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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sam Brownback's Evolution

Echoes of Hogan's Heroes: Fascinating to watch the Senator from Kansas, who started his campaign by spending a night in prison, trying to edge out of the conservative concentration camp by writing in today's New York Times about his nuanced distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution.

But the National Review guards are on the alert to his "weaseling" attempt to escape single digits in the polls. Nice try, Senator, but back to Creationism bread and water.

Fred Thompson's Crocodile Tears

The day after the Wall Street Journal explains why we should bomb Iran, the newest Republican candidate gives us a heart-rending recitation about “living in terror” in Israel.

He uses the same Republican buzzword as the Journal, the catchy “Islamofascism,” to lead him, after all this sympathy for the Israelis, to make a sharp right turn to his true destination:

“If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the very existence of this tiny nation of Israel will be threatened. The Iranian regime has left little doubt that it intends to see Israel ‘wiped off the map’...If the world doesn't act to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, it must be prepared for the consequences of Israel defending itself.”

Or, all this implies, we will do it for them. With friends like Thompson and the Wall Street Journal, Israelis should recall the Bush Administration’s crocodile tears for the Kurds before the Iraq invasion and reevaluate that ancient question: Is this good or bad for the Jews?

Dobbs (Surprise!) Has Something to Say

Yesterday’s New York Times piece has put our favorite anchor into Nixon mode to defend himself. No little dog, Checkers, by his side, but the same approach: sincere (the Dobbs smirk gone), self-pitying (under attack by “both the left wing and the right wing”), guilt by association (“scurrilous personal attack...carrying the water of the Southern Poverty Law Center”) and the centerpiece of both the Nixon and Dobbs posture--the heroic defender of the people:

Nixon: “I'm going to continue this fight. I'm going to campaign up and down America until we drive the crooks and the Communists and those that defend them out of Washington.”

Dobbs: “(W)e'll continue to report on the nonpartisan independent reality that is too often overwhelmed by the ideologues in our national media, the left wing and the right wing.”

I’ll make a promise, too: No more posts about Dobbs until there is hard news such as a parallel to Nixon’s impeachment or resignation from office.

Meanwhile, for those with strong stomachs, a link to all previous Dobbsiana here and another to his defense last night, complete with video.

S-l-o-w L-o-a-d-i-n-g S-i-t-e-s...

In this fast-paced world, keeping up with the news is hard to do. It doesn’t help to be staring at a blank screen or one that shows you a fascinating ad for an eternity before whatever you want to see creeps on.

After long study and serious consideration, the runners-up for the Languid Media Award are the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post. The winner, in a class by itself, is New York Magazine which, in covering its bustling locale, moves like a digital sleepwalker with arthritis and frequent fainting spells.

No links are being provided herein in order to allow you to get on with your life.

The chosen should not be embarrassed. They have to be fascinating to be so irritating.

If You Enjoy Iraq, You'll Love World War IV

Norman Podhoretz is a contemporary of mine, a gifted editor, a brilliant man and a political horse’s ass.

He reinforced his credentials on that score yesterday with a Wall Street Journal Commentary, “The Case for Bombing Iran,” subtitled “I hope and pray that President Bush will do it.”

The neocon logic behind this loopy entreaty is “that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force--any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938.”

To buttress his analogy, Podhoretz pumps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into a powerful figure bent on world domination like, say, Saddam Hussein. He might have some trouble convincing Thomas Friedman who, in his New York Times column the same day, writes, “This Iranian regime is afraid of its shadow. How do I know? It recently arrested a 67-year-old grandmother, whom it accused of trying to bring down the regime by organizing academic conferences!”

Podhoretz insists the Cold War was World War III and that we are now in World War IV with the “Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.”

Rational people might think a war against an ideology could be fought with ideas, diplomacy and political pressure, but Podhoretz has no patience for such liberal lollygagging.

His worldview would have brought us into nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union if anybody in power had taken it seriously, and after 9/11, his moronic intellectual heirs propelled us into Iraq, which worked out so well that an Iranian replay is now on their must-do list.

In 1967, when he was editor of Commentary, Podhoretz wrote a book, “Making It,” confessing that he was motivated by what D. H. Lawrence called “the dirty little secret” of lusting for “money, power and especially fame.” Esquire summed up the general reaction that “it’s not much of a secret, not very dirty but it certainly is little.”

If he is still chasing fame, this latest saber-rattling may help, but wouldn’t it be easier to go for it on “American Idol?”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Outing of Lou Dobbs

Finally, finally the MSM, and the New York Times at that, has done for the CNN anchor what this blog has been apoplectically attempting to do for more than six months.

Starting with dismantling the leprosy hoax, David Leonhardt goes on to a litany of Dobbs’ offenses against journalistic truth that led to my naming him “the world’s worst journalist” earlier this month. Leonhardt’s conclusion:

“The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.”

What will be fascinating to see now is how CNN and CBS. Dobbs’ employers, try to weasel out of this indictment. Imus, anyone?

Will Fred Thompson Bomb?

Now that the actor-politician has dropped the other shoe about running for President, the question comes up about what else he might be willing to drop.

"He's not a bomb thrower,” says Thompson’s ardent supporter, Congressman Zach Wamp.

Maybe not, but in a relaxed, folksy interview last month with the conservative house organ, the Weekly Standard, Thompson talked about “being straight with the man upstairs,” a spiritual condition reminiscent of George W. Bush’s, which Thompson says “kind of frees you up.”

Such freedom helped Bush decide he had the sanction of a “Higher Power” to invade Iraq, and what Thompson told the Standard suggests he might make similar use of such divine certainty:

“Thompson says that the actions of the Iranian regime...are acts of war. He stops short of calling for a military response, but seems to suggest that he would be saying something different if circumstances were different...’I think the bottom line with Iran is that nothing is going to change unless there is a regime change.’"

Where have we heard that before?

Dukakis Redux: Lieberman's Dress-Up

Today’s indelible image is intrepid Joe Lieberman on a surprise visit to Baghdad, retracing John McCain’s footsteps, market and all.

Not since 1988 has any Democrat (oops, Independent) provided more fodder for stand-up comics. Back then Presidential candidate Mike Dukakis popped out of a tank in an oversized helmet and became the kind of joke Lieberman deserves to be.

Senator Joe, looking past his helmet and flak jacket, sees “progress” from the Surge. No word yet about whether he bought a rug.

Deathless Prose About Sex

This morning some bloggers are agog about a four-year-old magazine article.

Matthew Iglesias is commenting on a Feminista.com post reacting to a New York Magazine cover story titled “The Porn Myth” by Naomi Wolf “on Saturday” that spoilsport Ann Althouse then points out was published October 20, 2003.

Wolf’s hot news then was that college women were complaining about men losing interest because they couldn’t compete with the pneumatic perfection of always available women on Internet porn, a dubious thesis then and now.

The subject is timeless. Sixty years I wrote a free-lance article for a now-extinct magazine, Coronet, with the title “Sex on the Campus.” The gist was there was more talk than action, another iffy conclusion.

But the current issue of New York has in its “Sexual Diaries” series a first-hand report by “The Peripatetic Young Thing,” which details in stenographic entries the hyperactive week of a serial-dating 20-year-old professional woman. No sign of men “losing interest.”

All this leads to one indisputable conclusion: You can talk about paucity, distraction or bored abundance, but sex still sells. Just check the expiration date of your sources.

Punching Up the Tickets

Boredom with the ’08 candidates is so bad that speculation about running mates has already started.

Last week Maureen Dowd told us her Republican friends (how many can she have?) think Gore-Obama would be hardest to beat. Now speculation is floating around about Clinton-Vilsack.

In the spirit of this idle but harmless game, herewith a venture into the deep space of premature ticket-making: On the Blue side, former Governor Vilsack would bring judgment and experience to any nominee, not only Clinton but Obama or Edwards. John Kerry had him on his short list in 2004.

