Thursday, February 24, 2005

It's simple, elegant, and devastatingly cynical

I found this Kilgore thought in The New Republic's blog "etc". They, in turn take it from the Wall Street Journal. Give it some thought

WHAT SOCIAL SECURITY GIVETH TAX REFORM TAKETH AWAY: Yesterday's Wall Street Journal contained the following interesting nugget:

But some conservative activists say they would be willing to accept a tax increase in return for achieving such longtime conservative aims as overhauling Social Security, which was established under President Franklin Roosevelt. "If you can take 10 steps forward in exchange for three steps back, that's not unreasonable," says Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, which generally favors lower taxes to encourage economic growth.

"We've got to get away from the idea that you can fix entitlements without some sacrifice," adds Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. To reduce the needed borrowing for Social Security, Mr. Graham has been advocating a combination of tax increases, including lifting the payroll-tax cap, and ending loopholes and other special-interest tax breaks. He hopes that formula can attract a bipartisan coalition of centrists.

Under Mr. Grassley's direction, the Finance Committee is examining ways to improve taxpayer compliance and close loopholes that benefit corporations and individuals. Its list of potential steps includes making changes to expand the payroll tax -- for example, by making it harder for self-employed people to avoid payroll taxes on their income. Mr. Gregg favors applying the payroll tax to state and local workers who don't pay it now -- a move that likely would be contested by public-employee unions.

One Republican lawmaker involved in the debate even says "I don't think it's beyond the pale" that Mr. Bush might be willing to accept expiration of some tax cuts to achieve other goals. Aside from Social Security overhaul and deficit reduction, Mr. Bush has embraced the cause of revamping the U.S. tax code.

A bipartisan tax-overhaul panel appointed by the president is to make its recommendations by July 31.

Ed Kilgore has speculated that the push on Social Security privatization may just be one big bait-and-switch designed to help pass large, tax-free savings accounts for the wealthy (which could be Bush's understanding of "tax reform"). But this latest tack strikes me as a way of accomplishing both tax reform and Social Security privatization. Step 1: Get GOP members of Congress to go along with a tax increase that helps you pass privatization--presumably in some grand compromise with Democrats--by privately assuring them you'll undo the tax increase when you do tax reform. Step 2: Undo said tax increase when you do tax reform.

It's simple, elegant, and devastatingly cynical--exactly what you've come to expect from this White House.

posted 3:46 p.m.

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How Dirty Harry Turned Commie, by Frank Rich

February 13, 2005


How Dirty Harry Turned Commie

THE day the left died in Hollywood, surely, was the day that a few too many Queer Eyes had their way with Michael Moore as he set off on his Oscar campaign. The baseball cap and 1970's leisure ensemble gave way to quasi-Libeskind eyeglasses and spiky hair that screamed "I am worthy of a cameo on 'Entourage.' " But not worthy of an Oscar. "Fahrenheit 9/11" got zero nominations, leaving the Best Picture race to five apolitical movies. Since none of those five has yet sold $100 million worth of tickets, let alone the $350-million-plus of a "Lord of the Rings"-level megahit, the only real drama accruing to this year's Oscar telecast was whether its ratings would plunge as low as the Golden Globes.

But two weeks out from the big night, the prospects for a little conflict are looking up. Just when it seemed that Hollywood had turned a post-election page in the culture wars, the commissars of the right cooked up a new, if highly unlikely, grievance against "Holly-weird," as they so wittily call it. This was no easy task. They couldn't credibly complain that "The Passion of the Christ" was snubbed by the movie industry's "elite" (translation: Jews), since it nailed three nominations, including one for makeup (translation: really big noses). That showing bested not only "Fahrenheit 9/11" but "Shrek 2," the year's top moneymaker. Nor could they resume hostilities against their perennial bogeymen Ben Affleck, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand and Whoopi Goldberg. All are nonplayers in this year's awards.

So what do you do? Imagine SpongeBob tendencies in the carefully sanitized J. M. Barrie of "Finding Neverland"? Attack a recently deceased American legend, Ray Charles, for demanding that his mistress get an abortion in "Ray"? No, only a counterintuitive route could work. Hence, the campaign against Clint Eastwood, a former Republican officeholder (Mayor of Carmel, Calif., in the late 1980's), Nixon appointee to the National Council of the Arts and action hero whose breakthrough role in the Vietnam era was as a vigilante cop, Dirty Harry, whom Pauline Kael famously called "fascist." There hasn't been a Hollywood subversive this preposterous since the then 10-year-old Shirley Temple's name surfaced at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in 1938.

No matter. Rush Limbaugh used his radio megaphone to inveigh against the "liberal propaganda" of "Million Dollar Baby," in which Mr. Eastwood plays a crusty old fight trainer who takes on a fledgling "girl" boxer (Hilary Swank) desperate to be a champ. Mr. Limbaugh charged that the film was a subversively encoded endorsement of euthanasia, and the usual gang of ayotallahs chimed in. Michael Medved, the conservative radio host, has said that "hate is not too strong a word" to characterize his opinion of "Million Dollar Baby." Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a longtime ally of the Christian right, went on MSNBC to accuse Mr. Eastwood of a cultural crime comparable to Bill Clinton having "brought the term 'oral sex' to America's dinner tables."

"What do you have to give these people to make them happy?" Mr. Eastwood asked when I phoned to get his reaction to his new status as a radical leftist. He is baffled that those "who expound from the right on American values" could reject a movie about a heroine who is "willing to pull herself up by the bootstraps, to work hard and persevere no matter what" to realize her dream. "That all sounds like Americana to me, like something out of Wendell Willkie," he says. "And the villains in the movie include people who are participating in welfare fraud."

What galls the film's adversaries - or so they say - is a turn in the plot that they started giving away on the radio and elsewhere in December, long before it started being mentioned in articles like the one you're reading now. They hoped to "spoil" the movie and punish it at the box office, though there's no evidence that they have succeeded. As Mr. Eastwood has pointed out, advance knowledge of the story's ending did nothing to deter the audience for "The Passion of the Christ." My own experience is that knowing the ultimate direction of "Million Dollar Baby" - an organic development that in no way resembles a plot trick like that in "The Sixth Sense" - only deepened my second viewing of it.

