Friday, August 31, 2007

Petraeus' Gung-Ho Preview

Like any theatrical piece, “The David Petraeus Show” is having out-of-town tryouts before opening in Washington two weeks from now.

Today, the General gave an upbeat performance. He told the Australian in an interview at his Baghdad headquarters there has been a 75 per cent reduction in religious and ethnic killings since last year, a doubling in the seizure of insurgents' weapons caches between January and August, a rise in the number of al-Qaeda "kills and captures" and a fall in the number of coalition deaths from roadside bombings.

The Surge, he claimed, has turned U.S. forces into pursuers instead of defenders. "And that is a much better place to be than to be doing a deliberate attack into their defenses, like we had to do in Ramadi," he said. "Ramadi was like Stalingrad."

More ominous was the impression that the General was toeing the Bush-Cheney line about Iran.

"There is growing concern,” he said, “by the Iraqi Government, by us, and our own Government as we have learned more and more about the degree of this malign involvement of the Iranian Quds force with the militia extremists that have been supported by them, trained, equipped, armed, funded and even in some cases directed."

If this is the monologue he is working on for his Congressional appearance, Gen. Petraeus may end up turning the discussion about getting out of Iraq into a debate about invading Iran.

Has anybody been helping him with the script? The war critics had better be preparing their rebuttal to a new Petraeus offensive.

September Song for Iraq

All year long, politicians of both parties have been tuning up for September. Now, as the lyrics say, the days are dwindling down to a precious few for Congressional Republicans who have to face the music next fall, but George Bush is still playing the waiting game in Iraq.

He now plans to ask for another $50 billion to keep funding the war in the belief that the mixed signals of progress that Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are bringing to legislators will be enough to cow Congress into going along.

But the White House may be misreading the sheet music. John Warner’s little solo last week following Dick Lugar’s aria should reinforce earlier humming by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner that the chorus of yea-sayers is thinning out. Even the "sliming" of Congressional visitors to the war zone this month seems to be backfiring.

Add to all that unprecedented cacophony among the military, who are sounding notes of discord about what to do next.

Starting next week, there will be loud disharmony in the Washington air.

Fred Thompson's Iffy Entrance

He is finally ready for his close-up. After the longest throat-clearing in election history, Fred Thompson has announced he will announce his candidacy next Thursday--by webcast, thereby postponing a little longer the tawdry business of personal appearances and pressing the flesh.

Up to now, Thompson’s “Wag the Dog” campaign has been working well enough to push him into second place in the polls behind Rudy Giuliani without saying much of anything. The few times he has proferred platitudes at rubber-chicken dinners, the applause was not deafening.

Now he is going to have to answer tiresome questions about his past lobbying, his relaxed work ethic and his young wife’s campaign-managing. He will have stand next to the Republican pygmies in debates and trade zingers with the likes of Ron Paul. If he flubs his lines in stump speeches, there won’t be any retakes.

There is a long tradition of movie actors blowing it in live theater. Thompson may regret stepping out from emoting for the cameras and taking his chances with live audiences who may hiss and boo or, worst of all, yawn.

Obama's Strange Senate Friend

To illustrate his bipartisan approach as President, Barack Obama last weekend named three Senate Republicans he would work with if elected--Dick Lugar, John Warner and Tom Coburn.

Lugar and Warner are Senate elders, but his choice of Coburn raises questions about Obama’s judgment and, after what the junior senator from Oklahoma did this week, some would say his definition of sanity.

In an editorial headed “Locked, Loaded and Loony,” the New York Times today decried the position of Coburn, a physician, who “stands alone in blocking final passage of a suicide prevention bill in fear that the government’s record-keeping on troubled vets might somehow crimp their ability to purchase handguns.”

In naming him, Obama conceded Coburn “is probably the most conservative member of the U.S. Senate” but added, “He has become a friend of mine.”

The loyalty of Obama’s friend to the gun lobby is surpassed only by his right-to-life fervor, which Coburn has expressed by favoring the death penalty for physicians who perform abortions, even in cases of rape, pointing out that his great-grandmother was raped by a sheriff and then gave birth to his grandmother.

Coburn has called gays “the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today” and condemned the TV showing of the Holocaust film, “Schindler’s List” because it portrayed "irresponsible sexual behavior.”

When they get together for friendly chats, they can always have a few laughs about the Republican nut case, Alan Keyes, whom Coburn endorsed for President in 2000 and who, during Obama’s run for the Senate, filled in when his Republican opponent dropped out after a sex scandal.

They have so much in common.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards Channels Nixon

One of our 37th President’s hallmark moves was to bracket his slanders with the phrases, “Some people would say...” and “But I’m not one of them.”

In her Time interview this week, Elizabeth Edwards echoes the Master by attacking Hillary Clinton while pretending to defend her:

"I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified. I don't know where it comes from. I don't begin to understand it. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will. It's hard for John to talk about, but it's the reality."

Nixon too always “wanted to be perfectly clear” as he stirred the mud.

Mrs. Edwards’ passionate belief in her husband and apparent freedom to speak her mind freely in the face of her cancer are admirable, but not limitlessly so. Among the many reasons John Edwards is mired in the polls is the impression that he will do or say anything to get elected. Having his wife do a Nixon impression is one of them.

The Multi-Millionaire Dog

To offset news of football star Michael Vick’s canine inhumanity, there is word that recently deceased Leona Helmsley has left a $12 million trust to care for her 8-year-old white Maltese, Trouble and $3 million more to ensure that the dog is buried beside her and her husband, Harry, in a luxury mausoleum.

Between these polar extremes of animal cruelty and kindness, an organization, 2nd Chance for Pets, is encouraging owners to make provisions in their wills to avoid having their dogs join the estimated 300,000 or more animals that are euthanized after the deaths of their owners.

That’s a problem Trouble will never have to face.

Middle-Class Health Care Crisis Gets Worse

The newest Census figures put a statistical face on the sickening truth about health care in America. Even as household incomes go up, so do the number of uninsured. The creeping crisis has moved beyond the poor into the middle class.

A record high 47 million Americans were priced out of health care, even as the poverty rate went down and median household income rose to $48,200 in 2006. Uninsured families earning more than $75,000 a year increased by 1.4 million.

As profits of HMOs, health insurers and drug companies soar, more and more employers are cutting down or eliminating coverage as a job benefit, leaving families to fend for themselves in a market of rising premiums and discrimination against the most vulnerable.

“Middle income Americans are now experiencing the human suffering that comes with being uninsured. It makes any illness a potential economic and social catastrophe,” says Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, of the Harvard Medical School, a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Yet politicians keep tinkering with the current system. Of all the Presidential candidates for ’08, Dennis Kucinich is the only one proposing a single-payer system to eliminate the one out of every three dollars spent on health care that goes to insurers’ overhead and profits.

But rumblings of revolt can be heard. In California,
a new statewide poll shows voters rejecting moderate health-care reforms proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislators and leaning, instead, toward a state-managed "single-payer" system.

But it will take much more public demand to overcome the largest lobbying expenditures in American history to keep the system as a cash cow for companies that profit from it.

The Media's Princess Bride

Tomorrow will mark the tenth anniversary of the night the Princess of Wales died in a Paris car wreck while being pursued, as always, by photographers.

In my last years as an editor, Diana’s was the face that launched a thousand magazine covers, a Cinderella who rose to the height of celebrity after marrying Prince Not-So-Charming.