If Obama doesn’t go all the way, he could help not only Gore but Clinton or Edwards. Some combination of this handful, with Bill Richardson, Sen. Evan Bayh and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner as outside possibilities for the second spot, looks likely to be the Democratic ticket.

The Republican field is such a witch’s brew of ideological impairment, checkered personal history and leadership gaps that picking the most electable pair is close to impossible.

Giuliani needs everything--a conservative family man to offset his marriages and abortion stance, a smoothie to soften his rough edges and a Red Stater to balance his New Yorkiness. Preacher Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson could do.

If McCain wins, he and Lindsey Graham, his certified conservative sidekick, seem joined at the hip. They even went shopping in Baghdad together.

Fred Thompson could use someone who looks good in a suit and tie. He and Mitt Romney might work, with either of them at the top of the ticket. Or if he would settle for the second spot, Giuliani would add some zing to the laid-back actor-politician.

Romney’s Mormon problem would be eased by having Huckabee or some other non-believer in evolution as his running mate.

If Clinton or Obama wins the Democratic nomination, there could be a lot of pressure on Condolezza Rice to run for VP to provide a gender and racial twofer for the Republicans.

Then again, there may be too much straining for geographic, ethnic and stylistic balance. The last couple of times, we elected two oil-company cowboys from Texas and Wyoming, and look how well that worked out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wolfowitz, Toast of Baghdad

The Congressman who got the House cafeteria to rename French Toast as “Freedom Toast” at Gallic failure to support our invasion of Iraq now has another inspiration.

A tad upset about the way things are going, Rep. Walter Jones wants to send Paul Wolfowitz, the “architect” of that venture, to be Mayor of Baghdad “"since the neocons got us in over there."

The Congressman may be worrying that he and his Republican colleagues will all be toast next November, but Wolfowitz can’t get them out of that jam.

Newt Nipping at Our Heels

The former Speaker is like an aging dog who still thinks he’s a puppy. Every day he jumps up somewhere in the media bringing new bones, yelping, “Me, me, me!”

Gingrich is the reverse image of Al Gore. While a sizable constituency wants the reluctant former Vice President to run, hardly anyone is encouraging the eager author of the “Contract with America.”

Yet here he is growling away about everything: The fired U.S Attorney scandal is “the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember,” the proposed immigration law “the most self-destructive bill for Republicans to be sponsoring that I have seen.”

The Virginia Tech shootings are dropped at the doorstep of “the liberal political, academic and media elites” and a stadium full of graduates at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University gets the raw meat: "Too often, the courts have been biased against religious believers. This anti-religious bias must end."

In all this barking, there is occasionally a provocative idea: Gingrich challenges presidential candidates to agree to nine weekly 90-minute debates after the nominations, each on a single topic with a timekeeper but no rules:

“The gap between the challenges we face as a country and the trivializing of politics as ‘Entertainment Tonight’ is so stunning” that “there’s a substantial public interest in a dialogue and a bipartisan, solution-oriented approach.”

True, but hardly anyone is looking for answers to a disgraced politician who was an “ineffective leader,” even for Tom DeLay.

Gingrich’s true calling may be as a blogger. Get him online and let him yelp away.

Getting Republicans to Jump Ship

After a humiliating retreat on Iraq funding and with abysmal approval ratings, Congressional Democrats go back to work for a war of attrition with the White House this summer.

Whatever else they do, Democrats should press Sen. Byrd’s effort to overturn the 2002 resolution that sanctioned the invasion of Iraq--for more reasons than one.

Strategically, if they are successful, the struggle will migrate to the Supreme Court for a decision on Congessional war powers vis-à-vis the Executive Branch. Tactically, it will poise them to take control of both branches next year.

How can they enlist enough Republican votes for the two-thirds majority to do that?

Framing the question is crucial: Knowing what we now do about what it may take to stabilize Iraq, how long it could go on and at what cost to other vital national needs, including homeland security, do you choose to renew authorization for the war?

The goal is not to rehash past arguments but set priorities for the future. Republicans should be put in the position, not of supporting or deserting the Bush Administration, but deciding how best to allocate American manpower and money from now on.

This approach would include timetables for safe, orderly withdrawal of troops with realistic safeguards for the Iraqis, including a UN or multinational Middle East force to take over peace-keeping.

What would induce enough Republicans to make such a bill veto-proof? The short answer is growing fear of losing their seats next year. Facing 70 percent of voters who want to end the war is hard enough, but having to explain why they now choose to keep it going at the cost of everything else the country needs could tip the balance for incumbents.

Time is on the Democrats' side. In the House, their majority should find enough members across the aisle whose self-interest will overcome loyalty to a lame-duck, unpopular President.

The Senate is more difficult but doable. Republicans have 25 seats in play, a number of them possible converts. Chuck Hagel is already on board, while John Warner and Norm Coleman have one foot on the gangplank. John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Elizabeth Dole, Susan Collins and others are vulnerable and open to persuasion.

Inside-baseball aside, for opponents of the war, this may soon be the only game in town and they should prepare to play it with all the skill and strength they can muster.

The Fat Lady could be ready to sing sooner than they know.

George Bush's Guaranteed Heaven

The President is in no position to match Muslim offers to martyrs of an afterlife with 72 virgins, but he can assure American heroes of a more tranquil Heaven.

“I hope you find comfort,” Bush told families of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, “in knowing that your loved ones rest in a place even more peaceful than the fields that surround us here.”

He told them their sons, fathers and brother died defending “a country where citizens have the right to worship as they want, to march for what they believe, and to say what they think”—as long as they don’t mind being illegally wiretapped by his Attorney General and called traitors by his Vice President.

“Those who serve,” Bush assured their survivors, “are not fatalists or cynics. They know that one day this war will end--as all wars do...

“From their deaths must come a world where the cruel dreams of tyrants and terrorists are frustrated and foiled--where our nation is more secure from attack, and where the gift of liberty is secured for millions who have never known it.”

Presumably he was talking about Iraq, where it is getting harder every day to tell the tyrants and terrorists from the millions who don’t have security or liberty. But as long as they don’t succumb to becoming fatalists or cynics, it should all work out one day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Attention Whore"

First sight of this elegant phrase brought immediate thoughts of Ann Coulter. But no, it is a label pasted on Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and has been demanding to know why. On this Memorial Day, there is much to mourn, not least of all time-honored American decency and civility

E-Mail from Rove

To: All Staffers

The Washington Post will do anything to slam us. Today they’re touting a “study” that doesn’t name us but is a sly part of their limp liberal campaign against our Administration.

It says that some latte-sipping so-called scientists did an “experiment”: “The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.”

Hah! Next thing, they’ll try to use it to prove that we should give tax cuts to piss-poor Democrats.

Delete this message.

A Theme Park Dick Cheney Will Love

When his new grandchild is old enough, the Vice President can take him to a new British theme park that reflects his world view--Dickens World, where tourists get a buzz from the Victorian squalor that the underprivileged deserve.

This non-Halliburton environment is chock full of rat-infested sewers, ragged beggars, debtors’ prisons, child pickpockets--in short, a tax-cuts-for-the-upper-one-percent version of Disneyland.

Dickens World, 25 miles from London, opens this week just as George Bush’s friend Tony Blair is departing, possibly to head the World Bank. When it comes to pauperizing a population, the British are centuries ahead of Americans who are just getting the hang of it.

JFK: Bush, War and the Web

If he were still alive, John F. Kennedy would be turning 90 tomorrow. As an elder statesman, what would he think about our world?

For a start, he would be puzzled by George Bush’s bubbled White House. Kennedy’s own curiosity was insatiable. He devoured books, took a speed-reading course to absorb more, wanted to know everything. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he held a running seminar at the White House to consider every possible way to avoid a nuclear showdown. Only then did he act.

