Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Back in 2006, we first heard about the (alleged) book-reading rivalry between Karl Rove and George W. Bush. I've never really believed that these two guys actually do try to out-read each other, but if it's true, the point (not surprisingly, given the participants) seems to have nothing to do with wisdom or aesthetic pleasure or insight -- the point is: whose stack of completed books in a given year is bigger?

When I first read about this, I thought it was a passing bit of press agentry -- but Rove has never stopped insisting that the reading rivalry is real, thought the Wall Street Journal op ed he published last week made clear that size is what matters:

We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book's pages -- its "Total Lateral Area."

Er, is that a Penguin Classic in your pocket, Karl, or are you just glad to see me?

Whatever the truth of all this, I can't help thinking it's not a coincidence that two people who were with Bush and Rove back in Texas are now reported to be shopping books -- first Laura Bush and now Alberto Gonzales. (Gonzo just told The Wall Street Journal about his, although he's struggling to find a publisher; Laura's talking to several publishers.)

This makes me think that the seemingly underemployed Rove is actually running the Bush Legacy Tour, and books -- first by key players, then, eventually, by Bush himself -- are a central part of his strategy to remove the tarnish from Bush's reputation. I don't think it can really work, and I can't imagine who comes after Laura and Gonzo -- another veteran of the governor's mansion? Harriet Miers, maybe? -- but I suppose it's keeping Karl off the streets.

I've just started to make my way through Vanity Fair's oral history of the Bush White House. Phil talked about it on Monday, noting, in particular,

how incredibly impressed the Bush loyalists tend to be by every display from the President of what, in most people, would count as a demonstration of basic decency.... A recurring theme goes something like, I wish those monsters, the ones who hold it against him that those people were left to die of sunstroke on their roofs or who blame him for the deaths of their sons in the military, could have been there when he gave my nephew a baseball cap or went to the veterans hospital and shook a double amputee's hand--then they'd know what a great, great man he is!

It's true. From the oral history:

Noelia Rodriguez [Laura Bush's press secretary]: I wish that more people could have seen the president the way I experienced him. Even if you don't agree with him or respect his opinions or his decisions -- strip that away, if you're able to -- he is a caring human being.

I brought my mom to the White House, to get a tour the day before Thanksgiving. The president came in and greeted her -- it was a total surprise. And on the spot he invited us to go to Camp David for Thanksgiving. Of course, we went, and it was Disneyland for adults. We went to chapel services before dinner. I remember we got there early. A few minutes later the president walks in with Mrs. Bush and the family, and you could see him looking around, and he sees my mom in the distance, and he literally shouts at her from across the chapel, "Grace, come sit over here with me." And at dinner, again, he sees her, and he says, "Grace, you're going to sit over here next to me." And he tilted the chair against the table so that nobody would take her place.

Ed Gillespie, campaign strategist and later counselor to the president: Picking up the phone, calling people who are visiting an ailing father in the hospital, personal notes to people whose child just had surgery. Things big and small. It's hard to describe it all, but they are the kinds of things that do inspire great loyalty -- and that's not why he does it, by the way.

Gillespie is right -- that's not why he does it. He doesn't want to "inspire great loyalty" because the reason you would want to inspire loyalty was in order to accomplish goals. Bush never really cared about accomplishing anything.

What he cared about was being a person who emotionally manipulated people so they'd praise him as caring, just as he went to war (and prolonged the state of war to the bitter end) in order to manipulated people into praising him as a warrior. It really is all about him.

As I've pointed out in the past, he doesn't even try to conceal this selfishness when he talks about himself as a wartime consoler. Here's what he said to ABC's Charlie Gibson a few weeks ago:

... I'll miss -- and it's going to sound strange to you -- I'll miss meeting with the families whose son or daughter have fallen in combat, because the meetings I've had with the families are so inspirational. They -- I mean, obviously, there's a lot of sadness, and we cry, and we hug, and we occasionally laugh. And we share -- I listen to stories. But the Comforter-in-Chief is always the comforted person.

And again, a couple of weeks later, to The Washington Times:'s amazing, the comforter in chief oftentimes is the comforted person - comforted because of their strength, comforted because of their devotion, comforted because of their love for their family member.

War was an ego trip for him. Mourning is an ego trip for him. Graciousness is an ego trip for him.

The big headline right now at the Huffington Post is "Roland Burris Almost Certain To Be Seated, Legal Scholars Say." The Illinois secretary of state (who says he'll block this Senate appointment by Governor Blagojevich) has a "duty" (according to the state charter) to process all appointments by the governor and a 1967 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Representative Adam Clayton Powell found that there were significant limits to Congress's constitutional power to deny a seat.

Ah, but the Jed Report asserts that the Senate will, in fact, be able to seat Burris:

If worse comes to worse, and they both cannot delay any longer and are forced to seat Blago Blago's appointment, they can simply turn right around and expel him. Article I, Section 5, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution is crystal clear:

Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.

...Theoretically, Republicans could decide to support Blago's appointment, but that would be a political disaster for them.

That's where Jed's argument falls apart. Why would Republicans hesitate to vote in Burris's favor? Why would they pass up this opportunity to embarrass Democrats?

The national GOP is no longer a major political party. It's really just a large fan club for right-wing talk radio, one that happens to elect a lot of people to office.

As such, its members feel free to do anything Rush Limbaugh can explain to party members. (The party no longer even bothers to try to please anyone other than members.) Supporting Burris will be no stranger than switching from hating Hillary Clinton to praising her during the Democratic primaries.

If Republicans force the Democratic Senate to accept Blagojevich's choice, mainstream journalists may scratch their heads, but Rush will give his listeners the obvious explanation -- that it's a way for Republicans to say to Democrats, "Here -- you made Blago, now you suffer the consequences." And since, for Republicans, the whole point of holding office is to do whatever offends liberals and Democrats (greater national interest? what greater national interest?), Burris will survive any vote to unseat him.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Thank you, Phil and aimai, for filling in while I was gone. Oh, and congratulations to Rumproast for getting nominated for one of these Weblog Award thingies.

I'll be back tomorrow....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jon Swift's annual round-up a slew of bloggers' votes for their own best posts of the year is up, just in time to provide a wealth of good reading for anyone with sense enough to stay the hell home between now and January 1. Posts by Steve ("The Other 'Damn, This Feels Good' Guy") and my damn self ("Those Satisfactions Are Permanent") are included, even if mine has cause to be embarrassed to be seen in such rich company. Seriously, any five minutes of random clicking will be a chastening experience for anyone who thinks they have half a handle on just how much good stuff there is out there.
Some interesting end-of-an-era reading from Vanity Fair, of all places: "An Oral History of the Bush Administration". Not a lot that counts as news, but it's arranged as a chronological record, and I found it fascinating to go back to the start of it all, to the days when the most pressing concern inside the Bush White House was deciding just how openly the President and his abettors should be allowed to show their contempt for the people they'd have to work with, through the whole terrible timeline.

One thing that sneaks through, almost as a subtext to the big events going down, is how incredibly impressed the Bush loyalists tend to be by every display from the President of what, in most people, would count as a demonstration of basic decency. From a distance, it's hard to say whether this is because he really, really plays it up when he's deigning to play the caring soul or if it's because they find his swaggering, swinging-dick tough guy act to be so awesome that they can scarcely believe it when he turns that off and acts halfway human. But whatever it is, they tend to think that the time he was introduced to their mother and didn't knee her in the crotch is a much truer gauge of his real character, and so matters much more, than the time he kept shoveling peanuts into his mouth while glued to ESPN for three days before permitting his aides to show him a TV news report about what had been going on in New Orleans since Katrina hit. A recurring theme goes something like, I wish those monsters, the ones who hold it against him that those people were left to die of sunstroke on their roofs or who blame him for the deaths of their sons in the military, could have been there when he gave my nephew a baseball cap or went to the veterans hospital and shook a double amputee's hand--then they'd know what a great, great man he is!

