Now Cough

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Impeachment Anyone?

Item from the New York Times (registration required):

Bush's Use of Authority Riles Senator

WASHINGTON, June 27 — Senators on the Judiciary Committee accused President Bush of an "unprecedented" and "astonishing" power grab on Tuesday for making use of a device that gave him the authority to revise or ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he became president.

By using what are known as signing statements, memorandums issued with legislation as he signs it, the president has reserved the right to not enforce any laws he thinks violate the Constitution or national security, or that impair foreign relations.

A lawyer for the White House said that Mr. Bush was only doing his duty to uphold the Constitution. But Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, characterized the president's actions as a declaration that he "will do as he pleases," without regard to the laws passed by Congress.

"There's a real issue here as to whether the president may, in effect, cherry-pick the provisions he likes and exclude the ones he doesn't like," Mr. Specter said at a hearing.

Wait a Cherry Pickin' Minute! The president can decide what laws he will support and what ones he won't? Wow.

The timid Democrats and the lockstep Republicans are so polarized and filled with greed they don't have a scintilla of courage or statesmanship to say what we have here: a president acting in violation of the Constitution and the federal checks and balances.

The 'blow in the wind' Senator Arlen Specter is correct: the president does whatever he likes.

Who will have the courage to call for impeachment? Impeachment is not a trial. It is the allegation of charges by the US House; the presentation of facts and a sort of indictment. If those facts warrant, then a president is called to trial before the Senate.

The eloquent Barbara Jordan from Texas sat on the House Watergate committee and in her remarks, delivered this powerful piece of history and perspective:

We know the nature of impeachment. We've been talking about it awhile now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to "bridle" the executive if he engages in excesses. "It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men."² The framers confined in the Congress the power if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive....

James Madison again at the Constitutional Convention: "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution." The Constitution charges the President with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and yet the President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, conceal surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution."

There isn't one Barbara Jordan left. God help us. Bush and his cronies are shredding the democracy piece by piece.

Read the articles of impeachment against Nixon.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Worst Movie of the Year

A Prairie Home Companion, the new Robert Altman movie about the American Public Media hit radio program is an utterly unfunny, ponderous, flat, smug, self-reverential disaster.

I'm not in the majority. I think PHC on the radio is long, long past its prime. It is a sad, polished up attempt to recreate an era of radio that never existed. It is nostalgia without accuracy. Real 'old' radio is obituaries, announcements about quilting bees and lunches in private homes, church messages, totally white, preachy and insular. A mix of the best and very worst aspects of small town life. Communities that don't welcome you unless you have lived there for 30 years.

The variety show of PHC style was always a radio network creation. Not small town but big, new broadcast business. Ted Mack and Groucho Marx. Lurching from cornball to acceptably suggestive. Better in the original.

But this film is beyond awful.

Hearing Garrison Keillor is one thing. Seeeing him is something else. And his on screen aloofness, almost underbreath coldness, reveals (for me, at least) a creepiness that infects the radio show each week. I don't think Keillor would want to spend one private moment with anyone in his audience, certainly not his film audience.

Alert to all PHC fans: there is NO story. None. There are musical 'performances' (no more than unfunny shtick), cloying, rambling duets with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, the forgettable Lindsay Lohan, and a wasted Kevin Klein. Tommy Lee Jones walks on and then walks off. With a paycheck.

And for Robert Altman, PHC ranks right up there with his other pointless films:

  • Dr. T and the Women

  • Pret a Porter

  • Beyond Therapy

  • Popeye

  • Yup, A Prairie Home Companion is worse than Popeye.

    Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Noir Productions, Inc.

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    The Amateur Presidency

    Is it just me, or did we all think the 9/11 attacks were our generation's Pearl Harbor? The awful day galvanized us, right? Pearl Harbor? Pretty soon there was the 'no-expenses spared' Manhattan Project.

    9/11? We attack a country that had NO connection to the attacks. And, despite a quick war in Afghanistan, US forces actually pulled back just as they were closing in on Osama bin Laden.

    But, let's skip forward 5 years. Congress and the White House create the Department of Homeland Security. Ok, so they wasted a lot of time on color terror alerts. And, oookay, DHS completely screwed up the one national disaster they did have experience with, hurricanes.

    Still, didn't we think, nay hope, even BELIEVE, that of all federal agencies DHS 'got religion' about the lessons from 9/11?

    Huh---guess not:

    U.S. Report Faults Nation's Preparedness for Disaster

    By ERIC LIPTON/ New York Times
    WASHINGTON, June 16 — States and cities in hurricane zones generally have better plans to deal with disaster than do other regions, but the nation's overall level of preparedness is still far from sufficient, a new report by the Department of Homeland Security says.

    For the nation as a whole, the report rates only a quarter of state emergency operations plans and 10 percent of municipal plans as "sufficient" to cope with a natural disaster or a terrorist attack... (See the DHS report)

    How bad is it? Well, this White House likes to berate Democrats for their "pre-9/11 mindset." But a glance at this study shows the Bush administration has a "post-9/11 play set" at best:

    While most areas of the country are well prepared to handle standard disaster situations, the National Plan Review findings demonstrate the need for all levels of government across the country to improve emergency operations plans for catastrophic events such as a major terrorist attack or category-five hurricane strike. Several areas, including evacuation, attention to populations with special needs, command structure, and resource management, were areas needing significant attention.

    I'm sorry, but after we give 'special attention' to those areas...what's left?? Isn't that the whole ball of wax? "Command structure" makes me laugh---wasn't that what the creation of DHS and all this talk about 'coordination' supposed to FIX?

    On the list of to-dos, here's a corker:

    The Federal Government should provide the leadership, doctrine, policies, guidance, standards, and resources necessary to build a shared national homeland security planning system.

