Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Party at the DOJ

One aspect of the DOJ hiring scandal about which I haven't heard much discussion is the matter of remedies. Josh Marshall makes a case today that the prime offenders, including Michael Elston, might be prosecuted.

But even then the Bushies have still "won." They've successfully stocked the DOJ with wingnuts of the Goodling/Sampson variety while purging a generation of better qualified applicants who just happened to be lib-ruls. For years, the wingers will now be onward and upward to plum appointments--as DOJ execs, USAs, judges, etc.--in a way that will be tough for Dems to catch up. Those conservative lawyers hired via regressive action policies can't exactly be fired now. That would look discriminatory, and who can imagine Mukasey taking such steps anyway? Moreover, even if Obama wins, the same law that the Bushies broke in politicizing the department will prevent Obama from undoing the damage by hiring a disproportionate number of liberals or withholding promotions to Bush's wackadoos. Game set match Bush.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mother of All Birthdays

Ushered in my fifth decade in fine style this weekend, making a trip to Atlanta with Mrs. TMcD and "the Goofball" to meet up with college roomie, Beaker. While Goof and her mama hit the botanical garden, Beak and I had lawn seats for REM. Great show. I've seen the pride of Athens four times now, and this was probably the best, despite having nosebleed seating. Lots of old faves for us oldsters, including four gems from Reckoning: "Harborcoat," "Pretty Persuasion," "Time After Time," and "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville," the last sung by Mike Mills in full Nashville form complete with cowboy hat. And, of course, lots of stumping for Obama from stage.

Then this morning Mrs. TMcD surprised me with Braves tix. Damned good ones too. Row 14, b/w home and the mound, right where the netting ends. I think Beak and I even made the teevee (we at least got jumbotron)--Mrs. TMcD missed out, however, refusing to hurl herself into the shot with the same shamelessness. Even better, the Braves beat the Mariners 8-3 after 7 shotout innings from Tim Hudson and three dingers from Mark Texiera.

Finally, and best of all, word is the Family 3 added their #3 this afternoon, a Bee in their Basinet. Yee-ha and congrats to the whole clan! I demand visual confirmation and soon. Paul and I have ponied up, now it's time to complete the set.

Friday, June 20, 2008


This notice was distributed by the Secret Service to tenants of buildings facing Lafayette Square this week. Why?

Kamen reports in today's Post: This week's mysterious "No Peeking" memo -- generated after the Secret Service requested that organizations with windows facing Lafayette Park draw their blinds and stay away from the windows until 2 p.m. -- was sparked by a visit from Vice President Cheney. He was at Decatur House, which is on the park, for a Republican National Congressional Committee fundraising lunch.

Huh? Cheney can have the Secret Service make people stop looking at him. Or to not look at the building that he's inside? Madness.

This used to be a free country.

"For your safety" my ass. Not for anyone's safety.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Closers

OK, so we closed on the house on Capitol Hill today. All your houses are belong to us.


There's that weird moment in entering the house when it's empty. It's like . . . it will never be this way again. Right?

To describe the house . . . it's very nice. I'm sure most of the readers of this blog will see it, by and by. And . . . there may be some pix, soon.

Now it's over . . . except for the moving.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Celebrity Age

It is hard to believe that the death of Tim Russert has been the leading news story all weekend long. With the floods devastating the Midwest (potentially spoiling this year's harvest, with food prices already inflationary), tens of thousands of people out of their homes as a result, with violence surging in Afghanistan, and on and on . . . he nation finds time to mourn, at length, . . . a teevee talk show host.

I know that we're supposed to call Russert a "journalist," but I think that the reaction to his death undercuts that label. A journalist reports the news, s/he doesn't become the news. I think that it would be hard to name the children of most journalists, or to know more about them that they are good writers or have great sources. But I knew a whole lot about Russert--his family, his upbringing, his background, his religion. He was a celebrity.

In this celebrity age, the folks reporting the news have become well known, not for the accuracy or quality of their reporting--I think that this is safe to say--but for the fact that they are . . . well known. At least among those of us who watch a lot of news (especially cable news).

