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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Deliver Me From Hannity

As I wrote last week, I took out a copy of Sean Hannity's #1 New York Times bestseller Deliver Us From Evil at the library in order to educate myself in the right-wing's way of thinking these days. I knew the reading would be unpleasant for someone of my political persuasion, but I still found myself somewhat stunned at the dishonesty and the mean-spiritedness of Hannity's partisan screed, in which he does nothing short of call Democrats appeasers who are on the side of America's enemies. I thought Bush and his backers wanted to "change the tone" of political discourse--they just keep changing it for the worse.

I thought of simply mocking Hannity's book--and I'll get to some of that--though in light of its frightening popularity, I have decided to do a bit of substantive refutation of the vile demagoguery Hannity presents on its pages. (This approach also leaves behind a longer post for visitors to chew on while I am away for the next four days.) As it turns out, I was simultaneously reading Richard Holbrooke's To End a War this past week, which discusses the cessation of hostilities in Bosnia, and that book provided a useful counterpoint to Hannity's arguments, since Hannity ignores the Balkans, the perfect case study that disproves much of what he would have us believe about US foreign policy. Furthermore, Holbrooke is a potential secretary of state in a Kerry administration, so he gives a much more accurate picture of the worldview such an administration would apply to policy making, rather than the twisted caricature that Hannity presents of Democrats.

To begin, though, let's jump to the crux of Hannity's case. "Deliver us from evil" is taken from the Lord's Prayer, of course, and Hannity is a big fan of George W. Bush because he applies his Christianity in how he sees the world (bashing religion, which I could do here, is another essay). Bush, writes Hannity, recognizes that there is evil in the world, and he wants to use the powers of the US to give everyone their God-given freedom. The Democrats, by contrast, are a bunch of irreligious moral relativists who don't understand evil, instead trying to make excuses for tyrants and terrorists, appeasing them and standing in the way of taking action against them. Hannity has a cute take on the November election too:

And regardless of which candidate stands for the Democratic Party in November, America must realize that the candidate who opposes George Bush will be the candidate of appeasement. He will be standing for the party of Jimmy Carter, of Bill Clinton--for the party of moral relativism, of toleration and hesitation in the face of threats at home and abroad. Our nation cannot afford another Carter, another Clinton. (24)

Many people blogged that the recent unpleasantness in Spain, in which Spanish voters were accused by right-wingers of appeasing the terrorists in voting out the PP, was just a dry run for the US in November. This disturbing passage shows that they were right on the money.

This Hannity worldview is all laid out in chapter one, "Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism." This follows the quick preface, "In the Spider Hole," in which Hannity gloats over the capture of Saddam Hussein and Democrats' reactions (the Dean quote about the US not being safer, etc.--the book seems to have been written before Dean imploded in Iowa). Chapter two, "Evil on the Record: The Holocaust," catalogues the atrocities of the Nazi regime, as if some people didn't understand that the Nazis were really bad already. Chapter three, "Fighting Communism: The Reagan Way," serves up the usual conservative version of Cold War history with Ronald Reagan as victor ("Ronald Reagan, the twentieth century's greatest president..." (21) is one of the more vomit-inducing lines). Chapter four, "Iraq I: War and Appeasement," blames Jimmy Carter's mishandling of Iran for all that has subsequently happened in Iraq, which seems a bit of a stretch.

In the second half of the book, Hannity moves on to the latest campaign against Iraq, and then he spends chapters trashing the Clintons ("Hillary and Bill Clinton," as if they were co-presidents--the wingers' obsession with Hillary lives on), Senate Democrats and the Democratic candidates for president.

The obvious criticism of Hannity is that he oversimplifies things a great deal, as is illustrated by a telling passage from the opening of chapter five:

The more I experience being a parent, the more I understand why little children like traditional fairy tales. Even as an adult, I love them. They may be "stories," but they deal with the basic truths of life--things like courage and fear, hope and despair, loyalty and betrayal. We adults aren't always so in touch with these truths; we're more likely to rationalize them away. We can turn a lie into an "opinion," or cowardice into "reasonable caution," or betrayal into "the only sensible thing to do given the circumstances." Our vision seems to have been blurred by the pervasive cloudiness of morality in our culture. But sometimes it's important that we step back, stop overcomplicating things, and see clearly the truth in the experiences we share. As hard as it is for liberals to grasp, there are black-and-white issues in this world, not just shades of gray. (111-112)

Yes, he compares his foreign policy vision to the world of fairy tales, making it almost too easy for critics to assail him. No one denies that there are evil people in the world, but at the same time, the world is complex. That's why the Bush administration is allied with regimes like those of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to take a couple of prominent present-day examples.

This oversimplification criticism is easily fleshed out when we look at Hannity's take on US interventions abroad, especially Hannity's selective citation of the relevant evidence so that it all fits with his pre-determined ideas and his hagiography of Republicans and President Bush. For example, let's turn to page 42, where Hannity is making the case for invading Iraq. He cites two problematic sources on that single page. First, he cites a Jack Kelley article from USA Today on Saddam's prisons, then an article by Stephen F. Hayes from the Weekly Standard about a purported Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. That's this Michael Kelley, the reporter who USA Today canned for fabricating several of his articles, so that puts the colorful description of Saddam's torture chambers into question. The full extent of Kelley's plagiarism did come to light since the book's publication, true, but there were indications a few months ago that Kelley's work was tainted, and neither Hannity nor his editors did anything about the citation to bring this to the reader's attention. The Hayes piece similarly has had its accuracy questioned, for instance by Newsweek. Hannity doesn't bother informing readers that the Weekly Standard article is hardly the air-tight evidence that he presents it as.

Then there's the more basic question of how Sean Hannity came to be such an expert on US foreign policy. As I understand his career, he started out as a radio host in Huntsville, Alabama, before moving on to Atlanta, getting syndicated nationally and becoming a TV star on Fox News. That's all nice, but not a resume that exactly makes him someone with the specialized knowledge that I would trust to be crafting a new world order. His bio on his web site doesn't mention any details about his education or pre-radio professional experience either.

I bring this up because Hannity makes some rather basic errors in discussing geopolitical hotspots. The most glaring is in his discussion of the Rwandan genocide. "This ignited an all-out slaughter of the Tutu minority population by the Hutu majority, which controlled the military," Hannity writes of US policy. (emphasis added, 144) "And while this human catastrophe was occurring, where was the Clinton administration?" (145) The Clinton administration was probably concerned about the massacre of the Tutsis, not the "Tutus," who do not exist. If you can't get the name of the group being massacred correct, you shouldn't be attacking the president for not protecting them. I mean really, anyone who bothers to read anything on Rwanda can get this detail correct, which makes me wonder how much Hannity actually researched on his own and how much he simply regurgitated GOP talking points. Actually, it doesn't, since I think the answer is pretty clear.

This brings me to the amazing coincidence in Hannity's historical "analysis" of US foreign policy that all Republican presidents were wonderful and all Democrats were absolute disasters. One example is chapter four on Iraq, the one that lays all the blame on Jimmy Carter and also goes on and on about Democrats who opposed Gulf War I. While Hannity spends a while discussing the suffering of Kuwaitis under Iraqi occupation, he makes no mention of the Bush I decision to allow the Iraqi people rising up against Saddam to be slaughtered at the end of Gulf War I, or of Bush's decision not to push on to Baghdad to depose Hussein. In chapter two on World War II, Hannity does have kind words for FDR at a few points, but he never mentions that FDR was a Democrat and he gives almost all of the credit for standing up to the Nazis to Churchill anyway.

The worst politicized grandstanding of the whole book has to be chapter eight, "Playing Politics at the Water's Edge," that focuses entirely on a Democratic memo from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The chapter seems to stem entirely from a personal confrontation Hannity has had with Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who, in true Bill O'Reilly style, Hannity claims refuses to come on his shows. On the memo, Hannity writes, "A leak from the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] can literally jeopardize intelligence sources, which in turn can jeopardize lives." (223) Not only is this extrapolating from the memo language to assume there would be leaks--and that they would be so reckless as to endanger intelligence operatives--but also it ignores the obvious parallel to the administration's politically motivated outing of the CIA's Valerie Plame when her husband, Joe Wilson, went public with facts about bogus Iraqi WMD evidence the White House had used.

"On Tuesday, November 4, 2003, I obtained a copy of a memorandum apparently written by a Democratic staff member of the SSCI," Hannity explains, which sounds pretty fishy legally. (219) He tries to contrast this with the legal troubles Republicans have gotten themselves into regarding Judiciary Committee memos. "When Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were discovered to have stolen a number of confidential Democratic Party files on a computer network... Republicans took the only honorable approach to misdeeds by their own staff members, investigating the case, denouncing the act, and punishing the perpetrators." (234) How is that any different from what Hannity did, stealing a Democratic committee memo and using it for political gain?