    Duuuhhhhhhh! Maybe after the next disaster.

    Or as The New York Times put it:

    ...Despite the billions of dollars in federal grants disbursed to cities and states since the 2001 terrorist attacks to improve preparations for catastrophe, officials at the Homeland Security Department said they were not surprised by the results.

    "It is a natural evolution towards working together as a nation to implement the lessons from seminal events such as the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina," said George W. Foresman, the department's under secretary for preparedness.
    (See full article registration required)

    Of course Mr. Foreman doesn't even hint at when it is reasonable to expect those lessons to be implemented. One musn't be hasty, I guess.

    Florida and South Carolina came out with the best preparedness scores, but they have been clobbered so often by hurricanes that's to be expected.

    How did the two cities clobbered by the 9/11 attacks do?

    ...New York City and Washington, the two targets of the 2001 attacks, each received mixed reviews, with New York still needing to work on preparations for mass care, communications[if this is about those police and fire radios again, well, someone is in big trouble...], basic direction and control. The Washington area has to work on some of the same, the report said, and its medical and health plans are clearly not sufficient. Over all, New York City was rated partially sufficient, and the Washington area not sufficient.

    Ok, five years after 9/11 New York City gets a "C" and Washington, DC gets an "F." And DC is the home of the federal government where you would think enlightened self interest is an art form.

    I'm sure the White House gives this all a big shrug. "Hey, it's the states and the cities who have to get their act together," Roveristas would say. Too cynical? Check what they were saying in the middle of the New Orleans disaster about Louisiana, New Orleans and Mississippi.

    Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Comes Around, Goes Around

    Two US soldiers are missing in Iraq after, according to reports, they were captured in an ambush south of Baghdad.

    Now, let's say you were one of those troops. A combatant in the 'war on terror.' And your commander in chief has decreed that all captured 'combatants' lose their rights under the Geneva Convention---to communication with families, access to the Red Cross, humanitarian treatment, freedom from torture. Decent requirements of a civilized society like the ones we are now trying to impose on the country we invaded on false pretenses.

    I bet those soldiers are having a bad time of things. I hope they live. I hope they are released.

    And I hope Vice President 'Deferment,' Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld are forced to meet them in private to hear what happens to Americans in war when the greatest democracy decides to ignore the Geneva Convention.

    (photo by Bikeracer)

    Fresh Hell

    The dirt under my fingernails is more sincere and intelligent than Maury Povich and Connie Chung. The worst part of going to the gym on the weekends is running across their dreadful show on the TVs. That's why I have to take a shower as soon as I am done.

    Please join me in a heartfelt Bronx cheer for the greasy pair...their show has been canned and this weekend cable TV takes a baby step back from the vast wasteland it occupies.

    Leave it to Connie to redefine obnoxious (what a video!). Don't let the closing credits hit your ass on the way out, 'Conn.'

    (photo by Auntie P)

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    "Truth with Edge"

    NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dworkin is a very thoughtful guy who has the unenviable position of calling them as he sees them inside of public radio's temple of news. It is the sort of job that does not make him popular in the NPR newsroom, with management or with listeners.

    So, his column today really caught my eye. For those of us who value hard hitting journalism but scream at reporting that hides in the petticoats of mushy balance, Dworkin at last opened the door to another way of speaking truth to power:

    ...if my e-mail box is any indication, more and more listeners are finding NPR's traditional approach to reporting both sides of an issue to be increasingly unsatisfactory and frustrating.

    I sense a rising anxiety and impatience among large numbers of NPR listeners who urge that the network take a more activist -- or at least a more openly skeptical -- role in the media landscape of the United States.

    Here's one example from listener Andrew Pearson:

    "When you're sitting around next with NPR managers, remind them of this: give your listeners some truth with edge ... if you can't do that, if your managers are always reminding reporters that they have to be balanced, NPR ends up giving us junk food for the ears. On the one hand this and on the other hand that -- that is the evasion of journalistic responsibility."

    Whenever I mention this idea of "truth with edge" around NPR, many of my colleagues dismiss it as more blather from the blogosphere.

    This is too simplistic a response, dear colleagues.

    My good friends at the fantastic public radio program Open Source kindly followed my tip on Dworkin's column. OS host extraordinaire Chris Lydon and the OS crew crafted a fascinating and thoughtful hour.

    Go ahead, listen. And post your thoughts on the blog at Open Source.

    The National Journal's William Powers makes a great point in the program about the shoeleather work of reporting that many people do perform in Washington, DC---and how hard it is to get excellent, nailed-to-the-wall stories.

    But NYU's Jay Rosen also makes the point that journalism doesn't set out to identify clearly 'who's responsible?' (thank you, Firesign Theatre). Brent Cunningham from the Columbia Journalism Review argues that "The country doesn't know why we went to war" and he suggests that aggressive reporting on this be 'balanced' by coming out with conclusions and then have a rebuttal. He calls it 'serial balance.'

    Perhaps. But Lydon uses the term 'relentless' and that is an attitude that is too frequently missing. Instead of copying what The New York Times identifies as the story, NPR needs to stake out stories and go after them like dogs gnawing raw meat.

    (photo from Jim Sines)

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    The Play's the Thing

    David Hare's Stuff Happens is a must see at the Public Theatre. Infuriating, sickly satiric, accurate, fictional, imaginative. You're left with a feeling of hopelessness.

    "A friend of mine said that, ultimately, the play is about the sadness of power," Hare says. "It's really the story of how a supposedly stupid man, George (W.) Bush, got everything he wanted out of an operation, and Blair, a supposedly clever man, was destroyed by it. Blair is an intelligent, sensitive and very gifted man; he knows he'll never recover. And there is something desolating about having the thing you do never turn out to be the thing you so wanted to do. That's a great theme — it's a Shakespearean theme."