Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: June 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Whistle a Happy Tune

Here's a special message to Stevie T. Check out the Sound Opinions podcast for this weekend's show. In honor of having Peter Bjorn and John in the studio to play their hit "Young Folks," Kot and DeRogatis off their top rock whistling songs. Although they talk a lot about "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," neither one of them picked it on their lists. They did talk about different types of whistling and different moods it can convey. DeRogatis's top choice was Roxy Music's cover of "Jealous Guy," which featured Bryan Ferry's wistful tones. Kot took the more foreboding "Generals and Majors" by XTC, pointing out that the whistle was reminiscent of "Col. Bogey March" from The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Way back when we lived in another technological regime, I made a tape for someone entitled, "Whistlin' Tunes." This was a couple of decades ago, so my memory may not be completely accurate, but I recall thinking about including "Generals and Majors" but deciding against it because I wasn't sure that the part was actually whistled. If it is a whistle, it's one that's heavily processed. I thought it sounded too much like a keyboard of some kind. I believe I felt the same way about a Heaven 17 song, "The Height of the Fighting," I think. So instead of "Generals and Majors," XTC was represented by "All You Pretty Girls" from The Big Express. The tape also included what was probably then and is definitely now my favorite whistling rock song: the Jam doing "Set the House Ablaze" from Sound Affects. It's insistent and threatening, which is appropriate in a song about fascism. I was disappointed that this song wasn't mentioned on Sound Opinions, especially since I recall they once made "That's Entertainment" (which immediately follows "Set the House Ablaze" on the album) a Desert Island Disc. Oh well, it's their loss.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Computer Problems

I've been having very odd problems with my keyboard. I was starting to write a post about my computer for no reason deciding to type backwards, right to left. The curser would remain to the left of a letter, and the next letter would appear at the curser (with the curser still to the left). If I'm not looking at the screen when I'm typing, I can type a couple of lines before I notice that everything's backwards. It can stop going backwards and type the traditional left-to-right direction just as quickly as it can start. That was happening quite a lot with last night's post, and I wanted to mention that in the post I'd started. I was getting a lot of backwards typing in that one, too, but I especially realized there was a problem when I went to copy the URL of that post to copy and paste into the new post, and it wouldn't take. Although I could highlight it, the URL wouldn't copy, using either menu or keyboard commands. I was trying a couple of different ways, and nothing. When I was looking around, none of the links on the composition page would work, either.

I work on an older PC (I know this will forever keep me out of hanging with the cool kids, but I've never liked the interface or the feel of the Mac--even though I sometimes work with one when editing books--so I'm sticking with what makes me happy) running Windows 2000, and I prefer to use Firefox for browsing the Internet. Because I wasn't sure I'd be able to save the past I was writing, though, I took a step backwards, fired up an old Netscape program, and am now composing this post there.

While it may be a Firefox problem (and I'm not sure if it's limited to Firefox, but since I've been paying close attention, that's the only place I've seen it), it's not one specific to this computer. I'm writing at home now, but I wrote last night's post at work, so the problem affects both computers (and I believe that one runs Windows XP). It may be a virus on both computers, and I'll do a scan after this gets posted. I also saw some Websites suggesting that this would happen if the left arrow key was pressed down, but if I press down the left arrow key and type, nothing unusual happens.

Has anybody else experienced this problem? If so, does anybody have a solution? I'm even ready to entertain the idea that I've got some weird electrical aura that's causing it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just a Placeholder

Back when I started this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would post something new every day. While I haven't performed an exhaustive inventory, I don't think I've ever failed to deliver. And I'm not failing to deliver today, either. I wasn't planning to post from work, but a couple of hours ago I discovered that the power was off at home--there was some sort of meltdown with a transformer on the block or something (and this better not be some sort of publicity stunt for the new movie). I don't know if power has perhaps been restored by now, but on the off chance that it hasn't, I figured that I'd put something up so I can continue my run. I'm not sure how long I'll keep that streak alive (it's not quite as difficult as Digby once suggested, but there are some days it's more difficult than others), but when I end it, I want it to be on my terms and not on Exelon's. So we'll see what happens when I get home, but at least I know I'm covered for today's post. (And yes, I know that this is the second post under June 28, but the previous post was written and posted before I went to bed last night, so I consider it yesterday's post. There's a post for every date, and there's a post for every waking day, but I'll openly admit that those two elements don't always coincide.)

A Sense the Senate Is Shifting? We Should Be So Lucky

So it wasn't John Warner at all who was the first Republican senator to publicly say the Prez is doing the wrong thing in Iraq. (Looking through my own archives, I came up with a handful of instances of Frank Rich calling on Warner to do just that.) No, it was Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and possibly the most respected voice on foreign relations in the Senate. So is this a true turning point? I'd have to say no.

Lugar has supposedly been sending the same message to the White House in private for several months. We can only assume that he finally noticed the white House was ignoring him, so he went public. Yeah, that's sure a way to endear yourself to this administration. But maybe Lugar and the couple of other Repub senators who seem to be falling in line behind him are ready to take the gloves off. Or, according to an interview Wednesday morning on NPR, maybe not.

[Steve Inskeep:] Given what you said, the next time there is an opportunity for you to vote on the war, would you be a vote against the war?

[Richard Lugar:]I'm not going to have a vote for or against the war, at least I don't conceive of how this would occur. Most likely debate will occur once again when we take up money for the troops, for the prosecution of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I think the majority of the Senate, regardless of how they feel about the prosecution of the war, are not about to cut off funds that would jeopardize our troops in any way. That will be probably an overlying proposition.

Which sounds like you're saying that this is not going to change your vote.

Not with regard to support of the troops. I'm going to vote for the authorization and the appropriations. But there are many, many ways in which the Congress ultimately can influence even the president with regard to this war and we'll have to think through the most appropriate one.

Give me one — before we let you go — one thing that Congress can do.

Well, Congress could offer at minimum Sense of the Senate resolutions. They do not have the effect of law, but they clearly indicate how the country feels through its representatives.

A Sense of the Senate resolution--now we're talking. The White House must be quaking in its boots.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Real Dick Cheney

I only have time for a quick post tonight, but it seems that if Dick Cheney is going to break away from the executive branch and be his own branch of government, we should at least know a little bit more about him. Fortunately, The Washington Post stepped forward with a four-part series on just that. It started on Sunday and ends on Wednesday morning. If you thought you pretty much understood where he was coming from, the Post uncovers some new details. Take a look, and see if you don't learn something new.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Decline of Elevator Music

Do elevators have elevator music anymore? I've been riding in a few elevators over the last few days, and although I didn't take notice of it at the time, none of those elevators had any music playing. Elevators used to be famous for hopelessly soulless, absolutely empty music that theoretically offended no one but, in reality, actually offended anyone who loved music. For years that was epitomized by the Muzak company--so much so that its name became synonymous with the form. But according to the Muzak Wikipedia page (which must be accurate--it's Wikipedia, after all), Muzak has rebranded itself almost completely and is no longer in the business of taking all the feeling out of hit songs. Now it uses the original recordings of songs and licenses them out to various businesses to use in the background. I don't know whether it was this shift in direction or other factors altogether, but that hasn't worked out so well for Muzak. They were losing massive amounts of money and racking up huge debts, and (again according to Wikipedia) announced that it will merge with DMX.

This whole subject was inspired for me tonight by a trip to Walgreens to pick up some prescriptions. As I was ordering them, the store was playing REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," and I must say that that's a bit disconcerting in the drug store. Is that true? Was I really just at the drug store so they'd supply the I Feel Fine part? If it's the end of the world as we know it, are we medicated to the point that we don't mind? It's almost enough to make you seek out some obscure elevator somewhere that's playing the Percy Faith Orchestra and the Ray Conniff Singers.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Danger in the Summer Moon Above

It seems that Frank Rich is always good for a Sunday if I haven't had the opportunity to delve into the recent news as deeply as I'd like. And today he doesn't disappoint. He's back on the Iraq beat with "They'll Break the Bad News on 9/11."