It makes (again) for an interesting contrast with Bill Clinton, who was famous, if not infamous, for appearing to connect intellectually with people in one-to-one situations on a very deep level, convincing them that he knew just where they coming from and agreed with them completely and would go all the way in favor of whatever they were pitching--to the point that, when they saw him connecting to that same degree with somebody else, they felt betrayed. Bush only connects with people on an emotional level, and in most cases it seems to be a mushy, Lassie, Come Home kind of level. He can afford to be more more promiscuous with it than Clinton could get away with in his mind-melds, and it seems that once someone has felt that connection with him over anything at all, that's it: they'll follow him forever come hell or high water, and never held any failing or misstep against him--nothing he does wrong matters as much as that time they saw him get the sniffles while watching Bambi. It's a good thing the President's shows of tender feeling have been limited by the protective bubble he in which he agreed to be cocooned; if he'd just blown off even appearing to govern a little and just spent the past four years driving from small town to small town, giving everyone he saw a puppy, he might be getting ready to begin his third term.
This is interesting. A few years ago I read a great thriller by Thomas Perry in which a character involved with the Savings and Loan frauds has to run away and hide. Perry does a darned good job of explaining just how too much money looking for too much return on investment creates a climate ripe for fraud of all kinds. In this article a journalist does the same thing with Madoff's fraud, exploring the way the vast sea of "charitable" money (itself generated, perhaps, by the same inflated, bubble market in real estate, securities, and salaries that is now dissolving) created a ripe solution for an almost bacterial level of fraud. I can't find the appropriate cites but I think as we dig further into the failures of the Bush years we are going to see a lot of interconnection between the lax regulation of CEO pay, the bizarre deference to inherited wealth, the convoluted tax laws aimed at charitable donations, the vogue for setting up "family trusts" to handle what seemed like excess familial wealth and this and related fraud schemes.
Regulatory failures surely played a role in Madoff's longevity - the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has apologized and promised an investigation into how examiners missed years of flaming arrows pointing toward Madoff.

But that doesn't explain the structural "success" that Madoff enjoyed for so long. One possible answer is that years ago Madoff solved the two interlocking puzzles that usually prevent Ponzi schemes from becoming perpetual money machines: sustaining growth while maintaining stability...

Some observers have theorized that Madoff's apparent soft spot for foundations was a ploy to instill confidence in private investors. ("Look at all the good work he does for such fine groups!") That might be true, but it overlooks a simple fact that makes foundations ripe targets for a Ponzi schemer: the 5% payout rule.

Federal law requires foundations to spend 5% of their funds each year on good works and administrative costs. ...

By claiming clockwork earnings of roughly 12% a year, Madoff made himself enormously alluring to foundations. They weren't chasing big short-term gains, just a safe and steady haven to cover the 5% payout and grow the base. By satisfying those desires, Madoff attracted gold-plated customers who would enhance his reputation and almost never come running with urgent financial demands. (Nonprofit organizations and endowments aren't governed by the 5% rule, but many operate under a similar slow-and-steady philosophy, and they appear to have been equally embraced by Madoff. Among them was Yeshiva University, which reportedly lost $110 million of its endowment.)

For every $1 billion in foundation investment, Madoff was effectively on the hook for about $50 million in withdrawals a year. If he wasn't making real investments, at that rate the principal would last only 20 years. But by continuing to add new (if more volatile) investments, a Ponzi scheme built on that approach could thrive long into the future. In Madoff's case, it appears that only the autumn market meltdown and extraordinary demands for cash by other investors in early December overwhelmed his well-oiled system.

Le Roi Se Leve.

I know, how about Obama promises not to authorize torture, destroy the environment, launch any wars of choice or choke on any pretzels *while taking his children on holiday events.* Then we could do away with pool reporting on the President's every movement. Is there any conceivable grown up purpose for this hounding of the Presidential person and family other than star fucking?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Just to piggyback on Steve's comments about the "Barack the Magic Negro" fooferaw, the whole thing reminded me of the attitude a few years back, which was immortalized in pieces such as this 2002 L.A. Weekly article by John Powers, that some seismic shift in the culture had made conservatism more "fun" than its alternative. You may remember the drill: wild men and free-wheeling cats such as Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, P. J. O'Rourke, Dennis Miller, and whoever wrote the last page of The Weekly Standard every issue had a monopoly on political humor because they were in touch with the times and had no inhibitions about saying whatever was on their minds. These were the true heirs to Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and the National Lampoon in its salad days, whereas liberals were too depressed and pre-occupied with upholding the standards of "political correctness" to be funny. In his own spin on Powers's article, Jack Shafer at Slate went so far as detect "right-wing envy" in some liberal writers such as Eric Alterman, note that others such as Christopher Hitchens and Mickey Kaus had kept their reputations as fun guys afloat by veering right, and, in a historical aside that really stung, wrote that "the anything-goes drug-and-sex party that the cultural left threw in the '60s [had] segued into an Amish wake" and asked: "Would Emma Goldman dance with these folks?"

Of course, a lot's changed in the culture since then. If you asked most people where they go to have a good laugh at the political news, I suspect that a lot more of them would say The Daily Show than The Weekly Standard, which has turned into a shrill, never-ending pity party where embittered neo-cons and right wing policy wonks meet to accuse each other of having betrayed The Movement and envision the bright new day to come when Ayn Rand's ghost rises from its grave and chases the Socialist usurper Obama back to the Kremlin. As recently as a year ago last spring, things had gotten bad enough that no less an authority than Ellis Weiner, one of the last people responsible for inserting actually funny written material into the shuddering corpse of the National Lampoon in the late 1970s, came right out with the charges that conservatives--or at least Republicans, a group that, as Weiner pointed out, has all but completely replaced actual conservatives in our culture--just aren't funny. The fans of Limbaugh and Coulter, to say nothing of Mallard Filmore and those precious seventeen episodes of The 1/2-Hour News Hour would beg to differ. After all, didn't Rush say that the thirteen-year-old Chelsea Clinton was ugly? And didn't Coulter once rub her hands with glee at the thought of someone blowing up the New York Times building and killing everyone inside? And didn't Dennis Miller, whose post-9/11 daddy-worship of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney might give a fairly strong hint to how he would have courted the Vichy government, call the French--all of them, every last one, even Sophie Marceau--"scumbags"? C'mon, how much of a humorless stick-in-the-mud do you have to be to not appreciate that level of comedy gold?

The celebration, and the self-celebration, of the Republican gasbag contingent as funny is actually based on a few small misconceptions. Miller himself displayed his firm grasp on one of these when he appeared on The Daily Show a while back. Coming on to do his interview after a segment mocking first Bush and then the Democrats in the House and Senate, Miller congratulated Jon Stewart in having the courage and fairness to make jokes about politicians on both sides of the aisle. Stewart looked at him as if he'd just been complimented on having had the foresight and keen intelligence to put his pants on before leaving the house. The thing is, great satirists tend not to be partisans. They may have core beliefs that makes them inclined to favor a certain side--indeed, their satire is likely to be keener if this is the case than if they're the kind of bland jokers who make a big show of not caring one way or the other. But great comic imaginations need to be unfettered, and there are few straight jackets more restrictive than an ironclad adherence to one political side. In its great days in the early seventies, the Lampoon was famous for going after its "own" side as enthusiastically as it did Nixon, just as Lenny Bruce used to make fun of clumsily sanctimonious liberals in his "How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties" routine, and just as Richard Pryor ridiculed both the white power culture he saw as his enemy and the black street culture of which he was a heroic part. They were comic artists; Limbaugh, Coulter, Miller and company are demagogues.

When Limbaugh first landed, a number of pundits who felt the need to account for his appeal and influence in a way that wouldn't amount to calling a good percentage of the electorate sound like bigots and idiots fell back on the myth that he's a hilarious, lovable demagogue, and even went so far as to argue that liberals could, you know, learn a lot from this guy. Instead, we're now aswamp in "political entertainers" like Miller, who have so little understanding of the basics of comedy that they can only marvel that not every joke on The Daily Show has been vetted by the DNC. That's because people who are genuinely funny who turn their attention to politics will notice a wealth of material on both sides, and they will be unable to force themselves to not make a good joke at the expense of someone they're liable to vote for: that's how being funny works. Miller and company can't understand that, because they're less interested in trying to really be funny than they are in hearing their pre-sold audience explode gratefully in reaction to having its prejudices stroked--by, say, hearing the French called scumbags. The thing is, even if you once had a comic muscle somewhere in your body, after you've done this sort of child's play for a few years, you'll likely find that you can't just turn around and go back to being funny. Muscles atrophy if they're never utilized, and a few years of settling for easy laughs by telling appreciative, mono-browed audiences that the French are scumbags would have turned Groucho Marx into Carrot Top. One of the few amusing ironies associated with the Millers and the Limbaughs and Coulters is that, because Republican "comics" tend to be rabble-rousers whose shtick consists of marrying a list of G.O.P. talking points to a reliable lineup of frat house insults hurled at the usual liberal suspects, they tend to think of anyone who'll make fun of anybody as being liberal, even though attacks on liberal politicians by "liberal" comics tend to be more devastating, because they're likely to make actual points instead of just calling someone a weasel.

