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To see what I did think of this week, go here. When it comes to political cartooning, of course, thinking of stuff is only half the battle. It's poor Rob Davis, the artist guy in the trenches, who does the heavy lifting.
Just wait until you see what I've already loaded on him for next week...
"Can we pretend that the Constitution is Navy Blue size 16?" That was the ultimate challenge--and final sentence--in a very pertinent and pointed comment at
Swampland , the Time Magazine website. A poster using the name trifecta, responding to a question by Time's Ana Marie Cox about why so many readers challenge, ridicule or otherwise denigrate the postings by her and her colleagues, said this:
Those of us who got fed up with the press during the Lewinsky scandal see the coverage levels as being not so enthusiastic regarding our constitution.
Reporters and pundits were screaming for Clinton's head, demanding vengeance.
Thousands upon thousands of Iraqis are dead now because of WMD lies. We are being spied upon, we are sending people without trial to be tortured. Our attorney general is a perjurer. The justice department is corrupted.
14 members of congress are under investigation. A CIA agent's name was leaked to retaliate against her husband. A city drowned and was left in shambles due to bungling. Our president ignores the will of congress. They ignore subpoenas, not even invoking privilege but not showing up...
Clinton's affair made Washington media angry. They vented, they called Clinton the lowest of the low.
We are torturing people right now. In our names....That is what is so infuriating. If the press was this disinterested in the Clinton years in Whitewater, Monica, etc...etc...at least one could say there was apathetic balance.
Our president is committing crimes against the constitution. The press lost their "disinterested observer" card after the Blue Dress....
That's about as devastating putdown of the Washington "press" corps that I can recall. And it puts in simple, understandable terms exactly what is the problem with those cloistered, self-important and failed Washington professionals.
When history finally judges this appalling era in our nation's history, the media is going to rank right up there with President Cheney and Dubya the Deficient as the villains of the piece.
Hanging with the comicals folks. Back in the day, when I was writing near fulltime in the comics industry trade press and doing regular promotional stories and projects for DC Comics, the San Diego Comic-Con every August was one the best four days of the year on those years when I could make it. It was a chance to catch up with friends and with what was happening in an industry I covered.
Such moments have turned Comic-Con International -- "The Con," to enthusiasts--into a kind of particle accelerator for popular culture. In its 38th year, the four-and-a-half-day convention, which began with a preview session on Wednesday evening, is expected to draw well over 100,000 science fiction and fantasy buffs to its hundreds of presentations and a booth-lined floor crammed with robots, latex monsters and geeks who have long since blurred any line between the real and imagined. (A cardinal rule requires light swords, plasma blasters and other fake weaponry to remain sheathed, lest unamused security guards react.)
For Hollywood, increasingly reliant on animation and fantasy for superhits on the order of "Harry Potter" or "Transformers," the convention has become an obligatory first promotional stop for the next wave of blockbusters.
Sounds wild. I may just talk to some of the old gang about going back one more once.
Comic-Con and The Great American Beer Festival are the two best industry gatherings I've ever attended, a good time every time. It may be that whenever I've been at either I've been both working and an insider of sorts, to one degree or another. When you're getting paid to be there and have pretty much complete access, it's difficult not to enjoy it all.
And the Winner Is...Greater Philadelphia!
Forbes, Money Magazine, U.S. News & World Report Recognize Region as the Place to Be
PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Greater Philadelphia region has a lot to offer--and people are taking notice! A variety of notable designations have recently been awarded to different parts of the 11-county region comprising Greater Philadelphia. These acknowledgements range from business-related honors to quality of life awards and all highlight the great number of assets this region has to offer... The tri-state Greater Philadelphia region is comprised of 11 counties: New Castle County in Delaware; Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer and Salem Counties in New Jersey; and Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania.
Business Forbes magazine recognized both Delaware and New Jersey as two of the "Best States for Business." As part of this list, New Jersey received the third highest ranking for quality of life and Delaware received the seventh best ranking for business costs. Similarly, Wilmington, Delaware was recognized as one off the least expensive places on the East coast to run a corporate headquarters, by Princeton-based consulting firm The Boyd Company Inc.
Quality of Life Other notable designations were related to various Quality of Life measurements that can prove to be just as important as the dollars and cents of a region's business climate. Money Magazine ranked several towns in Pennsylvania as the country's "Best Places to Live," including: Nether Providence in Delaware County (#9), West Goshen in Chester County (#12), and Horsham in Montgomery County (#15). Pike Creek in New Castle County, Delaware was also recognized in the Top 100, as was Moorestown in Burlington County, New Jersey. In a separate listing, Money ranked Philadelphia as the sixth "Best Big City" in the country and West Chester, Pennsylvania as one of the top 25 Best Places to Live in the country for single people. This is in line with the 2006 Forbes ranking of Philadelphia as one of the Best Cities for Singles.
U.S. News & World Report recently published its listing of the Best U.S. Hospitals, which included nine area facilities: Christiana Care Health System, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Hahnemann University Hospital, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Moss Rehab, Pennsylvania Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Wills Eye Hospital.
The Places Rated Almanac recently listed Philadelphia as one of the Top 10 "Most Livable" Cities in the country. And last, but certainly not least important, SustainLane ranked the largest 50 US cities by sustainability factors. As part of this ranking, Philadelphia was ranked as one of the Top 10 Greenest U.S. Cities.
And they didn't even mention that this is one of--arguably the--Best Beer Cities in the whole freakin' world.
At last, somebody said it. I've never been quite able to put it into words without sounding churlish and cruel, but I agree completely agree with the sentiments expressed yesterday by Charles Piece in his weekly Friday afternoon email to Altercation, Eric Alterman's weekday column at mediamatters.org:
Once, when a famously truculent ballplayer died, a wise old tabloid editor of mine refused to let anyone go soft on the deceased in his obit. "You know what you get when a pr**k dies?" he asked. "A dead pr**k." So, in that spirit, may I say for the record that Tony Snow always was insufferably smug and mendacious. He remains that today, serious illness or no. Sorry if that disrupts the Beltway Christmas card list, but that's the truth of it. He puts a revolting public face on revolting public policy and he's done so for his whole sorry career. Look at his performance on Wednesday, when the Attorney General of the United States got caught telling lies to the Senate that would shame a 4-year-old at preschool. He suggested that Congress get on with the "people's business."
Leave aside the fact that this administration has from Day One defined "the people's business" as that which placates the base while benefiting the bagmen. Leave aside as well the fact that the game plan for two years of lame-duckery seems to be legislative delay backed up with a sudden delight in the veto power. Let's concentrate mainly on the notion that what occurred in the Senate on Wednesday was somehow not "the people's business." A corrupt AG and a corrupted Department of Justice is not "the people's business"? A renegade Executive branch is not "the people's business"? An utter ongoing defacement of the constitutional order is not "the people's business"? Where'd this wretched third-rate Peronist talking-point drift in from? I'm sure that, somewhere in the White House, Tony can find a tattered document, probably in use as a placemat, that begins with the words, "We, the People." The "people's business" in this country is in governing themselves, within a constitutional framework, through their elected representatives. The brass ones it takes to say this as the mouthpiece of this particular administration must keep him awake at night with their clanging.
