Back when watching Bill O'Reilly was still fun -- before he became a creepy, obsessive nativist -- I enjoyed a feature called "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." (He's become such a sour, humorless ideologue that this segment now falls flat.) Allow me to steal the concept for a moment. Today's most ridiculous item, hands-down, is the report that readers are suing James Frey -- the author of the (partly) invented rehab memoir A Million Little Pieces -- and his publisher, Random House, for "defrauding" them. Even sillier, Random House has reached a settlement with these whiny opportunists, and any reader who can show proof of purchase will receive a refund for the full retail price of the book ($23.95 for the hardcover, $14.95 for the paperback). The plaintiffs' lawyers who scored this one must be laughing their heads off and planning their next Ibiza vacation.
Talk about "frivolous lawsuits." Stunts like this give a bad name to class action suits that seek to redress genuine wrongs, like race or sex discrimination in the workplace, or pollution. The action against Random House also reflects an absurdly consumerist attitude toward reading: when the book -- or author -- isn't what you expected, demand your money back! Bob Woodward presents himself as a crusading muckraker -- can I get a refund for the book in which he acts as a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration? And how about all those novels and memoirs that are billed by publishers as "poignant" and "evocative" when they're actually tedious tripe? Can we send in our receipts for those, too?
A book is usually a layered, ambivalent and highly subjective experience; it's not like an iPod or a car, which either works or doesn't. Some disappointment -- even rage -- is inevitable in a well-read life. Serious, mature readers embrace and engage such reactions; they don't seek to punish anyone for them. Book buyers of America, get a grip.
Recently, researching a Nation piece (9/11 in a Movie-Made World) on the response to the attacks of 2001, I read the New York Times (as well as other newspapers) for September 12-19, five years ago. What struck me was how much of the grim world now so familiar to us managed to make it on stage and take an initial bow in those first days.
You wouldn't have recognized some of the players, however, without a scorecard that hadn't yet been issued. Here's just one striking example. On September 15, 2001, James Risen wrote a front-page Times piece, headlined, "Lawmakers See Need to Loosen Rules on C.I.A." It was all about letting the dogs of covert warfare loose on our world. He reported on the almost instant urge, not only in the Bush administration but in Congress, to nullify the Watergate-era ban on assassinating foreign leaders as well as the sudden importance of hiring "unsavory foreign agents," or as Democratic Senator Bob Graham put it (through his press spokesman), "[W]e are not going to find the kinds of spies we need in monasteries." This would, of course, turn out to be part of the Cheney program to defenestrate Vietnam/Watergate-era "reforms" that even modestly empowered Congress and create an unfettered commander-in-chief presidency.
Only when you leave the front page and make your way deep into Risen's piece, do things get truly eerie, though. In May 2004, the public learned that, one lazy August day in 2001 in Crawford, Texas, the CIA had given George Bush a one-page presidential daily briefing or PDB that was entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." (The White House finally declassified the document under pressure from the 9/11 Commission.)
In the Risen article, however, was this tiny passage:
"Intelligence officials defended the performance of the C.I.A. They emphasized that while the agency had failed to provide a precise warning of the attack, it had issued repeated warnings -- one as recently as August -- that the terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and his network were seeking to attack the domestic United States.'"
In other words, only a few days after the 9/11 attacks, someone -- assumedly in the CIA and knowledgeable -- had already leaked the dirty truth. Talk about a hidden history of our world in (almost) plain sight!
UN Ambassador John Bolton, by virtue of his recess appointment last August, is once again up for a confirmation vote in the Senate.
Bolton's nomination last year, you may recall, sparked fireworks when GOP Senator George Voinovich declined to support him and Senate Democrats blocked his nomination, prompting Bush to appoint him while Congress was in recess.
Bolton's renomination has failed to trigger as much attention, even though his record at the UN has been as abysmal as predicted by his critics. But today Senator Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar delayed a scheduled vote on Bolton to undertake "consultations with a few other senators."