This all relates to pre-war intelligence, and on the Iraqi WMDs issue, Hannity is on board with Bush regardless of how things turn out. One astonishing bit of illogic is this passage about the inability to find the weapons Bush claimed Saddam had. "To my mind, the fact that no weapons have yet been found in Iraq only gives me greater cause for concern. Imagine if you were a warden going to check on Hannibal Lecter in his cell, and you found it empty: you wouldn't think 'What a relief! Guess we don't have him to worry about anymore!' would you?" (emphasis in original, 159) This is a convenient "heads-I-win, tails-you-lose" way of seeing things--Bush was right to start the war if we find WMDs, and he was still right if we don't! The Hannibal Lecter analogy is faulty as well, since we did not have that level of certainty about what weaponry Iraq had or where it was.

Hannity does send Hallmark cards to a pair of Democrats, but they're the Dems that real liberals love to hate: Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman. Miller earns a complimentary mention for something he said denouncing his own party, and he's cited as an example that at least some Democrats haven't lost their minds. (176) Lieberman comes up in the "Candidates" chapter in which Hannity dismisses the Democrats running for president one at a time (the timing on the book's release wasn't so intelligent, since they should've realized the primaries would be over by the time it was out). "Personally, I like Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. I do believe he has a strong moral compass, and strong convictions," Hannity begins. "But I don't think he is the right man for the presidency." Why, you ask? Because Lieberman believes in the silly concept of multilateralism! Who needs allies anyway? Verbatim Hannity on why Lieberman shouldn't be president: "Because, like most of the other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Lieberman believes that only the 'internationalization' of our foreign policies can make those policies legitimate." (263)

"We're witnessing an almost unprecedented phenomenon in American history: An entire political party has become unhinged," Hannity writes, again raising the level of civility in our discourse between political parties. (237) He cites Charles Krauthammer on "Bush Derangement Syndrome" and accuses Democrats of "hysteria." (237-38) Screw working with others who disagree with us anyway!

And finally, Hannity ends with a little comedy. "I am no blind supporter of President George W. Bush." (273) I laughed out loud at that one, coming as it did on the last page of a complete book in which Hannity devoted not a single word to criticism of Bush or any other Republican. Trust me, I'm not partisan, he seems to be saying, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Hannity ends as he begins, by equating non-support of Bush to support of America's enemies.

When we go to the polls this November, we are weighing in the balance the course of America in these early years of the twenty-first century: whether it will be guided and protected by a strong and courageous leadership, or become mired in policies of appeasement. (273)

Or will it? Richard Holbrooke is touted as a front-runner for the secretary of state role in a potential John Kerry presidential administration. Will a foreign policy led by a man like Holbrooke involve bowing down to those that threaten our country? Perhaps we can answer this question by taking a brief look at the conclusion to Holbrooke's book, "To End a War."

The circumstances that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia and the war in Bosnia were so extraordinary that it is difficult to conceive of their recurrence. Yet if history teaches us one thing, it is that history is unpredictable. There will be other Bosnias in our lives, different in every detail but similar in one overriding manner: they will originate in distant and ill-understood places, explode with little warning, and present the rest of the world with difficult choices--choices between risky involvement and potentially costly neglect. But if during the Cold War Washington sometimes seemed too ready to intervene, today America and its allies often seem too willing to ignore problems outside their heartland.

There will be other Bosnias in our lives--areas where early involvement can be decisive, and American leadership will be required. The world's richest nation, one that presumes to great moral authority, cannot simply make worthy appeals to conscience and call on others to carry the burden. The world will look to Washington for more than rhetoric the next time we face a challenge to peace. (emphasis in original, 368-69)

That hardly sounds like a reluctance to confront evil in the world. In fact, Holbrooke tries to explain what happened in the Balkans, writing, "How could adults do such things to their neighbors and former classmates? After a while, the search for explanations failed. One simply had to recognize that there was true evil in the world." (emphasis added, 367) Evil! There's Sean Hannity's favorite word, and it sure as heck looks like Holbrooke recognizes its existence and its relevance to the making of foreign policy.

Hannity also should read Holbrooke because it's a review of the Bosnian strife, the major foreign policy challenge of the Clinton presidency, one that Hannity somehow overlooks in the entirety of his book. Keep in mind, Holbrooke was appointed by Clinton as his point man on this central foreign policy challenge--so much for Clinton being an "appeaser" who was reluctant to tackle such challenges. Holbrooke's account also pokes some holes in the Republicans-can-do-no-wrong argument. For instance, Holbrooke persuasively argues that the Bush I administration let the Balkans problem fester (they were preoccupied with the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War), and he includes a telling passage from the memoir of the final US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman:

The refusal of the Bush administration to commit American power early was our greatest mistake of the entire Yugoslav crisis. It made an unjust outcome inevitable and wasted the opportunity to save over a hundred thousand lives. (27)

James Baker also revealingly told Bush I of the Yugoslav dissolution "We don't have a dog in this fight." So much for confronting evil when it rears its head abroad. (27)

Hannity's objections to Democrats' questioning of the Iraq War also seem hypocritical in light of Congressional Republicans' antics regarding the deployment of US soldiers in Bosnia. On October 30, 1995, the House of Representatives voted for a non-binding resolution against deploying US troops to Bosnia, and Holbrooke recalls, "Newt Gingrich called the vote 'a referendum on this administration's incapability of convincing anyone to trust them.'" (225) How dare a leader from the opposite party of the president question the administration's use of military power abroad! The pot is most definitely calling the kettle black here.

I wish I had a zinger to end on, but I've already written an obscene amount here (3,000+ words). I realize I'm no genius when it comes to foreign policy; all I've really done is read these books and connect the dots (there are more outrages, too many to discuss them all). Let me just reiterate my dismay at the wide audience Hannity's irrational and insulting views are getting. People on the left need to be ready to face more charges that they are appeasers who want to help America's enemies, so I suggest we all arm ourselves with a grounding in reality, such as the Holbrooke material, to combat this rising tide of foreign policy demagoguery from the right.

UPDATE: This Saletan piece from Slate last year, "Sunshine Patriot: Tom DeLay and the Party of Appeasement" also is relevant. Via Oliver Willis.

Bush-Hitler Comparison on Air America

I'm listening to Air America and they just ended the Atrios interview by asking how much he'd raised for John Kerry. $118,000 was the answer, to which Janeane Garofalo's male co-host said, "in the Bush campaign that makes you a member of the Reichstag!" Garofalo added, "That makes him a Pioneer, and a member of the 43rd Reich." Get ready for more of the Bush=Hitler carping from the right, thanks to these morons.

Really now, I'm hoping we can do better than this. We don't need to sink to the bottom of the scummy pond where Rush Limbaugh resides with the liberal radio project. Bush is bad, yes, though he's not systematically executing segments of the population either.

Neal Pollack Returns!

Neal Pollack is back, promising to post once or twice a week going forward. This is excellent news. (Thanks to Helena Montana for the heads up). While you're feeling satirical, do check out Bill Duckwing's call for world peace and this running diary of Franken's radio show (via Wonkette).

I'm putting together a lengthy review of Sean Hannity's book that I'll drop on ya later tonight.

Air America Link

According to Wonkette, the Air America streaming audio is overloaded, and this site might be a better way to listen. ... or try here. ... Or this page has all the different feeds, one of which must work at least (via Kos).

VandeHei Watch 3.31.04: Gas Pains

I was watching MSNBC last week and for one of their stories on high fuel prices they had the words "Gas Pains" on the screen. That a news report's title would make an indigestion-related pun made me happy for some reason, and so I've lifted the phrase for the title of today's VandeHei Watch. In the past two days, Jim VandeHei has had two articles in the Washington Post on the gas issue and the charges flying back and forth between Kerry and Bush, and the dishonesty and political opportunism on both sides has been painful even to read about.

I'll begin with yesterday's co-bylined VandeHei piece with Mike Allen, "Kerry to Unveil Plan to Reduce Gas Prices", which ran on page A4. The essence of the issue is this:

Facing GOP attacks for advocating higher gas taxes as a senator, the Massachusetts Democrat will call on President Bush to apply greater pressure on oil-producing nations to increase production, in a bid to drive down crude oil prices, and to temporarily suspend filling U.S. oil reserves, said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry spokeswoman.

For more on the Kerry plan, visit this page on his web site.

VandeHei and Allen point out that the last time a president diverted oil supply from the strategic reserve (Bill Clinton in September 2000) there was no effect on energy prices. Also, when Bush was running for president that year, he memorably said it was the president's job to "jawbone" OPEC leaders and to ask them to "open the spigot." We see how well that has worked out during Bush's term, continuing with today's announcement by OPEC that they will be cutting output by 4%. That's all to say that I don't think Kerry's plan will cut gas prices as he promises. At least he's not trying to capitalize on the prices at the pump to push a largely unrelated energy bill that gives billions of dollars to the energy industry, though, as the administration is now doing. In short, neither candidate has a real plan to address the short-term problem we're facing (I do think in the long-run Kerry is better because he favors conservation efforts, unlike the vice president, who sneers at such ideas).

