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, June 30, 2007

Hillary's Next Mate

It’s been like waiting in line to get tickets for a rock concert. Yesterday the “Hillary Is 44” site promised: “Tomorrow we will address potential Vice President choices. Don’t miss it!”

So here we are with knapsacks, water bottles and eager faces, and the winner is...

James Webb, the junior senator from Virginia, who makes Barack Obama look like Robert Byrd when it comes to experience in elected office--less than six months—although he did serve as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan years.

After considering Obama (“many questions he must answer, soon and thoroughly”), Bill Richardson (“solidifies the Latino vote for an already popular with Latinos Hillary”) Evan Bayh (“made some dumb personnel decisions for his campaign but quickly corrected them, which we found impressive”) and Tom Vilsack (“might bring in Iowa’s 7 electoral votes”), the Pink Brain Trust decided on Webb, citing “Republican David Ignatius,” a Washington Post columnist, commenting on Webb’s Wall Street Journal OpEd titled “Class Struggle”:

“’The Democrats need to embrace the fact that the greatest issue in America today is economic fairness,’ he says. He argues that if the Democrats construct a ‘fairness agenda’ that tilts toward workers and away from corporations and the rich, ‘they will win big.’ John Edwards hasn’t had much luck so far with the issue, which he has made the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. But some influential Democrats, including former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, share the focus on fairness.”

Senator Webb, decorated Vietnam war veteran, author of eight books and philosophically an admirer of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, is an impressive man who, on his first Senatorial trip to the White House had a publicized run-in with the President about Iraq, where his son is serving.

Vice President? Sen. Clinton may want to wait until she wins the nomination before thinking too much about it.

Media Mania Over Mitt's Mutt's Mishap

Talk about smear campaigns: Mitt Romney is spending millions of dollars to offset the damage to his quest for the presidency by something his dog did almost a quarter of a century ago.

Today’s Washington Post reports Romney “made another seven-figure loan to his campaign this quarter, on top of the $2.4 million he gave to jump-start his effort at the end of last year.”

The story goes on to explain:

“An example of Mitt Romney's crisis-management approach has turned into something of a political problem for the Republican presidential contender.

“Romney placed his family dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, into a kennel fastened to the top of his station wagon for a 12-hour family trip from Boston to Ontario in 1983. Despite being shielded by a wind screen that Romney had erected, Seamus expressed his discomfort with a diarrhea attack.

“The story, recounted this week in a Boston Globe profile of Romney, has touched off howls of outrage from bloggers and animal rights activists, even though it was presented as an example of Romney's coolness under trying circumstances.

"When Romney's eldest son, Tagg, and his four brothers complained about the brown runoff down the back windshield, their father quietly pulled the car over, borrowed a gas station hose and sprayed down both the dog and the kennel before returning to the road.”

Future historians may find the episode a perfect example of how MSM can distort the nation’s political dialogue. Luckily the blogosphere, as usual, has come to the rescue with 45,000 hits on Google to clarify its significance.

This post is a humble contribution to that noble effort.

Pakistani President's Wobbly War on Terror

After the London bombings two years ago, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan had some advice for Tony Blair: “They should have been doing what they have been demanding of us to do--to ban extremist groups like they asked us to do here in Pakistan and which I have done.”

Musharraf was a little testy about the revelation that at least two of the 2005 bombers had been in his country a few months earlier.

He will no doubt be giving similar advice to the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the wake of this week’s aborted car bombings.

But British investigators may find that Musharraf’s war on terrorists has been a little spotty, as in the case of one of his ministers who recently advocated suicide attacks in Britain to protest the knighting of Salman Rushdie and has been associated with “militant madressahs” that train suicide bombers.

If the perps of these latest attempts to kill Londoners turn out to be its graduates, the British can be thankful that their schooling left something to be desired.

Rove's Mugging of the McCains

As John McCain’s candidacy fades, it’s saddening to see the decline of an honorable man whose chances for the presidency in 2000 were destroyed by the Bush slime machine that has been defacing all of America ever since.

Yesterday was particularly poignant. Here was McCain in what was once his boyhood home, a block from the Capitol, now a lobbyists’ club, with his begging bowl out to take contributions from the people his campaign-finance reforms were intended to get out of Presidential politics.

Back in Phoenix his wife, Cindy, was giving a rueful interview to the New York Times. “I’m angry at them,” she said, ostensibly about the Bush Administration’s mishandling of the war in Iraq, where one of her sons is about to be deployed.

But under the veneer of a tactful political wife, there was more. In the 2000 campaign, after McCain defeated Bush in the New Hampshire primary, Karl Rove and his merry men destroyed her husband in South Carolina with slanders and push polls about everything from her one-time addiction to pain killers to rumors that their adopted daughter from Bangladesh was a black child McCain had fathered.

Last year, Bridget, who is now 15, learned about that while doing a Google search of her name and went to her mother in tears.

“She wanted to know why President Bush hated her,” Mrs. McCain said. “And I had to explain to her...how nasty campaigns can be.”

Now McCain, who withstood years in a Vietnamese prison camp only to be shut out of the White House by ruthless political thugs who had never heard a shot fired in anger, is fading into history. Those of us who differ with him about Iraq and regret his futile catch-up attempts to win over the Radical Right can nonetheless find him more admirable than the poseurs and phonies still standing in the Republican race.

The only hope for eventual justice to McCain’s memory is that the evil men do, in the case of Karl Rove, lives on and will come to light in the investigations that can’t remain mired forever in squabbles over subpoenas and executive privilege.

McCain won’t ever inhabit the White House, but his Congressional colleagues may yet fumigate it of the termites who kept him from getting there.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Romney Exclusive on Larry King Live

Publicists for Seamus Romney have announced that their client will grant his first interview since “the incident” to Larry King on CNN tonight.

“In view of all the misreporting by so-called animal rights activists and ill-informed bloggers,” the statement reads, “Seamus will set the record straight on the most appropriate venue.”

The Romney family Irish Setter, it can be reliably reported, will break his rule against personal publicity in order to counter accusations against the Governor in the wake of his being hosed down after a moment of incontinence while riding on the roof of the family car.

Seamus, it was learned, will take full responsibility for the mishap, reiterate his unqualified support for Romney’s candidacy and explain how the experience has inspired him to foreswear his former lax lifestyle.

Fancy Footwork for the G.O.P.

The elephant seems like an apt symbol for the Republican Party--a huge, noisy beast that tramples everyone and everything in its way.

But now there is evidence that the pachyderm is more sensitive than we knew, with delicate feelings and sensors in, of all places, its toes.

Scientist have discovered that they communicate “by vibrations transmitted through the ground to exquisitely sensitive elephant toes...The ground sounds travel a greater distance than airborne calls and may help keep herd members in touch with one another across a dozen or more miles.”

They can even distinguish whether such messages come from fellow herd members or strangers--a kind of "caller ID of the wild."

All this suggests new possibilities for their human counterparts. If Dick Lugar, John Warner and Mitch McConnell want to get through to Bush and Cheney about Iraq, they may want to have their next White House conference unshod and present them with a count of Congressional defectors that will knock their socks off.

That might keep the party on its toes for ’08.

The Price of Law and Order

It was never just about abortion. The struggle for America’s soul goes deeper, as the Supreme Court and Congress have been showing us this week.

It was never as simple as faith vs. reason. Rational people can recognize a Higher Power, the religious can respect science and logic.

What it has been about is the conflict between our hopes and fears, between the risks of freedom and the comfort of control, between our needs to feel decent and to feel safe.

Before the trauma of 9/11, the tension between those impulses could be kept in balance. Without that, the vicious idiocy of Bush’s Neo-Cons would never had free rein. For a time, the frustrations of Vietnam allowed Nixon’s paranoia and secrecy to subvert basic American values, but it never came to this.

This is an Executive Branch that makes Nixon look like a paragon of openness and respect for the law.

This is a Congress without the will and guts to stop a war started out of fear and stupidity and too craven to resist the hysteria over immigration and navigate through competing passions and interests toward a responsible compromise.

This is a High Court retreating from messy freedoms such as individual privacy, racial equality, protections from predatory business practices and the right to express unpopular opinions.

A living symbol of all this is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has emerged, at least for now, as the deciding voter in our losing 5-4 struggle to balance freedom and responsibility.

The duty of judges, he once told an audience, is to "impose order on a disordered reality." But at what price?

