Thursday, September 30, 2004


Last night, Senator Kerry stomped all over the hapless Boy-King. In at least one way, the debate was a paradigm for the campaign as a whole. Senator Kerry started off wobbly, meandering from minor point to minor point. The President? Looking strong, sounding strong,, in command. But then…

Senator Kerry started to settle down a bit, and before long (say, after the first 10-15 minutes), found his prosecutorial voice. The President, on the other hand, soon was revealed to have memorized only about 5 minutes of material, so that he quickly seemed oddly repetitive. Soon, Bush fell back to his dis-engaged mode, where he had a hard time following the conversation, and seemed to forget at times even where he was on his own script. Long, awkward pauses. Trying to remember where he was going and coming up with something that didn’t really fit.

By the last 30 minutes, Kerry was rolling, landing solid punch after solid punch. Bush, reeling, out of material, utterly unable to respond coherently.

OK, on to the insta-nalysis.

Bush seemed to be running for President of Springfield High Student Council. He was repeating his straw man arguments as though he were accusing his opponent of being in favor of more homework, while his own view was that homework was bad. Very bad. (“I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.” “I know Bin Laden attacked us. I know that.” “Whew. That's a loaded question.” “And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium.” “So I went to the United Nations. I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself.” “Actually, you forgot Poland.”
Bush’s logic was the perfect expression of a fascist authoritarian regime. Once the President decides to send the troops into battle, there is no choice but to leave them there, presumably forever if the mission isn’t accomplished. The last time we heard this was from the people that brought us the Viet Nam war, when those who believed that the war was a good idea accused those who disagreed of undermining the troop’s morale. The truth is, those with their hands on the levers of government only gave up in Viet Nam when the troops joined the populace in rejecting the validity of the mission, whether because they disagreed with the mission (creating a free and democratic South Viet Nam) or simply thought it was an un-accomplishable mission (pushing string). The same thing is going on now: Iraq was a foolish engagement, our mission there is misguided, and we will not succeed in creating a free and democratic Iraq by going it alone.
Kerry was terribly presidential. Bush, not so much. Senator Kerry was in command, and showed his raw power and strength. When accused, for like the 49th time, of being weak, inconsistent, inconstant, waffling, irresolute, a wilter, even, Kerry brushed off this nonsense easily. “I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my life. And I've never wavered in my life.” Flip-flopper no more.
The terrible burden of doubt flew from the shoulders of Kerry’s supporters to those of Bush’s in a mere 90 minutes. Coming in, Dems worried that if they didn’t get a big win, they’d be in trouble. Repubs worried that Bush could flub it, but if he just stayed on script they’d all be enjoying some fine Randy Travis tunes in D.C. come January 20. By the time the thing was done, the Kerry camp was beginning to think they might be able to get Bruce for the Inauguration. The Bush camp was clearly troubled by their guy’s miserable performance, and by Kerry’s unwillingness to accept the labels Bush tried to tag on him (flip-flopper, weak). Kerry’s guys were psyched that their guy got the job done, “big time,” and that the President seemed so un-Presidential. Kerry’s camp comes out thinking they’ve got a chance to win, Bush’s camp comes out worried they’ve got a chance to lose.
Cripes but Bush came off like an idiot. He seemed to have no ability to discuss the issues in any way other than to speak off the script. “What you like a cookie, Mr. President.” “Jim, the trouble with my opponent is that he thinks we can send mixed messages, and I know you can’t.” “But what about the cookie, Mr. President?” “It’s just not what a commander in chief does, Jim.”
All in all, I’m feeling heartened that my counter-attach theory (below) is panning out. If this was a sporting contest, like say football or baseball, I’m liking the chances of the team trailing slightly and with a lot to prove against a complacent, smug and under-talented bunch of thugs.

Bush Smackdown!

"Overture, curtain, lights! This is it. The night of nights. No more rehearsing or nursing a part. We know every part by heart!"

In the big ring tonight, Smirking Chimp-Boy vs. The Sen-a-torrr! History awaits the impact of tonight’s debate on the race for the White House. Will it be an utterly-predictable snooze-fest, full of over-rehearsed blurbs devoid of meaning?