Despite having supported President Bush's disastrous war policies, several GOP senators have been moving toward a middle ground with Democrats on the war.
In particular, a proposal by Sens. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) had a chance to attract enough support from lawmakers of both parties. It would adopt the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, calling for redeploying U.S. troops, training Iraqi soldiers, and focusing on counterterrorism.
Such a gradual redeployment offers the best hope of preserving something short of sectarian apocalypse in Iraq.
Reid's hard-line position Wednesday may please antiwar Democrats, who are insisting on an immediate troop withdrawal. But it gets Congress no closer to pushing President Bush toward another solution to the four-year-long quagmire.
Instead, Reid's headstrong stance has given the president an opportunity to stall for more time as he waits for his troop "surge" to produce tangible results.
There are, what, five so-called "moderates" on the GOP side of the Senate, and about half of them are all talk. This administration has shown pretty damned clearly that its idea of "compromise" is Do What We Say, Period,
The Salazar/Alexander Amendment is another piece of toothless legislation, adopting recommendations that the White House has already dismissed out of hand. What's the point of that?
The purpose, Inky Braintrust, is the END THE WAR, not provide more protective cover for those who are supporting policies which the great majority of Americans oppose.
Terrific stuff from yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer. The Currents (opinion & editorials) section of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer was worth the price of the paper all by itself. There were four thoughtful and interesting articles beginning on the front page and jumping to the last.
The erudite and well-informed columnist Trudy Rubin suggested that it is time for "a Hugh Scott moment" on the part of the GOP Congress, confronting the administration on its insane Iraq policies. Pennsylvania Senator Scott led a delegation to the White House in August 1974 to tell Richard M. Nixon (Second Worst President Ever) that the jig was up (he resigned two days later). Here is her version of the message today's GOP leaders (if there are any such remaining) needs to deliver to The Decider:
"Mr. President, as the polls show, the American public no longer believes in the Iraq war. Our generals say the solution must be political, and our goal is to hand over security to Iraqis. Yet the public can see that the Iraqi government is divided by sect and ethnicity, as are Iraqi security forces. If Iraqis can't get together, voters ask, how can our military ever hand it over?
"We Republicans must confront that question. Otherwise voters will demand a speedy troop exit that will lead to greater Iraqi bloodshed, strengthen Islamists, and destabilize the whole region. Unless Iraqis can reconcile, the civil war is bound to get worse, even if you hold firm until 2009.
"So if Iraqis can't help themselves, you must pursue the one strategy that might advance political reconciliation. You should endorse a new international diplomatic offensive in the Middle East - under United Nations auspices - to help stabilize Iraq and the entire region. All your remaining political capital must go into this effort.
"This is the path endorsed by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, and it could win bipartisan Senate backing. But it would take a wholehearted and public commitment by you."
None of the '08 candidates, or national party leaders, or the congressional leaders, have gone for the gut GOP-style, with something like this:
Grainy slow-motion footage of Osama bin Laden and activity at his training camps. Cue ominous music.
"Six years after Sept. 11, this man still roams free--thanks to George W. Bush and his Republican allies. They promised they would be tough. They promised to protect us here at home. But instead they took their eye off the ball, spending $2 billion a week in a futile war half a world away from our real enemy, imperiling our brave servicemen and women, and emboldening those who would come here to kill us. America can no longer afford the party of weakness. Vote Democratic, as if your life depended on it."
Hyperbolic, yes - but right in sync with what Bush said last Nov. 6, on the eve of the congressional elections: "As you go to the polls, remember, we're at war. And if you want this country to do everything in its power to protect you and, at the same time, lay the foundation of peace for generations to come, vote Republican."
In his column, the erudite etc. Chris Satullo discussed "butwhatabouts", the defense employed by the right wing and its cohorts when they have no defense:
Here's how it works: When embarrassing news breaks, swiftly begin harping on an earlier, superficially similar incident that involved bad behavior by the other team.
The goal is not to illuminate or place in context, but to obscure and evade.
To this end, insist (with scant regard to the facts) that the earlier sin was much, much worse, but was treated much more leniently - by the courts, or the biased jackals of the media, or both.
Say, for example, that you want to add to the murk around the case of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - convicted of lying to investigators as they probed leaks of classified information about a CIA agent.
Shout to the heavens, "But what about Sandy Berger?" Berger, onetime national security adviser to Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty to illegally removing from the National Archives copies of classified memos relating to the 9/11 probe.
Then, once President Bush has conveniently commuted Libby's prison sentence, quickly chant: "But what about Marc Rich?" That fugitive tax-evader was given a stupefying, last-minute pardon by Bill Clinton.
The "butwhatabouts" are a favorite pastime of Washington Republicans and their army of compliant bloggers and talk-show ranters...
Satullo acknowledges that Democrats use the same tactics and that both Berger and Clinton were wrong, which is only fair. Buy he also provides two excellent response to those two silly "butwhatabouts."
The fourth excellent column was written by Michael Smerconish, a local talk radio guy who's getting a lot of national attention (much of it on the Chris Matthews Show, which I have to figure is a mixed blessing, given what a laughingstock Matthews has turned into). He's well to the right of me and the focus of Mermaids, but that's not why I'm not discussing his entry here. I'm discussing it over here instead and you'll see why if you go look.
The story ran yesterday in the Times under the headline Democrats Take Uncompromising Stance and a sub-head of
After months of feuding over Iraq, Congress' majority party makes a stand on troop withdrawal. So far, that's yielded few results.
It was on the front page of this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer with an even more slanted A Hard Line and Dismal Results head and The Democrats' Refusal to Accept Nonbinding Proposals on Iraq Has Stymied Compromise.
Not much editorializing there, eh?
Refusal to Accept.
Karl Rove himself could not have done better work.
From the story:
"Democrats will work with our Republican colleagues," promised the Nevada Democrat and soon-to-be majority leader, just weeks after an election that swept Democrats into the congressional majority on a wave of public frustration over Iraq.
Eight bitter months and nine major Iraq-related votes later, the meaning of Reid's pledge has come into sharp focus: Democrats will work with any GOP lawmaker willing to vote for a mandatory troop withdrawal; other Republicans need not apply.
This bellicose, uncompromising legislative strategy--on display again this week as Reid refused to allow votes on nonbinding GOP-backed Iraq proposals--has been an obstacle to any real bipartisan compromise on the war all year. And it effectively ended any chance that a significant number of Republican lawmakers critical of the war would join with Democrats this summer on any Iraq-related legislation.
The Democratic strategy has yet to yield many tangible results. Just eight of the 250 Republicans in the House and Senate have joined with Democrats calling for a withdrawal.
And President Bush has shown no sign of retreating from his troop buildup, which has boosted the U.S. force in Iraq to 158,000.
