Saturday, January 29, 2005

A triumph of democracy

Watching an unusually defensive David Brooks spin the Iraqi election on the Newshour today was rather revealing. Even Brooks has long abandoned any pretense of a healthy election process in Iraq, instead arguing that the significance of the election lies in it occuring at all -- especially if things go badly. Call it the "dancing dog" theory of nation building. As Brooks says:

It's a whole process of things, it's the creative institutions that respond to people; it's rule of law, the thing we always neglect. It's thing after thing after thing. But this is an important moment, and if they get, you know, very low turnout, if there are thousands of people killed, then it will be a cataclysmic event. Then it really will be. In some sense the downside is much starker than the upside.

Wow. That's some serious confidence there. He's right, you know: if thousands of people are killed, then "in some sense" you might well say the downside is starker than the upside.

However, our friends at "The Corner" are still valiantly fighting the good fight with upbeat pieces on the elections. That's because our friends at the Corner are bravely, unflappably, implacably determined to fight the good fight on absolutely anything that might be even slightly damaging to the Republican party, even to the point of devoting a good half-dozen posts to refuting the very idea, introduced by the malicious and ruthlessly efficient liberal media attack machine, that Veep Dick Cheney's Auschwitz Beanie-and-Parka ensemble could in any way be considered a "fashion faux pas" (sample spin: "Americans have long suffered European ridicule for simplicity of dress at official functions, but we have also been proud of it. In that sense Vice President Cheney's parka fits a well established American tradition.")

Talk about defending the indefensible...

However, it's the elections I am concerned with. And if they refuse to let a parka go, you can imagine the pushback Kathryn Lopez is going to fight on behalf of the elections:

ABOUT FREEDOM [KJL]
An Iraqi on the elections upcoming: "We've been waiting for the moment when we can decide our future all our lives and now it's happening and I can't tell you how excited that makes me and all freedom loving Iraqis."

But clearly there's a difference of opinion here. People from different ends of the political spectrum have clearly brought different values to the table, producing different assessments of the ongoing "success" of the Iraq election process. To help resolve the ongoing controversy we clearly need a metric, a performance indicator, reflecting shared values, against which we can measure the fruits of the election in the light of the as yet unknown events of the next few days. So in honour of her sterling efforts at "The Corner", I present the official K.J Lopez "Democracy Evaluation Scale", useful to aspiring statesmen and nation builders everywhere:

Your election is an unparalled success if...

Your current president is a former hit-man for the Baath party. The election is being held amid running airstrikes and fighting that have turned Najaf and other insurgent strongholds into a war zone. The population is being intimidated by a kidnapping, assassination and terror bombing campaign conducted by insurgents who declare that anyone who votes is an infidel collaborator who will die. Dozens of US soldiers and local security forces have already been killed providing security and protection for polling places. Many candidates are too scared to campaign, and, in some cases, even to have their candidacy public knowledge. One candidate has already been kidnapped and brutally beheaded live on videotape. Large sections of the Sunni minority are boycotting the election, and even among expatriates who mostly have no love for Saddam Hussein, confidence in the process -- and turnout -- is astonishingly dismal.

Your election is a qualified success if

All of the above obtains, but in the chaos of the election and its aftermath the insurgents are successful in claiming thousands more victims. David Brooks goes on TV to acknowledge that "in some sense the downside has been much starker than the upside."

Your election is a failure of democracy if

The election results in Hugo Chavez becoming president.

I simply cannot understand the point of the elections, anyway, even in the terms the US administration prefers. Honestly, what result is the US State Department actually expecting to get? One which will work to legitimize the US installed government? Or is it possible for the election to unseat the US installed government, and, if so, will the State Department accept that result? The process (the National Assembly elects a three member "Presidency Council", which itself unanimously elects a Prime Minister), seems custom designed to ensure Allawi's position, or any other shoe-in the US State department prefers, but if Iraqi people don't vote "the right way", and the new National Assembly doesn't behave as expected, what then? I rather suspect that the US will not relinquish control in that eventuality.

