clinton were suggesting dropping the federal gas tax until labor day? I think he was right not to go along with an productive scheme to curry voter favor back then. Now that he's caving in, I'm guessing that we're seeing more of the real man, willing, as so many politicians are, to say anything at times to get elected.
Labels: news, Politics
Journalist Crowd Ambushes Bill O'Reilly Employee Trying to Ambush Bill Moyers
Oh, this was really amusing - a video clip of a producer for Bill O'Reilly trying to ambush and browbeat Bill Moyers
for not going on O'Reilly's show on O'Reilly's terms. The producer kept using loaded questions to color the conversation and attack Moyers while claiming to be asking something straightforward. Moyers, being no fool, didn't back down and nicely said that he'd go on O'Reilly's show if O'Reilly would first go on his - for an hour, completely unedited. That's a tough format if you like to browbeat and make yourself look right. And then the journalists who were attending the conference where this happened started following the producer and used the same techniques on him. The guy kept walking - no wonder. Whethr you agree with Moyers's politics or not, I think it's clear that you don't play word games with someone who has been using them for as long as he has.
Labels: Politics, television, video
George Orwell: Chinese Prophet
I might have as well written Chinese Profit, because that is the essence of a terrific Rolling Stone piece: China's All-Seeing Eye
. The country continues to build an extensive system for monitoring all citizens, all the time:
This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country's notorious system of online controls known as the "Great Firewall." Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holder's personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces.
However, the reason is as economic as political. There is a massive number of migrant workers that the Chinese themselves have created by destroying villages to make way for equally massive building projects. Migratory ranks could reach 350 million by 2025. As this has happened, the country has also created a division of citizenship, where those forced to be transitory, because their homes were destroyed, are denied full benefit of the growth in the economy because they aren't living in their homes.
It's a situation that, if fiction, would have done Joseph Heller proud. Keep in mind for a moment that there have been relatively widespread but largely unreported riots in China, especially over the cost of food. The idea is that you could identify potential troublemakers that have the greatest impetus to take some sort of action, because even the dispossessed have the national identification cards that tie all the disparate information together - one giant key search term for all personal data. This is an Orwellian state that came about because of the drive for profit, which is often synonymous with the drive for power.
Much of the technology that China uses is actually American in origin - at least some of which is probably being sold against clear U.S. prohibition. Now think about all the cameras that cities and states want to set up to "fight crime," even though there is a spectacular lack of data to suggest that the devices are actually cost-effective. Add in the FCC's floating the idea of a free censored version of the Internet. Include the incomprehensible amount of information that private industries have on consumers, and the historically demonstrated readiness of the American people to tolerate heavy restrictions on their rights to battle some amorphous enemy, and you have conditions ripe for a public-private partnership in a privatized police state.
Labels: China, freedoms, law, Politics
Running on Fumes: Presidential Politics and Gasoline Prices
I've been shaking my head over the latest round of blather in the presidential race, as two of the three major candidates are falling all over themselves in their desire to use gas prices as an "issue" to show themselves sympathetic to the needs of working people. Instead, let's say that they're being disingenuous at best and cynically manipulative at worst.
Both McCain and Clinton are on the "let's have a moratorium on Federal gasoline taxes" bandwagon. But what does it really mean? The tax is 18 cents a gallon. Say that you use a tank of gas a week, and let's further suppose that means 20 gallons. So your weekly savings would be $3.60, or $43.20 over the entire summer. I won't sneeze at having a extra pair of twenties in my wallet; however, if that is economic relief, then all my problems should be cured by giving up going out for coffee one day a week - oh, wait, I already
brew my own.
At least Obama, for all his problems, isn't toeing the same path, and Clinton's bashing of him as not sympathetic to "regular folk" makes me want to take a shower after I hear her talk. I've found that if people are willing to bend words and thought completely out of shape on a regular basis to get something, they don't tend to stop after the acquisition. What's the next suggestion, end the federal deficit by having people donate empty bottles and cans so the government can get the deposit refunds?
Labels: critical thinking, Politics
Pentagon Manipulates Press
Although this seems to be the PR equivalent of a dog bites man story, the Pentagon, and Bush administration, managed to efficiently lead broadcasters around by the nose
, and possibly print as well, by subverting third party sources: retired military personnel who act as military analysts:
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
Viewers and readers (because I refuse to believe that a lot of print journalists haven't also been taken in) don't get to hear about the business relationships that help drive the need to please the brass:
But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
In addition, the analysts would act as spies for the military, reporting back on planned stories as well as forwarding copies of their correspondence with the networks. A number of the analysts came out and admitted to the reporters of this story that they were duped. Nothing like keeping the lines of communication open, even if twisted, turned, and knotted.
