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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Getting Murdoch to Bid Against Himself

One of the iron rules of negotiation is that it takes more than one buyer to raise the price. For a week now, in the final stages of capitulating to Rupert Murdoch, the owners of Dow Jones have been trying to use their reluctance as a lever to get him to up his offer.

No sale. Conning the most relentless media acquirer of our age is a waste of time, especially when his bad reputation is your only tool. Murdoch has stood fast, and now the deal is back on track, if the soon-to-be-his Wall Street Journal has got it right.

But in an act of largesse, Murdoch will leave the Bancroft family a tip by picking up the $30 million tab of their advisers on the deal.

Health Care Slum: Tear It Down!

If Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were deciding who dies and who gets maimed in Iraq, there would be a public outcry. Why, then, is it acceptable for HMOs and insurance companies to make those decisions for Americans at home?

In all the talk about health care, none of the ’08 White House aspirants has been willing so far to take a wrecking ball to the termite-infested structure that has been deteriorating for half a century.

The slum lords, who take one out of every three dollars collected from the victims, are interested only in profits, some of which they use to lobby against any attempt to provide decent public housing instead,

As Clinton, Obama and Edwards duel over their palliative remedies and the Republicans snarl about “socialized medicine,” there is no serious debate about extending the Medicare model, which works well for older Americans, into a single-payer system that would provide better care at far less cost.

If all the moviegoers who are enjoying their righteous outrage after seeing “Sicko” would demand it, we could have a serious discussion instead of sound bites.

Will any network will step up and offer the time for it? From the sampling of YouTube videos so far, there would be no shortage of good questions.

Audiences with the Imperial Vice-President

Brace yourself, they’re unleashing Dick Cheney this week. He snarled a bit for CBS yesterday. Tonight he should be in full-throated mode on CNN with Larry King.

If Cheney is the Administration’s answer, how desperate must the public relations problem be? From his usual darkness and silence, there are now glimmers and grunts. So far this week we have these emanations:

*He is a “big fan” of Alberto Gonzales: “I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the president--and he clearly does."

*Scooter Libby: “I disagreed with the verdict,” but conceded "I thought the president handled it right. I supported his decision."

*Is he part of the Executive branch of government? “Well, I suppose you could argue it either way. The fact is I do work in both branches.”

*Invading Iran: A report in the London Guardian claims Bush, under pressure from Cheney, is agreeing to “carry out military action against Iran before he leaves office.”

How did we get to this Imperial Vice-Presidency from a position that used to involve no more than getting up every morning and asking about the President’s health? In the Washington Post last weekend, Walter Mondale offered a few clues by describing his experience:

“Carter saw the office as an underused asset and set out to make the most of it. He gave me an office in the West Wing, unimpeded access to him and to the flow of information, and specific assignments at home and abroad. He asked me, as the only other nationally elected official, to be his adviser and partner on a range of issues.”

So the Democrats are to blame for Cheney gone wild, kicking over the “bucket of warm piss,” as John Nance Garner described the job, and splattering us all.

Newest Middle East Adventure

When faithful Robert Novak starts blowing the whistle on a “dangerous and questionable new secret operation” by the surviving Neo-Cons, we are deep in the Twilight Zone.

With terrified Congressmen as his obvious sources, Novak reveals that “high level U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.”

This brilliant plan, Novak reveals, is being shepherded by none other than Assistant Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman, a Cheney protégé, fresh from his triumph of insulting Hillary Clinton, who briefed lawmakers about using U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks.

Novak reports their reaction: “Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky? He responded he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied.”

Terrific. Unless sanity suddenly sets in, the Bush Boy Scout Brigade is off on another Middle East adventure that could work out at least as well as toppling Saddam Hussein.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A War We Might Just Win--or Maybe Not

After all the gabble today over the Times’ OpEd piece about “winning” in Iraq, it turns out to be a misunderstanding--or more accurately, a mis-titling.

This evening, co-author Kenneth Pollack told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: “Mike and I did not choose the title. We had nothing to do with it...we came back optimistic--but very guardedly optimistic...

”It's not necessarily the title Mike and I would have chosen for it. But when you write for the Times, the Times gets to choose the title...

”As we say in the piece, I don't know what victory really means. You know, if victory means that we're going to create a country like Switzerland, you know, Iraq is at least 50 or 60 years away from that.”

So a more accurate title, if the writers of the piece were to choose it, would have been “A War We Might Just Win in 50 Years.”

Oops.

Great reporter that he is, Wolf failed to ask Pollack what the original title was. It would have been nice to know.

Horny Billionaire

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg once described being a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan as a “wet dream.” Now he may be having nocturnal emissions about moving to Washington.

While feigning disinterest, Bloomberg is nonetheless out there talking like a Presidential coach if not a candidate, most recently on “Good Morning America” rebuking current contenders for pandering to the public and not confronting what he believes are the big issues: public education, guns and crime.

"Nobody's willing to...say explicitly, 'This is what I believe. This is how I would improve education, for example,'" he said.

He may not go for a four-year lease on the White House, but he certainly sounds like a man hoping for some sleepovers there.

The gossip on Mayor Mike’s pre-City Hall years is that he would ogle an attractive woman and say, “I’d like to do her.” If he goes for the Presidency with his billions, Americans will have to make sure he is not trying to “do” us all.

Iraq's Battle of the Bulge

In December 1944, when World War II seemed all but over, the Germans launched a furious last-ditch offensive to try to change the outcome. It lasted a month, cost many lives but failed.

That memory comes back today as proponents of the war in Iraq now mount their attack on the widely held belief that all is lost there.

In a New York Times OpEd, titled “A War We Might Just Win,” Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack claim: “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.”

Their first-hand report on signs of improvement seems from this distance to be based more on hope and optimism than hard reality, but it deserves a hearing.

Meanwhile Gen. David Petraeus is working hard to dispute last week’s reports from many sources that Prime Minister al-Maliki wants him out: "He and I have truly had frank conversations but he has never yelled or stood up. This is really, really hard stuff, and occasionally people agree to disagree."

We are in half-full-or-half-empty terrain here. Those of us who love our country but hate the war and see it through the glass darkly can only hope some of this is true.

But it will take a lot more to persuade us to bear the continuing loss of American lives because, as the Brookings Institution warriors put it, “there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.”

Bush, Cheney et al have begun their Battle of the Bulge, but Congress should have the good sense and guts to see a last-gasp counterattack for what it is.

Ingmar Bergman

For a generation whose childhood was shaped by Hollywood movies, he opened the door to a new world of film as art. In the years after World War II, Bergman taught us how to think and feel and see in a new way.

He was an artist of images, but ideas were always there. All the words in books about existentialism came into focus for me only after watching “The Magician” in the 1950s.

His obituary in the New York Times today tells about the fifty films he made in the course of a long dream-like life, but behind the names and numbers is the story of an artist who helped shape the sensorium of several generations.

“I have maintained open channels with my childhood,” he once told Michiko Kakutani. “I think it may be that way with many artists. Sometimes in the night, when I am on the limit between sleeping and being awake, I can just go through a door into my childhood and everything is as it was--with lights, smells, sounds and people...”

For new generations, Ingmar Bergman’s dreams will always be there on DVDs and cassettes. Start with “Fanny and Alexander.”

Once on an airplane ride I sat next to a Jesuit priest who wrote best-selling books. We spent the entire time talking passionately about Bergman. It was what we had most in common.

Where Terrorists Could Go Nuclear

Our “vital ally in the War on Terror,” as President Bush describes Pakistan, is on the brink of a crisis that could make Iraq look like a Sunday picnic.

To stabilize his situation, President Pervez Musharraf is negotiating a power-sharing arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is taking a hard line about her return from self-imposed exile, insisting that Musharraf give up control of the army that brought him to power.

"The Red Mosque was just a warm-up for what will happen if the religious schools are not disarmed," Bhutto said this week about the recent bloody occupation in Islamabad, adding that Islamist extremists plotting the overthrow of Musharraf's government had converted madrassases into military arsenals.

