This is the first political convention, or indeed national election, that I've had the opportunity to observe on cable. I have been without cable by choice most of my adult life--my work ethic is hard enough to maintain without a continuous faucet of entertainment to distract me. The problem is that I find myself hypnotized by the choice, surfing from channel to channel in the belief that there must be something interesting on. Additionally, one is paying for it and there is the impulse to get one's money's worth. Whereas with broadcast TV the urge to turn it off comes a lot more easily, as all I want to see on that is ABC News, and reruns of shows like The West Wing or Seinfeld.
But I happened into a household that already had it, so there we go. But this gives me the opportunity to compare the way the various news outlets, both cable and broadcast, cover the convention and race. I have to say I'm hard-pressed to find the major difference, apart from personnel, between CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Fox, and found myself either watching the uninterrupted coverage via C-Span or else turning to ABC or PBS.
There were comparatively few moments where pundits didn't interrupt speeches, a notable example being Chris Matthews' cutting Al Sharpton's surprisingly eloquent and hard-hitting speech(one of the few directly critical of Bush, and the party had it early on that night to keep it out of prime-time, as they did with most of the more left-wing of the speakers, like Kucinich or Dean).
Fox in particular used their news crawl to undercut speaker after speaker (John Edwards for one) with coarse and misleading summaries of their comments or information thrown in at the proper moment to diminish them. Meanwhile "YELLOW ALERT" zips by about four times a minute in the sub-crawl at the bottom of the screen. Fox, which is an agency of the executive branch, apparently being the only people left in the country who even pay attention; incidentally, "yellow" means low threat level, but most don't know what the colors mean, so to some out there, the very suggestion of the presence of an alert of any sort while Edward is speaking will make some jump to exactly the sort of conclusions Fox would like them to.
To be honest, the only distinction between Fox's competitors and Fox itself, as far as I could discern, is that Fox is unrelentingly bent on spreading propaganda memes and Karl Rove talking points, and attacking the Kerry campaign, whereas its competitors occasionally report on something else. But both night and day, Fox hammered away, mostly on the tack that this convention was boring and safe, and no threat to Bush. This was because the Democrats gave them little or nothing to work with.
Mostly when watching Fox I am wondering what America they're talking about; it seems to be news from some parallel world where liberals rule all media and politics and Fox stands as a shining beacon of dissent in the wilderness. One gets the feeling, as with Ann Coulter, that liberals are poised to destroy them at all costs and have any ability to do so. Or perhaps the sort of news program you'd get if you cleaned up a bunch of mental patients, and put them in suits before a teleprompter. I have no idea what country Fox is describing. A friend, the actor Brian Sichelle, told me the name of their country. "Welcome to Republika," he said. This would explain why for the past four years I haven't felt much at home here.
Hopefully we will not be living in Republika much longer.
Coulter Reveals More Than She Thinks I realize the very thought that Ann Coulter might "think" anything is in itself a bit of a contradiction in terms. To this day I find it shocking that she is published anywhere, to be frank, or that anyone considers her opinion of any value(though the fact that even USA TODAY spiked a piece of hers on the Democratic convention because, among other reasons, it was "unreadable," a charitable assessment of her usual work), but at the same time, if that's the best the conservatives can muster, let her rant. She makes the GOP look worse every time she starts typing or talking.
But ever since she was ejected from the NATIONAL REVIEW she has tried to reposition herself as some kind of conservative voice in the wilderness, a lone, valiant keeper of the conservative flame. See, it can't be that her opinion is even too radical for the right wing that runs this country, or that she embarrasses them by speaking their actual beliefs without the relative intelligence of tact, or that she's just a very bad writer and a many-times-proven liar to boot and, in a more professional media world, they'd have burned press credentials before tossing them anywhere near her.
No, she finds herself estranged from the conservative mainstream because they're too liberal for her. Coulter is the brand of conservative that can only have the slightest relevance in crisis, because her brand, fascism, is an overreaction to crisis. So the premise that all her "work" focuses upon is that liberals run the media and the country...
Of course, Democrats have never had to face the sound chamber of an all-conservative media. (They will in my gulag.)
...and that, in order to remain in office, Bush is trying to appeal more to liberals in some way. Or so she claims in this idiotic column from last week.
