Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: May 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Connecting Some Dots

Here are a couple more pieces of news analysis to take a closer look out at the current news and maybe connect some dots.

On Friday, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald filed a sentencing memo with the U.S. District Court in regard to Scooter Libby. Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, and Fitzgerald requested a jail sentence of 30 to 37 months for him. That was pretty big news going into the holiday weekend. (There was news going into the holiday weekend? Who knew?) Fitzgerald pointed out that Scooter was found guilty of obstructing justice because he did indeed obstruct justice. Therefore, we still don't know what really happened in the Plame case. In Tuesday's Washington Post, Dan Froomkin examined the sentencing memo in a bit more detail:

Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has made it clearer than ever that he was hot on the trail of a coordinated campaign to out CIA agent Valerie Plame until that line of investigation was cut off by the repeated lies from Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

. . .

In Friday's eminently readable court filing, Fitzgerald quotes the Libby defense calling his prosecution "unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics." In responding to that charge, the special counsel evidently felt obliged to put Libby's crime in context. And that context is Dick Cheney.

Libby's lies, Fitzgerald wrote, "made impossible an accurate evaluation of the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of information regarding Ms. Wilson's CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions."

It was established at trial that it was Cheney himself who first told Libby about Plame's identity as a CIA agent, in the course of complaining about criticisms of the administration's run-up to war leveled by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. And, as Fitzgerald notes: "The evidence at trial further established that when the investigation began, Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."

The investigation, Fitzgerald writes, "was necessary to determine whether there was concerted action by any combination of the officials known to have disclosed the information about Ms. Plame to the media as anonymous sources, and also whether any of those who were involved acted at the direction of others. This was particularly important in light of Mr. Libby's statement to the FBI that he may have discussed Ms. Wilson's employment with reporters at the specific direction of the Vice President." (My italics.)

Not clear on the concept yet? Fitzgerald adds: "To accept the argument that Mr. Libby's prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President." (My italics.)

A few weeks ago, the Prez issued a presidential directive that's gotten a fair amount of attention in progressive blogs and sites (such as The Progressive) and a little bit in the mainstream (the WaPo took a look, for instance). As summed up by Matthew Rothschild's Progressive article, the Prez said that, in case of a "catastrophic emergency" (defined fairly broadly), he'll be in charge of the government.

Viewed in one light, that's fairly alarming, and I've wondered to some extent why this isn't getting more attention. Apparently a number of readers of Talking Points Memo wondered the same thing, so TPMMuckraker took a look. Their conclusion is that it's not such a big deal. They point out that Clinton had a similar plan and interview a number of experts from the ACLU and various places suggesting that, if not this one, some kind of similar plan needs to be in place. The Clinton directive put FEMA in charge in similar circumstances, and during the Clinton administration, that wasn't a bad idea. Nowadays, though, you'd after wonder how much any of us want to turn to FEMA in case of catastrophic emergency.

On the other hand, this is the Bush administration we're talking about. The new directive might indeed make sense if we were to presume good faith on the part of the government. But I'm not sure good faith has been operative in the administrative branch for years now. While this might not be an obvious power grab on the surface, if such a circumstance were to arise, it seems to me that we have to assume the Bush administration will try to grab whatever power it could get its hands on. The Bushies don't deal with us at face value, and we have to stop dealing with them at face value.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Looking for Protection Against the Reality-Based Community

The AP takes a critical look at the Prez's claims that the American people back him on Iraq and don't want to withdraw. This is the kind of news analysis that journalists don't seem to offer much any more. They've got great access to the facts of a situation, so they should start putting them together again rather than acting as a steno service for whatever message a politician wants to get out. If the Prez wants to claim that the public is behind him, it's only fair that someone point out what we all know, that the actual polls beg to differ.

Confronted with strong opposition to his Iraq policies, President Bush decides to interpret public opinion his own way. Actually, he says, people agree with him.

. . .

The president says Democrats have it all wrong: the public doesn't want the troops pulled out — they want to give the military more support in its mission.

"Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq," he said April 24, ahead of a veto showdown with congressional Democrats over their desire to legislation a troop withdrawal timeline. "I listened. Today, General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course."

. . .

"A lot of Americans want to know, you know, when?" he said at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday. "When are you going to win?"

Also in that session, Bush said: "I recognize there are a handful there, or some, who just say, 'Get out, you know, it's just not worth it. Let's just leave.' I strongly disagree with that attitude. Most Americans do as well."

In fact, polls show Americans do not disagree, and that leaving — not winning — is their main goal.

The AP also includes some response to the White House from pollster Andrew Kohut:

"I don't see what they're talking about."

"They want to know when American troops are going to leave," Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, said of the public. "They certainly want to win. But their hopes have been dashed."

Kohut has found it notable that there's such a consensus in poll findings.

"When the public hasn't made up its mind or hasn't thought about things, there's a lot of variation in the polls," he said. "But there's a fair amount of agreement now."

The report closes with a stronger challenge to the Prez's veracity than I would've expected. It leads up to a quote from Wayne Fields, described as "an expert on presidential rhetoric at Washington University in St. Louis."

But, with the president's job approval ratings so low and the public well aware of what it thinks about the war, Bush is taking a big gamble.

"This is a very tricky thing in our politics. We want to think that we want our leaders to stand up to public opinion. But we also like to think of ourselves as being in a democracy where we are listened to," Fields said. "He risks either the notion of being thought out of touch ... or to be thought simply duplicitous."

Out of touch or duplicitous. Who's taking which side?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day Update

As I feared, we had more servicepeople to memorialize at the end of this year's Memorial Day than we did at the beginning. The AP is reporting that ten GIs were killed yesterday. The total at is even higher, with a total of 3,468 deaths of American personnel. May is the third most deadly month of the war--and the month's not over until Thursday.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Unfortunately, this is the kind of Memorial Day we don't want to have. The idea of today's holiday is to honor those who have given their lives in service to the country. Some might say in defense of the country, and to a large extent, I agree, but it's not obvious in all of our wars--including our current one--exactly how the country is being defended. Which gets us back to why this is an uncomfortable Memorial Day--we're very likely to be honoring a few individuals by the end of the day who were still serving their country at the beginning of it.

Here's the latest count of the dead in Iraq, according to

US: 3,455

UK: 149

Other: 127

TOTAL: 3,731

Those numbers are only military deaths, of course, and they don't count whatever the number of Iraqis who have been killed so far.

I can't give you a complete number of the US wounded, unfortunately, because icasualties gets the updated figures for its month-by-month chart from the Department of Defense on the first and last weeks of the month. The number as of this writing is 25,242, but May of this year only has 116 wounded--somehow I have a feeling that's going to go up.

Let's remember those who are sacrificing for us as I write this and you read it, and let's see what we can do about allowing them to bring their time of sacrifice to an end.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Off-Balance in Iraq

I think I'm not getting enough sleep. In the past few minutes, I've seen Tim Russert grilling presidential candidate (and New Mexico governor) Bill Richardson on the vital issues of the day, trying to make him take a definitive stand on whether he's a Red Sox or a Yankees fan (I'm a Red Sox fan who has very little patience for the Yankees, and I don't care). I've seen Charlie Sheen doing a PSA for colon cancer (how did the network execs know that I wanted to get my health advice from Charlie Sheen?). And, after both houses of Congress bent over as far as they could go to give the Prez everything he wanted on Iraq, I go and read Frank Rich's latest column, which discusses the plight of the Iraqis this week, which just seems so unrelentingly depressing. I'm not sure if I've got a lot of comment on what he's got this week, but here are a few tidbits from "Operation Freedom from Iraqis":

When all else fails, those pious Americans who conceived and directed the Iraq war fall back on moral self-congratulation: at least we brought liberty and democracy to an oppressed people. But that last-ditch rationalization has now become America's sorriest self-delusion in this tragedy.