Will it be the electorate-moving mega-event the Kerry campaign hopes for?


Will it help Kerry on his road to the Presidency?

Absolutely. I believe that Kerry, consciously or not, is pursuing a counter-attack strategy. The basic idea is to let the President make the first thrust, and when he’s shown his hand, counter-attack. It is a powerful strategy, allowing the defender the chance to husband their resources while the other side expends much of their resources and energy in an ultimately unsuccessful parry. The defender lives to fight another day, and now has a comparative advantage: plenty of resources left, while the opponent is depleted. If the counterattack is strong and well-timed, it can be the death blow. A solid performance tonight can be the first drop in a drip-drip-drip strategy of building momentum through Election Day.

At least that’s what I’m hoping. It certainly explains Senator Kerry’s history as a “strong finisher” as well as a prosecutor. A prosecutor must put on a strong prima facie case, but victory lies in being able to discredit the various excuses and defenses that the defendant raises. As the excuses and defenses are discredited, the prima facie case becomes all the stronger. I suspect that is what is happening here.

The President has now spent his attack capital. Kerry is a flip-flopper, irresolute, soft, etc. He has not had any other campaign. If (when!?) Kerry refutes these claims, the President is cooked. The refutation will not only serve to elevate Kerry, but will show the President to be a liar – a belief for which there is already a considerable foundation laid. Most voters are aware that the President stands accused of misleading us into war. If Kerry can show that the flip-flopper charge is bogus, more people will buy into the “frame” of President as untrustworthy. Plus, they’ll have a solid basis to think that Kerry will be a resolute president.

I continue to be optimistic about this race, since I think the exposure of voters to any kind of facts inevitably helps Senator Kerry and hurts President Bush. In truth, in reality, Kerry is a far superior choice to be President than Bush. (As was Gore.) The President’s ability to obfuscate reality by creating a series of diversions ought to be weakened by his having done so and been caught out on it with the Swift Boat deal. As the election nears, the Media will have a harder and harder time pretending that the actual issues facing the electorate are secondary to things such as “tan-gate,” this morning’s newest diversion (Did John Kerry Visit a Tanning Salon?”).

In the end, of course, we’ll get the President we deserve. If too many of us insist on living in a fantasy world, we’ll get a fantastically bad president. If enough of us wake up and smell the coffee, we’ll get a competent guy who’s actually committed to helping the American people and humanity in general.

And, win or lose on November 2, the days of the fascist-Repubs are about done. Americans have come too far to let these petty thieves take away our liberty. A new day is dawning, and whether it’s President Bush or President Kerry, the Rise of The Progressives has begun and shall not end for a generation.

Besides, even if Bush wins, having him around for 4 more years to torture will be fun. Why, the indictments alone will be worth it.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

This is What I'm Talking About

Over at the American Prospect blog Tapped, there is the following observation today:

"It seems clear that the most important and difficult long-term task facing liberals -- and, really, anyone else interested in returning even the slightest semblance of sanity to American policymaking -- is to begin the work of reversing thirty years of conservative tax revolt dogma."

Truer words ain't been spoken in some time. I think I know the secret path to reversing this idiocy. The core concept is value. Governmental value. The root cause of the public's fear of taxes is the completely erroneous belief that money paid to the government as taxes is money just plain wasted, thrown down the drain. This perception is strongly re-inforced by the way most people are introduced to the tax system: when kids or young adults get that first real paycheck, they see the list of all the various deductions, Fed, FICA, NYS DIS/SU, etc. And they can easily see just how much of what they thought they'd get ("Let's see, 40 hours, $10 an hour, ought otbe about $400 bucks...") goes to taxes.

So we make a big deal out of clearly explaining to people -- generally no less than every two weeks -- that their labor is the primary economic engine of some distant and unconnected thing called The Government. (Apart from keeping score of this grating math, I suspect there is not much other purpose to the bi-weekly distribution of reports of deposits that people get in lieu of paychecks these days).