In less than a year, she transformed herself from a shy, somewhat chubby teaching assistant into the world’s most stylish woman, a never-ending feast for the cameras.

But it turned out to be more a Faustian bargain than a fairy tale. She did her part by giving birth to two heirs, but the price was a cold husband who preferred his former mistress, royal resentment of her popularity and constant sniping by the palace establishment.

Soon the couple was caught by cameras bickering on a ski slope, her cell calls were taped and made public, and finally after an unseemly royal divorce, she took up with the heir to the kingdom of Harrods department store.

Just before she died, People ran a cover story labeling Diana “the poster girl for Smart Princess, Dumb Choices” and characterizing Dodi Al Fayed as a “tomcat” and “a billionaire deadbeat.” Time ran a snippy item about the “fractured fairy-tale princess.” The Diana backlash was in full swing.

But as a cynic once said, in the media world death can be a great career move. The postmortem issue of People eulogized her “wisdom and strength” and announced a gift of $100,000 to the Princess Diana Fund for AIDS victims. Time memorialized her with two consecutive cover tributes. The magazines were best-sellers, of course.

Now once again there will be those glamorous images of her while two Princes mourn the mother they lost too soon, a sad reprise of the fairy tale that reflected no glory on all of us in late twentieth-century journalism.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Our Moral Duty to the Iraqis

President Bush keeps reminding Americans of the bloodbath that would ensue in Iraq if U.S. troops left.

His sincerity is reflected in a New York Times report today on the fate of Iraqis who are in danger because they worked for the U.S. The headline: “Obstacles Keep Iraqi Refugees From U.S.”

Red tape is stranding all but a few who have to leave their country and go to Syria, Lebanon or Jordan to apply for permission to come here. From October to July, 190 Iraqi refugees have arrived in the U.S., according to the State Department, which expects 2,000 by the end of next month and “considerably more” next year.

Ali Saleh, a 37-year-old interpreter who worked for the military for four years told the Times he was barely able to leave his neighborhood in western Baghdad, let alone take his wife and 2-year-old son to Jordan. In four years, eight colleagues have been killed. He quit this spring when a woman working as an interpreter who lived nearby was kidnapped and killed.

Although few can take advantage of it, refugee status is available to hundreds of interpreters but not to the estimated 69,000 workers of American contractors, who are also targeted for reprisal by Iraqi militants.

While Bush keeps talking about our duty not to abandon brave Iraqis, our government is not doing much to protect them while we can.

Another Clinton Blitz

Next week, Oprah, Larry King and David Letterman will be doing Clinton interviews, not with the candidate but the potential First Spouse.

Bill Clinton will be promoting his new book, “Giving,” about American efforts to help helpless people around the world, including Winfrey's "Angel Network," which has donated millions to schools in Africa and aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Lady Bird Johnson worked tirelessly on beautifying America. Nancy Reagan opposed drug use with her “Just Say No” campaign. Bill Clinton, as is his wont, would be visible on a world stage.

Mitt Romney, Meet Barry Goldwater

The Mr. Clean of Republican hopefuls gave his supporters a sample today of the moral probity he would bring to the White House.

Asked about the arrest of Sen. Larry Craig,” Mitt Romney told an interviewer, “Very disappointing. He's no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine...he was one of those who was helping my effort, and I'm sorry to see that he has fallen short.”

After unloading Craig, Romney went on to link him to Bill Clinton and “the fact that he let us down in his personal conduct with a White House intern” and sum up his feelings about their disappointing behavior, “Frankly, it's disgusting.”

In 1964, three weeks before the election, Lyndon Johnson’s closest aide Walter Jenkins was arrested in the men’s room of a YMCA near the White House for doing what Craig is now alleged to have attempted.

Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for President, refused to comment. In his autobiography, Goldwater late wrote, "It was a sad time for Jenkins' wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow. Winning isn't everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important."

But that was before the term “compassionate conservative” had been invented.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"I Have a Dream"

Forty four years ago today, more than 250,000 black and white Americans gathered peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to bear witness to the desire for a new civil rights bill that would give equal protection under the law for all.

At a time when race in America is reflected in a range of truths from the neglect of African-American victims of hurricane Katrina to the fact that a leading contender for President in ‘08 is a man of color, we can measure how far we have come and how far we still have to go in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that day:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends--so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi - from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring--when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children--black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics--will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Fred Thompson Signs for Fox Reality Show

The suspense is over. Fred Thompson will not be running for the Republican nomination. Instead he will star in a new reality show this fall for the Fox Network, “Presidential Survivor,” in which the former Senator/actor will play a candidate and simulate all the drama and color of a real campaign--making stump speeches, issuing position papers and debating real candidates in guest appearances.

“After studying all the options,” Thompson announced today, “I have decided I can best serve my country, not by seeking the Highest Office but by giving the American public a true picture of what they should be looking for in a President and how.”

By signing for the series, Thompson will avoid the rigors of campaign travel, fund-raising and having Mrs. Thompson keep firing staff members. In addition, he will be able to collect residuals from re-runs of “Law and Order.”

If the ratings are high enough, Fox executives said, the series will run until next spring, at which point Thompson can decide whether to declare for the nomination in real life or sign up for another TV season.

Tempest in a Tearoom

In August, when Washington politicians are all somewhere else, news of outrageous behavior by politicians is at a premium. Alberto Gonzales filled the void yesterday with his long-awaited resignation. Today it’s Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho.

Scandal-starved MSM journalists and, even more so, bloggers are feasting on the news that another Republican defender of family values has been caught literally with his pants down. News of Craig’s arrest and guilty plea on charges of lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airline terminal rest room was quickly followed by his resignation as Senate co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign.

Getting past the familiar gabble at the hypocrisy of Republican defenders of family values, Craig’s downfall (the clamor will almost certainly lead to his departure from the Senate) highlights the persistence of odd public behavior in our supposedly enlightened age.

When Sen. David Vitter was brought low by disclosure of his phone calls to the D. C. Madam, it was another instance of furtive deviant behavior in a private setting. But Craig’s solicitation of sex in a public place is a reminder that anonymous homosexual encounters in “tearooms” are far from a practice of the past.

Moral outrage seems to be the reaction of choice to this kind of behavior. Sadness might be another.

Gonzales' Father's Best Days

Throughout his ordeals of the past months and again yesterday at the climax, our outgoing Attorney General kept repeating the mantra, “Even my worst days have been better than my father’s best days.”

In clinging so fiercely to his own achievement of the American Dream, Gonzales was unwittingly evoking one of the nightmares of the Administration he served--reversing two centuries of constant upward progress from one generation to the next.

This spring, the “American Mobility Report” showed young men today worse off financially than their fathers were at the same age, a reversal of the generational advances that have made the “Land of Opportunity” a reality from the start.

In March, three out of every four Americans in a Pew Research Center poll said they believed that “the rich just get richer while the poor just get poorer.”

Gonzales’ benefactor George Bush made it possible for him to outdo his immigrant laborer father but, by widening the gap between rich and poor, has been pulling up the drawbridge for new generations still mired in poverty.

It seems to have escaped the Attorney General’s notice that he was faithfully serving a President who has been busy denying the possibilities that were open to him to millions like him who followed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Not-So-Splashy Way to Save the Planet

Give up bottled water. Seriously.

