Tuesday, January 30, 2007

First Amendment Farce

So now Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in the clink to protect him (and lost her job when she got out), testifies that Scooter Libby lied about a story she never wrote.

In George Bush's and Dick Cheney's irony-free Washington, nothing is impossible.

When the judge sentences Libby, will he deduct Ms. Miller's three months or fine him her lost wages?

Or both of the above and admonish the prosecutor to stop fiddling with the First Amendment?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Family Value

When Alabama Governot George Wallace could not pass a law that would allow him to succeed himself in the 1960s, his wife Lurleen ran and won.

In a Washington speech, I made a lame joke about Wallace putting the state in his wife’s name, and I kept getting hate mail from Alabama for a decade.

Now the issue is back, with sharp questioning about whether Hillary Clinton would qualify if her husband hadn’t been President.

Even George W. Bush (of all people) in his State of the Union tribute to Nancy Pelosi may have been putting in a nepotism needle by mentioning her father, the Congressman.

From the start, with the Adamses, American politics has been a family business based on primogeniture--Kennedys, Bushes, Gores, Byrds, Cuomos, Romneys, etc.—but the idea of a woman benefiting from such connections seems to outrage some people.

Get over it. Wouldn't any sane voter rather see Laura Bush in the Oval Office instead of her husband?

Self-Selected, Unelected, Disconnected VP

Does Cheney, a New York Times editorial asks, "simply feel free to cut the ground out from under Mr. Bush?"

Why not? In 2000, after heading the search for a running mate, Cheney looked in the mirror and picked himself.

They lost the popular vote (and who knows about Florida?), but Cheney came to office with a neo-con blueprint for policing the world and used the President as his hand puppet to lie our way into Iraq.

After all that, why would he start worrying now about Bush or public opinion or whether Scooter Libby goes to jail for doing his dirty work?

Mr. President, if you ever decide to change course in Iraq, don't go duck-hunting with that man!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Remedial Journalism for Wolf Blitzer

When it comes to the Cheneys, CNN’s dapper little anchor is a slow learner.

In October, Lynne Cheney, plugging her children’s book, weighed in to question Blitzer’s and CNN’s patriotism.

Last night, the VP, plugging a childlike version of the war in Iraq, pasted poor Wolf for asking about right-wing criticism of his lesbian daughter’s impending motherhood.

Cheney (glaring): “I think frankly you’re out of line with that question.”

Blitzer (defensive): “That’s just a question that’s come up, and it’s a responsible, fair question.”

Wrong. Better answer: “Yes, sir, I agree. It’s a personal matter. But don’t you agree that conservative politicians are wrong to make a political issue out of it for millions of other American families?”

In a 1988 Presidential debate, the shoe was on CNN’s other foot when Bernard Shaw asked the Democratic candidate: “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis (calmly): “No, I don’t, Bernard. And I think you know I’ve opposed the death penalty all my life...”

Wrong, and it may have cost him the election. Better answer: (glaring) “You’re out of line. That’s an offensive way of asking the question, Bernard. But let me explain the difference between my reaction as a husband and as a public official...”

Much too late for Dukakis, but I’ll be billing Wolf at my usual rate as a retired journalism professor.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why We're in Iraq: The Smoking Gun

As Chuck Hagel was making an impassioned plea against the surge in a Senate hearing room, he was providing the last piece of the Iraq puzzle in a less visible venue, GQ Magazine.

In an interview, the Nebraska Senator described the Administration’s “astounding” original draft of the 2002 resolution to invade Iraq:

“It said they could go anywhere in the region...Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.”

Hagel, with fellow Senators Biden and Lugar, “had to rewrite it...stripped the language the White House had set up and put our language in it.”

After all the circumstantial evidence from Richard Clarke, Bob Woodward et al, a conservative Republican Senator finally reveals the breathtaking arrogance and stupidity of the neo-cons behind a barely elected President.

