Sunday, July 24, 2005

No Analysis Necessary

So the administration is letting out the word -- and Darth Cheney is working in the background to send the messsage -- that President Bush will veto the 2006 Pentagon authorization bill if it includes an amendment, being prepared by Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner, that would:
  • Bar the military from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross
  • Prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees
  • Use only interrogation techniques authorized in a U.S. Army field manual
That the administration would oppose these three provisions says it all. No further analysis is necessary.

Friday, July 22, 2005

When the CIA Becomes The Good Guys

I don't consider myself unpatriotic, just profoundly non-patriotic. By that, I mean that patriotism is a foreign concept to me. I don't feel any stirrings of emotion when I see the flag or hear the national anthem. I'm an American because I was born and raised here, and thus it's more convenient to stay here than shop around for another place to live (although I will tell anyone who asks that I felt much more at home during the two years I lived in the United Kingdom).
Having come of political age during the late '60s/early '70s, I've always been accustomed to thinking of the CIA as a dangerous organization. Thus, it's disconcerting to find myself appreciative of the patriotism of the former agents who have taken a stand in defense of Valerie Wilson. They are unwilling to let pass without comment the untruths and distortions being spread by the Republican smear machine and parroted by their allies in the MSM.
But there you have it. People are endlessly surprising (except for the Bush team, who always seem to do the most dastardly and offensive thing in every situation). These former agents have remdinded me that patriotism, while it may be the "last refuge of a scoundrel" (thank you, Dr. Johnson) or even "the first" (thank you, Mr. Bierce) can also engender behavior that is noble, loyal, honest and true.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Injustice Roberts

I wasn't sure I had a strong reason to dislike John Roberts, whom George W. Bush has nominated to the Supreme Court. Then, this morning, The New York Times carried a short piece with the information that Roberts had acted as an advisor to Jeb Bush in the aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election in Florida -- you know, the one that the Bushes stole, the one for which Democratic absentee oters like me were denied ballots?
If Roberts had anything to do with engineering what I believe to be a coup against our democratic system, he should be ineligible to the bench, and instead eligible for time behind bars. We all have our hot-button issues. This happens to be mine.
Well, at least knowing this has made my decision about whether to oppose him simpler ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Time to Change the Subject

It must have been a brutal shock to the Bush administration to find the White House press corps still on the Rove-Wilson case for a second week in a row. Uncurious George and company have never had to worry about actual reporters asking actual questions before.
So, it's no wonder that after yesterday's brutal press briefing, they decide that today is the day to announce Bush's nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Sandra Day O'Connor.
"Let's change the subject and make them talk about something else," you can hear Karl Rove say, if you listen just a little.
But let's not let that happen. Let's continue to talk about the malicious leaking of national defense secrets in order to exact political retribution.
Sure we can talk about the Supreme Court pick -- it is, after all, a critically important selection -- but let's not let it get in the way of the other important story still unfolding.

Update: Reuters is confirming my suspicions that the timing of the Supreme Court announcement has everything to do with distracting attention from the Rove case.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ideas In The Middle Of The Night

Another late posting, written on that same trip to Germany:

