Monday, April 30, 2007

Bad News for Women's Magazines

If true, it's the equivalent of a nuclear attack on Conde Nast, Hearst and all the companies that produce magazines for women. BBC is reporting a new pill that suppresses appetite and boosts libido. In one stroke, science will have demolished sources of a million cover lines and much of the content of America's largest group of publications.

Without new diets and mating advice, what will women read under the hair dryer and, even worse, what will Nora Ephron make movies about?

Flying Blind

The inspiring news today is about a sightless British pilot flying from London to Sydney, Australia.

“It’s the fulfillment of an amazing dream,” Miles Hilton-Barber told reporters. “I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid." He hopes to raise $2 million for a charity to prevent blindness in developing countries.

But Mr. Hilton-Barber has not set a new record. Four years ago, an American who always wanted to be a pilot went from Washington to Baghdad without being able to see where he was going and has been circling Iraq ever since, looking for a soft landing. The proceeds from that adventure have not gone to charity.

Hillary, Microsoft and Dog Food

Today’s Washington Post has a takeout on Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign adviser that begins thus:

“It was fairly simple, Mark J. Penn said calmly to Vice President Al Gore, reporting the findings of an exhaustive survey he had conducted in the early stages of the 2000 presidential campaign. Voters liked Gore's policies. They just didn't like Gore.”

A month ago, a report on Sen. Clinton’s poll slippage and apparent failure to remake her image, ended thus:

“All this recalls the story of the re-marketing of a dog food--improved nutritional formula, better packaging, more effective ads--but no spike in sales. Asked to explain, the brand manager shrugs: ‘The damn dogs just won’t swallow it.’”

The WP story reports that high-powered Mark Penn is now limiting himself to two clients--Sen. Clinton and Microsoft. That may explain it all. Everybody knows that Microsoft is powerful, but who loves Microsoft?

Some advice to Sen. Clinton that won’t cost as much as Mr. Penn’s but comes from many more years of experience: Try letting your hair down once in a while. Haven’t you noticed you’re the only candidate who isn’t making gaffes but isn’t making any progress with voters?

After all these years of a robotic White House, Americans would welcome a human face, someone the French call a mensch.

McCain's Complaint

It won't rank up there with the Valerie Plame outing, but Robert Novak has another scoop:

"Sen. John McCain, who was the darling of the political press corps during the 2000 election cycle, complains to friends that he is getting much rougher treatment from the news media than his competitors for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney."

Many great men go through the cycle of being loved by reporters and then trashed by Media Payback, explained here the other day. Novak should break the news to him but not reveal his source.

The Politics of Google

Could our favorite search engine be a closet conservative?

Recent lookups raise the question. A query of “sen durbin news” returned a featured item from Fox News and five of the next six hits from the Washington Times and Fox.

For “george tenet news,” the top citation and the third were both from Fox.

Two examples don’t add up to a pattern, but as a user unschooled in Google arcana, just asking.

Success in Iraq

Prime Minister al-Maliki seems to be getting the hang of this democracy thing: He has his own Alberto Gonzales firing senior officers.

According to the Washington Post: “Although some of the officers appear to have been fired for legitimate reasons, such as poor performance or corruption, several were considered to be among the better Iraqi officers in the field. The dismissals have angered U.S. and Iraqi leaders who say the Shiite-led government is sabotaging the military to achieve sectarian goals.”

Didn’t they know they were serving at the pleasure of the Prime Minister?

The Heartbreak of Condi Rice

Feeling sorry for the Secretary of State does not come easily these days, but even the hardest-hearted Bush critic has to feel a twinge about the psychobabble profile of her in the new issue of Newsweek.

Yesterday as she was doing what she always does, protecting George Bush, on three TV talk shows, against George Tenet’s memoirs, the newsmagazine was running an excerpt from a book about “Her Path to Power.”

In the kind of breathless prose abandoned by women’s magazines long ago, it relates how she was drawn to George Bush and details her history of finding “bad boys” irresistible, starting with a football player at Notre Dame:

“Rice's friends insisted the attraction to Bush was platonic, but Brenda Hamberry-Green, her Palo Alto hairdresser, who had spent years commiserating with Rice over how hard it was for successful black women to find a good man, noticed a change when Rice started working for Bush. ‘He fills that need,’ Hamberry-Green decided. ‘Bush is her feed.’”

There is so much more, including another friend’s description of the “funny kind of transfer of energy” between the two: “It's as though they're Siamese twins joined at the frontal lobe."

When she is in the Middle East this week trying to deal with the nuclear threat of Iran and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Ms. Rice may be lonely. But as her stepmother is quoted as saying, “She just can’t say no to that man.”

Next week: “The Strange Love of Alberto Gonzales” and “Dick Cheney’s Secret Passion.”

Sunday, April 29, 2007

7. Connecting the Dots and Moving On

It’s like one of those dreams in which you keep falling and falling. You try to stop it by waking up, but you can’t.

How does America’s Iraq nightmare end?

No matter what we do now, we are politically, socially and morally damaged. But what could be salvaged from the ruins is some of the honesty and decency that has made us the world’s longest-surviving democracy.

We can start by not expecting this Administration to be other than it is. As in the fable of the scorpion and the turtle, the Bush-Cheney-Rove creature will not change its nature even for self-survival and the Democrats are unlikely to lumber us to safety.

One reality to accept is that, while the struggle over funding makes Bush look stubborn and insensitive, Democrats risk taking on a share of the blame for his fiasco and mounting public disapproval for failure to make progress on other issues.

Instead of hoping for the support it would take to override a spending veto of timetables for withdrawal, they might look back at Sen. Byrd’s warning about withdrawing Bush’s war powers and work toward the majorities needed to do just that. As the ’08 elections get closer, endangered Republicans will surely panic over drowning with the White House scorpions.

The Presidential candidates can do their share. In the first debate, they got as much mileage as possible out of congenial Bush-bashing. The harder work is to convince voters that they are capable not only of ending the national catastrophe with which this century has started but getting us back to our best values and forward to meet the new challenges we face.

We can’t undo the past, but we can use its lessons for doing better in the future. Tell us how.

6. Bush's Armchair Revolutionaries

In 2000, a disputed election ended with seating the most radical government the U.S. has ever had. After half a century of fear about Communist subversion and takeover, a small group of faceless ideologues came silently to power and brought us chaos.

Instead of spreading propaganda and fomenting unrest, they had met in paneled rooms, issued position papers no one read and, with the accidental help of a few dozen terrorists, took us into a devastating war to prove their idiotic thesis, subverted our traditional liberties and created a crisis that any rational politician could have foreseen.

Their blueprint was a tract, issued just before the Bush election, that looked like thousands of previous boring think-tank bloviations. Titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources,” it advocated aggressive use of its power by the world’s only surviving superpower to shape the political universe.

But “The Project for the New American Century” was no ordinary think tank. Its leading members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby.

In charge of finding a Bush running mate, Cheney selected himself and, for the new government, Libby as his Chief of Staff, Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense with Wolfowitz and others of his ilk as deputies.

Even so and with a puppet President to manipulate, they could not have put theory into practice. In their manifesto, they had acknowledged that their “policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today.”

But 9/11 changed everything. The blather and bluster could be transformed from words into action with Iraq as the laboratory, and in a climate of national trauma, sold to the American people as a “new product,” to the use the language of Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card.

We went to war in Iraq, not primarily to protect the interests of oil companies or to redress the failure of Bush’s father to topple Saddam but to bring into reality the strategic wet dream of loony armchair theorists without a minute of military experience.

(continued above)

5. "The Same Intelligence We Had"

For years, the Bush Administration has been saying Congress and the American people approved the war based on full knowledge of the threat Iraq posed.

Now Sen. Dick Durbin is disputing that:

"The information we had in the intelligence committee was not the same information being given to the American people...I couldn't do much about it because, in the intelligence committee, we are sworn to secrecy. We can't walk outside the door and say the statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that is being given to this Congress."

In his new memoirs, George Tenet, then CIA Director, writes, “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.” CIA material was cherry-picked to make the case for invasion.

