February 01, 2007

Molly, we'll miss ya

I hate starting the day with bad news. Must be why I've hated virtually every day since Dubya seized the Oval Office back in 2000. But today has a particularly bitter sting to it, with the news that Liberal columnist Molly Ivins lost her battle with breast cancer last night.

She was only 62.

Her long-time editor and friend, Anthony Zurcher, has penned a warm tribute at Molly's Creators Syndicate site. While you're there, take a little time to shuffle through a few of her previous columns. I guarantee your heart and mind will be richer for the effort.

Thanks, Molly, for the years of insight and laughs and concern for saving our democracy. We're really gonna miss ya.

(Also, check out John Nichols' heartfelt remembrance at The Nation.)

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January 31, 2007

In their own words

Here's a must-read (in case you missed it yesterday) from the increasingly brilliant Glenn Greenwald. No excerpts - just read the whole damn thing.


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Pop quiz

Quoting the NYT's Thomas Friedman would normally be the last thing I would do. But today, much to my surprise, he offers up this informative little quiz:
I am going to describe two countries - "Country A" and "Country B" - and you tell me which one is America's ally and which one is not.

Let's start: Country A actively helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and replace it with a pro-U.S. elected alliance of moderate Muslims. Country A regularly holds sort-of-free elections. Country A's women vote, hold office, are the majority of its university students, and are fully integrated into the work force.

On 9/11, residents of Country A were among the very few in the Muslim world to hold spontaneous pro-U.S. demonstrations... Country A has a strategic interest in the success of the pro-U.S., Shiite-led, elected Iraqi government. Although it's a Muslim country right next to Iraq, Country A has never sent any suicide bombers to Iraq, and has long protected its Christians and Jews. Country A has more bloggers per capita than any country in the Muslim Middle East.

The brand of Islam practiced by Country A respects women, is open to reinterpretation in light of modernity, and rejects Al Qaeda's nihilism.

Now Country B: Country B gave us 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. Country B does not allow its women to drive, vote or run for office. It is illegal in Country B to build a church, synagogue or Hindu temple. Country B helped finance the Taliban.

Country B's private charities help sustain Al Qaeda. Young men from Country B's mosques have been regularly recruited to carry out suicide bombings in Iraq. Mosques and charities in Country B raise funds to support the insurgency in Iraq. Country B does not want the elected, Shiite-led government in Iraq to succeed. While Country B's leaders are pro-U.S., polls show many of its people are hostile to America - some of them celebrated on 9/11. The brand of Islam supported by Country B and exported by it to mosques around the world is the most hostile to modernity and other faiths.

Question: Which country is America's natural ally: A or B?
For those of us woho've bothered to read, think, and learn during the past 6 years, the answer - and the names of the countries in question - is obvious. But just in case you're still confused, Friedman provides the punch-line:
Country A is [the natural ally], of course. Country A is Iran. Country B is Saudi Arabia.
Well, whaddaya know?!

Friedman then goes on to reveal that maybe there really is a brain lurking somewhere deep inside that maddeningly thick skull, declaring:
I favor negotiations. Isolating Iran like Castro's Cuba has produced only the same result as in Cuba: strengthening Iran's Castros. But for talks with Iran to bear fruit, we have to negotiate with Iran with leverage.

How do we get leverage? Make it clear that Iran can't push us out of the gulf militarily; bring down the price of oil, which is key to the cockiness of Iran's hard-line leadership; squeeze the hard-liners financially. But all this has to be accompanied with a clear declaration that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Iran, but a change of behavior, that the U.S. wants to immediately restore its embassy in Tehran and that the first thing it will do is grant 50,000 student visas for young Iranians to study at U.S. universities.
Gosh, Tommy - color me impressed. Kind of makes you wonder, though, how George Bush would've done on this same pop quiz...

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Food for thought

I'm on the run today with a new video project, so I've had little time to critique the continued insanity on public display in Washington - especially the sinking feeling of deja vu I have concerning the latest, inflammatory "breaking news" (albeit unsubstantiated, speculative, and totally without evidence or confirmation) about Iran.

Believe me, I've got more than a few things to say about that.