The vote is off indefinitely, as of now.
My friend Mark Goldberg at TAPPED reports that Lincoln Chafee, who faces a tough primary in a few days, is likely the lone GOP hold out against Bolton. And for now committee Democrats have stood firm, even though hawkish American Jewish groups have tried to convince prominent Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, that a vote against Bolton is a vote against Israel.
"I think the nomination is in deep trouble again, as it should be," says Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.
Let's hope it stays that way.
It's disturbing how easily some in the mainstream media still fall for White House spin.
According to the media narrative following President Bush's speech, the 2006 midterms will now be decided by how to try suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, not the war in Iraq.
"With less than nine weeks until congressional elections, the president turned the topic from the war in Iraq and complaints about stagnant wages and rising health care costs to the only major area in which Americans continue to give him and the GOP high marks," wrote Susan Page of USA Today in a flattering news analysis.
"The President's detainee gambit...is given universal praise by the Gang of 500 for ensuring the fall debate will be more about who can keep America safer from terrorists, and, thus, for putting the Democrats on the defensive," opined ABC's The Note, under the headline "'W' is for 'Winner.'"
No, Bush tried to change the subject.
Fifty-five percent of respondents in a recent CNN poll said the war in Iraq has made the US less safe and more vulnerable to another terrorist attack. Fifty-three percent believe Iraq is separate from the war on terror. "One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror," Bush told Katie Couric yesterday.
So naturally Bush will talk about terror. But when he does, you'd expect the media--as a reflection of the American people--to remind him of the 135,000 troops that are still in Iraq instead of echoing RNC talking points.
Democratic members of the House and Senate wrote George Bush Monday, urging a redeployment of US troops before the end of 2006 and the firing of Donald Rumsfeld.
Some excerpts from the letter signed by the Democratic leaders, as well as ranking members from key national security committees, include: "... this current path--for our military, for the Iraqi people, and for our security--is neither working, nor making us more secure"; "... our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse"; "consider changing the civilian leadership at the Defense Department....While a change in your Iraq policy will best advance our chances for success, we do not believe the current civilian leadership at the Department of Defense is suited to implement and oversee such a change in policy."
This comes on the heels of Senate Democrats' plan to offer a resolution demanding Rumsfeld's resignation after the Secretary's incendiary comments in which he compared war critics to Nazi appeasers.
Of course, the Republicans remain in denial--witness Sen. Mitch McConnell who said on Face the Nation, "I think Secretary Rumsfeld has done an excellent job. He'll be remembered as one of the great secretaries of defense."
Sure, and George Bush will go down as the People's Choice for whom to turn to when a hurricane hits.
And, no surprise here, the Republicans are pulling out their favorite election-year tactics of "scare the hell out of Americans" and "demagogue whenever possible." So that Democrats' calls for a new course represent "retreat" or "waving the white flag," and will "leave Americans more vulnerable."
Here is the truth, separated from the election year spin and hyperbole: This is about Bush's failed policy, not Rummy's incompetence. It's about a fundamental, illegal war and occupation that has killed more than 2,600 American men and women, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Incompetence does not capture the full horror or tragedy that is the Iraq War and its ethno-sectarian strife.
Instead of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation or pushing through a resolution that may, in fact, allow some GOP candidates to put distance between themselves and the President--without much consequence because this vote will fail--legislators who truly care about learning what to do next and how this occupation is failing should contact members of the platoon profiled in the New York Times on Sunday.
Based in Hit, Iraq, in Anbar Province--a "tough assignment," as the Times puts it--several of the men quoted are unsparingly outspoken. Their words are infused with a kind of despair as they question what they are doing in Iraq. One sergeant talks about how "the great majority [of Hit's people] want us to go home." "No one understands why we are here and what our mission is," another Sergeant tells the Times reporter. "This war is lost. We aren't helping these people. We are just dying and getting injured."
