Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is Jim Baker really Mr. Fix-It?

The mainstream news media and the Washington political establishment are falling all over themselves in anticipation of the forthcoming recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, hailing whatever will come from this report of self-styled Washington Wise Men (and Sandra Day O'Connor) as a miracle elixir for the Iraq disaster. As a teenager, I used to look forward to the release of the new Yes album or wonder which of the dozen girls who wouldn't go out with me if their life depended on it would make the high school cheerleading team. In the end, the results were pretty much what or who I expected, and that was a good thing. I wanted to hear the certain stylistic trademarks of my favorite band that set it apart from all the others, and I wanted to make sure that the new cheerleaders were snobby and obnoxious enough to justify my social isolation from their world on my terms.("You couldn't pay me enough to go out with Valerie Britt!" when the truth is you wouldn't have had to pay me a dime.)

There seriously cannot be a person alive who believes that the Baker-Hamilton commission will offer any recommendations that buck the status quo, much less unveil some dramatic, foolproof plan to extract the United States from the quicksand that is contemporary Iraq. More likely than not, the commission will recommend that the Iraqis take more responsibility for securing their borders and taming the anarchy that is their current state of domestic politics and, in what will be hailed by the Washington media as a "dramatic" departure from the Bush administration's current posture towards Iran and Syria, negotiate with these two important and powerful Arab neighbors of Iraq. And Jim Baker will have accomplished what he wanted, which is end his long career in and out of politics as the Wise Statesman he has always longed to be.

After coming to Washington as part of the George Bush I campaign team in 1980 to help stage manage Ronald Reagan's presidency and staying on to serve as Secretary of State after Bush I was elected president in 1988, Jim Baker earned a reputation he once loathes and cannot escape -- that he is Bush family's Tom Hagen, the memorable character played by Robert Duvall who served as the consigliere to the Corelone family in the first two Godfather movies. Baker's fluid political skills led the Washington media to nickname him "The Velvet Hammer." If Jim Baker wanted you out, then you were out, and there was no chance in hell that you would ever find his fingerprints anywhere near the deposed bodies. In 2000, the Bush family pulled him out of retirement to clean up the Florida mess so that W -- the Sonny Corelone of the Bush family -- could by-pass the courts, the law and the democratic process to claim the office to which his family felt he was entitled. Re-kindled talk of Baker's "Mr. Fix-It" moniker soon resurfaced, soiling what he believes -- really believes -- was his exit reputation as the diplomatic smoothie of the Bush I administration.

Now Baker is being hailed as the potential savior of the Bush administration, "the grown-up" who is going to tell the fraternity-boy president that his foreign policy operation is now on double-secret probation. Before anyone gets too excited about the Baker commission's report and recommendations, remember this: this is the same man who, as a member of the Reagan inner-circle, encouraged that administration to straddle the fence on the Iran-Iraq War, largely because friends of Baker stood to make gazillions of dollars off the chaotic state of oil production in those two countries and the business interests that American companies had in Iraq; that, as Secretary of State, Baker abandoned the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan and left the door open for Bin Laden and the rise of the Taliban; that, in 1991, Baker resisted calls for Saddam's disposal and agreed to leave him in power, allowing the now-deposed Iraqi strongman to unleash the Republican Guard on the Shia in the south, killing 50,000 persons even after his army was forced to leave Kuwait; a man who has remained an unapologetic supporter of the corrupt and autocratic Saudi regime; and a man, who as Secretary of State once remarked, "Fuck the Jews. They didn't vote for us," in response to a comment on the unease with which American Jews viewed the Bush administration's approach to Israel. Whether organized American Jewish groups were right or wrong bears no relationship to Baker's impolitic response.

Jim Baker's real record, stripped of his careful manipulation of the Washington media and his above-it-all attitude towards politics, is much closer to another "Mr. Fix-It," the character from the Richard Scarry books who broke much more than he ever fixed.

Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Not bedtime reading

Seymour Hersh's latest piece on the Bush administration's FUBAR antics is not something I recommend reading before going to bed or threading a needle. You can find it here.

The most recent New Yorker (December 4) features several great articles, including one on Arlen Specter's decision to cave into the Bush administration on habeas corpus; another on Lou Dobbs's emergence as a television populist; and a great Talk of the Town comment from Hendrik Hertzberg on the phony bi-partisanship of Washington.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Tom Tomorrow here

"This Modern World," written by Tom Tomorrow, is the best political comic going. Starting this Tuesday (today), you can link to the new strips here.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The best of what's around?

The Washingtonian might just be nothing more than the People magazine for our region's upscale, well-educated white professionals who are simply too sophisticated to feign interest in Brittany Spears's marital woes or the latest hijinks of Paris Hilton and her entourage. But it does offer an insight into how the professional political-law-media complex here views itself -- self-important, increasingly money-driven, insular, elitist, entitled, intellectually incurious and bound to a peculiar conventional wisdom that confuses social status with smarts. Put in more specific terms, Washington is high school run amok. And if the Washington Post is the school paper, then the Washingtonian is the yearbook, published twelve times a year instead of one. And just like the cool kids in high school, self-appointed Very Important People in Washington love seeing their names, and increasingly, their pictures, in print.

So leave it to the Washingtonian to fawn all over Secretary of State Condi Rice as one of those important high-level officials "making a mark" on their corner of the professional world. Here is how Rice is described (and I am not making this up):

"When tensions flare abroad, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is quickly on the scene -- the calm public face and articulate voice of the Bush administration foreign policy. In the last year, she has traveled to more than 20 nations, talking with leaders about everything from United Nations sanctions against North Korea to the development of an economically viable Palestinian state.

Rice's goal of 'transformative diplomacy," which she says is 'rooted in partnership, not paternalism -- in doing things with other people, not for them" -- represents a subtle but significant shift in emphasis for the administration.

Time will tell if her mark will be made in reviving peace talks in the Middle East -- or in mistakes she might have made as the President's national-security adviser. . . . But even as she defends an unpopular war, she remains a popular presence around Washington."


When George Bush leaves office on January 20, 2009 -- who's counting? -- Condi Rice will leave with perhaps the most complete record of failure of any foreign policy official in high-government since Robert McNamara. Her tenure as the NSA will remembered for two things: failing to heed the clear warnings given to her on the threat that Bin Laden posed to the United States and the imminent likelihood of a terrorist attack on American soil; and serving as a syncophantic voice on the Bush administration's Iraq war council. Since her promotion to the State Department, Rice has done nothing to improve the position of the United States abroad, or pursue any course of successful diplomacy to deal with the perilous state of affairs in the Korean pennisula, the Middle East or to diffuse the chaos in Iraq.

If Condi is the Prom Queen, then Tony Snow is Washington's Prom King. Gushes the "Making a Mark" profile on the Decider's press secretary:

"If ever the Bush White House needed an aggressive yet engaging personality at the podium, this was the year. (My Note: largely in part to Ms. Rice's incompetence.) Tony Snow . . . turned out to be just the guy.

At White House briefings -- dubbed 'the Tony Snow Show' by correspondents -- he has defended the administration on everything from Iraq policy to sagging poll numbers with a combination of combativeness and humor. He called Bob Woodward's latest book 'cotton candy -- it kind of melts on contact.'

That kind of talk has made Snow . . . a favorite with the GOP. . . .

The White House press corps may give Snow grief, but among Establishment Republicans . . . he's 'like Mick Jagger at a rock concert.'"


Where to start with Mr. Jagger-Snow? Although the White House still refuses to call the civil war in Iraq a civil war, even the mainstream news media, which, until very recently, has towed the administration's line on Iraq since March 2003, has acknowledged the reality of the Iraqi free-for-all. Snow recently said that the insurgency was more problematic than the administration had wished, BUT, refused to call the civil war a civil war, instead saying that the Iraqi civil war was not a civil war because "it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader."

Got that? A civil war isn't a civil war unless each side is wearing clearly indentifiable uniforms (Blue and Gray, perhaps?) with matching regalia. If you don't believe that the civil war in Iraq is a civil war, read Harvard Professor Martha Duffy Toft's piece from last summer piece on the Nieman Watchdog site. Iraq jumped the shark a long time ago, and yet Tony Snow stands there day after day, lying to the public about the carnage in Iraq as if this were just some group of paintball enthusiasts gone a bit over-the-top.

