Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
January 2004

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Life is hard.

Time to wiggle.

Oh, and don't let that "House" designation fool you; these folks regularly spin some of the smartest genre-bending beats to be found in local clubs. Lord knows there's a lot of bad house music in this town, but you won't hear any of it at Kings Saturday night.



1.20.04 - Ok, we all understand the tired but essential point made by USA Today that Iowa and New Hampshire are podunk states that don't deserve the influence they currently wield:

[I]n half of the past eight presidential campaigns dating back to 1972, the Democratic or Republican winner in Iowa flopped once the contest shifted to bigger states with populations larger and more representative of the nation as a whole. New Hampshire, which traditionally follows Iowa with a primary, has a sorrier record: In six of the past eight contests, one of the winners failed to get the nomination.

Things are worse than you think, though. It turns out that Iowa's caucus system - which the New York Times described yesterday as "a sort of carpet-swapping process of preferential apportionment that falls ludicrously short of the one-person, one-vote ideal" - doesn't leave any sort of record at all of how many people voted for each candidate. Repeat: The Iowa caucus system doesn't leave any sort of record at all of the number of people who voted for each candidate. The point was explored in depth by Slate's William Saletan last week. "The Vanishing: If you liked the Florida recount, you'll love the Iowa caucuses" is a must-read, as is the included link to Saletan's 1988 article about the complete lack of clarity in vote totals for that year's close caucus race.

Ironic doesn't even begin to describe this situation. Wasn't it John Kerry in that last Iowa debate who attacked the idea of voting that leaves no record? After watching live coverage of the Iowa caucus on C-SPAN, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the good people who braved the cold to participate are complete suckers. No, seriously. They spend hours debating and sorting themselves into preference groups, only to phone in their paperless results to Iowa's Democratic party bigwigs and trust that the party will do the right thing and not manipulate the totals.

What a hoot. This Washington Post article called the caucuses "a complex, beloved affair," but its claim that "the precinct leader tallies the candidates' numbers and punches the results, by telephone, into a computer database built by the state Democratic Party," sure doesn't fit what I saw on TV last night. Instead, Dubuque Precinct 20 chairman Francis Giunta chatted on his cellie with someone at party HQ. Afterwards, it looked like he was done for the night. Someone please tell me I'm wrong and he eventually punched delegate numbers into some sort of secure computer system. Not that the Iowa state party couldn't manipulate such a database even more easily than phoned-in vote totals. Where exactly is the accountability once those totals get sent to central headquarters?

And before you chalk this up to mere sour grapes, let me say I'm glad Kerry got the boost; he hasn't gotten a fair shake at all, and Dean's inability to come across as human on television has been frightening me for months, honest. Edwards' rise is fine with me, too; he continues to say all the right things on the domestic front, including calling for a complete ban on corporate donations to politicians. (Corporations don't vote, people do. So why are corporations allowed to donate money to candidates in the corporate name? Until that's eliminated, nothing in U.S. politics will ever change.)

So I'm fine with a result that makes the Dem race more competitive. But don't tell me, after the non-transparent, non-accountable system we just saw in Iowa, that it's a complete coincidence that the candidate least favored by the big money element in the Democratic Party happened to do terribly, while the candidates the money people like most did surprisingly well.

Oh, and speaking of money, how about those envelopes full of cash that get passed around the room in all of those 2,000 or so caucuses? My jaw dropped last night when I watched that little bit of "grassroots Iowa democracy." How tacky can state Democrats get? (Well, at least they don't make you pay to vote, like Iowa Republicans do.) The envelope has an official name, the IDP Finance Envelope, and the party is very clear on one essential point: county caucus chairpeople do not count this money. From the very last page of the Iowa Democratic Party Presidential Year Precinct Caucus Guide:

It is imperative, because of Campaign Finance Disclosure laws, that individual contributions made at the caucus be received by the Iowa Democratic Party in the form that they were made by the individual contributor at the caucus. It is neither necessary nor helpful for the county party to make any kind of accounting or other arrangements for this money since the county party is in no way responsible for this money or the reporting of these contributions to Iowa Campaign Finance Commission. We will report back to your county chair the amount of money raised at precinct caucuses in your county.

Let's see...don't you dare count the money, and don't ask us to tell you the total number of votes for each candidate. Like I said: Complete suckers.

Of course, there are lots of more sensible options out there than this kind of moronic focus on an antiquated system that does nothing but boost the centralized power of the entrenched machinery in our two major parties. I like the idea of primary groupings based on population, or simple regional primaries like East/West/South/North, but as USA Today notes in the first link in this post, these other solutions are ignored or actively fought by party bigwigs:

This year, instead of adopting sensible reforms, the Democratic Party has made the selection process even less fair. By squeezing more primaries and caucuses on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire, the compressed schedule leaves little time for candidates to campaign elsewhere. Rigging the system so only a small, unrepresentative group of voters gets to assess and judge candidates is no way to choose nominees for the highest office in the land.

