Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saving Bushies

Crew members of the S.S. Bush Titanic are beginning to surface from the wreckage. Today a survivor tells his story to The New York Times. He might want to consider a new career helping to deprogram other wavering Bushies who are ready to jump overboard.

Running in the Family

Seeing Michael Douglas in an almost-new movie last night made me feel very, very old.

In “The Sentinel” (2006), he plays a Secret Service Agent who is bedding the First Lady and is framed in a plot to kill her husband blah blah blah...too ridiculous to go on. Maybe Michael at 62 is trying to keep up with Clint Eastwood who played a Secret Service Agent at 63 in a much better movie, “In the Line of Fire.”

As a contemporary of his father Kirk, it made me feel ancient, recalling a moment we shared almost half a century ago.

We were in a Park Avenue duplex at one of those gatherings where the privileged babble away with no human connection whatever. To keep the conversation going, I suggested a game: Name the actor you would want to star in a movie of your life. “As for me,” I said, nodding at Kirk Douglas across the table, “I see Kirk in the part.”

He smiled the familiar dazzling smile that never quite reaches his eyes, a flash of the amused anger that fueled his movie-star charm. I smiled back in what I took to be a moment of shared irony between boys of dirt-poor immigrant parents being wined, dined and bored by the very rich.

That was in another world. Now Kirk’s son, who is eligible for Social Security, is waving a gun and running alongside an actress 30 years younger than he is.

Michael, be careful, you could hurt yourself.

Why Chuck Hagel Shouldn't Run

The Senator from Nebraska has a fatal flaw: He’s an inveterate truth-teller and this week, even in his home state, editorial writers and his own political mentor are battering him for voting with the Democrats to try to end the war.

As he watches old Vietnam comrade John McCain twist himself like a pretzel to be all things to all Republicans, Hagel must see that campaigning for President is worse than, to use his own expression, selling shoes. At least that involves trying to make your product fit.

Running as an Independent won’t work either. For that, you have to have an ego the size of Ralph Nader and a complete disregard for whether you’ll be drawing votes away from an anti-war Democrat who might win and stop this insanity.

Just keep telling the truth and voting your conscience, Senator. That’s honor enough in the Bush era.

Quick Groucho Fix

From his 1950s quiz show, "You Bet Your Life," from my memory bank and IMDb:

Groucho: Where are you employed?
Contestant: I don't work.
Groucho: Yes, but where are you employed?

Groucho: Why do you have so many children?
Female Contestant: Well, I love my husband very much.
Groucho: Hey, I enjoy a good cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Strolling in Iraq

Before Bill Bennett accepts John McCain’s invitation to saunter through Baghdad, they may want to take a look at the Christian Science Monitor report today on “the lawlessness and mayhem” our surge troops are trying to contain in the district they call “The Swamp.”

Last weekend a suicide bomber drove a truck into an Iraq police station near their Gator outpost and killed twenty, and one of their officers reports an “uptick in the number of bodies found in the area after a brief decline that coincided with the start of the US-Iraq security crackdown last month.”

A Time Magazine reporter does back up the Senator’s assertion, “It’s safe for a stroll--if you take two bodyguards and wear your running shoes.”

If Senator McCain decides to go for that walk, never mind a radio host. Take Joe Lieberman.

Bushies Who Can't Shoot Straight

What they had in mind apparently was “The Godfather,” but more and more it’s turning out to be “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a Mafia comedy that preceded it.

As bad as Alberto Gonzales has been in overplaying the bumbler Fredo, yesterday we had Kyle Sampson as an inept Luca Brasi getting repeatedly nailed by questioning Senators. If and when they hear from Karl Rove, Bush’s Sonny Corleone, and Harriet Miers, his underperforming consigliere, the parody may only get worse.

The code of silence has morphed into “Who, me?” In “The Gang That...,” Jimmy Breslin milked the Mafia for laughs, having a midget run the Boss’ pet lion through a car wash, but this bunch is having even more trouble coming clean.

Breslin’s contempt for mobsters was exceeded only by his distaste for politicians. As a New Journalism lark in 1969, he ran for President of the New York City Council and got 75,000 votes. In his concession speech, he announced, “I am mortified to have taken part in a process that requires the bars to be closed.”

If he were covering Washington today, what would Breslin make of Democrats as the Tattaglias stopping to pilfer fruit in their budget shootout with the Godfather?

"West Wing" Flashback

Toward the end of “The West Wing” run, Kristin Chenoweth played Annabeth Schott, a short (4’11”), pretty blonde woman in her thirties who becomes Deputy Press Secretary to the President.

In the White House this week, taking over for the ailing Tony Snow is a pretty blonde woman in her thirties, “diminutive even in two-inch heels,” the Deputy Press Secretary, Dana Perino.

Annabeth Schott was from Oklahoma. Dana Perino is from Colorado and, when she started her present job in 2006, she told the Denver Post, “It’s not like the West Wing on NBC. People aren’t making decisions walking down the hallway before you see them go into the rest room.”

But Ms. Perino’s debut as spokesperson was more dramatic than anything on the TV show, a tear-filled briefing on Tony Snow’s medical condition.

So far, the White House press corps, no pussycats, are giving her favorable reviews

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The President's Pleasure

One of the truly annoying tics of this White House, as often shown on the Daily Show by juxtaposing sound bites, is the repetition of catch phrases for the lie du jour.

For the U.S. Attorney flap, they have chosen the most grating of them all: “the pleasure of the President.”

Used at least twice today by Dana Perino to answer questions about the status of Alberto Gonzales, “the pleasure of the President” conjures up images from an old Cecil B. DeMille movie of a fat Nero lounging in the palace with half-dressed maidens dangling grapes over his mouth.

We got the picture of an Imperial Presidency long ago. They don’t have to keep rubbing it in.

It Only Hurts When You Laugh

The news out of Washington today is that Alberto Gonzales goes but Bush will fight Congress to keep the troops in Iraq.

Kyle Sampson’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee exposes his former boss as a public liar which, even by Washington standards, makes him ineligible to keep serving as our top law enforcement officer.

The President will let him go, however reluctantly, but he is ready to fight over Congressional restrictions in the troop-funding legislation.

The Democrats, who talk fervently about getting us out of Iraq, have given him ammunition by failing to resist the temptation to load the appropriations with several hundred million dollars of “pork” to deal with local “emergencies” involving strawberries, beets, sugar cane, shrimp, peanuts and, with perfect symbolism, Christmas trees.

While stuffing their constituents’ pockets with taxpayer money, how can they debate the war with straight faces?

"My Pet Government" Spelled Out

Since 9/11, President Bush has been too busy for classroom reading to children, so for their edification and his, herewith text for a new volume in the “My Pet Goat” series. (Illustrations by Nancy Pelosi to follow.)

Deciders: Everybody’s opinion counts.
Elections: No funny business like Florida 2000.
Media: They tell people things you want to hide.
Oversight: Others are allowed to watch what you do.
Choice: How people act in private is private.
Republicans: Endangered species that may survive.
Attorney General: Somebody who knows legal stuff.
Congress: They pass laws that you enforce and obey.
Youth: Time for going to college, not war.

NY NY or Chattanooga Choo-Choo?

Weirdness is in the air for '08. Both parties have front-runners from New York, but the dark horses are home boys from Tennessee who went Hollywood.

Neither is a declared candidate--yet--but Oscar winner Al Gore and veteran actor Fred Thompson have climbed to third place in the polls without uttering a line on the Presidential scene.

Thompson, at least, is warming up his vocal chords but, as for now, letting others do the talking. Congressman Zach Wamp, a phrasemaker if there ever was one, who has launched a Draft Thompson web site, says, "He has charisma coming out of his ears."

No one has made such a claim for Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani but, if Thompson runs, there will be sacrifices involved for the candidate and his admirers.

TV will have to stop reruns of "Law and Order" to comply with equal-time rules, depriving Thompson of residuals and fans of his charisma.

But it worked out well for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. His 1951 masterwork, "Bedtime for Bonzo," disappeared for a while, but after the election, he and the chimp came back stronger than ever.



Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cancer and Iraq

Two subjects dominate the TV news tonight and, in the calculus of American death, they are related.

As the medical profession reports new hope for breast-cancer detection through MRIs, Congress and the President draw battle lines over funding the war in Iraq.

But the money to save lives here is being used to destroy lives there. CBS News reports that funding for cancer research has been hampered by budget cuts over the past four years, and where will we get the money to pay for expensive MRIs for women who can’t afford them?

Cancer and Iraq are both life-and-death issues, but we have a White House that is committed to only one of them.

