Archive for September, 2008

McCain’s Tongue

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Things are going to go downhill in the closing days of the campaign; we all know it. In honor of the coming descent into complete lack of substance, I offer the following actually-fairly-interesting (at least to me) item from The tongue jut.

Here’s the video that accompanies the article (but see the article for the full discussion):

After reading that, check out this video of McCain defending the accuracy of the “Obama supports sex education for kindergartners” ad, from a meeting today with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register. Pay particular attention to McCain’s tongue:

So, any poker players in the readership? What do you think of the tongue-jut-as-tell theory?

America Won’t Bail

Monday, September 29th, 2008

With the failure today of the bailout bill that party leaders cobbled together, not only has the stock market further collapsed, but the utter political strangeness of the situation has reached a pinnacle. This whole mess has a can’t-look-away quality to it. Pelosi blames Bush for the mess, Republicans blame Pelosi for poisoning the caucus, presidential candidates blame each other for the bill’s failure, and as never before in my memory the talk has very clearly nothing to do with reality.

Let’s examine motivations:

  • Bush is a lame duck and wants to secure his legacy by not screwing this up.
  • Either Obama or McCain will be President-elect in a month or so, and making the wrong decision on an issue this large could be deadly.
  • Party leaders want to take credit for their party.
  • Rank-and-file congressmen are shortly up for election and desperately want to not piss off their constituency.

And then the results:

  • Bush puts forth an enormous proposal with no accountability or oversight, but is astoundingly willing to add the oversight back in to the bill when challenged.
  • Obama and McCain both support the bill, but say almost nothing about it except that it should be passed quickly.
  • Party leaders on both sides support the bill, seem infurated with rank-and-file congressmen when they fail to pass it, blame each other.
  • Rank-and-file congressmen (R moreso than D, Bush be damned) hate the bill, due to significant outrage from their constituency, and kill it.

When you look at the pretty clear (and strong) motivations, the resulting actions make sense. But played as a right vs. left battle, it’s mass hysteria and confusion.

So what’s the outcome of all this? The American people seem to have come together, without regard to party, to kill this bill through pressure on our elected representatives, despite the wishes of the powerful of both parties. As a result, we’ve given ourselves one of the largest stock crashes in history and we’ve caused a large number of powerful people to soil themselves. I don’t know if I should be afraid or proud.

fREADom of Information

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

With the economy in shambles and the election as depressing as usual, I thought I’d try to lighten the mood a bit by reminding people about Literary Censorship, and the attempts of narrow minded people to suppress materials from public libraries.

Yes that’s right, it’s time for Banned Books Week, September 27 to October 4, 2008. The American Library Association has a lot of great background material on Banned Books Week, as well their annual list of most frequently challenged books from last year. (A challenge is when someone formally requests that a book be banned/removed from a library)

So do yourself, your community, and the world a favor this week: read a banned (or challenged) book; buy your children a banned book and talk to them about the issues of censorship and why that particular book scares people; visit your local library and make a donation, ask the librarians how they deal with attempts to ban books and if there is anything you can do to help preserve intellectual freedom.

Where To From Here?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

It’s pretty much an immutable law of nature that political campaigns become uglier, not prettier, as election day approaches. The McCain campaign, in particular, has demonstrated that they’re willing to go really low way in advance. But that doesn’t mean they can’t descend further.

Still, knowing that from an intellectual standpoint is not the same as processing it emotionally. So I think I’m in for a series of mental shocks between now and November 4. A preview of things to come is this story in the Sunday Times of London: McCain camp prays for Palin wedding:

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

Yeah. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Besides increasing ugliness, the other thing I think I can safely predict at this point is increasing funny from Tina Fey’s Palin impersonation in SNL’s opening skit. Like the latest one, here:

I’m not sure how obvious it is for someone who didn’t just finish editing together an hour-long podcast of Palin quotes, but Fey’s biggest laugh line, toward the end, was essentially a word-for-word re-enactment of Palin’s scariest response in the real Katie Couric interview.

Sarah Palin’s America: Where the comedy writes itself. Podcast 29: A Sarah Palin Bestiary

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I tried to resist, but like the Obama campaign, I was unable to prevent my narrative from being hijacked. So in the end I gave in and made Podcast 29 the All-Sarah Palin edition.

