Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hang Time

How long before Gov. Sarah Palin is off the GOP ticket?

I'd give it 12 more days. Maybe Gustav manages to save her and the GOP with McCain able to grandstand on Monday rather than have Bush and Cheney speak at the Convention. Maybe it just gives them more hang time.

Easily the most telling news I've read these past 24 hours is that the vetting process was so deficient that a Democratic opposition researcher has revealed that he was the first to contact her hometown newspaper for the archived stories not available on the paper's Website. Word is that the McCain campaign only today sent eight "researchers" (ratio of researcher to fixers?) to the town, but the Dems obviously got there first.

This tells us two things: Sen. John McCain made an ill-prepared decision, and the Dem side just made sure they can't be cut in line by McCain's team without everyone knowing it's a fix.

And they can pass stories to the press first, too.

The more current stuff, her "Troopergate," is starting to come out. The potentially damning story begins :35 in.

Look, I've read the suppositions and question-provoking time-line and photos about her family and wonder if it's the greatest Karl Rove plant ever, so I think it's a place to tread carefully, and ultimately only germane as yet another demonstration of John McCain's dangerously unsuited-to-the-Presidency decision-making style. This wouldn't even be a question if we'd already gotten to know her nationally, or via a major state. Or if she'd be 100% vetted.

It also calls into question two other core McCain strengths: his honor and integrity. It also calls into question just how adolescent is his personality -- per Hilzoy:

The more I learn about this choice, the more it reminds me of Bush's choice of Harriet Miers. I don't think it's at all similar in its political ramifications -- Miers' nomination was seen as a betrayal by social conservatives, the very people who are thrilled by Sarah Palin. But it is similar in the manner in which each was chosen. In each case, the person who made the choice had wanted to pick someone else, someone he regarded as a close friend., In each case, he was told that he couldn't choose that person because it would be politically disastrous. In each case, the person who made the choice responded not by sitting down and thinking about who might fill the role s/he was to be nominated for with distinction, but by making a quick and ill-considered choice of a plainly unqualified person, a choice that seemed like an insult to the office that person was nominated to fill.

Moreover, in each case that choice reflected the fact that the person making it was chafing at the discipline required of him. As far as I can tell, Bush reacts very badly to the idea that his powers as President are limited in any way, or that he owes anything whatsoever to his party or his allies. McCain is similarly undisciplined: he has been willing to do what his party requires of him, up to and including sacrificing his honor and his principles, but he visibly bridles at it, and he seems to be thrilled at the chance to be a maverick again. If that requires picking a vice presidential nominee who is wholly unprepared to take over as President, without doing anything like the vetting a Presidential campaign would normally require, then so be it.

I heard someone working at the supermarket who was clearly leaning to embrace the Palin pick today say that it showed McCain was a gambler -- as if that was a good thing. We know Obama plays poker and used those skills to recognize when Hillary had revealed her "tell" -- an in-person encounter during the Primaries when he knew he had gotten to her. We know McCain loves to play craps, throw those dice, and he did it again on Friday. Both are a form of gambling, but Michael O'Hare explains the difference:
Poker is a game of nearly infinite subtlety and complexity, in which money is managed across a constantly changing information landscape as deep as the psychology and perspicacity of all the players. Smart poker players are much better at it than dumb ones, though smart in the usual sense is not enough to be good at it. Some people are bored with poker and can't concentrate on it well enough to succeed, but not because it's beneath their intelligence. The nearest analogy is investing in securities, or perhaps commanding small units in combat, except for the team aspect of the latter and the impersonal dimension of the former.

Craps, like roulette and a slot machine, is a simpleminded exercise whose players pay a fee for a particular kind of reptile-brain excitement. It is not social, and no player can change the odds on the next move, which are a set of nine numbers that never change (though more complicated side bets are possible, they also depend on a fixed small set of probabilities). There is no such thing as being good at craps, and no such thing as being a steady winner.
But let's let some video tell the story. Is Palin somehow a foreign policy expert due to geography? Ask expert Cindy McCain:

Is she, after just one date, what John McCain described today as his "soul-mate?"

Is there anything telling about this hilarious and maybe unfair video dissection from The Jed Report?:

Now, compare all that drama, which the McCain campaign clearly wanted to stir up in hopes of catching the news cycle and from there the campaign in an exponentially greater way than even the Clinton tried back during the primaries, with the Obama-Biden team, interviewed in Denver by 60 Minutes just minutes after Obama's historic acceptance speech Thursday night:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Which team seems more trustworthy to run this great country?

My next prediction: with Huckabee chafed for not being vetted, with Romney pissed that he did so much to defend McCain these past few months after coming in second but got dissed, Pawlenty probably thrilled that the convention in his city is being shortened after being told he all but had the job last Wednesday/Thursday morning and ending up with eggface, and even some serious neocons offended, McCain either makes Palin work or by a month from now, especially if she does an Eagleton, he'll be like kryptonite -- radioactive.

My earlier prediction that by November 4th voting for John McCain over Barack Obama is still on track. Maybe they can whitewash Palin fast enough, but her first two weeks may be the hardest to survive. Troopergate questions at the Biden-Palin debate could be devastating just for being asked, and I don't think the GOP elders would let her get that far.

There's a reason that McCain's choice is sucking all the air out of the campaign, and there will be reason why we'll be grateful for more Obama when he chooses to expose nationally again (I'd bet not until the debates) rather than his increasingly popular state/local visits. We don't want to be disappointed, we want this country run right again.

Maybe I'm mistaken, maybe it'll take longer than I'm thinking to metasticize, but with Palin I'm thinking John McCain just rolled snake eyes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Aliens

After so many months and surely so many more planned spending countless dollars attempting to frame Barack Obama as as The Other -- celebrity, foreigner, radical, hustler -- it's all gone to waste in one single announcement.

Here's my new theory:

In selecting, at this particular historical juncture, Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running-mate, and as immediately evidenced in the jarring optics of the announcement event, and coming exactly on the heels of the blockbuster Democratic National Convention that successfully introduced Barack Obama and his adorable, Christian American family, in symbiosis with Joe Biden and his awesomely Catholic American family, as perfectly normal yet just acceptably exceptional enough to be White House worthy, John McCain has flipped the equation and flushed all his money down the toilet.

Because now his ticket is the one looking like aliens.

I'll explain, but first let's be clear: Obama and his campaign made John McCain blink. Worse than that, and they must be pretty blown away themselves at their success, hence their buttoning down on any criticism of her by name, just sticking it to McCain on judgment with Palin implicit, they made him make an error. A huge one.

