Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: March 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Still Ticking?

It appears that we're still not looking for a new attorney general. Gonzales took some heavy hits on Thursday when Kyle Sampson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. There was an awful lot that went on yesterday, but perhaps the most obvious detail was in answer to Gonzales's previous statement to the committee that he had no knowledge or involvement in the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys. Senator Chuck Schumer asked for Sampson's recollection, and--surprise--it was exactly the opposite! Sampson kept his boss in the loop, and Alberto even attended meetings on the subject. Oops!

Of course, Gonzales is not one to run from a challenge, so he had a response today in a visit to Boston: "I believe in truth and accountability, and every step that I've taken is consistent with that principle. I am fighting for the truth, as well."

Well, that's very reassuring. He wants to get to the bottom of this as much as anybody else, so I'm sure that he'll be as forthcoming as he possibly can. And what did he have to say about the inconsistency between his testimony and Sampson's?

"I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving questions of whether or not a US attorney should or should not be asked to resign."


The convenient memory lapse. It's amazing that anything gets done in this administration at all with the lack of retention of these people. So earlier when Gonzales said that he'd had nothing to do with the situation at all, he must not have remembered that he didn't remember. This on-again, off-again memory thing can sure get confusing.

Fortunately, Gonzales works for a very understanding boss. Some people might call lying to Congress a felony, but it's just business as usual in the Bush White House. White House spokesperson Dana Perino stood by the embattled Alberto earlier today, giving him the official pat on the back.

There hasn't been evidence of any -- of anything improper or wrongdoing in the decision for the Justice Department to recommend the replacement of eight U.S. attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the President. And that's why the President continues to have confidence in the Attorney General that they -- that he runs a great department, they have wonderful employees who work there.

As you might imagine, there are plenty of places to follow the details of the Senate hearing. TPMmuckraker has plenty of reportage and video (fourteen videos by my count) at their U.S. Attorneys topic. Firedoglake does five separate summaries of Sampson's testimony, plus other sundry details, in its U.S. attorney firings category.

And don't worry. There'll be more.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Repercussions in Hot Dog Land

I don't believe I've mentioned this before, but almost a year ago, the Chicago city council broke ground in local legislation and led the nation in becoming the first city to ban the sale of foie gras. Restaurateurs didn't take kindly to the new law and set about trying to subvert it. Foremost among these protesters has been Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk fave Hot Doug's, a glorified hot dog stand that has carved out a niche for itself by selling gourmet sausages side by side with the traditional hot dog. One of several restaurateurs who flouted the law, Doug Sohn sold foie gras as a sometime ingredient in his sausages, and he (along with eight other restaurants) was slapped with a warning from the health department for his trouble. A second citation carries a fine, and Doug received that notice a bit over a month ago. Today was his court date--the first such charge to make it to court--and his lawyer entered a plea of guilty (it was hard not to--Doug framed his warning letter last year and put it on display), and he was fined $250. That money may have been a bargain for the publicity he's receiving, though. In addition to local media and coverage in The New York Times, he was also interviewed on Nightline tonight (although Nightline has nothing on its site about today's show--nothing I could find, anyway). Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vittel suggested that the foie gras would soon be making a comeback at Hot Doug's. As someone else pointed out on the Nightline report (I think it was the chef at Copperblue, but I can't be sure because, um, there's no link to the story at the Nightline site) earlier tonight, Chicago is a town known for bootleg alcohol and speakeasies eighty years ago. A little ban from the city council isn't going to slow anybody down.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Down with Evil

Although it seemed unlikely, you've undoubtedly heard by now that yesterday the Senate joined the House in voting for a bill that funds the troops but also calls for a timetable for withdrawal. Needless to say, the Prez isn't pleased. He came out swinging today at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (and if you can't be tough there, where can you be tough?). He promised to veto the bill when it reaches his desk, of course. But in setting up why he'll veto it and attacking the timetable, he quoted an editorial out of the LA Times from a couple of weeks ago that drew some odd parallels:

"Imagine if Dwight Eisenhower had been forced to adhere to a congressional war plan in scheduling the Normandy landings."

Well, he didn't for various reasons that make this a poor comparison. In World War II, we had a pretty good idea of who the enemy was--Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan--and we knew what our objectives were--defeat them. If we can answer those same questions as easily in Iraq, then perhaps the Times and Bush have a point. And he does tell the cattlemen what this whole fight is about:

Some call this civil war; others call it emergency [sic] -- I call it pure evil. And that evil that uses children in a terrorist attack in Iraq is the same evil that inspired and rejoiced in the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. And that evil must be defeated overseas, so we don't have to face them here again.

Okay, first things first: Who doesn't hate evil? Who doesn't want us to defeat evil when and where we find it? I don't see any hands, so I guess that we're all in agreement that evil is a BAD THING.

But when it comes to the war in Iraq, it seems fair enough to ask for a bit more specificity. What's the evil part of Iraq? By extension, which parts are not evil? What does it mean to defeat evil? How will we know when we have defeated it? Without specific answers to those questions, we don't know what we're doing in Iraq, and we can't know how to proceed. We've got nothing to do but wait for this president or (more likely) some future president to arbitrarily say, "The evil's gone, we're done, and we're coming home." I'm not the only person who thinks that's not an acceptable option.

But aside from the Prez trying to equate himself with Eisenhower and Roosevelt, the rest of the LA Times quote he repeats is very odd.

". . . or if, in 1863, President Lincoln had been forced by Congress to conclude the Civil War the following year. This is the worst kind of congressional meddling in military strategy."

Judging by the company kept by the likes of Republicans such as Trent Lott, Bob Barr, Haley Barbour, and others, there's no doubt a chunk of the Prez's base that does likely wish Lincoln had been forced to withdraw his army and negotiate with the Confederacy for independence. Those same constituents might be curious as to whether or not Bush believes Lincoln was fighting evil in pursuing his cause, because that's certainly something that they don't believe. The Prez should probably pay more attention to which sleeping dogs he starts poking with a stick.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Passing the Fifth Around

Will there be an epidemic of taking the Fifth on Capitol Hill? Alberto's former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, is due to appear before Senate Judiciary on Thursday, and he's been cultivating the image that he'll be willing to talk. But in the latest document dump from the Justice Department, there's some material that fingers Sampson as being responsible for some inaccurate and misleading information being passed to Congress last month. TPMmukraker has the details. While Sampson didn't actually pass along the bad information that Karl Rove wasn't involved in choosing a new U.S. attorney to replace one that was drummed out by the Bush administration, he did brief the assistant attorney general who did write a letter with those false facts, and that puts the ball in his court. You can bet the Judiciary Committee will have some questions on the topic tomorrow. Will Sampson answer them, or will he assert his Constitutional right not to incriminate himself? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Alberto Was Here! (But Not for Long)

It just keeps on giving, doesn't it?

The AG flew into Chicago today to ask, "What about the children?" He was pushing some initiative for keeping kids safe on the Internet, and part of that involved a fifteen-minute "press availability" after he met with Chicago-based undistinguished U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. I'm sure there were a number of useful questions that could've been asked in regard to that initiative, but as one might expect, the reporters mostly wanted to talk about the U.S. Attorneys firing scandal. A few of the reporters might've been looking forward to putting Gonzales on the spot next to hot shot Fitzgerald by bringing up his department's diss against him, but while that might've been good fun, the real meat is in the scandal. I guess that Gonzales is a firm believer in the old adage, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," because after only two-and-a-half minutes and three questions, he was running for the door.