Democrats and Dog Food

The blue side of the new ’08 polling shows little change: Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by 35 to 22 percent, a shade closer than last month, with undeclared Al Gore at 17.

As expected, John Edwards gets a “sympathy bounce” of five points to 14 percent, only slightly higher than his January and February levels. When asked if he would eventually withdraw because of his wife’s illness, 38 percent of those who responded thought he would.

Hillary Clinton’s problem, and Obama’s opportunity, are reflected in the fact that by far the most common reason for backing him is distaste for her.

Senator Clinton does not seem to be making much headway in her attempt to reintroduce herself to voters as “the most famous person you don’t really know.”

All this recalls the story of the re-marketing of a dog food--improved nutritional formula, better packaging, more effective ads--but no spike in sales. Asked to explain, the brand manager shrugs: “The damn dogs just won’t swallow it.”

The Forrest Gump Candidate

Fred Thompson isn’t doing much acting these days, at least not in front of cameras. But he has been busy rehearsing in Washington for a run at the Republican ’08 nomination.

He’s getting a good deal of encouragement. The new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows him running third behind Giuliani and McCain (whose race is tightening), while Thompson is still off-camera, undeclared.

His standing confirms the power of movies and TV to shape the national mind, and it’s just too much to resist pointing out that one of his backers is a partner in the law firm of Akin Gump, evoking the image of that Baby Boomer icon who walks through life accumulating reknown from being accidently seen in the momentous events of his time.

Words to Debate Iraq By

This morning evokes thoughts of our 34th President, Dwight David Eisenhower. He died on this day, March 28, 1969, thirty-eight years ago.

Not much of an anniversary, but in this time of Bush, Cheney, Rove and Gonzales, the man everybody called Ike is more and more a reminder of a lost American decency.

I met the general-turned-politician one night in 1964 when he invited half a dozen editors to dinner in Gettysburg, Pa. He had had a bad day, taking phone calls from friends about whether or not he should speak out against the nomination of Barry Goldwater for President.

Besieged with advice, Eisenhower asked wistfully, “Why is the will of God known to so many people but not to me, when I’m the one who needs it most?”

Unlike Bush, Ike was a devout man but did not presume to get his marching orders from a “Higher Power.” Unlike Bush and Cheney, he knew war intimately and hated it as only a soldier can.

As the White House and Congress begin their battle of words over bringing our young people back from Iraq, they may want to remember some of Eisenhower’s:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

He said this soon after taking office in 1953. Eight years later, in his farewell address, he put it more simply:

“People want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Memo to CNN

Can’t you give Lou Dobbs tranquilizers and/or rabies shots to get him out of our faces?

On cable news, almost all anchors have been pushing up ratings with opinionated reporting, but Dobbs is off the charts, and your network keeps encouraging him with "specials” to augment his nightly venting.

Has it escaped your attention that his grousing and smirking have been rabble-rousing over illegal immigrants more than any politician in sight? Have you been paying attention to the nasty tone of viewer e-mails in response to his so-called newscasts?

Does the name “Father Coughlin” sound familiar? Try googling it, and then give some thought to what you’re doing for the sake of ratings.


What Clinton and Obama Have in Common

In coming months, voters will be judging Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What will they make of their youthful intersections with one of the fascinating figures of twentieth-century American politics, Saul Alinsky?

A grass-roots organizer of the poor who used radical means to work within the system, Alinsky was a puzzle to ideologues of both the right and left.

In 1970, Time Magazine concluded, “It is not too much to argue that American democracy is being altered by Alinsky’s ideas. In an age of dissolving political labels, he is a radical--but not in the usual sense, and he is certainly a long way removed from New Left extremists.”

The year before, a Wellesley student, Hillary Rodham, had spent time a good deal of time interviewing him as the subject of her senior thesis.

Seventeen years later, a Columbia University graduate, Barack Obama, took a $13,000-a-year job in the Chicago organization Alinsky had founded.

Alinsky is a maddening figure to assess, even from this distance. He was charismatic, caring and selfless, but he could be crude, vulgar, disruptive and self-centered--often at the same time. His passion inspired downtrodden people, from Chicago stockyard workers to California migrant laborers, to organize and stand up for themselves.

Hillary Rodham’s thesis gave him a mixed review, conceding that Alinsky was “a born organizer” and “a man of exceptional charm” in “a peculiarly American tradition” but ultimately judging him unable to create larger social change. She was “tempted” but declined his offer of a job and went on to law school.

In 1985, Obama began three years of community organizing, getting residents to agitate for improvements such as better trash removal, playgrounds for their kids and removing asbestos from public housing. The he too decided to go to law school.

In announcing his candidacy, Obama said that, in those neighborhoods, he had “received the best education I ever had” and “learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.”

Hillary Clinton has been more circumspect about her Alinsky experience. When her husband became President, she had her thesis sealed and, even now, it can only be read on the Wellesley campus.

Her caution is understandable: Hillary Rodham’s college years were a time of national turmoil. She began as president of the campus Republicans and ended supporting Gene McCarthy’s effort to stop the war in Vietnam.

What Clinton and Obama had in common, a generation apart, was youthful idealism looking for a way to express itself in the larger world. Despite his radical methods, Alinsky believed in working through the system. “Compromise,” he said, “is a noble word that sums up democracy.”

Now as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face the ultimate test of democracy, they can expect their early years to be the target of sliming. The producer of the swift-boat attack ads is salivating over the prospect of showing John McCain as a POW and superimposing phrases from the Wellesley thesis.

To deal with that kind of distortion, Clinton and Obama will have to show a toughness Alinsky doubted that people like them have. “A liberal,” he liked to say, “is someone who walks out of the room when the argument turns into a fight.”

What’s at stake in 2008 is worth fighting for.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Numbers Game, Reagan Style

By the Bush rules, does indicting a former Republican official count against a U.S. Attorney?

David Stockman’s 15 minutes of fame came in December, 1981 when, as Reagan’s budget chief, he was supposed to be selling tax cuts for the rich as “supply side economics.” But in an Atlantic interview, he admitted it was “always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate...Supply side is ‘trickle down’ theory.”

“None of us,” he added, “understands what’s going on with all these numbers.”

Stockman was “taken to the woodshed by Reagan” for talking out of school and eventually left Washington to console himself by making tons of money on Wall Street.

Now he’s being indicted for securities fraud. Will his defense involve not understanding what was going on with all the numbers?


Bush's Clueless Cronyism

In 1952, Harry Truman’s last year in office, The New York Times referred to his Administration’s “sorry reputation for...cronyism.”

As the Alberto Gonzales saga unfolds, it’s clear that Truman has been outdone by George Bush. Harry S appointed an old friend, Tom Clark, A.G. but Clark had been in the Justice Department for 20 years. Gonzales’s main qualifications were getting Bush off jury duty in Texas and then, as White House counsel, telling him torture is OK.

Under the traditional spoils system, winners put friends into jobs for which they had marginal abilities or into marginal jobs where abilities were beside the point.

Bush has redefined that into a frat-house, country-club favoritism for critical positions: Brownie lost his job promoting Arabian horses so why not let him run FEMA?

The loyal old family retainers, Cheney and Rumsfeld, would do as VP and Secretary of Defense. They steered us into Iraq, using Gen. Colin Powell to front for them at the UN. Now the State Department is being run by old pal Condoleeza Rice who, as keen political observer Donald Trump has noted, does nothing but stand on tarmacs and wave to the cameras.

By contrast, Truman’s Secretary of State, a non-crony, Gen. George Marshall, devised a plan for the recovery of Western Europe from World War II.

With the help of super-crony Karl Rove, Bush has practiced equal opportunity for the unqualified, not only with Rice, but in trying to slip hopeless Harriet Meirs onto the Supreme Court bench. But the way things are going, he may soon run out of acquaintances and be forced to start appointing total strangers to Cabinet and White House positions.


Scandal du Jour

Today's special from Chef Rove is a platter of hors d'oeuvres for the General Services Administration prepared by his assistant, J. Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, cooking up ways to violate the Hatch Act, which bans Presidential appointees from using their positions for political purposes.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman is preparing to feast this week on testimony about no-bid contracts and events designed to help Republican candidates from Lurita Alexis Doan, chair of the GSA, which oversees $56 billion of federal contracts a year.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hillary Clinton's "Rock Solid" Endorsement

Hillary Clinton will be in Iowa tomorrow, and Tom Vilsack will endorse her.

