Saturday, October 20, 2007

'A Coup Has Occurred'

By Daniel Ellsberg

September 26, 2007 (Text of a speech delivered September 20, 2007) -- I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.

If there’s another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.

Will there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability now, or they may not. But if they’re not now they will be after another 9/11.

And I would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total suppression of dissent in this country, including detention camps.

It’s a little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which Iran’s reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law. …

This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.

Will Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her administration her ability to protect United States citizens from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening herself to all that NSA can provide? I don’t think so.

Unless this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two before a new administration comes in – and there’s no move to do this at this point – unless that happens I don’t see it happening under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

The Next Coup

Let me simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of sleep, that a coup has occurred. It’s not just a question that a coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That’s the next coup, that completes the first.

The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of impeachment.

There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA against Americans.

I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century. I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.

I think that none of these presidents with all their violations, which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and in nearly every case their violations were not found out until they were out of office so we didn’t have the exact challenge that we have today.

That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren’t found out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.

It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have believed in Executive government, single-branch government under an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained powers. They did not believe in restraint.

When I say this I’m not saying they are traitors. I don’t think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.

They believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we’re getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are just saying the president says “I decide what I enforce. I decide what the law is. I legislate.”

It’s [the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the best of their ability in the Constitution.

Founders Had It Right

Now I’m appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.

It’s not just “our way of doing things” – it was a crucial perception on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power under control because the alternative was what we have just seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one coming.

That brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …

But even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say that quietly, I don’t mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course it’s not only aggression and a violation of international law, a supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards, insane in terms of the consequences.

Does that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn’t, it doesn’t even make it unlikely.

That is because two things come together that with the acceptance for various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the public and the media, we have freed the White House – the president and the vice president – from virtually any restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.

And on the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.

And the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.

What I’m talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually. However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.

And … we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that’s where we’re heading. That’s a very ugly, ugly prospect.

However, I think it’s up to us to work to increase that small perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that we have to make for the rest of our lives.

Restoring the Republic

Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will take a long time. And I think if we don’t get started now, it won’t be started under the next administration.

Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it can’t be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…

We have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience, of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and experienced being called terrible names, “traitor,” “weak on terrorism” – names that politicians will do anything to avoid being called.

How do we get more people in the government and in the public at large to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to get Congress to do their jobs? It isn’t just doing their jobs. Getting them to obey their oaths of office.

I took an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by every member of Congress and every official in the United States and every officer in the United States armed services.

And that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Now that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.

I knew that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to do.

I’ve often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the single officer in the United States armed services who is taking seriously in upholding his oath.

The president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad, are violating their oaths. And that’s the standard that I think we should be asking of people.

Congressional Courage

On the Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate – and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that majority.

I’m not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that, or that they should do something else entirely, or that they should not worry about that.

Of course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but they’re acting like it’s their sole concern. Which is business as usual. “We have a majority, let’s not lose it, let’s keep it. Let’s keep those chairmanships.” Exactly what have those chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last couple of years?

I am shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms of counter-revolution.

We need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple words “swear him in” when it came to testimony.

I think we’ve got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it’s only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress responding to the public, only with that can we protect the world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an attack on Iran.

And the current generation of American generals and others who realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like [Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their relation with the president to the slightest degree.

That has to change. And it’s the example of people like those up here who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the world. Thank you.

Daniel Ellsberg is author of "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers".

Friday, October 19, 2007

Death of the Machine

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 19, 2007

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” So declared Mark Hanna, the great Gilded Age political boss.

Karl Rove has often described Hanna as his role model. And predictions that Mr. Rove and his disciples would succeed in creating a permanent Republican majority — I have a whole bookshelf of volumes with titles like “One Party Nation” and “Building Red America” — depended crucially on the assumption that the G.O.P. would have vastly more money than its opponents. It might even, some thought, match the 10-to-1 advantage Hanna gave William McKinley when he ran against William Jennings Bryan.