The oil used to distill water, make plastic containers and ship them over long distances rivals the energy spent and the pollution caused by gas-guzzling cars.

Americans have to drive to work, take the kids to school and go shopping. They don’t have to drink water out of bottles.

In most places in the U.S., the habit is as necessary for health as strapping on an oxygen tank and breathing your own private air--and just about as cost-effective.

San Francisco, PBS reports, is banning the use of city money for bottled water. It started when an aide brought the Mayor his bottle of Fiji water with a big bag of oil surrounding it, and said, "Here's what you're actually consuming"--to produce the bottle and the distribution costs to get it to the United States.

Americans spend almost $100 billion a year for water no better than most tap water and sometimes no different. If they worry about safety, portable home filters can reassure them for pennies a gallon and reusable glass containers can make it as portable as and safer than plastic, which may leach into its contents.

As a still-breathing consumer of tap water for more than eight decades, I’ll drink to that.

An Ambivalent Goodbye to Gonzales

For Democrats, the long-awaited resignation of Alberto Gonzales may turn out to be one of those answered prayers that cause more tears than the unanswered.

With the departure of the A.G. and Karl Rove, the Senate Judiciary Committee will keep trying to get to the bottom of the Justice Department firings, but inevitably a plug has been pulled draining some of the urgency that Pat Leahy, Chuck Schumer et al can bring to their quest. As they persist, charges of vindictiveness and evading serious Senate business will gain ground.

In the words of a wise old pol, the punching bag has been taken out of the gym.

Perhaps even worse is the dilemma of confirming Gonzales’ successor, who will certainly not be a lover of civil liberties. But the hazards are similar to those that frustrated Democrats in the case of Bush’s Supreme Court appointments. Reject a plausible candidate and seem obstructionist, confirm one and the Justice Department is free again to carry on, albeit more discreetly, than it did before the Gonzales cloud.

Good as it is to say goodbye to Gonzales, there can be no cause for rejoicing until Bush and Cheney pack their bags to join him a year and a half from now.

Democrats' Fatal Flaw?

If a new book, “The Political Brain,” is right, the Democrats should nominate Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton.

But like most big “ifs,” it’s not as simple as that. Drew Westen’s thesis that emotions rather than rationality govern voters’ choices is true up to a point, but based on half a century of experience, far from the whole story.

After two Bush elections, it’s tempting to conclude that the way to win is to go for the gut and, looking even further back, explain a Democratic parade of losers—Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry--as too cerebral in the face of pit-of-the-stomach Republican attacks like the Willie Horton and Swift Boat ads.

But appealing to voters’ brains or hearts has never been an either-or, as John F. Kennedy showed in 1960. He did both and won. But after that, even those Democrats who made it--Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter--did so less on “charisma” than circumstance (JFK’s assassination, Nixon’s disgrace) until Bill Clinton, who put convention-goers to sleep with his speech in 1988 made an about-face four years later and took advantage of Bush I’s lack of “the vision thing.”

What both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to recognize is that a Presidential campaign is not a job interview/intelligence test. Voters want to know about issues but now, more than ever, they are judging character: Who are you? What do you really believe? What will you do under pressure?

Last year Obama vaulted onto the scene based on a response to his freshness and candor but, in the heat of competitive campaigning, has fallen into quibbling over he-said, she said. Clinton has opened a lead in the polls with a sure-handed, mistake-free approach to leverage her claims of superior experience.

But if either of them is to make it all the way against a Giuliani or Fred Thompson, who will keep it simple and emotional, they will have to recognize that you can’t beat demagoguery with reason alone.

After George Bush, voters will be receptive to a President with brains. But even more than that, they will be looking for someone they can trust, like and admire. It’s been a long time.

Maliki's Meet the Press Panel

After a touchy few words about American Senators’ “severe interference in our domestic affairs,” Iraq’s Prime Minister assembled a Sunni, Shiite and Kurd panel today for his own Sunday talk show to report consensus on national reconciliation, an incredible feat in the face of a parliament still on vacation after Sunni leaders had stalked out of the government.

Incredible may be the operative word here, but the Democrats’ best move might be to congratulate Maliki, apologize for Hillary Clinton’s and Carl Levin’s rash calls for his removal and have Congress ready to start authorizing withdrawal of our troops in the face of the good news.

“I hope that this agreement will help Iraq move beyond the political impasse," the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said. "The five leaders representing Iraq's major political communities...affirmed the principle of collective leadership to help deal with the many challenges faced by Iraq."

The White House responded by announcing we will "continue to support these brave leaders and all the Iraqi people in their efforts to overcome the forces of terror who seek to overwhelm Iraq's democracy.”

Terror? Is there some doubt that Maliki has it nailed? Some suspicion he might be putting on a show to forestall getting kicked out of office? Not possible, not two days after President Bush said he’s “a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

How to Avoid Winning the White House

“I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

Will Rogers’ classic definition of 75 years ago is alive and well, and the locus of disunity, after its little electoral scuffle in 2000, is Florida, which the Democratic National Committee is disenfranchising for the 2008 convention for leapfrogging its primary to next January 29th.

If there is some way to avoid winning the White House next year, Democrats seem bent on finding it. After helping Karl Rove steal the past two Presidential contests, they will have to work harder this time to undo the Party’s advantage in the polls after all these years of Bush bungling.

But when it comes to incompetence, never count the Democrats out. If they can’t find an unelectable nominee, they can always screw up the process of selection.

As a survivor of history’s most suicidal political convention in 1968, I can hardly wait to see the new forms of chaos they will devise for the next one.

New Victims of 9/11

Almost six years after the Twin Towers fell, the attack has claimed two more lives and injured others, but this time the work of terrorists from the Middle East was apparently abetted by good old-fashioned home-grown crime and corruption.

Last Saturday, two Manhattan firefighters died in the partially dismantled Deutsche Bank building that had been damaged beyond repair in the 2001 disaster, and later in the week two more were injured by falling construction equipment.

Now investigators are busy trying to figure out how some of the demolition job got into the hands of companies connected with organized crime and/or no experience tearing down skyscrapers, and the finger-pointing among alphabet-soup titled agencies is likely to go on for a long time.

But then again, it took almost four years for political appointees to start looking for contractors to tear down the structurally dangerous and contaminated building before they found just the right lethally inept people for the job.

Just to add another time-warp dimension to all this, the investigation will be conducted by the office of Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney who celebrated his 88th birthday last month. Morgenthau was appointed a U.S. Attorney by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and forced out (pace Alberto Gonzales) by President Richard Nixon eight years later. Morgenthau ran for Manhattan D.A. in 1974 and has been in that office ever since.

He should know a thing or two about crooked politics by now.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Secular Humanist's Saint

In the second half of the past century, the nun known as Mother Teresa was a celebrity of goodness, devoting herself to the most wretched people on earth with a selflessness that transcended religious belief.

As a magazine editor, I chronicled her life for millions of all faiths and no faith at all. To learn now from her newly published letters that she had her doubts and despair serves only to strengthen admiration for what she accomplished over a long life.

Risking sacrilege by mentioning George Bush in the same sentence, Mother Teresa’s uncertainties are a reminder of how fallible human beings rather than religious zealots are the ones who do good in this world.

She once told an interviewer, “I’m only a little pencil in God’s hand, writing a love letter to the world.” The little pencil wrote well.