Russert's public image his own creation--like other celebrities, Russert knew that how the public perceives you is more important than anything else. How many times did we have to hear about how this five million dollars a year teevee host was "working class"? Or about Buffalo?

But think about what we didn't hear about, too. From time to time, it might be mentioned that Russert had a law degree. But did he mention the name of his law school--Cleveland-Marshall, a fine but not prestigious law school--on the air? I never heard it. Why not? Because attending such, er, a "working class" law school would undercut perceptions of his brilliance. Because why would a brilliant scholar of American politics go to a third-tier law school?

This is not to speak ill of the dead. But it is to speak ill of this celebrity age.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Shocking. My immediate reaction was great sadness mixed with disbelief. Famous people die all the time, of course, and Russert, at 58, wasn't exactly the youngest. But his youthful vigor and boundless enthusiasm for the politics he covered made him seem somehow beyond age and its infirmities. There's one side of me that wonders how NBC could have devoted its entire show tonight and MSNBC its entire night to Russert's obit, as if he were Princess Di. The more sentimental side of me says he deserved it. (More than Di, at least.) You can tell that everyone on TV talking about him feels like he or she has been punched in the gut: Brokaw, Olbermann, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Jack Welch.

Still, I suspect more afoot than just a tribute to a beloved colleague. The MSM has been taking a beating lately from both left and right, after decades of getting beaten only from the right had given them a bad case of Stockholm syndrome. Now nobody loves them, or even respects them much. Tim Russert was the exception. In mourning him, they mourn their own loss of confidence and self.

Russert was not immune from this trend. In some ways he was its embodiment. Cheney famously bragged about using "Timmeh" and MTP as suckers for his propaganda machine, having figured out the game. Since Russert always attacked self-contradictions, using guests' own words to hoist them, Cheney realized that either a consistent liar or a politician unashamed of his own hypocrisy while trafficking in faux gravitas could skate free. Adding to the dodge was the fact that Russert always pulled his punches for the GOP, partly in self-correction for his own Democratic past--and, likely, his ongoing Dem sympathies. Even then, thanks in large part to his intelligence and geniality, he was impossible to dislike. He also redeemed himself with me by pronouncing the Hillary campaign's death sentence several weeks back in a way that signaled the end to the remainder of the press corps. Hey, didn't we just hear about the Clintons formulating an "enemies list"? Conspiracy theorists, start your engines. Better yet, don't.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boumediene for Bouginners

I never thought I'd say this, but thank God for Anthony Kennedy. With today's Gitmo decision in Boumediene v. Bush, Wrong Way Tony finally got one right. It almost makes me want to stop hating him for stealing the election back in 2000, although, on the other hand, if he hadn't stolen the election we wouldn't have had this problem--or dozens others for that matter--in the first place. Good analysis for us non-lawyers from Hilzoy and Glenn Greenwald. Goes to show how critical it was that Senate Dems beat down the nomination of Robert Bork more than two decades ago. Were it not for that long ago fight, the Constitution would have been shredded today by five "justices" who apparently believe that executive power is unlimited. Instead, they've only got four. Harry Reid, take note.

On the plus side, we know even better now than we did before just how much of a reactionary the Chief Justice really is. His dissent may not have been as unhinged as that of Scalia (“It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed. The nation will live to regret what the court has done today.” Then--being, I can only guess, for one of the court's most arrogant and least restrained justices, ironic?--he blasted the majority's "inflated notion of judicial supremacy.”). But it does show just how little regard both men have for constitutional rights as justified by a plain reading of the text. The Bush administration argument that prisoners on Gitmo get no habeas protections because they aren't on "American" soil doesn't pass the laugh test. This is not a question of whether we can or cannot detain possible terrorists. It is a question of whether the president can act without any judicial oversight. Can American officials reasonably claim to have the power to set up black sites anywhere they can get a leasing agreement and then kidnap, imprison, torture, or kill anyone they want without a shred of legal oversight? No.