By this late date we should know the fix is in when the White House's top factotums fan out on the Sunday morning talk shows singing the same lyrics, often verbatim, from the same hymnal of spin. The pattern was set way back on Sept. 8, 2002, when in simultaneous appearances three cabinet members and the vice president warned darkly of Saddam's aluminum tubes. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condi Rice, in a scripted line. The hard sell of the war in Iraq - the hyping of a (fictional) nuclear threat to America - had officially begun.

America wasn't paying close enough attention then. We can't afford to repeat that blunder now. Last weekend the latest custodians of the fiasco, our new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and our new ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, took to the Sunday shows with two messages we'd be wise to heed.

The first was a confirmation of recent White House hints that the long-promised September pivot point for judging the success of the "surge" was inoperative. That deadline had been asserted as recently as April 24 by President Bush, who told Charlie Rose that September was when we'd have "a pretty good feel" whether his policy "made sense." On Sunday General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker each downgraded September to merely a "snapshot" of progress in Iraq. "Snapshot," of course, means "Never mind!"

The second message was more encoded and more ominous. Again using similar language, the two men said that in September they would explain what Mr. Crocker called "the consequences" and General Petraeus "the implications" of any alternative "courses of action" to their own course in Iraq. What this means in English is that when the September "snapshot" of the surge shows little change in the overall picture, the White House will say that "the consequences" of winding down the war would be even more disastrous: surrender, defeat, apocalypse now. So we must stay the surge. Like the war's rollout in 2002, the new propaganda offensive to extend and escalate the war will be exquisitely timed to both the anniversary of 9/11 and a high-stakes Congressional vote (the Pentagon appropriations bill).

That's becoming more and more apparent. There's going to be no plan to pull back on the surge if it's discovered in September that it's not working. It'll be "almost working," need just a little more time, or (and this has been my favorite so far) not quite fully under way yet. Bush plans on staying as long as he can (and unless Dems put their foot down, he can until mid-January of 2009). The wild card is how desperate will the Repubs get to avoid another election calamity. Will they break with the Pres? They claim they will, but they always seem to cave in the end. And they're doing nothing to step in on the whole Iraqi situation. To a large degree, they're following the Prez's lead on September. The September bandwagon was starting to leave without him, but he jumped on it pretty early. John Warner is getting a lot of play as the Senator who can speak the truth to Bush, but will he?

As General [William] Odom says, the endgame will start "when a senior senator from the president's party says no," much as William Fulbright did to L.B.J. during Vietnam. That's why in Washington this fall, eyes will turn once again to John Warner, the senior Republican with the clout to give political cover to other members of his party who want to leave Iraq before they're forced to evacuate Congress. In September, it will be nearly a year since Mr. Warner said that Iraq was "drifting sideways" and that action would have to be taken "if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function."

Mr. Warner has also signaled his regret that he was not more outspoken during Vietnam. "We kept surging in those years," he told The Washington Post in January, as the Iraq surge began. "It didn't work." Surely he must recognize that his moment for speaking out about this war is overdue. Without him, the Democrats don't have the votes to force the president's hand. With him, it's a slam dunk. The best way to honor the sixth anniversary of 9/11 will be to at last disarm a president who continues to squander countless lives in the names of those voiceless American dead.

The key sentence in that quote is: "Surely he must recognize that his moment for speaking out about this war is overdue." Surely he must. And yet, he hasn't done anything. But keep those fingers crossed!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

DVD or No DVD?

I've got only light blogging today. Here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Central, we've been doing some first-hand research in preparation for Sicko, so there's not a lot of focus on what else might be going on around the world. I was in looking at DVDs the other day, though, and I spotted something that was very odd. It's hardly a surprise, I guess, but they're selling Deal or No Deal CDs. What could possibly compel someone to buy such a thing? I've seen it a few times, and unless you're a massive Howie Mandell completist, what's the point? As far as I can tell, the appeal of the show is the suspense of how much is in the suitcase chosen by the contestant, what suitcases the contestant will select to open, and whether the contestant is going to get a good deal out of the Banker. I can see watching an episode once, but why on earth would you want to watch it again? You know how much is in the first suitcase, you know how the other amounts of money play out, and you know whether the contestant got the better of the Banker or not. Other than the witty repartee of Howie Mandell, what kinds of rewards can be gained by second (and third, and fourth) viewings? I suppose you can ask that of virtually any TV show or movie, but there's sometimes a certain artistry to how they pull an episode off. With Deal of No Deal? Nothing. Surely I'm not missing something.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

I should mention the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and their current defense of a comic book dealer in Georgia. They've been standing with Gordon Lee for almost three years. Here's their shorthand version of the case:

For nearly three years the Fund has defended Georgia retailer Gordon Lee, seeing him through multiple arraignments and procedures, and racking up $80,000 in legal bills. The charges stem from a Halloween 2004 incident in which Lee handed out, among other free comics, an anthology featuring an excerpt from the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Salon. The segment depicted a historically accurate meeting between 20th Century art icons Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, the latter depicted in the nude. It was a harmless sequence, no more explicit than the nudity displayed in the award winning Watchmen. Yet because the title found its way into the hands of a minor, Floyd County prosecutors hit Lee with two felony counts and five misdemeanors. The Fund eventually knocked out most of the charges, but must now defeat the two remaining misdemeanor counts of Distribution of Harmful to Minors Material, each carrying a penalty of up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.

They're due to go fight the remaining charges in court, with the current court date scheduled for August 13, and they're looking to raise more funds to cover their expenses. I need to check the current status of my membership, which I'm pretty sure is due to be renewed at the very least. Take a look around their Web site and see if you can give them your support. The CBLDF is a good organization, and First Amendment issues are always worth fighting for.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who Wants to Vote for a Millionaire?

What is it with America and its love affair with millionaires? Donald Trump is far more successful as a public personality than he has any right to be. Ross Perot had to do nothing more than express an interest in running for president to immediately become a credible candidate. We feign to dislike Bill Gates, but we keep running back to his product every time he offers the smallest update (although we complain about it). The only millionaire I can think of who we hate outright is Paris Hilton, but I think we'll ultimately come around (and even if we do hate her, that fact seems to do nothing more than fuel our fascination with her). And now there's Michael Bloomberg. He didn't even go as far as Ross Perot, actually talking about the presidency to rocket toward the top of the heap. All he did was acknowledge that he was leaving the Republican party. The punditocracy immediately accepted him as a viable third-party candidate.

Bloomberg seems to be walking away from the Republicans for no particular reason: "I believe this brings my affiliation into alignment with how I have led and will continue to lead my city." It always seemed to me that there was never much that was Republican about him in the first place. He'd been a Democrat until he announced his campaign for mayor of New York City in 2001, and it was fairly apparent that he did that for little more reason than to assume the mantle of Giuliani post-September 11. Giuliani responded with his support, and the rest is history.

The New York Times reports that, despite Bloomberg's denials of having any interest in a presidential run, his staff has been exploring the details of such a campaign for two years. Perhaps he chose this time because he senses there will soon be room in the campaign for a New York mayor. Giuliani's campaign seems to be imploding. His South Carolina campaign chairman has been indicted on cocaine charges. I'm sure they can spin that into family values in some way or another, but that does call his judgment into question, if nothing else. More damaging is his decision to join and then drop out of the Iraq Study Group. Sure, he's got his lame excuses all lined up, but such an issue gets very basic--his country called on Giuliani during a time of need, and he decided that he had other priorities. (It's an obvious point to make, but I'm afraid that I simply can't resist it: Replace Iraq Study Group with Vietnam, and he fits right in with this administration.) From the looks of things, there will soon be a hole in the field that's almost exactly the size of a New York mayor. Welcome to the campaign, Mayor Bloomberg.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stand-Off at the Border

Boy, that was a disappointment. I've been getting some hits lately from people searching Maura Harty, and I thought I might be able to get some updates on the passport mess I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Alas, there's not much news. Harty, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to answer for the massive delays for issuing passports, but she didn't have that much to say. WhirledView has a pretty substantial summary of the testimony, but as far as I can see, the money quote from the hearings was, "One of the things we failed to predict was how quickly Americans would decide to apply for a passport. . . . It was a mistake." Uh, yeah, I suppose it was. This just seems to sum up government in the Bush era. They tell us that we need passports to travel internationally by air, and then they're shocked when a lot of people want passports.