By January 2009 we may, to our sorrow, have found the answer to that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Undoing America

In 1954, after coming home from an unavoidable war, I was proud that, with Brown v. Board of Education, the country I fought for was taking a big step toward racial justice by declaring separate but equal schools were wrong.

It never occurred to me I would live long enough to see my country trapped in an avoidable war and taking steps back toward segregation, as the Supreme Court did today.

It never occurred to me that a President who had avoided fighting for his country would appoint a Chief Justice who, despite his avowed respect for precedent during confirmation, would move so swiftly to start undoing half a century of social progress.

Who are these people and what kind of America are they creating for our children and grandchildren?

Debating by the Book

Disingenuousness is always in the air at Presidential debates, but tonight’s Democratic do promises some new wrinkles.

For a start, the network announcement makes it sound like a book promotion: “Inspired by the book The Covenant with Black America, the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS marks the first time that a panel comprised of journalists of color will be represented in primetime. Many of the questions that will be asked of the candidates focus on key domestic priorities that were originally outlined in the book.”

The moderator will be Tavis Smiley, a talk show host who edited the best-seller. “Immediate public feedback on the performance of the candidates,” PBS notes, “will be conducted by noted pollster Frank Luntz.” Some Democrats would describe Luntz more accurately as a Republican hack who twists words to deceive voters.

In this setting, the candidates will be tempted to sell the sincerity of their concern for African American voters. The real test will be how well they restrain the intensity of their puckering up and address issues in realistic terms that won’t insult the intelligence of their audience.

The Ecology of Coulter-Edwards

Science defines mutualism, one form of symbiosis, as “an interaction between two or more species, where both derive benefit.” Think bees and flowers.

In putting the relationship of Ann Coulter and John Edwards under the microscope, another example seems more apt: the birds that eat parasites off crocodiles and are in turn protected from predators by their hosts’ giant jaws.

The gnashing of Coulter’s mandibles against him have not only nourished her notoriety (and lecture fees) but served as a fund-raising boon for Edwards.

When she called him a “faggot” in March, his campaign converted it into $300,000 in contributions. This week, when Elizabeth Edwards protested Coulter’s remark about wishing “he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot," the fund-raisers went into high gear and raised more money than from any previous e-mail campaign.

So we have here another instance of Nature’s grand design, in which two victims of Reverse Attention Deficit Disorder serve to ease each other’s affliction.

Scalia Spanks the Chief Justice

In his years on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia has been chafing at the bit to have his views prevail.

Now that Bush has put him into a tenuous conservative majority, Scalia is apparently impatient, as indicated by his public scolding of the new Chief Justice John Roberts, 19 years his junior, for not moving far or fast enough in their mutually chosen direction.

In today’s New York Times, Linda Greenhouse reports that Scalia in two opinions this week characterized the Chief Justice as “a wimp and a hypocrite” for “judicial obfuscation” and “meaningless and disingenuous distinctions.”

Scalia and Roberts are not likely to be palling around together on hunting trips like the one with Dick Cheney that led to Scalia’s controversial refusal three years ago to recuse himself from a case involving the Vice President’s right to keep secret the membership of an advisory task force on energy policy.

Explaining the innocence of the trip, Scalia pointed out that he had merely asked Cheney to join a friend of his and that they had flown down to Louisiana together on a Government jet, duck-hunted and fished in what “was not an intimate setting” and never even shared a blind.

Just as well. Given Cheney’s later shooting of a hunting companion in the face, proximity might have made the question of recusal moot but created another opening for a Bush appointee to the Court.

Dwarfing Jon Stewart

It's hard to get to sleep being haunted by visions of the hugeness of Michael Moore on the Daily Show a few hours ago. Did he eat Al Gore?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Funny Lady

Judging from the caricature illustrating her “Shenaningans” space on Politico, Anne Schroeder is an attractive young person whose blog “shifts the spotlight from the buttoned-up, straight side of politics to the fun, tawdry and light side of Washington culture.”

Today’s fun consists of accusing Paul Newman of “scare mongering” in a message to raise funds for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Newman, who is a contemporary of mine, can take care of himself, but disgust overcomes discretion in leading me to observe that, as someone who got on Nixon’s Enemies List for trying to protect the country he loves, the octogenarian actor is not a suitable subject for someone less than half his age who is an expert on the “tawdry.”

Ms. Schroeder was probably a pre-natal gleam in her father’s eye when Newman and I were criss-crossing Indiana in 1968, begging voters to help stop an insane war. If he has something to say about politics today, he has earned the right to say it without heckling from the cheap seats.

Cheney's Busted Flush on Iran

If the Vice President were a publicly traded stock, the Exchange would have start thinking about de-listing him. Even the truest-believing Neo-Cons will soon have to stop buying.

The latest bad news to hit the ticker is that the Iran card is getting harder to play. With rioting, stone-throwing and mass protests over the rise in gasoline prices, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is looking less and less like Saddam Hussein every day.

Cheney won’t be in a position to make any more rousing speeches on the decks of aircraft carriers any time soon, even if he can get out from under all rioting against him in Washington about the price of secrecy.

Blonde Bombshelling the News

Cable TV is giving the Fairness Doctrine new meaning this week as Elizabeth Edwards launches a surprise counterattack on Ann Coulter and flaxen-haired Paris Hilton breaks her silence on Larry King tonight.

But these celebrity blondes are only part of the picture, the dark side if you will. The Daily Show, as always, is onto the main story about the platinumming of the news, as Samantha Bee so well and warmly described it not long ago.

Salad Dressing Secrets and Our Own

Sometimes American culture looks like one of those circus riders straddling two horses pulling in different directions.

Today’s equestrianism is about individuality. Under one foot is the report that a New York restaurateur is suing a former employee for theft of intellectual property by copying elements of her establishment from the décor to the menu.

Going in another direction is Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column titled “The Whole World Is Watching,” which says:

“When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer--and each of us so much more transparent.”

There are echoes here of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where “everybody belongs to everybody else,” and you don’t have to be Ayn Rand to find some of the implications troubling, even while cheering on the kind of open society that people like Dick Cheney hate.

Chef Rebecca Charles will likely not have much luck with legal remedies for claims about appropriation of her recipe for Caesar Salad dressing and touches like little packets of oyster crackers at each place setting, but her sense of feeling violated is understandable.

We may not live in a Brave New World--yet--but it makes sense to be thinking about where all this transparency is taking us while we can still rein in the horses.

Stop-the-War Senate Numbers Almost There

Before the 2002 resolution to invade Iraq, Robert Byrd warned that, when Senators changed their minds, it would take a two-thirds vote to get out. After 3500 lives, billions of dollars and four years of bitter defeat, that number is within reach.

Dick Lugar’s speech Monday night will give colleagues cover for retreat. He was joined yesterday by Sen. George Voinovich with a letter to the President saying that the Iraqis should “know we are indeed disengaging."

Add these two respected defectors to the Republican list of Chuck Hagel, John Warner, Norm Coleman, who has Al Franken nipping at his heels for reelection in Minnesota and Gordon Smith, who has called the war “absurd, even criminal.”

Endangered John Sununu, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are ready to fall in. Sam Brownback can take the opportunity to become the first ’08 hopeful to separate himself from the pack.

That adds up to 60, with pressure on Mitch McConnell, Elizabeth Dole, Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn, Saxby Chamblis, Pat Roberts, Pete Domeneci and Jeff Sessions who will have to face voters with falling approval ratings and/or U.S. Attorney scandals, among various other Bush-induced deficits.

Jockeying for the best surrender terms will begin next month with John Warner’s amendment to the defense authorization bill. There will be other face-saving proposals as well as disputes over timetables and benchmarks, but the numbers for getting out are getting there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Killing Field Without a Scorecard

A dozen Sunni tribal leaders died in a Baghdad bombing yesterday, and we’re still waiting for the terrorists to tell us who did it and why.

Hannah Allam, the McClatchy newspapers’ bureau chief, reports today: “As of late Monday, al Qaida hasn't claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on the Internet message boards it typically uses, leading some tribal leaders to wonder whether another enemy might have targeted the meeting.

“Possible suspects range from Shiite groups such as the Mahdi Army to (Sheik) al Gaood's tribal comrades, who'd accused him of dealing behind their backs. News reports quoted at least one member of the Salvation Council, the group of tribal leaders who've pledged to hunt insurgents with ties to al Qaida, as saying that al Gaood and the other sheiks who were killed Monday had been dismissed from the group because of side deals they made with the Shiite-led Iraqi government.”