One more thing: In your thirst for caucus coverage, be sure to re-read this pre-caucus Detroit News article about Dick "I have strong labor support" Gephardt. It notes:

The labor vote is likely to decide who wins. Union households account for about 31 percent of the 533,000 registered Democrats. Gephardt has the advantage over Dean, the only other candidate with significant union support.

Gephardt and Dean, eh?

Because of Iowa’s importance, labor has unleashed its organizational muscle to pull out a victory. More than 600 out-of-state union workers, including 300 Teamsters, are working full time in Iowa.

Well, at least they had jobs. Is there a clearer indication that "organized labor" is out of touch with Democratic voters in Iowa, and probably elsewhere? Hell, I'd suggest that "organized" Democratic machines all over the country are so out of touch with the current electoral climate that they should be ignored completely, if not actively fought back. The ability of organized party machines to deliver voters has been steadily declining for years now; it's one of the great unsung trends of U.S. elections, so watch for it in the future. [link]


1.14.04 - For the folks who watched Monkeytime TV this week, here's the link to the Phoenix New Times article I mentioned - the one that calls downtown Phoenix "largely deserted" as it rips into the blatant distortions and funny numbers behind the aggressive push to expand Phoenix's convention center. Sound familiar? Ignore the blocks of gray text as you follow the laughable story of how big business interests and politicians have cooked their projections to justify spending millions of public dollars on an expanded convention center:

I took the Convention Expansion reports, both Ernst & Young's and Elliot Pollock's, to a Big Six accounting firm for a second opinion, if you will. In return for a promise of anonymity, a senior partner agreed to review their financial analyses.

"You'd have to be a complete, cockeyed optimist to buy these reports," said the partner. "It's such pie in the sky." The accounting partner had prepared 16 questions before reading the work of Ernst & Young and Elliot Pollock. "They answered maybe three of the 16 areas of concern," noted the analyst.

The senior accountant said the 375,000-delegate figure is highly suspicious because there is no analysis of supply and demand. Every city in America appears to have built a new convention center or expanded an old one. This expanded supply has been met by declining convention attendance for several years predating the tragedy of September 11.

Puts Monday's almost certainly illegal closed-door meeting with convention center developers in a new light, eh? There's lots more fun to be had in the article, so read the whole thing if you care at all about the future of Raleigh's downtown. Then think about Mayor Charles Meeker's recent refusal to debate skeptical council member Mike Regan publicly. The mayor, a perfectly nice man who's been a guest on the show, has a hilarious answer to questions about why anyone would think of Raleigh as a prime convention location. According to the N&O, he says Raleigh is a "top of the pile" location.

Yeah right, Charles. From the Phoenix New Times:

Consider New Orleans, one of the nation's premier convention cities. According to Professor Sanders, New Orleans vastly expanded its capacity to more than a million square feet only to see the following pattern of attendance: 1999 -- 800,000 delegates; 2000 -- 730,000 delegates; 2001 -- 694,000 delegates; 2002 -- 594,000 delegates.

Think about that. One of the nation's most attractive convention sites has been experiencing a steady decline in convention-goers for years. And Raleigh, which (paired with Durham) ranks as only the 29th media market in the country, with a dead downtown and a planned rail system that won't run to the airport until 10 or 15 years have gone by (hey, just in time for a convention center expansion!), is going to do better than New Orleans? Because Charles Meeker closes his eyes and believes hard enough? Oookay.

What a recipe for disaster. Granted, it's a disaster that'll make lots of money for a select group of builders and the politicians they'll soon be donating to, but let's at least be honest and admit there's no intelligent reason to expect this thing to succeed in "revitalizing" downtown Raleigh. Oh, did I mention that some of the folks waiting at the trough are members of the steering committee that pushed for a convention center in the first place? The blatant conflicts of interest were best captured by ex-council member Kieran Shanahan, who told one pained steering committee member, "Had I worked as hard as you did on behalf of 'the public' on a project in which it turns out I was really intending to earn fees personally, I would feel a little uneasy about public scrutiny of my motives as well."

Remember, too, that Margaret Mullen, a perfectly nice woman who's also been a guest on the show, moved here to head the Downtown Raleigh Alliance from - wait for it - Phoenix. She was chosen, we were told, specficially because of her successful revitalization of the Arizona capitol. Sure is interesting to find that, a year after Mullen left, Phoenix's alt weekly can run a series with an intro like this:

Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country, but it doesn't look like it, particularly its dead-after-dark downtown. Why hasn't a vibrant core city happened? We've got interesting people: artists, tycoons, celebrities cultural and ethnic diversity. Why are we saddled with vacant lots and Soviet-style architecture in our core city? Downtown dwellers can't even rent a video in the neighborhood, and forget about it if you're looking for more than a handful of decent restaurants and bars. Among the few good things downtown are sports venues like Bank One Ballpark and America West Arena. But they aren't enough. The First Friday art walks, which bring thousands downtown each month, give us a taste of what downtown could be. But that isn't enough either. In a New Times special project, we examine how downtown got this way and what must be done if Phoenix is to become a world-class city...

