Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Faith-Based Musical

Friends, today I bring you EXCLUSIVE BREAKING NEWS! As you know, there are many excellent investigative bloggers out there, operating on par with great journalists, relentlessly unearthing the truth. But I'm confident that not one of these luminaries -- not John Aravosis, not Larisa Alexandrova or John Byrne, not Bob Fertik, not Brad Friedman, not Atrios -- no, not even Newsmax -- has the particular scoop that NERO FIDDLED has today!

Ladies and gentlemen, NERO FIDDLED is proud to present BURNING BUSH: A Faith Based Musical -- September 15, 16, and 17 at 8:30 pm at the HERE Arts Center in New York City.

This breaking story is so exclusive to NERO FIDDLED that I even landed the first interview with the show's creator, Noah Diamond. I found Mr. Diamond to be gracious and humble. I asked him what audiences can expect from his latest production. "Well," he said, pausing to sign autographs for a frantic throng of beautiful liberals, "if you like the Bush administration, then you really won't like Burning Bush very much." Diamond, who is well over four feet tall, told me that rehearsals were to begin on Thursday. "Sisk and I have finished the script," he said, "and even some of the songs! We've assembled an unprecedented cast. Seriously, this specific combination of actors and actresses -- it's never happened before." He says it's the cast of last year's City Under Siege, plus one. There is also a special appearance by Max Fleming, as himself. Fleming, according to Diamond, "would be a legend, if that were his status."

Unfortunately, in the midst of our interview, Mr. Diamond was suddenly seized by the Secret Service. As they dragged the flailing satirist toward a large armored tank emblazoned with the letter "W," he shouted to me, "THE SHOW MUST GO ON!" So I took over.

Here's the description I wrote for SmartTix (where tickets will be available online in a few days):

The musical comedy Karl Rove doesn't even know he doesn't want you to see!
BURNING BUSH: A Faith-Based Musical

Once upon a time, there was a great democracy somewhere between Canada and Mexico. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it was hijacked by a crazed sociopath named George W. Bush. (He didn't just preside over the worst intelligence failure in American history -- he is the worst intelligence failure in American history.) This hilarious and incendiary political satire blends sketch comedy with musical theatre to tell the story of Resident Bush's life, and his unfortunate mark on our culture.

From Bush's childhood ("Father, I cannot tell the truth -- that tree illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium!"), to his devotion to his soul mate ("Honey, Karl would like a beer"), to his disastrous stolen presidency, it's all here -- with songs! The eclectic score features such imminent hits as "On the March," "Jesus's Jihad," and "Alberto Gonzales, You're Torturing Me!" Rounding out the cast of characters is a rogues gallery of Bush's friends (Dick "The Creature" Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, George H.W. Bush) and his enemies (the American people, the 9/11 Commission, Jesus Christ).

From the people who dared to bring you last year's Republican Convention satire City Under Siege, and the political blog Nero Fiddled, BURNING BUSH is the funniest musical ever to demand the impeachment of a terrorist dictator!

We did City Under Siege a few days before the election. But it was months after the convention we were skewering. I put this notice in the program:

When we told people we were putting on a show about the Republican Convention, a lot of them asked why we'd chosen to satirize an event which ended a long time ago. We decided they had a point, so we abandoned the show we'd been rehearsing -- a scathing lampoon of the 1896 Republican Convention in St. Louis. "We should stay in tune with the times," one of us said, maybe. "Let’s do a show about the convention from this year." I was annoyed at first, because I had spent months crafting the funniest McKinley jokes ever written. But it was obvious that we should take this opportunity to focus on Bush, before we save the world by electing John Kerry the day after the day after tomorrow. Enjoy the show, and visit me at

Of course, the optimism of those pre-election days now strikes a bittersweet note. On November 4, reeling from the excitement of the show and the horror of the election, Sisk and I glumly strolled around Manhattan with our dear friend, City Under Siege's Kim Moscaritolo. "Our next show," Kim said with a sigh, "should be COUNTRY Under Siege."

And that's exactly what it is. We're taking the advice of last year's program note, and focusing on Bush. We'll also be updating the script as we go, with topical material. As long as the demented manchild remains in office -- and unfortunately, I suspect he'll still be in office on September 15 -- his life and crimes will be relevant. For three nights on Sixth Avenue and Spring Street, I think they'll also be funny. There might even be a serious point or two.

This is what I really want to do, I've discovered fairly recently -- political musical comedy. I love this stuff. This show also has a kind of documentary feel; it's a live, satirical documentary. There's narration, news reports, and smoking guns. There are a few very broad sketches which make the regime look silly, but I think a lot of the show is quite substantive. I hope so, anyway. At the center of the storm is the main character, who let me tell you, we don't glorify.

I really am proud of the material, and excited beyond belief that rehearsals are starting.

On Wednesday, I'll be back with more of the delightful blogging you've come to expect. Over the next six weeks, I'll devote occasional entries to stories of the show and its progress. If you're interested, you can subscribe to the NERO FIDDLED mailing list for updates, and keep an eye on If you're going to be in New York City in September -- either because you live here, or because you traveled a great distance just to see BURNING BUSH -- it'll be an honor to share it with you.

You heard it here first.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Right to Choose

When Senator Rick Santorum appeared on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart wanted to start the conversation on common ground. As different as the two men are, they could both agree that "ice cream is a delicious treat, but too much will spoil the appetite." That exchange got me thinking...sometimes we get so wrapped up in perfecting our own arguments we lose sight of how much we all have in common. We've become so good at picking apart the details, we forget to listen to each other's "big picture." Whether you're listed as republican, democrat, independent, green, or some other incarnation, there are fundamental issues most of us agree are important. And for better or for worse, we must face those issues together. Quality health care is important to most of us. Fear of want and hunger is a feeling we can all relate to. We have dreams and fears and experiences to share with one another, to contribute to the human race. But what binds us together more than anything else, what has served as common ground for politicians and leaders through the ages, what most embodies freedom and choice in this world is boobs.

I don't think anyone can deny that one of the biggest problems with our society is the lack of boobs. What kind of country do we live in where a woman can only choose between high profile, contoured, smooth or normal? Women deserve more choice! And that's why I'm so happy that the FDA has been hard at work bringing us more (and better!) boobs from which to choose. On July 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an "approvable letter" to Mentor Corporation for the marketing and sale of its silicone breast implants. If the FDA follows the advice of the committee which voted 7 to 2 to approve Mentor's application with conditions, the Memory Gel will likely be the first available silicone implant in the U.S. market since 1992, when the FDA decided they were too dangerous to continue selling without further research.

The first known breast implant took place in Germany when fat from a woman's tumor was injected into her chest. Doctors and scientists experimented with techniques - injecting paraffin under the skin and surgically inserting ivory or glass balls under the chest muscles. During World War II, Japanese prostitutes recognized the need to enhance their bust sizes to attract American soldiers, and began injecting silicone to add pin-up like curves. Then, Dow unveiled the first silicone filled breast prosthesis. Women who had been injecting silicone directly into their chests were becoming very ill. So Dow took the silicone and put it in an envelope. And in 1962 the first woman was "implanted." The Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Resource site says there are "many" things we can learn from the history of breast implants: "women have been attracted to the option of increasing their breast size from the earliest history of breast implants, and there have been setbacks that accompanied each advance."

One of these "setbacks" occurred in 1982, when reports of "adverse events" connected to implants first came to the attention of the FDA. The agency placed strict standards on industry manufacture and product quality, and in 1990 required manufacturers to submit data which proved the safety of both saline and silicone implants. This was the first time Mentor Corporation was told it had not submitted adequate information to determine long-term product effects. But while the FDA panel publicly recognized the lack of relevant data, it also recommended that saline implants continue to be sold because they served a "public health need."

The data regarding the silicone implants was also incomplete, but more damaging. The information indicated some patients had developed autoimmune symptoms and cancers and that the devices may have "leaked excessively." The FDA restricted access to silicone implants only in controlled clinical studies for reconstruction after mastectomy, correction of congenital deformities or if the patient already had a silicone implant and needed a replacement. But soon, thanks to the FDA and Mentor, all women may have this choice.

According to various studies and Mentor Corporation's own application to the FDA, breast implants can come with some serious complications. Here are a few I liked most (the list is far too long to put here in its entirety). Keep in mind as you're reading these that in the Mentor study, out of a total pool of 259 women, there were a reported 464 "reoperations," so complications are not rare:

Capsular Contracture
The scar tissue or capsule that normally forms around the implant may tighten and squeeze the implant and is called capsular contracture. Capsular contracture is more common following infection, hematoma, and seroma. It is also more common with subglandular placement (behind the mammary gland and on top of the chest muscle). Symptoms range from mild firmness and mild discomfort to severe pain, distorted shape, palpability of the implant, and/or movement of the implant. Capsular contracture may happen again after additional surgeries.

Pain of varying intensity and duration may occur and persist following breast implant surgery. In addition, improper size, placement, surgical technique, or capsular contracture may result in pain associated with nerve entrapment or interference with muscle motion. You should tell your surgeon about severe pain.

This report also shows that 17% of augmentation patients studied still experienced pain 7 years after their first operations.

In rare instances, toxic shock syndrome has been noted in women after breast implant surgery, and it is a life-threatening condition. Symptoms include sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, dizziness, and/or sunburn-like rash. A doctor should be seen immediately for diagnosis and treatment for this condition.