[ ... ]
Reid and his allies, enraged by years of being brushed off and belittled by the White House, do not believe the president will respond to legislation that merely urges, rather than orders, a new course, even if it is backed by substantial numbers of congressional Republicans.
"The president doesn't take advice," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and an architect of the current strategy.
Instead, in the face of continued defiance from the White House, Democrats in the House and Senate are focusing their efforts on making their Republican colleagues as uncomfortable as possible in the belief that that is the only way to get through to the president.
All year, Democrats have forced GOP lawmakers to vote on withdrawal proposals, betting that with each vote Republicans who back the president will feel the renewed rage of voters at home.
Democrats hope that, in turn, will drive Republicans to pressure the president to abandon his Iraq strategy or risk ruining the party's election prospects in 2008.
Since January, Senate Democrats have orchestrated nine major votes on measures designed to change course in Iraq; House Democrats have arranged for four.
Every proposal but one has died in the Senate, where Republicans have used that chamber's rules to block the measures....
Gee, wherever do you suppose those bellicose, uncompromising Democrats got the idea that the Prez-nint will never back off his strategy?
Do you think maybe it's because, every time we get anywhere a "benchmark" or whatever new phony guideline the administration has asked for, they immediately begin moving the goalposts? As we all learned this week, November is the new September in terms of evaluating The Surge, that military action with a "starting point" which is already a moveable feast in BushWorld.
Or do you think maybe it's because The President Keeps Telling Them He Won't Change A Thing?
Let's look at that last line quoted above one more once:
Every proposal but one has died in the Senate, where Republicans have used that chamber's rules to block the measures....
Yep, gotta be the Democrats' fault, silly folks who actually think it's their duty to try and bring about a conclusion to this immoral fiasco that 70& of Americans want. They just won't compromise with all those GOP moderates in the Senate and come up with something Dick Cheney's Boy Toy will accept.
The Los Angeles Times ought to be ashamed, as should whoever decided to put that story in the Inquirer and then write that god-awful headline. I assume Levey has no shame.
I'll discuss Republican Moderates later this week, saying now only that those frauds are bound for the Eighth Circle of Hell if there's any justice at all.
For now, I urge all the constituents of each and every one of those noble creatures whose talk never seems to match their walk (beginning with Darlin' Arlen, my own Senate creature) to begin sending each of them a daily email with the latest casualty figures and an inquiry about when enough will be enough in their eyes.
They are probably well past shame themselves, but it's worth a try.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you're a first-time visitor here because of our new RSS feed, please check out The Dubya Chronicles, a weekly cartoon I do with artist Rob Davis. If that's the kind of thing you like, it'll be the kind of thing you like.
Publisher Time Warner has a secret weapon - the US post office.
Wanting to squeeze even more profits from their magazines, Time Warner called in the bean counters and must have told them to look at the postal rates. How could Time Warner avoid the 2007 11.7% postal increase that had been announced in 2006? The bean counters went to work.
In February 2007, the Postal Regulatory Commission rejected the proposal from the US Postal Service and accepted a fee increase strategy based on a complex proposal submitted by...you guessed it, Time Warner.
The USPS then allowed just eight business days for formal responses to the 758-page proposal. On March 19, the fee increase was a fact - to go into effect July 15.
The publishers groaned and tried desperately to figure out how much more they had to pay. Time Warner sold off 18 of their magazines to some hapless Swedes in the Bonnier Group.
One by one, the publishers discovered that the smaller your circulation, the more you had to pay. The postal increase was not the same for everybody. In fact, if you were the largest publisher in the country and had magazines with circulations that allowed you to sort and bundle by carrier routes and then palletize everything and shrink wrap it, you paid less. Smaller magazines that couldn't reach the quantities required to bundle and palletize would pay much more.
Never mind that the post office is a government body whose rate structure for the last two hundred years had been to "facilitate and encourage the dissemination of information and ensure a thriving marketplace of ideas." All ideas. Not only those with mega-circulation.
So, if you are a magazine like NATIONAL REVIEW, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, SOJOURNERS, THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, WORLD MAGAZINE, THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, or REASON, you were hit with an increase many times the Time Warner's. In fact, The Nation figured they had to come up with an additional $500,000 this year.
But free speech seems still to be treasured in the United States. The Nation has so far received $271,000 in donations towards its goal of paying that half mill! Left or right wing politically, go to here and donate what you can.
And then, write your representative to have the fee hike repealed.
I repeat, the media is either stupid or in the hands of the sorts of people who buy into every GOP selling point. If the Democrats don't recognize that and begin to speak up in face of it, the last vestige of hope is gone.
R.I.P.? As I predicted (and, lord knows, I wasn't alone), the silly and counter-productive "Times Select" firewall on the New York Times website appears about to fall. Reports are popping up that the paper will pull the plug on the concept of taking its best known writers and columnists and making them unavailable to the general public unless they shelled out $50 for the privilege. They apparently have come to the conclusion that this just annoyed customers, not to mention those writers and colummists, who are, after all, a key element of the NYT brand. Gee, ya think?
When it happens, if it happens, it was nice to be able to read the invaluable Paul Krugman again without having to search around the web to find someone who's posted his latest. Then again, I'll probably be tempted to peek at David Brooks and Maureen Dowd as well, and that's sure to give me agita more often that not. Everything has its price...expcept, if all goes well, the Times online.
Emotion rules. A lot of Democratic pols are excited over The Political Brain by Drew Westen, who suggests that elections are decided by emotion not facts and policies and that the GOP is a master at this game and the Dems better start becoming same. The likes of Bill Clinton and Howard Dean are fans. Me, I suspect Westen's onto something but I urge caution (like any of those people care or are reading this).
Much as I would have liked to hear Al Gore throw terms like "drunk" and "coward" at our beloved future prez-nint during the 2000 campaign, or John Kerry do it in 2004, I think it would have been disastrous. The primary reason that GOP candidates can get away with that sort of thing, either directly or via smear campaigns like the Swift Boat stuff, is that the political media always buys into it, if not the charge itself at least the acceptance that is a reasonable part of the debate.
I attribute this to the dominant right wing sound machine that is talk radio and Fox News, setting a standard for discourse which it is nearly impossible to fall below, and to the fact that the media itself, certainly the Washington media, has been generally more sympathetic to the Repubs and their talking points ever since the mid-90s when they got pissed at Clinton and carried it over to the Gore campaign. The love affair with "Straight Talk" McCain and those Bush nicknames (which the recipients somehow never sensed were both belittling and demeaning) merely cemented the deal. Toss in the fatuousness of cable television news and commentary and the stupid "he said, she said" reporting mentality that infects the political press, are you have a no-win situation in terms of receiving the same pass from the media as the other side has enjoyed for years.
My point is, emotion does play a major tole in whom we elect and Westen's basic understanding of how campaigns are won seems solid, but going to name-calling and personal attacks will merely cloud the issue. What the Dems need to do is stress the emotional context of the Big Issues--Iraq, Health Care, National Security, Immigration, Government Lies and Secrecy--and make their arguments in human terms and not policy proposals.