The former governor, who was first to announce his candidacy for President last year and the first to drop out last month, has apparently been courted ever since with an all-out press from Sen. Clinton, her husband and former Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Gov. Vilsack, a formidable man who will undoubtedly be considered as a running mate for Mrs. Clinton, has heard from Barack Obama as well. But when he was still running, Vilsack may have dropped a clue about his eventual preference.

“I’m not a rock star,” he said, “but I’m rock solid.”

Rovespeak

If you’re wondering why Senate Democrats insist on questioning Karl Rove under oath with a full complement of informed interrogators, take a look at his slippery explanation of the U.S. Attorney firings earlier this month on the Arkansas Times website.

As Adolf Hitler used to say, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.”

Or perhaps the Judiciary Committee has been reading Jonathan Swift: “A lie is an excuse guarded.”

No Spellbinder

For a new generation: Try to imagine a handsome All-American basketball player and Rhodes scholar who went on to become a United States Senator and Presidential candidate of whom it can be fairly said, “How that man lights up a room when he leaves it!”

On “Meet the Press” today, Bill Bradley discussed his new book, which asserts that “Politics is stuck” but “idealism isn’t dead” and describes the Democratic Party as “an inverted pyramid with too much emphasis put on a charismatic leader to hold the pyramid up.”

As always, Bradley is thoughtful, thorough and sound in his judgments. But will he be heard?

I was there when the New York Knicks retired his number at a halftime ceremony in 1984. As Bradley was making his brief speech of gratitude, the crowd of adoring fans quickly became restless and started urging him to stop.

In the 2000 primaries, he made Al Gore seem magnetic, and that was not easy to do. But if the country is to create what Bradley calls “an ethic of connectedness,” a combination of collective action and individual responsibility, the next President should put him in the cabinet. He may not make a great talking head, but America needs his mind and spirit.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Emptying of Iraq

If and when Bush’s surge ever pacifies Baghdad, who will be left to enjoy the fruits of democracy our troops are bringing with them?

As an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis flee for their lives every month to swell the total of 2.3 million who have left, the UN estimates almost another 2 million are homeless inside their own country.

Imagine New York City without half its population or Los Angeles with deserted freeways and empty, looted houses.

Imagine the best-educated, professional and idealistic people forced out, leaving the poor, the old and the helpless at the mercy of street gangs.

Imagine Westchester County and northern California overwhelmed with refugees.

Imagine all that when Republicans talk about “victory” and Democrats try to set timetables for withdrawal. If it were happening here, would Washington refuse to talk to New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona and Nevada about region-wide solutions? Would the rest of the U.S. keep shopping and try not to think about what is happening? Would we tolerate a President who believes diplomacy is weakness?

It Only Hurts When I Laugh

The Alberto Gonzales comedy of errors is heading toward the final curtain. In a Friday night news dump, the Justice Department tries to slip past notice the fact that the A.G., who has sworn more than once he had nothing to do with firing the U.S. Attorneys, held an hour-long meeting in November "to review a plan to fire U.S. Attorneys."

Kyle Sampson was there, but so was his "Who me?" boss, the Deputy A.G. and four other Justice officials.

Adios, Alberto. You're not the first and won't be the last to fall on his sword for Karl Rove.

Free Speech in Washington

Amid all the futile, sometimes high-schoolish efforts in Congress to end the war in Iraq, a grownup voice can be heard.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

This is happening in the town next to the one in which I live to young people two or three generations from me. It leaves me as speechless as they are.

Annals of American Greed

Q. What do you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A. A good start.

That very old joke comes to mind as headlines blare over the shenanigans of the nation’s attorney, Alberto Gonzales and his merry men at the Justice Department.

Its civil counterpart is unfolding in Lexington, Kentucky where a grand jury is investigating lawyers who won a $200 million settlement but apparently kept most of it for themselves.

In the Annals of American Greed, the case promises to be a classic. Start at the bottom with average citizens looking for a free lunch by taking a prescription drug to help lose weight without going to the effort of diet and exercise, doctors reaping fees for obliging them and a pharmaceutical company making hundreds of millions for providing the stuff in the mid-1990s.

When users began to suffer heart damage and the drug, phen-fen AKA fen-phen, was withdrawn at the request of the FDA, the legal profession took over. By 2005, there were an estimated 50,000 lawsuits seeking $14 billion for victims. The Lexington case was one of them.

But instead of receiving the customary two-thirds of the settlement, clients got only $74 million of the $200 million with lawyers keeping $106 million and the remaining
$20 million going into a “charitable fund” administered for $5000 a month by, surprise, the judge in the case who understandably retired from the bench

The judge, according to The New York Times, has returned his fees after the state Judicial Conduct Commission called his behavior “shocking to the conscience.”

Now a grand jury has taken over, but liability lawyers are indomitable. Google “phen-fen lawsuit,” and the first two paid links will steer you to attorneys who want to represent new victims.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Neatness Doesn't Count (Tell the IRS)

In one of his best sight gags, W.C. Fields would reach into a pile of papers bulging out of a roll top desk and find just the right document.

That would draw a laugh from the neatness-impaired, who need all the comfort they can get, especially this time of year while searching for W-2s, receipts, canceled checks and other fodder for the IRS.

Now comes a new book titled “A Fine Mess” to extol the virtues of clutter and belabor the rigid, organized and anal-retentive. Slobs are much more creative, the authors insist.

As for the book, just toss my copy on the pile overflowing the coffee table.

Crooks, Liars and Fools

When new ways to be wrong are invented, politicians will find them. The “People’s House” has just passed a bill requiring the President to bring troops home from Iraq by the end of next year. The bad news is that the vote was 218-212, far, far from veto-proof.

The most liberal Democrats voted no it because it doesn’t go far enough. The most “liberal” Republicans voted no out of loyalty to an Administration that cost them control of Congress last year and will make an endangered species out of them next year.

My own Representative, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, is a prime example of the latter. “This administration has made a countless number of mistakes and dug a very deep hole,” he tells the AP. But in the next breath he says Congress shouldn’t “micromanage” the war and then proposes an amendment “requiring Bush to develop a troop redeployment plan within 60 days.”

As for me, I propose an amendment to my friends at Crooks and Liars: Fools may be in the majority.

Pray and Think

“The perfect is the worst enemy of the very good.”

Someone should put up that sign in the office of every House Democrat who is resisting Nancy Pelosi’s effort to pass a bill setting benchmarks to end the war in Iraq.

That includes the venerable John Lewis, her deputy whip, who is opposing the bill because of his “commitment to nonviolence and his unwillingness to devote more money to the war.”

By refusing to take small steps to the end the war eventually because of his desire to end it now, Rep. Lewis and those who agree with them are doing what millions of Ralph Nader voters did in 2000. They gave us Bush rather than Gore, and this kind of all-or-nothing thinking will just give us what we want least--continuing violence in Iraq.

“Let’s pray about it,” Speaker Pelosi asked him. A little thought might be helpful, too.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kyle Sampson, Meet Scooter Libby

The Bush White House reverses everything. Instead of captains going down with their ships, as each vessel founders, an assistant is left behind to sink with it: Scooter Libby with the S.S. Plame, now Kyle Sampson with the U.S. Attorney Destroyer.

Like Libby, Sampson has hired a lawyer who is asking for a delay in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee for two compelling reasons: (1) Alberto Gonzales’ former chief of staff needs more time to review the ton of recently released e-mails, presumably to gauge how much wiggle room is left to shield his boss, Harriet Meirs and Karl Rove and (2) his attorney has non-refundable tickets for his family’s spring vacation.

As Sen. Pat Leahy keeps trying to get Rove and Meirs to appear before his committee under oath, the White House response echoes the succinct suggestion Dick Cheney made to Leahy in June, 2004.

Giuliani's Challenge

Start with the cliché: America’s Mayor. In the days after 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was an impressive figure, always in charge, reassuring in his calm but realistic manner, a symbol of security in the midst of trauma. He was more than the mayor of a stricken city. While George Bush left off his reading of “My Pet Goat” to be spirited away into hiding, Giuliani was the nation’s pseudo-President.

It is understandable that many Americans now want to see him in the White House. So far he has become the Republican front runner by default, as John McCain self-destructs by swerving toward Jerry Falwell, cheerleading Bush’s surge and a series of campaign gaffes that raise questions about a man in his seventies.

But Giuliani’s testing is about to start. As he heads toward nomination, some Karl Rove wannabes working for Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich or Fred Thompson are sure to try swift-boating him, not only on his personal life (three marriages and a father with a criminal history) but the issues that roil the Republican right: abortion, gun control and gay rights.

