Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, March 24th, 2006.


Affirmative Action for Bushies

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blogging, conservatism, News Media

The Washington Post just announced that Ben Domenech has resigned from his WaPo blog. This is not a surprise.

Whether I agree with his opinions or not, I would expect someone who landed such a plum assignment at the tender age of 24 to show a spark of cleverness, some freshness, some, um, talent. But Mr. Domenech’s work at WaPo was drearily unexceptional and, to this middle-age lady, about as interesting as a sixth-grader’s Social Studies report on wheat farming in Saskatchewan.

His strongest post was this one, in which he takes offense because WaPo editors didn’t “get” current rightie film iconography. This is writing typical of a college newspaper, but I think WaPo could do better. Even choosing among rightie bloggers, WaPo could do better.

Speaking of college newspapers, I’ve looked at the examples (at Salon, Eschaton, and elsewhere) and the boy did plagiarize other peoples’ work for his college newspaper, The Flat Hat. To plagiarize is “To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one’s own,” according to the online American Heritage dictionary. And he did that; it is beyond question. There is a post up at RedState.com titled “We Must Defend” that defends Mr. Domenech, thus: “…permissions obtained and judgments made offline were not reflected online by an out dated and out of business campus newspaper.” But even if he had obtained permission to quote other peoples’ work, he still plagiarized that work by trying to pass it off as his own. And, strictly speaking, it would be a violation of any one-time serial rights agreement I’ve ever seen to republish the permissioned work without the proper permissions statements attached to it. And The Flat Hat (linked above) is not out of business. So the “defense” is absurd on its face.

(And what’s really outrageous for anyone who cares about film, he plagiarized bleeping Stephanie Zacharek of Salon. Zacharek’s “Batman Begins” review actually says the Joel Schumacher Batman films were better. There’s no excuse for that.)

I’m assuming Mr. Domenech got the Post position through connections, as it wasn’t through talent. DHinMI writes,

Ben Domenech did not get his position at the Washington Post based on merit. He got his position because of connections. He was home-schooled in part because his family–unlike most American families–could maintain a comfortable living with only one parent working outside the home. He got in to William and Mary, but he did not come close to graduating. (And given his penchant for plagiarism, one would have to wonder if intellectual thievery prompted a forced departure from William and Mary.) Nevertheless, despite no degree or significant life accomplishments, he got some patronage jobs in the Bush administration, no doubt because his father is an upper level GOP apparatchik. He has gotten bylines over at that bastion of heartless blue bloods, the National Review Online. He was a founder of Redstate.com. (And can you believe those clowns have shut down comments from new members, banned anyone who criticizes Domenech, and are actively defending this thief?) And he parlayed all those connections in to getting the Washington Post gig while still in his mid-20’s.

Would anyone recognize a similar career trajectory of some schmoe from a working class community outside the DC/NYC/Boston/LA/Bay Area metro areas, who went to a state university, got great grades, but whose blue collar parents didn’t have the connections of a Ben Domenech? Especially within the context of the current GOP, somebody with that background (and whose family wasn’t tightly connected with politically powerful religious leaders) might as well be a feral child.

This feral child has seen hacks promoted and talent held back all her life. It nearly always ends badly. Although I’m sure somebody in the VRWC establishment will come through with another cushy job for Mr. Domenech, he’ll be remembered in the news/publishing biz as the guy who bombed out at WaPo. And it’s a shame, because in another ten or twenty years Mr. Domenech might be capable of being interesting, even if he’s still a rightie.

See also: Glenn Greenwald, Digby, Booman Tribune.

Update: See Jay Rosen at PressThink:

I wasn’t—in principle—against the Post.com hiring a Republican activist as an opinion writer. It didn’t bother me that Domenech lacks mainstream newsroom credentials, and doesn’t call himself a journalist. I found it more interesting than scandalous that he was home schooled. And to me it was an inspired thought to give a 24 year-old a blog at washingtonpost.com.

Today I might be defending Jim Brady and company for their decision— if…. If Ben Domenech were a writer with some grace, a conservative original, a voice, something new on the scene, a different breed of young Republican, with perspective enough on the culture war to realize that while he can’t avoid being in it, he can avoid being of it. I might even be sympathizing with Ben if he had been that kind of hire.