Rice and Snow are not just running interference for presidential policies that involve reshaping the tax code, insisting that their boss wasn't asleep as hostile jets strafed US airspace or offering a smokescreen that no one really believed about their boss's extra-curricular sex life. The Bush administration is sending Americans to die almost every day for a lost cause; thousands of Iraqis, most of whom are civilians, are dying every month because of our decision to invade their country and our incompetence at establishing economic and political order. This is a disaster for which Rice has blood on her hands and Snow, although not a policy planner, has made a conscious choice to serve as the administration's voice. Why the Washingtonian would see fit to place two fluff pieces on these two Bush apparatchiks is a decision that ought to make more responsible journalists shudder with embarrassment.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Whitewashing Chocolate City

The new Washingtonian magazine is the annual "Best of Washington" edition -- the best people, food, houses, college sports teams, manicure salons, cocktails, lawnmower repair shops, neighborhoods, women's accessories boutiques, golf courses, movie theatre popcorn. Hundreds of glossy photographs of people (mixed in among the shots of elaborately staged tacos, purses, swirly cocktails or wine bottles)lucky enough to be among those who own and operate our area's very best of everything are featured throughout the magazine.

Washington is known as "Chocolate City" among African-Americans nationwide because of its thriving black middle-class, the political power concentrated among black politicians and its burgeoning professional and entrepreneurial sectors. So guess how many photographs of African-Americans are in the new "Best of" edition?

Eight.

Hmmmmm . . . go figure.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A schvitz and a soak at the J

Is there any greater place to be than in the men's locker room at the Greater Washington JCC? Where else can you relax, take a soak and a schwitz and hear this:

"What so many of these doctors don't understand," came the voice from the other side of the steam room, a bony but certain finger waving in the air to remind the other three people in the steam room that an important point was about to be made, "is that old people -- and I would not put myself in that category -- don't like going to the doctor. When you get to that age, who the hell wants to take time to hear someone tell them, 'Don't do this; don't do that; slow down; speed up; don't eat this or that . . .' it's terrible. Some of these people down at 'my place' (Note: when old Jewish people use the phrase, 'my place,' it means a retirement community with optional assisted living) need to get to get the hell of their goddamn rooms and see someone. Will they listen to me? Not a chance."

"Take, for example, this guy up on the fourth floor," he continued, oblivious to the rising temperature of the steam pouring forth that was about to reach near-asphixiating levels. But if three old Jewish guys aren't looking to leave, what choice do I have but to stay? "Since he moved in with us, he has had this terrible condition (Note: a 'condition,' as used by old Jewish people, means life-threatening illness or unspeakable disease, such as cancer. For example, the phrase, "I don't know how Murray is doing and I'm afraid to ask. I've heard he has a condition, and it doesn't look good"). . . I don't know, something with his lungs, or his throat . . . but he won't go get checked out. I try to tell him, 'Listen, let me take you to the doctor, get checked out, we'll have some lunch, it will be nice.' He won't budge."

"So here's what these doctors need to do," he continued, clearly building towards the punchline. By this point, I had begun to write my will in my head, sorting out long-held personal resentments with one side of my brain ("Did Verhoff ever give me a wedding present? I can't remember . . . that's it, then; he gets nothing") and, with the other side, looking for tie-breakers to distribute my CDs and books to ("Reteneller has most of the Bill Evans catalogue, so I should probably give those discs to someone else . . . Joey gets the autographed "Seconds Out" Genesis record. I'll give Judy the Billie Holiday stuff, but will she get it?").

The two older guys continued to nod, although for a minute I thought one was just dead.

"Hire pretty nurses!"

Pause. Then one guy old sticks his hand in the air, as if to get the teacher's attention so he could answer a question. "Absolutely," he rasps. "I have been saying that for years . . . is it really so hard to find a nice looking girl to work in an office? What I think happens is that these doctors think, 'All right, my patient is 75 years old, what the hell does he need to look at a woman for?" Well, I got some news for him -- I always need to look. That's how I'm going when my time's up . . . looking, and not at my wife either. I'd say they'll need to bury me face down, but I'm going to be cremated."

"Cremated," asks the other, aghast that his friend has decided to forego the burial ritual. "Why the hell would you do that? It's against Jewish law!"

"So is marrying a blond shiksa, and if I'd known my wife was going to spend every dime I ever made I would have broken that law -- gladly."

"If she converts, you've done nothing wrong."

"Convert? Why? That takes the fun out of it. I want my wife to know I married a blonde-haired girl, and that she didn't convert. That would just make her mad. I've earned it."

By this time, we had been joined by a fourth alter kacher, who shuffled over and sat next to me, wearing a pair of flip-flops that said, "DKNY Girl" across the straps.

"Melvin, is that you?" he asked. "Still with the shiksas? Why don't you just go eat lunch at the place with the girls that wear the shirts?"

"Wear the shirts?" I thought. What the hell was Melvin up to? Whatever it was, I wanted in.

"What place?" Now, even Melvin was confused. "Every place I eat in the girls wear shirts. What are you talking about?"

"The place with the shirts . . . you know the girls with the shorts, the shirts."

I realized where this was going, and it was a frightening thought.

"Hooters," I interjected. "Hooters is the place where the girls where the short-shorts and the t-shirts." I don't know; the idea of a table of little old Jewish men ordering off the Hooters menu was bizarre enough ("Can you tell the chef not to make the wings too spicy or too mild? Tell him I like them a little spicy but not real spicy. Are you writing this down? I don't understand, what the hell is goddman Cajun catfish doing on this menu? This isn't Louisiana. Is your fish flown in fresh? Does this come with a drink? I want no ice . . . just tea, unsweetened . . . no ice . . . are there free refills")? But knowing that one of these guys had even heard of Hooters was . . . well, discomforting . . . let's just say that.

"Of course," said the still unidentified fourth man. I had picked up Melvin's two other friends' names: Sheldon and Marvin. "The kid knows (there is something nice about turning 45 and being referred to as a kid). I bet you get there a lot, don't you?"

"I've been there twice, not my choice either time."

"Of course it wasn't," chuckled Sheldon, elbowing Marvin to demonstrate his "Hey, we're all guys" solidarity with me.

Then Marvin piped up, mercifully moving the subject of Hooters with four old Jewish guys off the table.

"Doctors need more training in marketing to old people. That's what I did for 40 years, marketing. An old person sees a pretty nurse, he's going to come back. And you tell the nurse, 'Listen, these guys, these old guys, they're not going to do anything to you except smile. They can't (pointing down to his groin area for emphasis) do anything else.' Everyone's a salesman, even doctors. Who died from a little flirting?"

"Speak for yourself!" said Sheldon.

Melvin countered. "Bullshit. Some pretty young nurse wants to flirt with me, then she'll have more than she can handle. Trust me. Old, but not forgotten. In my day, I could give the girls a run for their money. Even the shiksas; I knew how to dance!"

And on and on they went. I would have taken them all to Hooters, but I had to get out of the heat. They stayed, laughing and needling each other as I left the steam room and headed for some fresh air. They, once again, had made my day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sssh! Someone's watching you . . .

I wonder if the Pentagon is as interested in the activities of the disaffected neo-cons on Iraq as it is on groups that have absolutely no influence on public policy. Read more here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stay informed (ongoing)

The new Tom Tomorrow cartoon is here; Eugene Robinson is great, AGAIN, in this morning's Washington Post; once again, I have no idea what the pedantic Anne Applebaum is talking about in her column on genocide and Dafur; the New York Times has done readers a real service by placing Tom Edsall on the Op-Ed this month as a guest columnist. Edsall is one our very best political journalists, embodying everything a serious political writer should be: curious, smart, perceptive, intellectually dexterious and able to communicate his ideas at an appropriate level. Read his column here (you'll have to sneak past the Times firewall).

The new Atlantic Monthly offers some meaningful topics for discusson over Thanksgiving, including a selection of its 100 Most Influential Americans. Click the Atlantic link on the right-hand side of this page to get to it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The neo-con con job

"Embittered Insiders Turn Against Bush," read yesterday's (Sunday, November 19) headline on the front page (below the fold) of the Washington Post. And just who are these "insiders," and about what are they so embittered?

For starters: Kenneth Adelman. Richard Perle. Richard Haass. Joshua Muravchik.

