30 July 2008

today's prayer... freedonia...

saw this at dailykos and wanted to share it... reminds me of this.

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." -Groucho Marx


28 July 2008

more songs about buildings and food-- no wait, i mean endless war...

good to be home after a beautiful weekend.

[from salon...]

Waving the flag on Iraq -- now in rerun!

McCain's attack on Obama as a defeatist is right out of the Karl Rove playbook. But here's why it won't work.

By Gary Kamiya

Jul. 29, 2008 | Last week, I thought that I had woken up in "Groundhog Day." George W. Bush was raving about the glorious success of the "surge," attacking his opponents as defeatists, and promising that victory was just around the corner. Then I realized that it wasn't Bush at all, but John McCain. The lines were exactly the same, but the guy speaking them was older, crankier and running for president.

Who hit the replay button on this bad movie?

We had this national debate years ago, and the war party lost. And everything that has happened since then has made it even clearer that the Iraq war has been one of the greatest catastrophes in American history. Americans can't wait to get rid of Bush, and they want out of Iraq. Yet McCain has decided to run as a bad imitation of Bush -- and polls show that he still has a fair chance of winning.

Last week offered one of the more surreal disconnects in recent political history. Barack Obama swept triumphantly through the Middle East and Europe, delivering inspiring speeches to vast crowds and being greeted as a virtual president-elect. Meanwhile, McCain was wandering around in Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in Ohio, singing a medley from Bush's greatest hits, and all but accusing Obama of treason. And McCain's stale-bratwurst strategy seemed to work: He got a bump in the polls in three key swing states.

The right-wing press, desperate to diminish Obama's star turn in Europe, made much of the fact that salt-of-the-earth Americans, not effete pointy-heads from the Continent, will decide who the next president will be. They're clearly hoping that songwriter Randy Newman's "Political Science," in which a nameless, God-fearing American urges his countrymen to "drop the big one and see what happens," speaks for middle America. Some of the more hysterical pundits even claimed to see evidence of fascism in the mass outpouring of support for Obama in Berlin, somehow forgetting that they themselves had demanded that Americans don brown shirts and support our president in the aftermath of 9/11.

It's hard to predict how Obama's trip will play out with voters in November. But McCain has obviously decided that whatever flashy stunts Obama pulls off, his own best strategy is to stay on message -- and that means turning the Iraq lemon into lemonade. The war may be hugely unpopular, warmonger-in-chief Bush's approval rating may be approaching Vlad the Impaler's -- no matter! Attack! The best defense is a good offense! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

It's an audacious strategy, and it could prove to be disastrous. Pickett's charge did not succeed for the Confederacy at Gettysburg. But it's right out of the Karl Rove playbook -- and if recent history has taught us anything, it's never to underestimate Karl Rove.

Rove, and his star pupil Bush, perfected a political tactic reminiscent of the old Green Bay Packer power sweep: Everyone knows it's coming, but they still can't stop it. And McCain is too smart not to stay with a proven winner -- especially because he doesn't have any choice.

The Rove play is based on three things: wrapping yourself in the flag, never admitting you're wrong, and impugning your opponent. These three tactics have one thing in common: They are aimed at the lowest common denominator of the American people. Under normal circumstances, they have only limited effectiveness. But when the nation is at war, they are extremely potent -- as John Kerry and the Democrats found out in 2004. And McCain is going to use them and use them and use them.

McCain's repeated claims that we are succeeding in Iraq and must stay the course to final "victory," and his attacks on Obama, are textbook examples of the Rove-Bush-GOP tactic. Take the recent speech in which McCain attacked Obama for not supporting the "surge." "If Sen. Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically," McCain intoned. "Al-Qaida would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the 'Sunni Awakening' would have been strangled at birth. Al-Qaida fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely."

McCain then went on to sketch an even more apocalyptic vision of what would have happened if America had been led by the weak and traitorous Obama instead of the brave and resolute Bush:

Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened. Our military, strained by years of sacrifice, would have suffered a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe would have been emboldened. Terrorists would have seen our defeat as evidence America lacked the resolve to defeat them. As Iraq descended into chaos, other countries in the Middle East would have come to the aid of their favored factions, and the entire region might have erupted in war. Every American diplomat, American military commander and American leader would have been forced to speak and act from a position of weakness.

McCain's speech obviously appeals to the GOP's immovable base, red, white and blue ostriches for whom the very idea that America could ever wage a stupid, immoral or self-destructive war is tantamount to treason. But for McCain to win, he has to go beyond his base and convince independents and swing voters. Two things are in his favor here: First, the war is still going on, which mutes criticism of it. And second, polls show that voters still see Obama as a riskier choice, particularly on national security.

On the surface, then, McCain's tactic of attacking Obama on the war makes sense. He gets to simultaneously pose as a tough guy and attack Obama where he's weakest. Moreover, he knows that Obama may decide that it's too risky to attack McCain's own weak spot, his support of the war in the first place. Obama has attacked McCain directly on the war, but that was before he won the Democratic nomination and began moving to the center.

But what worked for Bush in 2004 may not work for McCain in 2008, for three reasons. First, McCain's specific arguments about the success of the "surge" and the alleged dangers of Obama's approach are simply factually unconvincing. Second, they inadvertently draw attention to the larger issue of McCain's support for the war. And finally, they require voters to believe that the United States can still "win" in Iraq.

If enough American voters are ill-informed about the war, still confusedly think it may have been a good idea to start it, and believe it is winnable, McCain could win. The first stipulation may be true, but not the second and third -- and that's why even the Rove power play may not save McCain.

McCain's defense of the surge betrays a complete inability to grasp the bloody, ugly complexities of the civil war the United States touched off by invading Iraq. (He also has difficulty in keeping the most rudimentary facts straight, as when he falsely asserted that the Anbar awakening "began" during the surge.) As Juan Cole pointed out in a thorough refutation of McCain's surge argument, the main reason that violence in Iraq has declined to the still-hideous levels of 2005 is probably that Shiite militias, inadvertently enabled by U.S. troops, carried out a successful mini-genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni residents in Baghdad. Once you've killed or expelled all those who belong to the evil tribe, there's no reason to keep killing. For McCain to praise the surge as leading to "victory" in Iraq is like praising a foreign power for "pacifying" Rwanda by alternately backing the Hutus and the Tutsi. (It goes without saying that McCain has nothing to say about the moral responsibility we bear for the nightmare in Iraq.)

At a deeper level, insofar as the surge and other factors played a role in reducing the violence -- and as Cole points out, it's impossible to know how large a role the surge itself played -- the conclusions one should draw from this are precisely the opposite from those drawn by McCain. For the factors that led to a lower level of violence in Iraq -- the completed ethnic cleansing, the increase in U.S. troop strength, bribery, Sunni revulsion at al-Qaida's horrific tactics, the Mahdi Army's decision to stand down -- represent the reverse of the simplistic, raising-the-flag-on-Iwo-Jima vision trumpeted by McCain and the Bush administration. When America has made progress in Iraq -- and all claims of "progress" must be measured against the fact that the war we started essentially destroyed the country -- it has been primarily due not, as war mythology would have it, to U.S. troops killing evil jihadists, but to far murkier factors -- the unintended consequences of ugly actions, canny political maneuverings, and back-room deals with deeply flawed players.