With hard evidence of missiles 90 miles away, he rejected military advice for an air strike or invasion, lined up support from the United Nations, gave the Russians every chance to back down and, when they did, ordered that there be no gloating about victory. No “slam dunk,” “Mission Accomplished” or “Bring it on!”

Afterward, in an interview, he told me, “Too many people want to the blow up the world.” He felt his response was “just right.”

You can imagine what he would have thought of toy soldiers like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz playing war games with the lives of other people’s children.

The Justice Department scandal would have revolted him. JFK appointed his brother Bobby Attorney General, and they played hardball against opponents when necessary. But the nutball antics of Alberto Gonzales and his crew would have made no sense to them. The Kennedys could never abide amateurs.

When JFK was wrong, he said so. After the Bay of Pigs, he took “sole responsibility” for the fiasco. After four disastrous years in Iraq, Bush the Decider will only admit “mistakes were made.”

This could go on like one of those montages on the Daily Show, but the difference between the President we lost too soon and the one we have had in office too long is as simple and as complicated as poetry.

After JFK’s death, the world’s poets filled a volume with elegies and anguish. That won’t be happening again any time soon.

Kennedy was political to his bones, but his vision went beyond winning elections. At the dawn of the nuclear age, he realized politics was no longer a game for insiders, pointing out that an exchange “would produce over 300 million deaths. That means everybody is involved in this debate.”

He would have been bemused by the Internet, watching millions mix it up, but he had a tragic sense of life unlike Bush, who has only a tragic insensitivity. Kennedy would have looked on all of today’s ardent opinionating with approval, some humor and certainly without rancor.

Not long before Dallas, he talked about the brutal and violent instincts of human beings that, in his words, “have been implanted in us growing out of the dust.”

In controlling those destructive impulses, JFK said sadly, “We have done reasonably well——but only reasonably well.“

We’re still trying. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Sales Sag for Hillary Sagas?

Too soon to tell, but early signs are that voters are greeting advance tidbits from two tell-all tomes about Hillary Clinton with total ennui.

If so, that may be because Americans feel they already know the worst about the Clintons. After all, how many White House couples have been the subject of a doorstop-sized novel by a pornographic prosecutor like Kenneth Starr?

The books will go on sale in early June, and the real suspense may be over what happens when the authors' book tours cross paths with Sen. Clinton's campaigning.

Memorial Day Mockery

As George Bush, Dick Cheney and other unbloodied politicians make their patriotic speeches this weekend, we should be listening instead to an American who has earned the moral right to be heard.

A West Point graduate and veteran of the Vietnam war, Andrew Bacevich, who opposed our actions in Iraq and then lost a son who volunteered to fight there, writes in the Washington Post:

“Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.”

Along with condolences, Bacevich tells us, he received messages from patriots telling him “my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy” and “my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.”

Such vileness is beyond comment, but Bacevich’s grief is compounded by his own guilt: “I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.”

Bacevich’s torment recalls a 1942 short story by Irwin Shaw, “Preach on the Dusty Roads” about a man who, after seeing his son off to fight in World War II, is overwhelmed with remorse that he hadn't been out begging people everywhere to prevent it or stop it.

Have any of us done enough?

"De-Authorize the War"

Not the most elegant way to put it, but the first statement Bill Richardson made on his hour-long "Meet the Press" interview this morning reiterates what he has been saying for some time now: Stop diddling with the funding for our disaster in Iraq and take steps toward rescinding Congressional authorization of it.

Now if the other Democratic Presidential candidates will join him (Clinton and Obama already have), maybe Reid and Pelosi will take time out from their high-wire appropriations acts and get the real show on the road.

Waking Up From the American Dream

As Father’s Day approaches, a troubling question is raised by a new study: Will our children and grandchildren have a better life than our own?

The “American Mobility Report” shows young men today worse off financially than their fathers were at the same age, a reversal of the generational progress that has made the “Land of Opportunity” a reality for two centuries.

In 2004, the median income for a man in his 30s, a reliable predictor of lifetime earnings, was $35,010, 12% less than for men of the same age in 1974, their fathers’ income adjusted for inflation. A decade ago, median income for men in their 30s was $32,901, 5% higher than 30 years earlier.

This undercuts, the study suggests, the optimism that has “served as a powerful engine of growth and social cohesion” since pioneer days. In March, according to a Pew Research Center poll, almost three out of four Americans believed that “the rich just get richer while the poor just get poorer.”

This sagging confidence in the American Dream explains much of what is roiling our public life today. The debate over immigration reflects a clash between the hopes for a better life of those coming here and the fears of a worsening life they arouse in those whose ancestors came generations ago. Will there be enough for everybody?

The Bush years, by widening the gap between rich and poor, have exacerbated what the Report calls “a concern about the fairness of the game.”

Underlying many of the issues to be debated by the ’08 Presidential candidates is the question all this raises: If the nation’s up escalator has stopped, how do we get it going again or do we just keep arguing about who gets thrown off?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bush Children's Crusade

George Bush, as Bill Maher might sneer, is really doing it all for the children. In the past few days, the President keeps reminding Americans we’re really in Iraq to protect their kids.

He devoted his entire radio address today to a fallen Marine who enlisted because he didn’t want his brother and sister to “live in fear.”

At his press conference Thursday, Bush told NBC’s David Gregory about Al Quaeda in Iraq: “It's better to fight them there than here...They are a threat to your children, David.”

A few minutes later, he explained to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg that the terror group is “a danger to the American people. It's a danger to your children, Jim.” Rutenberg has none, but the President is known for his far-sightedness.

Somehow all this conjures up a picture of Bush’s nemesis, Saddam Hussein, in 1990 before the American action to get him out of Kuwait, ruffling the hair of a British boy and telling the world that the child, his family and other human shields were “heroes of peace.”

After that TV spectacle, the British Foreign Secretary said “the manipulation of children in that sort of way is contemptible." And so it was.

Fred Thompson Striptease

Although he is not built for it, Fred Thompson is sashaying down the Republican runway, dropping gloves and hints about getting naked for ’08.

He gave Democrats a knuckle sandwich in Connecticut the other night, accusing them, fittingly enough at an award dinner named for George Bush’s grandfather, of debating “a timetable for surrender” in Iraq. For an encore, he railed against the horrors of “pork-barrel spending and corruption” in Washington.

It’s hard to think of the portly actor-politician as a sex symbol, despite his recent admission that as a bachelor, “a lot of women chased me...and tended to catch me.”

But love-starved Conservatives, in no position to be choosy, seem ready to swoon over his “Aw, Shucks” appeal.

McCain-Obama Word War

The Senator from Baghdad is getting a little testy: John McCain just has no patience for younger legislators who miss the point of the Surge, and yesterday he chided his colleagues, Clinton and Obama, for "waving a white flag to Al-Qaeda."

Obama, who apparently never learned not to talk back to his elders, responded that things were so bad that McCain “required a flack jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters, and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago."

That tore it. An hour later, McCain shot back that "two years in the U.S. Senate certainly entitle him to vote against funding our troops” and added, "By the way, Senator Obama, it's a 'flak' jacket, not a 'flack' jacket."

Well, now. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English actually lists the words as interchangeable but suggests that flack be used for press agent, as in “McCain is a flack for Bush’s Iraq policy” and flak for figurative shell bursts, as in “Obama and other Democrats are getting flak for not doing more to stop the war.”

Gentlemen, put up your pistols and call it a draw.


Everything a Reporter Should Be

When William Peters died this week, the world lost a good man, I lost a valued friend and journalists everywhere a role model for what a reporter should be.

His obituary tells much about his award-winning TV documentaries, books and magazine articles but nothing about his passion for justice and dedication to getting the story right.

We worked together for a decade starting in the mid-1950s on everything from McCarthyism to racial integration. While Edward R. Murrow was reporting on TV the persecution of an innocent Air Force officer (dramatized in George Clooney’s movie, “Good Night, and Good Luck”), Bill Peters was doing the story for Redbook.