However wholeheartedly we disposed of their horrific dictator, the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration's reckless bet to "transform" the Middle East. From "Stuff happens!" on, nearly every aspect of Washington policy in Iraq exuded contempt for the beneficiaries of our supposed munificence. Now this animus is completely out of the closet. Without Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to kick around anymore, the war's dead-enders are pinning the fiasco on the Iraqis themselves. Our government abhors them almost as much as the Lou Dobbs spear carriers loathe those swarming "aliens" from Mexico.

Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That's a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq's child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation's. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what's happening in the country he gave "God's gift of freedom."

Of course, if we paid attention to this any of this, we might have to acknowledge that things aren't going swimmingly, and we can't have that. So let's keep it all under wraps.

Since the 2003 invasion, America has given only 466 Iraqis asylum. Sweden, which was not in the coalition of the willing, plans to admit 25,000 Iraqis this year alone. Our State Department, goaded by January hearings conducted by Ted Kennedy, says it will raise the number for this year to 7,000 (a figure that, small as it is, may be more administration propaganda). A bill passed by Congress this month will add another piddling 500, all interpreters.

In reality, more than 5,000 interpreters worked for the Americans. So did tens of thousands of drivers and security guards who also, in Senator Kennedy's phrase, have "an assassin's bull's-eye on their backs" because they served the occupying government and its contractors over the past four-plus years. How we feel about these Iraqis was made naked by one of the administration's most fervent hawks, the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, speaking to The Times Magazine this month. He claimed that the Iraqi refugee problem had "absolutely nothing to do" with Saddam's overthrow: "Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don't think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war."

No, how could we owe them anything at all? Rich goes off in an interesting digression about how the issue of abortion has influenced Iraqi policy, which is worth clicking through to read. But I'm going to pick him back up with what may be the most evocative part of the column:

the real forerunner to American treatment of Iraqi refugees isn't [the Vietnam War] in any case, but World War II. That's when an anti-Semitic assistant secretary of state, Breckinridge Long, tirelessly obstructed the visa process to prevent Jews from obtaining sanctuary in America, not even filling the available slots under existing quotas. As many as 75,000 such refugees were turned away before the Germans cut off exit visas to Jews in late 1941, according to Howard Sachar's "History of the Jews in America."

Like the Jews, Iraqis are useful scapegoats. This month Mr. Bremer declared that the real culprits for his disastrous 2003 decision to cleanse Iraq of Baathist officials were unnamed Iraqi politicians who "broadened the decree's impact far beyond our original design." The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is chastising the Iraqis for being unable "to do anything they promised."

The new White House policy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has joked, is "blame and run." It started to take shape just before the midterm elections last fall, when Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memo (propitiously leaked after his defenestration) suggesting that the Iraqis might "have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country." By January, Mr. Bush was saying that "the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude" and wondering aloud "whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." In February, one of the war's leading neocon cheerleaders among the Beltway punditocracy lowered the boom. "Iraq is their country," Charles Krauthammer wrote. "We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war." Bill O'Reilly and others now echo this cry.

The message is clear enough: These ungrateful losers deserve everything that's coming to them.

As long as we prolong the situation in Iraq, we can't even begin to address any of these issues. It's taking a tremendous toll on Iraqis, but we're not unscathed in this country, either. We need to own up to our mistakes and do what we can to make them right.

Play for Keeps

I've been remiss, lately. I should've been blogging about a new show in Chicago theater. In her life outside this blog, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk goes by the name of Francesca Peppiatt, and she's the managing director of Stockyards Theater Project. One of Stockyards' recent initiatives is a program called Play for Keeps, in which actresses are paired with writers to develop characters, scenes, or even full-length plays. Play for Keeps is in its second year, and the works that were created in this round are going up for the public on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week at the Theatre Building in Chicago. Each night has fresh material, with no overlap, so drop by for one or come every night.

Francesca, Stockyards, and Play for Keeps got a nice little write up in the latest American Theatre magazine, which you can see here. Or visit the Stockyards Theatre Project Website or its Play for Keeps page. If you're an actress or writer who wants to be involved for next year's program, there's contact information at each of those links.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

It's Like a Broken Record

Before Christmas we had Tower Records bite the dust, and about a week ago, it was announced that Chicago's losing its Virgin Megastore in a couple of months. (Salt Lake City is also losing it's store--I'm not sure what to make of that particular pairing.)

Although I never was that enamored of Virgin, it'll be a blow to Chicago's variety of available CDs when it disappears. While the store didn't carry everything, of course, it seemed like it had more complete selection than even the Tower stores. If I was looking for some stuff at any given time, I could usually count on finding a greater percentage of it at Virgin than anywhere else. Yes, I could find one or two other things at other places, but it would only be with one or two other CDs. Virgin tended to have things by the armful, if I was interested.

Of course, that leads to another part of their downfall, the fact that, although they had things I could buy by the armful, I rarely did. Their prices were as high as anywhere, so if I had a chance to find something elsewhere, I would. That was something of a paradox, that there wasn't an awful lot that you couldn't find somewhere else. So I didn't end up buying a lot from Virgin. If more than a few others were browsing more than they were buying, it wouldn't take long until it added up to real money that they weren't earning.

The experience of buying CDs will be less in Chicago. If you're looking for a wide swath of what's new, Virgin was a good place to find it. Once Virgin is gone, I'm not sure where to go for a similar overview. Shopping for CDs will be far more hit and miss in the city. There are still some places I like to go. Reckless Records in Wicker Park or Lakeview are good, but over the past couple of years, they seem to be focusing even more into their own little niche. (I've recently heard that they've opened a store in the Loop, which I'll have to check out at my earliest convenience.) Laurie's Planet of Sound gets good word of mouth, and I've only been there a couple of times, but I've been disappointed by the lack of depth in their selection. Sometimes when I'm CD shopping, I like to find something that I've heard of but not yet seen, and in my experience at Laurie's, I've never found anything that I hadn't already been aware of. A lot of people seem to swear by Rolling Stone Records on Irving Park, but I find that an odd store. While they have good prices, and they generally have a fair amount of new stuff, their selection beyond that always seems somewhat spotty to me. For some reason, I generally forget about Rock Records in the Loop. I've been in there a handful of times, but never when I've actively been looking for something, so I don't have a strong feel for what I might find there.

So what am I missing? Where should I be shopping?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Everybody Loves a Cave-In

The House and Senate each rolled over this evening and gave the Prez pretty much everything he wanted in a war funding bill. Oh, sure, there are some pesky benchmarks that he has to pretend to accept, but they come with their very own get out of jail free card--he's welcome to ignore them if he feels like it. Three guesses whether he will or not.

David Espo of the Associated Press bought into Harry Reid's claims that Dems were doing the best they could in fighting against the recalcitrant Prez, describing the House and Senate's voting as "grudgingly." Yeah, the Senate squeaked by with a vote of just 80-14, a ratio of just 5.5 to 1. That sounds pretty grudging to me, too. The House, at least, was only about 2 to 1.
The big argument for why this isn't a bad bill and an embarrassment for the Dems is that the whole thing has to play out again in September. General Petreaus is expected to provide a status report on the situation in Iraq at that point, and if things don't seem to be going well, the Dems might just pull the rug out from everybody. Or maybe it'll go more like Russ Feingold predicts:

You know what's going to happen in September? They'll bring General Petraeus back and he'll say, Just give me until the end of year. I think things are turning around. And then we'll be out of session, come back in late January, February, and the fact is a thousand more troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn't make any sense and it is hurting our military, hurting our country. This should not wait til September.

One thing the September gambit has going for it is that if the war becomes even more of a liability for Republicans than it is right now, we might see some Republicans put some distance between themselves and the Prez for their own self-preservation and electoral survival. But I'm not sure the Dems gain anything by laying low and waiting for their rivals across the aisle to come around. That continues to cast them as followers rather than leaders. Instead, they should stake out the position that they know is right (and the fact that they already sent Bush one bill to veto before appeasing him today shows that they do indeed know) and wait for the Repubs to join them. I may be going out on a limb with this, but that's what leaders would do.