Will Giuliani stand up to these attacks as well as he responded to those of the terrorists? Can he bring the Republicans back to the pre-Bush days of responsible authority (see Andrew Sullivan) and away from our era of “Cheap Grace and Invincible Ignorance”?

If he can, voters in 2008 may have a choice of two viable approaches to government for the first time since fear-and-smear took over the Republican party.

Playing Catch-Up with Bush

To stoop to a sports metaphor, Democrats in Congress have entered the Iraq game with Bush at the start of the fourth quarter, losing badly.

Their first instinct--to throw Hail Mary passes (timetables for withdrawal, cut-off of funding)—hasn’t moved them an inch toward the goal line. Trick plays, such as non-binding resolutions, have thrown them for losses.

Now their coaches are ready to do it the hard way--grinding out small gains. The House will vote this week on a resolution that, in the approving words of a New York Times editorial, imposes benchmarks for much-needed political progress on the Iraqi government--and links them to the continued presence of American forces.”

Such benchmarks, like a series of first downs, will move the country toward its goal. We can only hope that the likes of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales will not be carrying the ball.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Odds for '08

Presidential polls keep fluctuating, but what about the people who are putting their money where their mouths are—the bookies?

Betting on the next President is heavy these days, even with the distraction of March Madness. The odds vary, but they show a pattern. Using the dispassionate UK bookmakers as a guide, the hard-eyed crowd worldwide has Hillary Clinton as the best bet (from 2-1 to even money) over all with Rudy Giuliani closing in at about 3.5-1.

Runners-up are John McCain and Barack Obama, both at about 5-1 with John Edwards, Mitt Romney and undeclared Al Gore all in the 10-1 range.

If you really are a plunger, you can get 100-1 on Jim Webb, Barbara Boxer--or Dick Cheney.

To protect wives and children of compulsive gamblers, there will be no links here to the betting sites and a bit of paternal advice: Horses and basketball players are more reliable than politicians, and their competitions are mercifully brief.

From Ike to Imhofe

Dwight Eisenhower defined an intellectual as "someone who takes more words than he needs to tell you more than he knows."

No one ever compared Sen. James Imhofe to Ike or, for that matter, Al Gore to Einstein, but the former President's definition will be at the heart of the debate in Washington this afternoon when Gore appears before the Senate's environmental committee after facing the House's counterpart this morning.

Gore, who wrote "An Incovenient Truth" and starred in the Academy Award-winning movie version, will face Sen. Imhofe, who is an author himself--of a recent pamphlet with the catchy title, "A Skeptic's Guide to Global Warming Alarmism."

"You gotta show the inconsistencies in his position," the Oklahoma Republican says, "that has to be done."

Meanwhile, in the House, former Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. Joe Barton sent Gore a letter yesterday asking him to explain his comment that "it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations" on global warming. Did he mean "Hollywood hyperbole ?"

Let the clash of ideas begin.

George Bush's Ugly Ploy

Like the semi-cute girl in high school who would hang out with the plainest friends to make herself look dazzling, George Bush may be cleverer than we know,

The parade of unappealing people who have always surrounded him defies the law of averages: John Ashcroft, Rumsfeld with his Three Stooges--Feith, Wolfowitz and Perle--Brownie of FEMA fame, Scooter Libby, Scott McClellan, John Bolton, Harriet Meirs and now, Alberto Gonzales, to say nothing of those golden oldies, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

As soon as one goes overboard, along comes a less attractive replacement, i.e., Gonzales for Ashcroft. It’s terrifying to think who might be next.

But lest liberals get too smug, they may want to recall what happened when Kennedy surrounded himself with what David Halberstam caustically called “The Best and the Brightest.” Vietnam was the product of overconfident brilliance, just as arrogant stupidity gave us Iraq.

“You can’t beat brains,” JFK liked to say. How about old-fashioned competence?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraqis Want Us to Go, Too

A corporate president, recovering from surgery, receives a telegram: “Your board of directors wishes you a speedy recovery, by a vote of 6 to 5.”

That wry old story is recalled by the recent polling of how Iraqis feel about the war in which they are caught. While they prefer life today to Saddam Hussein’s regime, by 49% to 26% (although one poll shows that margin lower and decreasing), more than half (53%) believe it will get better after we and our allies leave.

Iraqis who feel their life is good have dropped from 71% three years ago to 40% today, according to one of the surveys.

So, after four years, most Iraqis want us to go as do most Americans and their elected representatives.

But what do they know? Bush, Cheney, Lieberman and McCain know what’s good for them, and they control the board of directors for this war.

Political Lessons from a Slow Learner

Gary Hart, who might have been President, suggests today on the Huffington Post the lessons to be learned from the disaster in Iraq, chief among them not to treat dealing with terrorism as a war but as a law enforcement effort against organized crime and create an international agency to prosecute it.

It is a sad reminder of the losses to our public life we suffer from the media-centric treatment of politicians like rock stars.

Hart, a Senator from Colorado, barely lost the Democratic nomination to Walter Mondale in 1984 and was considered the front runner for 1988 until he challenged the media to “follow me around” after rumors about his womanizing began to circulate.

They did and published a photo of a young woman on his lap during a cruise on a yacht named “Monkey Business,” and Democrats ended up with Michael Dukakis, who apparently was faithful to his wife but had little else to endear him to voters. Hart has been on the political sidelines since then.

Oddly, I met him in 1984 at a party hosted by Arianna Huffington, then Stassinopolous. Hart had just appeared on the “Today” show and, when I suggested he had muffed an answer, yawned and said, “It was just too early in the morning.”

He shouldn’t have been staying up late even then.

"The Icing on the Cake"

Yesterday’s batch of e-mails from the Justice Department reveal that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who nailed Scooter Libby, was ranked no higher than two prosecutors who were eventually fired but, according to the explainers-in-retrospect now, “was never seriously considered for removal.”

That might just have a little something to do with the fact that the other two were not in the media spotlight, as Fitzgerald was at the time. He was given the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2002 by John Ashcroft, Bush’s first A.G. but that was before he started looking into the Valerie Plame leak.

“He is probably the best prosecutor in the nation--certainly one of them,” Mary Jo White, who supervised his work, told the Washington Post yesterday. “It casts total doubt on the whole process. It’s kind of the icing on the cake.”

The cake seems to have been laced with arsenic, something we never would have known if the Democrats hadn’t won control of Congress in November.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Good Days and Bad Days

“The world is rid of Saddam Hussein,” the President tells us on the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Condoleeza Rice says “it is worth the sacrifice.”

That’s it? All our loss of lives and limbs to remove Saddam Hussein from a balcony shooting off a rifle while George W. Bush was behind a podium shooting off his mouth? All the sacrifice of our safety from terror and our standing in the world to get Saddam hiding in a hole instead of living in a palace? All those billions of dollars to get him tried and hanged?

Four years and one day ago, there were bad guys and good guys in Baghdad, and no Americans were being killed. Now we don’t know who the good guys are and who are the bad, and the President tells us “there will be good days and there will be bad days ahead.”

What was today? Eight worshippers die in the explosion of a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, and a dozen more are killed by four car bombs in Kirkuk.

What about yesterday when nine beheaded police officers were found in Ramadi and the “Peace Hotel” was destroyed in Fallujah, killing or wounding at least 20, when a U.S. Marine was murdered in the province and two other soldiers died in Diyala, when 18 bound and tortured bodies were discovered in the Iraq capital?

Unfortunate, the President and Secretary Rice tell us, but Saddam Hussein is gone.



Gore's Gravitas

This is going to be Al Gore Week, as the former VP and putative President of 2000, comes to Washington to testify about global warming to both the House and Senate.

The media will be filled with hot air, not about the climate but Gore’s Presidential intentions, and why not?

At this stage of the ’08 sweepstakes, he could bring much-needed gravitas to the circus. For Democrats, his entry would make it a three-way race about more than personal style, placing Hillary Clinton’s claims of historical legitimacy and Barack Obama’s future-minded appeal in the context of a candidate with credentials on both counts.

Gore would be subjected to second-guessing on many counts, but his answers would show voters much about his past accomplishments and mistakes--and what he has learned from them.

America needs a serious discussion of more than the passions of the moment aroused during the tenure of today’s atrocious Administration. The news that Albert Arnold Gore Jr. may be trimming down to his fighting weight is welcome to anyone who has serious concerns about the future of the country.


Downgrading Rove

If any good comes from the Justice Department scandal, aside from adiosing Alberto Gonzales, it will be reclassifying Karl Rove from Bush’s Brain to lower parts of his anatomy, front and back.

