Tuesday, August 26, 2008

McCain: He's "Seriously" Angry

My suggested hed was “McCain’s Foreign Policy: You Don’t Want To Get Him Angry!” but it turns out my editor is also a Mystery Men fan, and we swapped lines with each other. I believe it is said in the Tribune newsroom that Bob Satnan, he shovels well. Newspaper version is here.
Casanova Frankenstein: Captain Amazing — what a surprise.
Captain Amazing: Really? I'm not so sure about that. Your first night of freedom and you blow up the asylum. Interesting choice. I knew you couldn't change.
Casanova: I knew you'd know that.
Captain Amazing: Oh, I know. And I knew you'd know I'd know you knew.
Casanova: But I didn't. I only knew that you'd know that I knew. Did you know that?
Captain Amazing:
... Of course.

The Blue Raja:
All I'm saying is, when we split the check three ways, the steak-eater picks the pocket of the salad-man.
East Valley Tribune, Aug. 24, 2008

As befits a presidential candidate who had a cameo in Wedding Crashers (2005), John McCain’s foreign policy also comes from the movies. He’s doing a real-life impersonation of the character Ben Stiller played in Mystery Men (1999): Mr. Furious, the “ticking time-bomb of fury.” Other line: “Don’t mess with the volcano my man ‘cause I will go Pompeii on your . . . butt.” Just like John McCain.

Mr. Furious, when he becomes furiously angry, has super-strength. Or, more accurately, it’s reported that he acquires super-strength. Why, he supposedly lifted a bus once. But it was really more of a push than a lift, and the driver did have his foot on the accelerator -- but that was just in the beginning, to get it going. Maybe. It’s like how McCain is so very, very serious about foreign policy when his solution to every conceivable problem is to become really, really angry, then bomb.

Matt Welch pulled the quotes for Reason magazine. McCain’s never met an issue that isn’t our greatest challenge -- until the next one, which is then our greatest challenge, until the next one. In 1990, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait imperiled “the peace and security of the world for future generations” and required that “the world community act decisively to end the Gulf crisis now.”

Then in 1994, North Korea’s nuclear program was “the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today” and “there can be no serious doubt that our vital national interests are imperiled.”

Five years later in 1999, McCain said “America’s most important values -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- are under vicious assault by the Milosevic regime.” He called for “an immediate and manifold increase in the violence against Serbia” including “infantry and armored divisions for a possible ground war.”

Last year, McCain claimed that we faced a new “transcendent issue of our time, the battle and struggle against radical Islamic extremism.” In case you missed the seriousness of the threat, McCain added, “This is a transcendent struggle between good and evil. Everything that we stand for and believe in is at stake here.”

But that was last year’s transcendent, existential threat; now we have a new version, just off the production line. McCain says that Russia’s invasion of Georgia was “the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War.” Never mind the list of McCain’s previous serious crises -- which is seriously deficient, because it omits Afghanistan and Iraq, which were and are still actual wars, being fought while McCain lurches to the next transcendent, existential threat.

It’s serial exaggeration of absolutely everything. The latest problem is always an existential crisis, the newest dictator is inevitably evil incarnate, and trying to work things out short of sending the troops and bombs is infallibly the latest Munich. Instead, the real solution to everything is to get really, really angry. The McCain manifesto is to speak loudly and carry a small stick. As Mr. Furious says, “Right now, I’m kinda like a powder keg, and you’re the match.”

Max Bergmann noted that McCain’s habit of rhetorical overreach, exaggeration, and anger make for good television -- but what works on TV (one-liners, over-the-top rhetoric) isn’t good governance and is terrible foreign policy. McCain would lurch from crisis to crisis, shooting off manifestos and demanding results, which is great if it works, but if not, then what? Cooler heads wouldn’t make threats they couldn’t back up, but to McCain, perpetual brinksmanship isn’t a flaw, it’s how he wants to govern. We’ll spend the next four years threatening everybody, and when they don’t do what McCain tells them, well, there’s always the next transcendent, existential crisis.

As Matthew Yglesias put it, “McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It’s a hysteria-based foreign policy.” It may get good press, and the chattering classes may indeed consider it “serious.” But we’re just finishing eight years of George W. Bush, who also shoots first and aims later. Why would we want four more?

Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Improve On Reality -- Make It TV Instead!

My suggested headline was “My Pitch For Maricopa County’s Hottest New Realty TV Show” but the editor thought more direct was more better. Plus I got a block quote of the first sentence of the fifth ‘graf (“Becoming a full-time TV star….”) and almost all of my extra capital letters made it past the copy editors, so I have no complaints.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 17, 2008

Last week I met Dan Saban, the Democrat running for Maricopa County Sheriff, and in addition to contributing to his campaign, I gave him my simple proposal for improving public safety, increasing respect for law and justice, and making Joe Arpaio filthy rich: Get Joe Arpaio his own reality TV show, and let somebody else do the boring, prosaic work of being Maricopa County Sheriff.

Joe gets to do everything he does now, only more so, but in a much more congenial (and suitable) format. He can play “America’s Toughest Sheriff” to the hilt, but nobody can criticize him anymore for being a publicity-crazed, stunt-oriented buffoon.

Joe still will get plenty, if not more, media coverage; as a reality-TV star, he wouldn’t face any troublesome equal-time obligations or news blackouts during election campaigns. Just look at how much newsprint and pixels the so-called news media devote to American Idol, especially compared to local politics. Joe’s a far bigger a celebrity than Jordin Sparks. Some articles about him might appear in a different section of the paper, but reporters will spell his name correctly. He’ll become even more famous, and his political endorsement probably will be worth more than today.

Moving to TV opens up “cross-platform possibilities,” as the showbiz types say. Joe likes to plaster his name on Sheriff’s Office property ranging from pink boxers to tanks, but all he gets now is publicity. However, merchandise spin-offs from The Joe Show could raise beaucoup bucks and still help advertise The Arpaio Brand. And for his deputies, there are all sorts of possibilities, like stock options, spinoff shows, and merchandizing subsidiaries -- all on top of the fact that being a deputy sheriff doesn’t really impress babes like being a top producer for a hit reality TV series.

Becoming a full-time TV star gets rid of numerous headaches and technicalities -- like the Bill of Rights -- currently interfering with Joe Being Joe. Imagine how much simpler illegal immigrant sweeps will be once they’re staged for TV. Not that they aren’t staged for TV now, but going legit means that the “illegals” will have signed waivers and agreed to appear, so no more worries about their rights or treatment.

Local police and public officials, instead of carping about costs and the harm to public safety, will be happy to hang around and provide security in hopes of getting screen time. Reality TV has proved that Americans will do almost anything, no matter how humiliating, to appear on television, so we’ll have no shortage of “prisoners” to live in Tent City for months, hoping to survive to appear next week. The guards’ work becomes much, much easier; in a real jail, you have to work to keep inmates inside, but on reality TV, they’ll compete to stick around.

Joe’s people can audition the demonstrators at the sweeps, so that anybody too “regular” gets removed from the set, leaving only the suitably-crazed and foreign-looking for the reaction shots -- while making sure that there are lots of demonstrators, because the only thing worse than having lots of media-friendly protestors at a Joe Arpaio Production is not having any.

It’s a good move for the local media, too. Today, they must pretend they’re covering the news when they’re appearing as extras at an Arpaio media extravaganza. Moving to the private sector frees them from this pretence, and they should get paid as extras. It should improve the coverage, as theater critics would have more important things to say about Joe’s performance art than do our alleged political reporters.

Meanwhile, we’d have a sheriff who understands that the job is largely administrative, who will dismantle the cult of personality and ridiculous investigative army serving the greater glory of Joe. The sheriff would a low-key, competent administrator who will manage his budget and avoid pointless high-profile feuds (and investigations) with political enemies.

Joe becomes an even bigger, far richer, television personality and silences his critics, who can just change the channel. Talk about a win-win-win. How about it, Joe?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Lifetime Supply of Gander Sauce

My suggested headline was “Swallowing Their Own Medicine” but apparently that wasn’t specific enough. A newspaper-looking version of the column is here.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 10, 2008

Thanks to vote-by-mail, we now enjoy the formerly "last minute hit piece" often weeks ahead of Election Day. And, despite scads of faux outrage by my counterpart hacks on the GOP side, I do mean, "enjoy." Negative campaigning is like a freeway car wreck; we say we deplore it, but just try to stop us from rubbernecking.