It may have been questions about his senior counselor, Monica Goodling, currently on leave and possibly facing an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, announcing yesterday that she plans to take the fifth if she visits the Senate chambers. He said he couldn't talk about it, and oh yeah, he's got to catch a bus.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution grants the right to keep your mouth shut if speaking openly and honestly in court will reveal evidence that you've committed some sort of crime. You don't have to incriminate yourself. Of course, asserting this right implies that there's some sort of crime out there for you to be incriminated in. Goodling's lawyer tries to obfuscate and claim that she doesn't want to go before a hostile committee, so therefore, Fifth Amendment. I hope she's not paying him the big bucks, because that's one of the lamest excuses I've ever heard. While I don't doubt that Goodling fears the Judiciary Committee will be unfriendly, and I'm sure she'd rather not have to testify at all, I don't see how that can possibly rise to the level of the Fifth Amendment. Of course, the obvious response of the Judiciary Committee is to wonder, What's the crime in which she's concerned about implicating herself? All of a sudden, they're going to be paying much closer attention. And I'm willing to put up large amounts of money on the fact that Goodling won't be getting any holiday cards from Kyle Sampson, who's due in front of the newly attentive committee on Thursday.

If you're interested in reading more about the use of the Fifth Amendment in this context, check out Christy's discussion of the issue. And Josh Marshall is instructive on what may be the real reason behind Goodling's decision. It could be that Justice Department official Paul McNulty has told the committee that Goodling incorrectly briefed him in preparing him for his own Senate appearance, or it could be something else:

Just watching this from the outside, it looks as though that is the bad act she's afraid to testify about or -- and somehow I find this more believeable -- she's afraid of indictment for perjury because she has to go up to Congress and testify under oath before the White House has decided what its story is. And yeah, I'd feel like I was in jeopardy then too.

Take a look at the news conference in its entirety to see the moment of realization in Alberto's eyes that the questions weren't going to get any better.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Broadening the Circle

A popular parlor game among comics fans is speculation on what could make comics become more successful. Sales of comic books are far below what they were in either the '40s or the '90s, and most comics readers suspect that there's a lot there many nonreaders would enjoy if they just had the chance.

A perennial suggestion is a fairly obvious marketing one: If comics had a higher profile, they couldn't help but be more popular. But how much can their profile grow? Comic book movies can't get much bigger. This year already we've had Ghost Rider, 300, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we're all sitting around waiting for the new Spider-Man in a few weeks. I'm not sure we could get much of a higher profile, but all that's seemed to do is hold off the slide in favor of more of a plateau.

A recent article in the Toronto Star has another suggestion: more diversity. That's certainly something that mainstream comics lack these days. Writer Brad Mackay theorizes that 2 percent of Marvel characters are black. And unless I'm missing a short-term miniseries somewhere, exactly one of them currently headlines his own title. But while I think comics could certainly benefit from a greater diversity, I'm not sure that this is the secret ingredient that might edge comics closer to again becoming a mass medium.

If you want to read a bit more in-depth on the subject, Mackay posts his original piece on his own blog. He wasn't entirely happy with how the Star edited his article, so he's giving us a chance to see the whole thing here. There's a bit more from movie director and writer of Black Panther Reginald Hudlin as well as the inclusion of Black Lightning, who was written out of the main piece and relegated simply to sidebar status in the Star.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You Can Find a Metaphor for Anything in The Godfather

This blog is in danger of becoming the "All U.S. Attorney Scandal All the Time" blog. In his column in today's New York Times, Frank Rich takes it on, as well. Riffing off of the Prez's nickname for his favorite attorney general, Rich titles it "When Will Fredo Get Whacked?" Not much longer, now, I'm sure.

President Bush wants to keep everything that happens in his White House secret, but when it comes to his own emotions, he's as transparent as a teenager on MySpace.

On Monday morning he observed the Iraq war's fourth anniversary with a sullen stay-the-course peroration so perfunctory he seemed to sleepwalk through its smorgasbord of recycled half-truths (Iraqi leaders are "beginning to meet the benchmarks") and boilerplate ("There will be good days, and there will be bad days"). But at a press conference the next day to defend his attorney general, the president was back in the saddle, guns blazing, Mr. Bring 'Em On reborn. He vowed to vanquish his Democratic antagonists much as he once, so very long ago, pledged to make short work of insurgents in Iraq.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast between these two performances couldn't be a more dramatic indicator of Mr. Bush's priorities in his presidency's endgame. His passion for protecting his power and his courtiers far exceeds his passion for protecting the troops he's pouring into Iraq's civil war. But why go to the mat for Alberto Gonzales? Even Bush loyalists have rarely shown respect for this crony whom the president saddled with the nickname Fredo; they revolted when Mr. Bush flirted with appointing him to the Supreme Court and shun him now. The attorney general's alleged infraction - misrepresenting a Justice Department purge of eight United States attorneys, all political appointees, for political reasons - seems an easy-to-settle kerfuffle next to his infamous 2002 memo dismissing the Geneva Conventions' strictures on torture as "quaint" and "obsolete."

That's why the president's wild overreaction is revealing. So far his truculence has been largely attributed to his slavish loyalty to his White House supplicants, his ideological belief in unilateral executive-branch power and, as always, his need to shield the Machiavellian machinations of Karl Rove (who installed a protégé in place of one of the fired attorneys). But the fierceness of Mr. Bush's response - to the ludicrous extreme of forbidding transcripts of Congressional questioning of White House personnel - indicates there is far more fire to go with all the Beltway smoke.

There certainly is more to be found here. If there were an easy explanation for all this, we'd have heard it by now. So what might be the untold story? Rich speculates:

Do not be distracted by the apples and oranges among the fired attorneys. Perhaps a couple of their forced resignations were routine. But in other instances, incriminating evidence coalesces around a familiar administration motive: its desperate desire to cover up the corruption that soiled what was supposed to be this White House's greatest asset, its protection of the nation's security. This was the motive that drove the White House to vilify Joseph Wilson when he challenged fraudulent prewar intelligence about Saddam's W.M.D. The e-mails in the attorney flap released so far suggest that this same motive may have driven the Justice Department to try mounting a similar strike at Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney charged with investigating the Wilson leak.

In March 2005, while preparing for the firings, Mr. Gonzales's now-jettisoned chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, produced a chart rating all 93 United States attorneys nationwide. Mr. Fitzgerald, widely admired as one of the nation's best prosecutors (most famously of terrorists), was somehow slapped with the designation "not distinguished." Two others given that same rating were fired. You have to wonder if Mr. Fitzgerald was spared because someone in a high place belatedly calculated the political firestorm that would engulf the White House had this prosecutor been part of a Saturday night massacre in the middle of the Wilson inquiry.

Another canned attorney to track because of her scrutiny of Bush administration national security scandals is Carol Lam. She was fired from her post in San Diego after her successful prosecution of Representative Duke Cunningham, the California Republican who took $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Mr. Rove has publicly suggested that Ms. Lam got the ax because "she would not commit resources to prosecute immigration offenses." That's false. Last August an assistant attorney general praised her for doubling her immigration prosecutions; last week USA Today crunched the statistics and found that she ranked seventh among her 93 peers in successful prosecutions for 2006, with immigration violations accounting for the largest single crime category prosecuted during her tenure.

To see what Mr. Rove might be trying to cover up, look instead at what Ms. Lam was up to in May, just as the Justice Department e-mails indicate she was being earmarked for removal. Building on the Cunningham case, she was closing in on Dusty Foggo, the C.I.A.'s No. 3 official and the director of its daily operations. Mr. Foggo had been installed in this high intelligence position by Mr. Bush's handpicked successor to George Tenet as C.I.A. director, Porter Goss.

Ms. Lam's pursuit sped Mr. Foggo's abrupt resignation; Mr. Goss was out too after serving less than two years. Nine months later - just as Ms. Lam stepped down from her job in February - Mr. Foggo and a defense contractor who raised more than $100,000 for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign were indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of conspiracy and money laundering in what The Washington Post called "one of the first criminal cases to reach into the C.I.A.'s clandestine operations in Europe and the Middle East." Because the allegations include the compromising of classified information that remains classified, we don't know the full extent of the damage to an agency and a nation at war.

As for Alberto? He'll soon be too much of a liability to keep around, but I have a hard time seeing him turn on his patron. He'll keep anything he knows to himself, and if he happens to get indicted for any reason, he'll wait faithfully for a pardon in March 2009 (or Christmas 2008, if Bush is feeling generous).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Countdown for Gonzales

Last week, I wondered aloud how long Alberto Gonzales could hold out as attorney general. As more and more officials, both Democratic and Republican, called for his ouster, I figured that his days were numbered, but I didn't expect him to be gone immediately. I'm now wondering if his end is almost within view.

