October 30th, 2005

Post-Fitzmas Ruminations

by Philip Baruth

Die-hard VDB-reader JC frames the ongoing Fitzgerald story nicely, and succinctly:

“What most interests me now, in terms of strategy, is whether Libby will work out a plea bargain. If he fights the charges, he guarantees that the story grows and grows, remaining front page material for months before and during the trial. Cheney would have to take the stand. cheneyA lot about the White House war propaganda operation would be exposed. But a plea bargain would probably still entail prison time for Libby, especially if he doesn’t offer to cooperate with the prosecution. When people are shown the prison cell in which they’ll spend their retirement years, they tend to lose their sense of loyalty toward those who are living it up on the outside.”

I think this frames it up just about right: If you’re Libby, you’ve got spinach on both sides of your plate. But it seems to me that in the end, he doesn’t really have a choice. To wit: the potential damage of the trail is such, and Libby’s standing with the mandarins in such, that taking it through trial produces levels of exposure in a secretive administration that are simply unacceptable. So let’s say Libby agrees to three years in prison, with time off for good behavior. Judith Miller has already spent 85 days in jail simply for refusing to testify, and she’s a girl.

So in the end, Libby will take a light plea, keep his mouth politely closed, receive a pardon from Bush the Younger, and enjoy a level of wealth and power in his sunset years that the rest of us can only imagine.

The only question then is timetable: how soon do you want this off the front pages, how soon does Fitzgerald power down the engines on his inquiry. I don’t think you want to cut a deal before you know, for instance, whether Rove is facing charges. So call it three months time, and then Scooter hits the canvas.

By the way, did you notice the boffo staging on Scooter’s coming-out photo as a newly indicted member of the administration? Killer suit, new hair cut, and crutches! These folks don’t miss a trick. Put that together with Tom Delay’s Senior-yearbook-mugshot and we have a whole new level of media manipulation in the making: Pre-emptive Mugshot Makeovers.

When you see Frist frogmarched out of the Senate in a backbrace, cradling an injured 6-week-old Sharpei puppy, you’ll know the movement has reached its Baroque period.

I should only live so long.

October 28th, 2005

And the Envelope, Please

by Philip Baruth

The Special Prosecutor has scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m.

So grab a bag of cheddar popcorn and some ice-cold Cokes, punch Sam Cooke into the CD player (allow me to suggest “We’re Having a Party”), put your tired feet up, and enjoy.

Merry Fitzmas. And God bless us all, everyone.

October 28th, 2005

Schwarzenegger’s Ventura/Clinton Moment

by Philip Baruth

I spent a good chunk of my adult life in Southern California, and I still have a soft spot for the place: the sun, the date shakes, the sense that Paradise could simply drop into the ocean at a moment’s notice. And while I had no real affection for Gray Davis, I was aggrieved when greedy energy companies manipulated the state’s power supply, tanked Davis’s poll numbers, and allowed uber-bully Arnold Schwarzenegger to slide into the Governor’s chair.

But I didn’t worry overly much. Pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura demonstrated the glide path of the hyper-masculine political outsider: a slow, downward spiral once the public gets a good look behind the muscles, and sees an opportunistic demagogue — not a particularly bright one at that.

And then comes the crash.

Well, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Schwarzenegger is deep in the midst of his Ventura-moment. Nasty parodies are proliferating (this one is particularly good). All four of his special election initiatives are apparently dead in the water:

“Sacramento — Support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election ballot measures remains weak, with none of them enjoying majority support despite millions spent in advertising by the governor, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California . . . .

The Public Policy poll shows Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings remain low, with just 38 percent of likely voters in support and 57 percent disapproving. A majority of Democrats and independents do not approve of Schwarzenegger’s job performance. Latinos are also highly critical of the governor, with 76 percent saying they disapprove of his performance in office.”

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Schwarzenegger has made films that I like: Terminator II comes to mind. But personally he’s a bully, and an autocrat, with the sort of intensely privileged mind-set that comes from being both an A-list celebrity and a member of the extended Kennedy family. He believes, to this day, that he will be President — a two-term President. Much of his life has been dedicated to making it happen, his marriage most notably.