Here is what so scandalously intrudes in the final third of Mr. Eastwood's movie: real life. A character we love - and we love all three principals, including the narrator, an old boxing hand played by Morgan Freeman - ends up in the hospital with a spinal-cord injury and wants to die. Whether that wish will be granted, and if so, how, is the question that confronts not just the leading characters but also a young and orthodox Roman Catholic priest (Brian F. O'Byrne). The script, adapted by Paul Haggis from stories by F. X. Toole, has a resolution, as it must. But the movie has a powerful afterlife precisely because it is not an endorsement of any position on assisted suicide - or, for that matter, of any position on the disabled, as some disability-rights advocates have charged in a separate protest. The characters of "Million Dollar Baby" are complex and fictional, not monochromatic position papers outfitted in costumes, and the film no more endorses their fallible behavior and attitudes than "Ray" approves of its similarly sympathetic real-life hero's heroin addiction and compulsive womanizing.

"I never thought about the political side of this when making the film," Mr. Eastwood says. He is both bemused and concerned that a movie with no political agenda should be construed by some as a polemic and arouse such partisan rage. "Maybe I'm getting to the age when I'm starting to be senile or nostalgic or both, but people are so angry now," he adds. "You used to be able to disagree with people and still be friends. Now you hear these talk shows, and everyone who believes differently from you is a moron and an idiot - both on the right and the left." His own politics defy neat categorization. He's supported Democrats (including Gray Davis in the pre-Schwarzenegger era) as well as Republicans, professes the libertarian creed of "less government" and "was never a big enthusiast for going to Iraq but never spoke against it once the troops were there." In other words, he's in the same middle as most Americans. "I vote for what I like," he says. "I'm not a loyalist to any party. I'm only a loyalist to the country." That's no longer good enough, apparently, for those who feel an election victory has empowered them to enforce a strict doctrine of political and spiritual correctness.

It's a standard tactic for these holier-than-thou bullies to cite movies they don't like as proof that, in Mr. Medved's formulation, "the entertainment industry" is "not in touch with the general public." The industry's profits prove exactly the reverse, but never mind. Even in this case, were Mr. Eastwood's film actually an endorsement of assisted suicide, the public would still be on his side, not his critics'. The latest Gallup poll on the subject, taken last year, shows that 53 percent of Americans find assisted suicide "morally acceptable" as opposed to the 41 percent who find it "morally wrong." (The figures for Catholics are identical).

But the most unintentionally revealing attacks on "Million Dollar Baby" have less to do with the "right to die" anyway than with the film's advertising campaign. It's "the 'million-dollar' lie," wrote one conservative commentator, Debbie Schlussel, saying that the film's promotion promises " 'Rocky' in a sports bra" while delivering a "left-wing diatribe" indistinguishable from the message sent by the Nazis when they "murdered the handicapped and infirm." Mr. Medved concurs. "They can't sell this thing honestly," he has said, so "it's being marketed as a movie all about the triumph of a plucky female boxer." The only problem with this charge is that it, too, is false. As Mr. Eastwood notes, the film's dark, even grim poster is "somewhat noiresque" and there's "nobody laughing and smiling and being real plucky" in a trailer that shows "triumph and struggles" alike.

What really makes these critics hate "Million Dollar Baby" is not its supposedly radical politics - which are nonexistent - but its lack of sentimentality. It is, indeed, no "Rocky," and in our America that departure from the norm is itself a form of cultural radicalism. Always a sentimental country, we're now living fulltime in the bathosphere. Our 24/7 news culture sees even a human disaster like the tsunami in Asia as a chance for inspirational uplift, for "incredible stories of lives saved in near-miraculous fashion," to quote NBC's Brian Williams. (The nonmiraculous stories are already forgotten, now that the media carnival has moved on.) Our political culture offers such phony tableaus as a bipartisan kiss between the president and Joe Lieberman at the State of the Union, not to mention the promise that a long-term war can be fought without having to endure any shared sacrifice or even too many graphic reminders of its human cost.

Last Sunday's was the first Super Bowl in 19 years that didn't feature the "I'm Going to Disneyland" spot for the victor, but maybe that's because it's superfluous. Whether in reaction to the trauma of 9/11 or for reasons that are as yet unknowable, we seem determined to will ourselves into Fantasyland at all times. This cultural syndrome is perfectly encapsulated by Jacques Steinberg's report in The New York Times last week of a new ABC "reality" program with the working title of "Miracle Workers." In this show, in which DreamWorks is also a participant, a "dream team" of physicians will miraculously run to the rescue of critically ill Americans, the perfect imaginary balm for what ails a country spiraling into a health-care catastrophe.

There's no dream team, either in the boxing arena or in the emergency room, in "Million Dollar Baby." While there is much to admire in the year's other Oscar-nominated movies - the full-bodied writing in "Sideways," the cinematic bravura of "The Aviator," the awesome Jamie Foxx in "Ray" - Mr. Eastwood's film, while also boasting great acting, is the only one that challenges America's current triumphalist daydream. It does so not because it has any politics or takes a stand on assisted suicide but because it has the temerity to suggest that fights can have consequences, that some crises do not have black-and-white solutions and that even the pure of heart are not guaranteed a Hollywood ending. What makes some feel betrayed and angry after seeing "Million Dollar Baby" is exactly what makes many more stop and think: one of Hollywood's most durable cowboys is saying that it's not always morning in America, and that it may take more than faith to get us through the night.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Activists arise

