Saturday, October 25, 2003

Debate Prep 

In preparation for tomorrow night's Democratic candidates' debate--which is sure to be awesome--AmCop presents the following condensed transcript of the first half of the last debate, which took place in Phoenix, Arizona on October 9th. I thought a brief review of this transcript might help prepare us for what's in store!

Transcript: Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate

WOODRUFF: Good evening and thank you for joining us. We are here in Arizona with all nine of the Democrats who want to be president of the United States. [Brief chuckle] The mother of the President of the United States has referred to them as "a sorry bunch"--but we'll let you, the live and television audiences, decide for yourselves whether or not that's true.

So we want tonight to introduce you to these gentlemen and lady again. We want to let them speak for themselves, which is why I'm talking so much, and will continue to do so, because let's face it, what really matters here is me. Also, we want to learn how the candidates differ from one another, if at all.

So let's introduce them. [Introductions proceed.]

You may applaud.


The format tonight, very simple. I'm going to be joined by two of my colleagues from CNN, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield. And my colleague, Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent. Please remember to focus your attention on us. Remember that we have appeared on television far, far more than any of these candidates.


Again, very simple, what we will do, is Jeff, Candy and I will take turns asking questions of the candidates. They'll attempt to evade those answers with pre-formulated campaign boilerplate. Then Jeff, Candy and I will interpret what they've said, so that you, the audience, can understand.

So, let's get started. The first question goes to Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun.

Ms. Ambassador, all of you on this stage have been very critical of President Bush in his conduct of the aftermath of the war, and frankly, it's gotten boring, we're sick of hearing those same tired criticisms. So please answer without making reference to President Bush's decision to go to war, his handling of the war, or his handling of the aftermath of the war.

My question is, what about going forward? We know that you and others want the allies involved. But that's not gonna happen. We know that you want the Iraqis themselves to be more involved. Ditto. Basically, your collective position is muddled, contradictory, incoherent, and apparently without any substance.

My question to you is, what would you do if you were president? Please remember to respond without criticizing the President's handling of the war. I'll shut up now for exactly one minute. The clock is ticking.

MOSELEY BRAUN: In the first instance, we don't as Americans cut and run, and we've blown the place up, blown up Iraq. We have a responsibility to build it back and leave it at least in as good shape as we found it.

WOODRUFF: All right. Stellar plan. General Clark, you're very familiar with the way the military works. Is that the right solution?

CLARK: I think she's given us a lot of great ideas. Let me tell you the problem with what we did there. We went into it without a strategy for success.

WOODRUFF: Red flag. RED FLAG. With all due respect, General, we've heard about the criticism of President Bush. What I am trying to determine here is what are the differences among the nine of you.

CLARK: Well, what I say we should do in Iraq is we should have a strategy for success. The administration doesn't have one.

WOODRUFF: Well, but, General -- and I'll ask some of the others of you to pick up on this, since the General obviously refuses to accept the premise of my question -- you make it sound very simple. We'll go to the U.N., they'll bring their -- whatever, all that stuff. Heard it before, doesn't work. So what's the answer, Congressman Gephardt?

GEPHARDT: The president is failing in his responsibility to get us the help that we need. It is four months since he landed on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit and said the war was over. We've almost lost 800 soldiers to injury since then. We've almost lost 100 soldiers who have been killed.

WOODRUFF: But I'm...

GEPHARDT: Give them the civil authority. You remember...

WOODRUFF: But my question is...


O.K., fine, applaud, whatever. But you're not listening to ME. This is SO frustrating. MY question is going forward...Jeff Greenfield has a question for Senator Edwards.

GREENFIELD: Senator, I have a feeling we're going to get back to Iraq, but I'd like to change the subject to more important issues, like the manner in which you are conducting your political campaign.

More than anybody else, you stress the modesty of your roots. Your dad was a mill worker. Your mom worked in the Post Office. You are the first in your family to go to college. Yada yada yada.

The two most revered members of your party, John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, were rich as shit, and they were regarded a lot more favorably in your party than, say, Richard Nixon, who was born under modest circumstances.

The question is: Why should any voter care any bit -- why should it give you any more points with that voter because of who you are any more than a voter should resent you now because you're a multimillionaire? Let me change that: a multimillionaire TRIAL LAWYER. So let me put my question this way: wasn't your so-called "humble" upbringing just a way of scoring political points?

EDWARDS: The only relevance of your background and the way you grew up is the credibility it gives to your vision and your ideas for what need to be done with the country.


GREENFIELD: Well, "point scored," from the sound of it. But Senator, you didn't listen to my question. My question was: isn't there something rather "Nixonian" about your background? And if Democrats weren't such hypocrites, why wouldn't they support Richard Nixon instead of you?

EDWARDS: No, no. First of all, you've identified two great presidents who come from similar backgrounds...ah, hell, I don't know.


WOODRUFF: Well, let's hear from Senator Dean -- Senator Kerry and Governor Dean on this very quickly.

KERRY: Can I say that when I was serving in Vietnam on a small boat, the one thing I learned was nobody asked you where you came from...


WOODRUFF: Well, but then you protested the war, right, along with the hippies? O.K., Governor Dean, I believe you evaded the draft?

DEAN: The last poll I saw showed that there are five of us up here that are going to beat George Bush. So the question is not whether we're going to beat George Bush, but what kind of a president do you want.

WOODRUFF: A better question might be: don't we already have a president? Who says we need a new one? All right, I know a lot of you want to get in on this, but we want to give Candy Crowley a chance to have a question. Candy has a question now for Congressman Kucinich.

CROWLEY: Congressman Kucinich, I'm going to give you a chance to expose the contradictions inherent in your opinions.

If you were commander-in-chief, what criteria would you use to justify the use of force? Is anything worth fighting for? Should we all just "Let it be," as your beloved Beatles might say, and go off and smoke some pot?

KUCINICH: Well, as a matter of fact, it's a foundational principle of our country that we have an obligation to provide for the common defense. Unfortunately, in the case of Iraq, our involvement in Iraq was based on lies.


WOODRUFF: Well, I think her question was about the Beatles, not Iraq, but whatever, Senator Lieberman has been trying to get in here. Senator?

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Judy. I must say that I've been very disappointed since Wes Clark came into this race, since it lessens my already nonexistent chances (if you'll pardon that paradox) of securing the nomination. [Grins, winks while raising and lowering eyebrows.]

WOODRUFF: All right, General Clark, looks like two of them are after you. Do I smell blood in the water? Won't these attacks present a stumbling block for your flash-in-the-pan campaign?

CLARK: Well, Judy, I would like to rebut this. I am not going to attack a fellow Democrat, because I think everybody on this stage shares the same goal.

WOODRUFF: You mean the goal of obtaining power by being willing to say anything?

CLARK: And that's the simple answer to it.

WOODRUFF: But you acknowledge...

CLARK: I think that's a very clear answer, Judy.


WOODRUFF: Thought so. Typical Democrat evasion here, folks. All right, the next question is for Governor Dean.

Governor, since you've become a candidate for president, you have changed your position on Medicare. You have a reputation as a straight shooter. So what do you say to those who say Howard Dean has misrepresented his views of eight years ago when he says he didn't change? Perhaps more importantly, what do you say to those who say that those who say Howard Dean has denied he has misrepresented his views of eight years ago when he says that those who say he didn't change are wrong, are right? If you're a straight shooter, how do you explain it?

DEAN: What the fuck??

WOODRUFF: Bullseye missed. And stop seeming like you're trying to hold the tip of your tongue gingerly between your front teeth. Reverend Sharpton?

SHARPTON: Let me say on three things I've been trying to get in, do this...


SHARPTON: Are you going to take that out of my time?

WOODRUFF: No, I'm not.

SHARPTON: Because you wouldn't let me talk.



WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

SHARPTON: We need to deal with how we beat George Bush in 2004.




Well, never mind what I think, then. Next question for General Clark from Candy Crowley.

CROWLEY: General Clark, let me try and go at this one more time, until you get it right, to my satisfaction.

You said about five months into the Bush administration, this Bush administration, at a Republican Lincoln Day dinner, you praised the president and his cabinet. So if you could square that circle for us. In case you
missed my allusion, "squaring the circle" is impossible, theologians have tried and failed, that's dogma, meaning it is impossible for you to justify your actions, or even your presence on this stage, in any way that doesn't involve lies or Black Magic. So unless you want to explain how you're a wizard or some kind of neo-alchemist witch, I guess I've pretty much answered my own question. But please, continue.

CLARK: Well, I'll be happy to. Look, I want this country to be successful.


WOODRUFF: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I disagree with General Clark that this is an attack when Joe Lieberman raises an issue.

WOODRUFF: In other words, you now support the Lieberman campaign? General, you too?