Specifically she seems to be saying there are now serious rumblings in the GOP camp about replacing Cheney, whom Coulter appears to consider a like-minded conservative.
This is what Republicans are like today. They swear up and down not to trust the liberal media, but as soon as that very media demonize some Republican, half our party is ready to dump him. Currently the Republican liberals would most like to see gone is Dick Cheney. There's a basketful of Republicans I'd be very pleased to see removed from office. Dick Cheney ain't one of them.
Never mind the paranoia of the idea that liberals of any kind have any power over what the Bush camp decides to do. But read between the lines. Much of the rest of the column is a somewhat lame defense of sticking to the hard right and saying to do otherwise would be gutless. Examples of candidates thought too hard right for the mainstream but were good for the GOP in the end, like Reagan, are given. Conservatives are told not to lose heart against the liberals in the media and in their party.
We can therefore assume that there is enough of a split going on, whether Cheney is re-selected(he will be) or not to scare Coulter into giving such a "don't lose heart, comrades" speech. You can tell the desperation when she names Ken Starr as another thought too hard right, and says this:
Ken Starr -- who was responsible for the impeachment and utter humiliation of Bill Clinton
You can practically hear her lick her lips after that last part. Actually, after all Ken Starr's efforts and despite impeachment, Clinton remained and served out the rest of his term, and to this day inspires fierce love and respect in a great many people, as witnessed as recently as Monday night. (I keep wondering just what it was about peace and prosperity we're supposed to look back upon badly) To these jaded eyes, for Starr's part, that looks like failure. But it did result in the political destruction of the man she mentions right before Starr:
Newt Gingrich -- who produced the jaws-of-life to tear Congress from the Democrats
In any case, it's great to know that her side is panicky. Without Ann Coulter it'd be much more difficult to interpret the GOP id.
...at least so far. So good, in fact, that Fox has been doing everything it can to dismiss it or to favor pundits talking rather than the speeches. During Ron Reagan's gutsy and eloquent veiled attack on the Bush administration regarding stem cell research, the crawl underneath him reminded the audience that he was a talk show host and an editor of Playboy, as though this was supposed to undercut the standing of what he was saying. Afterward Sean Hannity asked Michael Reagan if Nancy Reagan would have approved of this(as she's been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration for their stance on stem cell research, I think we can assume she approved), and Michael whined, "Ron can do no wrong. He's always been her favorite." Aww, poor Michael. All the other presidential children acting as pundits got to go on real networks like ABC or CNN. But Fox is always willing to pay a few bucks for a handjob, aren't they?
Then there was Newt Gingrich during another speech attempting to use the word "liberal" as many times as he could in a sentence. Scared yet? Such a horrible, horrible word! And then Brit Hume reads aloud response e-mails from the Bush campaign, as though there had been any doubt before that Fox News is no more than the voice of the Bush White House.The tone of the Republican response has mostly just been dismissive and "don't be fooled" stuff. That means that a message must be getting across to the US and they want to marginalize that message. So then the Democrats must be doing something right here.
Very powerful speakers, from Clinton's excellent wonkonomic and careful indictment of Bush, the dignity and strength of Teresa Heinz-Kerry's speech(to a stupid conservative journalist: you just try to keep someone who came from a police state from speaking her damn mind, and "shove it" from me as well), the brilliant debut of Barack Obama(who a CNN wag attempted to confuse with "Osama") and The Democrats are almost insanely disciplined in the Clintonesque-positive mode of criticizing Bush purely on the facts, avoiding cheap shots, and focusing on the actual problems in need of solutions. It's the playbook from 1992 and it's the strategy that works for the party. Republicans perceive Democrats as weak. If you follow the punditsphere enough you'll notice that the way conservatives take over the argument from liberals is attempting to put across the idea that if a liberal disagrees with them it's due to bias. This is because liberals are supposed to be accepting of all points of view. If a conservative's point of view is that theirs is the only right one then the liberal is not being a good liberal if they do not respect it.
That's not working anymore. Now the Democrats realize that the corollary to this is that they're the ones you run to for hope. Negative campaigning doesn't work for anyone but the GOP because it's them one runs to out of fear. But when you're sick of the way the GOP uses your fear in aid of their own agenda and notice gee, I've been out of work for a long time even though I supported this Republican president, you're an idiot not to vote Democrat. And particularly with this president, who is driving this nation into the ground and has squandered each chance to do good.