The news broke last night and was in the papers this morning that, contrary to what we'd been led to believe, Alberto had actually been in on the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys. He met with his former (although former yet) chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and four others met to review the plan to let the attorneys go.

But not to worry. The Prez is still behind his pal Al. Maybe. At least, that's what's being reported. In his radio address today, he said he supported the attorney general in getting rid of the federal prosecutors, but there was no statement regarding how he felt about Gonzales now. He's not backing down on support for the decision, but that's a far cry from getting Alberto's back on how he's been handling the problem lately. Perhaps he was hinting in that direction this morning when he also said, "I regret that [the U.S. attorney's] resignations have turned into a public spectacle." I bet he does.

Putting more pressure on the attorney general is the fact that Sampson will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Sampson already took a bullet by resigning last week, and it remains to be seen if he'll be the good soldier Scooter Libby has been so far. But Gonzales doesn't seem to be too worried. As The Washington Post reports, "Aides say Gonzales will continue to focus on other issues in the coming week." See? He's not even paying attention. That's how important this whole issue is to him. Fired U.S. attorneys? What fired U.S. attorneys?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Closing the Book?

Big box stores, particularly those that focus on limited product lines, are in trouble these days. Tower Records is gone, CompUSA is closing 128 stores--more than half (though The New York Times's tech blogger, David Pogue, wasn't surprised, calling most of the chain's stores he's been in "been sterile and soulless, and pervaded by a feeling of abandonment"), Circuit City is cutting back, and Tweeter is closing about a third of its stores. Well, it's not just tech stores that are involved. This week Borders announced that it was pulling back, as well. At first they're just closing most of their overseas stores and about half of the Waldenbooks outlets, but that may just be a start. Locally, they're looking to sublet half their Chicago stores (though they're not pulling back at all in the suburbs). The company's CEO stressed that they're looking for their options and just finding out what they can do with the space, so the four Chicago stores aren't necessarily doing anything quickly, but if they can find somebody to take the floorspace, they're not going to waste any time in taking advantage of the out. Borders claims that it's going to put more focus on online sales--they started with an online presence, but a few years back, they jettisoned it in favor of a relationship with Forbes pointed out today that Barnes & Noble, while doing better than Borders, has problems of its own. Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco have been eating into the book business, and the dedicated bookstores haven't yet come up with a way to compete against discounted best sellers.

We're slowly but surely changing the way we shop. As more and more of our purchases move online, there'll be less and less reason to pay the real estate and maintenance overhead that the big boxes demand.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

U.S. Attorneys Quick Hits

Wow, the subject is growing so much it can support its own subject-specific Quick Hits. I think there may be a sitcom project in the works for pilot season.

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approved issuing subpoenas for White House advisors to testify before Congress. They joined the House Judiciary Committee, which did the much the same thing yesterday. Both committees are holding off actually serving the subpoenas while they negotiate with the executive branch for some sort of agreement. In the Senate committee, go-along-to-get-along Arlen Specter suggested that perhaps they should just accept what the White House is willing to give them and leave it at that. That might be fine, except that Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy pointed out, "What we're told we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing." We can only guess what Dick Cheney thinks about the situation.

We shouldn't forget that Specter is the one who slipped the provision into the renewal of the Patriot Act that allowed the Prez to fire U.S. attorneys and replace them without Senate hearings and approval in the first place. Sure, he cleaned up his mess, cosponsoring the legislation that removed that little detail, but he's still trying to find some comfortable place in the middle. He abstained from voting on the subpoenas today.

In an unfortunate case of being hoist on his own petard, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was confronted with a column from his past that seemed to put him at odds with the position he's defending about Rove and Miers testifying before Congress. Olivier Knox of Agence France-Presse read the quote to Snow at a press briefing yesterday, but the Chicago Tribune blog reprinted Snow's original 1998 column. Here's a snippet:

Evidently, [the President] wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.

He was writing about a different president, of course, but the parallels are obvious. Maybe not obvious to everyone. Not surprisingly, Snow responded that the current situation is NOT THE SAMETM.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Obama Revealed (Somewhat)


Chicago Public Radio had an insightful story today. You may have heard a bit of a blow-up a few weeks back about Barack Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ. Erik Rush decided that the Christians who worship in that church aren't like other Christians. He devised a column calling Obama and his congregation black supremacists, and then he was invited on Hannity & Colmes to spread his message of hate. That show later drew in Trinity Church's pastor and the man who Obama identifies as his spiritual advisor, Jeremiah Wright. He tried to defend himself and his church, but the Fox Network is a stacked deck. Wright later felt ambushed by The New York Times (the article is now only available for purchase or through Times Select), which was reporting that the situation had resulted in a rift between Obama and his pastor.

How Trinity Church was misrepresented and how it simply grew out of control was reviewed and examined by Chicago Public Radio. You can click through at the link to hear the story or to read a transcript. Check it out, it's quite interesting, and it's a good cautionary tale about why you should keep your eyes open when dealing with the press.

UPDATE--Here's the Website for Trinity United Church of Christ so you can check it out for yourself if you want. The About Us link explains the church's theology, and a link in the text of the page will take you to a further explanation by Dr. Wright on how the church addresses race.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ongoing Justice Probe

One can never tell, of course, but it sure looks like the U.S. attorney firing situation is coming closer to a climax. More and more Justice Department e-mails and documents are being dumped (or made available, as the White House might prefer we refer to the process), Congress has been wanting to hear from current or former White House advisors such as Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, and the Prez had a sudden and unexpected press conference. TPMmuckraker has a nice rundown of what the papers were saying on Tuesday morning about what might've been in that document dump.

At his press conference this afternoon, the Prez reaffirmed his support of Alberto Gonzales (although on one of the talking head shows this weekend, somebody I no longer remember pointed out that, at least up to that point, he wasn't sounding as firm in that support as he had in standing behind Rumsfeld). He also said that he had no problem in having Rove or Miers go up to Capitol Hill for a conversation. He didn't support anything more than a conversation, but what can you do? Earlier today, White House counsel Fred Fielding offered to let a handful of advisors participate as long as they weren't under oath and there would be no transcript. Here are Bush's exact words at the news conference:

It will be regrettable if [Democrats] choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available.

It's not any real secret as to which side of this fracas I find myself, but how lame is it to consider testifying under oath and keeping transcripts to be a "partisan road"? If I'm called to testify in court, can I simply avoid being sworn in by protesting the partisan agenda of the judge, prosecutor, or defense attorney? Not to belabor the point, but if they've got nothing to hide, why do they insist on hiding it anyway?

The Prez says he'll take it to the courts to keep his advisors from actually having to speak on the record, so I guess we'll get a chance to see how effective his attempts at packing the courts with loyal Bushies have been. The Justice Department reportedly charted the federal prosecutors and graded them based on loyalty. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find a similar chart filled with judges. The House Judiciary Committee is due to vote on issuing subpoenas on Wednesday morning and forcing Rove and the others to appear. Perhaps we'll soon see whether the Prez is prepared to back up his bluff.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Slipping Forward in the Timestream

Earlier tonight I saw a new Cadillac commercial. For a number of years, it seemed, they were using Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" as their theme song. I suppose that when they started using it the song, and the idea of using Led Zeppelin to sell cars, seemed fresh and exciting, but after hearing it for a number of years, it loses some of its appeal. So Cadillac has moved ahead nine years, all the way to 1980, and they've picked up "Start" by the Jam. I'm not sure that the lyrics exactly fit the product--they don't have many lyrics you can hear, but "If I never, ever see you" comes through, suggesting longing and unfulfilled desire (perhaps not the best emotions to draw out for an expensive car) and also "What you give is what you get." But you do get the exciting bass line and jagged guitar solo, which is somehow oddly reminiscent of "Taxman," so the Baby Boomers can still find it familiar, as well.