Oops. According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the current election cycle every one of the top 10 industries making political donations is giving more money to Democrats. Even industries that have in the past been overwhelmingly Republican, like insurance and pharmaceuticals, are now splitting their donations more or less evenly. Oil and gas is the only major industry that the G.O.P. can still call its own.

The sudden burst of corporate affection for Democrats is good news for the party’s campaign committees, but not necessarily good news for progressives. Before I get to the down side, however, let’s talk about why business seems to be giving up on the G.O.P.

To some extent it’s a matter of cold political calculation. Polls, plus a wave of G.O.P. retirements, suggest that next year the Democrats will expand their majority in the House, which is already bigger than anything the Republicans ever had during their 12-year reign. Of the 34 Senate seats up for election, 22 are held by Republicans, and major Democratic gains seem all but inevitable.

Add to this the weakness of the Republican presidential field, and it’s not surprising that lobbyists are casting in their lot with the likely winners. But that’s not the whole story.

There’s also disgust, even in the corporate world, with the corruption and incompetence of the Bush years. People on the left often describe the Bush administration as an agent of corporate America; that’s giving it too much credit.

The truth is that while the administration has lavished favors on some powerful, established corporations, the biggest scandals have involved companies that were small or didn’t exist at all until they started getting huge contracts thanks to their political connections. Thus, Blackwater USA was a tiny business until it somehow became the leading supplier of mercenaries for the War on Terror™.

And the lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies on the make horrifies the corporate elite almost as much as it horrifies ordinary Americans.

Last but not least, even corporations are relieved to see the end of what amounted to a protection racket.

In a classic 2003 article in The Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore (now at The New York Times) described the efforts of people like former Senator Rick Santorum to turn K Street into an appendage of the Republican Party — not the other way around. “The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer,” wrote Mr. Confessore, “are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the G.O.P.”

But corporations weren’t happy. According to The Politico, “many C.E.O.’s” used the term “extortion” to describe “the annual shakedowns by committee chairmen with jurisdiction over their industries.” And now that Mr. Santorum is out of office, heading the America’s Enemies program at a right-wing think tank, the faint sound you hear from K Street is that of lobbyists singing: “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

All of this greatly increases the odds that the Republicans, far from establishing a permanent majority, will be out of power for quite a while. But it also raises the question of what Democratic rule will really mean.

Right now all the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are running on strongly progressive platforms — especially on health care. But there remain real concerns about what they would actually do in office.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that makes you wonder: yesterday ABC News reported on its Web site that the Clinton campaign is holding a “Rural Americans for Hillary” lunch and campaign briefing — at the offices of the Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group, which lobbies for the agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto. You don’t have to be a Naderite to feel uncomfortable about the implied closeness.

I’d put it this way: many progressives, myself included, hope that the next president will be another F.D.R. But we worry that he or she will turn out to be another Grover Cleveland instead — better-intentioned and much more competent than the current occupant of the White House, but too dependent on lobbyists’ money to seriously confront the excesses of our new Gilded Age.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Conscience of a Liberal: Paul Krugman

October 16, 2007, 9:22 pm
Failing to Pass the Laffer Test

OK, a followup on my previous tax revenue post.

The revenue boom of the last few years, which mainly depended on booming corporate profits, is over. Here’s a chart from the Congressional Budget Office:

And a further slowdown is visible within the fiscal 2007 data: revenue in September was up only 2 percent from the previous year.

To put this in perspective, here’s revenue as a percent of GDP since Clinton took office:

So everything you’ve heard about how revenues have boomed since the Bush tax cuts is wrong. What really happened was that revenue plunged, as a percent of GDP, in the early Bush years, then staged a partial, but only partial, recovery. And that recovery seems to have run its course.

UPDATE: Aha, I forgot to point out that GDP growth has not been exceptionally strong under Bush, so that I’m not cheating by looking at revenues as a percent of GDP. Check out Figure 2 here.