From the welter of contradictory statements and revealing e-mails emerges a picture, not of a master strategist or shrewd tactician, but the greasy mechanic of the White House sleaze machine who is not too macho to hide behind Harriet Meir’s skirts.

His first significant sighting came on Election Night 2000 just after the networks had called Florida--and the presidency--for Al Gore. With a knowing smile, Rove told a network reporter to wait for the absentee ballots, which we later learned had been rigged by the Bush people.

Fittingly enough, Rove started his career by stealing letterheads from an opponent’s office to send out fake messages and going on to perfect his craft under the tutelage of Nixon’s dirty trickster Donald Segretti.

Maybe now the media can stop calling him by Bush’s nickname, “the architect” and start using the President’s other appellation for him, “turd blossom.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Least Objectionable President

Network TV created the concept of LOP (least objectionable programming) to appeal to Americans who just wanted to vege out but didn’t feel strongly about what would keep their eyes glazed during prime time.

In the long run-up to ’08, we may be heading for the LOP, least objectionable President.

If the Republican Base can’t swallow Giuliani’s family values or McCain’s gaffes or Mitt Romney’s inability to get out of his own way, who’s left--and right enough?

Newt Gingrich? Might make it through the primaries, but has a tad too much history to take it all.

Fred Thompson? In a casting crunch, he’ll pass as a road-company Reagan.

Mike Huckabee? A minister-governor might be the ticket, but two Presidents from Hope, Arkansas could be a little too Guinness Book of Records.

Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Steven Colbert? Only if the country develops a taste for the theater of the ridiculous...

If the Democrats aren’t ready for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama and Al Gore doesn't ride to the rescue in the last reel: John Edwards (ugh), Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Denis Kucinich, Chris Dodd, and anybody who ever held public office. Or not. Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton might step up for a re-run, too.

LOP, anybody? Least Obvious Possibility? If the media keep chewing them up and spitting them out, we’ll have to start looking at small-town mayors.


The Glory of American Frustration

Battle fatigue is growing, not in Iraq, but here at home. Yesterday, thousands of protesters (no more than 30,000 by the rosiest estimates, but more likely only half that) were in Washington being heckled by thousands of counter-demonstrators.

Four years ago, over 200,000 were there trying to head off the war as part of an estimated 36 million people doing the same around the world.

A handful of people in the White House, along with party lackeys in Congress, are waging this war against the will of the American majority and their representatives.

On the Sunday talk shows, they will all drone on to score political points but, when the work week starts, little will happen.

As anger grows, we should remind ourselves we are witnessing one of the glories of democracy. Almost anywhere else in the world, this kind of frustration would lead to rioting, bloodshed and armed coups. Here we keep talking.

Eternal vigilance may be the price of liberty, but patient, persistent and peaceful opposition is the way we keep it. If only we could export that to Iraq...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Divorce, Republican Style

Just when it seemed that John McCain was ahead of Rudy Giuliani by 3-2 in the Christian conservatives’ divorce game, the captain of the Straight Talk Express has managed to boot a question on the subject into a flap over racial insensitivity.

Asked yesterday in New Hampshire about divorced fathers’ access to their children, McCain deferred to the courts and added, “For me to say...I’m going to declare divorces invalid because someone feels they weren’t treated fairly in court we are getting into uh, uh, a tar baby of enormous proportions.”

Now McCain has had to apologize for using an expression from the Uncle Remus stories of his childhood that is now considered offensive.

As the marathon ’08 campaign goes on, this family values thing is getting as sticky as...well, whatever.

As someone who literally wrote the book with my wife, a divorce lawyer who now specializes in mediation, I can testify that divorce is a no-win experience in every way. The only surprise here is that, in addition to causing emotional and financial damage, it can be painful politically, too.



Asking for the Green

President Bush is celebrating the day by asking Congress to give him the green without red tape, accusing them of trying to “micromanage” the war in Iraq.

Somebody has to or the devastation will go on. Today’s news features chlorine gas attacks.

As Sen. Patty Murray said in her answer to the weekly White House radio informercial, Democrats will just have to keep pushing for a change of course against “Senate Republicans and a President who stubbornly refused to listen.”

Evergreen Memory

For our McLaughlin in-laws and all my friends from the Emerald Isle: a bitter-sweet tale of old times at Costello's, the greatest Irish bar I ever knew, with a sweet soul you may remember.

Knowing It All Leads to Edwards?

This could get me sent to bloggers’ purgatory, talking about information overload.

It may be an age thing, but reading the Daily Kos sometimes gives me a headache: all that detail, all that intricate analysis, all that small type recall how a wise old editor I knew used to respond to some of his staff’s article ideas, “Uninteresting, if true.”

I say this with trepidation since so many intelligent young people participate in and respond to this daily parsing of the granules of sand in the political desert.

But the results of the Kos’s Presidential straw poll give me pause. John Edwards is, by far, their readers’ favorite candidate. How can being so well-informed lead netroot enthusiasts to embrace a vapid (follow the links) candidate who has spent almost as much time running for President as serving in public office?

If a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, what about too much?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bush, Cheney and Rice: "You're Fired!"

It’s official. We can stop debating the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s job performance. Donald Trump is canning them all.

In a prime-time interview with Wolf Blitzer tonight, the voice of American capitalism pronounced his dreaded judgment on George Bush, Dick Cheney and especially Condoleeza Rice.

“She never makes deals,” the Boss complained. “She waves to the TV cameras, but she never closes a deal.”

In taking decisive action against American malingerers, Trump disclosed he would have given Saddam Hussein a higher job approval rating for keeping Iraqi employees in line.

He will be considering our Chief Executive applicants for next year but indicated he himself will be too busy with real estate deals all over the world to take the position.

Cover Story

In the 1975 movie, “Three Days of the Condor,” a senior CIA officer, reminiscing about the early days of the agency, is asked, “Do you miss that kind of action, sir?” and answers wistfully, “I miss that kind of clarity.”

It’s all gone postmodern. Today Valerie Plame is telling a Congressional committee, “My name and cover were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department” while Democrats and Republicans quibble over whether her status was “covert” or “classified.”

Will we ever get back to clarity?

Going to Bat for Nixon

The death of Bowie Kuhn, long-time Commissioner of Baseball, recalls a seminal moment in my life when I might have spared America the ordeal of Watergate.

In 1966, Richard Nixon came to dinner with half a dozen magazine editors. He was practicing law in Manhattan after losing the 1962 governor’s race in California and telling the media, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

Over drinks, Nixon was his usual wooden self until the talk turned to baseball and he suddenly became animated, full of hot-stove-league talk and unguarded opinions.

Across the table, I said to him, “I know the perfect job for you and it’s open: Commissioner of Baseball.”

He grinned. “Can you get it for me?”

Looking back, I wish I had tried to float a rumor about it. He could never have done as much damage to the national pastime as he did to the whole country.

Geo-Political Gasbags

If Henry Kissinger is back, can Zbigniew Brzezinski be far behind? Sure enough, here he is this week, flogging a new book and dazzling Jon Stewart with his insights on what went wrong since the golden days of American diplomacy when he was counseling Jimmy Carter.

In my limited experience on corporate boards, it was fascinating to watch academic politicians at work. A college president, dean or professor emeritus would listen to the heated arguments of executives, then offer a lofty summary of the underlying disagreement (without ever taking a position himself) and reap the praise of rough-and-ready businessmen for elevating their power struggles into larger issues.

When movies made in England were being shown here for the first time in the 1950s, it became clear after a while that they were not all masterpieces. But somehow the British accents could make soppy soap operas seem profound.

If you listen carefully to what Kissinger and his East European doppelganger are saying, there often is not much more there than you can get from the Texas twang of George Bush’s platitudes.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kissinger Redux

News that John McCain is being endorsed by and getting advice from Henry Kissinger confirms how far off track the Senator’s Straight Talk Express has gone.

“When I have a question about something that’s going on in the world,” McCain told an interviewer, “I call Dr. Kissinger and he is able to connect the dots for me.”

There is no better way to state the irony of this than to quote the New Republic blog, The Plank:

“McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, turns for advice to the man who was responsible for sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks in 1968, and thus keeping the Vietnam war going for several more years.”

For those who may be puzzled by the reference to Kissinger as a "ladies man” in that post, here is the explanation for that:

In 1972, when Henry K was connecting dots for Nixon, he was a bachelor about town who went hog wild over starlets after Frank Sinatra introduced him to Jill St. John.

I sent Nora Ephron, of later “Sleepless in Seattle” fame, to interview the unlikely sex symbol and he told her the secret of his charm: “Now when I bore people, they think it’s their fault.”


