Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brian Williams on The Daily Show

[Transcript and embedded video below the fold, plus links to related video clips]

NBC News anchor Brian Williams, fresh back from a trip to Tehran to interview Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his Presidential Palace, was Jon Stewart's guest on Comedy Central's Daily Show on Thursday, 2008-07-31. Stewart and Williams traded comedic jabs, but in amidst the snark you will find some actual information, including some reasons to be interested in watching the Ahmadinejad interview. Brian Williams gives Jon Stewart some of his first-hand impressions of Iran and its president, including the dimension so seldom highlighted in US news coverage that Ahmadinejad is to some extent playing political games for the benefit of his domestic "base" within Iran, and draws some further parallels between the apparent threat posed by Iran today with the threats we believed we faced from the Cold-War-era USSR and from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Embedded video from


Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, just back from Iran; please welcome back to the show Brian Williams!

Sit down. I won't have it! Sit. This is not Tehran; I am the mullah, here.

Brian Williams: Are you the mullah or the mullet?

Stewart: You wanna go Jersey on me? You wanna go Jersey on me right now?

Williams: Hey — of the two of us, I'm from Jersey, and I can go Jersey on you, easier than you can go Jersey on me. If there's a can of whoop-ass out here, I open it. Okay? Look at me: I've been out here all of 20 seconds ...

Stewart: I welcome you to the show and suddenly you're threatening me with physical violence.

Williams: I'm verklempt; you threw down.

Stewart: I am delighted that you're here. You're just back from Iran, interviewing President Ahmoud Ahmadinejad. My question is this to you — and it's a simple question. In America we have a rule: we don't talk to terrorists. My question to you is, When did you turn your back on America?

Williams: Are we doin' this? Is this happening? Are we doin' this?

Stewart: Oh, we're on, baby; take out your can, 'cause I'm openin' mine.
[talking over each other]

Williams: This is happening. Oh, we're doin' this. Okay.

Stewart: Did you get anywhere with this guy? You sat down with Ahmadinejad.

Williams: I think, Jon — and I speak for the real news world —

Stewart: What?!! [tears up one of his note cards]

Williams: Oh, your "note" has been torn up. A card with my name on it —

Stewart: It just says, in big letters, Talk about a can of whoop-ass; that's all it says.

Williams: Jon's "interview prep."

Stewart: Tell me about this guy!

Williams: He is a lot of things: he's a Ph.D., he's the former mayor of Tehran, he's got an election next year, and after all, at the end of the day, he's a politician.

Stewart: Right.

Williams: And he may very well know that the religious folks — who are, some would argue, more in charge than he is — have decided that embracing the West, the U.S., while these talks are going on in Geneva, wouldn't be a bad idea. You enter that country, and you see what sanctions do. You see that the city streets remind you of a cross between Havana and Baghdad; kind of a used-to-be Eastern bloc nation [except that it was Western bloc] that hasn't had a cent invested in it in years. We were staying in what used to be a Hilton, and it just has gone to hell. You know, the walls of the hotel are scraped, and it's dirty and awful —

Stewart: Any stuff to bomb? Anything we could bring down with some type of ... explosions?

Williams: So, the first indication we had —

Stewart: Were you at the Presidential palace?

Williams: We were. Never happened before. I mean, this is like the most heavily guarded — you come down several streets.

Stewart: You must be very special.

Williams: Ohhh...

Stewart: Let me ask you this: do they have favors? Do they have, like — when you went to the bathroom, what are the soaps like? Do they say, like, Tehran or Presidential Palace? Were there ashtrays to steal? What'd you find over there?

Williams: We're on your time, okay? [throws up his hands resignedly, turns in his chair as if to stand and walk away]

Stewart: Come back!

Williams: If you feel — no, okay. I never left — just for the record. It's an amazing place. You're in this courtyard, 95° heat [35°C], he comes out of what is the equivalent of the West Wing, his residence is behind you, you realize briefly that you're in this courtyard that the CIA would've given thousands of dollars just to see up close — it's never — we have very little human intelligence in Iran — and he was clear he had a message to impart. It was clear from when we were picked up at the airport, when we learned where the interview was going to be. Ten minutes after he went out, I went on the Today show, from his courtyard. Just absolutely unheard-of. And buried in his rhetoric —

Stewart: Let me guess the message. Can I guess it?

Williams: [patronizingly] Yes, Jon.

Stewart: "Death to America"?

Williams: Not so much. It was more like — and I'm gonna use a big one here — rapprochement; can you handle it?

Stewart: Sounds pretty — I don't know, French?

Williams: And what's Stewart?

Stewart: Sort-of Jew.

When you talk to them, do you feel like — you know, when he says the crazy things that he says — and he says crazy things —

Williams: Oh, yeah.

Stewart: Is he playing to his base? Is this just a politician — because, I think, wasn't that the mistake we made with Saddam Hussein: his bragadaccio [sic], all those things, were of necessity, because he has to play to this base. Are we misinterpreting their belligerence and thinking it's baiting us into a war when in fact it's just a way to stay in power?

