May 12, 2005 | 10:18 PM ET

Pat Buchanan has stepped in it.  His most recent column for WorldNet Daily suggests that World War II wasn't worth it.  Hitler wasn't all that bad, argues Buchanan, and anyway Stalin, our ally, was worse.

This has produced a blogospheric pile-on of awe-inspiring proportions.  First comes Stephen Green, who writes:

It took 40 years, but today Pat Buchanan hit bottom on the slippery slope from Young Turk conservative columnist to Nazi Apologist troglodyte.

Clayton Cramer thinks Buchanan is being deliberately misleading in his historical analysis:

I will tell you, if this was an essay written by a high school student, or even a college student, I would assume that he did not understand the history of that time.  But Pat Buchanan knows better.  I have long resisted the popular leftist view that Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite. Reading essays like this makes such a position more and more sensible.

And the folks at InstaPunk live up to their name with a savage attack set to music.  I won't even try to describe it; you'll just have to read it.

Me, I think that although "counterfactual history" is always fun -- I'm a big fan of writers like Harry Turtledove who write in that genre -- I think we came out of the 20th Century better than anyone could reasonably have expected:  No global thermonuclear wars, no epidemics of biowar-engineered smallpox, and, by the turn of the millennium, no nasty globe-spanning tyrannies grinding humanity under their boots.

Though the soldiers, diplomats and politicians who got us here made plenty of mistakes along the way, it could have turned out far worse.

And, hey:  If Pat Buchanan had managed to get elected President, it just might have...

May 11, 2005 | 1:09 AM ET

Georgia on my mind

George W. Bush went to Georgia -- the original one, not the state -- and got an interesting reception.  The New York Times called his performance " Elvis-like," and The Washington Post reported:

Landing here for the final stop on a five-day European trip, President Bush found himself overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcome the likes of which he doesn't get in many countries.  Between the fireworks and folk dancing, Bush got so into the spirit that he wound up throwing out his schedule, staying out late and even wiggling his hips in a decidedly un-Bush-like dance move.

"Un-Bush-like?"  These guys haven't been surfing the Web enough!

But in fact, Elvis allusions aside (and Elvis's role in fighting totalitarianism is worth noting), Bush's visit to Georgia was an important signal to the Georgians -- and, even more important, to Vladimir Putin -- that the United States will continue to support freedom and democracy in the countries of the former Soviet Union.  That's especially important at the moment, with Soviet-era nostalgia resurgent in Moscow.

Human-rights bloggers Publius and Gateway Pundit have more thoughts about what's going on.  It's a dance, of sorts, but the stakes are higher than they were for Elvis.

May 9, 2005 | 5:20 PM ET

Big media on the run?
Plus: Media worth getting out of bed for

Do blogs and other alternative media have traditional media organizations running scared?  Some people are saying so, but I think there's more going on than fear.  Still it's clear that the blogosphere is having an impact.

This past weekend I attended the BlogNashville conference at Belmont University, billed as the largest blogging conference to date.  (You can read more about the conference, and see video that I took, here).  There were some representatives of Big Media organizations there, one of whom said straighforwardly " I'm here out of fear," but others of whom were looking for ways to incorporate blogs, and bloggers, into their operations.

Meanwhile, Big Media folks are criticizing bloggers.  Adam Cohen writes in the New York Times that bloggers need to emulate Big Media ethical codes, a claim that has gotten a chilly reception from bloggers.  Tim Worstall comments:

That he uses, as his first example of a blog The Drudge Report shows that he hasn't quite grasped the basics of the field, for of course Drudge is not a blog.

Blogging law professor Ann Althouse is also unimpressed with Cohen:

Please. The journalistic code didn't keep Jordan and Rather in line.

It was the bloggers, invoking their own standards -- not a code but an evolving culture -- that called them to account. Any bloggers with any kind of high profile will be similarly called to account if they violate the blogosphere's cultural norms. And Jordan and Rather can take up blogging any minute they want. Our practice is open to anyone who wants to join.

The difference is, there's no pedestal to jump right on top of and have an instant readership as there is when you're hired on by mainstream media. We only have the readership we can attract with the strength of our own writing. We have to build that readership and keep it with constant writing. No one would ever be in a position to invoke a rule and fire us. It's all a matter of whether the readers stay or go. In a sense, we're constantly getting hired and fired in tiny increments as individuals decide whether or not to click to our sites one more time. We're living on the edge. Mainstream journalists can whine and look on with jealousy over the things that bind them and not us, but they've got their pedestal and their paycheck, and we don't.
We deserve to be different.