Hematoma is a collection of blood inside a body cavity, and a seroma is a collection of the watery portion of the blood (in this case, around the implant or around the incision). Postoperative hematoma and seroma may contribute to infection and/or capsular contracture. Swelling, pain, and bruising may result. While the body absorbs small hematomas and seromas, large ones will require the placement of surgical drains for proper healing. A small scar can result from surgical draining. Implant deflation/rupture can occur from surgical draining if damage to the implant occurs during the draining procedure.

Changes in Nipple and Breast Sensation
Feeling in the nipple and breast can increase or decrease after implant surgery. The range of changes varies from intense sensitivity to no feeling in the nipple or breast following surgery. Changes in feeling can be temporary or permanent and may affect your sexual response or your ability to nurse a baby.

Breast Feeding
At this time it is not known if a small amount of silicone may diffuse (pass through) from the saline-filled breast implant silicone shell and may find its way into breast milk. If this occurs, it is not known what effect it may have on the nursing infant. Although there are no current methods for detecting silicone levels in breast milk, a study measuring silicon (one component in silicone) levels did not indicate higher levels in breast milk from women with silicone-filled gel implants when compared to women without implants.

In my research, I have come across a study that shows unexplainable amounts of mercury in the blood of babies who are breast fed by mothers with silicone implants. Mentor comments on studies such as these saying there is not enough information to make a conclusion.

Calcium Deposits in the Tissue Around the Implant
Deposits of calcium can be seen on mammograms and can be mistaken for possible cancer, resulting in additional surgery for biopsy and/or removal of the implant to distinguish calcium deposits from cancer.

Unstable or compromised tissue covering and/or interruption of wound healing may result in extrusion, which is when the breast implant comes through the skin.

Breast Tissue Atrophy/Chest Wall Deformity
The pressure of the breast implant may cause the breast tissue to thin and shrink. This can occur while implants are still in place or following implant removal without replacement.

Connective Tissue Disease
These are a group of diseases and disorders related to the immune system and to the connective tissue of the body (e.g., muscle, tendon, bone, etc.) that supports body structures and binds body parts together. The body’s immune system is the network of cells that protect against infectious diseases. Antibodies are one type of substance the body produces to fight off infectious agents. CTDs with autoimmune characteristics include and symptoms include: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis dermatomyositis, progressive systemic sclerosis or scleroderma, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, pain and swelling of joints, tightness, redness or swelling of the skin, swollen glands or lymph nodes, unusual or unexplained fatigue, swelling of the hands and feet, excessive hair loss, memory problems, headaches, muscle weakness or burning.

Breast implants deflate when the saline solution leaks either through an unsealed or damaged valve or through a break in the implant shell. Implant deflation can occur immediately or slowly over a period of days and is noticed by loss of size or shape of your breast. Deflated implants require additional surgery to remove and to possibly replace the implant.

I imagine that "immediate deflation" of one's breast implant must be one of the more humiliating experiences in life.

An FDA study shows that 73 of 303 women reported that they had additional surgery because of a suspected breast implant rupture. 70% of these women suspected that their implants were ruptured because of breast pain, chest pain or other upper body pain, and 58% of these women reported suspecting implant rupture because of changes in the shape of their breasts. Of the 303 women reporting additional surgeries, 171 reported that at least one of their implants was found to be ruptured or leaking.

All breast implants leak. It doesn't matter if they're saline-filled, silicone-filled or creme-filled, they leak, deflate and have to be replaced. The reason saline implants have been on the market all this time is not because they don't have the same problems silicone implants do. It's because when saline based implants deflate or break it's only salt water that's leaking into a woman's body.

Dr. Thomas Whalen, who aced as chairman of one of the FDA expert panels on silicone implants wrote in a letter to the FDA in October 2003, that:

Long-term safety, the concern that prompted the removal from the market eleven years ago, was clearly not demonstrated and to approve this device poses threats to women that are clearly unknown. Moreover, despite the sophistication of the Institute of Medicine's report, all of what was considered by them reflected low-quality data in the age of evidence-based medicine. It is incumbent upon the FDA to demand that the manufacturer establish in a rigorous prospective, controlled study that these devices, despite their established breakage and leakage rates, are safe in the long term. If that is deemed to be not feasible for the company, then they should abandon pursuit of approval. However, the company's track record suggests that they are capable of such research but have not been sufficiently motivated to complete it. On the other hand, it serves the reputation of the FDA in general, and the standing of the panel process in particular, exceedingly poorly to have had all of the plastic surgeons vote the PMA as approvable on such a close vote. Even in academic settings, plastic surgeons may stand to increase their own income with the use of these devices. To cite a worn aphorism, it just does not play well in Peoria. In closing, I must add that the issue of medical care of women who suffer complications from these implants is extraordinarily troubling. Costs for removal of these implants and for extra-capsular silicone can be enormous and are very rarely covered by a health plan. This is a public health issue of no small import that must be addressed should the FDA second this misguided panel decision.

Despite this strong statement, Whalen reversed his position in a letter to Lester Crawford, acting head of the FDA, in May 2005. Whalen said that he had been convinced that "not to allow these devices for women who knowingly make the choice to have them is sexist."

Even though there is ample evidence that implants are not durable, even though there has been no long term study of silicone in the body, even though during the FDA public hearings the majority of people who testified were women who had silicone gel-filled breast implants and had experienced a range of illnesses, including rashes, open sores leaking silicone, hair loss, memory loss, mental confusion, muscle weakness, and local and regional infections, even while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is proceeding with a lawsuit against several breast implant manufacturers for faulty devices, the FDA has decided that the risk associated with implants is acceptable and has decided to let women choose for themselves. Because to do otherwise would be sexist. Because according to the FDA, the availability of breast implants satisfies a "public health need."

The same cannot be said for emergency contraception.

In December 2003, Barr Laboratories filed an application for over the counter status of Plan B. The approval of the switch from prescription to non-prescription was overwhelmingly recommended by an FDA committee and two independent advisory councils for the FDA. In an unprecedented move, Steven Galson, acting director of the agency's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, overturned all recommendations and declared Barr's Plan-B "not approvable." This is not a common occurrence, mind you. Former officials "could not remember another instance in which Dr. Galson, a career officer in the public health service or any of his predecessors had overruled both an advisory committee and staff recommendations." In his rejection, Galson cited a lack of research relating to girls 12 - 16 years of age, even though there are studies from other countries which show that EC is safe for younger women. Barr resubmitted its application with an amendment which stated women aged 15 and younger would need a prescription. The FDA promised to respond to this application by January 2005. Guess what? It didn't and still hasn't.*

In America, emergency contraception has been available with a prescription since 1998. The drug in question, Plan B, has been on the market since 1999. It is available without a prescription in 33 countries. Over 70 health care organizations support the switch, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Emergency contraception has never been known to cause serious complications, but some common side effects include nausea (23% of users), abdominal pain (18% of users), tiredness (17 % of users), and headache (17% of users). Other side effects that can occur are dizziness and breast tenderness (10% of users) and vomiting or diarrhea (5-6% of users).

James Trussell, who was a member of one of the FDA committees said "our committee had absolutely no concern about the use of this drug by young girls." Another committee member, Dr. Julie Johnson, said that Plan B was the "safest product the committee had reviewed in several years."

Opponents of making Plan B available without a prescription believe that the switch will encourage promiscuity among young people. Robert Marshall, state legislator from Virginia, said at the hearing "as I look around the room today, one name that should be on this NDA is Hugh Hefner. Playboys, adolescent adult males are going to be the primary beneficiaries of this. In fact, I will suggest to you they may be the major purchasers of this, who in turn will sell it to high school kids that we're going to have to deal with with appropriations from the State of Virginia."

I checked the Code of Federal Regulations and it doesn't say anything about Hugh Hefner or Virginia's appropriations money when it comes to approving medications. The code states, "any drug limited to prescription use under Section 503(b)(1)(C) of the Act shall be exempt from prescription dispensing requirements when the Commissioner finds such requirements are not necessary for the protection of public health by reason of the drug's toxicity or other potentialities for harmful effects, the method of its use, or the collateral measures necessary to its use, and he finds that the drug is safe and effective for use in self-medication as directed in the proposed labeling." And as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Marshall's statement on morality doesn't qualify as a serious case for the protection of public health.

So everyone agrees Plan B isn't toxic, it has no harmful side effects, and it's rarely misused. No strokes, no heart attacks, no thromboembolic events, no potential for overdose, no more endotopic pregnancies than normal, no effect to a fetus if a woman is already pregnant...Fine, great. It seems pretty clear that under federal regulations, Plan B must be "exempt from prescription dispensing requirements." And yet, the top guys at the FDA don't think so.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine written by three doctors, one of whom serves as an FDA advisory panel member, said the "FDA's decision-making process is being influenced by political considerations." While approval had historically been "based on scientific evidence from well-designed clinical trials with adequate power to establish efficacy and rule out toxicity at some reasonable level of confidence," in this case "there is no medical dispute" on these issues.

Upon receiving the approvable letter from the FDA, Joshua H. Levine, President and CEO of Mentor Corporation said he viewed "this letter as a positive sign for women and their surgeons that another option will soon be available." Mentor's implants "will be a significant additional option for these women. (We are) committed to making these important products available to women and will continue working with the FDA to address the approvable conditions."