Labels: manipulation, Politics, PR, television, war
Create Your Own Candidate
If political handlers are said to create candidates that have little relationship to reality, then you could become one of the greats: literally helping to make a candidate from nothing. The Wiki Candidate 08 site
is a collaborative one, meant to look like a real campaign Web presence, but the audience puts it together:
Wikicandidate is running for president in 2008, ready to lead the United States to a bright future in the 21st Century. Only, you've never seen WikiCandidate in a debate, read about Wikicandidate in the news, or gotten a promotional flyer in the mail, because WikiCandidate is not a real candidate, but an ideal one -- the product of your imagination, in conversation with everyone else.
What if you didn't have to choose from the available candidates, who may or may not share all of your political beliefs, may or may not have done things in their lives that fit your image of the perfect candidate, may or may not be electable for a variety of reasons? In observing the actual presidential race many people become dissatisfied with the way candidates talk, act, or react to current events, an otherwise ideal candidate tarnished. What if you could create your perfect candidate from scratch -- their biography, their stance on the issues, even what the say and do on the campaign trail? By simply creating WikiCandidate's campaign site, you get to bring the perfect candidate into existence.
People have the candidate react to current events and people "haggle" (great underused word, I think, so the site gets automatic points) over issues and positions.
One potential problem I see off-hand is that the candidate was supposedly born in Madrid, Spain of one American parent, and it's unclear whether a person even born of two US citizens
would be considered a "natural-born citizen," as required in the US Constitution.
Labels: Politics, wiki
Parsing Obama's Gaffe
Let's start with the quote that caught so much attention:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them.And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
I've heard from some people I know that couldn't see how anyone could read Obama's statements, in context or out, as elitist. But I can.
Parse the statement (and consider the attitudes of many toward given issues) and you get the following chain of logical statements and emotional context:
- People are bitter.
- Only because they are bitter to they cling to certain attitudes.
- As they cling out of bitterness, these attitudes and espoused interests must be negative.
- Religion, guns, antipathy toward those who are different, sentiment against immigrants, and sentiment against open trade policy are all the same thing.
- Therefore, if you hold any of these positions or interests, it must be because you are bitter, and not because you believe in them for any other reason.
His political opponents are jumping on this, and, yes, they, like virtually all people running for office, tend to be entirely opportunistic. But I'd suggest that the statement itself says a lot about him, and not in a positive way.
Of course people have been sold down the river and they're angry and it comes out in various ways. But to take these interests and positions and level them so that all people who have concerns about immigration, or who support gun ownership, or what have you, are exactly the same - to discount any nuance or recognize another potential motivation - is a problematic mindset. He could have talked about them being angry, or trying to cling to something they could hold on to. But that's not what Obama chose to do. Instead, he dismissed large groups of people based on the most gross generalization of their beliefs, without any acknowledgement that someone might honestly hold an opinion.
Perhaps that isn't what he meant, but then why choose those words? A friend pointed several people in an online discussion group to a Huffington Post piece that recalled similar words by Bill Clinton
You know, he [Bush] wants to divide us over race. I'm from the South. I understand this. This quota deal they're gonna pull in the next election is the same old scam they've been pulling on us for decade after decade after decade. When their economic policies fail, when the country's coming apart rather than coming together, what do they do? They find the most economically insecure white men and scare the living daylights out of them. They know if they can keep us looking at each other across a racial divide, if I can look at Bobby Rush and think, Bobby wants my job, my promotion, then neither of us can look at George Bush and say, 'What happened to everybody's job? What happened to everybody's income? What ... have ... you ... done ... to ... our ... country?'
Notice that Clinton's words addressed fear and economic disadvantage. They didn't take a number of often strongly-held positions and dismissed them as a reaction to being embittered. And to dismiss people as essentially being ignorant or immature or misguided because they don’t hold your particular set of beliefs sounds exactly like the claims I've heard from right wing parties that sends those on other parts of the political spectrum into a frenzy of anger. If people want reasoned discourse - and I don't think most actually do, no matter what they say, because they act as though that means agreeing with them - then they must do the difficult work of stepping into someone else's shoes and seeing how they'd feel under the same circumstances.
Labels: Politics, presidential candidate, presidential election
Progressive Radio Host Jumps Air America Ship
The so-called progressive radio network Air America last week suspended Randi Rhodes, who was probably its highest profile on-air talent after Al Franken left, for an obscenity laced tirade against Hillary Clinton at an event hosted by the network. But now the temporarily off-air Rhodes has gone on the road to be on-air elsewhere. Try going to therandirhodesshow.com
on the web, her erstwhile show's site, and you end up at Nova M Radio
, which advertises itself as "Bringing Democracy to the Airwaves!" At least, as is generally true with conservative radio, to the like-minded people who listen and agree in advance.