Tower of Babble Over Iraq

It’s getting very Biblical. The debate over what to do next in the Middle East is splintering into as many factions in Washington, D.C. as there are sects, militias and street gangs fighting for turf in Iraq.

The confusion of tongues has reached the point where anyone with any opinion can find chapter and verse to support it.

Stay the course? Bill Kristol and the National Review crowd will provide evidence the Surge is working, and George Bush has proof positive from every war in history that to stop killing people leads to bad things.

Get out now? Take your pick of former generals, fringe Presidential candidates and a million bloggers with unshakable arguments that the way to go is just go.

Edge out carefully? It can be done at any pace from John Warner’s to Gen. Peter Pace’s to Hillary Clinton’s to that of anyone on cable TV or talk radio.

Keep al Maliki or dump him? President Bush says the Iraqi people will decide or maybe the Neo-Cons who are pushing his replacement with cash-heavy PR campaigns.

But help is on the way. Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are coming soon to tell us all how to speak in one voice.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hillary's Heads-Up on Terror

With a commanding lead for the Democratic nomination, candidate Clinton is looking ahead for land mines on her road to the White House next fall.

That would explain her out-of-the-blue comment in New Hampshire today about how a terrorist attack would boost Republican chances. She has good reason to worry.

If one 9/11 made it possible for Bush to take us into the wrong war and start chipping away at our civil liberties, what could another do? Even without one, Rudy Giuliani is playing strong man to lead the Republican field, and Fred Thompson will be along any day now to offer his country vanilla version of incipient Fascism.

Sen. Clinton’s attempt to preempt that won’t help much.

"It's a horrible prospect,” she said, “to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world."

Not a comforting thought for the start of a late-summer weekend, but that’s the world we live in now.

A Good Look at Do-Gooders

Bill Clinton, Oprah and Angela Jolie are often in Africa these days, with reporters and camera crews in their wake. This week the Christian Science Monitor is taking a long look at what they are doing:

“The world's poorest, sickest, most war-ravaged continent is now the charity of choice for many of the West's best-known political, pop, and Hollywood stars. Outside attention to the continent has fueled thousands of successful programs. But, despite the aid, the number of poor people in Africa has almost doubled in the past decade, and skeptics wonder whether some stars are most interested in boosting their own profile in the eyes of a public that expects a moral dimension to its heroes.”

In a two-part series, reporter Danna Jarman tries to go beyond the reflexive sigh or sneer at their efforts and offer insight into who is doing what and to what effect.

As she follows him on a week-long four-country tour, Bill Clinton tells her, "It's easy ... to say, 'Oh, this is not serious, they are just trying to get press' My experience has been this is not true. Not everything every actor does, works. Just like not everything I do works. Not everything Bill Gates does works. But it's not true that it's not genuine. By and large, it just is."

A visiting scholar observes, "The bang for the buck is high in Africa. You can leverage your money and time. So you are not only bringing in more mosquito nets, but potentially shaping the entire national policy."

For the open-minded and/or star-struck, the Monitor series is a whirlwind tour of what George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow et al are doing on a continent where nothing can be enough. If it stirs readers without big names to write small checks, that would add to their efforts.

Iraq and Vietnam, Bush and LBJ

Now that the Decider is invoking Vietnam as the touchstone for Iraq, he may want to consider the fate of the man who presided over that war.

Like Bush, Lyndon Johnson believed passionately in the necessity of his conflict, in the domino theory that losing Vietnam would lead to the fall of Southeast Asia, just as this President is certain that success in Iraq will determine what happens in the whole Middle East.

Johnson was wrong. We lost. Southeast Asia did not go Communist. Bush went to Vietnam last year and at a banquet offered a toast to “strengthening our ties."

The President should look at what happened after LBJ left office. He lived the remaining four years of his life in a depression so deep that he couldn't write his memoirs and died of a heart attack the day his successor, Nixon, admitted defeat and withdrew from Vietnam.

Had LBJ survived, he would be marking his 99th birthday next week and might have some advice for Bush, his fellow Texan. A misbegotten war can undo a lifetime of achievement such as a landmark Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty.

But then, Bush would have no idea of what Johnson was talking about. In six and a half years so far, his domestic achievements have been zero, unless you count tax cuts for the rich and denying health care to poor children.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Senate's Silver Idiot

If there is a total antithesis of the clichéd Silver Fox, Sen. John Warner took permanent possession of the title today with the most asinine, craven play in the Iraq end game to date.

In his usual portentous manner, Warner came back from the war zone and made the daring suggestion that George Bush bring home 5,000 troops for Christmas.

On the PBS News Hour, the Senate’s Oliver Twist noted that it was up to the President, of course, but after long study, he was emboldened to ask, “Can we have some, sir, please.”

At 80, Warner is positioning himself to run for a sixth term next year by being on both sides of ending the war, but a proposal to withdraw a handful of 160,000 troops is an insult to the intelligence of his Senate colleagues as well as his constituents.

Journalists of my generation will always remember Warner as a well-tailored empty suit who, in the words of his fellow Virginian Chuck Robb, LBJ’s son-in-law who became a governor and senator, “outmarried myself.”

Warner did it twice, first with a billionaire’s granddaughter, Catherine Mellon, and then movie star Elizabeth Taylor. Even so, he lost his first Republican primary but got the nomination when the winner died in a plane crash and then barely beat his Democratic opponent.

Throughout the Iraq war, Warner has been a stony-faced Bush supporter but is now attempting to play elder statesman with today’s stupid suggestion. Senatorial courtesy will elicit oohs and ahs, but Carl Levin et al must know the score.

Nouri al Maliki, Meet Don Rumsfeld

The week before last November’s election, George Bush told reporters his Secretary of Defense would stay in office until January 2009. The day after the voting, Rumsfeld resigned and Bush admitted he knew about it but lied.

Yesterday the President said “Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him.”

But behind the scenes, the skids are greased. Today there is a leaked “intelligence assessment” that concludes, “Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.” Arriverderci, Maliki. Payment is being stopped on the “blank check.”

But hold the cheers for the replacement who is being groomed--Ayad Allawi, one of the exiles who told us about Saddam’s WMDs and then was anointed Interim PM until the elections in which his party polled 14 percent of the vote after voters threw shoes at him. He is related by marriage to Ahmad Chalabi, another Neo-Con exile winner. but they don’t get along.

Now, here he is with an OpEd in the Washington Post last weekend, “A Plan for Iraq,” planted by a Republican lobbying firm that is also starting a web site for him.

President Bush keeps insisting that al Maliki’s tenure in office is up to the Iraqi people. But in light of what happened before Rumsfeld’s departure, Maliki shouldn’t be buying any green bananas for his office fruit bowl.

Swift-Boating Congress

The man who wouldn’t fight for his country in Vietnam yesterday gave those who did false analogies about their war to the one he is now waging with the lives of another generation.

Be thankful for smalls favors that President Bush did not dress up in the flight jacket he wore for his “Mission Accomplished” speech, but his Iraq comparisons to Vietnam and World War II had no more reality than that Commander-in-Chief moment in 2003.

“Invoking the tragedy of Vietnam to defend the failed policy in Iraq is as irresponsible as it is ignorant of the realities of both of those wars,” Sen. John Kerry said after the speech.

Kerry knows first-hand about the Bush big-lie machine that is now gearing up to swift-boat Congress as it did his war record during the 2004 Presidential election and, before that, John McCain’s Vietnam experience in the primaries of 2000.