They need to stop being afraid and to understand that this administration is outright loathed by a majority of the electorate and play to that.
Hell, if they do, maybe even the press will catch on.
Hey, give the Fightin's some credit. They've probably defused this 10,000th loss thing. Yeah, it will happen, but at this point it will be not nearly as much of a big deal in the wake of the offensive explosion of the last two days.
I'm even getting a trifle optimistic (a serious disease issue for Philadelphia fans; I expect urgent telephone calls from my support group within the hour). If the likes of Pat Burrell and Wes Helms start to hit like they were expected to, and Aaron Rowand continues his career season, all in support of super-stars Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, maybe this team can overcome its pitching woes.
Then again, the Cardinals are truly lousy. I mean, truly lousy. Maybe this flurry of run-scoring is nothing more than a result of that.
At least it's been fun again for a couple of days.
There are two new items now onsite. Both are fiction: Chapter Five of Truth Is the Perfect Disguise was posted this past week (and it may be the last one for a while as I decide just how much of this I can put online without compromising any possibility of its ever appearing in print) and The Family Business is a new short story,
written as an entry for a contest on a food-writing website (you can find a few more details about that here if you're interested).
I'll be popping pain-killers and working on our Comments section and some other HTML activities for the rest of the weekend. If you want to know why and what, go here and all will be revealed.
Let me see if I've got this right. "Government Analysts" are saying that Al Qaeda is back to its pre-9/11 strength and capability and maybe even be more powerful than ever. The guy in charge of Homeland Security has a "gut" feeling that attacks may be imminent (one he apparently feels the need to share with the country but not the president given that the White House says it's all news to them).
With more than 3600 American service people dead and who knows how many thousands of Iraqis, Dick Cheney's invasion of Iraq has accomplished...what?
Site Update: Comments Added. As I have hinted several times in this space, I've been exploring the advantages and disadvantages of shifting Mermaids over to a straight and official blog, using WordPress. I've gone so far as to actually create the working model using the software, but, when it gets right down to it, however, I continue to be hung up on the control aspects. I like having complete control of my own thing, you know?
So we're moving into experimental mode. As of this posting, I've jerry-rigged a "comment" capability, something many of you have been asking for. As explained in the new, fixed-in-place "How Things Work" note above, clicking the "add a comment" link (which I've gone back and added to every posting for this month) will enable you to send me an direct email. I will collect these and post this as noted on a regular basis. My spam filter will blow out all that sort of thing and I will toss out without response inappropriate and obscene material so don't waste your time, spammers.
We'll see how that goes.
Next up, I hope to create an RSS feed for this page, which will solve the other thing people are asking for, the ability to link to a specific post rather than the site itself, which may have scrolled on significantly by the time someone uses the link, thus rendering it mostly ineffective. This will benefit Mermaids itself as well, of course, as will the ability to draw in more traffic through more exposure.
It's all good, in other words...if I can make it work.
You can offer up your first comment in answer to this very posting if so inclined. I'd be interested in hearing what people think. I suppose this is clear proof I'm downright nuts, but you all pretty much suspected that by now, right?
(NOTE:The above, in slightly different form, has been cross-posted at my "Liquid Diet Online" page, which is also activating a comments capability.)
Meanwhile... On Slate this morning, Fred Kaplan, in yet another look at Alberto Gonzales incompetence, offers up a classic line about the mass incompetence of which he is a mere cog:
It's difficult to ascertain the precise moment in the Bush administration in which confessing not to have been doing one's job at all became the best defense against the claim that one did one's job badly.
9,999. And counting. If you're any kind of baseball fan at all--in fact, make that sports fan in general--you are probably aware of
this looming and historic benchmark about to be set by the Fightin's:
[N]o professional sports team has ever failed better or with greater frequency than the Philadelphia Phillies. Failure has become synonymous with a franchise whose players have borne such nicknames as Losing Pitcher (Hugh Mulcahy) and What's the Use? (Pearce Chiles). If luck is on the Phils' side -- and over 125 seasons it rarely has been -- one day before the end of July they will record their 10,000th defeat, a milestone never before reached by any franchise in any sport.
As we sit here today, at the mid-season All-Star Game break, the Philadelphia Phillies (Fightin' Phillies) are at the perfect point of mediocrity: 44-44, .500 baseball. This very week, when the regular season resumes, perhaps even on the perfect date--Friday the 13th--they will likely achieve their immortality, setting a mark that will likely never be matched and, even if it is, they will have added enough losses in the interim to always, I say, always, be enshrined as the losingest franchise ever.
When you read all the crap in the national press about the terrible, awful Philadelphia fans, remember this singular achievement. And recall that this is the city with four major professional franchises which has gone the longest with a championship.
the last chapionship this city has seen was recorded by the NBA 76-ers in 1983, nearly a quarter century ago. The Phillies, meanwhile, won their only World Series in 125 seasons in 1980 and went to only one other Series in 1950. The Philadelphia Eagles last won it all in the NFL in 1960, before there even was a Super Bowl and have only been to two Super Bowls since. The Philadelphia Flyers, after back-to-back wins in 1974 and '75, becoming the first NHL expansion franchise to cop a title and somehow kick-starting all the city's professional endeavors (all four franchises when to the finals in the 1980 season, although only the Phillies won), have not won since, having split the period between being downright dreadful (this past year was the nadir) and being promising but always falling short.
Yeah, this is a tough city, but it's a fair city, and one where, if you win, you are cherished. Flyers coach Fred Shero famously told his team in the locker room before that first Stanley Cup win, "Win today, and we will walk together forever" and that's sure been the case around these parts. A significant number of players from those teams settled permanently in the area and some of those guys haven't paid for a drink or dinner out since.
Most of the things you hear about Philadelphia fans are either way out-dated, totally exaggerated or the sorts of behavior you rarely hear about when they happen someplace else. That stuff just serves as a convenient bit of shorthand for lazy sportswriters who know they'll get a chuckle from the uninformed by ripping Philadelphia. For example, that perennial "Throwing Snowballs at Santa Claus" chestnut? It happened almost 40 freakin' years ago (1968)! A crowd of 54,535 did pelt a Santa that December day at Franklin Field (they were watching the Eagles finish off a 2-12 season) but their target was a 17 year old kid pulled from the stands when the regular guy didn't show up. He was a truly terrible Santa.
Trust me, you would have thrown snowballs too. I know, 'cause I was there, having been hired to do the Eagles Home Game Programs as one of my first freelance jobs (it was the last year the teams did their own programs, the NFL taking over in 1969). I was seated way, way up in the last row at Franklin Field in a free seat provided as part of my compensation, with my wife and two friends (I purchased three additional season tickets), and too far away to even think about throwing anything, in case you're wondering.
Consider the fun I had for seven weeks, producing a program in which we could write about a mere two victories, only one of which happened the week before a home game. Damned if the team didn't win the league award for best program that year, though, which only goes to show, I suppose, that adversity is sometimes the best inspiration. Or maybe they just felt sorry for us.