Air America bounced Rhodes after a stand-up political routine
at an event sponsored by a network-affiliated station. Geraldine Ferraro was also a target for her remarks about Barak Obama - taken out of context, according to Ferraro:
“What did they do with Don Imus when he went after the young black team who was playing basketball with kind of the same language? Treat them both the same,” Ferraro told FOX News. “She’s coming at me and Hillary in a … sexist way”
Excuse me? Since when are political figures, who place themselves willingly in the limelight, the same as a group of student athletes? Some of the language isn't what I'd use - though the line "Geraldine Ferraro turned out to be the David Duke in drag. Who knew?” is pretty funny, even if some see it as offensive - but since when do we start censoring political speech, particularly when it's not being broadcast? Is it acceptable to say what you will about a candidate if you don't use a swear word, no matter how calculated and even dishonest the language may be, but not when you do? All the democratic presidential hopefuls must be breathing a sigh of relief; there still might be life after office - if Air American can manage to stay in business that long.
Broadway Studios manager Francesca Valdez confirmed that video posted to YouTube was the show held at her venue, and that the booking had been contracted through Clear Channel Communications. She said that she sat in the audience for Rhodes’ 45-minute performance, which was chock full of “a lot of F-words.”
“I was actually amazed that she used the F-word so many times,” said Valdez, reached by phone in San Francisco.
Hold it, the venue booked an act without checking it out ahead of time? What kind of business idiots are they? Oh, wait, I've got it - they thought they were booking comedienne Kathy Griffin instead. (Ironically, I accidentally typed Kathy Gifford first. Now there's
a scary genetic meld concept.)
So, in the spirit of the First Amendment and political freedom, Air America bounced Rhodes. And the final irony, according to the New York Times, is that the station she's joining, KKGN, is an Air America affiliate
in San Francisco. According to a New York Daily News article
, Air America will have guest hosts while looking for a replacement:
"We will soon announce exciting new talent that will accelerate Air America's growth," said the statement from Kireker and Green.
Oh, yes, anything to keep that raging trickle moving.
Labels: broadcasting, censorship, comedy, controversy, Politics
The New Republic has an interesting piece about the human face of online politics. There's Jonathan Schilling, a 53-year-old software engineer who spends up to 15 hours a week editing the Wikipedia entry for Hillary Clinton
, even though he is ambivalent toward her. Kevin Bailey, a North Carolina teacher, until recently played guardian for Barak Obama's listing, which has become more table tennis match than battleground as changes go in, out, in, out, with the fervor of the supporters and detractors.
Labels: Politics, presidential election, Wikipedia
Clinton Embellishes Bosnian Trip
I came across this in a journalism email list. According to The Feed, a political blog of the St. Petersburg Times, Hillary Clinton talked about a trip she made to Bosnia when Bill Clinton was president as far more dangerous than others who were there remember
. Apparently it took remarks from comedian Sinbad to bring this to light - and two journalists who were there didn't say anything until recently. Maybe it was a case of PTNSS - post traumatic non-stress syndrome.
China Unblocks BBC Website
According to the BBC, people in China are finally able to get full English-language stories
on the broadcaster's web site, though not any Chinese-language services or links:
Beijing has never admitted to blocking access to BBC news stories - and there has been no official confirmation that the website has been unblocked.
But Chinese users trying to access pages on the site have almost always been redirected to an error message telling them: "The connection was reset."
It now appears that this is no longer the case, and access to the site is much easier.
The Chinese government censor information and only make it available when it figured that such actions would be obvious during the Olympics? Pshaw. It was probably all a matter of inferior western technology.
Labels: censorship, China, Internet, Politics
Pro-Tibet Organizations Attacked Online
According to a Washington Post story, some number of groups sympathetic to Tibet have found themselves targeted for cyber attacks
that attempt to disrupt operations and steal information:
A handful of recent targeted attacks shared the same Internet resources and tactics in common with those used in a spate of digital assaults against number of major U.S. defense contractors, said Maarten Van Horenbeeck, an incident handler with the SANS Internet Storm Center, Bethesda, Md.-based organization that tracks online security trends.
The attacks on pro-Tibet organizations are not the first to be tied to computers in China. The Washington Post reported March 21 that the FBI is investigating whether hackers in China targeted a group working for human rights in Darfur, the war-torn province of Sudan. China has economic and strategic interests in the African nation's oil fields.
UK Statistics Watchdog Goes Out Fighting
The UK government is disbanding its Statistics Commission
, which is a shame because the group apparently fought against political use of statistics, according to an FT story:
Allegations about the politicisation of data have intensified throughout the years of New Labour rule – most recently with last week’s issue of national figures showing thousands of children had not won entry into their first-choice state school.
Critics of Ed Balls, schools secretary, accused him of trying to deflect attention from the statistics by simultaneously reporting that “a significant minority” of schools were breaking new admissions rules.
The commission has written to Mr Balls’ department and stressed the release of official figures should be “seen to be independent from policy comment”.
