Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Rich Joins in the Press Bashing

In eulogizing David Halberstam (who died last week in a car crash), Frank Rich piles on in attacking the sorry state of Washington journalism. He calls it "All the President's Press."

Somehow it's hard to imagine David Halberstam yukking it up with Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz and two discarded "American Idol" contestants at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Before there was a Woodward and Bernstein, there was Halberstam, still not yet 30 in the early 1960s, calling those in power to account for lying about our "progress" in Vietnam. He did so even though J.F.K. told the publisher of The Times, "I wish like hell that you'd get Halberstam out of there." He did so despite public ridicule from the dean of that era's Georgetown punditocracy, the now forgotten columnist (and Vietnam War cheerleader) Joseph Alsop.

It was Alsop's spirit, not Halberstam's, that could be seen in C-Span's live broadcast of the correspondents' dinner last Saturday, two days before Halberstam's death in a car crash in California. This fete is a crystallization of the press's failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent "mushroom clouds" to "Saving Private Lynch" to "Mission Accomplished," whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday. For all the recrimination, self-flagellation and reforms that followed these journalistic failures, it's far from clear that the entire profession yet understands why it has lost the public's faith.

He goes on to talk about the sorry state of the correspondents' dinner (and drops the tidbit that The New York Times has decided to sit out such events in the future) and then recalls dinners past, particularly one that happened to fall a few days after the death of Pat Tillman.

The timeline of events in the week or so leading up to that dinner is startling. Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004. By the next day top officers knew he had not been killed by enemy fire. On April 29, a top special operations commander sent a memo to John Abizaid, among other generals, suggesting that the White House be warned off making specific public claims about how Tillman died. Simultaneously, according to an e-mail that surfaced last week, a White House speechwriter contacted the Pentagon to gather information about Tillman for use at the correspondents' dinner.

When President Bush spoke at the dinner at week's end, he followed his jokes with a eulogy about Tillman's sacrifice. But he kept the circumstances of Tillman's death vague, no doubt because the White House did indeed get the message that the Pentagon's press release about Tillman's losing his life in battle was fiction. Yet it would be four more weeks before Pat Tillman's own family was let in on the truth.

To see why the administration wanted to keep the myth going, just look at other events happening in the week before that correspondents' dinner. On April 28, 2004, CBS broadcast the first photographs from Abu Ghraib; on April 29 a poll on The Times's front page found the president's approval rating on the war was plummeting; on April 30 Ted Koppel challenged the administration's efforts to keep the war dead hidden by reading the names of the fallen on "Nightline." Tillman could be useful to help drown out all this bad news, and to an extent he was. The Washington press corps that applauded the president at the correspondents' dinner is the same press corps that was slow to recognize the importance of Abu Ghraib that weekend and, as documented by a new study, "When the Press Fails" (University of Chicago Press), even slower to label the crimes as torture.

So, essentially, nothing changes. It's the same empty press corps cheering on the same empty charade. Oh, well. At least there's still David Broder to make fun of.

It's our country's bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway. Take the current dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, who is leading the charge in ridiculing Harry Reid for saying the obvious - that "this war is lost" (as it is militarily, unless we stay in perpetuity and draft many more troops). In February, Mr. Broder handed down another gem of Beltway conventional wisdom, suggesting that "at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback."

Some may recall that Stephen Colbert offered the same prediction in his monologue at the correspondents' dinner a year ago. "I don't believe this is a low point in this presidency," he said. "I believe it is just a lull before a comeback." But the fake pundit, unlike the real one, recognized that this was a joke.

The World Turned Upside Down

Brian Ross reported on the oddest thing on Friday night. A deputy secretary of state resigned after he'd been a confirmed client of a Washington escort service. Randall L. Tobias had previously held the position of the Bushies' AIDS czar, where he tended to push abstinence over condoms or proper sex education. Appropriately, he claims that he never had sex with any of the escorts he hired through the "Pamela Martin and Associates" service. All this comes to light because Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the woman who ran the escort service, is up on federal charges of racketeering. She's also facing down accusations of soliciting and is quickly becoming known as the "Washington madam." She's expected in court on Monday morning, and although they may not come quickly, she's also promising to call Tobias and other more prominent officials. A sex scandal is strictly Democratic territory, and so far we've only got Republicans involved--what's going on here? We may not have to wait until various unidentified officials appear in court--she's given Ross a list of her clients, and she's reportedly already taped an interview set to appear Friday on 20/20 (just in time for sweeps). Will there be Democrats involved, allowing politics to make sense once again, or will Republicans remain the focus? We can only speculate for now. The Washington Post has more background but little new to move the story forward. Will Brian Ross keep a lid on the story until Friday night? My bet is no, but that also presumes that Washington reporters go out and start digging all by themselves. Palfrey already told the Post that she was only talking to Ross, so if the Washington press corps is waiting for their phone to ring, they may be disappointed.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Dean in Winter

Did David Broder hear that Bill Moyers wasn't planning to include him in his indictment of the Washington press corps? Perhaps so, which would explain why Broder, the "Dean" of the corps, seems to be angling to get in on the next go round, demonstrating that he could be as out of touch and irrelevant as the best of them. He went on Bob Edwards's XM radio show on Monday and attacked Majority Leader Harry Reid as an embarrassment to his party. In reference to Reid's comment that the war in Iraq has already been lost, Broder predicted:

I think at some point down the road the Democrats are going to have to have a little caucus to decide how much further they want to carry Harry Reid. They've got able people on the Senate side and they don't have to put up with this kind of bumbling performance forever.

There's no real factual basis for this opinion, and it's not clear what's so embarrassing about Reid stating a view shared with a majority of the American people. Maybe it's something that only elite pundits can recognize.

But if the radio interview weren't enough, Broder made sure his view was right there in black and white for all to see. Calling Reid "The Democrats' Gonzales," Broder devotes his column on Thursday to everything that's wrong with Harry Reid.

Here's a Washington political riddle where you fill in the blanks: As Alberto Gonzales is to the Republicans, Blank Blank is to the Democrats -- a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance.

If you answered "Harry Reid," give yourself an A. And join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to end."

The Democrats in the Senate choose their own leader. If they wanted Reid out of power, all they have to do is make the decision. It could get messy and a bit embarrassing, but the Repubs rid themselves of Trent Lott without a whole lot of problem a few years ago. So why are they running to David Broder to tell him that they're unhappy with Harry?

Perhaps they didn't. There's no reason to think no one might be spinning on this, but every single one of the Democratic senators put their name to a letter that appeared in Friday's Post. It said, among other things:

We, the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, contest the attack on Sen. Harry Reid's leadership by David S. Broder in his April 26 column, "The Democrats' Gonzales."

In contrast to Mr. Broder's insinuations, we believe Mr. Reid is an extraordinary leader who has effectively guided the new Democratic majority through these first few months with skill and aplomb.

. . .

Finally, in this age of scripted politicians speaking only to their base or claiming that they "don't recall" anything, the fact that Mr. Reid speaks his mind should be applauded, not derided. His brand of straight talk is honest, comes from the heart and speaks directly to the people.

In contrast to the Republicans who are willing to go on the record against Gonzales, Broder has no Democratic senator willing to criticize Reid. I'm sure Broder will (if he hasn't already) write it all off to politics, but then everything can be excused by politics when it comes down to it, can't it?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Musings from the Half Awake

It looks like the first reviews of the Moyers TV show are starting to come in, and not all of them are positive. It turns out that the Washington press corps is rather thin-skinned, and they don't like how they're mostly portrayed here. Well, maybe they should've showed more spine when it counted.