Nobody's talking much about the contested Democratic primaries for the Corporation Commission and Maricopa County Attorney, because those candidates are running clean, issue-oriented campaigns, just like we always claim we want (cue tongue-clucking), then don't pay attention to because -- Look! Over there! Mud!

This year, the really nasty stuff seems reserved to GOP legislative primaries and, for clearly biased Democratic observers like me, it's a lifetime supply of gander sauce. It's much more fun when these guys practice their dark arts on each other, so we're sitting back and enjoying the show.

So far, the nastiest mudslinging -- excuse me, the hardest-hitting campaigning -- is in a Maricopa County GOP House primary, where voters received a mailer with copies of court filings from an incumbent's divorce case. 'Wingers are outraged that one of their heroes is being attacked with domestic abuse allegations his spouse made in 1985. "That's so long ago!" they cry. "And that's his private life! It's outrageous!"

People crying about "privacy" today were, four weeks ago, making tasteless jokes about the domestic crackup of my soon-to-be-former state legislator in District 11. That's the problem when your jests "push the envelope" of good taste; you create room for other people, too. Too bad.

And as for how long ago these allegations were made? Yes, shame on anyone for thinking anything that happened in 1985 is relevant to an election today. Of course, these same people had no problem making the 2004 election turn on whether John Kerry remembered exactly every single detail of what he did (and didn't do) in Vietnam. Because after all, 1985 is ancient history, but 1965 -- that's baby boomer prime time, and it's entirely relevant.

Too bad the mailer wasn't sent by "Swift Boat Veterans for Exposure and Prevention of Domestic Abuse." Then these Republicans wouldn't have had anything to complain about.

The other enjoyable intramural mud-wrestling match is in Pima County, where a relatively moderate GOP incumbent is battling a primary challenge from a hard-line conservative. 'Wingers are outraged that the incumbent is using right-wing buzzwords and phrases on his campaign signs to try to survive the primary, after which he'll start emphasizing his moderate credentials for the general election.

Yes, this tactic is surely an outrage, and I'm sure that these critics will not stop lambasting John McCain for dropping his "maverick" shtick for down-the-line conservative orthodoxy, then after clinching the nomination, flipping back to his long-discarded "maverick" persona for the general. Shame on any Republican who "pivots" for the general election -- unless he's running against a Democrat, apparently.

'Wingers upset with this wanton Republican moderate have suddenly discovered the glories of intellectual property law; they are trying to stop people from putting the trademarked GOP elephant on campaign signs supporting the incumbent.

So now 'wingers claim you can't identify a candidate's party using the elephant logo unless you get permission from the Republican National Committee? Some committee in Washington, DC, gets to decide who's an elephant-eligible Republican and who isn't?

I look forward to Republicans developing a licensing system under which people apply to be deemed acceptable by party apparatchiks inside the Beltway, becoming eligible to use the precious elephant logo. Remember when Republicans liked to call their party a "big tent?" Those days are long gone. Anybody can get into a tent; 'wingers now want to make sure that only people of whom they approve can get into "the club."

And just as conservative pundits keep offering unsolicited advice to Barack Obama, with surely only his best interests at heart, let me say that I think this is a truly wonderful idea.

Monday, August 11, 2008

NYC Marathon 2007 Photographs

It's not clear how long these links will work, but you can see some photos here (that's Ted B. to my right) and here and here. Plus here, here, and here. And here, and this particularly painful-looking one here, and this would have been similarly painful-looking, but at least I was finished. The difference between my chip time and the running clock was 38 minutes, because we started with the group banished to the north side of the lower level of the bridge.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Would You Buy A (New) War From These People?

The column got edited while I was 10 time zones away in Istanbul. My suggested title was “The ‘People of the Book’ Need a New Political Playbook” but that got cut. Unfortunately, the editor’s choice uses “Neocon” as shorthand for “Jewish,” which is a debate I don’t want to get into. (Yes, there apparently are Gentile Neocons.) Hey, JTP (Jewish Thought Police), I don’t write the headlines.