Williams: Well, that's exactly what it is. There's universals in politics: he's playing to his base just like a politician in Cleveland. You can go through the transcript — and, you know, you were joking — he says all but "Death to America!" At one point, he says to me, and I'm paraphrasing very loosely, the atomic bomb is so "20th century."

Stewart: What?!

Williams: He wanted us to know they're —

Stewart: Do they have a death ray? What do you mean, "the atomic bomb is..."

Williams: I don't know — it does beg the question: what do you guys got?

Stewart: Really?

Williams: Yeah. But he delves into sarcasm, he tries false flattery, but then —

Stewart: Have we made a mistake, elevating them to this idea that they are now the Axis powers? That they are Germany in the '30s? Have we made a mistake in this type of elevation?

Williams: That's the great argument. First time I go to Russia, I realize Tom Friedman's theory that this "dirty little secret" was that they couldn't build a light bulb, back during those years we were so worried about them. First time you go, I was in Saddam's palace, two days after the invasion, went to drink from the faucet in his bathroom, and realized the gold sink was paint and the underside was just black metal, and that's a perfect metaphor for so much of what these rulers build up, so maybe you could argue that a Military-Industrial Complex depends on having enemies. I'm not saying that; it's been proferred before.

Stewart: Brian Williams says, "Beware the Military-Industrial Complex"; he makes a plea, I think, to the American leaders tonight on this show, to stand down and embrace the Iranian people; he speaks French — and, other than that, I think really, no news made here tonight.

Williams: Can we go back to the guy named Bragadoccio you mentioned earlier? I think I grew up with him in Jersey.

Stewart: Brian Williams, everybody; watch the interview!


  1. Brian Williams' interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: video and transcript on the NBC News web site.

  2. Ferklemt verklemt: the correct spelling is verklempt or ferklempt in Yiddish, or verklemmt in the original German. It means, roughly, "choked up"; you are so overcome by a rush of emotions that you can hardly speak and barely even breathe.

  3. Iran was never an Eastern bloc country. It tried to remain neutral in World War II, having been playing off the USSR and Britain as well as Germany and Italy in the pre-war years. The USSR, Britain, and the US invaded in 1942 to secure the oil fields, purportedly to prevent German sabotage. After World War II, the shah returned to power, but then became solidly aligned to the West when the US and UK engineered a coup against the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq (محمد مصدق‎) who had opposed his autocratic rule. Whatever comparisons one may draw between the forms of government, Iran under the shah was far more economically successful than the Eastern bloc countries under Soviet domination. However, it's easy to see how the decades of sanctions could create a certain commonality between Havana, Baghdad, and Tehran.

  4. Jon Stewart mispronounced bragadoccio; Brian Williams got it right.

  5. The most famous warning against the Military-Industrial Complex was in Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower's farewell message at the end of his two terms as President of the United States in 1961. audio

  6. Some of the verbal jousting was referring to the previous segment, in which The Daily Show team puts itself forward as "the best campaign team in the universe, ever!" watch the video

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ben Wattenberg on The Daily Show

[Transcript and embedded video below the fold.] Jon Stewart's guest on The Daily Show 2008-07-30 was Ben Wattenberg, host of PBS' Think Tank program and author of Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism. Wattenberg defends the invasion of Iraq as part of the essential war on terror, and, whether intentionally or not, juxtaposes Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in a way suggesting a much stronger connection between them than has ever been shown to exist. It was a pretty combative interview, but I think Jon Stewart did a pretty good job of laying bare the flaws of the neocon approach to fighting terrorism.

Video from


Jon Stewart: Tonight, he is the moderator of PBS' Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg, his new book is called Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism; please welcome Ben Wattenberg. Sir! How are you, my friend? Nice to see you. Come, enjoy, have a seat! Nice to see you.

Ben Wattenberg: Nice to see you.

Stewart: I'm glad to see you brought your Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg cap.

Wattenberg: Well, it's a little trick. You know, most people give you mugs... [turns on LED flashlight embedded in the brim of the cap]

Stewart: A laser!

Wattenberg: That's pretty good.

Stewart: That's nice, because now when I look at you, I just see two giant orbs. I can see nothing. You have blinded me, sir!

Wattenberg: Jon, if you're real nice, you get one, and it'll say Jon in the back.

Stewart: Oh, that's very exciting. Thank you. Or I could take Ben's.

Wattenberg: You could, if you were lookin' for a fight.

Stewart: Settle down! Let's talk about your — Fighting Words: How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism.

Wattenberg: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism. It's the first book I've written that's a narrative. It's a story, it's a yarn. People said it's like beach reading. It is not — all my other books have been "here are six points..."

Stewart: So this is fiction? You made this up?

Wattenberg: No-o-o. No, no, it's a story, a yarn, about how a nice, moderately Jewish boy from the Bronx —

Stewart: Right.