All this unrest and uncertainty comes amid the Bush Administration’s increasing doubts about Pakistan’s role in rooting out Al Qaeda and the imminent passage by Congress of an aid bill that would be tied to Pakistan’s progress in cracking down on terrorist safe havens.

Add to this volatile political mixture Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons, and it may soon make our worries about Iraq and Iran look simple by comparison.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Clinton-Obama, the Bickersons Ticket

The Democrat sitcom had a rocky week. Starting with the YouTube dustup, Hillary and Barack did several rounds of Alice and Ralph Kramden. Then the week's episode ended with a crowd-pleasing to-do about the lady of the house’s cleavage.

Family brawls are good theater but, if the protagonists are going to wind up together as the perfect ticket, they may have to tone down the hostility. Fist-shaking and “To the moon, Alice!” are good for a few laughs, but the Republican clowns, who are shying away from The Tube, are hoping the Clinton-Obama show will take a dive in the ratings.

Judging from the pilot episode, they may have a point. The lovey-doveyness of the early TV debates was a little boring, but the audience laps up close families. Think “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” before the script writers get carried away with punch lines.

Nerd Alert, Yo Mama!

The youth culture just keeps getting more complicated. Now we learn that nerdiness is an admirable “hyper-white” reaction to cool European-American kids who appropriate African-American culture.

You follow? According to academic linguist Mary Bucholtz, “Being a nerd has become a widely accepted and even proud identity, and nerds have carved out a comfortable niche in popular culture...By cultivating an identity perceived as white to the point of excess, nerds deny themselves the aura of normality that is usually one of the perks of being white.”

Bucholtz finds this admirable. By pushing white-bread Young-Republicanism to the point of parody, the new nerds are “refusing to exercise the racial privilege upon which white youth cultures are founded.”

The nerds may be, in the language of another era, putting us on, or perhaps their chronicler Bucholtz is. At any rate, the subject of whites trying to act black and vice versa is very much in the air.

When Hillary Clinton drops her “g”s in gerunds for an African-American audience or Barack Obama is accused of being “too white,” racial styles are definitely in play.

Bush's Twit of the Year

In the competition inspired by the immortal Monty Python skit, we now have a winner--a second-generation Bushie who sat on the Surgeon General’s report on world health because it wasn’t political enough.

The censored document, according to the Washington Post, dealt with “the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.”

Written and vetted by public health experts, the report was suppressed by William R. Steiger, a political appointee with no experience in the field. He is a godson of President Bush’s father, who appointed Steiger’s mother to the Federal Trade Commission.

Steiger’s complaint about its failure to praise the Administration enough is consistent with the recent Congressional testimony of former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona that he was “muzzled” on public health issues, ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches and discouraged from attending the Special Olympics for disabled people because of its ties to the Kennedy family.

The strange stuff the Chinese are putting into toothpaste and pet food is beginning to look innocuous compared to what Bush’s twits have been injecting into our political bloodstream.

The No-Win War Gets Worse

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a drowning man encircled by sharks, who is trying cut his only lifeline by feuding with Gen. David Petraeus and asking President Bush to replace him.

His action reflects intense pressure from fellow Shiites to keep Petraeus from arming Sunni tribesmen to fight Al Qaeda insurgents from Saudi Arabia who are car-bombing U.S. troops, exposes hopes for a power-sharing central government in Iraq as a Bush pipe dream and leaves both heads of state politically trapped.

Bush is now joined at the hip with Petraeus as his only defense against growing pressure to leave by using the General’s “progress” in pacifying Iraq to keep Republican Congressmen from breaking ranks. Dumping Petraeus is unthinkable.

But al-Maliki’s bind is just as tight. Reputedly tied to Shia militias responsible for sectarian violence, the Prime Minister is far from his own man.

The resulting frustration and anger have led to “shouting matches” with the U.S. Commander, refereed by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who only concedes that "sometimes there are sporty exchanges." Petraeus puts it less diplomatically: "We have not pulled punches with each other."

The civil war that has been predicted if the U.S. leaves is under way. What are we accomplishing by staying, other than more American deaths and humiliation over our helplessness?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Now for Something Completely Different...

It took almost a decade for a practical joke to pay off for Dr. Robert Woo, an oral surgeon in Auburn, Wash.

After preparing dental implants for his assistant, an ardent advocate of caring for abandoned pot-bellied pigs, Dr. Woo temporarily inserted two boar tusks in her mouth while she was under sedation and took pictures that everyone in the office found hilarious--except the implantee.

She sued and was awarded $250,000, which his insurance company refused to pay. Now the State Supreme Court has ruled for Dr. Woo in his suit against the company. He will get $750,000 in damages and attorney fees as well as reimbursement for the $250,000 he paid the employee, thus rewarding the good doctor with half a million yuks for his sense of fun.

No word of who got custody of the boar-tusk pictures, but it's good to know there is indemnity for being a jerk.

Liberal, Progressive, Whatever

In the YouTube debate, Hillary Clinton said she would rather be called “progressive” than “liberal.” As usual, her judgment is poll-perfect.

Later in the week, the Rasmussen Reports asked voters and found:

“Just 20% said they consider it a positive description to call a candidate politically liberal while 39% would view that description negatively. However, 35% would consider it a positive description to call a candidate politically progressive. Just 18% react negatively to that term.”

Irving Kristol, father of Bush’s best media friend William, famously described a neo-conservative as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality,” a snappy definition with a touch of sly racism. In today’s political atmosphere, a progressive might be defined as a liberal who has changed his (or her) name out of ambition.

Until the Ann Coulters of the world worked so hard to make it a synonym for godless and goofy, liberal was a badge of honor for those who valued people over property and, in the last century, helped create Social Security, unemployment insurance, civil rights for minorities and opposed the war in Vietnam on the same principles that they now oppose the war in Iraq.

Even today, the most-educated Americans, including college professors, describe themselves as liberal and (hold the snickering from the cheap seats) so do I.

It’s saddening that Hillary Clinton, as her husband did, feels compelled to change her political name.

Not Doing It for the Money

For those who wonder if public service would attract better people if it paid more, there is sobering news from the economic journal TV Guide.

Last year Oprah Winfrey earned $260 million, more than twice as much as Bush, Cheney, Congress, the Supreme Court and governors of all 50 states combined. As public servants struggle along on their six-figure pittances, voters might give a thought to how poorly they are paid.

During the Presidential campaign, we learned that John Edwards earned $479,512 from his part-time job with a hedge fund, and yet here he is working so hard to get a position that pays less than that for long hours and much more stress.

Policy wonks who study the latest figures should look for an explanation for the fact that Simon Cowell ($45 million), Judge Judy ($30 million) and Katie Couric ($15 million) earn more than the headliners of all three Federal branches combined.

Meanwhile, taxpayers can take comfort in knowing that they are getting such good government at bargain prices.

"Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"

The immortal words of Casey Stengel come to mind for the Bush Administration’s latest moves in the Middle East. Casey’s incompetent Mets were only losing baseball games. This bunch is playing with our country’s future.

The most recent tragi-comedy of errors is reported in today’s New York Times:

“The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to total $20 billion over the next decade at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.”

Counterproductive is a euphemism for exporting radicals to car bomb our troops there while King Abdullah tells Arab heads of state that Americans in Iraq are “an illegal foreign occupation.”

Next week, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will go to Saudi Arabia to ask the Saudis, please, to “make clear to Sunnis engaged in violence in Iraq that such actions are ‘killing your future.’”

At the same time, to allay the fears of our most reliable ally, the Bush team is promising to increase military aid to Israel to $30.4 billion over the next decade. There is nothing like a little arms race to promote stability in a trigger-happy region.

There may be some devilishly clever, subtle master strategy in all this but, based on past performance, they might do well to consider Casey Stengel’s advice for managing tough situations: “The secret is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Hotness of Nancy Pelosi

Now that the D.C. Madam’s phone list has lost its charms for everyone except Larry Flynt and his moles, Washington’s libido has taken a turn toward the wholesome.