A recurring theme is how everyone (Sarah herself, Obama, me) can’t help likening her to various animals. By which I mean no disrespect; I think she’s a perfectly nice person. (Or pit bull. Or pig. Or post turtle. Or maybe, if you listen to the podcast and squinch your ears just right, a rabid skunk.)

Anyway, here’s a list of the content I ripped off for this episode:

Palin’s Small Town Values

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Who doesn’t support small town values, right?  Shucks even TIME magazine had an article about those small town values in the last issue.  Mom, apple pie, sock hops and Sunday socials.  When Sarah Palin quoted “a writer” about small towns in her acceptance speech, I wondered what writer?  The answer came from RFK Jr.  and the ever helpful wikipedia.  I am sure gwb’s speech writer chooses his words very carefully, right?


Interest in Pegler was recently revived when Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin quoted him in her acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity”, she said, a Pegler quote that also appeared in the book “Right From the Beginning” by Pat Buchanan. Rather than acknowledging Pegler by name, Palin merely cites ‘a writer’.  The speech was written by Matthew Scully, a senior speech writer for George W. Bush.

Following the Palin acceptance speech New York Times columnist Frank Rich elucidated the political significance of quoting Pegler. Mr. Rich noted that “Pegler was a rabid Joe McCarthyite who loathed F.D.R. and Ike and tirelessly advanced the theory that American Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (“geese”, he called them) were all likely Communists.”  He pointed out that Palin’s use of a quote from “once powerful right-wing Hearst columnist Westbrook Pegler” was intended to send a subtle but unmistakable signal to far right wing supporters.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, expressed outrage about Palin’s quoting of Pegler in her speech.  Referring to Pegler as a “Fascist writer” and an “avowed racist”, he reminded readers of the fact that, when Senator Kennedy considered running for president in 1965, Pegler had expressed hope that ‘some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.’

Pegler’s campaign as a Fascist (or “pro-Nazi” or “antisemite,” etc.) seems to have begun in the late 40s, when Pegler’s column intensified its swipes at such leftist politicians as Henry Wallace and pro-Wallace journalists such as Ralph Ingersoll of New York’s PM newspaper.

There you have it.  Small town values like Pegler’s.  Where violent words beget violent deeds.  It is a lie to say that you are for decency when you include references from a fascist/anti-semite author in your GOP acceptance speech.  It is a lie to say you will represent all the people of these United States when this is your dog whistle shout out to the not-so-far right wing.  I am all for “honesty and sincerity and dignity” but I am beginning to suspect that some people may be severely lacking in just these crucial traits.   Obama continues to appeal to the angels of our better nature, but some people are driven solely by demons.

McCain’s Zapatero Gaffe

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

It’s an immutable law of political theater: It’s not the crime that gets you into the most trouble. It’s the (attempted) cover-up.

Let’s roll the tape. The fun part starts around 2:58 from the beginning:

Now look at what McCain’s foreign policy advisor, Randy Sheunemann, is saying:

Asked to explain McCain’s apparent shift in tone and position since April, Scheunemann gave almost no ground.

“In this week’s interview, Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero, a NATO ally,” he said in an e-mail. “If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America’s adversaries. It’s called keeping your options open, unlike Senator Obama, who has publicly committed to meeting some of the world’s worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office.”


Kevin Drum: No Mas:

Conventional wisdom said it was just a minor gaffe. Or maybe John McCain didn’t hear the question right during his radio interview with WSUA 1260 in Miami yesterday. But no: it turns out that, as a matter of policy, McCain refuses to commit to meeting with the prime minister of Spain if he’s elected president.

Joshua Marshall: Chin-scratching bigtime on McCain’s Zapatero Gaffe:

Whether it was because of ignorance, confusion or inability to understand what the interviewer was saying, McCain clearly didn’t understand what he was being asked. And rather than stop and say, I didn’t understand your question, could you restate it?, (Or, who are you referring to?) he decided to wing it and assumed he was being asked a question about another Latin American strong man bad guy. This is simply the only credible explanation that takes account of all the evidence. I think it’s a generous read to conclude that the only issue was that McCain couldn’t understand the interviewer’s accent. But it’s definitely possible. Even that, though, puts McCain in a pretty bad light.