Mark Knoller of CBS News did the classic "complain about a single part, thus drawing fire from other valid points" strategy. Moyers used a single, specific presidential press conference as a symbol of the impotence of the White House press corps. Intended to set up Bush's case for war in Iraq, the March 6, 2003 press conference was a total charade. Bush himself said that it was scripted, and he had a list of who to call on when, but the reporters played along, giving it the appearance of a free-wheeling exchange of ideas. Moyers said that the press corps asked no hard questions. Knoller, who participated in the press conference, attempts to refute Moyers's point, describing (but not quoting) the questions asked. Atrios helpfully stepped in to provide the official White House transcript of the questions, which weren't quite as hard hitting as Knoller had implied. The reporter was quickly taken to task in his own comments section. Knoller's response to critical comments is to retort, "Oh yeah? Well, how could you guys do it any better?" Rhetorical arguments don't get much more intellectually bankrupt than that.

Glenn Greenwald also does a run down of some of the complaints from other sources. If you're not sure whether you believe Knollers's attack deserves a defense or not, you may want to reacquaint yourself with the original broadcast. Moyers has plenty of criticism to spread around.

(Edited to strengthen the coherence of an ill-advised middle-of-the-night post.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Good Start

Congress did the right thing. Today the Senate voted 51-46 to send the revised bill for military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Prez, a day after the House, on a 218-208 vote, did the same thing. It's got a timeline for started to withdraw troops from Iraq, as well as benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve to keep the occupation going. The Prez is almost certain to veto, and then the ball goes back to Congress's court.

Previously, I'd been somewhat ambivalent about the Dems setting themselves up for a standoff with Bush, but I may have spoken too soon. There are a couple of good strategies they've got up their sleeves, and they may be teasing out some willingness to compromise on the other side. One idea the Dems have got is to provide funding for the military for just a short time. This would be poetic justice for the administration, which has insisted on keeping this whole operation on the side, holding it up separate from normal budgeting and just demanding supplemental spending bill after supplemental spending bill. Well, if Bush is now demanding that these supplemental spending bills now come without strings attached, let's give him spending bill after spending bill after spending bill. Let the bill he signs be good for three months. When that budget has all been used back, send him the bill with the timetable and benchmarks. When he continues to veto it, give him another short-term bill without strings so that Congressional Repubs can associate themselves more and more with the no strings, no accountability Iraqi war, and we can see how that plays in the 2008 Congressional elections. At the least, they'll be voted out of office in a year and a half. But best case?

The best case, of course, would be that Congressional Repubs join Dems to force a redeployment of troops and the beginning of an endgame for the war. Could we be seeing the first hesitant steps toward that already? I'm quite surprised by this, but The Washington Post is reporting that Senate Repubs are already maneuvering themselves into compromise.

bipartisan negotiations have already started on a compromise to cool the red-hot war debate, at least on the funding front.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke with Bush yesterday morning and later held initial talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers began to weigh alternatives to the legislation's most contentious provision, the binding withdrawal terms. The goal is to be more flexible but still restrain how Bush conducts the war.

If the Dems can remain on point, I'm curious to see where this new direction might lead.

Irakq Is a Four-Letter Word

Tragedy! Not only does Tim Russert's phone not ring, but now his spelling tutor abandons him, too!

(From First Draft, via Atrios).

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Well, How Did We Get Here?

Bill Moyers comes back to series TV with a splash tonight in a special Bill Moyers Journal spotlighting the collapse of mainstream journalism in the run up to the war in Iraq. Man, was it ever depressing. The whole thing is not really much of a secret these days (although I suppose it could be for those who--like the press itself--refuse to examine or even acknowledge the issue), but I don't think I've seen it presented in such a systematic, straightforward, and still accessible manner. Here's how Moyers introduced it:

Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster. The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on.

Since then thousands of people have died, and many are dying to this day. Yet the story of how the media bought what the White House was selling has not been told in depth on television. As the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war.

A few people--Dan Rather, Peter Beinart--were there to offer mea culpas, but some of the journalists still didn't quite understand what had happened. One of Moyers's most striking interviews was with Tim Russert, first talking about a particular Meet the Press interview:

BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that [Judith Miller's NEW YORK TIMES story about Saddam's search for aluminum tubes] appeared?

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.

BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?

TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-

BILL MOYERS: The-- the Cheney-- office didn't make any-- didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?

TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't-- I don't have the-- this is, you know, on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum-tube story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.

Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

TIM RUSSERT: What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.

Damn Tim Russert's non-ringing phone!

Here's more from later in the show:

TIM RUSSERT: I-- look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth. Now-

BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?

TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and-- and-- and political officials.

BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows--

TIM RUSSERT: No. You-- I mean-- they don't want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they're-- they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out-- sometimes their bosses and other public officials.

Sorry to butt in, but given his ear to the ground and his unimpeachable sources, isn't it a bit odd that Russert doesn't at least express a hint of dismay that the Bushies played him so effortlessly?

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?

TIM RUSSERT: It's important that you have a-- an oppos-- opposition party. That's our system of government.

BILL MOYERS: So, it's not news unless there's somebody-

TIM RUSSERT: No, no, no. I didn't say that. But it's important to have an opposition party, your opposit-- opposing views.

Well, maybe it's not odd at all. Damn those Democrats and their lackluster opposition. What's Russert supposed to do if the opposition doesn't oppose properly? Why, ignore any other side of the question, of course.

Moyers is set for a nice Web presence, too. Check out the show's Website, which also lets you watch the episode, read the transcript, or check out an interactive timeline of the run up to war and its media coverage.

The regular run of the show starts on PBS on Friday night (check your local listings--you know the drill), and if tonight is anything to go by, it'll be worth tuning in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Investigations Turning on Themselves

Here's an intriguing story from Tuesday's LA Times. It seems that there's another investigational spotlight being turned on Karl Rove. Although I'm sure we could all think of various reasons to justify a probe into Rove's White House activities, the Hollywood twist on this one is that it's coming from inside the Bush administration.

Most of the time, an obscure federal investigative unit known as the Office of Special Counsel confines itself to monitoring the activities of relatively low-level government employees, stepping in with reprimands and other routine administrative actions for such offenses as discriminating against military personnel or engaging in prohibited political activities.

But the Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

. . .

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Well, no stone unturned at first, anyway. Think Progress points out that Bloch is a Bush appointee. As he's one of those who we keep getting reminded "serves at the pleasure of the President," it doesn't seem to me that it might not take long for the President to stop being pleased. If the administration can get this started, we can only assume that the administration can stop it just as fast. We can hope that the minor publicity the Office of Special Counsel has received from this will inoculate it somewhat from getting shut down by the Prez and his cronies, but I wouldn't expect it to be inoculated much. What's the worst that could happen to the Bushies--a little adverse publicity? More adverse publicity than starting a quagmire of a war? More adverse than shooting a friend and hunting partner in the face? This is not a group of people who shy away from bad publicity. So the real issue is how much will the Office of Special Counsel uncover before it is squashed? Of course, there's a third possibility, too. Bloch may be helping to orchestrate a cover up. A later Think Progress post links to a blog post from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that raises just that possibility. Think Progress also links to David Corn at The Nation, who details the current investigation of Scott Bloch. Who watches the watchmen, indeed?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Apparently Guns Do Kill People

Go read Elayne Boosler on guns over at The Huffington Post. It's got cutting wit, righteous indignation, and even some statistics to back it all up: all the elements of a classic post.

We are getting tired of prying your guns out of your cold dead hands.

Here's a news flash for you gun waving "real Americans": It's not about guns. It's about money. Follow the money. The NRA raises hundreds of millions of dollars by convincing you they are fighting for your "rights". Wake up. It's a business. Just like any other business, except with the help of their bought off representatives, they are the only UNREGULATED consumer product in America. What do they sell? FEAR. Fear, fake patriotism, and fake bravado, just like their commander in chief, President Custer. You're being played.

There's much, much more at the link, and it's well worth your time. At one point she refers to one of the most notorious pieces of nonsense rhetoric used by gun proponents:

"If we ban handguns only criminals will have guns." Well then let's not have any laws in America at all. No drug laws, no traffic laws, no laws at all, right? Duh.