Wattenberg: — the Bronx, that's singular, not plural — came to be called a conservative anything.

Stewart: Right.

Wattenberg: And what I think has happened is, the word has gotten a bum rap. If you called it chocolate instead of neo-conservatism, the way I read the polls, 65 to 70% of the American people would generally sign on to chocolate; about 1% sign on to neo-conservatism.

Stewart: Well, chocolate was never the basis for the invasion of Iraq — from what I understand. Now, I'm not saying that in the future, we won't, in a search for delicious chocolate, invade — I've heard Switzerland has enormous chocolate reserves.

Wattenberg: That's right.

Stewart: And if we invade them in the name of chocolate, I think you will see chocolate's favorability ratings plummet.

Wattenberg: Now, hold on a minute.

Stewart: All right.

Wattenberg: You recall 9/11, and the President, and everybody in America, said, "We gotta have a war on terror."

Stewart: That's correct. I don't think they said we gotta have a war on terror; I think what they said is, "We have to defeat this bin Laden character; I've heard he's in Afghanistan. Let's go get him." [☟1]

Wattenberg: No, no, excuse me, it was terror generically, because —

Stewart: Oh, I didn't know we signed on to the generic terror.

Wattenberg: Well, what difference does it make —

Stewart: Isn't that just a tactic?

Wattenberg: No. Now, just listen to me. What difference does it make if you're killed by Osama bin Laden, or by Saddam Hussein, or — look, look —

Stewart: What difference does it make if you're killed by a rock falling from a mountain? I mean, you're still dead.

Wattenberg: Come on, now. Let's try to be serious.

Stewart: [laughs] You're the one who came out with the laser hat!

Wattenberg: Now, look: partly through President Bush, but also a lot of the other leaders of the free world —

Stewart: Right.

Wattenberg: — we have not had a replication of a major terror attack in the United States. Now, so bin Laden and his people are into terror. Saddam Hussein is into — now, now, I'm not saying there's a relationship; that's very complicated — let's just say there's not

Stewart: You just happened to use their names right next to each other in a sentence.

Wattenberg: Please, please, I'll stipulate that there's no relationship, but you have to stipulate that Saddam Hussein is in the terror business. He sends $25,000 to every widow of a Palestinian guerrilla, he's exported terror around the world — [☟2]

Stewart: Is Pakistan in the terror business?

Wattenberg: I think they —

Stewart: Is Saudi Arabia?

Wattenberg: I don't know about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Look, they're —

Stewart: Is Iran? North Korea? Sudan?

Wattenberg: North Korea? Yeah! [note: it's not clear whether the "yeah" was in response to North Korea or Sudan]

Stewart: So we have a lot of countries to invade.

Wattenberg: No-o-o, I didn't say to invade, I said —

Stewart: I'm just saying —

Wattenberg: Now, now, be serious.

Stewart: I'm being serious. I believe I'm being serious.

Wattenberg: I'll flash this [cap light] at you again.

Stewart: I know, I understand.

Wattenberg: Now, look: if you're going to try to fight terror, you may have to fight it in Iran, you may have to fight it in Iraq, you may have to fight — and all the governments of the world, the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, the Brits, the French, every serious stable government is in the terror-fighting business. Now, let me tell you what I think neo-conservatism is about, because I think it's gotten a bum rap. First of all, it didn't start with foreign policy. It started with domestic issues, particularly crime.

Stewart: Yes! It was about "law and order."

Wattenberg: You got it.

Stewart: So, neo-conservatives basically were saying, "It's OK to bring order to domestic life, in our domestic policy."

Wattenberg: You said it.

Stewart: So, let me ask you a question.

Wattenberg: No, let me — can I tell you —

Stewart: Why are they so cavalier about bringing chaos to foreign lands when —

Wattenberg: Stopping terrorism is not bringing chaos

Stewart: I mean, if you were to ask the Iraqi people whether they felt like their lives were upended by our terror fight, they might say, "Oh, you guys are the law and order guys? Oh."

Wattenberg: Really? I'm being serious.

Stewart: We talk a lot, this certain agenda that you talk about, about bringing order to a society. We went into an Iraqi society — not for the high-minded goals of spreading democracy; that wasn't the speech that was made. The speech that was made was Colin Powell at the UN holding anthrax in a vial; he wasn't holding "freedom powder" and saying we gotta spread this over there. So, we went over there with the idea of protecting ourselves, and brought a certain amount of chaos — you have to admit — to their society, and called it "birth pangs of a [new] Middle East." We didn't use —

Wattenberg: Excuse me: they have an elected polity and they wanted us in. They hated — Saddam Hussein killed, out of a population —

Stewart: Who are you to say they wanted us in? They didn't send out the Bat Signal; we bombed them. That is an arrogant, very arrogant statement.

Wattenberg: Well, we'll see who's being arrogant. I'll get ya again [holds up cap]. Hold it, they elected a government, okay? They have a free press, a constitution, a prime minister, and courts, and they are saying, "We want you in here to help us." Because it was chaos. Saddam Hussein — look, first of all, he used weapons of mass destruction. The UN — [☟3]

Stewart: I remember the argument.