Ideas are floating through my head tonight when I should be sleeping. I finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and started Nice Big American Baby, and I think the forced juncture of Jonathan Safran Foer and Judy Budnitz has produced strange progeny in my head.
The story about the cell phone virus, which began as a dream. I remembered a dream. Something that rarely happens.
The story about the friend who leaves his wife, remains friends with the husband of the couple they were closest to, moves in temporarily, gets closer and closer to the husband.The letter to my daughter, which has expanded into chapter after chapter about my strong feelings of love for her as she has grown up.
I want her to know that I am proud of her, that I understand that the difficulties we have gone through in her adolescence are just that -- the struggles of an adult to emerge from all of the cacaphonous experiences of childhood. I need for her to know that I have watched her with wonder from the day I first met her in the hospital. I need for her to know that I have some understanding of the difficult time she must have resolving things -- why her birth mother gave her up to adoption, why her two white parents chose to adopt a bi-racial child, why we have so much trouble understanding the impulses that seem perfectly logical to the adolescent mind.
I need to get to sleep. I need to write.I want my child to understand most of all that I am proud of her, that I see in her kindness and goodness that are far more important than the Algebra grade I may seem to be obsessed with. That I really, truly enjoy spending Saturday's riding around Laguna Beach with her, taking tours of homes for sale that we can't afford to buy, dreaming about that perfect life of leisure on the beach.
I need to sleep. I need to write.I want to write about the evening in Seaside, Florida, a few days before Christmas, when I watched her roll over for the first time. I don't remember whether that first roll was front-to-back or back-to-front, but I know that one direction followed the other within a day or two and I had a child who was strong and mobile and clever.
I want her to know about the first Christmas, when we took her to dinner at a hotel in Mobile, Alabama, and old people who were eating at the buffet came over to admire her. This baby in the middle of the table made them happy, and their happiness elated me.
I remember the Sunday morning when she first sat up, on the floor of our house in Gainesville, Florida.And the day she told me that Bogart, our dog, "loves me in the whole wide world" (I used to tell her every day that I loved her more than anything in the whole wide world. Why is it that these kinds of words come so easily when your child is small, but are hard to fit into the day when you spend it arguing with a teenager over television and homework and cleaning up your room?)
I want her to know that I admire her insistence on fairness, whether it applies to her friends or to political issues. It's her standard of judgment and it's the right one.

Walking Through Frankfurt

I wrote this during my trip to Germany last April, but never posted it. Coming across it in my files, I decided I wanted it to be out here:

Walking across a footbridge over the river Main this afternoon, I listened to a saxophonist playing a familar jazz tune whose name I can't recall, accompanied by the incompatible oompah of an accordian. It was the aesthetic highlight of a pleasant yet uneventful day; I made sure to leave a Euro in the player's hat.
I ended up in Frankfurt a day early for the conference I am attending, due to the mysteries of international airfares. To leave and return on the appropriate days would have cost my company an extra thousand dollars.
And so, after sleeping until 1 pm -- the flight over knocked the wind out of my sails more powerfully than I would have expected -- I spent the afternoon wandering the city in solitude. That kind of solitary exploration is something that helps my soul. I think about virtually everything. I regain perspective.
Today, as I wandered, stopping here and there to finish up my reading of the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I thought about the connections in my own life, the relationships, and how I want those I love to understand my feelings for them.Like the characters in the novel, I want to leave behind messages that explain how I feel. Like them, I know how hard it is to express love to those you really love in a way that doesn't seem prosaic or insincere or both. We say "I love you" to our spouses and children and parents as a matter of course, but if we were gone tomorrow, would we really leave behind enough evidence to convince them that all those words were true?
Most days, we get caught up in the trivia of life. We struggle to make a living, put food on the table, get to where we're going on time, and in the course of doing that we often seem to resent the people and activities that are most important to us. How dare they get in the way when we are doing the things we do for their benefit.It's not just an idle wish of mine to be able to focus on what is important. I would do it if I knew how, and if I knew that an effort to do so would not backfire on me.
For example: Would it make sense to quit my job and move my family back to Florida, where my wife wants to live? Maybe in one way, and yet it would put us in much too close a proximity to the man who molested my daughter, who denies it and goes unpunished because of a lack of evidence. I'd have to find a new way to make a living, as the kind of 50-year-old white man who is not really in demand in the job market. I fear I'd be trading one problem -- my wife's dislike of living far away from her family and home -- for a myriad of others.If I acceded to my daughter's wish to live at the beach -- which I tend to pooh-pooh as the idle wishes of an idle teen, but which I know are also part of that struggle we all go through to find a fresh start in ideal circumstances -- I'd be putting myself in financial straits and putting my wife in a place where she had even less chance to do the things she likes to do.
What I do now -- working at a job that is not unpleasant but is far from stimulating, which pays well but is not making me financially independent -- seems like a compromise for all of us, but maybe the best compromise given our circumstances.We have a lot of problems, but we are a loving and caring unit. My wife complains endlessly but is always there and always doing; my daughter is working through a slew of emotional issues, but gives evidence every day of being the fine, thoughtful, caring person that I have always wanted her to become. I have time to read, and to write (at least in my blogs) and to think about the world around me.
So while I wish I could focus more explicitly on the things I care about, I know that at least they are never out of my thoughts. I get through the trivia and have time to care. I want to do more, but I hope I am doing enough.
Fankfurt is a pleasant enough city -- not really interesting, nothing compared to the European capitols I love, like London, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, Rome, but certainly worth a spring afternoon's stroll. I had coffee on the old central plaza, the one you see on the postcards, I strolled through quiet neighborhoods colored by the unmistakable bright green of spring emerging, I crossed bridges and railroad tracks, looked up at skyscrapers and listened to conversations in a language I know virtually nothing of. I had a good Thai meal in a basement bistro I stumbled up to, and talked to colleagues back in the states on my mobile phone, which works amazingly well while wandering the streets of a city thousands of miles from home.
I was distant and alone, and yet connected. That's an important feeling for me. I don't know when I'll get to post this essay -- my hotel isn't equipped with high-speed Internet in the rooms -- but I'm glad a got a chance to meander on paper in something like the way I spent the day meandering on foot.
Guten Nacht.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Democrats Discover the Power of Fair Play