I’m also slightly upset about having the copy editor, despite my asking, change my “beyond the Pale” to a lower case p; my effort to get an Ashkenazic joke into the Tribune was foiled by my non-Yiddish-speaking editors. So it goes in the East Valley. The editor also changed “Bush and Cheney” to “President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney” in case somebody might think I was referring to a different Bush and Cheney. Newspaper version here for another week or so.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 3, 2008

For politically-active people who talk of the importance of remembering history, Jewish voters must enjoy playing Charlie Brown with one particular political football, the location of the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

For my non-observant readers, the Israeli government sits in Jerusalem, but because of the city’s disputed international status, foreign embassies remain in Tel Aviv while Israel and the Palestinians inch closer to talking about trying to discuss the grounds upon which they’ll negotiate the future of Jerusalem.

The embassy will be in Jerusalem eventually, but “eventually” in Middle Eastern terms can be a long time, and a symbolically charged action like an embassy move could make Israeli-Palestinian relations even more difficult. (Yes, things could get worse.) It’s not a huge priority to Israel, either.

Republicans first pushed the idea in 1980, to embarrass Jimmy Carter. Democrats then postured during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. In 1995, in a move seen as seeking to bolster Bob Dole’s support among Jewish votes and donors, he pushed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act through Congress. But the act has a loophole; the president can quietly sign a waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Bill Clinton signed those waivers, so in the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised to begin moving the embassy immediately. As president, however, Bush has only signed more waivers. Now John McCain has said that he’ll move the embassy “right away” if he’s elected -- despite the sorry history of this issue, and despite not saying a thing about Bush’s 8 years of waivers. How many times will Jewish voters buy a used car that doesn’t run?

I recalled the embassy relocation debate while reading Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, who was impolite enough to write that several Jewish neoconservatives have tried to push U.S. policy toward their (sincere but mistaken) belief of what’s best for Israel. It’s usually OK to attack motives in U.S. politics -- as a Democrat, I’m beholden to trial lawyers and teachers unions, right? -- but writing that support for Israel might motivate Jewish neos is somehow beyond the Pale.

Klein noted that these people now “plumping” for war with Iran also fiercely supported the war with Iraq, believing that removing Saddam Hussein would benefit both America and Israel. He didn’t say that was an impermissible argument; Israel is a solid U.S. ally, and there are plenty of reasons for supporting it. He didn’t say that this group started the war, only that they encouraged it and provided intellectual window-dressing for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (and helped browbeat the majority of U.S. Jewish voters, a majority of whom opposed the war, into silence). Klein just said that these guys consider supporting Israel hugely important, and they thought the Iraq war would be good for the U.S. and good for Israel. That’s just plain wrong, and Klein believes that war with Iran would be a bigger disaster, for both countries.

Instead of arguing the merits (what, they didn’t want to argue that the Iraq war’s merits?), the response from the neoconservatives has been to accuse Klein of being anti-Semitic, of shamefully talking of “divided loyalties.” (They’ve also accused him of saying shameful things that he didn’t say, but that’s standard for these guys; their outrage needn’t be “reality-based.”)

So here’s the recap. Klein argues that the neos’ policy prescriptions are colored by their support for Israel; they were wrong about the war with Iraq, so don’t listen to their calls for war with Iran. His opponents argue that Klein is an “intellectually unstable” self-hating Jew who should be fired from his job. You tell me who’s being rational here. And, of course, these same people interrupt their playing of the anti-Semite card only to decry Obama supporters seeing racial motives in recent McCain TV ads.

I’m not sure how we got to the position where Joe Klein is a self-hating anti-Semite while Rev. John Hagee is such a wonderful friend of the Jews, but it sure doesn’t make much sense to me.
İstanbul, 3 August

View of the sun setting behind the Old City from the Kadıköy-Eminönü ferry:

Şile, Turkey, Wednesday 30 July

My second visit to the Black Sea. As the first visit was Odessa in December, 2004, I thought it best to wait for my second visit to wade into the water.