Wattenberg: How well?

Stewart: Really fucking well. But my point is —

Wattenberg: Me, too.

Stewart: My point is that it's very easy to stand here and say, "Look at the great thing we've done for these people — we, who believe in these high-minded ideals of law and order," when we really didn't give them a choice in that. They didn't vote for us to come in there — the purple finger thing happened afterwards — and that's just one event. You can't just export democracy and say, "They had elections; [pantomimes washing his hands and kissing the matter closed]." You know —

Wattenberg: This book is trying to explain something in a readable popular story —

Stewart: I understand.

Wattenberg: — that tells —

Stewart: It's a yarn.

Wattenberg: It's a yarn, and it's a pretty good read.

Stewart: No, I know. I enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy it.

Wattenberg: Well, thank you very much. Would you put a blurb on it?

Stewart: Oh, I'd put a blurb on it! We gotta get going; we went way too long, but this is a fascinating discussion, and it's surprising to me, you know.... Fighting Words is on the bookshelves. (Settle down!) Ben Wattenberg!


☝1. I have to side entirely with Jon Stewart on this point. The American people were solidly behind going after Al Qaeda; it was the neocons who manipulated public sentiment into a nebulous, all-encompassing "war on terror." The Rand Corporation — hardly a bastion of hippie liberal thinking — just released a report, concluding that we need to abandon the military approach to combatting terrorism, putting intelligence and law enforcement forefront, and that we should abandon the term "war on terror." In short, the American people were all for kickin' some Al Qaeda and Taliban ass, but we were duped into the war in Iraq.

☝2. Analogously, if we were attacked by Firestone, we would declare a global war on tires and invade Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart is in the tire business. Al Qaeda is exclusively in the international terror biz, but for Saddam it was a minor sideline.

☝3. It is unspeakably arrogant to presume that the Iraqi people wanted the US [oh, and we mustn't forget our "coalition partners"] to invade, simply because Saddam was evil. It is equally arrogant to claim that the average Iraqi citizen is better off because of the invasion; it depends crucially on how you weigh the value of democracy against the value of the very "law and order" that we demolished. As to the issue of liberty, the Iraqi people no longer have a single despot keeping them under his thumb, but instead they have ethnic strife, an insurgency, suicide bombs, and a host of other impediments to their freedom. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died are certainly not better off than they were under Saddam, and it's pretty tough to argue that the millions of refugees are better off, whether their exile is within Iraq or in a nearby country. About 1 in 6 Iraqis has been killed or displaced. Would we say that America was better off out from under the thumb of a brutal dictator if it meant that 50 million of our citizens were killed or driven from their homes?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nancy Pelosi on the Daily Show

Transcript and embedded video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2008-07-28, below the fold.

The Speaker addressed issues of ending the Iraq War, offshore drilling, public approval ratings of Congress, balance of power and limits on executive power, and restoring America's leadership in the world.

video clip from


Jon Stewart: Welcome back! My guest tonight — she is the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. She has a new book out called Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters. Please welcome back to the show Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Madame Speaker, have a seat, please. Enjoy! Nice to see you again.

Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco, CA): Great to be here, thank you.

Stewart: The book is called Know Your Power:

Pelosi: Know Your Power.

Stewart:A Message to America's Daughters; are you worried that by putting a message out to America's daughters, our enemies' daughters also get the message?

Pelosi: We want all daughters to get the message — and sons, too, to know their power as well.

Stewart: Now, what is their power?

Pelosi: Their power is to make change, to make a difference, to understand their uniqueness, to understand their strengths. So many times, women say to me — one of the reasons I wrote this was, women come up to me all the time: "How did you go from being a housewife to a House Speaker? How did you go from a homemaker to House Speaker?" And I tell my story, and in doing so, tell them how I —

Stewart: — inspire other people.

Pelosi: Well, hopefully they will draw strength from their own experiences, as I drew from mine.

Stewart: In terms of favorability ratings — when you were a housewife, what were the favorability ratings you were getting then? Because right now, House Speaker, it's been tough — it's been a rough ride.

Pelosi: Well, the Congress of the United States has always been an institution that has been mockable.

Stewart: I believe that is on our seal — in Latin — of Congress: We Are Mockable. [SVMVS DERIDICVLVM, or is it SVMVS DERIDICVLIS?]

Pelosi: I am more pleased about the ratings that the Democrats in Congress are getting, in every category you can name.

Stewart: The individuals, you mean?

Pelosi: Well, the individuals and the Democrats in Congress, and so, by 20 points, 15 points, you name the issue, we're ahead, so I feel confident —

Stewart: What do you feel good about? What would you say was — 'cause you guys came in with a head of steam. You said, you know, no blank check for the war, we're gonna check this President's unchecked power; do you feel like that's been accomplished?