Our young people there are in harm’s way without knowing who’s who or what they can do to quell violence from too many sources to keep track of in a land of “shifting alliances, missed opportunities and lives ended in murky circumstances.”

Hillary's Drudges

What do you call a web site that attacks John Edwards, Mike Bloomberg, Ralph Nader, Chris Matthews and, most of all, Barack Obama? The Drudge Report? Wrong. Try “Hillary Is 44.”

Against a deceptively demure pink background, anonymous admirers of Sen. Clinton sling dirt and invective at anyone who stands in her way, most of all Obama, with allegations and insinuations while projecting her political sainthood.

“In tone the site is very Tokyo Rose,” opines Peggy Noonan, admittedly no Hillary fan but not averse to the idea of a woman as President.

The “44” stands for 44th President. In one of their milder posts, admirers unveil Clinton’s one-word slogan: “Ready.” If the site is any indication, it will be followed by “Aim, Fire.”

Exit Cheney, Enter Fred Thompson?

Sally Quinn, who knows a thing or two about movie scenarios, is pitching a neat idea for a political thriller in today’s Washington Post: Change the White House casting by replacing Dick Cheney with Fred Thompson.

“Cheney,” she writes, “is scheduled this summer for surgery to replace his pacemaker, which needs new batteries. So if the president is willing, and Republicans are able, they have a convenient reason to replace him: doctor's orders.”

As an actor, Thompson is accustomed to stepping in, as he did in “Law and Order,” and making himself a regular fixture on the show. When he auditions for the starring role next year, Thompson would have a head start.

Best of all, following Cheney’s chew-the-scenery performance, anything Thompson does would be considered under-acting. He couldn’t miss.

Murdoch and More

From his dazzling array of affronts to human decency, it is Rupert Murdoch’s insatiability, his pursuit of “more” as the true meaning of life that repels and fascinates above all else.

At 76, he has money and power to burn, but his greed seems to exist on some plane of quasi-religious fervor.

Clichés about loss of potency and fear of death are too pale to explain him. No Citizen Kane, Murdoch is one of a kind. He seems driven to control all the media in the world, even if it means kowtowing to the Chinese government, as the New York Times reports today.

Compare him to Bill Gates, for example, or to his contemporary, George Soros, a successful speculator, who withdrew to devote his fortune to encouraging “open societies, tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior."

Murdoch is not about withdrawing but charging ahead, not about tolerance but conformity, not about encouraging but controlling. He won’t have any troubling getting along with the Chinese regime.

Gates’ and Soros’ sincerity and motives may be subject to debate, but their humanity about the limits of wealth and power offer a contrast to Murdoch, who acts as if he will live forever if only he can keep swallowing companies.

But here is some news for the man who wants to control all the news. In the immortal words of Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck”: I just want you to know no matter what you do, you're gonna die, just like everybody else.

But when Murdoch goes, he will get a great obit in the Wall Street Journal.


"Reasonable Republican" Ready for Plan B

When Richard Lugar says the fat lady is singing, it’s time to start heading for the exit.

Former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lugar has been the closest approximation to that oxymoron, “a reasonable Republican,” appearing side by side with Joe Biden on Meet the Press for the past three years to defend the war in Iraq.

Now Lugar says it’s time to go--sooner rather than later. On the Senate floor last night, he said, “A course change should happen now... If the President waits until the presidential election campaign is in full swing, the intensity of confrontation on Iraq is likely to limit U.S. options...our political timeline will not support a rational course adjustment in Iraq, unless such an adjustment is initiated very soon.”

Before the Surge, Lugar circumspectly recommended a “Plan B” as a fallback. Now he is saying openly that it’s time, and waiting until the end of summer will make agreement even harder.

The number of die-hard Republicans is shrinking, and the Democrats who want to end the war instead of grandstanding about it should be working with Lugar and those who will follow his lead to start getting it done.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Journalism 101: Crossing the Line

There was a Hall-of-Mirrors quality to watching reporter Ken Silverstein interviewed by Bill Moyers Sunday about his article in Harper’s describing the sting operation he conducted to get two Washington lobbying firms to pitch for the non-existent account of a repressive government.

The mirrors multiplied into an Orson Welles “Lady in Shanghai” shootout after Howard Kurtz in his Washington Post media column observed that “no matter how good the story, lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.”

So far, so civilized. But Silverstein took the debate into Valerie Plame territory today on the Harper’s blog by quoting an anonymous comment about Kurtz’s column, which also discussed journalists’ political contributions, on the Post web site:

“While Kurtz is wringing his hands about reporters’ campaign contributions, it might be nice of him to disclose who his wife is and what she does for a living. Google ‘Sheri Annis‘ for insight into the non-partisan Kurtz household. Maybe Howie should rename his TV show ‘Resourceable Liars.’”

Googling Ms. Annis reveals that she is “a political commentator and media consultant” who was once “the spokeswoman for Arnold Schwarzenegger” and that she writes for magazines and newspapers. Reading a few turned up nothing sinister. In fact, they were quite well-written.

In interviewing him, Moyers observed that Silverstein’s imposture sounded “like something out of Borat.”

Silverstein replied, “We toyed with the Borat type approach. But...we wanted to make a political point, which was that the rules that apply to these firms are too weak...And so we thought we better do it straight as opposed to doing it as a comedy routine.”

Not a great decision. It’s no terrific public service to show that lobbyists are eager to lie for anybody who pays them. But that’s a matter of opinion.

What isn’t is that Silverstein owes Howard Kurtz and his wife an apology for trying to Scooter Libby them.

No Escape for Newsworthy Americans

Bill Gates and Cameron Diaz are making headlines in Peru this weekend.

Ms. Diaz is there apparently to recover from some personal heartbreak or other and to get away from the helicopters hovering over the house of her neighbor, Paris Hilton.

Mr. Gates came to attend a reenactment of the Festival of the Sun in the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco.

Both have attracted considerable attention: Mr. Gates for the royal treatment he is receiving as the donor of $27.8 million to get new cervical cancer vaccines to women in poor countries such as Peru, Ms. Diaz for her shoulder bag inscribed with Mao’s slogan, “Serve the People,” which is not going down well in a country devastated during a bloody insurgency by the Maoist Shining Path.

The burdens of celebrity follow its bearers everywhere, even when they are trying to get off somewhere for a quiet vacation.

Obama's Trash Talk

“I'm LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.” In Time’s quote of the day, Barack Obama sounds ready to do a little trash-talking.

From the bottom of my basketball lover’s heart, I would urge him to cool it. The scoreboard is a little frustrating at the moment, but there is plenty of time on the clock.

Even more to the point, the Senator is no LeBron nor should he try to be. He does his scoring, not with spectacular moves, but with awareness and concentration on goals, as in his speech over the weekend about faith being “hijacked” by the Christian Right.

One more hoop point: Spectacular as he is, LeBron did not win the NBA prize this year. It was Tim Duncan, with his array of skills and team play, who took it all.

Book-Contract Baksheesh

On the eve of another Rupert Murdoch mongoose act, this time swallowing the Wall Street Journal, he gets a review from the New York Times that required legwork by no less than four reporters and, in the end, reflects both shock and awe at the Australian who is eating the media world.

America’s “paper of record” narrates Murdoch’s unique skills at getting politicians to act as enablers in his addictive expansion of an information empire.

In addition to the time-honored methods, Murdoch has perfected new variations for buying them, not least of which is bribery by book advance.

As Congress was preparing to redraw the media ownership rules, Murdoch’s book publishing arm, HarperCollins, gave House Speaker Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million contract. In the Senate, Trent Lott got a $250,000 advance for a memoir.

Other Senators came at bargain prices. Arlen Specter, received $24,506 for “Passion for Truth,” Kay Bailey Hutchison $141,666 for “American Heroines.” Chuck Hagel has a book deal for next year.

Unless things have changed drastically since my time as a publisher, books by politicians, unless they involve scandal, are not best-sellers. Trent Lott’s quarter-of-a-million-dollar tome sold 12,000 copies.

But Murdoch got his money’s worth, as he no doubt will from the $1 million advance to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Book publishing is an odd business that has never been just about money.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cheney's Bucket of Warm Spit

When I was a kid, John Nance Garner, FDR’s first Vice President, was famously quoted as saying the job “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” Reporters later revealed he had actually said “piss.”

