Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Which I Join Barack Obama & Stanley Fish In Line For the Bill Ayers Guillotine

Noted academic and Hillary Clinton supporter Stanley Fish is offering himself up for decapitation or whatever fate awaits he, Barack Obama and other folks who have had relationships with Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground member. This even though Obama was a youngster and Fish was off teaching at some high fallutin university when Ayers was running wild in the streets.

As the guilt-by-association version of smear campaigns go, the vendetta against Obama over Ayers isn't getting much traction although the Clinton campaign and right-wing floggers . . . er, bloggers like Allahpundit at Hot Air won't give it a rest.

I have a couple of theories about this.

First, most voters (especially the millions of younger ones flooding into the political arena for the first time this year) don’t give a rat's rectum if Obama had tea and then some with a man who did bad things nearly 40 years ago. And while not necessarily a paragon of repentance, Ayers has lived a rather exemplary and civic-minded life in the last couple, three decades.

Then there is the not so small matter of forgiveness. The holier among us somehow find it in our hearts to forgive family members, friends and others – sometimes even mass murderers -- for dastardly deeds. Without getting all spiritual on you, I find that having done so in a small handful of personal instances has been enormously liberating psychically for both myself and the perpetrator.

Ahem, Hillary, Allapundit and the other scolds need to reserve a space at their guillotine for moi because, as I noted when the Ayers controversy first hit prime time, I knew several members of the Weather Underground back in the day and am a longtime friend of one whom I invited into my home when he was a fugitive.

But let me add – again – while smoking my last sèche and being fitted for a blindfold that Hillary Clinton has some doggie do-do on her Pradas because of her own Weatherman connection.

While trying to eviscerate Obama over Ayers, she refuses to speak to her co-president's decision on the eve of George Bush’s 2001 inauguration to pardon Susan Rosenberg, who was convicted of participating in a 1981 Brink's armored car robbery in Rockland County, New York, that left a guard and two police officers dead, and Linda Sue Evans, who consorted with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, was implicated in several bombing plots and was toting around nearly 800 pounds of explosives when the law caught up with her.

Ayers, meanwhile, was linked to the 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse bomb factory blast that killed three fellow Weathermen. For what it's worth, Ayers turned himself in to authorities in 1981 but was never arrested, while Rosenberg and Evans had to be hunted down and served some serious jail time.

I'm not suggesting that Obama or Fish or anyone else forgive Ayers for a phase of his life that they say never happened to come up in conversation, let alone had any bearing on their relationships. That would be inane. But I would appreciate being forgiven for my own past and present associations for a few more months because I'd sure hate to lose my dear crâne chauve to the falling blade before the election.

Albert Hoffman (1906-2008)


Guess Who Pitched Mindy A Fastball?


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

DANCE SCHOOL (New York City, 1977)
By Elliott Erwitt, Magnum Photos

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

“President Bush criticized Congress Tuesday for ‘letting the American people down’ on issues ranging from food and gas prices to foreign trade and intelligence . . .

My operating assumption since Bush took office is that he will do or say the worst thing imaginable, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, he'll do or say something that ups the ante by an order of magnitude. I think with this quote, we've seen the end of that assumption, at least until the pardons start getting signed.


In Winston-Salem, Obama sharply attacks Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the substance of his remarks yesterday, a far sharper disavowal than he gave in Philadelphia last month.

The core of his message: That Wright was not only offensive, but the polar opposite of Obama's own views and politics.

The past seven states to hold primaries registered more than 1 million new Democratic voters; Republican numbers mainly ebbed or stagnated. North Carolina and Indiana, which will hold their presidential primaries on May 6, are reporting a swell of new Democrats that triples the surge in registrations before the 2004 primary.

Can we stop pretending to be children about this? There's only one reason for a politician to make sure that all his assets are in his wife's name: it’s to make sure that no one knows anything about his assets. It's not as if McCain is the first pol to try this, after all.

Is the press really going to let him get away with this?


While watching the Rev. Jeremiah Wright hold forth yesterday at the National Press Club, I began to entertain the notion that perhaps the guy was a Republican mole - trained in secret and dispatched by Karl Rove, or by one of his proteges, with instructions to inflict maximum damage on the Obama campaign.

But no. There is no need for GOP mischief-makers to lift a finger, not when Obama's spiritual mentor seems capable of doing the work all by himself.

Here's Obama, trying to get his sea legs again after suffering a third consecutive big-state defeat, trying to convince downscale, modestly-educated whites in Indiana and North Carolina that he's not some scary apparition...and there's Wright, crashing into the news cycle four days running, offering up new provocative soundbites to replace the old.

Eight years after the "hanging chads," experts say it is harder to vote in Florida than in nearly every other state.


Obama wins North Carolina by double-digits? Or, taking it a step further, what if Obama wins the Tarheel State by just 9.2%? Will the media round it up to 10%, handing a race-ending victory to Obama or will it round it down to 9%, lamenting his inability to "seal the deal"? Just asking!