What has been widely overlooked, by both defenders and critics of the surge, is that these are precisely the kinds of complex, sometimes morally ambiguous responses that those of us who opposed the war in the first place called for as a strategy for fighting violent jihadists. Painstaking police work, diplomacy with sometimes unpleasant actors, good intelligence, the skillful use of carrots and sticks, knowing the local terrain, avoiding self-defeating moral posturings -- these things don't fit into bombastic presidential speeches about our heroic duty to fight the "axis of evil," but they have one advantage: They actually work. Which is not to say that they bring "victory," because there are no victories here.

McCain's claim that "al-Qaida fighters would have safe havens" in Iraq is even more pathetic -- and it draws attention to the most catastrophic consequence of the war for the United States. For it was precisely the invasion of Iraq that created safe havens for al-Qaida in Iraq. Before the invasion, of course, there were no jihadists in Iraq. Again, this is a historical fact that McCain simply cannot afford to acknowledge: If he did, he would have to address why he supported the war in the first place. And that's a subject best left shrouded in patriotic mists.

But McCain's argument completely devours itself when he outlines the supposedly apocalyptic consequences of a world without the surge. "A humiliated and weakened America. A military, strained by years of sacrifice, suffering a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe emboldened." These are indeed ugly consequences, but they have already happened-- and they happened as a direct result of the unprovoked war that McCain supported. McCain's argument resembles that of a man who, having driven his car at 100 miles an hour into a school bus, insists that those who want to take away his license are making it hard for him to save the survivors.

Lately, McCain's talking points have become even more nonsensical. He is forced to parrot his tough-guy line even when it has been rendered inoperative by realities on the ground. McCain and his mouthpieces mechanically continue to paint Obama as a traitor who "would rather lose a war that we are winning than lose an election." But it's hard to maintain your heroic pose as a fearless leader who will keep the troops in place until victory when your own allies keep throwing banana peels under your feet, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did when he said he concurred with Obama's call for a U.S. troop withdrawal in 16 months. Oops!

The same thing happened with Iran: McCain was just hitting the chorus of his stirring rendition of "bomb bomb Iran" when the Bush administration abruptly abandoned its dream of attacking the mullahs. McCain was left croaking all alone, like a tone-deaf backup singer cruelly exposed when a sadistic soundman turns down the rest of the mix. How can you rally the troops to fight evildoers when your fellow generals are inviting the evildoers to tea?

But the mere fact that McCain's arguments are flawed, his grasp of facts shaky, and his fear-mongering self-indicting does not necessarily mean that they won't work. After all, Bush won reelection in 2004 using the same arguments -- and his opponent wasn't someone who could be painted as a Muslim terrorist half-breed, but a decorated white war hero.

McCain's best hope is that neither the media nor the American people possess much memory. (It's a chicken-and-egg question as to which of the two is more responsible for this.) Once news breaks, it disappears, to be replaced by the next day's news. Reality has no tail; events have no context. Powerful forces push us toward living in a continuous now, like someone suffering from brain damage, or from a culture so rudimentary its language lacks words for the past.

On Monday, it's revealed that the Bush administration lied us into war. On Tuesday, we learn that most of Iraq's doctors have fled or been killed. On Wednesday, we learn that the U.S. government secretly approved torture. On Thursday, we learn that the war has emboldened jihadists and led to a dramatic rise in terror attacks worldwide. On Friday, we learn that the war is costing us $300 million a day. But on the next Monday, when we learn that violence has declined to merely horrific levels in Iraq, all that earlier information has disappeared, and so McCain can begin attacking Obama for being an appeaser all over again.

Yes, it worked for Bush. But times have changed. Our national memory may be spotty, but it's not gone. Some things stick.

In the end, though, what may really doom McCain is not what Americans believe in or know, so much as what they no longer believe in. And it seems clear that most Americans no longer believe in "victory." There have been too many moments when winning in Iraq was right around the corner. The boy has cried wolf once too often. McCain's demand that we fight until a final victory may have sounded inspiring when people still believed the Iraq war could be won, but now it sounds increasingly like Gen. Custer's last speech to the troops as the Sioux closed in at the Little Bighorn. It's not a cry you follow unless you're a fanatic or a jihadist. Which is why I believe that in November, the American people will finally declare this endless argument, and this endless war, over.


25 July 2008

today's prayer... hang up the goddamn phone...

we are off for the weekend for a wedding... but wanted to share this before i left: i am really happy about the cell phone driving ban that's just taken place in california. if anything, it didn't go far enough. people-- including myself to be sure-- so take driving for granted. it's fucking life or death, man, and nothing in between... or at least it should be.

when i was seventeen i was in a truly horrific car accident where i should have been killed. by the time i was a freshman in college i had been to more than half a dozen car accident- related funerals of friends of mine. and when i was in my early twenties i witnessed a car accident that was particularly gruesome, in fact a girl died in one of my best friends arms right in front of me.

yeah, so have a great weekend on that note.

[from salon...]

Hang up and drive

Think driving while talking on the cellphone is safe as long as you use a headset, as new laws require? Stop yammering and read this article.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Jul. 25, 2008 | For drivers, the hand-held cellphone is losing its connection. On July 1, bans on holding a phone to your ear while driving went into effect in California and Washington, following the lead of New York, Connecticut, Utah, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

As the new laws took effect, drivers out West raced to buy up headsets so the gabbing could continue unabated. But as drivers everywhere adjust their talk time to the new laws, one message is getting lost in static: A hands-free phone isn't much safer than a hand-held one when you're behind the wheel.

For years, psychologists who study driving and attention have argued that switching to "hands free" is not a real solution to the hazards caused by yakking on the mobile in the car. "The impairments aren't because your hands aren't on the wheel. It's because your mind isn't the road," says David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, whose research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk.

Now neuroscience is showing your mind literally isn't on the road. The overtaxed driver's poor brain doesn't distinguish between a conversation that takes place on an iPhone or a Bluetooth headset. In both cases, the chatting driver is distracted, putting herself, her passengers, other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.

Say there's an 18-wheeler to your right, an R.V. to your left, and suddenly a call comes in from that motormouth client in Kansas City. As the client's voice starts buzzing in your ear, the activity in the parts of your brain keeping your car in your lane declines.

"Forty percent of your attention is drawn away when you're on the phone," says Marcel Just, a psychologist who directs Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. That goes for you too, Mr. Multitasker.