For her part, Harty does seem to be making some sort of effort to meet the shocking demand. She's hiring new people, she's expanding hours, and she's encouraging any consular employees anywhere near a passport office to roll up their sleeves and jump in to help. That's got to be great for State Department morale.

So far, the rules for North American international travel only applied to air travel, but in January 2008, they were set to expand to people entering this country at any border crossing by any means of transportation. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security delayed the passport rule for at least six months.

At this point, the story seems to be focusing mainly on inconvenienced Americans. But a couple of days ago, The Globe and Mail reported that stricter restrictions for travel to the United States had resulted in a 17-percent drop in overseas travel to this country since 2000. That translates to a hit to the economy of 200,000 tourism-related jobs lost and $16 billion in tourist dollars never spent. Even travel from Canada is down by 2.4 percent (while travel from Canada to the rest of the world is up 10 percent). But that was reported in a Canadian paper. We'll see how long it takes anybody in this country to notice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Info About Old Issues

As I've said (and keep saying, much to my dismay), I've been very, very busy lately and haven't had time to keep up with the very latest on the Interwebs. For instance, The New Yorker put the latest Seymour Hersh piece about Abu Ghraib went up on Monday. I've seen a few people refer to it, but I didn't get a chance to read the whole thing until this evening. Some people are discussing it, because I found out about it from reading blogs and other sources. But now that I've digested it for myself, I have to wonder, why are we talking about anything else?

General Antonio Taguba investigated the Abu Ghraib atrocities (or fraternity pranks, take your pick). He was restricted from investigating anything beyond the military police who were directly involved in the activities, no matter how obvious it might have seemed to him that the stench rose higher. He was forced out of the military earlier this year, and now he's decided to talk to Hersh.

"From what I knew, troops just don't take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups," Taguba told me. His orders were clear, however: he was to investigate only the military police at Abu Ghraib, and not those above them in the chain of command. "These M.P. troops were not that creative," he said. "Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box."

Taguba didn't get to investigate the "higher-ups," but he certainly got to meet with and talk with them. Rumsfeld told him he was shocked, but Teguba didn't buy it. Read his reaction to Rumsfeld's congressional testimony.

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld's testimony was simply not true. "The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them," Taguba said. Rumsfeld's lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, "Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There's no way he's suffering from C.R.S.—Can't Remember Shit. He's trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves." It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

"The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects—'We're here to protect the nation from terrorism'—is an oxymoron," Taguba said. "He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they've dragged a lot of officers with them."

I ask again, why isn't this all we're talking about? Rumsfeld is no longer part of the administration, but he's still out there. Bush is still president, for God's sake. We've finally got a Congress that's at least a little bit willing to do some investigating. I'm waiting.

Maybe because Hersh realized that Abu Ghraib would be treated as old news, that whether we've got enough evidence to convict in a court of law we all have a basic intuitive understanding of what was really going on, he left perhaps the most explosive accusation to the end of the article:

Taguba went on, "There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff"—the explicit images—"was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this." He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

"From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service," Taguba said. "And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."

As I said, I'm waiting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Signing Away Your Rights

Anyone who's still arguing that the Prez's addition of "signing statements" when he signs legislation into law is a harmless difference of political opinion needs to check out a recent study from the Government Accountability Office. Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe brought the issue into the spotlight last year with his report on the limitations the Prez placed on John McCain's anti-torture ban, so let's see what he's got to say about it today.

Federal officials have disobeyed at least six new laws that President Bush challenged in his signing statements, a government study disclosed yesterday. The report provides the first evidence that the government may have acted on claims by Bush that he can set aside laws under his executive powers.

In a report to Congress, the non partisan Government Accountability Office studied a small sample of the bill provisions that Bush has signed into law but also challenged with signing statements. The GAO found that agencies disobeyed six such laws, while enforcing 10 others as written even though Bush had challenged them.

The study was commissioned by Congressman John Conyers, among others, who commented, "The administration is thumbing its nose at the law." Well, of course it is. The Republican Congress let him get away with that and enabled him for six years--why should he do otherwise? He's been allowed to pick and choose what he'd accept from Congress, and that's too much power to hand back voluntarily. To prove that the administration has no intention of changing its stripes now, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto replied: "We are executing the law as we believe we are empowered to do so. The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real." Yes, they are real, but that doesn't make them equivalent to legislation passed by Congress.

The GAO can't assign blame, and they can't offer anything but circumstantial evidence. Maybe it's just a huge coincidence that sometimes the Prez says you don't have to follow this part of a bill and then the executive agency does just that. We need the Congress to step up its oversight of the Bushies has never been more clear.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mixing One Mob with Another

Newspapers have been running behind TV in time for a number of years now, but with the advent of the Internet, they seem to be moving even more slowly. Although the Internet can't particularly move more quickly than TV, it can cover a topic in far more depth far more quickly, so there's the illusion of even more speed. The news cycle these days zips along at a rate that we've never seen before. So when Frank Rich writes about the letters to the court in support of Scooter Libby, it feels like we're going over very old ground indeed. But in going back to look, I discover that, even though it seems like weeks or even a couple of months, I only wrote about them a week and a half ago. Rich also works in last week's Sopranos finale in a little column he calls, " Scooter’s Sopranos Go to the Mattresses."

As a weary nation awaited the fade-out of "The Sopranos" last Sunday, the widow of the actual Mafia don John Gotti visited his tomb in Queens to observe the fifth anniversary of his death. Victoria Gotti was not pleased to find reporters lying in wait.

"It's disgusting that people are still obsessed with Gotti and the mob," she told The Daily News. "They should be obsessed with that mob in Washington. They have 3,000 deaths on their hands." She demanded to know if the president and vice president have relatives on the front lines. "Every time I watch the news and I hear of another death," she said, "it sickens me."

Yow, I missed that last week, and that's just surreal. But you know what? She's right. Rich describes some of the letters, including the same one from Mary Matalin that I liked so much. But then he spins a different meaning from them.

But what makes these letters rise above inanity is the portrait they provide of a wartime capital cut adrift from moral bearings. As the political historian Rick Perlstein has written, one of the recurrent themes of these pleas for mercy is that Mr. Libby perjured himself "only because he was so busy protecting us from Armageddon." Has there ever been a government leader convicted of a crime — and I don't mean only Americans — who didn't see himself as saving the world from the enemy?

The Libby supporters never acknowledge the undisputed fact that their hero, a lawyer by profession, leaked classified information about a covert C.I.A. officer. And that he did so not accidentally but to try to silence an administration critic who called attention to the White House's prewar lies about W.M.D. intelligence. And that he compounded the original lies by lying repeatedly to investigators pursuing an inquiry that without his interference might have nailed others now known to have also leaked Valerie Wilson's identity (Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer).

They ignore all that because Scooter's their friend, and if official Washington is about anything, it's about looking on the bright side.

Of all the Libby worshipers, the one most mocked in the blogosphere and beyond is Fouad Ajami, the Lebanese-American academic and war proponent who fantasized that a liberated Iraq would have a (positive) "contagion effect" on the region and that Americans would be greeted "in Baghdad and Basra with kites and boom boxes." (I guess it all depends on your definition of "boom boxes.") In an open letter to President Bush for The Wall Street Journal op-ed page on June 8, he embroidered his initial letter to Judge Walton, likening Mr. Libby to a "fallen soldier" in the Iraq war. In Mr. Ajami's view, Tim Russert (whose testimony contradicted Mr. Libby's) and the American system of justice are untrustworthy, and "the 'covertness' of Mrs. Wilson was never convincingly and fully established." (The C.I.A. confirmed her covert status in court documents filed in May.)