No, the Clinton technique is a simple one. Stick to the main point. When the GOP starts throwing negative spew at a Democratic candidate the stupidest thing that candidate can do is respond. The GOP wants their opponent to waste their time, energy and money answering such accusations, as Dukakis did or many of Nixon's potential opponents in 1972 did. This way the GOP controls the terms of debate, which ends up being no debate at all. The last thing the GOP wants to debate this time around--or ever--is issues. Their expertise, if anything, is in types of propaganda, generating false images of character. Therefore they want to confine the playing field to false questions about false definitions of character. Whereas in 1992 Clinton knocked many of those issues out of the debate firmly and stayed on message, so that by the time November came Clinton was talking about the economy and Bush was talking about Clinton. So with this Bush: just see what happens when you make him run on his record. And by September the Republicans will be stuck defending said record; as far as the last Democratic administration is concerned, it's kind of hard to make people remember peace and prosperity with dread.
I think that the Republicans will regret bumping their convention up to September in New York. They're doing this to take advantage of the September 11 anniversary. But meanwhile the Democratic message is going through all the media and will dominate much of the rest of the summer, leaving the Republicans with nothing to do but attack. And be stuck having a tastelessly timed convention that will do nothing but remind America how much Bush has not done to make any of us safer and what pain and fear he actually brought us.
Sure, Karl Rove could have our defenses stand down again and allow one of the average of 600 terrorist attacks that our country routinely bats aside through again to Manhattan as he did before, but that would look kind of funny. It would only work if Bush was willing to go through with calling himself a dictator.
A good sign in all this is that the conservatives are being very dismissive of this convention so far. That's what they do when they can't think of an actual attack. They instead try to marginalize.
Meanwhile, in order to squeeze as much of the Democratic message off the air as they can(I can't wait to see how they try to minimize Clinton closing tonight, and Carter is shortly to speak), Fox is letting Nader's eye twitch as Bill O'Reilly fills up time "debating" him. I swear, how can anyone think this would be a great president, as some--very few this time--unfortunately do? Every time he talks, he sounds like some old guy yelling at the kids to get off his lawn.
Right Message, Wrong SongRight Message, Wrong Song
The Democratic National Convention has opened in Boston and so far you have your usual boring speakers to build up to the prime time coverage, and various delegates spread out to disseminate the message of the Democrats to Chris Matthews and the like. It's not unlike the pre-show of the Oscars, especially in that there was a very unfortunate choice of music as the first song played: "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge. Come on! At least using Fleetwood Mac in 1992 showed some taste. (Hey, imagine if it had been the Eagles) If they play "Celebration" I'm voting for the socialist candidate. (That is a joke, but only barely) I ask my readers now: please send me a list of better songs appropriate to a convention and I will do my best to get these playlists to the party and bug them till they use it. The Democrats are supposed to be the ones with cool taste in music, and yet it drives me crazy that Rush Limbaugh uses part of "My City Was Gone" by the Pretenders as the theme for his show. Republicans shouldn't even know what music is.
So far though the message seems to be focused on defining the race on the Democrats' own terms, around the theme of "making America respected in the world again." If they stick with this rather than fighting defensively against Republican attacks they should do well. In 1992 Bill Clinton ran his race like Bush was merely in the way, that Clinton had a positive vision for this country. Bush spent the whole campaign attacking Clinton and showing no positive reason to vote for him, and we all recalled the tax pledge, saw the recession, and in general 1992 was a dark year(not the least because of a cloud of volcanic ash that made the world a little darker that year and which I only found out about later; and hasn't it seemed unusually dark and cold late in the year lately?) and Bush seemed an irrelevant, incompetent relic of the past that seemed to think it should be re-elected for no other reason than that they'd inherited the presidency from Reagan. But Bush seemed to stand for nothing but not being Bill Clinton.
This Bush is at a particular disadvantage, not the least being his sleazy, untrustworthy VP Cheney, not a good contrast with the youthful and positive Edwards--whom I believe will not shy away from direct attack on Cheney once the debates begin this fall. But also Kerry actually served in Vietnam, as a pilot if I'm not mistaken. Contrast this with AWOL Bush playing pilot in his little Top Gun suit. Karl Rove will rue those pictures. But then, he's on record as already feeling that way.