I watched some of Reverend Wright this morning at the National Press Club. It seems obvious to me that he's doing everything he can to wipe out Obama's candidacy, and I'll tell you why I think it is. I think that people like Reverend Wright -- and I think there are a lot of other race business hustlers out there, by the way, who think this -- really upset that if a black candidate is elected president, that they're going to be somehow diminished in their task, at keeping everybody in their flocks all revved up and angry about the ages old sin of slavery and the ongoing discrimination.

Politically, today’s cohort of 18-to-29 year olds came of age during the Bush presidency. It has turned them into Democrats.


In 2005, McCain decided Iraqis resent our military presence, so we should reject a Korea-like model for long-term troop deployment. He insisted that "U.S. 'visibility' was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America's presence — positions held by both Obama and Clinton."

In 2006, McCain reversed course, and embraced the Korea model for a long-term military presence.

In 2007, McCain reversed course again, saying the Korean analogy doesn't work and shouldn't be followed. "[E]ventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws," McCain told Charlie Rose last fall.

And in 2008, McCain reversed course yet again, deciding that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq, even if it means 100 years or more.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has requested nearly $2.3 billion in federal earmarks for 2009, almost three times the largest amount received by a single senator this year.

The Democratic presidential candidate's staggering request comes at a time when Congress remains engaged in a heated debate over spending federal dollars on parochial projects.

Cartoon by Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

10 Areas In Which McCain Is Vulnerable


What that the Democratic presidential slugfest was mercifully over and Barack Obama could turn his full attention to John McCain. Here is a Top 10 list of areas in which the presumptive Republican nominee is vulnerable:

(10.) Hiding his assets behind his wife’s financial veil of secrecy.

(9.) Continuing questions about his anger-management issues.

(8.) His bumbling record on MIA-POW issues.

(7.) His fawning relationship with the hateful Reverend John Hagee.

(6.) His prevaricating about no longer having ties with majorly influential lobbyists.

(5.) His flip-flopping on torture.

(4.) His schizophrenia as a sometime conservative and sometime maverick.

(3.) His more-tax-cuts-for-the-rich economic policy.

(2.) His bomb-first-and-ask-questions-later foreign policy.

(1.) His cynical, morally and financially corrupt "100 years in Iraq" plan.

Image courtesy of Jess Wundrun at I Was Just Wondering

Blackwaters Run Deep: New Questions On America's Favorite Security Contractor

The more things change the more they stay the same, and that's downright scary when it comes to Blackwater Worldwide.

If you’re under the impression that this most right-wing of defense contractors has been laying low since its goons mowed down 17 Iraqis last September, you would be wrong.

Despite the outcry, Condoleezza Rice's State Department dutifully renewed Blackwater's contract to guard diplomats in the war zone and the North Carolina-based company has been hard at work burnishing its stateside credentials.

Eric Prince, Blackwater's chairman, former Navy SEAL and messianic right-winger with close White House and Pentagon ties, has been tight lipped about his company's plans, but they obviously include expanding its already major presence as a trainer of military personnel and private contractors on the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California.

Blackwater last month received a permit for a training facility for Navy personnel in south San Diego after abandoning its controversial proposal to build a larger one elsewhere in the area. The site will have a shooting range, a simulated Navy ship and classrooms, but the city’s Development Services Department granted the permit without public hearings so the project is on hold.

An argument can be made that firms like Blackwater are needed in this day and age, but as has been the case in so many other areas, the Bush administration has taken the involvement of private contractors in the business of war to extremes.

Blackwater alone has billed taxpayers over $1 billion for its work in Iraq and much of what it does was once and should still be the domain of Military Police units. (Think about all those M*A*S*H episodes when Hawkeye and Trapper were pounced on by MPs.).

The bigger problem with Blackwater is that it's nefarious.

It determinedly lies and misleads and when caught out asserts that it is not merely above the law but is a law unto itself. As it is, Blackwater went out of its way to hide its identity in the case of the San Diego facility by filing for a permit under the name of a subcontractor.

Okay, so Blackwater doesn't rent out pony rides for kids' birthday parties. A reasonable amount of circumspection and secrecy comes with its territory. But there is a cottage industry of sane people, along with some wingnuts, who believe that Blackwater is in cahoots with Uncle Sam to train local security forces should martial law ever be declared, as well as other nefarious activities.

I'm not buying, but neither am I not buying.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Wink

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

A sandstorm envelopes central Baghdad. More here.

[T]he real questions in play here are about strategy rather than about the details of Iranian involvement in Iraq. Suppose the Iranians somehow managed to conquer Canada. In the wake of this conquest, a chaotic situation existed with various Canadian groups opposing the Iranian occupation to different degrees, but also adhering to different visions of the Canadian future. And suppose some Iranian military officials came to the view that some Canadian factions who were fighting the Iranians were receiving substantial material support from a neighboring U.S. government which feared that the real Iranian interest in "stabilizing" Canada was to use it as a beachhead for anti-American activities throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The issue facing Iran in this context isn't, fundamentally, a factual question about the actual scope of American interference with their operation in Canada. It's a question about what they're trying to achieve and what costs they think are reasonable to run. Iranians convinced that Iran is already locked in a remorseless struggle with the U.S.A. will, of course, take the view that they need to stand their ground and fight us. Others will caution, however, that it's exceedingly unlikely that U.S.-Iranian war will make Iran better off -- the United States isn't in a position where indifference to the outcome in Canada in a realistic option, and fighting the United States will expose an awful lot of Iranians to risk of being blown up by the U.S. military's unparalleled abilities of power projections.

