Archive for August, 2006

Has Frank Rich ever written a bad column?

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Not this week.

Return to the Scene of the Crime 

President Bush travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency.

As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s “heckuva job” shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.

What’s amazing on Katrina’s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He’s still in a bubble. At last week’s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the “Today” show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, “Nothing,” adding that “nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.” Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense.

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Jimmy Carter flames Blair

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Having Jimmy Carter call you a two-bit lackey has to hurt. It’s a pity it’s so true.

(The Telegraph) Compliant and subservient: Jimmy Carter’s explosive critique of Tony Blair

Tony Blair’s lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W Bush lie behind the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the worldwide threat of terrorism, according to the former American president Jimmy Carter.

“I have been surprised and extremely disappointed by Tony Blair’s behaviour,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

“I think that more than any other person in the world the Prime Minister could have had a moderating influence on Washington - and he has not. I really thought that Tony Blair, who I know personally to some degree, would be a constraint on President Bush’s policies towards Iraq.”

There’s more. Carter doesn’t hold his punches.

Iraqization is going swimmingly I see

Friday, August 25th, 2006

The process of Iraqization, not to be confused with Vietnamization (which also went well), appears to be buzzing along just fine, don’t you think?

(AP) Iraqis loot base after British leave

Looters ravaged a former British base Friday, a day after the camp was turned over to Iraqi troops, taking everything from doors and window frames to corrugated roofing and metal pipes, authorities said.

About 1,200 British troops had been stationed at Camp Abu Naji in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, and the base had come under almost daily attack. The troops pulled out Thursday to redeploy along the border with Iran to crack down on weapons smuggling.

Shortly after the troops pulled out, Iraqi police managed to disperse looters by firing warning shots into the air, said Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan provincial governor’s office. But the looters returned Friday.

“The British forces left Abu Naji and the locals started looting everything,” 1st Lt. Rifaat Taha Yaseen of the Iraqi army’s 10th Division told AP Television News. “They took everything from the buildings.”

Who should play Bush and Cheney in the movie?

Friday, August 25th, 2006

At some point after our great national nightmare has finally ended, with Bush & Co. safely out of the White House and all of the locks changed, someone will, no doubt, make a movie about the preceding eight years.  Here are a few tentative thoughts as to titles:

Stories from the Big White Asylum

An Apology to the Future (about not from Bush)

The Looking Glass Years

Man, What Were We Thinking?

Hey, Get That Camera Out of my Face, I Don’t Want to be Associated with Those Bums

Anyway, whatever the title, surely one or more movies will be made; and it’s never too early to start thinking about the cast.  Here are my preliminary suggestions for the lead roles:

George W. Bush: To be played by Tom Hanks; his performance to be roughly based upon his role in Forest Gump, but with more farting.  (Picture)

Dick Cheney: To be played by Jack Nicholson; his performance to be roughly based upon his roll in The Shining, but crazier. (Picture)

So what are your thoughts as to any of the above?  Any suggestions for other possible titles?  How about other actors for the leading roles?  Or actors for the supporting roles?

On Iran, we definitely should attack — the Republicans

Friday, August 25th, 2006

A man who’s been bitten by a rattlesnake before will probably know enough to pay particularly close attention the next time he hears the sound of the rattle.  Hopefully, the same holds true for our nation. 

The snakes who brought us the boondoggle in Iraq are back at it again with a vengeance; the target this time, of course, is Iran.  And, no, the godforsaken mess they’ve created in Iraq hasn’t dimmed their enthusiasm for so-called preemptive wars one bit; it also hasn’t changed their modus operandi.

So once again we find these same neoconservatives furious at the intelligence professionals, you know, the folks with some real knowledge about the region, because these professionals are painting a more cautious picture than the neocons like. And once again these Republican neocons (with a little help from Joe Lieberman) are trying to undercut, belittle and otherwise delegitimize the professionals. 

The neocons want their war — the facts be damned.

Besides, who needs intelligence professionals when you have Dick Cheney?


Is a new world (medically) ready to open up?

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Don’t you get the feeling sometimes — that assuming the crazies will just get the hell out of the way and let the scientists do their work — we may be breathtakingly close, perhaps no more than a decade or two, to a time when a whole new world of medical treatments will open up.  I’m talking about something equivalent to the advent of antibiotics; discoveries that will instantly make our current medical science seem as primitive as the use of leeches to bleed patients seems to us today.

Maybe it will come out of stem cell research and therapeutic cloning: Maybe through the science of genetics, or by advances in molecular biology and the study of DNA; or perhaps it will be a combination of all of these, or something completely different.  

But it will be something — something really big. I can feel it in my bones.

Here’s one of the latest reports giving the smallest inkling of what might lie ahead, just around the next corner — this one dealing with Alzheimer’s.

(HealthDay) Research on Mice Hints at Alzheimer’s Treatment

THURSDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) — New research in mice points to a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, one that repairs brain cells so they can rid themselves of the amyloid beta proteins that are suspected of contributing to the disease.

By tinkering with an enzyme in the brains of mice afflicted with the rough equivalent of Alzheimer’s in humans, scientists were able to improve the rodents’ memories.