Yet on the basis of this experience, both Bush and his would-be Republican successors are proclaiming that tax cuts actually increase revenue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'No Child Left Alive'

Putting Poor Children Second
The New York Times
October 18, 2007

President Bush’s justification for vetoing a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip, is that he wants to “put poor children first” rather than extend coverage to middle-class children. That explanation would be more believable if Mr. Bush had actually been putting poor children first. On far too many occasions, the president has sacrificed the interests of poor children to what he deems higher budgetary or ideological priorities. Congress should not allow Mr. Bush to do the same with S-chip.

For the past several years, the Bush administration has been squeezing federal support for Medicaid, the primary program to help the poorest families and their children. Instead of ensuring that more poor children receive coverage, the president is trying to close programs that find and enroll them. His budget for fiscal year 2008 seeks to eliminate funds for a “Cover the Kids” outreach program. A proposed rule change would also eliminate federal matching funds for local school personnel to do Medicaid outreach and enrollment activities.

The administration clearly wasn’t putting poor children first when it strongly supported Congressional bills that would impose new charges on needy beneficiaries — a step that could jeopardize health care for millions of poor children in coming years. The administration also proposed, unsuccessfully, to change Medicaid from an unlimited entitlement into a capped block grant that could have fallen short of needs in bad economic times.

As part of the anti-immigration hysteria, it imposed onerous new paperwork requirements, leading to declines in Medicaid enrollment by citizens in some states. The move also posed potential problems for foster children, for whom it is often difficult to get documents quickly, until Congress stepped in to exempt them.

In education, the president got off to a strong start with his No Child Left Behind Act that imposed new testing and reporting requirements to measure progress in the schools. With bipartisan support in Congress, he helped to provide a substantial increase in federal funds for the first couple of years. But then his budgets and Congressional appropriations flattened out, forcing cuts in programs targeted at low-income children. The president’s latest budget calls for an overall decrease in federal support for elementary and secondary education.

Funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, which provide health and education services to some 900,000 preschool children, has not kept up with inflation over the past five years, forcing programs to lay off teachers, reduce salaries and curtail operating hours. The president’s budget also seeks to eliminate Even Start, a program to help preschoolers and their mothers develop literacy skills.

Not all of the news is so bad. The administration has done relatively well in supporting food stamps and child nutrition programs. It has also taken commendable steps to improve the quality of care in Medicaid and S-chip, increase childhood immunization rates and help states ensure that children on Medicaid get appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

A lot more needs to be done, including reducing the number of American children who do not have health coverage.

The bill that the president has vetoed would increase funding for S-chip substantially and would, in fact, “put poor children first.” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a key sponsor, estimates that some 92 percent of the children who would benefit would come from families with incomes below twice the poverty level, the group the president says he wants to concentrate on.

House members should vote today to override the president’s veto. It is the best way to protect America’s low-income children.

The ‘American’ in France

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 18, 2007


Not only is Christine Lagarde France’s finance minister, ready to forsake her native tongue, she is, she says, “happier doing this in English.” With that, right off the bat, she declares in ringing Anglo-Saxon: “We are trying to change the psyche of the French people in relation to work.”

A hopeless task, some might say. Deep in the Gallic soul resides the notion that work is exploitation, a ruse concocted by American robber barons, best regulated and minimized and offset by hours of idleness. The demise of the Soviet Union left France leading the counter-capitalist school.

But Lagarde, 51, tall and striking, is not known as “the American” for nothing. Think of her as the face of a new France ditching its cold-war hangover. The sobriquet reflects her linguistic skills, her background as a highflying executive for the Baker & McKenzie law firm and her Chicago-cultivated candor.

In an interview, Lagarde says that more than two decades at a U.S. corporation taught her: “The more hours you worked, the more hours you billed, the more profit you could generate for yourself and your firm. That was the mantra.”

The equivalent mantra in the French bureaucracy might be: the fewer hours you work, the more vacation you take, the more time you have to grumble about the state of the universe and the smarter you feel, especially compared to workaholic dingbats across the Atlantic with no time for boules.

So Lagarde, appointed four months ago by President Nicolas Sarkozy, is aware that she faces a big challenge: “What was really striking to me when I came back from Chicago in 2005 was that the law on the 35-hour week had passed and been internalized by individuals and, I think, had produced disastrous effects.”