These are the people Rumsfeld needs to listen to; these are the people Congress should listen to; these are the people who deserve a hearing. The resolution on Rumsfeld will occupy center stage this week--and there is indeed a need for a reckoning, for accountability--but it is time to find an exit strategy from this Administration's policies which created this quagmire.
September was supposed to be "security month" for Republicans. On Congress's second day back in session, that effort is already falling apart on Capitol Hill.
"GOP Senators Differ with President on Military Trials," the Washington Post reported today on page A3. Next page over is another headline: "Republican Rift Over Wiretapping Widens."
Two articles about Republican division and nary a Democrat in sight!
And the New York Times reports today that GOP candidates from Washington to Connecticut to Virginia to New Jersey are calling for Donald Rumsfeld to step down as defense secretary.
If security is still a winning issue for Republicans, why are GOP candidates in tight election races across the country distancing themselves from President Bush?
Yesterday I posted about one of the more disturbing fallouts from the push for gay marriage -- right-wing attempts to use state DOMAs to strike down domestic violence protections for unmarried people. Well today I have a far more rousing incident to report. Two elderly sisters in Britain are suing the UK in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to get gay married!
Well, not exactly. But in one of the more felicitous and surprising developments to result from same-sex union drives, Joyce (88) and Sybil Burden (80), of Ogbourne St. George, are demanding that the UK extend to cohabitating, dependent family members the same rights that same-sex couples enjoy under Britain's Civil Partnership Act. That act, passed in 2004, extends almost all the rights of marriage to unrelated, same-sex partners, including the right to avoid inheritance taxes in the event of the death of one partner. That last bit is key since if their lawsuit (and one of the sisters' health) fails, the survivor will be forced to sell the house they designed, built and lived in together for 41 years, leaving her homeless.
Under the Civil Partnership Act, you don't need to be queer, conjugal or even cohabitating to register as civil partners; you just need to be unrelated, unmarried, of the same-sex, and sign an affidavit in front of a registrar and two witnesses. Joyce and Sybil Burden don't qualify merely because they are related.
If under British law, Katha gets a share of her new husband's UK pension (congratulations Katha!), it seems most unfair that these two dames are essentially treated as if they were strangers. As Sybil Burden said to the Times, "We are looked down upon for being single. We just want to be treated as equal citizens and given the rights we deserve. We've saved the Government thousands by caring for our elderly sick relatives till they passed away and have never claimed a penny apart from the pension." Jolly good, ladies!
The Beyond Marriage statement I helped draft calls for exactly the sort of household recognitions that would aid the Burdens and other elderly, unmarried people. Alas, Britain's version of same-sex union is far more progressive than anything available in the US; it doesn't require conjugality and explicitly forbids religious participation. This latest twist only accentuates the yawning gap between Europe and the US on these matters since in this country we're beating back attempts -- from right-wingers and gay marriage advocates -- to heighten the difference between married and unmarried people.
Sometimes, if you want to get reality straight, it pays to read pieces in our press with care and to the end. Take a recent New York Times piece by Richard A. Oppel Jr., headlined: Iraqi Official Reports Capture of Top Insurgent Leader Linked to Shrine Bombing." It's pretty typical of reporting on this story. Forget for a second that the capture of second-in-commands and "top lieutenants" of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been staples of Bush administration announcements for the last year or more -- or that you could practically fill Abu Ghraib (recently turned over to the Iraqis empty) with these "top" figures. Though this was billed as a joint U.S./Iraqi operation, it's been heavily flogged as an Iraqi success story. Hence the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, proudly made the announcement that "the second-ranking leader" of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi, was in custody.
Read a little farther into the piece though and you get this telling bit of journalistic anonymity: "However, a United States military official was more cautious in describing Mr. Saeedi's place in the organization's pecking order… ‘I'm not sure we are ready to put a number on him,' said the American official, who agreed to speak only without being named because Iraqi officials had been designated to announce the capture. ‘It's a very decentralized operation.'"