The other big misconception is related to the concept of "political correctness", which we all had a good head-scratch over circa 1991 and which is still going strong in the world of Republican comic demagoguery. The fact is, satire works best when it's attacking the powerful, and, especially during Republican administrations, the Limbaugh-Coulter brand of "humor" has been very dependent on the notion, far funnier in itself than anything else these folks have ever come up with, that "political correctness" is the most powerful and oppressive force in our great land, a terrible infringement on free expression and a crushing debasement of the American way of life. When these characters indulge in expressions of racist resentment and fantasies of raining death on their enemies that wouldn't be out of place in The Turner Diaries, anyone who rolls his eyes at the display of childish, misplaced venom is quickly tagged as dangerously, politically correct. If the backlash against political correctness ever had anything real behind it, for a long time now it's basically amounted to the cry, "Hey, if rappers get to say 'nigger', how come I can't, huh?" The only appropriate verbal response to this is probably to ask why, of all the things a human being might complain about, you'd want to zero in on the forces discouraging you from saying "nigger", and have you considered the possibility that the apparent intensity of your desire to be able to say it does not reflect altogether favorably upon your psychological condition, though if you don't feel like saying all that, a blank stare might also be acceptable. If you sample the responses from some high Republican muck-a-mucks to the current controversy, you may just come away with the feeling that the great unspoken fear running through these folks now is that we now be past the point in history where the assured votes of working-class white guys who feel that the world is standing on their necks because they can't say "nigger" whenever the mood strikes them can no longer carry Republican candidates into office, and that thanks to their association with people like Limbaugh, they may not be able to convince most of the world, anytime soon, that this is not a big part of their market share.

Funnily enough, this very theme was sounded immediately after the election in the pages of The Weekly Standard by P. J. O'Rourke his bad self, who in a post-mortem complained of how the G.O.P. had alienated minority voters, and in the process somehow confused people into thinking that it might just be the slightest bit okay with racism: "There was no need to piss off the entire black population of America to get Dixie's electoral votes. And despising cracker trash who have a laundry hamper full of bedsheets with eye-holes cut in them does not make a man a liberal." Of course, not too long ago, O'Rourke was the very model of the funny-ha-ha Republican commentator who delighted in flouting his "freedom" to say things about women and blacks and Hispanics that were calculated to strike the listener as offensive if the listener was so thin-skinned as to dare seem "political correct", or to use the terms we used to use for not appreciating that kind of talk, decent, intelligent, and minimally polite. Now he and a lot of other people are appalled, appalled (to use the word of choice for Republicans using the Chip Saltsman affair as an excuse to dust off their Captain Renault act) that some undisciplined troublemakers have gone and given the simpletons out there the idea that Republicans don't really mind what Don Imus tastefully calls "nigger jokes." Of course, the undisciplined troublemakers have been given us that impression for a long time now, and even found themselves praised by their fellow "conservatives" for their down-to-earth rowdiness and sense of fun. It's funny how easy it is to suddenly feel ashamed of that sort of thing the minute it starts losing you more votes than it gets you.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Hi, it's Steve. I'm still mostly out of Internet contact, but I was just checking in quickly and noticed that there was a story about John "Chip" Saltsman, a candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee:

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan issued a statement Saturday distancing the party's leadership from one of the GOP’s best-known operatives, Chip Saltsman, who distributed a CD containing "Barack the Magic Negro" as part of his campaign to be elected chairman of the Republican National Committee next month.

... Saltsman sent Republican National Committee members, who will choose the next chairman, a CD by conservative political satirist Paul Shanklin, "We HATE the USA." It contains the controversial track, which was popular on conservative radio....

Oh, and:

...among the 41 tracks on the CD, there are other racist, barf-inducing tracks such as "The Star Spanglish Banner."

I just want to point out what Saltsman said in response to a questionnaire distributed to all the candidates for RNC chair by Morton Blackwell,

By action and deed, we must convince minority voters to trust the Republican Party again. We must take the members-only sign off the clubhouse door and throw out the welcome mat. The party of Abraham Lincoln can do no less.

You've made a helluva start, Chip.


(And now I'm heading back into vaction mode.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'll be curious to see what kind of conspiracy theories get thrown around regarding President Bush's weird attempt to reverse his own pardon of Isaas Toussie, as soon as the blogosphere starts lighting up when people start returning to their keyboards as holiday dinner recedes into the past and the tryptophan starts wearing off. It's such a strange thing to have done, under cover of the news blackout that is the Christmas season, that there has to be some super-secret subtext to this. Maybe it was all done as a distraction from something really grotty. But my own hunch is that it was just the President's second most deeply ingrained psychological reflex asserting itself again. You will recall that Bush has spent most of his life defining himself as the better, tougher, folksier doppelganger of his own mewling dad, but that, so confounding are the effects of the love-hate relationship, for the past fifteen years he's been trying to finesse a path between not doing what his dad would do and never, ever doing what his dad's conqueror, Bill Clinton, might do. It's been easy to lose track of this as the President has become more and more irrelevant to anything in recent years, but in his first term, he and his elves where notorious for invoking the doctrine of "ABC"--"Anything But Clinton". If Clinton built FEMA up into one of the effective, smoothly run arms of the government, then the right thing to do must be to gut the agency, restaff it with cronies and retards, and then react to the kind of national disaster that it would once have been their job to respond to by waiting three days to say that it sure is news to you and everyone you know that a levee can fail. If the U.S. government under Clinton caught, tried, and imprisoned the people responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombing, then catching terrorists might be for pussies. A real man orders that the search for those responsible be called off and then invades a country where terrorists have been supremely unwelcome by the local dictator-strongman and knocks him off an creates a state of anarchy so that the terrorists will have a new preserve in which to play and roam free. If it so happens that it's the same dictator-strongman that your daddy was too lame to topple from power, hey--that's a twofer!

So I suspect that when President Bush issued his nineteen--count 'em, nineteen, wow, what a prince!--pardons in time for his final White House Christmas, and then it turned out that one of them was for a guy whose father had made donations to the RNC and to John McCain, the name "Marc Rich" must have shot through his head like a comet. I haven't seen Rich's name brought up in connection to this yet--which isn't to say that I might have just missed it--and you might have altogether forgotten who he is, but I'll bet that George W. Bush remembers any name connected with a reason that Bill Clinton was once summoned to the principal's office the same way that most people remember the first time their children said their names aloud. Rich is the guy who Clinton pardoned during his last day in office, partly in response to the recommendation of Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder. Rich had fled the country in 1983 after then-U.S. Attorney General Rudy Giuliani charged him with tax evasion and illegally doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. In 1989, the U.S. Justice Department decided that Guiliani's use of the RICO statute in tax-evasion cases was improper, and the idea that Rich hadn't even broken the law was supported by such hippie Socialist types as Scooter Libby, but Rich's wife had made donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Library, and the idea that the pardon was so without merit as to be indefensible and had simply been bought resonated strongly with a Republican party and a Washington press corps that never got over its failure to have Clinton tried for war crimes in the Hague for having had an affair. However shady some aspects of the affair could be made to seem, the hysteria that it set off now looks, to some of us anyway, like the reaction of people who were freaking out partly just because this was their last chance to scream at the world that the Boss Hogg of Arkansas was the devil incarnate. (It was one of three fancifully overreported "scandals" that kept the media occupied while the Bushies were settling in and John Ashcroft was yelling to stop bothering him with this "Al Kida" nonsense and focus on throwing blankets over nude statues and busting New Orleans whorehouses. The other scandals centered around made-up charges that Clinton staffers had vandalized the White House by such stunts as removing the "W" keys from all the computers, and shocked reports that the Clintons themselves had actually taken some of their belongings with them when they left. Actual examination revealed that the "plunder" was commensurate with the amount of gifts, furniture and other objects taken by the Reagan and Bush, Sr. families when they departed the White House, but at the time, the media did their best to summon up an image of greedy hillbillies piling the flat-bed truck up with such priceless historical mementos as George Washington's TV table.)