Today the political trade journal, The Hill, unveiled its choices for “the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill.” Mirroring the power structure, as everything in Washington does, the top ten consists of six Democrats and four Republicans, three men and seven women, most of them in their twenties and thirties, except for No. 4, Nancy Pelosi.

The Hill admits “It is rather uncomfortable calling the 67-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), mother of five and grandmother of six, ‘hot’ but cites in defense that “There is a Facebook.com group called ‘I can’t say why, but I kinda think Nancy Pelosi is cute.’”

“With more beautiful people nominees than ever before,” the editors confide, “making choices was a wrenching and angst-filled process.” No word about how much lobbying was involved.

A Large-Hearted Woman

Hollywood activists are easy targets, often earnestly silly and self-congratulating, but a shining exception is Mia Farrow and her work to stop the genocide in Darfur. This week, her efforts provoked two world powers-—the People’s Republic of China and Steven Spielberg.

During the YouTube debate, Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton, hemmed and hawed about diplomacy to stop the killing, clearly uneasy about a complex humanitarian crisis in far-off Africa (only Joe Biden was an angry exception) and exuded helplessness.

Not Mia Farrow. For three years, the 62-year-old waif-like actress has been devoting herself to traveling in Darfur, Chad and the Sudan, photographing and writing about the atrocities, running a web site about them and pressuring for activism to relieve the suffering.

One of her targets, Steven Spielberg, who is artistic director for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has now threatened to quit unless China, the Sudan’s largest oil customer, joins in the effort to stop the slaughter.

In the Wall Street Journal, Farrow and her son had written: "Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide?"

A diminutive woman, Farrow is an emotional powerhouse. Married to Frank Sinatra at 21, then to composer Andre Previn and after that in an all-but-married relationship with Woody Allen for almost two decades, she has fifteen children, eleven of them adopted.

She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, drawing attention to the fight to eradicate polio, which she survived as a child, and the plight of suffering children everywhere.

If there is any such person as the mythical Earth Mother, Mia Farrow is that and more.

The Ghost Trial of Bush and Cheney

Sen. Patrick Leahy yesterday issued subpoenas to Karl Rove and his helper, Scott Jennings, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee with what amounts to a prosecutor’s opening statement.

Whether or not the two Presidential aides take the stand, they will be tried as surrogates for the Bush-Cheney White House over the next months with the American public in the jury box.

Leahy, a former prosecutor, summed up the charges: “The veil of secrecy this Administration has pulled over the White House is unprecedented and damaging to the tradition of open government by and for the people that has been a hallmark of the Republic.”

Those who see the current Senate process as a counterpart of the 1970s Watergate hearings will find evidence in Leahy’s assertion, “Not since the darkest days of the Nixon Administration have we seen efforts to corrupt federal law enforcement for partisan political gain and such efforts to avoid accountability.”

Reviewing the case against Rove in the U.S. Attorney firings, Leahy claimed that “evidence points to his role and the role of those in his office in removing or trying to remove prosecutors not considered sufficiently loyal to Republican electoral prospects. Such manipulation shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes.”

To underscore Bush’s “stonewalling,” Leahy cited 74 instances of Presidential advisors testifying before Congress since World War II, adding that, during the Clinton years, White House aides were “routinely subpoenaed for documents or to appear before Congress.”

He broadened his case about the lawlessness of the current Administration by noting “political briefings at over 20 government agencies, including briefings attended by Justice Department officials” and the revelation this week that U.S. ambassadors were similarly drawn into domestic politics.

As Leahy launched the case against Bush and Cheney, the committee’s senior Republican, Arlen Specter, was hitching a ride on Air Force One and telling reporters that while he hoped “to reach an accommodation” with the White House on the subpoenas, “I don’t see it now.”

As in the time of Watergate, the American public will be listening and making up its mind about the innocence or guilt of its White House employees.

Obama's Wrong Turn?

From the start, the biggest hazard for Barack Obama has been the inevitable “professionalization” of his campaign.

Obama came on the scene last year as a phenomenon, a “rock star” in the dopey shorthand of jaded political observers. Authenticity was his biggest asset, offering candor and thoughtful responses rather than sound bites as well as an attitude of respectful disagreement, even with the Bush Administration, rather than pugnacity. Obama’s avowed aim was to reject "the smallness of our politics" and "scoring cheap political points."

Early in the year, in the brouhaha over David Geffen’s calling the Clintons liars, the Clinton and Obama staffs started to mix it up, but Obama shut down the shouting match.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times chided him: “I know you want to run a high-minded campaign, but do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little. That’s how they judge how you’d be with Putin.”

“When I get into a tussle,” he answered, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”

Five months later, Obama is in a “manufactured” brawl after Hillary Clinton scored a rhetorical point in this week’s debate by making him seem too eager to meet adversarial heads of state without adequate preparation.

Instead of shrugging off her comments as too obvious to require rebuttal, Obama took the bait and is now in free fall off his pedestal. Today he accused Clinton of wanting to continue the "Bush doctrine" of only speaking to leaders of rogue nations who first meet conditions laid out by the U. S. and suggesting that being "trapped by a lot of received wisdom" led Congress, including Clinton, to authorize the war in Iraq.

Maureen Dowd and his more rabid admirers may be happy to see Obama on the attack, but the question arises of whether he is squandering his erstwhile uniqueness over a non-issue.

If he gets too far into “the smallness of our politics” and “scoring cheap political points,” what may be left is just another politician, and a not very experienced one at that.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Alberto Gonzales' Nose

Specialists at Walter Reed Medical Center have been treating the Attorney General, between rounds of Congressional testimony, for an advanced case of Pinocchio Syndrome, it was learned today.

Thus far, non-invasive therapy has controlled the symptoms, but Mr. Gonzales’ condition may require more aggressive measures for the tension produced by relentless questioning.

Meanwhile, at the White House, a spokesperson confirmed the President’s deep concern over the suffering of his long-time friend, especially after learning the Attorney General’s therapy may produce such side effects as the recall of suppressed traumatic memories and uncontrollable logorrhea.

Thus far, doctors have reassured the President that continuing as Attorney General is the best tonic for Mr. Gonzales’ future well-being.

Can Facebook Make You Fat?

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, proximity can make the whole body fatter.

The Harvard Medical School suggests obesity is a virus transmitted by friends and family. A study of more than 12,000 people over 32 years finds social networks are crucial to putting on weight.

The influence apparently goes well beyond getting together and ordering pizza. According to the researchers, when one spouse gets fat, the other is 37 percent more likely to, compared with other couples. Brothers of obese men have a 40 percent higher chance of blimping up, too.

The risk is even greater among friends, between 57 and 171 percent, even when they live far apart, leading to the conclusion that “new social norms can proliferate quickly.”

Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School, who led the study, to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded, “We are finding evidence for a kind of social contagion."

So the answer to keeping weight down is obvious: Stay away from sumo wrestlers, and hang out with fashion models.

Dow Jones Goes Down Under

The media melodrama is over. Apparently enough of the Bancroft family will accept Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion Faustian bargain for the Wall Street Journal.

But give them credit for a struggle to save their souls. At a family meeting Monday night, the Journal reported, one of the matriarchs, 77-year-old Jane Cox MacElree, argued against making the deal with the Devil by invoking the martyrdom of Daniel Pearl.

"He put his life on the line for the paper," Ms. MacElree said, citing the reporter who was kidnapped and killed by Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Ms. MacElree was supported by daughter, Leslie Hill, a Dow Jones director and former airline pilot, who waved a quarter-inch-thick manila envelope filled with letters from Journal reporters and editors who protested a deal with News Corp.

“She said it was their voices that mattered.” the Journal reported. “In a halting speech, she was on the verge of tears as she talked about the reporters' dedication to their jobs, and told family members they owed it to the Journal's rank and file not to sell the paper, according to participants.”

What’s remarkable about this prolonged struggle is not that the various branches of the Bancroft family finally succumbed to Murdoch’s offer that doubled the market value of their holdings but that so many resisted for so long.