He'll get his Republican Christianists (while her pastor problem and fervent support of Pat Buchanan may spook every elderly Jew in Florida), and via the orchestrated media moments might scoop up some low-information voters, but anyone remotely serious and fair-minded about how they use their Constitutional vote is unlikely to squander it on a man who's integrity, judgment, temperament and management style are now called into question. The numbers on this choice are historically bad out of the gate.

Now that we're learning -- apparently at the same time as John McCain -- that Sarah Palin has potentially multiple abuse-of-power scandals (involving her husband and family) way the hell up in odd Alaska, a state visited by infinitely fewer Americans than Hawaii, a state most American view as stranger than Idaho and certainly more remote, and that there may even be a family planning cover-up in the wings, Gov. Palin is doing no favors for the image of her home state. I wouldn't even be surprised if they lose it (before or after she Eagleton's off the ticket) since those that know her there don't think she's qualified for V.P. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if she only serves out one term as Governor, if not indicted.

But more than that, she and McCain just look so odd together.

Marc Ambinter has a comparison of the key images from both campaign Websites. Obama and Biden look like they're having a great time together because they are -- it's from the Convention. And Obama is clearly the boss. McCain and Palin, however, appear interchangeable, equals in some sort of real estate company, McCain generic and diminished by the equal size, but Palin popping way too much with the same creepy wide-eyed grin and glare she had at the announcement event.

You look at Obama and Biden and see two men in the middle, one in his late 40's, one in his early 60's, i.e. both middle aged. And you know that one of them knows how to lead a team and has a plan while the other knows how the system works and can be a partner in making his plans law.

You look at McCain and Palin, you see a gap, essentially an unfilled chasm between them. She's early 40's, he's early 70's. He's just made a decision that creates questions (while the choice of Biden was a comforting answer of great finality) so now we're all wondering again, and not in a hopeful way. She's a great big question mark, with only sixty days for us to vet her from zero, no previous national (only Party) profile. While she has only 60 days to get the basic requirements in national security and foreign affairs knowledge for the job.

McCain and Palin is a great big nothing. Everything is in freefall in-between them.

Whether McCain's decision betrays desperation or gambling, his arrogance or cynicism, his process as hectic or improvisational, this is a perilous way to introduce a new face, and the bottom line is simply dissonance.

On the other hand, here's the Obamas and the Bidens out on Main Street tour, eating ice cream, hanging together at gazebos. Looking like America.

Looking wholesome.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Although it's a bummer that I'm participating in the same cheap political ploy that has, as even the Obama campaign expected, taken the media's eye off the epic glory of Barack Obama closing the deal last night (and without a goddamned teleprompter!), it's just too perfect. In fact, if anecdotal reports are correct, McCain flipped the last few customers over to Obama for good this morning.

What have we learned from the past 24 hours?

About John McCain, I've learned that he's attracted to shiny, newish things. For his first Presidential decision, he hired the person who could very possibly replace him before the end of his first term, whom he had met exactly one time before this week, and spoken on the phone with once. Because, according to McCain camp and GOP reports, he wanted someone from outside Washington who would reinforce his defunct "maverick" image. So he went as far out as possible. To Alaska.

He either did little vetting of her, or thought she could pick it all up really quickly (meaning, of course, that his "experience" slam against Obama is bullshit), or in some sort of ragingly egotistical way thinks it won't matter because he will never die or be debilitated in office, even after four bouts of skin cancer and a current medical report totalling over 2,000 pages. So he clearly believes the campaign can somehow bamboozle the news media into co-selling a Sarah Palin narrative they are feverishly concocting as I write this for injection into Monday's Republican National Convention.

He stopped thinking with the big head and went for the shiny object.

Look, we all know John McCain likes being around great looking younger (than him) women. He likes charming them, he likes their admiration, if they're lobbyists he shuttles them off with him (Where in the World is Vicki Iseman?), he has dumped a sick wife for one who also happened to be loaded with beer money.

Shiny shiny!

I learned that John McCain is a coward. He wanted to nominate his friend, Joe Lieberman, but his party insiders howled over the Senator's party affiliation and liberal social views. He wanted to nominate his friend, Tom Ridge, but his party insiders told him he would lose the fundamentalist base due to the former Governor's pro choice views. But he had ridiculed former Governor Mitt Romney during the primaries and thanks to his own house counting gaffe they couldn't add another bushel of 'em. And Governor Tim Pawlenty was being laughed about on the air last night, which was when McCain made the final decision.

A snap, reactive, ill-considered, small-ball decision dressed up as big-ball but ah obvious sham to all but the most deluded believers.

McCain was too much of a coward to go with his first choices so he decided to say f.u. to everyone and pulled a 20-month Governor of a tiny population state who's previous job was Mayor of a 6,000 person town, and who has shown absolutely no in-depth study or thought about national security, foreign affairs, or nationwide economic policy.

Think she'll be vetted for potential Commander-in-Chief over just the remaining sixty days? ("Way to go, Brownie!") Way to make us all feel that much more secure, John.

Way to put your own ambitions first and country way behind.

I guess Barack was right last night: John McCain just doesn't get it.

About Sarah Palin I learned that she is not related to Monty Python's Michael Palin. I learned that she's not the breath of fresh air that John's campaign is trying to sell, she's actually a plain ol' Bush-era Republican. After all:
  • Due to her ego, she made terrible fiscal decisions that cost her town exponentially more wasted public money than it should have, and left the wreckage for others to clean up.

  • She believes in Creationism and thinks it's fine to be taught in schools as an alternative to proven science.

  • She's against a woman's right to an abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.

  • She doesn't believe global warming has anything to do with man-made factors.

  • She is ignorant of the actual function of government.

  • She rewrites history.

  • Her close GOP party buddy and endorser is in a bribery scandal.

  • She wants to open up protected lands in Alaska for big oil drilling.

  • She hates bears.

  • She's under government investigation for abuse of power.

  • She likes to point out whiners.
What did I learn about Hillary Clinton?

That for all my complaints about her during the primary season, when she finally accepted that she had lost the battle and the dust cleared, she rose to the occasion and, by way of her graciousness and forcefulness, came out more appealing than she went in.

And, praytell, what did I learn about Barack Obama?

He knows how to play big-ball. He knows the right way to go about making a momentous decision and come out with the best possible answer. He doesn't make crucial long-term governing decisions for short-term political gain.

He knows how to manage a media drama, giving the MSM what it needs (Obama/Hillary rift) and then paying it off exactly the way he intended. He knows how to successfully mount a massive event. He knows how to deliver at a crucial moment. He can draw 38 million viewers, more than the Oscars, the Super Bowl, the American Idol finals.