The Jam is one of my all-time favorite bands, and I've long admired frontman Paul Weller. At one time I might've been disappointed and bandied about the "sell out" tag, but nowadays I'm not so sure. 'Cause we've all grown up, and we've got our lives, and the values that we had once upon a time seem stupid now, 'cause the rent must be paid. I don't want you to get me wrong. Ideals are fine when you are young, and I must admit we had a laugh, but that's all it was and ever will be. But there's no time for dreams when commerce calls. You're just a dreamer if you don't realize, and the sooner you do will be the better for you, then we'll all be happy, and we'll all be wise and all bow down to the burning sky.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Four Years and Counting

Normally on a Sunday evening, I post a subscription-free link to the day's Frank Rich column and then quote a few relevant tidbits. Today's column, "The Ides of March 2003," doesn't really lend itself to quoting, though. On the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Rich looks back at some of the memorable events and some that weren't given much attention in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of "Operation Shock and Awe." I'll quote his opening, but then you're on your own.

Tomorrow night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush's prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it's an eternity. That's why a revisionist history of the White House's rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same "bad intelligence" before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion's aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. "If only I had known then what I know now ..." has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration's case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

By the time the ides of March arrived in March 2003, these warning signs were visible on a nearly daily basis. So were the signs that Americans were completely ill prepared for the costs ahead. Iraq was largely anticipated as a distant, mildly disruptive geopolitical video game that would be over in a flash.

Now many of the same leaders who sold the war argue that escalation should be given a chance. This time they're peddling the new doomsday scenario that any withdrawal timetable will lead to the next 9/11. The question we must ask is: Has history taught us anything in four years?

Go read. See how much of this you remember.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snippets from an Irish Holiday

In front of me at the self-checkout at the grocery store was a guy who was buying a six-pack of Killian's Irish Red. At the self-checkout, there's no cashier, of course, so he had to go track down somebody he could show his ID to, and then he came back to put his own money into the slots. He paid for the whole thing in quarters. Maybe his hands weren't big enough, because halfway through dropping quarters one by one into the coin slot, he went back into his pockets. I thought he might be pulling a couple of bills out to take him the rest of the way, but--more quarters.

One the way home, a city bus appeared to have been pulled over by a cop.

Earlier, my brother had a friend in from Japan, so we did much of the traditional Chicago celebration (though we didn't brave the crowds and venture down to the see the river died green because they drove by and saw it quickly from the car window). We drank the green beer and ate the corned beef and cabbage (which I actually like throughout the year).

This really has nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day, but back at the grocery store, I noticed that the headline on The Weekly World News was about the ghost of an alien haunting Roswell. I was looking for an online version to offer a link, but I couldn't come up with one. At The Weekly World News site, though, I did find an alternate headline that made me laugh out loud: "Ghost of Famous Skeptic Extremely Embarrassed." I guess, after a lifetime of debunking that would be a difficult position in which to find oneself.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I was out too late tonight, and doing a proper post about Valerie Plame testifying over the House Committee on Government Oversight or the latest developments in the involvement of Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove in the firing of the federal prosecutors would require too much Web surfing and sifting through various reports at this hour (although you can do your own Google News search on the former or the latter if you feel like it).

No, tonight, with St. Patrick's Day just a few hours away from breaking, I'm taking the easy route. Here are a couple of local St. Patrick's Day links that intrigued me today.

On Friday morning's Eight Forty-Eight on Chicago Public Radio, they had a segment about "Danny Boy." My Irish grandmother used to love that song--to the point of nearing cliche, I'm afraid to say--but as I've gotten older, I've come to gain a stronger appreciation of it--partly in memory of her, and partly on its own merits. This radio piece talks about the song's significance (although it seems that most of its significance is in how it's come to represent Ireland over the years more than what it's actually about), but it also includes snatches of various versions over the years. Der Bingle's classic take is here, as if one by Elvis Presley. The segment doesn't take the song too seriously, as the snippet of Tom Jones's version indicates. But the real revelation for me was Jackie Wilson's take. I'd never heard that before--I'd never even realized he'd covered it--but it's a truly moving version. You can click through to audio files of the segment at here, but you should listen rather than read the transcript, which this link also allows. The true strength of the material is in hearing the different versions. Without them, the transcript spends far too much time with the writer's own experience with the song.

And Friday's Chicago Tribune had a big story on corned beef being made at the Vienna Beef factory. I love corned beef, and I'll eat it whether it's St. Patrick's Day or not. Whether it's authentically Irish or not (scroll down), it's a worthy addition to any meal, whether you're serving cabbage or not.

Friday, March 16, 2007

If You're Looking for an Escape from Real Life

Welcome to one of the main testosterone weekends of the year. March Madness started off today, and Duke's already out. Do you have your brackets filled out for the office pool? You can check out John McCain's Straight Talk brackets if you want to (but you have to register with an e-mail address), but it's too late to enter into his contest to win a McCain fleece. Wonkette makes an intriguing point, recalling the good old days when McCain sponsored legislation to outlaw gambling on March Madness and college sports in general. But as long as there's not any actual wagering and the spoils include nothing more than a campaign fleece, I guess all's right with the world. But back to the brackets themselves, McCain doesn't really go out on a limb in straight-talking his choices, though. His Final Four includes all four number one seeds. When you used to be a front runner, I guess you don't have much interest in underdogs.

If you're not into basketball but still want to immerse yourself in a testosterone-heavy subculture, there's always SXSW (pronounced south by southwest) in Austin, Texas. This pop culture festival just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and it's now expanded to include several festivals, such as SXSW interactive and SXSW film. But the big draw started out as and continues to be the music festival, and it got underway on Wednesday. According to the SXSW site, 1,493 music acts are scheduled for showcase performances through Sunday. Earlier tonight we could've seen Jon Langford and Sally Timms recalling The Mekons (does that sound as sad to anybody else as it does to me?), Bloc Party, Dengue Fever, The Ponys, Badly Drawn Boy, Razorlight, and Joan as Police Woman, a band that's been intriguing me far more these days than I'd have expected. Or any of 300-some other bands. And as the weekend approaches, the tickets just get hotter.

So with these two events overwhelming life as we know it, there can't be any actual news taking place this weekend, can there? Of course, this is the natural environment for a major Bush administration document dump. Keep your eyes open!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Quick Hits

On Monday, NBC's Andrea Mitchell had an interesting idea. She suggested to Chris Matthews on Hardball that the Prez should just follow the polling and pardon Scooter Libby. What's not clear is exactly what polling she was talking about. Maybe she polled her Beltway Bubble pals. Maybe it was a Bush administration poll. For all we know, she just asked Alan Greenspan over pillow talk. According to Media Matters, the only poll to discuss the question was this CNN survey released Monday afternoon. And according to that, a Libby pardon is supported by only half as many people as those who think the Prez is doing a good job. Talk about scraping the bottom.

So will Mitchell's shilling for Libby help change some minds? I can't imagine that it particularly will. Libby's going to have to figure out what to do (or wait until the Prez pardons him in defiance of the polling--far more likely, now that I think about it) by himself.

Halliburton is taking this whole outsourcing thing a little too far. Its offshoring itself by moving its corporate headquarters from Houston to Dubai. They claim that Dubai scores higher on the where-the-oil-is meter than does Houston, but they're maintaining U.S. registration, so they're still subject to U.S. law. Although it might make some sense in the larger picture, boy, do these guys have a tin ear when it comes to public relations. But at least this means that Dick Cheney will have to live in the Middle Ages if he rejoins Halliburton after the end of the Bush administration (rejoins?? Does that mean he's ever really left their employ?). When it comes down to it, there may not be anything wrong with this, but it sure smells fishy, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Alberto Developing

Boy, I couldn't have cut it much closer in posting about Alberto and his adventures before it became big, big news, could I? The attorney general held a press conference to say that he takes full responsibility for what happened in the Justice Department, but how can he, when it's so really, really big and he doesn't know what everybody's thinking? How is he supposed to know that there's skullduggery afoot? But don't worry, he reassures us, he's not going to resign. Good, that just means the cries for his resignation get louder and louder. John Edwards was the first presidential candidate calling for him to go, and he's since been joined by Hillary.