What effects? “People did not really talk about their work. They talked about their long weekends.”

Lagarde’s goal, she says, is to slash France’s chronically highly unemployment — now about 8 percent — to 5 percent by 2012 and increase the proportion of the total population in jobs to 70 percent from 63 percent. Rehabilitating work is central to this ambition.

Tax cuts, the termination of unemployment benefits for those refusing two valid job offers, later retirement, incentives for those working more than 35 hours, a slashing of the bureaucracy associated with job-seeking and improved professional training are among measures enacted or envisaged. Legislation to reverse the 35-hour week is possible.

“I think we have to go around it,” Lagarde says of the law. “To demonstrate that it’s not a holy principle and it can be modified, varied, mitigated and possibly reversed.”

Not without a fight, however. French workers are expected to take to the streets today in what will likely be one of many big strikes against the Sarkozy-Lagarde reforms. Former governments have caved as Bastille-storming specters rose.

Not this time, insists Lagarde. “We certainly have the resolve to see reforms through,” she says. “A significant majority voted in support of a reform program that was completely advocated, advertised, trumpeted.”

France, she suggests, is changing in the image of a president whose approach “is not being constrained by rules, principles, protocol, straitjackets.”

The country, long hung up in a left-bank bubble filled with quaint notions of reversing globalization, now wants “to take advantage of a globalized world, rather than be defensive.”

To which I say: hallelujah. Without a dynamic France, Europe cannot be revitalized, and a Europe in a Gallic funk is bad for everyone. If an overbearing America has been a problem, an underperforming Europe has been its complement.

Better European performance, Lagarde thinks, is linked to exchange rates. “There is a competitive disadvantage in having a strong euro versus a relatively weak yen, a deliberately weak yuan and a low dollar,” she says ahead of a G-7 meeting tomorrow.

Another problem Lagarde faces is with a potential insider trading scandal at the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the partly state-owned parent of Airbus whose stock plunged after delays in the A-380 superjumbo jet. She insisted there had been no government wrongdoing.

Still, small shareholder losses incurred as executives cashed in, and the impression of a cozy relationship between private and state capital, will not help Lagarde in her revolutionary efforts.

This revolution, she insists, must begin in the French head. Lagarde has become the anti-Descartes by declaring the French should think less to work more.

“What has escaped my critics,” she says with a smile, “is that clearly before action, there must be thinking. But we have been splitting hairs and talking about the sex of angels for long enough. We know the solutions to all our evils. So let’s roll up our sleeves.”

Hallelujah — and as we Anglo-Saxons say vive la France!

None Dare Call It Child Care

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 18, 2007

Back during the last presidential candidate debate, Chris Matthews of MSNBC asked whether this country would ever get back to the days when a young guy could come out of high school, get an industrial job “and provide for a family with a middle-class income and his spouse wouldn’t have to work.”

Given the fact that more than two-thirds of American mothers have been working outside the home since the 1980s, Matthews could just as easily have demanded to know when we’ll get back to using manual typewriters and rotary phones.

Still, it might have been a great conversation-starter. While it’s becoming virtually impossible to support a middle-class American family on one parent’s salary, we never hear political discussion about the repercussions. In a two-hour debate that focused on job-related issues, the Republican presidential candidates managed to mention the Smoot-Hawley tariff and trade relations with Peru but not a word about child care for America’s working parents. John McCain, who was on the receiving end of Matthews’s question, chose instead to focus on the fact that “50,000 Americans now make their living off eBay,” that the tax code is “eminently unfair” and that Congress wastes too much money studying of the DNA of Montana bears.

We live in a country where quality child care is controversial. It was one of the very first issues to be swift-boated by social conservatives. In 1971, Congress actually passed a comprehensive child care bill that was vetoed by Richard Nixon. The next time the bill came up, members were flooded with mail accusing them of being anti-family communists who wanted to let kids sue their parents if they were forced to go to church. It scared the heck out of everybody.