He won't back away from any challenge. He's smarter, more qualified, more suited and ready to be Commander-in-Chief than John McCain.

Today John McCain closed the deal for Barack Obama. John McCain not only proved the truth of the meme that he'd be Bush's third term with his Harriet Miers-esque decision, he actually echoed the first President Bush's choice of the prima facie unsuited Dan Quayle -- as well as Richard Nixon's choice of conservative-appeasing, under-experienced Spiro Agnew, who preceded Nixon prematurely out of office in disgrace.

Taken against Barack Obama clearly, reasonably, and forcefully laying out of where he wants to take this country last night, one now knows everything one needs to know about this crazy, egotistical, dangerous gambler, John McCain, who I learned turned 72 years old today, not a lot of time left to rectify mistakes.

I learned that he's actually unfit for the office of President of our United States of America.

Fun Fact

Did you know:

John McCain is 23 years older than the state of Alaska.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fourth Night

So definitely the man:

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time?

I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.
Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure.

Dirt off my shoulder:
I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.
You puny man:
America, now is not the time for small plans.
Close him down:
John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

Bring it on:
These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.
Don't you go there:
So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.
You pitiful, puny man:

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

Open it up:

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.

C'mon home:

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Say it:

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.


But beyond the press, sir, just in terms of ...
I think we're running a fine campaign, and this is where we are.

Do you miss the old way of doing it?
I don't know what you're talking about.

Really? Come on, Senator.
I'll provide as much access as possible ...

In 2000, after the primaries, you went back to South Carolina to talk about what you felt was a mistake you had made on the Confederate flag. Is there anything so far about this campaign that you wish you could take back or you might revisit when it's over?
[Does not answer.]

Do I know you? [Says with a laugh.]
[Long pause.] I'm very happy with the way our campaign has been conducted, and I am very pleased and humbled to have the nomination of the Republican Party.

You do acknowledge there was a change in the campaign, in the way you had run the campaign?
[Shakes his head.]

You don't acknowledge that? O.K., when your aides came to you and you decided, having been attacked by Barack Obama, to run some of those ads, was there a debate?
The campaign responded as planned.

While Obamaniacs competed for tickets and withstood long lines to see their hero at Denver's Invesco Field, John McCain's rumored announcement of his running mate here tomorrow is not exactly drawing the same interest.

McCain arrived here tonight to news reports that free tickets are still available to his rally tomorrow at a basketball arena at Wright State University. The Nutter Center has a capacity of about 12,000.

Republican officials said yesterday that they are considering delaying the start of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of Tropical Storm Gustav, which is on track to hit the Gulf Coast, and possibly New Orleans, as a full-force hurricane early next week.

The threat is serious enough that White House officials are also debating whether President Bush should cancel his scheduled convention appearance on Monday, the first day of the convention, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussion.

For Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Hurricane Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain's formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee...

...A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could also cast unwelcome attention on the offshore oil rigs that McCain has championed as a solution to rising gasoline prices -- they are now being evacuated in the face of the coming storm.

History in the making.

Make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Third Night

Well, that's history in the making, with Barack Obama as the first mixed race candidate ever nominated for President of the United States of America by a major political party. Since George Washington got the first nod.

A lot more red meat tonight. Last night, I think Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) had the best single non-primetime line, taking a huge shot McCain's supposed independence:
John McCain calls himself a maverick, but he votes with George Bush more than 90% of the time...that's not a maverick, that's a sidekick.
Tonight it might be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), old enough himself to get away with hitting McCain on age, who had the best line not in primetime:
Speaking at the Democratic National Convention, the Nevada Democrat likened McCain to a bogus doctor, calling him “kindly old Doc McCain” and comparing his plan for expanded offshore drilling to “snake oil.”

“Kindly old Doc McCain would like to sell it to you anyway,” Reid said.

Much of tonight was about vouching for Obama as Commander-in-Chief, using his own yardstick, judgment. Bill Clinton did a great job and got the most delegate love. Joe Biden did fine as well.

But it was the man who appear between them who gave the best speech of his life:

His most damaging passage to McCain, hitting him up as either opportunist or weak-minded:

I have known and been friends with John McCain for almost 22 years. But every day now I learn something new about candidate McCain.

To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician: I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain.

Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible.

Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill.

Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote.

Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it!

Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself.

How addled is McCain?

He's thinking it might be a smart move to pick Joe Lieberman as his VP.

Second Night

I've just seen Hillary's speech after hearing some of it on the radio earlier tonight, and think that anyone who says she somehow didn't show enough support for Barack is simply a provocateur sowing discontent for partisan or mercenary purposes.

She gave her supporters a chunk of their catharsis (the nomination process Wednesday night will complete it) but more importantly, she gave them a challenge. For someone who's been accused of egoism, she flipped that around on its head by asking her supporters if they were only in the campaign for her, or if they're really committed to the issues and policies both she and Barack support.

Also found myself particularly when she used Harriet Tubman as a bridge between African-American and women's struggles for full rights in U.S. history, without underlining the connection, played beautifully.

There's no doubt Clinton has improved as a speaker since the start of the campaign. Tonight she earned her place in or alongside the Obama Administration come January. If he wins, he owes her, big-time.

Here's two bonus Zannel clips of the night. First, a couple explains their support to yanquimike:

And odum of Vermont explains "Democratic National Condoms:

Party on, party.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Night

I didn't catch everything at the Democratic National Convention tonight, but having now seen Michelle Obama's and Ted Kennedy's speeches, I think they've gotten it rolling. I'm hoping that Hillary Clinton, exceptionally forthright today in her support for Barack Obama and denouncement of McCain using her clips against him, will bring some hardcore critique of the presumptive Republican nominee tomorrow night.

Ominous news came with the good, and I hope we can thank the law enforcement personnel in Denver for stopping the only potential horror show in town.

Meanwhile, Zannel and the grassroots bloggers lifecasting on it from the floor of the DNC are providing a completely different view than the mainstream media, compelling, star-speckled, and real. And they've already been featured on CNN.

Take a look.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zannel at the DNC

It's late and I've been traveling a lot starting last Tuesday, but I do want to introduce the new PoliticsBlue channel on Zannel, home of mobile lifecasting like in the widget on the top right of this blog. This is something new, a community channel with 14 contributing members, all grassroots bloggers given the very rare floor accreditation at the Democratic National Convention in Denver all this week.

By odd coincidence I was actually on a plane to Denver this afternoon, oblivious to the fact that this is the day before the huge thing happening in that city starting, like, now, until I passed Obama foreign affairs brain Samantha Power in the front row of business class. Would that I had missed my connecting flight by five days.