The first time I heard this, it was phrased, "If they outlawed guns, only outlaws would have guns." I don't know where I came across my favorite rejoinder to that--probably a bumper sticker or something--but its logic is unassailable: "If the outlawed crime, only outlaws would be criminals."

Monday, April 23, 2007

All Corruption Leads to Iraq

Not much time for analysis or commentary tonight, as if I don't get this posted soon, I'll be seeing the sun coming from the east. But here's a link, at least, to Frank Rich's "Iraq Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac." He's back on stride this week, relating the current problems of Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz to the quagmire in Iraq.

At home, the president is also hobbled by the Iraq cancer's metastasis - the twin implosions of Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz. Technically, both men have been pilloried for sins unrelated to the war. The attorney general has repeatedly been caught changing his story about the extent of his involvement in purging eight federal prosecutors. The Financial Times caught the former deputy secretary of defense turned World Bank president privately dictating the extravagant terms of a State Department sinecure for a crony (aka romantic partner) that showers her with more take-home pay than Condoleezza Rice.

Yet each man's latest infractions, however serious, are mere misdemeanors next to their roles in the Iraq war. What's being lost in the Beltway uproar is the extent to which the lying, cronyism and arrogance showcased by the current scandals are of a piece with the lying, cronyism and arrogance that led to all the military funerals that Mr. Bush dares not attend. Having slept through the fraudulent selling of the war, Washington is still having trouble confronting the big picture of the Bush White House. Its dense web of deceit is the deliberate product of its amoral culture, not a haphazard potpourri of individual blunders.

Mr. Gonzales's politicizing of the Justice Department is a mere bagatelle next to his role as White House counsel in 2002, when he helped shape the administration's legal argument to justify torture. That paved the way for Abu Ghraib, the episode that destroyed America's image and gave terrorists a moral victory.

. . .

You don't have to be a cynic to ask if the White House's practice of bestowing better jobs on those who bungled the war might be a form of hush money. Mr. Wolfowitz was promoted to the World Bank despite a Pentagon record that included (in part) his prewar hyping of bogus intelligence about W.M.D. and a nonexistent 9/11-Saddam connection; his assurance to the world that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for reconstruction; and his public humiliation of Gen. Eric Shinseki after the general dared tell Congress (correctly) that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure Iraq after the invasion. Once the war began, Mr. Wolfowitz cited national security to bar businesses from noncoalition countries (like Germany) from competing for major contracts in Iraq. That helped ensure the disastrous monopoly of Halliburton and other White House-connected companies, including the one that employed Ms. Riza.

Had Iraqi reconstruction, like the training of Iraqi police, not been betrayed by politics and cronyism, the Iraq story might have a different ending. But maybe not all that different. The cancer on the Bush White House connects and contaminates all its organs. It's no surprise that one United States attorney fired without plausible cause by the Gonzales Justice Department, Carol Lam, was in hot pursuit of defense contractors with administration connections. Or that another crony brought by Mr. Wolfowitz to the World Bank was caught asking the Air Force secretary to secure a job for her brother at a defense contractor while she was overseeing aspects of the Air Force budget at the White House. A government with values this sleazy couldn't possibly win a war.

More details and depth at the link, of course.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It's a Beautiful Day

Today's Earth Day! Stop sitting in front of your computer screen and get outside and enjoy our beautiful planet (while you still can). In Chicago, it's our warmest day so far this year, with the thermometer jumping over 80.

All right, if you're not a outdoors, fresh air type, here are some Earth Day links to peruse. The Earth Day Network has a lot of links to various activities, as well as a countdown listing "Only 0 days to go!" The U.S. government portal, featuring a smug-looking picture of George and Laura Bush is here, featuring environmental advancements the U.S. government has made recently (the air's cleaner than it was in 1970!) and other links to government services. The actual EPA Earth Day site is separate. Then of course, there are private organizations recognizing Earth Day, such as The World Wildlife Fund, The Wilderness Society, and EnviroLink. If you're among those who celebrated Earth Day on the equinox, take a look at the International Earth Day site.

Still not convinced all this Earth Day activity is necessary? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its assessment of climate change science in February, and a couple of days ago, LiveScience put together a timeline based on the report. Here are a few things we've got to look forward to:

2008

Global oil production peaks sometime between 2008 and 2018, according to a model by one Swedish physicist. . . . Once [it] is reached, global oil production will begin an irreversible decline, possibly triggering a global recession, food shortages and conflict between nations over dwindling oil supplies.

. . .

2020
Flash floods will very likely increase across all parts of Europe.

Less rainfall could reduce agriculture yields by up to 50 percent in some parts of the world.

. . .

2030
Warming temperatures will cause temperate glaciers on equatorial mountains in Africa to disappear.

. . .

2050
In Australia, there will likely be an additional 3,200 to 5,200 heat-related deaths per year. The hardest hit will be people over the age of 65. An extra 500 to 1,000 people will die of heat-related deaths in New York City per year. In the United Kingdom, the opposite will occur, and cold-related deaths will outpace heat-related ones.

. . .

2080
Sea levels could rise around New York City by more than three feet, potentially flooding the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

There's much more gloom and doom at the link.

Happy Earth Day, everybody!

Hanging In There

I'd intended to catch up today on the Gonzales hearing from Thursday, but alas, it was not to be. I haven't had a chance to take a look at the transcript provided by The Washington Post or Christy Hardin Smith's play-by-play at Firedoglake (in eight parts, no less: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), so I'm still relying on overviews for my information. I still feel like I've got a pretty good gist of the testimony, though. Dahlia Lithwick had a pretty good description at Slate:

Those of us who arrived today thinking that Gonzales had some sort of brilliant master plan for winning over the judiciary committee are puzzled by the AG's strategy. You can't help but wonder what condition he was in last month before he started preparing full time. His face, for a sustained period of almost seven hours, is a perfect mask of bemused puzzlement and earnest seriousness. Clearly, the one thing he has practiced for two weeks is the face. But the rest of his tactics are dubious.

It looked pretty bad for Gonzales, but he kept pointing out that he served at the pleasure of the President, and the President seems plenty pleased for now. Although he may not be the only one. During NPR's coverage of the hearings, legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg had to fill some time when she was on the air by herself and the hearings were delayed starting for a few minutes after the lunch break. She reported that she'd heard part of Alberto's staying power is due to his wife, who insists that he not leave the national stage while his reputation is under attack. I haven't seen anyone else make similar comments, but somehow they have a ring of truth to me.

But Mrs. Gonzales apparently isn't the only person who thinks Alberto should stay on in the job. Senator John Cornyn argues that Gonzales should hang around because Democrats won't stop investigating just because Gonzales is out of the way. Although I don't agree with his conclusion, I think his logic is essentially correct. As long as Alberto remains in place, he's drawing fire away from the Prez and Karl Rove. Gonzales couldn't offer a valid justification for firing the eight federal prosecutors, which just adds fuel to the fire of the growing speculation that the decision to fire some or all of the attorneys came from the White House. No one on the Judiciary Committee seemed to be going after that question, at least in so many words. During the time she was treading water on the air waiting for the afternoon session to begin, Totenberg virtually begged for some senator to raise the issue. As long as Alberto's providing such an effective firewall, why shouldn't he enjoy the full confidence of the President?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Signs of Intelligent Life

Only 53 hours after Derbyshire criticized the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting for not being enough like Batman and taking out the armed perp despite the fact that they were unarmed themselves, another Cornerite calls him on it (once again via Ana Marie Cox. John Podhoretz, who doesn't normally do much of anything to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack, brought some sanity to the discussion.

I have to dissent, in the strongest possible terms, from John Derbyshire's shocking posts on Virginia Tech. The notion that a human being or group of human beings holding no weapon whatever should somehow "fight back" against someone calmly executing other people right in front of their eyes is ludicrous beyond belief, irrational beyond bounds, and tasteless beyond the limits of reason.