Mr. Ajami notes, accurately, that the trial was "about the Iraq war and its legitimacy" — an argument that could also be mustered by defenders of Alger Hiss who felt his perjury trial was about the cold war. But it's even more revealing that the only "casualty of a war" Mr. Ajami's conscience prompts him to mention is Mr. Libby, a figurative casualty rather than a literal one.

No wonder Victoria Gotti denigrated "that mob in Washington." When the godfathers of this war speak of never leaving "a fallen comrade" on the battlefield in Iraq, as Mr. Ajami writes of Mr. Libby, they are speaking first and foremost of one another. The soldiers still making the ultimate sacrifice for this gang's hubristic folly will just have to fend for themselves.

Thanks go this week to Wealthy Frenchman for hosting the complete Frank Rich column.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Long Slog

Today I spent quite a bit of time with my brother and his family. His wife is from Japan, and her father holds a local elected post there. He's got an election next week (she said it was Sunday the 24th), but he can't start running any advertising until Tuesday, five days before the voting takes place. At this point, he's not even an announced candidate--the candidates become official in the next couple of days. He's not sitting there doing nothing, of course, because even unofficially, he can talk with people and start gathering support. So he's active, but he's not part of a proper campaign just yet.

Although this might be a bit more than Americans are willing to accept--five days is short notice even for a local election--there's an undeniable appeal to the idea. I'm not going to calculate the precise number of days at this point, but we've got roughly seventeen months until the presidential election. You'd never know it from the active campaigns (as well as a handful of active but not quite announced candidates), and I'm already getting sick of them. The way all the primaries are being moved up to frontload campaign season, we're going to have a Democratic candidate (and quite possibly a Republican one) in place sometime in February, a full nine months before the actual election. I think I've said this before, but whoever we choose as the candidate, we're going to want somebody else by the time we actually step into the voting booth. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I wish some of the candidates would realize that.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Jer-ry! Jer-ry!

Hey, look! It's a Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk post that's not about somebody going to jail. Just like the old days. I'm almost not writing about politics, either, but it's hard to escape that subject entirely these days. Tonight we went out to see Jerry Springer: The Opera in its American debut run, and what a grand theatrical evening it was.

Wait, you're probably asking yourself. Wasn't Jerry Springer: The Opera a huge hit in London a few years ago? Oh, then this is probably one of those pre-Broadway tryout shows. No, it's not that, either. Broadway did have it planned about three years ago, but somehow or another, they couldn't find the funding to produce it. Therefore, this production is in a small- to middle-size non-Equity house, with no plans (that I know of) to do anything further with the production once the show closes.

Sit through the show and you'll see why financiers didn't flock to it. I don't know whether I'd call it blasphemous or profane (I'd like to take more time to see specifically how those concepts work before committing myself one way or the other), but it doesn't require a great amount of imagination to figure out how to make the argument. Anyone producing this show on Broadway would become an easy target of the Christian Right, and back in 2004 when this was being contemplated, they seemed to have a great deal more power than they seem to today.

I'm falling asleep as I'm writing this. I may have more to say about the production later, but for now let's just say I found it tremendously funny, and I recommend it to anyone in the area with a high threshold for offensiveness. It was scheduled to close in about three weeks, but I heard talk tonight of its being extended, so time may not be as tight as that. That gives more time for Jerry himself to drop by. Once upon a time he attended the West End version of the show and claims to have liked it, but he's yet to make an appearance at his hometown production. (Is that because he wants distance from the show, or is it just one more example of poor promotion by Chicago theater?)

If you miss the show in Chicago, though, according to Wikipedia, some brave soul (or company) is planning to mount another production of the show in Memphis. My hat's off to the courageous producers, and I hope that they're not doing it out of some sort of death wish. Good luck!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Scooter's Facing the Music

As promised, today was another day in court for Scooter Libby, and it didn't seem to go much better for him than the last several have gone. Judge Reggie Walton ruled that, given he sees little chance of Scooter's appeal succeeding, Scooter has to wait it out in jail. He's been ordered to surrender within six to eight weeks. That timing is particularly problematic, given that this pretty much puts the surrender date in August, and we know what happens in the circle Scooter runs in once August comes around. Nothing. Everybody decamps to Crawford, Texas, or wherever, and essentially go into hiding. Threats of terrorist attack? No response. Need to roll out a new war? Wait till September. Pardon a former aide? Don't hold your breath.

Now that Scooter is within a month or two of facing actual jail time, it forces the Prez's hand on whether to pardon him or not. Unfortunately for Scooter, as we've discovered, this is not a man who responds well to his hand being forced. And he's particularly not partial to his hand being forced on his ranch in August. You may recall that this is how Cindy Sheehan first came to prominence. While she may have accomplished other things, her intention to force a meeting with the Prez didn't quite work out.

I'm of two minds whether or not I expect a pardon, and right now I'm leaning more against than for. Although Bush demands unwavering loyalty from his people, he hasn't necessarily reciprocated. If Libby is the designated scapegoat, he doesn't fulfill that role quite as effectively if he's given a pardon. Or, if he's a victim of an overzealous prosecutor, he loses his victim status if he doesn't suffer the consequences. And if he's not a victim, he doesn't pull focus from whatever was really going on, and if nothing else, he's been very effective in pulling focus from the true skullduggery that exists in the Plame situation.

Of course, a pardon could very easily be issued, and a couple of days ago at the Huffington Post, general counsel for the Obama campaign, Robert F. Bauer explained why that would be a good thing for progressives. His argument is that if the Prez pardons Scooter, responsibility for the wrongdoing falls on Bush's shoulders. I'm not sure why, because a president doesn't accept responsibility for the criminal acts of any other person he pardons. Is it because Scooter was convicted of wrongdoing committed in the Bush administration? That argument only holds if you accept that there's any wrongdoing in the first place. Liberals believe that the administration is deeply involved in whatever campaign went out against Joe Wilson. A pardon for Scooter would just reinforce what they already believe. For those on the right who see Scooter unjustifiably wronged, a pardon only rectifies the injustice--Bush becomes even more heroic in standing up for his people. I'm not sure there's anybody much sitting on the fence about Scooter's conviction. Nobody's mind is going to be changed after a pardon enters the picture.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris

It's looking more and more likely that Paris Hilton will always be with us. Why has she become such an explosive subject? I make no illusions to having been above the fray, having already talked about her myself. But not only does she seem to be everywhere, in most of those places she inspires very strong opinions. Someone wrote about her at Howling Curmudgeons on Monday and was excoriated for it (so much so that an apology of sorts for even bringing up the subject in the first place appeared on Wednesday). Even Christopher Hitchens wrote about her (unhappily and against his better judgment, he assures us).

Certainly there was schadenfreude involved in her going to jail. There was a sense that she was getting what she deserved, although I'm not entirely sure what she might've done to deserve it. She's been in the spotlight more than any of us would like, but just turn the channel. After she was sent home with an ankle-bracelet, though, the firestorm was far stronger than anyone (particularly the sheriff of LA County) expected. I'd started to hear rumblings that she'd been treated just like everyone else in a similar position, but serving just a few days on a 45-day sentence sounded like she was getting off awfully easy. I'd considered writing something to that extent, but my sources--mostly people talking on the radio and personal conversations--were hard to pin down and virtually impossible to link to. But the question has hung in the air, and today (via Kevin Drum) the LA Times lays it out for us. Yes, she has received harsher treatment than most in her situation did, and it's pretty much all as a result of her celebrity.

The Times analyzed 2 million jail releases and found 1,500 cases since July 2002 that — like Hilton's — involved defendants who had been arrested for drunk driving and later sentenced to jail after a probation violation or driving without a license.

Had Hilton left jail for good after four days, her stint behind bars would have been similar to those served by 60% of those inmates.

But after a judge sent her back to jail Friday, Hilton's attorney announced that she would serve the full 23 days. That means that Hilton will end up serving more time than 80% of other people in similar situations.

. . .

Because of the high media interest, Hilton was one of only a few inmates whose premature release received publicity — and the judge who originally sentenced her noticed. She is believed to be the first inmate in years who actually was sent back to jail to serve more of her term.

. . .