The government set up the commission in 2000 "to improve trust in government figures." The question is whether it didn't do its job well enough or entirely too well. A new UK Statistics Authority replaces it next month.
A group devoted to making politicians come clean on their use of statistics. More than a full-time job, I'd bet.
Labels: Politics, statistics, U.K.
Spitzer's "Kristen" and Copyright
As heat swirled around former New York governor Elliot Spitzer's dalliance with call girls, one's image was grabbed by media from her Myspace page and freely used. But it's a question whether that use was legal or an infringement of copyright. Photo District News has an interesting article on the topic
. A number of lawyers they contacted said that the media's rights to do so are questionable:
"Whoever took that picture owns that picture," says New York attorney Nancy Wolff. "It's either an infringement or they [the news outlets] have to make a fair use argument."
Wolff says the news organizations probably decided the risk of a lawsuit was low. They also probably considered competitive pressure as other sources published the same photos. "It's a fast business decision," Wolff says.
As I understand it, one of the aspects of fair use is education - but that means that the contents itself of the copyrighted piece must be what is at issue. But the stories are not about the photos; they're about the alleged business arrangements between Spitzer and Ashley Dupre/Youmans (the latter being her actual name). So the photos of her are not the subject of discussion and education, and could well be seen as something whose commercial value has now been reduced, which means that "fair use," which could be an argument against infringement, is now a more remote possibility.
But there's one other question I don't see being addressed. Youmans's lawyer has been talking about copyright infringemnt, but who took the pictures? As Youmans was the subject, they wouldn't be her property, but that of the person who pressed the shutter button, and no one has been talking about that person or people, who would have had had to register copyright of the images and who would have standing for taking legal action.
Labels: copyright, infringement, news, Politics
How Presidential Candidates Answer the 3AM Call
The Clinton and Obama campaigns had traded those "How would he/she/it answer that call in the middle of the night?" ads. But I realized that no one actually mentioned what the answer would be. So I put the vast resources of the En Words crack investigative team to work and came up with answers. Here is how each of the three major presidential candidates would answer a crisis call at 3 in the morning:
- John McCain Nuke 'em.
- Barack Obama Maybe if we wait until breakfast, things will change.
- Hillary Clinton Bill, it's for you. (Pause.) Bill? Are you there, Bill?
Labels: Politics, satire
Hillary Clinton Develops Drawl
This morning, while with my daughter on her newspaper rounds, we had the radio on and heard a clip of Hillary Clinton addressing an audience down south. As I listened, I realized that she had added more than a hint of a drawl to her voice. Although she obviously lived in Arkansas, she was born in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, and represents New York in the US Senate. Just where the hell did the accent come from, when she normally doesn't have it? This seems like one of the most condescending and cynical political acts I've noticed in a long time. Why isn't anyone in the conventional media noting this? Are they all scared because the Clinton campaign accused them of bias?
Labels: accents, media, Politics
Bush Aide Resigns After Admitting Plagiarism
An aide to President George W. Bush, "responsible for outreach to conservative and Christian groups,"
as the Washington Post noted, resigned after admitting that he had plagiarized the work of others in a newspaper column he wrote on a regular basis for his hometown newspaper, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. According to the story:
On its Web site Friday, the newspaper said 20 of 38 Goeglein columns between 2000 and 2008 contained "portions copied from other sources without attribution." News-Sentinel Editor Kerry Hubartt said Goeglein had written 80 or 90 columns for the newspaper in a relationship that began more than 20 years ago.
On its Web site Friday, the newspaper said 20 of 38 Goeglein columns between 2000 and 2008 contained "portions copied from other sources without attribution." News-Sentinel Editor Kerry Hubartt said Goeglein had written 80 or 90 columns for the newspaper in a relationship that began more than 20 years ago.
What was finally noticed by blogger Nancy Nall
was material he had lifted from former Dartmouth professor Jeffrey L. Hart. What gave him away to Nall was mentioning a Dartmouth professor, Eugene Rosenstock-Hussey, in a column about education:
Now, I’m sure Tim’s spare brain space isn’t cluttered, as mine is, with “American Idol,” the internet and what’s-for-dinner concerns. Certainly string quartets waft through his paneled study, where he reads and thinks under the mounted ibex head, far from the vulgar buzz of pop culture. Surely he can acquaint himself with notable professors of philosophy at Dartmouth while I watch the Oscars. But this name was so goofy, just for the hell of it, I Googled it. And look what I found.
She shows the evidence. According to the Post story:
Peter Wehner, a former Bush aide, said Goeglein was regarded as "a person of sterling character" who was Bush's "eyes and ears" in the conservative world. "It is an important job, and he really developed a bond of trust with the conservative world," Wehner said.
Ah, there's the problem - he focused on family values, not professional ethics.
