For some time now, Tonight Show host Jay Leno and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have enjoyed an unusually cozy relationship. Back in August, 2003, Schwarzenegger used Leno's couch as the launching pad for his ultimately successful gubernatorial run. Leno served mostly as jolly skeptic during their sit-down. But eyebrows were raised during their next appearance together.
On October 8, 2003, at the governor-elect's victory party, there was Leno introducing Schwarzenegger again, but this time as more of a cheerleader than skeptic. The backlash was almost immediate. There is an unspoken pact between late-night comedians and their audience. We expect them to be nonpartisan in their jokes and we certainly don't want them endorsing candidates. While his spokesman at the time claimed Leno's appearance that night was "an endorsement of [Arnold and his] friendship", it made people uncomfortable.
Now the issue of Leno's possible political bias has reared its head again. Schwarzenegger is scheduled to appear on tonight's broadcast in what is not destined to be a hard-hitting interview. Meanwhile, his opponent, Democrat Phil Angelides, has made a request to also appear and reportedly received no response as of today. US Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) has lodged a complaint with the FCC against Leno and the Tonight Show, claiming the show has violated equal time provisions in the Federal Communications Act.
"I'm not a conservative. I've never voted that way in my life," Leno claims. He has said there are no Republicans on his writing staff and has received positive marks from organized labor for his refusal to perform at a convention in Vegas conducted by a law firm that opposes unions. However, he is naïve if he thinks appearing supportive of Schwarzenegger will not affect the 2006 gubernatorial election.
A January 2004 study released by the Pew Research Center has found that 21 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 turn to entertainment like the Tonight Show for their news. Leno's show is a TV institution and the appearance that he is endorsing the governor--or even being good friends with him--really could taint the electoral process. If Leno is seriously committed to being an impartial comedian, than he ought to give Angelides his shot at the limelight.
Just when it couldn't get worse…
The one thing the Bush administration and the Republicans have excelled in these past years is conquering the media heights -- air, print, and face time -- when it was crucial. In the last two weeks, with Iraq in near meltdown, American casualties soaring (32 dead in the first 9 days of October and figures on the wounded going sky-high), Iraqi police poisoned by the hundreds, assassinations the norm, and Shiites as well as Sunnis fighting with the U.S. military, the Foley scandal suddenly succeeded in sucking all the air out of the media environment. The President and Vice President continued to travel the country doing their normal dirt, but it was as if they had been silenced.
In the meantime, the Bush Bump in the polls, which barely lasted out September, looks to be turning back into a Bush freefall. (The newest Newsweek poll has presidential approval back at a dismal 33%.) In fact, as the mid-term elections approach, all poll figures are trending Democratic. For the first time in what seems decades, Americans find the Democrats more "trustworthy" than Republicans on everything, even "moral values" and "defense against terrorism" (so both the latest Washington Post poll and the Newsweek one tell us).
So just when the President and his Party seem sunk, who rides to the rescue? Kim Jong Il. Okay, okay, the Democrats are going to argue that a North Korean nuclear test is but more evidence that Bush's policies were a hopeless caricature of a catastrophe. But that may not matter. It's just the sort of argument that generally goes on the inside pages for the news (and political) junkies. What may matter most is that, for the first time in ten days, the Foley scandal is, however briefly, off the front pages and the President is front page and center being "presidential." The New York Times lead headline is: "Bush Rebukes North Korea." The Washington Post: "U.S. Urges Sanctions on North Korea."
Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza put it this way in the Post: "GOP officials are urging [Republican] lawmakers to focus exclusively on local issues and leave it to party leaders to mitigate the Foley controversy by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize it. At the same time, the White House plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism, after North Korea's reported nuclear test, in hopes of shifting the debate away from casualties and controversy during the final month of the campaign."
Strange isn't it how the Evil Ones have a way of riding to the rescue of the Bush administration. It's worth remembering that George W. Bush's presidency was languishing and he was under attack by worried members of his own party on September 10, 2001. And have we all forgotten the way Osama bin Laden providentially video just on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, providing Bush with a poster-boy-of-terror moment. Now, the unlovely Kim has exploded his mini-nuke. Maybe it won't prove "just in time," but you can't blame the Axis of Evil One for giving it the old Pyongyang U. try.
If you want to see how Foleygate is playing out in the field, look no further than the 10th Congressional district of Pennsylvania, home to GOP Rep. Don Sherwood. President Bush won the rural district, which stretches all the way from Pennsylvania's New Jersey border down to Delaware, by 60 percent in 2004. By any metric, it should be a safe Republican seat.
Yet Sherwood is in hot water for allegedly trying to strangle his 29-year-old mistress and settling out of court for an undisclosed (rumored to be multimillion dollar) sum. Sherwood, elected in 1994, barely won his primary against an opponent who spent only $5,000 on the race.