Plastic surgeons hailed the decision as a victory for women, saying that women are responsible enough to analyze the risks associated with the procedure and smart enough to make their own decisions. Yeah, access to more kinds of admittedly dangerous breast implants is a real pro-woman victory.

Dr. Galston and Dr. Crawford would have us believe that they are only acting in the best interest of the public health. But this is the same FDA that haggled with drug companies over labels for two years instead of telling people Vioxx caused heart attacks. This is the FDA that buried the link between anti-depressants and suicide in children. This is the FDA that considers silicone breast implants approvable even though they acknowledge no long term studies have been conducted to prove the safety of the devices. And yet, the same FDA finds that a drug with no serious side effects is too dangerous to sell over the counter. The same women who plastic surgeons and the FDA believe can make informed decisions about the risks of breast implants apparently don't have the capacity to show the same judgement when it comes to their own reproductive health.

On the Mentor website page showing all of the different types of implants available, the headline reads: "Choice - What a beautiful thing." I agree. Women deserve choice. It is our natural right and one that must never be undervalued. I am sure that all the women who become pregnant because they could not get access to emergency contraception in time take great comfort in the fact that they can still get whatever kind of breast implant they like. I know I sure do.

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* For more information on the Lester Crawford nomination fight and the wonderful efforts of Senators Patty Murray and Hillary Clinton to force the FDA to act on emergency contraception, go here or here or you can read the transcript of Crawford's confirmation hearings here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Perfect Job for George W. Bush

Resident George W. Bush began his recent Social Security "conversation" in Atlanta by saying, "Thank you all. Thank you all very much. Please be seated. Thank you. Ha, ha! I'm proud!" It was all downhill from there, but at one point he actually did say something worth thinking about. He was praising those who volunteer to help the homeless and the needy -- I guess because his administration couldn't care less -- and he said, "if you want to serve America, a great way to do so is those who need help."

I've always thought of myself as someone who did just that, but watching the video of Bush's speech -- and don't trust the official transcript, by the way, which cleans up his phrasing to create the illusion of coherence -- I realized that I could be doing more to help the American citizen who needs it the most desperately. I refer, of course, to Bush himself.

I know it's hard to feel generosity toward someone who's killed more people in the last four years than al Qaeda has. But as a liberal, I strive to include everybody, and even Resident Bush needs help -- urgently. During his speech in Atlanta, he shared "an extraordinary experience" he'd had in the Oval Office with "a young man from Ghana who was born lame" and was "basically adopted by a faith-based program here in America." This young man miraculously "got a prosthesis" and became "a bicycler," which proves, to Bush, that "just because you're lame doesn't mean you're a second-class citizen." In that spirit, then, let's think about helping Bush as we would help anyone. The fact that he's lame is no excuse.

"Put in Texas terms," Bush said later, "in order to solve something, you gotta diagnose it." (Because "diagnose" is of course a classic Texan colloquialism. That's why all those ranchers are always saying things like, "That catty whompus got itself all swole up! Well, I guess in order to solve something, you gotta diagnose it.")

I went to and took a "Global Personality Test," answering the questions the way I thought Bush would answer them, based on my extensive study of his disorders. I realize it may not seem right to accept test results generated by my own hypotheses. But remember what the great Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist taught us -- that you can diagnose someone without ever having seen or met them, based on video footage. And I know I've watched more video of Bush than Frist has of Terri Schiavo. True, I lack Frist's background as a heart surgeon, but what good would that do in helping a patient who has no heart?

The test evaluates personality based on three factors, and Bush's theoretical scores were 30% "Stability," 46% "Orderliness," and 60% "Extroversion." The results suggested that Bush is "insecure, emotional, and anxious," as well as "interacting at the expense of developing [his] own individual interests and internally based identity." The test results also include a "Trait Snapshot," which suggest that the subject is:

"Tough, irritable, does not like to be alone, craves attention, low self-control, sad, impatient, very social, aggressive, prefers organized to unpredictable, dependent, social chameleon, suspicious, likes large parties, outgoing, likes to make fun, likes to fit in, mildly phobic, vain, makes friends easily, enjoys leadership, clingy, rash."

So, based on the results of the Global Personality Test, we must come to some kind of conclusion. (Out on the frontier in the Old West, such a conclusion was often referred to as a "diagnosis.") We've got a guy who's irritable. Craves attention. Has very low self-control. You could call him "mildly phobic." He's suspicious and aggressive, which is always a fun combination. Still, he's social -- friends might even describe him as a social chameleon, or flip-flopper. The patient is invariably vain, clingy, and rash, but he still enjoys leadership and makes friends easily. He likes to make fun of them.

I would be interested in your opinion, Doctor, but to me it's a clear case of this psychotic parasite should not be the President of the United States.

I prescribe an extremely high dosage of EMERGENCY VOCATIONAL REASSIGNMENT, to be taken immediately. EVR can be taken with food, without food, whatever. After EVR treatment, expect a widespread feeling of national well-being. Previous conditions such as freedom, liberty, and democracy may return following treatment. Possible side effects may include scientific progress, checks and balances, a thriving economy, and the world becoming a much better place in general. Treatment should continue until the problem goes away completely.

If we're going to help ourselves by helping the least among us -- and there's no question about who that might be -- then we've got to help him find a more appropriate job. Luckily, I noticed that also offers a "Career Inventory Test." I took this test, again answering the questions the way I thought Bush would, and learned that the Resident's "Emotional Stability" rating is 20%, and his "Altruism" level is 10%. In the area of "Inquisitiveness," he also scored 10%.

The career advice generated by the results goes a little something like this:

"You are a Promoter. Possible professions include: real estate broker, chef, physical therapist, stock broker, news reporter, fire fighter, pilot, budget analyst, insurance agent, franchise owner, electrical engineer, aircraft mechanic, EEG technologist, radiological technician, emergency medical tech., corrections officer, flight attendant."

Okay. I think we can rule out EEG technologist, physical therapist, radiological technician, and EMT off the bat, on the grounds that the patient has a history of cruelty. The medical field is decidedly wrong for him. His resume, as well as his psychological profile, makes clear that he shouldn't have any job in which other people's lives are routinely at stake -- which also eliminates fire fighter and aircraft mechanic. Although it would be great fun to watch him demonstrate the use of oxygen masks and the importance of putting tray tables in the upright position, he can't be a flight attendant because he's a known threat to homeland security. That nixes corrections officer, too, although it's easier to picture.

Pilot is out of the question, as he once had that job, and stopped showing up for it. Nobody familiar with his record would hire him to be a budget analyst. Electrical engineer is a bad choice; I think he would electrocute himself. He lacks the verbal skills to be a news reporter, although there is one network which would love to hire him as a nonpartisan commentator. Given the current economic climate, it doesn't seem right to advise anyone to try being a franchise owner.

I think that Bush could do fairly well for himself, and reasonably little damage to others, as an insurance agent, a stock broker, or a real estate broker. Although not all of them are, people in these professions can sometimes be pretty slimy; I can picture Bush in these roles. But I'd most like to see him become a chef.

Look at his personality profile. Given his fondness for large parties, perhaps he could be a caterer, but his impatience might make him a short-order cook. Like all chefs, Bush is tough, irritable, and aggressive. Interviewed on his ranch in Crawford in 2000, he said, "I like to work with my hands," which all chefs must do. Yes, the idea of Bush as a restauranteur may be difficult to stomach. But not all chefs prepare food for the general public, which has been particularly apparent in the kitchen of the Bush White House. Just last week, the Washington Post reported that Bush was "trying out a prospective new White House chef," and the current one just got there. In fact, the Bushes have had problems with their chefs from the very beginning.

Less than a year into the first term, the White House Personal Gourmet Chef, John Bauhs, realized he had better things to do. "Just after September 11," he explained, "they shut down the civilian operations at the White House for a while," and Navy cooks seized the kitchens. But when the culinary coup ended, Bauhs stayed away, and started his own "chef business." It's always easy to explain things with 9/11, but perhaps Bauhs, as an accomplished gourmet artist, was frustrated with Bush. "They always requested a lot of Wonder bread and peanut butter in his room," he recalled. Acknowledging that "being a president can be a tough business," Bauhs concedes that "a handful of Chex Mix probably soothes a lot of things out." Sure, but you don't need a world-class chef to bring you Chex Mix -- any fool could do it! Given Bauhs' assertion that Bush requested Wonder bread and peanut butter, as opposed to peanut butter sandwiches, we can assume that Bush assembled these himself. So he is clearly qualified to cook for himself. That's one option -- he could be his own personal chef. He definitely has enough money to pay himself. And we could tax that!

In September of 2004, Roland Mesnier, the legendary French pastry chef of White House fame, hung up his spatula. The Bushes hired a new pastry chef named Thaddeus DuBois. In February of 2005, it was reported that Laura Bush had fired Walter Scheib III, who'd been the White House chef for eleven years. Washington Post reporter Ann Gerhart said that Ms. Bush "wanted to set her own style, and [Scheib] had tried to adapt and wasn't able to do that, so she is moving on." Sally Quinn, a "longtime Washington style expert," told CNN, "I suspect she and the chef did not see eye-to-eye, and that is the kind of thing that happens." Apparently it is the kind of thing that happens. According to Deanna Swift, insiders said the Bushes required that Scheib "give up all French recipes and cooking techniques, and create an elaborate inaugural menu paying tribute to the brand names of a dozen top Bush campaign and GOP donors."