Labels: ethics, newspapers, plagiarism, Politics
St. Pete Times Campaign Truth-O-Meter
Congratulations to the St. Petersburg Times and its "Truth-O-Meter" analysis
of attacks in the presidential campaign. Instead of letting things slide into a metaphorical freeway pile-up, the paper is keeping a record of candidates accusing each other about this, that, or the other thing. The ratings of factual veracity go from True to Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.
Labels: news, newspapers, Politics
Obama: I Borrowed
Senator Barack Obama borrowed some lines from Deval Patrick, who is his friend as well as Massachusetts governor, according to this AP story
. Apparently, Obama said that it's not a big deal, though he says that he should have given credit. Glad to know that he's so open-minded about it. The Clinton campaign went on a moderate attack, with a spokesperson saying, "If your whole candidacy is about words, those words should be your own. That's what I think." Oh, wait, did maybe someone tell him to say that? Does the spokesman now have to provide credit? And has Clinton ever used a phrase from someone else? I can see it now, we're going to move into an era where stump speeches will all need footnotes.
Labels: Politics, speech
One More Thought About Political "Experience"
I keep hearing presidential candidates tossing about the word experience, but in a very loose manner. Clinton, for example, touts that she'd be ready to go because, well, she was around the White House before. That may be so, but the argument strikes me as equivalent to the spouse of a world reknown cardiac surgeon saying, "I'll be performing the open heart surgery because, after all, I've been around the business for so many years." All the same, I think I'd rather have the surgeon. Secondary exposure is not the same as primary experience.
And then we have Mitt Romney criticizing Clinton on the same grounds. Here's most of the text from his new TV ad:
Hillary Clinton wants to run the largestenterprise in the world. She hasn't run a corner store. She hasn't run astate. She hasn't run a city.
She has never run anything. And the idea that she could learn to bePresident as an internship just doesn't make any sense.
I have spent my life running things. I've learned how to run a business. I've learned how to run a state. I ran the Olympics. In each case, I've brought change.
Let's take this in two parts. First, did he really have to use the term "internship," which in the context of the Clintons is a loaded word? No, he could have said apprenticeship, but he didn't. Given the sensitivity that political types have toward language, this could ony have been deliberate, so shame on him for trying to ineptly use emotional subtext, becasue I suspect this will only backfire on him.
Second, let's look at how Romney has led. Did anyone else, like the Olympic committee, have a hand in the LA games? Of course, and if Romney were smart, he'd show how he could work with others. But I suspect he doesn't because he really does
want to run things. And he has - into walls and ditches, at least in Massachusetts. His major business experience? He was at a venture capital firm, which is far different from running an ongoing concern. But experienced at working with people to really accomplish things? Nope, Romney appears to like giving orders, and that's about as far as effective in politics, even if you're president, as anything can be.
More Political Speak
Listening to the Iowa caucus results, I was struck by Clinton's twin messages: I have experience, and I represent change. Hearing them in the same sentence got me thinking. Experience is the formal expression of knowing how to do things as they have been done, and change means knowing how to do things differently. If choosing a president was all about experience, then nothing would ever change. Maybe she means knowledge, but then there is no advantage to one person over another, so long as the candidate has learned something about the topic.
Candidates and the Internet
Garrett Graff was the first blogger admitted to a White House briefing and was Howard Dean's campaign manager, so if anyone starts to get the connection between politics and the Internet, he does. So it's interesting when he writes in the Washington Post that virtually all the candidates are clueless about the fundamental form of communications
. Some of the mix-ups these people made - including Mitt Romney, who apparently confused YouTube and MySpace - are equivalent to a major politician in Henry Ford's day never having heard about the assembly line or someone in the 1970s being unaware of the fax machine.
But the closest analogy that comes to mind is something I once heard about the Patty Duke Show from the 1960s. Because Ms. Duke spent so much time working in the insular world of television, producers had to bring in "real" teenagers to show her the latest dances, so that she'd seem credible on the screen. I think what we're seeing is that politicians spend so much time in their own land, they never join us in this one, which is why they need translation: they literally don't speak the same language as the common people do. I've seen the same thing happen among top business leaders, who no longer mingle with the hoi polloi, otherwise known as the customers. No wonder they are so out of touch. Instead of hearing what their fellow citizens say, they have to make do with representations known as polls. No wonder they like dealing with lobbyists; they don't have to take a crash Berlitz course to converse.
Labels: Internet, Politics
Ex-Bush Official On Dealing With Blogs
Texas Monthly has an interview with Dan Bartlett
, former counselor to the president and someone who worked for George W. Bush since the early 1990s. He revealed some interesting attitudes toward bloggers, and the press in general. When asked about conservative bloggers and their influence, he reportedly said:
That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
In other words, he doesn't seem to consider the conservative blog machine as a critical part of the press. (If that's true, I would bet that the same thing could be said for liberal bloggers.) And as far as the reputation of Fox News being in bed with the White House, he said this:
I’ll tell you, I probably got more complaints from various Fox News programs about not getting the type of access they deserved. Now, there are exceptions to that. Vice President Cheney’s done a lot with them. But I think they were treated pretty equally across the board. If you look at the major newscasters, there were some, like [Dan] Rather, that we didn’t do. You’d be hard-pressed to say that we didn’t accommodate the others.