CLARK: Well now, Judy, let's just be very clear on this. I did not vote for George W. Bush. I voted for Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: And Al Gore lost. So you supported a loser.


Time's up. Jeff Greenfield, a question for Reverend Sharpton.

GREENFIELD: Reverend Sharpton, you referred to the necessity of your party winning, and since we know that Democrats are less concerned with promoting effective policy than with winning power at any cost, let's focus on what really matters: poll numbers. According to one Democratic pollster, by huge majorities the average voter feels the Democratic Party is too liberal, doesn't share their values and most especially is beholden to special interests. Isn't that true?

SHARPTON: If you lay the facts out, there's no way, in my judgment, middle class people would keep those feelings that you just said that poll says.

WOODRUFF: We were talking polls, Reverend, not facts. Everyone knows "facts" are a matter of opinion, but poll numbers speak for themselves.


Senator Edwards, why not the rest of you drop out of the race and, you know, turn it over to Congressman Gephardt?

EDWARDS: Shit, Judy, I hadn't thought of that. That's a good point.

WOODRUFF: Thought so. All right. Jeff Greenfield, a question for Congressman Gephardt.

GREENFIELD: Congressman, I'd like to keep going on this track because it seems to me that you could almost hear voters out there, some of saying, "You guys just don't get it. You recite a litany of economic proposals, but it's on values that the middle class appears to have left the Democratic Party."

All right, 9/11 may be the reason you lost the Senate and the House, but it doesn't explain why for the first time in more than 50 years, there are more Republican state legislators than Democrats or why only 32 percent of American voters say they're Democrats.

That's the lowest level since before the New Deal.

So my question is, if we can cut to the chase, beyond the five- point plans, would you concede or acknowledge or not that there's something about what the Democrats have been saying or doing that has turned off voters who you think should be voting for your party?

GEPHARDT: Jeff, I don't see it as half-empty, I see it as half- full. I think we're doing really good. Now...

GREENFIELD: Well, the Senate and House are less than half...

GEPHARDT: In the last four elections for the House, we picked up seats.


GREENFIELD: Yeah, but not enough seats. I guess America just hates Democrats--probably because, now that I think of it, Democrats hate America. Governor Dean said not long ago: The reason we, the Democrats, are out of power is that we didn't stand up for what we believe in. Is he right?

GEPHARDT: Well, I don't know that I agree with that.

WOODRUFF: But just because you disagree doesn't mean it's not true. All right, I want to let Governor Dean jump in here and then Senator Lieberman.

DEAN: Let me first say that the folks that are running against me have had the greatest time -- first they said I was George McGovern and I couldn't win, and now they're saying I'm Newt Gingrich and I couldn't win.


WOODRUFF: So you're a combination McGovern/Gingrich-type candidate. Good enough. Senator Lieberman, do you agree with Governor Dean that Democrats have not been standing up for what they should?

LIEBERMAN: Oh, obviously not. I've certainly been standing up for what I believe is right for the country--like, you know, the war.

WOODRUFF: Is that what you're referring to, Governor Dean?


WOODRUFF: Then you must have failed to make yourself clear.

LIEBERMAN: I do want to respond. Integrity is on the ballot next November.

WOODRUFF: But Jeff Greenfield has already explained that the polls show you don't have any integrity. All right, the red light is on. We're going to move on. Senator Lieberman, you mentioned Hollywood. We've heard about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican, is going to be the next governor of the state of California. So in other words, the country hates Washington politicians. So doesn't that pretty much count you out?

LIEBERMAN: Well, first let me say that the lesson from the election in California I hope is that we're all not going to try to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

WOODRUFF: You mean, be like winners? O.K., Congressman Gephardt, you've been in Washington almost twice as long as Senator Lieberman. I.e., doesn't that make you twice as unelectable?

GEPHARDT: People are unhappy with George Bush and his lack of leadership for this country.

WOODRUFF: But he is a Republican.

GEPHARDT: Let me tell you something. I'm proud to be a Democrat.


WOODRUFF: Congressman, we know you're all Democrats (and we all know what THAT means). The question is: what is there to be proud of? Anything?

SHARPTON: To answer your question, I think that we have to go at those that have felt excluded and abandoned by the fight. That's why I've done a lot of young voter registrations. Plus, remember, Bush didn't win the vote.

WOODRUFF: No, I'm saying...

SHARPTON: He did not win.

WOODRUFF: My question is...


Oh, shut up, people! That's not my -- MY question was: Is Washington a liability? Yes or no. Senator, is it a liability?

KERRY: It depends what vision you're offering to the country.

WOODRUFF: I'll take that as a yes. Candy Crowley, question for Senator Kerry.

CROWLEY: Should you become president, if you get solid evidence that Iran is in fact developing nuclear weaponry, and you cannot get anything in the U.N. like what you would like, are you prepared to go after a factory in Iran on your own?

KERRY: I would do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States of America, but, Candy, I don't accept the premise of your question completely.


WOODRUFF: So that's a no, you would allow Iran to launch a nuclear warhead at Washington. Congressman Kucinich, you are in complete agreement -- you're in complete agreement?

KUCINICH: Oh, no, I'm not in agreement with a number of the things that have been said.

WOODRUFF: No, I mean on this point.

KUCINICH: I would like to say that it would have been good if Senator Kerry and Congressman Gephardt, both have been articulate in criticizing the president, had actually--

WOODRUFF: Off point, off point...I'll assume you're in complete agreement. Again, folks, no differences among the candidates are evident. They are all Democrats.

DEAN: I believe if the president is serious about supporting our troops in Iraq that he has to say where he's going to get the money from, and that means he's got to get rid of $87 billion worth of the tax cuts that went to Ken Lay and his friends at Enron. Let me...

WOODRUFF: Could you make it brief? I'm bored.

DEAN: I'll try to make it as brief as I can.

WOODRUFF: Good enough. Senator Edwards, you voted with the president.


WOODRUFF: So why not just keep the same president, then?

EDWARDS: Hmm. Let me get back to you on that.


WOODRUFF: Very quickly, General Clark, and then we're...

CLARK: Judy, I think what people want is they want straight talk and they want leadership.

WOODRUFF: By the way, aren't you for gays in the military? And you're supposed to be a general...hmm, weird. O.K.--

GREENFIELD: Judy, that's the values thing I was discussing earlier...

WOODRUFF: Exactly. Well, Jeff and I will discuss that point further after the break, when we'll hear questions from this audience at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Live audience members will hand their written questions to Jeff, Candy and myself, who will screen the questions for content and then re-frame them in the kind of intelligent language that only senior political analysts like ourselves are capable of producing. Meanwhile, Candy has been having some difficulty breathing, and may have to receive a cortisone injection. Personally, I'm going back stage to see if the make-up people can't re-adhere some of this flesh that's begun to, I don't know, kind of slough off my face. Jeff will I believe be abusing a child in a wheelchair. O.K., we'll be back in two minutes.


Annular Flashback: October 25, 2002: A Very Sad Day 

I received this email from The Nation:
Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, and five others were killed today in a small plane crash near Eveleth, Minnesota.

One of the Senate's most courageous and progressive legislators, Wellstone will be dearly missed and impossible to replace. Our hearts go out to his sons David and Mark as well as the many others in mourning today.

Just before Paul Wellstone was killed in the plane crash, this watershed Krugman column ran in the New York Times. Note that this was well before Dean rose up, and Bush's numbers sank, and the whole spate of books about Bush's lies hit the shelves. This column--its assertions and their significance--represents the cornerstone of the Bush critique. It not only (correctly) circumscribes The Whole Thing, from Campaign 2000 to the post-Iraq-War intelligence scandals, and perceptively links the necessity of Bush's lies with the substance of his policies, but it continues to define the controlling principle of the debate that is occurring in the newspapers today (and tomorrow): the Bush administration's pattern of factually-demonstrable lies remains out in the open for everyone to see. Who will have the courage to hold them to account? Who will admit that something very dangerous is happening in the American system of government?
Dead Parrot Society

A few days ago The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote an article explaining that for George W. Bush, "facts are malleable." Documenting "dubious, if not wrong" statements on a variety of subjects, from Iraq's military capability to the federal budget, the White House correspondent declared that Mr. Bush's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy."

Also in the last few days, The Wall Street Journal reported that "senior officials have referred repeatedly to intelligence . . . that remains largely unverified." The C.I.A.'s former head of counterterrorism was blunter: "Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements." USA Today reports that "pressure has been building on the intelligence agencies to deliberately slant estimates to fit a political agenda."

Reading all these euphemisms, I was reminded of Monty Python's parrot: he's pushing up the daisies, his metabolic processes are history, he's joined the choir invisible. That is, he's dead. And the Bush administration lies a lot.