He wasn’t. That he wasn’t was suggested by his first post, Pachyderms in the Mist: Red America and the MSM, a strange and backward-facing thing the apparent purpose of which was once more to ridicule what Peggy Noonan called “the famous MSM.” And it is famous, as a construct that allows anyone to say anything about the news media without fear of contradiction. This was Ben:

    Any red-blooded American conservative, even those who hold a dim view of Patrick Swayze’s acting “talent,” knows a Red Dawn reference. For all the talk of left wing cultural political correctness, the right has such things, too (DO shop at Wal-Mart, DON‘T buy gas from Citgo). But in the progressive halls of the mainstream media, such things prompt little or no recognition. For the MSM, Dan Rather is just another TV anchor, France is just another country and Red Dawn is just another cheesy throwaway Sunday afternoon movie.

I suppose this was supposed to mean that reporters, editors and producers in the nation’s newsrooms don’t know why Dan Rather is such a prized conservative scalp, or that the right hates the French. Besides being untrue, this was also an extremely ungracious statement, since the washingtonpost, was hiring Ben Domenech to bring the news about social conservatives to more Americans.

But in fact there is no MSM. No one answers for it. It has no address. And no real existence independent of the dreary statements (like Ben’s) in which it is bashed. Therefore it is not a term of accountability, which is one reason it’s so popular. No one’s accountable for what they say using it. If you’re a blogger, and you write things like, “The MSM swallowed it hook, line and sinker,” you should know that you have written gibberish. But you probably don’t, for to keep this knowledge from you is the leaden genius of MSM.

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Not Their Job

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Bush Administration

A recent commenter wrote,

What I find baffling is how this Administration, along with the Republican party, are unable or unwilling to affect change despite holding all the cards. They control all three branches of government (yes, one could make arguments about Judicial, but they don’t make laws… yes, that too can be argued… I digress), but lately they seem content to lay blame on everyone else for the nations current woes/issues.

Well, NorthOf49, I’ve been running this comment through my head and I have an answer. Actually, a bunch of answers.

First, I think the Bush Administration and its congressional enablers came into power with a short list of goals that they reached pretty efficiently. These goals included providing “tax relief” for the wealthy, deposing Saddam Hussein, and consolidating power so that the Dems could never take it back. That last one may be unraveling (time will tell), but the first two items are well in hand. And they’ve made great progress on other goals, such as lowering the cost of labor and scrapping environmental protections that get in the way of exploiting resources for profit.

In the words of PZ Myers, “The Republican agenda is to turn the United States into a third-world shithole.” And you’ve got to admit they’ve gone a long way toward reaching that goal.

However, whenever We, the People, desire other actions by our government (like, maybe, not turning the U.S. into a third-world shithole) the Bushie motto is — that’s not my job.

For a glimpse into the Republican brain, catch this bit snipped from an Adam Nagourney-Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times article:

One person who met Mr. Rove said he attributed Mr. Bush’s problems more to external events, in particular Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, than to anything the White House did wrong.

That sentence may be a great litmus test of political proclivity. If you think it’s perfectly reasonable, you may be a rightie.

E.J. Dionne has a great column in WaPo today:

Is President Bush the leader of our government, or is he just a right-wing talk-show host?

The question comes to mind after Bush’s news conference this week in which he sounded like someone who has no control over the government he is in charge of. His words were those of a pundit inveighing against the evils of bureaucrats.

“Obviously,” said the critic in chief, “there are some times when government bureaucracies haven’t responded the way we wanted them to, and like citizens, you know, I don’t like that at all.” Yes, and if you can’t do something about it, who can?

After more than five years in office, President Bush seems weirdly oblivious to what his job actually is. I wrote about this recently here. We see time and time again — from the morning of 9/11 to Katrina to his I’ll leave it to future Presidents to clean up my mess in Iraq statement — that in times of crisis, when we need someone to take charge, set priorities, rattle cages, and otherwise make stuff happen, our President retreats into passivity. He reminds me of a rich kid who spills milk and waits for the maid to clean it up. It doesn’t even occur to him he could do the job himself.

And then there’s the incompetence factor. Shortly after Katrina I wrote a series called “Adventures in Problem Solving” — Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV. This series could have been called “A Chronicle of Staggering Ineptitude.” It documents that even when Bush gets a notion there’s something he ought to be doing — in this case, problem solve — he doesn’t know how to do it. And his administrative “team,” such as it is, isn’t any better at either problem solving or carrying out solutions.

I’ve ranted many times that in his entire sorry-ass life Dear Leader has not been much called upon to actually accomplish anything of a tangible nature, like build a bridge or put a product on the shelves. But if you look at the people around him you might notice they’re mostly “idea” people who have spent their careers flitting among government, academia, and right-wing think tanks. Even Dick Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton, had an unusually “hands off” role in running the company —

There was nothing improper about the unusually limited role expected of Cheney as head of a Fortune 500 company. He was recruited as CEO not long after a fortuitous five-day fishing trip in B.C. with several CEOs, including his predecessor at Halliburton, who was impressed by Cheney’s fireside tales of how he had reorganized the Pentagon. That revamp, which called for a 25 per cent reduction in personnel and the closing of 800 bases, laid the foundation for the allegations Cheney and George Bush would make in the 2000 campaign of how the Clinton-Gore team had run down America’s fighting strength.