The Hammer Nails Gingrich

Washington wrong-doing has been dull since Tom DeLay left. The Bush people are trying, but Alberto Gonzales and Scooter Libby just don’t have the Hammer’s high style.

For the nostalgic, next week will mark the publication of the former House majority leader’s memoir of his triumphs and tribulations before and after his indictment for money laundering and conspiracy.

In today’s Washington Post, Robert Novak the Plame-thrower (couldn't resist) reveals the object of DeLay’s wrath--his former boss Newt Gingrich, now gearing up for a Presidential run.

DeLay labels Gingrich “an ineffective leader” who “knew nothing about driving an agenda” and who “was in no moral shape” to press Bill Clinton’s impeachment because of his own affair with a staffer. DeLay doesn’t like George Bush much either because “no one at the White House” was listening to his advice.

The book, “No Retreat, No Surrender,” with a foreword by Rush Limbaugh and introduction by Sean Hannity, comes out after an in-house flap at the publisher ended with rejection of a proposed jacket showing the Hammer next to a flag and cross.

A recent rumor that DeLay would be hired as a commentator for CNN was quickly squelched, but meanwhile his opinions can be found on the dullest ghost-written blog in history.

Bush's Future Career

Say this for the President: He has an unerring eye for talent and, when it comes to hiring the handicapped, he is an extreme equal-opportunity employer of...

A Vice-President who can't talk (or shoot) straight...

A Vice-Presidential Chief of Staff not too proud to let the whole world know he has a very faulty memory...

A Chief Counsel-Supreme Court nominee with less than a passing acquaintance with the Constitution...

An FBI Director who is a little shaky about when wiretapping is legal...

An Attorney General proud of his ethnicity who has trouble keeping tabs on what his chief assistant is doing.

When Bush leaves office, if there an opening for a judge on "American Idol," he'll be perfect for it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Madame Macho

Hillary Clinton now confronts her macho problem by telling The New York Times that, if elected President, she would keep "a reduced but significant force" in Iraq.

In the same interview, she says, "Look, I think the American people are done with Iraq...What is this getting us? What is this doing for us?"

With all due respect, Sen. Clinton, what the hell are you saying and doing?

Making Sense of It All

The American Society of Magazine Editors, of which I am the last surviving founder, announced today this year's finalists for the National Magazine Awards.

It’s no surprise that Iraq is high on the list of subject matter--the Abu Ghraib scandal and the massacre at Hadditha--along with articles about breast cancer, fishing, Scientology and the best bars in America.

Forgive the commercial, but depth and diversity are the strengths of magazine journalism, giving readers insight into personal issues as well as the wider world. Even, or perhaps especially, with all the instant information available today, readers need help in making sense of it all.

Also no surprise is that The New Yorker leads the list of 125 finalists with nine nominations followed by Esquire and New York Magazine with seven each.

In 1970, during a stint as a book publisher, I was one of the judges who gave an award to Richard Harris for his New Yorker reporting on how Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell was politicizing the Justice Department.

The more things change...

Ultimate Hollywood-Washington Nexus

In the 1960s, boundaries between politics and show business began to blur. If Fred Dalton Thompson runs for President, they will be completely erased.

Unlike actors who ran for office and politicians who made cameo appearances in movies, Thompson has been commuting professionally for more than two decades.

First seen as co-counsel on the televised Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, he went back to practicing law in Tennessee and won a case that led to the governor’s removal for selling pardons. In “Marie,” a movie about it in 1985, Thompson played himself.

Since then, he has shuttled between acting and public service, making movies and serving as a U.S. Senator for seven years, during the last of which he began playing a D.A. on the TV series, “Law and Order.”

Last Sunday he told Fox TV he’s thinking of running in ’08.

Ronald Reagan started it all in 1964. After a lackluster career in movies, he began making a canned speech for Barry Goldwater. His Presidential candidate lost, but movie song-and-dance man George Murphy was elected to the Senate. Reagan kept making the speech and eventually became governor of California, and we all know the rest.

Reagan and Murphy proved that character actors were more likely to succeed in politics than action heroes, although Governor Arnold turned that around in 2003.

Now, in Thompson, conservative Republicans might find the ultimate character actor. He is a Bush clone, supporting the surge in Iraq, opposing gay marriage and announcing he would pardon Scooter Libby. But he knows how to look into the camera and ooze good old American horse sense.

The Government That Wasn't There

When the nightmare is over in 2009, how will history view the national car wreck of the Bush years?

The media and cyberspace will teem with theories: Were we victims of Ideology or Incompetence—or something more complicated?

The case for Ideology begins with the neo-cons’ pre-election blueprint for beefing up our armed forces and showing the rest of the world what a superpower can do. After 9/11, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were free to put theory into practice, and we went into Iraq.

On the domestic front, with a servile Congress, the White House pushed every regressive nostrum--cutting taxes for the ultra-rich, privatizing Social Security, defunding programs for the poor and near-poor. But after the tax cuts, their hearts really weren’t in it.

At this point, Ideology became moot, except as a campaigning tool. Most of the ensuing wreckage, from post-war blundering in Iraq to the disastrous aftermath of Katrina to outing Valerie Plame to the mess at Walter Reed to the unfolding Justice Department scandals, was the result of Incompetence so staggering it can’t be explained by simple stupidity.

The missing ingredient is Inattention. Bush and Rove were never really engaged in governing. They were too busy campaigning.

Every misstep can be traced back to their focus on keeping power and getting more rather than actually using it to run the country. In that case, it’s easy to understand their desperation to hold onto Congress. If they would fire their own prosecutors for not helping them hurt Democrats, they were right to fear losing control.

The Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers is a clue. We now learn that Miers, who had to withdraw for being totally unqualified, recommended firing all the U.S, Attorneys rather than just a few, a zealotry that was too much even for Bush and Rove, not because it was wrong but out of fear of how it would look.

When critics talk about politicizing the Justice Department, they are not going far enough. This Administration politicized everything. The nation was one big frat house for those who belonged, and all the rest were outsiders who didn’t count. (Ask the Iran Study Group.)

Whoever takes office in January 2009 will find a backlog of non-governance going back eight years. It won’t be easy to catch up.



Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Titanic on the Potomac

So the iceberg turns out to be the political firing of U.S. Attorneys, and the spokesperson for the President is admitting he "may have mentioned it to the AG" but "did not direct DOJ to take any specific action with regards to any specific U. S. attorney."

Meanwhile the AG, Alberto Gonzales, is canceling his travel plans, firing his top aide and scrambling toward the lifeboats.


After navigating all those treacherous Scooter Libby shoals and illegal wiretapping mines, the good ship Bush-Cheney is beginning to founder on the one they didn't see coming.

Pre-Auditions for '08

It’s beginning to look like that casting call in “The Producers” with all those assorted Hitlers--tall, short, fat, thin, singing and dancing wannabes milling around, strutting their stuff.

This week we’re having pre-auditions for Republicans who aren’t sure they want the part. Chuck Hagel steps up to say he’s thinking of trying out. Fred Thompson is in the wings, studying a script. Newt Gingrich is back there, doing his vocal exercises loudly, hoping to be coaxed onstage.

The longest Presidential race in history is getting weirder.

Sen. Hagel, for the time being, is staying in the relatively real world of Congress, to play the part of truth-teller about the war in Iraq.

On Fox News, former Sen. Fred Thompson, now an actor, gives us his road-company Ronald Reagan impression--folksy, shy, taciturn and full of gosh-darn common sense.

Newt Gingrich keeps reading passages from his political version of “The Secret” to conservative audiences hoping for the old magic to transform their lives.

Desperation is in the air, but we still have almost a year for out-of-town tryouts before the real show goes on the road.

Dubai Disneyland

Despite protests by Democrats, moving the world headquarters of Halliburton to the United Arab Emirates makes perfect sense.

Future visitors will be able to plan business meetings there to include a side trip to the nearby Dick Cheney Vice-Presidential Library. There are rumors that the old toppled Baghdad statue of Saddam Hussein will be refurbished and set up as an added tourist attraction.

Feeling Safer Lately?

If so, it may be due to a bold but move by the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Instead of the customary seating of Democrats and Republicans on opposite sides of the table, they will now be alternating, like the boy-girl arrangement at dinner parties.

“We want the American people to see us sitting side by side as our Committee members work together to make our nation more secure,” Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut, announced jointly with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican member.

As always, Lieberman is the low-rent examplar of what the late William Sloane Coffin said of George W. Bush, “Deep down, he’s shallow.”

Then again, Chairman Joe might be worrying about what the Democrats would be whispering to each other about him if they were still sitting next to one another.

