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.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rudy's 9/11 Backlash

Too-muchness is beginning to catch up with America's Mayor. Initially propelled by TV images of those terrible days in 2001, the Giuliani campaign is now in danger, thanks to the candidate himself, of suffering from an excess of 9/11.

*In New Hampshire, Giuliani tells voters that only he can protect the U.S. from another attack because, if Democrats win, “we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense.”

*In subsequent speeches, he claims, "I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers.” The ensuing uproar makes him back off when it turns out he spent more time at World Series games in Yankee Stadium.

*After taking a cell-phone call from his wife during a speech to the N.R.A, he explains, “Since Sept. 11, most of the time when we get on a plane, we talk to each other and just reaffirm the fact that we love each other."

*Campaign supporters organize a dinner, suggesting checks for $9.11 as contributions.

*In the New York Times today, Tom Friedman quotes a satirical piece in The Onion:

“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters...Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. ‘My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,’ said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. ‘As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.’ If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world’s conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”

Friedman asserts that “9/11 has made us stupid,” turning the U.S. from a country of hope to one of fear: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

When the Republican contest goes negative, Giuliani will be on defense. At the last debate, John McCain raised doubts about whether his performance after 9/11 "translates, necessarily, into foreign policy or national security expertise. I know of nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience in it."

Can a “one trick pony” trot all the way to the White House?

Cuomo Calls Out the Democrats

The man who should have run in 1988 and spared us both Bushes is now telling Democrats to keep the mutant son from illegally getting us into a war with Iran as he did in Iraq.

Mario Cuomo broke his political silence Friday night after the Lieberman/Kyl vote with an impassioned reminder that the Constitution gave war-making power to Congress to avoid having it exercised by one man who “may be mad, an egotist, misguided or stupid.”

“That power cannot be delegated,” he said on MSNBC’s Hardball. “You can’t adopt a resolution and say well, the Founding Fathers wanted us to do it, but it’s too heavy a lift for us, so we empower you, Mr. President, if you feel like doing it, to do it.”

He enjoined Democrats not to repeat their 2002 mistake of abdicating their will to a President who misjudged everything about going to war in Iraq:

“(H)e was wrong about the reason for it, he was wrong about complicity, he was wrong about how many troops we needed, he was wrong about how we would be greeted when we got there, he was wrong about the civil war, wrong about how much it would cost, wrong about how long it would last and now you’re saying maybe he can start another war.”

A new generation may not remember the former Governor of New York who dropped out of public life after electrifying the 1984 Democratic convention with his “shining city on a hill” keynote speech and in 1992 going as far as keeping a plane waiting to fly to New Hampshire to run against the reelection of the first President Bush.

Cuomo changed his mind at the last minute and, after Bill Clinton’s election, declined a likely nomination to the Supreme Court.

When a man of that caliber reminds this year’s Presidential hopefuls to go to the mat with Bush about Iran, they would do well to listen.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Newt Is Not Running

The reason is simple: The job isn't big enough.

Newt Gingrich’s decision not to pursue the presidency was announced today by a spokesman who explained the former Speaker will deal with “the challenges America faces and finding solutions to those challenges” as chairman of his tax-exempt organization instead.

It’s not that the White House isn’t a pleasant place to live with good perks, but Gingrich would have to give up his tax-free empire, his think tank, his Fox News contract as a commentator, the $40,000 speaking gigs and so much more he now enjoys without all the headaches of actually doing something.

In addition, if Newt had decided to go for it, there would have been pesky reporters asking about his shutting down the government in 1995, impeaching Bill Clinton for office sex while carrying on his own affair and, later, having to pay a $300,000 fine by the House ethics committee.

All that plus the travel, the hand-shaking, the debating with the likes of Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo would have been degrading to a visionary.

Actually, "the presidency is a minor post on the scale of change I'm describing," Gingrich explained to the Washington Post in July.

Instead he will follow the example of Benjamin Franklin. “He didn't think he was less than Washington or Jefferson,” Gingrich the historian explains. “He was deliberately eclectic and deliberately complex, and happy to be so.

“He was pretty interesting. If you had told him, 'If you could have been simple, you could have been president,' he would have said, 'That's pretty stupid.'"

No one will ever accuse Newt Gingrich of being simple.

Our Most Serious Loss

The figures are by now familiar, a downward spiral of public faith in the President, Congress, the entire Federal government. But the latest Gallup figures show something more ominous--Americans losing trust in themselves.

Politicians come and go, but voters have always been sure they could correct mistakes at the ballot box. But now only 70 percent of Americans trust the public's ability to perform its role in a democratic government, down from 78 percent two years ago and much lower than any other previous Gallup reading.

These figures suggest a growing crisis of confidence that won’t be resolved by a change in the White House. As leading Democratic candidates now waver over promising to have our troops out by 2013 and the President goes cheerfully along his “What? Me Worry?” way, Iraq is beginning to feel like flypaper, keeping us from moving ahead on other national issues such as health care, education, economic uncertainty and social justice.

Before 9/11, we lived in a confident, even cocky, society. How do we get back the trust we lost in ourselves and one another?

War Over War Movies

Before Vietnam, war movies were either gung-ho patriotic starring John Wayne or philosophically anti-war, starting with “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

This week the Los Angeles Times has been OpEding an argument prompted by a conservative’s contention that today’s Hollywood “stakes out an anti-victory position on the current war in Iraq, continuing its deplorable 40-year streak of working against the United States' strategic objectives at a time of war.”

That’s a mouthful of accusation: 40 years of celluloid treason, and most Americans failed to notice. While there are legitimate questions about Brian DePalma’s latest opus, they don’t begin to support a collective indictment of Hollywood film-makers as disloyal to their country.

Looking back at decades of the best war movies, from “Paths of Glory” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” to “Saving Private Ryan” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” what’s most striking is how apolitical they have been, evoking horror over the brutality, hypocrisy and waste of lives and/or celebrating the bloody gallantry of young people under fire.

Until now, even in time of war, serious film-makers were not propagandists with “strategic objectives” but artists trying to get at universal truths.

Just before Iraq, a number of conservative contributors to National Review named as their favorite war movie “Patton,” the 1970 biopic of America’s red-white-and-blue World War II general, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola.

Seven years later, Coppola made “Apocalypse Now,” which ideologues would see as a savage indictment of our involvement in Vietnam.

But both were made years after the wars were over and neither was intended as a political statement, any more than “The Godfather,” which came between the two.

Hollywood people have always had strong political beliefs, but few expressed them during working hours. There was too much money at stake.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Wages of Sincerity

Those who worry about the flood of illegal immigrants, the Lou Dobbs legion, can take comfort in the story of Pedro Zapeta. U. S. Customs is on the job.

Zapeta came here from Guatemala, worked as a dishwasher for 11 years and lived frugally to make enough money to buy land in his mountain village and build a home for his mother and sisters. He was not educated enough to send money home or put it into a bank.

He saved $59,000 in cash, stuffed it into a duffel bag and went to the Ft. Lauderdale terminal for a flight home. When Customs officials asked how much money he had, Zapeta showed them the duffel bag. They seized it.

That was two years ago. Ever since, his volunteer lawyers have been trying to prove he was not a drug courier by providing pay stubs for his $5.50 an hour job. Customs officials had turned him over to the I.N.S., which initiated proceedings to deport the man who had been trying to leave the country.

When the story went public, well-wishers donated $10,000 to Zapeta’s cause, but the I.R.S. stepped in to claim taxes on all of his money.

His attorneys say federal prosecutors offered a deal: Zapeta could take $10,000 of the original cash, and $9,000 in donations as long as he didn't talk publicly and left the country immediately. He said no.

This week, a judge signed an order allowing him to work legally in the U. S. temporarily until his tax problems are sorted out. Would Lou Dobbs call that amnesty?

Carve-Up-California Campaign Fails

Republicans won’t be getting electoral slices of the Golden State next year after all. The referendum to carve up California like a Thanksgiving turkey is apparently dead.

In recent months, Democrats have been alarmed by a ballot initiative to award Presidential electors by district instead of the traditional winner-take-all method, which might have given Republicans at least 19 of the state’s 55 votes.