Until then, be sure to read - and forward - this fabulous essay by Marty Kaplan in today's Huffington Post. Wondering, as many of us do, if there's any way left to halt the Bush-Cheney steamroller, Mr. Kaplan writes:
"The system worked" is what so many of us breathed with relief when Nixon fled Washington in disgrace. No matter that it was Nixon's own paranoia -- in the form (of) secret White House tape recordings -- that did him in, not just the majesty of a Senate investigation; no matter that it took the luck of Barry Goldwater's it's-time-for-you-to-go statesmanship, and the offended ego of a Deep Throat, not just the splendor of the Fourth Estate, to get him to quit.

What we told ourselves was that the country escaped its worst constitutional crisis ever because the Constitution contained within itself the mechanisms needed to overcome catastrophe.

Looking at what's happening in Washington today, I can't help thinking that it's time to revisit that awe... The Founders were awe-inspiring craftsmen, but they weren't magicians, they weren't prophets, and they weren't gods. Is it so unreasonable to wonder whether the charter they wrote more than two centuries ago isn't insurance enough against the madmen who now rule us?
Heretical? In theory, perhaps. But Kaplan then continues with a vivid summary of how the current system - and the individuals charged with its protection - have failed miserably to put an end to the madness:
Sure, it's encouraging to see Congress rouse itself from its six-year slumber and begin to push back. But will it really change anything?

Bush is certifiably delusional, but impeachment is off the table, because Democrats can't muster the kind of political will and outrage at a tragically misconceived war that Republicans could summon for a blowjob.

Cheney is an outlaw, a Rasputin, a tyrant, a liar, but there is no check to check him, no balance to balance him.

Throughout the executive branch, secrecy reigns, laws are violated, scholarly whackballs formulate doctrines like the "unitary executive," but neither the courts nor the Congress have the cojones or the clout to intervene.

Citizen-statesmen were supposed to govern us. Farmer-legislators were supposed to lead us. Where are our wise men today? Colin Powell, instead of blowing the whistle, sulks in his tent; Rumsfeld rants on the moor; George Tenet takes a bullet for The Man and gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Condi Rice appears as oblivious of her humiliation as any of the pathetic victims on American Idol; Paul Wolfowitz, the stain of our neocon nightmare on his hands, plays not Lady Macbeth, but Mother Teresa.

Sweet reason, the faith of our rationalist Founders, has been supplanted by strategic pseudo-science. Contested facts are adjudicated not by evidence, but by polling, and by mud-wrestling. Swift Boating is the new epistemology. Propaganda -- the breathtakingly big "big lie" -- is triumphant, its practitioners on the federal payroll, but Washington's courtier culture precludes calling a Goebbels a Goebbels. Though protected by the First Amendment, the media are less a Fourth Estate than a Fifth Column, a source of narcotizing infotainment. The Murdoch-Moonie axis has become the MSM.

George W. Bush, the oligarchs' tax-cutting choice for the 2000 nomination, loses the election, but no Supreme Court rescues the nation. The largest transfer of wealth from the middle to the top in the history of the industrial world occurs, but the politico-media culture calls it sour grapes to recall the origin of that silent coup, and class warfare to assess its consequences.

The harpies of hate -- the Coulters, the Limbaughs, the O'Reillys -- spew bile, but the free marketplace of ideas beloved of Jefferson and Madison is incapable of marginalizing them, because Satan is vastly more entertaining than Socrates.

The Republican Party is the puppet of right-wing fundamentalists, witch-hunters, Armageddonists, Father Coughlins, Elmer Gantrys, Cotton Mathers, but no constitutional bar to established religion protects us from theocratic fascism.

A robust democracy depends on an educated citizenry, said the Founders, but the majority view that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 proves how effective a bulwark our educational system is, against the onslaught of relentless mendacity by our leaders.
So where do we turn, if not our (currently shredded) Constitution? Sadly, I have no answer to that right now. Let me know what you think...

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January 30, 2007


My, my, my. Polls everywhere you look. OK, unlike the other day, I'm game. I'll play along today.

Here's one that predicts America's tired old gender and racial insecurities will rise to the surface once again by '08, trumping the intelligence or voting record or even basic suitability of the candidate for the office in question.

God, I hope we're smarter than that this next time around.