Equally bad, Randy Scheunemann would rather further inflame Spanish-American relations by ridiculously insisting that McCain knew exactly what he saying than admit the obvious — that he didn’t understand the question. It wouldn’t be that surprising. But given McCain has premised his whole campaign on foreign policy experience they’ve clearly decided it would simply be too damaging to admit he was either a) confused, b) ignorant or c) reckless enough to spout off aggressive remarks when he didn’t even know who he was being asked about.

hilzoy: McCain Chose Vanity:

Think about it. There are a lot of things that the campaign could have said about this incident, many of which are more plausible than what Scheunemann actually said. For instance, they could have said that McCain simply misheard the interviewer, and that of course he would be more than happy to meet with the Prime Minister of Spain. This might well be true; it would certainly be a lot more plausible than saying that his comments about leaders in the hemisphere were somehow responsive to a question about the Prime Minister of Spain. But it would have involved admitting a mistake, and possibly suggesting to some voters age-related concerns like hearing loss.

There are two basic responses to this predicament. First, admit the mistake anyways. Admitting mistakes is tough, but this one is pretty easy to minimize, and probably won’t be that big a deal. In any case, the only thing that really suffers any kind of damage at all is McCain’s vanity. Second, insist that McCain knew who the interviewer was talking about, and meant exactly what he said. In this case, you don’t have to admit error; you just have to say that you really did mean to dis a foreign leader whom we are committed, by treaty, to defend, whose troops are presently fighting in Afghanistan, and whom we have absolutely no earthly reason not to have good relations with.

It’s a choice between vanity and the interests of the country. McCain chose vanity. That’s an important thing to know.

Where’s Bush?

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Something occurred to me this morning about the ongoing financial crisis. Where’s Bush?

In the face of a cataclysmic implosion of the banking and financial services industry, a disaster that has taxpayers on the hook for tens (hundreds?) of billions of dollars because we’re hoping (hoping) that we can thereby stave off something far worse, a crisis where the loss of public confidence is not just a troubling symptom but is in fact the primary engine driving the crisis forward, some happy talk from Fearless Leader would seem like just the thing to calm troubled markets and citizens. So why are we Fearless Leader-less? Why has Bush been invisible?

Partly, I assume, this is because a conscious decision has been made to keep Bush under wraps until after the election. Just as at the Republican Convention, the people trying to get McCain elected would just as soon Bush disappeared completely for the next six weeks. The more Bush is on TV, the more it will remind low-information voters how much they hate the guy, and they’re much more likely to take that hatred out on McCain than on Obama.

There’s something else, too. In a way, this reminds me of the aftermaths of 9/11 and Katrina. As in those cases, we’ve got Bush in a figurative Air Force One, jetting randomly through the nation’s airspace, keeping him safe from threats to his person, yes, but more importantly, safe from live cameras and microphones. Without wanting to minimize the tragedy of those earlier events by comparing them to a crisis where (so far) actual human deaths have been few, we now have yet another situation in which Bush put a bunch of boobs and nitwits in charge, and then Something Unspeakably Horrible happened. Partly the Something Horrible was due to circumstances beyond Bush’s control, but partly, too, to the fact that Bush put a bunch of boobs and nitwits in charge.

So now he’s faced with a situation that is pretty much unspinnable in real time. There’s no way to make a credible case that this is not a catastrophe. Some way is going to have to be found to deflect Bush’s blame to someone else, and creating such an impression in a sufficient mass of minds is not easy. It will take teams of crack image-manipulators, devious, unscrupulous liars with heads like eggplants and souls like black ice. It will take time to see how things are going to fall out, what new information might come to light, how the public will react to it. It will take careful research to identify potential fall guys, do opposition research on them, script the public statements, and get all the stories lined up.

Meanwhile, we the people are left in a familiar situation: wondering where the Leader of the Free World is hiding out.

To the Girl in the Parking Garage

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Hiro pointed this old Craigslist posting out to me: An Apology: To the Girl in the Parking Garage.

I wanted to get off the elevator first to show you that I wasn’t stalking you, to let you walk behind me for a change. Unfortunately, when the elevator doors parted you were off like a horse at the gate. You walked fast, I walked slowly. We were both headed in the same direction, again. It was at this point that I started to become a bit angry, not so much at you, but at the truths of society that helped to create this uncomfortable situation. So I walked slowly, and felt like the killer in a B horror movie who always catches up with the victim no matter how slowly he walks or how quickly the female victim runs.