In shades of Scooter/Cheney, Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, resigned today, but Chuck Schumer declared that he's not an acceptable fall guy. In a press conference with Diane Feinstein, Schumer outlined six falsehoods the attorney general and the Justice Department have been peddling:

Here are some of the falsehoods we've been told that are now unraveling.

First, we were told that the seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for performance reasons.

It now turns out this was a falsehood, as the glowing performance evaluations attest.

Second, we were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, "never, ever make a change for political reasons."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics, to punish prosecutors who were perceived to be too light on Democrats or too tough on Republicans.

Third, we were told by the attorney general that this was just an overblown personnel matter.

It now turns out that far from being a low-level personnel matter, this was a longstanding plan to exact political vendettas or to make political pay-offs.

Fourth, we were told that the White House was not really involved in the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. This, too, turns out to be false.

Harriet Miers was one of the masterminds of this plan, as demonstrated by numerous e-mails made public today. She communicated extensively with Kyle Sampson about the firings of the U.S. attorneys. In fact, she originally wanted to fire and replace the top prosecutors in all 93 districts across the country.

Fifth, we were told that Karl Rove had no involvement in getting his protege appointed U.S. attorney in Arkansas.

In fact, here is a letter from the Department of Justice. Quote: "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as demonstrated by Mr. Sampson's own e-mail. Quote: "Getting him, Griffin, appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera.

Sixth, we were told to change the Patriot Act was an innocent attempt to fix a legal loophole, not a cynical strategy to bypass the Senate's role in serving as a check and balance.

It was Senator Feinstein who discovered that issue. She'll talk more about it.

So there has been misleading statement after misleading statement -- deliberate misleading statements. And we haven't gotten to the bottom of this yet, but believe me, we will pursue it.

It should be noted that some of these falsehoods were repeated under oath to Congress. As John Aravosis pointed out after watching Alberto's press conference, "The man isn't just trying to keep his job, he's trying to avoid going to jail." It's a bit more difficult getting away with lying to Congress when the opposition is in the majority. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already expressed his dismay that "the Attorney General was less than forthcoming with the Senate while under oath before the Judiciary Committee."

This appears to be only beginning. Your best one-stop shop for new developments is TPMMuckraker, which had fifteen new posts on the topic today alone. If you're more hardcore than that, you're filing your own reports on the subject.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Justice for Gonzales?

A while ago, we took a look at a developing situation in the Justice Department. Federal attorneys around the country were being fired and replaced by political cronies. Boy, did that start to explode last week. Karl Rove has been implicated, and both New York Senator Charles Schumer and The New York Times each called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And just now, in going over to the Times for that link, I see they're reporting in Tuesday's paper that the Prez himself was getting into the action. As Paul Kiel wrote yesterday at TPM Muckraker yesterday, "It's easy to get lost among the scandals and subscandals that make up the administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys." There are a lot of ins and outs, and one day when I have the time to construct a flow chart, I might understand it all. Here's a little background if, like me, you're finding it a bit hard to follow.

A couple of weeks back, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson were implicated in pressuring David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in that state, to issue indictments against political opponents. At the end of last year, Iglesias resigned his position--he claims he was pushed out. That seems to have refocused attention on the recent dismissal of the rest of those U.S. attorneys no longer in office. When the judiciary committees of both the House and Senate heard testimony from six of the released U.S. attorney on Tuesday, everybody was paying attention. On Thursday, senators met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and reports were that it didn't go so well. The Justice Department has been insisting that the whole thing is a personnel matter and that no one else needs to be involved, but Gonzales was quick to back down on that on Thursday. He's also backing down on his earlier position that the language Arlen Specter snuck into the renewed Patriot Act allowing the attorney general to replace U.S. attorneys without Senate hearings should be rescinded. Yes, Alberto's very agreeable these days. Arlen Specter, on the other hand, was his typical wishy-washy self. Before the Thursday hearings, Specter said, "One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later." Later in the day, however, he spun the quote and claimed that he wasn't suggesting Gonzales be fired. Whatever you say, Arlen.

This is moving faster than it looked like it would at the start. How long can Gonzales last? If the Prez is even leaning on him to make political appointments, I don't guess it can go much higher. And that's not even getting into the FBI Patriot Act abuses.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Cost of Libby's Obstruction of Justice

Lest we forget, the death of Captain America wasn't the only thing in the news last week. There was also the Scooter Libby verdict, the implications of which echo through much of what passes for the Bush foreign policy. And that's where Frank Rich is going in his column this week, "Why Libby's Pardon Is a Slam Dunk." He could've come up with a better title, if you ask me. It's obvious why--it would go against the Prez's very nature not to. But Rich also suggests that Libby has a lot of secrets he could share with the special counsel were he to choose to do so. Precisely what are those little secrets? Rich provides some broad strokes to show how Libby's little perjury and obstruction of justice protects the Bush agenda.

[Libby] and a small cadre of administration officials including Karl Rove formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a secret task force to sell the Iraq war to the American people.

. . .

WHIG had been tasked, as The Washington Post would later uncover, to portray Iraq's supposedly imminent threat to America with "gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence." In other words, WHIG was to cook up the sexiest recipe for promoting the war, facts be damned. So it did, by hyping the scariest possible scenario: nuclear apocalypse. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn report in "Hubris," it was WHIG (equipped with the slick phrase-making of the White House speechwriter Michael Gerson) that gave the administration its Orwellian bumper sticker, the constantly reiterated warning that Saddam's "smoking gun" could be "a mushroom cloud."

Ever since all the W.M.D. claims proved false, the administration has pleaded that it was duped by the same bad intelligence everyone else saw. But the nuclear card, the most persistent and gripping weapon in the prewar propaganda arsenal, was this White House's own special contrivance. Mr. Libby was present at its creation. He knows what Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney knew about the manufacture of this fiction and when they knew it.

Clearly they knew it early on. The administration's guilt (or at least embarrassment) about its lies in fomenting the war quickly drove it to hide the human price being paid for those lies. (It also tried to hide the financial cost of the war by keeping it out of the regular defense budget, but that's another, if related, story.) The steps the White House took to keep casualties out of view were extraordinary, even as it deployed troops to decorate every presidential victory rally and gave the Pentagon free rein to exploit the sacrifices of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in mendacious P.R. stunts.

Keeping those casualties out of view, of course, returns us to the scandals involving the squalor at Walter Reed and, it's beginning to appear, the substandard treatment for Iraqi vets throughout the military hospital system. The White House still seems oblivious to all this, however. Perhaps they're still scoffing at the rest of us and our reality-based views.

Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who served with Mr. Libby on WHIG and is now on the board of his legal defense fund (its full list of donors is unknown), has been especially vocal. "Scooter didn't do anything," she said. "And his personal record and service are impeccable." What Mr. Libby did - fabricating nuclear threats at WHIG and then lying under oath when he feared that sordid Pandora's box might be pried open by the Wilson case - was despicable. Had there been no WHIG or other White House operation for drumming up fictional rationales for war, there would have been no bogus uranium from Africa in a presidential speech, no leak to commit perjury about, no amputees to shut away in filthy rooms at Walter Reed.

Listening to Ms. Matalin and her fellow apparatchiks emote publicly about the punishment being inflicted on poor Mr. Libby and his family, you wonder what world they live in. They seem clueless about how ugly their sympathy for a conniving courtier sounds against the testimony of those wounded troops and their families who bear the most searing burdens of the unnecessary war WHIG sped to market.

It's worth noting in all this that, although Libby was found guilty of his crimes, justice remains obstructed. We don't know exactly what happened in the Joseph Wilson case and precisely who was involved (although we've got some extremely good guesses). Were there other crimes committed? At this point, we might assume, but we can't know.