"The menu that Scheib ultimately composed, served at three candlelight inaugural dinners, is a testimony to the chef's ingenuity. He brined the Pilgrim's Pride turkeys in Coca-Cola, before stuffing them with sweet-and-savory stuffing made from Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnuts. (Pilgrim CEO Lonnie Pilgrim was a Bush pioneer in 2004, pledging to bring in more than $100,000 in contributions to the Bush/Cheney campaign, while Dunkin Donuts is a long-time GOP contributor.)

"Also on the menu: Cedar Plank Pacific Seafoods Sockeye Salmon in Dole Pineapple Sauce, inspired by Bush campaign Pioneers Frank Dulcich, CEO of Pacific Seafoods, and David H. Murdock, Chair and CEO of Dole Food Co. And for dessert: more doughnuts. For the final course, Scheib paired Krispy Kreme Snow Balls with Nestle Nesquik Hot Fudge Sauce and Asher's Chocolate Covered Mini-Pretzels, a dish that was inspired by Pioneers Joe M. Weller, Chair & CEO of Nestle USA, and Robert Asher, Chair of Ashers Candies, and by Krispy Kreme Donuts, which gave more than $90,000 to the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004."

"So much of this is chemistry and personality," explained longtime Washington style expert Sally Quinn. "So I am sure they will get another chef and I am sure the food will be fine." This I doubt, but it does tell us that George W. Bush knows exactly which ingredients he favors -- the sure sign of an accomplished grocery-shopper. And as longtime Washington style expert Sally Quinn didn't say, "Chefs having to know what ingredients they need is the kind of thing that happens sometimes." Clearly, the hand of Laura is apparent in the White House kitchen upset of Bush's second term. So Laura knows what she wants for dinner, too. There's nothing wrong with that, but shouldn't Ms. Bush then have the benefit of a chef with whom she is particularly close?

Therefore, based on the findings of the Global Personality Test and the Career Inventory Test, combined with a good working knowledge of the subject's history, I think I've found the perfect job for George W. Bush: Laura Bush's personal chef.

It's beautiful. If it's true that "'W' Stands for Women" -- George Women Bush? -- then it seems fitting that he should devote his career to serving one. And the former Ms. Welch, who never wanted to be a political wife, has given up so much over the years. Doesn't she deserve to do her own thing now, while George cooks for her? Of course, she may occasionally crave something beyond peanut butter, but she can always eat out. I suspect she usually will. And Resident Bush will sit patiently at home, in the kitchen, in an apron -- a frilly apron -- and a tiara -- and wait for someone to ask for the Chex Mix.

I intend to contact the White House with this recommendation. GEORGE W. BUSH FOR LAURA BUSH'S PERSONAL CHEF! I know it seems like a very generous favor, considering that I don't like the guy, but the truth is that he needs help.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Bush Scouts of America

When I was a kid, I noticed that certain of my classmates sometimes wore the most ridiculous clothing I had ever seen. I wasn't sure what it was all about. On some days, a few kids always appeared in ill-fitting olive green short pants, with matching sashes. Sashes? I'd think to myself. Really, who would leave the house in a sash? These, like their crisp beige button-downs, were decorated with numbers, patches, and strange insignia; around their necks, they wore dainty little scarves held in place by brass slides. I assumed that they were dressed like this because they were being punished for something, or because they were members of some strange paramilitary cult. As it turned out, the latter was true; they were Boy Scouts.

On closer examination, the various symbols pinned and sewn to their shirts and sashes were things they wanted, because they apparently spoke to towering achievements in advanced fields such as lighting fires, tying knots, and of course whittling. I had no idea, at that point, that Boy Scouts were Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent -- mostly because they weren't, and nobody who hadn't read the organization's official literature would think they were. Of course, I can only talk about the scouts I knew personally, who tended to be either socially tormented boys who were enrolled by their parents so they could be further tormented, or boys euphemistically described as "outdoorsy" because of their enthusiasm for torturing animals and peeing on trees.

When I was little, I was not the indoor urban type I've since become. My parents were from New York City and Boston, but by the time I was born they had fled to the woods. Until the age of ten, I lived in a numberless house off of Moose Meadow Road in Willington, a tiny rural town of five thousand in northeastern Connecticut. The establishment of Willington preceded the Revolution by half a century, and the town's 1790 census looks very much like the attendance roster of my elementary school. In addition to being the Only Jewish Kid on Earth, I was a barefoot Twainian adventurer in overalls. My infatuation with Manhattan began from the perspective of a backwoods boy whose days were happily spent in the wild, with my dog, Tess, and my goose, Goosey.

What I'm trying to say is that my attitude toward Boy Scouts was not the snooty condescention of a West Side sophisticate. I spent a lot of time doing the things some kids seemed to be doing as Boy Scouts. It was the thought of doing those things in a regimented fashion, in identical uniforms, under the authority of a small-time dictator, that rubbed me the wrong way. Listen, pal -- given a piece of rope, I'm sure I can figure out how to tie a knot; what you're really teaching is conformity -- which is pounded into most young boys, and which is the reason so many of them grow up to be so frustrated. I was repelled by the idea of the Boy Scouts long before I understood myself to be a liberal, and before I realized that the Scouts had long been at the center of numerous cultural battles.

Most of the controversy about the Boy Scouts is because they don't allow girls, they don't allow gays, and they require religious observance. All of this has been very boring, and most of it's come down to the same point -- that the Scouts are a private club and they have the right to set their own rules. Okay, fine. Huge victory for the Boy Scouts -- it's legal! You actually can be an archaic bigot! Spared the burden of demonstrating that the organization is unconstitutional, it's no effort at all to demonstrate that it's awful.

The Boy Scout Handbook explains a Scout's "duty to God" as obedience to "your family and religious leaders" who "teach you about God and the ways you can serve." Bobcat Cub Scouts are required to "do what you know God wants you to do," which may be the creepiest thing an adult has ever forced a room full of children to say in unison. So as is often the case, alleged faith in a higher spirit is actually about following the orders of a human authority figure. Boy Scouts of America "believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God;" therefore, the organization "does not accept atheists and agnostics as adult volunteer leaders," as such a person "is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys." You don't have to be any particular religion, they say; you just have to be religious, because religious people are better. Hey, fellas, you wanna grow into the best kind of citizen, now, don't you? Now, there are three kinds of people -- believers and atheists, who are both utterly convinced of a position nobody can prove, and agnostics, who are comfortable admitting that they don't really know. Guess which one is the best kind of citizen!

Boy Scouts of America also believes that "homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed." And listen, it's not just the Boy Scouts who consider gay people to be morally dirty! Their view on this matter, they confidently explain, "accords with the moral positions of many millions of Americans and with religious denominations to which a majority of Americans belong." Therefore, "a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law," blah blah blah. Boy Scouts Legal further explains that "most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old," and that "as they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions." So, "in the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position." Understand, fellas? Repeat after me! I will not hold myself out as homosexual! Heterosexual scout leaders, apparently, may hold themselves out just as far as it will reach.

I have a friend who says that although same-sex marriage should be just as legal as opposite-sex marriage, she finds it a difficult cause to get passionate about, because she doesn't particularly think that anyone should get married. That's basically how I feel about the Boy Scouts. Whether it's legally permissible or not, the fact that the Scouts exclude gays makes them assholes. (Not the children who participate, but the organization that controls them.) As for not allowing girls, that's legal too. (There is, of course, that empowering organization known as the Girl Scouts; they sell cookies. The boys work with knives.) But why do you think so many men find it impossible to understand women? It's not that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; actually, we're all from Earth, except maybe Dick Cheney. I'm told that men and women are supposed to find each other absolutely impossible to relate to, but I've never found the women in my life harder to understand than the men. Perhaps this is because my childhood wasn't spent engaging in organized activities that segregated boys from girls.

Recently, a new element has been introduced to the storyline of Boy Scouts litigation, and that is the organization's use of federal funds and government forums. If you're a private club, the argument goes, exclude people if you must, but then you can't accept an $8 million contribution from the Defense Department. That particular contribution was to fund the quadrennial Boy Scouts Jamboree, which is held at an army base in Virginia, and is currently underway.

This year's Jamboree has been marked by misfortune. On the opening day, four adult Boy Scout leaders were pitching a tent under some power lines, which they touched with a metal pole; they were electrocuted and died. ("Boy Scouts are taught not to put their tents under trees or under power lines," said the organization's spokesman, Gregg Shields. "I don't know what happened in that case.") Reeling from the unexpected tragedy, the 32,000 assembled Boy Scouts took some solace in the knowledge that George W. Bush -- himself a former Cub Scout -- would come to speak to them on Wednesday. They were particularly eager for their president's reassuring presence, not only because of the electrocutions, but because Bush had cancelled his scheduled appearance at the last Jamboree, in 2001, because of bad weather.

Wednesday started off well enough. Bill Frist put in an appearance early in the day, promising that he would ensure federal funding for future Jamborees. But then things got sticky. Bush, it seemed, was running late. While waiting for him in the blistering heat for hours, three hundred Boy Scouts were hospitalized with symptoms of dehydration and fatigue. As the New Zealand Herald's headline put it, "Boy Scouts Pass Out Waiting for U.S. President."