In one experiment at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, a test subject lies down inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, and uses a simulator to drive a car along a winding road, like playing a video game. While steering, the driver hears a voice in his earphones making statements, and has to decide whether they're true or false, while continuing to pilot the car. Listening and driving make demands on different parts of the brain. Yet, apparently, there are finite resources to go around. "You have two moderately automatic tasks, executing concurrently and drawing on the same resource pool," explains Just.

When the voice in the headphones starts talking, researchers can see the parts of the brain devoted to driving get distracted. One part of the brain that's important for driving is the parietal lobe, which, for instance, helps a driver make the car's trajectory fit the curvature of the road. "There is much less activity if someone is talking to you, so you take the curve less precisely and less well," says Just. A similar reduction in activity occurs in the visual cortex, which helps a driver analyze how fast things are going by and see what's coming up ahead. When that voice chimes in on the headphones, "your analysis of the visual scene is less thorough. You'd be more likely to miss a sign, or not as quick to read a complex sign," says Just.

But can't you just ignore the voice chatting in your ear when driving conditions get hairy? Apparently not. "Listening to someone talk is a very automatic process and you can't will yourself not to," explains Just. "In another study, we told them [test subjects] to ignore the sentences, but it made very little difference. You have to block your ears. You can't turn off your brain processing." You may think that you're tuning out your husband or BFF on the other end of the phone when road conditions get bad, but it's not that simple.

"It's insidious," says Just. "If you're in a tough driving situation, and someone talks to you, the processing of the language is going to start right away, whether you like it or not."

There's a lot of gabbing going on out there. In 2007, a survey of 1,200 drivers by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. found that 73 percent of them talk on the phone while driving. Women and young drivers, ages 16 to 24, are the most likely to drive while chatting on the cell. Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported about 6 percent of drivers were using hand-held cellphones at any moment, based on observational data. That means right now roughly 1 million cars and trucks on the road in the U.S. are being driven by people talking on hand-held phones. NHTSA estimated that about 11 percent of vehicles in the typical daylight moment are being driven by someone on either a hand-held or a hands-free phone.

Since cellphones started taking over the world in the '80s, common sense has told us that people gabbing on them while driving are more likely to get into accidents than those who are not. Now the hard evidence is mounting. In 2005, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that drivers talking on the cellphone were four times more likely to get in an accident serious enough to injure themselves. That study, based on cellphone records of drivers in Western Australia, confirmed the findings of a similar study on Canadian drivers conducted back in 1997, which found drivers who were on the phone four times more likely to have a crash resulting in property damage. Neither study found any evidence that hands-free phones are safer.

There are about 42,000 traffic fatalities in the United States every year. It's hard to pinpoint just how many crashes involve a driver using a cellphone, since reporting varies. But a 2006 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that driver inattention is implicated in almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes. The most common form of distraction: the use of cellphones. However, the study found that other forms of distraction -- reaching for a falling Big Gulp, for instance -- were more likely to cause a crash than chatting on the phone.

Yet the rap sheet against driving while chatting just keeps getting longer. A review of 120 studies of cellphones and driving conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that nearly all of the studies reported some impairment of driver performance when on the phone. That includes reacting to hazards more slowly and driving more slowly. Drivers on the phone also tend to be more herky-jerky in the movement of their steering wheel, displaying a lack of control, and have a dangerous habit of weaving out of their lanes.

What's less obvious is the cellphoning driver may literally not see what is right in front of his eyes. Think of all the times your eyes have passed over a sentence in a book and you realized afterward that you had no idea what it said. That's called "inattention blindness," and it can happen while driving, too.

"If you are not paying attention to what your eyes are looking at, you just won't see it," says Strayer. On the phone, incidence of inattention blindness doubles. "Once you get involved in a conversation on the phone, you start paying attention to that, probably creating some kind of image of that conversation, and maybe even actively suppressing the physical environment around you," Strayer says. In eye-tracking studies, researchers have documented drivers' eyes as they pass over a road sign; later, the drivers have no recollection of what the sign said.

Driving while chatting isn't just hazardous, it can cause more traffic. A recent study by Strayer and colleagues found that drivers who are stuck in traffic can in part blame other drivers who are gabbing on the phone for the holdup. Or, as Strayer put it: "That SOB on the cellphone is slowing you down, and making you late." That's because drivers on cellphones drive more slowly and are less likely to pass slow-moving vehicles. If about 10 percent of the people driving during rush hour are using a cellphone, the net effect is that the commute may be 10 percent slower.

As long as the Model-T has been on the road, people have been conversing with the passengers in their vehicles, if only to scream at the pesky kids, "Shut up! I'm trying to drive!" But there's a difference between talking to somebody in the car and on the phone. Most passengers in the car adjust their conversation to what's happening on the road, quieting down when traffic gets hectic or even pointing out hazards up ahead, acting as a second set of eyes. The person on the other end of a cellphone call might not know you're driving, much less be aware of the road conditions. "The difficulty is that the party on the other line has no sense of your driving situation and just yaks, and the driver elects to do it, too," explains Paul Allan Green, research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, where he leads the Driver Interface Group.

Inside a car, there can be natural lulls in the conversation of 20 or 30 seconds, and there is no awkwardness associated with it. Not so on the cellphone call, where there's more social pressure on the driver to hold up his or her end of the conversation, if only to assure the other party that the call hasn't been dropped. "There is all sorts of social pressure to continue the conversation and not break it off," says Green. When a driver does stop talking to focus on the road, his caller is likely to ask, "Hey, can you hear me? Are you there?" The caller tries "to reengage the driver at the wrong time," says Strayer.

Further, researchers find that people tend to be more chatty in a cell conversation than an in-car one. "Cellphone conversations are more intense than in-car conversation," says Paul Atchley, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. That intensity can be measured. Researchers in England studied drivers' conversations with both passengers and callers. They found that people used a higher number of words per minute on cellphone conversations.

In the end, car passengers just have more skin in the game. "People in the car have their own safety at risk," says Atchley. "It's to their advantage to not put the driver in the dangerous situation, so we as passengers tend to edit ourselves pretty effectively."

Researchers doubt that banning hand-held phones gets to the root of the problem: the conversation. Sure, it's safer to have both hands on the wheel, but no one is passing laws banning stick shifts. Atchley believes that the new cellphone laws may be counterproductive, instilling a false sense of security, since they may lull drivers into thinking that gabbing on the hands-free phone is just fine.

"People are led to believe that as long as they have their Bluetooth wireless headset they're safe, when in fact they're probably at more risk, because now that they think that they're safe they're probably going to make more calls and be at risk for even greater periods of time," says Atchley. On the other hand, not everyone who strives to follow the new laws will bother to get a hands-free phone. "If people really don't use their cellphone because they don't have a hands-free unit, then that could actually be a good thing," Strayer says.