But hey, with real-people bloggers from Vermont, Florida, New Mexico et al microblogging with video and pictures and even Twitterish text updates all week, I'm starting to feel like I'm there. Like making the drive from Florida with Kenneth Quinnell of Burnt Orange Report:

Or Casey Ann Hughes of The Natchez Blog interviewing a first-time Mississippi delegate:

Or maybe just hang out with Rob Miller's crew from The Utah Amicus:

There's a reason they're called political parties.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Sorry I've been on a bit of a break, to end shortly, but if you really want to know my opinion of Barack Obama's VP choice, this may help:

Conservatives pray for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE). Seems like he's thoughtful and genuine with regular citizens one-on-one as well.

Most of all, it's great casting. What a great personality to have in the White House with Obama, coming over to hang in the Oval Office, getting the latest mission from his boss, then opening the doors for him to succeed.

Biden's smart, candid, seasoned, well-liked. He'll attack McCain on policy and maybe go up against Mitt Romney.

What's not to like?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The Obama campaign is clearly trying out a theme that they can develop next week: McCain is a hothead.

There's evidence of this in his personal dealings, his Senate dealings, and in how he sprung up on the Georgia issue like he already thought he was President (albeit with an advisor being paid that country). There's serious talk of a McCain Presidency being a series of foreign policy crises of his own making thanks to his Cold War-era rhetoric -- "hysteria-based foreign policy."

I think the key for Obama and the Dems is to link McCain's kneejerk neoconservatism to the current Administration, to the ideology that got us all into the Iraq War and radically diminished our prestige and heft in the world in the first place. It truly can be the worst of both worlds -- bad judgment of now standard Republican neoconservatism, heightened by McCain's own disastrous trigger-happy tendencies. Essentially it's turning that media-loved maverick label against him.

And how hard can it be, when McCain endorses a new military draft with one on-the-spot answer in a town hall appearance?


Time to get serious, folks. I you really want the GOP out of the entire Executive branch, if you want Supreme Court justices that won't roll back rights, if you want a foreign policy that's not destructive to U.S. global interests, if you want a President who doesn't believe that you're only rich at earning $5,000,000/year, if you want a President who knows how to use email and the Internet to glean information for himself and create new economic opportunities, if you want a President who's not in the pocket of the big huge oil companies, then it's time to stop bemoaning this or that little disagreement you may have about some position or tactic in the Obama campaign.

Because if the new Reuters/Zogby poll is right, McCain's negative attacks are working and he's moved into the lead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Most Sublime

The most sublime show on television right now is Mad Men. Now four episodes into Season 2, I think I've figured out what it's about, what the whole period/historical/cultural anthropology thing means, what they're doing this season and how it plays into the overall series. Why they're jumping years to take us to 1970 by the end of Season 5.

The key to figuring it out is that this season Don Draper is trying to walk the path of righteousness. He's learned his lesson about dalliances, yet there's a new affair that's pursued him, with Jimmy's wife. It doesn't make him happy, but he doesn't say no, because as Peggy so cogently put it in season 1, these are people who want to see things they haven't seen before.

Don reads a book of Frank O'Hara poetry, sneaks out to Antonioni's La Notte, and comes up with the big ideas that no one else at Sterling Cooper could ever think of.

Don's clearly dissatisfied with his conformist consumer life, but unlike last season he isn't watching from a distance, he's trying to figure it out, trying to break out of the box that he (and everyone around him) is trapped in.

In this way, Don is exactly like Peggy, determined to escape her Catholic borough past, grappling with her familial ties. When Don calls the "creative" staff into his office on a Sunday in tonight's episode, it underlined the point that although "creative" is as far as they're allowed to go in the world of their office and maybe as far as Don is willing to deign himself, Don is an artist, and Peggy might turn out to be one herself.

Seen through this prism, everything else in Mad Men makes sense. Of course these men and women are mad. They're trapped in their own social constructs, prisoners of the tropes of their day, the culture for which they as adults have as much responsibility now as anyone.

I imagine that we're going to see Don go all-out by the end of even season 4, divorced, on the West Coast, blowing doobs and designing his own house, maybe with a short beard, long hair. Confident in the art world setting. Comfortable with a surfboard and modern jazz.

It's the nexus of the creators' interest in the characters. It makes everything in Season 1 look like planting. It takes Jay Gatsby into the Jackson Pollack era.

The greatest creation of the artist Don Draper is, of course, turning Dick Whitman into himself.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Astronauts and Christians

Nice to see Obama's space policy endorsed by former astronauts John Glenn and Ben Nelson:

Two well-known space pioneers on Sunday endorsed Senator Barack Obama's space program, which calls for lengthening the life of the Space Shuttle so that the U.S. is not without its own ride to the International Space Station.

Former Ohio Senator John Glenn and current U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, both former astronauts, said flying the shuttle beyond 2010 may now be critical in light of Russia's recent invasion of the Republic of Georgia.

Just in case you thought a new Cold War would be Republican-only?

Meanwhile, Barack's been talking to influential evangelical voters, which helps kill the Muslim smear and also show, in this clip, his toughness and rectitude.

There's a lot of fear right now that McCain will somehow win. And that is always a danger -- Obama, by historical measures, is an underdog until November 5th, no matter how far ahead he may be in the polls.

But Obama has always been a strong finisher. In the only truly competitive campaign of his political career, for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2000, John McCain was completely outflanked by Karl Rove and George W. Bush.

Obama didn't need to be pounding McCain last month as much as he needs to starting with his nomination acceptance speech a week from Thursday. He has to send the delegates out of Colorado, the organizers, even the news media fired up and completely ready to go.

Obama's been the best at pacing himself, storing energy where he can and unleashing moving political ideas and spectacle. He has a great shot at bringing all but the least forgiving Clinton supporters into the fold. After all, there will be openings on the Court.

I guess the bottom line is, do you trust him to run the best Democratic Convention since 1932?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Two Guys

Two topflight comic/political/big influential voice guys in two pieces.

Jon Stewart in the NY Times, "The Most Trusted Man in America?" by no less than revered literary critic Michiko Kakutani, some smart praise from various sources, some reveal on how they think and write and build the show, interesting to read at this obviously historical juncture. And mention that he gets possibly obscure authors huge book sales bumps.

My favorite section is the nuts & bolts:
Offices for “The Daily Show” occupy a sprawling loftlike space that combines the energy of a newsroom with the laid-back vibe of an Internet start-up: many staff members wear jeans and flip-flops, and two amiable dogs wander the hallways. The day begins with a morning meeting where material harvested from 15 TiVos and even more newspapers, magazines and Web sites is reviewed. That meeting, Mr. Stewart said, “would be very unpleasant for most people to watch: it’s really a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset, and the rest of the day is spent trying to mask or repress that through whatever creative devices we can find.”

