Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eat, drink -- and buy


"Dashing through the snow, on a one-horse broken sleigh ..."

Or something like that. I'm working on a new verse for America the Beautiful and I thought it should be seasonal. But let me cast work aside to concentrate on giving thanks in this season to remember life's precious things.

Thank you for there being 35 more shopping days until Christmas. This year I am counting Thanksgiving because I hear there are some great bargains and plan to shop instead of eat with the kids. Besides, it will mean eliminating all those hours sitting around the table, swapping family stories.

Thank you, Santa, for being there early in the mall this year. How else could I drop $50 in a flash -- make that on a flashbulb or two? (I guess I could spend the money to fill my car).

Thank you stores for carrying a whole new line of GPS systems. They're so high tech and so much fun. And when the day comes for mine to be stolen, I hope it gets snatched by someone who is really directionally challenged, or at least needs the cash.

Thanks, above all, for the peace and tranquility in Iraq. Finally, the good news is making its way onto front pages and holiday news reports, months after those nasty news organizations had the decency to hide all that disgusting smoke and blood that ruined my kids' Cheerios.

Clearly we are doing something very right with the $500 million or so a day we're spending there. Just think about it. Why waste that money each day on, say, 5,000 more four-year college scholarships? Can't college students hold down a job these days?

Why fritter it away each day on something so frivilous as expanding children's health insurance for a full month. Didn't President Bush say we couldn't afford to cover any more kids when he vetoed that terribly costly Democratic bill, the $35 billion one for five years of expanded children's health insurance coverage.

It's a good thing the president showed fiscal restraint, too. Because a few days later we needed all that money and more -- $46 billion -- for a stopgap war spending bill to cover end of the year costs of supporting our troops overseas.

Why waste time worrying about health care for the 30,000 veterans maimed or broken in the war when we can spend it spreading freedom to our friends in Iraq? Consider: If progress continues there, by next year we might even want to build of a mall in Baghdad! (Pinch me, please.)

Thank you, too, for the latest Iowa political polls, which either show Barack ahead or behind or tied with Hillary, depending on which newscast you watch and how you interpret the numbers, which change just about every day anyway. It's much more fun to follow that horse race religiously than to know what anyone actually believes in or stands for.

Besides, I know I'm for Rudy. I like the way he stands by his friends when they're indicted.

But Rudy, a marketing tip from a fan. Would you consider putting out a Monopoly knock-off for the holidays? With pictures of Bernie Kerik on the get-out-of-jail free cards? It would be so 21st century. And it would give me something to add to my shopping list this holiday season.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is this the ghost of Rovian shenanigans past?


The Republican presidential candidates have been bashing Hillary Clinton like a pinata for some time now. To believe their stump speeches, she's somewhere to the left of Karl Marx when it comes to health care and flip flops on policy like a flounder on a dry boat floor.

This, of course, comes from a crowd whose two front-runners are Rudy Giuliani, whose former chauffeur -- and the police commissioner when Rudy was New York's mayor -- is under indictment, and Mitt Romney, who became a fire-breathing, bedrock conservative only after he ran and won as a centrist, rasoned pro-choice moderate in Massachusetts.

It is not Clinton, however, but her closest Democratic rival, Barack Obama, who has emerged as the target of a far murkier and sleazier campaign to paint him as a closet terrorist and, if that fails, a backroom political hackster only dressed in Boy Scout blue.

First, in Iowa, home of the first caucus, people were getting phone calls suggesting that Obama didn't put hand over heart during a pledge of allegiance (heaven forbid) and was educated in a radical Islamic school in Indonesia. The not-so-subtle suggestion: This man is an unpatriotic muslim sympathizer.

Then, this week comes this from conservative columnist Robert Novak. He writes that Clinton supporters are in the midst of a whispering campaign to tell people like him that they have serious dirt about Obama but -- get this -- dirt they won't release.

"The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed," Novak wrote.

The Obama camp reacted swiftly and angrily, challenging Clinton to release whatever it is she's basing this murky rumor on. The Clinton campaign responded with one of its now-traditional "stick with the issues" statements (which, in this case, is particularly amusing given that Obama is trying to react to the lowest form of mudslinging -- utterly unsubstantiated innuendo from unknown sources).

Where this will go between the two Democrats is anyone's guess. But I will wager that Obama is shaking his fist in the wrong direction. It makes no sense for Hillary Clinton's campaign to leak this bit of non-news to Robert Novak, a conservative columnist with close ties to Republican conservatives. Karl Rove, on the other hand, whether "retired" or not, would do so in a heartbeat.