Oops. So much for a revitalized Phoenix. Can it possibly be that, years after Mullen's stint ended, Phoenix is still a "ghost town" where "downtown businesses are struggling to stay afloat"? Could it be that big-ticket items like convention centers and "vital" signs like increased tourist dollars are less important than small business loans that bring human-scale enterprises - grocery stores, video rental places, coffee shops - to a downtown core? The New Times seems to think so (and you don't have to buy into their embarrassing adoration of Richard "Creative Class" Florida to see why):

For decades, Phoenix and Maricopa County did little, if anything, to help small businesses in downtown. Instead, government helped large businesses and their projects: $13 million to the Arizona Center; $45 million to America West Arena; $243 million to Bank One Ballpark ("Jerry's World," John Dougherty, October 16). The city says the money was a good investment -- these facilities have more than paid their own way and drawn thousands downtown even if they stay just long enough to catch a game and walk back to their cars.

But the city has never offered small businesses the kind of help it's given the big operators. Even city officials admit that what little has been done, in the form of a sales tax reimbursement, has not amounted to much.

I dunno about you, but it's sure beginning to look like Margaret Mullen is on her way to duplicating her "success" in Phoenix right here in Raleigh. And while you'd expect the local daily to support the big-ticket convention center approach without question, it's fair to ask where our local alt weekly is in all this. Get ready to be disappointed.

Rather than lead the charge by asking sharp questions about the process and the value of the end product, the Independent actually sneered this week at the one Raleigh politician who's bothering to raise questions about the proposed convention center - the kind of questions the Phoenix New Times has been asking for months in Arizona. It's unclear if columnist Bob Geary completely dismisses council member Mike Regan because Regan's a Republican or simply because he's a Christian, but what is clear is that Geary's polarized, extremely partisan view of local politics is absurd. Particularly given a situation in which the mayor is spouting obvious pie-in-the-sky nonsense and has to be reminded to hold public meetings publicly, while pushing a project - of dubious value at best to downtown - on which the mayor's firm stands to make money.

Admit it: If Meeker was a Republican, Geary would be all over him for this crap. Instead, the kneejerk "neighborhood" activist 1) ignores the fact that opposition to convention centers almost always crosses political lines, 2) softballs his own questions to protect the mayor from sharp criticism, 3) blows snot on the only council member who's raising the very questions the Indy itself should be raising, 4) tosses out a facile, completely unfair comparison between Regan and a former mayor, and 5) tops it off by - I'm not kidding - making fun of the idea of public referenda for large-scale boondoggle projects.

Good lord. Is anyone at that [cough] "left-leaning" paper editing this guy? Sure doesn't look like it from here. (Psst. Richard, Kirk: Have you considered the possibility that manipulative, incomplete garbage like Geary's latest column is what keeps people in Raleigh from trusting your paper? Worth a thought.)

Oh, and we got your cute little "flaming out" reference, too, Bob. Are giggly in-jokes about sexuality what passes for humor at the Indy these days? Yeesh. [link]


1.1.04 - The Black Commentator offers a sharp, clear take on racial politics in U.S. elections:

Howard Dean’s December 7 speech is the most important statement on race in American politics by a mainstream white politician in nearly 40 years. Nothing remotely comparable has been said by anyone who might become or who has been President of the United States since Lyndon Johnson’s June 4, 1965 affirmative action address to the graduating class at Howard University.

For four decades, the primary political project of the Republican Party has been to transform itself into the White Man’s Party. Not only in the Deep South, but also nationally, the GOP seeks to secure a majority popular base for corporate governance through coded appeals to white racism. The success of this GOP project has been the central fact of American politics for two generations – reaching its fullest expression in the Bush presidency. Yet a corporate covenant with both political parties has prohibited the mere mention of America’s core contemporary political reality: the constant, routine mobilization of white voters through the imagery and language of race.

Last Sunday, Howard Dean broke that covenant...

Fascinating stuff, made all the more urgent by another recent story. The Impact Fund's Discrimination Research Center just released a study that documents - again - persistent, ongoing racism in the U.S. temp industry [pdf]:

In undercover tests conducted by the Discrimination Research Center (DRC). By ratios of 4-1 in Los Angeles and more than 2-1 in San Francisco, agencies favored white job applicants over slightly higher qualified African American applicants. “African Americans seeking temporary work received less consideration in the form of fewer offers and less desirable jobs,” said John Trasviña, Director of the DRC.

Giving black applicants slightly stronger credentials than their carefully matched white counterparts sure was a nice touch. The full pdf report is worth reading, particularly the methodology section, which looks like thoughtful social science to me. There's only one quibble: For some reason, the Impact Fund declines to name the companies it tested; instead, we get coy nonsense like this:

These temporary agencies are Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies with hundreds or thousands of offices around the country and globally. They employ hundreds of thousands of temporary employees and have operated for decades. Their influence and their practices define the temporary employment industry.