If Hilton does serve the 23 days, she will have done about the same amount of time as 4,000 inmates who since 2002 had been charged with assaults, as well as more than 1,800 charged with burglary, more than 2,600 charged with domestic violence and nearly 11,000 charged with drug violations.

It seems this has been handled poorly all the way around. If the sheriff was releasing her because of overcrowding, he should have said so. The medical excuse sounds bogus, and the fact that supporting evidence hasn't been shared with the judge of the case simply underscores that assumption.

It seems to me that the main problem is a disconnect about sentencing between law enforcement and the public. Few in the public understood that 45 days really means only a couple of days, but it's not a secret of any kind among those in the legal system. I suspect this isn't an intentional subterfuge, but it sure comes across like one. If somebody's only going to serve a couple of days, why don't we say so? Why do we pretend that it's really a month and a half when everyone involved knows it's blatantly not true? If we own up to the true length of a sentence, if anyone is unhappy with that, they can take steps to address it. If prison overcrowding is the problem, we can agree to build more jails.

On the other hand, perhaps it's true that this is all a huge media circus because Paris Hilton is involved, and no matter what the actual facts of the case were, it would always be a media circus.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Which Way to the Right-Wing Cabal?

The Scooter Libby matter was back in front of a judge on Tuesday. The judge was hearing arguments on whether Scooter should stay out of jail while he's pursuing his appeal. You can guess what happened. Patrick Fitzgerald argued that of course he shouldn't, because Scooter barely has any grounds for appeal and there's no point in putting off the inevitable. Scooter's defense maintained that the appeal was virtually a slam dunk and that it would be a travesty of justice to make him serve time on a conviction that was virtually certain to be overturned. I haven't been paying too close attention to this particular question, but I have to admit that so far I've been substantially swayed by the prosecution's argument that the appeal will be a weak one. But Digby wrote a post over the weekend that's given me serious second thoughts. The post quotes Robert Parry describing the Clinton impeachment mess and pointing out that much of the judiciary appointed by Reagan and, up to that time, the only President Bush, were extremely conservative and came from a somewhat small reactionary circle of jurists. Since that time, these people have only become more ensconced. What to make of that? Here's Digby's take:

Perhaps the long term friendships, shared legal history and blind partisan loyalties among these people will not be relevant in [the Libby] case. But let's just say I wouldn't be shocked if we get a surprising appellate decision based upon a novel, intellectually inconsistent theory set forth by a bunch of powerful wingnut legal enforcers. It happens.

The Prez may not need to break out his pardon pen at all. If the Appeals Court comes up with some reason, justifiable or not, to let Scooter skate, there's not much we can do about it. But rulings such as this one help me to remain hopeful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

An Eroding Presidency

It looks like the Prez is still determined to stay aloof from those of us in the reality-based community. Even after the immigration bill was completely shut down in the Senate last week, he said before he left Bulgaria that it was only "temporarily derailed," promising to "see you at the bill signing." In support of that, he's going up to the Hill on Tuesday to meet with some Republican senators to win their support. Good luck on all that, George.

Speaking of legislative coups, is the White House going to have the nerve to label the procedural maneuver that blocked the no confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales? The Democrats needed 60 votes to invoke cloture and vote on the non-binding resolution, and they lost it 53-38. All Democrats present (and Bernie Sanders) voted to bring the resolution to the floor, and they were joined by seven Republicans, Arlen Specter, Chuck Hagel, Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, John Sununu, and Gordon Smith--some of whom are in iffy reelection bids for next year. Joe Lieberman (inexplicably identified as ID--Independent Democrat?--a heretofore unknown designation among R, D, and I) voted against voting. Jay Newton-Small may have the best summation in Time: "Does failing to pass a no-confidence vote mean that the Senate really has confidence in embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?" (Of course, he immediately ruins his rhetorical question by answering it, "Actually, no." Yeah, we already guessed that from your phrasing, pal.) A number of Republicans dismissed the Democrats' effort as "political theater." Yeah, it was, and it was just as effective in forcing this vote as it would've been if they'd brought the original resolution to a vote. Those seven Republicans who voted Yes were certainly aware of that.

While I was looking for that vote, I went to The Washington Post's vote database. I haven't noticed this site before, but it has more than just the basic yes/no information. You can see the traditional vote breakdowns by party and state, but if that's not enough for you, you can also see how people voted by region, by gender, by boomer status (and surely it's not true that there are no Gen-Xers in the Senate--seven twelve years worth of them are eligible to serve), and by astrological sign. For what it's worth, Ariens voted with the president by a margin of 3 to 2, but Librans were 8 to 1 to bring the resolution to the floor.

Monday, June 11, 2007

This Time It's Personal

Sorry, there's no Frank Rich column this week, so we'll have to turn our attention to something else. Fortunately, we've got options.

One fun story in the past couple of days has been Robert Bork's latest hijinks. You remember Bork, the far-right wing judge Reagan nominated to the Supreme Court who was rejected by the Senate (back in the days when a Democratic Senate would dare to stand up to a Republican president). Ever since, he's been a pillar of conservatives and those even further right than that. He's had various positions over the years, but one that seems relevant today is his position on tort reform, particularly when it relates to personal injury. He's for tort reform and against "excessive" personal damages. In fact, just this week, Bloomberg was quoting a few of his positions.

In a June 2002 article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Bork suggested there might be instances where punitive damage awards are excessive.

"Proposals, such as placing limits or caps on punitive damages, or eliminating joint or strict liability, which may once have been clearly understood as beyond Congress's power, may now be constitutionally appropriate," Bork and a co-author wrote in an article that discussed Congress's power to regulate commerce.

In a 1995 opinion piece published in the Washington Times, Bork and Theodore Olson, who later became a top Justice Department official, criticized what they called the "expensive, capricious and unpredictable" civil justice system in the U.S.

"Today's merchant enters the marketplace with trepidation -- anticipating from the civil justice system the treatment that his ancestors experienced with the Barbary pirates," they wrote.

And why was Bloomberg reviewing Bork's positions? Because he's suing the Yale Club. It seems a year ago, he was to deliver a speech and fell down when climbing the dais. He hurt his leg, but he was able to continue in his presentation of the speech, and he left the Yale Club on his own. Now, a year later, after he's experienced continued problems with his leg injury, he's suing the club for a million dollars to cover injuries and punitive damages.

It's obvious why it's OK for him to take this step now when he clearly has been against exactly this kind of potentially frivolous suit in the past. It's because it happened to him. This time, he's the injured party, and in all the cases he's criticized, he wasn't. Justinian Lane at TortDeform compares Bork's suit to the much-derided McDonald's spilled coffee suit, and on the surface, there are remarkable similarities. But Lane leaves out the obvious difference between the two. Bork didn't spill the coffee--if he had, all indications are that he would've had no concern about suing McDonald's for punitive damages. But since it's some woman who Bork didn't even know--why should she get any special treatment?

Others might compare to Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's new grandson, born to their daughter and her lesbian partner. Based on the positions of the vice president and his supporters regarding a Constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, one might expect him to have a problem with a child born to lesbian parents. But, of course, it's simply not an issue when it's his grandchild.

It remains to be seen whether Bork will change his position on frivolous lawsuits. The next time someone else is in a similar situation, he may find some sympathy for their plight. But I wouldn't count on it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Passport to Nowhere

A couple of years ago, I wrote a couple of posts about the then-recently announced plans to require passports to enter the United States from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. These new regulations went into effect toward the beginning of this year, but as predicted by many all along, a lot of people weren't prepared for them. The new requirements meant that a lot of people who didn't need passports before need them now, and the U.S. passport office has been able to keep up with demand. The government has built up a backlog of applications. The passport office in Houston experienced people starting to line up at 2:00 in the morning, and on one day recently a reporter saw about 100 people lined up outside the building. Some people are having to cancel their travel plans because the U.S. passport office can't turn around their applications in enough time.

