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January 25, 2003

The Limbaugh boycott

This is about ten years overdue, but better late than never. Rush is, of course, free to call us "fascists" and "anti American" for opposing war with Iraq--but we are also free to let his advertisers know that there's no way in hell we'll be purchasing their products.

It's the magic of the free market. I'm sure Rush will understand.

One more on those Team Leaders

Just found this site, which is all over the astroturf campaigns--they've got both of the ones I've mentioned, as well as several others, and a list of the papers which have fallen for them. So here's your Team Tomorrow assignment: go look and see if your hometown paper is on one of the lists, and if they are, write them and let them know that they've been suckered by the Republicans. Again.

Afterthought: be sure to let the editors of these papers know about the Team Leader site, or the watchdog link above, so they can keep an eye out for these astroturf campaigns for themselves.

Also, several of these papers look to be repeat offenders--as a native Iowan, the Iowa City Press Citizen jumps out at me, and there seem to be a few others. You might want to make a special point of enlightening the particularly gullible editors of these papers.

And here's how it backfires...
As you may know, the Herald Courier can get pretty desperate for letters to the editor at certain times of the year. But I hope we never get this desperate.

Shortly after Jan. 7, the day President Bush announced his latest tax-cut proposal, we received a letter from an Illinois resident voicing support for the plan and hailing it as evidence of Bush's leadership.

Just a few hours later, we received another from someone in the Richmond vicinity voicing support for the plan and hailing it as evidence of Bush's leadership. If this last sentence prompted you to ask, "Haven't I just read this?" then you know just how the second letter struck me. In fact, I compared the two, word for word; except for the names and hometowns at the bottom, they were identical.

IN ALL, I GOT the same letter from eight people over a week and a half; a couple of the letters did come with an extra sentence. Half were from this area, and half weren't. Out of curiosity, I ran an Internet search to see if any newspapers had actually published the letter. By the middle of last week, at least a dozen had -- including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boston Globe and even the International Herald Tribune in Paris.


Team Leaders, continued

Okay, we know that "Bush demonstrating genuine leadership" has turned up in letters to the editor across the country.

But wait--there's more!

This is an 'Action Item' posted to the GOP Team Leader Action Center on January 16:

-- Senate Held Hostage. Senate Democrats didnÝt listen to the American people in November. Seeking to maintain power and continue partisan politics, Democrats have again put special interests and partisanship ahead of our nation's interests and progress. One Senator said the Democrats' tactics were "tantamount to an attempted coup."

According to Google, this one has already turned up in a couple of newspapers:

Honolulu Star Bulletin

Galletin (TN) News Examiner

Coming soon to a letters page near you, no doubt...

Team Leaders

As I mentioned yesterday, you can sign up here to become an official GOP Team Leader. And--this is the beauty part--you will then have access to official Republican Talking Points. You'll receive personal notification of their clumsy astroturf campaigns.

I don't think the latter will last much longer, incidentally. There are too many bloggers watching out for this now. It's going to be a lot harder to pull this kind of crap from now on. Which is too bad for the Team Leaders, of course, because getting an astroturf letter published in their local paper was one way they could earn GOPoints, redeemable for actual merchandise.

I kid you not.

75 GOPoints get you a bumper sticker. 140 get you a Team Leader Video. If you reach 350, you can cash 'em in for a 12-pack insulated bag. There are PDA covers, pullovers, caps, t-shirts, all festooned with the Team Leader logo.

So, how much effort must one expend to be eligible for these nifty prizes?

The GOP Team Leader site has a number of ways users can earn points. Following is a summary of the points each action is worth:

Contact the Media: 5 points per media outlet you contact (maximum of 20 points per day)

Publish a Letter to the Editor: 2 points per published letter. This is in addition to the 5 points you get for contacting the media outlet

Contact Your Representative: 5 points per representative you contact (maximum of 20 points per day)

Attend a Team Leader Event: 5 points per event

Report on what you hear on Talk Radio Shows: 5 points per report provided

Convert a member of your team to Team Leader: 10 points per conversion

A member of your team logs in for the first time: 1 point per member

Forward An Email Message to Your Team: 5 points per message forwarded

I'm sure everybody does this to some degree (so spare me that banal observation, okay?). But this whole points-for-prizes scheme really takes it to a whole different level.