Come on, dammit, we deserve to know. Was it Manpower? Kelly Services? Or Switzerland-based Adecco, the world's biggest agency? Why on earth would anyone want to help these companies hide? Temping is already central to our economy, and getting stronger by the day. As Oligopoly Watch reported Monday in a must-read analysis, the major temp agencies are engaged in yet another round of buyouts and consolidation - one that will only increase their economic power. In other words, it hardly seems the time for freaking coyness about the evidence that those companies (which saw substantial gains in their stock prices last summer) routinely engage in employment discrimination.

Anyway, here's an example from the Impact Fund report that explains exactly how today's brand of racism works itself out:

Case Study #3: The African American tester is never interviewed.
The testers emailed their resumes to the same agency on the same day. The
African American tester called the agency on four separate occasions to follow up and try to schedule an interview. She was repeatedly told that a recruiter would contact her if her qualifications fit any of the positions they were staffing, and was finally told that she had not been contacted because she was not qualified for any of their assignments. The white tester was called the same day that her resume was received and was asked to come in for an interview. She was later offered a permanent position as a purchasing assistant for a cruise line which paid over $35,000 per year and included an annual free cruise.

And so it goes in an industry that's shaping up to be one of the 21st century's most powerful. Tempers and non-tempers alike should strap themselves in; it's gonna be a wild ride.

[Thanks to Nathan Newman's always-smart blog for these two stories] [link]


12.11.03 - Well, well. Let's ponder what this says about the commitment of the mainstream press to U.S. democracy: The day after Dennis Kucinich called out Ted "I'm asking moronic questions but I'm not a moron, honest" Koppel during a nationally televised debate, ABC News pulled out its full-time reporter with the Kucinich campaign, and covered its ass by pulling similar reporters from the Sharpton and Mosely-Braun campaigns. Quelle surprise. "The candidate of media reform" [be sure to scroll down to watch his scathing dissection of Koppel] is punished by being shut out of the mainstream media.

Are we clear on this stuff yet? If not, here it is in red and bold:

There is no way in hell a major news outlet like ABC (or CBS, CNN or any of them) will ever be able to give left-wing candidates a fair shake, because left-wing candidates always raise questions about whether corporate media's rush to the bottom is really the best use of public airwaves in a democracy. Those outlets have been happily sacrificing long-term democracy on the altar of quarterly profit right before our very eyes, and will continue to do so until their power to do so is stripped away. Ta da. End of story.

And don't give me any of that "paranoia" crap, please, until you see just what the pathetically bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates is planning to pull this time. The collusion between media outlets and politicians at the top of the two major parties couldn't be more obvious as they prepare to offer U.S. voters only the most carefully winnowed field. What more do you need? Brit Hume crashing Christmas dinner and urinating on your turkey while tossing Constitution confetti over your family and friends?

Trust me, he's on the way.

You want to know the scariest part about this mess? The scariest part is the thought that Ed "A-blogging we will save the world" Cone might actually be right, and that weblogs - fucking weblogs - just might be the best tool we have against the coordinated corporate campaign to limit voter choice to those candidates who don't upset the intolerable status quo. Now there's a horror show for you. If it's really true that a mess of bloggers isolated in their homes and connecting via the thinnest of electronic threads is the best weapon at our disposal against the Cheney/Daschle/ABC axis - if that really is true - well, then it is time, brethren and sistren, for us to start praying like you-know-whats. Because we will definitely be needing divine assistance.

Oh, and would you send that email and make that call already? [link]


12.10.03 - While I sit here wondering why anyone would still care what Al Gore thinks about anything, I'll thank the coworker who pointed me to Bob Herbert's succinct historical analysis of exactly how fucked up the new Medicare bill is. It's also a fine time to note (via a multi-faceted post at The Sideshow) Buzzflash's most recent pointed blast at Tom Daschle. They - along with many other smart Democrats - are particularly upset at the Senate minority leader's complete cave-in on the Republican energy and Medicare bills. Daschle's refusal to support a filibuster on the latter, a true pharmaceutical industry boondoggle, was made all the more disgusting by his subsequent introduction of a new bill to fix what he calls the "egregious" flaws in the boondoggle he just let pass the Senate. Someone obviously thinks Tom's strategy is smart, but from here it looks perfectly designed to do absolutetly nothing while protecting Daschle's campaign donations so he can get reelected in the oh-so-representative state of South Dakota. Buzzflash nails it:

Tom Daschle acts like a "Trojan Horse" Democrat -- whatever his real intentions -- who is helping out Bush more than he is positioning his party to lead a rebirth of democracy, prosperity and national community in 2004.