Brooks seems to think that the bare ritual of holding elections in this atmosphere, even if the result is chaos, has some significance. For mine I just don't understand it. I would vastly prefer the honesty of the US explaining that, no matter what happens, the US will remain in charge, call the election off, and thus absolve the Iraqis of the burden of participating in the whole empty ritual. Clearly you cannot have a real election in the current environment. But then again, this whole charade has been about empty ritual. From an almost entirely meaningless "handover of sovereignty" to an almost entirely meaningless and bloody election, the whole story of the Bush administration's occupation has been about spin, appearance and sloganeering rather than about any substance that might back it up. As befits, of course, the first CEO president.

One thing about the process does spark my interest. According to PBS's newshour, the major coalitions managing the "slates" have an agreement that every third name on each list will be that of a woman. So our friends at "The Corner" are actually in what is, for them, the invidious position of praising an electoral process that contains within in it a blatant and massive exercise in feminist affirmative action! For now, I suspect the crack researchers at "The National Review" remain ignorant or at least unmindful of this embarrassing fact, which is why I'll be watching with interest for any commentary from conservatives proudly proclaiming the unprecedented success of women in the new assembly.

Third time lucky

New years resolution: to keep up the blog.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. It's more that there's so much to write about that it's overwhelming; an endless tsunami, of outrages, tragedies and wry observations, all streaming in from every corner of the datasphere. And in any case, where does anyone find the time? And at the end of it all, what makes me so special anyway? I still don't think anything I've written here is quite ready for prime time.

Not writing the blog has already taught me a lot about the difficulties of writing a politically themed blog. Hopefully writing the blog will teach me even more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

"No more Mr. Nice guy...

I'm no military analyst, but permit me to sound a note of skepticism over the "success" of the assault on Fallujah.

Despite all the rhetoric about surgical missile strikes and the new face of warfare, overwhelmingly the key has been a US advance behind a hail of old fashioned massed artillery and mortar fire -- spotting and accuracy improved, doubtless, by modern communications, flir, radar, and other technologies. But ultimately there appears to be nothing in urban combat that's dramatically different to what was common in World War II.

The only reason that this hasn't resulted in a massive loss of civilian life is because all the civilians have been driven out by the promise that anyone who remains can expect to be slaughtered. Fallujah is now effectively a free fire zone: as one US official said, quoted in the SMH: "There is no confusion, if you're on the street, you're a bad guy. Ninety per cent of the civilian population has left."

This really isn't any different to anything the Russians did to Grozny, or the US to Hue. Offering a deal to civilians to "leave or be considered a bad guy", and then flatten the place, is hardly a sophisticated strategy; it's as old as counter-insurgency warfare itself.

And, equally, the repercussians are equally predictable. As civilians filter back, the sheer devastation will itself become a tool to recruit to the insurgency. Propogandists will exploit the inevitable casulties of those few civilians who stubbornly remain. And as the US military presence winds down the insurgents will filter back in, doubtless in smaller and more cautious numbers, but as determined as ever to fight among the ruins. If the purpose is to deny Fallujah as a safe haven, well, yes, it will indeed be denied as a safe haven so long as masses of troops occupy it. But, as is standard, the guerillas have learned to flow like water ahead of the overwhelming conventional force, to regroup elsewhere and continue their attacks. The Fallujah leadership has sensibly fled the city, leaving behind only the fanatics and cannon fodder to extract as heavy a price as possible.

Does all this have a point? I still believe it is possible to "win" in Iraq. In fact Fallujah is teaching those last few fanatics that, yes, to oppose US forces in a stand up fight is to be slaughtered.