Clearly, the real world doesn't precisely parallel that story. But I think it does highlight the structure of the decisions we face.


While most TV news organizations have refused to report or even comment on the bombshell Times article exposing a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to sell Iraq policy, PBS just aired an important segment on the controversy. PBS' Judy Woodruff kicked off the debate with a disturbing summary of the current media blackout:

"And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond."


As Frederick Kagan spins Neo-Con daydreams of "turning a corner," McClatchy reporters on the ground are telling a different story:

"One of the most powerful men in Iraq isn't an Iraqi government official, a militia leader, a senior cleric or a top U.S. military commander or diplomat. He's an Iranian general, and at times he's more influential than all of them."

Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, as "Tehran's point man on Iraq," is manipulating election of pro-Iranian politicians, meeting often with Iraqi leaders and backing Shiite elements in Iraqi security forces in the torturing and killing of Sunni Muslims.


The McCain campaign doesn’t seem especially concerned about Democratic attacks that he’s running to give the nation a third Bush term. He doesn’t seem to care when people highlight his age. He shrugs off questions about his reputation as a hothead with a nasty temperament who flies off the handle on a regular basis. He couldn’t care less when he’s caught flip-flopping, abandoning long-held principles, or getting confused about the basics of public policy.

But bring up his line about leaving troops in Iraq for 100 years, and McCain goes completely apoplectic. It seems to be the one point of criticism that McCain and his campaign fear most.


When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.


In many ways, [Ahmad] Chalabi resembles William Randolph Hearst, a master at ramping up Spain as a mortal threat to America at the end of the 19th century. Hearst’s power, however, exploded from the barrel of his ubiquitous newspapers, while Chalabi had only his own wits.

With those wits, this improbable chunky, merry-eyed dynamo tirelessly connived and schemed on behalf of two dreams: for American military might to drive Saddam Hussein from power and to install himself in the dictator’s place. His Washington allies needed little motivation to oust Hussein; Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and many others already regarded him as Public Enemy No. 1. But they welcomed Chalabi’s ammunition, his "“information," in the fight against war skeptics — though they didn't welcome him enough to implant him as Baghdad’s new boss.

Obama says he'll vote to confirm Petraeus, and then by implication, order Petraeus to dismantle everything he's done so far. This makes sense in politics. Vote for the popular commander to bask in his celebrity glory and having done that, see to your political base.


I know people care about the iWar. But not enough, given the circumstances. Not even close. Agree or disagree with the war, I don't care - just give a fuck. Be able to find Basra on a map, know that the Tigris isn't some sort of unholy crossbreed found at the San Diego Zoo, try to figure out the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a even if it conplexes and perfuses your mind beyond repair. I wish I could issue some loud, righteous proclamation here about the repercussions of such continued resounding American apathy, but who are we kidding? The warrior caste is simply too small nowadays, and too proud. There will be no reckoning for all of this. We'll fight the fights not because we necessarily want to, but because no one else will. We were bred to protect. Even if we're protecting nothing more than an isolationistic yawn prefacing the continental slumber history demands occur after protracted warfare.


Photograph by Kahlid Mohammed/The Associated Press

Monday, April 28, 2008

Slutty Hillary, Promiscuous Rush & Dirty Dick: A Political Ménage Made In Heaven


Hillary Clinton's slutty embrace of Rush Limbaugh, who is hard at work goading his right-wing listeners into helping her defeat Barack Obama, borders on the pornographic in how she has yet again been willing to turn a cheap trick in a campaign that has determinedly put sleaze before substance.

Limbaugh, for those of you who have spent the last few months in a cave, is the man behind Operation Chaos, an effort to get Republicans to vote for Hillary in Democratic primaries because they don't want no lefty Negro in the White House. Besides which, she is viewed as being the easier of the two to defeat.

So important is Limbaugh to Hillary's campaign that her chief pimp took a star turn on his radio show on the day of the Texas primary.

The Rushmeister is taking credit for those one in 10 voters -- about 230,000 in all -- who say that they changed their party registration to cast ballots in the Pennsylvania primary. This was more or less the margin of victory for Hillary.

Limbaugh also claims that his Chaos operatives made a big difference in Texas and Ohio, and also will in Indiana, the latest but not the last home for Hillary's oft-moved goalposts.