A former Speaker of the House, Garner had run against Roosevelt for the Presidential nomination in 1932 and, when FDR decided to go for a third term, his own Vice President ran against him and lost.

During that era, Will Rogers said, “The Vice President has the easiest job in the world. All he has to do is get up every morning and ask, ‘How’s the President?’”

Things have changed. Today’s Washington Post begins a five-part series on Dick Cheney, describing him as “the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president,” which history may judge as an understatement in the light of ongoing revelations about his secrecy, control and lawlessness.

Somewhere between the stereotype of a Maytag repair man with nothing to do and the picture of Cheney as Darth Vader, there is a reasonable role for the President’s backup as a junior partner in running the executive branch. Working under Bill Clinton, Al Gore came close.

Cheney’s history will complicate the choice of running mate by the ’08 nominees. Voters will be very much aware that they may be picking more than a spare part.

Fred Thompson: Re-Defining Dirty Old Man

One objective in the actor-politician’s pre-announcement positioning, if I may use that word, was a preemptive move to deal with his reputation as a, to use an old-fashioned euphemism, ladies’ man.

In a closed-door meeting in April, Thompson admitted to House Republicans that, as a bachelor, he was less than celibate.

"I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women," he said, "and a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me."

Now that he is, if I may put it this way, coming out, that potential negative is being converted into an asset. Today the Washington correspondent for the British Sunday Times gushes about “the legions of former girlfriends who still adore him and who want him to be president.”

Bedfellows make strange politics.

Bloomberg's Best Bet: Run as a Democrat

This weekend’s TV talkathon has been about New York’s Mayor leaving the Republican Party to run for President as an Independent. But as this politically dissonant year goes on, it may make more sense for Mike Bloomberg to go for the Democratic nomination.

Anyone willing to spend half a billion dollars on a campaign, as Bloomberg is, should not be eager to put a sizable portion of it into creating an organization and getting on the ballot in every state.

A lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg became a Republican for tactical reasons in 2001 to run for Mayor. Now he has changed his registration to “unaffiliated.”

For the past six years, the Mayor has been a Republican in name only. A leading Democratic political consultant said about him this week: “If you closed your eyes and you were told that someone was pro-public education, pro-choice, pro-immigration rights, pro-gun control, pro-civil rights, pro-gay rights and pro-women’s rights--you would be pretty happy if you were a Democrat.”

When that candidate has been called America’s “leading centrist” by George Will and potentially “the most efficient President” by media baron and fellow billionaire Rupert Murdoch, visions of a political realignment began to seem possible: the Democratic center freed from the stigma of “special interests” coupled with traditional pre-Bush Republicans who want to take back their party from the radical right allied with voters so disgusted with both parties that they call themselves Independent.

Two big but not insurmountable obstacles to the Democratic nomination are Hillary Clinton and the war in Iraq, and it may be their nexus that could open the door for Bloomberg.

She is still struggling to overcome her 2002 vote, seen by anti-war Democrats as a huge albatross. As Mayor of the nation’s most vulnerable city, Bloomberg has been less than ardent in supporting our involvement in Iraq and has begun to back away from it.

Two weeks ago, he told Google employees that America “is really in trouble.” “There’s the war, there is our relationships around the world,” Bloomberg said. “Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years” and he criticized a “go-it-alone mentality” in an increasingly interconnected world.

Despite all the money and organization behind her, Hillary Clinton’s negatives will not disappear and, from here to November ’08, Democrats will be worrying about the Republicans’ glee at the prospect of running against her, no matter who they nominate.

Bloomberg’s lack of passion and charisma may be less than fatal to his chances for the Democratic nomination. Bill Clinton almost put the 1988 convention to sleep with his boring oratory before remaking himself as the anti-Bush four years later.

Hillary may be too late, Obama too early and John Edwards too insubstantial for ’08. Al Gore, who seems to have lost his taste for elective politics, might find Bloomberg more palatable than any of them in both substance and temperament to stand in for what he stands for.

Behind the scenes, the Mayor has kept his ties to the Democratic Leadership Council and other power centers of the party. If he doesn’t wait too long, he could get into that game and rake in all the chips.

If he can create something that passes for unity in his once-and-future party, Bloomberg would be in good shape for a head-to-head confrontation with Giuliani’s volatility, Romney’s emptiness (his Mormon faith might be more of an issue than the Mayor’s Jewish background) or Fred Thompson’s lack of experience in managing a corner grocery store, let alone the largest bureaucracy in the world.

To run as an Independent, Bloomberg would have to depend on support from the likes of Unity08, which is planning online voting to pick their candidate, not too promising for someone who wants to win not to run a feel-good campaign like Ralph Nader or Ross Perot.

There is precedent for party-switching by New York Mayors. John Lindsay was elected as a Republican in 1965, turned Democrat in 1971 and ran for President in his new party’s primaries a year later. He failed, but Bloomberg has much more going for him.

Last month, while being honored as one of Time’s 100 most influential people, the Mayor paid warm tribute to Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, for knowing how to win with honest effort and without “trash talk.”

He was obviously thinking about more than basketball.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Save Our--Repeat, Our--Ship

Asked whether he was quitting the Bush Administration because it would be good for his political future, Rob Portman, the outgoing budget director, replied this week: “It would be good for my mental health.”

At least 20 senior officials have bailed out in the past six months, but any gloating about rats and sinking ships should be tempered by awareness that it’s our ship of state, and we’re all on it.

The abysmal approval ratings of both Bush and Congress reflect public awareness that nobody is winning this war of attrition over Iraq and that sniping at those who don’t share our exact political positions about ending it is like firing at gladiators in the arena from the safety of the cheap seats.

Keep the pressure on by all means not to let Congress and the ’08 candidates forget, to belabor the maritime metaphor, that whoever gets into the wheelhouse is going to have to right the ship and steer us all through a turbulent future. But don’t encourage them to get off course by bashing one another to impress us.

End of S.O.S.

Love, Actually

Anglophilia is hard to resist. Like a Hugh Grant-Richard Curtis movie, the British just can’t help charming us.

After politely following our lead into Iraq, they are now getting out in their understated way by quietly withdrawing their troops and disposing of Tony Blair.

Less stodgily, they are stoking nostalgia this weekend by re-creating Woodstock--music, mud and all. In Glastonbury, 175,000 of their young are sloshing around in what, for most of us, evokes memories of a happier time:

"Many party-goers had been up all night at the silent disco, where revellers plug into personal stereos to listen to dance tunes. The aim is to dance the night away in silence...

"Another big attraction overnight was at the King's Meadow where Banksy, an anonymous graffiti sensation who has rocked the art world, had erected a mock version of the Stonehenge prehistoric site out of graffiti-strewn mobile toilets."

More than two centuries after the unpleasantness between us, the British are still colonizing our spirit. When that boob George Bush is gone, come back, Your Majesty, and bring along the young princes. We’ll have a ball. A dignified one, of course.

Poor John Edwards

The man may be too clever for his own good.

The brouhaha over yesterday’s New York Times story that John Edwards may have misused a non-profit anti-poverty organization for his Presidential campaign is a case in point.

Edwards supporters respond by condemning the Times’ journalistic methods, non-supporters claim it proves Edwards’ untrustworthiness.

A pattern emerges. Newsweek summed it up: “Edwards strikes some as a little slick, even (or especially) when he is talking about his family trials. As for his political courage, he is making a bet that old-style soak-the-rich populism can be a winner in this election cycle--though the recent flap over his $400 haircuts has not helped his common-man pitch.”

Confession: Edwards brings out the worst in me, a capacity for prejudice that is deeply troubling, a tendency toward letting skepticism slide toward cynicism. He recalls another public figure I once knew, who wrote, lectured and said all the right things and was even considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. But on closer inspection, everything he did benefited him just a little more than the causes he espoused and, in the end, undercut his alleged idealism.

In elective politics, that is far from a fatal flaw. It is too easy to sneer at the gap between a candidate’s professions and his personal life, but somehow Edwards’ background as a trial lawyer makes him look like he is lying from the heart.

In the next year, the extended campaign will keep testing him and voters will be able to make up their own minds about, to use a phrase I once applied to John F. Kennedy, how deep the glamour goes.