Notice two things. One is that he talked about Fox not getting "the type of access they deserved," not that they wanted. To me, the words carry the message that either Fox was getting slighted (whether other networks were or not would be impossible to say), or that their coverage should have called for better treatment - not what you want to hear about a "fair and balanced" organization. And on Iraq? "We were wrong" on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Now there's a word I haven't heard from the White House too often.
Labels: blogging, Politics
Hillary Clinton and Political Posturing
I heard a story on NPR this morning in which the reporter showed the junior senator from New York trying to claim successes from her husband's terms as president while, as her opponent, Barack Obama, put it, trying to distance herself from any of the failures. My question is how does one rightly take credit for what happened in an administration when the person did not hold elected office and when, so far as I know, the only official position she held was as chair of the health care task force that tanked so profoundly?
It is disturbing to see yet another example of a politician turning into a sophist and depending on petty linguistic parsing to bolster an empty position. The country needs leadership and instead gets a debating society, where talk becomes a substitute for the language of action.
Labels: Politics, presidential election
Waterboarding, Torture, and Definitions
The appointment of former judge Michael Mukasey is closer, with democratic senators Feingold and Schumer voting in favor after private assurances that all ending the simulated drowning technique required was Congressional action. How convenient. All it would take is for the House and Senate both to spend time to draft bills, send them through committees, take votes, go through a reconciling process, and present it to the president - who, presumably, would veto it. And then Congress would only need two-thirds majorities in both houses to override.
This may not be the height of deception, whether of voters or of the senators themselves, but it at least hits a plateau. Such a law will never surface with so many other things to do, and with probably enough resistance to make a veto override impossible. This is window dressing and playing with the meaning of such words as torture and assurance.
Anyone who has ever come close to drowning - and I speak from personal experience, here - can tell you that being forced to feel as though you are breathing your last is not mere intimidation nor strenuous questioning. It is a form of torture that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. There may be times for scholarly debates over the meaning of words, or legal disagreements over how to construe a sentence. But this is not one of them. For a people to stand for something, it must actually stand for those principles, not twist definitions for expedience.
By accepting such a preposterous concept as needing a law for every single condition whose characteristics easily fit the broad premise, Feingold and Schumer are looking for an excuse of convenience. Perhaps they think Mukasey is the best candidate they might get. Pragmatism has an obvious place in life, but there are times you must put your support behind not what seems of practical advantage, but behind what you truly believe. To do any less is to abdicate responsibility, duty, and humanity.
Labels: definitions, Politics, torture
Student Tasered for Asking a Question
ABC News has a disturbing story about a student who was tasered
and then arrested "after loudly and repeatedly trying to ask U.S. Sen. John Kerry questions during a campus forum." Videos, available on YouTube
, show police pulling the student away from the microphone and then tasering him:
University spokesman Steve Orlando said Meyer was asked to leave the microphone after his allotted time was up. Meyer can be seen refusing to walk away and getting upset that the microphone was cut off.
However, Kerry apparently was saying during all this that he considered the question important and that he would answer the student. And, according to another ABC report, Kerry condemned the arrest
. Has the taser now become a form of political speech at universities?
Labels: Kerry, police, Politics, student, taser
Partisanship, Pay, and Politics
I was listening to an NPR interview of New York City mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg. Aside from the interviewer repeatedly trying to bring in the concept of a presidential bid and Bloomberg unequivocally saying that he absolutely would not run, there was an interchange on the nature of politics in areas like education. Bloomberg is an expected fan of capitalism and the power of incentive. Pay to get things done and, if they don't get done, pull back the rewards and try something else. And when asked about the problem in politics, Bloomberg said it was partisanship.
However, I'm not sure that the two are differentiated. There are "partisans" in capitalism, in the sense that different groups will have varying interests and will want to be the ones that get market rewards. Often they will compete for the same rewards. That is what happens in politics, I think. Political parties may think that they know what is best for the country, but more too often they seem to be more focused on what is good for the party. Each is responding to the market forces of incentive, only the incentive is paid for self-interest, and not for solving public problems. The difficulty is that the money and power as forms of payment come from controlling political offices, not from actually getting something done. Instead of working to get rid of that sort of payoff, we should redirect it - get the spoils of political war by actually achieving something positive. But then, we'd all need to agree on a definition of the public good, and that may be the most difficult part of all.