I had the distinct displeasure of seeing the neo-fascist lawyer David Rivkin on PBS Newshour tonight comparing this case to Dred Scott and saying it was the "worst decision he had ever read." How perverse. How inverse! Dred Scott was denied legal recourse in challenging his return to slavery because as a slave he was not considered a "person" under the constitution. So how exactly is granting prisoners access to the legal system like denying a slave access to the legal system? The Orwellians strike again. No matter how fancy a pedigree the CJ owns, he's shaping up to be a Roger Taney for the new millennium. Except, of course, that the infamous Taney, a believer in democracy and a skeptic about corporate privilege, had a few redeeming qualities. What happens when you breed a Taney and a McReynolds? Roberts.

Paradise Regained

Ever notice that where we used to talk about how and when Bush would withdraw troops from Iraq, we never talk about that any more? Back in the day, Bush had to answer these questions now and again, on the assumption that we might someday, you know, leave. We talked about "Friedman units" (if it doesn't turn around in 6 months, then well. . . !), speculated about the effect of Rummy's departure, etc. No more. We've all just internalized the fact that Bush fully intends to punt this to the next guy. And I'm not sure he's paid any real consequences for this.

Some of this can be chalked up to the "surge" and recent reductions of violence, and some can be attributed to GWB's short clock. But a lot of the explanation must be that the media attention to the campaign has just sucked all the air out of challenging Bush on the war. Meanwhile, McCain gets more deferential treatment on such questions simply because he's McCain. Otherwise his "not too important" quote yesterday would have been huge, especially paired with the negotiations over permanent bases in Iraq and Bush's saber-rattling on Iran. Maybe it will matter down the road. Getting these guys on the record does matter. But right now the press would rather talk about the resignation one of the guys Obama had vetting veeps. Perspective, people?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Film Review: There Will Be Blood, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (2007)

There Will Be Blood opens with a shot of two scruffy, barren hills, identical though unequal in stature, poking up from the California desert. Their surfaces are ugly if unremarkable but action stirs in the black solitude down below. A classical tragedy set in the not so old West--starting in 1898 and ending in 1927--the film charts the rise of oilman Daniel Plainview (a role for which Daniel Day Lewis won Best Actor) from lonely digger to psychotic tycoon, bedeviled by his nemesis, boy evangelist Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). They are two scruffy, barren, identical, but unequal hills emerging from an unloved wilderness.

Much has been made of TWBB's exploration of the relationship between wealth and religion, or, more specifically, the war of godless capitalism and godless Christianity, making the film entertaining as a commentary on both America writ large and today's GOP. Where Plainview represents capitalism and the corruptions of strength--he is a bully of great physicality--the scrawny Sunday embodies the corruptions of weakness, the poor who lash out against their exploitation by hatching their own dramatic and exploitive schemes. Largely overlooked, however, is how the film pivots on questions of familial identity. Relations are constructed and deconstructed out of material interest in the service of short- and long-term advantage, developing the theme in a way that any amateur Marxist could appreciate. The film's title, an allusion to MacBeth, is both promise and prophecy. We know that this cannot end well. Indeed, the final scene circles back to the first, with Plainview all alone in another cave he has built for himself, albeit one much more opulent and violent than the one where he began. But the title also invokes family and the ties of blood from which ambitious Americans have often sought escape, only to then recreate through choice, fraud, and force of will. Their blood will be willed.