Interestingly, the widespread heat-related illness wasn't entirely the sun's fault; it was also the Boy Scouts of America dress code. The Associated Press reports that although the scouts were given "exceptional permission to remove their uniform shirts, as long as they were wearing undershirts, many were overcome by the sun and high humidity and temperatures approaching 100 F." So if you didn't happen to be wearing an undershirt -- an undershirt! -- under that heavy, patch-laden uniform, in 100-degree weather, then that was just too bad. It just wouldn't be morally clean to go shirtless. Because of this rigid enforcement of the rule that the best citizens must look identical to one another, a lot of them lost consciousness. Soldiers from the army base carried Boy Scouts on stretchers three miles to the hospital; others, according to the Chicago Tribune, were "airlifted from the Jamboree." Two were hospitalized overnight and were said to be in stable condition.

And then, guess what -- Bush never showed up. Once again, he cited inclement weather. Many of the scouts received this news from their hospital beds, as they were being treated for the severe effects of inclement weather. "I thought for sure he would be here this time," said a crestfallen Islip scoutmaster named Mark Businski, "especially considering what happened here earlier this's such a huge disappointment that he didn't come." Bush offered to try again on Thursday, but the Scouts said no thanks. Fran Olmstead, the Jamboree's chairman, explained, "We feel that our scouts and leaders will benefit most from an opportunity to review and emphasize our safety procedures and to replenish our resources." That's a good idea. In the words of Newsday's Rachel Leifer, the arena show has been rescheduled for Sunday "in the hopes that Bush will show up."

Scoutmaster Pat Kelly told Leifer that "morale is high" at the Jamboree -- using the exact words Bush has so often used to describe the war in Iraq. One of the things that's unfortunate-but-legal about Boy Scouts of America is that part of its intent is clearly to groom children for the military. As if the overblown regimentation, and the uniforms, were not indication enough -- the group's quadrennial whoop-de-do is held at an army base and paid for by the Pentagon! That may be unconstitutional, and there's likely to be a Supreme Court ruling on this in the future. But the outcome of such a trial wouldn't change the fact that this is a paramilitary group, and exclusionary, and bigoted, and antiquated. Yeah, maybe it's legal for the Boy Scouts to shun gays, girls, and people who aren't religious. Yeah, the Boy Scouts are a time-honored American institution. But that's not really the point. It certainly shouldn't prevent anyone from looking at the organization from an enlightened and contemporary perspective. I've never met a child who didn't have better things to do.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Gooey Center

Right-wing Republicans have done a terrible job protecting us from terrorism, maintaining a healthy economy, and ensuring our Constitutional rights. One thing they've been great at, though, is mischaracterizing the left. That's why Democrats now spend half their time reassuring people that despite the slings and arrows of Murdoch's Media, they don't actually want to ban the Bible or invite al Qaeda to a group therapy session. But whenever a prominent Democrat makes these points, the left is just as quick as the right to denounce him or her for it. I'm thinking of Hillary Clinton's speech to the Democratic Leadership Council on Monday. Much of the right said, Oh, she's putting on a phony centrist face, when really she's a dangerous far-left lesbian who eats babies! Much of the left, even more horrified, said She's turning into a Republican!

There's an interesting dilemma for American liberals these days. We're supposed to be the party of inclusion, but theoretically such a party could include and include until there's no remaining meaningful identity. Those who consider themselves Republicans are not, in general, looking to be included in the Democratic Party. But a lot of people are voting Republican on the basis of one or two culture issues, and buying the Fox News portrait of the opposition party -- which actually represents their interests. Senator Clinton's point, it seems to me, was perfectly clear. We are different from Republicans, so let's agree on that. She wasn't urging centrism as an alternative to liberalism, and she didn't promote any policy or ideology which runs counter to the mainstream left.

"Let's acknowledge that what separates us on occasion is but a tiny sliver in comparison to the Grand Canyon gap between us and the Republican Party," she said. "We...have not yet succeeded in isolating and defeating the far right, in part because all too often we have allowed ourselves to be split between left, right, and center. It's high time for a cease-fire." She declared it "vital that we bring everyone's positive Democratic progressive ideas to the table," and never once suggested that anybody should move an inch to the right. If we're the party of inclusion, nobody should have to, right? Do all Democrats have to agree on everything? "We can and should differ with one another on this or that detail of politics and ideas," Clinton acknowledged. "After all, we are thinking Democrats, not lockstep Republicans." But Democrats do have a number of important "shared values," she pointed out, which are "violated every day in Washington by the ideologues of the Republican right."

It's hard to accuse someone of cuddling up to the right when every speech she makes denounces Republican policy a little more strongly. ''After four years of Republican control," Clinton said on Monday, "our country has not only gone off track, it has reversed course. Let's start by uniting against the hard-right ideology of those who have used it to divide Americans and distract us from our common responsibilities.'' A lot of her statements about the Bush administration dripped with frustration at seeing years of good work undone. ''They turned our bridge to the 21st century into a tunnel back to the 19th century," she said. "The clear mission of a unified Democratic Party is to back us out of that Republican tunnel, fill it in, go back across the bridge, and get America back in the business of building dreams again."

And the vision she went on to describe is noteworthy, for both its departure from current policy and its fidelity to liberal principles. Everyone, she said, should have access to "affordable and effective" health care, whereas "today, we spend more of our income on health care with no end in sight." Children should "have more choices about what public school to attend," in Clinton's view, but she didn't say they should be given tax dollars to spend on private school. "Anyone wanting to go to college" should be able to do it, whether through assistance or as a general benefit of a thriving economy. In her "portrait of the American dream," she said, "the budget deficit would be eliminated, the tax code reformed, and economic impact statements required for each trade agreement." Social Security would be "safe from the ideologue."

''I know we can do all this," Clinton explained, "because we've done it before."

A lot of the "you damn centrist!" accusations centered around the foreign policy part of her speech, but I don't think it's too moderate to say that we should be "better protected against terror," or that we require "a unified, coherent strategy focused on eliminating terrorists." I mean, I wish the Bush administration would do that, especially since they keep claiming, absurdly, that they are. The Senator spoke of the importance of safer borders, nuclear sites, and chemical sites; and she called for "more inspections of aircraft and ships," more secure mass transit, and more "resources" provided to first-responders. The military, she said, should be better equipped and trained, and "military alliances should be updated." The foreign policy part of Hillary's address essentially says we should be receptive to our allies, fighting the spread of terrorism, securing our cities against attacks, and increasing the budgets of police departments, fire departments, and mass transit. It's a laundry list of obvious good ideas which have been ground under the heel of the current regime.

Usually when Clinton is accused of a rightward drift, it's about reproductive rights. She's taken a lot of heat from the left for saying that anti-abortion Democrats should be welcomed into the party. But considering the legions who vote Republican just because of the abortion issue, how can we call ourselves progressive if we don't applaud pro-lifers whose vision is wide enough that they want to be Democrats anyway? If we shun anti-abortion Democrats, we're saying, You either have to agree with us about this specific issue, or be a Republican. What's liberal about telling someone they have to conform, or else leave the room?

So Senator Clinton has encouraged the party of inclusion to include those who depart from its vast majority on the issue of abortion rights. But she hasn't loosened her commitment to defending those rights. She simply reaffirmed that the Democratic platform doesn't necessarily want women to have abortions; it just wants them to have the right to make the choice, and access to affordable abortion services if that choice is made. "As we ensure that women are able to make their own personal decisions about reproductive healthcare," she said, "we work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions by promoting family planning and by strengthening our systems of adoption and foster care." The third part of "safe, legal, and rare" doesn't mean restricting access to abortion; it means "promoting family planning," which means encouraging the use of contraceptives, and responsibly educating teenagers about safer sex. She said she supported policy "based on scientific research, facts, and evidence, not substituted ideology and politics." On the subject of embryonic stem-cell research, she suggested that an "enforceable international ban on human cloning" made sense, and would deflect that particular argument against research.

The Democratic Leadership Council itself, as David Sirota explains, is a pretty centrist organization -- to the left of most conservatives, to the right of most liberals. But isn't it possible that hitting the center -- between left and right -- constitutes a political bullseye? The DLC is not a candidate; it's a supportive body, and it happens to have supported Bill Clinton right over the first Bush's tiny head and into the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was considered a centrist, too, but hey, buddy, that's President Bill Clinton, to you. The crazed evangelicals who expected Bush II to criminalize homosexuality consider him a centrist! No candidate far enough to the right to please them could ever be elected. There is also such thing as a candidate too far to the left to be nationally viable.

Now, look -- I am not a centrist. I am pretty far to the left. I would love to live in a country whose president is as far to the left as I am. I think we should work to show people how liberal they really are, and how consistent liberalism is with the values almost everyone has. (Making a bit of an assumption, Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett told the Times-Reporter, "When Howard Dean is your party leader and Hillary Clinton is your presidential candidate, you are not a party that's reflective of mainstream America." I disagree.)