Let me hasten to say that I don't blame reporters for not quite putting it that way. Mr. Milbank is a brave man, and is paying the usual price for his courage: he is now the target of a White House smear campaign. That standard response may help you understand how Mr. Bush retains a public image as a plain-spoken man, when in fact he is as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory. Did you notice his recent declaration that allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power wouldn't mean backing down on "regime change," because if the Iraqi despot meets U.N. conditions, "that itself will signal that the regime has changed"?

The recent spate of articles about administration dishonesty mainly reflects the campaign to sell war with Iraq. But the habit itself goes all the way back to the 2000 campaign, and is manifest on a wide range of issues. High points would include the plan for partial privatization of Social Security, with its 2-1=4 arithmetic; the claim that a tax cut that delivers 40 percent or more of its benefits to the richest 1 percent was aimed at the middle class; the claim that there were 60 lines of stem cells available for research; the promise to include limits on carbon dioxide in an environmental plan.

More generally, Mr. Bush ran as a moderate, a "uniter, not a divider." The Economist endorsed him back in 2000 because it saw him as the candidate better able to transcend partisanship; now the magazine describes him as the "partisan-in-chief."

It's tempting to view all of this merely as a question of character, but it's more than that. There's method in this administration's mendacity.

For the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade. Its domestic policies are designed to benefit a very small number of people - basically those who earn at least $300,000 a year, and really don't care about either the environment or their less fortunate compatriots. True, this base is augmented by some powerful special-interest groups, notably the Christian right and the gun lobby. But while this coalition can raise vast sums, and can mobilize operatives to stage bourgeois riots when needed, the policies themselves are inherently unpopular. Hence the need to reshape those malleable facts.

What remains puzzling is the long-term strategy. Despite Mr. Bush's control of the bully pulpit, he has had little success in changing the public's fundamental views. Before Sept. 11 the nation was growing increasingly dismayed over the administration's hard right turn. Terrorism brought Mr. Bush immense personal popularity, as the public rallied around the flag; but the helium has been steadily leaking out of that balloon.

Right now the administration is playing the war card, inventing facts as necessary, and trying to use the remnants of Mr. Bush's post-Sept. 11 popularity to gain control of all three branches of government. But then what? There is, after all, no indication that Mr. Bush ever intends to move to the center.

So the administration's inner circle must think that full control of the government can be used to lock in a permanent political advantage, even though the more the public learns about their policies, the less it likes them. The big question is whether the press, which is beginning to find its voice, will lose it again in the face of one-party government.

Thousands in Washington Protest Iraq Policy  

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To chants of ``Impeach Bush,'' thousands of anti-war protesters rallied in the nation's capital Saturday and delivered a scathing critique of President Bush and his Iraq policy.

But just when I was beginning to think how unfair and unbalanced NYT was being for not giving equal coverage to the "dozens of people" gathered for the "counter-demonstration," I was relieved to see this:

At one point during the afternoon, a shouting match erupted between an anti-war crowd and counterdemonstrators holding ``Trust Jesus'' signs. Police moved in on horses to separate the two sides. No arrests were made.

The only question now is which is better, that, or this:

The D.C. chapter of Free Republic, an independent grass-roots conservative group, gathered dozens of people at the U.S. Capitol to show support for Bush and the troops in Iraq.

``Whether or not the war should have started is a moot point,'' said Eric Campbell, a 32-year-old who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. ``We have to stay if anything for the Iraqi people.''

God Bless America. God Bless Iraq.

Just a Painterly 'Difference of Opinion,' Part MCXLVIII 

So this is the latest tactic to avoid the obvious and inevitable.

Senate Intelligence Leaders at Odds on Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said on Friday the Republican chairman was trying to lay all the blame for flaws in pre-war intelligence about Iraq solely on the doorstep of U.S. spy agencies without looking at any White House role.

The push by the senior Democrat, Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, for a broader inquiry has been rebuffed by the Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.

"It is my belief ... that what he wants to do is to put all of this, lay all of this off on the intelligence community and never get to any other branches of government, in particular the White House and associated high and visible government agencies," Rockefeller told reporters.

Pre-war intelligence on Iraq has become a highly charged political issue leading up to next year's presidential elections, with Democrats trying to paint the Republican White House as possibly distorting intelligence in its eagerness to gather support for the war against Iraq.

Ha ha...HA. "Trying" to "paint" the Republican White House "as possibly distorting intelligence..."? Man--I didn't even get to the end of that sentence and already I'm having to use a two-ply paper towel to wipe away the smear of excrement around my mouth.

The world of politics has become so aesthetic! No need to worry about facts--about who said what, wrote what, did what, when--since it's all a question of, oh, a shade of "possible distortion" here, Chuck, and Bob, could you mix me up a dab of "just-a-small-outside-chance-it-might-have-been-not-entirely-accurate," that would go nicely right over here....

If anyone needs a refresher course on why this attempt blame the CIA (again) for "bad intelligence" is almost incomprehensibly dishonest and laughable, check out the absolutely-must-read Seymour Hersh article, "The Stovepipe," from last week's New Yorker, which gives a comprehensive story-line of the deliberate, methodical manipulation of intelligence by the White House in the run-up to the war and after. First of all there's just a whole array of fact that I didn't know about; second, Hersh's hypothesis about who forged the Niger documents and why--and what might still come of it--is pretty mind-blowing.

Bush's Sister Consorted with Armed, Costumed White Supremacists 

A Media Whores Online reader writes (quoting Newsweek's Barbara Bush interview):

According to Mrs. Bush:

"It's actually a 'pain in the neck' to be the sibling of a sitting president, she says, and tells how her daughter, Doro Koch, picketed outside Vice President Al Gore's residence 'in disguise' during the 2000 recount. 'That's Doro!' Mrs. Bush hoots when telling about it. 'She felt better' after yelling at the Gore's house for a while, Mrs. Bush says."

Glad to see that Babs thought it was a "hoot," but I wonder if the Gores "felt better" after having crowds of wingnuts scream at them day and night to "get out of Cheney's house."

Well, let's just say that "Doro" was in great company out there on Mass Ave. I too happened to be there one cold, rainy afternoon over Thanksgiving weekend 2000. On my side of the street: a handful of high school kids, an elderly woman, a man who didn't stay long, and myself. On their side: pretty much your conventional full-on "angry mob." But as the afternoon wound down, angry mobbers started crossing the street to our side (in between the out-of-state S.U.V.s that flowed by in an almost constant stream, hooting and flashing three-fingered "W." signs from their windows), apparently for the purpose of tearing up our (rain-soggy, hastily-crafted) signs whenever they got the chance.

Point is, I got to see a few of these characters close up, and a couple in particular stand out in my memory:

1.) The middle-aged guy in heavy beard and sunglasses who voiced a comment associating D.C.'s black population with the drainage of welfare money. One of the high school kids called his remark racist, and the man replied: "Yeah, I'm racist. There's nothing wrong with being proud of your own kind." (Incidentally, he said this stuff within obvious earshot of the black D.C. police officers who were standing right there, apparently protecting my life. They were pretty obviously pissed.)

2.) The very upset, blond, crew-cutted young man who described himself as "160 pounds of pure rage." (That accuracy was impressive. Guy must have weighed himself a lot.) Before I could reply that I was "175 pounds of pure disdain," he left the scene with an equally-angry buddy, indicating that they (he and the buddy) would be waiting for us.

3.) The guy who asked me what I did for a living. "Teach at NYU," I said. "Good school," he said. "But really liberal." No college is perfect, I guess!

O well. I'm glad those cops were there, because their were a lot of folks in pseudo-military garb across the street, and when I asked "Where was Bush in Alabama?" and tried to start an "AWOL" chant, it looked like things might get ugly. I guess the huge disparity in attendance between the Bush and Gore camps sort of proves one of the Republicans' points: nobody's gonna do anything unless they get paid.

Anyway, I feel much better imagining Bush's sister "Doro" in that crowd. Maybe she was the one in the Grinch suit? (That would explain the "disguise.") Or the one yelling about "faggots"? Maybe "Doro" Koch was wearing military-style cammo, yelling about "faggots." Maybe that bearded "racist" was her husband, Mr. Koch. Or maybe the beard was "Doro"'s disguise?

Did Brooks Said A Language-Meaning? 

If you had to pick the forefather and personification of edginess, it would have to be Helmut Newton...

He and the edginess phenomenon as a whole remind us that of all the human traits that shape culture and history, the most underappreciated is the power of vacuousness.

Uh, O.K. Is that it? Cool.

(Thank god Brooks left the Dems alone this week. Psst: he's just trying to soften us up a bit. Just when we're expecting more fluffy irrelevance...BOOM! O well, safe for now...)