That confirms what other insiders have revealed. In 2004, former Treasury Secretary Paul O”Neill told writer Ron Susskind and then 60 Minutes, “From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” ten days after the inauguration, eight months before 9/11.

A permanent member of the National Security Council, O’Neill said, "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’"

The same year, Richard Clarke, who had been Bush’s counter-terrorism coordinator, was asked on CNN, “You paint a picture of a White House obsessed with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Why do you believe that?”

Clarke’s answer: “Because I was there and I saw the weeks immediately after 9/11, the President signed a national security directive instructing the Pentagon to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.

”Even though they knew at the time from me, from the FBI, from the CIA, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.”

The question behind all this is, Why were they so intent on invading Iraq? The answer is ugly and maddening.

(continued above)

4. Bush's Blank Check

On October 11, 2002 the U.S. Senate passed “H.J.Res. 114: A joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq” by a vote of 77 to 23.

What few knew was that the Bush White House thought it had the right to go to war without consulting Congress and the measure was a pale version of what they really wanted.

Alberto Gonzales was the President’s counsel then and, according to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, wrote a memo saying, “You have all the powers you need.” Hagel called Andy Card, then chief of staff, and asked why the President would consider going to war “without Congress being with him?” As a result, “a few of us--Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I--were invited to discussions with the White House...

“Finally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. 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.”

Hagel, Biden and Lugar “had to rewrite it...stripped the language the White House had set up and put our language in it.” That was what Congress approved.

(continued above)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

3. Did Congress Know What It Was Doing?

The day Sen. Byrd’s OpEd piece appeared in the Times, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan read it into the Congressional Record, and Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland underscored its implications in the Senate, pointing out that the resolution was “a major erosion of the role of the Congress with respect to the Nation going to war.”

Sen. Byrd noted that “a President can veto any change that Congress...might enact in order to overturn this law.”

Mr. Sarbanes: “(A)s long as he could keep the support of one-third--not of each House of the Congress but only one-third of one House, either a third of the Senators, plus one, or a third of the Members of the House of Representatives--he could negate congressional action that tried to pull back this war-making authority...”

Mr. Byrd: “It only takes a majority of both Houses to pass this resolution, but it would take two-thirds in the future if the President should attempt to veto a substitute piece of legislation by this Congress to abort what we are doing here today, to appeal it, to amend it. One-third plus one in either body could uphold the President's veto, and that legislation would not become law.

Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke next, thanking Sen. Byrd for “his passion and commitment to this body and to our Constitution” and expressing “appreciation for the way in which he has waged this battle on behalf of his convictions. It is a lesson to us all.”

Then she explained why she was voting “yes” on the resolution (full text in the link). “I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our Nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President. And we say to him: Use these powers wisely and as a last resort.”

(continued above)

2. The Unlikliest Prophet

In 2002, if you were casting the lead for a new version of “Profiles in Courage,” you would not have thought of an 84-year-old former Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, shakily afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease.

Yet there he was, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, leading the opposition to giving George Bush a blank check to invade Iraq and writing on the OpEd page of the New York Times on October 10, 2002 under title, “Congress Must Resist the Rush to War”:

"A sudden appetite for war with Iraq seems to have consumed the Bush administration and Congress. The debate that began in the Senate last week is centered not on the fundamental and monumental questions of whether and why the United States should go to war with Iraq, but rather on the mechanics of how best to wordsmith the president's use-of-force resolution in order to give him virtually unchecked authority to commit the nation's military to an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.

"How have we gotten to this low point in the history of Congress? Are we too feeble to resist the demands of a president who is determined to bend the collective will of Congress to his will--a president who is changing the conventional understanding of the term "self-defense"? And why are we allowing the executive to rush our decision-making right before an election? Congress, under pressure from the executive branch, should not hand away its Constitutional powers. We should not hamstring future Congresses by casting such a shortsighted vote. We owe our country a due deliberation.

"I have listened closely to the president. I have questioned the members of his war cabinet. I have searched for that single piece of evidence that would convince me that the president must have in his hands, before the month is out, open-ended Congressional authorization to deliver an unprovoked attack on Iraq. I remain unconvinced. The president's case for an unprovoked attack is circumstantial at best. Saddam Hussein is a threat, but the threat is not so great that we must be stampeded to provide such authority to this president just weeks before an election.

"Why are we being hounded into action on a resolution that turns over to President Bush the Congress's Constitutional power to declare war? This resolution would authorize the president to use the military forces of this nation wherever, whenever and however he determines, and for as long as he determines, if he can somehow make a connection to Iraq. It is a blank check for the president to take whatever action he feels "is necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." This broad resolution underwrites, promotes and endorses the unprecedented Bush doctrine of preventive war and pre-emptive strikes--detailed in a recent publication, "National Security Strategy of the United States"--against any nation that the president, and the president alone, determines to be a threat.

"We are at the gravest of moments. Members of Congress must not simply walk away from their Constitutional responsibilities. We are the directly elected representatives of the American people, and the American people expect us to carry out our duty, not simply hand it off to this or any other president. To do so would be to fail the people we represent and to fall woefully short of our sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution.

"We may not always be able to avoid war, particularly if it is thrust upon us, but Congress must not attempt to give away the authority to determine when war is to be declared We must not allow any president to unleash the dogs of war at his own discretion and or an unlimited period of time.

"Yet that is what we are being asked to do. The judgment of history will not be kind to us if we take this step.

"Members of Congress should take time out and go home to listen to their constituents. We must not yield to this absurd pressure to act now, 27 days before an election that will determine the entire membership of the House of Representatives and that of a third of the Senate. Congress should take the time to hear from the American people, to answer their remaining questions, and to put the frenzy of ballot-box politics behind us before we vote. We should hear them well, because while it is Congress that casts the vote, it is the American people who will pay for a war with the lives of their sons and daughters."

What happened next? (continued above)

1. Invading Iraq: Not-So-Instant Replay

This has been a week of ruefully remembering how we got into the least-justified war in American history and the constitutional crisis we now face over getting out of it.

The air has been full of blame, self-pity and regret.

Bill Moyers’ “Buying the War” on PBS cites the failure of the media.

George Tenet publishes a memoir picturing himself as a victim.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin announces that in 2002 he knew the White House was concocting excuses to justify invasion but, as a member of the Intelligence Committee “sworn to secrecy,” he couldn’t tell the rest of us.

All very interesting, some of it even true, but to connect the dots, the weekend here will be devoted to trying to better understand how we got into this mess and what we might do to get out of it, starting above.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Making Peace in Washington

Is it Spring Fever or are they just getting tired, but both the President and Congress today showed small signs of ending the scuffle over war spending.

After his umpteenth veto threat, Bush pawed the ground, mumbling “I invite the leaders of the House and the Senate, both parties, to come down, you know, soon after my veto so we can discuss a way forward.”

On the other side, Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, grumped, “We understand legislation is the art of compromise, consensus building. We are willing to sit down and talk with the president, but we have certain things we believe to be important to the country. I’m sure he does, too.”

Now, if you boys will just tuck in your shirts, wash your hands and sit down at the table, we can all say a prayer together and stop this scuffling. The rest of us are getting mighty tired of this constant bickering.

The Petraeus Problem

In a simpler time, there were generals like Curtis “Bomb “Em into the Stone Age” LeMay and the fictional Jack D. Ripper who started a nuclear war in “Dr. Strangelove.”

They did the barking, and politicians calmed them down. Now, in complete role reversal, we have VP Dick “Attack Dog” Cheney and, as the voice of reason, Gen. David Petraeus.

As he goes about pacifying Congress, Gen. Petraeus brings back mixed feelings from Iraq, his own and in some of those who want to end the war.

Arianna Huffington, for one, has no qualms. She notes that he “went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief Congress behind closed doors on the progress of the surge. No word on whether he walked across the Potomac to get there.” She labels him a Petraeus ex machina for desperate Republicans.

But it is precisely Petraeus’ doubts and unwillingness to promise “victory” or even “progress” until the Iraqis advance politically that now makes him problematical. By that measurement, we would keep our troops there indefinitely policing Baghdad instead of facing the fact that we are in a no-win situation and bringing them home.

