Tuesday, August 27, 2002

A hilarious piece of satire from The Onion today that comes a little too close for comfort: Exiled American King Triumphantly Returns To Washington. The best passage, funny in a shivery way, reports that "Citizens were overjoyed by the monarchic restoration. 'Huzzah!' said Diane Sowell of State College, PA. 'At long last, we are rid of that corrupt, antiquated system of government known as democracy, a system that has done nothing but maintain the status quo of political inequality, economic stagnation, and social injustice. Our good king will change all that.'"

Really it is hardly a joke when the White House issues statements seriously contending that if the president's own lawyers say he does have to consult Congress about going to war, then he doesn't. Perhaps it was felt that Gen. Musharraf was on to something when he amended Pakistan's constitution by decree a few days ago.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Mickey Kaus: Inside the Beltway and Lost in the Blogosphere
Noted blogger and onetime quasi-liberal journalist Mickey Kaus, of Slate now seemingly an appendage of the Republican party, is clearly living in some alternate universe where raising taxes hasn't been politically impossible for better than two decades (unless the taxes are disproportionately hard on the poor.) It certainly shows how far Kaus's experience and vision doe NOT extend beyond Washington, D.C. "It's easier to raise taxes than it is to cut spending," he writes, desperately looking for some way to defend the return to Reagan era policies of defense increases and tax cuts that will surely create a huge new deficit. Out here in Missouri, the roads are falling apart, many of the schools are substandard, the state universities have high tuitions but can barely afford books and journals for the libraries, among many other things, because of underfunding. My university's budget was cut by something like 10% and they are still having to consider things like layoffs and campus closings! Yet we (including the legislature and the voters in a recent referendum) still can't raise taxes here to save our lives. And the federal tax cuts are making it all far worse. Thanks for the brilliant insights, Mickey. I dub thee Michael the Shrubber.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

The New York Times "Week in Review" piece on the political fallout from the stock market decline gives us just a little taste of just how conservative a force even the bastions of the so-called liberal press has become. We learn about "a rift between those Democrats . . . who want to pursue a populist us-versus-them strategy for retaking the House and the White House, and pro-business centrists . . . who want to avoid a lurch leftward." See, those Democrats who actually want to rethink the party's pro-business tilt in recent years, which has made them complicit in the radical deregulation, privatization, and market fundamentalism that have gotten us to fix we are now in, are guilty of mindless "lurching." What could be more mindless and distasteful than actually responding to changed circumstances or the actual problems faced by their constituents? What, show some partisan backbone and offer actual alternatives to Republican policies? Talk openly about who benefits from current economic trends and policies and who doesn't? Recognize that the interests of "investors" and the interests of working Americans don't always coincide? Mention the fact that we are now dealing with the most anti-democratic administration since John Adams, and possibly the most nakedly self-interested and cynical one ever? Why that would be an icky "us-versus-them strategy"? And we know, especially now, that Wall Street always has everyone's best interests at heart. It's just mean to suggest otherwise. And don't even get me started on the pallid caricature of "populism" that the media rolls out every time a Democrat raises his or her voice, rare as such occasions are.

Saturday, June 29, 2002

There is a common technique in modern commercial journalism that I like to call "the disappearing subject." This is where the media's obvious role in some development is elided by shifting to passive voice, personifying an ongoing story (as when "questions dog" a political candidate) or otherwise removing the actor from a sentence. A complex example appears in a New York Times story today on the accounting scandals, Tweaking Numbers to Meet Goals Comes Back to Haunt Executives

"On Wall Street, it is called backing in.

"Each quarter, analysts at securities firms forecast the profit per share of the companies they cover. Companies whose profit falls short of the consensus estimate can be severely punished, their stocks falling 10 percent or more in a day.

"So some companies do whatever they have to to make sure they do not miss that estimate. Instead of first figuring out their sales and subtracting expenses to calculate the profit, they work backward. They start with the profit that investors are expecting and manipulate their sales and expenses to make sure the numbers come out right.

"During the last decade's boom, as executive pay was increasingly based on how the company's stock performed, backing in became both more widespread and more aggressive. Just how much so is only now becoming clear."