The writers work throughout the morning on deadline pieces spawned by breaking news, as well as longer-term projects, trying to find, as Josh Lieb, a co-executive producer of the show, put it, stories that “make us angry in a whole new way.” By lunchtime, Mr. Stewart (who functions as the show’s managing editor and says he thinks of hosting as almost an afterthought) has begun reviewing headline jokes. By 3 p.m. a script is in; at 4:15, Mr. Stewart and the crew rehearse that script, along with assembled graphics, sound bites and montages. There is an hour or so for rewrites — which can be intense, newspaper-deadlinelike affairs — before a 6 o’clock taping with a live studio audience.

They go through the news and only then do they start putting together the script -- probably between 8 and 15 minutes of material written and delivered by 3:00pm. Is that, like, six hours? Less? There's often some prepared feature material, with Stewart just doing the wraparound, but those take time to vet through production as well.

I'm impressed, especially recalling how great the show ran when I saw it live two years this past June. (Anderson Cooper was the guest, but Samantha Bee did the green screen stand-up, hilarious.)

The second piece is by Michael Moore, the second guy, who's had a huge impact on political discourse now about 20 years, two decades, opening up long festering discussions from corporate greed as the major factor in unemployment with Roger and Me to laying plan the health insurance crisis in this country recently with Sicko.

He's got a big post up on his site and in Rolling Stone called, "How The Democrats Can Blow It ...In Six Easy Steps" and it's a barnburner from the progressive wing. I'm not 100% in agreement with him on all the steps, but I'm behind the first and last ones big time. The list (without the detailed explanations):
1. Keep saying nice things about McCain.

2. Pick a running mate who is a conservative white guy or a general or a Republican.

3. Keep writing speeches for Obama that make him sound like a hawk.

4. Forget that this was a historic year for women.

5. Show up to a gunfight with a peashooter.

6. Denounce me!
On that last one:
Obama, at some point, might be asked this question: "Michael Moore has endorsed you. But he recently said (fill in the blank with some outrageously offensive line taken out of context). Will you still accept his endorsement, or do you denounce him?"

And he better denounce me, or they will tear him to shreds...
But of course Moore means the opposite:
...So Barack, by denouncing me, you can help McCain get elected. Because when you denounce me, it's not really me you're distancing yourself from — it's the millions upon millions of people who feel the same way about things as I do. And many of them are the kind of crazy voters who have no problem voting for a Nader just to prove a point.

Elections have been lost by just 537 votes. I don't want that to happen to you.

So while I would hope and expect Obama not to denounce Mr. Moore's progressive voice, I do think he's making a threat. Even wrapped in a truth, it's somewhere between street corner ground-staking and blackmail. It's saying, loudly, in no uncertain terms, "I matter."

Programmings hours = feeding the beast, so Jon Stewart is essentially in a 4-day/week service industry. Michael Moore is an independent artist who doesn't have sponsors paying for his documentaries, he has the public. Two different influences on the public/commercial/political discourse.


Our army trained the Georgian solders who invaded South Ossetia, starting the skirmish with Russia and Putin proved ready to escalate into a war. Another colossal miscalculation by Dick Cheney behind the throne of George Bush?

With Bush and McCain echoing their willfully oblivious "21st Century countries don't invade sovereign nations" line, and McCain's close adviser also Georgia's paid lobbyist in D.C., it all is starting to look a little color-coordinated. But both Bush and McCain are spreading the poor little Georgia meme, but even Fox television can't stop the truth from slipping through.

Meanwhile, the Administration that keeps on giving is getting yet another new investigation. Ron Suskind's allegations of Dick Cheney's forgery shop has our district's Rep., the awesome Henry Waxman, call his committee back early from summer break to dig in.

Drink up, George. It's almost over. Please end in a whimper, because I don't know if we can survive another bang.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Most Effective?

Is this the most effective video political ad this cycle?

Not made by a professional consultant. Succinct master narrative that's been with us all along: please, God, not 4 more years of Bush. If McCain can't escape that noose, his candidacy is over. And I don't see the "We are all Georgians" thing registering positively with Americans. Far more Americans are from Russian heritage than from that new country we can't find on the map.

We don't want more war. Bottom line. We want to heal, have needed to since 9/11, but the Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld/Rove policies made that impossible. McCain claims maverick but it's not there in the votes. And that will be what kills him.

I have a VP prediction: the announcement will not come until the Convention. And it may even be the first night, and maybe Barack is there. At the very moment that everybody's cellphone goes off.

The cellphones will go off all across America, wherever anyone has texted VP to 62262. In homes and restaurants and campuses and streets.

They will go off in Denver. Both outside and inside the convention center. At the dais.

While someone very well regarded is speaking.

21st Century political theater -- imagine the feeling in the room. Imagine watching the reactions of all the delegates live on TV.

Just a thought.

Dangerous Candidate

It looks like the U.S. posturing in the Georgia debacle may ultimately be about -- surprise, surprise -- oil:

American policy makers hoped that diverting oil around Russia would keep the country from reasserting control over Central Asia and its enormous oil and gas wealth and would provide a safer alternative to Moscow’s control over export routes that it had inherited from Soviet days. The tug-of-war with Moscow was the latest version of the Great Game, the 19th-century contest for dominance in the region...

...Now energy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.

So is it any surprise that presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain is in bed with Georgia, who's President Mikheil Saakashvili started the fighting in the first place with at least a silent nod from the U.S. -- if not more -- and is somehow yet to pay the price in the U.S. media? The name is Randy Schuenemann:

Randy Scheunemann earned about $70,000 serving as Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser between the January 2007 and May 15, 2008.

During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees...

...On April 17, McCain got on the phone with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili about Russian efforts to gain leverage over two of Georgia's troubled provinces. That same day, McCain issued a public statement condemning Russia and expressing strong support for the Georgian position.

And also on that same day, Georgia signed a new, $200,000 lobbying contract with Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, according to the Post.

Think there might be a conflict of interests? And with McCain always itching to start another Cold War with Russia (nostalgic for his youth?), he's escalating by sending campaign surrogates -- John thinks he can win the election on the basis of a new neocon revival against Russia.

But of all the quotes today about the conflict, this one takes the cake:

Make an embroidered pillow out of it: "In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations." Like the last five years in Iraq never happened.

Willful omission or yet another "senior moment?"

Both answers bode ill.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Are Obamacons the "Reagan Democrats" of 2008? Those conservatives fully backing Obama are growing and are certainly a promising factor for his candidacy. Populista has a great up-to-date summary with a list:
Former GOP Representative Jim Leach endorsed Obama today and kicked off the campaigns official Republicans for Obama effort...