Researchers are already studying the impact of hands-free laws, trying to predict what the new laws will (and won't) accomplish. Jed Kolko, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California, studied the fatality rates in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and D.C. before and after their hand-hell cellphone bans went into effect, also comparing traffic fatalities with those in states that did not implement bans. Based on his data, Kolko predicts that California will see 300 fewer traffic fatalities per year, during times of adverse driving conditions, like bad weather, because of the new hands-free law. (To put that in perspective, California has over 4,000 traffic fatalities annually.) But whether that will be because more drivers will have both hands on the wheel or because fewer drivers will be yammering on the phone while behind the wheel is anyone's guess.

For now, cops are writing tickets for talking. In the first two weeks of the law, California Highway Patrol officers wrote 2,500 tickets to drivers who continued to talk on hand-held phones in spite of the ban. To put that in perspective, the CHP writes about 45,000 tickets for speeding in the typical two-week period.

Between lobbying pressure from wireless companies and the public's predilection for talking while driving, regulation against talking on cellphones while driving remains weak, and nonexistent in many places. Yet many corporations are recognizing the liability risks of having employees talking while driving and banning the practice in their employee handbooks.

Even so, it may take decades for public concern about the problem to catch up with the ubiquity of cellphone use behind the wheel. As Atchley notes, the first drunken-driving law went on the books in 1917, yet it wasn't until the 1980s that a grass-roots movement, spearheaded by the likes of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Driving Drunk, led to wide enforcement and tougher laws. It will likely take a similar national mobilization of the aggrieved family members of people killed or maimed by drivers talking on cellphones to raise public awareness of just how dangerous it is.

As for the researchers who study driving and talking on the phone, aren't they tempted to make a few calls when they're stuck in traffic, just like the rest of us? Maybe so, says Green from the University of Michigan Transportation Institute. But when he's driving, "my phone is off," he says.


22 July 2008

today's prayer... love those south african accents...

greetings, and salutations.

it's been a while... i was out of town, and then my laptop died, and i had to send it off to apple. it's nice to have it, and to be, back.

[from the huffington post...]

While on a recent trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa, wildlife photographer Hal Brindley managed to capture film of a leopard attacking a crocodile. Click here to see the series of photos, or watch the slide show below.

The fight is reminiscent of a YouTube video that was popular last year, The Battle At Krugar, which was also filmed at Kruger National Park. That video --which features a fight between a herd of buffalo, two crocodiles, and a pride of lions-- can be seen below.


07 July 2008

the times they are a- changing [also, yellow ledbetter]...

we are heading out of town for the week and as such this'll be the last thing i put up for that period of time... and it may very well be the best thing i've ever put up. from the daily kos, followed by a little non- sequitor lee humor.

The End of the Reagan Era

Sun Jul 06, 2008 at 07:29:41 PM PDT

What makes a political era? In trying to understand any particular political era, it's necessary to understand the previous era, its duration, its characteristics, what brought it in to being, what stresses led to its demise. In trying to figure out our politics since the late sixties, and definitely since the early eighties, few books have been as helpful to me as a collection of essays published in 1989 by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order: 1930-1980. In their introductory essay, Fraser and Gerstle laid out the premise underlying their investigation of a political order:

Our notion of "political order" draws its conceptual inspiration from the notion of "electoral system" and "party system" developed by political scientists and the "new political historians" in recent years. These scholar have depicted American political history since 1800 in terms of relatively long periods of electoral stability punctuated by brief but intense political upheavals and electoral realignments. In each of the five periods of electoral stability (1800-1820's, 1820's-1850's, 1850's-1890's, 1890's-1930's, 1930's-1970's), the major parties had a fixed relationship to an electoral coalition; the size of the parties' respective coalitions, in turn, determined the relationship that prevailed between the two parties—in particular, whether one dominated or whether the two struggled on a relatively equal footing...

This approach diminishes the importance of particular political actors—presidents, senators, and others—as well as of the normal two-, four-, and six-year electoral cycles. It elevates, by contrast, importance of economic events and social trends. Fundamental changes in political life—those which produce a change in party systems—are seen as issuing from crises in the nation's economy, social structure, and political structure...


In probing why such fundamental historical events are required to change party systems, the new political historians have generally offered "ethnocultural" explanations. American voters, at least from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, they have argued, viewed political parties as the protectors of their most treasured beliefs and vital interests: their religions, their ethnic traditions, their families and their neighborhoods. Voters thus developed profound emotional loyalties to parties; these loyalties, in turn, influenced individual electoral behavior far more than rational reflections on a party's platform or short-term, instrumental calculations of the likely return on casting a ballot for one party or another. Such loyalties were not easily forsaken. Only major economic and social crises triggered broad shifts in loyalty from one party to another.

The New Deal voting coalition was anchored by Southern white protestants and Northern Catholics and Jews. Membership in labor unions, then as now, made one far more likely to vote Democratic. Unlike now, however, where the percentage of workers represented by a union is barely over 10%, by the mid-1950's union members were almost 35% of the workforce. Within a short time Black voters, previously loyal to the party of Lincoln, shifted allegiance to the Democrats (although they were disenfranchised in the Jim Crow South).

After the economic and social devastation of the Great Depression—which lasted throughout the thirties, and didn't fully lift until the country mobilized for war starting in about 1940—Roosevelt, Truman and the New Dealers in Congress used tax policy to largely ameliorate the worst in wealth and income disparities. Increased unionization led to wage pattern bargaining, where union contracts raised wages for all workers in that particular sector. In his book The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman calls the 20 year period of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, when the ultra-wealthy became the merely wealthy and the middle class expanded to include the majority of Americans—even if it included few minorities—the Great Compression.

The US didn't follow the path of almost every industrialized nation and create a social democratic welfare state. But after the Kennedy assassination and the huge 1964 Democratic landslide, the Johnson administration pushed through the Great Society initiatives, including Medicare, to go with New Deal and post-WWII measures like Social Security, the G.I. Bill and FHA loans to further expand and extend the partial welfare state.

Johnson also, of course, finally brought the government to grant full franchise and citizenship to Black Americans by passing the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts. These ended the Jim Crow system in the South. But providing paths for African Americans to join the mainstream of American society, according to Fraser and Gerstle, contributed to the stresses that led to the end of the New Deal order:

The state's rhetorical commitment to distributing civil rights and economic abundance to all its citizens inevitably pushed race to the very center of national politics; the nation's growing military obligations diminished the economic resources necessary to solve or at least mitigate the brewing racial crisis; and the importance attached (by purveyors of mass culture and ideologues of a modernist domestiticity) to achieving a full and expressive personal life predictably resulted in an insatiable hunger for "authenticity" and autonomy in all social spheres...The New Deal order's unabashedly modernist character intensified these tensions and was bound, sooner or later, to provoke the moral outrage of traditionalists. A second source of tension resulted from the failure of the Democratic party and organized labor, in the 1930's and 1940's, to transform, through wage legislation and unionization, the South's social structure. Such failures...meant than an extraordinary kind of judicial fiat—itself, though cloaked in constitutional language, a kind of violence—would be necessary to integrate southerners (and especially blacks) into the New Deal order.