Amen. But what's with the "real intentions" bit? Why the hell is Buzzflash bothering to suggest that the Senate's minority leader has "real intentions" that don't involve selling out the left-leaning ideals of the Democratic Party? Good lord, how much more evidence do they need that Daschle's main interest in politics is protecting his own ass? Oh, I'm sorry; there is one other interest that does seem more important to ol' Tom: protecting his wife Linda's income as a lobbyist for Baker Donelson, a company that boasts of being called "one of the top 10 most powerful firms in Washington." It's headed by ex-Reagan chief of staff Howard Baker, by the way.

Let's take a moment to refresh ourselves about the spouse of the person who's supposed to be the most powerful Democrat in the country. This Jan/Feb 2002 Washington Monthly story, "Tom Daschle's Hillary Problem, describes in detail Linda Daschle's pre-9/11 work to lower airport security standards as well as her post-9/11 work on the disgusting airline industry bailout. A year later, Doug Ireland summarized the Washington Monthly story in "The real reason Tom Daschle didn't run for President." Take a second to read how Linda and her hubby pushed a backroom deal "that forced the FAA to buy defective baggage scanners" from Linda's client L-3 International:

Under a provision Linda’s husband had slipped into the 2000 budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the FAA was required to buy one of L-3’s scanners for every one it purchased from the company’s competitors. The L-3 scanners were found to be substandard by DOT’s inspector general; FAA tests of the scanners showed high failure rates; and most have not yet been installed because of their defects (the one at the Dallas–Fort Worth airport — another of Linda’s clients — leaked radiation), which is a major reason DOT says it won’t be able to screen all luggage for explosives for years to come.

Nice, huh? There's no way those little tidbits wouldn't have come out during a Bush-Daschle matchup, and it's obvious that fear of exposure of his Washington game goes a long way towards explaining Daschle's withdrawal from the 2004 presidential race (a withdrawal, you'll recall, that "surprised even some of his closest aides"). It's certainly a more plausible explanation than Tom's stated desire to remain in the Senate to "shape the nation's priorities." As a minority leader who caves in at the drop of a hat. Yeah, whatever you say, Tom.

But back to Linda Daschle and L-3 International: L-3 happens to be the parent company of Military Professional Resources Inc., one of the largest of the military contractors currently making a killing by privatizing core functions of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Think about that for a second. If there's a single element that best encapsulates the obscenity of the Iraq war, it's the fact that shady companies - like Cheney's Halliburton, which routinely used Enron-style accounting practices - have used their close connections to government officials to profit from the decision to drop cluster bombs on Iraqi cities and place 19- and 20-year-old Americans on the front lines of a deadly, impossible occupation. What does the lead Democrat in the Senate plan to do about that? Oops. He's freaking married to someone who lobbies heavily for one of those very companies. Hello? What the hell is this guy doing anywhere close to a leadership position in the Democratic Party?

The failure of the mainstream press to examine the role that Linda Daschle's lobbying may have played in her husband's decision not to run for president is just crappy journalism as usual, but what's Buzzflash's excuse? None of the site's anti-Daschle editorials even mentions the fact that the man who's supposed to be leading the Democratic charge against Cheney & Co. is married to a high-powered lobbyist for one of the very military contractors benefitting most from the occupation of Iraq. Hell, Buzzflash actually bends over backwards to hint that Tom Daschle is hiding good intentions somewhere. Gosh. Maybe the good intentions are hidden up his ass, Buzzflash. While your head's there, would you mind looking around for them?

Yeesh. And you wonder why I stopped blogging this crap. Daschle's "real intentions" couldn't be more clear if he phoned them into Limbaugh: his wife's lobbying income is more important than his commitment to the principles of the majority of voters in his political party (feel free to take that as a sign of the feminist movement's effectiveness if you like). How could anyone be more of a Trojan horse to left-leaning notions of peace and justice than Tom Daschle? And it's not just Tom Daschle's wife who's a lobbyist: Check this op-ed that appeared last July in USA Today about the corrosive influence of Congressional nepotism:

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that at least 28 members of Congress have close relatives working as Washington lobbyists, some without experience. GOP Sen. Trent Lott's son, Chet, managed pizza restaurants and played polo before becoming a telecommunications lobbyist. The family of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., includes his wife, Linda, an aviation lobbyist; his daughter-in-law, Jill, a lobbyist for companies such as Aetna and Blue Cross; and his son, Nathan, a former labor union lobbyist.

Daschle's wife, daughter-in-law and son have all been lobbyists? Holy shit, we are in serious trouble. Bottom line is that the centrist, Beltway-business-as-usual Dem strategy lost the Senate in 2002 - Joe Conason and Arianna Huffington both nailed that one at the time - and is almost certain to lose the Presidency in 2004. How many times are Democrats going to fall for this garbage? Daschle, Terry McAuliffe and the rest of the Republican-leaning, money-grubbing DLC crew should be run out of town on a rail for using such a clearly losing strategy when the stakes are so high. Instead, they're maintaining their chokehold on the Dem party machinery. There are only two words to describe the situation:

Goodbye, Presidency. [link]


12.8.03 - Yeah, it's been a tough couple of weeks, and yeah, I'm still working out a Web-writing schedule that feels comfortable. Meanwhile, here's a little investigatory arts piece I wrote for the local alternative rag last week. I tried giving voice to some talented graffiti artists whose work had been blatantly ripped off by a mainstream Raleigh painter who knows next to nothing about graffiti. It was bad enough that the painter had managed to convince a gallery to draw extra attention to this kind of work, but when I saw that the alt rag's obviously graffiti-impaired art critic had inexplicably raved about the show, I was disgusted enough to get off my ass and do some journalism again. Thanks to the Indy for having the guts/brains to pay me for it.