And they are really, really mad -- embittered, in fact -- that Iraq turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Especially after they were all so supportive and so sure that the Decider, the man they believed had the guts to oust Saddam Hussein, discover and purge his country of weapons of mass destruction, including its burgeoning nuclear weapons program and turn Iraq into a glorious democracy that would set an example for the entire Middle East.

Adelman, a former protege of recently fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld whose right-wing bona fides were established when he headed the arms control team of President Ronald Reagan, who, if you remember, did not believe in arms control, is the man who predicted that an American military operation would be a "cakewalk." Of course it was! What other possible result could there have been when the world's most powerful, well-equipped and technologically advanced army took on a popgun militia with only minimal loyalty to its regime? Predicting a cakewalk in Iraq required about as much insight as predicting that a recently released prisoner with a fist full of money would get laid in a whorehouse.

But Adelman and his neo-con colleagues, most notably Richard Perle, another long-standing member of the Washington foreign policy establishment, are stunned at the Bush administration's incompetence in establishing a viable state after Saddam's fall. Joshua Muravchik, an influential foreign policy specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, went so far as to suggest that perhaps the whole basic pretext for the invasion was wrong.

Wrong? Really? Well, just as Bogart and Bergman will always have Paris, Adelman, Cheney and the other delusional, self-satisfied neo-con brigade will always have their celebratory dinner at the Vice-President's mansion shortly after Saddam's fall, when they toasted themselves on their brilliance and foresight. Three years later, all their rhetorical bravado and intellectual pretense has resulted in cataclysmic death and destruction in lives, reputation and moral opprobrium. And of course not a single member of the neo-con inner-circle had any military background or on-the-ground-experience. They were really no different than a self-impressed group of graduate students creating new regimes in their seminar papers, telling the professor exactly what he wanted to hear, yet absolutely indifferent to the powerful forces of political culture and nationalism. The transformation of Iraq was a pipe dream that never, ever had a chance.

The Iraq disaster is also holds a lesson for Washington insiders transfixed with themselves. Coming here 17 years ago, I expected that Washington would be a place brimming with ideas and smart people interested in discussing them. There is some of that, but it is largely limited to people who have no professional interest in government and politics. Washington is high school student government on steroids -- this is a place that is all about jockeying for position, about who you work for, about who is up and who is down, and, ultimately, who gets to sit at the cool kids' table. And the cool kids are the party in power. The Washington Post is the equivalent of the school paper -- it will tweak the cool kids in an appropriately adolescent fashion, but it will never really push the powerful too far because it views itself as part of the governing process. If the Post and the other establishment media really saw themselves as an oppositional force, the would lose their access to government officials and, more importantly, their high status among the city's social elite. And that ain't gonna happen. The value of an idea pales in comparison to a place on the Washington A-list. There are, without a doubt, plenty of smart people in Washington. But they will not to hesitate to sell their soul for a place among the Washington elite.

"Washington insiders" pride themselves on knowing things that you and I do not. I guess that matters if you believe that what they know is worth knowing. As the neo-cons' bbssession with Iraq shows, sometimes what you don't know can be fatal.

Daniel Craig IS James Bond

My son and I saw the new James Bond movie, "Casino Royale," yesterday, our first in-theatre Bond experience together. From the first minute of the opening pre-credit sequence, Daniel Craig establishes this Bond as a pure killer. His blue eyes, far from making him look soft, establish his killer instincts and ruthlessness. If you're looking for gadgets, tricks and invisible cars, you won't find it in "Casino Royale. This Bond kills with his bare hands and his gun, and doesn't quip, smirk or smile in the process. He just moves on. If you're a Bond fan of long-standing -- you can remember seeing any Sean Connery-era Bond movie or even "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" when it came out, you will love the return of James Bond to his roots -- mean, cold-blooded, physical and all business. And all the trademarks that still make Bond different than any other movie in the genre -- the breath-taking locales spanning the world (five countries, at least, by my count), beautiful women, cool cars and mind-boggling stunts -- are there in force. The difference here is that Bond is much more real than ever before, to the extent, of course, that one man can temporarily deflate an entire terrorist network.

"Casino Royale" is a much necessary corrective to the end of the Pierce Brosnan-era. Brosnan was great in "Goldeneye" through "The World is Not Enough." By "Die Another Day" his time had run its course and so had the increasingly implausible, gadget-driven plots that drove the movies. Go see this movie as soon as you can. Do not pass GO; but do collect the $200 -- this Bond would, and would rip it out of your ear if he had to.

A hat trick for Max

I am pleased and very proud to report that my twelve year-old hockey player, Max, rung up his first career hat trick yesterday, including one highlight reel-quality goal that ended with him crashing into the inside of the net. Although I am tempted to say it all comes down to the coaching (me), it doesn't: He got this one with some great passes and support from his teammates, and some nifty moves of his own.

Congratulations, Max!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Underappreciated musicians

"No, I've never heard of him/them/her . . ."

How many times have I heard that since I began listening to music and collecting records and CDs a hundred millions years ago? In the early 70s, when I dove into my English progressive rock phase, I didn't have a lot of friends eager to go with me. In the late 70s, when I started developing an ear for more jazz-influenced music, same deal. While the rest of my friends were listening to Ted Nugent, trying to impress girls by playing Jackson Browne songs on their guitars at parties, I was busy holding forth on the intricacies of "Close to the Edge," or reluctantly conceding points on key arguments over great bass players ("Sure," was a typical response, "Geddy Lee is a great bass player, but you have to admit he is influenced by Chris Squire, who is the greatest") while my friends, much smoother than myself, trotted out their America and James Taylor records to establish their sensitive guy bona fides with their dates. By the early 80s, I was hardly listening to any rock or popular music, so taken was I with my own personal jazz revolution(that would change in the mid-90s, when I saw the Allman Brothers for the first time in twenty years with a friend and was just blown away by what I heard). The great part of that, especially living in Atlanta, was that I could always get great seats to see musicians like Art Blakey, Gary Burton, Steve Reich, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Michel Petrucianni, Steve Kuhn, Dan Wall, David Murray, Cedar Walton, John Scofield, the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and Keith Jarrett. The hard part was getting people to go with me.

So here is a shout-out to some great comtemporary musicians and their recent recordings.

I first heard guitarist Steve Khan as a session player on Steely Dan's "Aja" and "Gaucho" records, and was immediately taken with his tone, phrasing and note placement. In college, my friend Joey Pierce, who shared my interest in music, played a record featuring Khan, Billy Cobham, Tom Scott and Alfonso Johnson called, "Alivemutherforya." The idea was to take some of the up and coming fusion instrumentalists of the time and create a "supergroup" to showcase their musicianship. Well, I was impressed, and began looking for more records featuring Khan. That led me, in the early 80s, to buy a series of records he made with percussionist Manolo Badrena, drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Anthony Jackson under the name Eyewitness. I've bought everything he's ever played on since, including, in more recent years, more straight-ahead and somewhat Latin influenced jazz dates. His most recent recording, "The Green Field," is just astounding. Link to his website here and explore some of the most underrated great guitarists of the last 25 years. You'll see from poking around his site that this is a man with a big and interesting brain!

I discovered pianist Steve Kuhn when I was browsing through a record bin looking for Steve Khan. A record had been misplaced, and it turned out to be "Life's Magic," a trio recording featuing bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster. Knowing full well who Carter and Foster were by this point, and seeing the name Bill Evans mentioned in the liner notes, I bought the record and listened to it for about a week straight, just utterly transfixed by Kuhn's playing on a composition of his called, "Trance." I had the pleasure of seeing him at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1988 with this trio, and he was absolutely spectacular. I worked up the nerve to talk to him during a set break and he could not have been nicer and more accommodating. He actually thanked me for being so supportive of his music. His most recent release, "Quiereme Mucho," is actually five years old -- such are the market conditions of jazz and the difficulty that many musicians have in getting their material recorded and released. A wonderful recording by a simply marvelous pianist.