On the bright side, and perhaps the indication that a few people have a healthy respect for the politics of the situation, three of the four Democratic senators running for president--Clinton, Obama, and Dodd--voted against the bill (Biden voted for it). Over in the House, Kucinich voted against it, too. Barring any unexpected changes in the status quo over there, this shows what the overpowering foreign-policy issue will be as we head into the election.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The New Monica: More Style than Substance

Monica Goodling was up on Capitol Hill today, and she was much more effective in introducing some more smoke into the issue of the fired U.S. attorneys than she was in bringing any actual fire. As for her intention to take the fifth, once her immunity from prosecution over this testimony was clarified, she owned up to illegally hiring attorneys based on political considerations such as their party affiliation, their political philosophy, and their all-around loyal Bushiness. But she didn't mean to, honest!

She also added no clarification for how the names of the various fired U.S. attorneys got onto the list of who was going to be fired, but maybe Kyle Sampson might know. One thing that was interesting, though, was Goodling's description of what sounds like a very awkward attempt by Alberto Gonzales to influence her testimony. A weeks or so before the left the Justice Department, he fell back on the tried-and-true method of just explaining how he remembered events to make sure he was "remembering correctly." Goodling told the committee that the discussion made her "uncomfortable." I guess even at Pat Robertson's Regent Law School they teach that witness tampering is illegal. So when is Gonzales due back up on the Hill? All of a sudden I've got a feeling one or more committee members might have a fruitful new line of questioning for him.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dog Bites Man

Yes, we should've seen this coming a mile away. The surprise of likely no one but the disappointment of many, the Dems caved on the bill for financing the Bush war in Iraq. Any sort of timetable is out of consideration. As I've said before, I'm not sure the Dems could've held on to timetables throughout the long negotiation process, but they shouldn't appear quite so quick to flush away their ideals. I was listening to the radio this afternoon, and a CNN news report characterized the situation as the Dems "backing down." Harry Reid seems to be trying to make lemonade by pointing out that Bush wanted a bill without any encumbrances, and look--this one has encumbrances! It has "benchmarks" that the bill itself invites the Prez to ignore, but yes, to be technical, it does indeed have benchmarks.

Russ Feingold has already said he's going to vote against this. In the Washington Post piece I linked to above, Nancy Pelosi said she might vote against it. There's a little bit of upside in that the funding expires on September 30, so they'll have to go through this whole charade again then. Given how quick they were to give away the store this time around, I'm not holding my breath that things will be different then, but I suppose it's always possible.

Steal from the Best

[UPDATED]--All is well, problem resolved. Details below.

On those rare occasions when I might be up late enough to see some of the TV talk shows, I've been enjoying Craig Ferguson. His monologues have enough of a mix of prepared material and off-the-cuff riffing to keep them among the freshest thing in late night. So I was more than a little bit let down to discover that a recent bit had been cribbed wholesale from stellar cartoonist Kyle Baker. Last week, after the networks had announced their fall new show lineups, Ferguson feigned disappointment that the pilot he'd executive-produced, Ghost Chimp, M.D., had been passed over. My own disappointment was not feigned when I came across Baker talking about it on his blog. He gives background, explaining how he came up with the concept himself fifteen years ago, and expresses his dismay to see the idea somewhere else:

Last week, I was informed that some desperate hack TV writers STOLE my deliberately hacky character. WOW! How hacky can you be?
Here it is.
I kind of like the idea of someone stealing THE WORST IDEA EVER.

Apparently, the Ferguson people are planning to make it a running gag, because they've put up a MySpace page (linked in the quote), and it was the subject of a sketch tonight. I don't know whether or not they'll ever own up to the origins of the idea, but I at least hope they let it wander off into the sunset.

By the way, if you click over to Baker's blog, do yourself a favor and visit his Website, too. He's one of the most creative guys out there, and there's plenty of fun stuff to look at.

UPDATE--Last night, Craig Ferguson gave Kyle Baker the credit for Ghost Chimp, M.D., and Baker's acknowledged that on his blog and moved on to other issues, so everybody seems to be happy. Unfortunately, he also removed his original post on the subject, in which he reproduced the entertaining Vibe article from ten years ago in which he described pitching the idea to Warner Brothers in the first place, but I guess we can't have everything.

I, however, seem to be responsible for punishing Ferguson and his producers for their good deed. I saw the original item in Baker's blog yesterday, and a couple of other comics blogs had picked it up, so I figured it had been covered, and I hadn't planned to mention it myself. But when I got home late last night, though, and came into the Ferguson show in the middle of the sketch in which they brought the idea back, I changed my mind and talked about it. Unfortunately, as I was coming in the door and settling in, taking my shoes off (as you do when you get home), and getting comfortable, I wasn't giving all my attention to the TV. So I didn't notice that the focus of the sketch was to give the proper credit in the first place (in fact, looking back at the YouTube video of the sketch [embedded in Baker's blog], I believe that at the moment they mentioned Kyle Baker, I was talking over the TV, telling Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk about the very funny cartoonist who'd had the idea first). I apologize for calling them out when they were making good on Baker's credit. I realize that it's presumptuous to believe that you know anything about people just because you've seen them on TV, but regardless, Craig Ferguson comes across on his show as a decent and honorable man, and good on him for doing the right thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Quick One

There's not much here, but I think it's pretty funny.

In response to Jimmy Carter's criticism of the Bush foreign policy (which I noted here), a White House spokesperson called Carter "increasingly irrelevant." Said the administration with a 28-percent approval rate.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who's Generation?

Here's a great clip to start off the week. I've been meaning to post about it for almost a month, so you may well have seen it already. Donita Sparks at Firedoglake said it was the most-viewed You Tube clip the week she posted about it (which is where I first came across it), so it's gotten plenty of attention, but if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a look.

It's far more joyous and uplifting than it would seem to have any right to be. It's the Zimmers covering the Who's "My Generation." The trick is that the Zimmers are elderly Britons who were gathered for a British documentary that's part of a series on the disenfranchised of British society. Old people certainly qualify, and the documentary is due on in Britain some time this month. The documentary maker, Tim Samuels, wanted a big finish for the episode on the aged, so he took some time at Abbey Road, enlisted veteran producer Mike Hedges (who the news identifies as producer for U2 and Dido, but who'll always have a special place in my heart for his work with the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Beat in the '80s) and video director Geoff Wonfor. According to their MySpace page (they've also got a dedicated website), the single will be released in Britain next week. Apparently in this country, they've so far been on The Today Show and Good Morning America, with more appearances scheduled. I'm not sure their fifteen minutes can last until an album is released in the fall, but more power to them enjoying the attention while it lasts.

The Twilight of the Religious Right? Don't Be Premature

Boy, do we live in a fast-moving culture. I'll admit that twenty-four years ago isn't exactly yesterday, but it doesn't seem far enough in the past for expectations to have changed so much that Jerry Falwell could've been named the second-most admired man in America (behind only Ronnie Reagan) according to a Good Housekeeping poll. But that's what Frank Rich reminds us today. It was a whole different world back then.

Or was it? In his latest column, "The Reverend Falwell's Heavenly Timing," Rich argues that Falwell is making his exit just as his power is finally eclipsed.

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed "America's mayor" an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell's gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani's unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he's tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with "divorce papers."

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani's public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue "will make the party seem irrelevant" and cost it the White House in 2008.

I think it's a phase. If evangelicals stay home in 2008 and the Republicans go down to dramatic defeat, it won't be long before bridges start being mended. The Repubs may be interested in electability, but after a big loss it won't take much to convince them that electability has to include the religious right. Rich mentions those brought down (and being brought down) by the Abramoff affair, and we still haven't seen how Monica Goodling might do the movement some real damage, but even if Falwell is remembered only in ignominy and those like Dobson and Robertson still hanging around in no better esteem, the movement itself is not going to be very far away. All the religious right needs for a resurgence is a charismatic (no, not that kind of charismatic) figure who's a bit more inclusive, a bit more moderate, a bit more willing to engage the modern world of gay rights and pro-choice politics, and the religious semi-right will be right back in business.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More Quick Hits

I don't really have enough to say about any of these subjects to give them a full post, so here's another chance to jump into the realm of bulleted lists again.