Verisimilitude is its own reward. I had a couple of NetFlix dvds sitting on top of the television set for nearly two weeks as a result of an ambivalence I'd developed about wanting to view them. I added Freedom Writers and Babel to my want list when they first appeared in theaters because the reviews were good, the stories sounded interesting and I knew they'd appear in spring or summer, when my at-home movie viewing picks up as the regular TV season winds down. They'd arrived on schedule but the press of work and other things kept me from sitting down and watching either and, as is often the case, the longer they sat there, the less I felt driven to either watch or cut bait (to mix a metaphor, which is something I do with the first cup of coffee every Sunday morning).
When I finally found the time and the commitment this past week, I was very pleasantly surprised, indeed rewarded in the first instance.
For me, movies based upon real stories are problematic. I understand that the tale told on film is "based upon" what actually happened, but they lose me if what is on the screen comes across as so fanciful and unbelievable that it seems too clearly a fictional upgrade from the reality. I'm sure some viewers around the country might have had that sort of reaction to Invincible, the story of how Vince Papale, a kid off the streets of South Philly, fought his way onto the roster of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in 1977 and became a local folk hero. Yeah, there was a lot of fictionalization: Papale was from the near suburbs, not South Philadelphia; Mark Wahlberg, despite a great performance, was the physical opposite of the real Papale (tall and lean); a wife or two got lost in there somewhere. But the story was essentially true. Papale made the team in a unique open try-out, did force an important fumble that turned a season and a team around (in reality, I seem to recall someone else recovered the ball and scored rather than Vince, but I could be wrong) and his story and that Eagles team did play a major role in brightening up a city in the doldrums. Hey, I was there and I saw it happen, if only from a distance.
Freedom Writers proved to have the same verisimilitude. As I watched the movie, I did a couple of those head-shaking "it can't have really happened that way" things at certain points, like when young teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), who has set out to actually teach a class of at-risk students in a Los Angeles High School rather than just oversee their warehousing, uses The Diary of Anne Frank and a trip to a Holocaust Museum to get their attention, or especially when she tapes a line down the center of the classroom, divides the class on either side and then asks each to step up to the line if he or she meets various criteria (owning this or that rap album, familiarity with this or that pop culture star, having been shot at, having lost friends to gunshots) to show them how much they have in common (it is a mixed class: male, female, black, Asian, one lonely white guy).
But all that really happened, as I learned in one of the (invaluable) extras on the dvd when the real Erin Gruwell (and, in a group photo of a 1991 reunion, the real Freedom Writers) appeared. It didn't hurt either that Swank and Gruwell are, if not identical twins, damned close look-alikes.
Like all such flicks, this one plays with your emotions and works at tugging the old heartstrings, but I recommend it highly. It's true, both as a story and as a movie.
Babel, of course, is pure fiction, an epic interweaving of three stories which unfold in four countries: Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the United States. It is filled with random violence, tragic mistakes and a deep underlying sense of doom. It is one of the truest (that old verisimilitude thing again) and saddest films I've seen in some time and I hesitate to recommend it strongly for that reason. If you've got the heart for it, though, it's definitely worth the nearly two-and-a-half hours viewing time. Sadly, the dvd lacks any pertinent extra features, which truly disappointed me.
The first two, in classic black & white, feature Raymond Chandler's iconic PI Philip Marlowe. Grant's argument in his essay is that The Long Goodbye is "the greatest film noir of the 1970s," an opinion which is at odds with much of the critical opinion, certainly that at the time of the movie's release, when much scorn was heaped on both Robert Altman and Elliott Gould. He is of the school, which has developed in the interim, that considers Altman's updating of a script by Leigh Brackett (who also wrote most of The Big Sleep after William Faulkner couldn't pull it off) as just right for its time. Rather than be the guy who set things right, as so perfectly personified by Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 movie, Gould's Marlowe is distracted and reactive. He is, says Grant, "a man out of time," the man who walked the "mean streets" in an early era displaced into a world of smiley faces, anti-war demonstrations, social and sexual turmoil and ultimate disillusion. He acts, in the end, not to restore order but because his conscience requires him to.
I want to watch those two back-to-back to see what I think in light of those comments. Chinatown? Also inspired by Grant, who suggests that the Los Angeles of Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes is "a place greater and wronger than Chandler ever dreamed of in his darkest nightmares and darker in its sunbleached glow than anything before or since." When corruption becomes accepted then the hero ultimately becomes powerless.
I am really looking forward to this. I may or may not comment on how it goes, depending on, well, how it goes.
People don't change. Mr. Bush's failure to have the courage of his own convictions was apparent early in his history, when he professed support for the Vietnam War yet kept himself out of harm's way when he had the chance to serve in it. In the White House, he has often repeated the feckless pattern that he set back then and reaffirmed last week in his hide-and-seek bestowing of the Libby commutation.
The first fight he conspicuously ran away from as president was in August 2001. Aspiring to halt federal underwriting of embryonic stem-cell research, he didn't stand up and say so but instead unveiled a bogus "compromise" that promised continued federal research on 60 existing stem-cell lines. Only later would we learn that all but 11 of them did not exist. When Mr. Bush wanted to endorse a constitutional amendment to "protect" marriage, he again cowered. A planned 2006 Rose Garden announcement to a crowd of religious-right supporters was abruptly moved from the sunlight into a shadowy auditorium away from the White House.
Nowhere is this president's non-courage more evident than in the "signing statements" The Boston Globe exposed last year. As Charlie Savage reported, Mr. Bush "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office." Rather than veto them in public view, he signed them, waited until after the press and lawmakers left the White House, and then filed statements in the Federal Register asserting that he would ignore laws he (not the courts) judged unconstitutional. This was the extralegal trick Mr. Bush used to bypass the ban on torture. It allowed him to make a coward's escape from the moral (and legal) responsibility of arguing for so radical a break with American practice.
In the end, it was also this president's profile in non-courage that greased the skids for the Iraq fiasco. If Mr. Bush had had the guts to put America on a true wartime footing by appealing to his fellow citizens for sacrifice, possibly even a draft if required, then he might have had at least a chance of amassing the resources needed to secure Iraq after we invaded it.
That cowardice is one of the aspects of the Libby thing that I've touched upon in this space and it's the underlying theme of Today's cartoon. It is even evidenced in his oft-noted habit of bestowing nicknames on others, thus reducing them to objects of his own creation. That so many in the Washington press corps reveled in this "distinction" when bestowed tells us more about why the job they have done has been so terrible than they will ever know.
An unimpeachable Impeachment argument for conservatives. Listen up, all you hardline right-wing Bushies. Despite your incessant caterwauling, you guys know his goose is cooked, right? Deep in that recess of your brain where truth goes to hide so you don't suffer severe headaches while you mouth the party line, you surely must realize that he's done, over, kaput. And you know things are only going to get worse for you and yours the longer he stays in office and continues to screw things up. I won't even go into what Cheney is doing to put a face on the conservative movement that will haunt your asses for decades to come.