He recently chortled that:

"Ten percent of the vote is huge. That would be five times the past high for a crossover vote with a closed primary. That's an absolutely huge number -- and once again, ladies and gentlemen, that is Operation Chaos."
Lest anyone think that Limbaugh has a man crush on Bill or is back on the hard stuff, he has made it clear that Chaos "Democrats" will vote the McCain-Romney ticket in the fall. And for good measure is exhorting his listeners to foment riots during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Limbaugh's claims that Operation Chaos has hurt Obama are unverifiable and even anecdotal evidence that these rump voters have helped Clinton is slim, but that is not the point. The point is that Hillary's tacit approval of this Ann Coulter with a stogie is not merely cynical, it's despicable.

Recall also that in the lead up to the Pennsylvania primary Hillary pole danced for Richard Mellon Scaife, the fruitcake Pittsburgh area gadzillionaire publisher who financed the Great Right Wing Conspiracy against she and Bill and famously accused her of murdering White House aide Vince Foster.

(And it's not for nothing that Republican luminaries like Karl Rove and William Bennett have been saying nice things about Hillary. They know that John McCain, saddled with the albatross of a despised president and the baggage of years as a Washington insider, stands a much better chance against another insider.)

What is particularly despicable about Hillary hooking up with Limbaugh and Scaife is that they are generals in the culture war that has riven American politics since the ascendancy of the Republican right wing. For Hillary to claim that she is an agent of change while climbing into the sack with these agents of polarization is all that you need to know about what lurks behind her tight-lipped smile.

Obama sought to explain his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright in a speech on race and religion. Methinks that Hillary should take a page from her opponent's playbook and make her own speech.

This is what she could say:

"I can no more disown Limbaugh and Scaife than I can disown the right-wing community. I can no more disown them than I can my grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of right wingers who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered right-wing stereotypes that made me cringe."
Some final thoughts:

This post should not be construed as the hankie wringing of an Obama supporter. All is fair in love, war and politics, and while I condemn Hillary's determined use of the political equivalent of unprotected sex, Obama hasn't been particularly effective at pushing back and staying on message, which raises yet another question in my mind about whether he is ready for prime time.

Is the language in this post intentionally provocative? Absolutely. Is it sexist? Some if not many people will think so, but I would use the same sort of imagery if Obama was engaging in such despicable behavior, and Hillary's relationships with once and future sworn enemies of the Democratic Party and the democratic process has gotten far too little attention and virtually no condom . . . er, condemnation.

Broder-esque tut-tutting is neither appropriate nor will draw the kind of attention that her behavior demands.

And before Hillary supporters get their foundation garments totally in a knot, they should pause before shooting the message to consider this most salient question: Will the legs-wide-open amorality with which Hillary has campaigned -- as in doing anything and anyone in the service of victory at any cost -- suddenly disappear if she makes an encore appearance at the White House?

No, of course not. Because politically speaking, once a slut always a slut.

The Last American Army in Vietnam

One of the ongoing tragedies of the Iraq war is Washington's refusal to allow Iraqis who have actively helped the American effort into the U.S. in all but the smallest numbers, exposing them to possible persecution and death.

The fate of many of the Hmong mountain people who fought against the communist-nationalist Pathet Lao in Laos at the behest of the CIA on one of the more obscure fronts in the Vietnam War was somewhat better. After the Pathet Lao victory in 1975, thousands fled to Thailand and many were resettled in Western countries, including the U.S.

But now those Hmong allies who remain in Laos are being hunted down and exterminated by Laotian and Vietnamese military units, according to a Center for Public Policy analysis.

Richard Fernandez, better known as Wretchard the Cat at the Belmont Club blog, writes at Pajamas Media that:

"The Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR) regime, in cooperation with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), has issued a new order and drafted a comprehensive strategy to mount a major military offensive to exterminate thousands of Hmong in hiding in the jungles and mountains of Laos. The offensive will involve special battalions of troops and special operations commandos from Vietnam who are now being deployed to the closed military zones of operation. The reported object is to eliminate and exterminate some 15,000 Lao Hmong in hiding in key areas of Laos by the end of April 2008. Hmong in Laos are bracing for these new anticipated attacks by Laos and Vietnam, which are expected to be massive and ruthless."
The Laotian government views the Hmong as "bandits," denies that there is a campaign of persecution against them and predictably rejects calls for independent international monitors as "interference from the outside."

It's hard to see the Bush administration leaning on the Laotian and Vietnamese governments considering the attitude that it has copped regarding Iraqi civilians and its lousy human rights record overall.

Complicating the situation is that the use of the Hmong mercenaries was secret.

Unlike in Vietnam, the U.S.'s involvement in Laos was covert (and highly illegal) and no American troops were sent to try to prevent a Communist takeover. But while the war is a sad chapter in American history that many people would sooner forget, Americans have an obligation to not forget the Hmong.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Fee, an Hungarian Puli sheep dog, jumps over a hurdle
during a preview for a pedigree dog show in Germany
Photograph by The Associated Press

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Leave aside the actual merits of the current neocon-Clinton-Limbaugh campaign against Obama - that he's linked to the Weather Underground, that his pastor is a "racist", that he cannot appeal to Reagan Democrats, that he's another McGovern, that he's a closet Communist, etc. etc. What strikes me is the energy with which these pundits actually derive from these associations and debates. It's quite clear that they really anger up the blood of a certain class of people. And yet they don't me, particularly. They seem pretty irrelevant to me, in the context of an election about a major war, a teetering economy, a weakened constitution, a mounting level of debt, a plummeting dollar, and a warming planet. I understand that this is politics, that these are vulnerabilities of associations, that these issues have some traction and a sliver of justification, but I still can't get that worked up about them. Why, I wonder?