As for myself and as of now, I can only fall back with some embarrassment on the cryptic wisdom of the old nursery rhyme:

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

Bush-League Supreme Court

Of the damage this presidency has done to American society, the worst and longest-lasting is just becoming visible.

As the Supreme Court ends its 2006-2007 term, signs of a tectonic shift in the legal landscape show an ultra-conservative majority in place to curtail individual rights to privacy and protections from discrimination.

In the most striking decision so far, the Court in April upheld by 5-4 a federal law banning a type of abortion in the middle-to-late second trimester.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that the majority opinion "cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away a right declared again and again by this court.”

In the New Yorker this week, Jeffrey Toobin notes that, with the coming of Roberts and Alito, the Court is now poised to fulfill the long-hoped-for conservative agenda: “Expand executive power. End racial preferences intended to assist African-Americans. Speed executions. Welcome religion into the public sphere. And, above all, reverse Roe v. Wade, and allow states to ban abortion.”

It took two Bushes to accomplish this. As a new biography of Clarence Thomas reminds us, in 1991 the first President Bush claimed to have chosen Thomas, who had only one year of experience as a judge, without regard to race to follow the distinguished first African American on the Court, Thurgood Marshall.

After the confirmation hearings, which he had complained were an attempted “high-tech lynching,” Thomas’ presence on the Court turned out to be a boon for the Bushes as his vote created the 5-4 majority that halted the Florida recount in 2000 and awarded the presidency to George W.

Attempting to duplicate his father’s feat of replacing a demographic giant with a dwarf, W in 2005 nominated his White House counsel and former personal attorney, Harriet Miers, for the seat vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor. Conservative outcry led to the withdrawal of the nominee described by Bill Maher as “Bush’s cleaning lady.”

Today the hard-right majority is still tenuous, depending on the swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy. But with a year and a half left of the Bush term, human mortality could change that before a new President is sworn in. Either way, whoever takes the oath in 2009 will have a lot to say about American values from then on.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Nutsy Fagin Conservative Notions

Maybe they should sell the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch after all. How much worse could its Editorial Page get?

Aside from the estimable Peggy Noonan, the space seems to have been taken over by escapees from the old Commentary booby hatch. A couple of weeks ago, Norman Podhoretz prays on its pages for Bush to bomb Iran immediately if not sooner. Now Dorothy Rabinowitz compares Patrick Fitzgerald to Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong.

It’s a stunning parallel except for the tiny problem that the Duke players were innocent and Scooter Libby was covering up blatantly criminal activity by the Vice President of the United States and the President’s chief adviser.

But before we start carpet-bombing Terehan, let’s disbar Fitzgerald just for the hell of it. Alberto Gonzales never liked him.

McCain: Dead Man Walking

The party’s penchant for capital punishment of any candidate guilty of right-wing heresy has put John McCain on Republican Death Row, short of cash for appeals and dropping in the polls like the victim of a hangman’s noose.

McCain’s candor about campaign reform, global warming and immigration seem to have sealed his fate with the GOP faithful, who not only continue to flirt with Giuliani but are sniffing the after-shave appeal of Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.

What amounts to McCain’s political obituary is in the Washington Post today under the byline of Bush’s former speech writer, Michael Gerson, who credits him with
“a kind of nobility that seems unique in the current presidential race.”

And, Gerson might have added, unseen in American politics since his former bosses stole the White House in 2000.

Vice-President Punchline

Dick Cheney has become a cliché. Public mention of his name evokes a groan of frustration and disgust as surely as old comics could get an automatic laugh by saying “mother-in-law” or “Brooklyn.”

But the Vice-President is no laughing, or even groaning, matter. The latest revelation--of his refusal to comply with government rules about handling classified information--evokes either a “What else is new?” shrug about his penchant for control and secrecy or apoplectic rage in unjaded bloggers.

The theory that the VP’s snarling is an act to make Bush look lovable has past its expiration date. There is too much evidence that Cheney is a heartfelt son-of-a-bitch, absolutely sincere in his efforts to run the country like a police state and have us invade Iran or any other country that looks at us crosswise.

The irony in all this, among others, is that he is the first self-selected, unelected, totally disconnected person to serve a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

When the ’08 candidates get around to picking their running mates, voters would do well to keep the Cheney nightmare in mind. It’s no laughing matter.

The Friend of My Enemy Is My What?

This week 2000 Pakistani scholars bestowed their highest honor on Osama bin Laden, the title of Sword of Allah.

If it seems strange that the nation President Bush calls “a vital ally in the War on Terror” is awarding prizes to the world’s Terrorist-in-Chief, there is complexity involved here.

The Pakistanis really don’t like bin Laden that much, but they were peeved at “the British Government's decision to bestow the title of 'Sir' on blasphemer (Salman) Rushdie,” the council chairman explained.

The award to bin Laden was coupled with the statement that the knighting of Rushdie justified attacks in Britain by a federal minister associated with “militant madressahs” that train suicide bombers.

All this comes as President Pervez Musharraf, who has reaped billions in U.S. aid and had tea with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, is showing signs of backsliding in what President Bush calls his “progress toward democracy” by suspending the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court who had complained about what the Christian Science Monitor describes as “hundreds of disappearances of Pakistanis, some suspected Islamic extremists but others human rights activists and representatives of ethnic minority populations.”

Those who are not as sophisticated in foreign affairs as Bush’s fresh-faced Neo-Cons may be a little puzzled by our continuing to provide F-16 fighter planes and other military hardware to a regime that seems to be playing on both sides of the terrorist game.

We never did get a straight story about why Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientist had been selling its technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. But then again we may not be as attuned as they are to subtleties of the Middle East.

How does that go: the enemy of my enemy is my friend who may also be the friend of my enemy but is still my friend if I keep giving him tokens of friendship and blind faith in whatever he does?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bush's Nose Dive Isn't Over

Today’s new approval rating shows President Bush at an all-time low, 26 percent.

This figure, Newsweek reports, “puts Bush lower than Jimmy Carter, who sunk to his nadir of 28 percent in a Gallup poll in June 1979. In fact, the only president in the last 35 years to score lower than Bush is Richard Nixon. Nixon’s approval rating tumbled to 23 percent in January 1974, seven months before his resignation over the botched Watergate break-in.”

But Newsweek did not go back far enough. In February 1952, Harry Truman's approval rating was at 22 percent. During the last three years of his second term, the figure never went above the low thirties.

Truman, like Bush, was presiding over an unpopular war, in Korea, and, like Bush, perhaps even more so, was suffering from a perception of corruption and cronyism in his White House.

But if Bush were to take comfort in the fact that Truman is now remembered with admiration and affection, he would be deluding himself.

Rock bottom for Bush is still to come. If he runs true to form and keeps his vow to stand firm about Iraq if only Laura and Barney are behind him, it could get much worse.

This fall, as Congressional Republicans in danger of losing their seats in ’08 start to bail out by backing benchmarks and timelines, even diehard backers will find it hard not to see him as isolated and stubborn.

In that case, approval ratings in the teens may be coming.

Ralph Nader's Finishing School

The phrase “Independent candidate” evokes a Pavlovian response from America’s perennial Presidential also-ran.

Ralph Nader pops up today to tell us Mike Bloomberg is interesting but unpredictable: "I really like the stand he took against smoking, but he goes along with corporate welfare in New York and tax-funded stadiums. So he is unfinished in that way."

In 2000, Nader finished Al Gore and gave us George Bush. Now he hints that, if Bloomberg is not up to the job, he may make himself available to finish off a Democratic candidate in ‘08, particularly one named Clinton.

"She is a political coward," Nader says. "She goes around pandering to powerful interest groups on the one hand and flattering general audiences on the other. She doesn't even have the minimal political fortitude of her husband."

The response from the Clinton camp: "His entry into the race, even to those who voted for him in 2000, would be just another vainglorious effort to promote himself at the expense of the best interests of the public. Ralph Nader is unsafe in any election."

That may be a bit harsh. Try “irrelevant.”

The Summer of Our Discontent

New polls show Americans unhappy with just about everything. “A very sour mood” is the Gallup conclusion.

Only 24 percent say they are satisfied “with the way things are going,” a figure that hasn’t been this low since 1992. At that time, Bill Clinton’s advisers saw a reason (“It’s the economy, stupid”) and used it to get to the White House.