The lack of any real proposal from either side (and I don't have one either) isn't holding back the political grandstanding, however. Kerry is harping on the gas prices to bludgeon the president, just as he has done with job losses. The Kerry quote in yesterday's Post reads, "This administration has one economic policy for America: 3 million jobs lost and driving gas prices towards $3 a gallon." Allen and VandeHei note that the current average fuel price is $1.80, far below the $3 figure Kerry claims to try to make a catchy line along with the 3 million jobs lost (which is another exaggeration, though less of one).

Never to be done in the dishonest attack department, the Bush administration is now running a TV ad about Kerry's support of an increased gas tax form a decade ago. Today's Post article by VandeHei and Dana Milbank says it all in its subhead: "Bush Counters With Attack Ad Based On Decade-Old Statement by Senator." Here's the meat:

"There are some in the other party in Washington who would like to raise gas taxes," Bush told an audience of business executives and other supporters here. "I think it would be wrong. I think it would be damaging to the economy."

Bush's remarks, at a taxpayer-funded forum on the economy here, were coordinated with his campaign's new ad, which accuses the Massachusetts senator of backing a gas tax increase that would cost the average family $657 a year. Kerry opposes any increase in the gas tax. Though the narrator does not say so, the ad's charge is based on a 10-year-old statement by Kerry.

Bush is once again claiming that Kerry supports a policy that Kerry has specifically rejected. Nonetheless, the Bushies probably succeeded in their goal of distracting attention from the rollout of Kerry's actual plan to deal with energy prices.

There's plenty more back-and-forth in the article (Greg Mankiw backed a gas tax hike in 1999, Bush never followed through on a statement he made that he would pursue cutting gas taxes, etc.), with the two sides essentially calling each other lying SOBs. Only seven more months of this!

While today's entry is largely a condemnation of the two campaigns, I do think the reporters involved bear some responsibility for permitting the campaigns to spread their dishonest charges, particularly by still refusing to state plainly that statements from both campaigns are misleading and inaccurate (though they put the contrasting information in close proximity in the stories) and by continuing to allow questionable anonymity to sources, including yesterday's "senior administration official, who insisted on anonymity because he sets policy and is not a spokesman." I wish they would stop insulting readers' intelligence by pretending these are scoops when obviously the White House wants the info in the paper almost always (the same usually applies to the Kerry camp).

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Air America

The liberal radio network makes its anticipated debut tomorrow at noon with the O'Franken Factor. They claim they'll be streaming the audio from their site, and I'll probably make a point of listening to some of it tomorrow night.

I've been a little busy today, though I should have posts up tomorrow on VandeHei's articles on gas prices and Sean Hannity's book, plus maybe a little gloating about the Yankees losing in Japan to the Devil Rays. Then I'm away Thursday-Sunday, so after tomorrow blogging will resume late Sunday/early Monday.

Mitt Romney's Legal Chaos

It turns out that Attorney General Tom Reilly is blocking the governor's effort to stay the gay marriage decision, and the Globe coverage makes clear just how little legal sense the Romney administration is making on this one. A more basic point, though is that the "chaos" the administration keeps trying to scare people about really is nothing of the sort:

But Romney aides said the governor's legal argument has not been addressed by the justices: the notion that confusion and legal chaos would result if same-sex marriages are permitted beginning in May and then outlawed by voters in a 2006 referendum. ...

Reilly said he is not swayed by the arguments that gay couples who marry will be hurt and that the state will be in legal confusion if the voters later approve an amendment banning same-sex marriages. "Everyone is going into this with eyes wide open," he said. "There doesn't have to be any chaos if people do their job."

Dwight Duncan, a lawyer for the Massachusetts Family Institute and other groups opposed to gay marriage, agreed with Romney that allowing gay couples to marry beginning May 17, with the prospect that voters might ban gay marriage in November 2006, invites legal chaos.

Pardon me for not seeing how this is so utterly "confusing" or "chaotic." On May 17 same-sex marriage will become legal. If the amendment is passed on by the next legislature and approved by voters in November 2006, same-sex marriage would then be made illegal again. Thus same-sex couples would have 30 months in which they could legally marry in Massachusetts before we reverted to a system under which they could no longer marry. I doubt this will all play out precisely because of the 30-month window in which people will see gay marriage does not bring about the end of the world, but even if it does, I find it all far from confusing. The simple fact that some people may be allowed to exchange marriage vows during a window of 30 months isn't going to be the downfall of the legal system either.

What I find a greater threat of legal "chaos" is when we have a grandstanding governor holding press conferences during the evening news to try to pressure the court into deciding a matter a certain way using specious legal arguments that scholars overwhelmingly reject. There's also some danger in the perversion of our constitutional process in which state legislators pass along amendments they disagree with just to give the public something to vote on, which seems to have been the case with the decisive House Republicans in yesterday's vote:

In the end, the 15 agreed that approving a measure that they viewed as highly undesirable was preferable to the possibility that nothing would be sent to the state ballot for voters to weigh in on.

This isn't how the amendment process in the legislature is supposed to work. The requirement that consecutive legislative sessions pass an amendment before it goes to the voters is specifically designed to prevent the mindset that we should just have the public decide everything. The legislators are paid to make decisions on what they think is best for the state, not to abdicate that role to their constituents. Dan Kennedy is excellent on this:

The point is that the amendment process, though extremely easy, requires the involvement of the legislature. If ... the legislature's role is merely to wave the amendment through and let the voters decide, then they are arguing against any role at all. In the Hobbib-Morrissey model [gay marriage opponents], the fact that the legislature has to vote twice is nothing more than impediment, an anachronism, something to be set aside for the greater good of pure democracy.

That has it exactly backwards. The legislature is there to protect the rights of the minority. The drafters of the state constitution - headed by John Adams - gave an explicit role to the legislature so that our elected officials could exercise their considered judgment as to whether a proposed amendment might do so much damage that it should not even be considered by the voters. Only after legislators have had a chance to reflect - twice - is an amendment to go before the public. ...

Legislators owe us their wisdom, such as it may be, as well as the courage to act on that wisdom. Simply letting "the people" decide is an invitation to mob rule. It would send an ugly message that our elected officials see nothing wrong with oppression as long as it is "the people" who are doing the oppressing.

Also read Ben today for a discussion of Romney's ignoring the Tom Reilly issue in his presser last night and the hypocrisy of the Massachusetts police officer who is doing Bush ads blasting Kerry over taxes. Boston police happen to be among the highest paid in the country thanks to taxes that fund their pay.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Connolly Watch 3.29.04: Go Ceci!

For some reason, the Fox News site doesn't have a transcript for Fox News Sunday but the Washington Post does. Ceci Connolly was a panelist yesterday, and she made a strong statement on Richard Clarke and how the White House was going after him personally rather than answering the substance of his charges, even making Bill Kristol look foolish in their exchange:

CONNOLLY: I think one of the things that is unfortunate here is that by and large the response from the administration has not been on the substance of Clarke's charges.

As Congressman Hamilton sort of summed them up, I think very well, the first one being that the wrong war was fought. And there are many serious people, including Bill Kristol, I believe, who felt that Iraq did distract from the war on terrorism, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden. And the other had to do with how focused and how urgent terrorism was in the Bush White House.

Why not have a serious, substantive discussion about that, rather than, you know, really trying to -- trying to attack him personally? That's the part that's a little bit puzzling and, I think you heard from those commission members today, disappointing.

And the fact that Condoleezza Rice is still refusing to testify in public at this point is curious, because she's answering everybody else's questions, she's writing op-ed pieces in our newspaper, she's going to appear on "60 Minutes" on another network this evening. So why not go in front of that commission and answer their questions under oath? I don't quite understand it at this point.

KRISTOL: They're not attacking Clarke personally. I mean, Clarke presents his version of history, and they're not entitled to present their version of it, which is documentary?

CONNOLLY: When they say that he's bitter about losing out on a job promotion to an African-American? That sounds personal.

Wow! Ceci really pleasantly surprised me with this. She also had a good take on Bush's WMD joking later on, shrugging off Chris Wallace's suggestion Kerry is politicizing it:

CONNOLLY: That may be, and that's politics. You know, it ain't beanbag, as they say.

I think that these assignments simply that the president had that night at the dinner are impossible. You know, trying to be funny at these things is so difficult, and he is quite good at it. I mean, he really is very good at self-deprecating humor. The pictures were funny. I laughed at the photos. I mean, he looks goofy, and he's got that great deadpan delivery.

I can also understand how some people -- I don't know so much about, that could take offense, that he somehow is discounting the service of our troops, but perhaps it was an insight into how seriously he takes the fact that we have yet to find weapons of mass destruction. That may be a little bit of a more legitimate area to discuss.

A+ for Sunday's performance! She should've done well, I suppose, not having published an article in the Post under her own byline since March 16, leaving her plenty of prep time for the panel segment.