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al had put on paper their grandiose pipedreams of using American power to police the world in their “Project for the New American Century” in 2000.

Now they saw 9/11 as another Pearl Harbor, a chance to carry out their loony plans of world domination with a blank check from a traumatized Congress.

Bad as Iraq is, how much worse would it have been if they got what they asked for?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Picture of Dorian Bush

This President is not aging.

In past State of the Unions, you could see a toll on the faces of the men with the most burdensome job in the world. Every year, Carter, Clinton, even Reagan seemed markedly older.

Not so George W. Bush. He looks the same as ever.

Do he and Rove have a portrait in some back room of the White House, accumulating wrinkles of anxiety, creases of cruelty, pockmarks of doubt, wattles of guilt? But it seems unlikely that Oscar Wilde was ever on their reading list.

The simpler explanation is that imperviousness may be good for the complexion.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

150,000 Hostages

Would anyone care about the State of the Union speech if the President weren’t holding 150,000 Americans hostage in Iraq?

The lamest of lame ducks, with rock-bottom approval ratings, facing a hostile Congress, his credibility unraveling at the Scooter Libby trial, the public focusing more and more on 2008, why would anyone want to hear Bush distract us with a domestic agenda?

How do you deal with a hostage-taker whose only demand is to let him keep doing what he’s doing?

Hillary's Favorite Movies

On her webcast, Senator Clinton talks warmly about “The Wizard of Oz.”

Classic family fare, but then again, “Oz” conjures up the old mountebank Frank Morgan, blurting “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Should have stopped with “Casablanca”: Here’s looking at you, kid.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Case for Biden vs. Edwards

If Democrats lose their nerve and revert to running a white male, they should take a long look at Joe Biden rather than John Edwards, now placing third in their ‘08 beauty contest.

Both voted to invade Iraq, but Biden as ranking Democrat, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been on Sunday TV almost as often as Tim Russert for two years, opposing Bush's conduct of the war and offering sane alternatives.

Elected at 29, he has been an effective Senator for three decades.

John Edwards parlayed a pile of money as a negligence lawyer into one unremarkable six-year term, has a good-looking family, smiles a lot and talks about “the two Americas” to remind us he grew up poor.

His appeal seems to lie in reciting platitudes as if he had just thought of them.

If Democrats haven't the guts to go with Clinton or Obama, they should be looking for more substance than style as a fallback.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"If I Did It, It Wasn't Me"

O.J. Simpson is giving schizophrenia a bad name.

In Newsweek's account of the crucial chapter of his non-confession, Simpson claims a close friend named Charlie was with him during the non-killings of his wife and Ron Goldman, urging him to stop.

For the love of Charlie or whoever, O.J., stop now before we all start hearing voices!

If Bush Can Do It, How Hard Can It Be?

Nature abhors a vacuum, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is drawing every politician we ever heard of and some we haven’t.

Tom Tancredo? Mike Huckabee? Jim Gilmore? Mike Gravel, an ex-senator who will turn 78 next year, has been running since last spring.

Call it the LBJ Syndrome, when every pathetic old pol came out of the woodwork in 1968, including the eventual winner Richard Nixon, who had lost the California governorship six years earlier and told the media, ”You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

Botching a war creates a boon for makers of bumper stickers, campaign buttons and commercials, but let’s hope for better in 2008.

Anybody for Duncan Hunter or Ron Paul?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Never-Idle Australian's "American Idol"

I’ve never seen “American Idol,” but then again I’ve never tasted a dirt sandwich, and I have no plans to do either.

Still cable news keeps poking “Idol” into my eye with clips of its judges’ nastiness and pathetic contestants’ hunger for attention at the price of humiliation.

The never-idle Australian, Rupert Murdoch, seems to be trying to do for our culture what he has been doing to our politics—turn it all into sleaze.

But after the Paula Abduls, Simon Cowells, Bill O’Reillys and Shawn Hannitys are gone, Murdoch may discover what William Randolph Hearst learned in a previous century: the American appetite for crap eventually has its limits.

