Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Easy pickings

Why Republicans lost the election.

Monday, November 27, 2006

No thanks

I'm too dispirited to link to the numerous stories about retailers opening early on the day after Christmas (some as early as midnight) or even staying open on Thanksgiving itself. I never minded the old Blue Laws in Texas that kept most businesses closed at least one day every weekend. Taking an occasional respite from the demands of commerce has got to be good for the soul, and this nation could use a bit more soul.

The day before Thanksgiving, I ran into a convenience store clerk who was preparing to work the 3:30-11:30 p.m. shift on Thanksgiving Day. She wasn't happy, and I don't blame her. What's the value in losing a day of rest and peace with friends and family compared to the value of having one more place open where somebody can pick up a six pack or a pack of cigarettes on the holiday? There's no comparison.

The Thanksgiving retail crush is another instance of how traditional values have been reversed. Conservatives and Christians were the ones who pushed for the old Blue Laws in hopes that the idle time would turn people toward the spiritual or at least give the small business owner respite for one day a week from the grind of fighting big retailers.

Now the fight against holiday commercialization, to the extent that it is fought at all, seems to be another one of those hopeless causes taken on by liberals trying to shape the world in their own image. But for all those workers forced to work on Thanksgiving or to cut short their day off to resume the grind before dawn on Friday, what's lost is more than a day of peace and thanksgiving. It's another chunk of shared experience, of community and solidarity, chipped away.

And, I suspect, most of those Wal-Mart shoppers still think they are conservatives.

Good bet

Anyone who has ever wagered on the results of political races or football games knows how risky predictions are. But sometimes you can bet the farm, if you have one. At the writing lab, for example, I got a paper by e-mail with a note attached that said this: "I might have a lot of mistakes with grammers."

I would have bet a million bucks that the student's prediction was accurate. And it was.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ben's big ones

Over at City Lights, Ed Kemmick comments about comments he made in response to comments about his Sunday column.

I liked the column and mostly agreed with it. But Ed errs when he says in his response to Mark that Ben Bagdikian sounds like a "chin-scratching sociologist."

Long before he became a chin-scratcher, Bagdikian was national editor of The Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers days. He was, according to David Halberstam's "The Powers That Be," the most eloquent voice at the Post in support of publishing the papers. Halberstam also reports that when Bagdikian served the Post as ombudsman he once told a group of blacks at Harvard that the purpose of the media wasn't to oppress black people, it was to make money. He told them that if they really wanted to have an impact, they should boycott the paper.

AP picked up the story, and Ben Bradlee threw it on Bagdikian's desk. Bagdikian admitted that he had said what was in the story and typed a letter of resignation, but Bradlee called him to apologize before he turned it in. On another occasion, when Bagdikian voluntarily entered prison to work on a series of stories, Bradlee said, "I've got to hand it to you, buddy. You've really got big ones."

"The Media Monopoly" is the classic in its field, and Bagdikian is required reading.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Crimes against humanity

So here is an American citizen, held for three years without charges, publicly defamed, possibly tortured and now quite likely not even guilty.

If impeachment is off the table, then who will answer for the crimes of this administration?

(hat tip to Andrew Sullivan).

Friday, November 17, 2006

The media future

Just a reminder: The Rimrock Foundation and The Outpost are sponsoring a seminar at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Mansfield Health Education Center. Panels will look at all aspects of the media, and Jerry Brown, dean of the University of Montana journalism school. is keynote speaker. It's free, and some food will be available. Don't worry about the RSVP mentioned in the paper. Just come ahead.

Pony up

Gee, I wonder if this piece of news will affect The Outpost's chances of cashing in on a chunk of change from the state's largest advertiser.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Small timer

It's no secret, I suppose, that I've never much cared for Conrad Burns. Some of the duller lights in the Montana blogosphere assume that's because he was too conservative, but that's not it. I like plenty of conservative Republicans and would be pleased to vote for quite a few. Last week I was trying to put my finger on why I felt the way I did, and I wondered if his atrocious grammar had something to do with it. Sounds petty, I know, but we form opinions about people based on all sorts of petty, irrelevant things, often without even knowing why we do it. The grammar was of a piece with what bugged me: I grew up in the country, around lots of country people, and his good ol' boy shtick just never sounded real to me (same with Bush).