Matt Bai's article, "The Framing Wars" in this morning's edition of The New York Times Magazine suggests that Democrats have belatedly discovered that the public responds to issues that appeal to their sense of fair play.
It posits the recent battle over the filibuster as one in which Democrats were successful at painting Senate Republicans as "arrogant," bent on destroying 200 years of tradition, changing the rules in the middle of the game and, most importantly, not playing fair.
Why has it taken this long?
I would have thought anyone who paid any attention to Bill Clinton's successes in his eight years as president would have understood that -- to a great degree -- he won his battles by doing just this: Making Americans aware that what he was trying to do is give everyone a fair shake.
Democrats should have seen this in the Republican strategies of the past generation as well. Although their logic didn't hold up to scrutiny, they were able to convince large numbers of people that unions, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment, the estate tax, environmental protection, etc., were offenses against fair play. They weren't, of course, but that argument took hold and won elections.
I'm glad that Democrats may have finally caught on to the notion that what defines the body politic in the United States may be a strong sense of what is and isn't fair. People really believe that we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They believe it with regard to civil rights, they believe it with regard to religious freedom (and freedom from religion, despite the rhetoric of the right), and I think once the issue is framed properly, they will even believe it with regard to gay rights.
So while Bai's article is interesting, it is also depressing in a sense: How could it have taken this long for Democrats to figure this out?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rove-ing Reporters