Friday, October 24, 2003

Two Open Letters to Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, Ombudsman, National Public Radio  

Dear Mr. Dvorkin,

I am writing to call for your immediate resignation as Ombudsman for National Public Radio. Your 10/15 statement "Gross vs. O'Reilly: Culture Clash on NPR" makes it clear to me that you have failed miserably to serve the best interests of NPR, the journalists who work for NPR, NPR's national community of listeners, and pretty much everybody else.

By way of explanation, let me draw attention to a few passages in your recent statement.

On October 9, Terry Gross, longtime host of NPR's Fresh Air aired her interview with populist political talk show host Bill O'Reilly. The e-mails and phone calls of outrage are still arriving.

First of all, I'd be interested to know your working definition of "populist." More importantly, you should know by now that the vast majority of those "e-mails and phone calls of outrage" are coming (I confidently presume) not from NPR listeners, or from NPR supporters or contributors, but from the right-wing community of hate-based activists who are well-prepared to bombard any liberal "soft target" that sparks their ire with just such barrages of indignance. Your job as ombudsman should not be to assuage these people or to treat their fury as though it has merit in the marketplace of public opinion.

As Gross mentioned in the interview, Bill O'Reilly was invited on Fresh Air in part because of his new book. She began by asking O'Reilly to respond to accusations made against him in a book by Al Franken, the politically liberal comedian. Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, is devoted in part to going after O'Reilly's credibility and his conservative opinions. In his book and on Fresh Air , Franken accuses O'Reilly of mistakes, distortions and outright lies.

Gross interviewed Franken two weeks previously on her program.

For some listeners, the interview with O'Reilly was a continuation of Franken's anti-conservative and anti-O'Reilly attacks.

Now, what does, or should, the phrase "Franken's anti-conservative and anti-O'Reilly attacks" mean? Are they hypothetically equivalent to O'Reilly's "anti-liberal and anti-Franken" attacks? Is it just a matter of two opposing sides, each with their own "opinions," attacking one another? Does it make a difference if the substance of O'Reilly's attacks is his (justified or not) rage toward Franken, and the substance of Franken's "attacks" consists in pointing out ACTUAL LIES that O'Reilly has told? Have you bothered to take issue with A SINGLE FACT, anywhere, in Franken's work? If Franken--and Terri Gross, in defending Franken--says that O'Reilly has lied, doesn't it matter to you whether or not O'Reilly HAS IN FACT LIED? Or is the whole issue of fact irrelevant in the context of mutually opposing sets of "attacks"?

Then you include this "letter" from a listener:

NPR, you're not going to like this, but I have to say that O'Reilly... was correct: throughout the first 50 minutes of the interview, Terry Gross was clearly focused on discussing the popular left-wing (mis)perception of O'Reilly, misguided though it is, and not substantively dealing with his new book. I thought her interview was extremely biased and prejudicial. I was very disappointed with her transparently obvious agenda -- she's usually much more capable.

What--to you, to Terri Gross, or to any NPR listener--could it POSSIBLY MEAN that "Terry Gross was clearly focused on discussing the popular left-wing (mis)perception of O'Reilly"? Should she have been "focused" instead on discussing the "popular right-wing (correct) perception" of O'Reilly? But why would that be HER job, HER responsibility? What would such a discussion possibly consist of?

In my opinion, Terry Gross did a very tough interview. It was quite unlike many interviews on NPR where the tone is civil but often unchallenging of the guest.

Right--she did a "tough" interview because O'Reilly is a "tough" guest, and there is no other possible way to engage him. Normally the tone of her interviews is "civil but often unchallenging" precisely because she is interviewing people whose ideas and opinions inherently require a scene of mutually civil and exploratory (rather than challenging) discourse. But O'Reilly is not civil--and the only "ideas" he has to discuss are not "ideas" but rather rhetorical vectors of attack and opposition; there is no way to situate such a discussion in the normal mode of open, friendly conversation.

Danny Miller is the executive producer of Fresh Air . I asked him if he thought the critics have a point:

Terry was tough on O'Reilly, not unfair. And I think O'Reilly drove the interview directly towards the conclusion he was hoping for. He was looking to butt heads. He's obviously still really steamed that the case against Franken was thrown out of court -- and came to our interview with the expressed goal of demonstrating his belief that NPR has a liberal bias, and that Fresh Air (like Franken) was out to defame him. On his own show he said: "I'll go on this program [Fresh Air] just to show you what they do, to expose what they do. Cause I knew what was going to happen... " It's pretty difficult to for an interviewer to maintain a high level of rapport with someone who wants to prove that you're out to get them.

O'Reilly is one of the most controversial and powerful broadcasters in the country -- Terry asked him about how he uses that power to pursue issues, and settle scores with his critics. Terry wouldn't have been doing her job if she didn't address that (which is why she brought up the Janet Maslin and People magazine pieces). And O'Reilly is smart enough to know it.

Danny Miller has it exactly right; he's said it better than I have.

Even so, I agree with the listeners who complained about the tone of the interview: Her questions were pointed from the beginning. She went after O'Reilly using critical quotes from the Franken book and a New York Times book review. That put O'Reilly at his most prickly and defensive mode, and Gross was never able to get him back into the interview in an effective way. This was surprising because Terry Gross is, in my opinion, one of the best interviewers anywhere in American journalism.

Your self-contradiction here is utterly baffling. Given that O'Reilly CAME TO THE INTERVIEW prepared to be defamed and victimized and put "on the defensive" in hostile "enemy" "liberal" territory--in other words prepared for rhetorical combat rather than "civil" interview--why was it not perfectly appropriate that Gross's questions be "pointed"? Is it Gross's job, as a professional interviewer, to coddle and assuage the "prickly and defensive mode" of guest who comes on her show ready for combat? Is it her job to "disarm" a guest who knows no other mode of discourse than rhetorical combat?

Although O'Reilly frequently resorts to bluster and bullying on his own show, he seemed unable to take her tough questions. He became angrier as the interview went along. But by coming across as a pro-Franken partisan rather than a neutral and curious journalist, Gross did almost nothing that might have allowed the interview to develop.

A "pro-Franken partisan"? You have GOT to be kidding! You really don't mean "neutral" here--you mean "neutered." Is Gross a computer? Is she a smiling cardboard cutout like the ones we see every day on the cable news networks? Or is she rather A HUMAN BEING with opinions, values, thoughts, feelings? Should Gross suppress and neuter her humanity for the sake of O'Reilly's comfort? Should Gross also face up to the fact that her status as "pro-art," "pro-literature," "pro-music," "pro-intelligence," or "pro-humanity" hinders her ability to be a "neutral and curious journalist"?

By the time the interview was about halfway through, it felt as though Terry Gross was indeed "carrying Al Franken's water," as some listeners say. It was not about O'Reilly's ideas, or his attitudes or even about his book. It was about O'Reilly as political media phenomenon. That's a legitimate subject for discussion, but in this case, it was an interview that was, in the end, unfair to O'Reilly.

Please, Mr. Dvorkin. Gross doesn't need to "carry Al Franken's water," and you know it. Franken can carry his own water. And the interview was PRECISELY about O'Reilly's "ideas" and "attitudes"--he was expressing them, manifesting them, displaying them throughout the whole interview, and that's exactly the point. O'Reilly expresses his "ideas" and "attitudes" via hostility, contrarity, self-aggrandizement, intimidation, defensiveness, and paranoia--just as Franken expresses HIS "ideas" and "attitudes" via humor, wit, mockery, satire, and cheerfulness. A Franken interview is going to be different, and go differently, no matter if it's Gross interviewing him or any "conservative" interviewer, because it's HIM sitting in the chair. In this case, it was O'Reilly sitting in the chair, and the tone and mode of the interview was determined by HIM and HIS PRESENCE, not by Gross' "pointed" or "partisan" questions. If Franken and O'Reilly are the combatants, and Terri Gross is in the middle, OF COURSE she is going to "side" with the combatant who fights with fun-poking and mischievous, good-natured mockery, rather than the combatant who not only fights with fear, bitterness, and sanctimonious bull-headedness, but more importantly WILL DENY THAT HE'S EVEN FIGHTING.

Let's get something straight: Bill O'Reilly has publicly lied--not in "opinion," but in fact. Al Franken has written about some of those lies, and that has enraged O'Reilly. Now, in an interview with O'Reilly--an interview construed as a counterpart to the Franken interview--when Gross brings up those lies, and O'Reilly DENIES them, and LIES RIGHT BACK IN HER FACE, what is she supposed to do? What greater insult could a guest commit--no matter who is conducting the interview--than to LIE IN THE INTERVIEWER'S FACE AND DENY THAT HE'S DOING SO? Again: are you, Mr. Dvorkin, challenging ANY SUBSTANTIVE FACT in a question about lying that either Franken or Gross has put to O'Reilly? If not, why not? Should we rebuke Gross for being a "pro-truth" partisan? A maliciously "anti-lie" liberal?