* * *

As I was composing this entry, Atrios posted this:

Let me chime in here. Aside from taking an amusing swipe at 'the other side,' let me explain why the whole astro-turf issue is a bit more than that. A lot of people have said that all political parties and interest groups regularly issue various "action alerts" including sample letters to send to various people. This is true, but most of the time the "click here to send this form letter under your name" systems are directed not at newspapers for the purposes of publication but for congressional representatives. As such, they are more like signing a petition. I've sent a few of those and I've never expected the recipients to assume it was a letter written in my own words.

In addition, GOPTeamLeader allows the user to send the identical letter simultaneously to up to 5 media sources - which is a bit indecent.

(Not to mention the points-for-merchandise scheme outlined above.)

But, really, the main issue about this astroturf was that so many editors published it even though it was so obviously a piece of astro-turf. In fact, one editor communicated to one of my readers that they published it knowing full well that it was astroturf "as a courtesy" to their many GOP readers.

Darn that liberal media anyway...


January 24, 2003

Shoot the moon

Couple of people have sent this transcript in, from an
August press conference. To answer the obvious question, no, I'd never seen it when I wrote this one.

Q: You've talked on a couple of occasions on philosophically perhaps the need to preemptively strike a nation -- not necessarily Iraq, just somewhere. And I'm wondering if you have a litmus test or a set of conditions that you would need to see in order to make the call for a preemptive strike? What has to be in place? Is it a nuke? Is it complicity with al Qaeda? Have you considered any of those things?

Rumsfeld: I have considered a lot of those things. And the problem is, if I answer your question, someone's going to think I'm talking about Iraq.

Q: Let's say you're definitely not talking about Iraq. (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: We'll go to Dick Myers' "the moon." (Laughter.) Remember? Were you here for that when he -- theoretically, the --

Q: What makes a preemptive strike legal under international law, in your eyes?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm not a lawyer, Pam. You know that. Don't give me that --

Q: Okay, skip the international law part. What makes a preemptive strike okay, acceptable?

Rumsfeld: Well, I would make the case that there are a whole series of things that ought to be looked at, and that there isn't a single one that's determinative, and that what one would have to do is to evaluate those and weigh them.

And the construct I would suggest would be what are the benefits -- what are the advantages and disadvantages of not acting? And of course, the advantage of not acting against the moon would be that no one could say that you acted; they would say, "Isn't that good, you didn't do anything against the moon." The other side of the coin, of not acting against the moon in the event that the moon posed a serious threat, would be that you'd then suffered a serious loss and you're sorry after that's over. And in weighing the things, you have to make a judgment; net, do you think that you're acting most responsibly by avoiding the threat that could be characterized -- X numbers of people dying, innocent people -- and it's that kind of an evaluation one would have to make.

One by Mauldin


Astroturf (as in "fake grassroots") campaigns are nothing new. It's just that the internet makes it harder to get away with these things.

You've probably seen this story already, but if you've missed it, here's a rundown.

IF YOU DO A SEARCH on the truly marvellous Google on the phrase Bush "demonstrating genuine leadership", like the Three Bears song goes, you're in for a big surprise.

The search engine reveals three pages of results which list letters to the editors of august publications including the Boston Globe, the Star Press, the Suburban Chicago Courier News, and many many more.

They all have a similar form, starting: "WHEN IT COMES to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership. The growth package he has proposed takes us in the right direction by accelerating the...."

Amazing, that so many Republicans across the country were independently inspired to write nearly identical letters to the editor. Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?

Atrios has been on this as well.

And if you go here, you can sign up to become a GOP team leader and help keep an eye on their clumsy attempts at manipulating public opinion.

Lies, damned lies, and Bush Administration statistics

ABC News looks at the Bush tax plan:

What the president said: "92 million Americans will keep an average of $1,083 more of their own money when this tax plan goes throughÍ"

What we found:

If you look at the average for all taxpayers, this is correct.

However, this average is derived from all income levels and all estimated savings. This skews the number upward.

According to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institute, 80 percent of all tax filers would receive less than the $1,083 average the president mentioned.

Meanwhile, half of all tax filers would get less than $100.