Now he trails Democrat Chris Carney, a retired Navy lieutenant who worked on counterterrorism at the Pentagon after 9/11, by nine points in recent polling.
Carney originally ran a TV ad referencing Sherwood's affair without mentioning it directly. A few days after the Foley scandal broke, Sherwood--in an attempt to insulate himself-- ran an ad apologizing. And he subsequently canceled campaign events with two leading figures in Foleygate, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds.
A few days ago, the Carney campaign responded with a devastating ad featuring local residents talking about Sherwood's transgressions. "I'm a life-long Republican," says Arthur Bender of Meshoppen, PA, "and I really don't go along with his moral behavior."
With 86 percent of Republicans citing "cultural values" as an important issue, it's safe to assume this won't be the only ad of its kind.
Amid the swirls of gun smoke from the Republican's circular firing squad in the Foleygate scandal, this little chestnut slipped through the media cracks. The Department of Homeland Security is paying three universities $2.4 million to develop software able to monitor negative opinions of the United States and its leaders in foreign publications.
Here we have yet another example of the Bush administration's uncanny ability to combine Orwellian tactics with utter incompetence. To track anti-American sentiment all you need is a $10 bucket of paint and a map of the globe. A quick look at the polling data shows that we don't have many supporters left. Take this dramatic example: six out of ten Iraqis favor attacks on US forces, and we liberated them.
If polling data proves the general trends, then the only real reason for the software is to identify specific publications, editors, and writers, who are quote-unquote anti-American and anti-Bush. And why would Homeland Security want that very long list? Are they planning on seizing their pencils and paper during airport security checks? It sounds to me like the basis for the prosecution of thought crimes.
Of course it's illegal for the government to build that kind of database on American citizens. Then again, it was also illegal to wiretap without a court order and to detain without charge. So all you bloggers be warned. Big Brother is watching.
Flashback to September of 2004: In the midst of the presidential race between George Bush and John Kerry, North Korea threatened to initiate nuclear weapons tests. There was no certainty that North Korea's weapons programs were advanced enough to perform signficant testing. But, as concerned international arms control officials attempted to pin down details of what was happening at a potential test site in the country, Kerry put the latest development in perspective by suggesting that the mere fact of North Korea's threaten was evidence of failed diplomacy.
The Democrat condemned the Bush administration for rejecting direct diplomacy in favor of the cowboy president's bluster and blunder. Noting that the White House had failed to effectively engage North Korea's concerned neighbors and other nuclear powers in the process, Kerry said: "The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated" by what he described as the president's neglectful and "ideologically driven" approach.
"I think that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver," explained the senator from Massachusetts, who spoke as one of the most experienced observers of arms control issues in Congress.
Describing what was happening two years ago in North Korea as "a nuclear nightmare," Kerry suggested that Bush's obsession with Iraq -- a country that did not have weapons of mass destruction -- had distracted the president and his administration from doing what was necessary to avert the greater threat posed by North Korea.
"They have taken their eye off the real ball... ," Kerry said of the Bush administration. "They took it off in North Korea and shifted it to Iraq." And, Kerry suggested that, if Bush was reelected, the attention of the United States would continued to be misdirected -- with an emphasis on military adventures in the Persian Gulf rather than diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.
Kerry's comments barely earned a day of attention from the drive-by media, and they were ridiculed and attacked by conservative commentators and political operatives. White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused the Democratic presidential candidate of promoting policies that would allow North Korea "to dupe the United States," while claiming that Bush was "pursuing a plan that will lead to the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program..."
When voters went to the polls in November of 2004, surveys showed that Americans still thought the Republican president -- with his record of avoiding military service and blank-stare approach to foreign affairs -- was more committed to protecting national security than the decorated Democratic veteran who had spent two decades developing his expertise on arms control and international relations.
Two years later, the headlines read:
"North Korea stokes worldwide fears with nuclear explosion"
"Nuclear test sends shudders through region"
"The world ponders a nuclear North Korea"
And, of course:
Bush rejects direct talks with North Korea
The first truth of the current situation is that the U.S. does not know how advanced North Korea's nuclear program may be.
The second truth is that, so long as George Bush continues to reject diplomacy, the U.S. and the rest of the world is unlikely to learn the exact state of North Korea's nuclear ambitions -- let alone to reverse them.
The third and arguably most consequential truth is that, if the U.S. had elected a different president in 2OO4, the prospects for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and throughout the region would be far greater than they are today.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com
Over 2,700 Americans killed – 24 soldiers were killed over a 5-day period last week and the Pentagon said improvised explosive device attacks are now "at an all-time high." Over 20,000 Americans wounded – more last month than in any month over the past two years. As many as 100,000 Iraqis killed and countless more wounded. Over $400 billion squandered and projected total costs reaching into the trillions…
This Administration is culpable for this war. Pin the responsibility on those who misled the country into a war that has made us less safe.