As suggested in the previous paragraph, the era of the New Deal was a period of great change in American family relationships. From the extended families of agrarian America that prevailed until roughly the end of WWI, through the ascendancy of the nuclear family as the American norm, to the burgeoning of feminism and the increased integration of women in to the workforce, and therefore the end of the stay-at-home mom as the American norm, many mores and beliefs about family and gender profoundly changed. As with any profound social change, it created political tensions and divides. Much of the conflict in American politics from the late 1960's nearly up to the present has been over social and cultural issues, most rooted in the changes wrought by feminism and racial integration.

Johnson predicted that signing the Civil Rights Act would mean that the Democrats would lose the South for a generation. In presidential politics, he was correct, and below the Presidential level, what had been the "solid south" became the geographic base of the Republican party. In the North, where the frontiers of racial integration and accommodation were populated by African-Americans and mostly ethnic Catholics in the urban areas and inner-ring suburbs, issues like school busing and the riots of the late sixties were used deftly by Republicans to pry apart the New Deal coalition and create "Reagan Democrats." Crime and welfare, associated as they were with African-Americans in the minds of many of these voters, became proxies for race.

On cultural issues, probably nothing cut through the New Deal coalition more traumatically than abortion. But it wasn't just abortion, or more fringe issues like prayer in schools. The Democratic Party itself became tarred with the charge of elitism, which was, since Wallace, associated with pointed-headed intellectuals, judges and bureaucrats telling people—especially men—what they could and couldn't do. Many of the cultural issues became proxy battles over feminism, and liberals and the Democratic party became associated with traits generally thought to be effete, or to take the root word further, feminine.

Reagan came along and put a sunny sheen over the anger of the right. The working class, since the oil shocks of the 1970's and the destruction of core industries like mining, textiles, heavy manufacturing and basic steel, had been pummeled economically. But the damage had been mitigated by the relatively untouched New Deal social welfare system, just recently expanded by Johnson. Reagan fought Carter through a close election, and by convincing enough voters that he wasn't crazy, surged to a ten point win.

Once in office, Reagan commenced a counter-revolution against the New Deal, but the visible attacks tended to be mostly in the context of welfare and the like, which for most voters elicited notions of race rather than hostility toward regulation of the economy or government intervention to mitigate the harshness of unfettered and unregulated markets. Attacks on regulation and the welfare state that weren't seen as disproportionately benefiting African-Americans largely went underground. Through the Reagan era, even up through George W. Bush's campaign in 2004, the Republicans stuck mostly to social and cultural issues, or to taxes. Taxes were another proxy for race, as many swing voters felt their taxes were too high, and felt their tax dollars were being squandered on welfare payments to people who refused to work or on supposedly exorbitant foreign aid to people overseas. But publicly the Republicans largely avoided frontal assaults on the New Deal.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the opening up of China, fears of war faded from the consciousness of voters. This lessened red-baiting, but it also removed the last inhibition preventing what in the 90's became known as the politics of personal destruction. Led by Newt Gingrich, the notion that politics stops at the ocean's shore ended, and everything, including previous off-limits aspects of a politician's personal life, was grounds for attack.

By 2000, most Americans were deeply disillusioned with this petty and nasty politics, but times were generally good. After the huge Republican win in 1994, Republican lost seats in Congress the next three elections. Other than a two-year period during the Eisenhower administration—an administration at peace with the New Deal—Democrats had held the presidency or at least one chamber of Congress for seventy years. The ineptness, hostility toward sound governance and corruption of the GOP had not been fully exposed to the American public; only the Gingrich-led government shutdown of 1995 hinted to casual observers the true intentions of the new mainstream of the radicalized Republican party. Much of Johnson's Great Society had been gutted, but the main legislative pillars of the New Deal, such as social security, after the scares 1981-1983 and 1995, had been left mostly intact. And as often happens when things are good, frivolities like how many times one of the candidates sighed during the debate became a big issue.

Al Gore, his sighs and his supposed exaggerations were savaged in the media. Nevertheless, he won the popular vote, almost certainly won the electoral vote, and was kept out of the White House only by the intervention of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. And Democrats won several upsets in the Senate, leading to a tie broken only by the vote of VP Dick Cheney.

As I've previously argued (here, here and here), I believe we are on the verge of a transforming election. But just as one can argue whether the end of a political era ended in 1968 or was interrupted until 1980 because of Watergate, one could argue that the end of the Reagan era began in 2000 but was interrupted the next year by the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Ruy Texeira and John Judis were already refining their argument for The Emerging Democratic Majority, showing that demographic changes and long-term voting patterns presaged an end to the Reagan era. But 9-11 and the environment of fear exploited by the Republicans prevented GOP losses in 2002. Even then, however, the GOP Congressional gains in 2002 and 2004 (after Texas redistricting) were consistent with the changes in apportionment, with more districts drawn to be pro-Republican accounting for the GOP gains.

Then in 2005 George Bush and the GOP were exposed. Bush tried to mount an overt assault on Social Security, precipitating the decline in his standing that continues today. The disastrous response to Katrina shamed most Americans. And the war in Iraq finally was seen as another disaster made by Bush and the GOP. Democrats went on in 2006 to big wins, and all indications are that we could be on the verge of more big wins this November.

Now many Americans, including many who grew up in families lifted in to the middle class by the New Deal, feel intense economic pain. By historical standards unemployment is not particularly high. But other than a few years in the late 1990's, earnings adjusted for inflation have fallen steadily since 1973. Some of that loss in earnings and wealth was made up for with low and easy credit and skyrocketing home values, and home owners spent against their increased equity. But now, as people's home values plummet, foreclosures mount, credit is unavailable, and wages continue to decline, there's nothing to soften the economic blows to working families, even including many which in the past would have been considered comfortably in the upper middle class.

As the wage and wealth hits accumulate, Americans' economic health is being attacked from other directions. Secure pensions are no longer a given, and 401K accounts have been devastated by the recent crash in the stock market. Health care costs continue to rise faster than inflation, and the number of uninsured Americans continues to grow. And the costs of going to college or having children are too great to bear for many younger Americans.

The long period of doing nothing to address Americans' addiction to gas guzzlers, combined with instability (and most likely price manipulation) in the petroleum markets, has created yet another economic stress on Americans. As in the 1930's, when everything in politics was dominated by the effort to subdue the depression, in coming years, almost all the major policy problems faced by America—our foreign policy, the price and availability of food in the US and the food demands in developing countries, our declining manufacturing base, our balance of payments to foreign nations, wage and income inequality, environmental and climate changes, construction, the "financialization" of the American economy—will be connected to energy and climate change.