I have a way out for you. No charge, not even a thank you required. Tell the truth, I'm happier not hearing from you people at all.
Here's the thing: you save face right now, maybe save a few elected offices come 2008, by jumping on the Impeachment bandwagon. Today. This very moment.
Stop sputtering and listen to my reasoning.
First of all, about half the country's already there. And when's the last time you guys have been for anything that came close to appealing to a majority of voters?
Second, you can present this as one of those "doing it for my country, strict constructionist, more patriotic than you" things that you all love so much. Lots of tears, choked-up moments and flag pins, sort of a right wing wet dream (except for the self-avowed Christian element, of course, who don't experience such sinful occasions).
Third, you can stick it to the Dems. They got themselves in a box with the 2006 blowout of your side, promising to end the Iraq mess and bring the troops home, something that they can't pull off so long as the White House continues its non-reality dance. And they're apparently still frightened enough of Rove Tactics (i.e, smear upon smear) that they won't just tell said White House to go pound sand and do what they keep threatening to do: cut off the damned funds. Dunno why, 'cause they're got an even larger plurality in favor of that than there is for Impeachment, but there it is. They're not even smart enough to be ramming through a domestic agenda that will please their base, although there are signs that mind-boggling short-sightedness is going to end soon...another reason for you to act now.
But here's the Big One, the seal-the-deal argument for an all-out conservative push for Impeachment Now.
There is nothing--I say, nothing--that you people hate/fear/despair over in the darkest night of whatever souls you haven't already sold than...The Clintons!
Am I right, or am I right?
And your greatest nightmare of all lies in the fact that Hillary Clinton is odds-on to be the first woman elected President of the United States. You know it's true and you know you won't be able to stand it.
But what happens if Bush and Cheney are Impeached? The person who moves into the Oval Office will be...
Okay, again, stop with the sputtering.
Yeah, that radical California bleeding-heart liberal (the campaign to paint her into that corner didn't go so well, I know, but I'm sure it's comforting to you to hear it every now and then anyway) will become President.
The first female President.
Meaning Hillary can't ever be first. Ha!
Admittedly, it would be small triumph for all that is right and white and good, not nearly as earth-shattering as Newt's Contract which changed life as we know it and saved civilization, but a triumph it would be.
Think about it. Seriously.
Did I mention that you can say God told you to do it?
Let the fulmination begin. As I promised yesterday, we've gotten to the latest White House outrage in our own good time...except that, well, is anybody surprised? The only shocker in Monday's commuting of Federal Inmate No. 28301-016's sentence by Dick Cheney's sock puppet is how quickly it happened and even that fades when you realize that "commuting" rather than "pardoning" means that poor, suffering Scooter retains his Fifth Amendment rights to refuse to testify. Look for the real pardon on January 19 or 20, 2009.
My favorite part was the way our courageous, decider-in-chief-once-removed bravely stood up in front of the TV cameras and...oh wait, that didn't happen until he did a very convenient tour of Walter Reed Hospital the next day and could act pres-nint-a-dential. Well, the stuff about how he either a) made the decision all by hisownself or b) spent hours and hours going over it with his advisors (take your choice; Tony Snow can offer either scenario with a straight face, and probably both at once if need be) was good for a chuckle too, as was the pres-nint's argument (in the press release, it's a bit too convoluted for him to have actually put into words without a script) that Scooter still is being punished by his probation (apparently not, by later reports) and suffering damage to his reputation and income. Yeah, right (CF Oliver North et al).
Think maybe the decider, the man who flew around the county quivering in fear on 9/11 while Big Dick ran things and Don Rumsfeld was scribbling "invade Iraq" in his notebooks, was wondering how Scooter was gonna hold up once he stared inside a jail cell?
I tend to think this ought to have been the Tipping Point. Thirty years ago, there would have rioting in the streets if Congress had already begun impeachment proceedings against pretty much anybody in this god-forsaken administration that they could, but we live in a different world today. Part of the reason, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out so brilliantly on Tuesday, is this:
The disasters and rampant lawlessness and fundamental erosion of our country's political values and institutions are exactly what Fred Hiatt and David Broder and Time Magazine and Tim Russert and Tom Friedman and the New Republic geniuses have spent the last six years protecting, enabling and defending. We have the country we have -- one in which our most powerful political leaders are literally beyond the reach of the law in every sense, where we casually invade and bomb and occupy countries that have not attacked us, where our moral standing in the world has collapsed with good reason, where we are viewed on every continent in the world as a rogue, dangerous and lawless nation -- because we are ruled by a Beltway elite and political press that is sickly and cowardly and slavish at its core.
That Dick Cheney's top aide, one of the most well-connected neoconservatives on the planet, is protected from the consequences of his felonies ought to be anything but surprising. That is the country that we have. It is a result that is completely consistent with the "values" that define official Washington. No other outcome was possible.
[ ... ]
the most significant disease highlighted by the Libby travesty is also the most obvious one. We have decided to be a country in which our highest Republican political officials can break the law freely, without any real consequence. In the United States, the law does not apply to the President and his closest aides. And there is one fact after the next which proves that.
Almost thirty years ago, the American people reacted with fury and horror over revelations by the Church Committee that every administration in prior decades had been spying on Americans for completely improper purposes. In response, they enacted a law, through their Congress, making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial approval, punishable by 5 years in prison for each offense. Since 1977, it has been a felony in the United States for political officials to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial warrants.
But in December of 2005, The New York Times revealed that George Bush had been breaking this law -- committing felonies -- every day for the prior four years. And when he was caught, he went on television and proudly admitted what he had done and vowed defiantly to continue doing it. And our wise and serious Washington media establishment shrugged, even applauded. They directed their fury only at those who objected to the lawbreaking. The GOP-controlled Congress blocked every attempt to investigate this criminality -- with virtually no outcry -- and then set out to pass a new law making this criminality retroactively legal. In response to revelations that the President was deliberately breaking the law, official Washington fell all over itself figuring out the most efficient way to protect and defend the President's crimes.
Ever since Gerald Ford, with the support of our permanent Beltway ruling class, pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes -- followed naturally by the current President's father shielding his own friends and aides from the consequences of serious criminal convictions for lying to Congress and deliberately breaking its laws, with one of those criminals then appointed with no objection by his son to run Middle East policy from the White House -- we have been a nation which allows our highest political officials to reside beyond the reach of law. It is just that simple.
[ ... ]
The political press -- the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful -- now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable. Hence, in official Washington, the Real Villains are Patrick Fitzgerald, Ken Silverstein, Russ Feingold and his Censure resolution, Pat Leahy and his disruptive subpoenas -- our Beltway elite reserves their venom for those who want to turn the lights on what our most powerful political officials are doing....