Pelosi: Well, in the House of Representatives we have sent that bill over and over to the Senate with it hitting a brick wall over there, but I do feel good about things that we have done other than that. But in terms of Congress' performance on the war, I'm with the public on that: I'm disappointed. I hope that we can —

Stewart: On the war, you think that Congress has dropped the ball?

Pelosi: Not the House of Representatives. In the House, we have sent a "timeline," a "goal," whatever we thought they could accept, pass, and send to the President.

Stewart: Why can't the House of Representatives put a little bit of pressure on the Senate? In the hierarchy of the balance of power, are you the little —

Pelosi: No, the Speaker has awesome power for our house, but it's a bicameral legislature, and in the Senate, a majority doesn't matter; 60 votes —

Stewart: Senator [Harry] Reid (D–Nevada) came on the program —

Pelosi: I saw him!

Stewart: — he sat across from me; can I tell you something? It was a 6-minute interview; he was asleep for 4 minutes. He left and I just kept asking questions to the chair.

Pelosi: It's a tough job.

Stewart: I'd never seen anything like it. Is he just sad? What happened?

Pelosi: He's great.

Stewart: But can't you put the pressure on him, or publicly —

Pelosi: No, it's not him. Remember, you need 60 votes, so he gets the Democratic votes, and that's a majority, but you still need 9 more votes. That's why this election is so important. I mean, we have been able to accomplish a lot: we passed our energy bill, the minimum wage — first time in 10 years —

Stewart: Couldn't you take stronger — in terms of, you know, the war, why not just withhold funding? That could be done.

Pelosi: Well, we did that this last time, and we sent the bill over with no funding and conditions for how we would stay there; the bill came back from the Senate with the funding and no conditions on how we stay there. We need a new President.

Stewart: Couldn't you, at that point, say —

Pelosi: No.

Stewart: We do need a new President; I would say that. Let me ask you this —

Pelosi: Our election in '86 [sic], we thought the President would listen to the will of the American people. It was very clear they wanted an end to the war. That wasn't true.

Stewart: Which election? 2006?

Pelosi: In 2006. Now, that was Step One; 2008, we get a Democratic President, bring the war to an end, and return to a position of leadership in the world.

Stewart: Is Congress, as it is made up today, obsolete? With a powerful President, is Congress sort of a vestigial — unless it has 60 votes in the Senate and a huge majority in the House of Representatives.

Pelosi: Fair question, because —

Stewart: Seriously?

Pelosi: — because the Republicans in Congress vote so much as a rubber stamp with the President that they are abdicating the role of Article I — we are the first article of the Constitution, the Congress of the United States — but if you say, "I'm just going to vote with the President, stick with the President every time," then he has power that he should not have.

Stewart: When you exercise that kind of — let's say Barack Obama is fortunate enough to win the Presidency, and you —

Pelosi: Yes, let's say that! [claps]

Stewart: — or, or — I don't want to play favorites here — or Hillary Clinton. Let's say either one of them —

Pelosi: All right. [claps]

Stewart: — is fortunate enough to do that. Are you saying that the Democrats will exercise more and more stringent oversight over a Democratic President than the Republican Congress did over President Bush?

Pelosi: Well, the same thing: I mean, the point is —

Stewart: No rubber stamp.

Pelosi: No rubber stamp, and in terms of, for example, domestic surveillance, no President, Democrat or Republican, should have the power that this President claims to have. So it isn't — and the Congress of the United States has to assert its prerogatives, and this Republican Congress has been a rubber stamp for so long, but that will change.

Stewart: Tell me about the drilling; that's the one thing I couldn't wrap my head around. You know, I know there's talk about drilling in some offshore areas; you didn't want that to come up for a vote.

Pelosi: Well, in the past 2 weeks or so, the President is trying to maintain that, but for the offshore drilling in protected areas, the economy would be in great shape. I can't let him get away with that. So the point is this: did you know that, in the "Lower 48," there are 68 million acres [28 million hectares] that are approved for drilling, 33 million [13 Mha] of which are offshore. In Alaska — you wanna drill in Alaska, we'll give you Alaska: there are tens of millions of acres in Alaska approved for drilling. But they want to drill in the protected areas.

Stewart: Is there oil underneath those acres?

Pelosi: Oh, tons of oil. Great oil.

Stewart: Can't you just open up the whole damned thing?

Pelosi: Well, why would you — in other words, we're saying to them —

Stewart: You say drill the stuff you've already got.

Pelosi: "Use it or lose it!" Drill where you have the environmental permits and the approvals to go ahead, or lose that and let somebody else drill that.

Stewart: I'm saying, let's steal everybody else's milkshake. [reference to the film There Will Be Blood] That's what I'm saying: let's get the straws in there —

Pelosi: As long as it's chocolate, right.

Stewart: Exactly.

Pelosi: Well, then, but also —

Stewart: So you think, no vote for that?