Finally, an aspect of the interview that I found particularly disturbing: It happened when Terry Gross was about to read a criticism of Bill O'Reilly's book from People magazine. Before Gross could read it to him for his reaction, O'Reilly ended the interview and walked out of the studio. She read the quote anyway.

And for every listener out there who is concerned with CONTENT, with SUBSTANCE, rather than the pure scoring of for-and-against points, damn good thing she did. Even if O'Reilly is too much of a baby and a coward to stay, listen, and respond in turn, there is a little thing called THE AUDIENCE to consider. Remember that the interview isn't being conducted for the benefit or O'Reilly, or Gross, but FOR THE AUDIENCE. So why should Gross allow herself to be rudely silenced by a hateful, degrading guest, when she has something to say that the audience wants and deserves to hear?

You don't even take into account the fact that in the moments before O'Reilly walked out, he was bullying Gross with an aggressiveness I've never heard before or since on any interview. I thought Gross was about to cry, and in her situation I probably would have. Put in that situation, she should just SHUT UP out of respect for the departed, hit-and-run O'Reilly? Mr. Dvorkin, do you have ANY RESPECT AT ALL for Terri Gross--not just as a journalist and NPR employee, but as a PERSON?
I believe the listeners were not well served by this interview. It may have illustrated the "cultural wars" that seem to be flaring in the country. Unfortunately, the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR's liberal media bias.

This is a truly disgusting claim--either inexcusably ignorant or willfully disingenuous. You know, Mr. Dvorkin, that those "cultural wars" are ongoing--they will continue and likely intensify whether you or anybody else likes it or not. Every time Bill O'Reilly bullies a guest in the studio of his program, the "cultural wars" are being fought. Every time Terri Gross interviews a novelist, or a classical composer, or a Democrat, or a Republican, or Al Franken, or Bill O'Reilly, the "cultural wars" are being fought. Gross's interview of O'Reilly didn't "illustrate" that--it WAS that. And in this war, I--and I believe the vast majority of NPR listeners--am on Gross's side. Call me a "pro-intelligence" "partisan."

As for the "belief, held by some, in NPR's liberal media bias," I am appalled and ashamed that the NPR Ombudsman would give credence to such a phony, misleading, and meaningless canard.

It left the impression that there was something not quite right about the reasons behind this program: Bill O'Reilly often loves to use NPR as his own personal political pinata; and NPR keeps helping him by inviting him to appear.

Well, on that note, Mr. Dvorkin, I'm going to conclude by agreeing with you in full. No phony, bad-faith notion of "fairness" or "even-handedness" should dictate that an aggressive, infantile, solipsistic, monomaniacally paranoid asshole like O'Reilly be granted an interview BY ANYONE, much less NPR. But he (for his purposes) agreed to come, and Gross (for her purposes) agreed to have him. So why criticize her for having the guts to deal with him the best way she knew how?



speakingcorpse writes:

Dear Mr. Dvorkin,

Bill O'Reilly is a bastard. He is also a hugely important cultural
phenomenon. He may be the harbinger of the imminent arrival of that
form of entertainment that is so effective that it kills all those who
are exposed to it. I hate O'Reilly, but watching him does make me
suicidal. So maybe his work will finally prove to be fun for me in the

What's the point of your piece? I can't see it. You say Gross was
"baiting" O'Reilly uncharacteristically. Probably true, if you mean
that the interview took on an adversarial tone. But as you also seem to
acknowledge, obliquely, O'Reilly is a big asshole, so: ask him any sort
of question about what it is he's doing and he'll say you're "baiting"
him. This is what evil doers always do: Republicans steal the
election, you ask them about it, they accuse you of being partisan.
Communists invade an Eastern European country, and you call their action
invasion rather than liberation, and they accuse of you being
ideologues. Terrorists kill civilians, you complain about it, and they
accuse you of backsliding and oppression.

The point is: evil doers often don't acknowledge to themselves, and
certainly not to others, what it is they are doing. So would-be
participants in civil discourse have a difficult choice. They can go
along with the terms the evil doers use, and thereby leave the lie
intact and actually take on some responsibility for its perpetration.
Or would-be civil speakers can simply try to treat the evil doer as a
human being, responsible for his or her actions. This latter course is
often very difficult, as the evil doer will have much invested in
denying his own humanity. (Ask George Bush about his earlier life or
the deaths he's caused, and he's enraged. Why? Because the very notion
of individual responsibility is an affront to someone who believes his
life is Christ's--that he has no life of his own at all.)

So Terry took the gutsy tack and actually tried to talk to Bill O'Reilly
about his words and actions, rather than demeaning him and herself by
pretending he is something other than what he is. (This kind of
demeaning is the current coin in mainstream media, I know. How can you
guys say Bush is looting the government without fucking yourselves
royally? You can't. So instead you have to say he's doing something
else, or that the matter is up for debate. So truth, and your news
operation, is debased. I don't blame you, really. NPR has to survive.
It has toaccommodatee. "Living in truth," as Vaclav Havel called it,
often has consequences that negate life.)

Anyway, so Gross was brave, and you call her on it. You're right. She
probably made her show less respectable to the powers that be. She
probably cost NPR a few bucks. As you finally imply, another course of
action altogether would have been simplest and best: she shouldn't have
had that asshole on her show in the first place.

But the fact remains: O'Reilly is out there, calling for NPR's
dismantling, demanding you call him a "populist," etc. Let me remind
you that fascism is populism, the most effective of its historical
forms. It lives off the resentment felt by the (white) poor, who are
disgusted with their upper-middle class rivals and at the same time
unable to imagine any real form of distributive justice and
power-sharing. Better than bourgeois liberalism is populist fascism, in
which the poor get at least the pleasure of identifying with the boot
that protects them as it exterminates effete middle class intellectuals
along with the lowest of the low:

Society is saved just as often as the circle of its rulers contracts,
as a more exclusive interest is maintained against a wider one. Every
demand of the simplest bourgeois financial reform, of the most ordinary
liberalism, of the most formal republicanism, of the most insipid
democracy, is simultaneously castigated as an 'attempt on society' and
stigmatised as 'socialism.' And finally the high priests of 'religion
and order' themselves are driven with kicks from their Pythian tripods,
hauled out of their beds in the darkness of night, put in prison-vans,
thrown into dungeons or sent into exile...their law torn to pieces in
the name of religion, of property, of family, order. Bourgeois fanatics
for order are shot down on their balconies...in the name of property, of
family, religion, and order. (Marx)

Sooner or later the shit is going to hit the fan. And then being civil
to O'Reilly, or ignoring him, won't be an option. You'll either suck
his boot or take the risk of speaking the truth and calling him a piece
of shit.

Sincerely, speakingcorpse

Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR Ombudsman, can be contacted at 202-513-3245 or by email at ombudsman@npr.org .

Not at all clear which side of larger war of good v. evil CIA is on 

speakingcorpse writes:

Republicans compare CIA leak to 9/11 on CNN. They agree that "the sky is falling" on CIA operatives and operations across the globe. But what's the other side of the story? I think we might need to go to Pat Robertson on this one. The other side might be: the CIA, as a professional and nonpartisan agency staffed by highly skilled lifetime workers who have no interest in the political advancement of one agenda or another, needs, urgently, to be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack. Also: the deaths of CIA operatives and American citizens, even if facilitated by members of the Bush administration, can only happen if God wants them to happen. If they do happen, as 9/11 happened, this is because God is punishing his chosen people, in preparation for their final redemption. The latter reasoning is probably the one that the Bush loyalists are, in all likelihood, adhering to. If an American Republican gets killed, it HAS to be part of a fore-ordained battle in the longer war of good v. evil. The "evil ones" are the only earthly agents responsible. God is ultimately responsible, but his purposes are always just; he will ensure that an American death now will be payed back with interest on the fields of Northern Israel, when Kofi Annan is driven beneath the wheels of his hellish chariot...

Joan Didion superbly describes this line of fatalistic death-loving rationalization in her major article in this week's New York Review of Books.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

TPM Hosts 'Immanent Threat' Quote Contest 

Josh Marshall writes in today's Talking Points Memo:

Certain conservative mumbojumbocrats have been trying to rewrite history by claiming that the White House never argued that Iraq posed any sort of imminent threat to the United States.

For my money, one of the most revealing quotes is the passage in the National Security Strategy the White House released in 2002, which essentially argues that the concept of ‘imminent threat’ must be reinterpreted to apply to countries like Iraq.