"...It's been a very difficult thing for me because I've never endorsed a Democrat before...but sometimes in life you come to a juncture where it's very clear the national interest trumps party discipline - Jim Leach"

Hence the McCain campaign's fever to claim Obama somehow doesn't "put country first," as if McCain is the first Senator and Presidential candidate ever without personal ambition.

Populista's list goes on:

Also today Fairbanks, Alaska's Republican Mayor Jim Whitaker endorsed Obama.

Other Republicans who have endorsed Obama include:
-Tom Bernstein who went to Yale University with Bush and coowned the Texas Rangers baseball team with him
-Oregon's First District GOP Congressional Nominee Joel Haugen
-Reagan policy advisor Bruce Bartlett
-Delbert Spurlock, who was Assistant Secretary of the Army under Reagan
-ex Senator (and Governor) Lowell Weicker of Connecticut
-Tony Campell, a former GOP congressional candidate from Maryland
-Douglas Kmiec, a Republican who served in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan
-Dorothy Danforth Burlin, a lawyer who is the daughter of former U.S. Senator John Danforth
-Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group

And, of course, ex-Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI).

Obama's up in a very interesting way, the most credible poll being the one that doesn't prompt for an answer. From Chris Bowers:
Gallup just released a very useful poll, one that is, in fact, my favorite poll of the year. What makes this poll different from all other polls released this year is that it is open-ended, and does not include the names of any candidates or parties in the question. Thus, this poll measures hard support for each candidate, and also provides an accurate gauge of third-party support:

Gallup, August 7-10, 903 RVs, MoE 4
Obama: 45%
McCain: 38%
Nader: 1%
Barr: 1%
Clinton: 1%
Other: 2%
None / Won't Vote: 7%
Unsure: 6%

I'd take 45% hard support over 38%, a solid 7% lead, any day of an election cycle.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

The NYTimes puts it straight:

The United States and Europe also need to take a hard look at their relationship with Russia going forward. Neither has protested loudly or persuasively enough as Mr. Putin has used Russia’s oil and gas wealth to blackmail its neighbors, throttled Russia’s free press and harassed and imprisoned opponents.

The Bush administration has made Mr. Putin’s job even easier, feeding nationalist resentments with its relentless drive for missile defense. The Europeans, who are far too dependent on Russian gas supplies, have deluded themselves into believing that they alone will be safe from Moscow’s bullying.

The U.S. is pretending it's tight with Georgia, but we're not showing up. The question is whether showing up is in our national interest or not, or is there another way. What are our objectives...and what are Russia's? Are there any good choices?

This guy's acting like he's looking for a fight:
His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain’s position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia’s invasion.
McCain and his advisor Robert Kagan are the same guys who got us into an unprovoked war in Iraq. Their judgment is bankrupt.

Or do you need more convincing:

Obama here:
The relationship between Russia and the West is long and complicated. There have been many turning points, for good and ill. This is another turning point. Let me be clear: we seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government, and friendship with the Russian people. We want Russia to play its rightful role as a great nation - but with that role comes the responsibility to act as a force for progress in this new century, not regression to the conflicts of the past. That is why the United States and the international community must speak out strongly against this aggression, and for peace and security.

Wild in the streets.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Russia has invaded neighboring Georgia, a lot of people getting hurt and killed, and will likely take it over. Our "President" had this to say:
"I was very firm with Vladimir Putin ... I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia," Bush told NBC Sports. "We strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia."

While he was doing this.

And this.

And this.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Matinee Idols

Neal Gabler has a great piece in Saturday's Los Angeles Times on how the McCain campaign and others have mistyped Obama as a rock star -- we're actually relating to him as a movie star:
All campaigns are movies now, consisting of competing narratives with competing stars. Part of Obama's appeal, as it was for the Kennedys, is that he has what all rising stars have. He has youth. He has good looks. He has charisma. He has an ability to spellbind. He has had a rapid ascent that makes him new and unfamiliar. He has, in this McLuhanesque age, unflappability that plays especially well on television. And as the biracial son of a single mother, he has a great personal story that provides a terrific vehicle for his role.

But, above all, Obama has something else that all great stars have -- he embodies a theme. Every great star is a walking idea. James Cagney demonstrated the power of sheer energy early in his career, and the way that energy could curdle later in his career. Cary Grant demonstrated the force of charm and quick-wittedness. Paul Newman demonstrated the limitations of self-interest and the redemption that comes with engagement outside oneself. Robert Redford demonstrated the deception of appearances. Barbra Streisand, in the immortal words of critic Pauline Kael, demonstrated that talent was beauty. That is what made these individuals stars. They incorporated ideas that mattered to us, that resonated with us.

Obama is a star in this sense too. As he reiterates endlessly, Obama brings idealism at a time when many Americans are despairing of making any headway against the problems the nation faces. Drawing on his own personal story of disadvantage that led to Columbia University, Harvard Law School and now to the Democratic nomination, Obama in his every gesture and utterance suggests that "Yes We Can." This idealism isn't inspiring adulation because Obama is already a star. Obama is a star precisely because he is inspiring. He is the anti-Bush, and what he's selling is hope.

Meanwhile, McCain's campaign with it's lobbyist for Georgia, now at war with Russia, is calling Obama, "bizarrely in sync with Moscow." Yep, same old red smear. Using this horrific humanitarian crisis as a tool for tactical gain. Immediately.

And what's happening inside the McCain campaign itself?

Out of his hearing, Mr. McCain is called the White Tornado by some people who have worked for him over the years. Throughout his presidential campaign, he has been the overseer of a kingdom of dissenting camps, unclear lines of command and an unsettled atmosphere that keeps aides constantly on edge.

Even now, after a shake-up that aides said had brought an unusual degree of order to Mr. McCain’s disorderly world in the last month, two of his pollsters are at odds over parts of the campaign’s message, while past and current aides have been trading snippy exchanges debating the wisdom of attack advertisements he has aimed at Mr. Obama.

Think how he runs his campaign might be a clue as to what kinds of Presidency a McCain Administration might be?