And a bit of hubbub occurred when, upon being accused of saying something which she did say but not in the context she was accused of, Theresa Heinz-Kerry told the accusing right-wing journalist, "You said I said something I didn't say. Now shove it." Good for her. How can the Bush camp make any hay from that after Cheney's "big-time asshole" remark about Adam Clymer of the New York Tomes during the 2000 campaign?
The media have been making much of the fact that corporations are not barred from spending as much as they wish on candidates during the convention, an example being a fireworks show put on over Boston last night for Nancy Pelosi. Of course, the very idea that candidates from either party don't take corporate donations is unthinkable now, though it'd be nice if it weren't so. But as the GOP is having their convention this September, the media will have exhausted the corporate money angle by then. So it ends up sticking only to the Democrats.
And then there's the Free Speech concentration camp, the fenced-off area many blocks from the convention center where protests are allowed. As more and more build up in there I'd like to see how that will hold for long, and what will the level of rage be by then? We'll see...
I can understand if Nader doesn't want to be a Democrat, but does this mean he must then embrace the far right? The far right would not accept him if he had any power to do anything except draw Democratic and independent votes away from Kerry/Edwards. But he's willing to make this deal with the devil for reasons that can only be ego or delusion. I cannot believe that Nader does not understand the Republicans are on the exact opposite side from him, whereas the Democrats just aren't as left as he'd like. Unless he is just pursuing strange and petty revenge against the Democrats, which certainly was the case in 1996(I did vote for him that year) and 2000(I voted Gore and still would).
It is true that he acts, still, functionally as though Bush does not exist, or that Bush has not already shown his malice and incompetence. But it's a classic character flaw of the old-line left that they only have enough guts to attack their own and ignore their real enemy in time wasted squabbling. There is no way unless one is completely ignorant of all news in the past four years that one can say the two choices are indistinguishable. Kerry is boring, yes. I would, however, much prefer a boring president to a dangerous and dumb one.
A personal note: Outside the premiere of Suspension of Disbelief a month ago, thrilled that the show had gone so well, I had this natural high disrupted when I went outside for a cigarette and was confronted by a Nader supporter using all these same tired arguments in my face, and spoke--an awful lot like a Republican would--a lot about the deficiencies of Clinton and Gore and other people who aren't running in this particular fucking election. And I simply told her to get away from me. I'm not even interested in discussing it anymore. I'm voting to unseat Bush, pure and simple. Not that she had the courtesy to move on to someone else. "A vote for either candidate is a vote for Skull & Bones!" Thing about that is that most upper-class sorts who have gone to Yale have been members of Skull & Bones. I realize that as this was Wicker Park, and most there are left-leaning politically naive bohemians who haven't the patience to follow the news in detail and find it much easier to settle on the warm cozy all-encompassing embrace of conspiracy theory, but for my own part I'm not really interested in conspiracy theory when there are real bastards right there committing, and getting away with, their abuse of power right in front of my eyes. So I didn't really take this Nader supporter seriously nor was I interested in hearing her 4-year-old apologia out. I realize that's very illiberal of me, but do I care? Nope.
I don't even believe Nader would be a good president. Whenever the subject has come up he's been more than a little contemptuous of the idea of compromising with, or working with, Congress, and seems to believe, much like Perot, that it's simply a matter of being emphatic with Congress. If Nader were president he'd alienate all of Congress his very first day, and become isolated and powerless, not being a king. He would simply be no good at the job. I wonder where Nader got any reputation as a political thinker in the first place. As far as I recall he's only ever been pretty much a consumer-rights advocate.
Think of it from another angle though. If Ralph is indeed the true "left-wing" candidate, why then does he need so much support from Republicans and other right-wingers? Is it that there are far fewer on the left than the right, despite even Fox following the conventional wisdom that this country is divided 50-50 politically? Or perhaps the left is merely apathetic? God knows there's nothing going on that could get lefties worked up...
Or perhaps the left has realized that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush and aren't giving him any support. The Green party, to their credit, have emphatically rejected him (and it looks as though the Reform party will too, which leaves him only with our own Silly Party, the New Alliance party, described by Christopher Hitchens as a "cult"). It appears Nader has, in short, little or no support except from the right.