"Why didn't anyone rush the guy?" Derb asks. Gee, I don't know. Because he was executing people? Because if you rush a guy with a gun, he shoots you in the head the way he executed the teachers in each classroom?

While he's there, he also recommends David Maraniss's reconstruction of events from Thursday's Washington Post. Entitled " 'That Was the Desk I Chose to Die Under,' " it's full of similar observations and responses from survivors. Extremely sobering, it's the best account of the events I've seen or read so far. Unfortunately, it took less than an hour for Kathryn Jean Lopez to upbraid Podhoretz for not understanding the actual point Derb was making, which was, ah, . . . um, . . . hrmm, well, I didn't get it, either.

But I don't think I was the only one. Run over to Crooks and Liars for a radio discussion between Derb and C&L's John Amato on the issue. It's from Alan Colmes's show, and Derb comes off even worse than I'd expect. To hear him talk, he has no idea what a rhetorical question is. He opened his original post with a rhetorical question, but when questioned about it insisted that he really did intend for it to be an honest question to which he didn't know the answer. The fact that the entire rest of his post was dependent on the answer to the question being no seems to have escaped him entirely. If that's true and Derb had no idea what he was doing while composing the entry, you've got to give him some credit--he did a pretty good job of instinctively constructing his piece if he has no basic understanding of how structure works.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Go-Along-to-Get-Along Republicans

It was pretty impressive to see the Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee take on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales earlier today. They weren't cowed by his position in the Bush administration (which, we should probably note, looks less and less secure by the moment). They didn't worry about what it might mean go up against a president of their own party. In his Washington Sketch column in Friday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank provides a collection of quotes that sums up their reaction:

Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch," said Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"Why is your story changing?" demanded Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"Significantly, if not totally, at variance with the facts," said Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican.

"Really deplorable," said John Cornyn (R-Tex.). After this blow, from an administration loyalist and an old Texas friend, Gonzales stuttered in his reply.

And then there's this sharp exchange between Gonzales and the committee's ranking minority member, Arlen Specter.

Specter, scolding the witness for "not being candid," pointed out: "I know you've been preparing for this hearing."

"I prepare for every hearing, senator," Gonzales replied, acidly.

Specter glared at the witness and hectored him about his past misstatements. "I don't think you're going to win a debate about your preparation, frankly," he said. This, too, delighted the orange-jumpsuit crowd.

"I apologize," the attorney general said. The water in Gonzales's drinking glass was still sloshing from his pounding on the witness table.

The obvious question is where were these guys when the Republicans controlled the Senate? They could've been asking just as pointed questions of various administration officials at that time.

The unfortunate answer, of course, is that they were right where they are now. Arlen Specter has the position of ranking Republican now because in the last Congress, he was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. These Republicans who are so hard hitting today gave the administration a complete pass on oversight for its first six years. But now that it's politically safe to attack the President and his people, they're jumping on the bandwagon.

This is a bandwagon that I'm fully supportive of, and God knows that I much prefer they be riding on the bandwagon than standing in front of it and trying to run it off the road. But they certainly shouldn't be able to score points with the public and with their constituents because, now that it's safe and they've got plenty of political cover, they're willing to get on the right side of this issue.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tomorrow's the Day

UPDATE--Boy, I screwed up the time stamp completely on this one. I started writing it Wednesday night, so the Tomorrow in the title referring to Thursday, but then I didn't actually post it until early Thursday morning, which made that tomorrow today. Then, in adjusting the time stamp to reflect when the post was actually going up, I mistakenly made it PM instead of AM, suggesting that this was really a statement from 12 hours in the future. That's not wise when my opening line refers to 24 hours, but with the jump ahead in time would really have been 12 hours (unless I was asking if he'd still be AG on Friday afternoon). I've corrected the time stamp now, but since the title was already there, I'm leaving it as it was--just remember, he's testifying on Thursday, not Friday. And now, back to the original post.

I'm taking bets. Will Alberto Gonzales still be attorney general 24 hours from now? My immediate reaction is that nothing will move that quickly, but that doesn't take into account just how deep a hole Gonzales is in. He's contradicted himself in various statements, but more threatening to him is the testimony of his former aide Kyle Sampson. There have been a few leaks (here's The New York Times, McClatchy, the online The Wall Street Journal), but the gist is that Sampson has testified under oath that Gonzales has knowingly told lies to Congress. I'm going out on a limb here, but that seems like a big deal. And it's not just careless untruths, but this has the scent of a full-fledged cover-up. Gonzales has carefully been keeping his and his bosses names out of the conversation, but at this point, if neither he nor the Prez had any idea of what was going on, then they're inept administrators who have no idea what's actually happening behind the locked doors that you know the Bushies have to favor. TPMmuckraker has a nice summation of the inconsistencies of Gonzales's various stories from a couple of days ago. My favorite is Sampson's claim that Gonzales told him about the details of a conversation about Senator Pete Domenici and former prosecutor David Iglesias that he'd had with the Prez. A couple of weeks later, he went on the record with the claim that he didn't even remember having such a conversation, let alone the content of it. But according to the Justice Department, that's not a contradiction. Gonzales never remembered anything about the meeting, even when he was describing it to Sampson. He was just passing along what other people had told him about the meeting that he attended. Yeah, that's the ticket!

One smaller development that hasn't really seen a lot of play is the fact that the House Judiciary Committee was intending to vote on whether or not to give former Justice Department insider Monica Goodling immunity to testify. While she was still on the government payroll, she declared that she'd take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify on the grounds that it may incriminate her. It was not until a week later that she resigned from her post, suggesting that at the very least the Bush administration had couldn't decide whether it considered withholding information from Congress to be a firing offense. Today the House committee delayed that vote for a week, however, to, in the words of Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, "enable the Minority to join us in taking this critical step in our efforts to uncover the truth about why the U.S. Attorneys were terminated and what it means for the integrity of federal law enforcement." Actually, the Republicans are waiting to see which way the wind is blowing--or, more importantly, whether Alberto will fall on his sword. If that problem takes care of itself, Monica Goodling's testimony isn't nearly so important. But if he remains in his post, House Republicans may be less enthused about appearing to keep the truth hidden.

It's a big day for Alberto on Thursday. Whether it happens tomorrow or in the next few days, my money's on the AG taking the bullet for his President. After all, that's what he's there for.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

WWBD?

Via Ana Marie Cox, it appears that John Derbyshire has been doing some musing over at The National Review's The Corner. He admits that it's easy to second guess the behavior of others in a crisis, which I guess is why he just goes right ahead and does it. But I think there's more to this than just a quick blog post about the situation at Virginia Tech. Is there a career change in his future? See what you think:

As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake--one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage--your chances aren't bad.

Clearly, Derb is working his way through the question in my title: What Would Batman Do? Batman doesn't hide when there's some punk with a gun on a rampage (especially if one of those guns is a puny .22)--he jumps right into the mix and takes the punk out. And (so he hopes), so would Derb. Because, as he points out, your chances aren't bad. One would have to be a better shot than Derbyshire will admit to being in order to hit a target point blank.

Derb has a great opportunity to launch a career as a costumed vigilante. Why wait to be caught in a situation like the college kids at Virginia Tech when you can go out looking for trouble? It's just too bad that Derb hadn't already been out looking for trouble to crush. If he'd been cruising through Blacksburg and seen the Derb signal shining into the sky, he could've been on the scene within moments. He wouldn't have wasted his time with the wussiness of counting gunshots, he would've dived into action and jumped the shooter (one of the guns was only a measly .22, remember) and taken him out the old-fashioned way.