But I guess what shocks me the most is this bit of premature prognostication:
In General Election match-ups, Rudy Giuliani leads all Democrats including Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Gore, Richardson, Vilsack, and Biden.
You've got to be kidding. I mean, for those of us who live or work here in Sodom, Rudy may have had his genuine moment in the sun when we needed him most, but... As Newsweek's Anna Quindlen writes this week:
In the wake of 9/11 Americans elsewhere may have come to see Rudy Giuliani as the calm voice of reason, but that's not how many New Yorkers perceive him. Republican power brokers may fret about Rudy's personal life: the press-conference announcement that he was leaving his second wife, who had not been informed in advance of the event; the mistress who became wife number three. And his liberal views on social issues like abortion and gay rights surely put him at odds with the conservative base. But the real argument against Giuliani's candidacy is that he was uncommonly divisive and mean-spirited during his time in office, alienating most of the city's minority communities. When police officers shot and killed an unarmed African immigrant, firing 41 times, Giuliani sneered at protests as a "publicity stunt." Politicians who have worked with him describe a man who considers those who disagree enemies, not opponents, a divider and not a uniter.
Good grief, America, Rudy Giuliani is the poll leader to become our next president?! The last thing we need, regardless of his progressive stance on a few issues, is another swaggering, divisive, cocksure leader who'd believe that an increase in American troops will bring "victory" in Iraq.

I thought we'd been through that already.

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January 28, 2007

Leader or follower

As he has for the past few weeks, Frank Rich once again provides some of the best commentary in America with this piece from Sunday's NYT. Offering some spot-on analysis of Hillary Clinton, Mr. Rich seethes:
This is how she explains her vote to authorize the war: "I would never have expected any president, if we knew then what we know now, to come to ask for a vote. There would not have been a vote, and I certainly would not have voted for it." John Kerry could not have said it worse himself. No wonder last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" gave us a "Hillary" who said, "Knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it."

Compounding this problem for Mrs. Clinton is that the theatrics of her fledgling campaign are already echoing the content: they are so overscripted and focus-group bland that they underline rather than combat the perennial criticism that she is a cautious triangulator too willing to trim convictions for political gain. Last week she conducted three online Web chats that she billed as opportunities for voters to see her "in an unfiltered way." Surely she was kidding. Everything was filtered, from the phony living-room set to the appearance of a "campaign blogger" who wasn't blogging to the softball questions and canned responses. Even the rare query touching on a nominally controversial topic, gay civil rights, avoided any mention of the word marriage, let alone Bill Clinton's enactment of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

When a 14-year-old boy from Armonk, N.Y., asked Mrs. Clinton what made her "so inspirational," it was a telltale flashback to those well-rehearsed "town-hall meetings" Mr. Bush billed as unfiltered exchanges with voters during the 2004 campaign. One of those "Ask President Bush" sessions yielded the memorable question, "Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?"

After six years of "Ask President Bush," "Mission Accomplished" and stage sets plastered with "Plan for Victory," Americans hunger for a presidency with some authenticity. Patently synthetic play-acting and carefully manicured sound bites like Mrs. Clinton's look out of touch.
You know, in an ideal world I'd love to see the Junior Senator from New York become our first female president. I think she's got the education, the contacts, the intellectual curiosity, and the out and out balls needed to handle the job.

Not to mention that behind-the-scenes spouse.

But unfortunately she is also a consummate political animal (a trait which may serve her well in a long and productive Senatorial career), and I can't help but agree with Rich that Americans do indeed "hunger for a presidency with some authenticity." This is part of the reason I laugh each time I hear a criticism of Barack Obama's "inexperience." In my opinion, that's one of the very things which make him so appealing as a potential candidate.

Hillary's comparative "experience" certainly qualifies her to be among the hundred voices sparring in debate on the Senate floor. But unless she steps up, and soon, in the way Mr. Rich admonishes, her seemingly inevitable coronation as the Democratic contender will not be the answer we need in '08, and will, I fear, lead only to defeat in the general election. Rich continues:
The issue raised by the tragedy of Iraq is not who's on the left or the right, but who is in front and who is behind. Mrs. Clinton has always been a follower of public opinion on the war, not a leader. Now events are outrunning her. Support for the war both in the polls and among Republicans in Congress is plummeting faster than she can recalibrate her rhetoric; unreliable Iraqi troops are already proving no-shows in the new Iraqi-American "joint patrols" of Baghdad; the Congressional showdown over fresh appropriations for Iraq is just weeks away.

This, in other words, is a moment of crisis in our history and there will be no do-overs. Should Mrs. Clinton actually seek unfiltered exposure to voters, she will learn that they are anxiously waiting to see just who in Washington is brave enough to act.
You've got that right.

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(NOTE: For those of you who are not yet subscribers to the NYT's "Times Select", Mr. Rich's article is reprinted in the comments section below. Click "add your opinion" to access the full editorial.)

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