The danger is not that Petraeus will walk on water but that he will keep us treading water until he re-defines his mission to make it less open-ended.

Steven Colbert, Sanjaya and Mandela

For important insight into today’s world, check the current standings in Time’s poll to determine “The Most Influential People of the Year.”

Of the top twenty, Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart and Sacha Baron Cohen are understandably Nos. 1, 9 and 20. Keeping perspective is this dizzying world is vital, but then there are anomalies.

Granted that distraction from Iraq and global warming are important, it’s hard to quarrel with the choices of Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s game designer (2), J. K. Rowling (3), Rain, the Korean King of Pop (4), Sanjaya Malakar (5) teenage hockey star Sidney Crosby (6) Bono (7) and celebrity-watcher Perez Hilton (10).

But the real puzzlers are evolutionist Richard Dawkins (8), Steven Jobs (11), Barack Obama (12) Brangolina (13 and 15), Nelson Mandela (22) and Warren Buffett (23).

Such an odd combination suggests deep inner conflict about the roles of science, politics, humanitarianism and corporate finance in our confusing times, but perhaps future ballot results will sort all that out.

'08 Climate Report

In South Carolina, the Democrats, albeit in varying garb, seem tanned and relaxed, more or less united and blissed out in bashing Bush and the war.

Meanwhile, the frostier New Hampshire air has Republicans furiously backpedaling.

Giuliani is darting away from his position on civil unions, while Romney runs down Rudy and McCain as just as hyperactive flip-floppers as he is being accused of being, telling AP, with more gusto than grammar, that “everybody in this race that I know has changed their mind on certain positions and they've done so as they gained more experience."

Pass the mint juleps, please.

"Here's Your Medal, What's Your Hurry?"

For the director of an intelligence agency, George Tenet is sounding a bit naive as he promotes his memoirs of life in the Bush Administration.

"You don't do this. You don't throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me," Tenet told 60 Minutes in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.

But that is exactly what they do. Ask Scooter Libby, Kyle Thompson, even Heck-of-a-Job Brownie.

The "deflection" is use of his "slam dunk" remark to refer to WMD when he actually said it about the case for going to war with Iraq.

"I was a talking point. 'Look at the idiot (who) told us and we decided to go to war,'" Tenet said.

President Bush handed him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, as he going out the door, but that apparently was not enough to salve his wounded feelings. The White House has no comment.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

McCain and Media Payback

Finally announcing his candidacy and trashing Alberto Gonzales, the Senator from Arizona is experiencing the full force of Media Payback, a phenomenon that goes back to the Kennedys in the 1960s.

At the start, it was pure love--an articulate young President, a beautiful First Lady with continental tastes, adorable kids romping in the Rose Garden. The Media couldn’t stop blowing kisses.

Ten years later, with JFK gone and the widow married to Aristotle Onassis--rich, foreign and no Adonis--the Payback was in full force with ugly memoirs of servants, furor over the widow’s attempt to censor a book about the assassination and the airing of all the suppressed stories about the late President’s womanizing.

By the time Ted Kennedy ran his car into the waters off Chappaquiddick in 1969, the Kennedy legend was toast.

McCain now is on the receiving end of similar if less dramatic Media Payback. In 2000, reporters lost their hearts to his openness and candor. Now they (and I don't exclude myself) are disappointed by his human failings.

Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, among others, also went through cycles of being over-hyped and trashed. It’s not only a natural process but, for the Media, an efficient one.

The rise and then the fall of larger-than-life figures gives them two running stories to report.

Iraqgate Hall of Shame

On PBS last night, Bill Moyers produced a new-century remake of “All the President’s Men,” this time with an unhappy ending, featuring a Woodward and Bernstein who got the story right but had it published only in the flyover country between Washington and LA.

In counterpoint to the young Knight-Ridder reporters who dug out the Bush-Cheney plot to go to war in Iraq with factoids, pseudo-facts and flatout lies, there were the pillars of American journalism confessing their failures in "Buying the War."

There was Dan Rather, racked by guilt, saying there was no excuse for “my performance and the performance of the press in general in the rollup to the war,” citing only the trauma of 9/11 in mitigation.

Walter Isaacson, then head of CNN: “There was a patriotic fervor and the administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.”

Howard Kurtz, media critic: “I went back and did the math. From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in the Washington Post making the administration's case...only a handful of stories...making the opposite case, raised questions.”

The dishonor roll included Judith Miller of The New York Times giving credence to Ahmed Chalabi’s Pentagon-backed lies, Tim Russert amplifying them on “Meet the Press” because there was no “opposition party,” 60 Minutes pulling its punches on exposing the falseness of the Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda link.

Craven fear is too easy an explanation. Dan Rather, The New York Times and the Washington Post stood up against the Nixon Administration during Watergate. But that was not a time when most Americans felt personally threatened and any opposition could be tarred as unpatriotic.

If there is a lesson for the future, media critic Norman Solomon may have put it best. Journalists, he pointed out, “want to be ahead of the curve but not out on a limb. And, if you took seriously the warning flags that were profuse before the invasion of Iraq, that the administration's story was a bunch of nonsense about WMDs, you would not just be ahead of the curve a little, you would have been way out on a limb.”

Sex on the Nile and Potomac

East is East, West is West and never the twain shall meet. But Cairo is Middle East, and there seems to be some twaining going on.

CNN reports the emergence of an Egyptian Dr. Ruth with a weekly satellite show, "The Big Talk" with Dr. Heba Kotb, encouraging women thus: "Sex. Don't be afraid. Join me to talk about sex without shame."

In the Muslim world, this means marital sex, and Dr. Kotb cites the Koran: "Your wives are as a tilth [land or soil to be cultivated] unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah."

Dr. Kotb interprets that passage as divine guidance meaning sex shouldn't just happen when the husband wants but that the wives have rights too.

Now, with the Bush Administration heavily promoting abstinence and "secondary virginity," there may be a cultural meeting of the minds in the making.

"The Democrats' Gonzales"

Congressional leadership doesn’t breed candidates for “Profiles in Courage” or “The Best and the Brightest,” but in Harry Reid, the Democrats may have what Reid himself once called President Bush, “a loser.”

A growing unease with Reid’s performance as Senate Majority Leader will be brought to a boil today by David Broder’s Washington Post column dubbing him “The Democrats’ Gonzales.”

Broder cites Sen. Chuck Schumer’s exertions to extricate his party from Reid’s “the war is lost” statement, which is true enough but not the best basis for negotiating a political and diplomatic solution in Iraq.

“Hailed by his staff as ‘a strong leader who speaks his mind in direct fashion,’" Broder writes, “Reid is assuredly not a man who misses many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth...Reid's verbal wanderings on the war in Iraq are consequential--not just for his party and the Senate but for the more important question of what happens to U.S. policy in that violent country and to the men and women whose lives are at stake.”

A bit much? Maybe. If Reid were a Senator without leadership responsibility, a newspaper columnist or a blogger, his outspokenness would be admirable.

But in a job where negotiation, persuasion and even behind-the-scenes arm-twisting of the kind that made Lyndon Johnson famous are required, this may not be time to match a stubborn, not-too-swift President with a preening, pugnacious adversary.

If this is liberal treason, so be it.

Rudy Goes Rove

America’s Mayor seems to have awakened from a long sleep thinking it’s still 2004. Having lost the campaign playbook that listed all his liabilities, Giuliani is now using the Karl Rove attack plan that reelected Bush.

In New Hampshire, he tells voters they will be safer with a Republican in the White House after next year because on terrorism, Democrats “will be waving the white flag,” and guess which Republican will make them safest of all?

Giuliani won national respect after 9/11 by encouraging Americans not to panic after terrorist attacks. Now he is trying to become President by encouraging them to do just that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Monica's Problem

Proverbs 6:16-19: "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

Now that she has been granted immunity to appear under oath before the House Judiciary Committee, Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales' former aide, will have to resolve an inner conflict between her faith as a graduate of Pat Robertson's law school and her devotion to the Bush Administration, which has specialized in shedding innocent blood, devising wicked imaginations, running to mischief and sowing discord.