Finally, there's a sense with many Americans that there's something seriously wrong in America. All the polls show it. The young have been voting Democratic for the last three elections, and young voters appear ready to vote in much higher numbers this November than in any election since the vote was extended to 18 year olds in 1972, maybe in higher numbers than ever seen. Black voters, driven by the candidacy of Barack Obama, appear ready to vote in record numbers. Latinos continue to grow as a percentage of the vote, and continue to become more solidly Democratic. But the greatest movement may be among working class and middle class voters no longer motivated to vote on issues of race, social change or cultural issues, but instead motivated by the inequities of wealth that have reopened during the Reagan era.

According to NYT Reporter Steven Greenhouse, author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,

the top 1 percent of households, averaging $1.1 million in annual income, received nearly 22 percent of all reported income in 2005, up from 9 percent in 1980. That income shift helped create the greatest level of inequality since the Roaring Twenties.

Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary, found that were it not for this increased inequality the bottom 80 percent of Americans would be doing considerably better. If the distribution of income today were the same as in 1979, Summers said, assuming the same level of economic growth since then, income of the bottom 80 percent of Americans would be about $670 billion more a year--or about $8,000 per family. For many households in the bottom half, this would mean a welcome 20 to 30 percent increase in income, perhaps the boost needed to avoid foreclosure.


One can see the economic divide widen in another way. The average income for the top 1 percent of households was ten times that for the middle fifth in 1979. By 2005, those in the top 1 percent earned 21 times as much as those in the middle. Income for the top 1 percent of households averaged 70 times that of households in the bottom fifth, the greatest gap on record, up from 23 times as much in 1979.

At the pinnacle of the inequality pyramid are the nation's CEOs. American corporations may be tightfisted about raises for most workers, but they paid their chief executives $10.5 million on average in 2005, including salary, bonuses and stock options. That was quadruple their pay a dozen years earlier. This means the typical CEO earns 369 times as much as the average worker, up from 131 times in 1993 and 36 times in 1976.

We have reached the point where we have unsustainable energy policy, and unsustainable foreign and military policy, an unsustainable fiscal policy, and, as many Americans now feel personally, economic inequities that aren't sustainable if we wish to maintain the broad middle class created by the New Deal order. We've reached the end of the Reagan era, and are on the cusp of something new, hopefully better, and characterized by a bold, vigorous, creative Democratic party with which people bond as they did with the Democratic party of the New Deal era.

have a great week.


05 July 2008

also, from the village voice...

Jesse Helms Finally Dies

Posted by Harkavy at 12:08 PM, July 4, 2008

If we're lucky, he took some of his bitter bigotry with him.

Jesse Helms, an unrepentant supporter of unnatural causes throughout his life, died of natural causes this morning at the age of 86.

The only sign of moderation ever shown by the longtime North Carolina senator was his decision to stop saying the word "nigger" when he was likely to be quoted in public settings.

The death of Helms is just about the best birthday present the United States could wish for on July 4. Free at last — of Jesse Helms.

While the networks and most of the press will soft-pedal his virulent racism and reckless disregard for the First Amendment in his hounding of artists, foreigners and many others, Helms stayed his divisive course until the bitter end — at least until the end of his public career.

After building a reputation as a frankly speaking bigot, Helms ended his public life as a liar who whitewashed those previously bold stands.

In a 2005 review of a Helms autobiography and a Strom Thurmond biography, Michael Lind noted in the Washington Post:

Like Thurmond, Jesse Helms, a fellow Republican who served as a senator from North Carolina from 1973 until 2003, symbolized the white Southern backlash against racial integration and social liberalism.

Helms gained a political following in the 1960s as a commentator on Raleigh's WRAL-TV and the Tobacco Radio Network with his denunciations of the civil rights movement, liberalism and communism.

As a senator, he explained that he voted against Roberta Achtenberg, President Clinton's nominee for a Housing and Urban Development position, "because she's a damn lesbian."

When Helms encountered protesters during a visit to Mexico in 1986, he remarked: "All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction."

In 1990, Helms stayed away in protest when Nelson Mandela addressed a joint session of Congress.

You would never know any of this from Helms's bland new memoir, which passes in silence over the Dixiecrats in 1948 and the civil rights revolution.

Even though America has undergone many changes since the days when the word "nigger" was freely used, it's vital for us to not ban the word. We need it, in context, to accurately record our history. Black man Randall Kennedy, author of the book Nigger, has argued that point recently in "A Note on the Word 'Nigger' ":

To paper over that term or to constantly obscure it by euphemism is to flinch from coming to grips with racial prejudice that continues to haunt the American social landscape.

Jesse Helms was such a radical that he was able to fan the embers of prejudice even when he spewed the milder N-word with malice aforethought.

In "Dr. Jim Crow," a 2003 article in the Journal of African American History about the post-World War II desegregation of Southern medical education in North Carolina, Karen Kruse Thomas noted:

During the 1950s and 1960s the [University of North Carolina's] controversial role in desegregating Southern higher education would be subject to radically differing interpretations.

To white progressives, UNC was leading the way toward harmonious race relations, while white segregationists generally subscribed to Jesse Helms's notion that UNC stood for "the University of Negroes and Communists."

Many black North Carolinians were convinced that the university would never overcome its 160-year history of excluding members of their race.

The death of Helms, particularly on Independence Day, helps.

And it's fitting that he should die during a presidential race that features young black man Barack Obama.

Whether or not Obama wins, the death of Helms and the ascendancy of people like Obama represent at least some sign of progress in America.


my first college roommate ever's name was dave hood, back in athens in 1997...

... was that you?


04 July 2008

happy 4th of july...

it's the fourth of july, probably my favorite holiday of them all. and there's been a couple of big stories in the news this week that i've been trying to not let get my blood pressure up: fisa, the mccain/ wesley clark thing, and obama on the war. but i've found these this morning that, i think, are letting me just relax and enjoy my favorite holiday of the year.

[from the carpet bagger...]

McCain gets busy, the media gets spun, and Obama gets screwed

The more the presidential campaign unfolds, the more it resembles a Twilight Zone episode in which reality has no meaning at all.

For over a year, Barack Obama’s position on Iraq has been entirely consistent — a flexible withdrawal timeline, over 16 months, with one to two brigades a month. He would consult with commanders on the ground about how best to execute this policy, and would consider conditions on the ground, but Obama is committed to a withdrawal policy. He’s said this over and over again.

In fact, conditions-based flexibility has always been a hallmark of Obama’s policy. Asked earlier this year if he’d refine the timeline based on events on the ground, Obama said he would. Asked if he’d guarantee that all the troops would be out of Iraq, no matter, what 2013, Obama demurred.

So, yesterday, when Obama repeated the exact same policy he’s emphasized for over a year, the McCain campaign and the national political media — the distinctions between McCain and his “base” continue to blur — pounced. Obama, they said without evidence or connection to reality, had changed his policy.