Now advertising will be aimed at lawmakers, especially Republicans, who face re-election next year. An interest group, Freedom’s Watch, is beginning a month-long, $15 million campaign to pressure wavering members of Congress to stay the Surge course. Ads will run in 20 states, in more than five dozen Congressional districts.

This bunch has no idea of how to run a war, but it is very good at smearing those fought one and those who want to stop the senseless carnage they started and can’t finish.

If George Bush ever takes time out from comparing himself to great leaders of the past, he might want to take a look at what a real military commander, Dwight Eisenhower said when leaving the Oval office:

“People want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

The Hate Vote

Old-fashioned American prejudice is alive and well, if today’s poll numbers can be believed.

Close to half of all voters are committed to rejecting Mitt Romney (44 percent) and Hillary Clinton (43 percent, 50 percent of men).

In Sen. Clinton’s case, it could be argued that at least some of the virulent opposition can be traced not to the fact that she is a woman but to 15 years of high public visibility. In Romney’s case, however, voters don’t know enough about him to account for such strong feelings except the fact that he is a Mormon.

If you asked these people about prejudice, undoubtedly most of them would strongly deny it. That’s old-fashioned American, too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gallup Rates Rove's Rant

The “architect” spent his farewell weekend on TV repeating with glee that Hillary Clinton was unelectable in ’08 because of her unprecedented high negative ratings in the polls. Today the Gallup Poll people responded.

In the usual long-winded, cautious verbiage of pollsters, the answer is that Rove is full of it. Among others, his own creation, George W. Bush, proves the point:

“A review of Gallup poll data suggests that Hillary Clinton's current high unfavorable ratings are not unprecedented. Other candidates have had similarly high unfavorable ratings at various points in presidential election campaigns in previous years. Two of these candidates--George W. Bush in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1992 --went on to win the election.

“Additionally, Rove's assumptions that Hillary Clinton's candidacy is ‘fatally flawed’ run counter to the historical finding that candidates' images often change, sometimes dramatically, as the campaign progresses. In other words, Clinton's ultimate electability will likely be determined more by what happens in the next 15 months while she campaigns than by what Americans think of her now.”

There is only one “fatally flawed” figure in all this, and he’s going back to Texas at the end of the month.

Checking Out al Maliki

The problem with puppet governments is that they come with strings. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki keeps trying to show he’s not our man but keeps tripping over his ties to fellow Shiites and losing Sunnis who don’t trust him. Now he’s losing us, too.

President Bush is expressing “frustration,” and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is echoing him: "We do expect results, as do the Iraqi people, and our support is not a blank check." So is the No. 2 commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen Raymond Odierno, using same “blank check” expression.

The American people meanwhile are picking up a monthly tab of $9 billion dollars and 100 lost lives while the President keeps saying “if the government doesn't respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government. That's up to the Iraqis to make that decision.”

But which Iraqis and when? As we keep coaching from the sidelines and talking about checks, blank or otherwise, how do we persuade the world we’re not pulling the strings? And if they replace al Maliki, most likely with an even more openly Shiite partisan, what happens then?

When Crocker and Gen. Petraeus give us their progress report next month, Congress will want an update on al Maliki’s checking account to go with it.

Bragged About Any Good Books Lately?

The news today is that even reading has been politicized. A new poll finds one of every four Americans has not cracked a book in the past year, and that leads to a brouhaha about whether conservatives or liberals are the most avid readers.

Former Democratic Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, now president of the American Association of Publishers, started it by saying, "The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes.' It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes' on every page."

"Obfuscation,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto shot back, “usually requires a lot more words than if you simply focus on fundamental principles, so I'm not at all surprised by the loquaciousness of liberals."

As a spectacularly unsuccessful book publisher for a brief time, I can mediate this with a few words of wisdom: Who knows? People buy books for all kinds of reasons: from self-help advice about diet, money, etc. as promises to themselves to improve their lives, which they may read or skim but just feel better about possessing, to serious works, which may serve the same purpose on an intellectual level.

Conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg today confesses his “dirty little secret: I'm a terrible book nibbler, reading the introductions and then grazing from the tasting menu called the index.”

Figures in the AP poll found that 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book, compared with 34 percent of conservatives. But there are books and books: Ann Coulter and Al Franken do their stand-up routines between hard covers, Rove admits that he and President Bush sometimes cheat in their reading contest by counting murder mysteries, and then there are all the vacuous best sellers that, as Flannery O’Connor once observed, could have been prevented by a good teacher.

In the age of YouTube and blogs, what may be the real news in all this is that the politically persuaded are still so touchy about their intellectual credentials. It would be helpful if they showed some signs of brain activity in what they said and did, instead of arguing about what’s on their night stands and coffee tables.

Pulling the Curtain on CIA Wizard of Oz Act

Three months ago, it looked as if he had made a clean getaway. George Tenet had his Medal of Freedom, a $4 million book advance and was all over TV complaining that his “slam dunk” recommendation on invading Iraq had been distorted. He was in Bureaucrat Heaven.

But now, thanks to both Democratic and Republican leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee with no resistance from the Bush White House, Tenet gets his comeuppance from the newly released summary of a 2005 CIA report that shreds his claims of pre-9/11 competence.

“The agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner,” the report found, citing “failures to implement and manage important processes, to follow through with operations and to properly share and analyze critical data.”

This is a scathing indictment from an agency that never airs its dirty linen or even admits there is any. Tenet, of course, issued an instant denial, but his escape act that relied on CIA secrecy has been exposed for all to see.

The bottom line is that even the best-run intelligence agency could probably not have averted 9/11. But it’s satisfying to have confirmation that Tenet’s pitiful performance then was on a par with his failure to blow the whistle on Bush’s Neo-Cons when they distorted intelligence to justify invading Iraq the following year.

Washington schadenfreude is alive and well and, in this case, performing a public service.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lame Duck a la Bush, Side Order of Rice

While Karl Rove was doing his TV victory lap, another Bush stalwart has been missing in action. Condoleeza Rice, once touted as a possible ’08 Presidential candidate, has been out of sight.

A week ago, there was a public moment as the Secretary of State appointed baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. the nation’s Sports Envoy, starting with a trip to China.

Since then, we have had Rice’s written statement congratulating the Somalia National Reconciliation Congress on completing Phase One of an agreement to stop killing one another--and silence. At yesterday’s Departmental press briefing, her name was not mentioned.

Ironically, as she was disappearing from media radar this month, Rice was named by GQ Magazine “The Most Powerful Person in Washington,” ahead of George Bush and Dick Cheney, one of the hazards of the long lead time of monthly journalism, as I can testify from experience.

It may be that Rice has reached a critical point in the tension between fierce personal loyalty to George W. Bush and her understanding of what history will say about her tenure as Secretary of State.

For months now, rather than front for the lame duck disaster in Iraq, she has been working the fringes of Middle East policy, trying to establish some communication with Iran, joining Secretary of Defense Gates in urging Saudi Arabia to clamp down on Sunni terrorists and making efforts to unblock the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

After Rove’s announced departure, her spokesman announced that she will stay the course of the Bush Presidency. But at this point, Condoleeza Rice may also be keenly aware of what loyalty has been doing to the arc of her life from growing up in segregated Birmingham to being named on Time Magazine’s list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People four times and twice as the Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes since the turn of the new century.

Complete career suicide is unlikely to be on her agenda for the future.