What we almost never do is the other side of the very same ledger: when people receive government benefits, there is almost no effort made to document in dollars and cents just what people have received. For example, no one receives a statement at the end of every month saying that the federal government has provided national security services costing $38.75. No report from the state of New York saying that the cost of providing the various subway and bus rides, use of the roadways, and other transportation infrastructure comes to $14.21. Nothing from the City of New York (I can't help capitalizing that one!) saying police, fire, sewage, garbage and caring for our young people and providing them with a modest education cost $9.52.

And therein, folks, lies the problem. There is a carefully calibrated system of making sure you knowjust how much you're paying in. And there is almost no system to ensure that you are aare of how much you're taking out. To get Americans back on the bandwagon in terms of adequate public spending (and I can't believe that we haven't fallen way behind the rest of our well-to-do peers), our leaders must begin to help Americans see the value of the government services they receive. Like this: "Like clean air? Clean water? How about pure, unadulterated meat? What about the fact that in our nation, children are not allowed to work in factories. Or that you can rest assured that businesses you interact with meet minimum standards of fair-dealing? If you like these things, then pay your taxes!" I suspect that if most Americans knew the actual cost to them on a monthly basis, of various programs, they'd be more than happy to pay. (Kind of like thinking, "I can't really afford that new plasma TV at $3000, but for just $64 a month, why hell! Why not!") What if we asked Americans if it would be worth it to them to double the number of teachers in our schools, and double the pay of the top half of those teachers? If the answer was, "just $38.56 a year," I think nearly everyone would jump at it. "If you gave up your Starbucks for just one month, we could afford to send every deserving child to the best school they could get into on merit -- all schools would have needs-blind admission." I think that's an easy sell, and the way out of the idiotic tax neurosis the Repubs have sold so well to so many. Most people complain about their taxes, but the truth is that government services are a good value, and that the government is an apparopriate vehicle for us to advance the quality of our citizens lives and ultimately the lives of our fellow humans around the world.

There. Now we've got that sorted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Here's someone else's post -- and my response

Over on AirAmerica Radio, I saw this post which struck me as penetrating and worthwhile:

"'m going absolutely insane considering the idea that there is even a remote possibility that Bush may actually win another term as President (if that is even what you can call him). I have done a lot of thinking about how this could possibly be the situation we find ourselves in. The only conclusion I can reach is that it's the fault of the citizens. Of course you can point fingers at the media, at the lying liars, and the absolute circumvention of good-faith political discourse. However, if the people do not go the extra mile and look past the propaganda, the fault falls on their shoulders. Here are all the offenders that I can think of, feel free to add to this list.Overly "Macho" MenFor some reason, many men have decided that the macho thing to do is support Bush. This insane "kill 'em all and let god sort 'em out" mentality that many men adopt in order to prove some self percieved testosterone quota has been met meshes perfectly with Bush's unwavering dedication to war.Religious FanaticsOverly religious people believe that their beliefs are more important than the United States. They believe that the constitution should be subserviant to the bible, even when the two are in contradiction. Bush caters to these people at every turn. I know he isn't one of them completely because war profiteering isn't exactly a Christian activity (although that fact hasn't stopped them in the past).Irrationally Frightened PeopleWe live in a post-9/11 world. Obviously, 2004 comes after 2001. However, when Bush and his supporters bring that fact up time and time again, they are really saying "be afraid, be very afraid". The idea that terrorists didn't exist before 9/11 is a crazy one, and the expectation that attacks will hit the United States with voracious frequency is completely counter-intuitive. Yet that is the exact assertion planted when "post-9/11 world" is uttered before some rediculous comment. Unfortunately this preface to a statement, to many people, gives the statement a visceral response. These people believe that Bush has somehow thwarted all kinds of attacks because reality doesn't fit their expectations. They believe Bush will keep us safe, even though every single act on his part proves otherwise.Greedy PeopleSome people refer to this group as "fiscal conservatives". They would gladly do away with many important social programs just to save fifty bucks in taxes. These people only see the ® next to Bush's name and assume that their interest in "small government" will be met. They are duped into thinking that it's true because, at the expense of the security of the United States' economy, Bush gives them tax cuts that we cannot afford. They don't understand that, in the long run, they will wish they could give that money back when they realize what they have lost is worth a lot more than fifty dollars. These people also don't realize that the republican spending platform far exceeds the democrats.Out-Of-Control "Nationalists"The insane idea that blindly supporting the president is a prerequisite to being an American is an extremely dangerous proposition. One man deciding what an entire nation does without question is called a dictatorship. The people guilty of this un-American American Nationalism are the ones who say "screw the UN". They are the same ones who feel unilateralism, for any reason, is preferable. These are the people who claim that not supporting the war is somehow an inslut to the troops. They also claim that pointing out any flaw in the United States or its actions is an indicator that you hate America. These people love Bush because he loves to tell the rest of the world to shove it.Stupid PeopleTo a certain extent this is an umbrella for the other groups, however, there are plenty of people that don't fit into the other categories that still fit into this category. These morons can't see past the propaganda of Republican pundits. They believe the answer to the question "Why shouldn't we hold Bush accountable" is "because Kerry is a Flip Flopper". Logic eludes these people at every turn. For some reason the facts are lightly dealt with after the conclusion is drawn, and in dealing with the facts, they pick and choose which ones to look at depending on whether or not the information fits the conclusion they have already reached. Unfortunately, stupid people are the majority in both the United States and the rest of the world.-This is my first post, thanks for bearing with me.. I look forward to some discourse based in reason and fact (for a change). "