Right now, the only parents who routinely get serious child-care assistance from the government are extremely poor mothers in welfare-to-work programs. Even for them, the waiting lists tend to be ridiculously long. In many states, once the woman actually gets a job, she loses the day care. Middle-class families get zip, even though a decent private child care program costs $12,000 a year in some parts of the country.

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, or Naccrra, (this is an area replete with extraordinary people organized into groups with impossible names) says that in some states the average annual price of care was larger than the entire median income of a single parent with two children. For child care workers, the average wage is $8.78 an hour. It’s one of the worst-paying career tracks in the country. A preschool teacher with a postgraduate degree and years of experience can make $30,000 a year. You need certification in this country to be a butcher, a barber or a manicurist, but only 12 states require any training to take care of children. Only three require comprehensive background checks. In Iowa, there are 591 child care programs to every one inspector. California inspects child care centers once every five years.

“You have a work force that makes $8.78 an hour. They have no training. They have not been background checked, and we’ve put them in with children who don’t have the verbal skills to even tell somebody that they’re being treated badly,” said Linda Smith, the executive director of Naccrra. “What is wrong with a country that thinks that’s O.K.?”

We aren’t going to solve the problem during this presidential contest, but it is absolutely nuts that it isn’t a topic of discussion — or even election-year pandering. The Democratic candidates for president happily come together to tell organized labor about their unquenchable desire to have a union member as secretary of labor. The Republican candidates flock to assure the National Rifle Association about their dedication to Americans’ constitutional right to carry concealed weapons in churches. But you do not see anybody racing off to romance child care advocates.

The only candidate who talks about child care all the time is Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He has been the issue’s champion of the Senate forever. People who work in the field know he’s their guy, but it’s hard to see what good it does him out on the campaign trail. “They aren’t inclined to be the kind of people who engage in the political process,” he admitted. “They don’t have the money.”

This is Hillary Clinton’s Women’s Week. On Tuesday, she gave a major speech on working mothers in New Hampshire, with stories about her struggles when Chelsea was a baby, a grab-bag of Clintonian mini-ideas (encourage telecommuting, give awards to family-friendly businesses) and a middle-sized proposal to expand family leave. Yesterday, she was in the company of some adorable 2- and 3-year-olds, speaking out for a bill on child care workers that has little chance of passage and would make almost no difference even if it did. Clinton most certainly gets it, but she wasn’t prepared to get any closer to the problems of working parents than a plan to help them stay home from work.

At least she mentioned the subject.

Talk Show: Dick Cavett Speaks Again

October 17, 2007, 10:28 pm

Hey, Listen! This One’ll Kill Ya!

I have a disturbing problem with losing things. My vulnerability to loss-distress could properly be labeled not only inordinate, but neurotic.

I don’t mean the major losses like losing a friend or a family member or a limb.

With me it’s almost as bad losing small stuff. I once re-drove 140 miles of that awful dismal part of Wyoming to retrieve a glove. I drove almost that far in Nebraska to recover a T-shirt from a motel. It wasn’t even an “I Saw Graceland” or “Orgy Volunteer” T-shirt, just a plain Fruit of the Loom. But it was mine and I loved it. It was part of the stuff that is me. And part of me had been amputated.
Clearly fodder for a few sessions with one’s head-candler. (Thank you, S.J. Perelman.)

It was in this spirit that, one beautiful spring day a good many years ago, I found myself returning to Gosman’s great seafood restaurant in Montauk Harbor. I had eaten there the previous night and my fervent hope was that a waiter had found my battered but beloved Tilley hat, and that it and I would be reunited.

This was, by the by, my second Tilley hat. The first had suffered an unusual fate. It was admired by Miss Katharine Hepburn (you know, the famous actress), who asked, in front of her house on East 49th Street, “Where’d you get that hat?” “It’s a Tilley hat,” I said. She snatched it off my head and kept it.

The second hat — successfully recovered from Gosman’s — reminds me of an experience that I would have gladly missed for the world. It has, after many years, not yet lost the power to make me wince. It happened during the Ford administration.