For jazz, and now, jam band afficinados, John Scofield is hardly an unrecognizable name. Sco is on quite a roll these days, having recently released recordings with Medeski, Martin and Wood ("Out Louder," which is Outstanding) and a tribute to Ray Charles. But his playing is particularly fierce on a tribute to the late, great drummer, Tony Williams, that he, drummer Jack DeJohnette and organist Larry Goldings recently released entitled, "Saudades." DeJohnette is one our greatest living jazz musicians and, to me, the standard-bearer on his instrument. Here, though, it's Goldings that deserves some support. He takes the material on this record and just tears it up. Listen for him on recordings with Michael Brecker and others under his own name. Figures like Jimmy Smith and Dr. Lonnie Smith have so dominated discussion of jazz organ playing over the last 45 years that anyone coming after them has had a hard time getting recognition on their own. Larry Goldings has it going on. Check him out!

Having never met her, I don't know if Patricia Barber deserves her reputation in the jazz world as an ice queen. I prefer the description given to her by a friend of mine "too cool to be real . . ." This stunning composer, pianist and vocalist will leave you intrigued and moved. She has a lot going on in her music and you'll need to listen carefully. But she's not playing math problems. There is a lot of emotional feel in her compositions and her lyrics, while artsy and introspective, fit the mood perfectly. I am partial to "Verse," from 2002, but "Live: A Fortnight in France" is also great (featuring some material from "Verse"), and allows her band to stretch out a bit. I've heard bits and pieces of "Mythologies," her new release, and so far, so good.

These musicians should open your ears a bit. Listen to them and see where it takes you. And, in case you were wondering, I am listening to "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from 1971 by the Allman Brothers on my iPod as I finish this up. All great music has a connection, and when you feel it you'll know it.

. .. and the return of Trent Lott

The Republican minority yesterday elected Trent Lott, the Mississippian whose thoughtless comments at former Senator (and former segregationist) Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party four years ago cost him a positioned he had always coveted -- majority leader of the Senate. Lott's election is being spun as a "second chance" for Lott to demonstrate that he is not the racially insensitive and cultural retrograde that he has been for the majority of his 34-year career in the House and Senate. John McCain, the ever-wily maverick, called Lott's election a moment of "redemption." I think the return of Lott is just plain weird. So does John Dickerson in Slate, so go read him here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Alfred Kinsey, please come home

Falling into the "Dog Bites Man" school of journalism, this morning's Washington Post features a front page (but below the fold) story, "3 Christian Groups to Condemn Gay Sex," which sets out the opposition of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and the state Baptist Convention of North Carolina to . . . drum roll . . . gay sex, gay marriage, gay coffee, gay flowers, gay wallpaper, gay lawnmowers . . . anything steeped in gayness.

Wow! Now THAT is a news flash!

The United States Catholic Conference has reiterated the Catholic Church's position that gays are "disordered," and declared that Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be remain celebate and not discuss their sexual orientation in public. Okay . . . whatever . . . heard that a million times before. Gay sex does "not accord with the natural purpose of sexuality," which, of course, is procreation, not recreation or an expression of feeling or merely lust. Gay sex is "sinful" and never "lead[s] to true human happiness." Gay sex is just bad, bad, bad.

What IS noteworthy about the public announcements of the Catholic Bishops or the various statements coming from the Vatican is that they are made at all. The ongoing scandal involving pedophilia -- the most disgusting moral transgression there is -- in the Catholic Church and absolute failure of the Church to deal with this problem in a forthcoming manner negates anything it has to say about the moral dimension of human sexual behavior. There is nothing more sickening than watching these cases continue to unfold and watch the indifference that so many priests within the Catholic hierarchy have shown towards both the transgressors and their victims. How and why the Church believes it has any moral authority on any aspect of human sexuality is simply beyond me. My guess is that most gay men and women disagree with Catholic officialdom that homomosexual "acts . . . do not lead to true human happiness." The closet is a much darker place to be.

The state Baptist convention of North Carolina has announced that "no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape." Hmmmm . . . I guess if you discount the persistence of racism in American society, rates of sexual violence against women, rising income inequality, 45 million Americans without health insurance, a tragic war in Iraq based on deception, lies and outright stupidity that has cost almost 2,850 Americans their lives and two or three thousand other public policy problems, these folks in North Carolina might have a point.

Of course, there are, in true Washington Post fashion, some other groups cited in the article to offset the anti-gay position of these denominations. They mention that Jesus offered "radical hospitality" to anyone, including gay people. And there is some mention of the pro-gay rights position that other major religious groups in the country have taken. But I was disappointed that the most authoritative voice on human sexuality in the last 100 years was not cited anywhere in the article.

Alfred Kinsey.

Kinsey blew Americans away over fifty years ago when he published the first major scientific study on human sexuality, specifically on male sexual behavior. And what he found included -- gasp -- that many men were gay, and many that were not had thought about it at one time or another. In fact, he found that most American men, and later women, had thought a lot about sex, and usually in ways that confounded the conventional sexual mores of the time. Kinsey also found that masturbation did not cause blindness or acne, that women were capable of orgasm, that wearing high heels did not cause women to become sterile and that Americans, in general, had been given a lot of bad information about sexuality and sexual health, with much of that teaching coming from religion.

One of Kinsey's basic findings was that sexual desire was intertwined with human existence. And while there is plenty of room to criticize some of Kinsey's methods and his underappreciation for the emotional connection that most people find with sex -- indeed, people are different from lower-order species in that regard -- his basic findings on the nature of human sexuality are no less applicable now than in 1948. Yet, the moral crusaders, carrying the banner of religion, are determined to repress the human spirit and the biological imperative for an unattainable goal -- to deny people their sexual identity and their right to consensual sexual freedom. I am certain that most clergy would find it highly inappropriate for their congregants to have sex in their pews. Leaving the rules of the bedroom to individuals and not to the righteous filled with the spirit seems like a fair trade-off to me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stay informed (ongoing)

Michael Kinsley hits the mark again in this morning's Washington Post with his on the anti-democratic and do-nothing nature of the old Washington game of turning to Wise Men and the "Blue Ribbon" commission to solve problems that are the responsibility of our political bodies. Eugene Robinson is great again on the Republicans' unsuccessful inroads into black America. Dahlia Lithwick has an interesting piece on Chief Justice John Roberts' embrace of the news media and his effort to use public communication to his advantage.

Go to The Atlantic and read the on-line journal (The Atlantic Unbound). Some great stuff from James Fallows and an interesting debate on Iraq.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The McCain fraud

When, oh when, will someone in the mainstream news media blow the whistle on the John McCain fraud? Far from being an "independent," "maverick" or, gasp, "moderate" Republican, McCain is as right-wing as they come. Since hinting that he was going to run for president a few months ago, something he plans to make official real soon, McCain has been seeking the good graces of the Christian Right, which, now more than ever, constitutes the "base of the Republican Party.

McCain opposes abortion rights, opposes gun control, supports capital punishment, is willing to give corporate America anything it wants, is increasingly more sympathetic to letting "faith communities" and "people of faith" (credit where credit is due: Ralph Reed came up with that bit of rhetorical sleight of hand; it sure beats "religious zealot" or "Jesus freak") guide public policy and, most significantly, has been fundamentally supportive of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Over the summer, McCain made some headlines by endorsing the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the Bush administration's unconstitutional scheme of military tribunals and moralizing on the evils of torture when the Decider decided his "war on terror" could not be effective unless we, uh, tortured captured suspects. But when all was said and done, McCain relented to Bush on the torture bill that Bush, in an effort to trump up his tough-guy-on-terrorism image, strategically signed a few weeks before the election. Bump.

It is still a bit early to sort out the details of the Democratic sweep last Tuesday; but this much is clear: the election was a clear rejection of George W. Bush, his administration, the Iraq War, the stench of Republican corruption and, I think, the religious takeover of the party's operational base. But in a crystal clear example of Beltway-mentality thinking, Washington Post reporter Jeff Birnbaum declared McCain one of Tueday's winners:


Republicans may have lost control of the House, and perhaps the Senate, but McCain was able to mine some good news from the rubble. One of the secrets to
the Democrats' success was winning over independents and moderates, exit polls
showed. McCain has long been seen as a champion of independents; in the 2000 GOP primaries for president, that trait proved to be a liability, but it may now be
a benefit.

"After a year in which independents determined the outcome of the election, maybe Republicans will be more interested in nominating a candidate in 2008 that plays well with moderates and independents," said Jon McHenry of the Republican polling firm Ayers McHenry & Associates.