Obviously the villains here are the analysts and the companies. But what institution turned the ubiquitous collective "analysts" into an awe-inspiring force and created the situation where meeting analysts targests became an overriding goal. The burgeoning business media, perhaps, which made securities analysts into TV stars and imposed their trusty old political horse-race coverage template onto business news? I would say so. Though terribly circular and simplistic, the "expectations game" is a tremendous source of easy-to-write, easy-to-understand stories. Every quarter, every big company gets a little story about whether they will or won't meet their targets. The business pages and news web sites are full of these; they must be all lots of casual investors ever hear about lots of companies. It's almost axiomatic in daily journalism that automatic stories tend to dominate. Looking more deeply into how companies operate would be a much tougher way to fill the allotted space. Now, how did meeting the targets became an overriding goal again?

Monday, June 24, 2002

A year and a half later, the national media finally gets down to proving one of the my pet theories about the 2000 election, which is that Gore's decision to soft pedal one of his few core beliefs, environmentalism, cost him an unchadded victory in Florida:
To the White House, by Way of the Everglades (washingtonpost.com) "Al Gore's people blame the environmentalists, although some admit they didn't think much of Gore's fence-sitting strategy. The environmentalists blame Gore, although some admit to twinges of regret about kneecapping one of the most earth-friendly presidential candidates in history. But both sides agree that in the closest state in the closest election ever, the bizarre swamp politics of the Everglades sent George W. Bush to the Oval Office."
I never knew the specifics, but it seems that Gore failed to denounce the building of an airport near the Everglades in Homestead, Fla., in order to curry favor with the Dade County Democratic machine and Miami's Cuban-American mayor, Alex Penelas. As if Al Gore was going to win any of the Miami Cuban vote after Elian! Gore's most natural supporters in the area, the Everglades-defending South Florida environmentalist communiy, were given the captive constituency treatment, but they refused to go along, giving Gore only half-hearted support or switching their support over to Ralph Nader and the Greens, who got 10,000s of Florida votes that Al could have used.

Very significant story, but this pretentious "Post" series on the politics of the Everglades misses the point. Florida politics is indeed a "swamp" to use the "Post"'s rather squushy metaphor, but only a died-in-the-wool inside-the-beltway type could see only "political infighting as usual" in this. The thing revealed here is the fatal flaw in the "New Democrat" strategy of automatically selling out base constituencies and core beliefs in favor of pro-corporate, contribution-driven pragmatism that often turns out to be not so pragmatic after all in a close fight. If Al Gore had acted and sounded like more of an Old Democrat, he would have won the 2000 election.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

I suppose one should celebrate that old online democracy that upends all knowledge hierarchies and such, but one sure does find some jaw-droppers in these customer review pages. An apparent college kid, for instance, sniffs that he found Richard Hofstadter's "The American Political Tradition" solid if not spectacular . It does seem as though one of the Web's "achievements" is the democratization of many qualities we academics are always getting our ears boxed for. You know, pedantry, arrogance, condescension, etc.
White House Faces Disclosure Suit (washingtonpost.com) "We believe that the White House knew or had reason to know that an anthrax attack was imminent or underway," Klayman said. "We want to know what the government knew and when they knew it."
"We did not know about the anthrax attacks. Period!" said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
Johndroe said he did not know why staffers were given Cipro but guessed it was "a precautionary measure in the early hours of Sept. 11 before the situation could be fully assessed."
Good line from The Guardian on Bush's "nonsensical proclamation" that "'Our wars have won for us every hour we live in freedom' (which means, presumably, that Martin Luther King should have got the Nobel Belligerency prize)." Not to mention the fact that just about everything that Jefferson and both John Adamses (after 1776-83) did would also be excluded. They never fought anybody. But conquering Texas and Puerto Rico and blowing up most of SE Asia -- we won many hours of freedom there.
A Host of Legal Questions on U.S. Action in Bomb Case: "'Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents,' the justices wrote in [in the 1942 Nazi saboteur case.]. . .

"The case suggests that the government is free to try Mr. Padilla before a military tribunal, said Ruth Wedgwood, a law professor at Yale.
'If you go to war against your country, you do not have rights to a jury trial,' Professor Wedgwood said. 'And the answer to the practical question is that we are at war.' "

Why are even Yale law professors and the NYTimes so cowed that they have to skip over the obviously missing link in the 1942 precedent? The parts about the "military arm of a foreign government" and "enemy belligerents," legal terms referring to a legal state of war that we are not in. Are we so accustomed to having politicians gas about the war on drugs/inflation/energy dependence/etc. that we are unable to tell what an actual war is? (As opposed to, what, the "campaign" or "efforts" or some such to fight terrorism, which I support.) The only reasons for the state of pseudo-war involve the neato powers and immunities (such as, from criticism) that the Bush administration thinks it gets to claim thereby. And even the country's great "liberal" institutions are just letting them do it.