In addition to waving the liberal flag, we have to show how destructive Republican administrations have been. A lot of people, who would be outraged if they knew, just don't know. If enough people can see these things, then there will be a time when America is a nation of universal healthcare, mass transit, and who knows, maybe even legal marijuana. But the way things are now, even Social Security may not be a given. If we're speaking hypothetically, I'll tell you that John Conyers should obviously be President of the United States. But on the off chance that we're not speaking hypothetically, we are subject to the vagaries of politcal reality. As far as 2006 and 2008 are concerned, getting behind a truly Democratic platform that will appeal to as many voters as possible is not forsaking your liberalism. It's electing a president. If we do our work well, and if the Republicans continue to fall on their all-powerful faces, maybe America will move further to the left. But there are a lot of Americans who can't move toward the left until they've moved toward the center.

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"Clinton Urges Party Unity, Tough Stance," Associated Press, 7/25/05
"Clinton, Democrats try to forge optimistic agenda," Reuters, 7/25/05
"Sen. Clinton Calls for Party Truce, United Front," Washington Post, 7/26/05
"In Ohio, Sen. Clinton calls on Democrats to close internal rift," Boston Globe, 7/26/05

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Choosing Our Words

Monday night I became an "official" NARAL volunteer. Several weeks ago, I attended a meeting and signed up to collect signatures for their Supreme Court petition. Roberts' nomination had not yet been announced, and the petition read "we, the undersigned, support the nomination of Supreme Court Justices who have demonstrated a commitment to protecting individual freedom, including the right to choose."

I figured that the language of the petition had changed given the fact that we had a nominee, but assumed the overall sentiment would remain the same. I expected to find a statement urging the Senate to perform its due diligence and not let a candidate float through without question because he wasn't as contraversial as he could have been. But the revised petition stated that the undersigned opposed, without question, the nomination of John Roberts and asked that the Senate do the same.

I couldn't have been more surprised.

I think, you think, we all think that John Roberts is pro-life. His wife, Jane Roberts, is an outspoken anti-abortion activist. He is Roman Catholic and a member of the Federalist Society. He served under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, and, as Ken Star once said, "It is fair to assume that one who joins an administration at a senior level agrees with the most fundamental positions espoused by that administration." So Ken agrees we can safely say that Roberts shares his boss's vision of a "culture of life."

The pro-lifers love him. While the religious right immediately came out swinging against Gonzales, they couldn't kiss Roberts' ass fast enough. Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) said Roberts "has demonstrated at every stop on his career path the legal acumen, judicial temperament, and personal integrity necessary to be a Supreme Court justice." Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist convention thinks Roberts is a great choice because he will be "neutral." Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, American Values president Gary Bauer, and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice have all made statements commending Roberts. Operation Save America describes him in their short list of nominees, saying "NOW and NARAL really hate him. 'Nuff said."

Operation Rescue West, NOW and NARAL all believe that the brief he co-wrote saying Roe v Wade should be overturned is an indication that he will do so if confirmed. Roberts has said and Republicans have argued that he filed the brief on behalf of his client (Bush I) and the statement was not reflecting his personal views. Roberts later said that "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land" and that there was "nothing in [his] personal views that would prevent [him] from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." Of course, being on the Supreme Court means that you're not bound to the precedent; you get to set it. Brian Fahling, a senior trial attorney with the American Family Association's Center for Law & Policy says "as a Supreme Court justice, he then sits or occupies an office that permits him to actually cast a vote that would overturn Roe, because now he is charged -- as the final arbiter of the Constitution with respect to cases that come before him as one of those justices -- to make a decision that Roe was wrongly decided."

Is John Roberts pro-life? I'm sure of it. Did John Roberts argue for his pro-life clients? Yes. Does John Roberts display extreme loyalty to the family Bush? Yes. Do I like John Roberts? No. Does any of this make him automatically unacceptable to be a Supreme Court nominee? No. I don't think it does.

As disgusting as I find them, John Roberts personal opinions don't matter in this case. What matters is whether or not he can keep his ideology off the federal bench. I don't think he can. But the only evidence I have right now is guilt by association. I recently wrote to Senator Clinton urging her to question Roberts on the issue of abortion. But I also said "I am not advocating partisan game-playing. I do not think the Democrats should hold up a nominee in order to make a point. John Roberts may be an excellent candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. If so, surely he and his supporters will not mind if the Senate takes the time to prove that to the American public."

I kept thinking of the phrase "partisan game-playing" while I was canvassing. I found myself specifically looking for people I thought looked liberal but uninformed. And I wasn't fooling myself. I knew without a doubt that I would never put my name on that petition. If someone stopped me on the street, I would have to refuse even though I am vehemently pro-choice. And yet, here I was, asking people to sign it. Then, a man stopped in response to my question "Are you pro-choice?"

"Yes, I am," he said as he walked back over to see what I was petitioning for. When he read the statement, he stopped smiling and he looked at me. "I don't know enough about him to oppose him yet."

I took the petition away and said "I completely understand, sir." And I meant it. I was ashamed of myself. I felt like I was taking advantage of people and telling them something I didn't believe to be true. I turned in my petition and I walked home, and I felt better than I had since I'd read it that morning.

The act of sending thousands of signatures in support of choice shows our senators how important an issue it is. And tonight, the statement NARAL was making prevented at least two people from showing their support. Not one person stopped to sign the petition when I asked "do you oppose John Roberts for the Supreme Court?" Every single person I asked "are you pro-choice" stopped. Many of them started to ignore my question and walk past, but they all slowed down after a few steps and returned to where I was. Pro-choice people want to support pro-choice causes. People who were obviously irritated and in a hurry stopped and scribbled their names, barely looking at the statement they were signing. Because they felt it was important to make a pro-choice statement. But many of them did not know that the statement they were making was based on a set of overly simplified and biased bullet points. Last night I felt a lot like Bill O'Reilly. And it wasn't working for me.

Noah said I was "brave" to stop canvassing and come home. What's actually going to take courage is for me to call NARAL today and tell them why I left last night. I want to tell them that I support their mission and I respect their work for women's rights, but that their automatic opposition of John Roberts is what gives my mother license to say things like "oh, [the democrats] are going to oppose any nominee Bush puts out there because they hate Bush." She said this to me last night on the phone and I got more upset than usual. Because I couldn't argue with her. In NARAL's case, it seemed true.

I don't want John Roberts confirmed to the Supreme Court. But when our women's groups immediately start opposing a candidate while admitting they know very little about him, it starts to look an awful lot like partisan game playing. And that's something we can't afford if we want to be taken seriously. We need to show our committment to choice. We also need to show we're informed, we're critical thinkers and we know the issues.

When I got home, I found the following petition from Planned Parenthood available online:

As your constituent, I strongly urge you to conduct an extensive and deliberative investigation into John Roberts' beliefs about a woman's right to privacy, health, and safety. The American people deserve a thorough debate before a justice is confirmed to a lifetime appointment to our nation's highest court. The stakes are too high to rush this process.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Constitution protects women's health and safety. It would be a grave mistake to appoint a nominee who is not committed to upholding these precedents.

Please support a moderate judiciary and confirm only those nominees who will uphold fundamental civil rights, including reproductive choice.

I signed this one. And I can encourage every pro-choicer to do the same. Let's get a fair confirmation process. Let's make sure the Senate gets the time they need to question Roberts. Let's make Roberts answer the questions he's been avoiding. If John Roberts is to be proven unfit to serve, the proof will be based on fact, not assumptions. When we condemn an individual simply based on the fact that he or she is pro-life, we're taking a page right out of the pro-life groups' manual. And it makes us look like we can't find any real facts on which to base our opposition.

I also sent the Planned Parenthood petition to my mother. I hope she'll read it. I know she won't sign it. But it is an argument I can support and a statment I'm not ashamed of making.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

A Multiplicity of Voices

On Saturday, Sisk and I attended the "Who is Accountable?" town hall meeting at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I'd barely slept on Thursday night, and we'd been up all night Friday working on the new show -- which finally has a title, incidentally. By noon we were so tired that just dragging ourselves to 64th Street felt like a major demonstration of political commitment. When we got there, pretty early, a crowd had already gathered at Ethical Culture, using complementary copies of The Nation to fan themselves in the smoldering heat. I was happy to be there, but I was so incoherent with exhaustion that when I saw Bob Fertik in the lobby, the best thing I could think of to say was, "Is everything ready?" Bob looked appropriately confused by this question, but assured me that everything was indeed ready, and that they'd opened the house early so people could get into the air conditioning.

It was air conditioning of paltry force, though, and I sat in the wooden pew watching beads of sweat land on my complementary copy of The Nation. I remembered accounts I'd read of the scorching summer of 1776 in Philadelphia. The men of the Second Continental Congress, in addressing the question of Independence, debated, argued, resolved, abstained, gave up, withdrew, compromised, and whacked away at one another with walking sticks, in a historically hot summer. And they wore heavy coats and shirts and tights and wigs. Clearly, they were a little demented. Anyway, I figured that if Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin wandered into the Society for Ethical Culture on Saturday, they wouldn't be complaining. I resolved to ponder the resonance of our cause and theirs, and tough it out.

I like these events as much for the communal chatter as the featured presentations. Waiting for the program to begin, Sisk and I talked to the people sitting around us, signed a few petitions, and enthusiastically accepted fliers promoting the September 24 March on Washington, New Yorkers for Verified Voting, and The World Can't Wait. We told people about the new show, including the title, and they really seemed to like it. I think it's a good title.

Sitting in front of us was a guy whose name escapes me. I should have written it down, and I probably would have if I hadn't been engaged in such an epic struggle with my eyelids. Anyway, in keeping with my heat-induced 1776 fantasy, we'll call him Richard Henry Lee.