From a poster called richbleak, I believe.

Here's my reply:Re: Richbleak’s thoughtful post:

I have been struggling with the same questions, and have long thought the “blame-Bush/blame-the-media” story line allows our fellow citizens off the hook far too easily. The truth is about half of us approve of Mr. Bush – did in 2000, and do now. I think your breakdown touches on the main strains of Bush support, though I’m sure people could and will quibble with some details.

Americans have a long and shameful history of embracing the sort of public madness which is currently raging across our land. From the very beginning, fanatical zealotry has been a persistent strain in our nation’s history. Breaking it generally requires two things: 1) a sort of fanaticism-fatigue, where expending so much energy on something so abstract and irrelevant seems less and less worthwhile to more and more people; and 2) a catalytic event/leader. The current election cycle seems to me to demonstrate increasing fatigue. We nearly had a catalyst in Howard Dean’s mad dash for true progressivism. Whether or not John Kerry’s run for the WH will be catalytic will turn on whether he wins.

I alternate, basically based on the last thing I read, between being absolutely convinced that this current cycle of public hysteria is breaking like a wave, and will soon seem as silly and shameful as McCarthyism, or alternately being absolutely convinced that we are in fact trudging inexorably down the same path that Germany and Italy went down in the 30’s, and that the insipient fascism we’re seeing has a strong enough hold that we’re all doomed and had better move to remote New Zealand ASAP.

For many, trying to influence which of these visions comes to pass involved political activism. I know it does for me. But it also requires us to remember that our deluded fellow citizens aren’t truly all that different from the rest of us, and that what unites is can be stronger than what divides us. I come from red-state country, have family there, and still visit often. I talk with people who support Bush and can be categorized as overly macho, religious fanatics, irrationally frightened, greedy, nationalists and/or stupid. It seems to me that what these folks have in common is fear. Machismo is an outward response to in inner insecurity, no? And, when I hear religious fanatics explicating their elaborate theories at length, the thought I cannot stop having is that these people are desperately trying to convince themselves, not anyone else. To want so badly to believe in these palpably unbelievable stories shows, to me, enormous fear. I think greed is just greed in some cases, but when I hear middle-class people talk about politics, it is mostly fear that the liberal democrats are going to take what little they have in the form of high taxes. I could go on, but I think most thoughtful people will agree that Bush supporters are powerfully driven by fear. The best way to win them over is not to attack them, or make fun of them, but to support them, embrace them, help them understand that the path out of fear is not hatred, as the Bushes say, but is through hope and love, as the Democrats say. Republican thought plays a valid and useful role in our system when it is the voice of caution, the reminder that people sometimes behave badly, and the keeper of our worst fears. Similarly, Democrats are the party of change, progress, hope and the future – keeper of our fondest hopes and desires. The fair interplay of these forces produces appropriate change over time. We shall see, soon enough, whether this balance is to be restored, or whether the forces of evil have even more triumphs in store. But the best way I can see to effect the outcome is to recognize that those on the right are not so different from those on the left, that in most respects we really do agree on most things, and that like it or not, we are certainly stuck with each other so the best course is to make the best of our common strengths and interests.