At Halliburton, Cheney would be paid a total of $45 million in salary, bonuses, stock-option profits and stock-sale proceeds for his services. The principal function of this novice CEO was to be a high-priced lobbyist, using his contacts at the Pentagon and with kings, emirs and oil ministers to drum up business. The actual running of the $9 billion enterprise was delegated to Cheney’s future successor, David Lesar, who later explained, “On major types of things, I would tell Cheney what the decisions were.” [David Olive, “Dick Cheney’s Brilliant Career,” The Toronto Star, July 26, 2002]

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being an “idea” person, but at some point you need to work with “do” persons to get things done. But Bushies don’t seem to grasp the “do” thing. In fact, it seems to me that Bushies, and righties as a whole, lack appreciation for processes, procedures, and institutional structures — those evil bureaucracies — as well as professionalism in general. As someone who’s done some big-project managing I look at FEMA in the aftermath of Katrina and see a total institutional breakdown. Things like established procedures and institutional memory are what allow big, far-flung teams of people to work together in a time- and cost-efficient manner to accomplish tangible goals. Without them, even hard-working and intelligent people will blunder.

In the case of FEMA, it won’t do to have people trying to figure out what their job responsibilities are and who to go to for what after the disaster. But I’m sure that’s what was happening after Katrina.

Speaking of FEMA — this takes us to what we might call the priority problem. From an editorial in today’s New York Times

Sometimes it’s hard to understand just how Michael Chertoff understands his title, secretary of homeland security. Take this week, when Mr. Chertoff appeared before executives of the chemical industry, whose plants remain one of the nation’s greatest vulnerabilities more than four years after 9/11. Mr. Chertoff did not chastise the industry for failing to protect chemical plants adequately. He proposed weak federal safety standards. He did not even fully embrace a recently introduced bipartisan Senate bill that would create meaningful standards.

Instead, Mr. Chertoff seemed perfectly content to defer on key security matters to an industry that contributes heavily to Republican campaigns but has proved to be dangerously unwilling to take public safety seriously.

I bet you can see how this ties back to the turning the United States into a third-world shithole agenda.

It should be obvious to anyone concerned about public safety that the nation needs strong, mandatory government rules to reduce these dangers [of a terrorist attack on a chemical plant]. Yet in his speech, Mr. Chertoff favored leaving crucial security decisions up to the chemical companies — a formula that puts too much weight on not inconveniencing industry, and too little on protecting the public.

Mr. Chertoff said requiring the industry to use safer chemicals would be “mission creep” — even though that would be precisely the kind of precautionary step that should be a core part of his department’s mission. Mr. Chertoff also spoke approvingly of “pre-emption,” the notion that if federal chemical plant safety rules are adopted, they should be written in a way that will invalidate tougher rules adopted at the state level. Pre-emption is high on the industry’s wish list, but it is not in the public interest.

You see the priority — handing out candy to Republican campaign contributers is more important than public safety. In such matters the Bushies are not incompetent at all. They’re quite good at it, in fact. We, the People might think Michael Chertoff ought to be directing his attention elsewhere, but from a Bushie perspective he’s doing just fine.

But I’ve been rattling on about the White House and ignoring Republicans in Congress. Part of the reasons Republicans in Congress are brazenly incompetent is, of course, that they’re working under the direction of the White House. But not everything is Bush’s fault, as Paul Krugman noted in a recent column (I’ll look for a public link). The out-of-control spending is more Congress’s fault; they’re the ones who write up the appropriations bills. And it’s stunning that the same people who complained about “big government” spending for so long became the biggest, most pork-filled spenders in history when it became their turn to write the bills.

The most obvious reason for this phenomenon is that, as most pork is designed to please campaign contributors and the home folks, we must assume Congress critters place getting re-elected over doing the right thing. Democrats are guilty of this, too. And with a no-veto president in the White House, there is no one to constrain Congress from its own worst impulses.

But it strikes me that the Republicans who for years complained about their minority status are acting like unsupervised children now that they’re in charge. With no adults around to tell them to eat their vegetables, do their homework, and go to bed on time, congressional Republicans have been living on pizza and twinkies and staying up all night to watch zombie movies. Let’s hope that after the midterm elections Mom and Dad will come back and make them behave.

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