Pelosi: Well, for two weeks, they've been saying, "Oh, she won't let us have a vote on it!" For ten years we couldn't have a vote on the minimum wage, and nobody made a big fuss about that, and when we came in, we brought it to the floor vote on the minimum wage, the first time in 10 years. So they can try to make their case —

Stewart: It's an ugly little world up there in Washington, innit? It's not fun.

Pelosi: It's not for the faint of heart to be there. It's rough.

Stewart: What happens when you see people at a bar afterwards — I'm not saying you go to a bar, but let's say you go to a bar and you see a guy from the other side and you guys look at each other — I mean, do you ever just walk up to somebody and say, "Let's go outside, my brotha"?

Pelosi: No, just right there, go pow! [pantomimes punching Jon Stewart in the face]

Stewart: Know Your Power, people; it's on the bookshelves now. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Well, Hello, Dolly!

My parents live in the historic small town of Goliad, about 120 miles (200 km) almost due south of Austin; after leaving Netroots Nation on Sunday, I went down to visit for a few days. As I write this, Hurricane Dolly is pushing inland, a bit farther south. A couple of minutes ago, I was surprised by a sudden gust of wind that blew open my bedroom door. The last couple of hours, we've had brief bursts of high winds and torrential rains — nothing like what they're getting in Corpus Christi and farther south, but impressive all the same, especially when the rain falls almost horizontally. We're about 50 miles (80 km) from the coast, in the flood plain along the San Antonio River. Twice in the last ten years, we've had "hundred-year" floods, which can easily leave the center of town completely cut off from the rest of the world, with bridges flooded in all four directions. On the other hand, the locals, most especially the farmers, have been suffering from an unusually dry summer, so some rain is more than welcome.

Three years ago, Hurricane Rita (Katrina's little sister) prompted the evacuation of the entire county, although in the end it did remarkably little damage here. Long-time residents, though, remember 1967's Hurricane Beulah, an enormous, slow-moving Category 5 storm that brought about 20 inches (500 mm) of rain and caused major flooding. Beulah made landfall in just about the same spot as Dolly today, but Dolly only barely rose to Category 2. (Having weathered 1999's Hurricane José, also a Category 2, I can tell you it's nothing to scoff at, but it's still a pale shadow of a Cat-5.) Hurricane Claudette in 2003, a "mere" Category 1, was almost a direct hit, and did substantial damage, uprooting trees and breaking off large limbs. In 1980, Hurricane Allen — another Category 5 — brought a dramatic end to a severe summer drought here, although it also spawned a tornado in Austin, causing over $100 million in damage. We're not expecting any serious flooding here this time around, although there may be problems farther south.

In a curious coincidence, FEMA was in town this morning, presenting information about digital flood risk maps they're planning to make available. (The current FEMA map of Goliad only covers the city limits of the county seat, besides which it's over 20 years old.) The San Antonio River itself is south of most of the town, but various creeks wind through on their way into the big river. The land is remarkably flat, so if there is any flooding at all, it's likely to cut a wide swath. Since I now live in a city famous for its hills, I feel almost disoriented by the near total lack of high ground here. (Of course, it's also a bit of a shift to be in a place where "only" doubling San Francisco's annual rainfall qualifies as a drought.) The likely route of the proposed Interstate 69 "NAFTA Superhighway" passes through Goliad, which would offer much more reliable access to the city during a flood, but the existing highways (US 59 and US 183 / 77-A) are vulnerable.

For tonight, though, it looks like Dolly will bring us a bit of much-needed rain and some gusty winds, but no serious flooding this far north. Of course, it's a lousy day to be on the beach at South Padre Island, and the folks trying to surf near Corpus Christi are just plain crazy. Brownsville has lots of uprooted trees and substantial flooding. My flight out of Austin tomorrow should be fine, though, and then I'll be back to sunny California. Good-bye, Dolly!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

NN08 My Dinner with a Dittohead

Friday evening, I took a break from the Netroots Nation 2008 conference to go out to dinner with a friend of mine from high school and his girlfriend; I'll call them Joe and Mary. Joe isn't exactly what you'd call a liberal, by most measures, but he's genu­inely open to the possi­bility that the liberal posi­tion on a speci­fic issue may be right. He's also not at all a religious sort, but neither an ardent atheist. Mary, on the other hand, is a Southern Baptist who listens to Rush Limbaugh and watches Fox News. Yes, a real live conser­vative, although she insists that she's somewhere near the center. She's not really a full-blown Dittohead, but hey, she does listen to Rush and watch Hannity & Colmes. It was quite an interesting chat.

Joe served in the U.S. Army for several years, a good chunk of that in Korea, some­where about midway between Seoul and the DMZ. When he was stationed near me in the US, at the begin­ning of the first Gulf War, he once had to cancel plans for a Satur­day because he had to stay and process deploy­ment paper­work for a group of soldiers. He never saw combat, and he's been out of the military for several years now, but he remains justi­fi­ably proud to be a veteran. All the same, he told me that he would never vote for McCain, because he would never vote for someone that old, Repub­lican or Democrat, liberal or conser­vative, war hero or not — indeed, he is offended at the way John McCain has paraded his P.O.W. record. Of course, he also still remem­bers the Keating Five, a serious banking scandal that touched McCain when he was still a new kid in the Senate. (McCain was cleared of ethics violations, but rebuked for "poor judgment.") Joe believes that we need to have sen­sible regula­tions for banks, in order to prevent another mortgage melt­down, and he sees clearly that the Bush Admini­stra­tion has been a complete disaster in shockingly many respects.