In the era of corporate journalism, it’s sad to witness the loss of another leading family-owned company with the principles expressed by Ms. MacElree and her daughter, but there is a kind of cold comfort in seeing that such sentiments still exist.

Their time may have passed, but Murdoch’s won’t last forever, either.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hillary, Obama Splitting Hairs

If the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination really want to get into it, they should stop playing ping-pong about when and how to negotiate with our adversaries.

Clinton scored a rhetorical point in the debate by pushing a distinction without a difference, and now Obama keeps making it worse by crying “foul.” Enough, putative leaders of the free world! If you want to get away from the also-rans and have a serious, substantive debate about real issues, just dip into those piles of money you’ve attracted, pay for an hour of TV or cable network time and go at it.

But, please spare us the schoolyard spats. We have a war to stop and a country to provide with a grownup government again.

Honoring the Dead, Conveniently

As Americans turn against the war in Iraq, the deaths of our young people there are getting harder to bear. At one Army base, Fort Lewis in Washington, the Commander has decided to honor the fallen, instead of with services for each soldier, a collective memorial once a month.

“If I lost my husband at the beginning of the month, what do you do, wait until the end of the month?” asks the wife of one soldier in Iraq. “I don’t know if it’s more convenient for them, or what, but that’s insane.”

From the Gettysburg Address on, Americans have been torn between gratitude and grief for the young men, and now women as well, sent to die for such abstractions as freedom and honor. But until the past half century, those words had weight and meaning.

Now on Memorial Day, when the President says “patriots from every corner of our Nation have taken up arms to uphold the ideals that make our country a beacon of hope and freedom for the entire world,” how many of us believe that?

Vietnam changed everything. In a movie 20 years ago, “Gardens of Stone,” about old soldiers who tend graves at Arlington National Cemetery, one of them says, "In this war, there is no front. It's not even a war. There's nothing to win and no way to win it."

Now Iraq makes that seem an understatement. But even in the most senseless and brutal of wars, dying is the same solemn reality it has always been. Politicians can debate whether our young men and women are giving up their lives “in vain,” but those deaths can’t be “disremembered.”

The Ft. Lewis Commander will probably feel too much pressure to go on with his wholesale remembrances once a month, and so he should. If we are to stop the deaths and prevent more in the future, we can’t conveniently avoid grieving over them one at a time.

“Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead,” Susan Sontag wrote. “Heartlessness and amnesia go together.”

Fred Thompson's Conjugal Campaign

Does an unborn candidacy have a right to privacy? If so, Fred Thompson might complain about some of the recent unwelcome attention to his prepping for a run at the Presidency.

Even before announcing, there is news of high-level staff changes, some of which are attributed to the influence of his wife, Jeri.

In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza reports the de-facto campaign manager has been “pushed aside due to clashes with Thompson's wife.”

Previously, another Post columnist, Mary Ann Akers, had written: “Her hands-on approach to her husband's political operation is rubbing some the wrong way.

"’She's running the campaign,’ grouses one veteran GOP political operative involved in the Draft Fred movement. ‘It's the No. 1 rule of politics: The wife can't be the campaign manager.’

“Playing a role is fine, says the unnamed operative, ‘but not calling all the day-to-day shots.’”

All this comes after gabble about Mrs. Thompson as a “trophy wife,” 24 years younger than the former Senator-actor. But, as a lawyer who worked in the Senate and at the Republican National Committee, Mrs. Thompson obviously intends to be more than ornamental.

When the Senator makes his long-awaited official entrance, Mrs. Thompson can pitch in and help him deal with mounting questions about his role as a lawyer during the Watergate hearings, his lobbying for an organization advocating abortion and all the other little housekeeping details that have accumulated during his non-candidacy.

Somewhere along the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton would undoubtedly be happy to advise the Thompsons about the pitfalls of a two-for-one presidency.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

White House Medical Emergency

Paging Dr. Bill Frist! The services of the nation’s foremost authority on brain-death are urgently required in the Oval Office.

Dr. Frist who, as Senate Majority Leader in 2005 diagnosed Terri Schiavo and detected signs of mental activity that had eluded all other physicians, should be called on to study George Bush’s apparent failure to recover from sedation for his colonoscopy last weekend.

What makes the condition dire is that, unlike Schiavo who lapsed into a seeming coma, the President is ostensibly awake but functioning in a trance-like condition that involves mindless repetition of automatic mantras.

The latest manifestation yesterday was particularly alarming as Mr. Bush sleep-spoke at the Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.

“It’s hard to argue that Al Qaeda in Iraq,” the President intoned, “is separate from bin Laden’s Al Qaeda when the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.”

This incantatory repetition of Al Qaeda and bin Laden is a classic symptom of a thinking disorder that should be examined by a specialist like Dr. Frist, who discovered hope for Ms. Schiavo by studying videos of her.

The nation can only pray the President’s condition does not deteriorate to the point that Vice President Cheney, suffering as he does from intermittent rage attacks, has to summon the strength to take over White House responsibilities on a continuing basis.

Exposing Bad, Bad Joe Biden

In last night’s “debate,” the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was unmasked as the vain, insensitive person he really is, but TV watchers may have failed to notice until keener observers revealed it today.

The New York Sun blog blasts “Biden's obnoxious response when he insulted the gun owner toward the end as being nuts. It wasn't so much a personal gaffe as a moment that projected an ugly image of the Democratic Party as out of touch with rural voters and gun owners.”

On the blog of Reason Magazine, we learn that Biden hurt the feelings of “a libertarian-leaning voter who wants the government off his back.”

Biden’s inhumanity was in response to Jared Townsend of Michigan who asked “if our babies are safe” as he cradled his semi-automatic weapon, explaining, “This is my baby.”

“If that’s his baby,” Sen. Biden heartlessly jibed, “he needs help. I don’t know if he’s mentally qualified to own a gun.”

On Slate Mickey Kaus cites that as another of Biden’s “cringe-making, unhinged spontaneous reactions,” akin to a 1987 incident in New Hampshire when the Senator unfeelingly answered a question about his credentials by saying, "I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do."

Those who have been bamboozled into thinking Biden is a distinguished Senator with 34 years of service should be ashamed of themselves. How can they support the kind of insensitivity that led to the martyrdom of Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech and that has been visited on countless other Second-Amendment heroes?

Karl Rove's Campaign Against Ignorance

The Bush Administration has been championing education more than we knew. Today’s news is that American ambassadors have been attending seminars to enhance what a White House spokesman describes as “understanding of the political landscape.”

The briefings by Karl Rove's deputies began in early 2001 and included detailed analyses of “critical congressional and gubernatorial races,” according to documents obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Typically, State Department officials were briefed on “the 55 most critical House races for 2002 and the media markets most critical to battleground states for President Bush's reelection fight in 2004.”

Until this Administration, ambassadors sent to represent the U.S. in foreign countries may have been handicapped by total ignorance of our domestic politics.

Rove’s efforts to educate government employees have not been limited to the State Department. Previously, Congress learned that staff members of the General Services Administration, which oversees $56 billion a year of government contracts, received regular power-point lectures on ways to help Republican candidates.

The educational efforts for U.S. Attorneys, about which Rove has been typically modest, are still being studied by two Congressional committees.

Earlier this month, former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona testified before Congress about White House efforts to keep him abreast of correct information about stem cell research, contraception and second-hand smoke.

When all of this Administration’s educational undertakings are finally revealed, history will undoubtedly judge Karl Rove and his staff to be among the most ardent educators of all time.

"American Idol" Debate

The YouTube questioners tonight were more inventive and at times funnier than the usual MSM suspects, but the candidates, egged on by an applauding audience, were even more preening and self-congratulating than usual.

Book-ended by Mike Gravel’s scolding and Denis Kucinich’s certainty about everything, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were selling their hundred years of experience as Senators, Bill Richardson was pushing his claim that Governors were better bets, John Edwards was fervently sincere and uxorious, Barack Obama kept reminding everybody he was against the war in Iraq before it started and Hillary Clinton was oozing leadership by being firm while patronizingly patting the also-rans on the head for being good little Democrats instead of bad old Republicans.