According to Gallup, Americans now worry about the economy, their jobs, high gasoline prices and, since politicians started yapping about it, immigration. Yet, by most measures, the economy is doing well enough, and so is the stock market.

It’s easy to see how the war in Iraq is causing so much frustration, with voters giving the President low marks and the Congress they elected to fix things even worse approval ratings, an all-time low of 14 percent.

What’s harder to measure is the free-floating anxiety behind the numbers. How much is due to the Republican drumbeat of “If we don’t fight them there, they’ll follow us here?” How much to Democratic impotence and in-fighting over how to get us out of Iraq? How much to the noisy distrust and disgust over everything in our public life, fueled by caustic cable-news anchors and bilious bloggers competing to be heard?

Our national mood disorder isn’t helped by the endless Presidential campaign, which is getting more negative as candidates feel the pressure mounting. But somewhere in all this, there may be an opportunity for one of them to do what Ronald Reagan did in the wake of Vietnam and rampant inflation with a “Morning in America” vision.

If Gallup is right, the country could be ready for it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bush: Saving the Never-to-Be-Born

Give the man credit for his convictions. The President’s reverence for life is so profound that he will take political heat not only to defend the unborn but the never-to-be born.

Today’s veto of the stem-cell research bill will save embryos no longer needed in fertility clinics. In his view, somebody has to stand up for such unfortunates in the face of the Godless who cruelly want to use them for research to combat Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and strokes.

In supporting such legislation, former First Lady Nancy Reagan is surely missing the point. As much as she loved her late husband, would she have wanted him helped at the cost of degrading the value of human life? If she is interested, the President would undoubtedly be willing to explain this sacred principle to her.

Three-Way Subway Series

If Bloomberg runs as an Independent, a possibility that seems much likelier than it did 24 hours ago, and the Republican and Democratic front runners are nominated, the '08 election will be all New York all the time.

If so, there would be unprecedented religious, regional and cultural cross currents, a potential for social conflict that makes the issue of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith look simple. An unmarried Jewish billionaire, a thrice-married Italian-American with a family background of organized crime, the first woman President trying dissociate herself from her husband's scandalous history--enough plot lines for a dozen beach novels.

In such a campaign, Americans might find out more about their deepest feelings and prejudices than they want to know.

On the bright side, at least this three-way race would be free of attack ads picturing opponents as latte-drinking cosmopolites who are out of tune with America’s heartland.

Thatcher Tutorial for Thompson

By the end of the day, the foreign-policy credentials of the Republican Party’s hulking White Hope should be in working order.

At a photo-op, Margaret Thatcher will undoubtedly tell Fred Thompson all he needs to know about war and peace--her blitzkreig to retake the Falkland Islands after the invasion by Argentina in 1982 and the triumph a year later by her soulmate, Ronald Reagan, against the forces of evil in Grenada.

As Thompson ponders what he would do about Iran, the Iron Lady will doubtlessly encourage him to act decisively against today’s Wogs just as she and Ronnie did a quarter of a century ago. They always fold after a few days.

Lady Thatcher’s take-no-prisoners style could do wonders for Thompson, who has been criticized for being too easy-going.

Mr. President, With All Respect, Shut Up!

In the Oval Office, Jimmy Carter was an embarrassment. After being suckered by Fidel Castro into importing Cuba’s criminals and mentally ill during the Mariel boatlift, Carter ended up doing fireside chats on TV in a cardigan, puzzling over a “national malaise.”

Now he just can’t seem to stop babbling. Last month he managed to overstate George Bush’s awfulness to the point of having to apologize for his “careless” remarks.

Now, when it seems impossible to make matters worse in the Palestinian mess, Carter strikes again by denouncing as “criminal” U.S. failure to work with the criminals in Hamas to help them destroy the more conciliatory Fatah faction.

Our choices in Palestine are terrible, but Carter’s self-righteous, simple-minded bumbling can only complicate them further. Former Presidents, particularly failed ones, are better seen and not heard.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bloomberg the Iffy Independent

As the New York Mayor’s departure from the Republican Party stirs political excitement, it may help to remember his role in giving us another Independent on the national scene last year--Joe Lieberman.

After the voters of Connecticut repudiated Lieberman in their party primary for his cheer-leading the war in Iraq and the Republicans nominated a non-entity who would draw only 10 percent of their vote, it was Bloomberg who supplied the crucial money and manpower to elect him as an “Independent” who is now holding his former party hostage over control of the Senate and cheer-leading for a war in Iran.

If Bloomberg’s philosophy as a technocrat extends to this kind of impartiality about the most passionate issue of our time, what price Independence? His leadership on gun control is impressive, but then again his embrace of Gov. Arnold on the other coast is not reassuring.

Bloomberg is too intelligent to remain a Republican, but does he have the heart and commitment for anything more?

ABC's Terrorist PR

No American graduation ceremony has been as well covered as that of the Al Qaeda/Taliban training camp shown by ABC on its network news last evening.

The terrorist publicists must be thrilled with the PR return on inviting "a Pakistani journalist" to videotape their staged proceedings.

In passing, the network's promotion of its exclusive noted that "U.S. intelligence officials described the event as another example of 'an aggressive and sophisticated propaganda campaign.' "

So it was. The "intelligence officials" will be studying it, as they should, but why were millions of American TV viewers exposed to it. There was an uproar when the Bush Administration tried to pass off its political videos as news. Are terrorists a more credible source?

Political Bar Mitzvah Boys

At Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, it's customary to give 13-year-olds envelopes with cash. Now politicians, who will stoop to anything, see a fund-raising opportunity.

Laura Bush is soliciting $61 donations for the Republican National Committee to celebrate W's upcoming 61st birthday. This follows Elizabeth Edwards asking for $54 from supporters for her husband's birthday.

These shameless birthday boys should be required to give the traditional "Today I am a man" speech--in Yiddish.

The Colin Powelling of Petraeus

Why is the commander in charge of the Surge making headlines about the possibility of U.S. military involvement in Iraq for a decade?

Gen. David Petraeus, willingly or not, is getting the Colin Powell treatment, his impeccable reputation being used to legitimize Bush-Cheney follies.

Everything Petraeus said about Iraq Sunday was carefully qualified but the questioning by Fox News toady Chris Wallace kept goading him toward “comparing it to the situation in South Korea where we have had thousands of troops for decades.”

Pushing Petraeus up front is consistent with the Administration’s practice of using generals like Kleenex to wipe their political fingerprints off disastrous policies.

When Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress before the invasion in 2003 that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to pacify Iraq, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz ridiculed him.

To justify the war, the Administration pushed Gen. Colin Powell, by then Secretary of State, into a UN presentation from which he tried, not altogether successfully, to remove Scooter Libby’s “garbage” supplied by Ahmad Chalabi.

Cheney didn’t even try to hide the fact that he and Bush were using Powell’s credibility to sell the war. Poking him in the chest, the Vice President told Powell, "You've got high poll ratings, you can afford to lose a few points."

Last week, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace faced Senate opposition for being too compliant, the Bushies dropped him with a thud. Loyalty works only one way with them.

Now it’s Petraeus’ turn. Everything in his past suggests that he is an honest, capable man, which of course is why they are using him to front for the Surge. As a good soldier, he may want to look at what happened to Powell, Shinseki, Pace et al when he makes his crucial report to Congress at the end of summer.

He is sworn to serve the American people, not the parody of a Commander-in-Chief.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bush and Cheney, Meet the Burkes

While so many blog our feelings about the war in Iraq, multitudes of other Americans, good people who love their country, are living with pain beyond words.

In the Boston Globe today, their story is embodied by the Burkes, George and Michael, father and son who served as Marines in Vietnam and Iraq, and came home wracked by post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Michael's story is sadly familiar,” Charles M. Sennott reports, “he has not been the same since seeing a friend killed in a roadside bomb blast in western Iraq.

“But what George, 63, is living through is part of something new--or rather something old that has returned with new force. Forty years after his tour of duty in the battles around Khe Sanh in the fall of 1967, he is overcome again by debilitating memories and nightmares from that war, symptoms triggered by televised images of the Iraq bloodshed, and by his fears for--and firsthand knowledge of --what his son was to encounter in Iraq.”

The head of VA readjustment counseling services confirms many such cases across the country--fathers who served in Vietnam having their PTSD reawakened by Iraq and what is happening to their sons serving there.