The most amusing moment in the recent coverage of the Karl Rove-Valerie Plame story was Jon Stewart's stage-whispered comment, after showing a clip of a testy White House press briefing, to the effect that, "We've secretly replaced the White House press corps with real reporters."
It shouldn't be surprising that the most pointed commentary on the story has come from The Daily Show. We've grown used to that. There would have been no worthwhile televised commentary on the 2004 presidential election campaign had it not been for Stewart and company.
There has been some other good writing about the Rove-Plame story. Andrew O'Hehir's two pieces this week in Salon, arguing that the jailing of Judy Miller is an outrage that should transcend whatever negative feelings we may have about her and her reporting, were very fine.
But there really isn't a whole lot to say about the actual coverage in the daily newspapers and on the scream channels. True, The New York Times has led twice this week with stories on Rove's involvement. But today's story actually has given the mad screamers comfort -- they're using it to try to sell the angle that Rove was the recipient, rather than the source, of information about the identity of Valerie Plame (or Valerie Wilson, as she prefers to be called) as a covert CIA operative.
That argument, by the way, is plain ridiculous. The account of the conversation between Karl Rove and right-wing columnist Bob Novak clearly shows that Rove was confirming this information to Novak, thus removing any doubt that he was one of the two senior administration officials Novak relied on for his column outing Mrs. Wilson. And it does nothing to erase the fact that Rove also discussed this information with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.
We still have a lot to find out before this story can be put to rest. If Mr. Rove was the second source for Novak's story, who was the first? There has been speculation -- including some from me -- that Judy Miller herself was responsible for helping to spread the word on Valerie Wilson. But surely Miller cannot be considered a "senior administration official" even despite havinghe foolishly trumpeted the Bush/Chalabi line on WMDs in the buildup to the Iraq invasion. Besides, she had to get the information from someone.
So far, there's nothing to suggest that anyone in the MSM is interested in pursuing that angle, other than a few columnists. That would be investigative reporting; that would be hard work, and the U.S. press hasn't been up to that kind of labor for at least a decade.
Already, the TV screamers are beginning to parrot the White House's Through The Looking Glass spin that reporters leaked Plame's identity to Rove. If that story gets traction, everyone is off the hook and we can go back to worrying about shark attacks, runaway brides and pedophiliac entertainers.
As for Judy Miller, we will need much more information to understand why a reporter who wrote nothing about the leak is sitting in jail while Rove, Novak and George W. Bush are at liberty to terrorize the nation and the world.
There's a lot to say about Judy Miller, not much of it good. I even have a personal connection to her that justifies my saying that. More than 25 years ago, I was a research clerk in The New York Times Washington bureau, where Miller was a reporter. After all these years, I still remember her as one of the most unpleasant characters with whom I have ever had to deal -- rude, demanding, self-centered. I have heard suggestions that she shares these traits with Sy Hersh, but I have to differ. I also worked in the newsroom with Sy, and even did research on the side for his book about Kissinger, The Price of Power. Sy was demanding and opinionated, but also good humored and quick to express gratitude for a task well done. Judy, by contrast, seemed to be in a constant huff, perpetually ungrateful and just plain nasty to those around her.
There also are serious questions about the intersection between her professional and personal lives. Others have written recently -- and I recall from office gossip -- that she made a habit of dating men in powerful positions in government and the media. David Stockman, Les Aspin, Richard Burt, Steve Rattner and others. This even led, at one point, to Arthur Sulzburger Jr., then a young reporter in the Washington bureau, commenting on a Washingtonian magazine cover story on the "50 Hottest Couples in Washington": "They're all Judy Miller."
However, having said that, her personality -- or even her journalistic ethics -- are not the story here. What is important is that a reporter has been jailed for ostensibly receiving information from someone during a confidential conversation. It could be any reporter. Judy at least deserves some credit for not caving in the face of impending jail time, and for standing on principle.
I have written here before that I am a First Amendment absolutist. Because of that, I salute Judy Miller today (although I wouldn't care to hear from her).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Traitor

Whether or not Karl Rove is guilty of the specific crime of revealing a cover CIA operative's identity (and we are hearing that the criteria for prosecuting this crime are difficult to meet), the large issue of whether he is a traitor has been settled.
The answer is yes.
What Karl Rove did in spreading the Valerie Wilson story was to make petty vengeance against an administration critic a higher priority than the war on terror. He sold out the country to bolster the political fortunes of his boss, George W. Bush.
Mrs. Wilson is a specialist on Weapons of Mass Destruction. By publicizing her identity, Mr. Rove at the very least inhibited her ability to conduct the research that presumably is central to her mission. Even if Mrs. Wilson was by the time of the leak occupying a desk at Langley rather than working covertly abroad, discretion is critical to the ability to gather intelligence. Besides the fact -- and one that is mentioned very little if at all --he may have endangered the lives of Mrs. Wilson's sources, who presumably live in the countries about which she was gathering information. And that puts all of us in greater peril, which is the simple reason why Mr. Rove should be prosecuted for treason.
But of course Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush don't really care about research, do they? They want to draw conclusions first and then distort or manufacture evidence to support their conclusions. That's what the Downing Street Memos show.
Shakespeare's Sister lays it all out much more effectively than I can.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Turd Blossom