In case that you have not noticed, the Bush Administration sounds like a one tune organ. Their approach to Social Security reform, their flagship project for 2005, is exactly the same as their approach to the Iraq invasion.
First they claim an imminent danger. In the Iraq case it was the Weapons of Mass Destruction that were not there. Now it is the bankruptcy of the Social Security system (is 2042 imminent enough for you?).
Then they tout a solution that has nothing to do with the problem. Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with terrorism, and invading the country has done nothing but create new and this time real problems at immense cost in life and treasure. In the Social Security case the Private Accounts offered will do nothing to solve the purported problem but will cause a slew of new problems of its own. Like a couple of trillion dollars in new debt: the Baby tax.
This is typical of the Rove approach. When some policy is shown to not work, change the subject, shift the focus. Three card monte. You remember those nifty fingered guys on 42nd street in NYC, shifting around the aces or the pea under the cup to extract money from naïve passers-by? That is where the Republicans have learned their political skills.
The ideological roots of their policy are clear: invade Iraq to fulfill the neocons' imperial hubris, while enriching the corporations that have financed the Republican takeover, and gut Social Security to undo sixty years of successful Democratic citizen protection. Let us show the world that Big Government can do nothing right: let's eliminate the most blatantly successful income security ever devised. And this coming from an Administration that has enlarged Big Government beyond the dreams of the most extravagant bureaucrat, and incurred the largest yearly deficits of any Administration in history.
Do we have more and better security now than before 9/11? We do have more intrusion from Big Government and our civil liberties have been seriously curtailed. It is telling that, even under the new rules of the Patriot Act, vastly expanding the Government's powers of search and seizure, not one of the prosecutions of detained purported terrorists has been successful in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
We the People must become increasingly active in showing the second Bush administration that in a democracy their ideological goals and uncivil methods are unacceptable and that we will not stand for them.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Emperor's new Hump

Do you remember the squarish box President Bush used to wear on his back while debating Senator Kerry? Do you remember his waspish "Let me finish!" to a phantom interrupter? That story is not dead yet, it has merely been squelched, suffocated, stomped on by the GOP Public Relations machine. Dave Lindorff has assembled new evidence about the story that the New York Times was putting together but spiked during the last week of October. It is long, but juicy!

The Emperor's New Hump - [Or "BulgeGate" revisited - pbk]
By Dave Lindorff

January - February 2005 Edition

The New York Times killed a story that could have changed the election -
because it could have changed the election.

In the weeks leading up to the November 2 election, the New
York Times was abuzz with excitement. Besides the election
itself, the paper's reporters were hard at work on two hot
investigative projects, each of which could have a major impact
on the outcome of the tight presidential race.

One week before Election Day, the Times (10/25/04) ran a
hard-hitting and controversial expose of the Al-Qaqaa
ammunition dump - identified by U.N. inspectors before the war
as containing 400 tons of special high-density explosives useful for
aircraft bombings and as triggers for nuclear devices, but left
unguarded and available to insurgents by U.S. forces after the invasion.

On Thursday, just three days after that first expos'the paper was set to
run a second, perhaps more explosive piece, exposing how George W. Bush
had worn an electronic cueing device in his ear and probably cheated
during the presidential debates.

The so-called Bulgegate story had been getting
tremendous attention on the Internet. Stories about it had also run in
many mainstream papers, including the New York Times (10/9/04, 10/18/04)
and Washington Post (10/9/04), but most of these had been light-hearted.
Indeed, the issue had even made it into the comedy circuit, including
the monologues of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and a set of
strips by cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

That the story hadn't gotten more serious treatment in
the mainstream press was largely thanks to a well-organized media effort
by the Bush White House and the Bush/Cheney campaign to label those who
attempted to investigate the bulge as "conspiracy buffs" (Washington
Post, 10/9/04). In an era of pinched budgets and an equally pinched
notion of the role of the Fourth Estate, the fact that the Kerry camp
was offering no comment on the matter - perhaps for fear of earning a
"conspiracy buff" label for the candidate himself - may also have made
reporters skittish. Jeffrey Klein, a founding editor of Mother Jones
magazine, told Mother Jones (online edition, 10/30/04) he had called a
number of contacts at leading news organizations across the country, and
was told that unless the Kerry campaign raised the issue, they couldn't
pursue it.

"Totally Off Base"

The Times' effort to get to the bottom of the matter
through a serious investigation seemed to be a striking exception. That
investigation, however, despite extensive reporting over several weeks
by three Times reporters, never ran. Now, like the mythic weapons of
mass destruction that were the raison d'etre for the Iraq War, the Times
is thus far claiming that the Bush Bulgegate story never existed in the
first place.

Referring to a FAIR press release (11/5/04) about the
spiked story, Village Voice press critic Jarrett Murphy wrote
(11/16/04), "A Times reporter alleged to have worked on such a piece
says FAIR was totally off base: The paper never pursued the story."

Murphy told Extra! that his source at the nation's
self-proclaimed paper of record 'whom he would not identify' told him
the information about the bulge seen under Bush's jacket during the
debates, provided by a senior astronomer and photo imaging specialist at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, had been tossed onto the
"nutpile," and was never researched further.

In fact, several sources, including a journalist at
the Times, have told Extra! that the paper put a good deal of effort
into this important story about presidential competence and integrity;
they claim that a story was written, edited and scheduled to run on
several different days, before senior editors finally axed it at the
last minute on Wednesday evening, October 27. A Times journalist, who
said that Times staffers were "pretty upset" about the killing of the
story, claims the senior editors felt Thursday was "too close" to the
election to run such a piece. Emails from the Times to the NASA
scientist corroborate these sources' accounts.

Battle of the Bulge

The Bulgegate story originated when a number of alert
viewers of the first presidential debate noticed a peculiar rectangular
bulge on the back of Bush's jacket. That they got to see that portion of
his anatomy at all was an accident; the Bush campaign had specifically,
and inexplicably, demanded that the Presidential Debate Commission bar
pool TV cameras from taking rear shots of the candidates during any
debates. Fox TV, the first pool camera for debate one, ignored the rule
and put two cameras behind the candidates to provide establishing shots.

Photos depicting the bulge and speculating on just
what it might be (a medical device, a radio receiver?) began circulating
widely around the Internet, and several special blog sites were
established to discuss them. The suspicion that Bush had been getting
cues or answers in his ear was bolstered by his strange behavior in that
first debate, which included several uncomfortably long pauses before
and during his answers. On one occasion, he burst out angrily with "Now
let me finish!" at a time when nobody was interrupting him and his
warning light was not flashing. Images of visibly bulging backs from
earlier Bush appearances began circulating, along with reports of prior
incidents that suggested Bush might have been receiving hidden cues
(London Guardian, 10/8/04).