When you think about these controversies, you being to realize just how generationally-focused they are. For a lot of people under 40, the Weather Underground sound like an Austin Powers out-take or a rock band. Even if you come to the conclusion (as I do) that William Ayers is a scumbag, the issue is not a dispositive one. Ditto the obvious racial panic around Obama - about Wright, about Farrakhan, about affirmative action.

Everyone is so caught up in the drama of the Clinton vs. Obama battle that they’ve overlooked an important political development: Alan Keyes appears to have locked up the Constitution Party's nomination for president.

Main thought. Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men's Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills? There's gold in that history.

John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa's knee. Mrs. Clinton learned at least its importance in her long slog through Arkansas, circa 1977-92.


Barack Obama has picked up support from Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, while put one of Obama’s speeches to music. Hillary Clinton appeared alongside Elton John at a concert in her honor, and relies on a Celine Dion song as a campaign anthem.

John McCain, well, at least he has Orrin Hatch.


Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but it strikes me that the country has suddenly found itself bereft of former leaders that carry any kind of broad credibility to weigh in on the serious matters of the day. Whomever is sworn in as president in 2009 will not have much to lean on.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are obviously discredited and useless. They'll never be 'elder statesmen' in any sense of the term. The elder Bush still retains a measure of credibility, although his name is tarnished along with his son's. Dan Quayle long ago became a joke. Jimmy Carter has expended his ability to have broad credibility by taking on the highly charged cause of peace in the Middle East. Walter Mondale has never attained a national profile or broad respect. And Bill Clinton has lost his credibility with broad swaths of the left, and never had much cred with the right. The only former leader I can think of that has real clout and respect right now is Al Gore.

Compare this to the sixties, when Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, and even Herbert Hoover, were consulted on a regular basis by Kennedy, and the first two by Johnson. It's appalling how badly our Establishment has failed us, from the media to our Congress to our elder statesmen. It's a sad and dangerous state of affairs.

The best deal for Mr. McCain would be for Mr. Bush to disappear into the witness protection program.

Bill Clinton had a bad temper ("purple rages" in the words of ex-aide George Stephanopoulos). Richard Nixon had bad temper (yes, he did precipitate Watergate, but he also was balanced enough to open China and negotiate arms deals with the Soviets). Dwight Eisenhower had a bad temper, a vein in his forehead would pulsate, and his face would take on the coloration of a hot stove burner (one aide, Merlo Pusey, wrote that "sometimes his anger is aroused and it may set off a geyser of hot words. The President's emotions are close to the surface"). And in my own backyard, we had Mayor Ed Rendell, who once got so ticked at a pesky reporter that he put her head in a hammerlock as he walked down the hall.

I tend to think that most Americans won't be perturbed by the news that McCain cusses out colleagues, given the fact that most Americans probably believe that U.S. senators deserved to be cussed out. But a new ABC-Washington Post survey suggests that the Democrats may be able to leverage the temper factor. When people were asked whether McCain's temperament would help or hurt his ability to serve effectively as president, 48 percent said yes and 37 percent said no.


Regarding the NYT story about McCain using his wife's plane for campaign purposes, what took so long? I mean, all of the members of the press's sycophant express have been following him around like needy puppies for months, as commonly repeated reports about McCain "flying coach" floated around.


I hope everyone saw the Bill Moyers interview with Senator Obama's former minister, Jeremiah Wright. From the media coverage and the fiery Youtube video footage--very selectively edited, of course--I was convinced I was going to behold the devil incarnate, right there on pbs. What I found instead was an eminently personable, highly educated and thoughtful individual who kept Bill and the audience spellbound for the whole hour with commentary on the Bible, African-American history, his ministry and congregation, American culture and yes, politics.


We don't really have presidential debates today; we have a kind of meaningless political performance art: a recitation of talking points choreographed to avoid any risk.

In the 2004 election, the Bush-Kerry debate rules ran a full 32 pages of dos and don'ts, including one rule that ordered the moderator to stop any candidate who dared to depart from the script to reference someone in the audience.

The candidates also were ordered to turn over for inspection "all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate." Pen and pencils. Talk about the vital stuff of democracy!

In telling contrast, the ground rules for the most famous debates in U.S. history were outlined in a two-sentence letter from Abraham Lincoln to Stephen Douglas, his opponent in the 1858 race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. After a prompt exchange of letters, they settled on the terms for seven debates. Lincoln insisted only that "I wish perfect reciprocity, and no more." There was no talk of pens and pencils.