Then I read this and remembered the real reason. He just always seemed too small for the job. Now that he's lost, he seems even smaller.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Habeas corpse

Before they pass minimum wage legislation, before they appoint new committee chairmen, even before they unpack the knick-knacks for their rolltop desks, the newly elected Congress persons need to push through a bill to eliminate this sort of violation of fundamental human rights. It's shameful.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I'm skeptical of stories like this one that cite "conventional wisdom" to suggest that Libertarian candidates draw votes from Republicans. Once upon a time, maybe, but I'm not so sure that's true this year. No doubt, Libertarians will never be comfortable voting for Democrats, but in this race at least Tester stood up for civil liberties, a balanced budget and more restraint in foreign adventurism. That's more than Burns could say.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tester for president?

Jon Tester got more positive buzz last night on "Real Time with Bill Maher" than Conrad Burns probably got in three terms. I was too dog-tired to get up and write it down, but it went something like this:

First, Rainn Wilson said something like Tester is 7 feet tall and weighs 400 pounds. Just on presence alone, he should be the Democrats' candidate for president in 2008. Perhaps a Tester-Pelosi ticket.

Then, in New Rules (which should eventually be posted on the website) Maher singled out Tester's haircut. Not only does the hair make Tester look sincere and responsible, Maher said (or words to that effect), it makes him the one person in Congress who is literally level-headed.

As for why Tester won, I can't say that I have much to add to the usual punditry, except perhaps to point out that in a race this close almost anything could have done it. Perhaps if Burns had said "piss-poor" one less time in his life, he might have won. Perhaps if he had cast one less vote that helped Abramoff, he would have won. Perhaps if Burns had stood up even once against the president's misguided policies, he would have won. Perhaps if the Burns campaign had wasted a few less dollars pounding on his base in afternoon talk radio and had instead dumped an ad or two in less hospitable quarters, such as the Outpost, he might have won. Who knows?

The temptation is always to read too much into election results. But I can't recall a year in which I have heard so many members of the losing party admit at the national level that they deserved to get beat. I won't quarrel with that.

UPDATE: Maher's best joke: A fake political ad at the beginning of the show lambasted Democrats for the failures of their first three days of control of the Congress. Among their shortcomings: They have failed to find a way out of the endless quagmire in Iraq.

UPDATE TWO: Here's the actual New Rules quote: There's just something about a crew cut that says, "You can trust me." There's your boy. This is Montana's new senator, Jon Tester. I don't know much about him. And I don't need to. His hair says it all. "I'm friendly, I'm dependable, I'm literally level-headed." If hair could smile, it would look like this. And most importantly, it's hair that says, "You will never ever, ever, ever find me snorting meth with a gay hooker."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Politics tonight

I will be helping out with Community Seven's election coverage from 8-10 p.m. today before returning to finish this week's Outpost. See you on the other side.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tighten up

Why Burns is closing the gap.

One vote for Burns

Rebecca Tescher Robison, publisher of the Yellowstone County News, has written the one newspaper editorial I have seen endorsing Conrad Burns. It was reprinted in the Big Sky Business Journal, so you can find it here.

I like Becky and respect her work. I have called her the best newspaper editor in Yellowstone County. I think that we both want similar results from government. So how can we disagree so thoroughly on Burns vs. Tester? Let's take a closer look at why she backs Burns.

He's against raising taxes.

True, but he certainly doesn't seem to be against spending tax dollars. Fiscal conservatism means spending no more than necessary and paying for what you buy. That ain't Burns.

He does NOT support a 23 percent sales tax. He supports a national sales tax but won’t support a tax increase but will consider it only as a replacement tax. No one is sure where his opponent got the 23 percent figure.

The 23 percent is, presumably, what it would cost to use a national sales tax as a replacement tax. I think Tester is silly to make an issue of this ridiculous proposal, but, let's face it: Burns did say he supported it.

Tester does not support the Patriot Act – Burns does.

Fair enough. I'm not one of those who thinks the Patriot Act is the disaster that some civil libertarians fear. Even the ACLU now thinks the act isn't so bad. But Burns also supports the far more damaging Military Commissions Act, which gives the government powers unimagined in the Patriot Act.

Burns is pro economic growth. State Senate President Jon Tester, apparently, is anti-growth and anti-jobs.