I see a lot of hate and vitriol on liberal sites, and I can certainly understand the frustration. I am of course not immune from it. But it is not the way to move things forward.

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Just a Thought

I didn't want to lose this thought. A compelling and thorough debunking of much of the radical right can be constructed by introducing the concept of accountability. Almost every idea these guys have ever had has turned out to be wrong. (Truthfully, in theory conservatives' job is to be wrong: the proper role of conservatives is to point out all the dangers that might arise from a given proposed course of action. When they are right (which of course happens), we don't proceed. But when we proceed against their opinions, they are almost always wrong. For example, Republicans were dead certain that the 1993 budget was going to lead to a stock market failure, a tremendous loss of jobs, business failures, and if I remember correctly, a plague of locusts.

This is the idea behind my suggestion that the problem with the anti-gay constitutional amendment is not just that it's pure evil, but that procedurally, we should take first things first. I believe it was the current president's father who was pretty sure, along with most of his republican friends, that if we didn't pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit falg burning, our society would decay into the lowest kind of moral debasement. So, first things first: flag burning, then gay people.

A crazy person is running, with the full support of the republican party, for senate in Oklahoma, primarily on the platform that there is a gay agenda that is sweeping its way into every nook and cranny of our society: "That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today," hw says. Let's hold this clown accountable and see what happens as that agenda is in fact spread across the entire nation, and we all agree that hating people because of their sexual orientation is immoral and must end.

Kind of like the republicans who thought if we provided medical care to those too poor to obtain it otherwise, that millions would quit their jobs to get the free care. I could go on....feel free to add your own.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Post du Jour

Yet another day, yet another post.

A quick auto-bio note:

My mother dropped me off for 1st Grade and a cried like a baby. I had been in both 4-year-old and 5-year-old (as we called them) kindergarten, and still cried like the world had ended. I recall that after about 30 seconds I was fine. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bassett (no relation that I know of), was not especially warm or nurturing, but she was a good Moravian woman who loved us children as best she knew how, and was able to get us excited about reading, math, and of course, lunch.

On the political front, not much news, but still have an idea for a good Kerry ad. The basic idea is to create a political ad using the strategies and production values of Madison Avenue, a la the famous anti-health care reform ad, “Harry & Louise.” We open on a shot of an old pick-up high-tailin’ it down a dusty road in some canyon out West. (We hear a twang or two of 100% Genuine Country Music under it, introducing). We cut to a shot from a camera mounted on the side and in front of the driver, clearly capturing both driver and passenger. These are proto-typical “good ol’ boys,” wearing cowboy hats, mustaches, with a gunrack.clearly visible.

Driver: “So. We’re s’posed to vote fer Bush.
Passenger: Uh-huh.
[Pause.] Cut to shot of the truck arriving at old-fashioned gas station.
Shot of door opening, Driver exiting.
D: Well, I ain’t gonna.
P: What’re you gonna do, vote for Kerry?
D: Yep.
P: Never thought I’d see the day old Sam Hillers would vote for a Dem-o-crat.
D: Uh-hmm.
P: John Kerry?
D: Yep. He’ll be all right. You’ll see.

Cut and open on Kerry/Edwards 04 w/ legal VO.

I think that’s pretty much there, though I’m sure someone with Actual Talent could improve it a lot.
The larger point is that we need to stop producing commercials that argue our way in, and start producing spots that let us connect to prospective voters emotionally. In my spot, I’m trying to burnish Kerry with some of that Good Ol’ Marlboro Man strength. Trucks, cowboy hats, few words – they add up to traditional American strength. The point is to give voters permission to think that Kerry’ll do “all right. You’ll see.”