Twisting the knife, K.G. Schneider of The Free Range Librarian accuses Cohen of sloppiness:

Cohen then bloviates through a stream of blogging generalizations, prefaced with statements such as "Bloggers often," "as bloggers well know," or "most bloggers."  At one point he refers to "the world of bloggers" (where "few rules apply"), which sounds like such an exciting, edgy place to visit I eagerly await Expedia's announcement of a trip package to Blogville.

I realize Cohen's column is just commentary on the opinion page of the national newspaper of record, but where are the facts grounding this piece? "It is hard to know who many bloggers are," states Cohen, a comment I read in his article which at last count has already been linked to dozens of blogs written by people with painfully thorough "about pages" and blog names as eponymously transparent as Grant's Tomb. Let me ask you, Adam: who do you think writes Edcone.com?
...
Finally, I realize that anyone who's anyone should know who Adam Cohen is, but an article touting transparency (which I agree is a good thing) could at least include a link to his online bio, which makes it abundantly clear why he can't see beyond the hypoxic horizons of his quaintly clubby little world.

A bit harsh, but then criticizing bloggers is a risky business.

On the other hand, bloggers are widely praising the New York Times' new effort to put its house in order in response to increasing public distrust that stems, in no small part, from blogospheric criticism.   Jeff Jarvis has a roundup of reactions.

My own is that journalists sometimes turn to bloggers in frustration and ask "what do you want from us?"  And the answer is always:  "To report accurately and honestly, and not confuse factual reporting with opinion."  If the Times does that, bloggers will be among its best friends.

Video: Pajama Media, Part 1 Video: Pajama Media, Part 2

May 5, 2005 | 8:09 PM ET

Objectively pro-cancer

George Orwell once said of pacifists during World War II that they were "objectively pro-Fascist," meaning that whether or not they personally wished to see Nazism and the like triumph, their behavior made such a triumph more likely.

In the same way, one might call the Family Research Council "objectively pro-cancer."  Cervical cancer is a major killer of women worldwide.  In the United States and in other developed countries it's usually caught before the deadly stage, if women are careful about getting tested.  In less developed countries, that's not the case, as such tests are hard to come by and too expensive.  Cervical cancer is caused by some strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), other strains of which cause genital warts.

Now there's a vaccine against both and, at least according to this report from The New Scientist, some people are against it because it might lead to more sex:

"Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims.

The message being, I guess, that cancer isn't all bad, at least if it inspires enough fear to keep people celibate.  But where will this end?  As Eugene Volokh observes:

I wonder how far the Family Research Council would take this. The availability of antibiotic treatment for syphilis, gonorrhea, and other bacterial sexually transmitted diseases similarly decreases the cost of sex, and may thus increase people's tendency to engage in sex.

The effect is probably greater, since those diseases are better known, I think, than HPV. The prospect that treatment will be available seems as likely (or as unlikely) to be seen "as a licence to engage in premarital sex" as vaccination against HPV would be. (One generally vaccinates against viruses and uses antibiotics against bacteria, but I'd think that the attitude-altering effect of the two would be similar, even if not completely identical.) Would the FRC urge that people not be offered treatment for these diseases?

Personally, I'm a fan of both vaccines and premarital sex.  I've had a lot of both over the years and I think I'm better for the experience.

If the Family Research Council opposes one or both, they should feel free to encourage people to avoid them  But if they want to discourage the development and availability of vaccines because they'd rather see people live in fear of avoidable diseases, then they're not going to have much room to complain when people accuse them of wanting to turn back the clock -- and of being motivated more by opposition to sex than by support for families.

May 3, 2005 | 10:41 PM ET

Filibuster-o-rama

I actually don't find the judicial confirmation wars all that exciting.  I thought that Robert Bork didn't deserve to be on the Supreme Court.  (You can read a rather lengthy critique of Bork's ideas, by me, here).  I also agree with Randy Barnett that Doug Ginsburg, who was named after Bork, should have been confirmed.

The whole judicial-confirmation business has been an unending circus of partisan backbiting ever since, and the prospects for improvement seem dim, but some people are trying.  There's been an interesting dialogue between Mickey Kaus and blogger TigerHawk on what should be done about filibusters, but Patterico has come up with an interesting suggestion:

My proposal is premised on a fundamental and indisputable fact: never in the history of this country has either party used the filibuster to deny a floor vote to any judicial nominee who had clear majority support in the Senate. All of President Bush's nominees would win a floor vote if one took place. Preventing a floor vote under these circumstances is unprecedented.