Doubtless there is a precise and economical phrase in German meaning “the unfortunate telling of a story that one realizes too late is ill-suited to the occasion.” (My considerably rusted college German suggests, “Die zu späte und ungeeignete Realisierung von der Ungehörigkeit von eine Geschichta erzählt,” but I may be wrong.)

The restaurant’s waiters were busy setting up the sea of empty tables for the lunch crowd. Roberta Gosman, of the Gosman’s Gosmans, asked whether I had noticed their star diner. She pointed to a couple at a nearby table right on the water; a spot where cheeky gulls have snatched succulent clams and oysters from the forks of startled diners.

The pair: an older man and a nice-looking younger dark-haired woman. He was hatless and somewhat eccentrically — considering the clear and golden weather — enveloped in a black raincoat. He resembled an old sea bird of the kind one finds wounded on a beach, peering out at the horizon and awaiting life’s terminus.

I shall not protract the suspense. It was the deposed Richard M. Nixon. With him was Julie, the more Cordelia-like daughter who had stood by her luckless dad to the bitter end.

And beyond.

Finding my hat had elevated my mood to a giddy level, encroaching just a bit, perhaps, on hypomania.

I guess it was out of some dumb desire to amuse the waiters that I grabbed up two menus. Approaching the famous seated pair from behind, I piped, “Our specials today include the Yorba Linda soufflé, the Whittier College clam chowder . . .” I invented a few more fictional Nixon-related specials; you get the idea. At least I self-censored any Checkers or Watergate references.

With me now standing at his elbow, the former president looked up at me and, with the familiar Nixon gravity of tone, uttered, “Oh, yes. I thought that was you.” I wondered how, since I had been behind them, but then sometimes it’s my voice.
A word about Nixon in the flesh.

Upon finding themselves vis a vis the gentleman for the first time, most people have reported the same thing: you couldn’t take your eyes off his nose. There’s a famous photo of Nixon and Bob Hope comparing ski noses, but that’s profile — the thing that struck you most was its appalling width. As wide as your first two fingers held together. What would normally be seen as the caricaturist’s exaggeration was, in the case of the Nixon proboscis, factual reporting.

Any modicum of humor in my waiter charade had by now evaporated. And there I awkwardly stood, with nothing to say.

Something like, “Nice to see you, won’t disturb” followed by “goodbye” would have done fine. However, exhibiting some sort of self-destructive tendency, dwarfed of course by my listener’s own, I unwisely pushed on.

“I guess the last time I saw you was when you were nice enough to invite my wife and me to that wonderful evening of Shakespeare at the White House with the great actor Nicol Williamson,” I rattled on. He appeared to recall the event, if not my attendance thereat. Need I insert here that this event had been well before my later . . . um . . .troubled relations with the Nixon White House as reported previously in this space.

Despite increasing evidence that my alleged social and conversational skills were apparently on the fritz, I pressed on.

My canoe was edging ever closer to the falls.

I said to the president, “Mr. Nixon, in the reception line that night you asked me, ‘Who’s hosting your show for you tonight?’, and I told you Joe Namath.”

I did not add that upon hearing this that night, my tuxedoed president had knitted his brow in the manner of an untalented actor trying awkwardly to combine small talk with deep concern and asked, “How are his knees?”

Memory has buried how long I may have stood there like a stopped clock. I can think of any number of funny or serious answers to the unlikely question now, but not then. I think I may have managed something like, “Yes, well, better we hope . . . I guess . . . eh?” as I quickly moved along. (Since I composed the previous sentence and this one, I’ve learned that poor knee-afflicted Broadway Joe was on the official Nixon enemies list.) I gratefully slid along to Mrs. Nixon. Seeing her, what popped into my head was Mort Sahl’s hilarious onstage description of the infamous Checkers speech: “And Pat sitting in the corner behind him — knitting a flag.”