Funny stuff.

In Which I Write a Cranky Letter to Cathleen Decker of the LA Times

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Subject: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 10:31:50 AM PDT

As your article (“Why do politicians fudge the truth? Because it works”) correctly points out, politicians lie because it helps them win elections. What your article fails to do, though, is to pose, and answer, the obvious followup question: Why does it work? And how is it that a politician can do what the McCain campaign has been doing for the last week and a half (that is, lie blatantly and repeatedly, even continuing to use the same lies after they have been exposed as such) without paying a price for it in terms of public support?

In part, they can do it because of lazy, irresponsible journalism that presents a false equivalence between two things that are not equal. The premise of your piece is that both the McCain campaign and the Obama campaign are engaged in what is essentially the same sort of dishonesty. That is objectively, verifiably false. The McCain campaign is being much more dishonest than the Obama campaign. In fact, the McCain campaign is being more dishonest than any presidential campaign I’ve seen over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been setting new standards for truthfulness. (I will grant you, given the nature of our political campaigns, that that is not a very high bar. But Obama is clearing it. Just as McCain’s tactics represent a new low.)

I don’t know why your article does such a poor job of portraying this reality. I don’t know if it is the result of incompetence and inexperience, or of a cynical decision-making process. I don’t know if you, as the reporter, were primarily to blame, or if the fault lies more with your editors. I do know this, however: As professional journalists in general, and newspaper reporters in particular, struggle to maintain their relevance in the marketplace of ideas, they can’t abandon their primary professional obligation: The accurate reporting of objective truth. Your article fails that test, and fails it badly.

John Callender


Subject: Re: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 11:53:19 AM PDT

The article includes 18 paragraphs on McCain misstatements, to 2 for Obama. Twice it says McCain has been more egregious. I don’t think the full story suggests an equivalence.
Thank you for reading and conversing.
Cathleen Decker
State Politics Editor
Los Angeles Times
Cathleen. Decker@latimes. Com

Subject: Re: Yes, but why does it work?
Date: September 14, 2008 12:59:50 PM PDT

On Sep 14, 2008, at 11:53 AM, Decker, Cathleen wrote:

> The article includes 18 paragraphs on McCain misstatements,
> to 2 for Obama. Twice it says McCain has been more egregious.
> I don’t think the full story suggests an equivalence.

Where does the article say McCain has been more egregious? I can see only one suggestion of that, not two, and the statement is made only indirectly:

‘Political innocents may wonder why a candidate like McCain, whose campaign is premised on what he calls “straight talk” — and to a lesser extent Obama — have veered from the flat truth.’

It’s not immediately clear what that “and to a lesser extent Obama” is referring to. Are you saying that Obama’s campaign has “veered from the flat truth” to a lesser extent than McCain’s? Or that Obama’s campaign is premised on “straight talk” to a lesser extent than McCain’s?

Again, as I stated in my email, this stops short of unambiguously pointing out the objective reality: McCain’s campaign is setting a record for lies, stating outright falsehoods in official campaign advertising and stump speeches, and doing so repeatedly, even after the claims have been publicly and authoritatively debunked by unaffiliated third parties. Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign is guilty of the occasional assertion that, while factually true, could be suspected of creating a misleading impression in voters’ minds. Those two things simply aren’t the same, yet they are presented as such.

Taking the article’s first 6 graphs, I definitely see a suggestion of equivalence. While it’s true that nearly all the specific examples given in the full article are of McCain falsehoods, and that this might lead a reader who is bothering to keep score to the conclusion that McCain’s sins are worse, the article does not state that objective fact — which you clearly are aware of — in clear, unambiguous terms. Why not? That point is central to what your article is _about_. To fail to state it prominently and unambiguously amounts to a lie of omission.

The Obama campaign has actually done a decent job of adhering to the high-road promises he made early on about how he would conduct himself. He has done so even in the face of some low-road campaigning from the Clinton campaign during the primary, and has continued to do so in the face of McCain’s post-convention lies. Yet you characterize the situation like this:

‘Both major party candidates for president vowed to run a different kind of campaign, implicitly promising a break from the spin-fests that past contests had become. But the close race and the tumultuous media environment in which McCain and Obama now find themselves appear to have crushed those notions.’