That's how I feel after the Massachusetts legislature's 105-92 vote to put discrimination against gay people into the state constitution, which occurred just after 6:00. Mitt Romney piled on, immediately announcing he'll be seeking a stay of the Supreme Judicial Court's decision that would allow same-sex marriages beginning on May 17. He wants the amendment process to play out, including consideration by the next legislature and a potential referendum in November 2006, before the decision is allowed to take effect. More on that in a minute, but for now, they did it:

The Massachusetts Legislature gave final approval -- for this year -- to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage but legalize civil unions, taking the first decisive step toward stripping same-sex couples of court-mandated marriage rights.

I've been more optimistic than most of the pro-gay marriage side throughout, and the first two votes actually looked pretty good today, with supporters making the strategic decision to pass the amendment on and try to kill it later. The Phoenix has had good running coverage from the State House as the afternoon went on, and Rachel Wortman has been updating frequently as well. I was unpleasantly surprised by the final tally, and just as I was stewing, out comes Mitt Romney to cheer me up (that's sarcasm). "I believe the Supreme Judicial Court has an obligation to the constitution and the people of Massachusetts to withhold this decision, to stay this decision until the people of Massachusetts can make a final determination for themselves," said Romney. I can't find his full statement anywhere just yet, and then there's this from the attorney general:

But Reilly said he would not interfere with the court's ruling.

"It was very clear to me as attorney general that the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court have made up their minds," he said. "Do I agree with their decision? No. Absolutely not. But that is the law of the state."

I heard Romney say in his press conference at around 6:25 that he would have Tom Reilly delivering the motion for the stay to the SJC tomorrow. I'm not sure whether this is something Reilly is obligated to do or whether he can refuse to do it and scuttle the governor's plans. As I write this post, the AP story is getting updated to include reaction to Reilly from Shawn Feddeman, Romney's spokeswoman, hoping Reilly will reconsider. They've also got some quotes from legal experts saying the stay is unlikely to happen, which makes me happy. Sorry for the incoherence, details are still emerging.

Neither side seems pleased with the result in the legislature. From the AP story:

"I believe many of them are going to feel very ashamed of what they've just done today," said Arline Isaacson, co-leader of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Conservatives also weren't quick to embrace the compromise, calling it blackmail to force citizens to approve civil unions as part of a marriage ban.

"We are giving the people a false choice," said Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth. "We're saying, 'No problem, you can vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the only way you can do it is if you create civil unions that are entirely the same as marriage.' Ultimately, if this ever makes it to the ballot, it will fail."

Here's a statement from MassEquality on the vote, which I'll paste in full:

Civil rights in Massachusetts received a setback today in the Legislature. The constitutional amendment approved by a slim majority of legislators discriminates against a single group of Massachusetts citizens by taking away basic rights and protections.

A growing group of legislators who oppose those efforts voted twice for the so-called Travaglini compromise amendment in a strategic move to kill off more mean-spirited amendments. But on the final vote -- the vote to kill the amendment -- those same legislators voted to defeat the Travaglini amendment. Unfortunately, there weren't enough votes to prevail, and the Travaglini amendment passed.

At MassEquality, we're extremely grateful to those heroic legislators who stood with us to fight all attempts to place discrimination -- in whatever form -- in our state constitution. We fully support their votes and actions, and will work with them and others to ensure that the amendment is defeated in the next Constitutional Convention in 2005.

This setback does nothing to stop the inevitable -- that marriage licenses for same-sex couples will be issued in May. We believe that when legislators see that these couples and their families are simply safer and more secure through marriage, and that neither their religious beliefs nor their own marriages have been threatened in any way, that our growing supporters in the State House will defeat this discriminatory amendment in 2005.

That last point is important, because I've always felt that even if the amendment proceeds through the legislature, by the time any referendum takes place there will have been 30 months of legal gay marriage in the state and people will realize the sky hasn't fallen. Romney's stay proposal, however, would prevent that from happening, thus robbing gay marriage proponents of a very strong argument on their side.

Fortunately, as noted above, the opinion emerging seems to be that the stay request from Romney will be rejected, and this is proper. The legislature hasn't voted to change any law, they have only continued the process at this point. The stay would bias a potential vote in November 2006, and 2.5 years is a very long time to put off what the court has called a fundamental right. Plus it's extremely unlikely that after what has so far transpired the SJC will back down now.

As usual, things should become more clear by morning and I'll review the papers then.

Shepard Smith

Interesting NYT profile of Shepard Smith and his reluctance to use verbs on his Fox News show, via Jeff Jarvis, also has a few notable tidbits toward the end:

Mr. Smith's temper has gotten him into trouble at least once. In November 2000, he was arrested in Florida during coverage of the presidential election dispute when he was alleged to have driven his car into a rival reporter who was saving a parking space.

Charges were later dropped after Mr. Smith agreed to a cash settlement with the reporter. Mr. Smith declined to comment on the matter. ...

Occasionally, the high-speed train of "Fox Report" actually hops the tracks. Delivering the news at an auctioneer's pace, Mr. Smith sometimes stumbles on his words. In a fall 2002 report about J.Lo, Mr. Smith mangled a phrase on the teleprompter into a vulgarity. He quickly apologized on air, but online media and Howard Stern kept the story alive for weeks.

How could I have missed those stories when they happened?

Patriots to Open Vs. Colts September 9

The NFL has announced that the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are playing in the league's Thursday night opening game in Foxboro the night of September 9 on ESPN. Too bad that we get no Britney Spears concert beforehand this year--damn Janet Jackson and her boob! (not to mention the NFL's overreaction!)

VandeHei Watch 3.29.04: Fit for Office

Yes, I've been slacking the last few days, so here's a three-for-one special, starting with today's Jim VandeHei article.

For some reason the Post goes with the headline "A Fit Kerry Dogged by Medical Questions" even though the piece itself notes, "based on Kerry's partial medical records, which were released last year, the Massachusetts senator appears to be in fine shape." The suggestion that Kerry may have a "Cheney problem" is patently ridiculous--did anyone else see that video of him snowboarding last week? Have you ever seen Tricky Dick do something like that for the cameras? Plus, Kerry's combination of prostate cancer last year and minor shoulder surgery later this week seems comparable to George Bush's minor ailments and other wise healthy record: "Bush did have four noncancerous skin lesions removed in December 2001 and recently stopped running because of a knee injury."

My highlight of the Saturday VandeHei article, which focused on Richard Clarke's allegations and Kerry's response, is that the shoulder surgery has been prompted by pain Kerry felt "recently when he picked up a baby." He needs that surgery soon so that he can resume picking up babies and presumably kissing them for the rest of the year. Kerry's supposedly "more upbeat and statesmanlike campaign" strategy doesn't seem to make much sense either, for example, "the Democratic nominee-in-waiting does not want to engage in daily fights with Bush over national security, especially when it is provoked by the president and his allies." He's not going to engage when he's called out? Is he just going to leave attacks unanswered then?

Finally, on Friday's front page VandeHei previewed Kerry's corporate tax cutting proposal, which was unveiled that day and is going to be criticized in a speech by Cheney today (VandeHei had a shorter piece on the announcement in Saturday's Post) . The policy is to "reduce the corporate tax rate to 33.25 percent from 35 percent and provide small businesses tax incentives to hire new workers and provide health care to employees"--here's the full speech text and more info on what the campaign is touting as the 10 million jobs package.

VandeHei writes that in making the proposal, "Kerry is seeking to position himself as a moderate, pro-business Democrat similar to Bill Clinton and beat back charges that he is a tax-and-spend liberal." It's all about politics, of course, not the stated aim of promoting job growth; somehow VandeHei can read Kerry's mind. I also find it interesting that VandeHei writes, "it is impossible to determine if Kerry would raise taxes by $900 billion as Bush claims" since "Kerry has not detailed his full budget plan." That certainly didn't stop VandeHei from making noises about the Kerry budget in recent weeks, as noted here and here.

Okrent on NYT Op-Ed Correctioins

Tom Tomorrow does a good job on the latest public editor piece from the Times. I find myself amazed Okrent can write columns that are so long and say so little.

A Kerry-Nader Deal?

This comes by way of Josh Marshall:

Ralph Nader said Sunday he will meet with John Kerry next month to discuss the effort to defeat President Bush in the November election.

While stressing that he is still a competitor in the race, the independent presidential hopeful said he views his candidacy as a "second front against Bush, however small." ...

He did not elaborate on the meeting he plans with the Massachusetts senator and there was no immediate response from the Kerry campaign.

Maybe Ralph is coming to his senses.

Even More Gay Marriage Debating

The Mass legislature is taking up the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage again this morning in what the Globe is calling "the most daunting day of parliamentary maneuvering, strategizing, and voting in modern Beacon Hill history." That's about all that's left since every conceivable argument has been made by now and tons of lobbying has occurred, so no one's position is expected to be shifting. The real drama is how the procedural stuff will play out.