She will be sorely tested, but it will be a chance to live up to her old school's mission: “to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world.”

It boggles the mind to think that Pat Robertson's teachings may bring down Karl Rove.

Down, Cheney!

The day after Senate Major Leader Harry Reid calls the Vice President an "attack dog," the Food and Drug Administration approves a beef-flavored chewable Prozac tablet to calm overwrought canines. Wouldn't a shorter leash work just as well?

An Octogenarian Takes Off the Gloves

After yesterday’s feeble verbal match between the VP and Sen. Harry Reid, it’s heartening to see 84-year-old George McGovern, who lost the 1972 Presidential election to Nixon and his dirty tricksters, demonstrate how to have a good go at Bush and Cheney.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, former Sen. McGovern, at times criticized for being too reasonable and mild-mannered, is anything but:

“Cheney said that today's Democrats have adopted my platform from the 1972 presidential race and that, in doing so, they will raise taxes. But my platform offered a balanced budget...By contrast, Cheney and his team have run the national debt to an all-time high...

”In the war of my youth, World War II, I volunteered for military service at the age of 19 and flew 35 combat missions, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross as the pilot of a B-24 bomber. By contrast, in the war of his youth, the Vietnam War, Cheney got five deferments and has never seen a day of combat--a record matched by President Bush...

“Aside from a growing list of impeachable offenses, the vice president has demonstrated his ignorance of foreign policy by attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for visiting Syria...Does Cheney believe that it's better to go to war rather than talk with countries with which we have differences?

”We, of course, already know that when Cheney endorses a war, he exempts himself from participation. On second thought, maybe it's wise to keep Cheney off the battlefield--he might end up shooting his comrades rather than the enemy.”

If McGovern had been this pugnacious in 1972, he might have beaten Nixon and spared us Watergate.

Jon Stewart Is Out of the Will

The deterioration of John McCain can be measured by the arc of his appearances on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.

As Stewart's most frequent guest, McCain started out as the feisty older brother who could make us laugh at the foibles of our elders, but he has gone downhill ever since until he is now the embarrassing uncle who keeps saying inappropriate things and just won't shut up.

Jon Stewart, to his credit always respectful of elders, last night finally stop deferring to McCain and tried to sober him up on the subject of Iraq. There will be a chill in the air at future gatherings, if any.

How Herd Journalism Got Us Into Iraq

If given a choice, Thomas Jefferson famously said, he would choose newspapers without a government over government without newspapers.

When we invaded Iraq, we were effectively without either. Government lied, newspapers (the media) swallowed the lies.

Tonight on PBS, as he always does, Bill Moyers explores and highlights this national tragedy with the kind of reporting Americans didn’t get in 2002.

As a witness to McCarthyism and Watergate, the last century’s equivalent failures of American journalism, let me add a footnote.

There were good reporters then as there are now. It would be unfair to tar them all as too subservient and too fearful of losing access to sources to dig for the truth behind official lies. David Halberstam, who died yesterday, Woodward and Bernstein and Tom Wicker were exceptions back then. Seymour Hersh, Tom Ricks, James Mann and others are now.

Fear and cowardice are less the problem than the need to be “in the know,” to be savvy insiders rather than questioning outsiders. (Watch the smug I-really-know-what’s-going-on commentary on cable every night by pundit reporters of Newsweek, Washington Post, etc.)

Finding the truth is much harder than “cultivating sources” like Scooter Libby.

That kind of news was not what Jefferson had in mind.

No Farewell to Arms

A week after we learned his name and spent an evening watching him display his weapons, Cho Seung-hui has slipped from sight, and everything is back to normal.

The rights of America’s gun owners are in no danger.

The National Rifle Association is maintaining a pleased silence, letting Presidential candidates and Congressional leaders do the work of discouraging new gun-control laws while one of its constituents, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, tells us the real lesson of what happened at Virginia Tech--a lack of guns on the campus.

The unarmed students, a spokesman explains, “were helpless little sheep, waiting to die.”

An obviously un-American cabal, Mayors Against Illegal Weapons, is running TV commercials urging repeal of a law that prevents Federal authorities from sharing information with local police, but the NRA is on the case, opposing such tyranny “to protect the privacy of gun owners.”

The ads were on the networks last weekend, but not in Wichita, Kansas, where a patriotic programming director stood firm against such “misleading” propaganda.

The Founding Fathers can rest easy. Our Second Amendment right to bear arms is in no danger.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who Are These People?

Talk about snake pits--it's almost impossible to keep track of the White House nest of vipers. Now they seem to be biting one another.

Scott Bloch, the intrepid investigator (see below) is now suspected of starting his new investigation in order to either (a) retaliate for an investigation of his own impropriety or (b) provide a cover story for himself if he is fired or (c) turn over enough rocks so that no one can figure out who was doing what to whom.

In an earlier post, I suggested the White House would have to be fumigated after Rove leaves. Maybe they should start now.

Rove: Revenge of the Bureaucrats?

If today's LA Times story is right, Karl Rove won't have much time to brood over his run-in with Sheryl Crow.

A little-known federal investigative unit, the Office of Special Counsel, is preparing to look into the kind of misuse of power that is Rove-rampant in this White House, including the firing of at least one of the U.S. Attorneys.

Although the Office is headed by a political appointee, it is apparently staffed by the kind of bureaucracy that would resent Rove's tampering with the Hatch Act, among other activities.

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, the head of the Office has said. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Who knows what they will find slithering under the rocks?

Hillary, Michelle and All That Jazz

Not quite Renee Zellweger and Catherine-Zeta Jones, but two fascinating women will be performing in Chicago next month, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama dueling for dollars and votes in their home town.

Sen. Clinton will be going back to her roots for an “Illinois Lawyers for Clinton” cocktail reception--$1000 minimum, $10,000 to be a “designated host” and 25 big ones to qualify as a “chairman,” or should that be “chairperson”?

Meanwhile Mrs. Obama has been and will be whirling around the Windy City speaking in support of her husband’s candidacy.

The Obamas now and the Clintons at the same stage in 1992 offer a contrast in spousal styles. Back then, Hillary Clinton was defending her husband’s character on 60 Minutes. “I'm not...some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," she said. "I love him, and I respect him and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together.”

By contrast, Michelle Obama enjoys tweaking her husband. "He's a gifted man," she tells audiences, "but, in the end, he's just a man" and goes on to report that he forgot to put the butter away that morning.

"I'm like, 'You're just asking for it,'" she says, with an exasperated look at him. "'You know I'm giving a speech about you today.'"

While Hillary Clinton is still struggling even today to get out from under her husband’s shadow, the Obama marriage seems a union of equals, with the Senator until recently always just a step behind his wife’s career.

They met when Michelle Robinson was his supervisor during a law-school internship and have gone their separate ways at work together ever since. “Barack hasn't relied deeply on me for his career path,” she says, “and I haven't relied on him at all for mine.”

When he decided to run for President, she gave him an ultimatum. “It's a role model thing," she said. "You can smoke or you can be president." He stopped smoking.

If the Democrats win the White House next year, one thing is certain: A strong woman will be living there.


He was a journalist's journalist, relentless in getting past the official lies of his time. He was everything a reporter should be. He loved this country, baseball and the truth, and he served them well.

Over 35 years ago, when he was just getting started, I wrote this about him:

"As late as 1963, the only full-time staff correspondent of an American newspaper in Vietnam was David Halberstam of the New York Times. Yet Halberstam, and a few reporters for the wire services and newsmagazines, despite great pressure from politicians in Washington and Saigon, told the story of the Diem regime's corruption and the self-deception involved in official optimism over the course of the war.

"Halberstam was rewarded by President Kennedy's suggestion to the publisher of the Times that he be replaced in Saigon and by the invective of Madame Nhu, President Diem's sister-in-law ('Halberstam should be barbecued, and I would be glad to supply the fluid and the match.')"

Bush Fatigue? Try Nausea

When George Herbert Walker Bush starts talking publicly, as he did last night on Larry King, about Jeb as President some day, it’s time for someone to tell him the country is not suffering from “Bush Fatigue,” as he put it, but Bush Nausea.