With Anderson Cooper as the amiable M.C. of the variety show, detailed answers to substantive questions would have spoiled the fun. Next: The candidates trade one-liners with a panel of Leno, Letterman, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Grateful Dead

News today that the USDA has paid deceased farmers $1.1 billion over the past seven years should not come as a shock. The White House and Congress are almost entirely staffed by the brain-dead. If we purged them from the payroll, the cemeteries would fill up, but the seats of government would be vacant.

John Kerry, Stand-Up

He’s at it again. The 2004 Democratic nominee who took himself out of a possible ’08 re-run with a badly told joke is back going for the funny again. The reviews suggest he shouldn’t give up his day job.

At a Democratic fundraiser last week, Kerry had a limerick about his Senate colleague who got into trouble by being on the D.C. Madam’s phone list:

“There once was a man named Vitter/Who vowed that he wasn’t a quitter/But with stories of women/And all of his sinnin’/He knows his career’s in the — oh, never mind.”

Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are safe, but John Kerry shouldn’t despair. It won’t get any laughs but he is doing good work by joining Hillary Clinton in introducing a bill
requiring the Pentagon to brief Congress on contingency plans for withdrawing from Iraq.

There’s more than one way of being a stand-up guy.

Bush and bin Laden in Hiding

The melodrama is in its final act, and we still don’t know if it ends with a whimper or a bang. Dubya is in a bunker, beleaguered by the demons he set loose here and abroad. Osama is in hiding too, and for all we know, may be dead.

On Meet the Press, the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell points out “it’s been a year” since there was a confirmed sighting of bin Laden: “There are rumors about his illness...I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan, and...only speaking to a courier, staying completely removed from anything we could exploit to find him.”

Bush is more visible, literally, but he too is in hiding--from Congressional investigators closing in on his Administration’s criminality and the growing pressure to change course in Iraq.

The Bush bang, impeachment, is unlikely even though there is growing talk of it. Osama’s crisis is clearly coming as an American consensus builds for going into Pakistan to get him.

But even as Bush and bin Laden decline, the damage they have done is all over the political landscape. The next election and the next phase of terrorism won’t change the heightened fear and distrust they created.

We can’t board a plane, go to a stadium or walk a crowded street feeling as safe as we did because of bin Laden. But, instead of giving us back some of our pre-9/11 sense of security, Bush took away more of it--we can’t assume that whoever we elect won’t break the law, spy on us or send young people to die half a world away without our consent.

The next President will not only have to end the war in Iraq but find ways to rebuild the political system that worked for more than two centuries and use it to counter terrorism rather than just speechify about it to win elections.

With any luck, when they look back at Bush and bin Laden, future generations will wonder how bad actors could have held the stage so long.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The World's Tallest Target

In the macho world of skyscrapers, size matters. The highest edifice, although unfinished, is now in Dubai, over 2275 feet, rising almost half a mile into the sky. It will outdo buildings in Taiwan and Malaysia, which previously held the record.

When finished at the end of next year, the Burj Dubai will have 160 floors, 56 elevators, luxury apartments, boutiques, swimming pools, spas, corporate suites and a 124th floor observation platform.

Giorgio Armani was involved in the design, but the actual work is being done by 4,000 Indian laborers who work around the clock in desert heat with no minimum wage.

It will be a source of great pride for Dubai, which is hardly ever mentioned without the qualifier of “oil-rich,” but in today’s terrifying world, the question arises: How long will it stand before attracting the attention of terrorists with grievances and airline boarding passes?

Bush's "Saturday Night Massacre"

The Nixon parallels keep coming. The latest Bush move to hide what happened in the firing of the U.S. Attorneys is a perfect match for the Watergate “Saturday Night Massacre.”

A New York Times editorial today notes “that if Congress holds White House officials in contempt for withholding important evidence in the United States attorney scandal, the Justice Department simply will not pursue the charges. This stance tears at the fabric of the Constitution and upends the rule of law.”

Just as Bush is now ready to hide his Administration’s wrongdoing with a misuse of the Justice Department, Nixon in 1973 attempted to fire the Special Prosecutor who was getting too close to the truth about Watergate.

On that memorable Saturday night, the Attorney General and his assistant refused and resigned. Nixon reached down to the third in line, Robert Bork, who did the bloody deed. (Bork’s eagerness later helped deny him confirmation for the Supreme Court.)

That was the beginning of the end for Nixon, whose lawlessness was laid bare for the entire country to see. Less than a year later, in the face of impeachment, he left office.

George Bush won’t have to fire faithful Alberto Gonzales, who will never refuse an order, but their political perversion of the Justice Department is becoming clearer with every move they make to hide it.

Bush won’t be impeached or resign, but he is certain to go down in history with the same stain of misusing Executive Power as his role model, Richard Nixon.

The Case for Clobbering Candidates

Talk about “media bias” has a pornographic appeal for politicians and bloggers. Revealing MSM hypocrisy is as irresistible as finding Sen. Vitter on the D.C. Madam’s phone records.

Today’s “dirty little secret”: “America's political reporters don't like John Edwards, and have tried to destroy him,” according to Jamison Foser of Media Matters, quoting a piece from Atlantic Online by Marc Ambinder, one of the founders of ABC's The Note and a contributing editor to the National Journal's Hotline newsletter.

(Attribution nosebleed is a side effect of polemical reporting--anyone who agrees or quarrels with this post will be quoting me quoting Foser quoting Ambinder and will then be quoted until it all sounds like “A Partridge in a Pear Tree.”)

The main evidence for Edwards-bashing is the harping on his $400 haircut and working for a hedge fund while warring on poverty in his campaign, an assertion that leads to comparisons by another blogger to “the media's War Against Gore” that “gave us President Bush. It is why we are in Iraq today.”

Time out: Jokes about John Edwards’ haircut are unlikely to lead to another catastrophic war, but if the children will leave the room, we can talk graphically about “media bias.”

That journalists are human is not news and that they may, consciously or not, let their feelings color their reporting is indisputable. But from a lifetime of working, teaching and writing about that enterprise, another perspective:

It may very well be that reporters don’t like John Edwards. They may be put off by his over-acted sincerity, as I am (follow the links to my confession). But there is nothing new in letting that kind of reaction seep into their stories. In fact--and down comes the last veil in this stripping--that may have value for the public the media serves.

In the McCarthy era, we learned objectivity is not enough. If reporters who covered the Senator had done more probing about his methods and motives, it wouldn’t have taken Edward R. Murrow’s “biased” documentary to bring him down.

That kind of drama is rare--only Woodward and Bernstein’s Nixon takedown is comparable. But in subtler ways, the process goes on all the time.

Mitt Romney’s father comes to mind. In 1968, George Romney was the front runner for the Republican nomination. Reporters covering his campaign with a straight face were frustrated by not being able to communicate that the amiable car salesman-Governor was, to put it kindly, a lightweight. When he gaffed about being “brainwashed” in Vietnam, it unleashed headlines and commentary that ended his campaign.

His son and heir is following in that tradition. After his repeated fudging of issues, his defecating dog story and his pathetic swipe at Obama over sex education, yesterday this Governor Romney is pictured smiling over a sign reading “No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea’s Moma.”

Are the media trying to tell us something? I hope so. A little more “bias” in showing Bush the boob in 2000 might have spared the country a lot of grief.

If this sounds arrogant, sorry. Journalists spend their lives trying to be fair and honest--they don’t start out looking for money and power. If they sometimes slip and slide along the way, cut them some slack.

It’s easy (and attention-getting) to carp from the grandstands while they try to do their work of letting us know what the politicians and power brokers are really doing.

John Edwards and Mitt Romney are grown men who made a lot of money and now want the most powerful job in the world. All this attention goes with the process of trying to get it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Iraq Vacation Plans

The U.S. Congress, the Iraqi Parliament and every psychotherapist in America will be taking time off in August. But the folks, as George Bush might call them, who want to kill our troops in Baghdad will be busy.