What happened to the O.J. book should have given him a hint.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tony Blair's Vanishing Act

That sound you don’t hear is Tony Blair tiptoeing out of Iraq.

While applauding Bush’s decision to send more Americans into Baghdad, the Prime Minister is telling his Parliament that the British operation in Basra “has been successful” and “will be completed in the next few weeks.”

Sometime soon, he will announce that half of the 7200 British troops there will be withdrawn.

Blair, who was impersonating Winston Churchill during the invasion, is now sounding more like Neville Chamberlain proclaiming “peace in our time.”

Sounds like an exit strategy worth considering: We won, and we’re leaving.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

High Noon in Iraq

Somebody in the White House, please, hide those copies of the President’s favorite movie. He’s been watching “High Noon” again.

He has to stop thinking he’s Gary Cooper, waiting for the three badmen (Osama bin Laden, Mamhoud Ahmadinejhad and Bashar al-Asad) coming to town to kill him.

Congress is not all those cowardly townspeople who won’t help.

And, in the final showdown, he can’t count on his life partner, Dick Cheney, who doesn’t shoot as straight as Grace Kelly.

Remind him that the movie is a parable about McCarthyism and people who would not stand up for American freedoms, written by a man soon to be blacklisted as a Communist.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Vicissitudes of Time

Time Warner is firing magazine people and buying an online ad brokerage for $900 million.

If there is a Media Heaven, Henry R. Luce must be raising hell up there.

In his “American Century,” Luce built an empire by helping readers make sense of what he called "the million little chaoses of raw news."

With today's flood of facts and factoids, there is more need for making sense than ever. But news is not what it used to be.

In naming “You” as Person of the Year, Time rhapsodized about all of us “seizing the reins of the global media” and “beating the pros at their own game” to balance “our diet of predigested news with raw feeds.”

Yes, but...

Unfiltered reporting comes with a lot of sludge. We’re getting far more raw opinions than news or feeds. To replace what Time calls “predigested news,” there is a lot of undigested bile.

What would Luce have made of all this? I agreed with him about little but shared his respect for the value and values of journalism.

“Why,” I once asked, “with your politics do you hire so many Democrats for your magazines?”

“Because,” he said, “most of those Republican bastards can’t write.”

Luce was opinionated, but the man had standards.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Postcard to Hillary Clinton

Dear Senator: Did you have good weather for your long weekend in Iraq? Are you bringing something home for us? Hope you didn't buy a rug or victory plan from al-Maliki. An exit strategy would be nice. Can't wait to hear.

Double Talk

Is there an echo in here?

George Bush on 60 Minutes: “If we fail in Iraq, the enemy will follow us here.”

“Failure in Iraq would embolden the enemy, and the enemy is Al-Qaeda and the extremists. Failure in Iraq would embolden Iran, which poses a significant threat to world peace”

Joe Lieberman on “Meet the Press”:

“(A)llowing Iraq to collapse would be a disaster, for the Iraqis, for the Middle East, for us that would embolden the Iranians and Al-Qaeda, who are our enemies. And they would follow us back here”

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Martin Luther King to Obama

West Side residents of Chicago now have a U.S. Senator who looks like them and it may be, in more ways than one, due to the man whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence to the oppressed. “Our weapon is love,” he told them, and he used it with stunning force.

At the dawn of TV, he brought into American homes images of peaceful Southern protesters beaten, driven with high-pressure hoses and arrested without fighting back. Their body rhetoric exposed racial hatred as never before.

Then, in 1966 Dr. King wrote for me about the apartment he had rented in Chicago’s slums to connect with gang members: “I was shocked at the venom they poured out against the world.”

He asked them to join Freedom Marches in Mississippi and they did in carloads, where “they were to be attacked by tear gas. They were to protect women and children with no other weapons but their own bodies…..