If you don’t believe that, you’re naïve: a public relations campaign was under way for the so-called “Schwarzenegger amendment” until last year, but it’s been driven underground by the man’s rapidly dwindling popularity. According to a USA Today article this morning, Schwarzenegger has had to pull his own picture from ads hyping this month’s special election.

Can you imagine how hard that must be for the man to understand?

This is a guy who regularly walks into boardrooms and signs contracts in which corporations offer millions to use his image, his name, anything to connect their widgets with his marvelousness.

And now he’s being told by his handlers that he’s liked, but not well liked. They’re telling him that, politically speaking, he’s the girly-man now.

Prediction: This sort of frustration has a way of making self-loving power-seekers seek a little illicit power-loving (think Bill Clinton in the wake of the disastrous 1994 midterm elections — thong, intern, impeachment). Who wants to bet lunch at Pacific Rim that the Big Guy gets caught in some sort of sexual imbroglio before next spring? Harrassment, consensual adultery, paternity scandal — the flavor may vary. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this guy, in the midst of his own Jesse-Ventura-moment, swan-dive right smack into a Bill-Clinton-style debacle.

Just a prediction. But one based on the science of human nature, and a novelist’s nose for the storyline.

October 27th, 2005

You Heard it Here First: Miers Officially Toast

by Philip Baruth

Some days you wake up and you feel like a fraud, a failed excuse for a human being. People who try to predict political developments get this feeling in spades. But every once in a while you call it so right it’s magical. Here’s my post yesterday on Harriet Miers:

In the Washington Note, Steven Clemons pegs tomorrow as the day that indictments come down in the Plame Case, with a Thursday press conference scheduled. So let’s say you’re George and the boys. The only way you have to reliably change the channel, at this point, is via the Supreme Court nomination process (the most recent NYC terror-alert-photo-op exhausted that otherwise reliable option for the near term, anyway).

And you just happen to have scratch-n-dent candidate Harriet Miers clogging up the hallways. So why not give the media a day to froth over Plamegate, and then toss Harriet overboard come Friday afternoon (excuse me, I mean have Harriet Miers withdraw to “avoid damaging the President’s important domestic agenda”). Or maybe bright and early Monday morning, after a soulful Sunday dinner with Harry and the kids in the White House residence?

Sounds like a plan to me.

And sure as shinola, CNN just hit the wires with breaking news: Harry sleeps with the fishes. A lot of people think I don’t know my posterior from a hole in the ground. But apparently a lot of people are wrong.

October 27th, 2005

Wrong Track, in the Extreme

by Philip Baruth

In this game, you can never have too much data. Ruy Teixeira, over at a blog called DonkeyRising, cannot be beat for broad, systematic polling results, and what he’s got up right now is eye-popping: wrong-track numbers that show the country in what amounts to a general state of rebellion. Says Ruy:

SurveyUSA recently released a set of fifty statewide surveys that show just how large the constituency for change is becoming. In each state, these surveys asked “In general, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” When combined and weighted by population, these surveys indicate that, nationwide, just 29 percent of adults think the country is going in the right direction and 66 percent think it is going in the wrong direction. But it is the state-by-state results that provide the really interesting findings. As the SurveyUSA report notes:

In not a single state do 50 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In only five states (Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska) do 40 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In twenty-five states, fewer than 30 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

There is also not one state where there is a net positive (right direction minus wrong direction) result on this question. And in every state that was even remotely contested in the 2004 election, there is now a strong net negative result on the question, indicating a big constituency for change.

I think “big constituency for change” doesn’t really capture it. What about “gargantuan”? Comparisons to 1994 have been popping up in the press for the last year or so, and I’ve always had my doubts, but these sorts of state-by-state surveys are beginning to change my mind. Putting aside the possibility of third-party candidacies, it’s tough to see how Democrats don’t benefit from the bulk of this momentum.

Some of the trend you have to chalk up to second-term buyers-remorse: when it dawns on Americans that they’ve reinstalled a President for four more long years, and that he’ll never have to face another election, they tend to get a bit surly. And Bush’s doomed policies — along with rising body-counts at home (Katrina) and abroad — have slowly forced the numbers down.