Friday, August 08, 2008


Regarding the John Edwards affair, as this politician wasn't out selling hypocritical family values or God or any of those non-issues which make it so much more fun for Dems when a Republican is revealed for having done as he does but not as he says, I'd like to quote Bert Cooper, the fictional co-founder of the fictional 1960's advertising agency at the center of AMC's brilliant Mad Men, as he responded to the very truthful accusations by Pete Campbell about Don Draper's true identity:
"Who cares?"
And furthermore:
"This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you've imagined here."
John McCain and his doppleganger Karl Rove are trying to turn this election on a fabrication about Barack Obama they want to shove down our throats and into our psyches, while the guy who blatantly cheated on and dumped his wife for a beer heiress, millionaire McCain's burgeoning bad judgment is revealed to again bode ill, having caused a huge loss of jobs in Ohio, and he's trying to chastise the Obama campaign for mentioning it -- a real issue.

And a real, true, character issue.

McCain is worthless now. Here John Edwards, the only candidate amongst both parties, over 15 of them, who put tackling U.S. poverty at the top of his agenda. Multi-millionaire McCain doesn't care, except in the abstract. When was the last time he left one of his eight houses, got out of his private plane, and actually helped a poor person build a house, maybe on a visit with Jimmy Carter. He's not some benign alternative to Obama -- he's the aging side of the American oligarchy, and if he's their front man this year, so be it -- he'll say anything he has to, allow his Rovian campaign to run any lowlife ad it wants to and say he's proud of it, he'll do his job to keep the lid on investigations, true change..and true growth.

Beyond anything else, this country needs to grow. It can only grow in a sustainable way with change.

Russia just invaded neighboring Georgia. I'd think I'll do as Elizabeth Edwards asked today, extraordinarily quick, forthright and free of self-pity. Her husband isn't running for anything right now. Let private citizens be private.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Another blazing success of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rove Administration's War on Terra:
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Rejecting a prosecution request for a severe sentence, a panel of military officers sentenced the convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden to five and a half years in prison on Thursday. The sentence means that the first detainee convicted after a war crimes trial here could complete his punishment by the end of this year.

The military judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, had already said that he planned to give the driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, credit for at least the 61 months he has been held since being charged, out of more than six years in all. That would bring Mr. Hamdan to the end of his criminal sentence in five months. After that his fate is unclear, because the Bush administration says that it can hold detainees here until the end of the war on terror.

Nice job, Republicans, of nailing Osama bin Laden's ex-chauffeur. I'm sure those five months will be worth all the money and brainpower spent on the conviction, although as long as Republican is President and can, like a king, keep him imprisoned indefinitely, at least more of the interrogation story won't come out.

Hey, it's not even Friday yet and there's another GOP politician in a disgraceful sexual scandal:
JEFFERSON CITY -- Missouri state Rep. Scott Muschany, R-Frontenac, was indicted today in connection with a reported sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl on May 17, the day after this year’s Legislative session ended.

The alleged victim is the daughter of a state employee. The girl’s mother and Muschany -– who is married and has two children -- were romantically involved, the woman said.

A Cole County grand jury returned an indictment today charging Muschany with the Class C felony of "deviate sexual assault." The indictment identifies the victim only by initials. It says that on May 17, Muschany "had deviate sexual intercourse" with the girl, "knowing that he did so without" her consent.

Muschany, 42, was booked into the Cole County Jail today at 2:50 and he was released after posting a $5,000 bond. If convicted, Muschany faces a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison term of up to 7 years.

Only seven? Maybe he can take some of Hamdan's six.

What are the Republicans doing right, besides giving Paris Hilton some awesome new material?

They're doing what Obama said:
BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq and the U.S. are near an agreement on all American combat troops leaving Iraq by October 2010, with the last soldiers out three years after that, two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Thursday. U.S. officials, however, insisted no dates had been agreed.

Hey, it's fun to mock, but there's a point to it. While grandpa McCain is putting a softer face on the deadly GOP brand, let's not forget that the same Karl Rove driving his vile and lying character smears of Obama has been driving U.S. policy for almost a decade. Let's not forget that the GOP financial and ideological party apparatus, taken over by Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, Dick Cheney et al is essentially corrupt, a criminal enterprise that will take more than this election to wash through the system, if ever. It's the party of blatant hypocrisy, dividing voters with anti-gay rights laws while assaulting young boys or seeking illicit sex in airport bathrooms.

This election is about much, much more than Barack Obama. He's a vessel, sure, he brings youth and intelligence, strategy and tenacity to the Party and hopefully the Republic, and he's the right man at the right time. But this is just as much about clearing the palate, flushing the toilet, lighting sage and Native chants.

They'll try to smear Obama, to bring them down to their level. But that's just not the guy he is.

Just remember who these smearmongers are, Rove to McCain, and how much they've just gone and ruined these last eight years.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dark Synthesis

The Joker first entered my consciousness four decades ago when I watched the third week, ergo the fifth and sixth episodes, of the original Batman series on ABC. Because they had rather wisely started the show with The Riddler, followed by The Penguin, and only then tackled Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker, I didn't realize just then that that this super villain sat at the top of the pyramid, that ever since he was created in 1940 by (arguably) Jerry Robinson, he's been the one to watch.

While co-writer/producer/director Christopher Nolan and his co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer (co-story) and all the money and technical expertise imaginable certainly gives The Dark Knight plenty to look at, its their interpretation of the Joker, as channeled and conjured by Health Ledger, that's the clincher for seeing it. There hasn't been a better Batman story put on the screen, no matter the flaws anyone might find in this one, and it's because their Joker has given them the handle for synthesizing so many relevant aspects of the Batman canon stretching all the way back to that first appearance in Batman #1, and synthesizing so much of the post-9/11 terror that runs under our American life since that day in 2001.

The artistic success of The Dark Knight, the thing that makes it so unnerving and hard to come to grips with, is this ripping anxiety, this unstable world where bigrigs flip ass-over engine and buildings collapse in hell-on-earth flames, and The shadowy Batman may be the cause of it all.

As the end of Batman Begins made clear, this new hero's success caused a breakout at the asylum (Arkham, to be exact) as the most psychotic criminals of all wanted their fair shot at this new crime-fighting freak. So in the post-9/11 world, where many of us have long had questions of blowback for global military, C.I.A. and economic hitman-style U.S. actions both well-intentioned and not-so-much, the question becomes whether the center can hold at all. Batman is supposed to right all wrongs but in Nolan's vision, it's too big a job for any one man. Or two, as the tragically well-meaning District Attorney, Harvey Dent, provides momentary service as well.

The trick of this movie is that Ledger's Joker is the smartest, wiliest, savviest, most committed character in the movie. Like Keyser Soze, he does the things nobody else would have the guts to do, or could even think to do. He doesn't care about money, he doesn't care for power in the traditional sense. He's only interested in chaos, a kind of major league asshole Situationalist who's Theater of the Absurd is 100% reliably always a Theatre of Cruelty. Each and every one of his larcenous, homicidal "pranks" is a social experiment, much like the 9/11 bombings didn't bring down Western capitalism as it created interpersonal panic.