Buying Words With Blood

Sen. Carl Levin says the glass in Iraq is more than half-empty, Sen. John Warner says it may be half-full and Fox News sees it brimming over.

“Sens. Warner and Levin Travel to Iraq, Praise Surge Results” is their headline for a story that starts: “Sen. Carl Levin said Monday that the Iraqi Parliament should vote no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki because of its sectarian nature and leadership.

"The Maliki government is non-functional," Levin, D-Mich., said.”

Since President Bush, instead of drawing down troops in Iraq at the beginning of this year as 70 percent of Americans wanted him to do, announced the Surge, more than 700 of our young people have died there and thousands have been wounded.

With all this blood, we have bought words--from the White House, Congress and self-appointed experts across the political spectrum. Next month, we will get words from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, which will lead to even more words from armchair warriors on all sides.

None of them will stop the dying and, if we want to know what for, here are words from a commander on the ground: “This is not black and white here. It’s all shades of grey, and there’s a mixture of extremist elements and terror elements and criminal activity. It’s all of the above,” according to Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center and Task Force Marne, whose words are reported on a Department of Defense web site.

“It’s naive to believe that all sorts of violence inside of Iraq is Sunni vs. Shiia or Shiia vs. Sunni; that’s just not true. And when you find intra-Shiia rivalry, it’s primarily a function of the struggle for power and influence.”

How many words will it take to stop the bleeding?

The War Bush Is Winning

Things may not be going too well in Iraq or against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, but there is one front where the Bush Administration is prevailing--in the war to keep American children without medical coverage to protect the HMOs and private insurers who have given us one of the worst health care systems in the world at the highest cost.

Yesterday the Administration announced new policies that will make it harder for states to insure all but the lowest-income children under the government-subsidized State Children's Health Insurance Program.

President Bush has said he is opposed on “philosophical grounds” to any expansion of the program that might keep families from buying private insurance. As always, his priorities are cockeyed, but his determination to stay the course is unshakable.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"The Queen of Mean"

Oliver Stone summed up the 1980s in his movie “Wall Street” with a speech by his corporate-raider protagonist Gordon Gekko (subtly named after a lizard) proclaiming “Greed is good.”

The real-life examplar of the decade died today, Leona Helmsley, who enticed a shy, hidebound real-estate tycoon from his 33-year marriage, became his wife and rapacious business partner, terrorized their employees, draped herself in jewels, posed for their luxury hotel ads, served 18 months in federal prison for cheating on taxes and spent the last years of her life giving money away so that her paid publicist could say as he did today, “She was extremely generous as a philanthropist and she gave tens of millions of dollars to charity right up until the last months of her life.”

For more than 30 years, I worked in an office edifice that straddled Park Avenue and was known as the New York Central Building. Soon after her marriage, Leona had workmen on scaffolds chipping away the inscribed name and changing it to the Helmsley Building as she cut back on services to increase profits.

Dubbed “The Queen of Mean,” she will be remembered for her own classic expression of the culture of greed: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Gordon Gekko couldn’t have said it better.

Lieberman: Let's Attack Syria

The good news is we’re winning in Iraq. The bad news: Now we have to attack Syria. On the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, their favorite warrior Joe Lieberman is providing some variety today from all the OpEd writers there who want to bomb Iran.

By some odd chance, the Senator has seen recently declassified American intelligence that “reveals just how much al Qaeda in Iraq is dependent for its survival on the support it receives from the broader, global al Qaeda network, and how most of that support flows into Iraq through one country--Syria.”

The Damascus airport is the target in Sen. Joe’s bomb sites, and he wants to “send a clear and unambiguous message to the Syrian regime, as we did last month to the Iranian regime, that the transit of al Qaeda suicide bombers through Syria on their way to Iraq is completely unacceptable, and it must stop.

“We in the U.S. government should also begin developing a range of options to consider taking against Damascus International, unless the Syrian government takes appropriate action, and soon.”

Lieberman is another of the Bush Administration’s fervent war hawks who was otherwise occupied at an age when he might have fought for his country in Vietnam. He was a law clerk in New Haven, Ct.

Rove, the Coward

Unsaid in all the blather about Karl Rove’s leaving the White House is that, under all the macho geek bravado, he has been another prototypical Bush-Cheney patriot who, like his leaders, did everything possible to avoid bleeding for his country when he might have and later savaged those who did.

Dirty politics is galling enough, but a certified coward slandering the brave to win elections is pathological.

During the war in Vietnam, Rove slithered in and out of colleges to keep a 2-S deferment after drawing a draft lottery number making it likely he would be called. He got himself reclassified as a University of Utah student despite, according to Wikipedia, “being only a part-time student in the autumn and spring quarters of 1971...and dropping out of the university in June 1971.

“Rove was a student at the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall of 1971...but registrar's records show that he withdrew from classes during the first half of the semester. In December 1971 he was reclassified as 1-A. On April 27, 1972, he was reclassified as 1-H, or ‘not currently subject to processing for induction.’ The draft ended on June 30, 1973.”

This is the war record of the man who in 2000 slandered John McCain as mentally unstable after five years as a POW in Vietnam, in 2004 swift-boated John Kerry who fought and bled in the war Rove dodged and, most unspeakable of all, impugned the patriotism of Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm there.

It would take a team of psychologists to untangle the sickness in all this, but the late Mary McGrory summed it up with the Shakespearian, "He jests at scars that never felt the wound."

But Rove is a man of his times. Now we have to endure super-machismo war talk from Rudy Giuliani, who evaded Vietnam on the basis of his indispensability as a law clerk, Mitt Romney who spent that period as a Mormon missionary in France and Fred Thompson, who was too busy as an assistant prosecutor in Tennessee.

It’s not vital that Presidents and President-makers have defended the country in uniform, but it would help if they tried to understand and respect those who did.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Rove Stole My Vote and Lost the Senate

Last November, my Congressman, Christopher Shays, was the only Republican House member in New England to be reelected. I didn’t vote for him, but Karl Rove did. Ironically, in doing so, the “boy genius” missed a chance to keep Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Today’s Washington Post singles out Shays’s campaign as an example of his work:

“Under Rove's direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year's congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent...

“Between April 2006 and Election Day, Shays was able to announce at least 25 new federal grants or projects totaling more than $46 million, including a new veterans medical facility and a long-awaited installment of federal money for ferry service...Seven different Bush administration officials, including two Cabinet secretaries and the chief of the highway administration, visited his district during that time.

“In contrast, Shays announced just $39 million in grants and got just one visit by a federal official in the prior 15 months, the analysis shows.

“No federal generosity was too small to tout. A top official of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was on hand with Shays when the NOAA awarded a single severe-weather alert radio, valued at $23, to an elementary school in Norwalk, Conn., two months before Election Day.

“Shays wrote Bush on Sept. 8, 2006, to seek the early release--before the election--of heating assistance money for low-income residents in his state. Just four days later, the White House released $6 million.”

Before Bush, Shays was a relatively independent Republican but after 2001 was dragooned into blindly supporting the war in Iraq to the point that a Democrat, Diane Farrell, came close to unseating him in 2004.

But he was still a popular and credible enough figure in the state to have won the U.S. Senate seat that was in play after Joe Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary.

In a three-way race with the Democratic newcomer Ned Lamont and Lieberman running as an Independent, Shays might well have been elected with less than 40 percent of the vote.