Finally, on October 8, this reporter ran an
investigative report about the bulge in the online magazine Salon,
following up with a second report (10/13/04) an interview with an
executive of a firm that makes wireless cueing devices that link to
hidden earpieces'that suggested that Bush was likely to have been
improperly receiving secret help during the debates.

At that point, Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a 30-year Jet
Propulsion Laboratory veteran who works on photo imaging for NASA's
various space probes and currently is part of a photo enhancement team
for the Cassini Saturn space probe, entered the picture. Nelson recounts
that after seeing the Salon story on the bulge, professional curiosity
prompted him to apply his skills at photo enhancement to a digital image
he took from a videotape of the first debate. He says that when he saw
the results of his efforts, which clearly revealed a significant
T-shaped object in the middle of Bush's back and a wire running up and
over his shoulder, he realized it was an important story.

After first offering it unsuccessfully to his local
paper, the Pasadena Star-News, and then, with equal lack of success, to
the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, where he had gone to college, he offered
it to the Los Angeles Times. (In all his media contacts, Nelson says, he
offered the use of his enhanced photos free of charge.) "About three
weeks before the election, I gave the photos to the L.A. Times' Eric
Slater, who shopped them around the paper," recalls Nelson. "After four
days, in which they never got back to me, I went to the New York Times."

Contradictory Explanations

The Times was at first very interested, Nelson
reports. There was, after all, clearly good reason to investigate the
issue. The White House and Bush/ Cheney campaign had initially mocked
the bulge story when it had run in Salon, first attributing it to
"doctored" photos circulating on the Internet (New York Times, 10/9/04),
and later claiming that the bulge, so noticeable in video images, was
the result of a "badly tailored suit" (New York Times, 10/18/04). Bush
himself contradicted this White House and campaign line when he told
ABC's Charles Gibson (Good Morning America, 10/26/04) that the bulge was
the result of his wearing a "poorly tailored shirt" to the debate.

Now Nelson's photos'the result of his applying the
same enhancement techniques to the debate pictures that he uses to
clarify photo images from space probes rendered all these official if
mutually contradictory explanations obviously false. (A November 4, 2004
report in the Washington paper The Hill, citing an unidentified source
in the Secret Service, claimed that the bulge was caused by a
bulletproof vest worn by Bush during the debates, though this had been
specifically denied by the White House and by Bush himself - New York
Times, 10/9/04. In any event, no known vests have rear protuberances
resembling the image discovered by Nelson.)

Times science writer William Broad, as well as
reporters Andrew Revkin and John Schwartz, got to work on the story,
according to Nelson, and produced a story that he says they assured him
was scheduled to run the week of October 25. "It got pushed back because
of the explosives story," he says, first to Wednesday, and then to
Thursday, October 28. That would still have been five days ahead of
Election Day.

An indication of the seriousness with which the story
was being pursued is provided by an email Schwartz sent to Nelson on
October 26 - one of a string of back-and-forth emails between Schwartz
and Nelson. It read:

Hey there, Dr. Nelson'this story is shaping up very
nicely, but my_editors have asked me to hold off for one day while they
push through a few other stories that are ahead of us in line. I might
be calling you again for more information, but I hope that you'll hold
tight and not tell anyone else about this until we get a chance to get
our story out there. Please call me with any concerns that you might
have about this, and thanks again for letting us tell your story.

But on October 28, the article was not in the paper.
After learning from the reporters working on the story that their
article had been killed the night before by senior editors, Nelson
eventually sent his photographic evidence of presidential cheating to
Salon magazine, which ran the photos as the magazine's lead item on
October 29. That same day, Nelson received the following email from the
Times' Schwartz:

Congratulations on getting the story into Salon. It's
already all over the Web in every blog I've seen this morning. I'm sorry
to have been a source of disappointment and frustration to you, but I'm
very happy to see your story getting out there. Best wishes, John

Not exactly the kind of message you'd expect a
reporter to send to a "nut."

"The Bar Is Raised Higher"

In fact, Schwartz, Revkin and Broad, using Nelson's
photographic evidence as their starting point, had made a major effort
to put together the story of presidential debate misconduct and
deception. Among those called in the course of their reporting, in
addition to Nelson, who says he received numerous calls and emails from
the team, were Cornell physicist Kurt Gottfried, who was asked to vouch
for Nelson's professional credentials; Bush/Cheney campaign chair Ken
Mehlman (information about this call was provided by a journalist at the
Times); and Jim Atkinson, an owner of a spyware and debugging company in
Gloucester, Mass., called Granite Island Group.

"The Times reporters called me a number of times on
this story," confirms Atkinson. "I was able to identify the object
Nelson highlighted definitively as a magnetic cueing device that uses a
wire yoke around the neck to communicate with a hidden earpiece'the kind
of thing that is used routinely now by music performers, actors,
reporters and by politicians."

He adds, "The Times reporters called me repeatedly.
They were absolutely going after this story aggressively, though at one
point they told me they were concerned that their editors were going to
kill it."

Efforts to learn more about the history and fate of
this story at the New York Times met for weeks with official silence.
Several inquiries were made by phone and email to Times public editor
Daniel Okrent over a period of three weeks, eliciting one response - an
email from his assistant asking for the names of Extra!'s sources at the
Times. He was not provided with the sources, but was given the names of
the three reporters who worked on the piece, which had been disclosed by
Dr. Nelson. (At deadline time, Okrent did finally call, and promised to
seek the answer to the story's fate. A week later, at press time, he
had yet to do so.)

One clue as to what happened at the Times is provided
by a final email message sent by Times reporter Schwartz to Nelson, who
had written to Schwartz to alert him that he had gone on to analyze
photos of Bush's back in the subsequent two debates. Schwartz wrote:

Subject: Re: reanalysis of debate images more
convincing than before Dear Dr. Nelson, Thanks for sticking with me on
this. I don't know what might convince them - and the bar is raised
higher the closer we are to the election, because they don't want to
seem to be springing something at the last moment - but I will bring
this up with my bosses.