There’s no way to know if the approach will work in humans, but researchers are hopeful. In essence, “we were able to restart — or make more efficient — the garbage disposal function of the cell,” said study co-investigator Dr. Michael Shelanski, director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Columbia University.

How I keep from hating George W. Bush

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Cold showers help.  Wild sex probably also helps, but . . .  Like I said, don’t sell those cold showers short.

Sappy movies help too.  It’s hard to hate when tears are running down your cheeks at the end of “The Best Years of my Life” or “It’s a wonderful life .”

Scary movies are also good — something along the lines of the original Alien.  It’s hard to hate when your stomach’s so tight it feels like it’s about to explode (which in the movie, of course, one guy’s does).

Listening to the words of great men and women can work pretty well.  Just try hating after listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Inspiring movies are also a good bet.  How can you hate without shame after watching “Gandhi” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Neither the Mahatma nor Atticus would approve.

Playing with your kids is one of the best hate stoppers.  Only a sick mind hates in the presence of laughing children.

And finally, chocolate is a sure fire solution for reasons too obvious to mention.

All silliness aside, why work so hard not to hate someone who is in so many ways, well, so hateable? 

Here’s my take: Because hate isn’t what liberals are about.  It will never take us where we need to go, not as a society and not as individuals.  Leave the hating for the other side: They’re the ones who are good at it anyway.

I’ll admit that not hating Bush often isn’t easy for me.  It’s especially hard when I think about things like all the lies he’s told, the unnecessary war, the abuse of the environment, the betrayal of New Orleans, the assaults on personal freedom, the corruption and all the rest.

And yeah, thinking about those things makes me as mad as hell.

But anger is good.

Outrage even can be a gift from God.

But not hate.  I can’t let myself go there.

Which means, I suppose, that I am going to be taking a lot of metaphorical cold showers between now and January 20, 2009 (assuming he’s not removed from office before then). 

Bush: The farting Voltaire?

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

First, we find out from US News & World Report that our lovable scamp, George W. Bush, is actually a man of letters:

Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush’s competitive delight, has racked up only 50). The commander in chief delved into three volumes in August alone-two on Abraham Lincoln and, more surprising for a man of unambiguous convictions, The Stranger, Albert Camus’s existential tale of murder and alienation (story, Page 38).

(My emphasis) 

(Those of you who, for some totally inexplicable — and no doubt highly un-American — reason doubt the authenticity of this report will find companionship here, among other places.)

Yet, at almost the exact same moment we receive this report, also from US News & World Report, purporting to document what can only be described as a presidential obsession with flatulence:

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we’re learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he’s still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can’t get enough of fart jokes. He’s also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.

(My emphasis)  

So there you have it, our own modern day Renaissance man — The Farting Voltaire!

Like a mosquito in a nudist colony

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

To borrow from an old joke, Democrats running against Republican incumbents this year must feel like mosquitoes in a nudist colony; there’s just so much good stuff out there that it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s one small example.

(NY Times) I.R.S. Enlists Help in Collecting Delinquent Taxes

If you owe back taxes to the federal government, the next call asking you to pay may come not from an Internal Revenue Service officer, but from a private debt collector.

Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers — each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes — to three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers.

The move, an initiative of the Bush administration, represents the first step in a broader plan to outsource the collection of smaller tax debts to private companies over time. Although I.R.S. officials acknowledge that this will be much more expensive than doing it internally, they say that Congress has forced their hand by refusing to let them hire more revenue officers, who could pull in a lot of easy-to-collect money.

The private debt collection program is expected to bring in $1.4 billion over 10 years, with the collection agencies keeping about $330 million of that, or 22 to 24 cents on the dollar.

For more on just how stupid (and subject to abuse) this is check out Paul Krugman’s column on the topic.

I’m sure a lot of professional political consultants — you know the guys who’ve led the Democrats to defeat in each of the last three election cycles — would say I’m nuts on this, but I think this is pure political platinum.

I’ve even got a name for it: It’s called Big Government Republican Style. Here’s the pitch:


Does an Op-Ed without a Clinton smell sweeter?

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Maybe I just don’t understand highbrow journalism, but this strikes me as extremely odd: Last night as I was scanning The New York Times online front-page for anything of interest, I noticed Bill Clinton had submitted an Op-Ed about welfare reform.  I read it — and, although I’ll admit it was a bit of a yawner, reading the thoughts of the former president seemed a worthwhile use of three or four minutes.

What’s strange is that today when I again perused The Times, Bill Clinton’s name was gone from the front-page lead-in, replaced by the generic description: “Op-Ed Contributor.”  So why did The Times decide to drop Clinton’s name?  

At first I wondered if the goal was conciseness.  But, no “Op-Ed Contributor” uses 17 spaces (including the dash and blank spaces), while “Bill Clinton” uses only 12.

So I’m stumped.  I mean, did The Times think more people would click onto the piece if they didn’t know it was written by a former president?

Now, try as I may, I can’t come up with any good conspiracy theory to tie this into, but it does strike me as damn strange.

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