As for Rich's title, we'll have to see precisely how it plays out. The Prez has said that he's not going to interfere in an ongoing legal situation (and why should he jump in to pardon Libby as long as there's an outside chance some court of appeals might do that work for him?). No, unless his hand is forced and Libby might do some actual jail time, he'll wait the twenty-two months until his term is just about over.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Captain America--Still Dead

Here's a quick follow-up on the whole assassination of Captain America situation. This thing has legs! Far more people seem to be talking about it than I'd have expected. Stephen Colbert did a segment on it Thursday night (you should be able to see it here, but I've been having technical difficulties all evening, and I couldn't quite get it to go myself). Over at Huffington Post, superagent Ari Emmanuel suggests that Bush and Cheney are responsible. "On paper he was offed by a sniper's bullet. But in reality it was the toxic state of Bush and Cheney's America. It's hard to be a star-spangled Super Soldier these days." Newsweek covered it and included interviews with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and Marvel Legend Stan Lee. Stan's steel-trap memory was on display when he talked about how he tried to portray the hero during the '60s: "In fact, when I reintroduced Captain America in the ‘60s--I believe he had been buried in a glacier or something and we brought him back to life--I tried to write him as though he felt he was something of an anachronism." The Beat even reported that Quesada was going to be on Geraldo this weekend (although I couldn't confirm it--I couldn't even find where Geraldo's show appears these days).

This has touched more of a chord than I'd have ever expected--perhaps more than even Marvel expected. Of course, Marvel being Marvel, now they'll exploit it for all they're worth.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Almost Doing the Right Thing

I started tonight to write a quick note about a vaguely local newspaper--the DeKalb Daily Chronicle--joining the parade of papers dropping Ann Coulter's column. The paper explains that its decision relates back to Coulter's comments to the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, and I was going to say that I agree with that stand wholeheartedly. What Coulter said is just intended to bait progressives and throw red meat to the conservative base and nothing more. It's not useful political dialogue (of course, the right doesn't seem to want to have a dialogue in the first place).

I understand why we need to pay attention (and if I didn't, Jamison Foser explains it for us again at Media Matters). Coulter speaks for an uncomfortably large number of people. She can claim something as laughable as the idea that the word faggot and its various permutations have nothing to do with the gay lifestyle, and many of those people will take her at her word and start using the term as a "schoolyard taunt." At the same time, though, there are some people who may think they agree with her but who don't pay close enough attention to realize that in reality that's the farthest thing from the truth. Just because you're conservative doesn't mean that you agree her comments are appropriate. And the more they see of what Coulter actually says, the more they're likely to be offended by it.

Yes, I was going to say all that. I was even going to commend the Daily Chronicle on its decision and quote part of its explanation:

Ann Coulter is not a "real" employee of the Chronicle. She isn't a freelancer or even an independent contractor. If she were an employee and referred to another human being as a "faggot," her employment would be short-lived. As it is, the acerbic Coulter is a syndicated columnist whose material is distributed through Universal Press Syndicate. Universal President and Editor Lee Salem has responded to Coulter's remarks by saying, "She is not an employee, and we have no legal power to 'fire' her."

That's a lot like the Chronicle saying, "She didn't say it in one of the columns we ran, so it isn't our problem." Wrong. It is our problem, and not dealing with it is a cop-out.

So yesterday we called Universal Press Syndicate and "fired" Coulter. What she said was wrong and hurtful and stepped way beyond the line of human decency, much less political commentary.

Yeah, I was going to do all that. But then I read down to the end of the column and discovered that the Chronicle is going to replace Coulter with Michelle Malkin.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Louvre for Sale

Abu Dhabi is apparently making a bid to become the cultural capital of the world. It's trying to buy its way into the top tier of art and sophistication. And what better way to do that than to buy a franchise of the Louvre? Although I hadn't realized that the Louvre was available for franchising, but I've never offered them $520 million, either.

Actually, the deal that the Louvre has worked out with Abu Dhabi is even more complicated than that. There's another nearly $750 million added to the mix to pay for the loan of artworks and exhibitions. And then there's also the interesting tidbit that the United Arab Emirates just agreed to buy 40 new Airbus 380 jetliners from the transnational company headquartered in Toulouse, although that may have nothing to do with the Louvre deal. Nothing at all.

But it's not just the Louvre. The Guggenheim is also looking to go into Abu Dhabi with a new building designed by Frank Gehry. That's a bit different, though, because the Guggenheim already has branches in Spain, Germany, and Italy, so moving into the Middle East isn't as much of a stretch.

But you have to wonder how that will work, exactly. Will Abu Dhabi patrons be interested in the Louvre's vast collection of European Renaissance paintings? I believe there are a number of them that feature Jesus Christ. Also, if I recall, there are a fair number of classic pieces of art that celebrate the female form--will they themselves be celebrated in the UAE? In truth, the United Arab Emirates is one of the more liberal places in the Arab world, so there's a better chance of seeing some of these things there than in, say, Saudi Arabia. Still, an art museum should celebrate free expression wherever it might lead. Will the Abu Dhabi Louvre be open to such impulses, or will it cater to predominant prejudices of the region?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mistakes Can Happen

A couple of things have happened recently that remind us to stay alert and pay attention. Mistakes can happen anywhere, and if we can't prevent them, we can (if we keep our eyes open) avoid them.

A week ago, Switzerland invaded and, for a short time, occupied its neighbor Liechtenstein. A company of 170 soldiers got lost at night and wandered across the border into the principality. Its fortunate that the countries are fairly tight already--Liechtenstein's currency is the Swiss franc, and (in fairness to the Swiss soldiers) the border at that point was unmarked. But Liechtenstein has no standing army and is just a bit larger than Washington, D.C., so it wouldn't take much force to overrun it. A Liechtenstein representative reported that no one in Liechtenstein even noticed the Swiss soldiers, so I guess we're just depending on the Swiss army to admit the error. But can they prove they were there? What if they weren't and are only just making the claim? Could this be the beginning of some sort of weird psy op situation?

A second incident demonstrates the importance of finding a literate tattoo artist. How much grief could we avoid if we just ask our tattoo artist to read a couple of headlines in the newspaper. A Chicago man is suing a tattoo parlor for misspelling the tattoo he wanted on his chest: CHI-TONW. Sure, you have to wonder how a tattoo artist could make such an error, but you have to wonder even more how the man getting the tattoo (who is identified at the link) didn't notice that it just somehow didn't look right. There's at least one other odd fact in this case. The plaintiff is suing for "emotional distress from public ridicule" and "loss of self-esteem and psychological pain and suffering." Dude, the tattoo's on your chest. If you're concerned about emotional distress and psychological pain and suffering, nobody's forcing you to take your shirt off. Don't show it to people!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Obits for Captain America

Comics slipped into the news again today. You'd have thought that it was a slow news day or something, like the Scooter jury was still deliberating, like wounded soldiers were getting proper treatment at Walter Reed. But no, apparently there wasn't anything much to talk about than the assassination of Captain America. (Oh, yeah, sorry. For you comics readers who haven't heard yet, there are spoilers in this post.)

But as everybody knows by now, death means nothing in comics. The New York Daily News, which had an exclusive on the story until AP picked it up and then it moved over to TV, made sure it covered that angle.

Comic book deaths, however, are rarely final. Marvel's archrival, DC Comics, provoked a media frenzy when it killed off Superman in 1993, only to reanimate its prize creation a year later.

Joe Quesada, 43, Marvel Entertainment's editor in chief, said he wouldn't rule out the shield-throwing champion's eventual return.

I bet he wouldn't. Really, the only subject worth discussing is how long until Captain America comes back.

No, it's also worth talking about whether or not the publicity stunt worked. The comics store I frequent said that they ordered their normal amount for an issue of Captain America, which they sold out because a number of people came in just looking to pick up the "historic issue." They weren't looking for anything else; they weren't looking for any other comics; they just wanted the one that would put their kids through college. But those were people who knew where the comic book store is. In a comment at The Beat, comics creator Jimmy Palmiotti noted another problem:

was in a theatre before a movie today and a bunch of guys were talking about captain america dying a few rows back…and one guy asked the other…where do we get comics from? and no one knew. it was a really sad exchange

So even if they get a groundswell of interest going, there's a little problem of availability. In addition to that, there's also a problem of a potential shortage. Marvel usually prints to just about cover its orders without a lot of overprinting for reorders on popular titles. A little while back, they told retailers, "Trust us, order a lot of Captain America #25, but we can’t tell you any more than that." I haven't been able to confirm it, but the common understanding is that there are no more issues to be ordered from Marvel. They could always reprint, but whatever demand is there for this issue is there now with all the media coverage. There'll be no interest next month beyond the fanboys who couldn't find it today. So it's possible that Marvel isn't necessarily in a position to capitalize on all the publicity it's receiving.