A decade of family performance in the White House has ranged from barely adequate (his own) to bottom of the barrel (George W). Why on earth would anyone want more?

Americans are not fond of dynasties and, in case of the Bushes, it might help to recall the origins of the wealth that originally brought them power and influence--banking activities that helped finance Adolf Hitler’s war machine for World War II.

Lest this seem like a partisan slur, note that the companies involved were headed not only by Bushes and Walkers, but by a future Democratic Governor of New York and pillar of his party, W. Averill Harriman.

In this new century, we might want to look for leaders whose claims to fame are not based on and tainted by what their forebears did in the old.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Klein and Kos: Getting a Little Kooky

“But enough about me. Tell me about yourself. What did you think of my last post?”

Variation of old Hollywood egomania joke, inspired by today’s nitpicking debate between Joe Klein and Kos about who said exactly what about what Barack Obama said about what the Senate should do about funding the troops.

Cool your engines, gentlemen. It’s going to be a long race.

Good Fences, Good Neighbors

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!"

It’s hard to think of Nouri al-Maliki and Robert Frost in the same sentence, but the Prime Minister of Iraq is sounding like that most American of poets these days, ordering us to stop the construction of concrete walls around the most violent areas in Baghdad.

The Shiite national leader acted after Sunni residents complained that their neighborhoods were being turned into ghettoes.

There’s just no way of pleasing some folks.

Scarlett O'Bush

In George Bush’s final years, the White House is looking more and more like Tara at the end of “Gone with the Wind.”

Alberto Gonzales? Global warming? Compromise with Congress on troop funding? The Decider seems to be wandering in the ruins, mumbling, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Today Harry Reid diagnoses the President as being “in denial.”

As ’08 approaches, the American people may be heading out the door saying, “Frankly, we don’t give a damn.”

Saturday Night Lively

At their annual summit this weekend--the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner--politicians and press witnessed an historic confrontation of Karl Rove with show business’ Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, which unfortunately has been mis-reported as a spat.

Emphasizing conflict, as the media always does, has obscured the deeper meaning of the event, explored herein.

Ms. Crow and Ms. David describe it thus: “We asked Mr. Rove if he would consider taking a fresh look at the science of global warming. Much to our dismay, he immediately got combative. And it went downhill from there...

N.B. “Combative” is Mr. Rove’s normal mode; the ladies have never seen him snarling while watching Democrats on TV.

“In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, "Don't touch me."

N.B. At this point Mr. Rove may have been mindful of Ms. Crow’s proposal for reducing emissions by limiting “how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.” Source: The Autopsy blog

The Crow-David transcript continues: “How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow? Unphased, Sheryl abruptly responded, ‘You can't speak to us like that, you work for us.’ Karl then quipped, ‘I don't work for you, I work for the American people’...

N.B. There is a failure of communication here. Mr. Rove never quips, and it is more likely he said “I work over the American people,” in the dual sense of hierarchy and as a synonym for massaging the truth. Believe Ms. Crow was "unfazed," unless they meant to say she was dismembered.

“To which Sheryl promptly reminded him, ‘We are the American people.’”

N.B. This is show-business-speak for “I voted once.”

Mr. Rove offers a more succinct account: “She came over to insult me, and she succeeded.”

N.B. This may be the real news. Washington observers have always believed Mr. Rove is insult-proof.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Make Way for Bloomberg

A second America's Mayor has just checked in.

If 9/11 hadn't happened, Rudy Giuliani would not be the leading Republican candidate for President in '08.

The Virginia Tech massacre may give Mike Bloomberg, his successor, the traction for his anticipated run as an Independent. In the new Newsweek, he explains how his frustration at Federal inaction to stop the illegal gun trade led him to form "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," a coalition of 15 big-city leaders to take legal action.

"Most gun dealers follow the law and run honest businesses," Bloomberg writes. "But the statistics show that 1 percent of dealers sell more than half of all illegal guns. Why isn't the federal government going after them? Here's one reason: unlike mayors, members of Congress don't get a phone call in the middle of the night when a cop is shot and killed. They don't deliver the eulogies..."

"The response to our group astonished us. In 12 months, more than 200 mayors have signed on—and we're still growing. This groundswell is not partisan or regional. We have Republicans, Democrats, independents, big cities and small towns—north, south, east, west. Our message is resonating because this isn't about ideology or the Second Amendment. It's about law enforcement. It's about getting data on guns used in crimes, one of the top tools our police have for cracking down on illegal weapons.

"Will we succeed? In my own brief political experience, I've found that pragmatism beats ideology. So yes—and sooner rather than later."

That sounds like the platform for a Presidential candidate who could cut through the unease with both major parties and, with campaign financing from his own billion dollars of resources, offer exhausted American voters something new.

Gun Control: How to Get There

Americans love quick fixes but, where it counts, we have to settle for slow answers.

TV talking heads are clucking today over what went wrong in Blacksburg. As they always do, politicians, pundits and media people are converting a terrible reality into what looks like a national shrug--commissions, round tables, documentaries and legislation that seem to lead nowhere and solve nothing. But they may not be wasting their breath.

Our hopes rest on a less visible process: the deeper, almost glacial advance of cultural change.

If we persist, guns could go the way of cigarettes.

Far fewer of us smoke today than 50 years ago. Decades of research findings, advertising restrictions, label warnings and public education made that happen.

Some Americans still light up, but deaths rates from smoking are down.

So it may be with guns. Surprisingly, despite the blather of National Rifle Association diehards, there are encouraging signs. A reliable new study shows that, in the past quarter of a century, gun ownership in American homes has dropped from 54 to 34.5 percent.

It may be hard to believe at this moment, but the slow drudgery of small steps in controlling the sale, use and social acceptability of assault weapons could avert some future Virginia Techs as surely as the campaign against smoking has prevented some cancer deaths today.

Violence makes dramatic news. Civilized behavior rarely does. It's slow going and doesn't attract as much attention, but it's all we have.

Virginia Gun Giveaway

For weeks now, the owner of Bob Moats Sports Store in Midlothian, Virginia has been planning this week to award one of his customers a $900 handgun in what he is calling the Bloomberg Gun Giveaway.

The nomenclature reflects displeasure with New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has been trying to stop the flow of out-of-state guns into his city with lawsuits against merchants like Mr. Moats.

At midweek, Mr. Moats decided to put off the raffle until next month so as not to be “insensitive to the people of Blacksburg.”

Such delicacy of feeling, however, should not obscure Mr. Moats’ displeasure with the Mayor, whose picture adorns a gun rack in the store labeled “our worst enemy.”

Nor should it be taken as any concession to gun-control advocates. "They flew airplanes into the World Trade Center,” one of Mr. Moats’ employees points out, “but nobody is saying we should stop flying.”

Virginia Governor Tom Kaine apparently agrees, taking time from his grieving for the Virginia Tech victims to express “nothing but loathing for those who take the tragedy and make it political.”

Never mind that Bloomberg’s pressure has been going on for months and has tightened the procedures of dealers like the one who sold Cho Seung-hui his weapons, but obviously not enough.

Let’s hope the winner of Moats’ lottery is either in better mental health or a worse shot.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"The Myth of Care"

During the worst of the Vietnam carnage, Rollo May, the humanist psychologist who wrote "Love and Will,” kept searching newspapers and magazines for photographs of people trying to preserve life rather than destroy it--medics in the war zone, student protesters shielding one another against uniformed men with rifles and clubs, people feeding and sheltering the helpless.

I am still haunted by that vision of a healer of minds trying to find evidence of what he called “the myth of care,” the ingrained altruism of human beings, in the wreckage of his time. “Hate is not the opposite of love,” he wrote. “Apathy is.”

Dr. May would have treasured images of Liviu Librescu shielding his students at Virginia Tech and survivors comforting one another after the shock of madness.

We don’t see many signs of caring in today’s news, but they are there, if we look for them.

George Bush, Master Strategist?

If someone were actually running the country, it might look like something devilishly clever was going on.

Bush continues his tirades against Congress for letting down the troops, while under the radar his two chief cabinet officers take tiny steps toward getting us out of this miserable war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is telling the Iraqis to shape up because we’re not going to be there forever, while Condoleeza Rice schedules meetings with the “neighbors,” Iran and Syria, early next month to talk about the mess. They may have finally read the Iraq Study group recommendations.