According to a Guardian report from Damascus, “Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organizations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal” and they plan to “hold a congress to launch a united front within the next few weeks.”

While our politicians anguish over what will happen when U.S. troops leave, the Sunnis are quietly making their own plans to hasten the day with bloodshed and then nullify “political institutions set up under the occupation...and all decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government.”

On the Shiite side, Moktada al-Sadr is getting ready for our departure, too, and doesn’t seem too keen on retaining the democracy we brought his country.

The only folks who have no plans for Iraq are in Washington, D.C. or on vacation from their jobs there.

Waste Removal

CNN reports: Doctors removed five small polyps from President Bush's colon on Saturday, and "none appeared worrisome," a White House spokesman said.

If only there were a medical procedure to excise worrisome growths on the body politic, like Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove... But the President would have be sedated for that, too, and there's no telling what Cheney would do then.

Stoning the Sinful Senator

The debate over whether or not David Vitter should go to jail reflects a sad tendency in our society across the political spectrum. When everybody is a social critic and it’s hard to be heard, humane voices are drowned out by scolds and prudes.

How about some muscular moderation? You don’t have to be an advocate for prostitution to feel that, among offenses to decency, the oldest profession is not at the top of the list (check cable TV and the yellow pages), and you don’t have to be an admirer of hypocrisy to observe that what people do is often at odds with what they profess.

That said, the outing of Vitter and those like him is a plus for honesty in politics and public discourse, but it reflects no credit on those who want to send him to prison or the guillotine for being a sad sack and a hypocrite.

Neither should the D.C. Madam be behind bars. In this society, she won’t be. More likely is that she will get a large advance for her memoirs.

When people are dying in a senseless war, there are better targets for moral indignation.

Harry Reid, the Un-Lyndon Johnson

Before he became President and lost a war, Lyndon Johnson was the most effective Senate majority leader in history. Today’s Democrats, trying to stop another war, could use his skills.

To put it kindly, Harry Reid is no LBJ. In six months as majority leader, he has consistently misspoken and mismanaged Democratic efforts to win over enough Republicans to change policy in Iraq, culminating in this week’s disastrous all-nighter.

It takes a unique set of mismanagement skills to help propel the Democratic-controlled Congress to lower approval ratings than Bush. To be fair, Reid has had to navigate differences about how to end the war in his own party and the ambivalence of Republicans who want to stay loyal to their President but fear for their electoral skins next November. Even so, his performance has been dismal.

In April, David Broder in the Washington Post called Reid “the Democrats’ Gonzales” for his gaffes, and liberal bloggers gang-tackled the venerable columnist. Three months later, Reid, looking more like Bush’s Brownie of FEMA fame, is turning out to be the polar opposite of Lyndon Johnson.

In 1966, Robert Novak of Valerie Plame fame was co-author of a book that described Johnson’s ways as a majority leader who worked with a Republican President, Eisenhower, to pass the first civil rights bill of the century. LBJ, knowing where every Senator stood on every issue and what it would take to win him over, would then go into action:

“The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours...Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat...Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless.”

No one expects Reid to be another LBJ, but some semblance of parliamentary and negotiating skills would go a long way toward building some real legislative pressure to end this miserable war. Then, if Democrats win next year, they will need effective leadership to start undoing the damage Bush has done. They can do better than Harry Reid.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Illegal Laughing Matter

Warning: There is a little-known provision of the Patriot Act that makes it a federal crime to commit rectal jokes directed at the Chief Executive.

After reading the following dispatch from Reuters, bloggers should therefore proceed with utmost caution before attempting analogies of what doctors will do to the President this weekend with what he has been doing to the rest of the country for six years.

Likewise, anatomical references to what the Vice President may be covering for the President this weekend, as he always does, will be subject to prosecutorial scrutiny:

“President George W. Bush will undergo what aides described as a routine colonoscopy on Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat.

“White House spokesman Tony Snow said that during the time that Bush is under anesthesia, he would delegate power to Vice President Dick Cheney.”

Roaring Twenties in Iraq

It’s beginning to look like those old gangster movies in Baghdad with Moktada al-Sadr playing Little Caesar.

Instead of selling bootleg booze, his machine gun-toting henchmen are distributing food, medicine and fuel to the locals while collecting protection money, about $4 a monthly, from residents.

Gang killings are routine, with Sunni bodies piled up at neighborhood boundaries to discourage incursions by rival outfits.

With the U.S.-backed central government as impotent as our 1920s Feds were to enforce Prohibition, outlaws are fighting it out while terrorizing the population.

Our gangster nightmare ended with the repeal of Prohibition when lawmakers realized they were engaged in a futile enterprise. Maybe Bush and Cheney should stop watching “High Noon” and study those Edward G. Robinson flicks.

Mismatch: Romney Tackles Obama

Now that his defecating dog has been laid to rest, Mitt Romney is on the offensive, trying to soil Barack Obama. He’s way out of his league.

Seizing on a bill Obama supported in the Illinois state Senate with a provision for age-appropriate sex education, Romney pounced.

"How much sex education is age appropriate for a 5-year-old? In my mind, zero is the right number," he said.

Obama swiveled to let Romney fall on his face.

"We have to deal with a coarsening of the culture and the over-sexualization of our young people,” he told a reporter. “Part of the coarsening of that culture is when politicians try to demagogue issues to score cheap political points.

"What we shouldn't do is to try to play political football with these issues.”

The wire-service story went on to report that in 2002 Romney told Planned Parenthood he supported “teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education” in public schools.

Obama’s football analogy is apt. In 1968, a Republican governor observed that “watching George Romney run for President is like watching a duck trying to make love to a football.”

It’s beginning to look like a family tradition.

Hillary's 1948 Wake-Up Call: Run Scared

The latest Presidential poll shows 63 percent of Americans think we will elect the first woman to be President next year. It’s time for Hillary Clinton to start worrying.

The stage could be set for a Republican to pull off what Harry Truman did in 1948 to the poll-anointed sure bet, Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York.

The parallels are there. With a big lead in the polls, Dewey ran an ultra-cautious campaign, making “The future lies ahead” speeches while awaiting coronation.

Truman took off on his “Give ‘em hell, Harry” whistle-stop tour, railing against a “do-nothing” Republican Congress and ended up the morning after election, grinning and holding up to the cameras a copy of the Chicago Tribune headlined, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Overconfidence can be a killer in American elections. Voters resent being taken for granted.

All this is brought up by the almost stately tone of the Clinton campaign thus far. It’s been gaffe-free, but will that be enough?

There is an outside chance that Obama may catch on with his new-generation appeal, but the greater danger for the former First Lady is appearing to be a too-cool Dewey (“the man on the wedding cake”) against a Republican underdog doing Harry Truman.

As an actor, Fred Thompson looks perfect for the part but any other nominee, including long-shot Mike Huckabee, could be prepped for the performance.

Sen. Clinton, while taking in the lessons of Truman, may also want to look at the campaign of the man from Arkansas who overcame the first George Bush with “the vision thing.” Give ‘em hell, Hillary.

Second Dumbest Guy on the Planet

Most of the Cheney crew is gone--Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, famously described by Gen. Tommy Franks as “the dumbest guy on the planet.” But Feith’s replacement as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric S. Edelman, is still there to carry on the tradition.

Yesterday he did his mentors proud with a snippy response to Hillary Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who had asked about Pentagon planning to bring troops home from Iraq.

In response, Edelman wrote, "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia," adding that "such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks."

Sen. Clinton, who was not thrilled to receive a political lecture in answer to a policy question, plans to take it up with Edelman’s boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The incident may help explain why in 2005 President Bush had to bypass the Senate and use a constitutional power to put Edelman in the job. Rumsfeld had called his predecessor Feith, who masterminded the policy of ignoring the Geneva Conventions that led to Abu Ghraib, "one of the most brilliant individuals in government."