For once I agree with Adrian Walker:

At this point, the issue of gay marriage has been debated ad nauseum. Lawmakers have won praise for the "high level" of debate in the past two sessions -- some of that deserved, some of it the product of low-to-no public expectations. The point is, by now there's a limited amount left to say.

The danger for the pro-gay marriage crowd now is more fatigue with the process and their legislators no longer being willing to stand in the way of a ballot question. "Gay-marriage lobbyist Arline Isaacson, a constant presence in the State House for the past few months, fretted that some sympathetic legislators are growing weary that some lawmakers may not have the stomach to prevent a ballot question from going to the voters, even if they sympathize with same-sex couples."

Meanwhile, the hate continues, as some local Catholic masses ended with a vile anti-gay film yesterday that sparked outrage from one gay parishioner in Canton, who was all over the local news.

For more coverage through the day of what's going on at the State House, see Boston.com, The Phoenix, and the blogs listed here.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Final Four

As frequently happens, my picks look horrible after the first weekend but better after the second. I ended up correctly predicting three of the four teams in the Final Four. If I'd only not made the idiotic choice of Stanford to win the national championship, I could be winning pools next week.

Friedman's Imagination

Tom Friedman keeps getting worse and worse. Today he tells us he hasn't been reading anything about the 9/11 commission and goes on to make statements that are verifiably untrue about it. To take just one example:

We could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked--for the very best of reasons--people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together and realize that 19 young men were going to hijack four airplanes for suicide attacks against our national symbols and kill as many innocent civilians as they could, for no stated reason at all.

Too bad the freaking Times foreign affairs columnist couldn't have paid attention to anything Richard Clarke has been saying for the last week, for example on Meet the Press this morning:

MR. RUSSERT: Was there any briefing at that time or around that time which suggested that al-Qaeda may hijack an airplane to be used in a terrorist attack?

MR. CLARKE: Apparently, the president got a briefing when he was on vacation in Texas. Apparently, the CIA gave him a paper that listed all of the things al-Qaeda could do. It didn't focus on a hijacking. But apparently, it listed a hijacking as among the things that al-Qaeda could do, even though al-Qaeda had never done it before. But long before that August 6 briefing at the ranch in Texas, we had brought in the FAA, which under the presidential directive was in charge of airline security, and told them increase security in the United States on airlines at airports, not because we had the intelligence that this was about to happen, but because it was a prudential thing to do, knowing that some unknown attack was coming.

MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Rice has said that no one could have predicted the use of an airline hijacking for this kind of attack.

MR. CLARKE: Well, actually we did, beginning in 1996. As I describe in the book, at the Atlanta Olympics, the counterterrorism team from Washington, which I chaired, came down three months before the Atlanta Olympics and checked out the security. And we asked, "What happens if someone hijacks a jet and flies it into the stadium?" and no one had a plan for that. And so we quickly cobbled together a plan for that using helicopters, no-fly zones, snipers, air-defense radars. We did that again for five or six events over the course of the next five years. And I tried to get the authority, and I tried to get the money to make it a permanent capability to protect the Congress and the White House. But I wasn't able to do that.

The rest of the Friedman column is just as bad too. If I were a Times columnist, I think I would actually follow the news rather than make things up.

Herseth and the Blogs

A while back I wrote this post on "Herseth's Risky Fundraising Pitch." I questioned whether Stephanie Herseth, Democratic candidate for the at-large congressional election in South Dakota to fill Bill Janklow's seat, was wise to be sending one message to her potential constitutents and another to liberals in the rest of the country from whom she hoped to raise money. The "pitch" in questions was this Daily Kos message from the South Dakota Democratic Party's Ben Hanten. Here's a passage referring to the FMA that I quoted back then:

I'm still disappointed that she said, "I agree with the president on this issue." But I also know that I'm not a single, pro-choice woman running in an extremely conservative sate. I also can envision the advertisements with little kids saying, "Stephanie Herseth is against our family."

This isn't California or Florida, after all. It's South Dakota - we're proud of regressive taxes, paying our teachers $19,000, Citibank and corporate agriculture. Outside of Sioux Falls, people may not even know a single gay person!

South Dakotans would sooner lynch Hillary Clinton and Diane Feinstein than ever elect them. Stephanie Herseth has managed to be a good progressive without being labeled too liberal.

At the time, I wondered whether it was perhaps unwise to be painting such a caricature of the state, lest voters there take offense. And the South Dakota Politics Blog agreed with my assessment, which was nice to see, considering my relative ignorance about state politics.

That's all by way of introduction to this Kos post that ran on Friday and was approvingly linked by Atrios. It pointed to a story in the Aberdeen News headlined "GOP criticizes Democratic House candidate's Internet fund-raising." Kos and Atrios are correct to poke fun at the GOP's calling the blogads Herseth's "secret" Internet page, which clearly it is not, but I think they miss the larger point: that Herseth is running a two-faced campaign, trying to seem reasonably conservative at home and simultaneously winking at liberals in the rest of the country that she's really on their side.

"There's a reason she's got that secret site. She doesn't want to advertise the fact she's doing this," says Jason Glodt of the state Republican Party in the article. While the site isn't "secret," Glodt's basic argument is still correct.

Herseth apparently has no ads running on any blogs now, but she raised thousands of dollars earlier this year from an ad on the Daily Kos site. She raised at least $21,000 in one day on that site, which features many articles and messages that criticize President Bush and other Republicans.

But after Herseth announced a month ago that she supported Bush when he called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, many people posted messages on Daily Kos saying they would not contribute to her campaign.

Herseth in February released a statement that said: "I agree with the president on this issue. Marriage should be between a man and a woman."

After critical comments were posted on Daily Kos, her campaign released another statement to the blog, saying Herseth believes the issue should be left up to the states to decide under federal legislation or the ratification process for constitutional amendments.

In short, Herseth is trying to play both sides of the issue to get votes in state and money to run her campaign from out of state, and she hopes that no one notices. Glodt wants the amount of money raised from the blogads released, and so would I if I were running her opponents' campaign. Then it would be easy to say that Herseth is really a liberal using moderate's rhetoric and that her true loyalty will lie with her out-of-state financiers than with her in-state constituents.

As I wrote previously, this is a difficult tightrope the Herseth campaign is trying to walk to remain both reasonably progressive and electable in a conservative state.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Commute From Hell

Jeez, when I wrote a sarcastic post this morning about Bush's fundraising visit to Boston disrupting commuters, I didn't think it would actually affect me since I don't work anywhere near the Park Plaza. But it did, since my route home was cut off with the state police closing down highway overpasses that were above the route of the president's motorcade into town, presumably. The end result was too many cars clogging too few roads at rush hour and my commute tonight was 40 minutes instead of the usual 20. As if I needed another reason to be pissed at the president...

I really do have to be in the city tomorrow, though, so probably no blogging from me. Hannity's book is farcical by the way--I'll have a full run down some time over the weekend.

NCAA Tournaments

Unfortunately, Phil Martelli and Billy Packer appear to have buried the hatchet, which makes tonight's St. Joe's-Wake Forest Sweet 16 matchup somewhat less exciting.

But I want to have this be a quick post on two of the other postseason NCAA tournaments going on right now: women's basketball and men's hockey. I have problems with the scheduling of both.

The women's hoops tournament makes a mockery of the principle of neutral site games, with lower-seeded teams frequently hosting games in early rounds. For example, BC's #3 seeded women had to defeat a #6 Ohio State team in Columbus just to reach the Sweet 16. The men's tournament has its own troubles in this regard--notably Pitt having to beat Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Sunday--but the women's tournament is much worse. They probably do this on the women's side because they have trouble getting venues lined up and they want to assure a reasonable crowd, but if they really want the tourney taken seriously, they need neutral site games.

The men's hockey tournament has its own idiotic quirk: the teams enter the national semifinals without having played a game in nearly two weeks. The opening two rounds are being held this weekend, but then the teams that emerge from each region won't be participating in the Frozen Four until April 8. Again, there is reasoning here--they don't want to play on the same weekend as the Final Four in men's basketball--but hockey teams need to be playing with at most a week-long layoff in order to be fresh for the championship. Just schedule the games around the basketball, already, or put something on a weeknight (the women's basketball tourney can actually serve as a model in this regard).

Sloganator Nostalgia

A nice Flash is up commemorating the slogans people put onto their custom Bush/Cheney posters using the tools on the BC04 site. Sadly, the Sloganator, as the feature was dubbed by Ana-Marie Cox of Wonkette, is no longer. We'll always have early March 2004, though. Via Mike D.

Noam Chomsky's New Blog

Deliver Us From Evil

I was off doing some library research this morning and I happened upon a copy of Sean Hannity's current #1 bestseller Deliver Us From Evil. For some reason, here in a bastion of librul elitists, no one had bothered to check out the book presently topping the bestseller lists, which I though was interesting; the book was stamped as received on March 12. Since the damn thing is selling like hotcakes, I checked it out myself, and I'll check in with reports as I slog through it. So far, less than 10 pages in, I find Hannity to be criticizing a ridiculous caricature of modern American liberalism--shocking, I know.