As the nation celebrates Independence Day, there's ample cause for optimism that our democracy will survive the presidency of George W. Bush intact. That Americans would reject the Bush/Cheney brand of half-baked authoritarianism hasn't always been clear. (See Joe Conason's "It Can Happen Here" for details. ) It was touch and go for a while. Frankly, there have been times since 2001 when it was hard not to wonder if we still had the intestinal fortitude to govern ourselves. Politically, the Bush administration is dead in the water. Last week's Senate rejection of the president's immigration bill, with bitter infighting among Republicans, dramatized Bush's 26 percent favorable standing in a recent poll, a record low for his presidency. Also, the nativist rhetoric used by many opponents of what they call amnesty appears likely to turn Hispanic voters against the GOP for a generation, potentially turning several Western states from red to blue.
[ ... ]
After years of lockstep conformity, it's high time the GOP rediscovered the meaning of "conservative." It means loyalty to the U. S. Constitution, not fealty to Dear Leader.
The deeper these probes dig toward the corrupted core, the more cries will come from Beltway courtier-pundits to forbear for civility's sake. Congress should ignore them....
[ ... ]
An extraordinary four-part series in The Washington Post makes [what has happened] all too clear. Based upon more than 200 interviews with administration insiders, it portrays a power-hungry vice president bamboozling a callow, easily manipulated president, outflanking cabinet rivals through a combination of obsessive secrecy and bureaucratic skulduggery. It also depicts how genuine conservatives like Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft fought bitter, losing battles against one authoritarian gambit after another.
Reading it, one can't help but be struck with how unnecessary it all is, as if a nation that defeated the Nazis and outlasted the Soviet Union can't defeat al-Qa'ida, a band of religious fanatics hiding in caves, without abandoning its own democratic liberties. Powell did not argue that al-Qa'ida and Taliban forces deserved the privileges of prisoners of war, an aide told the Post; his position was "If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you're going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you." The same applies across an entire spectrum of issues. Why deny legal rights that actually enhance your moral and political authority ? Why circumvent FISA procedures sure to end in legitimate warrants for spying on terror suspects ? (Unless, of course, illegitimate eavesdropping on political rivals is your real goal. ) The answer, of course, is sheer, craven fear: a cowed populace guided by weak leaders hiding behind play-acting and bluster. Especially on Independence Day, the America we love is better than that.
Just as to the point is this in the current New Yorker, which offers a peek into a future I regret I won't be around for:
It took thirty years for "Frost/Nixon" to reach Broadway. Assuming that civilization survives and the Great White Way remains above water, we can expect "Cheney/Bush" to mount the boards sometime in the late twenty-thirties or early twenty-forties. The playwright and the actors, whoever they are, will have plenty to work with. The story of the scowling, scheming, domineering, silently sinister Vice-President and the spoiled, petted prince who becomes his plaything is irresistible-set in a pristine White House, played against an ominous, unseen background of violence and catastrophe, like distant thunder, and packed with drama, palace intrigue, and black comedy.
[ ... ]
The laughter will fade quickly; the current Administration, regrettably, will not. However more politically moribund it may become, its writ still has a year and a half to go. A few weeks ago, on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the Vice-President issued threats of war with Iran. A "senior American diplomat" told the Times that Cheney's speech had not been circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, adding, "He kind of runs by his own rules." But, too often, his rules rule. The awful climax of "Cheney/Bush" may be yet to come.
The bold highlighting is mine, because that is so perfect a summary of the situation. Not so amusing, of course, is the reference to an "awful climax," which I take mean that writer Hendrik Hertzberg believes, as I do, that this ship of fools is intent on bombing and perhaps invading Iran before its jig is up.
The Keith Olbermann take-down of Tuesday night is all over the web, of course, and equally on point. You can seek out a video (recommended) or see the whole text at Media Bloodhound, where management rightly points out:
though Olbermann is tagged a "liberal" or "Bush hater" (not to mention "traitor") by his whiny detractors - mostly extreme right-wing media bullies who in the rare light of such truth-telling recoil like vampires on a day pass - his views on the Bush administration are neither liberal nor libertarian nor conservative. Neither right, left or middle of the road.
He simply presents the facts and applies the outrage that any American who is truly aware of what's occurred here over the last seven years, and how it has catastrophically affected the rest of the world, would and should feel.
The complete text of Olbermann's remarks follows. Here's the key section, IMO:
We enveloped "our" President in 2001.
And those who did not believe he should have been elected - indeed, those who did not believe he had been elected - willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of non-partisanship.
And George W. Bush took our assent, and re-configured it, and honed it, and sharpened it to a razor-sharp point, and stabbed this nation in the back with it.
Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise, or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.
Did so even before the appeals process was complete...
Did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice...
Did so despite what James Madison - at the Constitutional Convention - said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes "advised by" that president...
Did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder:
To what degree was Mr. Libby told: break the law however you wish - the President will keep you out of prison?
In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental compact between yourself and the majority of this nation's citizens - the ones who did not cast votes for you.
In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the President of the United States.
This has been terribly long, for which I apologize. But look at this way: Al Gore's son was picked up for speeding and carrying illegal drugs (marijuana) yesterday, so count on the right-wing bloggers, Fox News and their cohorts and enablers (Chris Matthews, a nation turns its angry eyes to you) to be all over that for the next few news cycles, hoping all this will fade away.
Happy Fourth. I suppose we could spend our time here today fulminating about a criminal presidency which offends everything this holiday stands for, but time enough for that on the morrow...and, sadly, 500-plus morrows thereafter at a minimum, not to mention the years to follow when all Cheney's chickens come home to roost.
So let's not let 'em steal our fun they way they've hijacked our Constitution. Today, let's just kick back and enjoy. With that in mind, a couple of fun stories for your reading pleasure. They're by Amy S. Rosenberg (does she have a great job, or what?) and ran in Sunday's and Tuesday's Philadelphia Inquirer. Each will--or should unless you totally wasted your teenage years and early twenties--bring back memories of the halcyon days when everything seemed possible and the road ahead was rich with promises.
VENTNOR, N.J. - It's an ungodly hour. Unless, of course, you are Bruno Battaglia and your god is the sun. And your sanctuary is the beach. And your time of worship is all day long. Every day. For most of the last 40 years...
SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. - It's not every day you see the lead singer of a rock band apply ice to his privates on stage (through his shorts) after a bit of a microphone mishap while singing "99 Red Balloons" midway through the third set.
But it's not every day - wait, in the summer, it is practically every day - that you can see legendary cover band Mr. Greengenes and its comically exuberant front man Bryen O'Boyle playing songs you know ("Hey, I know this song!") in a bar near a beach near you...
(*Which is how we say "I'm at the New Jersey seashore" in these parts. You got a problem with that?)
Imagine the National Rifle Association's Web site suddenly disappeared, along with all the data and reports the group had ever posted on gun issues. Imagine Planned Parenthood inexplicably closed its doors one day, without comment from its former leaders. The scenarios are unthinkable, given how established these organizations have become. But even if something did happen to the NRA or Planned Parenthood, no doubt other gun or abortion groups would quickly fill the vacuum and push the ideas they'd pushed for years.