“They learned in Mississippi and returned to teach in Chicago the beautiful lesson of acting against evil by renouncing force...

“And in Chicago the test was sterner. These marchers endured not only the filthiest kind of verbal abuse but also barrages of rocks and sticks and eggs and cherry bombs...

“It was through the Chicago marches that our promise to them—that nonviolence achieves results--was redeemed and their hopes for a better life rekindled, For they saw that a humane police force, in contrast to police in Mississippi, could defend the exercise of Constitutional rights as well as enforce the law in the ghetto.”

It is not hard to believe that some of those young men Martin Luther King helped to grow up and away from their worst selves exercised their rights decades later in voting for Barack Obama.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Crying Shame

It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by George Bush’s tears at a Medal of Honor ceremony yesterday, but grief over one Marine’s heroic sacrifice is not enough.

Until the President sees the 20,000 troops now surging into Baghdad as young men and women with names and faces, he has not earned those tears. Morally, they belong to the three thousand families of our dead and, in a larger sense, the millions of Americans who opposed this senseless war from the start.

The night before, he admitted "mistakes have been made." He is still making them, and that is the most crying shame of all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hillary's Miraculous Recovery

Reports that Senator Clinton has been in a Terri Schiavo-like coma since the New Year were refuted last night when she was heard to mumble after President Bush's speech, "I cannot support his proposed esclation."

Mrs. Clinton's recovery may have been prompted by seeing long cable-news interviews with Senator Barack Obama earlier in the evening.

Dr. Bill Frist, a Schiavo expert, had diagnosed Mrs. Clinton before leaving the Senate: "White House fever. I had a mild case of it myself for a while."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The President's Infomercial

“New! Improved! If you liked Mission Accomplished!... You’ll love The Baghdad Surge! Featuring More Troops! New Generals! A Super-Maliki! New Anti-Iran Anti-Syria Anti-Al Qaeda Ingredients!”

The Karl Rove Ad Agency never sleeps, and neither does the Pitchman-in-Chief.

If the product isn’t moving, repackage and re-market.

It worked in September, 2001 when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

Now sales have slipped, the show has jumped the shark, ratings are down, and a hot new shop on Capitol Hill is getting all the buzz.

We need a killer campaign to get our Republican reps revved to juice up the old customers and promote new sales.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going….with more of the same.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Will Lieberman Defect?

If the Democrats find a way to block more troops for Baghdad, it could be a time bomb to blow away their control of the Senate.

The fuse would be Joe Lieberman, who is busy being more bipartisan-than-thou: this week co-signing with Lindsey Graham a letter to the President urging the surge, last month setting up a two-party Iraq study group with Republican Susan Collins and, in between, eulogizing Gerald Ford for bipartisanship as “a way to govern.”

It is no stretch to imagine the boundlessly self-righteous Lieberman voting to give back the Senate to Republicans “for the good of the country.”

Another prime-time smooch with President Bush would be just the ticket for a politician immune to irony.

Isn't it time for someone to check Connecticut laws for recalling a Senator?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Iraq: The Domino Theory is Back

As the Vietnam war was being lost, diehards clung to the Domino Theory: If Saigon fell, the rest of Southeast Asia would topple to Communism like a row of dominoes standing on end.

Now, as the President tries to sell his surge into Iraq, its few supporters, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, are all over the political talk shows warning about chaos in the Middle East if we fail to keep pouring American blood and treasure into Baghdad.

The Domino Theory was wrong then, as it is now, a scare story concocted to prop up a failed policy.

Chaos in the Middle East? How can we withdraw and let that stable region descend into religious and tribal slaughter? Isn’t it worth however many young American lives it takes to avoid such a disaster?

Lindsey Graham sticks in my craw. With his Southern-fried logic, he built a career on the House Judiciary Committee by insisting the Republic would fall because Bill Clinton unzipped in the Oval Office.