The problem, of course, is that McCain and the traditional media outlets had already picked the narrative in advance. Republicans decided recently that Obama would change his Iraq policy. Why? Because they said so, and proceeded to repeat the claim, incessantly, over the last 10 days. Major news outlets, demonstrating 2000-like levels of professional malpractice, bought into it. Why? Because Republicans told them to like the “move to the center” narrative, and the media is anxious to acquiesce.

As such, when Obama explained yesterday morning that he’d continue to take reality into account when shaping the details of his withdrawal policy, the Republican National Committee issued a statement that said, “There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience.” The RNC assumed — or at least, hoped — that professional journalists at major media outlets are blisteringly stupid.

At which point, the professional journalists at major media outlets sought to prove the RNC right. They started the week royally screwing up the Wesley Clark story, and they ended the week royally screwing up Obama’s Iraq policy story.

The AP, which has basically been running McCain campaign press releases as news articles, said Obama had “opened the door … to altering his plan to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in 16 months.” That hadn’t, you know, actually happened, but the RNC said it had, and that was good enough for the Associated Press. Other news outlets followed suit, as did the cable news networks.

Almost immediately, it became accepted fact — Obama had reversed course. “Everyone” knew it was going to happen, and then “everyone” knew that it had happened. That Obama’s policy hadn’t changed at all was irrelevant, and frankly, inconvenient. McCain and the media had what they wanted, and they were running with it.

So, Obama, visibly frustrated, held another press conference to say, again, that his policy has not changed.

Remind me again why any mentally healthy individual would argue that the national media is going easy on Obama?

The hang-up seems to be over Obama’s use of the word “refine.” Obama is willing, in other words, to improve the details on how he’d withdraw from Iraq. What’s less clear is why anyone over the age of seven would find this controversial. As Matt Yglesias put it, “Basically, unless Obama comes out and says something like ‘I’m a totally unreasonable person whose views on Iraq will in no way be influenced by anyone’s advice or any possible factual developments’ he’s now a flip-flopper. Meanwhile, John McCain’s views on Iraq receive no scrutiny whatsoever.”

In a sign of the Rovian tactics to come, the McCain campaign’s press statement insulted the intelligence of everyone who saw it.

“Today, Barack Obama reversed that position proving once again that his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain’s position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it. Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country.

“Now that Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words, we would like to congratulate him for accepting John McCain’s principled stand on this critical national security issue. If he had visited Iraq sooner or actually had a one-on-one meeting with General Petraeus, he would have changed his position long ago.”

I like to think that public service through politics is an honorable pursuit. The McCain campaign is surprisingly anxious to remove any shred of honor from this process. This statement is a lie, the campaign knows it’s a lie, the reporters have to know it’s a lie, and anyone who speaks English can see that it’s a lie. But they said it anyway.

And Josh Marshall explained why the McCain campaign would bother to issue such a breathtakingly dishonest statement.

For the McCain campaign to put out a memo to reporters claiming that Obama has adopted McCain’s policy only shows that his advisors believe that a sizable percentage of the political press is made up of incorrigible morons. And it’s hard to disagree with the judgment.

The simple truth is that this campaign offers a very clear cut choice on Iraq. One candidate believes that the US occupation of Iraq is the solution; the other thinks it’s the problem. John McCain supports the permanent deployment of US troops in Iraq. That is why his hundred years remark isn’t some gotcha line. It’s a clear statement of his policy. Obama supports a deliberate and orderly withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. It’s a completely different view of America’s role in the world and future in the Middle East. Reporters who can’t grasp what Obama is saying seem simply to have been permanently befuddled by George W. Bush’s game-playing over delegating policy to commanders.

Yesterday was a farce. The journalists at the major news outlets ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are, quite literally, hurting the country. I expect the McCain campaign and the RNC to lie — it is, regrettably, what they do best — but there’s simply no excuse for the kind of reporting we’ve seen over the last 24 hours. It doesn’t even take any sophistication — just look at what Obama has said before, consider what he said yesterday, and notice that nothing has changed. Hell, use Google; it’s free.

It’s almost as if we’re watching a game in which the refs have been paid off.

[from media matters...]

John McCain's "protective barrier"

Nearly four months ago, I wrote that many journalists were going along with John McCain's apparent efforts to declare that, because of his military service, any criticism -- even if it doesn't have anything to do with his service -- is out of bounds. In one early example, McCain attacked Mitt Romney, claiming that Romney (who, McCain noted, "has never had any military experience") had criticized Bob Dole's "service and courage." In fact, Romney hadn't said anything about Dole's service, or his courage. Not even close. But that didn't stop the media from going along with McCain's false claims.

A few weeks later, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked if Barack Obama was "taking aim at John McCain's age, an American war hero." Obama hadn't said anything that had anything to do with McCain's status as an "American war hero" -- indeed, he hadn't mentioned McCain at all. Still, Brewer felt compelled to invoke McCain's status as a war hero at the slightest hint (real or imagined) that McCain is being criticized -- even though that (real or imagined) criticism had nothing to do with McCain's military service.

But incidents like that were apparently just trial runs for what has happened this week, as much of the media has abandoned any pretense of neutrality. In the most vivid example to date of media describing any criticism of McCain as criticism of his military service, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell described a television ad that made not a single mention of McCain's service as being a part of "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service."

Here's the ad; watch for yourself. It's an ad about McCain's Iraq policies. It doesn't make any mention of McCain's military record. Doesn't even hint at anything having anything to do with McCain's service. Yet Mitchell suggested it was part of "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service." She may as well have said a giant purple unicorn had called McCain a traitor, for all the truth there was to her statement.

Mitchell's description was deeply dishonest, but what's really remarkable is how well it fit in among the rest of the media's political coverage this week.

On Sunday, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer suggested that the fact that Barack Obama has not "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down" makes him less qualified to be president than John McCain. His guest, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, responded by saying that having done so is not a qualification to be president:

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean --

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.


Clark has made similar comments in the past, and various media figures said much the same thing about John Kerry in 2004. Morton Kondracke, for example: "It does not qualify you to be the commander in chief of all the Armed Forces because you were a Swift boat commander." And Kathleen Parker: "[M]ilitary service neither qualifies nor disqualifies one for political office." That same year, Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt -- now John McCain's de facto campaign manager -- dismissed the relevance of Kerry's military service, noting that it had occurred decades earlier.

Nobody much cared when people said John Kerry's military service didn't qualify him to be president. But the media have different rules when it comes to John McCain. And so Clark's comments were met with a firestorm of media criticism. Never mind that Clark hadn't criticized McCain's service; that he hadn't said McCain served poorly or dishonorably -- in fact, Clark called McCain a "hero." Never mind all that; the media quickly, relentlessly -- and falsely -- jumped all over Clark.

They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's military service. They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's patriotism. They went along with the McCain campaign's complaints that Clark -- who, again, called McCain a "hero" -- "didn't pay proper homage" to McCain. By the end of the week, one creative journalist went so far as to falsely claim that Clark's comments were part of a "pattern of attacks" on McCain as "psychologically unfit for presidential office." In short: they freaked out.