We know little of Plainview's personal history. Like a creature from Plato's myth of the metals, he appears to us autochthonous, as if sprung fully formed from the infertile earth. The film's first twenty minutes pass in the silence of labor, broken only by grunts of pain, while Daniel strikes his ax inside his rocky womb. Eventually Plainview co-opts others for his quest, and when a fellow miner dies--the earth is both cradle and grave--he leaves an infant son whom Plainview adopts as his own flesh and blood. Paternity has its advantages. Townsfolk are more likely to sell their land to a family man, especially one who appears to be a dutiful and doting widower dad. And he is doting. The artificiality and self-interest of his fathering do not prevent his loving his son, "H.W." Even if he does not say it, and he eventually betrays it, his actions make clear that he is a father and a good one at that. This is a relation he has chosen and, as long as it is he who is doing the choosing, he lives his lie as well as any man could.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that Plainview cannot choose his own consequences. H.W. loses his hearing in a well accident, and Plainview must choose between the business he has fathered and the son he has businessed. Although he initially acts in good faith, the constant insinuations that he is not in fact raising his boy drive him to angry and narcissistic flights of self-defense. Then one day a stranger arrives claiming to be Daniel's long lost half-brother, Henry, bringing news from home. After initially befriending his "brother," Daniel discovers the fraud. It is too much for him to bear. There is, of course, little difference in principle between the two men's falsehoods, except that Plainview cannot stand to be made a fool when the choice of "family" is not his own, and so he kills to hide his own boyish naivete and his longing for bonds of blood long abandoned. Here is a man who can forgive himself his hatreds but not his loves, who can dare to be good but not bear to be stupid. When Eli Sunday reappears in the film's finale, his greatest error is to call himself Daniel's "brother," a reminder not only of the two men's resemblance but also of their recurrent humiliations. It is a fratricide waiting to be reborn--for both men, the one who kills and the one who succumbs.

The question, of course, is why we should care about these men, and on their own terms we may not. There is not enough good in Daniel, or Eli for that matter, for us to truly sympathize. It is difficult to transform classical tragedy--where characters bear not only there own humanity but also the weight of representing great social forces--into gritty western. To like this film, I suspect you must approach it in the abstract, as an exercise in sociology, political theory, and human psychology rather than a drama of flesh and blood. Such a filter turns the film's title into an irony, however, and makes Anderson--like Eli--a "false prophet." As mightily as he wields his ax, the director cannot quite get blood from this stone.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I'm sure that you've all read Mark Penn's delightful campaign retrospective by now. (Short version: It wasn't my fault!) But here's the line that gets me: [Clinton] did show her warmer side, and campaigned often with her mom and with her daughter. But it was her strength as a warrior that voters saw — as they had in New York — as she won primary after primary against the odds.

"[H]er strength as a warrior"? Huh? This is one annoying usage that I would like to see disappear. I understand the power of "war" as a metaphor ("the moral equivalent of war" etc.), but enough is enough.

"This is war." No, it's not.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Beetch Reading

So I'm glad to see that the tenacious one is still fired up about this nomination contest. Any political strategy that can turn TMcD, one of the most steadfast Clintonites of the 1990s, into a Clinton hater . . . brilliant work, Clinton team. They managed to be sort of like the political George Lucas, with the 2008 nomination fight as Phantom Menace, but with extra Jar Jar!

I've actually been back from vacation for the better part of a week, but that week flew by.

Vacation was great, for the most part. As you all know, the powers that be have decided to make getting anywhere (by air) in this day and age a royal pain in the ass, so there's that. And there was lots of driving on hot Southern highways. But the beach house was comfy, and the weather in Gulf Shores was hot.

I managed to read five books while on vacation--well, actually four and a half, and I finished one after getting back. So back on pace for the year.

I continue to dig Michael Connelly novels--this trip read The Lincoln Lawyer and The Black Ice this trip. The Black Ice is an excellent noir, not to take anything away from the other one. I am getting pretty close to having read all his novels, so he better write some more. Also read Pelecanos's Night Gardener, which was pretty good, William Gibson's Idoru, which seemed a bit dated to me (and it was published in 1996, so go figure), and Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, which was good but not really my thing, if you get my drift.

With Lethem, the thing is that the writing is too distracting, which reveals one of my preferences, in professional prose and in leisure reading. I like the writing to be direct, even simple, and the story/character/plot to be interesting. I think a lot of writers try to take a pretty uninteresting story, and bland characters, and try to make things interesting with fancy writing. I get annoyed at this. Pretty quickly.

