Monday, June 30, 2008

This isn't beanbag.

Is it me, or is the Obama campaign doing everything it can to avoid having a fight with the Republicans? Do they think they can dance around the ring for five months and be awarded the title?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

OR-Senate: Things are Getting Weird

The incumbent Republican senator is running this ad:

I've never seen anything like that.

And here's an ad from one of the Democrats in the primary:

Yeah. He's also 4'9".

John McCain is Aware of the Internet

Good Television

Rick Perlstein gets into it with Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle on MSNBC:

Good Stuff.

About halfway through, Buchanan attributes Ed Muskie's downfall in '72 to David Broder's story about Muskie breaking down in tears outside the Manchester Union Leader. This is presented as a rebuttal to Perlstein's attributing Muskie's loss, in part, to the "Canuck Letter." (Nixon's White House staff forged the Canuck Letter and sent it to the Union Leader in an effort to imply Muskie held a prejudice against his state's French-Canadian population.) That's misleading.

Undoubtedly, Broder's story had a devastating effect, but it couldn't have happened without the Canuck letter. Here's the relevant section of the '72 article:

With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion, Senator Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) stood in the snow outside the Manchester Union Leader this morning and accused its publisher of making vicious attacks on him and his wife, Jane.

The Democratic presidential candidate called publisher William Loeb "a gutless coward' for involving Mrs. Muskie in the campaign and said four times that Loeb had lied in charging that Muskie had condoned a slur on Americans of French-Canadian descent.

In defending his wife, Muskie broke down three times in as many minutes-- uttering a few words and then standing silent in the near blizzard, rubbing at his face, his shoulders heaving, while he attempted to regain his composure sufficiently to speak.

As should be clear from that passage, Muskie's "crying speech" took as its subject none other than the Canuck Letter. Some readers will certainly respond: So what? The guy cried! He wasn't fit to be President! Well, not so fast.

Broder has since written about this episode regretfully and at length:

In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry. He insists he never shed the tears we thought we saw. Melting snow from his hat-less head filled his eyes, he said, and made him wipe his face. While admitting that exhaustion and emotion got the better of him that morning, the senator believes that he was damaged more by the press and television coverage of the event than by his own actions.

Second, it is now clear that the incident should have been placed in a different context: Muskie was victimized by the classic dirty trick that had been engineered by agents of the distant and detached President Nixon. The Loeb editorial that had brought Muskie out in the snowstorm had been based on a letter forged by a White House staff member intent on destroying Muskie's credibility. But we didn't know that and we didn't work hard enough to find out.

Muskie didn't necessarily cry. It could have been the snow. At least, Broder doesn't seem willing to stand by that aspect of the story.

Broder's retrospective is worth reading as an example of how an arbitrary act of political journalism can drastically alter the course of an election. (Broder thought Muskie was a hothead, and conformed his reporting to that view. For more on that aspect, see here.) I bring it up mainly to show that (if you watch the clip again) Barnicle and Buchanan are misleading the television audience in their defense of Nixon. Muskie's speech outside the Union Leader and the White House's effort at sabotage part of the same sequence of events; the latter rather clearly prompted the former.

Monday, June 23, 2008

McCain's $300 Million Challenge

Can't quote the AP, but McCain is offering $300 million dollars to the whoever can develop some sort of revolutionary battery. Depends on the battery I suppose, but a truly revolutionary transportation technology is clearly going to be worth a hell of a lot more than that to the inventor--hundreds of billions, I'd assume. Hard to see how the economic incentives for development will change much because of this. Anyway, the story reminded me of this Austin Powers scene . . .

. . . so I guess it was worth it.

Boy Oh Boy

Did Bill Kristol just call MoveOn a bunch of chickenhawks?

I expect it will be written about.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Carlin Dies

George Carlin is dead of heart failure in Los Angles:

Rest in Peace.

Powers Dies

It appears that the elder and more respectable Francis Powers running for Staten Island's congressional seat (his son is running too) has died suddenly. Rest in peace.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fourth Amendment to be Thrown Out With Trash

House Democratic Leadership unveiled, this afternoon, a compromise version of the FISA Bill, and scheduled a vote on it for tomorrow (leaving members less than 24 hours to read and consider the 114 page document). The bill can be found here, on Steny Hoyer's website.

The compromise that the House leaders have come up with can be charitably described as an abomination. Title VIII authorizes the Executive Branch, by means of an in camera and ex parte process, to compel the Judicial Branch to dismiss any lawsuit against a telecom company alleging illegal eavesdropping. The courts are further barred from stating the grounds for such dismissals or disclosing them to adverse parties. In other words, there will come a day--presumably right soon--when a United States District Judge dismisses, without comment, every lawsuit against the telecom companies alleging that they helped the government to illegally spy on American citizens in violation of their rights under the Fourth Amendment (there are quite a few of these suits). Though we'll never be told this, these dismissals will be the unavoidable result of a secret meeting the District Judge held with an administration official at which the official will provide certain secret documents that legally compel the judge to throw the whole matter out of court and never say why. Liberty.

In any case, barring a major intervention by a presidential campaign (nudge nudge), this legislation will be passed tomorrow and will drop down the Friday afternoon memory hole.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remembering Tim Russert

"Never let them intimidate you. If someone tries, do me a favor and work just a little harder on your story...Make your story a little better."
- David Halberstam

For the better part of a week, I have struggled to put into words the impact Tim Russert's death has had on me and, more importantly, on journalism. Words have consistently escaped me but Halberstam's have been going through my head on repeat.

When I became a reporter and (eventually) found myself in situations where I was charged with asking important people questions, I realized that Russert, like Halberstam, was fearless. Russert not only held his own against some of the greatest minds and biggest personalities in the political world, but he often handed it to them. Always rooted in fact, Russert personified the journalism responsibility of holding public official accountable. And, most importantly, he took that responsibility seriously - supporting every charge with careful due diligence.

Continued at