Edelman is right in that mold.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Golden Age in Black and White

In the 1950s, we began to see the world differently. A new generation of photographers was transforming frozen posed pictures into available-light images of people and places as they really were.

Those golden days of black-and-white photography are recalled in a new web site by one of the best of them, my friend George Zimbel. A few clicks will take you to a Bourbon Street bar, an Irish dance hall, a Vermont quarry of that time.

A few more will show you the unguarded famous--Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Nixon.

“Photographs,” Susan Sontag wrote, “alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.”

Now that we are flooded with pictures, it’s good to be reminded there once was not only an aesthetic but an ethics of seeing, when everyone did not feel entitled to observe everything. What photographers who were artists did show us was well worth seeing.

Will Terrorists Pick Our Next President?

In the terrorism-expert business, there is no profit in forecasting there won’t be an attack on the Homeland “soon.” No one will remember a negative and give you credit, and, on the other hand, the definition of “soon” is expandable.

So it’s no surprise that not only do the N.I.E. researchers, Homeland Security Director Chertoff and other less sensitive-gutted authorities on the government payroll but the all rented experts on TV agree about the imminence of an attack in this country. Where’s the news in not predicting one?

The more interesting question is what the terrorists may be thinking. Assuming a modicum of brains to go with their mad hatred, if the object is to sow fear and confusion in our society, what political outcome in ’08 best suits their purposes? And what could they do to help bring it about?

Since 9/11, George W. Bush has been collaborating with Osama bin Laden in destroying the traditional trust Americans have had in their government and in one another. Would Al Qaeda like more of the same?

If so, Giuliani is their man. His campaign, based on images of Rudy in the rubble, is following Karl Rove’s game plan for 2004. Any attack that rekindles 9/11 fears would help America’s Mayor get to the White House.

But if terrorists prefer, for whatever reasons, to see Clinton or Obama in the Oval Office, holding off on homeland attacks would help. It may all depend on their reaction to the Republican gas bags. If they take them at all seriously, Al Qaeda leaders might prefer a Democratic President who wouldn’t break American laws to get at them.

On the other hand, if they find hard-line campaign rhetoric laughable, another Republican to extend Bush’s incompetence and impotence to hurt them might just be the ticket for bin Laden et al.

The terrorists no doubt will go about their business their own way for their own reasons, but what they do in the next year will nonetheless have a profound effect on our elections.

That may be the saddest commentary of all on our post-9/11 world.

George W. Bush, Philosopher

The President is threatening to veto a bipartisan Senate proposal to increase the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. His opposition is on “philosophical grounds.”

Bush’s philosophy, like everything else in his Administration, is dogma. In this case, the moral principal is that “when you expand eligibility...you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government."

At least he is consistent. While overseeing the worst-managed war in American history, he is defending to the death one of the worst health-care systems in the world.

The program in question, which costs the federal government $5 billion a year, helps provide health coverage to 6.6 million low-income children. Another 3.3 million would be covered under a proposal by Senate Finance Committee, which is supported by such Republican radicals as Sens. Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch, among others.

But the President is adamant. “I expect people to speak out,” he said in a Washington Post interview about the bill and health care. “I also have my own points of view and feel very strongly about a lot of issues."

His philosophy has deep traditional roots, perhaps best-expressed by one of Charles Dickens’ most memorable characters. Asked for money for the poor, his answer reflected the guiding Bush principle: “Are there no prisons...and workhouses?” If he were alive today, Scrooge might have added, “And no HMOs?”

Straight Talk About Taking Out Al-Qaeda

Finally someone says the glaringly obvious about what we have to do to prevent terrorist attacks here: Stop wringing our hands about Musharraf’s shaky situation in Pakistan and cross the Afghanistan border to take out bin Laden’s people who are dug in there.

Lee Hamilton, 76 years old with no political ambitions, said it straight out on CNN yesterday: "If there's anything we should have learned, it's that we must not let Al Qaeda have a sanctuary, which they certainly do in Pakistan today."

For years now, Pakistan’s President has been playing the Bush Administration like a violin, promising cooperation and doing just enough to placate us while keeping the militants in his own country at bay. But Musharraf’s political games have left the United States increasingly vulnerable.

Even Bush and Cheney see by now what has to be done. “In identifying the main reasons for Al Qaeda’s resurgence,” the New York Times reported yesterday, “intelligence officials and White House aides pointed the finger squarely at a hands-off approach toward the tribal areas by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who last year brokered a cease-fire with tribal leaders in an attempt to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region.”

“It hasn’t worked for Pakistan,” said Frances Fragos Townsend, who heads the Homeland Security Council at the White House. “It hasn’t worked for the United States.”

According to the Times, “Ms. Townsend...acknowledged frustration that Al Qaeda had succeeding in rebuilding its infrastructure and its links to affiliates, while keeping Mr. bin Laden and his top lieutenants alive for nearly six years since the Sept. 11 attacks.”

It will undoubtedly take a highly sophisticated combination of overt and covert operations to do what has to be done in Pakistan, but, as usual, it is taking someone like Lee Hamilton to say so out loud.

If Bush and Cheney are lusting to invade somewhere, they should forget Iran and do what has to be done in Pakistan. They won’t have to take over a whole country and stay, as they did in Iraq, just get in far enough to uproot Al Qaeda and get out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Edwards Pushes the Pity Envelope

From all evidence, Elizabeth Edwards is a courageous, highly intelligent woman whose devotion to her husband makes “admirable” seem like an inadequate adjective. But a new commercial now running in New Hampshire raises again nagging questions about her role in John Edwards' campaign for the Presidency.

In the TV spot, Mrs. Edwards lauds her husband’s “unbelievable toughness, particularly about other people, and...his ability to fight for them."

She goes on to say, "You're not going to outsmart him. He works harder than any human being that I know, always has. It's unbelievably important that, in our president, we have someone who can stare the worst in the face and not blink."

We are on the outskirts of exploitation here and possibly beyond the boundaries in suggesting that a man’s response to his wife’s cancer tells voters what they need to know about his character and courage in the Oval Office.

Edwards did something similar with his operatic apologies for voting to take us into Iraq in 2002, stressing the need for “honesty” in a president but overlooking the fact that telling the truth, George Bush notwithstanding, is only a minimal requisite but that good judgment over taking the country to war is a vital quality for a Commander-in-Chief.

The impression keeps recurring that John Edwards at heart is a smooth-talking lawyer who will do anything to make his case, and it is no discredit to her that his wife is doing everything she can to help him.

Good Vibes From Wobblers' Woodstock

Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and a bunch of the gang got together for Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday, Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson came and, before you knew it, the golden oldies of world leaders were having their own Woodstock.

There were tears and humming along as Gabriel sang his song "Biko" about the anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody in 1977. But most of the time, the aged attendees were looking ahead.

"We’re coming up to the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights," Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, reminded them, adding that “people feel alienated. The elders can make it a living document."

With Branson’s prodding, the formerly powerful decided to form a group of elderly flower children to "bring hope and wisdom back into the world."

"The elders,” Branson predicted, “will play a role in bringing us together to help unnecessary human suffering and to celebrate the wonderful world we are privileged to be part of.”

In 2003 Mandela was to see Saddam Hussein and urge him to take steps to avoid war, but the U.S. invasion began before he could get there. "An elder or a group of elders could have persuaded Hussein to leave and we would have avoided the war," Branson said.

Asked why they might be able do now what they failed to do in their prime, Jimmy Carter answered, "There were problems we did not solve because of a lack of time, or because of very intense pressures from our own constituencies, or because we were too bogged down with multiple, simultaneous questions to answer.

"But the elders ... have complete freedom to escape from the restrains of political niceties and be able to do as Nelson Mandela pointed out--we can talk to anyone and become involved in any issue."

George Bush and Dick Cheney would be a good start, but don’t mention Woodstock.

New Kind of Washington Wake-Up Call

With their sleeping cots and general disarray, Senate Democrats are evoking images of protests past against an unresponsive government. Granted that demonstrations of old were not by elected officials, the symbolism is familiar.