Yes: the campaign has crushed those notions — but only because the McCain campaign has done the exact opposite of what it promised to do, while the Obama campaign has largely remained true to its promise. To characterize that as the fault of the “close race” and the “tumultuous media environment” is to go out of your way to avoid stating the simple truth: This has happened specifically because the McCain campaign has chosen to blatantly violate the norms of presidential candidate truth-telling (such as they are).

I encourage you to think carefully about the role your own work is playing in this process. The McCain campaign would like to mislead low-information voters by making charges it knows to be untrue, counting on reporters like you to let them off the hook, as you did in today’s article. You owe your readers more than that. You owe them the truth. When you fail to give it to them (as you failed today), you let all of us down.

John Callender

Palin Admits the Obvious on the Bridge to Nowhere

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly talks about the latest piece of the Sarah Palin/Charlie Gibson interview: her acknowledgment that she initially supported the Bridge to Nowhere, and only switched to opposing it (and kept the money and used it for other projects) when it had become a symbol of pork and Congress had cancelled it. More at Palin reverses course on bridge claim.

Benen writes:

Palin explained, “I was for infrastructure being built in the state. And it’s not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure.”

You know what? That’s absolutely true. If a governor wants to go to Congress, hat in hand, and ask for pork-barrel infrastructure earmarks, that’s fine. But here’s the thing: Palin has spent the last two weeks insisting the exact opposite of the truth. It’s not “inappropriate” for Palin to ask for infrastructure money; it’s inappropriate to lie about it.

And as a practical matter, that’s what we’re left with — Palin reluctantly acknowledging to a national television audience that her single favorite talking point is demonstrably false. The anecdote that she used to help introduce herself to the nation was a lie.

The concession leads to two fairly straightforward questions. First, will Palin apologize for having misled voters? And second, are there consequences for a candidate seeking national office who gets caught in this big a lie?

Bug Girl’s Pubic Lice

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Having spent a day contemplating the creepiness that is Sarah Palin’s hypertrophied self-esteem, I needed something to cleanse my mental palate, so to speak. Fortunately, the newly discovered Bug Girl’s Blog had just the thing: I have pubic lice in my mailbox.

As much as that sounds like a euphemism, it isn’t.

More Fallows: Palin on the Bush Doctrine

Friday, September 12th, 2008

This is not just “gotcha”. Palin’s clear lack of familiarity with what “the Bush Doctrine” means tells us something about who she is, as James Fallows explains in the Palin interview.

But first, let’s go to the tape:

Here’s Fallows:

Each of us has areas we care about, and areas we don’t. If we are interested in a topic, we follow its development over the years. And because we have followed its development, we’re able to talk and think about it in a “rounded” way. We can say: Most people think X, but I really think Y. Or: most people used to think P, but now they think Q. Or: the point most people miss is Z. Or: the question I’d really like to hear answered is A.

Here’s the most obvious example in daily life: Sports Talk radio.

Mention a name or theme — Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong’s comeback, Venus and Serena — and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.

People who don’t like sports can’t do that. It’s not so much that they can’t identify the names — they’ve heard of Armstrong — but they’ve never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports — and politics and tech and other topics — so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics — fashion, antique furniture, (gasp) the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (gasp^2) opera — I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion. So I embarrass myself if I have to express a view.

What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the “Bush Doctrine” exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.

As someone who has been noticing the disturbing similarities between Sarah Palin and George W. Bush, I also liked this part of Fallows’ piece:

A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:

1) Ignorance
2) Lack of curiosity
3) “Decisiveness”

That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.

We don’t know about #2 for Palin yet — she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.

The point about Palin’s similarity to Bush is underscored by another part of her Gibson interview, a part that Fallows had not seen yet when he wrote the above:

Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.

“I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.

He asked if that didn’t take some hubris.

“I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t blink. Like George Bush before her, she doesn’t let concerns about her own preparedness or suitability for the task at hand get in the way of confidently and forcibly injecting herself into the center of things. But as we’ve seen with George Bush, that sort of self-confidence is not, in and of itself, a predictor of success.