"Voters Have a Right to Know"

Ironically, however, on November 1, the New York Times
ran a story by reporters Jacques Steinberg and David Carr, titled "Media
Timing and the October Surprise." The Times had been taking considerable
heat from conservatives and from the Bush campaign for running the
Al-Qaqaa story, an investigative piece critical of Iraq War leadership -
and thus damaging to Bush's election campaign'so close to Election Day.
While the thrust of this article was a justification for the Times'
decision to run the controversial missing-explosives story a week ahead
of the election, executive editor Bill Keller added a comment about the
seemingly hypothetical issue of running a damaging story about a
candidate as close as two days ahead of the voting:

I can't say categorically you should not publish an
article damaging to a candidate in the last days before an election. . .
. If you learned a day or two before the election that a candidate had
lied about some essential qualification for the job - his health or
criminal record - and there's no real doubt and you've given the
candidate a chance to respond and the response doesn't cast doubt on the
story, do you publish it? Yes. Voters certainly have a right to know

Oddly, though, despite Keller's having taken such a
position, the Times apparently chose not to run the Nelson pictures
story on the grounds of proximity to Election Day. Even more oddly,
despite the fact that the Times had thoroughly researched and reported
Nelson's story before deciding not to run it - even after the story had
run in both Salon and Mother Jones'the Times still ducked (and continues
to duck) the whole bulge story itself, ignoring an important issue that
it knew to be factually substantiated.

No mention of the Bush bulge was made in either the
Times or the Washington Post between October 29 and Election Day - aside
from a one-line mention in a New York Times Magazine essay by Matt Bai
(10/31/04) that used the Bulgegate story as an example of the paranoia
of "political conspiracists":

A rumor that the president somehow cheated in the
televised debates - was that a wire under his jacket? was he listening
to Karl Rove on a microscopic earpiece? - flies across the Internet and
takes hold in dark corners of the public imagination.

The only subsequent reference to the bulge was a light
post-election piece by Times Washington reporter Elizabeth Bumiller
(11/8/04), who cited the anonymously sourced Hill story saying the bulge
was body armor (an odd decision by the Times, which officially frowns on
unidentified sources even for its own pieces). She reported that the
White House tailor was miffed at having earlier been blamed for the
bulge by the White House.

'A Lot of Hoops'

While the New York Times seems to have been the only
newspaper to write an investigative story on the Bush bulge and then
kill it, it was not the only paper to duck the story about the bulge and
its dramatic confirmation and delineation by Nelson. In addition to the
L. A. Times and the two local papers that showed no interest, Nelson
says that the same day he learned that his story had been killed at the
Times, October 28, he received a phone call from Washington Post
assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, famous for his investigative
reports on Watergate. "Woodward said he'd heard the Times had killed the
story and asked me if I could send the photos to him," says Nelson.

The JPL scientist did so immediately, via email,
noting that he had also been in touch with Salon magazine. He says
Woodward then sent his photographs over to a photo analyst at the paper
to check them for authenticity, which Nelson says was confirmed.

A day later, realizing time was getting short, Nelson
called Woodward back. Recalls Nelson: "He told me, 'Look, I'm going to
have to go through a lot of hoops to get this story published. You're
already talking to Salon. Why don't you work with them?'" (Several
emails to Woodward asking him about Nelson's account have gone

At that point Nelson, despairing of getting the
pictures in a major publication, went with the online magazine Salon.
This reporter subsequently asked Nelson to do a similar photo analysis
of digital images of Bush's back taken from the tapes of the second and
third presidential debates. The resulting photos, which also clearly
show the cueing device and magnetic loop harness under his jacket on
both occasions, were posted, together with Nelson's images from the
first debate, on the news website of Mother Jones magazine (10/30/04).

What Should Affect Elections?

Ben Bagdikian, retired dean of U.C. Berkeley's
journalism school, held Woodward's current position at the Washington
Post during the time of the Pentagon Papers. Informed of the fate of the
bulge story and Nelson's photos at the three newspapers, he said:

I cannot imagine a paper I worked for turning down a
story like this before an election. This was credible photographic
evidence not about breaking the rules, but of a total lack of integrity
on the part of the president, evidence that he'd cheated in the debate,
and also of a lack of confidence in his ability on the part of his
campaign. I'm shocked to hear top management decided not to run such a

Could the last-minute decision by the New York Times
not to run the Nelson photos story, or the decision by the Washington
Post and the Los Angeles Times not even to pursue it, have affected the
outcome of the recent presidential race? There is no question that if
such a story had run in any one of those major venues, instead of just
in two online publications, Bulgegate would have been a major issue in
the waning days of the campaign.

Given that exit polls show many who voted for Bush
around the country listed "moral values" as a big factor in their
decision, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some would have
changed their minds had evidence been presented in the nation's biggest
and most influential newspapers that Bush had been dishonest.

"Cheating on a debate should affect an election," says
Bagdikian. "The decision not to let people know this story could affect
the history of the United States."

Investigative journalist Dave Lindorff is a regular
columnist for CounterPunch. His latest book is This Can't Be Happening:
Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy (Common Courage
His writings can be found at

Spiking the Bush Bulge Story: Confirmed

As Extra! went to press, New York Times public editor
Daniel Okrent posted a message on his website (12/21/04) confirming that
his paper had, in fact, killed a story about the device under George W.
Bush's suit. Here is the text of Okrent's message:

President Bush and the Jacket Bulge

Online discussion of the famous bulge on President
Bush's back at the first presidential debate hasn't stopped. One
reporter (Dave Lindorff of asserted that the Times had a
story in the works about a NASA scientist who had done a careful study
of the graphic evidence, but it was spiked by the paper's top editors
sometime during the week before the election. Many readers have asked me
for an explanation.