The sole evidence offered for this assertion is that Tester voted against allowing the Bull Mountain mine permit to be passed along to a new owner without further government review. The potential for abuse in such transactions seems obvious, and the state's risk, particularly for reclamation, is substantial. Tester's vote may or may not have been wise, but it doesn't sound anti-growth.

Burns is anti-abortion, pro-marriage. Tester is a die-hard supporter of abortion.

I've seen no evidence that Tester is a die-hard supporter of abortion. He does oppose a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Good for him. The Constitution should not be the place where Americans resolve controversial moral debates. It is the place we go once those debates have been resolved.

"Pro-marriage" appears to be code for "anti-gay marriage." Again, Tester opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Again, he is right to do so, for the reason cited above.

Burn is for a less intrusive government, smaller government.

Even six years ago, I might still have believed that. But no more. Burns has faithfully backed an administration that has plunged this country into massive deficits, ill-considered foreign wars and an unprecedented expansion of executive power. Even Burns' campaign ads, which focus on his skill in steering tax dollars our way, sound like they could have been written for a liberal Democrat. Tester won my vote when I heard him tell Yellowstone County Democrats that if all they cared about was bringing more tax dollars to Montana, then they probably shouldn't vote for him.

The rest of the editorial focuses on the Abramoff allegations. The thrust is that no evidence has surfaced to prove that Burns has committed a crime. True enough, and I don't really much care about Abramoff. Only Burns can know in his heart whether Abramoff's dollars influenced his votes. But I do think that the Abramoff allegations add to the perception that Burns has been in Washington too long, to too little good effect.

It's time for him to go.

UPDATE: Here's Keith Olbermann's blistering take on the Military Commissions Act.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Kerry on, men

The most interesting aspect of the Kerry flap has been the outrage, some of it presumably authentic, some dismally fake. But the notion that armies draw disproportionately from the ranks of the poor and uneducated is hardly a novel assertion, least of all among soldiers themselves.

An old Chinese proverb said, "Just as one does not use good metal to make nails, one does not use good men to make soldiers." When I was a soldier in 1970, I kept that slogan on the wall of my room in the barracks in Monterey, Calif. If anyone ever took offense, I never heard about it. I remember riding in a car full of soldiers as it drove by a hitchhiking soldier thumbing for a ride. "Suck out, GI," the driver said as we roared past.

The notion that most of us were serving because we were too poor, too dumb or too politically naive to manage to stay out was such a given that suggesting otherwise rarely raised an eyebrow, much less anyone's ire. And the notion persisted despite the obvious fact that it simply wasn't true for lots of soldiers. It was more of a grim, ongoing joke than a statement of reality.

Those were draftee days, of course, and I have no doubt that the Army has changed. It already was changing by the time I was discharged in 1973. But things haven't changed entirely. I heard a soldier on NPR talk about seeing "Forrest Gump" at a military base with an audience full of soldiers. In the scene where Gump met the military recruiter, someone in the audience shouted out, "Run, Forrest, run."

And there's this, which suggests that the old tradition still hasn't died. Some have seen this as an angry attack on Kerry; others have suggested that it actually defends Kerry. I can't know the soldiers' motives, but I suspect that it may not really convey any particular political message at all. It may just be new soldiers picking up on an old riff and turning it into a laugh, the way soldiers have done for centuries. Too bad Kerry couldn't have told his joke this well.


Sean Hannity has practically built his career by taking John Kerry out of context, so it was hard to endure Hannity's shameless delight in making constant Kerry attacks on Thursday while I was delivering The Outpost. But I felt obligated to listen: I thought I might get a chance to file an FCC complaint if I could catch Hannity having an on-air orgasm.

But what really struck me was the relentless onslaught of Burns and Tester ads. I bet I heard 50 in two hours. Amazing. How many undecided voters do you suppose there are listening to Sean Hannity on KBLG on a Thursday afternoon five days before the election? Three dozen? An awful lot of money is chasing an awfully small pot of voters.

Today reminds me of what the opening day of hunting season used to be like when we lived in the country: Random shots going off all around, making us both afraid to leave the house and afraid to stay home. The only difference is that this time we really are the prey. The phone's ringing, fliers are piling up in the mailbox, handbills are hanging from the doorknob, canvassers are knocking on the door.

Just stand back, everybody. No reason why anybody needs to get hurt.