Is this a publicity stunt? On Tuesday Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Charles Manson and wrote Helter Skelter, came out with Reclaiming History - which he promises is the definitive study of the Kennedy Assassination that will put the conspiracy theories to rest once and for all. On Thursday, The Washington Post reports on a new study calling into question the bullet evidence of the Kennedy assassination. I'm sure Bugliosi will be available for interviews debunking the debunkers.

Here's a question that combines editorial and medical concerns. I don't know enough about anatomy to know which bones you can break in your back without endangering your spine, but apparently Jenna Fischer, Pam on The Office, broke some of those. But shouldn't news outlets understand the English language well enough to realize that colloquially, the phrase "breaks back" is understood to mean "breaks spine"? Don't they realize that using that phrase in a headline will lead their readers to expect the report to be abut Jenna Fischer becoming paralyzed? Oh, I'm sorry. Of course they do.

Here's a link to the AP coverage of Jimmy Carter's interview Saturday with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (the Democrat-Gazette requires a subscription to read it on their site) and another to the BBC, which also had an interview with the former president. (You can also hear the audio.) There's not much that we haven't heard before, but it does carry a bit more wait coming from a former president. Carter is especially helpful in pointing out how Bush stands apart from all former presidents, including those he professes to emulate. Just more evidence that this is an administration unlike any we've ever had before.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Quick Hits

The Prez was asked on Thursday about James Comey's testimony, and he had an intriguing response. Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News asked Bush whether he had personally sent Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card to John Ashcroft's hospital bedside to get him to reauthorize the illegal wiretapping. As we'd all expect, he doesn't even come close to answering the question, but instead of dodging the subject, too, he defiantly discusses the importance of the illegal wiretapping program, calling it both "essential" and "necessary." He also mentions that Congress was "constantly briefed." He's laying down so much defensive distractions that he might as well just say, "Yes, I did instigate the visit." This is becoming a cliche at this point, but it doesn't even occur to him to have shame for his actions. You can see the video or just read the transcript at Think Progress.

Is his insistance that Congress was "constantly briefed" another outright lie, or are we not getting a clear answer from some in Congress? We shouldn't forget, for instance, that Arlen Specter, the previous Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would often take a hard line to the Prez in public but would cave without apology when it came right down to it. So do he and other senators know more than they're letting on?

Speaking of that hospital visit, a former Clinton Justice Department official speculates in Time that it may have been illegal. They were talking about classified material, and it turns out you can't always talk about that anywhere. In case you weren't clear on whether it's a bad idea or not, there are laws against it. The current Justice Department is apparently considering whether to investigate or not. (Via Think Progress).

Changing the subject completely here, this is something I missed from a couple of days ago. Mediabistro reported that shock jocks Opie & Anthony have been suspended from XM radio. It seems odd to me that XM would do that. Since it's subscription based, I'd figure that subscribers are going to XM specifically to listen to Opie & Anthony, so they know what they're going to get. Listeners have to go in and find them if they want to listen. Meanwhile, CBS, which used to broadcast Don Imus and which now features an Opie & Anthony show, are keeping them right in their chairs as if whatever happened at XM has no bearing on who they allow on the public airwaves currently under their trust. Apparently XM subscribers aren't taking this lying down. They've inundated management with complaints and threats to drop satellite radio altogether. I'll have more developments if I notice them.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Broaching the Awkward Subject


Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk was looking for some advice last night, and I've got to admit that I came up completely dry. Maybe somebody out there has a better idea.

It just so happens that Beauty and the Geek is having auditions in Chicago this weekend. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk has an acquaintance who she thinks would be good on the show. I know the guy, too, and she's right--he would be a pretty good fit. (Just in case you're worried, it's my expectation that he doesn't read this blog, so if you're thinking I might be talking about you--probably not.) Her question, though--in case you haven't already anticipated it--is how do you casually suggest such a thing? You can't just come right out with it--"Hey, you'd be good on Beauty and the Geek!" If he's familiar with the show at all, he knows that the guys aren't the beauties. And geek is one of those words that someone might apply to themselves and its OK, but if somebody else calls them that, then it's an insult. In this case, it's not intended as an insult, but you can't call someone a geek and then assure him that you only mean it in "the best sense of the word." This is something that she thinks the guy might not just enjoy but actually excel at, as well. Of course, if he's going to be offended and emotionally wounded by the very thought that she'd suggest he has the qualities a show called Beauty and the Geek might be looking for, it would be so not worth the trouble. So does anybody have any ideas about how one might introduce the idea? We're all ears.

UPDATE--After I posted this, it occurred to me that, in trying to protect the identity of the person I was talking about by saying that I didn't believe he read this blog (which is true), I might be discouraging anybody who is reading this from also auditioning. If you thought I might be talking about you (and I reiterate, I don't think I am) and you thought auditioning for Beauty and the Geek isn't the worst idea you've ever heard, go for it. If anybody wants to do a report on the auditions, please add it to the comments below.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Skullduggery at the Highest Levels

The testimony that former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivered to Congress on Tuesday was certainly compelling. He described how, in March 2004, Alberto Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andy Card ambushed Attorney General John Ashcroft in the intensive-care unit to get him to approve the secret illegal NSA wiretaps of American citizens. John Ashcroft, to his eternal credit--yes, it's that John Ashcroft--refused to give his approval to something that was clearly illegal. Of course, the Prez being the Prez, he decided to overrule Justice Department concerns and authorize the program his own self. After much back and forth in which Comey was ready to resign and understood that a number of top Justice Department officials--including Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller--were ready to join him. The White House apparently took all this seriously and rejiggered the wiretapping program to meet Justice concerns.

All this not new, of course. The story has been floating around for over a year, although it does pick up quite a bit of credibility with Comey's Congressional testimony. The story appeared in The New York Times, although admittedly on New Year's Day 2006, and then in Newsweek in that same week. I remember at least a few people writing about it, but then the story just seemed to drop. Will the same thing happen this time? Are we going to get some titillating "hospital intrigue" and then forget about it?

One intriguing (and maddening) question that's so far been unanswered in all this is, if the program had to be reauthorized by the Justice Department every 45 days, what had changed so that Justice wouldn't reauthorize it this time? Was it a big power grab by the White House to expand their authority and powers? Or, as Glenn Greenwald suggests, was the program illegal all along and the Justice Department's understanding of the legality change? According to the transcript (graciously provided by Think Progress), Comey sidestepped whatever his concerns were in refusing to sign off on the surveillance program. While I understand that there are concerns about national secrets that may not allow these details to become public, that can't be a justification to allow lawbreaking with impunity. Somebody on Capitol Hill needs to keep digging.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Farewell to Jerry

You've no doubt heard that Jerry Falwell died on Tuesday, so I guess the testimonials are rolling in somewhere (though I'm not bothering to look for them). As much as I wish it were otherwise, you've got to admit that he was influential (although, as Don points out, not so influential that he actually had a place in the current White House power structure--too bad MSNBC wasn't so well informed). He was in the forefront of bringing religious conservatives into politics, and regrettably, we see the fruits of his labors all around us today. I was looking forward to the Republican presidential debate earlier tonight in South Carolina to see which candidate would most wrap himself in Falwell's legacy, but oddly, moderator Brit Hume asked the candidates not to take time during the debate to talk about the subject. Perhaps he feared that it would just turn into a free-for-all of one-upsmanship, and he might've been right. But no matter how beloved Falwell may have been among evangelicals, he was a polarizing figure in the culture at large. Although it might help with primary voters, embracing Falwell wouldn't be a wise move to win over voters in the general election.