On a final note, the Daily News has a melancholy quote from 93-year-old Joe Simon, who created Captain America in 1941: "It's a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now." Don't feel too bad for Joe, though. Dynamic Forces is selling a special edition of the issue signed by Simon and Stan Lee, who was responsible for bringing the character back into public view in 1964. They're asking $299.99 for it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Guilty 'Till Proven Guilty

Seems like the big thing to talk about tonight has to be the Scooter Libby verdict. Guilty on four out of five charges. The big question, of course, is what this implies for the rest of the Bush administration. The jury apparently felt that Scooter was the fall guy, and if he was, the cover up was a success because they weren't really sure who or what he was the patsy for. For his part, Patrick Fitzgerald says that any further investigation is inactive, and he doesn't expect to bring any new indictments against anyone else unless new information comes to light. In that light, it's worth remembering, though, that we've now got a Democratic Congress which may decide it wants to investigate some of these or related matters about administration behavior. Six months ago, barring some new revelation from left field, the special counsel's investigation would've been over, but now there are several methods through which new information could come to light.

For his part, the Prez said through a spokesperson that he respected the jury's verdict, though it remains to be seen whether or not he respects it enough not to overturn it with a pardon at the most opportune time (or least inopportune, as the case may be). He's got to pretend that all this means nothing, because if we look too closely, it all starts coming back to his office and to the vice president's.

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece about the significance of all this over at Salon. As he puts it, "Dick Cheney's most trusted advisor is now a convicted felon." I hadn't been aware that Scooter was as much in the center of the neocon universe as he is. I didn't know that he was a signatory to the Statement of Principles for The Project for a New American Century ten years ago, the bedrock of neoconservativism and almost the blueprint of Bush foreign policy. As Greenwald explains:

There were few officials with greater influence or power during the first four years of the Bush administration than Libby. He was not only the vice president's chief of staff, but also assistant to the president himself in national security matters. But Libby's importance in the Bush administration is reflected by far more than his formal titles.

He has long been one of the most well-connected neoconservatives in the country.

This reaches into the heart of the neoconservative movement. The trial already shed some light on the behind-the-scenes workings of the White House. Now's the time to boost that into a spotlight on the neocons themselves.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Virgin Territory for Comic Books

I didn't have a chance over the weekend to link to this Washington Post article about Virgin Comics. The latest in a line of deep-pocketed comics companies or licenses that simply can't get a foothold in the comic book direct market. Disney titles, which you'd think would hold their own--they more than do that in much of the rest of the world--just can't shift the units in the comic shops. The Simpsons comics don't particularly sell in the market, either. And now there's Virgin.

I posted a query about Virgin over at Howling Curmudgeons, but it didn't get many responses. I've glanced at their comics in the store, but I haven't picked anything up yet, so I don't really have my own opinion on them. There are some big names associated with the line: Deepak Chopra, for one. According to the Post article, he's on board as "Chief Visionary." Richard Branson (thus the Virgin part) is a primary investor. And the company is up front about exactly how they want to do business.

The company isn't a regular old comic book mill. What Virgin has in mind is a whole new take on Hollywood's time-tested relationship with the comic biz. Until now, successful comic-to-film franchises, like "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," started with characters and plots conceived by comic book artists. Those stories are acquired by studios, which then shop for well-known directors.

But what if you went first to the directors? What if you asked, say, John Woo -- whose films include "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible II" -- to dream up his own characters and yarns? You turn that idea into a comic, and even if it doesn't catch on with the kids, you've got a nifty little storyboard, the perfect pitch for a studio.

There are a few directors who are already involved.

The company has since recruited Woo, who dreamed up a series called 7 Brothers, about a "motley crew of so-called brothers and a power too terrifying to use," as the company describes it. Guy Ritchie, of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" fame, will release the first issue of Game Keeper in March. (It's the story of a man who . . . well, judging from a preview issue, a man who shoots a lot of people.) Also in the roster is Shekhar Kapur, who directed "Elizabeth" and is a Virgin Comics partner. He has two titles, Devi and Snake Woman, both rooted in Indian stories.

"I as a director have so much more control if it's first in a comic," says Kapur, talking from London. "It's my idea. A studio can look at it, and I can tell them, 'It's gone this far,' and that way I'll keep my vision, much more so than I would if I went to a studio and said, 'Let's make a movie about a snake woman.' "

Not everybody is keen on the idea.

Virgin is focused on winning over American comics readers. Which might be a tough sell. Virgin and its Hollywood-focused strategy have met with some arched eyebrows. It's a little redolent of focus group testing, says one competitor, who had a booth at Comic Con and didn't want to be named because he didn't have anything nice to say.

"The great stories come from artists who tell stories that they have to tell," he says. "If you start with a movie in mind, you're just not going to wind up with the same thing."

That's a ridiculous idea, of course. With all the movie interest in comics these days, you can't tell me that a number of successful comics series these days aren't created with a movie in mind. It's also foolish to say that comics are created by "artists with stories to tell" and that movies aren't.

But Chopra claims that he's got bigger fish to fry.

As he tells it, he isn't in this comics thing just to make a few bucks off a major motion picture. No, he's thinking way bigger than that. He believes comic books can bridge cultural gaps, including the yawning maw that stands between the United States and its enemies.

"Kids all over the world are reading comic books," he says, "and if we could create a transcultural hero that appeals to kids in countries like Iran and Syria, that could have a huge impact. We've even made a proposal to the State Department to study celebrity heroes in Islamic countries and make superheroes out of them. It's a good way -- "

Wait, you called the State Department?


What did they say?

"We had a conference call, and I think they were very receptive. Iran right now, more than 60 percent of the population is under 25. I think we should try to figure out how to capture the collective imagination of this new generation and see if we can get out of this old us-versus-them paradigm."

Can Virgin Comics bust into the U.S. comics market (such as it is)? Take a look at their Website, if you're so inclined. And just last week, they announced a partnership with the SCI FI Channel to develop properties and raise their profile even higher. I guess I'll have to give them a look before too long after all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Refighting Old Fights

Today, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were making competing appearances in Selma, Alabama, for the 42nd anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Frank Rich takes a look at some of the problems Hillary faces as we crawl along toward the primaries, still barely less than a year away. No matter how enthusiastic support for any of the leading candidates appears today, I'm afraid we're going to be very tired of all our choices by the time anybody actually starts casting and counting votes.

Hillary's main problem, as Rich sees it, is her vote on the Iraq War resolution and her continued defense of it. It's not the vote itself that's the problem, but how she continues to respond to it.

Senator Clinton's words about the war still don't parse. When I made this point previously, a Clinton ally phoned to say that whatever the senator's Iraq statements, she is an exceptionally smart and capable leader by any presidential standard. I agree, and besides, Iraq isn't the only issue in 2008. But Iraq will overshadow every candidate and every other subject as long as the war grinds gruesomely on, whether in Baghdad or at a V.A. hospital.

The issue is not that Mrs. Clinton voted for the war authorization in 2002 or that she refuses to call it a mistake in 2007. Those are footnotes. The larger issue is judgment, then and now. Take her most persistent current formulation on Iraq: "Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote and I certainly wouldn't have voted that way." It's fair to ask: Knew what then? Not everyone was so easily misled by the White House's manipulated intelligence and propaganda campaign. Some of her fellow leaders in Washington - not just Mr. Obama out in Illinois, not just Al Gore out of power - knew plenty in the fall of 2002. Why didn't she?

Bob Graham, then Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, was publicly and privately questioning the W.M.D. intelligence. So was Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Hagel warned that the war was understaffed, that an Iraq distraction might cause Afghanistan "to go down again" and that the toppling of Saddam could be followed by chaos. Joe Biden convened hearings to warn of the perils of an ill-planned post-Saddam Iraq.