Newdow and the Supremes

Linda Greenhouse paints an interesting picture of yesterday's oral argument in the SCOTUS pledge of allegiance case. Conservatives will perhaps cry "librul bias!" but I think her first-hand account dispels such talk. In short, her article makes Michael Newdow, the citizen-lawyer who argued that "under God" should be removed from the pledge, look very good.

Dr. Newdow, a nonpracticing lawyer who makes his living as an emergency room doctor, may not win his case. In fact, justices across the ideological spectrum appeared to be searching for reasons he should lose, either on jurisdictional grounds or on the merits. But no one who managed to get a seat in the courtroom is likely ever to forget his spell-binding performance.

That includes the justices, whom Dr. Newdow engaged in repartee that, while never disrespectful, bore a closer resemblance to dinner-table one-upmanship than to formal courtroom discourse. For example, when Dr. Newdow described "under God" as a divisive addition to the pledge, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked him what the vote in Congress had been 50 years ago when the phrase was inserted.

The vote was unanimous, Dr. Newdow said.

"Well, that doesn't sound divisive," the chief justice observed.

Dr. Newdow shot back, "That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office."

The courtroom audience broke into applause, an exceedingly rare event that left the chief justice temporarily nonplussed. He appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then sternly warned the audience that the courtroom would be cleared "if there's any more clapping."

The chief justice was embarrassed in his own turf, by an emergency room doctor, no less!

Dr. Newdow, 50, often spoke very rapidly but never appeared to lose his footing during the 30 minutes the court gave him. He managed a trick that far more experienced lawyers rarely accomplish: to bring the argument to a symmetrical and seemingly unhurried ending just as the red light comes on.

Linda Greenhouse is a person who knows of what she writes here, having won awards for her Supreme Court coverage. Jonathan O'Connell also had an interesting look at Newdow a few days ago in a TAP Online piece.

An emergency room physician professionally, Newdow has obsessed over the idea of challenging the government's "God" references for years. His initial plan for a lawsuit didn't involve the Pledge of Allegiance. "I was looking at a coin -- the words 'In God We Trust'-- and I decided that it must not be constitutional," he said.

Not surprisingly, suing the government over a phrase on its currency can be difficult. But when his daughter began school in 2001, Newdow saw another chance. He sued the school district, submitting a brief using information he gathered surfing the Internet at home. When the court agreed to hear his case, he refused his appointed lawyer, opting instead to try passing the California bar exam..

"I didn't know anything about law," he says. "I didn't know how to file a brief."

He passed the bar, though, and argued his own case: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in his favor, declaring that the Pledge was a government endorsement of religion and a violation of the First Amendment.

No matter what happens in the courts, Newdow has vaulted his beliefs into the nation's public discourse. Though he's quit work and has begun living off savings, he says he's spent less than $2,500 working on his case, mostly to photocopy thousands of pages of legal briefs and to pay the $150 fee to submit a brief. He relies on legal knowledge gained by reading late into the night on a website, Freelaw.com.

"It's the American system that allows that," he says. "It allows a person with $150 in their pocket and a computer to make change in the country and I think that's a wonderful thing." In addition, he's begun relying on volunteer attorneys, who Newdow credits as "helpful, since legally, I don't have any idea what I'm doing."

Regardless of where you come down on the pledge case, you have to admit that's damn impressive. This guy literally studied for the bar once he knew he wanted to make this case, he's done his own research, and he even did pretty well arguing before the Supreme Court with such a minimal background. Stories like this make me feel like average citizens really can do things, after all.

Move This to South Boston!

"Visit by Bush to snarl roads, spur protests".

President Bush will swoop into Boston for a quick fund-raiser this afternoon that could net his campaign $1 million and also draw several thousand protesters, force the closure of a school, and disrupt traffic near the Park Plaza Hotel. ...

The president's visit unexpectedly canceled classes for 1,425 children at the Boston Renaissance Charter School, a K-8 institution on Stuart Street a block away from the hotel. ... "It's a sad situation that you have to close off school because of a fund-raising event," said Roger F. Harris, Renaissance headmaster.

To paraphrase Mitt Romney, I think the people who are inconvenienced by this event will know to blame the Republicans. And they will also be wondering: why couldn't this be held at the new Convention Center in South Boston?

VandeHei Watch 3.25.04: Doing the Math!

Well, sort of, at least. Two days ago I implored Jim VandeHei to do the math--or at least share it with us--regarding charges that Kerry's budget numbers don't add up. In Thursday's Post, we get a joint effort by VandeHei and Dan Balz that partly does what VandeHei should've done weeks ago in laying out the important fiscal figures for readers. "In a War of Words Over Numbers, Both Campaigns Have Problems" is the headline above the "analysis" piece running on A5.

The content seems reasonable throughout, leaving me only to make a broader critique of the article's overall structure. This paragraph sums up the main point nicely:

Peter R. Orszag of the Brookings Institution has looked at the ideas and plans and found both campaigns wanting. "The administration's budget is somewhere between misleading and dishonest," he said, "and I just don't have enough information from the Kerry side to render a judgment."

Despite assurances that Kerry's camp is still working on a full-fledged budget that they hope to release soon, most of the article focuses on Kerry's budgetary promises and how they have been attacked by the GOP. I give VandeHei and Balz credit for juxtaposing this Kerry critique with reminders of the disastrous fiscal policies of the Bush administration, though I still think they're going out of their way somewhat to appear neutral and non-partisan in a way that hurts the reporting.

The stuff debunking Bush's attacks, such as the president's false claim that Kerry intends to increase everyone's taxes, is welcome to see in the Post. My only wish is that this material were more central to the article, which leads off with the scrutiny of Kerry's still-unfinished budget, rather than coming more toward the latter half. There's not quite the emphasis I wish we would see calling the Bush administration's credibility into question on the basis of the misleading forecasts they have repeatedly put out in the last few years (a brief mention of the withholding of the real cost of the Medicare bill would've been nice to throw in, perhaps). The headline's statement that "both have problems" also seems to equate the sides too much, omitting that Kerry naturally will have less detail than the incumbent at this point and that the administration's own records deserve tougher scrutiny based on 2001-2004. Still, this article does much better than repeating GOP spin, an indication the coverage may be heading in a promising direction.

Tom Friedman Calls Israelis Appeasers

Oh boy, this Tom Friedman column is an absolute trainwreck, if you will. He likens the Spanish terrorist attack's impact on that country's election to what has happened in Israel in recent years:

In 1996, shortly after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres was leading Bibi Netanyahu by 20 points in opinion polls. Then Islamic terrorists unleashed bus bombings, killing 59 Israelis. Mr. Peres saw his lead wiped out, and then lost the election by a tiny margin. Suicide bombing totally undermined Labor's Ehud Barak and helped elect Ariel Sharon in 2001. So terrorists have been voting in Israel's elections for a long time.

Hence the Israeli voters have been appeasing terrorists for some time now, according to Friedman's formulation. For some reason, I doubt we'll be hearing this point from the warbloggers any time soon.

Then Friedman offers up a reluctant concession-that-isn't-really-a-concession, concluding, "Personally, I believe it's naïve to think that truth-in-government was the only thing motivating anguished Spanish swing voters after the bombings, and that there was not a twitch of appeasement in the air." Gee, Tom, couldn't you at least fly to Madrid and pick up a few anecdotes to back this up?

Friedman writes that he hopes Zapatero reconsiders and won't pull his troops out of Iraq if there is no larger UN role in overseeing the occupation. Why is demanding this heightened UN presence and clout--something that would rationalize the occupation and give it a greater chance of success--out of bounds? Why doesn't Friedman instead focus on the stubborn refusal by the Bush administration to consider such a proposal, especially in light of Friedman's past criticism of how the Bushies have approached the situation in Iraq?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Walton's Bias

I'm watching LA-Sacramento on ESPN now, and Bill Walton is being rather aggressively pro-Lakers tonight. Perhaps that's because his son is on the team. Why does ESPN have him broadcasting Lakers games?

Red Sox Movie

Well, this is kind of lame. There is a documentary coming out about the 2003 Red Sox season, and people are being asked to vote for the title. You can vote here for your favorite of the four potential titles: This Is the Year, Another Season, Fenway Blues or Red Sox Blues. Talk about creativity! Driving home, I heard a caller on WEEI say it's too bad Titanic is already taken.

Your Daily Newspaper Outrages

First up, Aznar in the Journal:

Some think the solution is to sue for peace, to negotiate with terrorists so that they might go and kill elsewhere. ... ETA or al Qaeda--the difference is important, to be sure, but the response to what has happened should be the same ... we must not send out confusing messages, messages that induce people to believe that we have to make concessions to those demanding that we kneel before bombs. This is not the moment to think about withdrawals of troops.