But the Republicans, in love with Lieberman as their Democratic cheerleader for the war, put up a non-entity, a small-town former mayor tarnished by gambling scandals, who drew 9.6 percent of the Republican vote. The rest went to Lieberman and reelected him to caucus with the Democrats and give them control of the Senate.

In 1968, Joe Flaherty wrote “The Selling of the President” to show that Nixon’s media manipulators had won the White House for him. But after the chaos of the Democrats’ Chicago convention, Nixon led the polls by 15 per cent. Two months and $20 million dollars later, he won by less than one per cent.

”Evil geniuses” are always overrated.

Lose-Your-Breakfast Sunday Morning

The Democrats did their debate under cover of early AM darkness, but they had eaten enough Wheaties to start by ganging up on Barack Obama, who mumbled his Pakistan mantra half-asleep while Hillary Clinton tried and failed not to look too icy.

John Edwards has developed some kind of facial twitch, which may be meant to seem sincere; Mike Gravel as always is one step from the loony bin; and Denis Kucinich finishes every global truism with a “Thank you” to evoke a trickle of applause. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson carried on gamely from the second tier, as if nobody had had the heart to tell them it's hopeless. Who are these people and what did my generation do so wrong to produce them?

Bad enough, but Karl Rove pontificating over Meet the Press’ second-stringer, David Gregory, is cough-up-your-croissant time. The word “shameless” has lost all meaning.

Hillary-Barack Face to Face

After Obama’s decision to curtail his role in the endless pseudo-debate schedule, how can the Democratic front runners give voters what they really need to decide who is best suited to clean up the Bush mess and lead the country forward?

Despite what polls show now, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be close and crucial, and the two of them have an opportunity to get beyond canned campaigning and set an example to offset the politics of personal destruction that decided the last two presidential elections.

They would be serving their country, their party and, ultimately, their own interests by using a fraction of the millions they have amassed to buy TV time for a real debate of their differences--no moderators, videos or other gimmicks--about the war in Iraq, health care, immigration policy and the tension between homeland security and individual rights, among other subjects.

Conventional wisdom might argue against Clinton’s doing it because she is ahead in the polls, but conventional wisdom has never encompassed a Presidential contest between a woman and a man of color.

Clinton and Obama are members of the same party who have more in common than the manufactured sound bites and campaign gotchas indicate, and they may very well end up on a ticket together.

Why not provide an example of grownup politics for a country exhausted by the idiocy of show-business campaigning? Why not show what politics can be rather than what it has become? Why not give their supporters--and all voters--a sample of the kind of change they want?

They don’t have to be Lincoln and Douglas but, amid all the
madness to come in the next fifteen months, Clinton and Obama could show us some sanity that would eventually serve them and all Americans well. At the very least, it would provide a contrast to the Republican mud fight that is sure to come.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Shane" Remake Starring Fred Thompson

George W. Bush’s favorite Western is “High Noon,” but his hopeful successor wants to do a new “Shane,” playing the role of a good-hearted gunfighter who protects the little people against the powerful and the predatory.

The casting is a bit iffy, but Thompson will give a game performance as the defender of those who can’t “come to Washington and look out for themselves.”

The little people who benefited from his gun-slinging in the past include deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a British company trying to limit payments to asbestos victims as well as two corporations producing a taxpayer-financed $1.7 billion “hole in the ground” for a proposed and abandoned nuclear breeder reactor in Tennessee.

Like Shane, Thompson has been impartial in his good work, once riding shotgun for an abortion-rights group despite his deeply held pro-life convictions.

Now he is ready for his closeup after touring the Iowa Fair and being escorted by the Pork Queen to look over Big Red, the prize boar. There are centralized-government villains out there, and he will face them down or shoot it out, as he sadly says the Virginia Tech students should have been able to do to avoid their massacre.

There will be script changes before the new “Shane” goes into production, morphing little Alan Ladd into the lumbering Thompson and definitely rewriting the final scene in which the mortally wounded hero rides into the sunset.

Today’s audiences will want a more upbeat ending.

ThisClose to a Banana Republic

If Democrats hadn’t taken control of Congress this year, we might be living in a third-world country under self-reinforcing Republican rule. Ultimately we have George Bush’s stupidity and stubbornness over Iraq to thank for saving us.

As Karl Rove prepares for his final bows tomorrow on Sunday morning talk shows, the House Oversight Committee leaks the latest news in his dismantling of the Hatch Act, which has barred federal employees from engaging in partisan politics since 1939.

The McClatchy newspapers report: “Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.”

This comes after revelations that the State Department, American ambassadors, the General Services Administration (which oversees government contracts) and, most infamously, U.S. Attorneys were dragooned into using their time and taxpayer money to benefit Republican office holders.

Despite all this electoral manipulation, intense and widespread public anger over Iraq and the personal corruption of Congressional Republicans gave both houses to the Democrats last November. It’s sobering to imagine how a little less hubris would have kept Bush and Rove’s lackeys in power.

As Democrats congratulate themselves for uncovering the chicanery and relish their prospects in next year’s voting, they may want to take a sober look at how much their efforts to sweep out the Augean Stables are distracting them from pressing public needs.

Nobody, especially in Washington, is immune from arrogance.

Obama's Better Half

In Iowa this week, Michelle Obama gave voters a new reason to consider her husband for President.

“First ladies were once more or less average, and were expected to be,” Peggy Noonan wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal. “Now they are accomplished, worldly, and expected to be. Candidates for the first lady's job have to find a balance. It's delicate. Strong is good, aggressive not. A person who cares, yes; a person who pushes an agenda, no.”

Introducing her husband, Ms. Obama was so far from average that her presence raised the question of how special a man would have to be that so attractive, articulate and passionate a woman would choose to spend her life with him.

The day he is elected, she said, her husband will change the way the world looks at America. Michelle Obama would be an important part of that change. See for yourself.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Did You Miss Alberto Gonzales?

The drought is over. With Congress on vacation and the Attorney General in Baghdad, devotees of Justice Department injustices have had a dry August, but the stream of scandal is starting to flow again.

Gonzales has been advising the new Iraq government on how to treat detainees.

“I spoke about the importance,” he explained, “of just making sure...that they're dealt with humanely. That they're treated fairly. These are very, very difficult issues. They're issues that we wrestle with in our own country.”

Sure enough, back home in Washington, lawmakers are wrestling with a number of issues about the Attorney General. In a letter this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy asked the Justice Department's Inspector General to probe whether Alberto Gonzales has made false or misleading statements.

At the same time, Director of the FBI Robert Mueller has turned over his notes about the bedside meeting with John Ashcroft to the House Judiciary Committee, and they raise new questions about Gonzales’ credibility.

Meanwhile, one Congressman, Rep. David Obey has stopped wrestling, as Congress Daily indicates: “He’s one sneaky, lying S.O.B., to put it bluntly. He’s the most authoritarian attorney general in the history of the republic. He’s the most dangerous. I never thought I’d long for the days of John Ashcroft.”

For the insatiable, TPM Muckraker has winnowed a thick crop to pick the Attorney General’s “Top Six Fibs.”

Bitching About Hillary

Hard to tell what prompted it but Andrew Sullivan today offers an enigmatic post headed “Best. Movie. Line. Ever.” and reads in its entirety: "’Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.’ ‘Dolores Claiborne’, not Hillary's forthcoming campaign slogan.”