Still, when it comes to Homeland Security, a little paranoia may be a good thing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Karl Rove's Passing Interest

The President's hatchet man, Karl Rove, dodged a bullet in the Scooter Libby trial, but members of the House Judiciary may be more persisent in getting him to testify about his role in the firing of U.S. Attorneys for not being politically servile.

A White House spokesperson has conceded that Rove may have mentioned complaints about the prosecutors to the Attorney General "in passing." House Democrats will want to hear, under oath, how casual those conversations were.

Incredibly Shrinking Administration

Republicans always favor less government, but this is probably not what they had in mind.

In less than a week, the Bush Administration has been melting down. Scooter Libby, the VP’s Chief of Staff, has been gone for a while but now definitely will be occupied elsewhere.

Today, two of the nation’s top law enforcement officers seem to be on the verge of leaving. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller are trying to explain how and why the FBI broke the law spying on Americans too zealously under the Patriot Act.

Senate Democrats have already been suggesting Mr. Gonzales find other employment for firing politically incorrect U.S. Attorneys. Director Mueller says nobody has asked him to resign--yet.

At this rate of attrition, President Bush has a shot at balancing the Federal budget before he leaves office.

The Marrying Mayor

For the latest on the Republican frontrunner, see Andy Borowitz's report today on The Moderate Voice.

Inspiration to Us All

Few Americans admire President Bush more than I do, and it’s painful to see hear and so much criticism of what he’s been doing in Iraq, so let’s go over this once more:

1. Saddam Hussein was a bad person and had to be overthrown. Now he’s out of power and off the planet.

2. There were very bad weapons we had to find and remove. Call that a wash: We didn’t find any, but they don’t have them either.

3. We were going to give Iraqis what we hold dearest: freedom and democracy. Done. They voted and have an elected government.

4. Iraq would then inspire other countries in the region to do likewise. Inspiration did follow but took a slightly unexpected turn.

5. So now we have to stay and send in more troops to inspire them to stop killing each other and, if that doesn’t solve the problem, we may have to go into Iran and start inspiring them, too.

As the world’s only superpower, we have a moral duty to lead the rest of the world out of ignorance and chaos. What’s so hard to understand about that?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Playing Not to Lose Isn't a Winning Strategy

Caution has never been a Clinton hallmark, so why is her campaign thus far so close-to-the-vest and buttoned-up?
Does her brain trust really think all those campaign dollars and name-recognition chips will be enough to outlast Obama over the next year and a half?

Squeeze the smart-ass out of Dana Milbank’s recent Washington Post column, “Embracing the Trite and the True,” and you’re left with a few grains of truth about Senator Clinton bringing the “sensibility of Hallmark greeting cards to the 2008 race.”

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Martin Nolan reminds her that “Democrats don’t cotton to campaigns based on a foregone conclusion” and suggests she has been “overcoached by consultants.”

To help us recover from the damage of the Bush years, clichés just won’t cut it. Tell James Carville and the boys to go back to their smoke-filled rooms, and start showing us the sense and straight talk that qualify you to be our next President.

It isn't enough just not to be George Bush. You have to give us some idea of how you would clean up the diplomatic and Constitutional mess he is going to leave behind.

Farrakhan's Final Scenes

The last well-known actor in the last century’s media drama of Race in America is fading out. Like his life, Louis Farrakhan’s dying is a skillfully staged public event that tells us much about where we were, are and may be going.

A week ago, he emerged from cancer treatment, preaching to 50,000 followers a sermon of brotherhood and unity for all faiths. Since then, he has been telling CNN, ABC and other media outlets he has “evolved” from his earlier days of hate-filled invective, insisting his epithets were “misunderstood.”

“We’re in a time of enlightenment now,” he says and expresses admiration for Barack Obama, a child of interracial marriage, which Farrakhan always opposed and still calls “unnatural.”

But change and contradiction have been constant in his life, reflecting the social turmoil for which he became a symbol and which he helped stir up.

At 22, he gave up his birth name and promising career as a musician to join the Nation of Islam, rose quickly in its ranks and was caught up in the conflict between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad that ended with Malcolm X’s murder in 1965. Thirty years later, Farrakhan apologized to the victim’s daughter for his rhetoric that led to it. “I may have been complicit in words,” he admitted.

That was on 60 Minutes. The media was Farrakhan’s stage, and TV cameras found him irresistible. Words can hurt, and Farrakhan knew how to use them, back then with a recklessness many will never forgive. He got America’s attention with the impact of a poleax by excoriating Jews, praising Hitler and saying “White people are potential humans—they haven’t evolved yet.”

But late in life, he took a different tone, going back to his musical roots and playing Mendelssohn in a concert, organizing the Million Man March in Washington with a theme of black pride and responsibility, and now calling for reconciliation of Islam, Christianity and Judaism,

Those he wounded may never believe all this isn’t a gallows conversion, but for African Americans, the new Farrakhan is an inspiring figure. In 2005, BET’s online audience voted him Person of the Year for “the most positive impact on the Black community.”

At the same time, the old Farrakhan was claiming that the New Orleans dikes were deliberately subverted to wipe out Black neighborhoods.

No human being can read the depths of another’s heart, but Farrakhan wore his on his sleeve in a style that may be disappearing with him.

The world is changing. His grandson will soon be playing basketball for the University of Virginia. Barack Obama is running for President, every American kid with a baseball glove wants to be Derek Jeter, and other interracial role models are growing up to walk a different walk and talk a different talk.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sex and Scandal: Party Differences

Bad news for Democrats: A Washington madam is threatening to go public with her client list in a law suit.

Half a century’s experience suggests Republicans are susceptible to scandals over money and power. Sex is more likely to be the weakness of Democrats, who take pride in being people persons.

Start with JFK, who once told British PM Harold Macmillan that he would get “terrible headaches” from going without a woman for three days and was not known to consume much aspirin. He was followed by LBJ, who tended to favor his female staffers.

Then came Nixon, who apparently was faithful to Pat and almost destroyed the Constitution. If he had had a little friend, would there have been an enemies list?

In the past decade, there was an impeachment trial over Bill Clinton’s lies about spilling his seed in the Oval Office. As far as we know, George W. Bush is spilling only blood in Iraq.

The one client named so far by the madam, Deborah Palfrey, is Dick Morris, who had to quit Clinton’s reelection campaign after letting a prostitute listen in on his calls to the President.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a gag order to keep the lady from naming names but, even if she does, after Ann Coulter’s slurs against John Edwards, there might be a small silver lining for Democrats wooing the NASCAR vote.


Friday, March 09, 2007

"Go Forth, My Son, and..."

Say this for Republican sinners: They know the value of public repentance.

Today two of them step up to confess their lapses. Newt Gingrich is telling the Rev. James Dobson on his radio show that he “had fallen short of God’s standards” by having an extra-marital affair while pushing impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about his.

Attorney General Arturo Gonzales is telling Senators he won’t oppose legislation to limit his power to anoint interim prosecutors, even as Karl Rove is defending the political firings of the White House’s own appointees as “normal and ordinary.”

Love may mean never having to say you’re sorry but, in Republican politics, it’s apparently a must.

The Bush Putsch

Paranoia, anyone?

Overthrowing a government doesn’t always involve violence. Edward Luttwak, who wrote the book, defines a coup d’etat, or as Adolf You-Know-Who called it, a putsch as “the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.”

Doesn't that sound like what’s been going on in Washington?

Congress and the people want to end the war in Iraq, but they are powerless to do it.

U.S. Attorneys are fired by the Justice Department for not being submissive enough to help Republican politicians retain control of Congress and then threatened if they complain about it.

Those who weren’t fired have a curious record, a new study of 375 cases finds, of investigating “seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.”

In The New York Times today, Paul Krugman cites Molly Ivins’ observation that in Texas “Karl Rove’s candidates have a history of benefiting from conveniently timed investigations...After the election was over, the allegations often vanished.”

Government secrecy, wiretapping, illegal detention and accusations of treason against opponents of the regime are rampant, just as in any other banana republic.

In the late 1960s, student protesters and the underground press ranted that Nixon and Agnew were planning to cancel the 1972 elections, an accusation dismissed as paranoid nonsense. America was too diverse and stable for anything like that to happen.

But 9/11 has made us vulnerable to a White House that claims unprecedented powers and goes about exercising them with or without the sanction of the Patriot Act.

Wasn’t this new Congress elected to put an end to that?




Madame President: A Pipedream

Hillary Clinton should take a firm stand against impeaching George Bush.

Republican Chuck Hagel is talking about removing him. After the Libby verdict, some Democrats want to unseat Dick Cheney.