Hmm, suggesting that his political opponents are soft on terror when they're not, foolishly claiming that ETA and Al Qaeda should have the same response, conflating Iraq with actual terrorists... You get the idea.

Also, Alterman quotes from NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller on the White House presser held on the eve of the Iraqi invasion:

I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.

Alterman notes that, "it would nice if Times editors would take a position on whether its reporters should refrain from questioning the president because 'it's scary.'"

Arrington: I didn't want 'devil' contract

This story about LaVar Arrington's contract dispute with the Redskins (via Sports Frog)is pretty strange:

Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington appeared on the James Brown Show on Sporting News Radio to discuss the missing $6.5 million roster bonus he says the team agreed to but then didn't ultimately include in his contract.

Arrington said he agreed to a deal, which included the $6.5 million bonus, but the deal then featured three sixes in the numbers, which, as a Christian man, he couldn't sign because that's the mark of the devil. And Arrington said he brought this "devil" problem up to the Redskins, which he says proves his case that the $6.5 million was agreed to by the team because, without the $6.5 million included, the contract would not have featured the three sixes.

All I can say is wow. The guy flips out when he sees three sixes--I wonder if telephone companies have to deal with religious nuts wanting their numbers changed for similar reasons? If Arrington is so serious about being a Christian, I wonder why he plays a violent sport on Sundays in the first place; I remember a top lineman prospect out of BYU who gave up his NFL career a few years back just to keep the sabbath. Seeing that this guy is such a nut must also be comforting to the people he's been judging on ESPN Dream Job. And James Brown seems to be specializing in these one-sided interviews during which players get to whine about their contracts--see the Ty Law trainwreck of illogic from last week (via BSMW).

Deanie Babies

Have a look through this comment thread to see yet more whining from the Dean supporters about how their guy lost and is now endorsing John Kerry. They seem not to realize that this is what defeated politicians do: endorse the member of their party who beat them. If they truly want to "take the country back" rather than just idolize Howard Dean, the Deanie babies need to get over themselves and commit to beating Bush.

EU Microsoft Decision

I'm looking for the full text of the decision to read for later, but so far all I can find is this press release.

Irony at UMass

UMass seems set to name Jack Wilson as its new president today, and that is causing some gnashing of teeth among the Bulger haters at the Globe like Scot Lehigh and Steve Bailey because of Wilson's close Bulger ties. The beautiful irony of the whole episode, though, is that the preferred Globe candidate, Democratic fundraiser Alan Solomont, has been hurt in his efforts to land the job by his brothers' legal problems. Sound familiar? Here's Lehigh (who doesn't bother hiding his disdain by referring to Bulger "apparatchiks" and "acolytes") on Solomont:

What he has is fund-raising prowess. Although that initially interested the board, Solomont's candidacy apparently was hurt by the disclosure that one of his brothers is in prison in Israel for embezzlement and another is being sued for allegedly diverting funds from a start-up company.

Solomont himself is known as a honorable guy and a straighter shooter, but after the rough ride with Bulger, whose presidency was marked by controversy about his role in regard to his fugitive brother, James "Whitey" Bulger, trustees are said to have grown skittish. Meanwhile, the Wilson faction has taken advantage of that nervousness to press for their man.

This seems a perfectly reasonable response. After seeing their previous president run out by opportunistic pols and spiteful journalists because of his brother's legal problems, the board should be wary of bringing on board someone with similar troubles. Bailey tries to distinguish the Bulger and Solomont cases:

The disclosures mattered to the UMass board. Foley Hoag attorney Michael B. Keating, who advised the board on the Bulger controversy, was asked to investigate Solomont his brothers as well as other finalists for The UMass board has an obligation to due diligence on all the candidates, but it should not confuse Billy Bulger with Alan Solomont. Bulger was damaged not by his brother's behavior but his own. When he grand jury that he felt no obligation to get gangster brother off the street and then bobbed and weaved with a congressional committee, forfeited his right to lead. Solomont, on the other hand, brought his family's dirty laundry to the board. (Clearly this text I've copied from the Globe site is screwed up, but you get the point he's making.)

A few other things might also help to distinguish the cases. For one, the Solomont brothers' legal issues have not been banner headline stories in Massachusetts newspapers for the last several years, as Bulger's have, hence Solomont's need to reveal them. Also, though I'm not on top of all the Solomont details, I have seen no indication that Solomont has been called upon by the authorities to rat out his brothers, something I believe Bill Bulger never should have been asked to do. Neither Solomont brother is on the run, nor are they possible targets of an FBI hit if Alan tells things to the authorities (which have been awfully corrupt in their investigations of the Boston mob). Plus, it bears repeating that Bill Bulger has never been charged with any criminal act related to his testimony--he has been convicted only in the court of public opinion.

The media reap what they sow, and today they are witnessing the unintended consequence of their witch hunt to have Bill Bulger removed from the UMass presidency: their favored candidate will not ascend to the job.

Imagine Clinton Doing This...

Check out today's front page (PDF) of the Boston Globe and see if you can imagine the photo at the bottom of the page--showing George Bush attempting to kiss a female volleyball player from USC--with Bill Clinton instead. The media would have fodder for weeks.

UPDATE: Wonkette is on this photo too, and she links to a more user-friendly Yahoo page with the AP photo.

Hoops Rivalry News

LA-Sacramento is on ESPN Wednesday night. Kobe Bryant will be in court in Colorado tomorrow during the day, and he's planning on flying back to LA for the game and returning to Colorado again Thursday, so long as the court schedule allows this. Watch for a dramatic Kobe entry during the game. And speaking of drama, Billy Packer will be courtside to call the St. Joseph's game Thursday night on CBS. Packer, you may recall, got into a public spat with Hawks' coach Phil Martelli over whether St. Joe's deserved a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The St. Joseph's opponent also happens to be Packer's alma mater, Wake Forest.

Connolly Watch 3.24.04

Again I'm late, this time in reviewing Ceci Connolly's appearance Friday night on Washington Week in Review. Connolly was a panelist on the show, asking a few questions on other topics but there primarily to deliver a report on the recent Medicare shenanigans. One comment/question is worth noting before the Medicare piece--the last on the program--came up. It dealt with John Kerry's perceived missteps while campaigning last week:

Karen, we've seen parts of this movie before, it seems to me. I mean, just back in December, John Kerry was all but dead, or at least all of the sort of Washington smarty pants like us thought that he was dead, and he managed to turn--turn that situation around. Is this just--is this just sort of the John Kerry cycle, there are going to be ups and downs, or what needs to happen here?

The statement is appropriately self-effacing about the inability of the press to accurately predict the primary season's outcome, though it also neglects the role of the news media in affecting that outcome. As I documented in some of Connolly's own reporting when I began the Watch a few months ago, Kerry received far more favorable coverage when he was seen as the underdog in the primaries. Now that he's emerged as the Dem nominee and has been taking the brunt of coordinated administration attacks, that is taking a toll in his media coverage. I think there's also something to be said for Kerry being a better campaigner when he needs to be, with the implication being that he's relaxed since sewing up the nomination and his campaign has suffered as a result, but it would really have to be a total Jeckyll/Hyde transformation to justify the highs and lows of Kerry coverage that's appeared. I think Kerry's transformation from a pathetic also-ran to the Democratic nominee has more to do with the change in coverage.

Moving on to the Medicare story, Connolly doesn't pull any punches in criticizing the Bush administration, allowing at the top that, "this is really something." There's so much dishonesty and malfeasance to cover, Connolly spends most of the time simply listing off the allegations and investigations that are getting under way. The primary issues are that the cost of the Medicare bill was revised upward after passage (from $400b to $534b) and the charge that the chief Medicare actuary was threatened not to reveal the higher cost to members of Congress before the vote, on penalty of being fired (I wish she'd had time to mention that Tom Scully's main defense against the charge from Richard Foster is that he was joking about the firing---funny!). Ceci also touches on the indications that Michigan Rep. Nick Smith was threatened by GOP leaders that his son, who is running for the retiring Smith's seat, wouldn't have the party's support without the elder Smith voting for the bill, as well as the propaganda videos the administration put out about the law recently that featured a fake TV reporter. (Tim Noah has another in a series of articles on the bribe story out today.)

There's only a brief opportunity at the end for some political handicapping of the issue, when Connolly correctly asserts, "the tricky thing here is knowing whether or not all of these controversies and mini scandals that we're talking about here in Washington are really sort of making it out there into the real world." Connolly is doing good work communicating the facts of these stories to the news-consuming audience, and I hope her work is compelling enough to produce the necessary awareness she describes in order for the truth about Medicare to have its deserved impact in November.