Finally, the pieces of the story have started to come together.
I don't think we're there yet. I think we'll learn more with regard to the suggestions that Judy Miller and Karl Rove may have been collaborators in spreading the Valerie Plame story rather than simply reporter and source. And I think that will shed the necessary light on the seemingly vindictive pursuit of Ms. Miller's testimony.
But as of today we know that, clearly, Karl Rove was at the center of an effort to exact revenge on an administration whistle-blower by leaking the identity of a covert CIA operative to the press.
Just as clearly (although we knew this all along) this man has no business collecting a salary from the United States public, and should have no role that gives him access to sensitive information. He is nothing but the slimiest sort of political operative, and almost certainly one who has committed crimes in pursuit of his boss's agenda.
The only honorable course for Mr. Rove would be for him to step down while the investigation comes to its conclusion. But I fear that Mr. Rove has no honor.
The proper course for the president would be to suspend Mr. Rove indefinitely, until all questions are settled. But we know that Mr. Bush has no sense of propriety.
So I suspect they will hunker down and try to hold out.
The press temporarily developed some courage today and peppered the White House Press Secretary with questions about previous statements made by him and others. How long their courage holds out is a big question. An even better question: Can the White House come up with a diversion that will draw them away from this line of questioning and set them back on their previous, ass-kissing, genuflecting track?
There's a lot more to say about the developments of the past few days. I may even get around to saying some of it. But for right now, the only thing I can say is that if Mr. Rove is to receive his just deserts, the attention of the left must stay narrowly focused on his actions.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Losing O'Connor

Sandra Day O'Connor's just-announced retirement from the Supreme Court gives George W. Bush a dangerous opening. For most of this year, the common belief was that William Rehnquist would be the first justice in 11 years to step down. Having Bush replace Rehnquist could have done little damage -- it's hard to imagine he could have found anyone more likely to vote the wrong way on virtually every case.
But O'Connor is a different story. She has been an important swing vote on the court, and has kept its decisions moderate on any number of issues, including reproductive freedom of choice. To lose her to a right-wing ideologue, as Bush will surely attempt, could bring about a generation of destructive decisions from the court.
The best we can hope for is that Bush will make the kind of choice his father did with David Souter or that Eisenhower did with Earl Warren -- a good Republican whose instincts for justice outweigh his political affiliations. At worst, we'll get someone like Papa Bush's other appointment, the horrendous and unqualified Clarence Thomas.
Either way, right now Bush has the power to make the most dangerous decision of his presidency.

Pennsylvanians, Beware Of The Celebrity Candidate

So Lynn Swann, former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and now a sports commentator, wants to be governor of Pennsylvania. As one who is suffering under the governorship of a celebrity with no political experience and few political skills, I would like to take this opportunity to warn my fellow citizens on the opposite coast -- Be afraid!
Celebrity can get you elected, but it can't give you the knowledge and expertise you need to govern. Out here in California, Arnold Schwarzeneggar is demonstrating daily the dangers of putting know-nothing celebrities in office. He is in so far over his head that it's hard to imagine he can ever swim to the surface again.
Somehow he seemed to believe that his fame and fortune were sufficient weapons for him to take on four groups that he labeled as "special interests": Teachers, nurses, firefighers and police officers. Needless to say, his folly has backfired spectacularly, sending his popularity down into the range that led to the recall against Gray Davis that originally put Schwarzeneggar in office.
Like Arnold, Lynn Swann is backed by a Republican machine that believes it can unseat a Democratic governor by fronting a candidate with unusual appeal. Swann is not only a popular entertainer, he is black, which supposedly would appeal to citizens of color -- well, at least those who put celebrity-worship over their own well-being.
Celebrities have the same right to run for office as the rest of us. They are equally citizens. However, we all need to be careful to view their performances with a particular skepticism. These people are trained to appeal to the public. They practice their communications and seduction skills daily. That they can smile winningly and speak campaign slogans artfully does not mean they can govern.
The odious Ronald Reagan is, of course, our most illustrious example of a celebrity drawn to power beyond his skills. He sent the federal budget into a tailspin the likes of which have only recently been exceeded by our current office-holder, who exemplifies a different but equally dangerous species: The know-nothing child of privilege.
Americans seem to be torn when it comes to elected officials. On the one hand, they want people who seem like themselves. On the other hand, they worship celebrity. So what we are getting time after time are celebrities playing "down-home reformer" to the crowds. They portray themselves as a "different kind of politician" who will cut through the crap and get to the heart of government. Remember Jesse Ventura?
As legislators, these characters may be less dangerous (Fred Thompson, Sonny Bono) but in executive office, they constitute one disaster after another.
So wake up Pennsylvanians and learn from the pain we in California are feeling.