“I thought you might enjoy this particular evening,” she said cordially. I have always liked Pat Nixon and felt hellishly sorry for her. If “in sickness and in health” ever meant anything, that woman fulfilled the vow well beyond the call of duty. God knows if she had written a full-disclosure memoir of her life with him it would have gotten — and deserved — the biggest advance in the annals of publishing.

Shelved, I should think, under Abnormal Psychology. There was always that almost Mona Lisa face she put on when having to stand or sit behind him in public view, raising the right corner of her mouth ever so slightly to a degree that suggested a prelude to a smile and also, to me anyway, a hint of pain.

To me she earned sainthood as much as Mother Theresa did, the difference being that Mother T. wanted the life she got. It would be hard to say that of Mrs. Nixon.

But let us return to our awkward little trio on the dock in Montauk.

Standing there feeling as I often have on the air when a guest is less than voluble, I tried talking myself in hopes that the guest, in a competitive sense, would tire of my taking up his airtime and chime in. But the technique that worked on the air fizzled at Gosman’s.

Then I half thought of something, with emphasis on the word half. I glimpsed a possibility. “Oh, I just remembered that a funny thing happened that night. You may recall that just as we all sat watching the last minutes of Williamson’s show, a smell like paper burning wafted into the room.”

Nixon and his daughter clearly didn’t recall, and even I was still not quite sure I remembered exactly what the funny thing was and how the story ended.

I told how it smelled sort of like a small fire in a wastepaper basket and that there were a few looks of alarm but then it went away and the show ended. I went on — since no one else was talking — to say that coming up the aisle I found myself beside the great British critic and wit, Kenneth Tynan, who was doing a profile of Williamson for The New Yorker.

At that very moment I remembered how this story ended. And I would have preferred dying to going on, but hadn’t the choice.

“I asked Tynan what he made of the smell of smoke,” I said with half a voice.

“And what did he say?” the former president probed, sounding a bit like a cross-examiner. I gulped and said in a thin voice, “He said, ‘They’ve let Agnew into the library.’”


There is a specially constructed booth or chamber in a lab at Harvard that is designed to be the most silent place on earth, so acoustically muffled that the occupant is often spooked by the sound of his own blood circulating.

That day, at that moment, I knew how that occupant might have felt. The quiet was crushing. Not only was there neither laughter nor smiles from my two-person audience, but the gulls seemed to have fallen silent.

In defiance of the rule that women are generally adept at saying just the right thing at an awkward moment, Julie said, “I hope your nightclub act was funnier than that.”

While I wondered how she knew I’d had a nightclub act, her infamous parent said, with a breathtakingly straight face, “Oh, I see. Book-burning.”

The three of us must have said some form of adieu.

And like a concussed fighter with no memory of being carried from the ring, I got home somehow.

from the 'Marriage Is Not a Love Affair' files

“We now pronounce you Pig & Cow…!”

“And have a nice honky-donkey honeymoon in June…”

“Ooops! Honeymoon’s over…”

"Gotta watch that girl..."

Scratchpad: Wed. 17 Oct. 2007

Re Bush’s SCHIP Veto

The children didn’t ask to be born. But the neo-Confederate fascist Republican Right would deny them medical care. What utter hypocrisy! Somewhere Jesus is crying.

The cost will be paid by Tobacco Taxes. It’s win-win all around. Except for the Nicotine Lobby and their Republican windbag politician dependents.


Perfecting Ann Coulter

... is impossible. (Who died and made her Fuehrer…?) [Thx to Stephanie Miller & Maxim magazine]


To my Rightwing Repooplicker fiends:

Yours is the vitriol of ignorance and fear. Never change.


Re Emasculation Nation

The American dwindling middle-class worker was turned into a pathetic eunuch a long time ago. Ronald Reagan held the knife while the GOP plucked the gonads. Bush and his fellow neo-Confederate Church of the South SOBs have done their worst to finish the job.

Hey! Fritz Hayek. It was your anti-democratic pro-monarchial executive, semi-feudalist corporatist Rightwing Elitism that lighted the way to the Serfdom you purportedly feared. Not progressivism, not liberalism, not socialism.