So how is the government dealing with this entirely expected surge of applications? Why, by temporarily waiving the passport requirements, of course. Unfortunately, that does nothing to help travelers waiting for a passport to go overseas to Europe, Asia, Australia, or South America. You always needed a passport to go to and from those areas, but the applications for those travelers are caught in the same backlog. The process used to take six weeks, but it's now officially expected to take 10 to 12. Unfortunately, at least 500,000 requests have already gone beyond even that length of time.

As I said above, this was entirely foreseeable. There was a weird quote in The Washington Post article I linked to above.

Maura Harty, the assistant secretary for consular affairs, acknowledged the department did not adequately anticipate "the American citizens' willingness and desire to comply" with the rule "in the timeframe that they did."

Is she suggesting that they expected American citizens to try to fly to Canada and take their chances at the border? Since when is it a surprise for people to want to comply with passport laws? Unfortunately, the whole thing is set to get even worse. Estimates are that the tougher rules for air travel affect about 6 million travelers. In January, travelers entering the United States by land or sea will also need passports. The estimated number of those people is 27 million over five years. It'll be interesting to see how smoothly that need is met. Members of Congress have expressed a willingness to delay that implementation, but so far the Bush administration has shown little interest in making any changes.

So if you're looking to go overseas this summer and haven't yet applied for a passport, you're pretty much screwed. But maybe you can change your plans. There are plenty of interesting things to see and do in this country.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Intimate Dining with Obama?

Are you looking for some extended face time with Barack Obama? Well, you may be in luck. He's running a contest offering what he's calling "an intimate dinner" with four supporters who make a contribution of at least five dollars to his campaign by Wednesday, June 13. Obama's campaign page doesn't offer many details, but local TV reporter Andy Shaw has more information. Apparently there were 8,000 new contributions the first day of the contest. There are still a few kinks to work out of the contest. According to Shaw, "The dinner will be at a nice restaurant in Chicago or Washington later this summer." I love that place! But I'll have to check my availability for the date. I suppose the point is the time with Obama rather than specifically when or where that meeting takes place, but a bit more specificity wouldn't hurt. (For what it's worth, Obama once taped an episode of the Chicago restaurant review TV show, Check Please. It was back when he was in the Illinois legislature, and as far as I know the episode never aired, but for what it's worth, his restaurant of choice was Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop in Hyde Park.) According to Shaw, the campaign hasn't yet figured out how they're going to choose the lucky winners, but they guarantee that it won't be based on the size of the contribution.

This is actually a clever way of raising money. In fact, Mitt Romney liked the idea so much he took it as his own. He's shifted a little bit, bumping the minimum contribution to $100 and making it a Major League Baseball game rather than dinner. One advantage of this is that Mitt doesn't necessarily have to have a conversation with the winners, he can just keep watching the game. The implication for the governor of Massachusetts, of course, is that it would be a game at Fenway, but he doesn't actually say that. Since he's a Republican, it's probably wise not to simply assume. The good thing for me about going with Mitt to a Red Sox game, though, would be that I wouldn't have to pay any attention to him, either.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Quick Hits

Scooter Libby must've been paying close attention to this. It's not entirely clear why Paris Hilton was released from jail earlier today, but the reports that she hadn't been eating jail food suggests the possibility that hunger strikes work. If Paris went just three days (although the sheriff credited her with five), Scooter can starve for longer than that. Even if he doesn't get a pardon, he may be able to significantly cut back on the number of days he goes away.

I guess Scooter's still watching the Paris debacle (who isn't?), but the story got more complicated this afternoon. Does the LA sheriff even talk to the Superior Court? The city attorney is suggesting that the sheriff be held in contempt of court, but the most intriguing line may be:

[Superior Court spokesman Allan] Parachini said at the time, it is the sheriff and not the judge who decides when inmates are released from jail.

So this suggests that after the court sets the sentence, it has nothing to do with carrying out that sentence. Is that true? Are we simply at the mercy of the good will of the prison system (if that's not an oxymoron). Surely one of our many readers involved with the legal system will wander by to set us straight.

I learned something interesting over at Kevin Drum's blog recently. Apparently the U.S. embargo against Cuba holds over Americans wherever they are in the world. Sure, it's illegal to have or buy Cuban cigars domestically, but I never knew that it's illegal for Americans to buy them in other countries where they're otherwise legally available. That seems to be governing more from spite than logical policy (that doesn't really happen, does it?).

We were talking about Fred Thompson the other night, and I realized after I finished that there were a couple more points I'd intended to make. If he does get into this contest (and it seems highly unlikely at this point that he won't), he'll have a couple of hurdles he'll have to overcome. James Dobson was quoted a couple of months ago in U.S. News & World Report, saying, "I don't think he's a Christian; at least that's my impression." Yow. Even if he can convince Dobson that he is, indeed, a Christian, Thompson will still have to surmount an awful lot of reluctance on the part of Dobson and potentially other Christian leaders. That's not the kind of comment one makes lightly. Dobson was clearly trying to sabotage a potential Thompson candidacy, and it will take a lot to keep Dobson quiet on the issue, let alone get him into Thompson's corner.

I'm having some doubts about his electoral strategy, too. We already noted his connection to the Scooter Libby case, but he recently added Timothy Griffin, described as "a former protege of Karl Rove," to his campaign. If the Rove connection is not enough, Griffin also ties into the U.S. attorney scandal. He won't say it in so many words, but is Thompson the Bush-continuation candidate? That can't be a winning strategy.

Thompson may also confront a monetary roadblock. I don't know what his residuals for an episode of Law & Order might be, but there's a good chance that episodes that feature Arthur Branch will have to be pulled from their current heavy rotation on TNT. So that's not just money out of his pocket (which probably isn't that much, compared to what he can make from speaking engagements and other gigs), but it's money from producer Dick Wolf's pocket (and I imagine his profit per ep is quite a bit more substantial than Thompson's is) as well as from TNT's pocket (or wherever a corporation keeps its spare change). The cable net TNT is a Time Warner company, so those financial concerns go even higher. Could Wolf and Time Warner already be lobbying Thompson to stay out of the race and on TV? As a former lobbyist, does Thompson have special invulnerability from being lobbied himself?

And one last thing. Getting back to the post from the other night, Stevie T offered a comment noting Thompson's resemblance to Boss Hogg. This afternoon, I got a hit on the blog from somebody googling "Fred Thompson Boss Hogg." So to extend the question I had in the first place, does this mean there are people out there who consider Boss Hogg sexy?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I'm Too Tired to Come Up with a Title

The massive Civil War project at work passed another milestone tonight, but while that means that it's getting closer to completion, it also means that it's pretty much full-court press time until it crosses the finish line (is that enough mixed metaphors for you?). The implication of that, of course, is that I don't have any time to offer much on the blog. Fortunately, though, once again through the good people at Behind the Times (subscription wall) (who could still stand to change their font), I noticed that in her Wednesday column, Maureen Dowd combines a couple of the primary interests at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk central. Take a look:

In mythic tales from "Superman" to "Star Wars" to "Spider-Man," there comes a moment when the young superhero has to learn to harness his powers. That's the challenge Barack Obama faces now.

Clearly, the 45-year-old senator is blessed with many gifts. He can write and talk, think and walk, with exceptional grace and agility.

When he wants to, Mr. Obama can rouse the crowd to multiple ovations, as he did yesterday when he talked with a preacher's passion about the "quiet riot" of frustration of blacks in this country, on issues like Katrina, in a speech before black clergy at Hampton University in Virginia.

But often he reverts to Obambi, tentative about commanding the stage and consistently channeling the excitement he engenders. At times, he seems to be actively resisting his phenom status and easy appeals to emotion. When he should fire up, he dampens. When he should dominate, he's deferential. When he should lacerate, he's languid.

Futilely, he chafes at the notion that debates and forums are rituals for showing a sense of command with a forceful one-liner, a witty takedown or a "shining city on a hill" moment. He keeps trying to treat them as places where he can riff, improvise, soothe, extrapolate or find common ground. He skitters away from the subtext of political contests, the need to use your force to slay your opponents.

Bless her (and/or her copy editor)--she even gets the Spider-Man hyphen right.