Funny that it was graffiti that got me going, eh? Don't worry, political fans, once I find a few good sites about traitors to spice it up, I'll have a post about the horrid Tom Daschle for you. For now, I'm still staving off the predictably depressing U.S. political news with art and music. And history. Lots of history.

So, art lovers, do yourself a favor and find a way to watch the first three hours of HBO's "Angels In America" this week. I read and enjoyed Tony Kushner's play a decade or so ago, but this version (which coyly drops the - ahem - obviously queer subtitle "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes") also happens to be the best damn piece of filmmaking I've seen in ages. It's brilliantly directed throughout, a point that seems to have been misplaced in this New Yorker review, which focuses far too much on the alterations made to the stage version and far too little on the joys to be found in the film itself. (As if it's news to anyone that theater and film deal with questions of narrative in different ways - yeesh.)

Anyway, aside from being gorgeously shot and edited, the film is a marvelous vehicle for a host of great actors, including Al Pacino, who rips into the juicy role of 1980s-era Roy Cohn without turning the volume up to 11 as much as usual. And the film's fantastic elements - particularly Mary-Louise Parker's hilarious/heartbreaking descent into Antarctic hallucination and Ethel Rosenberg's return from the dead to dial 911 for Roy Cohn - work beautifully to keep jittery, genre-fiction-loving brains like mine captivated. Plus, you get Meryl Streep as a Mormon mom from Utah and an aged Jewish rebbe from the Old Country. Mike Nichols, I love you.

[Oodles of thanks to Wayne - and, obliquely, Natalie - for smacking me out of my "don't believe the hype" stupor on this one.] [link]


11.24.03 - So John Edwards' wife Elizabeth sent me a thoughtful and challenging email a few weeks ago after watching an episode of my Raleigh cable access show - one in which I sharply criticized her husband's opportunistic stance on the Iraq war and questioned his ability to win the Democratic nomination. She took polite issue with some of my TV statements as well as points made in this post. If you political junkies can get over the fact that it's almost a month old - positively ancient in blog years - you might find our exchange interesting. And yes, Elizabeth gave permission for me to reprint her email here. I may be sharp and aggressively opinionated, but I know how to show basic online respect, thank you.

From: Elizabeth Edwards
Sent: Wednesday, October 29, 2003 9:05 PM
Subject: From Elizabeth Edwards

Todd –

As a Raleigh resident who actually watched Monkeytime, I feel I have the room to comment on your blog, which, unless I missed it, does not invite comment. So where to start?

Let me start at the end of the story (well, not the end because we are not there yet, but start with the present.) John is leading the polls in South Carolina. In the most recent poll in New Hampshire, he is continuing his rise and is now alone in third place behind the candidates from contiguous states. New Hampshire will be a two-primary-state: the contest between Kerry and Dean and the contest among the remaining candidates. And have you been to Iowa? The people are a lot like the people of North Carolina, and John wins supporters whenever he is there. Now he hasn’t been there as often as some candidates, so he has only moved up to fourth (third in one poll only, so I will stick with fourth here), but within a couple of points of a candidate whose support has seen erosion. If trends continue, John will rise in Iowa too. Unless you believe that the race is over after Iowa and New Hampshire, you have to concede that two or more candidates will come out of that first seven days. It is not only plausible but reasonable to assume that John will be one of those candidates.

Now he has set a bar for himself that absolutely no other candidate has done in his neighboring state: he has said he has to win South Carolina. At the same time, he is also campaigning and organizing across other February 3rd states. He has attracted key supporters in these states, and although the press is keyed on South Carolina, John is in every contest. It’s pretty easy to understand how John builds on his rise in the first states and his victory in South Carolina.

I think that the best way to analyze this race is analyze each candidate’s “path to the nomination.” I am not certain that you can get a final answer that way, but you can narrow it down considerably from nine candidates. And when you do that analysis, I think you will find John in the mix at the end of the story.