Nonetheless it's not an overwhelming victory when half your enemy, including all the leadership, appear to have escaped. The biggest fear of one US official quoted by the New York Times recently -- that the enemy won't show himself to fight -- is starting to be realised. As to the other goal, the discovery of a "hostage slaughterhouse" in Fallujah today make the US and Iraqi forces look highly successful in shutting down insurgent ratholes -- until you realise that the insurgents have no shortage of places to hold hostages. Anywhere where US forces aren't.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Cloud cuckoo land, part 2

Andrew Sullivan quotes an email from a reader:

"I'll tell you, being a 16 year-old gay kid in Michigan just got a hell of a lot worse. When I woke up this morning and saw the anti gay marriage proposal had passed, I was shocked. I realized the situation I'm faced with everyday in school - the American people have just shown my classmates that it's perfectly fine to discriminate. A direct quote from a 'friend' at school today: 'It's so cool that all these states just told all the faggots to eat shit and get the hell out...' Because of the above events, I am at a crossroads ... I'm the youngest card-carrying Republican in the county, and am constantly asked to get others involved for Bush/Cheney.

Starting to figure it out, Andrew? Out of Kerry liberals and Bush conservatives, which side is fighting your freedom, Andrew? As "The Bush Dislexicon" points out, Bush was strong on attacking gay rights in his first election campaign, something you were well aware of, and yet you vainly pretended that it was just posturing that wouldn't really affect gay Republicans. After all, you were going to get your fiscal conservatism (ironically, not delivered) and your tax cut and that's all that matters.

As a gay man you countenanced a faustian bargain by climbing in bed with Bush and the Republican party, and now it's biting you in the arse.

Libertarians, gay conservatives, and other useful idiots for the Republicans: you're being played.

Bitterness is my right

You're going to hear a lot about "left-wing bitterness" in the following weeks. We should "accept the result", "embrace Bush's new mandate" and get over it.

Just like the right did when Clinton won in 1996.

Oh wait, they didn't. Instead they spent the next 4 years character assassinating the president and using every possible means to undermine and destroy him. And slandering his liberal supporters as traitorous scum.

There's a pure double standard here: blue state voters are slandered and caricatured as "effete urbanites" who are "out of touch with real America", while the red state voters are portrayed "heartlanders", who themselves of course have no need to respect the strongly opposing moral convictions of their urban, northern compatriots.

Well, our conservative friends have shown us the way. Bitterness is our right. And so I say this: Bush's supporters -- not everyone who voted for him, but those who, this time, had no excuse not to understand his true agenda and yet voted for him anyway -- are true traitors to the ideals of the USA as I understand them. And I would recommend that American liberals, or centrists, or even principled conservatives, can make no accomodation with them.

Intemporate? Maybe. But I tell you what: let Anne Coulter stop calling liberals traitors, and then we can talk about civilising the discourse.

Of course, I'm looking at them from the perspective of an outsider who simply admires aspects of American democracy. Let me tell you where I'm coming from here.

The Culture War

One theory gaining wide credence today is that gay marriage was one the significant wedges in this election, based on the number of voters who listed "morality" as a concern, and the strong suspicion that the anti-gay marriage measure on the Ohio ballot helped Bush. Well, if so, Bush's caricature of Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal sure worked. And yet, what on earth is wrong with a being Massachusetts liberal?

One of my favorite book about America is "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass". In it, Frederick Douglass records, in the heat of civil war, his spirited call for free blacks to join the Union army and put and end to slavery.

By every consideration which binds you to your enslaved fellow-countrymen, and the peace and welfare of your country; by every aspiration which you cherish for the freedom and equality of yourselves and your children; by all the ties of blood and identity which make us one with the brave black men now fighting our battles in Louisiana and in South Carolina, I urge you to fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. I wish I could tell you that the State of New York calls you to this high honor. For the moment her constituted authorities are silent on the subject. They will speak by and by, and doubtless on the right side; but we are not compelled to wait for her. We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was first in the War of Independence; first to break the chains of her slaves; first to make the black man equal before the law; first to admit colored children to her common schools, and she was first to answer with her blood the alarm cry of the nation, when its capital was menanced by rebels. You know her patriotic governor, and you know Charles Sumner. I need not add more.