Falwell's most recent controversy (I'd call it a gaffe because of the negative reaction he got, but he knew what he was saying, and he said what he meant) concerned his reaction to September 11, which he said was caused by God's anger at gays, feminists, the ACLU, or any group he felt like scapegoating. Although Falwell apologized, John Aravosis points out that he repeated the statement as recently as last week. I never heard anyone challenge him on the details to this (though I didn't follow Jerry Falwell obsessively, so it's possible that I missed it), but I would've loved to see someone take him through the logic of that belief. If God was punishing the United States for its sins, wouldn't that make the hijackers agents of God? And if that's the case, how exactly did Falwell's view of the terrorists differ from their own view of themselves and their actions?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lonely at the Top for the AG

The Department of Justice continues to erode--although, unfortunately, not in the most preferred way. No, don't you worry--Alberto Gonzales remains in place. But he's going to be looking for a new number two. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty offered his resignation today to take effect toward the end of the summer. Interestingly enough, he didn't mention the current DOJ scandal in his reasons for leaving--apparently he can simply no longer make ends meet on a civil servant's salary. "The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career."

McNulty was an early voice disagreeing with the AG about his role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys. I wouldn't say he's being pushed out, but my guess is that he's become very tired of the machinations of life at Justice these days. The Washington Post story I linked to above, points out that he's the fourth senior DOJ official to leave since the scandal broke (now if that number will only rise to five). His story doesn't track with the ever-shifting official cover story, and he's given the impression that he's willing to talk about aspects of the situation that Alberto apparently can't recall or simply doesn't want to touch, so it's a no-brainer to expect McNulty, even if he's part of the Justice Department no longer, will be making more journeys to Capitol Hill to talk to House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Republicans Can't Avoid the Rot at the Top

The line up of the ten candidates at the first Republican presidential debate a couple of weeks ago sure seem to make easy targets. Frank Rich takes his potshots in his column this week, "Earth to G.O.P.: The Gipper Is Dead."

They don't seem to get that there is not another major brand in the country — not Wal-Mart, not G.E., not even Denny's nowadays — that would try to sell a mass product with such a demographically homogeneous sales force. And that's only half the problem. The other half is that the Republicans don't have a product to sell. Aside from tax cuts and a wall on the Mexican border, the only issue that energized the presidential contenders was Ronald Reagan. The debate's most animated moments by far came as they clamored to lip-sync his "optimism," his "morning in America," his "shining city on the hill" and even, in a bizarre John McCain moment out of a Chucky movie, his grin.

The candidates mentioned Reagan's name 19 times, the current White House occupant's once. Much as the Republicans hope that the Gipper can still be a panacea for all their political ills, so they want to believe that if only President Bush would just go away and take his rock-bottom approval rating and equally unpopular war with him, all of their problems would be solved. But it could be argued that the Iraq fiasco, disastrous to American interests as it is, actually masks the magnitude of the destruction this presidency has visited both on the country in general and the G.O.P. in particular.

By my rough, conservative calculation — feel free to add — there have been corruption, incompetence, and contracting or cronyism scandals in these cabinet departments: Defense, Education, Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. I am not counting State, whose deputy secretary, a champion of abstinence-based international AIDS funding, resigned last month in a prostitution scandal, or the General Services Administration, now being investigated for possibly steering federal favors to Republican Congressional candidates in 2006. Or the Office of Management and Budget, whose chief procurement officer was sentenced to prison in the Abramoff fallout. I will, however, toss in a figure that reveals the sheer depth of the overall malfeasance: no fewer than four inspectors general, the official watchdogs charged with investigating improprieties in each department, are themselves under investigation simultaneously — an all-time record.

Wrongdoing of this magnitude does not happen by accident, but it is not necessarily instigated by a Watergate-style criminal conspiracy. When corruption is this pervasive, it can also be a byproduct of a governing philosophy. That's the case here. That Bush-Rove style of governance, the common denominator of all the administration scandals, is the Frankenstein creature that stalks the G.O.P. as it faces 2008. It has become the Republican brand and will remain so, even after this president goes, until courageous Republicans disown it and eradicate it.

Just as anti-Bushism in the rest of the world is shifting into anti-Americanism, within the country, it's firmly becoming anti-Republicanism. As much as one might want to blame Bush, Rove, Cheney, or whoever for the overriding decisions that have led us to where we are, none of it could've happened--or at least couldn't have happened as smoothly--without the compliant Republican Congress enabling them every step of the way. Congressional Republican may want to act like innocent bystanders, even victims, but the voters were paying attention. They see the corruption that's seeped into all sectors of government.

It isn't just the divisive Bush-Rove partisanship that led to scandal. The corruption grew out of the White House's insistence that partisanship — the maintenance of that 51 percent — dictate every governmental action no matter what the effect on the common good. And so the first M.B.A. president ignored every rule of sound management. Loyal ideologues or flunkies were put in crucial positions regardless of their ethics or competence. Government business was outsourced to campaign contributors regardless of their ethics or competence. Even orthodox Republican fiscal prudence was tossed aside so Congressional allies could be bought off with bridges to nowhere.

This was true way before many, let alone Matthew Dowd, were willing to see it. It was true before the Iraq war. In retrospect, the first unimpeachable evidence of the White House’'s modus operandi was reported by the journalist Ron Suskind, for Esquire, at the end of 2002. Mr. Suskind interviewed an illustrious Bush appointee, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist John DiIulio, who had run the administration's compassionate-conservative flagship, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Bemoaning an unprecedented "lack of a policy apparatus" in the White House, Mr. DiIulio said: "What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

His words have been borne out repeatedly: by the unqualified political hacks and well-connected no-bid contractors who sabotaged the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq; the politicization of science at the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency; the outsourcing of veterans' care to a crony company at Walter Reed; and the purge of independent United States attorneys at Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department.

He's right. We're seeing the effects of six (soon to be eight) years of Bush and his cronies, and their consequences of that will be with us far longer. I have to wonder about any politician, Democrat or Republican, who'd actually want to follow Bush into the presidency. I fear that the mess they'll need to clean up, will be far worse than we're assuming at this point. In the meantime, it should provide us with an enjoyable pastime for the next year and a half.

(For some reason, truthout didn't pick Rich up this week, so thanks to Wealthy Frenchman, where the complete column comes complete with hyperlinks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

Today the United States celebrates mothers, as we take our moms out for dinner and buy them flowers or chocolate or whatever. It's important to appreciate our mothers because, cliched as it is, none of us would be here without them. I didn't know that such a place existed until I did a little googling, but The International Mother's Day Shrine has some history of the holiday. They try to tie the holiday into the Civil War, which these days should be right up my alley, but quite frankly, the connection seems a little tenuous to me. I'll get to their origin in a moment, but first we can jump over to, which says that Julia Ward Howe, the author of the lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," wrote a poem that called for a day honoring mothers in 1870. That's not too bad of a Civil War tie, except for the fact that it never caught on. So instead, we're back with the shrine, which says on its history page, that ninety-nine years ago, a woman, Anna Jarvis, sponsored a Mother's Day celebration in honor of her mother who'd passed away three years earlier. Ann Jarvis, the mother, had worked as a nurse and for sanitary conditions during the Civil War. The first Mother's Day was celebrated at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Jarvis's mother had taught Sunday school. The idea caught on very quickly, and the governor of West Virginia picked up on it two years later. Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

The rapid rise of Mother's Day didn't please everyone, however. Anna Jarvis felt that the pure celebration of mothers became too commercial too quickly and protested. She sued to have one Mother's Day event stopped, and she was later arrested for disturbing the peace at another. So in honor of Anna Jarvis and her true intention in founding Mother's Day, don't buy anything for your mother--just thank her.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I was busy yesterday and didn't get a chance to follow up on Alberto Gonzales's little trip to Capitol Hill that I teased on Thursday morning. But as I started looking at some of the coverage, I realized that it wasn't so much that I didn't follow up myself as that there was nothing really to follow up on. Apparently (I wish I could write surprisingly, but I can't) nothing much happened. The Dems asked some questions. The attorney general didn't answer them. And then everybody went home.

Apparently the Prez has had a heart-to-heart talk with Gonzales and assured him that there's nothing whatsoever Gonzales could do to get fired. It looks like Bush didn't call him the "eternal general" last week for nothing. This wasn't the Gonzales we'd seen in front of the sentence, flustered and supremely worried about his job and reputation. This was a Gonzales who had no worries, who wasn't concerned about what he might face from the House Judiciary Committee because they just weren't important enough to matter. Here's how Dana Milbank described the scene in The Washington Post:

The witness was already grinning when he hopped out of his SUV in the morning, accompanied by a dozen aides and bodyguards. Sitting at the witness table, he clenched his jaw, narrowed his eyes and, for the benefit of the cameras, kept his gaze fixed on Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.).