Two years later, when the Montgomery bus strike started, Bill went to Alabama for me to do the first article about Martin Luther King in a national publication under the title, “Our Weapon Is Love.”

In the 1960s, Bill wrote a series and a book with the widow of the murdered civil rights leader. Medgar Evers. Soon afterward, Murrow’s surviving partner Fred Friendly brought him to CBS.

In everything he did, Bill Peters was a meticulous reporter, but he didn’t leave his heart behind when he picked up a notebook. He respected facts but didn’t stop until he could find out what was going on under their surface.

Journalism purists might call what he did “soft news.” But as we learn over and over again, from McCarthyism to the selling of the Iraq war, “hard news” can be so controlled by the ruthlessly powerful that it becomes no news at all. Bill Moyers, another practitioner of “soft news,” recently demonstrated that in “Buying the War.”

Even the fabled Murrow, admired for World War II broadcasts during the bombing of London, is remembered today for the documentaries that brought down Joe McCarthy, exposed hidden poverty and revealed racism. Bill Peters followed in his footsteps.

The last time I saw him, Bill was researching a book about colonists who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution. He was always trying to understand and tell the stories of forgotten people.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Poop Scoop

The bird that deposited a suspicious substance on the President’s sleeve during yesterday’s Rose Garden press conference may have ties to an Al Quaeda sleeper coop in Baghdad, according to reliable White House sources.

CIA carrier pigeons have come under fire recently in Iraq, and a link to other avian terrorism is being investigated.

Whatever the species responsible, Vice President Cheney is reported to be preparing to shoot them there to prevent further attacks here.

Lincolnesque Advice for Dispirited Dems

As Congress heads home for the Memorial Day weekend after burying their immediate hopes for stopping the war in Iraq, a few words of consolation from the idol of their Republican tormenters:

“(T)ake increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And, Lincoln might have added, take your heads out of your asses and stop following George Bush up legislative blind alleys where he can gun you down with vetoes.

The lesson this week for Democrats is that the way to end the war is to rescind the 2002 resolution that started it. All the party’s Presidential candidates will back that, and so may an increasing number of Congressional Republicans, who would have to explain to voters next year why they didn’t vote to stop the war without endangering our troops when they had the chance.

Try to finesse the funding, if you must, but don’t let Bush, Cheney and Rove keep splintering your party without a yes-or-no vote on the continuing legality of the disaster over which they are presiding.

Lincoln had the guts and the grace to try to heal a fractured nation. Today’s wannabes can do the same and still keep going to the theater.


A Bucket for Boehner

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes...


These few words from Tennyson may not be enough to comfort House Minority Leader John Boehner, who wept yesterday on hearing a fellow Republican recount seven years as a POW in Vietnam.

Boehner, an emotional man, might want to spare a thought for our young people in Iraq who won’t be coming home to run for Congress and ponder this from the “Rubaiyat”:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.


Hillary: The Books and the Movie

If Hillary Clinton had gone on to the lecture circuit and corporate boards after leaving the White House, she might not now be the subject of two new books and all the babble that will surely follow.

At the moment, the only word about their contents comes today from copies “obtained” by the Washington Post and summarized thus:

“The Hillary Clinton who emerges from the pages of the books comes across as a complicated, sometimes compromised figure who tolerated Bill Clinton's brazen infidelity, pursued her policy and political goals with methodical drive, and occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way. The books portray her as alternately brilliant and controlling, ambitious and victimized.”

To anyone who has been paying attention, none of those adjectives will be shocking. "The news here,” the Senator’s campaign spokesman says, “is that it took three reporters nearly a decade to find no news."

Connoisseurs of irony may appreciate the fact that one of the Hillary tomes was written by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, who married and was divorced by screen writer Nora Ephron, who wrote a novel about their marriage, “Heartburn.”

Afterward, readers of Harper’s Magazine were regaled by a copy of their divorce agreement, which included detailed understandings about how Bernstein would be portrayed in the movie version.

In it, he was played by suave Jack Nicholson to Meryl Streep as the heroine, a Bernstein upgrade from dorky Dustin Hoffman in the Watergate movie.

If they film Bernstein’s "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," Streep could complete the circle by starring in it.

White House MASH Unit

In the Rose Garden press conference, Bush’s Mouth let slip the strategy to protect Bush’s Brain, Karl Rove, while trying to cover Bush’s Posterior, Alberto Gonzales:

“There is an internal investigation taking place at the Justice Department. And this will be an exhaustive investigation. And if there's wrongdoing, it will be taken care of...And I would hope the Senate and the Congress would move expeditiously to finish their hearings.”

This sounds very much like the response to the Valerie Plame outing: Everybody out of the operating room, we’ll take care of it. In that flap, the White House was anxious to cover not only Bush’s Brain but the President’s Phallus, Dick Cheney.

That one ended with the removal of a wart, Scooter Libby, just as this one has led to the scraping off of several Justice Department pimples.

How many anatomy lessons will it take to put a stop to this quackery?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bush Born Again on UN?

The President seems to be having another spiritual reawakening, this time with the UN as savior.

In today’s press conference, he expresses a renewed faith in the international body to strength sanctions and deprive the sinners in Iran of nuclear weapons.

In addition, a “a former senior administration official” told the Guardian yesterday that the White House “is developing plans to ‘internationalise’ the Iraq crisis, including an expanded role for the United Nations, as a way of reducing overall US responsibility for Iraq's future...

"Petraeus is brilliant. But he is the captain of a sinking ship."

Bush may be undergoing the shipwreck equivalent of a gallows conversion, but then again he may have reached the point of praying for any divine intervention he can get.

Mushroom Cloud Man Chides Giuliani

The man who coined “Axis of Evil” and the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” metaphor about WMD in Iraq is now lecturing America’s Mayor about his “incoherent” position on abortion.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, ex-Bush speech writer Michael Gerson offered his faith-based opinion that Giuliani “has set out his views on this topic with all the order and symmetry of a freeway pileup.”

Invoking the Lincoln-Douglas debates on slavery, Gerson insists “Giuliani has chosen an option that is not an option--a belief that unborn life deserves our sympathy but does not deserve rights or justice.”

Gerson admires Giuliani nonetheless, calling him
“a crucial figure in the conservative movement” who “proved that some of America's worst social problems will yield to competence and reforming zeal.”

Such flattery may not win over Giuliani. Heathens will have to take comfort in the fact that Gerson, hitherto known as “the conscience of the White House,” is no longer dispensing his spiritual wisdom in Bush’s office but at the Council on Foreign Relations where equating fetuses’ rights with those of African Americans in slavery won’t become national policy.

Best Bet to End the War

In yesterday’s immortal words of Harry Reid, “Keep in mind the progress we have made.” To the naked eye, in four months, Congress has gone from failing to pass non-binding resolutions against the war to quibbling over non-binding benchmarks in a bill to fund it. At this rate, we should be out of Iraq by never.

From the start, attempts to de-fund were going to founder on Presidential vetoes upheld by enough Congressional Republicans who aren’t terrified yet by the prospect of losing their seats next year.

So after all the posturing by Democratic “leaders,” bobbing and weaving by Presidential candidates and outrage from disappointed bystanders (pace Keith Olbermann), we are back to one legislative hope--rescinding the 2002 Congressional authorization to invade Iraq.

That’s a long and bumpy road that could end at the doorway of the Supreme Court, but as Robert Byrd has been saying all along, it’s the best possible hope for undoing the damage he and a few other lonely souls were warning against back then.

After all the gabble over appropriations ends this week, Democrats who want to stop this damn war rather then venting and politicking about it should concentrate on getting the recission resolution moving. By the time they pass it, enough Republicans may be in an ’08 panic to make it veto-proof.

The Monica Misdirection

After a day of her immunized testimony, the Administration’s Monica Goodling game plan is becoming clearer.