Leadership, as I’ve said before, is not just having the courage of your convictions, a willingness to take a tough stand and stick with it in the face of nay-sayers. To qualify as a visionary leader, you have to do those things, and then be proven right by subsequent events. If that doesn’t happen, if subsequent events make it clear that actually no, it was those people who voiced concerns about your plan, over whom you ran roughshod in your zeal to provide “leadership”, who were right, then you aren’t a visionary leader. You’re just a stubborn doofus who will confidently lead anyone foolish enough to follow over the edge of a cliff.

I find myself thinking about political conservatives’ grumbling about the dangers of school programs that try to teach all children that they have value, to foster a self-esteem that is disconnected from actual objective accomplishments. I wonder what role such programs might have played in the early psychological development of people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Does such teaching create an environment in which an insecure person can seize on aggressive self-promotion, the nurturing of an out-of-control, outwardly projected self-confidence, as a tool to rise above those with greater abilities but less hubris?

I think it’s probably not the schools’ fault. I think it’s more likely that it’s the parents that are to blame. Again, I’ve written previously about my belief that Bush’s personality defects were probably the result of a really awful upbringing at the hands of an over-achieving, inaccessible father and a vicious, unloving mother. I don’t know anything about Sarah Palin’s upbringing, but if it turns out that she faced similar challenges as a young child, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Here’s a batch of snarky video clips. Consider this my tribute to the restraint the Obama campaign has been showing in not sinking to McCain’s level:

Fallows on the Media on Hillary’s Lies vs. Palin’s

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

James Fallows is interested by the contrast between the mainstream media’s treatment of the Hillary Clinton “hail of Bosnian bullets” lie, and Palin’s “no thanks on those Bridge to Nowhere funds” lie: A controlled experiment.

Good stuff.

Drum on the Media’s Declaration of Irrelevance

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

There’s been a sudden flurry of discussion centering around the specific topic that is this blog’s raison d’etre, so I wanted to mention it.

The Obama campaign started running this attack ad today, in which they actually use the “L” word to describe McCain/Palin’s pushing of the Bridge to Nowhere lie:

And this raises a really interesting question: How is the media going to handle this? Are they going to report the factual truth (that McCain and Palin are flat-out lying, and in a way that has been demonstrated to be a lie)? Or are they going to report it as just another controversy between two sides?

It kind of matters. McCain/Palin are making an explicit strategy out of selling a version of their biographies that, at least in her case, is directly contradicted by the facts. (The version of McCain’s biography they’re trying to sell is also dishonest and false-to-fact, but in a less stark way than Palin’s.) See this item in the Washington Post, for example: McCain, Palin push biography, not issues.

Steve Benen had a really interesting write-up of some back-and-forth that happened on CNN about this (Making a story “stick”):

Roberts wrapped up the segment, concluding, “We still have 56 days to talk about this back and forth.”

But therein lies the point. The nation doesn’t need 56 days of “back and forth.” We don’t need 56 seconds of “back and forth.” There’s an objective truth here, and CNN, as a neutral, independent news source, is supposed to tell viewers what the facts are.

But CNN can’t do that, because reality has a well known liberal bias. If Roberts conceded that Begala was telling the truth about demonstrable facts, then he’d be “taking sides.” For a media figure to acknowledge that a candidate for national office is lying shamelessly would be wholly unacceptable — it would break with the “balance” between competing arguments.

The viewer at home hears one side, then the other. Who’s right? That’s not CNN’s problem.

Glenn Greenwald chimed in today on a dispute between Marc Ambinder and Matt Yglesias involving the media’s handling of the Bridge to Nowhwere story, where Ambinder wrote:

To move to a Greenwaldian debate about the duties, obligations and frustrations of the press — well — read elsewhere if you want to play that game. I’ll abstain.

But Ambinder, who writes for The Atlantic, is a professional journalist, and as Greenwald points out, he does have an obligation to report that blatant lies are, in fact, blatant lies. That journalists have been increasingly willing to be played by liars lately, that they’ve reached the point where they now feel at liberty to mock, as Ambinder does, the idea that they have a duty to report the truth as they know it, is really quite significant, it seems to me.