Labels: Bloomberg, New York, NPR, Politics
Gonzales Resignation and D.C. Prevarication Quotient
Last Friday I mentioned our unpleasant national tendency in the US to redefine language and history
for petty personal reasons - and when done on a national level, I can't think of a single personal reason that doesn't fall into that category.
I just read that Alberto Gonzales is stepping down as Attorney General
come mid-September. It shows to what level we've sunk when someone who was so clearly talking out of not only both sides of his mouth, but any other available orafice could withstand the pressure to leave for so long. No explanation - and, of course, that probably means some in power in the Republican Party finally convinced Bush that even avoiding Senate confirmation hearings wasn't worth the political damage the group was taking. Not that it matters, and not that things will get noticeably cleaner in the capital, but it is an amazing site when so many professional politicians across the spectrum effectively say, "Well, I understand spin control, but this is too much even for me."
Bush's statement on the topic was, unfortunately, what one might expect:
"It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons," Bush said.
We could get into deconstructing this one sentence, though it would take too long. But let's note at least one partial truth: that his name was dragged through the mud for policital reasons. The question is, whose
Labels: administration, attorney general, bush, gonzales, Politics
Eisenhower on Military Intervention
At a library book sale, I had picked up a copy of the book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter: Five Presidents and Other Political Adventures
by James C. Humes. The author is apparentl7y quite a bright fellow with amazing intellectual retention and a personal history that has intersected the high and mighty.
On page 144, Mr. Humes mentions talking to richard Nixon shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Although the Eisenhower quote is third hand, it's still worth repeating:
He told us that Kennedy seemed shaken by the incident. Nixon then reported former President Eisenhower's reaction. "Dick, for U.S. military intervention, you need four conditions: First, congressional support. Second, the occupation must be limited in time, or you will loose the support of public opinion. Third, there must be a viable leader with a broad popular backing to succeed the ousted dictator. And finally, whatever troops you need, take ten times more."
I suspect he didn't think it necessary to add, "And under no conditions should you destroy the entire infrastructure of the country and not put it back into place rapidly."
Labels: Eisenhower, ghostwriter, Humes, Iraq, Nixon, Politics, war, White House
A Picture of Political Word Influence
has an interesting analysis of the purchase pattern of top moving political books. The influential books are those that connect distinct political philosophies - the ones read by people in both the "liberal" and "conservative" camps (though I think the break-out is pretty inaccurate when you actually talk to people). The site also has a white paper by the owner on the subject of book networks as well as some links to articles in the popular press.
Labels: book networks, books, Politics
Teenager Uses Language to Help Pass Midwifery Bill
John Loudon, a Republican state senator in Missouri, had been trying to no avail to get the state's legislator to pass a bill legalizing midwifery. So he added an amendment to a health insurance package that avoided the term that alerted other legislators and instead used the word tocological, which means having to do with tocology, the science of childbirth, whether in the form of obstretics or midwifery.
Loudon told a reporter
that a child of a midwifery advocate had uncovered the term in an ACT test prep guide.
However, according to the AWAD
(A Word A Day) mailing list, a formerly home-schooled young woman named Sarah Greek, who just graduated from high school, receives the AWAD mailings of interesting words. On May 20, the list had mentioned the story. She came forward and said that she was the young woman who had remembered the term and informed the senator. With a vocabulary like that, clearly there will be no pregnant pauses in her discussions.
Labels: MIssouri, Politics, words
Tony Blair Dances with Words for Stop-and-Question Law
As has been well-reported, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pushing for a new bill that would allow police to stop and question people without needing any grounds for doing so. This would be a first in the U.K., which does allow searches on "reasonable grounds for suspicion," according to this story in the Trinity Mirror
. In defending his proposal, Blair wrote the following in a piece
in the Sunday London Times:
But at the heart of these new proposals will lie the same debate: the balance between protecting the safety of the public and the rights of the individual suspected of being involved with terrorism. ...
We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first.
I happen to believe this is misguided and wrong. If a foreign national comes here, and may be at risk in his own country, we should treat him well. But if he then abuses our hospitality and threatens us, I feel he should take his chance back in his own home country.
But Mr. Blair isn't being accurate. The problem with a stop-and-question law is not protecting the civil liberties of an actual terrorism suspect, where there is a body of evidence suggesting a tie between the individual and such an activity, but protecting the rights of whomever the police decide to stop.
The reason British and US law has such regard for the rights of the suspect is the underlying concept of someone being innocent until proven guilty. Society regards the rights of the suspect because there is a good chance that the suspect is innocent, and if the innocent person can face such restraint of rights, then it could be only a matter of time before anyone else is in the position of being a suspect and of losing rights.
But there is also a meaning of suspect that isn't tied to that philosophical underpinning - one that is more simply a person who is the target of suspicion. Mr. Blair is essentially pulling a semantic bait-and-switch. He uses the single word used in both contexts and then uses the second meaning, pretending that the first doesn't exist. He then decries the "dangerous misjudgment" of prizing civil liberties above chasing terrorism. Ironically, his own act of linguistic deception - whether intentional or accidental - offers good reason for keeping the emphasis where it is.