Before the House Judiciary Committee, the former Justice Department aide was willing, one might even say eager, to admit that she “crossed the line” by inquiring into political affiliations of applicants for career jobs but that she “didn’t mean to.”

Since the Department had unexpectedly announced its own investigation into this question, one might suspect that Ms. Goodling’s admission comes after assurances that she would be cleared of violating civil service rules.

The unexpected investigation and her admission is looking more and more like an attempted diversion from the issue of White House involvement in the firing of the U.S. Attorneys.

On this subject, in the absence of all those missing Karl Rove e-mails, Ms. Goodling seemed to feel perjury-proof in denying or not remembering any discussions with Karl Rove or Harriet Meirs, a contention that strains credulity in the light of her job as the Department’s White House liaison.

Isn’t it heartwarming to be living in a country where the people in charge equate telling the truth with not being caught lying?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bush's Tales Out of School

This President leaves no cliché behind. Today he revived the one about the kid who kills his parents and asks for sympathy because he’s an orphan.

At one of the few commencement venues that can’t turn him down, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the Commander-in-Chief inspired graduates by declassifying intelligence to show that in 2005 Osama bin Laden was setting up units in Iraq to plan terrorist attacks here.

Scary, Mr. President, but do you think that these young people--or anyone else for that matter--won’t be able to figure out that, if we hadn’t invaded Iraq into chaos two years earlier, that Saddam Hussein, who loathed bin Laden, would never have allowed that gang into his territory?

Now tell us about Goldilocks and the three hijackers.

Monica's Amnesia

So sad to see a lovely, vital 33-year-old woman suffering from the same affliction as her former boss Alberto Gonzales--degenerative memory loss. At the House Judiciary Committee hearing today, Monica Goodling's impairment was shocking.

The grant of immunity has done little to improve her condition, but House Democrats might help with talk therapy that asks the right questions and a lab analysis of the Karl Rove Kool-Aid Ms. Goodling has apparently been imbibing.

It’s an important public health issue.

Fred Thompson Tiptoeing In

As Giuliani slides in the polls and McCain jabs at Romney over immigration telling him "to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn," the Republicans’ stealth candidate is edging toward the stage.

Fred Thompson has hired a campaign manager and lead lawyer for his invisible effort to win the party’s ’08 nomination and set a target date for announcing at the end of next month.

When Thompson finally comes out, he will have to answer the question of whether his role of protecting “Law and Order” on the small screen can translate into that of chief enforcement officer on the international scene.

In the souped-up primaries of this election, Thompson’s laid-back style of leisurely campaigning in a pickup trick that sent him to the Senate will be put to the test.

He may have to spend more time on TV after all, in campaign commercials.


Al Gore Catch-22

In today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd says “leading Republicans and Bush insiders think a Gore-Obama ticket would be unbeatable.” But there is a catch.

If the former Vice-President had been the way he is today-—outspoken, self-confident, at times a bit confrontational--he might have won the 2000 election by an indisputable margin.

But today’s Al Gore isn’t running for President. If he decided to go for it next year, would he revert to the wonky version of 2000?

That question is raised by the mega-attention of the past week--a cover story in Time, reviews of his new book, “The Assault on Reason,” and endless press about how he has “fallen out of love with politics.”

“Free to Be Al Gore” is the theme of an E. J. Dionne column in yesterday’s Washington Post: “It's entertaining to talk to Gore these days because he's so clearly enjoying himself...(H)e did not speak as if there were focus-grouped sentences dancing around in his head. Nor did he worry about saying things that some consultant would fret about for weeks afterward.”

Pick a point of view about the New Gore, and the New York Times has it. Today Dowd says, “He is so fixed on not seeming like a presidential flirt that he risks coming across as a bit of a righteous tease.”

In the Times’ Sunday Magazine, James Traub concludes Gore has attained “prophetic status” by “acting as he could not, or would not, as a candidate--saying precisely what he believes, and saying it with clarity, passion, intellectual mastery and even, sometimes, wit.”

A Times review of “The Assault on Reason” says it “shows a fiery, throw-caution-to-the winds Al Gore, who, whether or not he runs for the White House again, has decided to lay it all on the line with a blistering assessment of the Bush administration and the state of public discourse in America at this ‘fateful juncture’ in history.”

In Time Magazine, Gore sums himself up: "There's no question I'm freed up. I don't want to suggest that it's impossible to be free and authentic within the political process, but it's obviously harder. Another person might be better at it than I was...Obama is rising because he is talking about politics in a way that feels fresh to people ...

I came through all of that and I guess I changed. And now it is easier for me to just let it fly. It's like they say: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

In politics, as in singles bars, hard-to-get can be sexy--up to a point. Over the coming months, Gore will be forced to resolve his ambivalence.

If he goes for it, he will have to give up overeating just as Obama has stopped smoking. As a team, they might be inspiring in more ways than one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Al Sharpton's Odd Couplings

On the heels of porn publisher Larry Flynt’s account of his friendship with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell comes news today of the Rev. Al Sharpton touring Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City and dining with one of the Church Elders.

The visit comes in the wake of another odd coupling, an exchange of ideas with atheist Christopher Hitchens, during which the Rev. Sharpton, Don Imus’ scalp hanging from his ample belt, indicated that Mormons may not be real Christians.

At this rate, will the intrepid minister next be debating the Devil? Does Rush Limbaugh have guests on his show? Does self-promotion make strange bedfellows?


The Loneliness of Joe Lieberman

Today’s heart-wrenching news comes from an interview in which the Senate’s most tragic figure reveals the toll his idealism has taken.

Joe Lieberman confesses to “moments of real awkwardness and aloneness” in his stand against Democrats who want to abandon Iraq like Majority Leader Harry Reid whose remark that the war is lost left him “terribly bothered.”

“I hope the moment doesn't come,” Lieberman confides, “that I feel so separated from the caucus” that he switches sides and gives Republicans control of the Senate.

But ever the idealist, Lieberman is soldiering on, taking some solace from his status, “feeling empowered and liberated” despite the fact that his approval rating among constituents has plummeted.

In his new-found autonomy, the Senator even admits to being intrigued by the idea of an Independent for President in ’08. Who could he have in mind?

Iraq and Vietnam: Geometry of Getting Out

The debate about Iraq has turned toward the precedent of Vietnam and Nixon’s five-year delay in ending that unpopular war.

On Talk Left, the estimable Big Tent Democrat cites Nixon in 1968 as an “apt comparison” for a new President of his party in ’08: “After all, who wants to run for reelection having ‘lost Iraq?’ Of course they are ridiculous to fear being labelled as having lost Iraq, but fear it they will. They all fear what the Beltway Gasbags will say.”

No one could agree more about the pernicious influence of Beltway Gasbags but, as a tear-gassed Democratic Convention veteran of the ’68 debate over ending the war, I must add a cautionary footnote.

Chance can be just as important as calculation in politics, and there is no question that Vietnam would have ended in early 1969 if Robert Kennedy hadn’t been killed a year earlier. Nixon’s election hinged on that national misfortune.

As an anti-war delegate that summer, I witnessed a chaotic convention where Eugene McCarthy had become irrelevant and Hubert Humphrey who supported the war was nominated by default. If he had lived, Kennedy would surely have been chosen and gone on to defeat Nixon, whose 20-point lead in the polls fell to less than one percent in the balloting even against Humphrey.

Whatever the self-interest of the next President dictates, the tide of feeling against this war will force him or her to end it sooner rather than later.


Florida Leapfrogs, Candidates Jumpy

Holy Gore, they’re at it again. The Sunshine State, which gave us George Bush in 2000, is clouding the picture for 2008 by moving its primary to January 29th, putting Florida behind only Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire and on the same day as South Carolina's Democratic primary.

With 22 states now scheduled for February 5th and others poised to move up, the candidates’ campaigns are looking as jumpy as an old Mack Sennett comedy. Whistle stops and burger-joint handshaking may give way to big regional and even national TV buys in an attempt to wrap up the nomination before the Ides of March.