But back to our contest. Because this debate wasn’t hashed out in NSC documents, but in public statements on the hustings.

Our wingerly friends have made a lot of the rarity of occurences in which the phrase ‘imminent threat’ was used. But they rather ignore all the instances in which administration officials told the public we had to depose Saddam right now before he could use his nuclear weapons and smallpox on us. Any quotation which conveys the imminent threat message is acceptable even it doesn't contain the phrase 'imminent threat.'

(One example, though certainly not the best one, might be President Bush’s statement on March 7th of this year that he would no longer “leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons.”)

So now it’s up to you. Send us your best Bush administration ‘imminent threat’ quote.

The Rules: Only one submission per reader. It has to be sent to contest@talkingpointsmemo.com. It must include a citation to some published account in which the quotation appeared. And it must be received by October 27th.

Entries will be judged on imminence, relevance, provenance, bouquet and other such qualities.

To the winner goes a brand-new TPM T-Shirt (fresh from the Paris runways) in addition the resultant fame, glory and honor.

When we titled this blog, we meant it 

A reader comments, in reference to "Kristof: Bush Should Act Like a Greek Boy" (10/22):
You guys bashing Kristof have short memories. He broke the news of Joe Wilson's trip to Niger, and before that he was one of the first to suggest that WMD won't be found in Iraq because the president lied. Yes, his praise of the Christian right is stupid. But he is not "rooting" for Bush; he's offering a mild but accurate criticism of Bush.

Not everyone is going to criticize Bush in the bombastic style this blog seems to prefer, but who cares? Is the point not to win an election? Isn't this more likely to happen if Bush is criticized in all sorts of styles, tones, and registers?

speakingcorpse replies:
You are of course correct about Kristof. He regularly informs us of things we would otherwise know nothing about. Still, there's got to be a place to express, without reservation, the horror and disgust that are inevitably provoked by our public discourse. The fact that Kristof--an obviously intelligent and useful writer--could have concluded a column about the leak scandal by saying it made "both sides" look equally bad is, at least from a certain perspective, reason enough to consider suicide or terrorism.

It's only fair that I be able to say about Kristof's remark at the end of his latest Plame piece that it (the remark) is the first step towards death, and is the equivalent of the emission of, at least, a small turd.

Look, at least part of the problem we face is that the mainstream media plays these kinds of stupid games. AmCop is a kind of overcompensation--a place for infantile feelings expressed in an infantile manner. Bad things happen when such feelings have no outlet.

While we're on the topic of Kristof--and since we're approaching the anniversary of last year's midterm elections--I am going to reprise here a Media Whores Online reader's response to Kristof's 11/5/02 column "The Left Dumbs Down." It was an exceptionally stupid and repugnant column, coming as it did on the eve of an election in which Republicans capitalized on the very campaign of lies which seemed less important to Kristof than the Democrats' anger about those lies.
Mr. Kristof:

Stop blaming Democrats and other honest citizens (in your words, "the left") for the crisis state of mainstream journalism in this country. It's the fault of yourself and your peers in the field that more and more Americans distrust and despise the corporate news media. It comes down to your own arrogant dishonesty.

Your column today serves as an example of this tendency. In it, you deceitfully swirl valid complaints about the media and the Bush administration together with conspiracy-theory mongering, as if both were of the same ilk. The assertion that some make that Sen. Wellstone's plane crash was no accident is, indeed, unjustified without some valid evidence of treachery, which has not emerged thus far to my knowledge.

But that allegation is NOT being made by nearly as many people as the number of those who are disgusted and outraged at the plain facts about George W. Bush, 'his' administration, and the state of the news media today. Namely, the fact that our supposed Chief Executive is a smug, soft-headed mama's boy who's never really accomplished a thing in his life; that he can barely put a coherent sentence together all by himself; that he's surrounded and controlled by a corrupt Big Business clique; that he was not validly elected but appointed to office in an unforgivable abuse of authority by the US Supreme Court; and that the corporate news media continues to pander to and promote him and his handlers with eager shamelessness.

Furthermore, this follows upon 8 years of unrelenting scandal-mongering and character assassination by the corporate media in cooperation with the GOP against President Bill Clinton, ending in a scheme to topple him from office over concocted scandals and cynically contrived legal violations; and then the 2000 election campaign, in which Al Gore was relentlessly smeared and Bush whitewashed, ending with the abominable theft of the presidency -- which you in the corporate media also tried to finesse and put over on the public.

Should I respect a news outlet like the New York Times, when I know that it regularly peddles distortions and lies? The paper that reported a story during the campaign about Al Gore making criticisms of the drug industry, headlined not 'Gore Criticizes Drug Industry' but 'Gore Tries Pitching Himself as Critic of Drug Industry'? That smeared Gore as a habitual or even pathological liar, and in one article consulted an authority on people who claim to have been abducted by outer-space aliens in reference to his supposed 'problem'? That tries to tell me, in the face of all the evidence, that SEC chairman Harvey Pitt is an honest officeholder whose "accomplishments'"have been obscured because of his blunt "style"?

The other instances of "venom" on "the left" which you cite in today's column are also attempts to deceive. Sen. Wellstone, a highly-regarded and even beloved figure to many good people in this country, had committed his life to politics, and died in the final stretch of a campaign in which huge amounts of corporate money were being spent to defeat and replace him with a turncoat and puppet. That politics were spoken of at his memorial was certainly to be expected. In truth, the same would have happened if a Republican Senate candidate had died under the same circumstances -- only you in the corporate media wouldn't be propagating the notion that something was wrong about it.

The fact that many Americans aren't sold on the push for an invasion of Iraq is because the Bush administration's motives are blatantly suspicious on the face of it. They haven't even begun to justify the proposed military action in the terms they've offered. What's left are the obvious motivations that these exemplars of government-corporate cronyism would be acting out of -- mainly, the desire to seize and control Iraq's oil resources.

If you corporate media folks really wish to regain credibility, I advise that, for starters, you stop trying to bullshit the American public about the character and abilities of our 'president,' because nearly everyone understands that WE DON'T HAVE A PRESIDENT. Democrats, independents and many Republicans know damned well that the lazy and dimwitted George W. Bush isn't running this administration, and wouldn't be capable of doing so if he had to. The corporatist clique surrounding him are the real powers and decision-makers, and their ruthlessness and resourcefulness are not to be underestimated.

We on "the left" don't underestimate these people, believe me. We know what we're faced with when it comes to today's corporate media as well.

Peter Risley

Barbara Bush babbles senilely to reporter; refers to brain-damaged son as a filthy animal 

Barbara Bush calls Democrat line-up a 'sorry group'

"So far, they are a pretty sorry group if you want to know my opinion," said Mrs. Bush [while holding a gun to her gargoylish, hyperthyroidic head*] in an interview aired Monday by NBC's "Today" show, when asked about the Democratic line-up for the 2004 presidential election.
- - - - - - - -
However, Mrs. Bush said the current president frequently declined to do what she said. "He still doesn't take my advice [to immediately commit suicide on live television before a national and world audience*], that dirty dog."

* Editor's notes.

Bush: "I love free speech." 

Protests in Australia as Bush Defends Iraq War
Published: October 23, 2003
Filed at 0:15 a.m. ET

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Heckled inside the Australian parliament and jeered by protesters outside, President Bush on Thursday defended the Iraq invasion and war on terror, saying Australia and the United States had to lead by example.

The American president is on a whirlwind visit to Australia to thank conservative Prime Minister John Howard for helping in the U.S.-led war on terror and in Iraq.

His 20-hour visit has triggered a massive security operation in the usually sleepy capital with armed air force jets escorting him into Canberra on Wednesday night with orders to shoot any unauthorized aircraft and patrolling over the city on Thursday.

Authorities took the unprecedented step of barring the public from the national parliament where Bush spoke on Thursday, backing a special security role for Australia in the Asia-Pacific region that has raised concerns among Asian neighbors.

``Security in the Asia-Pacific region will always depend on the willingness of nations to take responsibility for their neighborhood, as Australia is doing,'' Bush told parliament.

But his tagging of Australia as a regional ``sheriff'' and staunch defense of the Iraq war angered left-leaning Green politicians whose yells twice stopped the president's speech.

``We are not a sheriff,'' shouted Greens leader Bob Brown who ignored an order to leave the house.

The heckling did not rattle Bush who is on his first trip to Australia and will head home later on Thursday.

``I love free speech,'' he quipped, to cheers from the house.

While tempers flared inside the hill-top parliament, a crowd of up to 2,000 protesters outside chanted anti-U.S. slogans and waved banners reading: ``Yankee Go Home'' and ``U.S. Sucks.''