It’s accompanied by a film clip in which her rich employer encourages much-abused Delores to murder her husband.

Since Clinton’s “bitchiness” has not been an issue and offing Bill is not on the table, there must be something more subtle here.

Perhaps it goes back to Sullivan’s recent assessment of Hillary as a victim of “political post-traumatic stress disorder” who hasn’t outgrown the Clinton Administration’s failure to push for needle exchanges to reduce HIV transmission among IV users “regardless of the science and epidemiology, because they were terrified of being labeled ‘liberal’ by the GOP machine.”

If the intent is to connect Clinton’s caution to Delores Claiborne’s passivity and urge a tougher stance, there’s a slight problem. At the moment, Hillary’s attitude is giving her everything she wants. Being a bitch is beside the point.

Panic at the Banks

In Los Angeles yesterday, the scenes were right out of a movie about the Great Depression 75 years ago--long lines of anxious depositors clamoring to get their money out of failing banks.

The panic was set off by news that the parent of Countrywide Bank, the biggest home-loan company in the nation, was caught in the current credit crunch and might be forced to file for bankruptcy. Despite reassurances to the contrary, crowds overwhelmed branch offices to the point that staff members were serving coffee to long waiting lines and taking names of people, asking them to come back later.

In the black-and-white movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart uses his honeymoon money to calm panicky depositors and stay solvent. Things are different today. Filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that Countrywide Chairman and CEO Angelo Mozilo recently exercised options and then sold 672,000 shares of company stock, at a profit of almost $13 million.

With individual accounts insured by the FDIC for up to $100,000, there is less cause for worry today. But many holders of bank Certificates of Deposit are retirees, too risk-adverse to invest in the stock market and mutual funds.

They play the CD Sweepstakes Game on-line or call friends with computers to check on which Internet banks are offering a fraction of a percent more than others. For people who spent their lives dealing with bankers in brick buildings, the prospect of wiring or mailing money into thin air only adds to the anxiety.

While crowds besiege their offices, Countrywide is still running Internet ads to entice us into putting new money into those CDs. The more savvy will be asking why the bank’s executives are pulling their money out of the company stock.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Smart-Stupid Voter Divide

Today the Gallup Poll joins a chorus of gloom-and-doom over Barack Obama’s chances for the Democratic nomination based on his excessive appeal to the college-educated, which historically has resulted in failure.

This is a statistician’s oversimplification of cause and effect.

In rehearsing the history that supports this contention, Gallup cites Michael Dukakis in 1988 as an exception. A closer look at the former Massachusetts Governor who lost to Bush 41 raises other issues.

Dukakis was an earnest man but a terrible politician who answered a question hypothesizing his wife’s rape and murder with an academic analysis of capital punishment and tried to bolster his commander-in-chief credentials by popping out of a tank and ended up looking goofy in an oversized helmet. Moreover, he allowed Karl Rove’s mentor, Lee Atwater, to smear him without responding forcefully.

While he clearly outshone him in what Bush 41 called “the vision thing,” Dukakis lost the election.

What he and those who attract the better-educated but fail at the ballot box represent is the gap between intellectual and emotional appeal. All cheap posturing aside, it goes far beyond smart-stupid into the realm of trust, an issue for all voters. In a campaign, candidates are summoned not for a job interview but a performance that reflects their personal style as well as the substance of their beliefs.

Obama’s failure so far is ironic in that he broke into public consciousness with “rock star” qualities that generate mass appeal but is now allowing himself to be maneuvered into spats designed to make him look naïve.

A New Hampshire admirer had a point the other day chiding him for getting involved with rivals “chewing you up.” Obama got a laugh when he answered, "That's what you do when you run for president."

But it’s no laughing matter for him. What Obama has to do is stop treating the campaign as a classroom test and integrate his confidence, competence and hope into a public persona that projects those qualities for voters on all levels of education.

Petraeus and Crocker: No Slam Dunk

After phony patriotism failed, the last refuge of the Bush Administration in Iraq has been competence, replacing robot generals and servile ambassadors with two men of substance, David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker.

For months, Bush has kept Congress from taking action to start stopping the war by hiding behind Petraeus’ September progress report. Now, worried about what the General and Crocker will say, the Administration is trying to have them testify in private while Condoleeza Rice and Robert Gates do the public cheer-leading.

No dice, the Democrats answer. "Americans deserve an even-handed assessment of conditions in Iraq,“ House Democratic Chairman Rahm Emanuel declared, not “a snapshot from the same people who told us the mission was accomplished and the insurgency was in its last throes."

Administration’s worries are reflected in what the straight-talking Petraeus told reporters yesterday: "We know that the surge has to come to an end. I think everyone understands that, by about a year or so from now, we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now.”

Five years ago, Crocker was one of the authors of a State Department memo on the pitfalls of an attack. Based on long experience in Iraq, Crocker warned that an invasion could "unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions" and that “the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events."

If you’re still trying to sell that war, you don’t want Petraeus and Crocker to do the pitching. You need a toady like George Tenet out there to predict a slam dunk.

Protected Sex for First Responders

Talk about multi-tasking! A London police officer has been acquitted of improper behavior for having sex with a stranger while on duty because he was wearing his earpiece at the time.

The incident was prompted by the officer’s response to a patriotic web site, Uniform Dating, which matches “those working in professions such as the armed forces, police, law enforcement, health, medical, ambulance, prison, corrections and fire fighters, for friendship, love and romance."

"If there was a call for me I would have answered it and dealt with it,” he told the jury, which took only ten minutes to render its verdict.

In the face of terrorist plots, the British seem reassured to know their first responders are always at the ready.

Alternate Universe: Rove, Rush on Bush

Being with him is a religious experience. “He walks into that office,” Karl Rove told Rush Limbaugh yesterday, “and lights up that building with --you know, it sounds corny, but it's inspiring to work around him.”

He is talking about George W. Bush? Limbaugh double-checked: “Does it frustrate you with all the attacks on him as brain dead or a frat boy?”

“This,” Rove reassured him, “is one of the best-read people I've ever met. This is a Harvard MBA. This is a Yale undergraduate whose major was history and whose passion is history. Many times the people I see criticizing him are, you know, sort of elite, effete snobs who can't hold a candle to this guy. What they don't like about him is that he is common sense, that he is Middle America.”

“He outsmarts 'em,” Rush summed up.

“Yeah,” Rove explained about the Yale-Harvard Middle American President. “In a way, they ‘misunderestimate’ him, and he likes that.”

Rove disclosed details of their book-reading contest: “I beat him last year, 110 to 94, and I'm ahead this year. I won't give you the total because it would crush you, and again he keeps saying, ‘Look, I'm the leader of the Free World, but, you know, I won the first year.’ In fact, it was almost... It was very funny.

”Wait,” Limbaugh interjected. “He's not reading little pamphlets?”

”No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! In fact, we both agreed upon a Mutually Assured Destruction. When we got too competitive last year, we both started reading John D. MacDonald mysteries, which are really delicious...We were reading them quickly, enjoying them a lot, and then we realized this was being far too competitive. So we limited the number of John D. MacDonald mysteries we were both reading, so we could get back to the serious stuff.”

Who could have guessed the level of intellectual byplay in the Bush White House?

If you want to read the full text, do so soon, since it comes with a note, “Links to content outside usually become inactive over time.” The interview, like the Bush Administration, is programmed to self-destruct.