In 1932, with World War I veterans starving during the Depression, more than 10,000 came to D.C. and camped out, demanding the bonus that had been promised them. They ended up being rousted by the Army under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur who ignored President Herbert Hoover’s order to go easy. Generals were feistier then.

In 1969, a quarter of a million peaceful protesters against the war in Vietnam converged on the nation’s capital, holding candlelight vigils until morning. “I do believe,” Sen. Ted Kennedy told them, “this nation is in danger of committing itself to goals and personalities that guarantee the war's continuance.”

The dramatic difference this time is that anger and frustration are directed, not against the government, but by one branch of the Washington power structure against another.

Only a President with the insensitivity and arrogance of George W. Bush could have driven the Congress of the United States to such expression of enraged impotence. Even Herbert Hoover was incapable of that.

Bill Clinton's Backside: Political Issue

The “Hillary Is 44” guerilla bloggers are giving her campaign a new dimension by attacking MSM. Their weapon of choice yesterday was the former President’s derriere.

Between Obama-bashing and enthusing over Joe Wilson’s endorsement is an item: “Big Media writers prove themselves to be numbskulls on the most basic of human levels.”

The object of ire is a passage from the New York Times account of the Clintons campaigning together in New Hampshire:

“Mr. Clinton seemed to struggle with the proper posture for him at his wife’s side, alternately sitting up straight on his stool or slouching slightly, crossing his legs or crossing his ankles, keeping his hands in his pocket or putting a hand on his chin.”

A “Hillary Is 44” media critic deconstructed this sabotage of the Clinton campaign:

“Why does such drivel make it onto a writer’s pad and through the filter of any conscious editor? Answer: because that silly drivel, not the news, is actually the center of the Big Media narrative. Notice, earlier in the article we learned that Bill Clinton ‘took a seat on a stool on stage’. Have you ever tried sitting on a wooden stool on a platform in summer heat?

“Ask any person the size of Bill Clinton how it feels to sit on a wooden stool?

“Padding foam does not help. ‘Natural’ padding does not help. The only thing to do is fidget. Move from one buttock to the other, hook shoe heels to foot rests, fold arms, unfold arms, elbows on knees, hands under buttocks, move head forward, move head back...Our plush padded princes of Big Media don’t know about plain wooden stools. They do know how to disguise the drivel as news to push their narrative.”

Now that this mainstream media villainy has been exposed, on to other serious issues: Bill’s hair styling? The war in Iraq? Hillary’s pants suits?

Hide-and-Seek Republicans

The games go on in the United States Senate.

At a press conference yesterday, John Kerry pleaded with Republican colleagues to come out of hiding and go public with the opposition to the war they have been expressing in private. If they did, he predicted, more than 60 Senators would vote for a change in policy

“This is the time, this is the moment,” Sen. Kerry said at a press conference. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe agreed. “We are at a crossroads between hope and reality,” she said.

White House marching orders were reflected, as they often are, on the Politico web site: “Republican leaders on Tuesday pounced on a newly released National Intelligence Estimate to argue that the increasingly powerful and ominous Al Qaeda presence justifies current troop levels in Iraq at least until September.”

Never mind that the Estimate was an exercise in vagueness, that it is the presence of American troops that brought Saudi suicide bombers to Iraq and that we are losing the hide-and-seek game of trying to uproot their increasing numbers. This White House uses the “kill your parents and ask for mercy because you’re an orphan” strategy without blinking.

It’s painful to see people sworn to serve the national interest keep playing political games with the lives of Americans in uniform.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Senate Sleepover

After so much squabbling in the sandbox, it’s nice to see our Senators planning to spend the night together on a play date. There will be games, of course, including blogging and making videos, and someone will undoubtedly bring hot chocolate and cookies.

They may not be any more grownup in the morning, but picturing Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid in Dr. Dentons is worth it all.

Ghostly Candidates, Guerilla Campaigns

In the new Gallup Poll, the front runners are unchanged, but each party has a candidate with a ghostly image that is slowly fading out.

The desperate situation of John Edwards and John McCain calls for a strategic change, and one of them has already started on his version of a guerilla campaign.

Edwards is on a “poverty tour” that may have been inspired by Robert Kennedy's trip in 1968 and, going even further back, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” the photographs and text that focused attention on tenant farmers in Alabama in 1936.

“By telling their stories to the rest of the nation,” Edwards’ campaign says of the impoverished he will be visiting, “the tour will attempt to shed light on the new faces of poverty in America.”

Ironically, both efforts to make the poor visible had their roots in great wealth. Walker Evans and James Agee were assigned by Fortune, Henry Luce’s magazine for business leaders. Edwards is try to putting behind him publicity about expensive haircuts, lavish homes and high net worth.

The other desperate candidate, John McCain, is soldiering on despite staff casualties and falling behind Ron Paul in campaign funds. Wounded himself, he is weighed down further by a comatose lame-duck president around his neck.

McCain has tried going to Iraq and strolling around. Perhaps his next move should be going back there, embedding himself with the troops and becoming their champion in the final days of the fiasco to dramatize that he has their welfare at heart and his contention that they would be in a better situation if Bush had listened to McCain earlier and managed the war properly.

In doing this, McCain could stop the hemorrhaging of cash, separate himself from Giuliani and Thompson, and keep the news spotlight on what brought him into public life, his image as a soldier-hero.

In 1952, retired Gen. Dwight Eisenhower clinched his election by announcing, “I will go to Korea.” It might not work, but McCain’s best bet could be to emulate him by going to Iraq and waging a guerrilla presidential campaign from there.


Bill Clinton Nemesis Gives Up on Bush

The billionaire who funded Bill Clinton’s impeachment has had enough of George W. Bush. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, owned by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, yesterday called continuing the war in Iraq a "prescription for American suicide."

The editorial also noted: "And quite frankly, during last Thursday's news conference, when George Bush started blathering about 'sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don't enable you to be loved,' we had to question his mental stability."

Scaife, who seems to take his politics personally, spent millions investigating Clinton’s sex life. Will he make the same investment in checking out Bush’s mental health?

Killers in Iraq: The Saudi Connection

Almost half of the insurgents American troops are fighting in Iraq came from our staunch ally, Saudi Arabia.

According to U.S. military figures just published in the Los Angeles Times, “About 45 percent of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15 percent are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10 percent are from North Africa.”

The Saudi government knows that and says it is doing everything possible to prevent Sunni extremists from migrating to the killing fields of Iraq. But is it?

The signals are getting decidedly mixed. Until recently, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was ambassador to Washington until 2005, had Bush and Cheney eating out of his hand. But then last month, his uncle, King Abdullah told Arab heads of state that Americans in Iraq were “an illegal foreign occupation.”

“Saudi frustration,” the New York Times reported this weekend, “has mounted over the past four years, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. King Abdullah was angry that the Bush administration ignored his advice against de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military.”

Now questions arise: How hard are the Saudis trying to stem the tide of their Sunni jihadists into Iraq? To what extent is exporting troublemakers in their domestic interest and part of an unspoken policy? How much pressure are they putting on the Bush Administration to stay in Iraq by threatening to support Sunni fighters against Iran-backed Shiites if we leave? Behind it all, how much of American policy is driven by placating the Saudis to ensure the continuing flow of their oil to which we are addicted?

In the Middle East, keeping up with your friends can be as exhausting as fighting your enemies. Pakistan is another example. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lame Duck Surges On

Gen. Peter Pace, who is being replaced as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September, answers a question today that nobody is asking: Should we put more troops into Iraq?

The military must "be prepared for whatever it's going to look like two months from now," Pace said in an interview with two reporters traveling with him to Iraq from Washington.

"That way, if we need to plus up or come down" in numbers of troops, we would be ready, according to an AP “Military Writer.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced last month that he would not be re-appointing Pace in order to avoid a “contentious” confirmation process. Is the General giving Congressional Democrats a nose-thumbing salute with today’s statement, or has he really lost it?