But there is a contrarian view in today’s New York Times by Adam Nagourney: “If Feb. 5 is inconclusive, there are going to be a lot fewer states competing for the candidates’ time and attention. There are going to be many fairly empty Tuesdays on the primary calendar next spring; pick the right one and one of those states might end up putting a candidate over the top.”

What’s certain is that Florida, while losing delegates for its impetuous move, will gain a lot of hotel-restaurant money from politicians and their media entourages and that candidates will discover an urgent need to take a strong position on post-Castro Cuba and other such issues.

So far, early polling gives Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani 2-1 leads in Florida, no doubt influenced by the retired New Yorker vote. But if Al Gore were to make a late entry into the race, his name recognition in the state would be unbeatable.




Gonzales and J. Edgar Hoover

The fired U.S. Attorney melodrama heads toward a climax this week with the testimony of Monica Goodling, the President once again reaffirms his faith in “Al,” and an off-the-wall suspicion rears its head.

Half a century ago, despite growing evidence of his malfeasance, J. Edgar Hoover managed to hang on to his job as director of the FBI by blackmailing the Presidents who could fire him. He knew where the bodies were buried.

As conventional wisdom keeps reiterating Bush’s loyalty to the man who has served him so long and well, going back to getting him off jury duty without disclosing his drunk-driving record, the question arises: What if bland-looking Alberto Gonzales is benefiting, consciously or not, from what J. Edgar Hoover ruthlessly used?

On the surface, there is no resemblance between mild-mannered Gonzales and the bulldog Hoover, but the grandson of illegal immigrants has made clear his pride in what he has accomplished. If that is taken away from him, how would he react?

Gonzales has been loyally protecting Bush and his attack dog, Rove, by pleading faulty memory in the firing of the prosecutors. If the White House is forced to throw the faithful old retainer to the wolves, could his recollection suddenly improve? Gonzales may not be asking that question, but it almost surely has occurred to his benefactor.

In the Washington power game, the moves hardly ever change. Are we seeing a new variation of a classic standoff? Just asking.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jimmy Carter's "Careless" Confusion

Our 39th President is having another of his misadventures in public speaking.

This weekend, after telling a reporter "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter was rebuked by a third-string White House flack who called him ”reckless” and “increasingly irrelevant.”

Thus chastened, Carter on the Today show this morning allowed that his comments were “careless,” but his memory may be failing him more than his judgment.

At the 2004 Democratic convention, the former President said, “A cowardly attack on innocent civilians brought us an unprecedented level of cooperation and understanding around the world. But...all this good will has been squandered by a virtually unbroken series of mistakes and miscalculations. Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism...

“The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of preemptive war.”

It’s hard to see how what he said this weekend differs from or is worse than that. But it might be better not to ask Carter to explain.

How Bush Blew It

Those with a taste for bitter irony will find it in a Washington Post story today that reports “the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are getting a second look from the White House and Congress, as officials continue to scour for bipartisan solutions to salvage the American engagement in Iraq.”

Six months ago, after the Republican thumpin’ at the polls, the President had cover to make his bid for posterity by using the Study Group’s report as cover for a compromise. Instead, he treated it like something he had found in an outhouse and doubled down on an insane bet for history’s approval of his course in Iraq.

Now Bush is finally saying he “liked what James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton suggested.”

Too little, too late, but as always, the worst President in American history is beginning to bow to the inevitable only after being driven back to the wall. Next stop, Alberto Gonzales and perhaps at long last, Karl Rove.

Clarence Thomas' Sound of Silence

Since October 2004, according to Supreme Court transcripts, Clarence Thomas has spoken 281 words. At the rate of about a hundred a year, no one would call him garrulous.

In a new book, many people call Justice Thomas many other things: ultra-conservative, unqualified, combative, insensitive, self-pitying, reclusive, a traitor to his race. But the truth is more complicated than that.

Written by two black Washington Post reporters, “Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas” attempts to solve the mystery of a man who became the focus of racial and political rage in America.

When Thomas was nominated to succeed Thurgood Marshall in 1991, it seemed like a bad joke that the first President Bush claimed to have chosen him without regard to race. Replacing the distinguished first African American on the Court with a political hack who had been on any bench for only a year enraged Democrats, black leaders and feminists who believed he was anti-abortion.

Yet televised confirmation hearings went well until opponents brought in Anita Hill, who had worked for Thomas and testified that he had sexually harassed her with remarks about pubic hair in his Coca Cola and a porn star named Long Dong Silver.

The ensuing soap opera of character assassination by both sides was a national disgrace, which ended only after Thomas, who had been deferential until then, expressed his anger over what he called a “high tech lynching.”

Clarence Thomas has been on the high court for a decade and a half now, apparently still scarred by that experience, doing and saying very little, following Antonin Scalia’s ultra-conservative lead. Those who opposed him are still bitter about his appointment.

A magazine for black readers published two covers of Thomas, once wearing an Aunt Jemima headscarf and another as a lawn jockey. The Justice himself has seldom appeared in public, making an exception to officiate at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.

Of all the players in this racial drama, George Herbert Walker Bush bears the most blame. Thomas was only being himself, and his detractors were justified in their reasons for opposing him, if not always in their methods.

But it was Bush’s cynicism in naming him that has led to the bitter polarization of the Supreme Court nomination process, which culminated in the depths of his son’s choice of Harriet Meirs and consideration of Alberto Gonzales for appointment.

Justice Thomas’ silence is a symbol for the loud and clear cacaphony that both Bushes have brought to American democracy.


Flynt's Fond Farewell to Falwell

As a magazine publisher, Larry Flynt made Playboy’s Hugh Hefner look like a choirboy. First Amendment advocates held their noses while defending his legal right to foist Hustler on sexually retarded readers.

But here is Flynt playing Jerry Falwell’s Marc Antony in the Los Angeles Times to tell us that the porn publisher and the preacher were birds of a feather.

Flynt, who says he was deflowered by a chicken he later killed, now claims a kinship with Falwell: “I knew what he was selling, and he knew what I was selling, and we found a way to communicate.”

The road to friendship was rocky, paved by a five-year $50 million lawsuit over a parody involving Falwell, his mother and an outhouse, which ended with the Supreme Court upholding Flynt’s First Amendment rights. Ten years later,
on the Larry King show, Falwell literally embraced Flynt.

Afterward, the publisher says, the preacher came to his office, proposing they do their act in colleges across the country. They bonded and became a hit team.

“We'd have interesting philosophical conversations,” Flynt writes. “We'd exchange personal Christmas cards. He'd show me pictures of his grandchildren. I was with him in Florida once when he complained about his health and his weight, so I suggested that he go on a diet that had worked for me. I faxed a copy to his wife...”

So, friends and country men, if you have tears, shed them now. As Velma told Roxie in “Chicago” about their working together despite their differences: In show business, “that’s no problem at all.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bush, Congress and Box-Office Bombs

As they bicker over Iraq and posture about immigration, Washington’s elected elite bring to mind Hollywood’s legendary disasters. Approval ratings, politicians’ equivalent of movie revenues, keep sinking.

Stooping to self-quotation, this 2006 pre-election post ended with a warning for Democrats:

“’I’ m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!’

“That line, from a 30-year-old movie written by my high-school classmate, Paddy Chayevsky, looks like the key to this election. In ‘Network,’ it was a loony anchorman who inspired people to open their windows and yell. This year, Diebold willing, voters will vent their rage in the booth and give Democrats control of both houses.

“As the scene shifts from Ted Turner’s old movie channel to his other brainchild, CNN, newly elected Dems may want to recall how ‘Network’ ends. When the public doesn’t get what it wants, the hero gets killed on camera.”