Perhaps you recall. This is the same Robert Novak who blew CIA agent Valerie Plame's cover after her husband, Joseph Wilson, embarrassed the Bush information by writing that the so-called uranium connection between Iraq and the African nation of Niger had no merit. His Highness (Dick Cheney) is said to have been furious. So there's a pretty fair chance that in outing Plame, Novak was acting as the water boy for a White House's slime campaign. (I'd urge upi tp ask Lewis Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, but he's already gotten into enough trouble on the issue.)

What's more, this kind of gutter innuendo looks a lot more like the game plan of Swift-Boating, dirty-tricks Republican campaigns of old than of anything that the relatively tame (and inept) Democrats have ever managed to muster.

What would Hillary Clinton have to gain by setting herself up for attack by Obama? She's got a big lead that probably was enhanced by her performance in the debate last week.

On the other hand, Republicans gain anytime they can egg the leading Democrats to tear each other down. And I suspect the neocons are much more afraid in the long run of Obama than of Clinton, whom they keep hailing as the inevitable Democratic nominee even as they bash her.

Why do they fear Obama? Because, as Atlantic Monthly write in its cover article this month, Obama has a worldwide following. His father was African. He attended school in Indonesia (though not radical muslim schools). He talks of the politics of hope and reconciliation. And his rhetoric and style appeal to a new generation and a new kind of politics that moves beyond the gridlocked red-state, blue-state pugilism embraced by the Baby Boomer leaders of both parties (and hyped regularly by the news media).

In short, if Obama gets to the final round, he'd be a much tougher target for Republicans to pound like a punching bag than Clinton, who just about every conservative loves to hate.

I confess. I have absolutely no evidence -- just a good sense of smell. I do hope some intrepid political reporter leaves the trail of polls and more polls and more polls to track down where this rumor came from. It certainly won't be easy: Karl Rove, you'll recall, is the fellow who couldn't keep track of his email even when he worked for the White House, and the law required it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

War Protests: Why No Coverage?

This piece was published in the Oct. 30 issue of the Christian Science Monitor

Oct. 30, 2007 -- Coordinated antiwar protests in at least 11 American cities this weekend raised anew an interesting question about the nature of news coverage: Are the media ignoring rallies against the Iraq war because of their low turnout or is the turnout dampened by the lack of news coverage?

I find it unsettling that I even have to consider the question.

That most Americans oppose the war in Iraq is well established. The latest CBS News poll, in mid-October, found 26 percent of those polled approved of the way the president is handling the war and 67 percent disapproved. It found that 45 percent said they’d only be willing to keep large numbers of US troops in Iraq “for less than a year.” And an ABC News-Washington Post poll in late September found that 55 percent felt Democrats in Congress had not gone far enough in opposing the war.

Granted, neither poll asked specifically about what this weekend’s marchers wanted: An end to congressional funding for the war. Still, poll after poll has found substantial discontent with a war that ranks as the preeminent issue in the presidential campaign.

Given that context, it seems remarkable to me that in some of the 11 cities in which protests were held - Boston and New York, for example - major news outlets treated this “National Day of Action” as though it did not exist. As far as I can tell, neither The New York Times nor The Boston Globe had so much as a news brief about the march in the days leading up to it. The day after, The Times, at least in its national edition, totally ignored the thousands who marched in New York and the tens of thousands who marched nationwide. The Globe relegated the news of 10,000 spirited citizens (including me) marching through Boston’s rain-dampened streets to a short piece deep inside its metro section. A single sentence noted the event’s national context.

As a former newspaper editor, I was most taken aback by the silence beforehand. Surely any march of widespread interest warrants a brief news item to let people know that the event is taking place and that they can participate. It’s called “advancing the news,” and it has a time-honored place in American newsrooms.

With prescient irony, Frank Rich wrote in his Oct. 14 Times column, “We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq…. But we must also examine our own responsibility.” And, he goes on to suggest, we must examine our own silence.

So why would Mr. Rich’s news colleagues deprive people of information needed to take exactly that responsibility?

I’m not suggesting here that the Times or any news organization should be in collusion with a movement - pro-war or antiwar, pro-choice or pro-life, pro-government or pro-privatization.
I am suggesting that news organizations cover the news - that they inform the public about any widespread effort to give voice to those who share a widely held view about any major national issue.

If it had been a pro-war group that had organized a series of support marches this weekend, I’d have felt the same way. Like the National Day of Action, their efforts would have been news - news of how people can participate in a democracy overrun with campaign platitudes and big-plate fundraisers, news that keeps democracy vibrant, news that keeps it healthy.

Joseph Pulitzer, the editor and publisher for whom the highest honor in journalism is named, understood this well. In May 1904, he wrote: “Our Republic and its press rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press … can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery…. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”

It’s time for the current generation of journalists - at times seemingly obsessed with Martha Stewart, O.J. Simpson, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and the like - to use that power more vigilantly, and more firmly, with the public interest in mind.