Now to the television ads and your comment, which prompted this email. Now you may object that in the two ads of John that you featured, John is stating lines in a televised ad and that there is a tinkling piano in the background. That is certainly true. But you don’t mention two things. You don’t mention that some of John’s ads on that same website you visited are shot during a spontaneous town hall. Not a town hall where the participants were given questions. (One of them took place at Big Ed’s; you can ask there whether any questions or answers were choreographed. In fact I was frustrated that one particularly fabulous interaction took place when the cameraman was changing batteries. No attempt was made to recreate the moment.) And second, you appear to lump John’s ads into the criticism of Dean’s ad as “absurdly vague.” In one of John’s ads, he has specific proposals to eliminate tax advantages for corporations that move jobs overseas and to use the tax code instead to encourage businesses to stay in this country. In the other ad, he talks about his college-for-everyone program, a novel program to cover state college tuitions to students willing to work the first year. (It won’t be “novel” long; Dean mentioned that he was introducing the exact same proposal in the next week or so.)

So. Was there anything else? Oh, I know. I cannot apparently post on your blog, but you are welcome to post on John’s. We look forward to hearing from you.

Elizabeth Edwards

From: Todd Morman
Sent: Friday, October 31, 2003 11:21 AM
To: Elizabeth Edwards
Subject: RE: From Elizabeth Edwards

[Do I have permission to reprint your letter at the site? It's not clear and I like to be careful about that sort of thing.]

Thanks for writing, Elizabeth. It's nice to know that you watched the show; I hope some of the thoughts about the idiocy of the center-right corporate takeover of the Democratic Party filter over to your husband as well. And the part at the end about the Pentagon report of poor post-war planning is, I think, a key point of attack on Cheney's administration.

Re the campaign: I assume you prefer honesty to spin, so I'll be honest in my reply: John's vote on the Iraq invasion was a truly unconscionable move - one clearly driven by presidential ambition and the DLC's ridiculously misguided 2002 election strategy rather than any sober analysis of the threat posed by Saddam. I find it half hilarious and half insulting that a smart lawyer like John is still defending his decision to preemptively invade another country, particularly now that the country [the USA, I meant] knows exactly how the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis cooked the intelligence to justify dropping cluster bombs on the Iraqi people. John's "I have secret knowledge about Saddam's threat from the Senate Intelligence Committee" defense has become nothing but an example of just how far the DLC will go to pander to right-wing voters. None of the nominees thrills me, but it's obvious we'd be better off with Howard Dean running a less aggressively stupid foreign policy and your husband as something like Attorney General.

John's remaining possible "paths to the nomination" are obvious enough, particularly now that the other 2nd-tier candidates have dropped out of Iowa and Kerry is looking more and more superfluous. Lieberman has been obviously sputtering for months, and Clark has no reason to be in the race other than the fact that the DLC thinks the public will only vote for a Democrat if he's a military daddy figure. But even though John has nowhere to go but up in the first two primaries, his massive media spending has produced limited gains at best. The strategy still seems paper-thin to me (similar Jim Andrews campaigns have failed repeatedly in the past [see this post for details]), and I stand by my opinion that John doesn't come across well in the ads he's relying on to carry the day. I'll leave the fundraising discussion for another time.

Re comments: I've always used a very simple HTML setup for my blog, and have never bothered with comment packages. If I get around to switching to Moveable Type, rest assured I'll turn comments on. For now, it's simply an occasional outlet for my own thoughts. (And, to be honest, I've grown a little burned out by the whole daily blogging thing; this morning is the first time I checked the computer since Wednesday afternoon.)

Thanks again for writing and for watching the TV show, and good luck to you and yours. You can count on my vote in November 2004 in the unlikely event John wins the nomination, but not before. His political career has been too much of a disappointment for a left-leaner like me to get excited about now. I do enjoy his recent rhetoric about the war on work, though. Perhaps he'd make a good Labor Secretary.

Best regards,

P.S. We sure could have used John in that Senate seat for another term or two.

A cordial enough exchange, no? Particularly given the gulf that separates the Edwards' politics from mine. The conversation was the subject of much of the following week's show, of course, with viewers calling in to add their two cents. It was surprisingly immediate local television, I've been told.

Oh, for a country where lefties don't wait for the Democratic Party to create a TV network for them.

Update: I meant to note that Elizabeth Edwards has been making interesting posts at her husband's blog for months now, and has also been offering regular comments at Greensboro journalist Ed Cone's blog. Is this sort of online presence radically different from the role candidates' wives played in pre-Internet elections? I'm not sure about that. But an obvious willingness to engage in discussion is always a good sign in a presidential campaign. [link]


11.24.03 - Oh, good; the Web's still here.

Let's do you cook spaghetti squash in the microwave again?

Ah. Delicious.

Apologies to my sistren and brethren of the First Church of Wintermute for not doing my part lately, but a monkey needs an occasional break from daily massive injections of information. For what it's worth, I like life as a non-blogger just fine, and remain unconvinced that most bloggers (myself included) have any clue how to drive this neat new invention in a direction that effects change as real as, say, volunteering to teach poor kids to use computers. I also remain convinced that for all the blather about blogging, insuring that local municipalities demand public access television channels from cable conglomerates and then seeding those channels with smart shows would be infinitely more helpful than 99 percent of whatever comes out of blogs this year. But what the hell, I'll keep flinging my bottles into the void. I'm sure I've missed a lot, and nothing much at all, in the month I've been gone.