But this is larger and more sweeping even that that. This is the American people, significant rank-and-file in both major parties, realizing that they’re fed up with having all of the major functions of government in the hands of one party. That’s the key connection between 1994 and today. Not a weak president, although that helps, but the realization that checks and balances undergird our history and our way of life, and one-party rule invariably takes us down a nearly infinite series of wrong tracks.

Voters can’t do much about the Supreme Court. And they’ve got no say in the Presidency until late 2007. But for the next year, their power to affect Congress will be waxing. Remember that in 1994, no incumbent Republican lost an election. Not one. Republicans swept into control of both Houses. Will Democrats match that? Doubtful.

But will they flip the handful of seats necessary to take control of the Senate? Even the smart money says: Oh baby yeah.

October 26th, 2005

Senate Race 2006: Say It Ain’t So, Bernie

by Philip Baruth

Hard to point to anything much that Congress has done in recent days — oh, except the sweeping new liability shield for the gun makers lobby. It hasn’t gotten much attention, but Rep. Bernie Sanders — the fiery Independent, the good-hearted icon of the Left — went tamely along on this horrific sop to the NRA. The New York Times:

“Fifty-nine Democrats joined 223 Republicans and the House’s lone independent to pass the bill. The chief House sponsor of the bill, Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, said the measure received a boost in July, when Pentagon officials wrote a letter saying they supported it as a way to ’safeguard our national security’ by limiting lawsuits against companies that supply weapons to the military.

‘There’s a subtle undertow here about buy America,’ Mr. Stearns said, adding, ‘This bill has picked up a little bit of steam because of that.’

Look, we in center-left Vermont have always known that Bernie Sanders — for all of his thundering about honor and ideals — has one Achilles heel: gun control. Dominating state politics in Vermont, like a lot of rural states, requires “flexibility” on firearms. And Bernie has made the case that protecting the rights of hunters can be seen as a class issue in low-income, agricultural areas.

Not an airtight case, but a case, nonetheless.

But you tell me: how does Bernie defend voting with Charleton Heston on this long-threatened Republican stink bomb? And please don’t repeat the above talking points about national security or — even weaker — “buying American.” This was pure Special Interest legislation, USDA grade A prime. And that special interest has an indirect hand in otherwise preventable American deaths every year. Removing liability lawsuits as a tool to force industry safety upgrades is not Socialism. It’s not Progressive politics. It’s not Liberal, and it’s got nothing to do with anything on the center-left.

It has to do with winning elections, most notably the one upcoming against Richie Tarrant. Not that every politician in the world hasn’t or doesn’t make similar calculations.

But Bernie has positioned himself differently: as a champion. And many of us in the state have started to see him that way ourselves.

And this doesn’t smell like champion to me. Not by a long shot.

If you listen to Bernie speak, over time you notice that he has one word that he likes a lot, a word that is very effective for him: “obscenity.” Faced with a particularly nasty piece of Republican legislation — a “Clear Skies Act” that actually fouls the air — Bernie will lean back and call it what it is, obscene.

I’ve thought about this one a lot, and that’s the only word that comes to mind here. And I imagine, when he allows himself to exit the hard-core campaign mindset, when he’s home late at night unwinding to some old Joan Baez tunes on the hi-fi, Bernie realizes as much himself.

October 26th, 2005

Merry Fitzmas — the video

by Philip Baruth

Crooks and Liars has a Quicktime video up, in celebration of Fitzmas, the holiday during which we honor the Republican prosecutor who busted up the White House Iraq Group. It features rare, priceless footage of Karl Rove doing a sort of ungainly Swan Lake routine in the newfallen snow.

Just lovely.

October 26th, 2005

Harriet Miers: Just About Medium-Well

by Philip Baruth

You may remember that I’m firmly on record predicting that Harriet Miers will withdraw prior to any losing vote being taken in Judiciary (See “Harriet Miers: Stick A Fork in Her, She’s Done”). And that was well before we found out that her license to practice law had been suspended in both Texas and D.C.

Well, although the White House is trying desperately to appear rock-solid on the nomination, the wealthy gentlemen in the Senate are moving rapidly into the end game. Reports today suggest that conservatives are strongly telegraphing a rejection in committee unless Miers is withdrawn.