In any other Administration, this would look like a “talk softly but carry a big stick” strategy or whatever, but with Bush, who knows? It might just be his version of the old Saturday Night Live skit that showed Reagan bumbling in public but briskly in command behind closed doors.

Still in the spirit of Spring, we can look for signs of new life without getting our hopes up too high.

Meanwhile, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi et al should keep the pressure on but consider turning the volume down. At this point, squabbling with the likes of Joe Lieberman is beside the point.

Hillary Clinton's Bad Hair Year

Nothing seems to be going right for the Democrats’ leading contender to replace George Bush--no tragic missteps, no major gaffes, no serious mistiming, just a nagging sense of a campaign not quite on track.

Rutgers, for example: Sen. Clinton was to be there Monday, but a spring storm flooded the area and she didn’t make it until yesterday. By then, Virginia Tech had wiped Imus out of the national mind, and the basketball players were “too busy studying” to meet her. Mrs. Clinton spoke to the coaches, but they did not appear at her campus speech.

To the 700 who were there, the Senator proposed a Rutgers Pledge: ”Will you be willing to speak up and say,'Enough is enough' when women or minorities or the powerless are marginalized or degraded?”

Along with this call to arms, she essayed a little levity on the subject of the “nappy-headed” slur. "I have been called some names I'd be embarrassed to repeat in public," she said with a laugh. "My hairstyles and fashion choices provide endless fodder for public discussion and dissection."

While this was going on, a report on Hollywood fund-raising showed Clinton only slightly ahead of Obama, with most of her support coming from the older movie crowd.

Today she will be in Manhattan to address an Al Sharpton convention but, with the kind of luck she’s been having, Obama may get all the attention.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Bad Week for Sanity

In a time capsule some day, this week will go down as one in which the human race lost ground.

The Virginia Tech slaughter reminds us of how shaky the ground under our feet really is, and the TV screen pours true madness into our minds, showing us how helpless we are against it.

In Baghdad, suicide bombers give us even more than more of the same.

In Washington, Alberto Gonzales demonstrates the fallacy of the comforting old saying, ”They must know what they’re doing or they wouldn’t be where they are.”

And the U.S. Supreme Court shows us what the Bush madness can really do. In the words of a Yale Law Professor, the arbiters of civilized behavior go “beyond Alice in Wonderland: criminalize abortion to protect women.”

Coming next week: plague and pestilence?

Is McCain Losing It?

Start with the Infinite Monkey Theorem: Could an untold number of primates typing forever produce one of Shakespeare’s plays? Today’s variation: In all of Karl Rove’s smears, would you ever find a grain of truth?

In the 2000 primaries, Bush’s Slime Machine attacked John McCain with push-poll slanders about everything in his life, including the suggestion that years of stress as a POW might have made him mentally unstable.

Now McCain seems to be raising the issue himself. In the latest bit of oddness, the Senator answers a question in South Carolina by changing the lyrics of a Beach Boy song, “Barbara Ann” to “Bomb Iran.”

His campaign has been plagued by off-the-cuff gaffes: unexpectedly announcing his candidacy on Letterman and then referring to “wasted” lives in Iraq, blabbing about safe walking in Baghdad and then having to make a bullet-proofed trip to back up the absurd claim.

McCain himself seems charmed by all this. On 60 Minutes, he said, "Of course I'm going to misspeak...I probably will in the future...I'm happy frankly with the way I operate, otherwise it would be a lot less fun.”

If elected, the Senator would be 72 when he takes over the Oval Office and 76 or 80 when he leaves it. As an elder who has been through his seventies, I have some advice for him:

You don’t change but you have to be on guard against caricaturing yourself: Outspoken can become loose-lipped, strong-minded may morph into crotchety, quirky could be seen as weird. An extra beat of thought before talking can spare you a lot of embarrassment.

The only way this will not be a campaign issue would be the Democratic nomination of a long shot, former Sen. Mike Gravel, who is six years older. But McCain can’t bet on that.

Will NBC Please Shut Up!

Network executives have no shame. Instead of slinking into silence, those wonderful folks at NBC, MSNBC etc. insult our intelligence once more today with another mealy-mouthed statement:

The pain suffered by the Virginia Tech community and indeed the entire country is immeasurable.

Upon receiving the materials from Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed. We did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities, who have since
publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter. Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime.

Our Standards and Policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams, handled the reporting. We believe it provides some answers to the critical question, "why did this man carry out these awful murders?" The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers. We have covered this story — and our unique role in it — with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less.

Get off it, Mr. Capus. After hiding behind Al Roker et al in firing Imus, you can’t escape this one by shielding yourself with Pete Williams, the Standards and Practices people and "every news organization in the world."

All-Thumbs White House

As soon as Democrats took over Congress, it became clear that, as political as this Administration has been, Bush, Cheney and Rove have no aptitude for the process.

For six years, with a rubber-stamp Republican Congress, there was no need for the give-and-take, negotiating, compromises and tradeoffs normally involved in governing. Now, every day brings new evidence that these people just don’t know how to do it.

Start with the twisting in the wind of Alberto Gonzales. As the Attorney General tightens his own noose in today’s Senate hearings, Bush says he is “pleased” with the performance. When the AG finally goes, the President will be as politically damaged as he was by his lies to the media before Rumsfeld’s abrupt departure, which he withheld until after the November elections.

The funding-of-the-war fight is another disaster in the making. If Lyndon Johnson had been faced with a Congressional revolt over Vietnam, he would have found ways of finessing it with language that took the opposition’s concerns into account. Instead, clueless Bush just digs in and tries to score rhetorical points.

Referring to Karl Rove as a “political genius” is a gruesome joke. He is good (if that’s the word) only at fighting dirty, which may win elections but is disastrous for governing, as the firing of the U.S. Attorneys may eventually prove. The lost e-mails, conflicting stories and general confusion are the political equivalent of the stateroom scene in a Marx Brothers movie.

Just yesterday, Rove in Ohio was asked whose idea it was to start a preemptive war in Iraq, and he answered, “I think it was bin Laden’s,” a snappy answer for whistle-stop campaigning in the sticks but not for a college audience including protesters.

When voters pick a President next year, they may want to keep in mind that politics is the art of the possible, and it can’t be successfully practiced by people who only know how to vilify opponents not cooperate with them.

Nobody wants a re-run of the cautionary 1972 movie, “The Candidate,” which ends with Robert Redford, after a tumultuous winning campaign, asking “What do we do now?”

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Network": The Sequel

My high-school classmate Paddy Chayevsky wrote the movie “Network” about TV executives who keep an insane anchorman on the air when ratings soar and then have him assassinated on camera when the public has had enough.

If he were still with us, Paddy would have relished the past 24 hours as an updated replay of his plot: After brief operatic anguish, TV executives fall back on “the public’s right to know” and give us a night of prime-time, repeated-ad-nauseam insanity.

Less than 24 hours later after wringing Cho’s rantings for ratings, they tell us how sensitive they are to public revulsion and will curtail their use.

Even Fox News joins the mea-culpa chorus and when the shameless are embarrassed, you know it’s unanimous.

NBC's Talking Head

A small quibble for NBC News President Steve Capus: When The New York Times story of Cho Seung-Hui’s package mentions you more times than the killer (7 to 6), you may want to rethink your visibility.

This month Capus has been seen and heard almost as often as his anchors, not only last night solemnly describing the network’s dilemma over Cho’s gift package but throughout the Imus affair telling Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, David Gregory et al about his inner struggles over the decision to fire his wayward money-maker.

Somebody in the PR Department has been hyperactive as well, distributing head shots of Capus as a well as a photo of him in a smiling tete-a-tete with Al Sharpton.

The sincerity of your Imus firing in response to his colleagues’ complaints rather than advertisers’ and your anguish over showing the Cho videos is doubted by few, but in the future it might be a little less grating to let “the talent” do the talking.