I propose that the Republican majority highlight this fact, by forcing a floor vote on a non-binding resolution of support for each nominee who has been the victim of a Democrat filibuster. The Republicans could force this vote by using the same parliamentary tactics that they propose to use to force a floor vote on the nominations themselves. But the resolution I propose would not have any real-world effect, other then to force all 100 Senators to state publicly whether they would support a particular nominee – yes or no.

Most nominees, Patterico suggests, would get majority support, making clear that the filibusterers were blocking the Senate.  To me, this seems just a bit too clever, but it certainly would stress the anti-majoritarian nature of the filibuster.

Personally, I'm skeptical that this problem will be solved, short of one party or the other getting a filibuster-proof majority.  But it's too bad because the federal courts -- as I've noted before -- need attention.  But they're getting the wrong kind.

May 3, 2005 | 1:29 AM ET

Let them talk (and talk and talk)

Everybody's talking about filibusters in the Senate.  It's hard for me to get too excited about this issue, really, but since people keep asking, here are some thoughts:

First, there's nothing sacred about the filibuster.  It's not in the Constitution, and the Senate is free to change it whenever enough Senators want to.  It's a tradition, sure, but so was the classic seniority system, which was scrapped in the 1970s when Congress and the public decided it was a bad idea.

Is the filibuster a bad idea?  As someone who believes that, most of the time, the less that Congress does the better off the country is, I'm inclined to favor anything that clogs the pipes.  On the other hand, sooner or later the business of the nation needs to get done.  The thing about traditions, as opposed to constitutional provisions, is that they carry with them the implicit rule that people shouldn't overplay their hands.  The filibuster is a tool that lets the minority block things that are exceptionally objectionable, but it's not supposed to be a tool for the minority to block the majority across the board. 

On Wall Street, they say that pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered.  The same rule against getting carried away applies in politics; the pressure not to overplay your hand comes from the fact that the majority can, if it really wants to, make you stop.  So if the Republicans think that the Democrats are overplaying their hand, it's perfectly fair for them to change the rules to make such overplaying harder.

My own solution would be to allow unlimited debate on judicial nominations.  If the Democrats want to block them, they can just talk and talk and talk -- though as blogger Tigerhawk notes:

The prospect of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy bloviating for hours on C-SPAN would deter filibusters except when the stakes are dire, if for no other reason than the risk that long debate would create a huge amount of fodder for negative advertising. If Frist were to enact the "reform" of the filibuster instead of its repeal, he would sieze the high ground. He could take the position that the Republicans are merely rolling back the "worst excesses" of the long period of Democratic majority in the Congress, and that filibusters will still be possible if Senators are willing to lay it all on the line.

Dick Morris makes a similar point:

Frist just needs to end the "virtual" filibuster and make the Democrats stage a real one, replete with quorum calls, 24/7 sessions and truly endless debate covered word for word by C-SPAN for all the nation to see — and ridicule.

Frist should bring up a judicial nomination of little consequence for the nation — say Charles Pickering — and let the Democrats explain, at tedious length, why they are tying up the entire nation over a judgeship for Mississippi. While the public would possibly tolerate a filibuster over a Supreme Court nomination or over a particularly important piece of legislation with enormous consequence, they would never allow a filibuster over so inconsequential an item, and the backlash would be fierce.

To force the Democrats to filibuster over such a matter would be akin to the way President Clinton forced the Republicans to shut down the government in the budget fight. In the era of 24-hour news and cable TV, the Democrats will find that they cannot stage a real, red-blooded filibuster without hurting themselves politically each day they talk.

A filibuster would attract wide notice. Bring the cots into the Democratic and Republican antechambers and stage quorum calls throughout the night, as in the old days of civil-rights legislation, and the nation will notice. The Democrats will leave America to wonder why they are spending all of their time debating a judgeship in Mississippi when they are not addressing the problems of healthcare, energy, gas prices, the economy, Social Security reform and the preservation and expansion of Medicare.

I think this is good advice.  What will Frist do?  That depends on whether he's got 50 votes for a rule change.  So far, we haven't seen those votes -- but if he doesn't have them, then that's a sign that the Democrats aren't overplaying their hand, isn't it?

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