Richard Henry Lee told us that he was a lifelong resident of the Great State of New Jersey, a Vietnam veteran (his tee-shirt said so, too), and a retired firefighter. He said he had two kids in college, and had taken a job "baby-sitting" power generators. He was a studied and perceptive follower of current events, and he spoke eloquently about the various differences and similarities between our time and the sixties. "You're considered a traitor if you question the government," he said. "I'm a veteran, a firefighter...I've got people telling me I shouldn't question my government because it's unpatriotic."

"They should just consider the fact that you're doing it," I said. "I mean, you're anything but an unpatriotic traitor; your life is a testament to that. So if you're questioning the government..."

Pretty soon we were distracted by a spontaneous burst of wild applause from much of the crowd. What's going on? As it turned out, the great Randi Rhodes had just walked across stage right, on her way backstage. She acknowledged the applause with a wave and disappeared, and pretty soon the meeting began.

Bob Fertik strode meaningfully to the podium and made some opening remarks. First he marveled at the turnout, which was magnificent. The 820-seat auditorium was completely full, and on his blog Bob noted that "we sadly had to turn several hundred more people away." He said he was especially impressed considering what a beautiful summer day it was. "I'm sure you could all think of better things to do," he told the audience, which instantly responded with hearty cries of "Nooooooooo!" It was a fantastic moment. Hundreds of people gathered together on a perfect summer day, right across the street from Central Park, unanimously proclaiming that there was no better thing to do than reclaim our democracy from the treasonous Bush regime.

Visibly moved by this, Bob laughed appreciatively and adjusted his glasses. "Well!" he said. "Then, you've come to the right place!" The remainder of his short speech was interrupted so often by applause that he had to ask the audience to please refrain from applauding each sponsor on the list, as time was limited.

The legendary New York and national politician Elizabeth Holtzman spoke first, and forcefully made the case that George W. Bush should, and can, be impeached and removed from office. But, she explained, there are effective and ineffective ways of going about it. Speaking from the credible position of her work in the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, she suggested that the regime's undoing lay more in the language of the law than in the broad outrage of the crimes themselves. "I was very proud to be the author of a resolution that sought to impeach Richard Nixon for the bombing of Cambodia," she told us. "The House Judiciary Committee did not approve that resolution." It was "a cautionary tale." She reminded us that "in January 1973, nobody in America -- nobody -- believed that the Watergate high crimes and misdemeanors would reach into the Oval Office." That was good to hear. Don't be deterred if impeachment seems unlikely.

Now speaking from the credible position of her participation in the Nazi and Japanese Imperial War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group, she stressed the importance of the little-discussed War Crimes Act of 1996, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. Seeking to adopt laws "for full compliance international torture statute, and an international torture treaty, and the Geneva Conventions," Congress passed "a statute making it a U.S. crime to engage in torture." Two years later, the War Crimes Act was law. "Basically," Holtzman said, "it makes grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions a federal crime, just like kidnapping, or interstate burglary, or child pornography. It is a federal crime.

"And interestingly," she said with an ironic smile, "there's a death penalty."

"Title 18 > Part I > Chapter 118 > § 2441. War crimes.

"(a) Offense. -- Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.

"(b) Circumstances. -- The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

"(c) Definition. -- As used in this section the term 'war crime' means any conduct --

"(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

"(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;

"(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or

"(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians."

"Now, I'm not for the death penalty," Liz Holtzman added. A piercing nasal voice behind me announced, "Yeah, neither am I," in a sarcastic sort of how-could-you-bring-that-up way. It was the first of countless inane interjections from one pew back. Later on, whenever anyone said something he agreed with, the guy behind me shouted, "Exactly! Exactly!" But his tone implied: "I'm the only one who knows that!" I didn't even see the guy, but in keeping with precedent we'll call him Samuel Chase.

The War Crimes Act, Holtzman concluded, "means that if any high level official violates the War Crimes Act, and somebody died, they can be prosecuted...there is no statute of limitations." She said that in accordance with a declassified 2002 memo by Alberto Gonzales, the Bush administration chose to "opt out" of the War Crimes Act during the invasion of Afghanistan. However, they did not opt out prior to invading Iraq.

Holtzman mused on the importance of seeking information. Even she, a trailblazing congresswoman of historic proportions, heard mention of the War Crimes Act and "had to Google it." Wow, thought everyone in the room, that's what I'm gonna do! (When I Googled it, I found this Democracy Now! interview with Holtzman, in which she makes many of the same points she made at Saturday's meeting.)

We know that George W. Bush's presidential ambitions emerged from a seething desire for vengeance. It tormented him that his father hadn't been re-elected; Gaily Sheehy reported that little Bush said, during his gubernatorial campaign, "I'm not running against her [incumbent Governor Ann Richards]. I'm running against the guy in the White House." According to Sheehy, he "had to avenge his father's humiliation in losing to Bill Clinton. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Randy] Galloway remembers, 'The way he said it was like a blood oath.'" (See "The Accidental Candidate," Vanity Fair, October 2000; and Mark Crispin Miller, The Bush Dyslexicon, p. 117.) Would it not be beautiful for Bush's Achilles heel to be a humanitarian act signed into law by Bill Clinton?

Exhausted, perspired, and applauding, I reflected on this poetic justice. It brought me back into my 1776 hallucination. I thought about how useful the Internet would have been to those guys. The Declaration of Independence was first read publicly in Manhattan at Bowling Green on July 9. The colonies had declared themselves a nation, independent from what had been their mother country, and in the nation's capital city, they didn't find out about it for five days. Presumably, many Americans didn't realize they were Americans until well into the bloody war that was fought to establish this. At Bowling Green, the assembled colonists -- Americans -- responded to the Declaration by toppling the park's central statue of King George III. The statue was melted down and made into musket balls, which were subsequently fired at British troops. It's just like Clinton signing the War Crimes Act, and the colonists of an occupied democracy firing it at Bush!

It's a little like that. I was really tired.

The next speaker was the outspoken Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-New York), a dynamic and convincing orator who's consistently criticized the administration for its myriad offenses. Hinchey's speech was thinner on substance than Holtzman's, but he excited the crowd with articulate expressions of our collective outrage. To the administration's claim that Saddam had weapons, he exclaimed, "They knew what they were talking about! They had the receipts!" At this point, Samuel Chase had a very loud exactly spasm: "EXACTLY! EXACTLY! EXACTLY!" His loved ones should talk to him, I thought. In front of me, Richard Henry Lee turned to see the face belonging to the voice, but I couldn't bring myself to look.

Hinchey's concluding point, which nicely expanded Holtzman's discussion of the realities of impeachment proceedings, was that "the election of 2006 is one of the most important elections in the history of our country." I should say that some of Hinchey's finest moments were later, during the brief Q&A, when he talked about the media, and his Future of American Media Caucus. "It is the purpose and the objective of the right wing in this country," he said, "to destroy the integrity of the American media." He also reminded us that according to the Supreme Court, a "diverse and antagonistic media" is essential to a free press. "You cannot have one voice," Hinchey said. "You need a multiplicity of voices."

The crowd was full of love in its enthusiastic reception of Fertik, Holtzman, and Hinchey, but inevitably Randi Rhodes was the audience favorite. Just as she does on the air for an astounding twenty hours every week, she free-associated her way up one rhetorical mountain after another. She always reaches the summit with a well-demonstrated conclusion, and often a perfect zinger. I really think Randi Rhodes is one of the great voices of liberal America, at the same time erudite and accessible. Her gift for extemporaneous narrative leans heavily on her thorough knowledge of the subject matter. Rhodes' speech on Saturday was loose, quiet, and plaintive, incorporating signature bits (on Abu Ghraib: "Leave it open, we'll need it!") with new points. "If Rove is Bush's brain, and he loses Rove," she reasoned, "then he has no heart and no brain." After some speculation about various members of the administration and which organs they might represent in Bush's anatomy, she resoundingly concluded, "So, they all have to go at the same time," and won the mightiest applause of the afternoon.

As Rhodes has said many times, politicians are like rock stars to her, and her deep reverence for Holtzman and Hinchey was apparent in her remarks and in her demeanor. Given the honor of their company, and the semi-formality of the presentation, she never approached the level of manic soliloquy that often enlivens her broadcasts. Her most piercing moment was when she responded to Bush's contention that "the terrorists" have "chosen to take their stand" in Iraq: "No, Mr. President, you have made your stand in Iraq!" I thought about Sisk's conversation with Randi (audio and explanation here), when she told her about the day we went to buy a Dick Cheney mask for City Under Siege! and the woman at the store had no idea who Dick Cheney was. I thought that Randi Rhodes would probably really like our upcoming show, which finally has a title. I thought she would particularly like the title, which is great.

So was the town hall meeting, and we were glad we'd resisted sleep and gotten ourselves there. The only person in the room who didn't seem pleased with it was Samuel Chase, who scornfully interrupted Bob Fertik's closing remarks by shrieking disgustedly that "Nobody said stop the war and bring the troops home!" With this outburst, Samuel Chase showered the back of my neck with saliva. Bob had been in the middle of explaining which groups would convene following the meeting, and he looked at Samuel Chase and continued, pointedly, "-- these groups of people who want to stop the war and bring the troops home."