And by the way, yes, Dowd is talking about Hillary. She does it more explicitly in the piece itself, but here's her big close:

The Boy Wonder cannot take over the country unless he can take on Wonder Woman.

I guess Barack, the Boy Wonder, is better than some other things he's been called lately.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Does a Nickname Like "Scooter" Work for or Against You in the Joint?

So Scooter got his sentence today, and it includes jail time, as a serious offense like his deserves. I've long been tired of those who argue that there never were any charges for the crimes he's accused of obstructing. That would be because the obstruction worked. There was a cover up, and (so far at least) it's been successful. We've never been able to get to the bottom of what happened in the outing of Valerie Plame because Scooter was in the way. Maybe there was no wrongdoing--we can't know. But it always seems like a good rule of thumb that if somebody's trying to hide something, they're pretty sure it's worthy of being hidden. Was it a crime? Maybe, maybe not, but somebody seems to believe that it's worth 2 1/2 years of Scooter's life to make sure we never find out one way or the other.

Or maybe they don't. Although the White House is keeping a low profile for the moment, is there anyone who thinks Scooter isn't going to be pardoned? The only surprise to me so far is that there seems to be some hesitation on the part of the Prez. The Washington Post reports that it's the topic that dare not be broached in Bush's presence. You've got to wonder who he's worried about offending. It can't be people like me, who've never been on his side to begin with. I'm already alienated--it's only a matter of degree if I'm alienated further. He's got to be concerned about the people who are nominally on his side. Is he concerned about Congress? Could a pardon push some of the middle-of-the-road Republicans who might start voting against his Iraq policy?

It's an odd dynamic. At the Republican debate tonight, front-running candidates Guiliani and Romney didn't hesitate to say that they'd pardon Libby, and McCain didn't say he wouldn't. There's no question where that great unannounced candidate we discussed last night stands. The National Review has been on the record in favor of a pardon for three months now. But Bush seems to be concerned enough that he'd have a problem that he's holding off for now. And that's something, because you've got to know that Cheney's been leaning on him hard.

An intriguing footnote to all this is the mass of letters that was sent to Judge Reggie B. Walton in support of and in opposition to Scooter. Take a look at The Smoking Gun for a selection of the letters (starting with Donald Rumsfeld) or get them all in one fell swoop (be careful, though; that file's a 373-page PDF). My favorite is the one from Mary Matalin describing the lengths Scooter was willing to go to in order to make sure the Cheney grandchildren had a happy Halloween one year they were all stuck at the "undisclosed location" (her quote marks, not mine). Surely some enterprising soul is going to catalogue these so we can see the ones that interest us without being stuck scrolling through the whole mass of them one by one.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Very Important Question

I need some help with something. Can someone please tell me just what exactly is the appeal of upcoming GOP wonder-candidate Fred Thompson? Yeah, I'll admit that I've watched Law & Order, and I even remember him as far back as No Way Out, but what exactly is supposed to set him apart from every other actor I don't want to see elected president, either?

When you look at it, it's not so surprising that the Republicans would be so attracted to the empty suit--it's so much easier to imagine that it's filled with whatever you want it to be if there are no real ideals or values in it. Ronald Reagan, who as we get more and more perspective on his administration seems to have been more and more disconnected from his own presidency, became the perfect Conservative candidate. George Bush didn't have enough of a resume to distract us from the message of Compassionate Conservatism that he was intended to present. He was the perfect conservative, too--heir to Ronald Reagan--until the conservatives themselves got scared away by his tanking presidency and started to distance themselves from him (Glenn Greenwald has a great post from Monday documenting that phenomenon). And now here comes Arthur Branch Fred Thompson, who seems to stand for nothing but a folksy accent. That leaves room for a lot of imagined conservatism. The fact that between Hollywood movies and his eight years in the Senate he was also a high-profile Washington lobbyist squeezes out a bit of both the folksiness and the conservatism can be ignored until after November 2008.

I just don't get his "authentic" appeal. When he first ran for the senate seat Al Gore vacated when he became vice president, he drove around the state in his red pickup to prove he was "just folks." Except that it wasn't his pickup--the truck was leased by the campaign. And he didn't even drive it. Michelle Cottle had the goods on him more than ten years ago.

Finishing his talk [at a suburban Knoxville high school], Thompson shakes a few hands, then walks out with the rest of the crowd to the red pickup truck he made famous during his 1994 Senate campaign. My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school's small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer.

So what does he bring to the table in a presidential race? Apparently he's a "tough guy." Returning to Glenn Greenwald, a few days ago, he described Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman rolling around on the floor in excitement over this video. The first time I saw this video, I felt like I was enveloped in a big blanket of So What?. Wow, he calls out Michael Moore. I've never seen anyone do that before.

So do the Republicans really just have an empty yearning for some sort of ethereal something that they can't quite identify, and they're just willing to assume that this guy's got it? As Josh Marshall suggested a couple of days ago, there is something very Republican about him.

I think I'm starting to understand part of Fred Thompson's presidential strategy -- to connect himself to as many Bush administration scandals as possible, which is a very canny strategy. As John Dean points out here Thompson is perhaps the most prominent public advocate for a pardon for Scooter Libby as well as a frequent source of false statements about the Libby prosecution. He's also considering hiring Tim Griffin, star player in the US Attorney Purge scandal, as his presidential campaign manager.

And finally, I come to the question that spurred my on to writing this post in the first place. I'm burying it at the bottom because the question is somewhat embarrassing, but here we go. Is there really a substantial group of people who find him sexy? I've been hearing a buzz, lately, but when I google the terms, I get a lot of references to progressives making jokes about it, but I think there was only one serious affirmative response. So is there any sort or real groundswell? Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Can Bush Really Stand with Nixon?

I'm borrowing this week's Frank Rich column from Behind the Times (subscription wall) because I like their name. The site has posts and at least some NYTimes columns back to January 2006, which is a bit surprising to me, but more power to them (although I could stand it if they chose a more readable font).

Rich compares the Prez to Nixon and declares in his title, "Failed Presidents Ain't What They Used to Be." It's on the occasion of his visit to the new Broadway production of Frost/Nixon. Maybe I'd just better let him explain:

A few weeks ago I did something I never expected to do in my life. I shed a tear for Richard Milhous Nixon.

That's in no small measure a tribute to Frank Langella, who should win a Tony Award for his star Broadway turn in "Frost/Nixon" next Sunday while everyone else is paying final respects to Tony Soprano. "Frost/Nixon," a fictionalized treatment of the disgraced former president's 1977 television interviews with David Frost, does not whitewash Nixon's record. But Mr. Langella unearths humanity and pathos in the old scoundrel eking out his exile in San Clemente. For anyone who ever hated Nixon, this achievement is so shocking that it's hard to resist a thought experiment the moment you've left the theater: will it someday be possible to feel a pang of sympathy for George W. Bush?

Perhaps not. It's hard to pity someone who, to me anyway, is too slight to hate. Unlike Nixon, President Bush is less an overreaching Machiavelli than an epic blunderer surrounded by Machiavellis. He lacks the crucial element of acute self-awareness that gave Nixon his tragic depth. Nixon came from nothing, loathed himself and was all too keenly aware when he was up to dirty tricks. Mr. Bush has a charmed biography, is full of himself and is far too blinded by self-righteousness to even fleetingly recognize the havoc he's inflicted at home and abroad. Though historians may judge him a worse president than Nixon — some already have — at the personal level his is not a grand Shakespearean failure. It would be a waste of Frank Langella's talent to play George W. Bush (though not, necessarily, of Matthew McConaughey's).

This is in part why persistent cries for impeachment have gone nowhere in the Democratic Party hierarchy. Arguably the most accurate gut check on what the country feels about Mr. Bush was a January Newsweek poll finding that a sizable American majority just wished that his "presidency was over." This flat-lining administration inspires contempt and dismay more than the deep-seated, long-term revulsion whipped up by Nixon; voters just can't wait for Mr. Bush to leave Washington so that someone, anyone, can turn the page and start rectifying the damage. Yet if he lacks Nixon's larger-than-life villainy, he will nonetheless leave Americans feeling much the way they did after Nixon fled: in a state of anger about the state of the nation.