This Adminsitration is responsible for new polls that show over 70 percent of Iraqis favor US withdrawal within a year. Over 75 percent of Baghdad residents would feel safer if the US left Iraq. And, disturbingly, over 60 percent of Iraqis support attacks on Americans.
A front page story in Sunday's New York Times makes clear yet another reason why Iraqis want us out: the impact this war is having on the next generation of Iraqis who are without hope, jobs, or opportunities and are now being radicalized.
According to The Times, "As little as a year ago, most Iraqis dismissed fears of sectarian war. Iraqis of different sects had always mixed… and no amount of bombing would change that. But as the texture of the violence changed from spectacular car bombs set by Sunnis to quiet killings in neighborhoods of both sects, few still cling to that belief."
Many have scrapped plans for college and a professional life and are now fighting simply to survive. A country which once prided itself on women's educational achievements is suffering through de-modernization. One example, a 10th grade girl "with perfect English and straight A's" will not attend college because of the new reality of sectarian violence.
"Campuses are volatile mixes of sects and ethnicities, and sectarian killings of students are no longer rare," reports The Times.
The widespread belief that the US presence is fueling the insurgency, sectarian strife, and deepening despair has led Iraqis to an inevitable conclusion, described by Nicholas Kristof in an op-ed on Sunday, "Iraqis are crystal clear on what the U.S. should do: announce a timetable for withdrawal of our troops within one year."
And while we should not abandon the beleaguered people of Iraq following our invasion and occupation, it is clear that our assistance should now come through international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. In the US, we are steadily catching up with the sane realization that Iraqis have already made: it's time to bring an end to this war.
It has probably been many years since you were truly scared on Halloween. But what's genuinely frightening is chocolate. Not because it makes you fat -- or is "sinful", a weird pseudoerotic marketing gambit I've never exactly understood -- but because almost half of it, according to the Organic Consumers' Association (OCA), is produced on West African plantations, where some 284,000 children are working under dangerous conditions, or have been trafficked. Obviously, giving Western children candy that has been made by enslaved African children is horrifying and twisted, if you stop to think about it even for a moment. But this doesn't mean you have to be the neighborhood Grinch this Halloween; the OCA has some fun suggestions. You can order Fair Trade chocolate (again, trick-or-treat sized) for your neighborhood trick-or-treaters. You can also host an anti-slavery house party to distribute trick-or-treat sized Fair Trade chocolates. If you do this, let the OCA know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; that helps the organizers to publicize this timely seasonal campaign.
I appeared on ABC News This Week yesterday, as a member of its roundtable. (You can get a podcast of the show here.) Prior to that segment, Representative Adam Putnam of Florida, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, debated Representative Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the Foley-Hastert affair. Representative Tom Reynolds, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was originally scheduled to be in the GOP slot. Though Reynolds has been incriminated in the Mark Foley scandal and is now in danger of losing his seat in upstate New York, he had surprisingly accepted ABC News' invitation to appear on the show and be questioned by George Stephanopoulos. Common sense finally prevailed, and Reynolds pulled out. As Putnam recounted in the green room before the show, Putnam had been in Florida hunting doves when the call came from Reynolds' NRCC with an order for Putnam: you have to go on the Sunday talk show. Putnam saluted and flew back to Washington.
On the show, Putnam, naturally, defended House Speaker Denny Hastert. It was a hard case to argue, but he did the best he could in the face of Emanuel's assault. That's what you're expected to do when you're a junior (though ambitious) member of your party's leadership. But it may not be cost-free--and Putnam seems to know that. After he was done and about to leave the studio, I remarked to him, "You're betting nothing else is going to come out on this." He nodded but rolled his eyes, adding, "In Washington, that's a dangerous bet."
Indeed it is. The news the next day (via The Washington Post) was that Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who is openly gay, confronted Foley in 2000 after a former page complained to Kolbe that Foley had sent him sexually explicit Internet messages. The newspaper noted it was not clear whether Kolbe did anything beyond talk to Foley. But this development means that the Foley problem was known within GOP circles for six years. Hastert, though, has claimed he knew nothing about Foley's conduct until the day the story broke--even though statements from GOP legislators and staffers suggest his office was informed of the Foley problem years earlier.
Putnam's bet doesn't look so hot right now.