Through the crowd weaved an Osama bin Laden lookalike, carrying a placard reading ``Come and Get Me'' and two activists dressed as Saddam Hussein and Bush holding hands.

Rush to explore different angles and pathways into his "self" 

Very funny Michelangelo Signorile piece on Rush's recovery spa:
"Sierra Tucson utilizes many different types of therapeutic modalities to access underlying issues," the website of the roughly $1000-a-day treatment center explains. "Each modality is designed to unearth vital information from different angles and pathways into one’s self." (That is all supposed to happen before you head on to the adjoining Miraval Spa, a posh resort and sister company to Sierra Tucson, where you rest up at after you’ve done your 30 days in the treatment center.)

From "psychodynamic role-playing and yoga" to "adventure therapy," "Climbing Wall," "the desert experience" and "equine-assisted therapy" (yes, bonding with horses), Limbaugh may just think he died and went to "feminazi" hell. The website depicts photos of people with a decidedly Berkeley look sitting around on the floor in what seem like consciousness-raising sessions. Picture Rush holding his fellow travelers’ hands and singing Kumbayah. Surely he’ll be reciting a line from the very president he lambasted for years: "I feel your pain." How many on the right would have thought that Bill Clinton would be getting the last chuckle, out there aiding his feminazi wife’s successful political career while their man Rush is wandering the desert reciting New Age mantras?

"Self-discovery often crystallizes during an experience that requires physical and mental exertion in the face of a potentially fearful activity," the description for the Climbing Wall says. "With its height and verticality, the Climbing Wall serves as an important therapeutic metaphor."

Read the full scoop on the Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT).

Embarrassing Fraud Inspires Fury and Despair Throughout Pacific Rim 

So Mr. Bush tried to make the best of what many Indonesians seemed to regard as an awkward visit. In a short speech, he dwelled on what he called the common values of the United States and Indonesia: religious diversity and respect for liberty.

"Your national motto, `Unity in diversity,' sounds a lot like our own, `Out of many, one,' " he said. "Americans hold a deep respect for the Islamic faith, which is professed by a growing number of my own citizens. We know Islam is fully compatible with liberty, tolerance and progress. We see the proof in your country."

"My own citizens"! Didn't he mean "my own subjects"?

Luckily, even out in the idol-worshipping terroristic jungle, Bush felt rather at home:
"There wasn't a lot of debate," Mr. Bush said.

Full story.

Republicans: The New/Old Moral and Epistemological Relativists (Part 77) 

Dawkins writes:

There is no right or wrong in the world anymore. There is no truth or falsity. There is only "difference of opinion." Dick Cheney says so.

In Sy Hersh's latest must-read New Yorker piece, the writer brings the story of the fabricated Iraq-Niger "yellowcake" documents up to date, and concludes the piece:

Vice-President Cheney remains unabashed about the Administration’s reliance on the Niger documents, despite the revelation of their forgery. In a September interview on “Meet the Press,” Cheney claimed that the British dossier’s charge that “Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa” had been “revalidated.” Cheney went on, “So there may be a difference of opinion there. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground. . . . I don’t know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn’t judge him.”

Read this vital story in its entirety here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

CIA-Leak Scapegoat Still At Large 

Dawkins writes:

Now that the President has affirmed the importance of receiving news without filters and getting the other side of the story, this story can be deemed to be 100% true and accurate. After all, it's only another side of the story, a telling of the news through just one of many available filters.

Kristof: Bush Should Act Like a Greek Boy 

This from Dawkins:

So here’s Nicholas Kristof in today’s New York Times, quoting fancy Greek books and rooting for his hero, the boy president.

And I could have sworn I was just told the other day that it was only Bush-haters who were condescending…

By the way, now that the Times’ print edition has tossed out its old fonts, maybe it could rid of some other things too. Like: Kristof, Safire and Brooks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

G.O.P. to "Celebrate Life" at 2004 Convention 

Gov. Bush Orders Feed Tubes Reinserted Into Brain Damaged Fla. Woman

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 21, 2003; 5:48 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Invoking a law rushed through the Legislature earlier in the day, Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday ordered a feeding tube reinserted into a brain-damaged woman at the center of one of the nation's longest and most bitter right-to-die battles.

The bill was designed to save the life of Terri Schiavo, whose parents have fought to keep her alive. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she would rather die.

You've gotta hand it to the Republicans--you may disagree with their policies, but you can't deny that they LOVE LIFE!

In fact, AmCop has just learned from a reliable source that the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City will include a special presentation called "Celebrate Life." "Celebrate Life" will feature a panel of special "guests":

Terri S., the brain-dead woman whose life has been saved by Governor Bush's brave order for her feeding tube to be "reinserted."

Bobby C., a schizophrenic death-row inmate, will reveal how life-affirming antipsychotic medications have restored his humanity so that he can enjoy the dignity of being executed like a "normal" human.

Jenny T., a frozen blastula who has been saved from genetic research, thus allowing her to continue her life unmolested in a laboratory freezer.

John R., a small container of ash recovered from the site of a terrorist attack, who will demonstrate how the G.O.P. "umbrella" is so inclusive that even our friends "on the other side of the mortal divide" can be fully-functional participants in the Bush 2004 Re-Election Campaign.

Ahmed Q., a portion of exploded torso, will discuss the benefits of his newly "liberated" lifestyle.

Bechtel N.A., a corporation, will exemplify the non-discriminatory principle of the Equality of God's Creatures, showing how in God's America a corporation has just as many rights as any other "person."

And for the finale of "Celebrate Life," President Bush himself will show how he has overcome his status as a "corpse" to lead America to Victory in the War on Terrorism!

Terri, Bobby, Jenny, John, Ahmed, Bechtel, and the President will then join together in singing "God Bless America" accompanied by a chorus of African babies each holding the condom that DIDN'T prevent them from being able to live. The chorus will be conducted by Dick Cheney via "live" video feed.

I hope to see all of you there! In the meantime, remember to keep enjoying the gift of life.

Polls Unfair Toward President 

Talking Points Memo sums this one up:
So much for the Bush Bounce. The last time we discussed the president's job approval numbers, we noted that the CNN-USA Today poll, which showed the president popping back up to 56%, seem to be an outlier.

Most of the other polls taken around the same time showed him hovering just over 50%

Since then three new polls are out. And they tend to confirm that judgment. If anything they show an extremely slight deterioration.

Pew has the president at 50%; Zogby has him at 49%; and Fox/Opinion Dynamics has him at 52%.

The Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll is constantly more favorable to Republicans than the other major public polls -- at least by my experience as a pretty close observer.

If he can't get over 52% in that one, he's got a bit of work to do.

Jeffords hates troops, loves Saddam, celebrates 9/11 

October 20, 2003
By Claude R. Marx

MONTPELIER - Because he objects to efforts to link the war in Iraq to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., was the sole dissenter on a vote urging President Bush give the War on Terrorism Medals to soldiers fighting in Iraq.

By a 97-1 vote margin, the Senate on Friday passed a non-binding resolution urging that the medal be given to soldiers fighting what Bush has called the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the Philippines and the war that resulted in the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Jeffords said the goals of Iraq were not related to the terrorism war and should not be linked to the Afghanistan and Philippines operations.

"Those who support giving this medal to our troops in Iraq are once again trying to make a connection between Sept. 11 and Iraq that simply does not exist. I am a veteran and I wholeheartedly support our troops, but I believe it does the men and women in our military a great disservice to misrepresent the reasons why they are in Iraq. They certainly deserve medals for their service, but I will not be a part of the White House campaign to redefine this war," Jeffords said in a statement.

They're the Alternative to the Alternative... 

Check out this Tom Tomorrow for a quick hoot-laff.

Curtains Ordered for Media Coverage of Returning Coffins  

From the Washington Post:
Curtains Ordered for Media Coverage of Returning Coffins

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 21, 2003; Page A23

Since the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have worried that their military actions would lose support once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets.

To this problem, the Bush administration has found a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases.

In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.

A White House spokesman said Bush has not attended any memorials or funerals for soldiers killed in action during his presidency as his predecessors had done, although he has met with families of fallen soldiers and has marked the loss of soldiers in Memorial Day and Sept. 11, 2001, remembrances.

Full Story.

An Open Letter to NY Times Columnist David Brooks 

Dear Mr. Brooks,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt concern regarding the state of the Democratic Party ("Rescuing the Democrats," 10/21). I couldn't agree more that the Democrats need "rescuing," and it's nice to see you've contributed your two cents toward that end. It is indeed time to halt this "long, slow slide," and I think you've come up with a brilliant remedy: supporting candidates like John Edwards! How could I not have thought of that myself? Geez! I mean, after all, he speaks with a "folksy" Southern twang; and nothing signifies "Middle American values" like a folksy twang! I mean, Bush had a folksy twang too, sort of. I guess that's why voters preferred him to Al Gore. Then again, Gore had a Southern accent too--but what good does that do you in the old barbershop when you come across as a "wooden" "exaggerator," right? I guess Bush just created that sense that he could "fit right in" at Hometown Barbershop, U.S.A. It was like you could sit down and have a beer with the guy! That must be why Bush triumphed over Gore in the 2000 election.