The eloquence of this passage is astonishing. And its message of liberty unmistakable. Reading it recently, I couldn't help but think of another "emancipation" in Massachusetts, on February 4, when a court allowed, for the first time anywhere, to allow gays to marry. It may seem strange to link the liberty of slaves to that of gay men and women, and yet there's a common thread running through it: that of the love of liberty. The truth is Massachusetts has always been first. Always been first to champion the cause of liberty, and where such liberty has been cruelly curtailed, to boldly realise the birth of new freedoms for those who have been passed over by the universal guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is that America that I have learned about, and that America that I have learned love and respect, the America that is first to champion every new liberty even as the conscience of mankind shakes off its blinders to first dimly perceive it.

This new America that Bush represents: this southern dominated America that wants, as Bill Bennett says, a culture war to return to "traditional" Christian values that are all too often hypocritical or masks for pure, unreasoning prejudice; this arrogant faction that champions conciliation even as it stacks the supreme court and destroys the honor and moral authority of the USA abroad, who abandons fundamental principles of the constitution, while staving off all criticism by feeding slander and lies through a disciplined, rampantly partisan right-wing press and, whenever pressed, to shout "traitor!" and claim to be the true patriots protecting the USA from the effete liberals: that American I don't recognise. At all.

And yes, I'm bitter about it. Some day I wanted to visit that America I read about, and now I wonder if I ever will.

Cloud cuckoo land

Libertarian bloggers still don't get it...

Glenn Reynolds writes:

NICE BUSH SPEECH, TOO: I hope the conciliatory mood lasts. I listened on NPR, and was happy to hear the NPR folks saying that Bush's popular vote majority erased any concerns about legitimacy from 2000.
HOW CAN BUSH DEMONSTRATE MODERATION? What better way than to nominate Eugene Volokh for the next Supreme Court vacancy? (Thanks to reader Mike McConnell for the suggestion).

When will you get it, Glenn? You're supporting a rabid Christian fundamentalist ideologue who's steamrolled the election with a relentless diet of lies, smears, and outrageously false propaganda from the conservative press. He's not going to be conciliatory. He's not going to be moderate. He's not going to reach out to the 49 percent who didn't vote for him. And he's sure as hell not going to appoint a liberatarian hack lawyer to the Supreme Court. He's going to stack it with ultraconservatives. He wants faith-based initiatives, the war on drugs, and a reversal of Roe vs Wade. And the new line about a "morals-based" voting block suggests a renewed war on porn, "anti-Christan hate speech" (blasphemy) and lots of other things covered by the first amendment.

Oh yeah, but he'll cut your taxes. So none of this other stuff matters. Once again, we find out the only thing libertarians really care about...

Nothing has changed...

The LA times

In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material away from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.

...

The senior intelligence official said there was no order for any unit to secure Al Qaqaa. "No way," the officer said, adding that doing so would have diverted combat resources from the push toward Baghdad.
"It's all about combat power," the officer said, "and we were short combat power.

Yep, everything that was true the day before yesterday is true today. It's still true that Bush bumbled the war. It's still true that Bush didn't send enough troops. It's still true that he put explosives in the hands of terrorists.

A new "mandate" doesn't wipe out any of Bush's unfitness for office. And as the scandals break, as Bush reaps what he sows, ... the loyal opposition will be there to make him feel the heat. By the time reality is done with him, Bush's only mandate will be to retire in disgrace.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I'm so used to being kicked in the teeth with election results...

That I get over it fast now. I've been through denial. I've been through forlorn hope. I've been through despair. I accept the verdict and am ready for four more years of George W. Bush.

I also accept that there's definitely still a very, very slim chance of Kerry pulling a victory out from here. "Pressure to concede" be damned. Quitters give up.