Now he is just as earnest in arguing that we are in danger if we don’t keep following the lead of that moral exemplar, George W. Bush.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

White House Temper Tantrum

A five-year-old playing with soldiers is tiring of the game. He flings them across the room and goes to the toy box to find new ones.

As Dr. Spock’s editor for years, I know a tantrum when I see one. George Bush won’t get what he needs from new generals or advisors. Call in the child psychologists.

Dr. Spock’s last word on tantrums was “If your child is hurting another or looks as if he were planning murder, pull him away and get him interested in something else.”

Dr. Berry Brazelton suggests holding him in your lap, explaining why you think he needs to be so destructive but why he can’t keep doing it.

It’s not likely that Harry Reid can distract Bush or Nancy Pelosi cuddle him into submission, so what’s left?

Tough love. The grownups in Congress have to find ways to take away George W’s toys until he calms down and listens to reason. Cut off his allowance.

They blamed Dr. Spock for spoiling kids by letting parents be too permissive. Actually he believed in a firm hand, especially when they are out of control.

Friday, January 05, 2007

People on My Side Who Worry Me

I love Keith Olbermann’s rage at George Bush—it mirrors my own, but...

I admire Michael Moore’s tenacity, but...

I agree with Arianna Huffington on many issues but...

The “buts” are big ones. Olbermann is a news anchor, Moore makes documentary movies, Huffington offers herself as a political analyst.

They all keep stepping over the line between journalism and jawboning. As the William Hurt anchorman in “Broadcast News” put it, “It’s hard not to cross it, they keep moving the little sucker, don’t they?”

But we are close to erasing it. Jon Stewart, as usual, nailed it when he accused Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on “Crossfire” of being “partisan hacks.”

“You’re doing theater,” he told them, “when you should be doing debate, which would be great.”

If this sounds sanctimonious, sorry. It’s hard to get heard in this noisy world (ask any blogger), but on life-and-death issues, we have to hold the line somewhere.

If Olbermann becomes the not-Bill O’Reilly or Huffington the un-Ann Coulter, they hurt what they’re trying to protect: responsible free speech.

Michael Moore is working on health care in America. Let’s hope he resists the emotional cheap shots. Leni Riefenstahl is not the best role model for picturing a healthy society.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Madness, Madness"

If George W. Bush sends tens of thousands more American troops into Baghdad, any hope of his pleading temporary insanity over Iraq at the bar of history will end.

There are people in straightjackets who are more in touch with reality.

Few in Congress will back him, other than John McCain, who has morphed into the Manchurian Candidate, so he can claim in 2008 the President waited too long to take his advice. And, of course, faithful Joe Lieberman, maundering over “yes, victory in Iraq” in the Washington Post.

Nancy Pelosi has declared impeachment is “off the table.” If so, what else can be done to keep all this from ending like “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” with a dazed America mumbling “Madness, Madness”?

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Betty Ford Story

In July 1978, as editor of McCalls, I published a piece, “Betty Ford: Her Long Struggle with a Lonely Marriage.”

Mrs. Ford had just been hospitalized for addiction to alcohol and tranquilizers after years of suffering with a pinched nerve in her neck.

Knowing that pinched nerves often result from emotional stress, I asked Myra MacPherson, who knew Mrs. Ford well, to interview her friends, family and physicians about that possible explanation.

They told of her distress that, after looking forward to retirement togetherness after his Presidency, her husband was still away from home politicking 200 nights a year.

Our conclusion: “Like other wives of ambitious men, she had to raise her children with little emotional support from her husband. After 30 years, the price she has paid for a life of loneliness and stress is painfully clear to everyone—with the possible exception of the one person she needs most.”

The aftermath has stayed in my mind ever since.

Several years later, although anxious that Mrs. Ford might have been upset by our piece, I asked Myra MacPherson to interview her again.

“The reason I’m seeing you,” Mrs. Ford told her, “is that 1978 article. I sent copies of it to every politician’s wife I know.”

Betty Ford was, and is, one of the most honest and caring women ever to live in the White House