Motherless Brookly also suffers from "gimmick writing," as the narrator of the story has Tourette's. That might strike some folks as clever, but not me. It's a gimmick. In addition to his Tourette's, which may or may not be believable, he's also the most self-reflective faux mobster I've ever encountered in print.

Anyway, I'm going to try to write more. Promise.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Department of Bad Historical Analogies

I know that "unity" is our daily affimration and all of us Obamacrats are supposed to go easy on Hillary and her supporters, but I've still got some gripes. Since in a few days you'll care about these even less than you do now, I'm going to beat on that ol' drum today. My main beef is the line I've heard a dozen times now, notably from the usually solid Joan Walsh at Salon, that Hillary was unfairly expected to drop out of the race early because she was a woman. Walsh references the exceptional Digby at Hullabaloo giving positive mention to Jesse Jackson's anti-unity convention speech in 1988: "Her Jackson comparison is inspired (though we should also note that Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart took their losing campaigns all the way without calls for their political execution)."

This is really, really wrong. The idea that nobody griped about the self-destructive windmill tilting of Teddy in 1980 or the extended futility of Gary in 1984 or the divisive identity politics of Jesse in 1988 is just nuts. First, these are not great election examples if what you care about is your party WINNING! Nice of Walsh to throw in Ford/Reagan '76 for good measure, even if it was the only close election in the bunch. If you look at recent history, convention battles pretty much always mean LOSING. And they are usually poison for the person who unnecessarily pushes them. Teddy Kennedy went into a very long wilderness after 1980, one where he was a figure of mockery and malevolence for Republicans and Democrats alike. Ironically enough, it was George W. Bush that finally brought Teddy out of that wilderness in 2001 as part of a brief effort to look boldly bipartisan on education reform. Otherwise the Teddy love fest that's been going on this year never could have happened.

So too with Jesse Jackson in 1988. His emasculation of Dukakis had such an enduring effect on the Dem psyche that in 1992 Bill Clinton's single biggest gambit during the nomination was his "Sister Soulja" moment, which had little to do with the anti-white rapper and everything to do with knocking Jesse down a few pegs to ease the fears of white voters. Jesse has never been as powerful a figure again. And then there's Gary Hart. Hard to blame 1984 on him. Same with Reagan in 1976, thanks to that bigger elephant, Watergate. They survived their convention fights only because they couldn't really be held responsible for what followed. But if Obama loses in a tidal wave year like 2008, after Hillary took it to the convention when she knew she couldn't win? Say goodbye. Whether or not anyone had called for her "political execution," she would have pulled her own switch.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sore Loser Ma'am

Damn. I've lost another chance to brag shamelessly on my prophetic gifts. Earlier today I had thought about writing a post where I predicted that Hillary would get up in her speech tonight and tell Obama to kiss her Annie Oakley ass. The same pundit class that predicted Iraq would be a cakewalk had been uniformly predicting that she would fight like hell for his candidacy as soon as he had the delegates to secure the nomination. Oops. I guess I can't really take much credit for noticing that Hill hasn't an ounce of grace, not even buried deep in those expensive pantsuit pockets; not a smidge of reality in her funhouse mirror of a campaign staff; not a hint of concern for her party or her country as they might exist apart from her own megalomaniacal ambitions. Those traits have been on glowing display for anyone who has bothered paying attention.

CNN's Gloria Borger summed matters up beautifully and inadvertently in a brief attempt to defend Hill's middle finger of a speech tonight. Borger noted that she had just gotten a lot of emails from prominent Clinton supporters, saying "everyone should understand, this needed to be her night." As Jeffrey Toobin's jaw dropped to the floor, he spat out a burst of refreshing candor, blasting the "deranged narcissism of the Clintons." This has been hard for me to watch. Bill Clinton--whose behavior of late has been pretty awful, one more sign that he never really got the Bush era and its failures--is one of my political heroes, and I spent a lot of time and energy in the 1990s defending both of them. Let me just say: this couple, as they are now, need to be as far away from the presidency as possible. The contrast between Hillary's pettiness and vanity and Obama's expansiveness and grace could not have been more stark than it was in those two speeches tonight.