I checked into Lindorff's assertion, and he's right.
The story's life at the Times began with a tip from the NASA scientist,
Robert Nelson, to reporter Bill Broad. Soon his colleagues on the
science desk, John Schwartz and Andrew Revkin, took on the bulk of the
reporting. Science editor Laura Chang presented the story at the daily
news meeting but, like many other stories, it did not make the cut.
According to executive editor Bill Keller, "In the end,
nobody, including the scientist who brought it up, could take the story
beyond speculation. In the crush of election-finale stories, it died a
quiet, unlamented death."

Revkin, for one, wished it had run. Here's what he
told me in an e-mail message:
I can appreciate the broader factors weighing on the
paper's top editors, particularly that close to the election. But
personally, I think that Nelson's assertions did rise above the level of
garden-variety speculation, mainly because of who he is. Here was a
veteran government scientist, whosedecades-long career revolves around
interpreting imagery like features of Mars, who decided to say very
publicly that, without reservation, he was convinced there was something
under a president's jacket when the White House said there was nothing.
He essentially put his hard-won reputation utterly on the line (not to
mention his job) in doing so and certainly with little prospect that he
might gain something as a result - except, as he put it, his preserved

Revkin also told me that before Nelson called Broad,
he had approached other media outlets as well.
None - until Salon - published anything on Nelson's
analysis. "I'd certainly choose [Nelson's] opinion over that of a
tailor," Revkin concluded, referring to news reports that cited the man
who makes the president's suits. "Hard to believe that so many in the
media chose the tailor, even in coverage after the election."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving the included information for research and
educational purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with
the originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or
sponsored by the originator.)

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Three-Card Maestro

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Three-Card Maestro

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: The Fighting Moderates

Let's get to work!!!
The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: The Fighting Moderates

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Self-Inflicted Wounds

How did it happen that in a nation that championed human rights all over the globe, torture has been adopted as an acceptable weapon. First: everybody agrees, yes, even the military, that it does not work. Prisoners will agree to say anything to get them off the hook. The intelligence thus obtained is valueless.
Second: Torture degrades the torturer more than the prisoner. What kind of thinking can condone these practices as accepted policy?
Think about it. What are we becoming?
The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Self-Inflicted Wounds

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | George Monbiot: Fraud and corruption

The Guardian is a centenarian London newspaper, slanted to the left, but very scrupulous about its reporting. George Monbiot is one of its permanent fixtures. In the press of business, the Guardian had been absent from our radar screens for some time. I could not resist to share with you this account about money, money spent and money wasted, money uncounted and money dispersed by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, according to an audit report by its Inspector General. Let us not forget that the Bush Administration has two leading principles: ideology (for politicians, ideology is mothers milk) and money (how to get it out of the hands of the undeserving). Surprised? Don't be, that is what American Democracy is coming to.
Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | George Monbiot: Fraud and corruption

Monday, February 07, 2005

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

And on with Social Security, the debate of the minute, the hour and, possibly, the year. The way it is going the official pronouncements are getting more and more counterintuitive: the cries of impending crisis when there is none, the financial patch that will do nothing to solve the fictitious problem. Bonanza time for editorial writers. Here is one of my favorites, Hendrik Hertzberg.
href="">The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Carnival in Venice

Originally uploaded by midnightepiphanies.

Let us remember that in other climes some people (in fact, quite a lot of them) are celebrating carnality this week, and preparing to forgo food the next, in a ritual several millenia old.
As a relief of the prevailing gloom let us also remember that President Bush has only three more State of the Union speeches to deliver. Thank the Lord for small mercies!

Trainwreck in Iraq, by James Carroll

By James Carroll
The Boston Globe

Tuesday 01 February 2005

IN THINKING about the election in Iraq, my mind keeps jumping back to last week's train wreck in California. A deranged man, intending suicide, drove his Jeep Cherokee onto the railroad tracks, where it got stuck. The onrushing train drew near. The man suddenly left his vehicle and leapt out of the way. He watched as the train crashed into his SUV, derailed, jackknifed, and hit another train. Railroad cars crumbled. Eleven people were killed and nearly 200 were injured, some gravely. The deranged man was arrested. Whatever troubles had made him suicidal in the first place paled in comparison to the trouble he had now.

Iraq is a train wreck. The man who caused it is not in trouble. Tomorrow night he will give his State of the Union speech, and the Washington establishment will applaud him. Tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead. More than 1,400 Americans are dead. An Arab nation is humiliated. Islamic hatred of the West is ignited. The American military is emasculated. Lies define the foreign policy of the United States. On all sides of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there is wreckage. In the center, there are the dead, the maimed, the displaced -- those who will be the ghosts of this war for the rest of their days. All for what?

Tomorrow night, like a boy in a bubble, George W. Bush will tell the world it was for "freedom." He will claim the Iraqi election as a stamp of legitimacy for his policy, and many people will affirm it as such. Even critics of the war will mute their objections in response to the image of millions of Iraqis going to polling places, as if that act undoes the Bush catastrophe.

There is only one way in which the grand claims made by Washington for the weekend voting will be true -- and that is if the elections empower an Iraqi government that moves quickly to repudiate Washington. The only meaning "freedom" can have in Iraq right now is freedom from the US occupation, which is the ground of disorder. But such an outcome of the elections is not likely. The chaos of a destroyed society leaves every new instrument of governance dependent on the American force, even as the American force shows itself incapable of defending against, much less defeating, the suicide legions. The irony is exquisite. The worse the violence gets, the longer the Americans will claim the right to stay. In that way, the ever more emboldened -- and brutal -- "insurgents" do Bush's work for him by making it extremely difficult for an authentic Iraqi source of order to emerge. Likewise the elections, which, as universally predicted, have now ratified the country's deadly factionalism.