Mary, on the other hand, insists that what she admits is corrup­tion in the Bush regime is nothing out of the ordinary, since all politi­cians are corrupt, both parties. She also insists that Rush Limbaugh gives out accurate infor­ma­tion, and so does Fox News. I called her atten­tion to the PIPA/­Know­ledge Net­works October 2003 survey that correlated the respon­dent's primary source of news with three miscon­cep­tions about Iraq: (1) we found WMD in Iraq, (2) we found signi­fi­cant links between Saddam and al Qaeda, and (3) most of the world sup­ported our decision to invade. Those who got their news pri­mari­ly from Fox News were almost four times as likely (80% to 23%) to have at least one of those three false impres­sions as those who got their news from NPR, which was Mary's top example of untrust­worthy "liberal bias" in the news media.

On the subject of the mortgage crisis, I was talking about the way that the deregu­la­tion of lenders — pushed through by McCain's (former) economic advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm (D–TX turned R–TX) — had created the perfect condi­tions for a "bubble" in the housing market, and that we needed to re-regulate. Mary said something along the lines of, "Yes, but who knows what regula­tions we should pass to fix it?" I said, quite simply, "How about exactly the regula­tions we used to have?"

We also talked about health­care. I pointed out that the cost of paper­work for veri­fying eligi­bility — corporate bureau­crats' red tape, in other words — exceeds the cost of providing health­care to every uninsured American. In return, Mary, who moved from Germany to the U.S. in her teens, opined that Obama's health­care proposal (sadly, nothing even close to Dennis Kucinich's not-for-profit single-payer system, the only plan that makes any sense at all) was rampant socialism that would remove all economic incentive for hard work, just like it did in (West) Germany. I didn't press the point that she obviously doesn't know much about the country where she was born, but I did mention that if she thinks anything Obama is saying is remotely close to the socialist nanny state, she's out of her mind.

Back on the subject of sources of news, I suggested to her that yes, every TV news network in the United States is biased: speci­fi­cal­ly, they all have a pro-American bias, which, quite simply, is not always warran­ted. Some­times, the United States does not do the right thing. I sug­ges­ted that she watch Al Jazeera English, and dis­abused her of some of her stereo­typed views of a network she had never actu­ally seen. My handy laptop provided her a first glimpse at their News Hour program, although the WiFi was having prob­lems with the RealPlayer feed. As I told her, the American people need to grasp that, in an era when 19 men with a budget of $500,000 can bring America to its knees for days and draw us into two intrac­table wars, our national security depends directly on under­standing how the rest of the world sees us, because our national security depends on having an over­whel­ming majority of the world popu­la­tion view us as the good guys. Not even PBS, nor the BBC, can give us a real look at how we are per­ceived in the world, especi­ally in the Middle East.

That was about as far as we got, which I suppose is probably just as well, but I think I gave her a few things to think about — thanks in no small part to the sessions I attended here at Netroots Nation the last couple of days.

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Photoblogging is not my forte

I brought my camera along to Howard Dean's keynote last night and tried to take some pictures, but found my equipment not up to the task. First of all, the speakers at the podium were brightly lit, with nothing behind them except a black backdrop behind the stage, making for an extreme contrast in lighting, beyond my consumer-grade camera's capacity to compensate. I thought I had checked the batteries, but the camera still had that infuriating delay from pressing the button to taking an actual photo, meaning that the subject had moved from the perfectly photogenic pose I tried to capture. I was able to take some meta-photos, capturing the image on the video projector screen to the side of the stage, but even that was a challenge. Then I got back to my hotel room and discovered that among the many cables, wires, and power bricks that took up almost half my luggage space, I did not have the USB-to-mini-USB cable I needed to get what photos I was able to take, into the computer.


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Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Bad Situationist

In the spring and summer of 2001, Sam Seder and some of his friends (including Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo) made a movie about Joe Lieberman's (entirely fictional) son Arthur. (Joe Lieberman has a son and a stepson, but the character of Arthur Lieberman is not based on either of them.) The movie opens with a scene, set in August 2001, of Arthur firing a bazooka at a high-rise in New York City. We then flash back a couple of months, with Arthur despairing that no one seems to take an interest in the fact that the 2000 Presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court rather than by the voters. He stands on the sidewalk outside a subway entrance, trying to sell his annotated version of the Supreme Court decision for $10, but is greeted with indifference or outright hostility. He's clearly more than a bit obsessed, with pictures of various figures from the election plastered on his wall, many of them with cartoon-style speech bubbles. A picture of the inauguration has Dick Cheney's daughter's head masked out with the notation that it should have been Arthur standing there.