Dick Clarke's Kennedy School Class

With the book promotion, 9/11 Commission testimony and self-defense against White House attacks, I'm willing to bet Dick Clarke will be too busy to do his scheduled lecture tomorrow afternoon in Cambridge for the course he teaches along with Rand Beers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Non-Believers for Jesus

Briefly to follow up on last night's post on The Passion, I've been thinking more about the oddity of my liking the film as much as I did, and one thing that occurs to me is that my lack of religious belief may have actually increased my enjoyment. Obviously for people who share Mel Gibson's faith and interpretation of the gospels, the movie must be pretty sweet--that's been well documented. On the other hand, for people who have some other form of belief in or vision of Jesus, presumably one that is less dark than that depicted in the film in most cases, I imagine The Passion must have struck a sour note.

Then there are people like me who see Jesus as basically the most beloved literary character of all time. I have no personal relationship with Christ, no expectations for what he should look and sound like, how he should act, what his time on earth should appear like. I'm willing to take something like The Passion as simply one interpretation by a filmmaker of the events described in the Bible. Since I see the Bible as a collection of fairy tales, essentially, I'm not all hung up on historical accuracy either--this is a story involving a man performing miracles and rising from the dead, mind you, so whether people say the wrong words or do things in the wrong sequence hardly seems to matter. I watched the movie much as I would any other, without letting extraneous things get in the way, and that, I feel, is one way to appreciate Gibson's work without necessarily sharing his religious views. (Plus, in this instance, I was able to prevent myself from having a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything religious conservatives think is good, something I can't say for the likes of Andy Rooney, Frank Rich, et al.)

Clarke, CBS and Viacom Again

This post turned out to be incorrect since my buddy Drudge was all over it yesterday before I wondered why I hadn't seen anyone pointing out the CBS/Viacom/Simon and Schuster connection. CBS definitely should have disclosed the link during the 60 Minutes broadcast. The paranoia can also be taken too far, as it is in other parts of Drudge's rant: "CBS even used heavy promotion for the 60 MINUTES/book launch during its Sunday sports shows." The networks routinely promote their own programming, sheesh.

Invasion of the Parrotheads

While I know there are far more important things going on, I feel compelled to mention the effort by Fenway residents to prevent a Jimmy Buffet concert at Fenway Park. Their concern is having lots of drunken party people in the area, something that doesn't seem to bother them too much during the 81 Red Sox home games every season (that crowd isn't exactly the same as you see at the opera, you know).

And if you want tranquil, family-friendly living, the "crime-free" Fenway, as a WBCN DJ sarcastically calls it, may not be the best area to make your home, either, with the proximity to the stadium, BU and the Landsdowne street late-night establishments. The people there complaining remind me of the people in the neighborhood where I went to college who complained about places staying open late and people making noise. It's a college campus, for Christ's sake, not a retirement facility, I always said. A similar argument applies here.

New Boston Politics Blog

Dan Kennedy points to the Boston Herald's "new political/presidential/convention blog" by reporter David Guarino.

VandeHei Watch 3.23.04: Do the Math

Tuesday's VandeHei article focuses on how some Republicans like John McCain and Richard Clarke are helping out John Kerry politically as he tries to weather the attacks from the Bush campaign. That content seems fair enough, but VandeHei slips in the same charge he made the weekend prior to Super Tuesday about Kerry's budget proposals:

Yesterday, Bush's new assault on Kerry's spending for his proposals prompted Democrats to highlight the large number of Republicans and conservative groups that have chided the president for his record-setting spending. Although Kerry's aides privately admit the Democratic candidate cannot fulfill all of his campaign promises and still reduce the deficit by half as promised, they say the Bush campaign relies on questionable assumptions to back up its contention that Kerry will spend $1 trillion more than he will save over the next decade.

This is one bizarre paragraph. First off, why do the campaign aides "privately admit" Kerry's budget doesn't balance--an admission that gets into the newspaper anyway--but they aren't willing to be quoted directly saying this?

More importantly, VandeHei basically says "Trust me, the numbers don't add, though maybe not to the degree the Bush campaign claims either." How are we to assess the validity of this statement from VandeHei? I don't doubt Kerry may have over-promised, but the only way to be sure of the extent of the problem is for VandeHei to share the numbers with us. How much do Kerry's proposed spending increases and cuts add to? What would his tax changes do to revenue? What can we reasonably project for economic growth? And in the end, what does that mean for budget balance through a Kerry administration under the unlikely scenario everything he proposes today is passed as it stands? Until VandeHei deigns to share the answers to these specific questions with his readers, his plain assertions aren't worth much.

The real highlight of Tuesday's Post, though, is Dana Milbank's revelation that, "The Republicans are trying to turn John Kerry into a frog." That's right, James Taranto's favorite jab that Kerry is "French-looking" seems to be catching on with top GOP officials, including Tom DeLay, who "has been known to start a speech with: "Good afternoon, or, as John Kerry might say, 'Bonjour.' " Mindless jingoism: what else would we expect from the Republicans?

But it gets worse. Milbank then reveals that Kerry's camp has actually contacted a French consultant on how to deal with this GOP-created image problem, shifting the focus away from the Republican morons and making it seem like Kerry really does have a legitimate character flaw. Beware the continuing specter of the press morphing Kerry into Al Gore: "Sitting on the biggest scoop since Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones, your correspondent called Rapaille and confirmed that he has been contacted by the Kerry campaign." Here we go again.

The Passion

This evening I finally went to see what all the hype was about by attending a screening of "The Passion of the Christ." I have been a relative skeptic of the film, as I've expressed in this space previously, but I decided that it was worth seeing a movie that had gained such notoriety in spite of my misgivings.

I have always defended Gibson's right to make any film he wants; violent anti-Semites should be held responsible for their own actions rather than allowed to blame a movie for making them misbehave, in my estimation. My skepticism focused instead on the extremist religious belief that I felt The Passion reflected, as well as the accounts I had read of gratuitous gore.

After seeing The Passion I can say that, in short, I was wrong. I thought the movie was outstanding. The Passion is magnificently shot--the scenery, the costumes, everything--and there is much more of a story than I expected, far beyond simply the torture and execution of a man. The bloodiness is jarring, to be sure, but entirely necessary to the message of the film as well. And as for the anti-Semitism charges, I found the movie to be extremely effective in making me, as a viewer, feel increased compassion for the persecuted, something that should help to lessen prejudices in society, rather than to inflame them.

As I am no art critic or Biblical scholar, I will leave my remarks at that. I'm not saying I'll be going back to Mass every Sunday from now on, but if a hardened cynic who is as openly contemptuous of organized religion as I am can find this film as powerful as I did, I strongly recommend it to everyone.

Time to Bash the SJC Again

This ruling that state laws against incest don't apply to stepparents should gin up some more anti-SJC rhetoric from the supporters of the gay marriage ban. The dissenting opinion contains a familiar charge that, ''As a result of the court's decision, we are left with an unfortunate state of affairs that frustrates legislative intent and undermines the value and stability of the family as the core unit of society." The Constitutional Convention resumes on Monday, and I'm sure the debate will contain references to this new decision.

Monday, March 22, 2004

East Coast Ballers

My favorite stat after the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament: the only team west of the central time zone still alive is Nevada. Nice year, Pac-10!

Kerry's New Ad

Watch it here, which is useful for people in states like Massachusetts, where the only time you'll see the ad on TV is during the news. Maybe other people like the commercial's announcer, the same guy who has done previous Kerry ads, but he sounds to me a lot like he could use a throat lozenge. The "Fought for America" title is also a rather blatant reminder of Kerry's military service.

Attacking Clarke: The Viacom Angle

At the end of the local CBS affiliate's story on Dick Clarke tonight, the reporter noted that the publisher of Clarke's book is Simon and Schuster, which is owned by Viacom, the company that also happens to own CBS. Somehow this rather significant fact was not mentioned on 60 Minutes last night, and I've yet to see the people on the right who are going after Clarke and CBS play the Viacom card--the "he's just trying to sell books" argument has been deployed against Clarke himself but not the publisher's parent, so far as I've witnessed.

And for the record, the White House did put out a line about Dick Clarke's "American Grandstand" today, confirming my prediction that someone would try a pun on Clarke's sharing the name of the ageless TV personality (though a different spelling on the last name).

Gore Invented the Internet Redux

Today's Howler, amid some well-deserved Bumiller and Seelye bashing, highlights something I missed in this article by John F. Harris in yesterday's Post on Kerry and the "foreign leaders":

So goes the effort to end the hubbub over perhaps the most damaging boast in U.S. politics since Al Gore claimed the invention of the Internet.

Good God, here we go again.

Note Your Spelling

Today's edition of The Note:

President Bush meets with the recipients of the Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor at the White House today. Tomorrow he meets with his Cabinet and the president of Columbia.

Well, it's nice to see Bush and Lee Bollinger don't have any hard feelings after that whole university affirmative action dispute.

Have you ever noticed that one of the simplest mistakes smart people seem to make all the time is misspelling "Colombia" the country like "Columbia" the university? Picky, I know, but I'm sick of The Note's cutesie style these days--what Mark Schmitt said.