But realistically, I've come to terms with it. It's not like I live over there, after all. And I have the consolation of knowing that even the rabid Bush conservatives now have to deal with a powerful and resolute opposition. Kerry will be painted as a pathetic also-ran by the conservative media, but truth is, with a little more fair coverage, and a lot more of a fair electoral system, Kerry could have pulled it off. And that George W. Bush now has to face the consequences of everything that he has reaped in the past four years.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Go Kerry!

Over the course of the US election campaign I've concluded that John Kerry is a man of many virtues, the chief of which is that he is not George Bush.

However, I've been more than usually inspired by the man himself. Although I am supremely cynical about politicians, I like Kerry on a personal and a principled level. I like him for the very same reason that, in the current climate, Americans regard as a colossal liability: he's a liberal senator from Massachusetts.

If he's not, as the not-quite-non-partisan National Journal didn't say, the most liberal member in the Senate, he's certainly liberal enough: a former anti-Vietnam firebrand, a radical senator ready to take on the worst of corporate miscreants, such as the narcotraffic and terrorist money-launderer BCCI, and a man who's demonstrated his willingness to, yes, tax-and-spend, as opposed to Bush's simple "spend."

If Kerry wins (still a very big "if", despite encouraging signs) what will happen? Kerry will still face a supremely hostile Republican dominated legislature, with intense pressure to be just as "tough" on national security as George Bush was... will he be able to do any good at all? Can he afford to end rendition or the torture camps? Can he do anything to restore lost civil rights at home? And restore any honour at all in the eyes of the people of Iraq? Will it be that the American people decide that however much the Christian in them doesn't like it, national security requires cutting a swathe of brutality and torture through the ranks of the guilty and innocent alike? As the conflict in Iraq cranks up, will Kerry be left in the position of instituting, as President, something morally equivalent to the very free-fire zones that as a 27 year old he decried?

And on domestic policy, will Kerry really be able to fund his promises for healthcare and education? His tax rollbacks are certainly not anywhere near enough to swing the budget back into the black. Does he do a George Bush the senior and pass tax increases despite his promises? Can he get his public healthcare proposal passed in a country where any increase in public funding for healthcare is viewed as close incipient socialism? Like Clinton, will he poison his legacy with the left by being unable to deliver on any of his projects?

These are big questions. But first Kerry needs to win the election. What happens if Bush wins another term is practically unthinkable. But somehow, if Kerry does pull it off I think we'll be alright. The man, quite simply, has character. He's a genuinely good man, with a good conscience, who served in Vietnam with bravery and then took a major risks to protest what he saw as an unjust war, at substantial personal and political cost. An action that's still costing him to this very day.

I think Kerry has it in him to be one of the truly great American presidents. Even among his supporters, few seem to think this. But I see the man, and I see someone who has been gifted with strong principles, and yet has learned and mastered political pragmatism. This is an unstoppable political combination. It's what Lincoln had.

I'm not expecting miracles. I'm not expecting camelot. But I am expecting something far more from the man than most American Democracts seem to expect.

But first, of course, he has to win. Oh please, oh please. I care about this one far more than the Australian election. This election has consequences. For the whole world.

Let's see -- how wrong can you be?

John R. Miller of The Corner predicts Bush in a comparatively easy victory: If these results hold--no vote-splitting in Maine, no faithless electors, etc.--then Bush wins 300 [electoral votes] to 238.

When "Corner" blowhards are defiantly insisting on anything other than an absolutely razer-close race, you know wishful thinking has taken over.

Elsewhere on the Corner, they're starting to sweat....

Talking to a GOPer pollster type this morning, he warns me, "i want to prepare you for a likely Bush loss." He's worried Ohio and Wisconsin are worse than we know because of the economy. And, generally--which is a point multiple people have consistently brought up-the numbers are just so much closer than they should be for an incumbent.

And the latest news? Of all the polls, Fox News's poll has Bush down two points to Kerry!