And he wouldn't even have to give up his day job if he didn't want to. It's been proven a couple of times that you can fight crime and keep a full-time job in journalism. Actually, I don't think Derb is testing the waters or looking for reactions. For all I know, this is a done deal. After all, if he's half the man of action that he hopes he is, he's already on the case.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Quick Hits

Due to the unfolding tragedy at Virginia Tech, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that tomorrow's testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was being postponed until Thursday. My immediate response, particularly in light of late-breaking developments, is that it gives him all the more time to resign and duck out on the committee, but of course, I doubt that a resignation would get the Judiciary Committee off his back. I suppose it's possible that Gonzales could be deft enough to wend his way through all the booby traps--most of them of his own making--in his path, but I haven't seen any evidence of such skill so far.

So I guess there are just two questions--will he resign before or after he testifies, and will he trip himself up in his testimony and slip over into perjury (or has he already dug himself so deep into a hole that even the truth can't set him free)?

A report on abstinence-only education ten years in the making came out at the end of last week, and you know what? It doesn't work.

[It] does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.

Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities -- two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education.

By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners.

The best that the requisite Bush administration spokesman from the Department of Health and Human Services can come up with in response is a variation of, "Yeah? So what. We're not changing anything."

I've written about abstinence-only education a couple of times, so I won't go into a lot of detail here, but there's no responsible reason not to include information about contraception in sex ed so that those who need it now will have it and those who'll need it in the future (and pretty much everybody will need it sometime in the future) will have it then.

By the way, The New York Times had the story, too, but not wanting to offend anyone on such a contentious issue, they headlined it: "Conclusions Are Reported on Teaching of Abstinence." Yeah, that's one way of putting it. Fortunately, they didn't downplay the real story in the lead:

Students who participated in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress.

It's not exactly expansive, but I guess it gets the job done.

Following up on the theocracy post from a couple of days ago, via Think Progress, The Carpetbagger Report points out that Regent College has scrubbed its Website of the claim that 150 graduates hold positions in the Bush administration. Hmmm. I suppose we'll just have to guess who doesn't want to be associated with whom. Steve Benen at Carpetbagger also notes that Dahlia Lithwick at Slate had noted the claim before Krugman ran with it on Friday.

The 2007 Pulitzer Prizes were announced on Monday. Cormac McCarthy's The Road took the Fiction prize, with David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole picking up for drama. Over on the Journalism side, The Wall Street Journal won two (Public Service and International Reporting), and the rest being spread among a number of papers, including majors such as The New York Times (Feature Writing) and The Los Angeles Times (Explanatory Reporting). One alternative weekly (LA Weekly for Jonathan Gold's criticism) picks up a prize, and the award for Editorial Cartooning went to Walt Handelsman of Newsday. Ray Bradbury was given a special citation for his career, as was John Coltrane, a mere forty years after his death. Is late always better than never?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Once More into the Breach

I thought I was finished with this topic (actually, I wondered if I'd given it too much attention already), but it looks like we've got to go to the well one more time. Ever since The New York Times put its columnists behind a firewall, I've provided a link to a nonsubscription source for Frank Rich every Sunday (or early Monday). Now that it's Sunday (or early Monday) again, here's a link via Wealthy Frenchman (lately truthout has been running the column, but at least as of this writing, it's not there this week). It's called "Everybody Hates Don Imus."

Rich had been a recurring guest on Imus in the Morning, and I have to say that whenever I saw a guest list among the various news reports, I'd most wince at reading his name. He owns up to this, but then talks around the point to such a degree that he's not entirely sure what his point is. What Imus said? "Bad, bad, bad." And in defense? "Well, you know, a lot of people say bad, bad, bad things." But I'll let you read it in Rich's own words:

Familiar as I am with the warp speed of media, I was still taken aback by the velocity of Don Imus's fall after he uttered an indefensible racist and sexist slur about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Even in that short span, there's been an astounding display of hypocrisy, sanctimony and self-congratulation from nearly every side of the debate, starting with Al Sharpton, who has yet to apologize for his leading role in the Tawana Brawley case, the 1980s racial melee prompted by unproven charges much like those that soiled the Duke lacrosse players.

It's possible that the only people in this whole sorry story who are not hypocrites are the Rutgers teammates and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer. And perhaps even Don Imus himself, who, while talking way too much about black people he has known and ill children he has helped, took full responsibility for his own catastrophic remarks and didn't try to blame the ensuing media lynching on the press, bloggers or YouTube. Unlike Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington, to take just three entertainers who have recently delivered loud religious, racial or sexual slurs, Imus didn't hire a P.R. crisis manager and ostentatiously enter rehab or undergo psychiatric counseling. "I dished it out for a long time," he said on his show last week, "and now it's my time to take it."

Among the hypocrites surrounding Imus, I'll include myself. I've been a guest on his show many times since he first invited me in the early 1990s, when I was a theater critic. I've almost always considered him among the smarter and more authentic conversationalists I've encountered as an interviewee. As a book author, I could always use the publicity.

Of course I was aware of many of his obnoxious comments about minority groups, including my own, Jews. Sometimes he aimed invective at me personally. I wasn't seriously bothered by much of it, even when it was unfunny or made me wince, because I saw him as equally offensive to everyone. The show's crudest interludes struck me as burlesque.

That last paragraph is particularly slick. In addressing Imus's routine offensive language, Rich very quickly personalizes it. He acknowledges that Imus's insults are equal opportunity, but he says that he wasn't bothered by personal insults directed at him. Well, it's good that he's got a healthy enough self-image that he's not upset by being a target in front of millions of listeners, but that's no excuse for Imus's offensiveness.

Rich spends a lot of his column offering unclear comparisons. He doesn't know Imus out of the studio, so he can't say whether he's a nice guy, or not. But the same could be said for Jerry Lewis. (No, I'm not sure where that comes from.) He does have a point about the "national conversation" that we're supposedly going to be having. We don't want to talk about the ragged edges of our culture. My line that shouldn't be crossed isn't the same as your line that shouldn't be crossed, and neither is the same as that guy over there's line that shouldn't be crossed. These are hard things to talk about, and we could probably talk and talk and talk and talk without arriving at consensus. It might also get more than a bit uncomfortable, as Rich also points out:

So if we really want to have this national "conversation" about race and culture and all the rest of it that everyone keeps telling us that this incident has prompted, let's get it on, no holds barred. And the fewer moralizing pundits and politicians, the better. Hillary Clinton, an Imus denouncer who has also called for federal regulation of violent television and video games, counts among her Hollywood fat cats Haim Saban, who made his fortune from "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."

And no, I'm not sure what that means, either.

Let's cross our fingers and hope this is the last time we need to talk about the Imus situation. At least until he shows up on satellite.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Theocracy in Motion

In his Friday column, "For God's Sake," Paul Krugman points out an unfortunately little-known facet of the Bush administration. There's a stealth effort to seed the government with extreme Christian theocrats.

In 1981, Gary North, a leader of the Christian Reconstructionist movement - the openly theocratic wing of the Christian right - suggested that the movement could achieve power by stealth. "Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure," he wrote, "and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order."

Today, Regent University, founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson to provide "Christian leadership to change the world," boasts that it has 150 graduates working in the Bush administration.

Yes, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, and Krugman admits as much, but he's got some facts to back it up, as well.

But this conspiracy is no theory. The official platform of the Texas Republican Party pledges to "dispel the myth of the separation of church and state." And the Texas Republicans now running the country are doing their best to fulfill that pledge.

Kay Cole James, who had extensive connections to the religious right and was the dean of Regent's government school, was the federal government's chief personnel officer from 2001 to 2005. (Curious fact: she then took a job with Mitchell Wade, the businessman who bribed Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham.) And it's clear that unqualified people were hired throughout the administration because of their religious connections.

. . .

And there's another thing most reporting fails to convey: the sheer extremism of these people.

You see, Regent isn't a religious university the way Loyola or Yeshiva are religious universities. It's run by someone whose first reaction to 9/11 was to brand it God's punishment for America's sins.

Krugman provides some specific examples, so click thr9ugh if you want to see them.