If we take these fantasies to the end of the line, where are we? With frying-pan-into-the-fire logic, only a double impeachment makes sense. (Otherwise we would end up with President Cheney.)

Then, if we dispatch both Bush and Cheney, to the consternation of the Clintons, even before 2008, we would have the first woman in history to man the Oval Office: President Nancy Pelosi.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Bush-Nixon Axis

Overshadowed by the Libby verdict, Senate hearings about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys are a flashback to the darkest Nixon days when the nation’s chief law enforcement officer was John Mitchell, the only Attorney General in history to go to prison.

Six prosecutors, all appointed by the Bush Administration, are telling stories of pressure by Republican lawmakers, followed by threats from the Justice Department to keep them from talking about why they were fired. One of them was replaced by a Karl Rove aide.

The Attorneys were eased out by a little-noticed provision inserted into the Patriot Act, which came as a surprise to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who had voted for it.

Nixon’s man Mitchell advocated wiretaps without court orders and preventive detention of suspects (sound familiar?) for “national security” against critics of the war in Vietnam. He left office to run Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972 and eventually went to prison for overseeing the Watergate break-in and cover-up.

If the current A.G., Alberto Gonzales, is a student of history, he may want to think twice about endorsing his underlings’ claim that the prosecutors were fired for good cause. These Senate hearings could eventually bring the Administration and Congressional Republicans more grief than a dozen Scooter Libby trials.


Man's Man

Chuck Hagel seems to save his best stuff for men’s magazines. He told GQ that the White House’s original draft of the 2002 Iraq resolution was a blank check to invade everybody before he and fellow senators rewrote it.

Now in Esquire he has uttered the dreaded “I” word. Saying that Bush is “not accountable anymore,” Hagel adds, “before this is over you might see calls for his impeachment.”

On Monday the Senator is expected to announce he is running for President, finally giving voters a Republican candidate who wants to stop the war.

A word of advice from an admirer: Think twice before giving an interview to Playboy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

White House Crime and Republicans

The Libby conviction, with its implication of unlawful activity by the Vice-President and Bush’s left-hand man Karl Rove, raises a larger question:

In the past century, why have so many White House crimes been committed by members of the party of law and order?

From Teapot Dome to Watergate to Iran-Contra to the not-yet-named fiasco now, it is Republicans who have been convicted of felonies and sent to prison. Do politicians who want less government feel freer to break its laws than Democrats, who believe in government power to right social wrongs? Or are they just greedier, more arrogant and dumber?

In 1929, in the Teapot Dome scandal, Warren Harding’s Secretary of Interior became the first cabinet member ever sent to jail for his actions while in office.

After Watergate in the 1960s, three of the President’s White House aides went to prison after Nixon himself became the first President to resign as Congress was starting impeachment proceedings.

In the 1980s, members of the sainted Ronald Reagan’s Administration were found guilty of illegal activities in the Iran-Contra affair, but their convictions were overturned on technicalities. His Secretary of Defense resigned, was indicted for lying and later pardoned by President Bush I.

Ah, but did someone say Clinton and Whitewater? After years of investigating a 20-year-old land deal, the best that Newt Gingrich and his merry men could manage was an impeachment attempt for lying about oral sex in the Oval Office.

It will be years before the illegal activities of the current crew are sorted out, and that won’t start until a Democratic President takes office in 2009. But the question remains: Is there some kind of lawbreaking gene in Republican DNA?

Curing Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter is in rehab. She has signed in after an intervention by the conservative talk community, arranged by Rush Limbaugh, after a week of stalking John Edwards, starting with an outburst at the Conservative Political Action Committee last Friday.

Mental health experts have diagnosed Ms. Coulter's condition as Reverse Attention Deficit Disorder--not the inability to pay attention but a pathological need to get it. Her condition is a severe case of a spreading disease that has afflicted contestants on "American Idol," participants in reality TV and politicians of all stripes.

Treatment consists of hours-long sessions in a simulated TV studio with attendants dressed as reporters taking notes. Unfortunately, there is no long-term cure.

Cheney and Rove: The O.J. Outcome

Just as O.J. Simpson escaped conviction in his criminal trial, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove have dodged the bullet in the Libby prosecution.

But just as O.J. was called to account in the Goldman family’s civil suit, the Wilsons may get similar satisfaction in their action against Cheney, Rove, Libby, Armitage and unnamed others for “intentional and malicious exposure.”

The Goldmans were awarded $8.5 million (still uncollected), but they got the satisfaction of having a jury brand O.J. as liable for their son’s death.

The Wilsons are seeking the same kind of vindication, money aside. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilson’s $2.5 million advance for her memoir will ease the financial pain.

A haunting aspect of the case is the utter stupidity of exposing Valerie Plame. In the New York Times OpEd piece that set it all off, Wilson wrote, “In February 2002 I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report.”

If Cheney and/or Libby prompted Wilson’s trip, how on earth could exposing his wife discredit him? The sheer spite of it boggles.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Libby: The Buck Stops Down There

Add Scooter Libby to Bush’s body count, another foot-soldier casualty of the Administration’s war on common sense, decency—and honor among thieves.

General Cheney and Colonel Rove, who ordered the outing of Valerie Plame, will sleep soundly in their bunkers tonight while Libby awaits his fate.

His political career is dead, but he will likely serve time, if his sentence isn’t suspended, in a minimum security prison with more amenities than Walter Reed Hospital. If justice were really done, those who ordered him to do it would be going with him.

The Case for Obama's Ambivalence

For all the comparisons with John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama recalls another Illinois Democrat from that era--Adlai Stevenson, who once described a politician as someone who approaches every question with an open mouth.

In this either-or world, with bumper-sticker answers on every issue, Obama is shocking voters by often saying, “Yes, but...”

In the New York Times last October, David Brooks who rarely has a kind word for a Democrat, urged Obama to run: “He has a compulsive tendency to see both sides of an issue...And yet this style is surely the antidote to the politics of the past several years. It is surely true that a President who brings a deliberative style to the White House will multiply his knowledge, not divide it.”

Oddly, Maureen Dowd, who rarely has a kind word for a Republican, is urging Obama to be more decisive and aggressive. “People want to see you mix it up a little,” she recently told him.

The Wall Street Journal has already run an opinion piece saying “Barack has a long record of not taking a stand,” and more wishy-washy, flip-flopper talk is sure to follow.

Obama will likely ignore all this and go his own way. He may want to take some of Stevenson’s wisdom with him and, in a different era, it may be a winning strategy:

“Every age needs men and women who will redeem the time by living with a vision of the things that are to be.”

“I have tried to talk about the issues, but it’s been a lonely road because I never meet anyone coming the other way.”

“The hardest thing about any campaign is how to win without proving you’re unworthy of winning.”

“It’s harder making peace than making war.”

For the Sake of Our Sanity, Will Someone...

Break the news to the Scooter Libby jurors that they don’t have a lifetime appointment.

Let the President know his promises to fix Walter Reed are no more reassuring than his pronouncements after Katrina.

Advise Dick Cheney that long airplane trips without getting up to snarl into TV cameras are not good for his health

Put Ann Coulter on medication.

Suggest to Barack Obama that he not tell the Clintons about his travel plans.

Tell Mitt Romney that, if he’s trying make George Bush look smart by comparison, he still has a way to go.

Find out where Congress is hiding after all that effort to pass a non-binding resolution to wag a finger over Iraq.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Fact-Checking Online and Off

William Shawn, the fabled editor of The New Yorker, was fanatical about fact-checking writers down to the smallest detail. For lesser editors of his time, like me, he was a role model for demanding accuracy in reporting.

So it comes as an irony that a 24-year-old college dropout posing as a professor of religion slipped through The New Yorker’s truth screen in an article about Wikipedia, the Web’s prime source for encyclopedic knowledge, and was exposed by readers last week.

As a frequent user of Wikipedia to check names and dates, I am always been haunted by the possibility of error and, where it matters, double-check with primary sources.

But Wikipedia is a noble effort to bring coherence to the Web, and The New Yorker is still the gold standard for magazine reporting.

Let Shawn have the last word. In the only interview he ever gave (as far as I know) in Women’s Wear Daily (July 1968), he summed up his editing standards: “as close an approximation of objectivity as we could humanly manage, straightforwardness, thoroughness, fairness, clarity, truthfulness and accuracy.”

“There has been something constant, as well,” he added, “in the tone of the magazine—an attempt, perhaps, to hang on to sanity and reasonableness, no matter how turbulent or fevered or lunatic the world became.”