Come again? The Republicans get killed and McCain is a winner? You can't be serious. John McCain stumped for 43 Republican candidates and not a single Democrat; only 12 won. In contrast, Bill Clinton campaigned for 46 candidates; 32 won. What kind of star power is that?

McCain has vascillated on the Iraq War as much, if not more, than Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, and gets very little criticism for it. I suppose his "independent" image comes from such efforts as his work with Russ Feingold to "reform" campaign finance. But the dirty little secret of campaign finance reform is that it benefits incumbents. Challengers have to spend much more money to build up name recognition, establish a political operation and grease the wheels. Plus, as a real-world matter, campaign finance "reform" has been ridiculously ineffective.

In recent weeks, the mainstream media has discovered that some real differences exist between George W. Bush and his father. Unlike his father, W really is a down-the-line right-winger, uninterested in the world around him and determined to take his Messianic vision forward with little or no concern for what it means for domestic or foreign policy. Bush 41 had a largely ineffectual presidency, but, to give credit where it's due, he certainly didn't make the country any worse off, and managed the first Gulf War to appropriately positive reviews worldwide. Bush 43 will go down as perhaps the worst president of the last 100 years, if not of all time. McCain is much closer to Bush 43 than 41. Now that the right-wing has had its come-uppance, it will be interesting to see if McCain can maintain his star status as his campaign goes national or whether this scam will finally end.



Earth to conservatives: you lost a long time ago

Even before George Allen conceded his Senate seat to Democratic challenger Jim Webb last Thursday, big-gun conservative columnists such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks had already begun to spin last Tuesday's election results as something other than a repudiation of the Bush administration's last two years. Never mind that independent voters supported Democratic candidates by a 57%-39% margin, and cited the War in Iraq as the driving force behind their decision. One too many corruption scandals also cost Republican candidates the votes of Independents, perhaps at a rate equal to the Decider's disastrous Iraq adventure. Together, Iraq and corruption combined to cost the Republicans their twelve-year hold on Congress. Voters concerned about "values," i.e., the new political shorthand for abortion, gay rights, religious influence in politics and so on, continued to side with the Republican Party; the only catch is that not very many voters viewed those issues as carrying that much weight in this year's midterm elections.

Never mind. Conservatives, using their comfortable perches on the op-ed pages of the two newspapers they most often deride as "biased" and "liberal" in their coverage of politics and culture, insisted that the election was a message to the Decider to consider some "different options" on Iraq -- with leaving that mess behind not in cards -- and bring some focus to the current flammoxed state of the Republican Party. Naturally, they pointed to the seven states that joined the twenty already banning same-sex marriage as sure-fire proof that cultural conservatism still dominates the land (one of those seven states banning same-sex marriage was Virginia, which offered an amendment banning civil unions -- hetero- or homosexual. It will be interesting to see how this sits with the non-gay population if this provision is enforced against heterosexual couples. Seeing the success of the anti-gay marriage movement as an endorsement of the Christian Right's social agenda is premature. Arizona rejected such a ban. I think even more important than these empty symbolic gestures -- remember that anti-same-sex marriage laws do nothing more than reinforce the status quo in these states -- was South Dakota's decision to overturn its state legislature's recent enactment of the nation's most restrictive abortion law, one that banned abortions for any reason except to save the life of the mother, Missouri's decision to alter the state constitution to protect stem cell research, the failure of ballot initiatives in three states to impose limits on state expenditures and the decision of six states, none which went for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, to raise the minimum wage beyond the current federal standard of $5.15 per hour. So there.

Nonetheless, conservative commentators continue to insist that conservatism eclipsed liberalism as our dominant cultural ethos with Ronald Reagan's consecutive landslides in 1980 and 1984, and, with the brief exception of Bill Clinton's two terms from 1992-2000, and that conservative values now comprise the center of American social and political culture. But there is another way to think about this debate over our cultural center, and I will begin by offering the following scenario:

Separate from the presidential contest of 2008, let us give the American people the opportunity to reconsider all the social, economic and political innovation that liberalism has brought since the New Deal (that's 1932, for those of you not old enough to buy liquor or cigarettes or draw a blank when someone compares Iraq to Vietnam). Why don't we reconsider the following?

1. Should we repeal the minimum wage, the right to unionize and bargain collectively, the 40 hour work week, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, farm subsidies, occupational safety and health regulations and hundreds of other laws that comprise our social and economic safety net since the New Deal?

2. Should we repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended? The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin and has been amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of mental and physical disabilities and age. The law also has been interpreted to bar sexual and racial harrassment and require employers to make an effort to reasonably accommodate persons who have work conflicts based on religion and disability.

3. Should we repeal the fair housing laws, as amended, that were enacted in the 1960s?

4. Should we eliminate the massive federal subsidies for public education that began with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, and make public education strictly the responsibility of state and local governments?

5. Should we abolish the Evironmental Protection Agency and the numerous regulations it enforces to maintain clear air, water and land?

6. Should the Supreme Court declare abortion a non-guaranteed right and turn the matter over to the states to decide, permitting them to ban abortion without exception if they so choose?

7. Should the Supreme Court overturn Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and permit schools to operate with regard to race as long as their funding is equal?

8. Should the Supreme Court overturn the School Prayer Cases of the early 1960s and permit states to allow sectarian prayer over the intercom at the beginning of each school day written by public school or government authorities?

9. Should the Supreme Court overturn its First Amendment decisions broadening the rights of political dissenters, protesters and other unpopular groups that have been able to air their grievances in public?

10. Should the Supreme Court eliminate the right to counsel established in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the right to remain silent established in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) and the right to other protections afforded to criminal defendants?

11. Should Congress pass a law forbidding gay men and women to work in federal jobs, including any job in the executive, legislative or judicial branch? Should they be permitted to have security clearances if they do?

These are just a few suggestions. Rather than discuss these ideas in the abstract -- after all, who really wants to listen to another series of boring speeches and discussion about Social Security reform, why not just give it to the people to decide? If the country is as conservative as our conservative commentators and cultural warriors keeping telling us that it is, and if America really wants to returns to its pre-1960s-corrupted roots, let's vote on it.

Here's another thought -- they'd lose on every question. If contemporary liberalism's political albatross is support for gay rights and gay marriage, that tells us a lot about the cultural center of our nation. A generation ago -- around the time that Ronald Reagan was elected the first time -- no one even discussed gay rights and gay marriage. That was my first election, and I cannot remember a single campaign speech involving gay rights or other issue that now comprises, in the eyes of the Christian Right, the "radical left-wing" agenda. Since 1994, the Supreme Court has expanded the rights of gays and lesbians under law, and extended the right of privacy to prohibit the criminalization of consensual sex. It has also turned away numerous efforts to challenge Roe v. Wade (1973). From 1994-2005, seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents; since 1968, only one Democratic president, Bill Clinton, has appointed a Supreme Court justice, and those appointments, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, have not altered the ideological balance of the Court. The "extremist" courts the conservatives have been so busy complaining about for 25 years bear the imprint of Republican presidents. A Court consisting of predominately Republican appointees has either maintained or expanded the scope of personal rights involving privacy and held the line on numerous other challenges to landmark civil liberties cases.

Far from endorsing the religiously-inspired conservative agenda, the nation has embraced the social, economic and political change offered by liberalism. From time to time, electoral majorities have put the brakes on the more left-leaning elements of American liberalism or forced reevaluation of policies that might not have been working very well. For conservatives to postulate that the Democrats are dominated by vegan pacifists who want to tear down heterosexual marriage by mandating interracial gay marriage between disabled men is pure fantasy. Conservatives reject the caricature of their party as nothing more than a group of angry, white, know-nothing men who hate gays, love guns and get excited by the prospect of wars that they refuse to fight themselves. No one should take seriously for a second their continuing effort to make the Democrats out to be something that they're not.

The Great American Middle -- political independents -- determined the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections. They have had plenty of opportunity over the years to jump on the right-wing cultural bandwagon and they have not done it. My feeling on the conservative agenda is this: let's put these ideas to the test and see what happens. What conservatives will find is that the ship has sailed on the culture wars, and the liberals won the overwhelming number of them a long time ago.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The American Taliban

For better or worse, much of America, or, more accurately, the approximately 25% of eligible adults who voted in Tuesday's midterm elections, was too distracted by the Democrats return to power to pay much attention Wednesday to the most significant cases the Supreme Court will hear this term: Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. These cases involve a challenge to the law passed by Congress in 2003 banning late-term abortions. I could offer some commentary, but that would do a disservice to Dahlia Lithwick's piece in Slate yesterday discussing the law's flaws, the Court's reaction to it in oral argument and the problems that arise when lawyers attempt to tell doctors how to practice their profession. Lithwick is the best Supreme Court correspondent going -- by a mile. Read her coverage in Slate. I include a link to Slate on the home page of this blog.