Of course, all of this raises the question of what would Jesus do. Pat Robertson and his people apparently think he would downplay his faith, sneak underqualified people onto the government payroll, and quietly influence and try to take over the federal government. At the very least, it gets rid of the annoying need to render unto Caesar.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Crime Rate's Going Up

We haven't had a lot of trouble at my office with people stealing food from the refrigerators. We get a rash of lunch robberies every now and again, but it usually ends quickly. I hadn't heard of anything lately, which is why I was surprised when something I put in the refrigerator disappeared. It wasn't a big deal, really, but yesterday I went out for lunch and got baked rigatoni. I couldn't eat the whole thing, so I got a doggy bag, and when I got back to the office, I put it in the fridge. I'm not used to keeping leftovers in the refrigerator, so when it was time to go home, I forgot about it and left it there. I remembered it on the way home, though, and figured that I could get it the next day. There wasn't enough to actually make lunch out of it today, so I brought another lunch and intended to get the rigatoni at the end of the day. But when I returned to the refrigerator, it was gone.

Although it would be rare to find a valid excuse to eat somebody else's food in the common refrigerator, I can understand why somebody might want to swipe a premium frozen dinner or something. But why would anybody want to take the leftovers scraped off the plate of somebody you don't even know who it is? That just seems very weird to me. I don't think I'm that upset that my food was taken (although it's bothering me enough that I'm writing about it here, I guess), because there wasn't really that much--maybe three or four mouthfuls--and it had been good, but obviously I wasn't so wrapped up in finishing the food in the doggy bag that I remembered to bring it home last night. But it just strikes me as odd that anybody would take half-eaten food they don't even know the history of. If I'd been having lunch with whoever took it (and how do I know I wasn't?), I can't imagine that when I stopped eating they'd have suggested switching plates so they could finish it. (Although, now that I think of it, maybe it was one of my lunch companions--at least they'd have known how good it looked and smelled.)

I'll have to pay attention next week to see if we've got a serial lunch thief on our hands. And if we do, I'll be curious to see whether this person mostly takes leftovers or new meals.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why This Straw?

Why did the Imus thing blow up as big as it did? I was somewhat surprised yesterday when MSNBC fired him from the TV simulcast they did of his morning radio show, but I was much more surprised today when CBS fired him from the radio. This was a big money show for them--the CBS report estimated that it brought $15 million in to the network. Yes, some advertisers were bailing, but Imus still had a pretty hefty listening audience. And not to diminish what he said about the Rutgers women's basketball team, but this wasn't particularly different from what he said much of the time.

What made it catch this time? Maybe it's because the Rutgers team was seen as unassuming and innocent. There were in the public eye because they'd been an NCAA Cinderella team--they had gone much farther in the NCAA tournament, all the way to the finals, than they'd had any expectation to go. They'd played great basketball and had faltered only at the final hurdle. They were much admired. And then Imus went and insulted them for no apparent reason. They'd done nothing to deserve it, nothing to bring it on themselves.

A further reason I think this theory has viability is that, although it was simmering along, it didn't really start to boil over until the basketball team had their own press conference. (Part 1 of it is here, and you click through for part two once you're there). They didn't look like "nappy-headed hos."

I'm not sure any of it really matters, though. Imus gets a lot of people tuning in to hear him. Now that he's gone from CBS, he'll do whatever penance is necessary, and then he'll be back at some other media outlet. He's old enough that he may just decide to retire, but if he doesn't, he'll be back in the mix before the end of the year.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Unstuck

No blogging tonight, sorry. Goodbye, Kurt.

So it goes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Imus Link Roundup

It seems that almost everybody in the left blogosphere is talking about Don Imus. He insulted the members of the Rutgers women's basketball team last week after they lost the national championship to Tennessee (and go read the transcript at that link for the context--the insult he's being upbraided for is even worse in its full context). I have to admit that I've never really gotten the whole genre of shock jocks or Imus's place in that. He gets all the big-time political guests on: senators, members of Congress, and pretty much the whole Washington commentariat. He gets good ratings, and he's got a fair bit of clout when it comes to plugging political books, so that part of why they participate is obvious, but it still seems that they get slimed by the locker-room atmosphere. But is it just a bottom-line thing? Is nothing off-limits when you're whoring your latest book?

Hmmm. Maybe that's a rhetorical question. It's been interesting to see what some of the African-American reporters and commentators have had to say. In The New York Times, Gwen Ifill discusses the insult Imus leveled at her several years ago when she didn't accept his invitation to appear on the show. Eugene Robinson reflects on shock radio as a whole and then focuses more on the sexual aspects of Imus's insult, an aspect that seems to be getting somewhat short shrift. Even Al Roker calls for him to be fired. On The NewsHour yesterday, Clarence Page described an instance several years ago in which he made Imus pledge on the air not to do racist-tinged material anymore. He said he hasn't been asked back, and needless to say, Imus hasn't kept the pledge (at Slate, Timothy Noah has an archive of offensive statements Imus has made on the air over the years).

Although Imus initially tried to blow the whole controversy off, he quickly realized that it wasn't going away, so he's looking for ways to do penance. The Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes describes the beginning of his mea culpa tour with an appearance on Al Sharpton's radio show. It's amazing how thin skinned the guy is.

At one point Imus chastised the participants in Sharpton's show for not supporting him when he was trying to educate his audience about sickle cell anemia.

[Brian] Monroe[, head of the National Association of Black Journalists and editor of Ebony and Jet magazines], took issue with that, saying Ebony magazine "has been writing and covering sickle cell anemia for decades . . . back when you were still doing radio spots for used cars."

Imus was outraged.

"Don't come on this radio program and insult me, because I'm not insulting you," he said, with, we regret to report, no indication that he saw how wildly ironic it was for him to make that comment on this particular show on this particular day.

"I'm not going to sit here and let you insult me!" he snarled.

"You can keep talking all you want," he said as Monroe continued. "You are not going to insult me. Don't insult me. I have not insulted you. Don't talk to me about doing used-car commercials."

And then, he added:

"I will bet you I have slept in a house with more black children who were not related to me than you have!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! What is that supposed to mean?" Sharpton wondered, naturally.

"I don't have to put up with a man getting in my face like this," Imus said, "because I didn't call him any names! . . . I didn't come here to get slapped around."

If not to get slapped around, then I'm not quite sure why he bothered showing up. But how many people would agree that being accused of doing used car commercials is far more insulting than being called a nappy-headed ho?

To underscore how high feelings ran on this, General JC Christian broke his own format to write a post that's not funny or ironic in the least.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

McCain Clarifies

I wrote last night's post about Frank Rich's column on John McCain's stroll through the Baghdad market before I saw any of the interview he did yesterday with 60 Minutes. It's clear from that segment that McCain's looking to get back into the game. He's not viewing the Iraqi market gaffe as a career-ending mistake. Here's a bit from the transcript of the interview he did with Scott Pelley (with an interjection or two from me):

PELLEY: We took a walk through a Baghdad market yesterday. But backing up that stroll through the market was ten armored Humvees, soldiers with rifles, and two Apache attack helicopters circling overhead. That doesn't seem like a safe neighborhood.

MCCAIN: I didn't see the helicopters [he didn't see them--it's almost like they weren't even there!], and nor did I ask for that kind of security [he didn't ask for it, so maybe he didn't even want it!]. But I understand why they would provide me with that security [which is why he didn't ask, I guess, because he's a military man, and he knew they'd give it to him without him having to ask]. But I can tell you, if it had been two months ago and I'd asked to do it, they would have said, "Under no circumstances whatsoever." [See? That's improvement--two months ago, he couldn't have even walked in that market with ten armored Humvees, soldiers with rifles, and two Apache attack helicopters circling overhead, but now he can. It's much safer.] I walked through very narrow lanes. The Apache helicopters couldn't see me. [They couldn't see him, he couldn't see them. I think that officially nullifies the Apache helicopters.] The armored vehicles were parked out in the street. [So they were effectively out of the picture, too. What we're left with is that McCain went walking through the market with only a flack jacket and dozens of heavily armed combat-ready troops. Who's claiming this isn't a safe neighborhood, again?] I'm very pleased that we had the opportunity to go into a neighborhood in Baghdad which I couldn't have before. I view that as a sign of progress. [It's worth repeating that two months ago, John McCain couldn't have gone out for a walk there even accompanied by ten armored Humvees, soldiers with rifles, and two Apache attack helicopters circling overhead. Now he can. Progress, anyone?]