Not so for the American Center for Voting Rights, a group that has literally just disappeared as an organization, and for which it seems no replacement group will rise up. With no notice and little comment, ACVR-the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem, a problem warranting strict rules such as voter-ID laws-simply stopped appearing at government panels and conferences. Its Web domain name has suddenly expired, its reports are all gone (except where they have been preserved by its opponents), and its general counsel, Mark "Thor" Hearne, has cleansed his resume of affiliation with the group. Hearne won't speak to the press about ACVR's demise. No other group has taken up the "voter fraud" mantra.
The death of ACVR says a lot about the Republican strategy of raising voter fraud as a crisis in American elections. Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his allies, who have been ghostbusting illusory dead and fictional voters since the contested 2000 election, apparently mounted a two-pronged attack. One part of that attack, at the heart of the current Justice Department scandals, involved getting the DoJ and various U.S. attorneys in battleground states to vigorously prosecute cases of voter fraud. That prong has failed. After exhaustive effort, the Department of Justice discovered virtually no polling-place voter fraud, and its efforts to fire the U.S. attorneys in battleground states who did not push the voter-fraud line enough has backfired. Even if Attorney General Gonzales declines to resign his position, his reputation has been irreparably damaged.
Consisting of little more than a post-office box and some staffers who wrote reports and gave helpful quotes about the pervasive problems of voter fraud to the press, the group identified Democratic cities as hot spots for voter fraud, then pushed the line that "election integrity" required making it harder for people to vote. The group issued reports (PDF) on areas in the country of special concern, areas that coincidentally tended to be presidential battleground states. In many of these places, it now appears the White House was pressuring U.S. attorneys to bring more voter-fraud prosecutions.
And, as long as I'm giving out reading assignments on this adminstration's evil ways, today's Frank Rich column ties up rather neatly a connection between the Dick Cheney "I'm above it all" argument of the last several days and the Scooter Libby matter. It ends this way:
Even now, few have made the connection between this month's Cheney flap and the larger scandal. That larger scandal is to be found in what the vice president did legally under the executive order early on rather than in his more recent rejection of its oversight rules.
Timing really is everything. By March 2003, this White House knew its hype of Saddam's nonexistent nuclear arsenal was in grave danger of being exposed. The order allowed Mr. Bush to keep his own fingerprints off the nitty-gritty of any jihad against whistle-blowers by giving Mr. Cheney the authority to pick his own shots and handle the specifics. The president could have plausible deniability and was free to deliver non-denial denials like "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." Mr. Cheney in turn could delegate the actual dirty work to Mr. Libby, who obstructed justice to help throw a smoke screen over the vice president's own role in the effort to destroy Mr. Wilson.
Last week The Washington Post ran a first-rate investigative series on the entire Cheney vice presidency. Readers posting comments were largely enthusiastic, but a few griped. "Six and a half years too late," said one. "Four years late and billions of dollars short," said another. Such complaints reflect the bitter legacy of much of the Washington press's failure to penetrate the hyping of prewar intelligence and, later, the import of the Fitzgerald investigation.
We're still playing catch-up. In a week in which the C.I.A. belatedly released severely censored secrets about agency scandals dating back a half-century, you have to wonder what else was done behind the shield of an executive order signed just after the Ides of March four years ago. Another half-century could pass before Americans learn the full story of the secrets buried by Mr. Cheney and his boss to cover up their deceitful path to war.
Right wingers uncensored. The New Republic, a magazine which has generally lost its way, somewhat redeems itself in the current issue which features a fascinating story by British reporter Johann Hari (the Independent), who signed up for a National Review-sponsored cruise and lived to tell about it. The link above will take you to the complete article, but you'll have to go through a (really easy and free) registration process to read it. For those who are too lazy or paranoid to do so, here's a longer than usual excerpt which gives some of the flavor:
I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she answers. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."
I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into--well, I'm not sure exactly what. I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run.
From time to time, National Review--the bible of American conservatism--organizes a cruise for its readers. Last November, I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. But, mostly, I just tried to blend in--and find out what conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.
There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realize exactly what it is. All the tropes conservatives usually deny in public--that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich--are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."
The panel nods, but it doesn't want to stray from Iraq. Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."
[Norman] Podhoretz and [William F.] Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who traveled through a long phase of left- liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling gray ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims, "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria. ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and "thank God" for that.
Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded National Review in 1955--when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction--and he has always been skeptical of appeals to "the people," preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a worldview that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and he is fighting.
"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf war one, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this "rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning."
The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward." His wife nods and says, "Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.
[O]ne morning on the deck, I discover Kenneth Starr, looking like he has stepped out of a long-forgotten 1990s newsreel. His face is round and unlined, like that of an immense, contented baby. As I stare at it, all my repressed bewilderment rises, and I ask: Mr. Starr, do you feel ashamed that, while Osama bin Laden was plotting to murder nearly 3,000 American citizens, you brought the government to a standstill over a few consensual blow-jobs?
He smiles through his teeth and says, in his soft, somnambulant voice, "I am entirely at rest with the process. The House of Representatives worked its will, the Senate worked its will, the chief justice of the United States presided. The constitutional process worked admirably." It's an oddly meek defense, and, the more I challenge him, the more legalistic he becomes, each answer a variation on, "It wasn't my fault."
The idea that Europe is being "taken over" is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles' cruises, some on ballroom-dancing cruises. This is the Muslims Are Coming cruise. Everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. And the man most responsible for this insight is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn. He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright shirt. Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races"--i.e., white people--"are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be "large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to Al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia." He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures--he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping--to "prove" his case.
But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogenous, sharia-seeking block--already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times--I counted--when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States....
What do they say when they think we're not listening? Exactly what we always suspected (although I have to admit that Muslim obsession is way farther over the top than I would have believed).
McLatchy. When we lost the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain last year, we were seemingly going to be deprived of the one newspaper entity that was not swallowing every GOP talking point and White House lie without even blinking. Fortunately enough, the
McLatchy chain, which acquired the K-R wire service and Washington Bureau, is holding up the tradition. Definitely bookmark these guys, who are probably the best source of honest, skeptical and, dare I say it, balanced reported this country has at the moment.
Fun stuff. This is the beginning of a holiday week (hey, never let it be said that Americans let little things like a White House gone mad, cable TV-induced terrorism panic or Paris Hilton being free to flash again get in the way of its partying), so, in that spirit, here's...
...a quick insight behind the scenes in the Rudy Giuliani campaign which should give you a chuckle 'cause it's so damned dead on point (that second panel is the candidate's strategy in a nutshell)...
..and a link to a list of "100 Blogs We Love" from the current issue of PC World which will easily allow you to kill an afternoon or two, either at home or in the office. Some of you must be going to the office this week, right?
And, what the hell, here's a shameless link to today's Dubya Chronicles where Rob and I say "we told you so."
Happy Fourth everybody. Take a minute to remember what this country is supposed to be all about, will ya?