Is this the equivalent of designated driver, Iraqi-style? You all go to the bar and boisterously down a few -- except for that little guy in the corner, drinking coffee, who's there to drive you home. Is this what they call "sovereignty" in Iraq?
If you read on to the very end, you'll find this gem: "In Baghdad, Iraqi and American officials worked to overcome disagreements over the transfer of direct operational control of the Iraqi armed forces to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. At issue is the delineation of responsibilities between Iraqi and American forces, said an American official, who called the disputes minor."
Ah, now I get it. The "Iraqi Army" may soon be turned over to the Iraqis -- as today's Times put it, this is a "plan to take over formal operational command of the Iraqi Army from the United States."
Back in 2003, Americans in the occupation used to wield a wonderful term for all this. They would speak of putting an "Iraqi face" on things -- in Iraq. Now, they don't say it, they just do it. Whatever "formal" plan may be worked out, as Michael Schwartz, a smart sociologist I know, wrote recently: "There is no Iraqi army… The government's military consists of Iraqi units integrated into the U.S.-commanded occupation army."
Increasingly the question is: Is there an Iraq?
Two weeks ago, we asked readers of thenation.com to submit new definitions for an updated Dictionary of Republicanisms. In that time, we've had hundreds of sharp and hilarious suggestions. We've also had the Secretary of Defense compare Iraq to Nazi Germany and Democrats who want a timeline for withdrawal to "appeasers," which may require us to create a Republican Dictionary of Bad Historical Analogies. In the meantime, I'd like to appease your thirst for political satire by sharing some of the best submissions with you.
Adapting to win phr. 1. Cutting and Running from the rhetoric of Staying the Course while staying on the same losing course. [Yana Way]. 2. Strategy to fight them over here instead of over there; see October Surprise [Scott Urbanowski].
Birth pangs of a new Middle East phr. Condition that occurs three years after failing to pull out of Iraq in time [Steven Troccoli].
Cut and run phr. An unacceptable strategy for Iraq, but perfectly fine for New Orleans [Scott Urbanowski]
Death tax n. 1. The Paris Hilton tax; 2. The Lucky Sperm Tax [Steve Anderson]
Dieboldened adj. The swagger a politician has, even when he's behind in the polls, when the voting machines are built by his cronies [Dennis Leroy Adair].
Nomentum n. Joe Lieberman [Julia Glahn]
No one could have foreseen phr. 1. That terrorists would use airplanes as missiles. 2. That Saddam did not possess WMD. 3. That the levees would fail. 4. That sectarian violence would erupt in Iraq. 5. All of the above [Jesse James Gilles]
Talibangelist n. A politician who uses 9/11 to justify faith-based policies [Jason Thompson].
Term limits n. Legal restrictions on the number of years corrupt Republican politicians can serve in jail; see Contract on America [Robert Hirst].
Immigration reform is off until after the '06 elections. Security and mortgage moms are bolting the GOP. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Democrats will take back the House of Representatives in November.
So how are nervous House Republicans responding in their first week back in session after a month long recess? By talking about horse meat.
The "American House Slaughter Prevention Act," introduced by GOP Rep. John Sweeney and up for a vote Thursday, attempts to stop the sale of horse meat for human consumption. A laudable goal. But the top priority for the House?
Is this how Republicans plan to spend their two or three remaining weeks in Washington before the midterms? Well, not completely. They'll also try and paint the Democrats as the party of "retreat and defeat" in the war on terror, by scheduling votes on defense and homeland security spending bills, and authorizing Bush's warrantless wiretapping program (recently ruled unconstitutional by a US district court) and military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).
Yet even the GOP's advantage on security has eroded. Which isn't to say that Democrats won't find a way to blow it. But, odds are, in a few months at least some sitting Republicans will be dead as horse meat.