It would also have been encouragement for an Independent run by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dear friend, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

But in the land of endless Propositions and 135 gubernatorial candidates in the recall election of 2003, sanity, or at least insufficient money, has prevailed--this time.

Bush-Hunting Season Opens

Next week the President officially becomes a lame duck. One of his staunchest Senate supporters, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, has turned on the issue of children’s health insurance and is actively fighting to defeat him.

“We’re going to try [to] convince people in the House to change their vote,” he said yesterday. “All I can do is make phone calls.”

Not quite “Here I stand, I can do no other,” but 18 Senate Republicans defected from Bush dogma yesterday by voting for the State Children’s Health Insurance Bill the President has promised to veto.

The 67-29 margin would override it, and two Democratic Presidential candidates, Obama and Biden, were not even there. The question now is whether another dozen House Republicans will join the 45 who broke ranks the other day.

The President who lost the popular vote by more than half a million in November 2000 but won the Supreme Court by 5-4 in December has translated that mandate into almost seven years of domination in Washington, but now servile Republicans in Congress are facing extinction next year if they persist in their fealty.

Under cover of Gen. Petraeus, they may hold out over Iraq, but denying children health coverage is quite another matter. The White House may compromise, but they have no experience at it.

Childrens do learn. Do Presidents?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Too-Easy Answers About Torture

Tim Russert blindsided Hillary Clinton last night, positing “a situation in which we were holding the “number three man in Al Qaeda. We know there's a bomb about to go off, and we have three days, and we know this guy knows where it is. Should there be a presidential exception to allow torture in that kind of situation? Don't we have the right and responsibility to beat it out of him? You could set up a law where the president could make a finding or could guarantee a pardon.”

When Sen. Clinton answered that “torture cannot be American policy period” and “in addition to the values that are so important for our country to exhibit is that there is very little evidence that it works,” Russert told her that the scenario was suggested by Bill Clinton last year.

“Well, he's not standing here right now,” she responded to applause.

As other Democrats more or less agreed, a whiff of sanctimony was in the air, as it always is when politicians talk about the subject.

Only a fool (pace Alberto Gonzales) would advocate torture as policy, but as with so many other issues, it’s not always that simple. One of the less obvious sad results of Bush’s black/white, good/evil view of the world is that it has infected those who oppose him.

Before answering Russert’s “scenario,” Hillary Clinton had observed that “these hypotheticals are very dangerous because they open a great big hole in what should be an attitude that our country and our president takes toward the appropriate treatment of everyone. And I think it's dangerous to go down this path.”

It certainly is. In an era when presidents talk publicly about their underwear, voters expect definite answers about everything. But important issues don’t lend themselves to sound-bite solutions.

Just as there is the yelling-fire-in-a-crowded-theater exception to free speech, there may be situations that override the prohibition against torture or, as Joe Biden suggested, offering pardons to terrorists in exchange for information that would prevent devastation.

Years ago, when he had a TV show, William F. Buckley asked a noted attorney who strongly advocated defendants’ rights what he would do to get information from a suspect who knew where a kidnapped child was buried with a limited supply of air.

The lawyer did not hesitate: “Beat it out of him.”

In failing to acknowledge that there are no doctrinaire answers to everything a la George Bush, Democrats who want to replace him are doing themselves, and us, no service. Republicans will be only too happy to characterize them as lily-livered liberals.

Happiness Gap Between Women and Men

Fifty years ago, at a Smith College alumni reunion, Betty Friedan handed out a questionnaire asking classmates how they felt about their lives, which inspired the sacred text of gender inequality, “The Feminine Mystique.”

Now, according to the New York Times, researchers studying data about people’s satisfaction have made a discovery: “In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.”

To explain why, the social scientists report: “Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

“Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work--and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.”

All this suggests that inequality has not disappeared but morphed. The educated women Betty Friedan found unhappy as housewives now have careers but are still doing most of the caring for homes, children and aging parents.

If there were a companion movement to Feminism, Masculinism might examine to what extent all this is due to unfair expectations of women or just the fabled insensitivity of men who are happy to spend their free time drinking beer and watching ball games on TV.

Behind such clichés, at the brink of possibly electing a woman to run the country, there are complicated questions about family politics to be aired and considered. Perhaps Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, Judith Giuliani and Jeri Thompson can get together and start a national discussion.

Bring Back the Gong Show*

If the war in Iraq and the ’08 election campaign were TV series, they would have been canceled by now. Both have been running too long and have no surprises left, as the Democratic debate tonight showed.

The only news in this latest chapter was the slippage of expectations about getting out of Iraq, now being discussed in terms of years rather than months by everybody but Richardson, Kucinich and Gravel, the bit players in the drama.

As surreal as the event at Dartmouth was what happened earlier in the day in Washington when the Senate approved a first step on the slippery slope to attacking Iran, designating its Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization by a vote of 76 to 22.

The bill had Joe Lieberman’s name on it as co-sponsor, and in an echo of 2002, Hillary Clinton was one of the majority, and ancient Robert Byrd was in the minority again.

The sense of déjà vu is so deadening that viewers may soon be doing what they usually do with reruns, tuning out. At least the Larry Craig show keeps coming up with surprises every day. Now that’s entertainment.

*In the late 1970s, the Gong Show featured awful amateur performers being gonged off the stage by a panel of pros.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Conservative Blessing for Clinton?

Michael Gerson, my favorite Evangelical columnist, writes approvingly today about Hillary Clinton as “the most religious Democrat since Jimmy Carter,” citing “her Methodist upbringing as a formative experience, with its emphasis on ‘preaching and practicing the social gospel.’"

Gerson, alarmed by Rudy Giuliani’s iffy pro-life conversion, may be grasping at ecclesiastic straws here, pointing out that Clinton “participates regularly in small-group Bible studies and is familiar with the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer--the theological heroes of mainline Protestantism (and of some stray Evangelicals like myself).”

Sen. Clinton may be surprised to learn how much she has in common with George W. Bush’s favorite speech writer, in light of the fact that she wrote her senior thesis about an non-believing Jewish radical, Saul Alinsky, in what most would consider her “formative” years.

Gerson’s subtext here is clearly a warning to Giuliani to get more fervent with promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v Wade.

Hillary as a darling of the Religious Right? Gerson had better start looking for a needle with a very big eye.

A Digital Dying

Randy Pausch is a man of his time, a popular computer-science professor who lectures about time management and has done pioneer research in robotics and virtual reality. He is 46 years old, happily married and has three young children. A year ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and now has only months to live.

For almost everybody else, dying is the most private experience of a lifetime. Aldous Huxley once wrote about terminal illness: “We live in one universe and die in another.”

Not Randy Pausch. He is sharing his final days as a joyous celebration of life, on his web site, in a lecture for his students and a YouTube encounter for the rest of us.

Knowing him is an unforgettable experience.

Karl Rove's Ghost Walks the White House

The architect is gone, but his spirit lives on and, as in all horror shows, is manifesting itself in grotesque ways. The political possession of the President has gone from prolonging a lost war to demonizing Democrats (and infected Republicans) who want to provide health insurance for poor children.

Yesterday the House passed the SCHIP bill by 265 to 159, with 45 Republican votes, an impressive but not veto-proof margin. President Bush, who fervently believes in majority rule for Iraq, the White House was quick to announce, will override the 106-vote difference as well as whatever the headstrong Senate does.

In true Rovian fashion, Bush has been denouncing Congress for playing politics over the bill with which he has been playing politics.

As the President of the United States keeps acting like a kid threatening to hold his breath until he gets his way over the war, wiretapping and now the health of real children, when will grownup Republicans say “Enough!” and send him to his room?

This may turn out to be the time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Daily Show's Giant Head Speaks Out

For a new generation, Ted Koppel is the old guy on a huge screen behind Jon Stewart who occasionally reminds the fake-news anchor what real journalists do. Yesterday, he had some tougher things to say to future news people.

At a Fordham University forum sponsored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the 67-year-old Koppel weighed in on the fate of 75-year-old Dan Rather, who is suing CBS for mistreating him in the furor over George Bush’s National Guard Service and failure to serve in Vietnam.