Tim Blair also inspires confidence:

My election prediction, by the way: narrow popular-vote win to Bush, biggish electoral college win to Bush.
Tim Blair's prediction track record has taken at least one major blow this week:

OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD, and al Qaeda confirms it

For mine? I know better than to utter predictions. But if it's true what they say, that the polls are actually underestimating Kerry's level of support, then it's Kerry in a comparative landslide.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The scandal of Abu Ghraib

Phillip Carter, writing in the washington monthly, makes a compelling case that of all the scandals to come out of Iraq, Abu Ghraib will end up costing the US the most.

If his piece focuses much more on the pragmatic consquences of the atrocity than on moral principle, well, that's only to be expected from a former US army officer and current writer on national security issues. It's all the more damning for coming from someone from inside military culture.

A few points are worth hilighting. Carter is right, of course, to note that the tattered Geneva conventions pertain to warfare of a far older kind. And alas that has been used as a pretext for the US to throw away all moral and legal constraints on its conduct during the war on terror. His argument is, esssentially, that there was a middle course, which allowed "stressful" interrogation and treatment beyond what is permitted under Geneva convention laws, but which falls short of the depravity the Bush administration countenanced. Though even Carter is aware that he is talking about a very, very slippery slope.

Paul Glastris is right to notice the silence of John Kerry on Abu Ghraib. It's depressing, although understandable. Kerry as a young anti-war firebrand would have been all over this issue. Kerry as a semi-hawkish presidential candidate has to be far more moderated. Neither Presidential candidate wants to bring up the ghost of torture camps during the campaign.

But there's one person who is willing to talk about it, and that's our old friend Al Gore:

Moreover, America's honor and reputation have been severely damaged by President Bush's decision to authorize policies and legal hair-splitting that resulted in the widespread torture by U.S. soldiers and contractors of Iraqi citizens and others in facilities from Guantanamo to Afghanistan and elsewhere. Astonishingly and shamefully, investigators also found that more than 90 percent of those tortured and abused were completely innocent of any crime or wrongdoing whatsoever.

Taken off his leash, and allowed to speak his mind, Al Gore has become a singularly impassioned speaker. On the leash, Al Gore was considered the dullest man alive. Such is the price of politics, where every candidate, from all sides, must tie themselves in verbal knots to keep up coalitions and straddles.

Real journalism versus blog journalism

Tegan Goddard gives Kerry the Gore treatment with her piece wondering how on earth John Kerry could have made game 6 of the baseball world series playoffs on October 25, 1986, when a Boston Globe story puts him at an awards banquet at the time.

Turns out, according to a Kerry spokesperson, he attended both events, reaching the Red Sox game in progress. Now, there's no way to disprove it, but also no reason to doubt it.

(The other possibility was that the story is simply inaccurate, since these stories are often written up from press releases with no journalist there to actually mark off the roll.)

A journalist would, I suspect, be alert to both of these possiblities. And have actually checked with someone before running it.

A small thing, but of such small things large urban myths are spun -- such as the infamous Gore "Love Story" myth. Bloggers are good for many things, but as for nailing down stories -- best left to real journalists.

Alas, as we are seeing, real journalists are few and far between, as blog values take over. Take CNN's take on the Al Qaada explosives story. Like anxious twitchy fingered bloggers, a single report has had the network spinning for days -- in this case, the NBC news report from a reporter who was on the scene with the 2nd brigade of the 101st airborne, which indicated that the 380 tons of explosives had already gone by the time American troops reached the scene on the 10th of April.

Turns out that the troops indeed didn't find the explosives -- because they didn't look for the explosives. It's a huge facility, the soldiers were there on the way to somewhere else, and they hardly had the time to properly survey the place.

They did, however, find a whole lot of explosives lying around....

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Losing the media war

If by some miracle I cared enough about the Labor party to offer them some free advice, and by some even larger miracle Labor cared enough about me to listen to me, I would point out that suffering a sufficient number of tactical defeats is evidence that there's something wrong with your core strategy.