So now we have two-for-the-price-of-one tragedies, families in which the sins, not of the fathers but those who sent them off to insane wars, keep destroying American lives. Sleeplessness, nightmares, alcoholism, anxiety are their rewards for volunteering to serve their country.

In a just world, the Neo-Cons who lied us into this war and the new generation of Cheney nincompoops who want to invade Iran would be sentenced to live for the duration with the Burkes in Clinton, Mass. and see what patriotism--abused by high-level stupidity--has done to them.

Semper Fi.

A Gift From the Heart

After a bleak Father’s Day, Andrew J. Bacevich is giving us all a present.

As a military historian, decorated veteran and parent of a son who died there, Bacevich is in a unique position to advise the next President about Iraq. In today’s Los Angeles Times, he does just that:

“The challenge...is to devise an alternative to Bush's failed strategy. To pass muster, any such strategy will have to recognize the limits of American power, military and otherwise. It must acknowledge that because the United States cannot change Islam, we have no alternative but to coexist with it.

”Yet coexistence should not imply appeasement or passivity. Any plausible strategy will prescribe concrete and sustainable policies designed to contain the virulent strain of radicalism currently flourishing in parts of the Islamic world. The alternative to transformation is not surrender but quarantine.

“Over time, of course, Islam will become something other than what it is today. But...that evolution will be determined primarily by forces within. Our interest lies in nudging that evolution along a path that alleviates rather than perpetuates conflict between Islam and the West. In that regard, the requirement is not for a bigger Army but for fresh ideas, informed by modesty and a sense of realism.”

Bacevich won’t be camping out with protest signs, as Cindy Sheehan did, but his efforts as a grieving parent are just as passionate and deserving of respect and gratitude.

Voters: "Wake Us When It Starts"

Today’s new Presidential poll numbers evoke a response akin to that of many first-time jurors--wonder at how often a randomly selected group of people can come up with the right, or at least a reasonable, answer.

After all the Gallup deep-thinking about the static results, voters could be saying the equivalent of “Wake me when it’s over” or “when it really starts.”

In an attenuated campaign, that may be as good an answer as any. From week to week, debate to debate, how much new information or insight are they getting about people posturing for their approval? It must mean something that three leading candidates are still undeclared and that an Independent like Mike Bloomberg is waiting in the wings.

Clinton, Giuliani et al have no choice but to keep doing what they have been, but how much long-term damage (or even worse, boredom) will be incurred by all this prolonged scrutiny and nit-picking criticism?

The new results show Obama slipping somewhat but, if he is really following a tortoise-and-hare strategy, that may be as good a response as any to this weird endurance contest.

Can Romney Get It Right?

Even as he gains some traction in the polls, Mitt Romney keeps coming up as the “empty suitor” of Republican Conservatives.

In the last debate, Romney said he would consider pardoning Scooter Libby despite the fact that, in his campaign, he has been bragging about being the only governor in Massachusetts history to deny every request for a pardon or commutation, 272 in all.

But this week, he was censured by hard-liners at National Review when Kate O’Beirne blogged that Romney “should earn demerits” for turning down an Iraq war veteran, convicted at age 13 of shooting another boy with a BB gun (without breaking the skin), who needed a pardon to be eligible for the police force.

For someone willing to pucker up to Conservatives on every issue, Romney seems to be spending a lot of time standing on his tippy toes and not getting kissed that much. Will Fred Thompson come in and sweep them off their feet?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Surge: Sunday Talk-Show Smokescreen

As always, the Administration provides distraction for Meet the Press and Fox, while the real news is elsewhere.

Today Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker tell Chris Wallace and Tim Russert that the Surge is working, sort of, but will take longer than planned. They promise to let us know in September.

But on CBS’ Face the Nation, we see what’s really going on when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, "Most members of my conference believe the critical point to evaluate where we are is in September. Everybody anticipates there will be a new strategy...and I don't think we'll have the same level of troops that we have now."

Translation: Republicans, hearing the voters’ footsteps for ’08, will hold ranks only until fall and then head for the hills by supporting timetables for withdrawal.

Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, did not rub it in, saying only, "What's required here is that the president of the United States tell them we're going to reduce those troops...we're going to begin to leave."

Petraeus and Crocker may be in no hurry, but the endangered species of Congressional Republicans is ready to take wing.

W the Centrist: Right-Wing Robotspeak

If Wikipedia did not indicate that he had a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 39, there would be no reason to believe Michael Gerson exists other than as a code name for a right-wing robot programmed to manufacture faith-based non-sequiturs unburdened by logic or facts to sanctify George W. Bush, for whom it served as a speech writer.

The latest is this week’s assertion that both parties are abandoning the centrism of Clinton and Bush. George W. Bush? Centrism? The machine that ground out “Axis of Evil” and “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” just keeps spewing rhetorical rubbish.

The only interesting question about all this is why the Washington Post is printing these pre-recorded messages, the first of which last month upset Republican Congressmen opposing Bush’s immigration initiative by comparing them to 19th century nativists.

This week’s conflating of the past two Presidents riled Joe Klein into asking a question on his Time blog about how Gerson’s current opinion of Clinton as a centrist gibes with the Republicans’ impeachment.

“I'd ask him,” Klein wrote, “if he'd acknowledge that it was Republican political consultants, talk show hosts, freak-pundits like Ann Coulter and leaders like Newt Gingrich who were the pioneers of the rhetorical poison now afflicting the extremes of both parties.”

Save your breath, Klein. Machines don’t do dialogues.

Dieting to Die For

Editing magazines for women led me to admire their good sense and sensitivity on the whole, but there were blind spots. Weight loss was one of them.

A gender that respects others’ feelings, is less willing than men to go to war and votes for Democratic Presidential candidates will nevertheless endure any hardship and take any risk to get thin.

A decade ago, women spent billions on a prescription drug, fen-phen, until cases of heart damage and death led the FDA to withdraw it from the market.

Today there is news of a newly approved over-the-counter diet drug jumping off the shelves in L.A., capital of the war against weight. Orlistat, trade-named Alli, a fat-blocker, is “creating serious buzz.”

This one is not likely to kill anybody but has a few less-than-charming drawbacks--gas, oily discharge and an inability to control bowel movements. FDA officials stress that it “needs to be used in combination with a diet and exercise program—-and that using the pill alone isn't likely to do any good.”

But, if experience is any guide, serial dieters won’t be deterred. It remains to be seen if men will be drawn to slim dates who are constantly rushing off to the ladies lounge.

Worse Than Bush: Blair Knew Better

With his elegant English accent, Tony Blair lent George Bush a confident air of intelligence and rationality as the “Coalition of the Willing” prepared to invade Iraq in 2003.

Now as he prepares to leave office, an altogether different picture emerges. As the Observer sums it up:

“Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

“In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House.”

In view of Blair’s misgivings, Bush offered to let him off the hook. Condoleezza Rice, then our national security adviser, confirms that Bush told Blair he didn’t have to send troops, suggesting “Perhaps there's some other way that Britain can be involved” and that Blair replied: “No, I'm with you.”

All this makes Tony Blair look even worse than Bush. Sensing disaster, he nevertheless did a Winston Churchill impersonation and took his country into Iraq. Our deluded Neo-Cons were true believers, but Blair apparently knew better. Whatever his motives, he has even more to answer for than they do.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Soprano Spinoffs

Facing the first Sunday of the rest of their lives, addicts should consider Dick Cavett’s question: How is a person supposed to live without “The Sopranos”?

To answer, we must first deal with last week’s ending and the growing consensus that the sudden blackout signified Tony’s death. A dissent on aesthetic grounds: If David Chase had intended that to mean Tony’s loss of consciousness, the camera would not have been on his face but seeing the room through his eyes.

Be that as it may, put aside the survival of Anthony Soprano while considering spinoffs to assuage our grief:

The Melfi Files: Haunted by loss, the therapist embarks on dramatic, dangerous encounters with patients from various fringes of society, to the constant consternation of her mentor, Dr. Eliot Kupferberg.

The Hunt for Junior’s Gold: Janice has to fend off con men and fortune hunters attempting to penetrate her uncle’s Alzheimer’s and find his hidden stash. Sub-theme: Is Corrado just faking it to throw off the Feds?

Nine Lives of Christopher the Cat
: Twilight Zone fantasies centering on the feline inheritor of the Moltisanti spirit hovering over and protecting his wife and baby while devising devilish ways to keep making Christopher’s collections for them.