But I do have to take exception to a couple of your points. You astutely
observe that Bill Clinton was able to discern "Middle American values" by
way of a natural, intuitive "gut feeling," rather than by reading polls.
But at the same time, Bill Clinton lied, and lying is not a "Middle
American value."
Probably that's why voters came to see that he, like so
many before him, could just not be trusted.

And but also, are you aware that John Edwards is a multi-millionaire trial
? I'm not so sure that being a multimillionaire trial lawyer is a
"Middle American value." Don't you think voters might see through the
, and come to realize that Edwards, like so many before him, cannot
be trusted
in a barbershop-like setting? I mean, wouldn't they be worried
he might sue the barbers! Trial lawyers, you know, are just out for the
money. (Remember who was another multimillionaire trial lawyer: that guy
who got O.J. Simpson off the hook!) Also: isn't trial-law a rather divisive
enterprise? Pitting the powerless against the powerful in a litigious
courtroom setting...um, not exactly "uniting"! How could Americans be sure
that somebody like Edwards wouldn't just foment class warfare, that old
Democrat trick? I'm just really not sure that voters are ready to believe a
multimillionaire trial lawyer can be trusted.

Man, when I started off writing this, I thought you were really on to
, but now I'm not so sure. Where, among our cadre of condescending
, are we going to find somebody who can be as "in tune" with "Middle
American values
" as President Bush? I mean, that endearing awkwardness
before cameras, that no-frills, down-home way of talking, twangin' his way
across America and the world, shakin' hands and slappin' backs, that
affinity for cowboy boots and military flight suits (imagine how phony a
multi-millionaire trial lawyer would have looked, landing that plane on
that flight deck!) that populist-inflected suspicion of the news media and
"government bureaucracies"...

Mr. Brooks, if we're really going to rescue the Democrats, we can't stop
here. We've gotta keep thinking. I'll keep up my end of this thoughtful
ongoing discussion about why Democrats are such snobbish losers
, if you
keep up yours. I'll be eagerly awaiting your next column for more
refreshingly straightforward "common-sensical" ideas about this subject!

Sincerely, your fellow Democrat,


Monday, October 20, 2003

Annular Flashback: October 20, 2002 

Today old Memory Lane is a two-pronged path.

Item 1: Bush Excommunicated
Bush to Church: Better Watch What You Say...
Bush to Christ: Who Cares What You Think?
Do Methodists excommunicate?

Published on Sunday, October 20, 2002 by the Observer/UK
Iraq War 'Unjustifiable', says Bush's Church Head
by Ed Vulliamy in New York

President George Bush's own Methodist church has
launched a scathing attack on his preparations for
war against Iraq, saying they are 'without any
justification according to the teachings of Christ'.

Jim Winkler, head of social policy for United
Methodists, added that all attempts at a 'dialogue'
between the President and his own church over the
war had fallen on deaf ears at the White House.

His remarks came as the US continued its efforts to
achieve agreement on a UN resolution that would open
the way for a tough program of weapons inspections
in Iraq. France is believed to be concerned that the
current draft resolution might still act as a
trigger for military intervention without a full
Security Council debate if Iraq fails to comply.

Winkler is general secretary of the Board of Church
and Society for the United Methodist church, which
counts the President and the Vice-President, Dick
Cheney, among its members. The church represents
eight to nine million regular churchgoers and is the
third biggest in America.

The Methodist Church, he says, is not pacifist, but
'rejects war as a usual means of national policy'.

Methodist scriptural doctrine, he added, specifies
'war as a last resort, primarily a defensive thing.
And so far as I know, Saddam Hussein has not
mobilized military forces along the borders of the
United States, nor along his own border to invade a
neighboring country, nor have any of these countries
pleaded for our assistance, nor does he have weapons
of mass destruction targeted at the United States'.

[Editor's Note: nor does he have weapons of mass destruction.]
Winkler said his church was 'keenly aware' that it
counted the President and his deputy among its
members, and that he was therefore 'frequently
encouraged by others to be very careful about how I
say things'

Item 2: Classic Krugman
This was a full-length, meticulously researched essay in the NY Times Magazine last year. You can read it in its entirety for free at the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.
For Richer
October 20, 2002

I. The Disappearing Middle
When I was a teenager growing up on Long Island, one of my
favorite excursions was a trip to see the great Gilded Age
mansions of the North Shore. Those mansions weren't just
pieces of architectural history. They were monuments to a
bygone social era, one in which the rich could afford the
armies of servants needed to maintain a house the size of a
European palace. By the time I saw them, of course, that
era was long past. Almost none of the Long Island mansions
were still private residences. Those that hadn't been
turned into museums were occupied by nursing homes or
private schools.

For the America I grew up in -- the America of the 1950's
and 1960's -- was a middle-class society, both in reality
and in feel. The vast income and wealth inequalities of the
Gilded Age had disappeared. Yes, of course, there was the
poverty of the underclass -- but the conventional wisdom of
the time viewed that as a social rather than an economic
problem. Yes, of course, some wealthy businessmen and heirs
to large fortunes lived far better than the average
American. But they weren't rich the way the robber barons
who built the mansions had been rich, and there weren't
that many of them. The days when plutocrats were a force to
be reckoned with in American society, economically or
politically, seemed long past.

Full story.

Daily Quiz: What Do the Words That Came Out From the Hole Under Charlie Baker's Nose Mean? 

This from an article in today's Washington Post:

Charlie Baker, a Democratic operative based in Boston, said...he worries that Dean's appeal may not extend beyond a core group of alienated supporters and that a campaign tailored to win primaries could fail in the general election in the grand tradition of Mondale, Dukakis and Al Gore. Baker warned that Dean at times conveys "a holier than thou" quality that has characterized some past Democratic presidential campaigns and that Republicans have used to their advantage.

Q: Does the "core group of alienated supporters" include either a) the 47% plurality of voters who would vote today for the Democratic candidate over Bush; b) the 59% majority who find the number of U.S. military casualties in Iraq "unacceptable"; or c) the 83% who believe the Plame-Leak Scandal is a "serious" matter (and/or the plurality who believe the White House is not cooperating with the investigation)?

Q: Aside from being physically barred from entering the White House and assuming personal administrative command of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government in the capacity of "president," what exactly does Al Gore share with Mondale or Dukakis in terms of electoral success? Last time I checked, it seemed like Gore won a few states...

Q: How much "holier than thou" can you get than believing you receive personal instructions from God (i.e. "Jehovah," "Yahweh," and/or the more recent "Triune God") regarding matters of geopolitical strategy?

Please leave your answers in the Comment thread. Quiz winners will receive scorn and betrayal.

The Rush of the New Rat Pack 

Frank Rich in Sunday's Times:
On the right-wing editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, the celebration of the Rat Pack revival's cultural values began on the Schwarzenegger victory night. "He's cool," wrote the paper's deputy editorial page editor, Daniel Henninger, in his mash note to Arnold. "It looks as if the first party to get totally wired-in to a mega-celebrity is, incredibly, the G.O.P. Something weirdly attractive was coming off the Schwarzenegger camp's victory stage on TV round about midnight Tuesday." To make his case, he swooned over Maria Shriver, Jay Leno's "funny introduction," Rob Lowe, Eunice and Sargent Shriver and "a sea of young, attractive faces." Somehow, Mr. Henninger missed Gary Busey, but never mind. "Liberal pundits will mock this scene unmercifully," his essay concluded, "but in terms of mass-market politics it was as hip as any politician could ever hope for."

Mock this erotic fantasy? Coming from the same editorial page that devoted years to tut-tutting about the whereabouts of Mr. Clinton's penis? Not me. The scene on that stage, as Mr. Henninger writes, is just too hip, too totally, incredibly wired. If Arnold strikes some Rat Pack purists as a faint echo of Peter Lawford's immigrant origins, dubious father and Kennedy connection, his movie career and sexual exploits both literally and figuratively outstrip those of his predecessor. Nor can anyone doubt that Mr. Leno, the official Schwarzenegger toastmaster, is a late-night wit on an uncanny par with his antecedent, Joey Bishop. If only Rush had found a way to join the election night tableau, it would have been complete: as we know from his brief but memorable run as a commentator on ESPN's "Sunday N.F.L. Countdown," he can be more out-of-it than Sammy Davis, the candy man himself.

Full story.


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