Labels: Blair, Politics, rhetoric, rights, U.K.
What Does Winning Mean?
Sometimes national debates can make one reach for a dictionary. Again this week we've heard Bush and congressional leaders argue over how we're doing in Iraq. We’re winning. We’re losing. We’re not winning but we haven’t lost. If we send more soldiers, we can still win. If we’re not winning, they must be winning, though we don’t know exactly who “they” are. Our involvement in Iraq has become a ongoing sports contest where the players are unnamed and the rules unknown.
Americans look at the world through competition-tinted glasses all the time, which is to be expected. Not only does our species have millions of years of collective history of struggling just to survive, this country was borne of one conflict after another. Our mythos is that of the self-made person, sleeves rolled up, wanting only a fair fight.
However, not everything situation is a zero-sum game where one party is on top while the other loses. There is no winner when a farmer has a bad year. A concert pianist can give a great performance without taking the experience from someone or something else.
The national dialog on Iraq has employed the language of winning and losing. But what is success? Are we trying to find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction? Root out international terrorism? Give democracy to the people of Iraq? Ensure our continued access to oil? Overthrow a tyrant? Increase regional stability? Protect our soldiers? Patch up the results of our mistakes? All of these? Some of these? None of these?
Even as Congress and the President square off, there is too little discussion of what winning means. This is like a married couple riding in the car and arguing whether to turn right or left when neither one remembers their initial destination. (“Let’s go my way.” “No, we went your way before; I want to go my way.”) It no longer matters where the car heads because there is no place to go. Instead of discussing troop levels, budgets, and geopolitics, we’d do better considering more fundamental questions. Why are we in Iraq? What are we trying to accomplish? Who are we actually fighting? How will we know when we’ve achieved our objective? When can we know that our goals are obtainable or not? Until we can answer them, any decisions are navigation on a long drive to nowhere.
Labels: bush, congress, Iraq, losing, Middle East, Politics, war, winning
Wolfowitz's Lawyer Stumbles Upon Defense
In a Washington Post story
, there is a quote from Robert S. Bennett, the defense lawyer hired by Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank:
"He is not going to resign," Bennett said after meeting with Wolfowitz this weekend. "His mood is just fine. . . . He feels people are trying to interfere with his job to get at world poverty, and he wants to get this thing behind him so that he can concentrate 100 percent of his effort."
Obviously he was arranging for a big pay bump for his girlfriend to keep her out of world poverty.
Now look a bit deeper into the words of this quote. People are trying to interfere with his job? No, they're questioning his propriety. And since when does the position become his
job? I know this is a common usage, but I get the sense from many in power that they regard these positions as their property, not something with which they are entrusted. The attitude also shows an invisible poverty: one of the spirit, because if they had a stronger internal sense of themselves, they would probably have a lesser need to lean on the external ones. For those who think that there is no justice in this world, think of how terrible it is to feel that your existence consists solely of what others think and of the vagaries of your position in life. What would be a setback for a more psychologically and spiritually grounded person is shattering for one like this.
Labels: Excuses, Lawyers, Politics
Tommy Thompson and Power of Words
Words are peculiar. You can't touch them though you can see and hear them. And sometimes you can taste them. The taste of the words uttered by Tommy Thompson - former governor of Wisconsin and former Secretary of Health and Human Services - were sour and nasty. Not just the statement he made in front of a D.C. Jewish group, saying, "I'm in the private sector and, for the first time in my life, I'm earning money. You know, that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that." There was the moment he again walked up to the podium and allegedly said the following:
"I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or
imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to,
ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the
Jewish people. You have been outstanding businesspeople and I compliment you for
that and if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have
mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that."
Not only did he use an offensive racial stereotype, but then he followed it with something that makes you wonder whether he actually managed to stuff three feet into his mouth instead of the regulation two. What comes next: "Some of my best friends are Jews?" Oh, wait, apparently he has already
And there's yet another aspect as noted in this editorial
from a Gannett paper. He made $115,000 a year as governor and $180,000 annually as HSS Secretary, and neither of those salaries was money? Does he mean that people who make those trifling amounts don't really earn a living? Are the only people worth talking to in the real world those who make, oh, $500,000 a year and up? Will the rest of us be asked to stand quietly at the back of the room - or the line or the bus - while the "real" people get taken care of?
What astounds me is that some conservatives are still taking him seriously as a candidate. George Will
calls him "the Republican presidential candidate with perhaps the most impressive resume." Yet he's even managed to make George W. Bush seem like an intelligent public speaker. Now there's
a frightening thought.
Labels: Jew, Jewish, Politics, presidential candidate, Thompson