The article contains links to the oral argument transcripts, the lower court opinions and other materials relevant to the case.

By the way, remember when the Bush administration pushed the "liberation of Afghan women" as a reason to oust the Taliban? And it made that argument without a trace of irony.

The invisible man

“. . . AND SO I’M GOING TO GET WITH HILLARY’S PEOPLE AS SOON AS I CAN TO SEE IF WE CAN GET MOVING ON THE APPROPRIATIONS ISSUES. BUT I THINK THEY’RE A LITTLE BESIDE THEMSELVES RIGHT NOW . . . JEEZUS, I THINK WE NEED TO GIVE THESE GUYS SOME ROOM TO FIGURE OUT WHERE THEY’RE GOING TO GO NOW . . . . DID I THINK THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN? I THOUGHT MAYBE, MAYBE, JUST MAYBE WE’D PICK UP A FEW SEATS BUT WOULD I HAVE BET THE HOUSE . . . NO, NOT THE HOUSE HOUSE . . . MY HOUSE, WHERE I LIVE!?! NO WAY!”

This was a Very Important Man engaging in very important cellphone conversation. How did I know he was very important? Because he was talking VERY LOUDLY TO MAKE SURE I COULD HEAR EVERY WORD HE SAID even though he was standing five feet away from me in an acoustically vibrant hallway as I sat outside my almost-eight-year-old teenage daughter’s yoga class diagramming drills for my son’s hockey practice.

He also kept winking at me after every sentence, as if I knew who he was by virtue of his ear-shattering name-dropping, and it was perfectly fine with him if I wanted to stare at him and think, “You are someone very important, and it is so cool to be within five feet of your greatness. And because you are very important and I am not, and because you think I am going to tell my friends, ‘You’ll never guess who I saw earlier today having an EXCEPTIONALLY LOUD cellphone conversation about very important people on Capitol Hill while waiting on my daughter at the JCC today? . . . that’s right . . . that guy, the slightly paunchy, balding one in the blue suit, white shirt, red pattern tie and soft-sole Rockport dress shoes. Yes, him!!’”

“ . . . SO WHAT DID HARKIN’S PEOPLE SAY WHEN YOU TOLD THEM THAT WE WERE WILLING TO MOVE A LITTLE CLOSER TO THEIR POSITION . . . I’M ASSUMING THAT HILLARY’S PEOPLE ARE IN THE LOOP ON THIS (He turned and winked at me. Again). WAIT . . . HOLD ON, THAT’S MY OTHER PHONE . . . OH, JEEZUS, THAT’S THE SENATOR.”

The importance of the “Senator’s” phone call took him into the janitorial closet, where, had my right leg not fallen asleep and prevented me from standing up, I would have locked him in and slipped out the back door. And yet, I could still hear him.

“YES, YES, I AGREE WE’LL HAVE TO REACH OUT TO THE COMMITTEE TO RE-ORDER THE HEARINGS LIST. WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERDO IT, THOUGH. WE’RE GOING TO NEED TO WALK CAREFULLY AND FEEL OUT WHERE ALL THIS HAS LEFT US. . .”

Then, like Superman, the Winker stepped out of the closet, smiling at me as if it were okay for me to think, “Wow, you are so fucking cool! I wish I could have a job one day where I got to talk to Senators in a janitorial supply closet while waiting for my child to finish her yoga class.” And here I am, just sitting here figuring out how to keep 12 year-olds with sticks on ice from killing each other for an hour and fifteen minutes. He then stepped towards me and asked, “Excuse me, do you know when this class ends?”

“I have no idea,” I answered, even though I did. “I’m just waiting for the door to open or my daughter to sustain her daily life-threatening injury. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“You really don’t know?” He seemed perplexed. “I’m thinking maybe around 5ish?”

“Or 6,” I said. “I don’t know. That’s why I brought something to do.”

“Six? That could be another hour. Can you get an Internet connection in the lobby, do you know?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have my computer with me.” I put down my Sharpie and extended my palms up.

Then came another voice . . . and it was loud . . . and it was directed towards us.

“YOU CAN TRY BUT THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES. SOMETIMES I CAN AND SOMETIMES I CAN’T. THAT’S WHY I CARRY THIS . . .”

I turned around to see a Mom holding up her Crackberry and then waving it, as if she had just been invited to the cool kids’ table and was eager to show off her new membership badge.

“THIS THING IS A LIFESAVER . . . A LIFESAVER. I DON’T WHAT I’D DO WITHOUT IT. OF COURSE, I’M ADDICTED NOW,” said the Mom. Dressed in her Juicy Couture warm-up suit, which opened at the waist to reveal a t-shirt that read, “Juicy Mom,” it did not appear that she had come from her job as a lobbyist, Hill staffer or whatever Very Important Job the Screaming Cellphone Man held.

“TELL ME ABOUT IT. I CALL IT MY CELLULAR LEASH. IT’S LIKE BEING TETHERED TO MY DESK. I LIKE IT BUT I HATE IT . . . (I knew what was coming next). BUT THE SENATOR WANTS ME AVAILABLE ALL THE TIME AND WHO AM I TO TELL HIM NO?”

The Juicy Couture Mom, who was not the least bit juicy, was impressed. “REALLY? YOU WORK FOR A SENATOR? WHICH ONE, GOD FORBID NOT A REPUBLICAN.”

“GOD, NO. I WORK FOR __________________.” (Hint: This Senator used to be a Democrat but he is now an Independent who votes like a Republican).

The Juicy Couture Mom was still intrigued, but a little baffled. “DID HE WIN YESTERDAY, I MEAN, MY GOD, THERE WAS SO MUCH CRAZINESS WITH ALL THESE ELECTIONS. I THINK OUR GUY WON, DIDN’T HE? . . . I LIVE IN POTOMAC . . .”

“DEPENDS. I’M ASSUMING CARDIN?” And on and on they went. VERY, VERY LOUDLY.

By this point, I was out of the conversation, which was fine by me because I was never really in it to begin with. I don’t have a Crackberry; I don’t work for a Senator; I am definitely not Very Important or hold a Very Important Job. I don’t own a Juicy Couture warm-up suit nor do I harbor any secret aspirations to, and, sadly, I am not a very juicy dad. Every so often I wonder what it might be like to have a very important job. On the other hand, I’d rather make fun of other people than myself. For now, I’m content to be the invisible man.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Britney, be still my beating heart

Less than 24 hours after voters across the nation told George Bush and his War Cabinet to wake-up and pay attention to the world around them, and not just the make-believe world in which they have been living for the past 3 1/2 years, the five most "popular" stories on cnn.com are:

1. Bush plans new agenda
2. Britney to divorce husband
3. First Muslim elected to Congress
4. Lohan hates party-girl image
5. Cosby settles sex assault charge.

Yesterday, South Dakota rejected through referendum a ban on abortion that would have made all abortions illegal and permitted doctors to perform one only if the woman's life was as stake. The law also required a doctor to attempt to save the fetus as well as the woman. After the state legislature had passed the law in March 2006, pro-abortion rights forces petitioned to get the law on the ballot so that all voters could have a say in whether it should remain law. The law was also opposed by mainstream pro-life organizations, which believed the law undercut their strategy to eradicate legal abortion on a more incremental basis. And today the Court heard arguments in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, two cases that involve a constitutional challenge to a federal law banning late-term abortions.

And yet more people reading CNN were interested in Britney Spears' new status as a single woman and the trials and tribulations of teen-age drama queen Lindsay Lohan.

Oy Guyvalt!