It was a “travesty,” Koppel said, that Rather was “squeezed out” for a story that was “much more correct than incorrect.”

Expanding on the woes of journalists at TV networks owned by self-protecting conglomerates, he pointed out that, as part of the Walt Disney Company, “ABC News is a pimple on the elephant’s behind.”

Last night Koppel got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the TV Academy. Looking back, he told a TelevisionWeek reporter why could never get an interview with Bush in the White House.

When the Decider was first running in 2000, Koppel asked what qualified him and Bush cited his experience as a governor, running a baseball team, and the fact that he was a loving husband and father.

Koppel observed that those were good qualifications for a president of the Kiwanis Club, but not the United States. He could never get to see Bush again, but Koppel may have doing the Kiwanis an injustice.

Congress' Sound of Silence

The theme music in the halls these days should be the Simon and Garfunkel lament about “People talking without speaking/People hearing without listening/People writing songs that voices never share/And no one dared/Disturb the sound of silence.”

The post-Petraeus mood in both Houses is restless despair with Senate Democrats losing interest in the bill to “de-authorize” the war and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi poignantly asking centrists to propose some new plan to break the stalemate over getting us out of Iraq.

Meanwhile, Democrat Presidential candidates are talking about health care, immigration, anything but the war on the campaign trail.

It’s been a long, long time from May to September, and the party that took control of Congress with promises to get us out of the Middle East mess is well on the way toward owning it in the public’s eyes.

They may want to recall another line from the old song: “Silence like a cancer grows.”

Clinton Hardball

In the sad-but-probably-true department comes a Politico story about how GQ killed a piece about in-fighting in Hillary’s campaign for cover-story access to the former President.

One of the strengths of magazines is, unlike daily hard-news media, freedom of choice about what to cover and when. But along with that comes more dependence on sources for interviews in depth and cover sittings, among other needs.

When I retired two decades ago, the subjects of pieces and their publicity people, especially in show business, were getting very aggressive in bargaining for conditions that journalists should not accept. But in those days, when a major magazine cover story meant more than it does now, it was easier to resist.

But before bloggers and other finger pointers get too huffy about “selling out,” they should check the other side of the ledger. In the past year, GQ interviews have given us, among other news, Chuck Hagel’s unvarnished account of how the Bush Administration ramrodded the 2002 resolution to invade Iraq and the closest to a mea culpa from Colin Powell that we are likely to get.

In the lack-of-virtue-is-its-own-reward department, the Clinton campaign will probably sustain as much damage from the news of its arm-twisting as it might have from the story that never ran. Moreover, the juicy bits will leak out one way or another.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad Meets His Media Match

The presidents of Iran and Columbia University colluded today to call attention to themselves with an unprecedented mockery of free thought and speech.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered his usual lies, half-truths and evasions in the name of a frank exchange of ideas, which should have come as no surprise to those who invited him.

His host, Lee Bollinger, introduced him as “a petty and cruel dictator” with an indictment that must have set a new record for trying to have it both ways--offering a platform to a loathsome figure while bashing him to score points with those who opposed the idea.

The result was a dismal parody of academic freedom shedding little light on anything but the lengths to which politicians, on and off campuses, will go to preen for TV cameras.

There were few moments of diversion. Bollinger, a lawyer, showed he could use some remedial English by praising Columbia’s “fulsome freedom of inquiry,” apparently unaware that, while the adjective may mean “abundant,” it is primarily defined as “unctuously offensive.” Then again, that might have been apt for today’s doings.

Ahmadinejad startled the crowd by claiming “we don't have homosexuals like in your country." But anyone who has been watching how he dresses should have no trouble believing that. On his next visit, they should invite him for a makeover on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

Fairy Tale for '08

That noted connoisseur of children’s stories, George Bush, has gone on from “The Pet Goat” to rewriting a classic for 2008.

In his version of “The Three Bears,” the voters aka Goldilocks will find Hillary Clinton too hard, Barack Obama too soft and the Republican nominee, whoever he turns out to be, just right.

In excerpts from a new book, “The Evangelical President,” the Washington Examiner quotes Bush as believing Sen. Clinton will win the Democratic nomination but not the general election.

"I think our candidate can beat her, but it's going to be a tough race," the President predicts. "I will work to see to it that a Republican wins and therefore don't accept the premise that a Democrat will win. I truly think the Republicans will hold the White House."

Bring on Tinker Bell, and just keep believing.

War Stories

Here is a scene that won’t be part of Ken Burns’ new series about World War II on PBS this week.

In 1945, a 20-year-old foot soldier arrives at General Patton’s Third Army in France. Before being sent to a rifle company, he is assigned to stay up every night and on the battalion’s only typewriter, which is not available during the day, copy officers’ notes about suspected SIWs, Self-Inflicted Wounds.

Night after night, under a Coleman lantern hissing yellow light with sounds of battle in the background, he taps out stories in quadruplicate about young men who have maimed themselves out of fear and fatigue, offering up some body part to save the rest--shooting an arm or leg, slashing a thigh, dislocating a shoulder or wrenching a knee in some improbable fall.

Fighting a war, the stories reveal, is like everything else that is important in life, a matter of showing up, doing what has to be done and not running away, and there is a thin line between those who can do it and those who can’t.

Later on and further away, there will be talk of heroes and greatest generations and abstractions about defending ideals. For those who fight wars, it’s as simple as being there and staying.

The more complicated questions have to be answered by those who send and keep them there.

Giuliani's Glass House

As he hears Fred Thompson’s footsteps in the Republican race, America’s Mayor has gone from polishing his 9/11 halo to photo-shopping it out of all recognition, the Washington Post reports today.

At the same time, Rudy Giuliani has reverted to his prosecutorial roots by impugning the judgment and motives of every Democrat in sight from MoveOn.org back to Bill Clinton.

On terrorism, he charges, Democrats have "the same bad judgment they had in the 1990s. They don't see the threat. They don't accept the threat."

But, the Post reports, the attacks are “undercut by Giuliani's record as mayor and by his public statements about terrorism since the 1990s, which document an evolution in thinking that began with a mind-set similar to the one he criticizes today.”

Before 9/11 and even in the aftermath, Giuliani treated terrorism more as crime, akin to his Mafia experience, rather than an ongoing political crisis, reflected in his decision to locate a command center for the Office of Emergency Management across from the twin towers, which had been attacked in 1993.

John McCain has politely questioned whether Giuliani’s performance after 9/11 "translates, necessarily, into foreign policy or national security expertise. I know of nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience in it."

The Mayor’s level of interest in international affairs was reflected by his failure to attend meetings of the Iraq Study Group in 2006 that would have interfered with his schedule of collecting $1.4 million in speaking fees, which led to his ultimate resignation from the commission.

Now Giuliani is not only touting his toughness on terrorism and the world it has created but the softness of everybody else. John McCain may be wrong about Iraq and its context, but he knows what he’s talking about, talks straight and doesn’t demean those who disagree with him.

Giuliani is his polar opposite.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

MoveOn, Standby and Rathering

The brouhaha over the “General Betray Us” ad evokes mixed feelings in a veteran of advertising acceptance and pricing wars.

Today the Public Editor of the New York Times chides the paper for both the content of and charges for the MoveOn ad that has replaced troop withdrawal from Iraq as the main subject of political contention for almost two weeks.

First, should the Times have accepted the ad? Not without a change of headline. The executive in charge says he was influenced by the question mark, but that won’t wash. He discloses rejection of a previous MoveOn ad until a doctored photo of Dick Cheney was removed. Tacky, insulting, libelous word play on anybody’s name is just as unacceptable.

Standby pricing is tricky. Ostensibly used to fill unsold advertising space at the last minute, because press forms are no more flexible than airline seats, it is often used by overeager sales people to inflate ad lineage figures.

In this case, if MoveOn had not been guaranteed the ad would run that Monday, the price would be defensible. If the Times had retained the option to run it at its own convenience, that would have qualified as standby. But apparently that was not what happened.