Pat Leahy, Politician

The senior Senator from Vermont will be in the spotlight today as head of the Judiciary Committee trying to get some semblance of truth about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys from Alberto Gonzales.

In an era when “politician” is an epithet, Leahy is a reminder of how it used to be. Anyone who can inspire his opponent to endorse him during a campaign and then drive Dick Cheney to cuss him out in the Senate deserves a closer look.

A former prosecutor, Leahy was the first Democrat elected to the Senate by Vermont since the Civil War and has been there over thirty years.

With no Presidential ambitions, he voted against invading Iraq in 2002 and has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the Bush Administration’s abuse of citizens’ privacy since then.

Republicans like to portray him as Gonzales’ Javier, Democrats as a Frank Capra hero. But Leahy, an ardent fan of the Grateful Dead and U-2, is no stereotype, just an honest politician seemingly doing his best to stay that way. There used to be more of them.

Vermont has a way of electing strong-minded people--Bernard Sanders, an independent who calls himself a Socialist but votes with the Democrats, and Howard Dean, a governor who exploded on the national scene by vocally opposing the Iraq war and then imploded by screaming on TV after the 2004 Iowa caucuses.

There must be something in the water.

Being Groomed for President

As an antidote to those vile videos of the Virginia Tech mass murderer, you may want to take a look at John Edwards maintaining one of his $400 haircuts and get the background on Politico.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cho's Network of Choice

Why NBC? Between killings, why did Cho Seung-Hui send Steve Capus, News President of NBC, his package of videos and photographs?

The most likely answer is that Capus was the only network news executive he knew of, after seeing him on TV in those now-distant days of the Imus crisis.

But the real news is that Cho, described a thousand times this week as a "loner," was after all in the classic mold of assassins who use murder as the only way to break out of their unbearable anonymity--Lee Harvey Oswald, Arthur Bremer and the rest.

After shooting and paralyzing Alabama governor and Presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972, Bremer asked his captors, "How much do you think I'll get for my memoirs?"

Cho apparently couldn't wait to find out.

Clinton Sinking

Gallup has more bad news for Hillary Clinton today: Her image has slipped below the water line with 52 percent of Americans having an unfavorable view of her. After months of campaigning, her "likability scores" are going down.

What's worse is not only do Democrats feel better about Barack Obama and John Edwards than they did earlier this year but, unlike Senator Clinton, they have more voters with "no opinion" of them (20 and 17 percent respectively) who they might win over. Only three per cent say they have not made up their mind about her. When candidates start debating later this month, the race will be wide open.

Ironically, Americans liked Hillary Clinton much better when her husband was being impeached. Two out of three had a favorable opinion of her then.

Remedial Journalism from Shanghai

Conventional wisdom has it that excitable bloggers spread false rumors during a crisis and muddy the informational waters, as opposed to the responsible, reliable old Main Stream Media.

Now here is James Fallows, a pillar of the MSM, from Shanghai taking to the woodshed another MSM outlet, the Chicago Sun-Times, for riling up the world's most populous nation by hawking a story that the Virginia Tech killer was Chinese and, when it proved unfounded, trying to burying the links to it.

Nice going, Sun-Times. Rupert Murdoch may no longer own you, but his legacy lives on.

Gates: Dems' Anti-War Pressure "Positive"

"The debate in Congress...has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Jordan yesterday. "The strong feeling expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact...communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

On a Middle East tour, Gates was reacting to Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to pull out six followers from the Iraqi cabinet, expressing hope that "broadening representation" might be "positive."

It would be easy to dismiss Gates' comment as wishful thinking, but recognizing the value of Congressional opposition to the war is a huge step forward for the Bush Administration--a reality-based wishful thinking in contrast to the dream world that Donald Rumsfeld inhabited.

Now if only Bush and Cheney can resist the temptation to have Gates "clarify" his statement by denying it...

Rescue Fantasies

I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. --Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

In the era of televised traumas--Kennedy’s assassination, the killing of John Lennon, 9/11--it’s hard not to feel guilty over our helplessness and seek outlets for those feelings.

For months after November 22, 1963, many Americans would awake from sweat dreams of the Dallas motorcade, book depository, silent screams, slow-motion lunges at a relentless assassin, images of rescues going awry.

Now the Web is alive with Virginia Tech shoulda-woulda- couldas--conservatives blaming the victims for not overpowering the shooter, liberals deriding the blamers for their armchair courage.

Both sides cite the 76-year-old Israeli professor who died saving his students, but there is no moral equivalence between a Holocaust survivor and sheltered young people whose experience of murder is limited to movies and video games.

Perhaps the best way to settle the argument is to blame the video games, as Dr. Phil did last night on Larry King. That kind of wisdom will help us all sleep better.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Insane Fame

Cho Seung-Hui, anonymous in a world he hated while alive, is now a subject of universal interest and insatiable curiosity. We want to know every detail of his miserable life that led to the deranged murder of all those innocent people.

What comfort will those millions of words and images give us? What can we possibly learn from all that talk about an insane act? Why can't we grieve in silence and put it behind us?

In our media-saturated world, that's just not possible. For these few days, that bloody campus is and will be as much a part of our lives as the homes we live in and the places we work.

That may be the best evidence that we, unlike Cho Seung-Hui, are connected to one another in a human way that makes us incapable of doing what he did, and that may be why putting ourselves through all this is more than morbid curiosity.

Body Counts

The Virginia Tech victims are being identified, next of kin notified, and soon we will know all their names, ages and home towns. The registry of the dead will be closed.

In Iraq, out of our sight, the body counts never stop. This month alone, 64 of our young people have died there so far, bringing the total to 3311, 73 of them women.

There is no wall in Washington, yet, to commemorate those lives wasted or sacrificed (depending on John McCain’s discretion), but if you want to know their names, ages, ranks and home towns, there is a web site that meticulously lists them.

While our eyes were fastened on Blacksburg, those who died in Iraq yesterday (that we know of) were Shaun M. Blue, 25, Marine 1st Lieutenant, Munster, Ind.; Jesse D. Delatorre, 29, Marine Lance Corporal, Aurora, Ill.; and Daniel R. Scherry, 20, Marine Lance Corporal, Rocky River, Ohio.

There will be more tomorrow.

Fred Tompson's Career Move: Invade Iran?

To follow the fortunes of the Republican party requires close reading of both the political press and the TV trade journals: Will Thompson Jump Into the Race? Has Law & Order Jumped the Shark?

TV’s longest-running drama is “on the bubble” between renewal and cancellation, so even if Thompson is going to run, in fairness to “Law & Order,” he can’t announce until the May rating sweeps are over or equal-time rules will kick his show off the air.

Running second in the polls, Thompson has undoubtedly decided to audition for the ’08 reality-show version of “The West Wing,” and his party’s Pooh-Bahs have been busy appraising his credentials as a true-blue conservative.

The verdict so far seems favorable. In a cover story, their house organ the Weekly Standard has deemed him “the politically aggressive conservative that George W. Bush hasn't been for four years.”

The rest of us might have some cause to worry. Not only is Thompson gung-ho on Iraq, he wants to invade Iran as well.

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

If Thompson gets to the White House, we may have re-runs of more than “Law & Order.”

McCain Misfires Again

The Senator from Arizona seems intent on disqualifying himself for the White House. Why else would he choose yesterday of all days for a ringing endorsement of the Constitutional right to bear arms?

Asked about the Virginia Tech massacre, McCain replied: "We have to look at what happened here, but it doesn't change my views on the Second Amendment, except to make sure that these kinds of weapons don't fall into the hands of bad people...Obviously we have to keep guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens."

Yesterday's shooter very likely had no prior record to keep him from buying his rapid-fire, big-clip guns, so McCain is defending his right to keep them until they were pried from his cold, dead hands.

Someone should explain to the Senator when straight talk becomes stupid talk and let him know that the warranty on American sympathy for his POW ordeal has just run out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jon Stewart Misplays Card

The Daily Show host, who stood up nicely last month to John R. Bolton, the UN ambassador who couldn’t get confirmed because of his nasty demeanor, suddenly turned soft tonight in interviewing Andy Card, Bush’s long-time chief of staff.