Know your place! Shut your face!

These remixed propaganda posters are amazing. Click on any of them to start the slide show, but be sure that you don't have anything to do for the next twenty or thirty minutes.


This is the cover of Ann Coulter's next book.

Look, I know she's a clown. I know she's an opportunist who says outrageous things to provoke a response, draw attention to herself. But Roy Cohn was also a clown and an opportunist. The messenger may be an idiot, but it doesn't mean that the message is harmless.

But of course, we never do seem to learn from the lessons of history. They've got a word for you, if you stand up and say hey, I think we've been down this road before, and it didn't really work out so well the last time. And that word is not "thoughtful," or "concerned." That word is "alarmist." As if alarms are a bad thing. As if we should wait until the flames are consuming the first floor and the hallways are filled with smoke before we respond, because raising a hue and cry any earlier would be, well, you know. Alarmist.

(Heads up on the book via Carl of anti-Coulter. He's kind of on hiatus right now, but I think he'll be back.)


January 23, 2003

Fiercely liberal

Bill Mauldin has passed away.

More about him here:

In 1945, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for newspaper cartooning, and published his first book ˇ Up Front, which reprinted dozens of Willie & Joe cartoons, accompanied by Mauldin's comments on the real-life situation his fictional characters were in. It has remained in print for decades, and even now stands as one of the most vivid and true-to-life accounts of the typical American soldier's life during World War II.

More books followed ˇ Back Home (1947), Bill Mauldin in Korea (1952), The Brass Ring (1971), and several others. He also wrote a few short stories, and appeared in the 1951 movie, The Red Badge of Courage. He won a second Pulitzer in 1959, so it was almost an anticlimax when, two years later, he took home The National Cartoonists' Society's Reuben Award, as Cartoonist of the Year.

By that time, he was working as editorial cartoonist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. United Feature had found his cartoons hard to sell in many markets, because of his tendency not to pull punches when cartooning about McCarthyism or The Ku Klux Klan; and he'd been so discouraged that for a few years during the '50s, he'd actually given up cartooning altogether. It was a mistake he didn't make again ˇ but he did find larger urban areas, where a wider range of opinion has always flourished, more receptive to his viewpoints.

I don't know if conservatives commentators will now retroactively claim him as one of their own, but I wouldn't be surprised. Artists like Mauldin tend to get co-opted by all the wrong people. It's important to remember what he actually stood for, I think:

I spent hours in the library looking for Mauldin's 1975 cartoon on the ERA. What I discovered -- before finally discovering the cartoon itself -- was the biggest reason the Sun-Times of those days is remembered as fiercely liberal. In fact its editorial page was wishy-washy and insignificant. Mauldin, however, was an angry, ironic sharpshooter. The editorials endorsed Richard J. Daley and Richard Nixon, but nobody read the editorials. Mauldin savaged them both, and everybody read him.


January 22, 2003

Hey, him call us ignorant!
When Europeans make such criticisms, Americans assume we're envious. "They want what we've got," the thinking goes, "and if they can't get it, they're going to stop us from having it." But does everyone want what America has? Well, we like some of it but could do without the rest: among the highest rates of violent crime, economic inequality, functional illiteracy, incarceration and drug use in the developed world. President Bush recently declared that the U.S. was "the single surviving model of human progress." Maybe some Americans think this self-evident, but the rest of us see it as a clumsy arrogance born of ignorance.

Europeans tend to regard free national health services, unemployment benefits, social housing and so on as pretty good models of human progress. We think it's important ˇ civilized, in fact ˇ to help people who fall through society's cracks. This isn't just altruism, but an understanding that having too many losers in society hurts everyone. It's better for everybody to have a stake in society than to have a resentful underclass bent on wrecking things. To many Americans, this sounds like socialism, big government, the nanny state. But so what? The result is: Europe has less gun crime and homicide, less poverty and arguably a higher quality of life than the U.S., which makes a lot of us wonder why America doesn't want some of what we've got.

--Brian Eno (!), writing in Time. (Thanks to Neil Krupnick for the pointer.)