So it must have been an interesting moment when Bush decided that, if he let that one pardon stand, he might for giving up his braggings rights on a single point of being morally superior to Bill Clinton, especially if I'm right in believing that feeling morally superior to Clinton, and tougher and more down-to-earth than his dad, is more important to him than any claim he could ever make to bringing freedom to any people or place on Earth. In fact, in his position as a leader with the power to bypass and override the usual channels of justice, Bush has made it clear how little he cares about bringing freedom to those who may deserve it. As Governor of Texas, he was famously stingy with pardons and pleas for clemency, and he never met a Death Row conviction he didn't like. This, more than anything else you could throw at him, is what has always given some of us the cold creeps about Bush, for all the testimony others offer about how hard he is to dislike: a man who's had such an easy life, with every sin forgiven and every chute greased ahead of him, ought to have a lot more empathy for those who've spun the wheel of justice and just had to take their chances. Instead, Bush has issued some 190 pardons in eight years as president, compared to 456 pardons issued by Bill Clinton. They've tended to be for people who committed minor crimes long ago and served their full sentences; Bush, who had plenty of opportunities in his life to observe how differently he was being treated from people who committed stupid offenses such as driving drunk but who didn't belong to rich and powerful families, seems to have retained the Texas hard-ass's belief that if somebody is in jail they must belong there, and that to even question someone's conviction or the harshness of their sentence is tantamount to pissing on a murdered policeman's grave while his widow is made to watch. I don't know how much mercy Isaac Toussie deserves; some of the people who feel victimized by him and who have legal suits pending against him were righteously angry about the news. I do know that if George W. Bush wanted to sum up his personal legacy and what he represents as a leader and a human being, he could scarcely have done better than to define himself not as the president who was most generous with his forgiveness, or most discerning with it either, but as the president who was selfish with it, then became reckless with it, and then announced that he wanted it back.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Awesome! Secretary, stay that Pardon and Drop that Kick:

JMM is reporting something phenomenally funny from the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight:

Only a day after issuing a presidential pardon to Isaac Robert Toussie, a real estate scammer from Brooklyn, President Bush decided to reverse the pardon, after it emerged that Toussie's father had contributed almost $30,000 to the Republican party.

Pardons are absolute. They can't be reviewed or reconsidered or overturned, even by the president who issued them. According to the White House press release, President Bush had sent a "Master Warrant of Clemency" with 19 names to the Pardon Attorney at DOJ to execute. But he hadn't executed it yet. In other words, the White House is claiming none of these folks had actually been pardoned yet. So the president can just send word now not to 'execute' that one pardon.

I'd be curious to hear from constitutional lawyers on this. But I'm not sure the constitution would recognize this distinction. And to be arch about it, I think the unitary theory of the executive would suggest that the pardon is full and irrevocable once the president says he's doing it. The power is the president's -- not the pardon attorney's once the president sends on the request. The constitution doesn't recognize or take any cognizance of the administrative procedures they've developed at the Justice Department.

I would think Toussie's attorneys could make a pretty solid argument that the bell's been rung. Too late.

I pray Toussie's lawyers lose and whoever is given the "warrant" for the Pardon of all of Bush's Pardonees simply loses the Pardon until after Obama gets in. Then let the constitutional lawyers battle it out whether a post facto, presidentialy posthumous pardon--of Dick Cheney, say--is still legal.
File Under Filler

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a blogger was stirring, except me. I was too polite to make fun of the rest of you but while all of you were jetting hither and yon rushing to visit family and friends, tripping over your wassail and generally making seasonal merry I had scored the greatest victory ever scored by woman. I was *too sick to host Christmas Eve Dinner* for my family. At 8:30 in the morning I bit the bullet and informed my scandalized mother that I was not going to be the cause of the death of my beloved Aged P's by bringing them into this pestilential abode and coughing on them. The entire family swung into action and at five O'clock I was able to throw Mr. Aimai and the kiddies down the icy front steps into the snow with a basket of presents, cheeses, home made fudge, home made candied nuts, home made fruit compote, and two kinds of home made harrissa, a special brandy cake and a few other fixings (its not like I had been lazing around while sick, you know.) They went off to make merry with my parents and brother's family (the *&^%$ vegetarians) and I retreated to eat lamb chops and broccoli di rabe, drink lillet and eat goat cheese, in bed, with the Sixth Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No. Woman. Has.Ever.Had. A.Merrier.Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'm out of here until December 31. I think there'll be guest bloggers here while I'm gone (right?), but if not, I'll be back in a week or so.

Sorry I'm not leaving you with any amusing holiday videos or JPEGs, but I'm having a cranky Christmas season; I'll try to be cheerier in the New Year. For now, maybe I'll get to stop thinking about Rick Warren (I'm angry, but I'm tired of the subject), the essential non-connection of Obama to Blagojevichgate (how many ways can the right make nothing seem sinister?), and the whole Yglesias/CAP thing (which I've never even begun to give a crap about, nor do I plan to).

Oh well, I do like the fact that this is happening on Long Island in Westchester County, New York:*

When they lit the town Christmas tree in Armonk last week, there was a Jewish menorah right alongside, as usual. There also was something new this year -- an Islamic crescent and star.

And if there are any local Buddhists or Hindus in the Westchester County town who want to see their symbols as well, the village is welcoming applications.

...Craig Mason, 63, a retired town resident, said he had no strong religious feelings but felt the display "says nice things about the people here, about how we welcome everyone." ...

But hey -- no Festivus pole? Oh, wait -- there's one in the Capitol rotunda in Springfield, Illinois. I feel enjoyably aggrieved.

*Oops. I'd had a bit of Christmas cheer when I posted this, though the actual cheer part didn't seem to take.

Apropos of apparently nothing, Paul Bedard, the "Washington Whispers" blogger for U.S. News, put up a post yesterday called "Did McCain Botch the Sarah Palin Pick?" No, it's not another recounting of Palin's most embarrassing moments on the trail -- it's more or less the opposite. A couple of anonymous sources have, er, whispered to Bedard that McCain screwed up by overlooking all the good Palin could have done for McCain, if her genius hadn't gone unrecognized:

...Now I'm hearing from key Republicans on Capitol Hill and GOP pollsters who believe that the McCain campaign should have put her out to talk about energy and political independence -- her two best issues -- instead of making her the conservative attack dog.

Said one pollster: "The McCain campaign took this person and completely botched her assets." What's more, the pollster said that in Palin, the McCain campaign had an expert on one of the key issues that was on the minds of Americans: energy prices. "They should have used her knowledge and focus on her expertise." And the pollster said on background that the campaign should have played up her reputation as a political maverick.

Instead, the campaign "took her and turned her into an attack dog and she wasn't good at it." And it hurt her national image, with one internal GOP poll putting her positive to negative image at 48 percent to 48 percent....

Why did these people decide to "whisper" this now? Who is orchestrating this stuff?

I don't know, but I feel we're going to get a totally gratuitous pro-Palin media leak every few days until she declares for president a couple of years from now. There's a Palin machine out there, and it's revved up.

Oh, and by the way, the anonymous pollster says the McCain campaign "should have played up her reputation as a political maverick"? Didn't McCain say she was a maverick several thousand times? Wasn't he forever telling us about the refreshing maverickitude of her gubernatorial record? Wasn't that the central message of the campaign's advertising at one point? Could he have possibly made that point more often?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


(UPDATE: This post isn't about Dennis Prager's horrifying new essay "When a Woman Isn't in the Mood: Part I," which recommends mandatory sex for wives on their husbands' demand, but I think it wouldn't be too discern a connection.)

You know Morton Blackwell -- he's been a right-wing activist for more than 40 years; he helped train Karl Rove and Ralph Reed and he's been an ally to Grover Norquist, Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, and others; he distributed Purple Heart Band-Aids at the 2004 Republican convention to mock John Kerry.

In short, he's a big deal in GOP circles -- a big enough deal that when he distributed a questionnaire to the six declared candidates for RNC chairman, all of them responded. Many of his questions are innocuous; then there's one that's just bizarre:

6.The feminists' attack on marriage was one major reason why unmarried women voted for Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain by a staggering 70% to 29%.

Do you agree that Republicans must support marriage and cut off the many incentives to divorce and unmarried motherhood that now exist in federal law and spending?

Wow. This is what one of the great minds of the GOP believes: not merely that unmarried women vote Democratic more than, say, men or married women (which is generally conceded to be true), but that if we didn't make it so damn easy for women to avoid marriage, or have kids out of wedlock, they'd stop being so hot to trot and settle down and vote Republican.

Do the six candidates find this question offensive, or at least peculiar?

Nope. Four of the six -- Ken Blackwell, Katon Dawson, Mike Duncan, and Michael Steele -- say, flat out, "Yes." Yes, in other words, Republicans "must support marriage and cut off the many incentives to divorce and unmarried motherhood that now exist in federal law and spending," in order to increase Republicans' vote count (though Duncan adds that he doesn't want to write off divorced women's votes). The other two candidates -- Saul Anuzis and John "Chip" Saltsman -- promise to (in Saltsman's words) "promote, protect, and defend the strength and stability of marriage in our society."

To be sure, a few of these guys seem confused by the question, perhaps thinking it's primarily about gay marriage; Blackwell, Saltsman, and Steele make clear that they're unswervingly opposed to letting gays marry. (Idle question: Would marriage make gays more likely to vote Republican?)

But, apart from Duncan, no one seems appalled at the notion that it's too easy for women not to marry, and laws should be altered to change that -- and thus change women's voting. It's an offensive and weird question -- but none of the RNC chairman wannabes think it's either of those things.