Ordinarily, all this would be marginally interesting to media people, if the Republican attack machine had not jumped on it to divert attention from the real Iraq debate, exactly as they did in 2004 with Dan Rather’s reporting on George Bush’s evasion of combat service in Vietnam.

Rather is now suing CBS to correct that distortion, but somebody should be defending the Times from being Rathered over the Iraq war now. It’s too bad political parties don’t have the equivalent of a Public Editor to hold them accountable for their mistakes, few of which are as innocuous as those of newspapers.

Mitt Breaks Ranks

Among the minority of Americans who approve of George W. Bush and his Congressional allies are a lot of likely voters in Republican primaries, a fact that has kept the ’08 candidates toeing the party line. But this weekend, Mitt Romney is breaking ranks.

In a New Hampshire ad, he says, “Washington is busy pointing fingers, assigning blame, and spending too much money. There is too much talk and too little action.

"The blame, we must admit, does not belong to just one party. If we're going to change Washington, Republicans have to put our own house in order...We can't have ethical standards that are a punch line for Jay Leno."

In the Republican campaign thus far, Romney has been like the rich kid sent to a school where the tough guys steal your lunch money. Giuliani is head of the terrorist fighter gang, Fred Thompson is the cool one and McCain is leading what’s left of the Iraq warriors, so what’s an outsider to do?

In Michigan this weekend, Romney tried to rouse party activists with such criticisms as pointing out that, during the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina, “it didn't look like Republicans were in charge."

So far, his apostasy has failed to shake up the faithful who may see him as less of a savior than a scold. But, with a long way to go in the polls and lots of money for advertising, it will be interesting to see if the man who saved the Olympics can do the same for his campaign.

"Thelma and Louise" and Hillary

Two Congresswomen, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Jane Harman, hosted a bipartisan screening of “Thelma and Louise” this week, but Hillary Clinton was too busy running for president to attend.

The movie is a Feminist antique from 1991, but the Congresswomen seem to feel the subject of women fighting back still has relevance in the era when we have learned to say “Madam Speaker” and are rehearsing “Madam President” but there are still headlines about the “D. C. Madam.”

Collins is a Republican whose re-election next year is endangered by the recklessness of her man, George Bush. Harman, who was passed over for chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, has let it be known there is still prejudice against women “who talk tough and smart on security issues.”

Collins and Harman may be sending the message that, unlike the movie heroines, they are not planning to go off the cliff in a Thunderbird.

On her New York Times blog, Judith Warner argued that “Thelma and Louise” was primarily about sexual violence, not sexual politics, and is “like a relic from the past, a buried memory...dark...disturbing.”

But is it? The Republicans running against Hillary Clinton keep flaunting testosterone for NASCAR voters and their ladies. If they hold any screenings of “Thelma and Louise,” it will be billed as a comedy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Suffer the Little Children...

As the cost of the war in Iraq approaches $200 billion a year, President Bush is threatening to veto a bipartisan bill to provide health insurance for children of low-income families because it will cost $12 billion a year rather than the $6 billion he approves.

The added funding would increase the number covered to 10 million from 6.6 and, unlike war costs, would come not from all taxpayers but those who add to health risks with a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes.

According to the President, it isn’t the money, it’s the principle of the thing. At his press conference this week, he explained the “philosophical divide.”

“Democratic leaders in Congress,” he said, “want to put more power in the hands of government...I have a different view. I believe the best approach is to put more power in the hands of individuals by empowering people and their doctors to make health care decisions that are right for them.”

The decisions the President is talking about have nothing to do with actual health care--treatments, medications, etc.--only money: Do private insurers keep collecting one out of every three dollars spent for their overhead and profit? Or does Congress bypass them to make health care available for more of the poor?

Next week will provide a reality test for this kind of posturing with the lives of American children. If Bush vetoes the increase, will enough Republicans join in overriding it?

W. and O.J., Blood Brothers

If smirking self-confidence were money in the bank, they would both be billionaires, the frat boy who got hold of a country and won’t let go and the football star who got away with murder and thinks felonies are his birthright.

George W. Bush and O.J. Simpson keep doing what they do, despite all the warning signs to slow down and consider the consequences. Why?

Because their grotesque sense of entitlement assures them they can get away with anything, and so far they have.

Bush will leave the White House as the worst president in history while O. J. could end up in prison, but that won’t wipe the “What, me worry?” smiles off their faces.

W. will just retire to his ranch, write his triumphal memoirs and “give some speeches to replenish the ol' coffers," as he told his biographer, while O. J., even behind bars, will be signing memorabilia and trying to hide assets from the family whose son he killed.

What separates them from the rest of us poor souls who struggle and sweat through life is the dead certainty that they are anointed by family power or celebrity to avoid responsibility for their actions. Rules are for other people.

Self-doubt has never been part of their diet. Like vampires, they thrive on the blood of others.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mini-Cuban Missile Crisis in the Mideast

When George Bush goes literally dumb, something must be afoot. At yesterday’s news conference, he talked about Iraq, Iran and North Korea, but refused any comment on Israel’s bombing of possible nuclear targets in Syria.

Former Prime Minister, now Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed such a strike this week based on suspicions that North Korea was exporting weapons materials to Israel’s neighbor, much as Soviet Premier Khruschev did to Cuba in 1962.

The American response back then was a blockade (more politely, quarantine) of further shipments and intense diplomacy that resulted in the Soviet Union’s removal of the weapons.

Israel historically has opted for more direct action, bombing an Iraqi plant in 1981 and making clear it would consider possession of nuclear weapons by Iran a threat to its existence.

Bush’s refusal to comment is understandable, but more puzzling is the continuing drumbeat by Cheney and his disciples for preemptive action against Iran by the U.S.

Don’t they trust Israel to do that particular dirty work for them?

Candidates Fight Electorate Ennui

Most Americans say the ’08 Presidential campaign so far has been annoying and a waste of time. One survey finds 56 percent of likely voters feel that way while only 29 percent call the debates and other stuff interesting and informative.

We may be in a forest-and-trees situation here. Certainly the prospect of all these months, with more to come, of posturing, ploys, spats and gotchas has been depressing, but nonetheless, voters are beginning to get some sense of who the candidates are or say they are.

Not surprisingly, the front runners have defined themselves most sharply. Hillary Clinton offers pre-Bush integrity, competence and caring with the added benefit of moving us beyond gender stereotypes. Rudy Giuliani will keep us safe, safe, safe by being “one of the four or five best known Americans in the world," thereby discouraging terrorists from messing with us. Didn’t he face them down all by himself on 9/11?

The runners-up are still in the conceptual stage. Obama is the picture of freshness and youthful idealism while Fred Thompson is a slow-developing snapshot of old-fashioned by-gosh conservative ideals, but neither is in sharp focus yet.

After the win and place spots, the show candidates are photogenic, but Mitt Romney keeps weaving out of the frame while John Edwards’ grim sincerity seems frozen in place.

Back there in the crowd scene, none of the bit players are coming forward, with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, but he seems to be auditioning for second billing.

Comic relief, in the form of Alan Keyes and maybe even Newt Gingrich may be on the way, but meanwhile, the process is all we have and, fairly soon, like it or not, we’re going to have start paying closer attention.

Strange Fruit of Social Networking

It’s the 1960s again in Jena, Louisiana with massive protests against racial injustice but with a few 21st century twists.

The crowds, the speeches and even the symbols--nooses from an oak tree--are the same, but the mood is somehow different. The protesters. drawn by Facebook and MySpace, are more convivial.

“At times,” one news account reports, “the town resembled a giant festival, with people setting up tables of food and drink and some dancing while a man beat on a drum.”

Martin Luther King III and Jesse Jackson are there, but no police with high-pressure hoses and attack dogs, more a replay of Woodstock than the March on Selma.

The remnants of racism are being discovered and denounced by a new generation, as well they should, but members of an older one can be grateful they won’t have to confront the lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holliday’s immortal plaint:

“Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees/Pastoral scene of the gallant south/The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh/Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.”

What’s happening in Jena is so different that even President Bush feels safe in commenting on it: “The events in Louisiana have saddened me," he told White House reporters. "All of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice."