It's important to participate in events like this, regardless of how hot and tired you may be, and it was great to know that people all over the country were having similar meetings (see some detailed reports from Did you participate in an event in your town on Saturday? Were you at the one in New York? Please share some highlights, or post a link to your blog if you wrote about it. Even the atrocity of the regime's crimes is not as energizing a force as realizing the scope of the participation.

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P.S. The title of the new show is:

BURNING BUSH: A Faith-Based Musical

I'll have more details soon.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Constituency of One

Most U.S. presidents, whatever their crimes and flaws, have seen themselves as somewhat beholden to the American people, who put them in office. But our current situation is different. George W. Bush, because the American people didn't put him in office, is exceptionally indifferent to their interests. The notion that the presidency is a service resonates no less with Bush, I'd imagine, than with others who have held the office; it's service to whom that's different. Karl Christian Rove has been the engineer of every success George Walker Bush has ever had, including the two stolen elections which installed him in the White House. Like most presidents before him, Bush is beholden to his constituency. But unlike his predecessors, Bush has a constituency of one.

Now the head of Rove is being called for, and those calling for it would like Bush to do the serving. Much has been made of Bush's recent shift in position -- from saying that if the leak was in his administration, he'd fire whoever was responsible, to saying that he'd issue a pink slip "if someone committed a crime." ("The standard for holding a high position in the White House," Senator Schumer told the New York Times, "should not simply be that you didn't break the law.") There are sound political reasons for demanding that Bush fire Rove. But a lot of qualified analysts have looked into this, and they all basically agree that for Bush, firing Rove is about as likely as reading a book.

Without Rove, Bush's world would fall apart. Rove's role is not simply to navigate politics and dictate policy, but also to compensate for Bush's lack of administrative skill. Rove is Bush's hero; he's everything Bush would like to be. It has even been said that Bush can fly higher than an eagle, for Rove is the wind beneath his wings. Now his wings may be clipped, and how the situation is handled is just as important as its outcome. If another member of the administration had been responsible for the Valerie Plame Wilson leak, Rove would be the guy handling it, and deciding whether that official should be fired. Since Rove is obviously not about to fire himself, who's left to make that decision? The sagacious Cheney? The quick-witted Card? Certainly not Bush, whose capacity for critical thinking barely qualifies him to be the head cheerleader at Andover (which he was). As Marshall Wittmann brilliantly put it, Bush firing Rove "would be like Charlie McCarthy firing Edgar Bergen."

And even if Rove's hands aren't in everything, it's just not reasonable to expect the Bush administration to behave honorably of its own volition. Sure, if integrity mattered, they'd oust Karl Rove. But if this were the kind of administration that does the honorable thing, would any of this have happened in the first place? Obviously, a regime willing to manipulate intelligence to justify a brutal war -- and then to punish a diplomat for saying so by revealing the identity of his secret agent wife -- is not about to do anything out of honor. Their only loyalty is to one another. The administration's various figureheads have been saying that Rove wouldn never knowingly out a covert agent, but also that he wouldn't betray the people he works with.

Okay. Whatever. In 1992, Rove was fired from Bush's father's presidential campaign in Texas, for leaking a story about the alleged disarray of the Bush campaign. His true gripe was that campaign director Rob Mosbacher, Jr. had allotted to him only $250,000 of the million-dollar direct mail budget. But wait for the punchline -- you know who Rove leaked that story to? Robert Novak! "It's a long-standing relationship," explained James Moore, co-author of Bush's Brain, in a recent interview with Buzzflash. "It's a history of behavior."

If we accept the idea that everyone in the administration is essentially working for Rove, then we have to ask who Rove is working for, and that's what it all comes down to. Back when Karl Rove was just a political operative, he may not have had the right to commit crimes, but beyond that he was accountable only to the ambitions of his employers. Now that he's the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, it's different. He's a government official now. He's supposed to be our servant. We pay his salary. We have to fire Rove, and if our other servant Bush won't carry out the order, then maybe we'd better fire him, too. And now we are getting somewhere.

I wonder how things are going in the alternate dimension where John Kerry is the President of the United States. I'd be willing to bet things are going much better there. Here in our twisted world, Kerry ominously intoned, "The White House credibility gap widens." Kerry has a bone to pick with Rove, almost as much as those 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians do. And in his comments, the rightful commander-in-chief was uncharacteristically blunt about Rove's puppeteering: "Either Karl Rove keeps making the president eat his words and further shreds his credibility, or they start leveling with Americans about this mess." So that's the guy we elected. The guy Rove elected just repeated Scott McClellan's recent refrain, with even less eloquence than McClellan. Bush said he didn't know all the facts, but he did want to know all the facts, and "the best place for facts to be done is by somebody who's spending time investigating it." What?

Remember, the current storm surrounding Rove is an outgrowth of the WMD deception. It even feels similar. When the administration first claimed that Saddam had a weapons program, most of us were willing to believe it. And then, as repeated attempts to demonstrate this claim fell flat, it looked less and less likely. It's finally gotten to the point where every follower of the news knows there was no weapons program. "Rove was the leak" is now similarly common knowledge, and every day there are more good reasons for his dismissal. On Wednesday, eleven former CIA officers issued a statement claiming that the RNC has circulated talking points to the effect that Plame was not a covert agent, and deserved no protection. "Intelligence officers," they said, "should not be used as political footballs." (Can you believe we live in an America where this has to be pointed out?) "In the case of Valerie Plame," said the eleven, "she still works for the CIA and is not in a position to publicly defend her reputation and honor." The victim is bound and gagged. It's classic Rove.

But in his weakened state, Rove's pulling of the strings lacks the usual deftness. The Supreme Court nomination, as a distraction, worked for one day -- and then, yesterday, on the front page of the Washington Post, the case against him got its Downing Street Memo. This one is from the State Department, dated June 10, 2003, and most of its three pages are devoted to the Department's opinion that Saddam had not, in fact, sought to purchase uranium from Niger. But the second paragraph refers to Valerie Wilson, and was marked "'(S)' for secret." The details of the memo are significant, the Wall Street Journal explains, "because they will make it harder for officials who saw the document to claim that they didn't realize the identity of the CIA officer was a sensitive matter."

So who saw the document? The Post, and others, report that it was delivered to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell "as he headed to Africa with President Bush aboard Air Force One." This jaunt, apparently a goodwill tour, began on July 7, 2003, one day after Joseph Wilson's New York Times op-ed piece appeared. Who was on the plane? Roughly three hundred administration officials and staff, including Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, and Ari Fleischer. But Karl Rove was not.

July 7 was a Monday. On Tuesday, with much of the administration away in Africa, Rove had his conversation with Robert Novak. On Friday, he spoke to Matt Cooper ("I've said too much"), and also sent an e-mail to then-deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley (who has since succeeded Rice). In the July 11 e-mail, Rove told Hadley that he'd spoken with Cooper, who "launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this." (Hadley's spokesman said that he wouldn't comment on the e-mail, due to the ongoing investigation. I feel like I've heard that before.)

After sending the e-mail, Rove promptly left for a family vacation, and was therefore out of town when Bush and the gang returned on July 12. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has supboenaed the Air Force One telephone records from the period of the Africa trip. He's also shown interest in a White House phone log indicating that before leaving for Africa on July 7 -- the day after Wilson's column, the day before Rove talked to Novak -- Ari Fleischer had received a phone call from -- wait for it -- Novak! Fleischer has expressed his reluctance to discuss an ongoing investigation. "In previous Republican Congresses," sighed Nancy Pelosi, "the fact that a criminal investigation was under way did not prevent extensive hearings from being held on other, much less significant matters." She's talking about oral sex!

The memo had existed for nearly a month before the Africa sojourn, though, and just because Rove wasn't on Air Force One doesn't mean he never saw it. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, said that Rove "had not seen it or heard about it" until the "people in the special prosecutor's office" showed it to him, but whatever. Fitzgerald seems interested in the Fleischer/Novak/Rove triangle. At this point, we're all just trying to figure out what Fitzgerald is doing while Fitzgerald tries to figure out what the administration did. And one of the most convincing exhibits in the whole scene is Fitzgerald's dogged confidence. Obviously, the guy thinks he has evidence of major wrongdoing; if he didn't, a New York Times reporter would not be sitting in jail.

Fitzgerald is a big gun, as formidable as Rove. As the assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, he led the narcotics, organized crime, and terrorism units, and coordinated national security. Twelve years ago, he successfully tried Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Abdel-Rahman received a life sentence. In 1994, he prosecuted mob boss John Gambino, who met the same fate. In 1998, he successfully tried four defendants in connection with the al Qaeda's 1998 African embassy bombings, and indicted Osama bin Laden in a criminal investigation. You see, that's what it takes to topple Karl Rove -- a man who's grappled with terrorists and mob bosses, and won.

But this is really about George W. Bush, not his lonely constituent. A president who makes the mistake of assuming responsibilities he can't meet will always be vulnerable. If Bush can't function without Rove, then it's about time he get down to the business of not functioning. As Bush himself said at the swearing-in ceremony for senior staff on January 22, 2001, "We have all taken an oath, and from this moment on it is our jobs to honor it." So much for that, eh, George? "I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct," Bush continued on that halcyon day. "This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking, and if need be, double-checking, that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules."

But apparently, it does mean ignoring them altogether.

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