"These points are basically the same ones that I made before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month," Gonzales said in his opening statement. "My feelings and recollections about this matter have not changed since that time."

As the questions came, Gonzales remained approximately the same temperature as the ice water in his pitcher.

Dahlia Lithwick had more of the same:

No more angry outbursts, no bitter attempts at self-justification. Instead, the AG answers some questions with a giggle and most others with the same old catchphrases we've heard so often: He has consistently failed to investigate any wrongdoing at the Justice Department out of "deference to the integrity of the ongoing investigations." The decisions about which U.S. attorneys made Kyle Sampson's magic list were the "consensus recommendations of the senior leadership of the department." Over and again, ever in identical language, Gonzales "accepts full responsibility for the decision" just as he insists that he played only a "limited role" in the decision-making. The fact that the attorney general can't even be bothered to pull out a thesaurus after all these weeks—even if only to create the illusion that these nonanswers come from him as opposed to a list of pre-approved talking points—reveals just how little he cares about what Congress and the public think of him anymore.

There was one moment that almost tripped him up, but he quickly regained his composure. Back to Milbank:

Finally, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) cruelly turned Gonzales's ignorance against him: "You said you didn't know who put [U.S. Attorney David] Iglesias on the list" to be fired?

"That is correct," Gonzales said.

"But you said you knew the president and the vice president didn't," Cohen pointed out. "How do you know they didn't?"

Gonzales paused, trapped. "Well, I just know that they would not do that," he said.

The Bible says that God will reward a childlike faith. Apparently we now know that so will George W. Bush.

So it seems that Alberto has either found peace within himself or a nice big prescription for Prozac. Clearly there's no point talking to him any more until there are more substantive facts to throw at him. The investigation has to move forward on other fronts, and it's started to do that with former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling finally getting the immunity she's been seeking to testify to Congress. That old legal truism is worth remembering: "You don't need immunity if you haven't done anything wrong." Will she have any juicy info to pass along? Well, that's what we seem to be getting set up for. They're looking to have Goodling testify to House Judiciary before the end of the month. Knowing how slowly things move in Washington, though, I'm not holding my breath.

While we wait for the lid to be blown off all of this (or . . . something), read Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's special to the National Law Journal, "Why He Should Go Now."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another Step Forward in the House

The House Dems passed the partial funding of the Iraq funds, with two Republicans coming over to join them and ten Dems jumping ship and voting with the Repubs against any limitations on funding at all. As I suspected, all the talk of groundswells growing in the Republican party came to nothing as pretty much everyone on the record about being troubled by the war in Iraq voted against controlling the Prez's spending on that self-same war. I did say that no one would be publicly moving their position until at least September.

One interesting thing on this vote, though, is that before it was final, the Prez stepped up and offered the possibility that he'd consider benchmarks in a compromise (it's in the NYTimes story linked above). I can see that possibility now: "Should I compromise? Would it be a good opportunity to compromise? Uh, no." Well, at least he considered it. We'll see if he puts anything resembling a compromise forward or if he just waits to turn down compromises the Dems offer him.

It's all well and good that the Dems could keep their coalition together for today's vote, but before we get overexcited, let's remember that the Senate needs to vote on this before it goes to the Prez to exercise his threatened veto. Senate Dems have been a bit more hesitant, but holding the House back can be viewed as a negative these days, too.

I've got more to say on this subject, but none of it is coalescing in my brain right now. I think I'm going to sleep whether I like it or not. Excuse me, while I bid you good night and pray for a typo-free post.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gonzales Re-Ducks

Everybody's favorite questionable attorney general, Albert Gonzales--Fredo to his friends--is back up on Capitol Hill today, this time to talk to the House Judiciary Committee. He'll be doing his usual bobbing, weaving, and dodging, and generally avoiding answering questions. Look for lots of variations on, "I'm sorry, I already said I don't remember." There's a drinking game in there somewhere for the enterprising individual who has time to develop it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A New War Funding Bill?

The Democrats have settled on a strategy for their follow-up to the war funding bill the Prez vetoed last week. They're going to offer a bill that will provide some money, but then they'll have to vote again in a couple of months for the rest. As I think I've written before (though I couldn't find an actual instance when I just now looked for a link), this is a clever strategy. Let's keep bringing this subject up over and over so that we'll all pay more attention to the situation. Remind everybody whose war this is and where everybody stands on it. Bush is already threatening to veto before the bill has even come to the House floor. He wants unlimited funding with no strings attached. He's been used to getting whatever he wants from Congress, so it's about time that he realizes that he has to play well with others. He long ago expressed his true desire for his role in government ("A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it"), and the Republican Congress let him get far too close to it, but now its his chance to see how he reacts to an oppositional Congress.

Outside of the wrangling over the new bill, there seems to be some scrambling going on among Congressional Republicans. House Minority Leader John Boehner told FOXNews on Sunday: "By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well [the surge] is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B." Trent Lott quickly backed that up for the Senate, as well. (Or did he? Oddly, I was looking for a link for Lott's statement, and in Google News, only two came up, but both of them actually linked to totally different stories; only the link I used, found on AMERICAblog, still connected to Lott.) Perhaps in response to the groundswell of Republican opposition, the Pentagon announced that the surge could well last into 2008. Take that, September Republicans! But some Congressional Republicans, possibly concerned about their chances for reelection if troop levels are still surging during an election year, took their complaints to the White House in what one of them described as the "most unvarnished conversation they've ever had with the president." It was led by Mark Kirk, who represents some of Chicago's northern suburbs, a couple of districts north of here, although The New York Times reports that Boehner was there, as well.

In the short run, I don't think any of this will mean more Republican support for the limited war funding bill. When the Repubs say "September," I'm not sure they mean it, but even if they do, I highly doubt that they'll publicly break with the Prez much earlier than that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Trouble with Kansas

I dunno. I was trying to write some sort of measured post about the travesty of having most of the National Guard and their equipment in Iraq when it's desperately needed here, in what some might call the "homeland," in case we have something like, oh, I don't know, a tornado more than a mile-and-a-half wide with winds up to 205 miles per hour demolishing a town in Kansas, or whatever. But somehow the subject seemed to lend itself to an evenhanded presentation. We saw that this was a problem waiting out there during Katrina, and it only seems to have gotten worse. Although it doesn't do much to offer immediate help to the people devastated people of Greensburg, Kansas, state governor Kathleen Sebelius is making a an issue of it.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the state's National Guard couldn't respond as quickly as it should have because much of its equipment is overseas. About 300 Kansas National Guardsmen have been sent to Greensburg.

"Fifty percent of our trucks are gone. Our front loaders are gone. We are missing Humvees that move people," Sebelius told NBC's "Today" show. "We can't borrow them from other states because their equipment is gone. It's a huge issue for states across the country to respond to disasters like this."

Further down, the article from McClatchy offers some solid numbers.

A Government Accountability Office report in January found that of 300 types of equipment needed in natural disasters, the Guard had fewer in all categories than it did in 2001, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some of the equipment is unavailable for domestic disasters, the GAO found, including radios and dump trucks. Only 2 percent of the diesel generators needed are available, the study found.

The GAO report estimated that Guard units in the United States have only 50 percent of the equipment they'd need in the event of a disaster. A study by the National Guard Association of the United States pegs the percentage at 40 percent, according to John Goheen, the group's spokesman.

Even to achieve that number, Goheen said, some Guard units have had to count privately owned vehicles that would be made available under lease agreements in the event of a disaster.

The war belongs completely to the White House, of course, so it didn't take long before Tony Snow started pointing fingers the other way.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the fault was Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius'.

In a spat reminiscent of White House finger-pointing at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco after the federal government's botched response to Hurricane Katrina, Snow rapped Sebelius for not following procedure to find gaps and then asking the federal government to fill them.