Kevin Drum, in A bridge to somewhere, had this to say:

And not to get too sanctimonious about this, but this really is a test of some kind for the press. This lie is unusually egregious given the plain facts of the situation (Palin was eagerly supportive of the bridge until after Congress pulled the earmark, at which point she reluctantly decided to take the money but use it for other projects), and if the media allows the McCain campaign to get away with this – if they relegate it to occasional closing paragraphs and page A9 fact checks – well, that means McCain knows he can pretty much get away with anything. The press will be writing its own declaration of irrelevance.

I think that hits it on the head. If the mainstream news media aren’t going to tell the truth about this (I don’t mean the Fox News-style media here, but the real media), then it will mean a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between them and me.

This Is Not 2004

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

There’s some gloom and doom floating around, especially from those who were already in something of a gloom-and-doom place. Adam at Mighty Forces writes in Taking the high road:

Every time Barack Obama says some variation of “I trust the judgment of the American people,” I hear one word:


I feel bad for Adam. I think he’s suffering from Battered Voter Syndrome, identifying with his aggressor. I think it’s probably similar to what has brought John McCain to his current place (not speaking so much of his time in a Vietnamese prison cell, but of his defeat in the 2000 presidential election at the hands of the same cynical, dishonest operatives that he’s allied himself with now).

I don’t want to come off like a Pollyanna. But I think there’s plenty of reason for hope. I offer the following evidence:

1. The polls, and the fundamental rejection of the current administration. Not the day-to-day noise and the predictable (and predictably short-lived) post-convention bounce McCain is enjoying, but the deeper realities of what the numbers actually show, overall. This is not 2004. McCain is not Bush (his proposed policies notwithstanding). Obama is not Kerry.

I’m not convinced it’s really useful to pay too much attention to polls anyway, but if you’re going to, at least do it right; you can’t freak out over every jitter. See the following from Nate Silver at for an example of what I mean by “doing it right”: First look at the new electoral map.

At a macro level, these numbers seem like basically good news for Obama, since the overall numbers in swing states haven’t moved much at all – just shifted around some from region to region. McCain is polling about 3 points better right now than he was at the pre-convention equilibrium. It’s possible that those 3 points are manifesting themselves mostly in states that were already very red. Maybe Obama will lose Idaho and Nebraska and Alabama by 30 points rather than 20, but that doesn’t help McCain very much electorally (an exception might be in a state like Indiana).

In other words, I suspect that the probability of Obama winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote probably increased as a result of the post-convention dynamics. If you literally just looked at the polling out today, McCain would win the popular vote by 2-3 points, but Obama would probably be at least even money in the electoral college, by just barely holding onto Michigan and Pennsylvania and then either winning the Colorado/Iowa/New Mexico parlay, or perhaps Florida.

2. The comments of Talking Points Memo reader JA, as quoted by Josh Marshall in Change:

The McCain campaign wanted to frame this election on experience, but had to abandon that when the polls didn’t move. The surge issue has likewise attracted no great interest. Although McCain continues to discuss it, as a theme, he has ditched it in favor of this murky “change/reform” theme. (By selecting Sarah Palin, the campaign has officially ceded the point.) This all works to Obama’s advantage because if the discussion becomes one of change, it must necessarily shift to policy–the last place McCain wants to go. But he’s backed himself into a corner.

Obama has run his general campaign with exactly the kind of pacing he ran the primary. It’s not always clear why he’s doing certain things because they don’t correspond to the daily news cycle. That’s because he has planned the entire campaign in advance. You can see how he’s hit his marks as he’s gone along: after he won the primary, he immediately tacked right and demonstrated his “working across the aisles” theme. The trip abroad was designed to elevate him to a presidential figure and deflate the claims of his inexperience. The convention was a way to simultaneously build momentum among the base and lay a foundation for elevating the discussion above Rovian BS and placing it directly on issues via the change argument.

3. Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community, in Don’t panic:

New national polls suggest that McCain has gotten a solid bounce out of the GOP convention. But let’s keep a few things in mind:

1) These polls suggest a race that is dead-even.

2) This is close to the high water-mark for the Republicans: all three polls were taken entirely after the convention.

3) There is no record of a convention bounce NOT fading.

In other words, Obama is still in very good shape. This hardly means anything is in the bag, but with the fundamentals so strongly leaning Democratic, I’d rather be in our position than theirs. They’ve had a week’s worth of uninterrupted campaign ads, and they still can’t establish a lead.