First of all, two cheers to George Will (yes, really) for at least some components of this nasty little cluster bomb of a sentence, which appears in his year-end column for Newsweek:

During the presidential contest between an African-American from Chicago and a plumber from Toledo, eros reared its beguiling head, so: Coming soon to a Cineplex near you, "Republicans in Love," a romantic comedy about conservatives who advocate extravagant presidential powers and who this autumn favored putting the governor of a national park (the federal government owns 63 percent of Alaska) in close proximity to those powers.

Will is essentially correct in that first clause: this fall, it really did seem as if John McCain was looking for someone, anyone, to be the real face of his own ticket, rather than himself. First it was Palin, then it was Joe; if the race had gone on for a few more months, hell, it could have been somebody whose name was picked out of a hat. Certainly three or four other lunkheads would have gotten the gig in succession, or perhaps simultaneously.

And Palin is "the governor of a national park"? Ouch.

Ah, but what Will calls "eros" certainly lingers on: today, the Wall Street Journal gives us John O'Sullivan's contention that Palin might be just a few all-nighters away from becoming the next Maggie Thatcher:

...[In 1975] Margaret Thatcher was not yet Margaret Thatcher. She had not won the 1979 election, recovered the Falklands, reformed trade union law, defeated the miners, and helped destroy Soviet communism peacefully.

... Like Mrs. Palin this year, Mrs. Thatcher knew there were serious gaps in her knowledge, especially of foreign affairs. She recruited experts who shared her general outlook (such as Robert Conquest and Hugh Thomas) to tutor her on these things.

... initially she faltered.... But she lowered her tone (vocally not morally), took lessons in presentation from (among others) Laurence Olivier, and prepared diligently for every debate and Question Time.

I can still recall her breakthrough performance in a July 1977 debate on the Labour government's collapsing economy. She dominated the House of Commons so wittily that the next day the Daily Mail's acerbic correspondent, Andrew Alexander, began his report: "If Mrs. Thatcher were a racehorse, she would have been tested for drugs yesterday." She was now on the way to becoming the world-historical figure who today is the gold standard of conservative statesmanship.

... [Palin] has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America's problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them....

But what evidence is there that Palin thinks she needs to do any of this?

It still astonishes me that she actually accepted John McCain's offer of the #2 spot. You say it was a great career move? Hey, it would be a great career move for me to become the chief of brain surgery at Johns Hopkins -- but, silly me, if someone offered me this gig, with the vast increase in money and prestige it would afford, I would turn it down because I'm not a freaking doctor. I'm not qualified. Lives would be in the balance. I could do irreparable harm to people.

Faced with a similar set of circumstances last summer (and also with family difficulties), Palin apparently didn't even ask to sleep on the offer of possibly being a heartbeat away from the presidency. She just said "You betcha."

We know from her recent Human Events interview that she thought she was ready to take on the world:

GIZZI: What was the biggest mistake made in the ’08 campaign?

PALIN: The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media. I was not allowed to do very many interviews, and the interviews that I did were not necessarily those I would have chosen. But I...

But if I would have been in charge, I would have wanted to speak to more reporters because that’s how you get your message out to the electorate.

GIZZI: And what was the most important lesson you learned from the campaign?

PALIN: ... there were so many things that were outside of my control. I was in a campaign in which I did not know the people individually running the campaign. So I had to put my life, my career, my family, and my reputation in their hands. That’s kind of a scary thing to do when you don’t know the people you are working with.

Short version: Palin thinks she needed less hand-holding.

And as for evidence that Palin will "recruit experts who share her general outlook," I have a hunch that this interview exchange tells us something about what savants she turns to:

GIZZI: Who is your role model?

PALIN: Susan B. Anthony. I have great respect there for the history. She was a pro-life feminist and those things that she stood for, and she was so far ahead of her time. It amazes me.

Hmmm ... where'd she get that? Possibly from the folks at the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group whose president was also a co-founder of the frequently offensive Palin fan site Team Sarah?

I know what you're going to say: If she wants to play in the bigs in 2012 or 2016, she knows she'll have to do better than that. She's going to make herself credible -- bone up on issues, impress editorial boards, publish a campaign-year essay in Foreign Affairs, etc., etc.

I'm not sure she'll do it. I think she'll master the issues enough to get by, then refuse to go the "serious" route -- painting that refusal as "mavericky," or whatever the word for it is then. And I think her party will be just as suspicious of book-l'arnin' then as it is now, and will make her the nominee, not in spite of her lack of detailed knowledge, but in large part because of it.

Mike Bloomberg isn't getting his way, and he's not happy about that. Our accidental governor seemed weak and easy to roll, but he's being rather Obamaesque, refusing to be rattled, and it's making Bloomie crazy.

Here's Bloomberg at a news conference yesterday, as reported by the New York Daily News:

"I'm not endorsing Caroline Kennedy," Bloomberg said. "I've said again and again that the governor is lucky to have multiple candidates who are qualified to pick from. But in the case of Caroline Kennedy, I happen to have worked with her. She has worked in the New York City school system. She is intelligent, competant, knows as much about the issues, I think, as most people that run for senator or have been our senators in the past."

"...The fact that she comes from a family with an illustrious history of service to this country, you certainly shouldn’t hold it against her," the mayor continued. "She is known because of it. She has conducted her life, I think, in an exemplary manner. She should be judged, however, on her ability, and I think on that basis Caroline Kennedy will do just fine."

"That doesn't mean she's the only one. It's up to the governor, and I think the governor should make a decision reasonably quickly because this is just getting out of control and everybody's focusing on the wrong things."

Translation: The rollout isn't working, and Paterson damn well better get with the program and choose Kennedy before even more people actually focus on whether she has any qualifications for the job.

Paterson, meanwhile, just went off on a secret trip to Iraq with Congressman Steve Israel (who also wants the Senate seat) and Congressman Anthony Weiner (who wants to take the mayor's job away from Bloomberg and, unlike Bloomberg, is a Democrat). A Politico story this weekend reported that Caroline Kennedy refuses to say that she'll endorse the Democratic mayoral candidate next year.

The News takes Bloomberg's insistence that he doesn't have a favorite candidate at face value, even while noting that his "top political aide, Kevin Sheekey, and outside consultant, Josh Isay, have been heavily involved in Kennedy's rollout." Please. Bloomberg is not George W. Bush. Subordinates don't do things under his aegis without his knowledge and approval.

Monday, December 22, 2008


A number of bloggers (Kathy, Jed L, Steve Benen) have noted Dick Cheney's bizarre response yesterday when asked by Fox's Chris Wallace to name his "[h]ighest moment the last eight years":

CHENEY: Hmmm. Highest moment in the last eight years? Well, I think the most important, the most compelling, was 9/11 itself, and what that entailed, what we had to deal with. The way in which that changed the nation, and set the agenda for what we had to deal with as an administration.

WALLACE: Can I add, sir, (ph) that's also your lowest moment?

CHENEY: Sure. Yes.

Well, Cheney's boss had a moment that seemed a little bit like that at Walter Reed Army Medical Center today. While visiting injured servicemembers, he said:

You know, I oftentimes say being the Commander-in-Chief of the military is the thing I'll miss the most, and coming here to Walter Reed is a reminder of why I'll miss it.

If you're a normal person, you probably think being commander in chief is a duty. You think it's hard work, and hard work Bush hasn't done particularly well; you think it would be agonizing to be a commander in chief in wartime even when the wars are going in the country's favor, and that it would be almost unbearable if you'd had significant failures.

But for Bush? Nahhh. It's pleasurable. He digs it. It's what he'll miss the most.

Look, I don't think this is just an overgrown child playing toy soldiers. Bush wants to be loved -- that's why he stays in a bubble where the only people he meets are people who think he's a hell of a president and a terrific guy.

Well, the troops essentially have to treat Bush as if he's terrific. And many of them still legitimately believe he is -- in greater percentages than the general population.

So when Bush says that being commander in chief is what he'll miss the most, that's what he'll miss -- people who have a deep and profound respect for him, or at least know they have to carry themselves as if they do. Being looked up to that way -- even by a young person whose wounds are Bush's fault -- is one of the great pleasures of Bush's life.

At the Huffington Post, Geoffrey Dunn notes that -- a pro-Sarah Palin Web site that's meant to be (or at least seem like) the hub of a grassroots movement -- has hosted some pretty nasty stuff, including racist discussions.