And the New York Times is doing its part as well. Here’s one of those impish little gems the Times likes to toss into the scrum every now and then. In reviewing a speech Miers gave in the early ’90s, they report — with a straight face:

“Miers, who was one of the first women to become a partner at a major Texas law firm, also showed sympathy for feminist causes, referring to the ‘glass ceiling’ faced by professional women and urging her audience to support female candidates. She recited a list of national and state female leaders that crossed the political spectrum, including Gloria Steinem, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.).”

Gloria Steinem, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and good old Harry Miers. What do you think the burn time is on the collective conservative fuse, once Gloria Steinem’s name enters the debate in a positive context?

In other words, Harriet Miers is just about medium-well. Give her another two weeks to be perfectly well-done. Let cool. Then serve, and eat.

Late Update: 9:50 a.m.

In the Washington Note, Steven Clemons pegs tomorrow as the day that indictments come down in the Plame Case, with a Thursday press conference scheduled. So let’s say you’re George and the boys. The only way you have to reliably change the channel, at this point, is via the Supreme Court nomination process (the most recent NYC terror-alert-photo-op exhausted that otherwise reliable option for the near term, anyway).

And you just happen to have scratch-n-dent candidate Harriet Miers clogging up the hallways. So why not give the media a day to froth over Plamegate, and then toss Harriet overboard come Friday afternoon (excuse me, I mean have Harriet Miers withdraw to “avoid damaging the President’s important domestic agenda”). Or maybe bright and early Monday morning, after a soulful Sunday dinner with Harry and the kids in the White House residence?

Sounds like a plan to me.

October 25th, 2005

Video Bush

by Philip Baruth

Burlington indie filmmaker Art Bell has a killer short-short up on his website, Dreamlike Pictures. He calls it a political commercial, but it’s really a haunting existential scream. Go here, and click on “political commercials.” You’ll dig it.

October 25th, 2005

A Dick Cheney Day — Big Time

by Philip Baruth

Some days a reclusive White House mandarin just can’t win for losing.

Dick Cheney’s all over the front pages this morning, every story a little seamier than the last. The top story in the Times has Cheney himself whispering Valerie Plame’s name to Scooter Libby, this on June 12, 2003, weeks before Novak outed her in his now infamous column. The article is quick to point out that Cheney dick Cheneymay have done nothing wrong, which is to say that it is also possible that he may have, in fact, done something wrong.

For weeks now, months really, Bush has had this tortured, nauseaous look on his face — I guess you’d say an expression of profound constipation — and here finally we have the reason: he’s known this for years. And he knows as well that he and Cheney talked all of this over more than once, and that all of this talking may not ultimately be just talk. Indictments are near.

But that’s not the worst of it. The Post has an even less appetizing Cheney scoop. Given the political pressure building to pass John McCain’s ban on torture and inhumane treatment of detainees — you know, so that we can sit in the UN with a straight face while we talk about human rights — Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, should it reach his desk. Now consider: Bush has yet to veto a single bill in five years. Nothing. No pork was too porky. No surveillance measure was too stringent. He’s signed them all. So you’re telling me that he’s going to make history by making his first veto in favor of protecting the right to torture? Of course not. This is the world’s weakest bluff. McCain knows it; journalists know it; Bush knows it.

Hence, Cheney’s bizarre counter-offer. Again, from the Post:

“The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.

“The proposal, which two sources said Vice President Cheney handed last Thursday to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the company of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States government’ other than the Defense Department.”

No torture at any time, in any place, by any American — except anyone working for the CIA. And you can bet that private contractors of the CIA would be tucked snugly in here as well.

If you’re McCain, I think you have to laugh at this: the laugh of a guy who was himself tortured by intelligence agents of a foreign government. But it’s so desperately unfunny.

Of all the horrors and lunatic proposals the Bush administration has loosed upon the world — loosed upon America itself — this endless flirtation with torture is far and away the most damaging. And yet Bush and Cheney are like desperate three-pack-a-day smokers: if they quit now, they admit that they’ve been killing themselves, and the country they claim to serve, all along.

So in any event, it’s a Dick Cheney day in the neighborhood. Big Time. Stay tuned.

Next Page »