American Workers aren’t ‘French’. And that’s too bad. If they were they’d be in the streets 24 hours a day bring on the General Strike and the Mass Consumer Boycott to topple this murderous and corrupt Crapitalist economic system of wage and debt slavery. After the self-sacrificial CIO activists were purged from Organized Labor and American Life in general after WW2 and as the GOP passed Taft-Hartley (over Truman’s veto) making it more difficult for workers to organize against their exploiters, marks the beginning of the period of the decline of the power of the working-class after so many hard-fought battles. After the working-class won the world, the Masterclass came back out of their holes to start remaking the Old Failed War-Dependent World according to the same old schemes.


Re Randi Rhodes

If true, I’m glad I was apparently wrong about her being attacked by Bushwing thugs. However, the full story has yet to be told by Randi Rhodes herself. But given the history of the Rightwing throughout the years in this society being responsible for the significant number of political assassinations, murders, assaults and discrimination, it was not unreasonable to assume such involvement. Hey. Sometimes you just have to resort to profiling…

(Of course there’s always the possibility that Randi was given a warning to keep her mouth shut about the incident by party/parties unknown. Don‘t change that dial!)


Come January, Social Security pensioners will get the smallest Cost of Living increase (which hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living) in 4 years thanks to the rotten-to-the-core rightwing reactionary GOP Church of the South neo-Confederates). 2.3 %! That’s an average of something like US$24. Woop-dee-doo. So typical of the provincial parochial bible-babbling AmeriKKKornponer Jerk Ethic.


Bush and his Crusader minions

... are some kind of chattering war-loving money-worshipping cannibalistic monkey.

There are at least two distinctly different psychological species of Man. The Prometheans (and I’ll throw in with them) and the Epimetheans (Bush Cheney and their hideously depraved degenerated version of humanunkind).

Proof enough for Darwinian Evolution.


GOP distrust of Media deepens?

Good! Let it rush screaming paranoid right into the thick brick wall of their own making!


Hey! Ms. Angelina 'Atlas Shrugged' Jolie (& Mr. Brad Jolie...)

Aynnie Rand was a fascistic douchbag! So what does that make you?


Who does Bush think he is?

The President or something…?


Bush cuts one (in a manner of speaking):

Congress has more important things to do than attacking the Ottoman Empire.


Cowboys, yes. Cowboy diplomacy, no!

I’ve nothing against cowboys. I’ve worked with cowboys (although not as a cowboy). But Bush is a faux cowboy. Afraid of horses. (Terrorists?) Small-sized Stetson.


Bush Down, GOP Down, Dems Up!

[W]hen asked which party would better maintain prosperity, it's Democrats by 54-34 percent according to [GOP hallelujah pollster] Gallup. [ Source: Why 2008 will be a Perfect Storm for Republicans ]

So please, Mr. Numbnuts, stop reflexively blurting out that Democrats have lower approval numbers than the twice-illegitimately installed Bonezer Bush. It just is not true. (But since when has empirical reality ever influenced you folk…)


Re Bush announcing VA Hospital (socialized medicine) improvements.

Republicans don’t do anything good for average citizens unless they’re shamed into it.

The Dems and their allies are the ones actually doing the fighting for the troops.


From the Connedserfaturd Mottos Files:

There’s no need to be overly generous. We are not our brother’s keeper. Every man for himself.


Voice in the water: Help! Help!

Comrade Ordinary Seaman: Captain, captain! A Conservative Republican fell overboard!

Comrade Captain Red Vengeance: [Insouciantly.] Oh okay. [Shouting.] Coffee time…!


GOP Mess America!


Keep strong!


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


“I don’t have to be celibate anymore…Thank Satan…!”

“Hi there, Pontiff…How’s it hangin’?…See ya later…!”

“Looks like he’s burning in Hell to me…”

“Your Holiness…Did you hear the one about Old Johnny-Paulie Popey and Mrs. Harry Potter...?”

“No, Mr. President…Ah ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gore Derangement Syndrome

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 15, 2007

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet — and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of — who else? — George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

[Art by Alfred Russell.]

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