-- NEWT GINRICH (2007)

John McCain has a tough job ahead of him. The Bush kool-aide drinkers are down into the mid 20s. Bush has the highest disapproval rating ever recorded but McCain needs the kool-aide drinkers. St John must distance himself from George W. Bush to win but if he alienates the Bush cultists he can't win anyway even if Hillary attempts to throw the election his way.


Dear Barack:

. . . Ignore the polls and take charge of the narrative. Act like a leader. Just tell the people how you're going to fix what the GOP has broken. The chattering classes will cluck but they couldn't be more out of touch with the real world. Don't react to your critics, direct the dialogue instead. The average voter doesn't care about the wonkery, they want hope. Make those inspirational speeches again and give them some.


With President Bush currently preoccupied with Iraq, the housing crisis, a recessionary economy, food shortages, record high crude oil prices, the falling value of the dollar against foreign currencies, and an ever-expanding federal budget deficit, another looming crisis has gone quietly unnoticed: the buildup of brush and undergrowth at the president’s private ranch in Crawford, Texas has reached critical levels.

Cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher/The Economist

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Roaring Fork Rope Bridge Adventure

My friend Rochelle left this mortal coil in 2005. I republish this tribute each year on the anniversary of her death.

I have a lifetime of wonderful memories of Rochelle, from the first time we met at a party when we were high school seniors to her radiant presence at my sister's birthday celebration last November. We had many adventures over those 40 years, but I've recalled one in particular since her passing. Let’s call it the Great Roaring Fork Rope Bridge Adventure.

First some background: The Roaring Fork River starts near Aspen, Colorado and runs undisturbed, which is to say undammed, to its confluence with the Colorado River some 70 miles north near Glenwood Springs. The Roaring Fork is a river of many personalities as it wanders through meanders created over the millennia. At its source above Aspen’s toney chalets, it is a rivulet. At its terminus near the Glenwood cemetery where "Doc" Holliday of Shootout at OK Corral fame is buried, it is fairly wide, comparatively docile and navigable by raft and shallow draft boat.

At more or less the halfway point in the aspen and pine forests above the village of Carbondale, the Roaring Fork more than lives up to its name as it shoots through a basalt and limestone canyon. This is where our adventure unfolded in August of 1978.

The Roaring Fork Valley was a second home of sorts for Rochelle. She lived in Carbondale during the period when, as the joke went, it was first attracting the attention of the millionaires who were being driven out of Aspen by the billionaires. On her return visits, she was treated like royalty by the many friends she had made. She couldn’t pay for a coffee at the Village Smithy or a beer at the Hollywood Saloon.

* * * * *
As befitted her as a Libra, Rochelle was romantic, idealistic and pacifistic. She also was deeply spiritual, an extraordinary cook, practiced practical joker and namer of names. Few people escaped her nom de plumage. The resident beekeeper at the farm where Rochelle and I lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was a former battlefield medic and PhD candidate and thus was dubbed Doctor Doc by her to differentiate him from another roommate, Doctor Duck. A mutual friend’s Italian surname morphed into Eatabunny. I was Captain Cab because I would ferry the farm's multitudes around the block -- or around the country -- in my VW bus.

In this particular instance it was to a house outside of Carbondale where three friends whom Rochelle called The Slow Children lived. She had so named them because of the


sign on the road near their driveway, but now that I think about it, maybe for another reason as well. Rochelle immediately set about squaring away the Slow Children's kitchen, which was in the kind of toxic condition you would expect for three guys who spent their days building houses for those millionaires and their nights throwing back cold ones at the Hollywood.

Her domestic diva duties done, we headed out with two of the three Slow Children for an explore along the Roaring Fork River canyon, which is situated a few miles below Marble, a mountaintop ghost town that was once home to thousands of people who worked what was then the world’s largest marble quarry, supplying the goods for the Lincoln Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and many other buildings. There are many old mine entrances in the area, most long overgrown with trees and vegetation.

The day was gloriously sunny and quite hot, and it being late summer, the meadows we crossed as we climbed to the canyon were a riot of columbine, primrose, lavender and sage. While our hike was not technically difficult, neither was it for the faint of heart.

There was only one way to cross the canyon for miles in either direction -- a crude wood and rope footbridge straight out of an Indiana Jones movie that screamed DANGER! A goodly number of the wood slats were missing, providing a vertiginous view of the Roaring Fork hurtling through the canyon 75 or so feet below, while the ropes holding the bridge together were not in very good shape, either.

One of the Slow Children was two or three steps onto the bridge when I sensed that Rochelle was no longer behind us. When I turned around, I saw that she had stopped dead in her tracks. There was a "You’ve gotta be nuts" look on her face that I had seen other times when she sensed, usually correctly, that sanity -- along with Elvis – had left the building.

As the smarties among you will know, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom did not premiere until a few years later, but the following snippet of dialog between Indy (Harrison Ford) and Willie (Kate Capshaw) from that movie fits the moment perfectly:

INDY: Anything can happen. It’s a long way to Delhi.

WILLIE: No, thanks, no more adventures with you, Dr. Jones.

INDY: Sweetheart, after all the fun we've had together?