In the afterglow

I confessed last night I got this election wrong. Turns out I got it really wrong, and for that I am quite happy. Now some thoughts on where Tuesday’s stunning results leave our politics for at least the next six months or so:

Admittedly, I am not the first person to say this. But there is no doubt that Tuesday’s results (and those coming in from the Virginia and Montana Senate races) offer a powerful rebuke to President Bush and his War Cabinet. Perhaps Missourians voted for Claire McCaskill because of her support for stem cell research; maybe Virginians – and specifically those in the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia – were uncomfortable with George Allen’s “Maccaca” comments, his social conservatism and his painfully awkward backflips to disassociate himself from his mother’s Jewish ancestry while professing “respect” for his newfound heritage. Above all, though, the election results are a clear expression of dissatisfaction with Bush and his direction of the Iraq fiasco. I mean, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island lost; he opposed Iraq as much as any Democratic dove and didn’t even vote for Bush in 2004. We’ll see if Bush gets it; I doubt it.

The Decider is scheduled to give a press conference in a few minutes. Will he say that yesterday’s results are a victory for terrorism? Just last week, the Decider and his surrogates, including the Vice-Chickenhawk-in-Chief, told the usual hand-picked adoring crowds on the campaign trail that a Democratic victory in the midterm elections would be a vote against our nation’s security and a victory for the terrorists. Does he really believe that’s true? I hope someone puts this question to him four-square at the press conference. Sonmeone, anyone, please ask him: "Do you believe that yesterday's Democratic sweep is a victory for terrorism?"

An unreported dimension of one-party Republican rule for the past six years (the Jeffords defection had no influence on Senate business) has been the degree to which the White House, as extension of Karl Rove’s grand strategy, has completely shut the Democrats out of the governing process. Sure, there are exceptions for “Republican-Democrats” like Joe Lieberman. By and large, however, the President has had no interest in anything the Democrats have had to say about national security, the economy, Iraq, terrorism . . . anything. The Decider’s performances on Republican campaign stages over the last two or three weeks brought his status as the President of the Republican Party into clear focus, if there was any doubt before then. From the first day of his presidency, Bush never, never, never . . . ever, ever, ever had any intent of “uniting” anyone or anything. Guided by Karl Rove, Bush bullied from the far-right, accusing anyone who disagreed with him about anything of being un-American, pro-terrorist, pro-Saddam, anti-life, anti-world, anti-whatever. Facing an opposition party in the House, and probably one in the Senate, he will no longer be able to stampede his critics or ignore them.

Oh . . . puh-leeze! I just finished watching the “address to the nation” portion of the Decider’s press conference to discuss the election outcome. I listened to him – something, I admit, that is hard for me to do. Did you hear any discussion about personal accountability, because I did not. Of course, Bush did not address directly the elephant in the room – the voters’ steadfast rejection of his decision to go to war against Iraq and the recklessness with which he has taken this country and that one into a cesspool of destruction, brutality and carnage, with no end in sight, graced by a level of civilian incompetence over the military not seen since Vietnam. His only concession – that the election results do reflect “some” Americans frustration with the “lack of progress” in Iraq – is complete bullshit. Most Americans have no idea what is going in Iraq, where the cities that comprise the loci of the conflicts are, the names of the warring ethnic groups, the geography of region, and so on. Americans who supported the war believed the administration’s cause belli – the weapons of mass destruction, the need to build a new Middle East with Iraq as the beacon of inspiration and the fear that a quick and decisive military campaign would strike in Iran, Syria and the other “rogue” regimes that comprise the cartoon-level metaphor “Axis of Evil” in the Bush imagination. What most Americans, with the number growing by the day, now realize is that our soldiers are dying for no reason. Keeping Republicans in power – the real reason why the Decider’s braintrust (sic) refuses to back down – is not acceptable reason to send men and women to die.

Whoa! Bush has just announced that the brilliant Donald Rumsfeld has “agreed” that it’s time for a new perspective on the Iraq War (and hopefully the Afghanistan War, too). Could the prospect of a Democratic Congress calling up Rummy to testify against not necessarily friendly members have had anything to do with the decision to let him go?

The Decider and his inner-circle have governed for six years as if one-half of the country did not exist. That is now over.

Oops!

So far, so good. I really didn't think this would happen.

Virginia is the real shocker . . . Allen will not win on a recount.

Ohio, another surprise, and by almost 10% (at this point, 12.45 a.m., Wednesday morning).

Wow!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Predictions II

Before things get too carried away tonight, here's another prediction: the Republicans keep the Senate.

For the Democrats to win the Senate, they have to hold seats in New Jersey and Maryland, and win 6 of 7 seats considered competitive. Pennsylvania and Ohio are considered the easiest of the rest, with Virginia and Tennessee the hardest.

I don't think the Democrats can oust 6 of 7 Republican senators. The recent scandals involving Ted Haggard (which got even better after Friday), Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff will hardly make a dent in the competitive races. As for the verdict to send Saddam to the gallows . . . that was a real shocker, wasn't it? Anyone who thinks that verdict "justifies" a meaningless and unwinnable war doesn't have enough sense to vote against Bush to begin with, much less see the bigger picture of just how disastrous the Decider's reign, along with the monopoly power of the Republican party, has been for the last six years.

The Democrats will probably win Pennsylvania; maybe Ohio, but I doubt it; Virginia will stay with Allen (you have to love his conversion to women's rights in the last two weeks of the campaign) and Ford will not win in Tennessee.

I hope I'm wrong, and I don't say that very often. We'll see in a few hours.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election predictions

The experts and people wanting to see their name in print making bold, dramatic predictions about a Democratic sweep in tomorrow's midterm elections might want to take a deep breath and examine one important statistic before patting themselves on the back.

In 2004, only 10 House seats were won by a margin of five points or less. Those ten were 13 fewer than the 23 won by the same margin in 2002. In 2000, the House had 19 seats in play by margin of five points or less. Since 2000, the Republicans have increased the size of their majority over the Democrats in the House in every election:

2000: 221 R; 212 D
2002: 229 R; 204 D
2004: 232 R; 202 D

Current polls show at 30 seats closely contested in the House. That doesn't mean, however, that the voters will side with the Democrats, or with challengers against incumbents. For Democrats to win the 16 seats required to take back the House for the first time since 1994, they will have to:

1. Confound the incumbency advantage
2. Pull the competitive races to their side
3. Convince the public that the Democrats have a real plan to resolve the Iraq debacle.

I don't think the Democrats will pull this off. The Republicans, when they bulldozed the House in 1994 and came in under the Contract with America banner, had researched a strategy from the day Bill Clinton was elected to portray the Democrats as unfit to govern. They did not accomplish anything in policy terms -- Clinton handed them their hat during the 1995 shutdown and co-opted many of their own issues for the second term of his presidency, including welfare reform. But they did have something to give the voters. The Democrats haven't done that. Despite the complete incompetence and moral abdication of this presidency to democratic principles and the rule of law, I think the Republicans will retain control of the House (and the Senate) because most Americans are afraid of change, no matter how dissatisfied they are with the status quo. Americans have always hated Congress but loved their congressman. We'll see if that holds true tomorrow.

Prediction: Republicans 220, Democrats 214, Independent 1

Friday, November 03, 2006

Praise the Lord!

Okay . . .

Bill Clinton had oral sex with a consenting adult woman. He was impeached, crazy Republicans brought the country to a standstill, millions and millions of dollars were spent on a special investigator who informed us that Bill Clinton had oral sex with a consenting adult woman, and he was hounded mercilessly by the Christian Right for his immoral ways . . .

The Rev. Ted Haggard, one of America's most influential evangelicals and a friend of the Bush administration, has just admitted contacting a male prostitute for "a massage" and to buy methamphetamine for himself. The prostitute decided to go public with his story after deciding that Haggard's vocal opposition to same-sex marriage was simply too much hypocrisy to bear. A Bush spokesman said that it would be a mistake to conclude that Haggard was "close" to the White House, even though he enjoyed access and was included in conference calls the Massiah-in-Chief regularly holds with leaders of the nation's Christian Right. Such Christian Right machers as James Dobson and Tony Perkins have said they will stand by their friend, and that God will sort things out in time.

This is just great. I mean, really, can you make this stuff up?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You tell 'em, cowboy

No sooner had I posted my entry on bumper sticker wisdom than did I see this one while driving on Old Georgetown Road this afternoon.

"I'm the NRA and I support the troops."

Somehow, I get the feeling that the troops aren't taking a great deal of solace knowing that a 500 pound man in a Honda Element fantasizing about fending off foreign invaders from his homestead has them in his thoughts.