I'm not surprised. Back in October I found TeamSarah hosting this bit of Photoshop:

Dunn cites a prediction of riots "in urban/Obama areas," which brings this response: "Well niggers will occasionally chimp out like this, am I right?" He also cites this exchange:

Wendell: I just can't wait to see the Inaugeral ball... I heard the Presidential Waltz will be replaced by Barack and Michelle "Crumpin".

tami I am sure michelle will dance like a horse

Wendell: followed by the new cabinet break dancing...

Christopher: Not trying to get too racial, but I have never met a black woman who could not dance.

tommykb3grz: the 4th of july watermellon roll on the south lawn

Wendell: a 4-inch diameter Presidential Seal in gold hanging from Obama's neck

(This exchange goes on for a bit. Dunn found it at the Alaska Dispatch, which has a fuller version, if you really want to read it.)


In response to this, The American Spectator's Robert Stacy McCain harrumphs on his blog:

Naturally, a HuffPo blogger finds a reason to scream "racism" at Team Sarah.

Yeah, those silly liberals -- always screaming "racism" when there are actual racists around.

McCain thinks TeamSarah is the bee's knees -- "the sort of spontaneous Tocquevillean activism that the conservative movement has been woefully lacking lately." He cites a deceitful L.A. Times article that makes the whole thing seem like the work of a few ordinary Moms:

Across Shannon McGinley's hometown of Bedford, N.H., this fall, women were talking about politics.

At school gatherings and Bible study groups, women who had never followed political affairs were talking about a woman like them -- a conservative mother trying to balance family and career.

It started when the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate.... -- boasting more than 60,000 members and hoping to top 100,000 by Inauguration Day -- was started in part by a mother of five, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group that promotes the involvement of women in politics. She and Jane Abraham, chairwoman of the group's board, started the site as a place for followers to network and promote Palin.

The website grew quickly, the organizers said, with membership increasing after each burst of critical news coverage of the controversial Republican running mate from Alaska. On the site, members created profiles, browsed blog postings, found volunteer activities and met other supporters....

I think the response is genuine and spontaneous (I actually agree with R.S. McCain that no one else in the GOP inspires voters the way Palin does, if, um, "inspires" is the right word) -- but, no, the organization isn't. As I noted back in October, TeamSarah is an offshoot of a right-wing group called the Susan B. Anthony List, which is extremely well connected. Here's Mitt Romney raising $100,000 for the group back in June, at a fundraiser attended by

more than 100 people, including Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Jean Schmidt, Virginia Foxx, Marilyn Musgrave, Steve Roskam, Gary Bauer, Liz Cheney, Mary Cheney and Will Ritter.

The co-chair of the SBA List's executive committee is Barbara Comstock, who led the Scooter Libby defense fund and, prior to that,

served as "chief investigator" for Rep. Dan Burton, the wigged-out Indiana congressman who once executed a watermelon to demonstrate his sinister theory concerning the fate of Vince Foster, the White House counsel who committed suicide in 1993. During those glory years, she joined David Brock and the rest of the Republican pack in the hunting of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In his memoir, "Blinded by the Right," Brock described Comstock as almost unhinged in her passion to bring down the Clintons.

Comstock calmed down enough to serve as director of public affairs in John Ashcroft's Justice Department, to run opposition research for the Republican National Committee and, ultimately, after leaving government, to join the powerhouse lobbying firm of Blank Rome, best known for its huge contributions to the Republican Party, its close association with former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and other Bush appointees, and its lucky clientele of DHS contractors.

And the executive committee includes Bill Kristol and a lot of GOP congressmen's wives. (A few of the names: Istook, Pence, Bunning, and Tiahrt.)

As I said in October, you'd think a slick operation like this could do a better job of policing the worst of the knuckle-draggers on the site.

I see that it's Compassion for the Troops Day on the Bush-Cheney Self-Justification Legacy Tour. From The Washington Times:

EXCLUSIVE: Bush, Cheney comforted troops privately

For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark.

Their mission: to comfort the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to lift the spirits of those wounded in the service of their country.

... the size and scope of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's private endeavors to meet with wounded soliders and families of the fallen far exceed anything that has been witnessed publicly, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the effort.

...Mr. Bush, for instance, has sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice....

Yeah -- I'm sure that made a serious dent in his mountain biking schedule.

...Mr. Cheney similarly has hosted numerous events, even sneaked away from the White House or his Naval Observatory home to meet troops at hospitals or elsewhere without a hint to the news media.

For instance, Mr. Cheney flew to North Carolina late last month and met with 500 special-operations soldiers for three hours on a Saturday night at a golf resort. The event was so secretive that the local newspaper didn't even learn about it until three days after it happened.

Mr. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, also have hosted more than a half-dozen barbecues at their Naval Observatory home for wounded troops recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed and their spouses and children....

Hmmmm ... half a dozen? You mean, approximately one a year since he and Junior started sending these kids to Hell for no reason? Approximately one barbecue for every 700 U.S. troop deaths? Wow, that's generous.

Then again, we're talking about the concept of being comforted by Dick and Lynne Cheney. I think I need to take a shower.

The Times story describes the task, for Bush at least, as "wrenching," but it's obvious that Bush loves doing this -- loves crying, loves having people feel grateful to him, loves being (as he describes himself) the "comforter in chief." Asked to talk about it, he goes into a sort of fugue state:

The definition of comfort is very interesting. Comfort means hug, comfort means cry, comfort means smile, comfort means listen.

That "Pet Goat" story must really be seared into Bush's consciousness -- he seems to be improvising a children's picture book off the top of his head. It doesn't rhyme yet, but it's just a first draft.

Oh, and as for that comforter-in-chief thing, Bush says:'s amazing, the comforter in chief oftentimes is the comforted person -- comforted because of their strength, comforted because of their devotion, comforted because of their love for their family member. And a lot of them said, Mr. President, please know that my child wanted to do this.

Yeah, it's just so wrenching for Bush to keep meeting people who go out of their way to make him feel appreciated and wanted. What a sacrifice to have to endure all that positive regard.

This is accompanied in the WashTimes by a sidebar in which Laura is interviewed. Among other things, she says:

I'm very aware of how emotional it is and how draining it is for the president and for me, too. Both of us. But I think we do support each other, not by saying anything so much but just by the comfort of each other's presence, both when we are with the families and then afterwards when we are alone.

Hmmm ... you've got each other, two kids (both still of fighting age) who are alive and able to walk and not suffering from traumatic brain injury, plus that nice new $3 million home? Buck up, Laura. I think you'll manage to endure.


UPDATE: Well, perhaps it's a three-day Compassion for the Troops weekend -- I see that Kimberley Strassel had an interview with Bush in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday in which she carefully noted his many visits with the families of deceased servicemembers, while also carefully noting that "he does not bring it up to me." Yes, Kimberley, I'm sure you just happened to think of it all by your lonesome, just as the reporters at The Washington Times did. I'm sure there was no prompting whatsoever from anyone in Bushworld.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Vice President Dick Cheney, interviewed today on Fox New Sunday by Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: ...Biden has said that he believes you have dangerously expansive views of executive power.

CHENEY: ... if he wants to diminish the office of vice president, that's obviously his call.

... WALLACE: If you could conceptualize it for me, sir, what do you think are the powers of the president relative to Congress and relative to the courts during war?

CHENEY: ... I think you're fully justified in setting up a terror surveillance program to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States.

I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high-value detainees.

...The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts....

Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero (1985):

When we get to Rip's apartment on Wilshire, he leads us into the bedroom. There's a naked girl, really young and pretty, lying on the mattress. Her legs are spread and tied to the bedpost and her arms are tied above her head.... Spin digs the syringe into her arm....

"Oh God, Rip, come on, she's eleven."

"Twelve," Rip corrects.

"Yeah, twelve," I say, thinking about it for a moment.

"Hey don't look at me like I'm some sort of scumbag or something. I'm not."

..."It's ... I don't think it's right."

"What's right? If you want something, you have the right to take it. If you want to do something, you have the right to do it."

And while I'm talking about the Cheney interview, this, from Dan Eggen in The Washington Post, is not helpful:

In discussing his views of broad executive power on national security issues, Cheney ... said that all U.S. presidents since 1973 have viewed the War Powers Act -- which gave Congress the role of declaring war -- as unconstitutional.

Is it too much to expect that the Washington Post reporter assigned to write this story would know that the freaking Constitution gives Congress the role of declaring war?

The Congress shall have Power ...

To declare War....

Rupert Murdoch's London Sunday Times knows how to structure the lede to inflame the rabble:

Bush attacker 'incensed by bullet-riddled Koran'

THE young Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W Bush had been incensed by a story he covered about an American soldier who used a copy of the Koran for target practice, according to his family.

..."He talked incessantly about the subject," recalled his elder brother Uday....