Full blown civil war, if it comes to that, will serve Bush's purpose, too. All the better if Syria and Iran leap into the fray. In such extremity, America's occupation of Iraq will be declared legitimate. America's city-smashing tactics, already displayed in Fallujah, will seem necessary. Further "regime change" will follow. America's ad hoc Middle East bases, meanwhile, will have become permanent. Iraq will have become America's client state in the world's great oil preserve. Bush's disastrous and immoral war policy will have "succeeded," even though no war will have been won. The region's war will be eternal, forever justifying America's presence. Bush's callow hubris will be celebrated as genius. Congress will give the military machine everything it needs to roll on to more "elections." These outcomes, of course, presume the ongoing deaths of tens of thousands more men, women, and children. And American soldiers.

Something else about that California train wreck strikes me. As news reports suggested, so many passengers were killed and injured because the locomotive was pushing the train from behind, which put the lightweight passenger coaches vulnerably in front. If, instead, the heavy, track-clearing locomotive had been leading and had hit the Jeep, it could have pushed the vehicle aside. The jack-knifing and derailment would not have occurred. The American war machine is like a train running in "push-mode," with the engineer safely back away from danger. In the train wreck of Iraq, it is passengers who have borne the brunt. The man with his hand on the throttle couldn't be more securely removed from the terrible consequences of his locomotion. Thus, Bush is like the man who caused the wreck, and like the man who was protected from it. Deranged. Detached. Alive and well in the bubble he calls "freedom," receiving applause.

writes in the Boston Globe that

Friday, February 04, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Our Battered Constitution

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Our Battered Constitution

More Krugman on Social Security: Gambling with your retirement.

Before you read this column, Al Ormsby's letter to the Times Union, Albany, makes some very powerful points about the Social Security question. And it is worth noting that President Bush himself admitted that the proposed "private accounts" will do nothing to allay the possibility of future insolvency of the program. Therefore we are dealing with an ideological proposal masquerading as a financial solution.
Here goes Al Ormsby:
In response to David C. Johnson’s 2/1/05 letter to the editor concerning the date that the Social Security Trust Fund is supposed to come up short it should be noted that it is quite possible that the reason why Mark Wheeler and Dr. Ruta choose the 2042 date rather than the 2018 date is because they believed our Presidents to be honest men. When President Bush says that his tax cuts are not being financed by the Social Security Trust Fund why not believe him? When former President Regan said the same thing about the financing of our military build up in the 1980’s was he not telling us the truth? In both the past and current situations, what the government does to finance deficit is referred to as borrowing. If the IOU’s that Mr. Johnson refers to are of no value then the term borrowing should be changed to stealing. Let’s say I write Mr. Johnson a personal check in exchange for cash. When he goes to the bank to redeem his money he finds out that the check is no good. Now, is that borrowing Mr. Johnson’s money or stealing it? The fact is that the money behind those IOU’s has already been shelled out by the working people of this country. In my 31 years of working under the cover of Social Security, money was supposedly being withdrawn from my pay check to assist me and my fellow Americans in our old age [as well as for disability and death benefits].During these 31 years this deduction appearing under the pay stub heading “FICA” was being collected at an incredibly regressive rate. A person making 150,000 a year paid one half the percentage of their total income that I paid. A person making 300,000 a year paid one quarter. And of course it goes on and on. The more you make the less of a percentage you pay. Now, if I or my fellow Americans ever thought that tanks, airplanes, missile systems, or just the operating expensive of government was being financed by our “FICA” deductions we would have long ago been up in arms. It goes without saying that a tax in which the percent of income you contribute is correspondingly reduced as your income increases is not an appropriate method of funding our government. But we need ant worry, Presidents Regan and Bush would never use our “FICA” deductions for other than what they were intended. These Presidents are honorable men not common thieves. Therefore Mr. Johnson should take note that those IOU’s are as good as gold since the honor of theUnited States as well as the integrity of its leaders stand behind them. Not to mention again they have already been paid for by we the people.                                            However, God forbid, in case I am wrong and these Presidents are really just common thieves, maybe as Mr. Johnson notes, raising taxes will be necessary to make good on the IOU’s. Mr. Johnson implies that this is a terrible alternative. However if we raise taxes on the higher incomes, who have proportionally contributed the least to the Trust Fund, would it not be the fairest way of balancing the books? Remember, the people who have proportionally contributed the most have already paid. There is nothing unwise or inappropriate about this type of tax increase since we are really talking about the repaying of borrowed money that financed general tax revenues. This is not “class warfare” but simply asking those who proportionally under paid for the military hardware and tax cuts to return to those who proportionally over paid what was taken from their Trust Fund under the guise of “borrowing.” The bottom line is we should not be so quick to give up on a system that is workable if appropriately managed. If crooks have stolen its money it is not the concept that is at fault, but the theft. As a financial advisor Mr. Johnson should know that no financial plan can work if its assets are allowed to be periodically raided by thieves. If Mr. Johnson needs proof of this fact all he has to do is look to Enron or corporate America’s other pension plans. -------------                                  Albert Ormsby: Former Social Security Disability-Analyst, Unit supervisor, Hearing Officer and Module Manager. Saratoga Springs N.Y.
and now Paul Krugman: The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Gambling With Your Retirement

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The home front: the old is new again.

Meanwhile, here in Saratoga Springs, things have been moving along. Last Tuesday the City Council, in a rare show of unanimity, voted 5-0 to rezone the contested Anderson property on Gilbert Rd. back to RR1, meaning that it can be developed, but in two acre residential lots. Peter Lynch, the Andersons' lawyer, consumed 30 minutes of the public forum in an impassioned and over the top defence of the high density office park, mostly on the grounds of the 60 "affordable housing" units that the developer graciously consented to dangle in front of the wide world, as proof of his unworldly generosity. Peter Lynch's discourse was worthy of a $500/hour lawyer, but he should have gauged the extent to which it solidified the opposition's position.
Then it was time for Mayor Lenz and his cohorts to tread on the side of the angels. All the usual statements about families and children and the brighter future were marshalled by one and all. We can feel electoral wind in our face; can it be? November is marching up, and the Republican trio has a sense that it cannot offend more than once. They did offend with the illogical, unwarranted and imprudent decision to scrap the DEIS on the Saratoga Lake water option. They hope that the march of time and the press of business will obfuscate the edges of their decision. Saratoga Lake is so last year! We will see.
For starters here is the text of the Democratic response to Mayor Lenz's State of the City address. All these points will come up many times during the the next seven months.