Genre pictures generally have the duty of both satisfying the traditional expectations and trappings, but twisting them just enough that the formula feels refreshed. Genre pictures that stand astride and ultimately transcend their genres have to do more than twist, they have to turn the genre on its head -- satisfy us that they know their stuff, then burst the bonds in dazzling ways.

The Godfather
is more than a gangster picture -- it's about the depths of family loyalty. The Matrix is more than a sci-fi film -- it questions perception and reality. The Dark Knight is more than a superhero movie (and no one in the movie has super powers, albeit some movie magic) -- it's actually an uber-powered crime film asking how can you ever expect to clean up a world where human nature breeds new criminals faster than terrorists after a mosque attack.

Much of the picture plays as a series of heists, starting with the bravura bank robbery (with full nod to Michael Mann's Heat) that sets the tone for the unexpected. And this is where the IMAX experience kicks in as well. If you're fortunate enough to have access to an IMAX theater near you, reserve your ticket several days early, as they are selling ahead and selling out for the primo evening and weekend shows. I can imagine the movie playing in IMAX as long as in the regular theaters, as it's a unique, new experience. The screen officially opens up for six action sequences, but there are a number of unheralded establishing shots, aerial cityscapes both day and night, Hong Kong and Gotham (Chicago), that add such edgy grandeur to the experience.

So you feel like you are right there in the bank as the guns go off and Ledger shows up, first in a mask, the other big subtextual theme to the movie. One of the first shots is a man, maybe the Joker, standing on a street corner, his back to the camera, waiting for the criminal pick-up as the camera glides down to the clown mask dangling from his hand. Ledger's Joker's face is a mask, of greasepaint over scars, a mocking attempt to mask his own hideousness, the fractured but somehow more honest doppleganger for the billionaire with the rigid cowl. But it's what he says, licking his scars like a wolf, that scare the most, his knowing dissection of human behavior, flipping the pathologies of the good guys against themselves in a more credible way than previous filmed Jokers. It's the grit of the movie working for it, as when the Joker makes good on his word of making a pencil disappear.

I can't imagine how the vertiginous motif of the film translates to the regular aspect ratio, as all the skyscrapers scraps and escapes, the graceful dives through glittery cityscapes, seem crucial for the film's scale, it's desire to burst free of genre by any means necessary. The widescreen ratio works well for things like the homage to Stanley Kubrick in the underground Batcave, a spacious, mostly vacant, laboratory lit by wall-to-wall white panels above. It works for some of the scenes with Christian Bale in Bruce Wayne mode and either Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes or Aaron Eckhardt as Harvey Dent. But it puts you into this disturbing picture in an intoxicating (like absinthe) way when it goes full square eyeball-filling screen.

The biggest shock about The Dark Knight is that this is the most relentlessly downbeat huge budget Hollywood movies ever made. The Godfather was warm in comparison. That this most famous of superheros, the one with whom it is so much easier to identify than the supernaturally powered visitors and mutants, is the vessel for such a pessimistic portrait of urban civic life (almost like a comic book Wire) is strange combination -- again, a synthesis -- of events.

So what's the zeitgeist this time?

If, as Sir Michael Caine (Wayne's butler Alfred in the movie) has been quoted as saying, "Superman is how America views itself. Batman is how the rest of the world views America,” then maybe the success of this movie, directed for an American conglomerate by an Englishman, means America is somehow interested again in how the world views us, not just in how we impose our will upon the world.

Then again, maybe, like Joker and Batman alike, we're just drawn to fiery chaos.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Start the Proceedings

I mean, c'mon...:

A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official “that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”

Why isn't this front page news? Is Suskind properly sourced? Does an inside witness have to wriggle free?

Will there ever be any justice laid on these malefactors of the Republic?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Who's Who

There's a big week coming up, the last time for the candidates to
dominate the news cycle before the two weeks of Olympic coverage. Bets are on for either Obama or McCain or both to announce VP running mates. Meanwhile, there's the wreckage of last week's "celebrity" attacks by McCain on Obama to deal with. Per Joe Trippi:

Ever since McCain’s NAACP speech that seemed to me to be directed at white swing voters and not at African Americans I have believed that the McCain campaign is adept at understanding how to raise race as an issue and use it to its advantage.

Is a pattern emerging?

With white voters, the attacks appear to be working -- so far. Per David Gergen:

Will there be long-term damage to the McCain campaign? Is John McCain actually the very thing he ridicules? Mark Kleiman says yes:

Something about the Britney/Paris video has been nagging at the back of my mind, and I finally figured out what it was. Comparing Obama to them is wrong because they're fading stars and he's a rising star. The Britney/Paris analogue in the race is McCain: he, like they, got rather far on extremely limited talent and huge amounts of marketing, and is now desperately trying to cling to celebrity with more and more extreme antics that get him ink but offend and sadden his fans.

And that explains the raw hatred that McCain and his handlers display towards Obama: it's the hatred of the has-been (especially a has-been who never was much in the first place, a mere celebrity, like Britney rather than an actual star, like Madonna) for the person (especially the person of egregiously superior talent) she passes on the rising escalator as she herself takes the long, long ride down to well-deserved obscurity and mall openings.

In fact, Paris Hilton's mother is none-too-pleased with the ad:
I've been asked again and again for my response to the now infamous McCain celebrity ad. I actually have three responses. It is a complete waste of the money John McCain's contributors have donated to his campaign. It is a complete waste of the country's time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs. And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next President of the United States.
So stripping all the well-planned Rovian distraction away, the circus that may or may not decide the future leader of the free world, who is this John McCain in who's name this ad was run?

This guy:

Yep, Joe Lieberman may condescend to Obama as "a good young man" (tell me and my wife that we're young at roughly Obama's age and we'll dance in the streets), but his candidate is, at best, a "once-good old man."

Good luck, America.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Two Headlines

The New York Times:
On Debates, Obama Backs 3 With McCain
The Associated Press:
Obama backs away from McCain's debate challenge
Which news source do you think has a Washington Bureau Chief who is close enough to the McCain campaign to have been offered a job?

Could it be the same Ron Fournier who writes an article framing Obama as arrogant and sends Karl Rove an email telling him to "keep up the fight?"

So the next time someone tells you the mainstream media is in the tank for Obama, tell them about the AP serving John McCain his favorite donuts while likening Obama to a terrorist. Tell them about the AP's Ron Fournier calling Obama an elitist and dropping negative rumors into supposed journalistic articles.

Tell them about the AP smearing Obama on his official agreement, in advance of McCain, to the Presidential debates.