Saddam Then, Now MoveOn

When our Way of Life is threatened, members of the United States Senate will stand up and be counted.

In October of 2002, the Upper Chamber voted to invade Iraq, depose Saddam Hussein and remove the threat of his Weapons of Mass Destruction by 77-23.

Five years later, the Senate did not flinch from its duty once again and voted yesterday to defend America from Advertising of General Destruction by 72-25.

The minority was populated by a dozen of the same misguided Democrats who fancied themselves candidates for a 21st century version of “Profiles in Courage” for opposing the Administration’s resolve to free the Middle East of anti-American influences back then--Senators Akaka, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Durbin, Feingold, Inouye, Kennedy, Murray, Reed, Stabenow and Wyden.

President Bush set them straight at his press conference by pointing out forcefully that the MoveOn ad was a “disgusting...attack...on the U. S. military,” a virtual Pearl Harbor that “leaders in the Democrat party” failed to resist.

Some politicians never learn.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ahmadinejad's Snow Job

The little man in the over-sized leisure suit has Presidential candidates all atwitter with his planned visit to Ground Zero while he’s in New York to attend UN meetings.

Not since Saddam Hussein conned us with his coyness about WMD and fired off rifles for the TV cameras on a balcony in Baghdad has a loony Mideast head of state provoked so much Sturm and Drang over so little.

By eliciting outrage, the Iranian President succeeds in getting the international attention he so clearly craves. when disdain and disregard would be so much more appropriate and effective in dealing with a punk whose aim is to be taken seriously on the international stage.

If Iran is abetting the murder of our troops in Iraq, by all means the State Department and military should deal with it, but pumping up this pathetic tinpot who has serious problems in his own country is a bad idea.

Look at what it cost to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

Wesley Clark for V.P. ?

When the 2004 Presidential candidate announced his support for Hillary Clinton this month, Gen. Wesley Clark seemed destined to become a Cabinet member if she were to win the White House next year. But he is beginning to look more like a potential running mate.

If Rudy Giuliani’s rabid attacks on Clinton and the Democrats as soft on defense against terrorists foreshadow the Republican ’08 strategy, Clark’s military experience and strategic credentials would be an effective counterweight to Gen. Giuliani’s experience as commander of the TV cameras in the wake of 9/11 or Fred Thompson’s laid-back war talk.

On the Daily Show last night, Clark artfully defended Gen. David Petraeus, who served under him when they were both junior officers, on a personal level while noting that the Surge was “too late” to solve our problems in Iraq.

Clark’s experience, not only as Supreme Commander in Europe during the Kosovo war but in the jungles of Washington intrigue with the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, would be useful not only as campaign window dressing but in the realities of a new Clinton Administration elected to clean up Bush’s military and diplomatic mess around the world.

As he makes the TV rounds promoting his new book, “A Time to Lead,” and arguing for diplomatic rather than military engagement with Iran, Gen. Clark may be working his way up more than the best-seller list.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dan Rather's Rage

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Dylan Thomas’ fierce poem must have influenced Dan Rather in adolescence, as it did me, and now he has taken it to heart by suing CBS and its executives for the dying of his TV light sooner than deserved.

His $70 million lawsuit claims the network violated his contract by not giving him enough airtime on “60 Minutes” after he was forced to step down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” in March 2005 and that the network committed fraud by commissioning a “biased” investigation of the broadcast about George W. Bush’s National Guard service and thereby “seriously damaged his reputation.”

If it goes to trial, the suit should shed light on more than Rather’s treatment by CBS. The piece of journalism in question played a part, potentially crucial, in Bush’s 2004 reelection and diverted attention from the truth about the President’s service during Vietnam to the shaky reporting about it by CBS.

By calling into question the authenticity of one letter, it allowed the Rove Smear Machine to drum up sympathy for Bush’s “mistreatment” by the media rather than continuing the inquiry into his evasion of combat service during the war.

Skeptics will note that Rather’s action comes only after Don Imus extracted a settlement from the network of his contract and that his hurt feelings have been consoled all along by continuing to collect his $6 million annual salary. But CBS’ casual willingness to sacrifice his lifetime of good work as a respected reporter to placate Bush yahoos is a subject that deserves an airing.

It certainly won’t get it on “60 Minutes.”

Rudy's Iffy Invasion of the Isles

America’s Mayor is campaigning in Great Britain this week, getting the Margaret Thatcher Medal of Freedom, meeting with Churchill’s granddaughter and being condescended to at 10 Downing Street, where a spokesman stiff-upper-lipped:

"Mayor Giuliani asked to pay a call on the Prime Minister, and given his experience in New York and counter terrorism, the Prime Minister thought it would be a good idea to see him."

Rudy got more enthusiasm from the granddaughter, who called him “Churchill in a baseball cap,” providing his campaign with a link of 9/11 and our national pastime to Dunkirk.

But his hosts may not have thought it cricket as Rudy flew in and started bashing America’s version of the Iron Lady.

“I don’t think,” he said, “Margaret Thatcher would impugn the integrity of a commanding general in a time of war, as Hillary Clinton did, or require an army to give a schedule of their retreat to the enemy, as the Democrats are suggesting.”

If Giuliani is hoping for an endorsement, implied or otherwise from Thatcher, he will be disappointed. She is posing with everybody these days, including Fred Thompson who popped in a few months ago.

Republicans' Pity Party

The Bush Administration keeps recalling the cliché about the kid who kills his parents and pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.

Now Republicans are retiring in droves and bewailing the vicissitudes that have made their legislative lives unbearable.

Today’s Washington Post reports “moderate Republicans in Congress are facing a tough choice: Stand by President Bush or run for their political lives. Votes are due soon on Iraq, an expansion of a children's health insurance program and an array of spending bills. GOP leaders hope to use them to regain credibility with their base voters as a party for strong defense and fiscal discipline. But moderates, many of them facing the possibility of difficult reelection bids next year, are dreading the expected showdowns.”

It would be easier to sympathize with those Republican moderates if they hadn’t handed over the keys to their home to Newt Gingrich in 1994 and stood by while George W. Bush has been burning it down for the past six years.

Emblematic of their experience is the recent decision of Lincoln Chafee, a second-generation product of what used to be respectable Republicanism, to leave the party that sent him to the Senate but then turned its back on him over his positions on abortion and gay rights.

The Democrats who stand to gain by the Republican debacle might want to keep in mind that, despite the horror show of the Bush years, there is no ultimate profit for a party that abandons its core principles.

Why Can't Kucinich Catch On?

On the two key issues for 2008, Denis Kucinich seems to be in tune with Democratic voters. He wants to get us out of Iraq, and he favors a single-payer not-for-profit health care plan.

But his campaign is stuck in the second tier of candidates in single digits. Why? Is he too short? Is his name too hard to pronounce and spell? Does he make voters uneasy by unconventional moves such as his recent visit to Syria? Do they tune out because his solemn air makes them uncomfortable?

Amid all the talk about a woman or African-American in the White House, there seems to be a resistance to taking Kucinich seriously because, in some way, he is not stereotypically presidential--too ethnic, too working-class, too head-on in confronting issues without softening the edges.

He voted against the Iraq war and, in 2004, paid his dues by earning double-digit percentages of the vote in the Maine, Minnesota, Hawaii and Oregon primaries. But this time, he comes off as a “tweener,” not as slick as John Edwards or eccentric enough like Mike Gravel to show up on a Bill Maher panel.

If we were living in a Frank Capra movie, he might have a chance. Growing up so poor that his family was often homeless, fighting his way up in Cleveland politics and slipping back so far that in 1982 he reported $38 on his tax return, coming back to win a seat in Congress and the heart of a beautiful, idealistic young woman, Dennis Kucinich is an exemplar of what used to be the American Dream.

But these days, Frank Capra movies seem to be appropriate only for Christmas, not Election Day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Larry Craig Saga Goes On

American weirdness is alive and well.

The embattled senator from Idaho was back in Washington yesterday casting votes and having lunch with his colleagues as the ACLU came to his defense and his bathroom stall in the Minneapolis/St. Paul air terminal became a mecca for tourists.