The Kolbe revelation might prompt Republicans to revive their criticism of the so-called Velvet Mafia: that small group of gay Republicans. As I've written about earlier (see here), at the start of the scandal, some within the House Republican caucus were griping that the party had been done in by GOP gays on Capitol Hill who had supposedly covered for Foley for years. (At the same time, social conservative allies of the party publicly blamed the gay rights agenda for somehow leading to Foley's page-pursuing troubles.)
Responding to the effort to scapegoat the GOP's Lavender Bund, gay Hill GOPers told reporters they had years ago warned Hastert's office about Foley. These gay Republicans were essentially declaring: we ratted out one of our own, so don't blame us for Hastert having not done anything. As this intra-Republican sniping between gays and heteros transpired, gay politicos outside Republican circles began circulating what they called The List--a roster of two dozen or so gay senior Republican staffers in the House and Senate. With a possible shoot-out about to ensue within the Republican caucus, these gay politicos--who have long been upset with gays who serve a Republican party that opposes gay rights and embraces outfits that demonize gays and lesbians--were hoping to pour gasoline on the fire. They passed the list to social conservative groups outside the Republican party with a message: maybe this is why your political agenda is not racing through this GOP-controlled Congress. Their goal is obvious--to set off a civil war within the Republican party.
The Kolbe news is all the more intriguing because of these behind-the-scenes scuffles. Will Republicans and social conservatives who were looking to blame gay Republicans for the Foley scandal now revive their efforts to dump the blame on Velvet mafioso within their midst? They can argue that Kolbe, one of them, did not do enough in 2000 after he learned of the Foley problem. But can Kolbe really be made the fall guy? Any GOPer who tries to adopt such a strategy will encounter problems. Kolbe is already retiring at the end of this year. That means he cannot resign in disgrace and provide the Republicans cover. Moreover, Hastert has yet to explain away the claims of congressional aides that his office was informed about Foley's sexual interest in pages several years ago. So even if Kolbe did not share the bad news with Hastert's office; others say they did. What's undeniable is that Hastert did not take the appropriate steps. (There is also an allegation that a drunken Foley tried to gain entrance to the page's residence in 2002 or 2003.)
Back to Representative Putnam, the NRCC's loyal foot solider. Drip, drip, drip. This story is hardly over. He may want to rethink that bet.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.
Dennis Hastert may still be Speaker of the House, after the Washington Times and other conservatives called on him to resign last week. But his job is not exactly secure, either.
Republican candidates are canceling appearances with Hastert. Other Republicans are contradicting his timeline of what happened when. And the influential conservative editorial page of the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire, long a presidential kingmaker, declared on Sunday that Denny should go.
"This is not the first time Hastert has reacted to scandal by attempting to shift blame instead of addressing the real problem," the Union Leader writes. "If he remains in power, it will not be the last.
Hastert's obsession with maintaining power has corrupted his judgment and he can no longer be trusted to put the interests of the country above the interests of his party. Republicans must insist that he resign."
Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. Thekilling of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking,but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center forJournalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder,"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I alwaysthought something would happen to Anya, first of all because ofChechnya." It was "a savage crime," said former Russian President --andthe father of glasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to theentire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us."
Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartmentbuilding, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, herunflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechenwar made her one of the bravest of Russia's journalists.
The numerous death threats she had received in these last few yearsnever slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was atwork finishing an article--to have been published Monday--abouttorturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.
Politkavskaya was a fearless chronicler of the mass executions, the torture, the rapeand kidnappings of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops andsecurity forces. She understood the cancer that was the war--and wroteand spoke of how the "Bush-Blair war on terror" had given Putinallowance to say he was fighting internationalterrorism. In fact, the Kremlin's policies and the brutal Russianoccupation of Chechnya, she wrote in many dispatches, were insteadengendering the terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.
Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen warappeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in theselast five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is toNovaya's credit that her crusading investigative articles werepublished inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concernthat the next victim may be her newspaper. That's why it's importantthat the international journalistic community defend the weeklynewspaper's independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noteddevelopment, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholderin Novaya. His role may provide some protection from anykremlin attempts to curb the paper's voice.)
I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, includingat a Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in New York where shereceived one of the many honors that came her way in these last years..she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and theinjustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There wasa bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigativereporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and therisks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces inRussia. But she never let that interfere with what she believedpassionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two yearsago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is[a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannotstop because it's my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to givehealth to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The dutyof [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is thereality. It's my one duty."
Her latest book, Putin's Russia--an uncompromising indictment of herbeloved country's corrupt politics--has just been published in the US.Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia's long-running brutal war--collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches fromChechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said onSaturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honestjournalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind wasPolitkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honestjournalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speechand a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.
Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most inunsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of allcountries who value the importance of a free press--should join incalling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thoroughinvestigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice thoseresponsible for Anna Politkovskaya's murder--and those of hercolleagues.