How about this one?

"I'm the NRA and I support putting guns in homes where kids can get them and shoot each other."

Getting by on $648,212 a year

This month's Washingtonian magazine is all about really, really, really rich people and how they spend their money. For regular readers of the Washingtonian, this is a step up from its usual fare: the magazine is usually all about rich people and how they spend their money. This month, they haven't so much moved the decimal point as upped the ante a bit.

Before I browsed through the articles on these smart, beautiful, humanitarian and impossibly wealthy people, I thought I was doing pretty well for myself. For the first time in my adult life (that's post-college, not an age), one of our family's two cars is less than five years old. I can by my favorite cereals at the grocery store even when they are not on sale. My children can pretty much do what they want; but this assumes that we say NO to them when they ask for new cars, even though neither one can drive, 50" plasma televisions, a half-hour shopping spree at Jimmy Choos, spontaneous trips to France and Italy, gourmet meals prepared by Mario Batali, or in-home concerts by Kelly Clarkson or Eminem. Last week, we were having some strange plumbing problems in our house -- when my almost-eight-year-old teenage daughter drained the upstairs tub after her nightly bubble bath with champagne, the downstairs toilet started overflowing. Two days and $275 later, BOOM, problem solved. Her nightly ritual is now back in place. Two weeks ago, I downloaded another episode of The Office before I got on the Metro to go the Caps game. What's a $1.99 at this point in my life? A few days earlier, in an unusually good mood -- both my children were out of the house and one was even at a sleepover -- I broke out a good bottle of wine from my cellar that I had marked "Hold." Someone with a real wine cellar, like my good friend Scott Greenberg the wine snob, would probably pull me aside and say, "Gregg, this isn't a wine cellar. It's a wire rack approximately 6 feet from your washer and dryer that holds several dozen bottles of wine." Whatever, Scott. If it makes you feel better to mock my wine cellar, by all means go right ahead.

So you can imagine my disappointment -- or can you? -- when I learned, on page 101 of The Washingtonian, that it takes $648,212 a year to live an "A-list" life in the capital of the Free World. Let's see . . . there's the $7445 per month mortgage payment on a Chevy Chase home (Note: D.C. is approximately 70% African-American -- the Chevy Chase neighborhood is almost all white and constitutes about 2% of the city's population) . . . the $50,000 per year in private school tuition (Note: less than 3% of white school-age students in D.C. attend public schools). . . $47,000 per year for the live-in nanny (Note to self: ask for raise) . . . $39,600 per year for dining out (they must have some expensive food courts in D.C.) . . . $20,000 for "basic" clothing expenses (Note to self: hide article from daughter) . . . $5,350 for the dog walker (don't own a dog) . . . $32,000 for vacations to Aspen and Nantucket (didn't go on a vacation this year) . . . $10,080 for a twice-weekly personal trainer (I spent approximately $925 last year to play in three adult hockey leagues). Then there's the country club membership, the payments, taxes and insurance on the new Lexus and BMW (people with REAL money, like me, pay cash for their new cars) . . . and on and on it goes.

Other articles in the magazine tell us living on the outside of the fish bowl what plebians like myself are missing out on -- a $75,000 luxury bathroom system that turns on your bath or shower to a specified temperature, offers stock reports (of course!) on LCD screens built into the wall, a $43,000 tree house in which one mother's children can frolick about (the mother actually let herself be photographed "playing" with her children in front of it), a $1,200 set of linen crib sheets (to protect against rashes, of course), $260,000 drapes for the mansion (slat blinds are so 1940s), and, naturally, $1000 per month on collagen or Botox injections.

Hmmm . . . is there something I'm not getting here? Of course, it's easy for me to say that I would never spend that kind of money on this stuff since I'll never have that kind of money to spend on this stuff. But it does make you wonder about the people who do, and why, given the world we live in, they feel comfortable spending the kind of money they do on gold toilet handles, manicures, humidors, golf tees (the gold tees do get expensive, but golf is an expensive sport, what with the ever-evolving high-tech clubs, supersonic balls, and team of psychologists that are required to maintain your sanity after those really horrible days) and children's clothes (Yes, Piccolo Piggies in Georgetown offers $145 sparkly pumps and $298 wool purses FOR CHILDREN. And they sell, sell, sell).

I can't buy any of this stuff, but I can tell the difference between a John Coltrane solo and those of his imitators; I can tell which take is which of "Alice in Wonderland" (there are three) from the Complete Village Vanguard Recordings by Bill Evans. I know that Paul McCartney and not George Harrison played the lead guitar intro on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and the solo on "Good Morning, Good Morning." I know all the main wine regions in France and what grapes are classified for what regions. I know that most of my good friends would rather eat dinner (and drink wine) at my house that I made than go out. And I can watch Greg Maddux, on his best night, pitch a nine-inning game and come within a pitch or two of predicting every pitch he will throw before he does. I can do some other things, too -- not many, I'll admit -- none of which comes close to the $8,400 it costs for two spa days per month at Toka in Georgetown.

Best of all, I can spend whatever it takes at the Silver Diner tonight, which is where I plan to take my daughter, at her request, to get over the heartbreak of losing her first election to be the representative of Ms. Dennis's second grade class. $648,212 can buy a lot; but it can't buy the satisfaction of a date with your almost-eight-year-old teenage daughter.

Bumper sticker wisdom

On my bike ride into campus, I don't usually have the occasion to see the newspaper headlines posted up on the machines sitting on just about every corner once I make the turn onto Massachusetts Ave. Getting caught at an intersection near campus, I did have the chance to see some of this morning's headlines, and this is what the Washington Times decided was today's most important story:

KERRY APOLOGIZES FOR INSULTING TROOPS


Yep, all eight columns were devoted to the headline on this "story," space that is usually reserved for headlines like: U.S DROPS ATOMIC BOMB ON HIROSHIMA, or SUPREME COURT RULES THAT PENTAGON PAPERS CAN BE PUBLISHED or CHICAGO CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES.

After the light changed, a car drove by me with a bumper sticker that read, "Another veteran for Kerry/Edwards." I had already seen one earlier that read, "A Patriot for Kerry," and another one informing me that "God is NOT a Republican. Vote Democratic."

Say what you want about Republican bumper sticker politics and out-of-context sensational headlines -- you don't see Republicans, especially right-wingers, apologize for or qualify the positions they take. Democrats, however, and usually liberals, feel the need to inform the public that they are really not unpatriotic, anti-religious, gay ("Straight But Not Narrow"), anti-gun ("Sportsmen for Kerry" was a popular one I saw driving through central Pennsylvania a couple of years ago), anti-family ("Pro-Choice, Pro-Family, Pro-Child") or anti-war ("Support the Troops/Bring Them Home").

Right-wingers don't do this: Guns are good ("Gun Control -- Two Hands and Squeeze"), vigilantism is better ("9/11/01 Official Terrorist Hunting Permit"), God is feared and loved ("In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Abandoned"), a careful eye on Hillary Clinton is necessary ("Beat the Devil: Stop Hillary" [complete with a black tail]), any subtlety on abortion is unnecessary ("Abortion Stops a Beating Heart," "Mothers: Don't Kill Your Children") and vegans, perhaps the most powerful lobby in the United States today, are to be reminded that "I Love Cats / They Taste Just Like Chicken").

Perhaps next Tuesday's elections will produce some modesty among Republicans in general and right-wingers in particular. I'm not among those that see a Democratic sweep, so I'll refrain from too much projection. But, in a new world, here are some Republican bumper stickers I'd like to see:

"Another Nobel Prize-winning Scientist for Bush"

"Leave the No Child Left Behind Act At Home / Teachers for Creative Thinking"

"Guns Really Do Kill People, and People with Guns Kill More People Than People Without Guns"

"Cigarettes: Use as Directed and They Will Kill You"

"Charles Darwin, the True Father of Intelligent Design"

"Women on Top: Republican Feminists for Choice"

"60,934,251 Can Be Wrong: Impeach Bush"

"Suit Up or Shut Up: Another Republican for Peace"

. . . . and, of course, a Washington Times headline that reads,

BUSH APOLOGIZES TO TROOPS FOR SENDING THEM TO DIE IN IRAQ FOR NO REASON

Stay tuned.