When Bolton disputed Stewart’s remarks about Lincoln, the man from Comedy Central did not retreat and the next evening brought on Doris Kearns, Honest Abe’s biographer, to back him up.

Tonight Stewart was apparently too charmed to ask Card the obvious question his audience would want answered--about the former Chief of Staff's comment in 2002 referring to the political campaign against Iraq as a "product" and telling The New York Times, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

Too bad. It's the ultimate question a fake-news anchor should have asked.

Death on the Campus

On August 1, 1966, a 25-year-old student and former Marine named Charles Whitman, after killing his wife and his mother the night before, barricaded himself at the top of a 27-story tower on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin and started shooting. He killed 14 people and wounded 45 before two lawmen finally worked their way up to the top of the tower and shot him dead.

Forty years later, he has been outdone. At this point, we know very little about the man with the guns on the Virginia Tech campus. One of the witnesses has said, “He was just a normal looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout type outfit.”

Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout from a troubled family, four months before he did it had told a campus psychiatrist that he felt an urge to “start shooting people with a deer rifle” from the University tower. He was on medication for depression.

No matter what we learn about today’s shooter, we will in the end probably know no more about him than we do about Charles Whitman, certainly not what we want to know most: Was there any way to have predicted and prevented his actions?

In all the decades since Whitman, we have learned nothing that could have spared us today. “Mental illness” will undoubtedly be the verdict, but that’s a description, not a diagnosis or possible cure.

Whitman and today’s killer have this in common: They both looked calm and determined, and neither said a word.

Words Won't Do

This is a day of pit-of-the-stomach news, of feeling personally violated by TV images of a quiet campus suddenly struck by horror, of watching the aftermath of incomprehensible savagery in a world of laptops, cell phones--and semi-automatic weapons.

For the rest of the day and those to come, there will be a flood of words about the killer's identity and motives, campus security, gun control, violence in modern life, etc. etc. etc. Some of them may be comforting, like what people say at a wake, but in the end we will be left with simply more proof, as if we needed any, of how fragile our civilization is.

The only way to honor those victims is to keep doing everything we can to hold it together. Respectful silence would be a start.

Stuffed With News, Starved for Knowledge

If 31 percent of Americans don’t know who Dick Cheney is, how many more have no idea of what he is?

A new Pew Center study today tells us that “the coaxial and digital revolutions have had little impact much Americans know about national and international affairs.”

That’s not fair. Ask us about Imus, the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby or the backstage battles at “American Idol,” and we can tell you a lot.

That may not be fair either: Cable news, syndicated gossip shows, talk radio and all the rest certainly pander to their audience’s interests, but they didn’t invent them.

What may be scarier is that “high knowledge” Americans get their news from a strange combination of sources: the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, newspaper web sites, PBS’ News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the O’Reilly Factor, National Public Radio and Rush Limbaugh.

No one could admire Jon Stewart more than I do, but if he is today’s Tom Brokaw, he will be the first to tell you we’re in trouble.

Thirty-five years ago, I wrote, “Americans are stuffed with information but starved for understanding.”

Apparently we still are.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Key to Getting Out of Iraq

We could extricate ourselves from the Middle East by taking all those billions spent on weapons to set up a TV network for every faction in the region.

Tonight the Shiite cleric Muktada al-Sadr announces he will announce tomorrow the withdrawal of his six ministers in the Iraqi government to protest Prime Minister al-Maliki's failure to react to his followers' protest last week to get our troops out of the country. Translation: We're not getting enough attention.

After the ratings coup by Iranian Prime Minister Admadinejad with the British sailors, it is clear that TV cameras can do more than explosives to calm down that part of the world.

It is noteworthy that al-Sadr is not pulling out his members of Parliament, saving that move for another round of headlines and TV bulletins. Attention must be paid.

Scooter Who?

Loyalty is a one-way street in Cheneyville. Asked by Bob Schieffer today on "Face the Nation" about conversations with his former Chief of Staff since Scooter Libby fell on his sword for him, the Vice President answered, "There hasn't been any occasion to do so."

Schieffer repeated his question. "But as your friend, wouldn't you even call and express your regrets?" Schieffer asked Cheney. "I mean, I am surprised to hear you say that."

Cheney said again, "I just—-I haven't had occasion to do that." Asked if he felt at all responsible for Libby's demise, Cheney said, "Bob, I'm simply not going to get into the case. And I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so."

Alberto Gonzales, take note: When you take the fall, this bunch doesn't send flowers or even call.

Death Threats, Love Offerings

It’s all on schedule. After Googling “sharpton death threat” today, 365,000 hits will lead you to news about the Rev. Al’s beefed-up security after hate mail resulting from his courageous stand against the Evil Imus.

‘Twas ever thus. In 1991, while protesting racism in Brooklyn, the Reverend was stabbed by a drunken Italian gentleman and had to wait 12 years before a court case ended with New York City paying him $200,000 and covering a $7447 hospital tab for failing to provide enough security.

This could not be described as a “love offering,” which is Sharptonese for money that underwrites his expensive causes and extensive, often luxurious travel.

There are so many it’s hard to keep track:

*The $80,000 provided by admirers to pay off his defamation liability in the Tawana Brawley fake rape case.

*The $25,000 donation from folks seeking Harlem fast-fried franchises as the Reverend stood up for the “underchicken” and denounced Kentucky Fried Chicken’s fowl cruelty.

*The $100,000 misunderstanding that resulted in having to return Federal funding for his 2004 presidential campaign.

*The $240,000 a year the Reverend was getting to do commercials for Loan Max, which he renounced after an uproar over the firm’s 360 percent-a-year interest charges that often resulted in taking away cars from the poor.

*The $1.9 million the National Action Network reported in 2002 mostly from unidentified contributors, according to a New York Times report in 2004 on the Reverend’s finances:

“A recent filing with the election commission...provided new details about Mr. Sharpton's income. He disclosed that in 2002 he earned $381,900--$78,000 from the National Action Network; $75,000 from Kensington Publishing, the publisher of his book 'Al on America'; $25,000 from Pepsico for sitting on an advisory board; $3,900 from Inner City Broadcasting for a radio show; and $80,000 from various companies for consulting work.

“Another $120,000 came from speeches and sermons through a company he identifies in his filing and in court papers as Rev. Als Productions...actually RevAls Communications, a corporate identity he created in 1999, of which Rev. Als Productions is a subsidiary.”

But why go on? Uplifting the downtrodden is hard, dangerous work, and we should all pray for the Rev. Al’s safety and appropriate earthly rewards for his endeavors.

Upending the Tax-and-Spend Story

As we cheerfully write the checks and stuff the envelopes at tax-deadline time, David Broder in the Washington Post has some news for us: Those terrible tax-and-spend Democrats are working to get the government back to pay-as-you-go prudence after six years of Republican drunken-sailor binging:

“Instead of promising more unaffordable tax cuts that go mainly to the richest Americans, as their Republican counterparts have done for the past six years, key Democrats are imposing some real spending discipline on themselves.

“That is the underreported story in the budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate just before the Easter recess and now headed for tweaking in a conference between the chambers and final approval in the next few weeks...

“By itself, it does not deal with the long-term and massive problems of financing Social Security and Medicare benefits for the retiring baby boom generation. But it can be, if enforced, an effective way of preventing the budget deficit from getting worse.”

It’s becoming clear that, along with the high-profile investigations of Bush wrongdoing, voters are getting good returns on their November 2006 investment in Democratic control of Congress, even though the big one--stopping the war in Iraq--is still fluctuating in the market.

Grimm Brothers: Gonzales and Thompson

If you like fairy tales, just look at the morning papers. Two Republicans, Fred Thompson and Arturo Gonzales, are updating the Grimm Brothers.

Uncle Fred is recycling the old one from the master storyteller of your parents' time, Ronald Reagan, about the magic tax cuts, the trickle-down and the beanstalk that grows to the sky.

The tooth fairy is back in Uncle Arturo's tale of how, while we are all tucked safely in bed, he and his elves who never sleep have been watching over us unselfishly day and night.

Now, children, just close your eyes until November 2008, and it will be Morning in America again with porridge for everybody.