McCain also addresses some of his statements that may have hurt him a little bit lately, and he does it with just the same kind of straight talk we would've expected from him seven years ago. A little while back, he claimed that General Petraeus would sometimes go into Baghdad in an unarmored Humvee. Some people took exception to that, and no-nonsense McCain addressed the situation head on.

There is [sic] no unarmored Humvees -- obviously, that's the case. I'm trying to make the point over and over and over again that we are making progress. And there are signs of progress, that it's long, and it's hard and it's tough. To take one sentence of mine out of 1,000 -- you know, life isn't fair. But the fact is, that's my message.

So OK, yeah, contrary to what he said earlier, Petraeus doesn't actually go out in an unarmored Humvee. But McCain only said he did because he was making a point. Although he doesn't say so in so many words, the implication is clear that if he'd been able to make the same point by telling the truth, he would have done so! It's only when the facts don't back up his points that he's going to fall back on untruths. And how many politicians would admit to that? Hello again, Straight Talk! But he goes on:

But look, as long as you are as open to the media as I am, of course I'm going to misspeak. I have done it on numerous occasions, and I probably will in the future. I regret that when I divert attention to something that I've said from my message. But, you know, that's just life, and I'm happy, frankly, with the way that I operate. Otherwise, it'd be a lot less fun.

He's right--it is more fun to lie. McCain is back, and like always, he's not pulling punches with the press. It'll be no time until he's back pulling his way up into the polls again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

McCain Helps Put Iraq into Focus

To celebrate Easter, Frank Rich speculates about a new beginning for American policy in Iraq. Unfortunately, it may come at the expense of John McCain's reputation and future career plans, but them's the breaks sometimes. McCain took what's quickly becoming a notorious walk through and Iraqi market, and it may just be the beginning of the end. As Rich writes in "Sunday in the Market With McCain":

John McCain's April Fools' Day stroll through Baghdad's Shorja market last weekend was instantly acclaimed as a classic political pratfall. Protected by more than a hundred American soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters, two Apache gunships and a bulletproof vest, the senator extolled the "progress" and "good news" in Iraq. Befitting this loopy brand of comedy - reminiscent of "Wedding Crashers," in which Mr. McCain gamely made a cameo appearance - the star had a crackerjack cast of supporting buffoons: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who told reporters "I bought five rugs for five bucks!," and Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, who likened the scene to "a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."

Five rugs for five bucks: boy, we've really got that Iraq economy up and running now! No wonder the McCain show was quickly dubbed "McCain's Mission Accomplished" and "McCain's Dukakis-in-the-Tank Photo Op." But at a certain point the laughter curdled. Reporters rudely pointed out there were 60-plus casualties in this market from one February attack alone and that six Americans were killed in the Baghdad environs on the day of his visit. "Your heart goes out to just the typical Iraqi because they can't have that kind of entourage," said Kyra Phillips of CNN. The day after Mr. McCain's stroll, The Times of London reported that 21 of the Shorja market's merchants and workers were ambushed and murdered.

. . .

It can't be lost on those dwindling die-hards, particularly those on the 2008 ballot, that if defending the indefensible can reduce even a politician of Mr. McCain's heroic stature to that of Dukakis-in-the-tank, they have nowhere to go but down. They'll cut and run soon enough. For starters, just watch as Mr. McCain's GOP presidential rivals add more caveats to their support for the administration's Iraq policy. Already, in a Tuesday interview on "Good Morning America," Mitt Romney inched toward concrete "timetables and milestones" for Iraq, with the nonsensical proviso they shouldn't be published "for the enemy."

As if to confirm we're in the last throes, President Bush threw any remaining caution to the winds during his news conference in the Rose Garden that same morning. Almost everything he said was patently misleading or an outright lie, a sure sign of a leader so entombed in his bunker (he couldn't even emerge for the Washington Nationals' ceremonial first pitch last week) that he feels he has nothing left to lose.

Rich goes on to discuss a few of the details that make the Iraqi situation so dismal and dire. But it all adds up to one inescapable conclusion:

The center will not hold, no matter what happens in the Washington standoff over war funding. Surely no one understands better than Mr. McCain that American lives are being wasted in the war's escalation. That is what he said on David Letterman's show in an unguarded moment some five weeks ago - though he recanted the word wasted after taking flak the morning after.

Like his Letterman gaffe, Mr. McCain's ludicrous market stunt was at least in the tradition of his old brand of straight talk, in that it revealed the truth, however unintentionally. But many more have watched the constantly recycled and ridiculed spectacle of his "safe" walk in Baghdad than heard him on a late-night talk show. This incident has the staying power of the Howard Dean scream. Should it speed America's disengagement from Iraq, what looks today like John McCain's farcical act of political suicide may some day loom large as a patriot's final act of sacrifice for his country.

Go to the full column for all of Rich's links.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Is the Easter Bunny horning in on Santa's territory? I guess Santa's busy at work at the North Pole, so he wouldn't be hanging out at the mall anyway, but is it necessary for the Easter Bunny to take over the space used for Santa's castle?

Everything's a commodity these days, so I suppose it's hardly a surprise that parents want their kids' pictures taken with the Easter Bunny, but how is the conversation supposed to go? When kids sit on Santa's lap, they can ask him for what they want for Christmas, but what do they talk to the Easter Bunny about? The number of eggs they hope to find? The size of the chocolate bunny?

When I was a little kid, probably 8 or 9, my family went to a mall or the equivalent of a big box store at the time, and I was by myself in the toy section. I was looking at something or other, and someone came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around, I was startled to see the Easter Bunny, who was offering me a spoonful of jelly beans. Yes, it was as creepy then as it sounds now. I guess he was just wandering around the mall giving people candy around Easter. I was never a fan of jelly beans, and I remember saying "No, thank you," though I don't remember if I turned back around to whatever I was looking at or if I left to go find my parents or go to another part of the store. Perhaps the store managers decided that it would be better to give the Easter Bunny a center of operations rather than allow him to wander around the store sneaking up on children.

A quick Google search of Easter Bunnies and malls brings up a handful of sites suggesting that it still might not be an ideal arrangement. The Smoking Gun has a couple of instances of Easter Bunnies being attacked and attacking. A few other sites offer tales of Easter Bunnies stealing credit cards and more attacks. I think I'll just wait for Santa.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Shrine No Longer?

As I've mentioned from time to time, my current project at work is a book on the Civil War, which is a subject that I've visited a few times already. I'd never been particularly interested in the Civil War when I was in school, and despite an undergrad major and an MA in history, I never studied the conflict in any more detail than what's provided in a survey course. In more recent years, however, I've found my interest in the subject piqued far more than I ever expected. If somebody's got something interesting to say about the war, more often than not, I'm interested in hearing it.

So I was quite intrigued by an article a couple of days ago in The Washington Post. It seems that the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, has fallen on hard times. The paper says that the museum did very well in the '90s but that recent years haven't been quite so successful. Attendance has fallen by about 50 percent since then, and the museum has been losing $400,000 a year for a decade.