Okay, here's the deal

They're trying something new at Salon, which I think necessitates a pre-emptive post here: rather than keeping some of their best writing walled off behind the Premium (subscriber-only) section, as they've been doing for the past year or two, they've effectively turned the entire site into a Premium section--but with a way past the wall for people who don't want to subscribe, which is to click through a multi-part ad. In other words, if you want to look at anything on Salon now, you either have to be a subscriber or you have to click through a multi-part ad once a day.

I'm sure this will annoy many of you who read my cartoon online, and if it does, I encourage you to share those feelings with the appropriate parties, which is to say, anyone but me. I'm not thrilled about this-- but, you know, it's an imperfect world. They're just trying to stay afloat. And frankly, I never liked having half the site inaccessible to most readers.

But don't confuse me with Salon. This is their call, I'm just rolling with the punches here. If you have strong feelings about this one way or the other, tell them--not me. I can't emphasize this enough: I'm not interested. Any email sent to me on this issue will be deleted unread. Seriously. There's too much going on in the world right now to waste energy on something this inconsequential.

Anyway, look on the positive side--all that Premium material that's been walled off for the past few years is now accessible, and that's a Good Thing. Information wants to be free, but it also likes to pay the rent. As I say, it's an imperfect world.

(Afterthought: if clicking through the ads on Monday is really more than you can bear, you can always wait until Tuesday and read the cartoon at Working For Change.)

All the world's a stage

From ABCNews.com:

The White House, long known for its catchy, attention-grabbing backdrops, had designed a gigantic banner made to look like stacked boxes stamped with "MADE IN U.S.A."

To television viewers around the country, the banner was indistinguishable from a real wall of boxes made in the good old U.S. of A., which were perfectly lined up on either side of the banner.

For an event meant to draw attention to the president's plan to help small businesses hurt by the sagging economy, it appeared to be another hit designed by the White House advance staff, known for their eye-catching "made for TV" backgrounds.

The pitch was to deliver the president, concerned about the economy, taking time out of his busy schedule to visit a mom-and-pop company he says would save thousands of dollars under his tax-relief plan.

The problem was that the real boxes surrounding the president at the scene of his speech ˇ a small shipping and receiving plant, JS Logistics ˇ should have read: "NOT Made in U.S.A."

Next to the banner and stacked around his podium were hundreds of boxes labeled "Made in China" ˇ and Taiwan and Hong Kong. Someone apparently became aware of the mixed message, for white stickers and brown packing tape were mysteriously taped over the true origin of the real boxes that travel through the trucking and warehouse business daily.


January 21, 2003

My secret is out

No wonder blogging has been light lately.

(My thanks to the anonymous reader who took the time to scan this for me.)

Getting harder to ignore

Here's more on the anti war march, from the Village Voice:

WASHINGTON, D.C.ˇJust maybe the zeitgeist is beginning to shift. This week a Pew poll found that only 42 percent of Americans believe that President Bush has made the case for warˇdown from 52 percent in September. Last week, a huge Chicago local of the Teamster'sˇone of the unions that's been cosiest with the Bush White Houseˇhosted the launch of a national labor antiwar coalition. Republican business leaders raised concerns about a war with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, joined a list of 38 city councils that have passed antiwar resolutions. And despite freezing temperatures that never topped 24 degrees, more than 100,000 demonstrators took over the streets of Washington, D.C., on Saturday in the second massive national antiwar protest in three months.

If the last march, in October, was the largest antiwar protest since the Vietnam era, Saturday's march was easily as bigˇor bigger. The networks nearly ignored October's demo, while several liberal critics, such as David Corn, called it "a pander fest for the hard left" and expressed concern that the organizer of both marches, the International ANSWER Coalition, would "prevent the antiwar movement from growing." But this time the buzz was undeniable, with the Washington Post running half a dozen pre-protest stories and Nightline giving a platform to antiwar rabblerouser Representative Dennis Kucinich on protest eveˇundeniable, and well-earned. Sure, one heard flashes of tone-deaf rhetoric blaring from the morning stage in front of the U.S. Capitol, as a few speakers threw out terms like "cryptofascist" or stumped for Mumia Abu Jamal. But the march was huge, with a tone as populist as they come.