Now, the news is sounding like reviews of “Ishtar,” “Heaven’s Gate” and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” which one critic compared to “watching 90 minutes of outtakes--deleted scenes randomly assembled by a drunken night watchman at the studio.”

While auditioning new stars for ’08, Washington’s movers and shakers should be getting the message that the public won’t be buying more of the same.

Falwell Backlash

In a time of cynicism about public figures, there has been one curious exception. Death now bestows instant sanctity, as the prolonged TV wakes for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford demonstrated.

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell left us this week, he was extolled by John McCain, who once called him an “agent of intolerance,” followed by Rudy Giuliani rushing in to praise his polar opposite as a man “who was not afraid to speak his mind” and a paean from ever-eager-to-please Mitt Romney.

Before the Republican debate, the moderator headed off candidate gush with a blanket bow, but not before Mike Huckabee off-camera pronounced Falwell "a great man and a great influence for America and for Christ."

After these knee-jerk tributes, second thoughts started to seep out. Charles Gibson became a minor hero for not leading off with the news of Falwell’s death on ABC, and other voices were soon heard.

On CNN, Christopher Hitchens called the preacher “a little toad” who told Americans “the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment. People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.”

In today’s New York Times, Frank Rich points out Falwell was “a laughing stock and embarrassment” to the Bush Administration and represented “the brand of religious politics being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow.”

All evidence shows that in the 2006 election Democrats closed “the God Gap” among evangelical Christians. Why, then, are Republican Presidential hopefuls still pandering to Falwell followers on the theory that they are the key to winning the nomination?

By defying them on abortion, Rudy Giuliani may be onto some larger truth about 2008.

George W, Godfather?

We may have been underestimating him. All this time, Jon Stewart et al have been portraying our President as a bumbling cluck, an Inspector Clouseau in the White House.

Today a New York Times editorial sets us straight: George W. Bush is actually Don Corleone, whose “warm embrace is really a payoff to yes-men who didn’t challenge his orders or question...policies.”

The President’s hugging of Gonzales and other capos is not out of friendship but loyalty to those who keep their vows of silence. Only George Tenet has breached omerta and gone into witness protection on the best-seller list.

Maybe so, but they still look less like the Mafia than “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Congress Goes Hungry

In our so-sophisticated society, it would be easy to mock what four members of the House are doing this week: trying not to starve on what the government currently provides 26 million poor people in our country.

Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH) are living on an average food stamp budget--$3 a day--from May 15th to the 21st to show themselves and voters what it really means to be hungry in America today.

They are finding out what it’s like to live on bread, rice and canned tuna, choose between coffee and calories, have a banana for breakfast, scramble an egg so stretched with water that your child tells you it "looks like barf" and, above all, feel tired most of the time. (See their blogs.)

Stunt? Gimmick? Political show-boating? Maybe, but they are trying to drum up support for legislation to add $4 billion to the $33 billion food stamp budget for the coming year, a fraction of what it costs to fight the war in Iraq.

Their effort recalls what happened in the early 1960s when Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America,” a book that prompted President Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson to launch the War on Poverty, in which he described why the poor have become invisible:

“(T)he very development of the American city has removed poverty from the living, emotional experience of millions upon millions of middle-class Americans. Living out in the suburbs it is easy to assume that ours is, indeed, an affluent society.”

If politicians miss a few meals to make them visible, we’ll all be the healthier for it.



Michael Moore Resists Bush Shock and Awe

He is feeling so invaded. Like Iraq. Fearing WMD in the guerilla fighter’s latest foray into the heart of American darkness, the Bush Administration launched a “preemptive action” that has Moore shaken but resolved to resist.

From an undisclosed location, the intrepid filmmaker has issued a communiqué to reassure members of the Resistance that he will not be silenced and is, as we speak, “on my way to Cannes right now, a copy of the movie in my bag."

He is flying there despite the efforts of Bush’s Major Strasser, Fred Thompson, to neutralize him with a scurrilous video impugning his soundness of mind.

Moore’s furtive missive lifts the veil on his unspeakable treatment at the hands of the Bushies.

"Are you saying they might actually confiscate our movie?" he asked his legal aides.

"’Yes,’ was the answer. ‘These days, anything is possible. Even if there is just a 20 percent chance the government would seize our movie before Cannes, does anyone want to take that risk?’

“Certainly not. So there we were last week, spiriting a duplicate master negative out of the country just so no one from the government would take it from us.”

Well done, Commando Moore. If you pass through Lisbon, give our best to Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid.

The Man Who Owned Napoleon's Penis

Those who think fame has grown grotesque in our time may want to read an obituary in the New York Times last Sunday headlined: John K. Lattimer, Urologist of Varied Expertise, Dies at 92.

Dr. Lattimer was a department chairman at the Columbia University medical school who wrote 375 scientific papers and was the first non-government expert to examine the medical evidence in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (He concluded that Oswald did it alone.)

But Dr. Lattimer undoubtedly will be most remembered as the possessor of Napoleon’s penis, allegedly removed by a priest administering last rites, which he bought at an auction in 1969. An avid collector of memorabilia, he also owned Lincoln’s blood-stained collar, Hitler’s drawings and the ampoule that held the cyanide with which Hermann Goring committed suicide.

There were headlines in the 1980s when Michael Jackson was said to have offered $50,000 for the Elephant Man’s skeleton. Now there are thousands of web sites auctioning objects the famous have worn or touched, but apparently no body parts.

Such widespread and intense traffic in celebrity leavings may express a longing to connect with history or immortality, but then again it may simply reflect the inner poverty or perversity of those with the money to buy them.

The seventeenth century scientist-philosopher Blaise Pascal described but did not explain it by observing, “The charm of fame is so great that we like every object to which it is attached, even death.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Scrambled Politics of Immigration

America’s two leading Nazis, George Bush and Ted Kennedy...

Sorry, is there some confusion here? The rest of that sentence was to be about the White House and Senate agreeing on a sweeping new bill to reform immigration, but a Lou Dobbs-like voice intervened with the Third Reich reference.

The confusion is understandable, since immigration reform has scrambled polarized American politics beyond recognition.

"I really am anxious to sign a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as I possibly can," the President said after the agreement. “Today we took a good step toward that direction.”

Kennedy agreed, saying the bill “is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders, bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America."

While the two symbolic figures of the American Divide are in accord, other politicians are all over the place. Republicans praised Kennedy for his efforts, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid expressed “concerns” over the need to “improve the bill.”

Presidential candidates are in similar disarray. John McCain agreed it was “a first step but important step,” while Barack Obama warned that "the proposed bill could devalue the importance of family reunification.”

Mitt Romney called it “the wrong approach.” Ever tactful Tom Tancredo said Bush was so “desperate” that “he is willing to sell out the American people and our national security."

But confusion is a small price to pay for seeing Congress get back to serious debate over an important issue. Maybe “serious” is putting it too strongly. How about “almost grownup?”

An Inconvenient Senator

It will be news to most Americans that there is a Socialist in the U.S. Senate, and in today’s Washington Post, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a few things to say about what else is news to them:

“What the media does is decide every single morning--a bunch of people, not very many of them--who sit down at the New York Times and The Washington Post and CBS and NBC and they say:

“'America, this is reality today. Paris Hilton...fighting vigorously to stay out of jail...we're going to cover that extensively. Oh, you lost your job and it's going to China? Not so interesting.

“'We are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care program and you probably don't know that...we spend twice as much per person compared to any other nation on earth.

“'But...Britney Spears. Now I want to ask you a question. Do you think this comeback is going to work or not? Because I've been really worried about Britney Spears's comeback. But thank God, we have solved...Anna Nicole Smith's paternity problem.'”

Sanders, described by Mary Ann Akers as “a permanently wind-blown curmudgeon,” admits, “I’m being a little facetious here,” then adds: “We are living, in my view, very sadly with the worst administration in the modern history of the United States of America, doing irreparable harm to this country. That's not a laughing matter.”