Meadow Soprano Esq.: Heartwarming tales of a public defender saving the lost souls of our society, featuring a different ethnicity each week.

The Artie Bucco Kitchen Capers: Comedy series featuring colorful patrons and a special Italian recipe each week. Guest appearances by Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub.

A.J.’s Entourage
: Loopy stories about Hollywood losers coalescing around a Mafia prince.

There is no cure, but these pale palliatives would be intended to help Soprano Syndrome sufferers through unbearable Sundays when DVDs of the original series are not strong enough to ease the pain.

Cheney's Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In one of her books, Nora Ephron wrote about a man so paranoid that, at the end of each day, he would erase the entries in his appointment diary. Such furtiveness did not shock Ephron who, while married to Carl Bernstein, never learned from him the Secret of the Century, the identity of “Deep Throat.”

But the author of “When Harry Met Sally” had never met Dick Cheney, who in this century has been setting new records for secrecy.

Soon after taking office, he refused to reveal the names of those who advised him on energy policy while oil company executives denied any part in the process. It took four years to unearth a White House document that showed they were lying about what Cheney was hiding.

Recently the New York Times reported that “Mr. Cheney's office ordered the Secret Service last September to destroy all records of visitors to the official vice presidential mansion--right after the Washington Post sued for access to the logs. That move was made in secret, naturally.”

In the Christian Science Monitor, Daniel Schorr reports, “The Secret Service recently ended the practice of keeping logs of visitors to the president and the vice president.”

In what remains of Bush’s and Cheney’s terms, no bothersome names like Jack Abrahamoff will turn up in the records. The New York Times recently noted “that Mr. Cheney is in step with the times. He has privatized the job of vice president of the United States.”

Congressional Democrats might go further after their continuing struggles to find “missing” e-mails and compel testimony from reluctant officials to claim that Bush, Cheney and Rove have privatized the entire Executive Branch.

In January 2009, will they move out of office under the cover of darkness?

Friday, June 15, 2007

American Stature: The Long and Short of It

Science has spoken: We’re getting blimpy on fast food and couch-potato lifestyle.

In today’s New York Times, Paul Krugman reports on research showing Americans are now “shorter (and fatter) than Western and Northern Europeans. In fact, the U.S. population is currently at the bottom end of the height distribution in advanced industrial countries.”

Krugman, an economist, prescribes better health care for children, but his OpEd colleague, David Brooks yesterday described a more cheerful solution: custom-made children.

More and more prospective parents are Web surfing for better genes than they could get from “someone they could realistically lure into bed.”

“There is tremendous market demand,” Brooks reports, “for DNA from blue-eyed, blond-haired, 6-foot-2 finely sculpted hunks...the kind of guys you see jogging in the park and nothing moves. They’ve got a stomach, a chest and flanks, but as they bounce along nothing jiggles, not even their hair.”

Parents want brains, too, in their designer kids. One sperm bank has a branch near Harvard and M.I.T.

Brooks is not enthusiastic about all this. “Conservatives like me,” he says, ”think that if you want your kids to have Harvard genes you should have to endure living with a Harvard spouse. But the rest of the country is not with us. There’s no way people are going to foreswear the joys of creative genetics.”

So here we are a cultural crossroads, America. Shape up or outsource your progenerating.

Barbara Walters, Paris Hilton and the Pope

It’s good to see younger people get ahead. Today Barbara Walters, a friend of mine for 50 years, got her gold star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

At the ceremony were the mother and sister of Paris Hilton, the latest of the world figures Barbara has befriended and inspired. By now everyone in the civilized world knows about the phone call during which the young Ms. Hilton, revealing that she hasn’t looked in a mirror since going to jail, told Barbara, “I used to act dumb. That act is no longer cute. Now, I would like to make a difference. God has given me this new chance."

Barbara has always had this effect on troubled celebrities. In 1999, when she asked Monica Lewinsky what she would tell her children about her unfortunate relationship with Bill Clinton, the former White House intern thoughtfully replied, "I guess 'Mummy made some mistakes.’”

Empathy has been the key to Barbara’s success since we first worked together in the late 1950s. She always knows the perfect question to ask. Once there was speculation about how she would get the Pope to open up:

“Tell me, Holy Father, have you ever regretted not having children of your own?”

Can't Wait

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to Politico, is going into the 24/7 news business in a big way with their own All-Hillary-All-the-Time versions of tabloid newspapers and news sites like, um, the Drudge Report.

"In an ideal world, every single one of our supporters would wake up in the morning and go to HillaryHub to find out what the latest news on Hillary is," says its creator, Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson.

But there will be MSM look-alikes, too. "I grew up in New York reading tabloids; my dream job is to edit the New York Post," Wolfson said. "So we set up something that has a little of that flavor and feel to it.”

No word yet about whether there will be Hillary doughnuts and Hillary coffee to go with the news feeds.

Why I Hope Bush Pardons Libby

Not least of the vileness that Bush, Cheney and Rove have brought into our public life is the rage of those who cherish traditional American respect for law and decency.

That’s why I hope Bush pardons Scooter Libby. His doing so would frustrate our desire for retribution but at the cost of implicating his entire Administration in the hateful enterprise of which Libby’s actions were a part.

How could he believably justify it? He has nothing like Gerald Ford’s excuse that a Nixon pardon would put an ugly period in history behind us? Saving Libby would clearly end nothing but the pressure on Bush not to let an underling go to prison for serving him loyally.

I have no sympathy for Libby but neither do I have a burning desire to see him behind bars. His bosses haven’t reduced me to that. It would be a fair trade-off to see him free if it meant making Bush associate himself with the sordid work Libby was doing on his behalf.

If that sounds too high-minded, so be it. We used to be a country where politicians could disagree without trying to destroy each other. We won’t get that back by letting Bush and Cheney drag us down to their level of vindictiveness.

Now if Congressional investigations can prove criminal behavior by Karl Rove, that would be another matter entirely.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Smooth-Talk City

There must be something in the water of Hope, Ark.

Former President Bill Clinton, we learn today, earned $10.2 million making speeches last year, up from $7.5 million the year before, for a total of $40 million since leaving office.

At the same time, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has edged up from the Republican pack to 5 percent in the New Hampshire polls as a result of his debate performances and sound-bite skills in interviews.

Cited by ABC as a strong contender for running mate, Huckabee says, “If they think I'm vice president by June, by January they'll think I ought to be president, and that's where I'm headed."

Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, has a way with words, even through he is short so far on campaign funds and media attention.

“One of the frustrations,” he complained the other day, “is that there is more attention on Britney Spears getting out of a car without underwear than there is about who is going to be the next president.”

Huckabee and Clinton were both born in Hope, a city with 10,000 inhabitants, whose other claim to fame is that it produces the world’s largest watermelons. There is one on the city logo, along with the slogan, “A Slice of the Good Life.”


Michael Moore, Cheap-Shot Messiah

It must be wonderful to be the smartest guy in a world of morons, the only honest person left on earth, the last great truth-teller in the universe.

On Good Morning America yesterday, Michael Moore took time out from promoting The Word on health care in America, to lecture Chris Cuomo on the failure of “the people in this building” and the rest of the media to prevent the war in Iraq. To his credit, Cuomo was having none of it.

Deconstructing Michael Moore is difficult because his heart is usually in the right place, but his judgment and journalistic ethics are off on some other planet. Documentaries are journalism, not audio-visual polemics, and he has erased the line between them.

Jon Stewart, no defender of MSM, was on point as usual when he told Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on “Crossfire” that they were partisan hacks: “You should be doing debate, which would be great, but you’re doing theater.”

Moore is purporting to enlighten, but despite his pretensions, he is doing theater. He may give audiences vicarious satisfaction in dramatizing the idiocies of our health care system, but he isn't telling them anything new and he certainly isn't making any positive contribution to the debate over improving it. He is, however, making money and getting a lot of attention for himself.

Analyzing the media’s share of the blame for the war in Iraq is important, as Bill Moyers showed in “Buying the War,” but taking smug cheap shots is something else.

When Moore blithely blamed his hosts for the death of 3500 American soldiers and Cuomo challenged him to be careful about such sweeping assertions, Moore’s answer was “I don’t have to be careful.”

That says it all. Moore has made his reputation and millions of dollars by aspiring to be the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. But his visions have been, to put it kindly, cockeyed.