What has been the Labor party's core strategy for the past, oh, three elections? To try to outscramble the Liberal party in making the biggest lurch to the right. Labor relies on appeasing its left-wing support with lip service while it scrabbles for populist messages it hopes will carve away some of the Liberal support from the center and right. The result has been that Labor has put out a wounderous series of mixed and incoherent messages. One example is the asylum seeker controversy last year, where Labor simultaneously attacked the Coalition for its shoddy treatment of people who made it to our shores, and lambasted them for not doing enough on border protection to prevent them from arriving in the first place.

Clearly Labor can make one or the other criticism, but not both. And this is just one example of a general malaise infecting Labor's approach. Starved of sufficient left-wing support to be a truly left party, Labor constantly embraces the straddle -- only to find that they end up coming off as a cheap watercolor imitation of the Liberal party.

Why is this happening? Is it the will of the people? Are Australians just, by their character, inherently conservative such that the left-leaning party will never win? Does the future herald twenty years of the Coalition colluding with a vitalized Family First to instigate supreme theocratic control over the land?

Well, no. The answer is as simple as looking at the media. Notice how the media has been rather right wing lately?

There's an absolute onslaught of right-wing press. Nobody could claim the Murdoch media gave balanced coverage of the recent election. Although we haven't quite gone down the US path of having overtly partisan media such as Murdoch's "Fox News Channel", the right wing orthodoxy is no less relentless here for being largely unstated and uncommented on.

Look what's happening. The right frames the debate on every issue. Just one example: when Premier Carr introduced his new stamp duty increase, Nine News that day referred to it as Carr's multimillion dollar "tax grab." Think about that word, "grab". What are synonyms for "grab"? Snatch, shanghai, commandeer, expropriate.... Sounds almost like stealing!

This language is far from objective, fair and balanced. Yet the commercial media gets a free pass on its bias while the government funded ABC, even at its very worst only blandly liberal and usually fastidiously centrist, has the fine toothcomb pulled over it. The right has been remarkably successful, not only in skewing the coverage of day to day issues, but of revising the very language stories are covered in, so that the use of loaded terms like "Tax Grab" and "Tax Relief" forces the correct conclusion long before the story is even written or the issues debated.

This observation is hardly original to me. Orwell understood it. George Lakoff has been writing about it in the US. But progressives appear to have fallen asleep while the right has been mobilizing. Progressives are, quite simply, losing the media war. And that means we are losing the culture war. What need to happen from here?

America shows us the way. Their culture war is already far more advanced than here. Their small-l liberals have learned to fight back with their own partisan media and think-tanks. MediaMatters.org combs coverage for anti-liberal bias, and Moveon.Org fights a proxy advertising war on behalf of the Democrats. George Soros bankrolls progressive institutions, and the partisan press like "The Nation" and "The Prospect" articulate progressive positions.

Progressives aren't supposed to like partisanship. We're supposed to like pluralism and balance and objectivity and intellectual honesty, and not demean ourselves to the level of the Ann Coulters and Michael Moores, who we deride equally as ideological partisans.

We're the Sensible Liberal of Tom Tomorrow cartoon fame. We politely articulate our Sensible, Nuanced, Concilitary positions, given due weight and deference to both sides. But we don't notice that one side is politely playing by Queensbury rules while the other side is wailing into the opposition with iron bars and fence palings they've brought out from out the bottom of the ring.

To rise above the fray in this situation is to embrace unilateral disarmament.

Does that mean, to counter the bias of the right, we have to act like Ann Coulter? Perish the thought. We can still keep our core values and provide honest reporting and commentary. But what we do need to do is wear our values on our sleeves, and not suppress and hide them in a forlorn attempt to appear "objective" or "netural."

We are entering the age of partisanship. And we should be prepared to fight on this new ground. In this new world, "objective" reporting will still exist. But, orbiting around it, will be the watchdogs of left and right partisan commentators, calling the media on its missteps and fighting it out with each other to frame the debate.