As an antidote to seeing Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and all those solemn, hangdog faces spouting nonsense on the network news every night, Sanders comes as a fresh breeze.

Millions will be watching the others tonight, but one of the best things about the Web is that anyone who is not captivated by the usual suspects can get a different point of view here.

Bolton Charms British

Now that Tony Blair is leaving, someone will have to take up the slack to protect American interests in Britain. Who better than our suavest diplomat John Bolton?

After telling the Daily Telegraph about the urgent need to bomb Iran the other day, Bolton enlightened the BBC yesterday about Wolfowitz, Neo-Cons and unfortunate British tendencies to act superior.

Asked if the Bush Administration was not a "busted flush" after Iraq, Bolton told his interviewer he was “absolutely wrong” and “anti-American” like “many others on the continent.”

When the anchor protested that he was only posing questions, our former UN Ambassador set him straight, "I know, you're a superior Brit, aren't you?"

He rounded out his diplomatic mission in a predictive mode. Asked if Wolfowitz would leave the World Bank, he replied, "I see you're a gravedigger as well. I'm not at all sure I see that demise happening." Adding that he himself was not one of them, Bolton ventured his opinion that the “Neo-Con adventure” was not over.

“You can’t beat brains,” President Kennedy used to say. President Bush seems to rely more on charm.

What Next for Wolfowitz?

With such a remarkable resume, an executive of his caliber should soon be fielding all kinds of offers. As the architect of Saddam Hussein’s downfall and inspiration for revitalizing the World Bank, Wolfowitz will surely be sought by struggling organizations in dire need of his conceptual talents.

The Republican Party? The George W. Bush Presidential Library? The Karl Rove Defense Fund?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Old New Star of Network News

At 64, Charles Gibson is suddenly “hot.” Today the New York Times, Washington Post and even CBS are agog over the ABC anchor. His scheduled retirement has been put off in the wake of unexpected ratings success.

When something unusual happens, you can count on the media, especially in reporting about itself, to replace overturned conventional wisdom rapidly with newly minted clichés.

After writing off network news as antiquated in the digital era, critics are now citing Gibson for his good old-fashioned journalistic judgment and, by implication, courage in refusing to lead off the news with Jerry Falwell’s demise, as NBC and ABC did.

“You don’t normally lead with obituaries for someone with a legacy that is very positive in some ways, very negative in other ways,” Gibson told the Times. “It was a sense I had that it didn’t rise to the point of the lead.”

It’s sad that sound judgment is seen as bravery in a time when the Radical Religious Right has cowed not only politicians but news people into giving their leaders
more recognition and influence than their numbers would justify.

But Gibson’s success is a plus for older journalists and a source of mild bemusement for younger ones. “He keeps you on your toes,” says ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz, “"and how can you not love an anchorman who calls you 'Toots'?"

G.O.P. Charisma Gap

Chasm may be more accurate. If Ron Paul is beginning to look attractive to some of them, Republicans may be drowning in mediocrity. The lineup at their last debate resembled the buffet waiting line at a Rotarian lunch.

The waiting list is starting to lose its sparkle, too. For a while, there was some excitement about Fred Thompson, but he doused it with a dull turn in Orange County, and now he is off somewhere emceeing a Michael Moore roast.

The eager trick puppy of the Party is still jumping into every media lap he can find, but Newt Gingrich looks more like a Las Vegas lounge act than a headliner.

With Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 halo being pelted by rotten tomatoes from the Conservative cheap seats, McCain mummified in an Iraq cheerleading pose, and Mike Bloomberg and Chuck Hagel showing interest in bookings as Independents, the ’08 stage is close to bare.

Even the critics are beginning to run out of bad show business clichés.

Bush Not-Quite-Ardent-Enough Friends List

The parallels with Nixon just keep coming. Today we learn that the Bush hit list of federal prosecutors metastasized from the eight previously known to at least 26.

In 1971, the Nixon Enemies list started with a modest 20 and ballooned into dozens. John Dean, then White House counsel and now full-time Bush critic, started it all with a memo (no e-mails then):

"This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration, stated a bit more bluntly--how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."

The original targets included Paul Newman and, ironically, today's chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr., who is leading an investigation of the Rove-Gonzales venture. Conyers' offense had been introduction in Congress of a bill to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday.

To be fair, the current crop is not exactly an Enemies List but more of a Not-Quite-Ardent-Enough Friends List.

Filthy Rich Candidates Come Clean

A post here yesterday asked a foolish question about the ’08 Presidential contenders: “Why are they so embarrassed about revealing how rich they are?” Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards have just given us the answer.

America’s Mayor earned $16.1 million in the past 16 months, mostly from speaking fees. The champion of the Two Americas’ poor has $29.1 million in assets.

Politics has never paid this well before, at least not in reported earnings, but then again politics has never been this much like show business. Stars do not come cheap.

Giuliani got $100,000 per speech to brighten up dreary business conventions. Edwards collected $479,512 salary from Fortress Investment Group last year for consulting, but it was only a part-time job and, as he assured us last week, it was educational.

No one believes politicians should take vows of poverty, but a nagging doubt persists. If those we may entrust with the fate of our country are worth so much as box-office performers, can we be sure they are up to doing the job?

We have some bad experiences recently with electing a “name.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Funny Mustache Man Wants to Bomb Iran

John Bolton, who makes Dick Cheney seem amiable, couldn’t get himself confirmed as Bush’s Ambassador to the UN. He is so disagreeable that, after losing an argument to Jon Stewart about Lincoln, he has left the country and is now stirring up trouble in Britain.

”We must attack Iran before it gets the bomb” is the headline for a story in today’s Daily Telegraph about an interview with him warning that a nuclear Iran would be as dangerous as “Hitler marching into the Rhineland” in 1936.

The story includes Bolton’s hints that he still has powerful friends in the Administration and his revelation that the “Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans for military action and some senior White House officials share Mr Bolton's thinking.”

It might be safer for all of us if Jon Stewart invited him back and gave him a regular slot on the Daily Show.

Money Talks, Candidates Won't

Our would-be Presidents are telling us more than we may want to know about themselves, but on one subject, they are reticent.

For the first time in two decades, all the major candidates but Obama are stalling about releasing their tax returns. Why are they so embarrassed about revealing how rich they are?

John Edwards, who promised last week to tell us how much he was paid by a hedge fund which, among other things, makes predatory loans to the poor, seems to have changed his mind.

Rudy Giuliani is not eager to tell us how many millions he got by parlaying his 9/11 fame into $100,000-a-pop speaking engagements and from a consulting firm with some shady clients.

Both the Clintons are rightly shy about their income. since the former President alone raked in $31 million from making speeches in a five-year period.

Mitt Romney, who will tell us anything we want to know about Mormon attitudes toward polygamy and pre-marital sex, and John McCain, who will talk our ears off about the war in Iraq, are mute when it comes to discussing their incomes.

Only Barack Obama, a relative newcomer to big-league politics, is willing to let us know he and his wife had a total income of $1.67 million last year, mostly from his book royalties and advances.

As they go about making promises to protect the interests of the poor and middle class, our Presidents-in-waiting don’t want us to know how little they are feeling our pain.

Fat Fox Guards the Henhouse

Michael E. Baroody must be a man of remarkable integrity. The Bush Administration has just nominated him to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission, where he will deal with complaints against members of the National Association of Manufacturers, his current employer, who are rewarding him with a $150,000 going-away gift.

“Mr. Baroody has proven leadership abilities,” a White House spokesperson said, “and we believe he will be a valuable advocate on behalf of American consumers.”

No doubt, but valuable to whom? Senate Democrats, who will have to confirm him, are muttering about foxes and henhouses. But they should not be surprised. This is not the first Bush appointment to lay an egg, but this time it’s a golden one.

I know, I know. It’s not the foxes who lay eggs but, in today’s topsy-turvy Washington world, anything is possible.