Three things got me back to the keyboard this morning: 1) the ongoing parade of hilariously tepid and ignorant editorials from the local daily, 2) a series of embarrassing goofs from the local "alternative" weekly - including a distorted campaign by one of its columnists for a Raleigh city council candidate and an absurd gush from its art critic over a gallery show that was nothing but a blatant theft of ideas from local street graffiti, and 3) Zez Confrey. More to come. [link]


10.28.03 - Well, now, here's a smart move. Particularly given the absurdly vague and tepid loser commercials we're seeing from the mainstream ad folks now advising the Democratic field. And it's not just Dean, whose people really should be sending their candidate to basic "How To Appear Human On Television" classes. A similar problem can be seen in this John Edwards classic, or this one, both of which feature an obviously over-rehearsed candidate and gently tinkling piano. How quaint.

Does anyone think that soft-focus silliness like that will be able to dislodge someone like Dick "I'd sell my mother for a dollar" Cheney? I know these are primary ads, but is there any reason to believe that centrist Dems will risk running more pointed ads during the campaign itself? Nah. That's when they'll be sure to blather mightily about a phantom need to tone down their message and "aim for the middle." And that's when they'll lose yet another gimmie election. So I applaud's attempt to get some non-DLC-approved thinking going on the ad front, and hope the Dem leadership takes its head out of its ass long enough to learn something from the rank and file. (They won't, of course, but we can always hope.)

A quick word of caution about, however, for those of you who rush to join movements controlled by people whose politics you don't really know. It should be clear from MoveOn's awful performance during the Davis recall that the group probably won't run any ads during the 2004 campaign that aren't pre-approved by the stupidly centrist Clinton/DLC crowd. Let's return to the blog-ancient days of early October, and read the LA Weekly's smart, bitchy Marc Cooper discussing MoveOn's willingness to shill for a corrupt right-wing Dem like Davis:

Woe to the next person who forwards me an e-mail from some East Coast Democrat front group like breathlessly warning us Californians of the hell we face with Arnold in power. MoveOn, showing its true partisan colors, is distributing posters that read — can you believe it? — “I love Gray Davis.” Having just paid a $508 car-registration fee this week after paying my kid’s hiked tuition last month at a school that just had to cut two-thirds of its class schedule, and remembering how the governor blithely played dialing-for-dollars as the energy crisis mounted and the lights went out, I’m hardly in the mood for pro-Davis lectures from simpering liberals...

[P]eople really at the bottom...are just as shut out from the system under Davis as they will be under Arnold. The tens of thousands who languish in the state’s bloated prison gulag will not miss Gray. Welfare mothers forced into demeaning workfare while their kids get prepped for that same system will suffer little change. Women’s choice and gay rights will remain the same under Arnold.

Stay with me for another jittery second and watch Cooper nail in his immediate post-recall column:

Face it. Just about everything liberal activists said about the recall, just about every Cassandra-like prediction spooned out by the party hacks at, failed to materialize. Far from being a Republican "power grab," the recall election culminated as a raucous festival of direct democracy. Turnout was much greater than in November. The voting system didn’t collapse...

Refusing to validate or even recognize the raw voter resentment against the political cesspool of Sacramento, liberals wound up pinned up against the wall, on the losing side of an historic voter revolt. As the insurgency swelled, the best that liberal activists could do was plug their ears, cover their eyes and rather mindlessly repeat that this all was some sinister plot linked to Florida, Texas, Bush, the Carlyle Group, Enron, and Skull and Bones. By bunkering down with the discredited and justly scorned Gray Davis, they wound up defending an indefensible status quo against a surging wave of popular disgust.

...Fortunately, much of the Democratic base is so much smarter than its leadership. Exit polling reveals much of it just plain refused to buy this crap and outright refused to lift a finger, or punch a chad, to save Davis.

Here's the kicker:

But for the moment, let the Democratic Party and its "progressive" satellites deeply, richly and slowly feel the painful consequences of allying with and defending — to death itself — the likes of Gray Davis. The harder the Democrats now have to work to hold on to constituencies they’d rather take for granted, so much the better. One day they may actually get it.

Get the point? When push came to shove in the California recall, the rhetoric coming from MoveOn became embarrassingly partisan and completely out-of-touch with the majority of clearly furious reformist voters. What a lost opportunity to begin building a new kind of cross-spectrum coalition capable of taking both of the major parties down a notch or two.

Again: It's clear that liberals like the ones behind aren't going to be running any ads in 2004 that haven't been approved by central Democrat HQ. It's also clear, given central Democrat HQ's horrible recent track record, that we'll be in dire need of some truly independent - not to mention wealthy - lefties to produce and air our own "special interest" advocacy ads. DLC be damned. [link]


You can't stop now.

November 2003

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Second half of August 2003

First half of August 2003

July 2003

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First half of June 2003

May 2003

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2nd half of February 2003

January and first half of February 2003

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