I’m sure if we could round up some folks with actual talent, we could think of more and better ideas that would allow voters to connect with Kerry on a more emotional level. How about something like this:

Open on a shot of Kerry in a busy kitchen with his family. We’re moving pots, cleaning dishes, etc. John comes over to the camera and says:JK: Hi. The best times are the ones I spend with my family, even though it can get pretty crazy. But I wanted to remind you that the issues I’m fighting for – families, healthcare, education, our security – are really important to all of us. So don’t forget, this November 2, take the time to get out and vote. Whether you’re someone who never misses a chance to cast a ballot, or a first timer or someone who just doesn’t think it matters, do all of us a favor and get out to vote. If you’d like help learning where to vote, or need any special assistance with transportation or anything else, call 1800THEVOTE.”

Daughter: Come on, Dad, we’re going to cut the cake.

Cut to KE04 and legal VO.

Obviously, the point of this one is to set up Kerry in a warm and family-oriented environment, and to show how much confidence he has in his candidacy. No need to beg for people to vote for him – just get out and vote. Maybe this is too cute, but I’d love to try it and see. I think in the hands of a sympathetic director, this could be great. Of course, the other challenge is that neither JK nor his family are professional actors. But maybe they could pull it off nonetheless.

That’s it for now.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Where Have You Been?!?!

OK, so I’ll be getting like a C+ in blogging, what with the infrequent updates and all. Maybe there’ll be extra points for excessive verbosity.

Maybe not. OK, probably not.

Any hoo, back to the keys.

It’s a couple of days after Labor Day, and the race for the White House (or perhaps we should call it, more aptly, “The Race to Prevent The End of Civilization As We Know It,” or more positively, “The Race to Save the World From a US Fascist Dictator”), is on full bore. Most recently, the “Vice President” laid it out to the American people pretty straight: Vote for Kerry and you’ll probably get blown up by terrorists. That should simplify things for many of my fellow voters. Bush=Life, Kerry=Death. E-Z.

This past August 22, my dear beloved mother passed away, succumbing to the liver disease she had been struggling with for some time. The medicos all say it isn’t painful, but she thought it was – at least that’s what she said, and I for one believed her. I know in her final weeks, when she was not conscious and increasingly unable to ingest any food, she didn’t seem to be all that comfortable. I wonder what those final weeks were like for her. I can only pray that they were sleep-like, full of wonderful thoughts and dreams. And now, I can only pray that she is re-united with her beloved family members who had gone before her – her parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, aunts – even the unborn child we lost to miscarriage. (I can’t help thinking of my mother united with a spirit in the after-life who will be perpetually a baby – truly, my mother’s idea of heaven. She loved babies.)

Meantime, perhaps provoked by the shock of the loss, but clearly predating it, my impulses to somehow re-invent myself and my life are raging. Let’s move to France. Let’s buy a business. Let’s move to the country. Something. Anything. More than ever, I’m feeling the urge to cut my losses and get a fresh hand from the dealer. Who know where it will lead? Given the realities of family life, the commitments to our community, etc., I suspect it will all lead absolutely nowhere. Maybe end up with a useless overpriced red sports car. Who knows. Or, perhaps we’ll end up in Alaska! Or France!

So, here’s a paragraph for the autobiography:
I was born in 1960, but my earliest memories are about 1964. I can remember receiving at my 4th Birthday party a pair of yellow plastic cups that you turned upside down, each one strung through with a length of plastic tubing to be used as handles, so that you could walk on them and be about three inches higher. Neat.

I can certainly remember my 4-year-old kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Krauss and Mrs. Stone. Krauss was the jovial vaguely German one, Stone a bit more reserved, perhaps even a bit stern. We had great fun, played with big green wooden blocks and did plenty of finger painting. Thus began an academic career that would ultimately lead to a J.D. degree, and include decreasing levels of blocks and finger-painting, to the point where there were virtually no blocks nor finger-painting in law school. (Hard to see why anyone would attend law school given these kinds of deficiencies.)

More early memories later…