Some of these politicians ended up voting to authorize war exactly as Mrs. Clinton did (Senators Hagel and Biden). Some didn't. But all of them - and there were others as well - asked tougher questions and exerted more leadership.

. . .

Another fair question is what Mrs. Clinton learned once the war began. Even in the summer of 2003 - after the insurgency had started, after the W.M.D. had failed to materialize, after the White House had retracted the president's 16 words about "uranium from Africa," more than two months after "Mission Accomplished" had failed to end major combat operations - she phoned a reporter at The Daily News, James Gordon Meek, to reiterate that she still had no second thoughts about the war. (Mr. Meek first wrote about this July 14, 2003, conversation in December 2005.) Was that what this smart woman really believed then, or political calculation?

Since she's not been able to sidestep the question, Rich suggests that she's trying to change the subject entirely. One political strategy (and military strategy, for that matter) that can sometimes work is to shift the fight to one you can win. We see that on a small scale when politicians supply rote answers to questions--it doesn't matter what they're asked, they're going to answer the way they want to (the real test is how well they pull it off and how quickly before listeners realize they never got the answer they wanted). So Hillary wants to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when criticisms of a candidate were personal rather than policy driven. In fact, Rich names his column, "Bring Back The Politics of Personal Destruction." He makes a good argument about the reaction of the Clinton camp to the David Geffen flap.

The most revealing aspect of the incident was not in any case the who's-up-who's-down prognostications for a primary process some 10 months away. Rather, it was the fervor with which the Clinton campaign accused Mr. Geffen and Mr. Obama of practicing "the politics of personal destruction." This over-the-top reaction seemed detached from reality, almost as if the Clinton camp were nostalgically wishing it could refight the last political war - and once again clobber repellent old impeachment nemeses. But that battle may not be in the offing. Anti-Clinton rage has cooled, and the Clinton hating industry ain't what it used to be. As The Times reported last month, even Richard Mellon Scaife, who bankrolled much of the vast right-wing conspiracy, has moved on. As with Mr. Giuliani's marital history, any scandalous new revelation about the Clintons' private lives might play out less momentously in post-9/11 America than it did in the last century.

You can't blame the Clinton campaign for praying it had Kenneth Starr and The American Spectator to kick around again. It would be easier to fight that war than confront the one in Iraq. Far easier.

At this point, there's no way the Iraq war won't stop being an issue in the next presidential race (although I can think of a couple of ways it could change the way it plays), so everybody's going to have to get a bit creative in how they deal with it. Rich also takes a swipe at John Edwards while he's at it. In discussing how various senators provided leadership in questioning the war, he wrote:

John Edwards, by the way, did not: he was as trigger-happy about speeding up the war authorization then ("The time has come for decisive action") as he is gung-ho about withdrawal now, despite being an Intelligence Committee member when Mr. Graham sounded alarms about the Bush administration's W.M.D. claims.

Iraq can't be a single issue in determining who to support, but it casts a long, dark shadow over everything else.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Forcing Donuts to Become Healthy

Donuts have proven a popular topic here before, so I can hardly ignore the latest donut news. Krispy Kreme started selling a whole wheat donut this week. I haven't been by there to taste it yet (and I suppose I should've before writing this post, but oh, well), but I must admit that I'm having a hard time imagining its appeal. This AP report says that the donut will carry a caramel flavoring, because I guess a little whole wheat flour mixed with sugar wouldn't get you very far. You also have to wonder about the texture of the donut. It's a yeast donut rather than a cake donut, which is what I would've expected. I can imagine what the taste and texture of a whole wheat cake donut would be, but I wonder if the whole wheat yeast donut would end up with the same kind of mouth feel as the regular Krispy Kreme yeast has. It also only has 20 fewer calories than the normal donut (180 to 200), so unless there's barely any difference in taste and feel or the whole wheat donut is appealing on its face, there's hardly any reason to eat it. I'm willing to lose some flavor or other appeal in food if the health benefits are substantial, but 20 calories hardly seems like a good trade off for a significantly lesser sensory experience.

Of course, I could go out and try one. The Krispy Kreme Website says the new donut is only available at "participating stores," so I can only hope that some store in the Chicago area has agreed to participate.

Since we're on the subject of donuts already, I'll link to this article in the latest Atlantic Monthly (although only the first paragraph is available without a paid subscription). It appears that the biggest casualty to New York City's recent ban of trans fats will be cake donuts. The full Atlantic article (which I'm invoking from memory because I don't have it on hand) reported that donut shops have eighteen months to comply with the ban, and some donut shops are concerned that they won't be able to come up with a viable alternative. There are apparently a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration--frying the donuts in different kinds of fat will affect both taste and texture, and so far, at least, the donut shops haven't been able to make appealing cake donuts without the trans fats. Fortunately, the Atlantic also reports that yeast donuts (by far my donut preference--I can take or leave cake donuts) can be made without trans fats with far less problem. But if donut makers can't pull off this new challenge, will Krispy Kremes and Dunkin Donuts become luxury items in New York?

Presidential Sweepstakes

After going on about presidents the other night, I discovered today that last week's U.S. News & World Report had a cover package on the ten worst presidents. They've taken the average of five recent polls to come up with more of a consensus. A few of the choices were among those guys we talked about. James Buchanan, who sat on his hands while seven states decided they didn't want to be states anymore rules the roost at number 1. The others on this list that we mentioned are Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, John Tyler, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor.

(Taylor shouldn't really be on this list, because he pushes the list up to 11 places. U.S. News lists a tie for ninth place, so instead of saying those two presidents--Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon--count as nine and ten, they say that they share the ninth position, leaving room for a tenth. They also have a tie for 13th place, so that means that if they ranked all the presidents from 1 to 42, they'd only get to 40. Of course, that's offset somewhat by the fact that Grover Cleveland would appear twice. We've had 43 presidents, but only 42 men have ever held that office. Since Cleveland gets counted twice, I suppose that if he'd had a horrible first term but a rocking second term, he could be in the bottom 10 and a top 10.)

One prominent name that might make such a list but doesn't make this one is George W. Bush. It's probably fair not to include a sitting president, because who knows, maybe he can pull some sort of miracle out of his sleeve and become one of the best presidents. Not likely, I agree. But we can't say it couldn't happen.

U.S. News has its own little mini site for the series. It comes with links to each of the presidents that has a blurb explaining why they made the list. The main quibble I have with the list is their placing of William Henry Harrison at number 8. Not to come to his defense or anything, but, come on, he was only president for a month. He didn't have time to be a good president or a bad president. Maybe that's why they've counted Taylor in the Top 10--they know the choice of Harrison is bogus.

It's too late and I need to go to bed, but I'll leave you with one quote from the explanatory blurb about Buchanan. He didn't believe he had the Constitutional power to keep states in the Union against their will, so he did nothing but watch as they left. "To his dying day, he felt that history would treat him favorably for having performed his constitutional duty. He was wrong."

That doesn't sound familiar, does it?

Friday, March 02, 2007

If Plan A Doesn't Work, Act Like You've Had a Plan B All Along

I've been meaning to post this link all week, but it keeps slipping my mind when I sit down to write. Seymour Hersch is on The New Yorker's Website with his summation of new administration policy in the Middle East. Apparently, they're backpeddling now that Iran seems to be on the rise. Who could've seen that coming? Just because the biggest hedge against Iran in the area was systematically dismantled by, well, us, that's no reason to expect that Iran would consolidate its power and extend its influence. Here's Hersch's opening:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The "redirection," as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration's perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that "realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region."

Hersch examines the situation in Lebanon, as well. This is some extremely high-stakes maneuvering being attempted by an administration that has shown absolutely no propensity for deft diplomatic agility. Hersch even touches on the parallels with Iran-Contra.

Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal "lessons learned" discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: "One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office"—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

By the way, I remembered to pass this on tonight because I heard Hersch on the radio talking about the article. Click on the link to listen.