One is tempted to recall Muhammed Ali’s question to George Foreman at the end of the 7th round of the Rumble in the Jungle: “Is that all you got?” Ali knocked him out in the next round.

Give money. Go to Nevada. Go to New Mexico. Go to Virginia. Go to Ohio. Call. Knock on doors. We’re going to win this.

I’m not all sunshine-and-rainbows myself; I thought this contest would be over by now, and it’s clearly not. The McCain people have done a scarily good job of getting back into it.

But what we’ve basically got here is a reset. This is a time-out with two minutes remaining and the score tied. We can mope about the lead we used to have. We can beat ourselves up wondering why we’re not crushing the other guy, the way the pre-game scouting reports led us to think we would.

Or we can lace up our sneakers and get back on the court and win this thing.

Adam, I hope some of this helps you feel at least somewhat better. It may not be enough to lift your demons; demons are tricky that way. So I think I’ll leave you with some Coldplay. In a contest between demons and Coldplay, I’ll put my money on Coldplay every time:

Sing out, yeah
Oh, oh, yeah
Come on, yeah
And everything’s not lost

History of the Browser User-agent String

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Thanks to Hiro for pointing this out to me: History of the browser user-agent string.

In the beginning there was NCSA Mosaic, and Mosaic called itself NCSA_Mosaic/2.0 (Windows 3.1), and Mosaic displayed pictures along with text, and there was much rejoicing.

I’m currently getting ready to go do some volunteering in my son’s 5th grade class, teaching them some basic Web stuff, and thinking back to those early days has me feeling nostalgic. Anyway, I really liked this. It builds to a nice climax.

Jon Shoots, Scores…

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Summing up the latest spin from the McCain campaign and its supporters, Jon Stewart gives us this:

Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan’s Live-Mic Moment

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

What’s that definition of a “gaffe”? “When a public figure accidentally tells the truth”?

Check out conservative pundits Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan from earlier today, being interviewed by Chuck Todd of MSNBC, and then, after he cuts away, their audio stays live, and you get to hear what bigwigs on the right are actually saying to each other (and to their chums in the evil “liberal media”) about the Palin situation when the little people aren’t watching:


Chuck Todd: Mike Murphy, lots of free advice, we’ll see if Steve Schmidt and the boys were watching. We’ll find out on your blackberry. Tonight voters will get their chance to hear from Sarah Palin and she will get the chance to show voters she’s the right woman for the job Up next, one man who’s already convinced and he’ll us why Gov. Jon Huntsman.
(cut away)

Peggy Noonan: Yeah.

Mike Murphy: You know, because I come out of the blue swing state governor world: Engler, Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush. I mean, these guys — this is how you win a Texas race, just run it up. And it’s not gonna work. And —

PN: It’s over.

MM: Still McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech to do himself some good.

CT: I also think the Palin pick is insulting to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, too.

PN: Saw Kay this morning.

CT: Yeah, she’s never looked comfortable about this —

MM: They’re all bummed out.

CT: Yeah, I mean is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

PN: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this — excuse me– political bullshit about narratives —

CT: Yeah they went to a narrative.

MM: I totally agree.

PN: Every time the Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and it’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.

MM: You know what’s really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.

CT: This is cynical, and as you called it, gimmicky.

MM: Yeah.

What Dan Froomkin Said

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Writing about the coverage of the Palin selection, Dan Froomkin of the WaPo says:

One of the problems with modern political journalism is that when something manifestly absurd takes place, as long as there are people willing to argue both sides, our top reporters feel obliged to treat it as deserving of serious debate…

What possible reason is there to nominate someone so lacking in gravitas for the vice presidency? In this case, of course, it couldn’t be more obvious that Palin’s selection has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with governance. Palin’s gender and her hard-right credentials were clearly seen by McCain’s top advisers as just what the campaign needed.

Whether that was a clever or suicidal political calculation remains to be seen. It’s certainly looking more and more like it was a reckless one. But it doesn’t just strain credulity – it pulverizes it – to suggest that she is the best and most qualified person McCain could find for the job.

It’s a tremendous failure of political reporting that such patent spin from McCain supporters is being treated like a supportable position. By contrast, it seems to me that anyone suggesting that Palin was selected for anything other than political reasons should be considered presumptively a liar from this point on.