Which leads one to a very amusing possibility. The right may, in their usual unimaginative and literal way, take the concept of "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" too much to heart and forget that it's only a vote for Bush if it draws a vote away that would have gone to a Democrat. What if the right votes Nader even during the election?
Abu Ghraib: SALO Part UmpteenthBuggering Kids at Abu Ghraib: SALO Part Umpteenth
You didn't honestly think it wasn't going to turn out to be even worse, given that the first photos we saw from Abu Ghraib were from the very beginning of the occupation? A year can be a long time.
No, it's much worse. It really is SALO. It appears our fine soldiers, or whatever you want to call them now, were also raping children, according to a Pentagon videotape mentioned by none other than Seymour Hersh in a transcript of a recent speech.This portion comes about 1:30:00 into the videotape of the speech:
"Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."
"It's impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there? When I did My Lai I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened. I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had, I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers and so we're dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher, and we have to get to it and we will. We will. You know there's enough out there, they can't (Applause). .... So it's going to be an interesting election year."
Obviously Hersh is a traitorous liar out to unfairly hold our president to concepts such as responsibility. If our soldiers were buggering children, I'm sure they had a good reason. These men and women are professionals! Dubya Dubya Uber Alles!
Kerry Does Something RightKerry Does Something Right
Or at least does something. He named my man John Edwards as VP candidate, showing very good judgement.
He has not been particularly attacking Bush so far. Probably smart of him to have been laying low and let the plain facts of Iraq and the economy drive Bush down by themselves, then once we know he's done and he can only campaign defensively, come in like Clinton as a positive alternative and the candidate of change. Which seems to have worked: Bush's poll ratings last week were down to the terminal velocity point of 42%. Meanwhile 64% of Americans, the most since Gore as VP, approved of Kerry's choice of Edwards.
To quote Al Sharpton on CNN last night, I can't wait to see him debate Cheney. And grind that old cyborg into the dirt. Now I can see a Clintonesque rout in store for our unwanted, unelected ratfucking chimp of a president no matter how much money he wastes on ineffective ads.
They've already tried to attack Edwards as a rich trial lawyer. Except that he got rich by defending individuals against corporations. Oops...
I can't wait for the conventions.
In other news, check out this article about how the Bush administration legalized torture:
Reading through the memoranda written by Bush administration lawyers on how prisoners of the "war on terror" can be treated is a strange experience. The memos read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison. Avoiding prosecution is literally a theme of the memoranda. Americans who put physical pressure on captives can escape punishment if they can show that they did not have an "intent" to cause "severe physical or mental pain or suffering." And "a defendant could negate a showing of specific intent...by showing that he had acted in good faith that his conduct would not amount to the acts prohibited by the statute."
These quotations are from a draft report to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by an ad hoc group of lawyers he chose, mostly political appointees in the Defense and other departments, to advise him on interrogation techniques for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The report is dated March 6, 2003; on the title page it says, "Classified by: Secretary Rumsfeld."
Another theme in the memoranda, an even more deeply disturbing one, is that the President can order the torture of prisoners even though it is forbidden by a federal statute and by the international Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party.
Well of course it sounds like the mob. Haven't y'all been paying attention? That's what they act like and that's what they are. If it quacks like a duck, etc. Right?
Here's a tidbit on the fun at Gitmo:
A British subject who was detained at Guantánamo, Tarek Dergoul, and who was released and sent home to Britain last March, said he was chained to the floor in an interrogation room for long periods, alone. Eventually he would have to urinate, on himself. "As soon as I wet myself, a woman MP would come in yelling, 'Look what you've done! You're disgusting.'"
Final performances of my little masterpiece SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF at Chicago Actor's Studio in Wicker Park, Chicago this weekend.(Call 773-419-5001 for reservations right away) Check out the most vicious review ever written, by Jennifer Vanasco in the Chicago Reader:
"The play is violent, ridiculous (and not in a good, existentialist kind of way, which is clearly its aim), and mildly offensive...Roberson is unsure of his message and seems to hate everything about the stage and screen... all the characters [are] vicious and unredeemable."
I scarred her! I scarred her! Who could ask for more?
"Eternity in the company of Beelzebub, and all of his hellish instruments of death, will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me & this pencil." --E. Blackadder, 1789 Questionable
words & pictures from John Linton Roberson