Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Screening of a new film by Dan Sallitt

Uber-cineaste Dan Sallitt screens his recently completed feature All the Ships at Sea in Santa Monica on September 22, with proceeds going to the Democratic National Committee.

For those of you new to the auteurist scene, Dan's a reknowned critic who can also stake the claim of easily having watched more movies than anyone I know. Haven't seen any of his movies, but I'm guessing that this one will feature some fascinating tension between the acting and the direction. Folks in LA should check it out.


Screenings: Wednesday, September 22 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Location: EZTV 18th Street Art Complex, 1629 18th St., Suite 6, Santa
Monica (one block north of Olympic Blvd.)
Running time: 64 min.
Introduced by: Bill Krohn, Hollywood correspondent for Cahiers du
Admission: $20, students $15 (to be paid to the Democratic National
RSVP for guaranteed admission to or 310-364-2455

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Louis Menand explains it all

I passed along a bunch of links this week, but the only one really worth reading is this one, by Louis Menand in the New Yorker about democracy and voters.

Why is there so much cynicism in politics? How did toejam like Dubya get elected to the highest office in the land? Why is the political campaign focused on dumbass shit instead of, say, a discussion on national interest realism v. democraticization idealism?

The answer lies in the fact that most voters don't base their voting decisions on carefully considered positions of the issues, as Menand explains in his review of various voter analysis treatises. They vote for all kinds of non-policy related reasons, which is why campaigns rely so much on symbolism and feel-good gobbledygook.

Me, I've always held the position that ill-informed folks should exercise their right to abstain from voting. Just as I don't voice my opinion on the handling of BMWs (on account of never having driven one), so too, folks who can't be bothered to keep up with current events and civil discourse really have no business in participating in the political process. Menand's piece actually makes me question my views, since it would turn out that perhaps 90% of the populace shouldn't vote.

Even more SwiftBoatLiar links

* First, the LA Times editorial page take a strong stand, forcefully arguing for the press to call a spade a spade:
These Charges Are False
The technique President Bush is using against John F. Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988, though its roots go back at least to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is: Bring a charge, however bogus. Make the charge simple: Dukakis "vetoed the Pledge of Allegiance"; Bill Clinton "raised taxes 128 times"; "there are Communists in the State Department." But make sure the supporting details are complicated and blurry enough to prevent easy refutation.

Then sit back and let the media do your work for you. Journalists have to report the charges, usually feel obliged to report the rebuttal, and often even attempt an analysis or assessment. But the canons of the profession prevent most journalists from saying outright: These charges are false. As a result, the voters are left with a general sense that there is some controversy over Dukakis' patriotism or Kerry's service in Vietnam. And they have been distracted from thinking about real issues (like the war going on now) by these laboratory concoctions.

* E.J. Dionne calls on the press to take charge:

The media have to do more than "he said/he said" reporting. If the charges don't hold up, they don't hold up. And, yes, now that John Kerry's life during his twenties has been put at the heart of this campaign just over two months from Election Day, the media owe the country a comparable review of what Bush was doing at the same time and the same age.

* Surprise! Paul Krugman is outraged.

* The definitive Bush is a bigger pussy than David Mustaine (and by definition, everyone else) post, courtesy of Josh Marshall.

* As usual, Jon Stewart breaks it down. And as usual, CNN and Faux News are pathetic wastes of the public airwaves, as even the NY Times is now saying. Wolf Blitzer, especially, is a joke.

* Does Kerry have a deliberate strategy to deal with these lies? His pal Tom Oliphant says yes, and to watch the counterattack.

* Oh, yes. Today, Najaf is still burning, a report faults Rumsfeld's conduct w/r/t Abu Ghraib, and it's now very likely that Cheney's chief of staff leaked a covert CIA operative's name to take revenge on an ambassador contradicting their Niger claims. No surprise there.

* One more! The utter bankruptcy of the right-wing propoganda machine, as outlined in detail.

Monday, August 23, 2004

More SwiftBoatLies

The Gold for definitive Swift Boat smackdown goes to the Boston Globe editorial page. Silver goes to Business Week's Thane Anderson. Bronze to the tag-team of Chris Matthews and especially the sharp Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, the only two cable news shows worth watching.

The real story, of course, isn't in the op-ed pieces, but here: Bill Rood, an editor of the Chicago Tribune (no lefty paper) and the only surviving swift boat skipper who was with Kerry on the day for which Kerry won a Silver Star, got fed up with the lies and wrote a vivid, fair, and compelling first-person account of what happened in 1969. Kerry was a badass after all. And the SwiftBoatLiars remain what they are: liars.

Lastly, probably Kerry's best ad this election, courtesy of John McCain. I love that spotlight on Bush's clueless expression at the end. It's only an internet ad, but they should run it in a few states.

Fire with fire

1. An Opening Rant

Some time in the last fifty years, I'm not sure when, the Republican Party decided that it's more important to be devoted to the Party than to uphold the truth or the public good. More and more GOPers decided they want to be Republicans first, Americans second, and decent human beings third.

The last couple of weeks have seen the nadir of this repellent ethos. Yup, I'm talking about the SwiftBoatLiars, a collection of resentful hacks who put out an ad that got picked up by right-wing pond scum. (Background: The NY Times story tracing the history of the group and the ad; a good background summary of the evolving press coverage thus far; a good summary on the facts/rebuttals on the SwiftBoatLies.) But you gotta hand it to the GOP: They're utterly shameless, and they know how to game the media and fool the American public time and again. Here's how they do it. First, they've got the propaganda machine. These right-wing bottom-feeders, including Limbaugh and other talk radio loons, the Moonie Times, Faux News, Drudge, blogging hacks like Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt, have emerged to inundate the media with right wing talking points and to advance the most scurrilous garbage. Unfounded rumors gain currency through zealous repetition.