Placards equating Israel with Nazism, so common at ANSWER's first big march last April, were nowhere in sightˇin fact, few signs strayed far from the antiwar message. The seemingly endless river of protesters carried aloft hand-scrawled cardboard placards and homemade banners bearing peace slogans at their most basic: "War Is the Problem, Not the Solution" and "Peace Is Patriotic." Saturday's march would have played well in the heartlandˇand not so surprisingly, since that's exactly where many of the signs were made. As protesters from Alaska and Vermont, Iowa and Ohio, strolled through Washington singing "Give Peace a Chance" and "We Shall Overcome," they flirted more with banality than fringe ideology.

There's been a bit of a tempest in the echo chamber of the blogosphere lately regarding ANSWER. If you're among that inestimably tiny fraction of readers who give a rat's ass about this non-controversy, there are responses here and here (from progressive and libertarian perspectives, respectively). But I think this entry, from a blog called Polyglot, sums up the attitude of most of the demonstrators for whatever eeeee-vil hidden agenda the organizers may or may not have:

there were speakers, but it was hard to pay attention to them, and they didn't really seem to be saying much besides rhetoric...instead we wandered around and looked at signs, laughed at signs, checked out buttons and t-shirts for sale, and "wow"ed at people who had traveled from locales far, far away.


i love america. i love feeling like i might be able to affect change, no matter how small that chance is, by speaking out for what i believe in.


January 20, 2003

Down the memory hole

From FAIR:

It's become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King's birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."

The remarkable thing about this annual review of King's life is that several years -- his last years -- are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.


It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.

In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.

But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" -- including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.

"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

By 1967, King had also become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was murdered -- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."



January 19, 2003

You mean they're not real?

The father of the jackalope has died.

Numbers games, part two

As usual, it's hard to get a sense of the size of the crowd in DC yesterday from news reports. And I can't seem to find any aerial photos anywhere. But here's a shot from San Francisco, and it looks like an impressive turnout to me...

Update: Max was at the DC march and has a first-person account here. There are also several reports at Stand Down.

Numbers games

Been meaning to post this since a reader sent it in last week. According to this Knight Ridder poll, 83% of the American people cannot correctly answer the question, "How many of the 9-11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?"

Interestingly--at least, according to this poll--even in the depths of such appalling ignorance, only a third of the public supports war with Iraq without UN backing. (With UN support, that number jumps to--yes--83%. )

Profiles in courage, part 938
"Governor Ryan's action was shockingly wrong," Mr. Lieberman said in an interview on Friday. "It did terrible damage to the credibility of our system of justice, and particularly for the victims."

Story here.

Me, I'd think the thirteen wrongly convicted death row inmates might have done more damage to the credibility of the system. Not to mention the Chicago police officers who tortured suspects until they confessed.

But Joe Lieberman thinks it is the acknowledgement of the system's flaws which damages the credibility of the system.


I really hope this guy isn't the Democratic nominee in '04.

Another left wing wacko speaks
I can't imagine that anybody would say, We're going to war because there are 11 empty warheads, probably left over from 10 years ago. These warheads are not the nuclear weapons we've been warned about. They travel about 12 miles.

But this is being used as a pretext for a decision that's already been made at high levels of the U.S. government to change the government in Iraq. It has nothing to do with, boy, we're -- we are really worried about these little chemical warheads that's going to cause a holocaust in the Middle East.

Most disturbing thing is that Secretary of State Powell, a lot of people were relying on to keep some sanity, played the good soldier this week and said that at the end of the month, there would be more evidence. If there's more, if there's evidence, why not put it out now?

* * *

But the last thing that the hawks inside the administration, and their friends outside the administration, want is a coup d'etat that would replace Saddam Hussein. They want a war as a manifestation of U.S. power in the world and as a sign that the United States is capable of changing the balance of power and the political map of the Middle East.

There's no question that the last thing they want is Saddam Hussein put on a plane and taken away.

* * *

Talking to a senior official, and he said to me, he said, Well, if we don't hit in Iraq, where are we going to hit? And they -- it's a desire that the United States, the superpower, is going to manifest its authority to the rest of the world.

Listen, I just feel that this potential -- this war, I just trust it comes off easily. But I have trepidation that it won't be easy, and there's going to be a terrible consequences from it.

--Robert Novak on The Capital Gang, via Atrios. Transcript here.


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