Craig’s appearance may be a last hurrah before leaving the Senate, but he is still trying to withdraw his Minneapolis guilty plea and is getting legal support from an unlikely source.

"To be able to solicit sex in private, in public spaces, for instance, is constitutionally protected speech," according to Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU.

No word on whether there are plans for a bronze plaque commemorating the First Amendment for the men's room stall. Stay tuned.

Warriors for Peace

Children are supposed to be guileless enough to speak truths that adults are too compromised to tell. But on going to war with Iran, retired soldiers are taking the lead.

Last weekend, Gen. Wesley Clark wrote a Washington Post OpEd warning against the folly of attacking Iran, as the Bush Administration is clearly preparing to do.

Now another retired military leader, Gen. John Abizaid, who headed Central Command for almost four years, speaks out.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid yesterday told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

The General was referring to such countries as “axis of evil” member North Korea and unstable ally Pakistan. But the Bush-Cheney Neo-Cons are beating the drums for an urgent war against Iran just as they did against Iraq five years ago.

Some years ago, someone I knew was planning a picture book titled “They Must Know What They’re Doing or They Wouldn’t Be Where They Are,” featuring the designer of the Edsel, LBJ directing the war in Vietnam and other perpetrators of huge follies.

The Bushies have earned their place in that volume and, before they can repeat their performance in Iran, Gen. Abizaid has some common sense to impart:

“I believe the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran...can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that...while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons they'll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power.”

What we need now are politicians who are as dedicated to peacekeeping as the men who were trained to make war.

"Ike Liked Civil Rights"

Popular history puts labels on presidents, but life is usually more complicated.

Fifty years ago, Congress took its first small steps since the abolition of slavery to free African-Americans from segregated lives in the South by giving the Federal government powers to enforce voting rights and move against segregated schools.

American mythology credits Lyndon Johnson, then majority leader of the Senate, for passing the first civil rights law in 82 years over the opposition of southern Democrats and northern Republicans.

But last week in a New York Times OpEd titled “Ike Liked Civil Rights,” David A. Nichols showed that it was Dwight Eisenhower, regarded as a play-it-safe president, who fought for and pushed through the bill. LBJ did not take the lead until he was in the White House seven years later.

In today’s Times, I add a footnote to give Eisenhower his due:

“In 1964, during the struggle to pass Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights bill, Eisenhower told me about a visit from Barry Goldwater, who would be the Republican candidate for president that year.

“’He came to tell me,’ Ike said, ‘he was going to vote against the civil rights bill as a matter of conscience. I said I wouldn’t ask any man to go against his conscience, but that if I were a senator I’d vote for it. Even an imperfect bill would help balance 80 years of oppression. But what I couldn’t understand was his attempt to keep the bill from coming to a vote. If I were to comment, I’d crucify him for that.’

“As a former president who did not want to roil his party, Eisenhower never spoke out, but his passion for racial justice was clear.”

Presidents were less predictable back then.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Preview of Iraq Without Us

During his testimony last week, Gen. Petraeus described what’s happening in the city of Basra as “mildly heartening.”

Despite worries about Iran’s increasing influence in the Shiite city, Petraeus noted, "Interestingly there is an accommodation down there right now that is the kind of Iraqi solution to problems in the south.”

As British troops leave, Basra offers a preview of what might happen when the U. S. gets out of the whole country. In a report-in-depth today, the Christian Science Monitor describes “Iraq's second-largest city where Shiite parties, militiamen, and criminal gangs all are locked in a vicious fight for power...

“This is a city that operates according to a fragile balance of military force, fear, cronyism, and business interests...Basra is a predominately Shiite city, yet it is still imbued with fear of kidnappings, assassinations, and being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“This instability reveals that the violence in Iraq is not only sectarian or the result of insurgent activity, but is also caused by deep-seated political and tribal rivalries and an intense scramble for power.”

The overall picture sounds like a compression of American history from the Wild West to the Roaring Twenties.

"We are in a wait-and-see approach with Basra,” Gen. Petraeus told Congress, “but we have every expectation that Basra will be resolved by Iraqis."

How long will we have to wait and see? The British are leaving. If Basra is going to be “resolved” by Iraqis, why not all of Iraq?

We are not going to spread sweet reason among fanatical factions who will outwait us no matter how long we are there. What, besides George W. Bush’s place in history as a President who didn’t admit defeat, do we accomplish by staying?

Greenspan's Oily Explanation

The exalted former Fed Chairman is sounding like a Mafia don these days explaining whether or not he ordered a hit on Saddam Hussein.

After writing in his memoirs that "the Iraq War is largely about oil," he is backpedaling. "I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

Greenspan is maintaining his deniability by explaining that he never discussed the subject with Bush or Cheney but talked to White House officials, one of whom responded, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil."

To think that Greenspan would have had to spell out his position to two former Texas oil men with a Soprano-like “I want him dead” stretches the imagination, but it’s good to know that the code of omerta is still being observed at the highest levels.

Harry and Louise's Golden Years

In the early 1990s, they were on TV all the time, a middle-aged, middle-class American couple named Harry and Louise, sitting around the kitchen table, worrying that Hillary Clinton’s health care plan would get between them and their doctor.

Today, that Clinton woman will be back again with her radical ideas about insurance for everyone, but will Harry and Louise still be worrying about socialized medicine?

Not Harry. When his company went bankrupt a few years later, he and Louise lost their insurance and couldn’t get new coverage because of Harry’s asthma and coronary history.

They lost the family doctor they loved so much, too. He switched his practice to “concierge care,” but Harry and Louise couldn’t afford the $2000 annual dues to stay on his roster of patients.

Louise can’t be sure but, if Harry had been getting his annual checkups and follow-up visits, he might have avoided or survived the heart attack that killed him at the age of 60.

As a widow, Louise has now reached the age of being eligible for Medicare. She is still free to see any doctor she chooses, but it bothers her that the government is involved in her health care and she is waiting with some annoyance to see what mischief Hillary is up to now.

Cheney's New, Improved War

The Vice-President of the United States is packaging his attack on Iran.

Unfazed by the disaster in Iraq, Cheney’s Neo-Cons are “rolling out” a “new product” exactly as they did in 2002 and, as then, over the resistance of the State Department.

The New York Times reports “Condoleezza Rice has been arguing for a continuation of a diplomatic approach, while officials in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have advocated a much tougher view. They seek to isolate and contain Iran, and to include greater consideration of a military strike.”

In the Washington Post, retired Gen. Wesley Clark writes, “Think another war can't happen? Think again. Unchastened by the Iraq fiasco, hawks in Vice President Cheney's office have been pushing the use of force...And what would we do with Iran after the bombs stopped falling? We certainly could not occupy the nation with the limited ground forces we have left.”

In the U.K., the Telegraph reports “Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran” and a senior intelligence officer warns “that public denunciation of Iranian meddling in Iraq--arming and training militants--would lead to cross border raids on Iranian training camps and bomb factories” to “provoke a major Iranian response, perhaps in the form of moves to cut off Gulf oil supplies, providing a trigger for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and even its armed forces.”

This follows a U.K. Times story about a speech by a conservative think tank expert saying “military planners were not preparing for ‘pinprick strikes’ against Iran’s nuclear facilities. ‘They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,’ he said.”

The President started the campaign rolling here with an echo of the warnings about Saddam’s WMD in a recent speech to the American Legion: “Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust...We will confront this danger before it is too late.”

Back in May, our bellicose former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was telling the British, ”We must attack Iran before it gets the bomb” and that “senior White House officials” share his thinking.

So even before the Surge and in the face of public clamor to get out of Iraq, Cheney and his crowd were covertly planning a war against Iran.

About all this, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been warning: "We have got to put pressure on the mass media not to play the same craven role that they played in Iraq, where they essentially collapsed and became a megaphone for Bush's policies.”

He should be telling that to his Congressional colleagues and reminding them that another botched Bush war could create an unprecedented crisis for American democracy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Era of Lost Leverage

Now that the Petraeus Show has left town, Washington is in limbo and likely to stay there for some time.