2. What Liberal Media?

As we saw with the SBL story, the relentless right-wing coverage creates enough buzz to force the story into the mainstream media. This is where the Republicans have gotten clever. Through a decades long right-wing whine campaign, the cowed media is now bending over backwards to avoid any hint of "liberal bias." Instead of calling a lie for what it is, the political coverage now practices a kind of transcription service to cover their ass. "Balance", instead of truth, has become the overriding value. Political stories document he said/she said, with very little, if any, independent evaluation of content (e.g., "At a speech at NASA, President Bush told the assembled scientists that the Earth is flat. A number of scientists and the Kerry campaign dispute Bush's claims."). Knowing that reporters favor this kind of contrived "balance" above all else, the Republicans simply play a game of equivalence, even when the actions aren't comparable. Of course, this is not an original critique. Eric Alterman has been saying it for years. More visibly, Jon Stewart recently called out Ted Koppel on it at the DNC. But the media, ever so clueless, just keeps getting snookered. Look at this well-researched Washington Post story, the definitive summary of the story thus far. As Josh Marshall points out, the substance says nothing supports the SwiftBoatLiars. Most of the available evidence supports Kerry. But the reporter slips in some editorial "balancing" to keep so-called journalistic objectivity. And why the fuck are idiots like Wolf Blitzer making equivalences between MoveOn and the SwiftBoatLiars? They're not equivalent. If the Dems lie, the media's duty is to call them out. But stop pretending every story has two sides.

This one doesn't. By any standard of evidence, legal, journalistic, otherwise, the SwiftBoatLiar story has no credibility whatsoever. How hard is it for editors and reporters to understand this? In a campaign where the incumbent will likely be one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, a guy who fucked over a couple of countries, aiding terrorist recruitment, busting the budget and trashing the environment, we have a media frenzy over a bunch of transparent lies?

Kerry thought this story will get vetted and die down, but he's got too much faith in the mainstream media and underestimated the power of wingnut slimeballs. Now he's hitting back...hard. It's the right response: repeat that these are lies, and pin everything on Bush and make his gutter-dwell tactics an issue. But it's two steps too slow. We know Dubya is a class-A coward. He takes responsibility for nothing. He hides behinds his handlers at the first hint of trouble. He ducks out of a war he supports. He pins the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the military. He lets the CIA take the fall for mistakes that's result of his own dogma and misjudgments. He's not a man any fair-minded American who observes this administration closely should even respect, let alone vote for. I wouldn't let him or his cronies serve me fries at Jack-in-the-Box, these bastards. But I'll hand it to him. Bush knows he's in deep shit, and somehow got the dumbass press to change the subject. And Kerry, stuck in liberal la-la land, again fails to understand that ugly, low-blow tactics work. .

3. Where Does the Story Go from Here?

Still, the damage will probably end up to be less severe than what most political junkies like myself have feared. (This Clinton speech-writer has a good view of where it may go.) Yeah, there were some pretty depressing poll numbers on the short-term effect of this. (Though the effect may be exaggerated, as this post argues.) But it'll die down soon. Like Bush's AWOL story, Abu Ghraib, and 9/11 Commission, and even Iraq. The attention span of the American public these days is about two weeks, and this horse is just about on its last legs. The Republicans don't dare feature this radioactive stuff at their convention, and the much more important (in the long-term) jobs report arrives a day after Bush's nomination-acceptance speech. And even now, much of the SwiftBoat nonsense is being drowned out by the Olympics.

Still, the key is to win the "impression battle." For partisans, it's bound to have little effect. If the blogosphere is any guide, this "controversy" has riled up the partisans on both sides. It cancels out -- if it doesn't in fact rile up liberals more. I've never seen center-left types so angry. But the real danger of the SwiftBoat ads is to poison the impression of Kerry ("was Kerry's war service questionable?") in the minds of the swing voters who aren't paying that much attention. It's just there to sow doubt. Kerry's only way to win is to turn it around. A home run would be to create the sense that Bush is so dirty he's questioning a guy who risk his life for his country while he hides out. At this point, I'd just settle for, "does Bush have anything to offer besides smears?" to be the central point from this battle. (Some folks envision a huge backlash against Bush, opening up the battlefield for Kerry to lob grenades against Bush's Nat'l Guard absences and campaign tactics. I don't see how Kerry will gain the advantage. At best, Kerry can hope for a negligible effect from this story.)

4. A Closing Rant

It'd be tempting to pin Bush's sorry ass to the board. But there's still no need to air as such rumors as "Bush funded his lover's abortion in the 70s" story, or his wild coke-party/orgy stories. It's not that one shouldn't ever sling mud. But Bush can be hit harder above the belt. After all, this is the worst president in the last 100 years, jacking up everything he's touched, lies and misleads repeatedly with impunity. All of this has been documented over and over again. Bush is a failed president, a failed leader, and a pathetic little twit. Make Bush's leadership the story. The problem is Kerry should've made the contrast clearer from the start. His "cautious" strategy on the Iraq Invasion has neutered him on a subject that, should by all rights, be the single biggest advantage for him right now, as Joe Klein says.)

Anyway, if anybody's as 1/10th as outraged as I am about this shit (I don't remember ever being so outraged about a campaign tactic), donate. I just forked over some cash again, and it felt good.