I'll leave it up to you to decide what this may or may not have to do with Hannah Arendt's ideas about the banality of evil. After describing the splits in the Democratic and Republican parties over the issues of, respectively, timetables in Iraq and the immigration bill, he takes stock of the larger picture.

The decibel level of the fin-de-Bush rage is a bit of a red herring. In truth, there is some consensus among Americans about the issues that are dividing both parties. The same May poll that found the country so wildly off-track showed agreement on much else. Sixty-one percent believe that we should have stayed out of Iraq, and 63 percent believe we should withdraw by 2008. Majorities above 60 percent also buy broad provisions of the immigration bill — including the 66 percent of Republicans (versus 72 percent of Democrats) who support its creation of a guest-worker program.

What these figures suggest is that change is on its way, no matter how gridlocked Washington may look now.

Rich is optimistic. He's tending to believe the Republicans in Congress who've been saying Bush has until September to do something. I hope that's correct, but my feeling is that they're only saying what they think they have to. It's the path of least resistence to put off until September what you can do today. In September, although the situation in Iraq likely won't have shifted at all (unless it's to have gotten worse), the military reports will be unrelentingly sunny, and the Repubs will be arguing that we can't quit now. They won't abandon their Prez any more then than they did when the Iraq budget with timetables first came up. They'll come up with some justification for continuing their support, and I can only hope they'll pay for it in November 2008 (which still sounds like a looooong way away). But I'm babbling. Let's let Mr. Rich finish making his point.

Edgy is out; easy listening is in; style, not content, can be king. In this climate, it's hardly happenstance that many Republicans are looking in desperation to Fred Thompson. Robert Novak pointedly welcomed his candidacy last week because, in his view, Mr. Thompson is "less harsh" in tone than his often ideologically indistinguishable rivals and "a real-life version of the avuncular fictional D.A. he plays on TV." The Democratic boomlet for Barack Obama is the flip side of the same coin: his views don't differ radically from those of most of his rivals, but his conciliatory personality is the essence of calm, the antithesis of anger.

If it was a relief to the nation to see a president as grandly villainous as Richard Nixon supplanted by a Ford, not a Lincoln, maybe even a used Hoover would do this time.

I don't know if the fact that I don't feel particularly conciliatory makes me question his argument or whether I've got some sort of logical basis for it, but this doesn't ring true for me. If we all agree, as Rich argued in a part of the piece I didn't quote, maybe we don't want a concilliatory candidate so much as someone who'll acknowledge that most of us are already standing together.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Site Update

I've had two posts in a row now that have mentioned that some of my blog roll links are out of date, so I guess that means that I should fix them. So I did. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to interrupt my last post to announce some housekeeping, but when I was in there updating Gilliard's address, I updated the others, as well. Some of them had unfortunately gone defunct, others I found I rarely looked in on these days, and I added a couple of others that are new (as I promised I would for Todd Allen's Comic Book Publishing Follies) or that I didn't know why I hadn't added them earlier. A few others had shifted their addresses, so although the links are not new, they'll link to wherever the site actually appears these days. A few readers click through to some of them every now and again, but I promise that you'll find at least a little bit of interest (or, at least, of interest to me) at any one of them.

The next step, obviously, would be a new site design, because this one is getting a bit long in the tooth after more than two years. While I'd love that to happen, I have to acknowledge that it's not on the drawing board for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, though, Happy surfing.

Steve Gilliard, 1966-2007

Not much today, as the massive Civil War project I've been working on still lingers and refuses to be finished. I will take the time, though, to note the passing of Steve Gilliard, a strong voice in the progressive blogosphere who wasn't as prominent as he should've been. He's one of the names over to the right that (as I alluded to last night) needed his link updated. It's been belatedly updated now, but the address change itself was fairly recent, so you can still browse through the archives at the old place. Dig around a while, you'll doubtless find something to both amuse and get your dander up.

As I said, Gilliard was a strong voice, and he cut to the point and didn't appear to have patience with anything less. He was only 41, and though he'd been in the hospital for a while at this point, that's just too young for anybody to leave a full life behind. There are appreciations appearing throughout the leftie bloggerverse, but I'll just quickly link to Kos and Jane at firedoglake, who have a bit more to say about him on a personal level.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Comic Book Publishing Follies

With the way that the producers of mainstream comic books seem determined to run their characters into the ground with their current storylines, I've got to admit that I'm becoming much more interested in what goes on in the comics community, business, and overall industry than what goes on in the interiors of the comics. Fortunately for me, then, Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk pal Todd Allen has just started a bi-weekly column for Comic Book Resources about the business of comics called Comic Book Publishing Follies (why does that sound familiar?). I suppose it's pretty good new for Todd, too. His first column went up on Friday, and he talks about comics industry salaries, webcomics, and new sales avenues. If you have any curiosity about that aspect of the comics industry at all, it's well worth a look.

One of these days, if I ever get around to polishing up my blogroll (which is currently languishing over there on the side of the page), I might even add Todd to it. Go read what he's got to say.

Friday, June 01, 2007

It Was Sixty Years Ago Today

Or so we’ve been told. That's when famous impresario Sgt. Pepper put his band together and started them going on their instruments (it’s never been revealed quite what that training encompassed or what musical proclivities the musicians may have had to begin with). Twenty years after that (which makes it forty years ago today) that moment was enshrined into pop and rock history. And it was twenty years ago today that we suffered through all the "It was twenty years ago today" jokes.

To listen to Sgt. Pepper's today, you'd never know it was the cultural cataclysm that it was. We've so absorbed the various threads that it introduced, the juxtapositions it implied, that it all sounds old hat to our modern ears. Sure, there are certainly some sublime moments, but if you don't already know its significance, you'd never know it by listening to it fresh.

That's an interesting aspect of truly groundbreaking artistic events. The ideas behind the innovation seem so quickly familiar that we can't remember what life was like without them. These former breakthroughs are all around us--I'm writing (and you're reading) on one of them now. Computers aren't as old as Sgt. Pepper's, so it's a bit easier to recall how we lived before then, but even now I wonder how we got by without instant access to worldwide information.

As an interesting experiment, I thought I'd go back sixty years to see what else happened the day Sgt. Pepper formed a band. I didn't come up with much, beyond Ronnie Wood of the Small Faces and Stones and Jonathan Pryce of Brazil being born. It was only a couple of years after World War II--maybe Sgt. Pepper just started his combo up because he and the boys were bored. Or given that they were the Lonely Hearts Club Band, maybe they formed a band for the oldest reason of all--to meet girls. I hope they were successful.

It's All Starting to Make Sense

No wonder the Prez insisted on no timetables for the budget funding the troops. I joked (and I was hardly the only one) that he wouldn't accept timetables because he never intended to leave. Well, I never expected anyone in his administration to actually own up to this, but that's just what the Prez's crack press secretary, Tony Snow, has done.

President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.

The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.

. . .

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea in which "you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support model."

And just in case anyone thinks Snow was talking out of turn, the secretary of defense and a major general in Iraq both jumped on the bandwagon.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a senior U.S. commander said yesterday that they favor a protracted U.S. troop presence in Iraq along the lines of the military stabilization force in South Korea.

Gates told reporters in Hawaii that he is thinking of "a mutual agreement" with Iraq in which "some force of Americans . . . is present for a protracted period of time, but in ways that are protective of the sovereignty of the host government." Gates said such a long-term U.S. presence would assure allies in the Middle East that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq as it did from Vietnam, "lock, stock and barrel."

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who oversees daily military operations in Iraq, supported the idea at a news conference in which he also said U.S. military units are trying to reach cease-fire agreements with Iraqi insurgents.

Odierno said he sees benefits in maintaining a South Korean-style force in Iraq for years. "I think it's a great idea," he said, adding that the Iraqi and U.S. governments would have to make that decision.

At least they've got it right out in the open now, so we can all be clear on what we're talking about.

In case you need a refresher, Slate's Fred Kaplan and Josh Marshall explain why Iraq is not South Korea.