Democrats don’t have the votes to, forgive the expression, move on to mandate troop withdrawal as Congressional Republicans cower under the thin cover of “Return on Success,” depriving anti-war legislators of any leverage to breach the barriers of Bush vetoes.

In Iraq, Bush has no leverage to move Maliki et al toward the national reconciliation that would justify a claim of victory. Just as the Democrats were boxed in by the argument that, if you announce troop withdrawal, the enemy can wait you out so is Bush boxed in by the reality that, in announcing the troops are staying, he has removed any urgency on the part of sectarian factions to settle their differences. They can wait us out and keep hoping to wear us down.

Call it stability, stalemate or quagmire but we need leadership to open new diplomatic possibilities in the Middle East before Cheney persuades his puppet to get us unstuck by attacking Iran.

If they won’t make a move to end the fiasco in Iraq, Congressional Republicans and Condoleeza Rice can save what’s left of their reputations by getting to work to stop that.

Worst Movie Ever

In 1949, I was almost thrown out of a theater for fits of laughter while watching the drama of an incorruptible architect who blows up a housing project because someone added gingerbread to his design.

The movie was “The Fountainhead,” based on an Ayn Rand novel with a script by the author, that set new records for pretentious dialogue and pompous self-assertion.

This comes to mind because Alan Greenspan, whose memoirs emerge tomorrow, was once a disciple of Rand’s Objectivism, prompting a New York Times article yesterday under the heading, “Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism.”

Over half a century, the philosophy that was heartily derided by both the left and right has become an inspiration for those who need justification for extreme selfishness and looking down at the rest of humanity as “looters” and “moochers.” Money, according to the Rand scripture in the turgid 1200-page novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” is the root of all good.

Among Rand’s moneyed admirers are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who have been threatening for years to make a movie of “Atlas Shrugged.”

If they ever do, it could wrest the crown for awfulness from “The Fountainhead,” which can still be seen, usually in the dead of night, on Turner Classic Movies. Those who doubt that it deserves the title can judge for themselves this Wednesday at 1:45 AM.

McCain's Tenuous Comeback

Once the media writes an obituary, the departed is supposed to stay dead. But John McCain is showing signs of new life with David Petraeus as his savior and Don Rumsfeld as the straw man to distance himself from Bush’s bungling of Iraq.

The Straight Talk Express, now re-dubbed “No Surrender,” is on the road again picking up some momentum but, as seen on “Meet the Press” today, McCain will have to overcome not only other Republican contenders but his own tendency toward testiness under fire.

In debating John Kerry, he started out with a smooth, subdued testimonial to his own good judgment about pacifying Iraq that was ignored by Rumsfeld et al but is now being vindicated by Petraeus’ “success.”

But as Kerry challenged him, McCain’s smile froze, jaws tightened and he kept using his tell-tale expression of hostility, “My friend”--exposing the hot-headed impatience with criticism that is the other side of the affability McCain always shows with Jon Stewart.

As the oldest candidate in the Republican field, it will be hard enough to emulate Bill Clinton’s feat in 1992 as the “Comeback Kid,” but McCain has some traction now as the most experienced potential Commander-in-Chief to navigate a Republican course toward peace in Iraq as the polls show Fred Thompson slowing the effects of Rudy Giuliani’s conversion to conservatism.

But if McCain is to make his case for a strong, steady hand at the helm in the face of terrorist turbulence, he had better start showing it.

If not, media pundits will be ready and waiting to justify their obituaries.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Organized Disbelief

The bad news for devout individualists is that even the forces of Atheism are getting organized.

Today’s Washington Post has two reports on the trend: “In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers” and “In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal.”

Understandably, jihadists and George W. Bush have alarmed multitudes with the consequences of religious fervor, but “a legion of the godless rising up against the forces of religiosity in American society,” as the Post puts it, may not be much comfort to those who believe literally in the First Amendment.

With Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling screed and Bill Maher’s rants against the Ten Commandments, it’s getting harder to hold onto some public space against irrationality of all kinds.

Atheists of the world, unite? And do what?

Greenspan and Groucho

In his complex commentaries, the former Fed chairman always seemed the ultimate anti-Groucho, immune to pith and irony.

But ironies abound. Even as Alan Greenspan sums up his public life, news of the book itself reflects a central lesson from it--the difficulty of controlling events in a free-enterprise society.

The New York Times was given an exclusive first look to report on publication date, Monday. But the Wall Street Journal bought a copy, published excerpts last night, and other news organizations followed.

The big news, according to the Journal, is Greenspan’s assertion that “the party to which he has belonged all his life deserved to lose power last year for forsaking its small-government principles.”

“They swapped principle for power,” the Times quotes him as writing. “They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose.”

In coming days, there will be debate over Greenspan’s role in promoting the housing bubble and his apparent approval of sub-prime lending, which has now led to a credit disaster, as well as other facets of his management of the Fed under four presidents.

In the media blitz next week to push his book, Greenspan may want to revert to his show-business roots as a saxophone player and give interviewers a few of Groucho’s cryptic one-liners. Otherwise they won’t understand his explanations any more than they did when what he said really mattered.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Using Generals Like Kleenex

It’s sad to see the piling-on. Beyond the infamous MoveOn ad, there are now stories about Petraeus’ penchant for ass-kissing and his presidential ambitions.

But character assassination won’t change what Bush is doing in Iraq, and impugning Petraeus is not only mean-spirited but unworthy of those who oppose the war on moral and ethical grounds.

The sighting of Colin Powell this week in a GQ interview is a reminder of how this Administration uses Generals like Kleenex to wipe their fingerprints off disastrous policies.

Powell claims he did all he could to warn Bush and Cheney off invading Iraq. Whether he did or not, Petraeus might want to take a good look at what Powell has to say about the Surge:

“Suppose I’m a battalion commander. My troops ask, ‘What do I do today, boss?’ ‘Let’s go fight the Shia militias!’ ‘What do I do tomorrow?’ ‘Let’s go fight the Sunni insurgents!’ ‘What do I do the day after tomorrow?’ ‘Let’s go chase Al Qaeda!” “What do we do the day after that?’ ‘We’re going to guard streets!’ Our kids are fantastic. But this is not sustainable. Our surge can work only with an Iraqi political and military surge.”

Petraeus might want to note that Powell is talking about a political surge there, not here.

Grace

Twenty-five years ago today, Princess Grace of Monaco, just as Diana of Wales would 15 years later, died in a car crash, another victim of a Cinderella marriage that ended with shattered glass slippers.

Born Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, she was glowingly beautiful, as movies on TCM still show, and talented enough to win an Academy Award at the age of 25. Yet she gave it all up to marry a man she hardly knew and become the Princess of a financially distressed country the size of an American park.

As a magazine editor then, amid all the hoopla of the fairy-tale wedding, I wanted to know why and sent a reporter to interview her mother and three sisters, who pictured her as a quiet middle child who failed to fit into an extroverted, hyperactive rich family like the Kennedys and withdrew into her own fantasy world.

They persuaded Grace to talk about it. "You get beyond the point of anger,” she said. “If you try to fight back, it takes too much out of you. I can be stubborn, but I can't quarrel. I'd rather give up. I don't like fighting, all the loud voices and the angry words. When it's finished, I feel as though a steamroller had gone over me."

She escaped all that by marrying a Prince with whom she had only spent a few hours, in a virtual arranged marriage that would bring new life to the main industry of his domain, the casinos of Monte Carlo.

On their twentieth wedding anniversary, Grace and Prince Rainier did another interview for me. Looking back, he admitted, "It was not love at first sight ... We were both ready for marriage." On their first weekend, Rainier was impressed by the Kelly family "with the father absolutely the boss. I liked that. It's the way I wanted my marriage to be." He went on enthusiastically endorsing male dominance as "natural and right” based on his experience training wild animals.

Grace tactfully agreed. "I was a star, but I wasn't happy.
I wanted to marry, but it had to be someone who wouldn't become Mr. Kelly. It was important that he be a man and remain one."