That's about as far as I got, though, because some technical glitch required restarting the film, and I was too tired to sit through the beginning a second time. It's out on DVD, so maybe I'll take a second look, but not tonight. For more information, to view some sample clips, or to order the DVD, check out the official web site.

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Netroots Nation, Day One

The first day of sessions for Netroots Nation 2008 is done, but there's still the opening keynote with Governor Howard Dean, coming up in a few minutes, and then a movie afterwards. I hadn't really planned any particular theme for my choice of sessions, but one seems to be emerging nonetheless: the Iraq war, including the failures on the part of both the Bush Administration and the Mainstream Media that got us into it, the illegal tactics the Bushies have employed, and the work that will be needed to undo the damage the Bush Presidency has done to our national security, our Constitution, and our standing in the world.

I started off today with a workshop on how to give a good interview, if you ever find yourself on radio or television, including a brief mock interview, played back for feedback from the panelists and the other attendees. Apparently I need to smile more....

That session took the whole morning. After lunch, I went to the Media That Matters Film Festival, a series of short films on subjects ranging from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the havoc caused by mandatory minimum sentencing laws to the threat posed to our food supply by the collapse of honey-bee colonies. I bookended that session with the LGBTQ Caucus, where I joined in a discussion of anti-bullying laws and other issues facing queer youth, and the Science Bloggers Caucus, where we mostly talked about energy policy, including the myths of "clean coal," the fantasy that we can build enough nuclear power plants to provide our energy needs (even supposing we could safely deal with the nuclear waste without allowing any of it to fall into the hands of terrorists), and some very simple ideas for reducing the number of internal-combustion vehicles on the road: plug-in electric hybrids for mail delivery trucks and school buses.

The movie after Howard Dean's keynote tonight is A Bad Situationist, a film by Sam Seder, shot in between the 2000 election and 9/11; elements of the plot made it an awkward project to finish in the aftermath. More on that later — for now, I'm off to see Howard Dean.

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Netroots Nation 2008

I'm in Austin, Texas, right now, about to start the Netroots*Nation conference (yearly conference for The line-up isn't quite as jaw-dropping as last year, when we had 7 of the then 8 Democratic Presidential candidates, but we've got a number of impressive guests, including Speaker of the House (and my own rep) Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, John Dean, John Aravosis (AmericaBlog), George Lakoff, and many more. I'll have more to say through the weekend, although the schedule is pretty jam-packed. Right now, though, I need to find some breakfast....

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Bye-bye, Jesse!

Former five-term U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R–NC) is dead at the age of 86.

I don't normally approve of speaking ill of the dead, especially the recently deceased. However, Jesse Helms so often went so far out of his way to make so many people's lives more miserable, I'm making an exception. I am unequivocally glad he's dead — the world is truly a better place without him. He was a racist, even against the backdrop of the Deep South, but his bigotry wasn't limited to blacks. In his first Senate campaign, he portrayed his opponent, a Greek-American, as not "one of us." And, of course, he reserved an especial vitriol for "the homosexual agenda." He advocated slashing AIDS research funding because its victims got infected by their own "immoral" conduct — like getting a blood transfusion or having an unfaithful partner or a drug-addicted mother — as if the virus could somehow distinguish the god-fearing from the godless. He came around on the issue of AIDS late in his career, but remained an unrepentant bigot in every other respect.

Jesse Helms won't be here to witness the effects of global warming, but I'm sure he's enjoying that nice warm fire and brimstone. Say hi to Satan for us, Jesse.

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199 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes

One of the running jokes in the early years of Saturday Night Live was Chevy Chase, in the role of Weekend Update news anchor, announcing the headline that "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead."

This year, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has created a recurring segment called "George Walker Bush: Still President."

As of this Fourth of July morning, though, we are in the last 200 days of the Bush Administration. Specifically,

199 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes
(as of 10:01 a.m. PDT, 2008-07-04)

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Further Proof Americans Don't Speak Metric

The last week and a half, I've been up to my eyeballs in the Frameline32 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, but a display ad in the newspaper did catch my eye. It's for a new condo development in Petaluma (an outer suburb about 60 km north of San Francisco). The condos are very "green" in construction, for which I applaud them — they have a variety of energy-saving and water-conserving features, low-VOC paints, Energy Star appliances, tankless water heaters, double-paned windows, and so on, plus granite and marble countertops, slate tile flooring, and a bathroom for almost every bedroom. They're even located in the center of town, providing considerable opportunities for shopping and recreation without needing to hop in a car. All very fine things.

But then there's the name of the development: Celsius 44.

Most Americans have little to no concept what that means, so permit me to translate:

44°C = +111°F

Not quite "Death Valley in July" [PDF], but not exactly a moniker that speaks of comfortable living, particularly in a metropolitan area where the citizens complain about the heat if the daytime high tops 20° (68°F). What were they thinking??

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