Ho ho ho ho! What a silly raghead!

Oh, and, yeah, there was also all of this:

It was one of a number of assignments that appear to have radicalised Zaydi during his brief journalistic career.

"The war changed Muntathar's psyche as a result of the horrific scenes he saw, as well as the cruel tragedies, which led to the scene we all saw at the press conference," Uday added.

In three years at the station Zaydi witnessed many scenes of carnage, including suicide bombings and sectarian killings, his brother said. "But the incident that made Muntathar cry most was the story of Abir, the daughter of Mahmoudiya."

... In 2006 five American soldiers raped and killed 14-year-old Abir Janabi in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. They also shot dead her mother, father and seven-year-old sister. Four of the soldiers have been tried; three were sentenced to life imprisonment and the fourth was jailed for 27 months. The fifth, who had left the army, will be tried in a US civilian court early next year.

... During the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, he fled with relatives to Diyala, a province north of Baghdad, and narrowly escaped an American airstrike that killed a family in a house nearby....

Deeply serios Boston Herald editor Jules Crittenden links to this with a snicker, and tosses in a link to a post from another blogger that essentially says all terrorism is Muslim. Robert Spencer's deeply serious Jihad Watch also makes note of the story and links to a post at Weasel Zippers, which offers this helpful comment:

I wonder how he'll react when he finds out I use the Koran to wipe my ass after taking a shit?.....

OK, let's play What If. Imagine for a moment that a cult leader in a compound in Texas is breaking weapons laws, and is further believed to be committing unspeakable crimes against innocent people. A raid is conducted against his compound by a Democratic president. The cult leader is eliminated -- but with massive loss of life, including the lives of many of the innocents.

Sounds kinda familiar, no?

OK, now imagine an extra twist: disgusting secular-humanist FBI agents under the aegis of the Democratic president and attorney general decide to grab a few of the cult leader's Bibles and put 'em up on fenceposts for target practice -- y'know, just to relieve a little stress.

Think our pals on the right would have shrugged that off?

Oh, yeah, I'm sure.


Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the shoe-thrower was severely beaten in custody and may lose sight in one eye. Nice.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus defends Ronald Reagan's pardon of the late Mark Felt (Watergate's Deep Throat) for authorizing warrantless searches of the homes of people who knew members of the Weather Underground. Marcus looks at this in the context of how Bush-era torture and illegal surveillance might be dealt with once Bush is out of office; she says,

In the current unspooling, I unexpectedly find myself more in the camp of Reagan....

This infuriates Glenn Greenwald, who denounces "the Washington establishment," and matttbastard at Comments from Left Field, who blames "Beltway inertia."

Glenn is right, obviously, when he says this:

If ... -- as Marcus and so many other urge -- we hold political leaders harmless when they break the law, if we exempt them from punishment under the criminal law, then what possible reason would they have from refraining from breaking the law in the future?

But if Glenn and Matt think this attitude is being imposed on an enraged public, I think they haven't been paying attention.

I'm looking at the Pew Research Center's report on public opinion about President Bush throughout his term. It's an ugly picture for Bush -- but although anxiety about the civil-liberties aspects of Bush's policies has increased as Bush has approached the end of his time in office, it's still not a mass phenomenon:

According to Pew's report:

In a February 2008 survey, more people (47%) said their greater concern about U.S. anti-terrorism policies was that they had not gone far enough to adequately protect the country than said the policies had gone too far in restricting civil liberties (36%). In August 2006, 55% said their greater concern was that the policies had not gone far enough, compared to 26% who worried about restrictions on civil liberties.

... public attitudes regarding other anti-terrorism policies remained divided and highly partisan. In February 2008, a narrow majority (52%) said it is right for the government to monitor the communications of Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists, without first getting court permission; 44% said this practice is generally wrong.

In that survey, more than half of Americans (52%) said that the government's policies toward the prisoners housed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are fair, while a third said they are unfair. Again, the views were highly partisan. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) believed that U.S. policies toward these prisoners were fair, and only 13% said the policies were unfair. By contrast, nearly half of Democrats (47%) said the policies were unfair, while 39% said these policies are fair.

The overall willingness to balance priorities when dealing with terror threats could be tied to widespread perceptions that terrorists are still capable of striking within the United States. In February 2008, 57% said the ability to pull off such a strike is the same or greater than on Sept. 11. In August 2002, about six-in-ten (61%) said that capability was either the same or greater than in 2001.

The problem isn't just that Bushies and Beltway insiders have defended these policies -- it's that the public has bought the defense.

I don't think it's enough to say, "These things are illegal. We must punish law-breaking." I think progressives simply haven't done a good enough job of countering the Beltway/Bushie argument that the rules must be bent and dirty deeds must be done or we're all going to die. To far too much of the public that's still persuasive, and looking the other way seems the right thing to do so the kids can sleep safely in their beds at night.
Crankily added to the blogroll: The New York Crank. Go read.

It's hard to feel sorry for people who were wealthy enough to invest with Bernie Madoff -- especially the ones who got out early and made money -- but somehow it doesn't seem right that even the ones who had no idea fraud was taking place might have to return some of the money ... while many Wall Streeters who made huge bonuses from the mortgage insanity get to keep their huge bonuses.

Here's what may happen to the Madoff investors:

... even Mr. Madoff's most fortunate clients may wind up having to give back some of their gains....

Jay B. Gould, a former lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission who now runs the hedge funds practice at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, said ... New York State law may allow the receiver or bankruptcy trustee to demand that Mr. Madoff's investors return money they received from the scheme any time in the last six years, Mr. Gould said.

Such so-called clawbacks may occur even if the client had no idea that the gains were fraudulent, he said.

"The idea is that the whole thing was a fraudulent undertaking, so nobody should profit from it, and everybody should be put on equitable footing," Mr. Gould said....

Meanwhile, at the big Wall Street firms:

For Dow Kim, 2006 was a very good year. While his salary at Merrill Lynch was $350,000, his total compensation was 100 times that -- $35 million.

The difference between the two amounts was his bonus, a rich reward for the robust earnings made by the traders he oversaw in Merrill's mortgage business.

... In all, Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.

But Merrill's record earnings in 2006 -- $7.5 billion --- turned out to be a mirage. The company has since lost three times that amount, largely because the mortgage investments that supposedly had powered some of those profits plunged in value.

Unlike the earnings, however, the bonuses have not been reversed....

For now, most banks are looking forward rather than backward. Morgan Stanley and UBS are attaching new strings to bonuses, allowing them to pull back part of workers' payouts if they turn out to have been based on illusory profits. Those policies, had they been in place in recent years, might have clawed back hundreds of millions of dollars of compensation paid out in 2006 to employees at all levels, including senior executives who are still at those banks....

AS Paul Krugman said:

So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients' money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn't understand.... Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest)....

Friday, December 19, 2008


I should have known that PUMA types would be making that argument -- here's egalia from the pro-PUMA blog Tennessee Guerilla Women:

Hillary Rodham Clinton would not have picked a pro-lifer, nor a homophobe, not in a million years.

Oh, really?

Support for Promise Keepers

* At his weekly radio address on 1997-OCT-4 (the date of the Washington rally) President Clinton said:
"Their presence here is yet another example of the nation's understanding and attention to the need to strengthen our families. There is nothing more important...The need for men to take responsibility for themselves and their families is something that unites Americans of all faiths and backgrounds and beliefs" ...

* First Lady Hillary Clinton has expressed reservations about the PK leadership, but praised the movement in her book "It Takes a Village."

(When I get home tonight, I'll update this with the exact quote from her book.)*

Maybe you don't remember the Promise Keepers from their mid-1990s heyday:

At a recent Promise Keepers rally in Dallas, evangelist Tony Evans called homosexuality "immorality in the name of hell." And founder [Bill] McCartney is on the advisory board of the virulently anti-gay Colorado For Family Values, the group that sponsored Amendment 2, a measure to overturn civil rights laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

According to published reports, McCartney said that "homosexuality is an abomination against Almighty God," and gay people are "a group of people who don't reproduce, yet want to be compared to people who do reproduce." McCartney has called gay people "stark raving mad."

Various speakers at Promise Keepers rallies have railed against abortion. McCartney equates a woman's right to choose an abortion with "taking a life."

So, yeah, the Warren thing is utterly wrong, but don't assume it's an error Hillary Clinton would necessarily have avoided.


egalia adds:

Rick Warren is supposed to be a new and improved Jeremiah Wright? I'd rather have Jeremiah Wright.

Ironically, if Jeremiah Wright were still in the picture, he'd be the most gay-friendly preacher at an inaugural ever:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s controversial ex-pastor in Chicago has largely supported gay rights and has welcomed gays into his 8,000-member congregation at Trinity United Church of Christ, according to activists who know him.