When Rainier was out of the room, she added, “He’s a Gemini, two people in one. Light and darkness. When it's dark, I avoid it or make light of it. You know, turn a quarrel into a laugh.”

In the following years, throughout her older daughter's disastrous marriage and divorce, Princess Grace kept her silence, but friends were troubled to see her drinking heavily and gaining weight.

Then, on a morning in September, 1982, driving back from a shopping trip to Nice, her younger daughter sitting beside her, 53-year-old Princess Grace of Monaco, nee Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, approached a hairpin curve at high speed and went off the road without, as a driver behind her testified, touching her brakes.

The official explanation for the accident was that she may have suffered a stroke, but those who knew Grace Kelly believe that the repressed anger of a lifetime had finally exploded. So ended the fairy tale.

Not Taking the Bait as a Winning Strategy

Fred Thompson is bringing something new to the ’08 Presidential scramble, and it may just work.

The former Senator/actor is raising cool to an art form and, at a time, when voters are hearing too much from too many, his detachment has lifted him to the top of the Republican polls and may just keep him there.

Take, for example, his demurral to participating in the Values Voter crowd scene next Monday:

“Debates are important, but let's don't let the tail wag the dog here. Standing up there 10 in a row, you know, like a bunch of seals waiting for someone to throw you the next fish is not necessarily the best way to impart your information to the American people. I'm not above acting like a seal every once in a while and waiting for the next fish. I just don't want to do it all the time."

On the campaign trail, Thompson keeps sniffing at some of the fish and finding them too stale. Yesterday, when he has asked about the Terri Schiavo case, pushed by his fellow Tennessean Dr. Bill Frist, he declined to bite.

"I can't pass judgment on it.” he said. “I know that good people were doing what they thought was best. That's going back in history. I don't remember the details."

Staying out of the race until this month was a winning strategy. Now that he is in it, Thompson as a campaigner is doing the next best thing. Playing off the eagerness of Giuliani, Romney and McCain may be just the ticket to success.

An Inconvenient Death

The President’s speech writer had to make a last-minute addition to his TV talk tonight about “the way forward” in Iraq.

Right after “The changes in Anbar show all Iraqis what becomes possible when extremists are driven out,” he had to add “Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against al-Qaeda was murdered.” Abu Risha was the head of the Anbar Awakening Council with whom the President had posed for a smiling picture just 10 days ago.

“This is a tragic loss," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said of the Sunni sheik's death. "It shows how significant his importance was and it shows al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy."

By the inverted logic that is by now so familiar, the assassination of the key man in our Anbar “victory” proves how desperate the defeated enemy has become.

As a reminder that we are fighting on at least two fronts, another U.S. general said today that an attack on our headquarters garrison this week was carried out with the kind of 240 mm rocket that Iran provides to Shiite extremists.

One person was killed and 11 wounded in the attack Tuesday at Camp Victory, the headquarters of Multinational Forces-Iraq, by a rocket from a Baghdad district infiltrated by breakaway factions of the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr.

For anyone keeping score, that keeps the Sunni and Shiite murderers tied in what the President tonight termed “the gains we are making” in Iraq. But as he reassured us, it’s going to be a long contest, even if it has to go into overtime.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fred's Rotten Reviews, Boffo Box Office

“For the third straight day,” the Rasmussen poll reports today, “Thompson is the top choice for 28% of Likely Republican Primary Voters. For the first time all year, Rudy Giuliani has fallen below the 20% level.”

That’s good news for Fred, the politician. But Fred, the actor, must be bruised by the bad reviews across the political spectrum.

Gail Collins in the New York Times: “He’s here. He’s tanned. He’s ready. He looks like he needs a nap. When it comes to overhyped underperformers, Fred Thompson’s entry into the presidential race was right up there with Britney Spears at the MTV awards.”

If that sounds like liberal bias, try the dean of conservative columnists, George Will:

“Fred Thompson's plunge into the presidential pool--more belly-flop than swan dive--was the strangest product launch since that of New Coke in 1985. Then, the question was: Is this product necessary? A similar question stumped Thompson the day he plunged.”

If Giuliani is still diving after the anniversary of 9/11, Thompson can laugh off the critics’ carping all the way to the Primaries.

Media Mash-Up

While George Bush tells Old America his new plans for the plantation tonight, the Democrats will be engaging New America in cyberspace on the first candidate mash-up, a power-to-the-people event hatched in a Swiss Alps resort.

The President will be endorsing the proposals of Petraeus and Crocker, his overseers of the Iraq outpost, as Bill Maher badgers Barack Obama about the Ten Commandments.

Symbolically, unconnected citizens will be passively watching their TV sets as the electronic elite point and click to, in Arianna Huffington’s words, “take control of designing the debate you want to see--picking and choosing what issues you want to hear about and which candidates you want to hear from.”

Some citizens may find all this enlightenment too much to bear and go to bed early. Wake us when the media discovers an alternative to autocracy or anarchy.

Bush's Plan B

For years, the Administration ducked and weaved to avoid allowing the morning-after pill called Plan B to become available to Americans facing the consequences of imprudence, mishaps or poor judgment.

Now President Bush, faced with his own need for a Plan B in Iraq, is unwilling to abort his misbegotten war.

The crux of the analogy is that the man who self-righteously wants individuals to take responsibility for their mistakes keeps denying his own and letting innocent young people pay for them with their lives.

Tonight he will again insult our intelligence by claiming success in Iraq and then take credit for bringing home the additional troops he put there this year who were scheduled to leave in any case.

When Vietnam was failing, a shrewd old Republican Senator from Vermont, George Aiken, said, “There's only one way out of there, that's to declare victory and just leave."

For the Iraq disaster, Bush’s answer is to declare victory and stay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Make-a-Baby Day

In the Russian province of Ulyanovsk, the Governor has decreed a Day of Conception and is giving couples time off from work to procreate. Those who deliver nine months later on Russia's national day, June 12th, will get money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

Last year, President Putin announced an effort to boost the national birthrate, including cash for couples with more than one child. Women giving birth to their second or third receive $10,000 vouchers to pay for education or home repairs.

Dim the lights, bring out the vodka, do your patriotic duty and reap the rewards of parenthood. Sounds better than "The Price is Right."

The Podhoretz Plague

In 1967, he wrote a book confessing he craved “money, power and especially fame.” Norman Podhoretz got all three but, at the age of 77, he wants more and this time his attention-getting devices are to call for bombing Iran now and starting a world war against “Islamofascism.”

Such Neo-Con nuttiness would be pitifully laughable if it weren’t influencing George Bush, who this year gave Podhoretz the Medal of Freedom, and Rudy Giuliani, who has taken him on as his foreign policy adviser.

Far be it for me, of all people, to denigrate senior sages, but Podhoretz sticks in my aged craw. Here he is, on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal this week, calling anyone who disagrees about Iraq part of a liberal cabal going back to the 1960s with "faith in America the ugly."

Here is Podhoretz aboard the recent National Review cruise, as described by a British journalist:

“Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been ‘an amazing success.’ He waves his fist and declaims: ‘There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better.’ He wants more wars, and fast.”

If this is Rudy Giuliani’s gray eminence on foreign policy, prayers for Fred Thompson may be in order.

Too Much News: Deprivation by Surfeit

A book I once wrote argued we were being stuffed with information but starved for understanding. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker have just spent two days making the point with a ribbon on it.

After all the graphs, statistics, anecdotes and guarded generalizations, they did not, could not answer the only questions that matter: When will this war end, and is it making us any safer from terrorism?

Two of our best and brightest public servants responded with the classic waiter’s shrug, “That’s not my table.”

In the last century, social critic Lewis Mumford pointed out that, although science and technology assume constantly increasing consumption of goods and knowledge is desirable, it can lead to “deprivation by surfeit.”

With concentration on speed and productivity, Mumford wrote, “we have ignored the need for evaluation, correction, selection and social assimilation.”

Today’s journalism and politics validate his theory as clearly as do the clogging of our highways and the overwhelming of air-traffic control. We are in a hurry to get somewhere without being sure of the destination and how to get there without falling over one another.

Sorting it all out used to be called leadership, but that is the only product in short supply.