"If you don't request it, you're not going to get it," he said.

. . .

"As far as we know, the only thing the governor has requested are FM radios," Snow said. "There have been no requests to the National Guard for heavy equipment."

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback (who, oddly enough, happens to be running for president) piled on, as well, insisting that the Kansas National Guard told him they had everything they need. For better or worse, this will all play out on the national stage, so we'll be able to see who's right.

Tony Snow, by the way, backed off on his claim in a press briefing later in the day. Perhaps he'd seen this post from Think Progress, which helpfully lists a number of reports of Sebelius raising the issue for almost a year and a half. Apparently, unlike other politicians, she did learn something from the FEMA failure during Katrina. She was asking Rumsfeld for new equipment just a couple of months after Katrina blew through New Orleans. She's not going to be caught unprepared like Kathleen Blanco was. But even so, there's still the immediate problem of the tornado aftermath. Let's just hope that we don't have another national disaster, like flooding or something.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Illiteracy at the Washington Post

Here's an odd update to a post I made last week about the Democrats caving on Iraq. It turns out that things aren't always as they seem. The Washington Post headlined a story about the Democrats backing down on timetables for Iraq. I was complaining about the Dems falling back on unfortunately comfortable strategies of rolling over to give the Prez whatever he wanted, but I didn't quote the lead. Here it is now.

President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but as I noted in an update to the post, it wasn't long before the offices of the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader were telling Greg Sargent (and probably anybody else who would listen) that the story wasn't true. But Jonathan Weisman, cowriter of the piece, stood by the story, even though the details he now offered didn't quite lead to the conclusion in the headline.

If you clicked on the link above, though, you'll have noticed that now the Post has added what they're referring to as a correction to the piece. Here's what they say:

A May 3 Page One article about negotiations between President Bush and congressional Democrats over a war spending bill said the Democrats offered the first 9major concession by dropping their demand that the bill it include a deadline to bring troops home from Iraq. While Democrats are no longer pushing a firm date for troop withdrawals, party leaders did not specifically make that concession during a Wednesday meeting with Bush at the White House.

(This is completely a side issue, but the Post may want to beef up its budget for proofreading or cut it out altogether. I'm copying and pasting, so the typos and mangled syntax above are just as they appear on the Website as of this writing.)

So effectively, the Post is admitting that their headline and lead were wrong and that the Democrats had not made any concessions. It's unfortunate that the false information was given such prominent placement, but I guess that happens in journalism sometimes.

Or does it? Despite the correction, Weisman responded to Greg Sargent, who also noted the correction, with one of the oddest defenses I've seen from a working writer (particularly one with a high-profile gig like The Washington Post). Sargent provides the entire response, but I'm just going to quote it selectively.

The posting was supposed to be a clarification, not a correction, and your misinterpretation ratifies the concerns of the editors who didn't want to run it in the first place.

If the editors were concerned that their statement might be misinterpreted as a correction, they should've been more careful than to label it as a "correction." That's a rookie mistake that seasoned editors should be able to avoid.

Due to the phrasing of the story's lead, Nancy Pelosi believed it sounded like that concession was offered face to face as she and Bush met at the White House. If it did sound like that, it was completely unintentional. Indeed, the editors of the paper believed the lead made no such inference at all.

I wonder where Pelosi could've come up with such an idea, particularly when the editors not only didn't mean to convey it but don't think they did at all. Maybe we need to look at the opening sentence of the story again.

President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

Oh, I see why she might've thought that. It's because that's what it says. The "with" clause describing the concession modifies the verb, "began negotiating." According to that sentence, the concession was a feature of the negotiations. There's no other way to understand that sentence. The fact that Weisman argues that the sentence doesn't mean precisely what it says indicates that he's grasping at straws. If, as he claims, he's representing the views of his editors, then they all should be fired for incompetence. If he didn't mean for the story to say what it clearly says, he should at least make sure he has a copy editor who knows a little bit about how words work to back him up. From the looks of things, Weisman is being completely hung out to dry by editors who must be sabotaging his prose. But wait, he's not finished yet.

The concessions were made to me, as a reporter, talking to senior leadership aides and members of leadership.

I completely missed the part where Weisman was negotiating with the Democrats. Aside from the point that the structure of the sentence ties the concession directly with the negotiations, using the term concession in the presence of the word negotiation is going to set up an implicit connection.

So which interpretation is more charitable, that Weisman is disingenuous in claiming that he didn't mean what he wrote or that he's an idiot who doesn't know the meaning of what he wrote?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ducking the Blame

If you've been at all following the news lately, you can't have missed former CIA director George Tenet and his "Don't Blame Me" book and tour. Tenet's been trying to shift blame and avoid responsibility about the lead up to the Iraq invasion, portraying himself as a convenient scapegoat. I guess a Presidential Medal of Freedom doesn't go quite as far as you'd expect. I tend to think the Michael F. Scheuer, the one-time anonymous author of Imperial Hubris, had it right in a piece for last Sunday's Washington Post:

[H]e lacked the moral courage to resign and speak out publicly to try to stop our country from striding into what he knew would be an abyss.

Tenet seems to have been pretty much discredited by all this, and his book has done him no favors. If he had all this to say, it might've been a bit more significant if he'd mentioned it a little sooner. But the whole thing proved a useful springboard for Frank Rich this week to talk about Condi Rice. She apparently made the rounds of three Sunday talk shows last week (I don't get up early enough on a Sunday to know) to debunk Tenet before he made his case on 60 Minutes. Rich wants to know, "Is Condi Hiding the Smoking Gun?"

Of all the top-tier policy players who were beside the president and vice president at the war's creation, she is the highest still in power and still on the taxpayers' payroll. She is also the only one who can still get a free pass from the press. The current groupthink Beltway narrative has it that the secretary of state's recidivist foreign-policy realism and latent shuttle diplomacy have happily banished the Cheney-Rumsfeld cowboy arrogance that rode America into a ditch.

Thus Ms. Rice was dispatched to three Sunday shows last weekend to bat away Mr. Tenet's book before "60 Minutes" broadcast its interview with him that night. But in each appearance her statements raised more questions than they answered. She was persistently at odds with the record, not just the record as spun by Mr. Tenet but also the public record. She must be held to a higher standard - a k a the truth - before she too jumps ship.

. . .

Of the Sunday interviewers, it was George Stephanopoulos who went for the jugular by returning to that nonexistent uranium from Africa. He forced Ms. Rice to watch a clip of her appearance on his show in June 2003, when she claimed she did not know of any serious questions about the uranium evidence before the war. Then he came as close as any Sunday host ever has to calling a guest a liar. "But that statement wasn't true," Mr. Stephanopoulos said. Ms. Rice pleaded memory loss, but the facts remain. She received a memo raising serious questions about the uranium in October 2002, three months before the president included the infamous 16 words on the subject in his State of the Union address. Her deputy, Stephen Hadley, received two memos as well as a phone call of warning from Mr. Tenet.

It amazes me how Rice has mostly been allowed to stay aloof from all of this. She's as much in the middle of it as anyone else is. That may change as the Bushies get more and more discredited for their whole misadventure. And, of course, these days there's always the Democratic Congress to pick up some of the slack left by the mainstream media.

That Ms. Rice feels scant responsibility for any of this was evident in her repeated assertions on Sunday that all the questions about prewar intelligence had been answered by the Robb-Silberman and Senate committee inquiries, neither of which even addressed how the administration used the intelligence it received. Now she risks being held in contempt of Congress by ducking a subpoena authorized by the House's Oversight Committee, whose chairman, Henry Waxman, has been trying to get direct answers from her about the uranium hoax since 2003.

Ms. Rice is stonewalling his investigation by rambling on about separation of powers and claiming she answered all relevant questions in writing, to Senator Carl Levin, during her confirmation to the cabinet in January 2005. If former or incumbent national security advisers like Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski could testify before Congress without defiling the Constitution, so can she. As for her answers to Senator Levin's questions, five of eight were pure Alberto Gonzales: she either didn't recall or didn't know.