...revelations of Wright’s controversial sermons have raised questions among some activists about whether Obama’s longtime pastor was among the preachers who delivered fire-and-brimstone sermons attacking homosexuality.

"Absolutely not," said Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, the Chicago-based state gay rights group.

"Trinity has been among the strongest supporters of LGBT rights," Garcia said. "I have the highest regard and admiration for Rev. Wright."

Gay Chicago resident Ronald Wadley, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, said Wright enthusiastically backed suggestions by gay church members to create a gay and lesbian singles ministry as part of the church's existing ministry to heterosexual singles.

"We call it the same-gender loving family ministry," Wadley said. "It's a ministry that was formed to allow people to have an outlet to reconcile their sexuality with their spirituality," he said....


*Here's the quote, from pp. 41 and 42 of It Takes a Village:

After years of casual attitudes about divorce in this country, heartening efforts are under way to help more couples preserve their marriages. Grassroots campaigns that urge men to take more responsibility for family well-being are cropping up around the country. Diverse (and sometimes controversial) as they and their leaders are, the popular response they have elicited reflects a broad public concern with the question of personal accountability. Promise Keepers, a nondenominational ministry, has filled football stadiums with men seeking guidance and encouragement to lead more ethical lives.

Via the New York Crank, I see that Tina Brown is shocked, shocked, at certain events (the Madoff fraud and so on) that have just come to light:

Did We All Go Mad?

Remember the great Y2K crisis, when all the computers were supposed to go haywire because all four digits of the date turned over at once? Well, maybe it happened after all, only it wasn’t our computers that went nuts. It was us.

Something went wrong on or about the dawn of the millennium, that's for sure -- and it keeps on going wrong. Did the 2000 election and 9/11 and Iraq and now maybe Great Depression II -- in short, the Bush years -- unhinge us into some strange collective suicide spree of self-indulgence, self-delusion, and blind pursuit of money money money till we drowned in it? Or did the planet just spin on its axis when all those nines became zeroes and tip us upside down and shake out all our values?...

This is, by the way, the same Tina Brown who in 2004, as host of an episode of CNBC's Topic A that focused on Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley, and "the imperial CEO," asked:

BROWN: I guess what my--my concern, though, about shareholder activism is--I mean, how c--CEOs at the moment, they've got so much vision and so much oversight, so much kind of toxic press atmosphere and then, in a way, they're going to feel so threatened about making big, adventurous decisions. I mean...

Mr. HOLSTEIN: The heart of the issue is...

BROWN: ...could somebody like a--could someone like a Jack Welch made all the big, enormous, difficult decisions that he made at the beginning which really weren't...

Mr. HOLSTEIN: The heart of the issue is...

BROWN: ...popular?

Yes, Tina, you were so right. That was the real concern in the wake of Enron: How will stinking-rich superstar CEOs ever manage to perform their heroic labors now that they're so darn unpopular?


In her Daily Beast essay, Brown writes:

One crucial psychosociological question still unanswered is this: When did Madoff decide to become a crook? Or had he always been one? Was this low-key, softly smiling gonif who inhabited the private comfort zone of the super-rich a lifelong charlatan who escaped detection until late in his career? Or (my theory) did the accelerating madness of the last decade or two entice him slowly but surely into an entirely new playing field where every moral boundary fell when it was pushed?

Interesting that she should talk about "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two" -- this is, after all, the same Tina Brown who wrote this a couple of years ago about the patron saint of "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two":

Dancing Into Hearts and History

One of Ronald Reagan's unsung achievements is that he saved Vanity Fair. By March 1985, I had been editor in chief for a year, but the glossy monthly that had been launched in a blaze of hype a year before and then belly-flopped under its first two editors was still in the throes of a severe identity crisis. We needed something big and we needed it fast, since Conde Nast Chairman S.I. Newhouse had just made it plain that we had only six more months to fool around before he kissed this money-losing turkey goodbye.

Hoping for a deus ex machina, we got a president ex machina. VF's resourceful picture editor, James Danziger, traded on his friendship with Doug Wick, son of Reagan pal Charles Z. Wick, to score a cover shoot with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

... At 6:45 p.m. we heard the familiar mellow burr of the approaching commander in chief accompanied by the light social laughter of Nancy Reagan. They entered the Map Room dressed in their elegant best for the black-tie function: Nancy in a slinky jet-beaded Galanos gown, her husband in a Fred Astaire-fit tux, with patent crenellated hair and cordial, crinkly blue eyes. Benson immediately hit the switch of the boombox and flooded the room with the old Sinatra classic "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)." Reagan paused for a moment looking first at us and then at his wife with one raised eyebrow, Clark Gable style.

"I love this song, honey," she said. "Let's dance." Her co-star replied with a line that might have been written for any number of vintage B movies: "We can't keep the president of Argentina waiting, Nancy."

"Oh, Ronnie," teased the first lady, grabbing him by his broad shoulders, "Let him wait!" She kicked back her leg (click-whirr click-whirr click-whirr went Harry Benson's camera), and, perhaps in a paradigm of their easeful marriage, the president quit resisting and took his wife in his arms. For the next 15 minutes they fox-trotted blithely around the Map Room to more Sinatra oldies on Benson's cassette, exchanging the gossip of the day as if no one else were there.

"A kiss!" shouted a now-ecstatic Benson, juggling three cameras. "Mr. President, give your wife a kiss!" Cheeky, perhaps, for other presidents, but for them it was easy. They moved closer. Their eyes closed. Their lips came together....

The Reagans' moment of gaiety on the cover was a kiss of life for Vanity Fair. Coming when America was emerging from a long recession, the dancing presidential couple seemed to epitomize the buoyancy of American expectation. Reagan's theatricality always resonated that way. It was an instinctive collusion between imagery and national mood....

Now she calls it "the accelerating madness of the last decade or two." Then she called it the "national mood." I believe it was summed up in two sentences: It's good to be the king, and Greed is good.


The New York Crank notes that "the most heart-rending story [Brown] could think to publish concerning Madoff [at the Daily Beast] comes from a former editor -- tellingly of a magazine called 'Self' -- who complains that now she may have to give up her maid and ride the New York subway. (link)." Yeah, it's a bitch:

... I wear a classic clean white shirt every day of the week. I have about 40 white shirts. They make me feel fresh and ready to face whatever battles I may be fighting in the studio to get the best out of my work.

How am I going to iron those shirts so I can still feel like a poor civilized person? Even the no iron ones need touching up.

Yolanda makes my life work. She comes in three mornings a week, whirlwinds around, and voila! The shirts are ironed, the sheets are changed, the floors are vacuumed. She's worked with me for seven years and is a big part of my life. She needs money. She sends it to her family in Colombia. I have more than affection for Yolanda, I love her as part of my family.

On Friday, I tell her I have had a disastrous thing happen to me, but I don't have the guts to tell her I cannot keep her with me any longer. I'll wait till Wednesday.

... I’ve lived a great and interesting life. I love beautiful things: high thread count sheets, old china, watches, jewelry, Hermes purses, and Louboutin shoes. I like expensive French milled soap, good wines, and white truffles. I have given extravagant gifts like diamond earrings. I traveled a lot. In this last year, I've been Laos, Cambodia, India, Russia, and Berlin for my first solo art show. Will I ever be able to explore exotic places again?

...Yesterday, I took my first subway ride in 30 years. Dennis came with me to show me how to get a MetroCard. The world looks very different from a crowded Lexington Avenue No. 6 train.

Welcome to our world, hon. Now, imagine the far more typical victims of the recent financial sickness -- the many, many people who had far less and have lost what little financial footing they had. It would have been better if Tina Brown had commissioned an essay from your maid.

The Crank advocates life in prison without parole for perpetrators of massive white-collar crimes. That works for me. Short sentences and country-club prisons constitute moral hazard all by themselves.

And, hey, where's the Joe Arpaio for white-collar criminals? You know him -- the showboating Arizona sheriff who

is proud to be called "America's Toughest Sheriff". Elected in 1992, Arpaio oversees the jail in Maricopa County, Arizona. In 1993 Sheriff Joe created Tent City Jail, an immense outdoor facility housing 2,000 inmates near Phoenix. Worked them in chain gangs (both men and women). Dressed them all in striped uniforms and pink underwear. His website brags:

Arpaio doesn't believe in coddling criminals, frequently saying that jails should not be country clubs. He banned smoking, coffee, pornographic magazines, movies and unrestricted television in all jails. He has the cheapest meals in the country too. The average inmate meal costs under 20 cents.

Why do we treat "common" criminals this way and never even dream of doing the same to white-collar crooks?