WILLIE: If you think I'm going to Delhi with you, or anyplace else after all the trouble you've gotten me into, think again, buster! I'm going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is not my idea of a swell time.

* * * * *
We backtracked into the shade of the aspens, where a canteen and orange slices were passed around. A magpie squawked off in the distance, but other than the thrum of the Roaring Fork coursing through the canyon, it was quiet.

One of the Slow Children finally broke the silence. "So what if we carry you across?" he offered. "You can close your eyes."

Fire leapt from Rochelle's eyes.

More silence.

"Well, we could always throw the Ching . . . ," I suggested without much conviction.

The fire had gone out and there were now only wisps of smoke.

" . . . Or we could just backtrack," I added unhelpfully. "No big deal."

"Screw all of you," Rochelle replied.

It probably was as close as I ever heard her get to using profanity.

"I'm going to do it," she added with an unchallenged finality. "I know how to fly this plane, I'm just not always sure about landing it."

And then the most amazing but Rochelle-like thing happened. She suddenly was on the other side of the bridge waving her sun hat at us.

"Come on you Slow Children!" she laughed. "What's taking you so long?"

You wouldn’t think that Rochelle had much in common with Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, the novelist and world-class misogynist. She didn’t, but they both loved cats.

I took this photo of Rochelle, who left her own cat of 18 years, King Wenceslaus, with her passing, at the aforementioned farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not long after the rope bridge adventure. Rochelle is holding Terrapin, a sweet little ball of fluff who was born at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.

Papa had stipulated in his will that his cats and their progeny were to be cared for in perpetuity. Terrapin was polydactyl because of generations of inbreeding, which means he had more than the normal number of toes, in his case seven each on his front paws and six each on his rear paws. Meanwhile, Wennnie died exactly one week after his beloved mistress.

What the Heck Was This Guy Thinking?


NFL Draft: A Blue Hen Becomes a Raven

University of Delaware star Joe Flacco made football history yesterday in becoming the first NCAA BCS Division (formerly I-AA) quarterback to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft since Steve McNair in 1995.

Flacco, who led the Blue Hens to the BCS national championship game, was taken by the Baltimore Ravens as the 18th overall selection on the basis of his size (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), his smarts and rocket arm. He is widely viewed as the strongest and most accurate throwing quarterback among this year's crop.

As a Delaware season ticket holder, I watched Flacco mature into a field commander who never wilted under pressure. In two seasons at Delaware, Flacco completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 7,046 yards and 41 touchdowns against only 15 interceptions.

But succeeding in the NFL will be a whole other matter and few outstanding college quarterbacks at any level make it. Delaware has sent several quarterbacks to the pros, notably Rich Gannon, the former Oakland Raiders star, but most were cut or saw only limited playing time.

The Ravens quarterback job is considered wide open. Flacco will compete with another former first-round pick (19th overall) and former starter in Kyle Boller, entering his sixth season, and second-year player Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State.

In any event, good luck to Joe Flacco, who is truly a class act.

More here.
Photograph by Mark Campbell

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food Shortages: It's The Iraq War, Stupid

Like many guys, I don't like to shop. The Dear Friend & Conscience, on the other hand, loves to shop and just the other day we went out to drop off an old wrought-iron lawn chair at a repair shop so that it could be spot welded and came home with three new bras and an omelet pan.

Now the DF&C needed bras and I needed an omelet pan because the old one was beginning to look like a Superfund site. But my point is that what was an enjoyable hour or so for her was painful for me.

Which got me to thinking about a larger painfulness as we strolled through an enormous but nearly deserted manufacturers' outlet store complex:

Shopping has become an ordeal for the increasing number of people who don't have a couple of hundred bucks to spend at the supermarket to keep their brood in Wheaties and peanut butter as food and gasoline prices skyrocket and they still have to make mortgage payments and fulfill other financial obligations.
In yet another sign that things are bad and getting worse, no less a capitalist bastion than the Wall Street Journal suggests that it may be time for Americans, who as it is spend far less on food than in most other countries, to begin stockpiling.

Writes Brett Arends:

"No, this is not a drill.

You've seen the TV footage of food riots in parts of the developing world. Yes, they're a long way away from the U.S. But most foodstuffs operate in a global market. When the cost of wheat soars in Asia, it will do the same here.

Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster."

Now I'm not an economist, nor do I play one on TV. But it is obvious that there are several reasons for food shortages (principally rice, which is now being rationed by another capitalist bastion, Sam's Club) and evidence that some Americans are indeed stockpiling.

The reasons for the shortages include dwindling food and fish stocks (duh!), inflation, climate change and the siphoning off food crops for fuel production. But the big engine is soaring oil prices, the Iraq war is the major cause for that and the Bush administration is of course the culprit.

No, this is not another exercise in Blame The Decider For Everything because this shoe fits.
One of the Forever War's greater ironies is that we were led to believe that the fall of Saddam Hussein would, among other great and noble things, result in a windfall in U.S. oil imports and a more stable Middle East.