Part of the problem may well be a new competitor in town, the American Civil War Center, which claims to examine the war from three different viewpoints: North, South, and black. Although the Museum of the Confederacy claims no longer to be the shrine to the Lost Cause that it once was, it does still seem to have it's own distinctive point of view. Is the museum facing lean times because that point of view isn't as popular as it once was? The Post speculates that this is part of the answer:

At its simplest, the saga of the museum is that of a historic institution trying to make its way in the modern age, a privately managed facility with a history of poor finances and a lack of parking, bedeviled by a world far more interested in roller coasters at Kings Dominion than in battle flags from Gettysburg.

But it's also about a historic shift in the mind-set of the white South, whose psychological underpinnings were held together for more than a century by the romantic ideal of "the lost cause" of the Confederacy.

That doesn't address all the implications of the museum's current status. Yes, historical memory does fade over time, but if the '90s were a boom time for the institution, ten years isn't enough time to start feeling historical distance. That would mean that 130 years after the Civil War ended ties and emotions were still strong, but 140 years is just too long to hold on to those same feelings. I think the end of the article, describing the shift in Southern demographics, may provide a better explanation.

[Charles Bryan, president of the Virginia Historical Society,] thinks the museum's fate is all part of the changing South. A century ago, he points out, nine out of 10 Virginians were born in the state. Today the percentage is about 52 percent, he says, and the new residents don't care as much about the mists of the distant past.

[Washington and Lee University history professor Theodore] DeLaney agrees. The Old South has been diluted, and the relics of its past, like the Museum of the Confederacy, have lost their mystique.

"Southerners are now Chicanos, they're from the Middle East, they're from the same immigrant groups that have been arriving in the North for 120 years," says DeLaney. "They're Northern whites who want to retire to warmer climes. . . . If white Southerners feel threatened, it's not from blacks. It's from the changing demographics."

It's not, he says, that there's a new antipathy toward the memory of the Confederacy. It's that, to many new Southerners, the Confederacy is irrelevant.

That would explain the sudden shift after a century and a quarter of devotion to the Lost Cause. In Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz explores how the Confederacy and the Civil War is remembered in the South, but that book's almost ten years old itself, so maybe it's still talking about an outmoded attitude.

Here are a couple of questions for any Southern readers out there: Has there been a visceral change in how the War Between the States is remembered? Is the South a different place than it was ten years ago?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Contempt of Congress

The Prez demonstrated once again the contempt in which he holds the Democratic Congress (as well as the balance of powers and the system of checks and balances written right into the Constitution). Actually, it's my belief that he held the Republican Congress of the past few years in the same contempt, but as they continually did nothing more than defer to him on all issues, he never really had much of an occasion to express that contempt right out in the open.

Yesterday he went around Congress to appoint a new ambassador to Belgium. Well, OK, on its face that doesn't sound absolutely horrendous, but the new ambassador to Belgium is none other than Sam Fox, the Republican donor who was Mr. Moneybags for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the organization that lied about John Kerry's Vietnam war record during the last presidential campaign and brought the term swiftboating into the vernacular to mean smearing a political enemy. Yeah, I guess you could say that Bush owed him a political favor.

What makes this most brazen, though, is the fact that Bush was going through the motions with the nomination, sending Fox to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for confirmation hearings and, when it looked like the committee was (understandably) expected to vote him down last week, withdrawing the nomination from consideration. Any reasonable person would've expected that that would be he end of it. But no, of course, it wasn't.

The President has the power to make appointments when Congress is in recess so that anything urgent can be taken care of if Congress is not expected to be in session for a while. That power is actually listed in the Constitution, so there's no denying its validity, but it's worth remembering that the Constitution was written 220 years ago, and transportation and communication being what they were in the 18th century, the framers no doubt expected Congress to be out of session for long periods of time. In this case, the Senate committee was in session and set to vote, but by pulling the nomination, the Prez also pulled the plug.

Dems in Congress were, not surprisingly, extremely upset by the development. But nobody's terribly shocked. John Kerry summed up the situation pretty accurately: "This nomination was withdrawn because the administration realized it would lose in the Foreign Relations Committee. Unfortunately, when this White House can't win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses." Something worth keeping our eye on is the fact that a technicality may undermine Bush's best-laid plans (Fox was appointed to serve as a volunteer, but it's apparently illegal to volunteer for ambassadorships).

There were also two more recess appointments, as well. Bush also appointed Susan E. Dudley to oversee federal regulatory policy at the Office of Management and Budget and Andrew Biggs, who The Washington Post identifies as an advocate of privatizing Social Security, to be deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Even Connecticut for Lieberman senator Joe Lieberman was annoyed by the Dudley appointment, for which the committee he chairs, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was preparing to convene hearings. Through a spokesperson, Lieberman said that through this action the Prez "shows disrespect" for the Senate. Is Joe realizing that the Prez isn't his pal? Somehow I still doubt it.

In a related story, found while looking for Sam Fox in Google News, a planned statue of Brit pinup Samantha Fox in Serbia has been cancelled after she walked out on a concert and a diplomatic dinner with a Serbian minister. The crowd at the show apparently wanted to see her two most prominent pinup credentials and even sang an impromptu song on the subject. Oh well. I'm sure she'll be able to use some of her other assets to get a statue somewhere else.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

George and Martha, Out for a Stroll

I had tickets last night to see Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin touring in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. I parked my car and was on the way to the theater when I noticed a couple of somewhat older people standing at the curb waiting for the light to turn green. It was raining slightly and the woman had an umbrella, but it was hard to tell from their body language whether they were together or not.

While the light was still red, the woman stepped off the curb and started to cross the street. There were some cars approaching, but they were far enough away that it's hard to tell whether she could've made it across before she'd be in danger. The man called her by name and sternly said, "Don't cross the street, you'll get hit by a car!" The woman abruptly turned and screamed, "GO TO HELL!"

Ah, George and Martha, out for a bit of a constitutional before the performance. All I could think of was, "Enjoy the show, folks."

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the show. Kathleen Turner was out for that performance, so I didn't stay. While I'm sure that the understudy did an admirable job, I was there particularly for Turner. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I had seen a clip of the Broadway production, and Turner's performance uncannily reminded us of someone we know. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk saw the show over the weekend, and she said the resemblance was even more remarkable than we'd expected, so I'm on my way back tonight to give Kathleen another try.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Presidential Grandstanding

I heard part of the Prez's press conference this morning, and he primarily came off as petulant--it must be hard when the other children won't let you play with the toys you want. He was critical of the slovenly Democratic Congress, which has still not fulfilled his request for supplemental spending on Iraq fifty-seven days after he sent it. (Think Progress points out that the last Republican Congress took more than twice as long to approve a similar request to nary a peep from the Prez.)

It will be interesting to see how this stalemate comes out. This isn't a shutting-down-the-government level of disagreement, but it can come close if the military is not given funding it needs to keep active. Of course, there's a dispute on when exactly that is. Last week, the Prez was saying that without a supplemental by April 15, things in the military will become very dire indeed, but that claim quickly became the subject of dueling press releases. John Murtha challenged the administration and had a Congressional Research Service report to back up his claim (which you can see via Think Progress). Today, the Prez reasserted his point (that's the same link as above--you'll have to search the transcript yourself), and if that isn't enough, he put out his own press release quoting Harry Reid (although I must admit that I haven't been able to find that quote anywhere else but in the White House press release) and refuting him with quotes from various generals.

When it comes to the big stand-off, it will be interesting to see what will happen. In my memory, we've had two instances of shutting down the government over budget disagreements. In both cases, under Reagan and under Clinton, the President won. The President has an easier time of presenting his case because Congress has so many different voices that it's hard to put forward a consistent case. This time, though, the President's position is far less popular, and he's got a smaller base to start with. Still, the dynamic of the situation is in his favor. What the Democrats have going for them is the fact that Republicans in Congress have very shallow support for the Prez. They don't want to cross him, yet, but they certainly don't want to go to the mat for him, either. Will the Dems be able to keep their nerve longer than their competitors across the aisle? That's where we have to keep our eyes focused, because everything will boil down to that equation.