A few journalists felt compelled to acknowledge the obvious: that what Clark said was actually right -- that McCain's military service, like John Kerry's, is not sufficient qualification for the presidency no matter how honorable and heroic it was. But they still insisted Clark shouldn't have said it.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins, for example, wrote: "When Schieffer pointed out that Obama had neither run a squadron nor 'ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down,' the correct response was: 'No, and he honors Senator McCain's service.' ... Nevertheless, what Clark said was obviously true." Collins' Times colleague John Harwood agreed during an appearance on MSNBC: "[I]t was a misstep by Clark ... It was not a well-advised thing for Clark to do ... It actually was true."

When did journalists decide that the "obviously true" answer to a question is not the "correct" answer? When did they decide that it was appropriate to spend days excoriating someone for saying something that is "true" but isn't "well-advised?" Columbia Journalism Review's Zachary Roth, writing about an ABCNews.com report, explained:

This is the perfect embodiment of the press's unbelievably destructive habit of assessing every piece of campaign rhetoric for its political acuity, rather than for its validity and accuracy. Clark's comments may (or may not) have been impolitic. But that has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof -- which is how the news media should be evaluating them.

Incredibly, many in the media compared Clark's "obviously true" comments to the vicious smear campaign waged by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry. The comparisons began almost immediately. Just hours after Clark's appearance on Face the Nation, CNN host Rick Sanchez asked, "[D]id Wesley Clark pull a swift boat on John McCain today?" He later described Clark's comments as "A respected military leader dissing, some might say, swift-boating John McCain's military record." The absurd comparison quickly gained traction, particularly on cable news.

But wait: it gets worse. Not only did the media compare Clark to the noxious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, many of them politely averted their eyes when McCain turned to a member of that group -- which McCain once called "dishonest and dishonorable" -- to respond to Clark's non-attack. The Washington Post, one of the media outlets that did note Bud Day's membership in the SBVT, quoted him rejecting the comparison between Clark and the anti-Kerry group -- because, he claimed, the comparison was unfair to the Swifties: "The Swift boat, quote, attacks were simply a revelation of the truth. The similarity doesn't exist. ... One was about laying out the truth. This one is about attempting to cast another shadow."

The Post didn't bother to tell readers that, in fact, the Swift Boat attacks were deeply dishonest and nasty smears.

In short: John McCain turned to a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group whose false and despicable attacks on John Kerry's war record McCain once denounced, to attack Wesley Clark for comments in which Clark did not criticize McCain's war record -- and in which he, in fact, called McCain a hero. And the media went along with it.

But -- because the only limit to how absurd the media's pro-McCain coverage will become is time -- it gets even worse.

While defending the Swift Boat Vets' lies about John Kerry and attacking Wes Clark for something he didn't say, Bud Day said of Clark: "General Clark spent a month in Vietnam, got badly wounded, evacuated, and that was his Vietnam experience. I'd say let's hold the two of them up and see who's most qualified to talk about their experience as a combat officer."

That happens to be false. Clark served at least six months in Vietnam, not "a month." Day's comments about Clark constituted an actual falsehood about a distinguished veteran's military record, made on an official McCain campaign conference call by a hand-picked surrogate. Surely, after days of freaking out over something Wes Clark didn't say, the media quickly gave as much attention to SBVT member Bud Day's false claims about Clark's own war record?

Of course not. Remember: the rules are different for John McCain.

Then there's Bob Dole. Earlier this year, McCain falsely accused Mitt Romney of criticizing Dole's service. This week, Bob Dole returned the favor by releasing a statement calling Wes Clark's non-attack on McCain's service "Beyond comprehension" and a "further erosion of our nation's political discourse."

CNN, MSNBC, Time and the Associated Press, among others, reported Bob Dole's comments about Clark. But nobody mentioned an inconvenient fact that completely undermines Dole's credibility on this topic: In 2004, in the midst of the Swift Boat controversy, Bob Dole went on national television to make false claims about John Kerry's war injuries, suggesting the Democratic presidential candidate didn't deserve his Purple Hearts.

Dole said in 2004 that he will "always quarrel about" Kerry's Purple Hearts, because "he got two in one day" even though he "never bled" and only had "superficial wounds." In fact, Kerry's Purple Hearts were not awarded for the same day, and he did bleed, according to Kerry crewmate Del Sandusky, who -- unlike Dole -- was present when Kerry was injured. There has never been any evidence that John Kerry did not earn his medals, and there is considerable evidence he did.

The false claims Bob Dole made to suggest John Kerry did not deserve his Purple Hearts are what it looks like when somebody actually smears a war hero. Yet the media who dutifully repeated Dole's criticism of Clark didn't bother to mention Dole's bogus and offensive comments about Kerry.

After all, Dole was defending John McCain from (imaginary) attacks, and the rules are different for John McCain.

Let's pause for a moment to review. According to the news media, if you call John McCain a "hero," but say that heroism doesn't qualify him to be president, you have dishonorably attacked his military service. (Feel free, however, to say the same thing about John Kerry.) And if you criticize McCain's Iraq policies, you are participating in "an organized campaign against John McCain's military service."

But wait! There's more!

The media's knee-jerk defense of McCain doesn't stop at their use of his military service to rule criticism of his Iraq policies out of bounds. It extends to (things having nothing to do with) his age, too. See, if you criticize John McCain for ignoring his own pledge to avoid negative campaigning, the media will quickly announce that you're really attacking his age. That was ridiculous, of course, but McCain aide Mark Salter told them to say it, so they did.

You get the picture: the media is on the verge of declaring any criticism of John McCain off-limits -- even when it isn't really criticism. Even when you call him a "hero," but not quite enthusiastically enough.

One of the hallmarks of the Karl Rove era of GOP politics is that the Republicans aren't particularly subtle about their tactics. They tend to clearly telegraph what they intend to do, though often with the slight wrinkle of accusing the opposition of doing what they plan to do themselves.

That is certainly true of the McCain campaign. In the very memo in which Salter convinced the media to pretend that Obama's criticism of McCain's negative campaigning was an attack on the Arizona senator's age, Salter wrote: "Senator Obama is hopeful that the media will continue to form a protective barrier around him, declaring serious limits to the questions, discussion and debate in this race."

Yes, that's John McCain's senior adviser complaining that the media has formed a "protective barrier" around Barack Obama.

The American people, however, seem to see through this nonsense. Two months ago, The New York Times and CBS News conducted a poll in which they asked respondents whether the media has been harder or easier on John McCain than on other candidates. Only 8 percent thought the media had been harder on McCain than on other candidates; more than three times as many people thought the media had taken it easier on McCain than on other candidates. (Asked the same question about media coverage of Barack Obama, respondents split pretty much down the middle.)

It probably could go without saying at this point, but in case you're wondering: No, neither the Times nor CBS reported those poll results.