Margo Kingston, author of "Not Happy John", articulated her desire to create an Australian Moveon.org should Howard win the current election. Honestly, I don't think she has the ticker, connections or frankly the judgement to do that. But an Australian Moveon.org and and Australian MediaMatters.org have nonetheless got to be a number one priority. Hey, I'm just Some Guy With a Website, but hell, I'd volunteer to work with such an organisation.

Making a mockery of our democracy

Is Glenn Druery, who pioneered, in 1999, the practice of "preference harvesting" on the NSW legislative assembly paper.

His technique? According to the ABC, register endless numbers of "micro-parties", supposedly independent, but all mysteriously directing their preferences to help Glenn Druery. They clutter up the ballot and attract donkey and impulse votes.

So on the NSW ballot we have the "Outdoor Recreation Party", the "Fishing Party", "Ex-Service", "Liberals for Forests", "Aged", the "No Party Affiliation" party, "The Great Australians", the "Progressive Labor Party", the "Non-Custodial Parents" party, and the incredibly named "Lower Excise Fuel and Beer Party".

It's not clear if Glenn Druery is behind all of them, but he's clearly behind some of them.... and this shadowy figure seems to have done quite well for himself.

"Liberals for Forests", for example, has attracted 6,208 votes. Small but not insignificant in a tight election.

To think there's this number of idiots who are willing to vote for a party purely on the basis of a name... well, it beggars belief.

Glenn Druery, I think you're onto a good thing. No one ever went bust underestimating the intelligence of the Australian public.

The swing to the Liberals

Of 3.2 percent is almost exactly the amount by which One Nation is down now that it's a basket case (3.1 percent).

Is this pure coincidence? But those extra votes came from somewhere, and it didn't come from Labor (vote steady.)

One Nation and now the preference power of Family First. The redneck god-bothering vote sure makes this a fine country to live in.

Latham's concession speech

Worst... concesssion speech... ever.

He just doesn't have the ticker, does he?

I've gone from disliking to detesting Latham in just one hour.

If he sticks around I'll probably work my way up to disliking him again... but only because Costello will probably be in by then and the prospect of Costello as PM makes Latham look like Winston Churchill.

FUCK!

I can handle Labor losing the election -- I'm used to that -- but for the Coalition to come within a bee's dick of taking control of the Senate as well....

Unacceptable, Latham. Simply unacceptable.

I'm sure if Beazley came back I'd remember why it was that he was kicked out of the leadership in the first place... but the fat(ter) man is looking pretty good from this standpoint.

As far as I'm concerned the challenge of the next 3 years of Coalition power is about survival -- for the now extraordinarily fragile LaborGreenOcrat coalition in the Senate to harass and stall their agenda until certain processes kick in to wipe the Coalition government out once and for all. It seems even the character issue of a prime minister who lies his head off and a ministerial staff who've elevated profiteering and conflict-of-interest into a science isn't enough to turn off Australian voters when the economy is good.

So wait for the predicted economic downturn and then see how much shine remains of "honest John" Howard.

Pre-count lassitude

I'm hoping for the best and prepared for the worst in tonight's election count. Although what the worst result actually is is hard to say; Latham seems to be in a competition with Howard to appear to be the most conservative populist. Whoever gets in I expect a fairly right-wing flavor, which isn't, as you might gather, to my taste. Leavened, of course, with ample amounts of vote-buying pork. Witness my soon to be posted second part of "A demoralising election campaign".

Nonetheless, there are differences in the parties and the real consequences for Tasmania's old growth forests alone is enough to have me gunning for a Labor victory. But it's looking like an outside chance from here. While the latest newspoll has the race at exactly 50-50, the "Latham is sure of defeat" meme has already taken root and these things have a knack of being self-fufilling prophecies. And if the overall vote is locked, what really counts is the votes in the swing seats, and the internal whispers about Labor's polling in those are not exactly encouraging.

Nonetheless, nobody knows the future and I'll be watching the coverage, waiting for the conventional wisdom to be proved wrong. It never has yet, but there's always a first time.