For Immediate Release
Contact: Shawn Thompson at 461-0535

Saratoga Springs State of the City
A Democratic Response

In the year 2005 the City of Saratoga Springs is strong and vibrant, the result of a long history of unique achievement by past residents and of the continued productive involvement in civic affairs of so many citizens today. Construction of attractive buildings downtown, an influx of talented new residents, and the rehabilitation of City neighborhoods are just a few of the positive things that are going on.
But Saratoga Springs also faces an uncertain future, with major decisions yet to be made. These decisions will determine the way the City will look and feel for many years to come. They should be made with the good of the community in mind, not on the basis of partisan political concerns or the special interests of the few.
When set against this standard the record of Mayor Lenz and the Republican majority is disappointing. It is unfortunately a record of inaction, delay, obstructionism, and an overall lack of leadership.

On Water

Mike Lenz and the Republican majority voted to give up control of the City’s water supply to Saratoga County by supporting an impractical and expensive $80 to $140 million boondoggle at the Hudson River. This decision (1) negated three years of engineering studies and legal work, which has cost our taxpayers $750,000 of City funds. (2) It will mean that Saratoga Springs water users will subsidize suburban development from Moreau to Clifton Park (3) It firmly places out-of-town special interests ahead of the best interests of City residents and (4) This costly and misguided decision will translate to 40 percent higher water rates costing close to $2 million more per year than the Lake option. Lenz’s call for a review of the City’s finances should begin with a reconsideration of this bad, costly decision. Implementing the Saratoga Lake option is the key to the city’s future fiscal autonomy and to controlling growth.

On Recreation

The Lenz administration’s record on other key issues facing the City has been one of inaction and delay. We are no closer to having a recreational facility than we were a year ago. This should come as no surprise, since it was then Finance Commissioner Mike Lenz who torpedoed the plan to partner with the Saratoga County Y for a facility on West Avenue in 2000. We support Commissioner McTygue’s original concept of building two facilities located on the East and West sides of the City and renew our call for action. In addition, we urge the Mayor to convene a Recreation Summit to bring all the existing recreation providers together and identify plans, work against redundancy and minimize taxpayer cost.

On Downtown and Economic Development

There is no progress or leadership whatsoever on the desperately needed expansion of the City Center. Hotels and restaurants are increasingly anxious about the expansion project, and know the future health of our downtown depends on it. We must redevelop the City Center by leveraging city-owned assets, looking for public-private partnerships, and minimizing any general municipal debt or taxpayer impact. As he did with recreation, then-Finance Commissioner Lenz in 2002 choked off the potential of this important project by capping the use of Occupancy Tax receipts at a level well short of the capital required.
The Mayor and City Council must begin to address the problem of escalating commercial rents in the downtown area. Independent local businesses are being outbid for commercial space by the national brand stores, the cost of commercial development, and the free market. We must encourage the survival of local retailers, and small offices to assure stability, diversity, to assure their continued full participation in our city’s economy.
Finally, as a candidate Mike Lenz said he would correct the delays in the Building Department’s review and inspections of construction projects. He has done nothing on this front, and delays are now far worse than they were when he took office.

On Workforce Housing

On another important issue, this past year, Mayor Lenz reversed himself and took the same position long advocated by the Democratic Party to fund the Workforce Housing Trust fund. The same Mike Lenz who voted against the Workforce Housing Trust Fund in 2003 now proposes to increase it. We support an immediate study and revision of City laws and regulations to encourage workforce housing construction and renovation as outlined in the City’s 2003 Report on Affordable Housing (Recommendation # 4).

On Open Space

Lest people have forgotten, it was Mike Lenz who failed to support the Open Space Bond Referendum in 2002. Now he speaks about open space preservation. It remains to be seen whether his lip-service is genuine. We encourage him to take the next step, and to make “The City in the Country” a permanent reality by voting to rezone the Weibel corridor RR-1 and keep this tract as envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan.
We support the City’s Comprehensive Plan and affirm our commitment to preserve and protect our “City in the Country”. Additionally we must hold developers to the highest design standards for new construction.

On Taxes and Spending

The bungled reassessment of Accounts Commissioner Steve Towne has led to a large property tax increase; Mike Lenz’s only response is finger-pointing in the wrong direction. The city-wide reassessment has led to a property tax increase that many homeowners’ simply cannot afford. At the time Commissioner Towne took office on January 1, 2001, the reassessment was not necessary. The tax equalization rate was at 100%, where it remained for the next 8 months, until Commissioner Towne dropped the ball (August 13, 2001) and the rate fell. To make matters worse, Towne then opted to use the “drive-by” method of assessment, the lowest standard required by the State Real Property Tax Law. He cost our City $251,000, and our homeowners’ huge property tax increases.
Sensing a taxpayer revolt, Mayor Lenz now wants to meddle with the Finance Department, where Commissioner McCabe has spent the last year correcting his partisan-driven failure to pursue sales tax revenue mistakenly sent to other jurisdictions and cover up the fact that he was responsible for spending away the City’s surplus.

On Exercising his Charter Responsibilities

Mayor Lenz’s oversight of other city departments is non-existent. Mayor Lenz, who has responsibility in the Charter to oversee all departments of city government, has failed to provide leadership regarding the allegations of official misconduct in the Public Safety Department, or in the case of racial discrimination in the Fire Department that cost the city $100,000.

We need a need a Mayor who fights for us not for the political establishment.

From The New York Times: Many Unhappy Returns

Now that President Bush has vaguely hinted to an overhaul of the Social Security system, without pain or sacrifice for anyone, this Krugman column is timely and illuminating. The sleight-of-hand, the "smoke and mirrors" methodologies will not cut it.
The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Many Unhappy Returns

Bush to Geezers: Save Yourselves! - On Social Security, the president says to throw the kids overboard. By Chris Suellentrop

Bush to Geezers: Save Yourselves! - On Social Security, the president says to throw the kids overboard. By Chris Suellentrop