No wonder the most galling part of Ms. Rice's Sunday spin was her aside to Wolf Blitzer that she would get around to reflecting on these issues "when I have a chance to write my book." Another book! As long as American troops are dying in Iraq, the secretary of state has an obligation to answer questions about how they got there and why they stay. If accountability is ever to begin, it would be best if those questions are answered not on "60 Minutes" but under oath.

The Bushies sidestep accountability because no one's yet been willing to hold them accountable. Maybe, finally, someone will.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Partners in Crime

I know I said that, despite writing about the whole Imus controversy, I wasn't really that interested in it, but Friday's New York Times had an article that intrigued me. It appears that Imus is threatening to sue CBS for breach of contract. His lawyer made the argument.

The lawyer, Martin Garbus of Manhattan, said CBS violated a clause in Mr. Imus's contract that specifically encouraged him to engage in what the clause called "extraordinary," "irreverent" and "controversial" topics on his program.

. . .

Mr. Garbus said the language in the clause he cited proved "they were creating a shock jock." He said Mr. Imus was doing "exactly what they wanted him to do."

Mr. Garbus also said that CBS had agreed to give Mr. Imus an official warning after one incident of offensive language before taking action, and that "both CBS and MSNBC had a delay button and neither of them used them in this case."

This is an interesting tactic, putting it right back on CBS's plate. I have little doubt that Imus was giving CBS and MSNBC what they wanted. As I asked at the time, given all the other offensive comments Imus had made, why was this the one that finally got him booted off the air? The easy answer is that it was the one that caused the networks problems. I started to write, "CBS and MSNBC were obviously complicit in keeping Imus on the air in his current form," but that's just stupid. They weren't complicit--they were entirely in control! He was there because they were making a lot of money giving the public what they wanted. He's there no longer because the nets were afraid that he'd start costing them money.

If Imus has to bear the brunt of his comments (as he should), CBS and MSNBC--his enablers and supporters--should have some price to pay, as well. They scheduled him and promoted him--they're hardly the innocent bystanders they'd like us to believe them to be.

I doubt this is going to get much traction in the press, though. Imus quickly became detritus better forgotten, and no one's going to want to pay much attention to him now, whether he's got a valid point to make or not.

Saturday Was Just About Everything Day

Today wasn't only Free Comic Book Day. When I tried to get around town this afternoon, it occurred to me that it was Just About Everything. I already mentioned in the previous post that it was Cinco de Mayo, but it was also the running of the Kentucky Derby and the Polish Constitution Day Parade (although the actual Polish Constitution Day was Thursday). Add to that an afternoon Cubs game, and the streets were just achingly slow if you were trying to drive anywhere. Maybe tomorrow should be a rest day after all that activity.

Saturday Is Free Comic Book Day!

Yes, that's right, comics stores are giving away free comic books again! This is the biggest Free Comic Book Day ever, with by my count, 43 free comic books available. Here's the Website, and here's a list of the comics that will be available. But that's just titles--if you want to see covers and descriptions, you can go here and here. You're not sure where there's a comics store near you? They've got that covered, too. Some stores are going all out and organizing special events such as signings by creators. The Free Comic Book Day Website has a handy list of those, as well, helpfully divided into the categories of United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia. And if you can't get to an actual comic book store, you can still get some free magazines about comics. TwoMorrows Publishing has a few PDFs of its magazines that it's making available for free on Saturday and Sunday only. Take a look to see if any of them interest you.

This is the sixth Free Comic Book Day, and for much of that time, there's been some discussion about whether it's more effective for the event to stand or to piggyback on some other major media comic-book tie-in. Last year, the day did pretty well on its own, but this year, of course, it coincides with the opening of Spider-Man 3. Me? I'm looking for another tie-in. Given that Free Comic Book Day this year falls on Cinco de Mayo, I'm looking for the comic store that's serving margaritas.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Vicarious Frothing at the Mouth

Not everyone who reads this blog follows comics, and of those that do, I don't expect that they all follow superhero comics terribly closely. But if you've been paying attention to the travesty of Civil War that Marvel's been foisting on us (to great sales success, by they way)--even following at a distance--you'll have a good time reading Greg Morrow's rant on the subject and its subtext at Howling Curmudgeons. He's not sometimes called Frothing-at-the-Mouth Lad for nothing. The story's subtext of the War on Terror has been fairly obvious all along (Marvel was even explaining it to mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and NPR when it all started), but Greg absolutely nails the meta-subtext of the growing disillusion and mistrust of the Bush administration being echoed in similar feelings among many comics readers toward Marvel editorial. Considering Civil War at face value, Marvel is trashing its characters and their history for an ill-conceived storyline. I suppose we can't completely rule out the possibility that Marvel might still somehow deftly pull all this together into some sort of grand storytelling coup, but I don't see how it could happen. And even if they did, there's been enough damage to Marvel institutions at this point that they wouldn't come out unscathed. Essentially, I no longer trust them to be responsible caretakers of the characters I've enjoyed for years. And Civil War's phenomenal (by modern standards) sales figures to the contrary, I'm not the only one who feels that way. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy Spider-Man 3 this weekend.

Speaking of Howling Curmudgeons, congratulations to them on four years of blogging. Chris Maka put together some stats of the more than 900 posts from a dozen contributors (and one emeritus). I haven't been on board the entire four years, but I would've bet that I'd made more than 41 posts (I also would've bet that I hadn't written more about Kryptonite than any other contributor). I guess that means that I have to get on the stick with more posts. Congratulations, guys! Here's to four more years and beyond.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Democrats: Old Habits Die Hard

[UPDATED below]

This is starting to get boring--too many posts or items beginning with "as expected." Nonetheless, as expected, the House tried to override the Prez's veto of the Democrats' war funding bill (now with timetables for withdrawal!) and came up short. There'd been some hope that a few Republicans would peel away from the Prez to stand on their own and address the views of their constituents, but only two did so, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina. On the other hand, seven Dems voted to uphold Bush's position: John Barrow and Jim Marshall of Georgia, Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Michael McNulty of New York, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, and Jim Matheson of Utah. If the Dems aren't going to stay together on issues with popular support, how are they supposed to expect Republicans to jump ship to replace them?

Further indicating that the Republican impulse to stand with the Prez was the right move for them to make, the first thing Dems offered in their negotiations with Bush to craft a funding bill that they can pass and he can sign was to take their timetables right off the table. I'm not sure that they could've held on to that point throughout serious negotiations, but they don't have to dump it immediately as if they're anteing up to even sit at the table. Senator Russ Feingold warned against this very tactic earlier today at The Huffington Post.

The ink on the President's veto is barely dry, and already, a lot of Washington insiders - including some Democrats -- are saying Congress should just give in to the President. Never mind how hard people have pushed to bring Congress to this point, when we are finally standing up to the President's disastrous Iraq policy -- they want to give up on the binding language in the bill requiring the President to begin redeploying troops from Iraq.

But that's just letting the President have his way all over again. That's the kind of thinking that got us into this war in the first place, and it's not going to cut it anymore.

On Wednesday, Dan Froomkin asked, "Can Bush Negotiate?" At this rate, he doesn't have to.

It's this kind of news that makes the whole situation quite wearing. I'm getting burned out by this "two steps forward, three steps back." It's becoming so that every news story from the Middle East is reminding me of this article from The Onion: "Middle East Conflict Intensifies As Blah Blah Blah, Etc. Etc." At the moment, that sounds about right.

UPDATE--This is distressing. According to Greg Sargent at The Horse's Mouth, aides to Pelosi and Reed have told him that the Washington Post story I referred to is false and that the Democrats have not taken a timeline for withdrawel from Iraq off the table. When Sargent checked with one of the authors of the piece, although he claimed to stand by his story, the details didn't quite add up. As quoted by Sargent, Jonathan Weisman's sources told him that the Democrats would in the future have to take the timetables out of the bill if Bush was to sign it. Unfortunately, in the story itself, it says that Dems have already taken the timelines out from consideration.