Unless, of course, you also saw John McCain's train wreck of a speech. Holy cow! Get that guy on TV more often! Pleeeeeeasssse! How tired is that shit? Nothing but lame boilerplate, delivered with the creepiest delivery I've ever seen from a presidential nominee, in front of a Kermit-green backdrop and a crowd that looked like it had been held over from some B-list daytime talk show. Or was it a PTA meeting at an elementary school? This is the best they can do? I've always found McCain very likable, despite his ample flaws. But this was an embarrassment. Just sad. Also, note that, like Hillary, he refused to acknowledge that Obama had actually won the nomination, instead chalking it up to "what pundits and party elders say." I wonder what job Karl Rove would get in a McCain presidency?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Brooks & Brothers

Good column today from David Brooks, though a mixed bag in that usual Brooks way. As he does so often, Brooks creates a false equivalence between current Dem and GOP ills and loses some perspective in the process. So what if Obama has lost 7 of the last 13 contests. If he manages to win both SD and MT today, as many think he will, he will have won 8 of the last 15. Either way, he and Clinton are running pretty even, as they have been all year in a race where that media grail "momentum" simply does not exist. The last three months of the campaign have been like the end of a pennant race where the pre-season favorite Yankees play their last 7 games against the hated Red Sox, but start out 7 1/2 games back. So what if the Yanks take 4 of 7 (or 3!)? Follow the math: a race once over is STILL over.

True, Obama has had ongoing difficulty with working class whites, specifically Appalachian ones, but a major reason for that has been Hillary's brawling, never admit defeat campaign, a campaign that will end roughly TODAY. Of course Obama has reason to feel good about that. He's been fighting a war on two fronts, and now he's down to one. Did VE Day suck because we were still fighting the Japanese? Um, no. Obama will have ample opportunity to define his personal narrative over the coming months and at the Democratic Convention, much as Bill Clinton did in 1992 with A Man From Hope. He's got a great story, and he's already demonstrated with his books and speeches that he knows how to sell/tell it.

On the other hand, Brooks does appear to be the one Republican with a national podium who actually understands the perilous situation of both his party and the "conservative" movement that runs it. Here's his best paragraph:

More fundamentally, McCain’s problem is that his party is unfit to govern. As research from the Republican pollster David Winston has shown, any policy becomes less popular when people learn that Republicans are supporting it. If the G.O.P. sponsored the sunrise, voters would prefer gloom. Many Republicans are under the illusion that they are in trouble because they’ve betrayed their core principles. The sad truth is that if they’d been more conservative, they’d be even further behind.

As obvious as this point is, Brooks is the only person on the right I've heard make it. For most of the Kool-Aid drinkers, the movement is never wrong, it just uses flawed vessels to convey its divine truths. So the GOP needs to move farther right: slash spending, cut taxes for the rich, threaten Iran, demonize immigrants, appoint harder right judges, etc. Most of the right is lost in a haze, arguing that George Bush's problems were in being too "liberal," a point made coherent only by its assumed non-falsifiability. Whether or not the wingnuts like it, Bush is a "Reagan" conservative, and it is that "fusionist" synthesis of moral traditionalism and libertarian economics, joined to a Leninist sense of righteousness which has failed so utterly over the last decade.

Brooks knows this, and McCain did too--in 2000. Now, however, McCain is stuck in the Reagan/Bush trap, and he has no idea how to get out. On the major issues for this campaign--Iraq, the economy, the unfettered executive, the courts (specifically, the potential overturning of Roe)--Saint John is indistinguishable from Devil George. Searching for daylight on earmarks and global warming will be a Sisyphean task. There's just no traction to be gotten there, and it is a delusion to think otherwise. Brooks may hope that McCain's problem tracks with Obama's. It does not. One party has a healthy apple that needs a good polish; the other has a reddish surface barely concealing a core full of worms and rot.