Just the opposite has happened, of course. Iraq is still struggling to bring production back to pre-invasion levels, a substantial amount of that oil is siphoned off for the gray and black markets, and the war has caused profound instability in the region, which has helped trigger ever higher crude oil prices.

Meanwhile, Barry Ritholtz, who is an economist and plays one on TV in talking head appearances on MSNBC and elsewhere, blames food shortages on the Federal Reserve's "irresponsible bailout" of Wall Street bigs in a post at The Big Picture, for my dinero the best economics-oriented blog. (He also does some great stuff on jazz, typically on Fridays.)

So what's the U.S. to do?

Getting the heck out of Iraq is the no-brainer solution, but that's not going to happen. Taking the food crisis seriously would be a good start, but just as the Bush administration is only beginning to whisper that the U.S. economy might be in recession, it is nowhere near prepared to ask Americans to make sacrifices -- be they for war or waffles.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

They were born shrouded in mystery in a windowless building in Burbank. They flew combat missions over Serbia and Iraq virtually invisible to enemy radar. And today, the black, bat-like F-117A Night Hawks will fly quietly into the night as stealthily as they came.

The last four of the world's first stealth fighters will make their final flights from Palmdale to a secret desert base in Nevada, where they will be locked up indefinitely in a secure concrete hangar.

. . . The single-seat F-117 was the first plane that could evade radar detection; it was designed to fly into heavily defended areas to knock out radar installations and anti-aircraft missile batteries, clearing the way for other fighters and bombers. It was also used to destroy military command and communication centers.


I love men. I love men being men. I love military men. And I thank God they are military men. But I find it hard to believe that all military men are "drinking and whoring Saturday night," and if they are in any kind of majority, yeah, that bears scrutiny.

Saint Pet gets his reward for giving the Bush administration an opportunity to say the quagmire isn't a quagmire, and his No. 2 gets the job of keeping the lid on long enough to pass it along to the next administration.

I've no doubt whatsoever that Petraeus will be confirmed in his new post. The politics of trying to oppose such a PR juggernaut are impossible and there's little doubt he's an efficient soldier. He was told to give a plausibly positive cast to the military aspect of the Iraqi misadventure and he's done that. But being in charge of centCom requires far more than just being a good and obedient soldier - it requires skills and an independent mindset that aren't proven by Petraeus' previous record.

A project heralded as the dawning of an innovative, low-cost era in Navy shipbuilding has turned into a case study of how not to build a combat ship. The bill for the ship, being built by Lockheed Martin, has soared to $531 million, more than double the original, and by some calculations could be $100 million more. With an alternate General Dynamics prototype similarly struggling at an Alabama shipyard, the Navy last year temporarily suspended the entire program.

When the dust finally settled, Army officials sought to put the best face on a sandstorm test that humbled Colt Defense's vaunted M4 carbine.

The tests were conducted at an Army laboratory in Maryland last fall. Ten M4s and 10 copies each of three other carbines _ the SCAR from Belgium's FN Herstal, and the HK416 and the XM8 from Germany's Heckler & Koch _ were coated in heavy layers of talcum-fine dust to simulate a sandstorm. Tens of thousands of rounds were fired through the rifles.

The M4s malfunctioned 882 times. Bullets that didn't feed through the rifles properly or became lodged in the firing chamber were the biggest problems.

The other carbines had far fewer hitches. The carbine with highest marks was the XM8, a gun with a Star Wars look that the Army considered buying just a few years ago but didn't. The program collapsed due to bureaucratic infighting and questionable acquisition methods.

Despite the testing troubles, the Army and Colt are defending the M4, the rifle U.S. forces rely on in combat. The tests, they stressed, were only meant for research purposes and didn't represent actual conditions.


What's so amazing -- and truly frightening -- about the Bilal Hussein story is that the U.S. government may have actually turned to warbloggers for information. At least one source even allegedly credited the laughable Jawa Report blog for helping put Bilal Hussein behind bars for two years while the U.S. military in Iraq pondered his fate. That warbloggers are right less often than a stopped clock is one thing. That CENTCOM officials have apparently deputized the clueless Inspector Clouseaus in the War on Terror represents a national embarrassment.

A one-day visit to an aircraft carrier is a lifelong lesson in conservatism. The ship is immense, going seven decks down from the flight deck and ten levels up in the tower. But it's full, with some 5,500 people aboard. Living space is as cramped as steerage on the way to Ellis Island. Even the pilots live in three-bunk cabins as small and windowless as hall closets. A warship is a sort of giant Sherman tank upon the water. Once below deck you're sealed inside. There are no cheery portholes to wave from.

[John] McCain could hardly escape understanding the limits of something huge but hermetic, like a government is, and packed with a madding crowd. It requires organization, needs hierarchies, demands meritocracy, insists upon delegation of authority. An intricate, time-tested system replete with checks and balances is not a plaything to be moved around in a doll house of ideology. It is not a toy bunny serving imaginary sweets at a make-believe political tea party. The captain commands, but his whims do not. He answers to the nation.

Photograph by Al Seib/The Los Angeles Times