Frank Rich

Why the Press Is on Suicide Watch

IF you wanted to pick the moment when the American news business went on suicide watch, it was almost exactly three years ago. That’s when Stephen Colbert, appearing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, delivered a monologue accusing his hosts of being stenographers who had, in essence, let the Bush White House get away with murder (or at least the war in Iraq). To prove the point, the partying journalists in the Washington Hilton ballroom could be seen (courtesy of C-Span) fawning over government potentates -- in some cases the very “sources” who had fed all those fictional sightings of Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D.

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How Far Down the Economic Hole Are We Headed?

And so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announced another 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims.

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That Was in Fact a Huge Win for Obama Last Week

Am I crazy, or wasn't the Obama presidency pronounced dead just days ago? Obama had "all but lost control of the agenda in Washington," declared Newsweek on Feb. 4 as it wondered whether he might even get a stimulus package through Congress. "Obama Losing Stimulus Message War" was the headline at Politico a day later. At the mostly liberal MSNBC, the morning host, Joe Scarborough, started preparing the final rites. Obama couldn't possibly eke out a victory because the stimulus package was "a steaming pile of garbage."

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The Bush Era Has Been an Eight-Year-Long Madoff-Style Ripoff

Three days after the world learned that $50 billion may have disappeared in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, The Times led its front page of Dec. 14 with the revelation of another $50 billion rip-off. This time the vanished loot belonged to American taxpayers. That was our collective contribution to the $117 billion spent (as of mid-2008) on Iraq reconstruction — a sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad.

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Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire?

During the Great Depression, American moviegoers seeking escape could ogle platoons of glamorous chorus girls in “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Our feel-good movie of the year is “Slumdog Millionaire,” a Dickensian tale in which we root for an impoverished orphan from Mumbai’s slums to hit the jackpot on the Indian edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

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Worries About War Crimes Heat up in the White House


We know what a criminal White House looks like from "The Final Days," Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's classic account of Richard Nixon's unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

"The Final Days" was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is waiting for the corpse to be carted away. The latest and perhaps most chilling example arrives this week from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, long a relentless journalist on the war-on-terror torture beat. Her book "The Dark Side" connects the dots of her own past reporting and that of her top-tier colleagues (including James Risen and Scott Shane of The New York Times) to portray a White House that, like its prototype, savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution.

Some of "The Dark Side" seems right out of "The Final Days," minus Nixon's operatic boozing and weeping. We learn, for instance, that in 2004 two conservative Republican Justice Department officials had become "so paranoid" that "they actually thought they might be in physical danger." The fear of being wiretapped by their own peers drove them to speak in code.

The men were John Ashcroft's deputy attorney general, James Comey, and an assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith. Their sin was to challenge the White House's don, Dick Cheney, and his consigliere, his chief of staff David Addington, when they circumvented the Geneva Conventions to make torture the covert law of the land. Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith failed to stop the "torture memos" and are long gone from the White House. But Vice President Cheney and Mr. Addington remain enabled by a president, attorney general (Michael Mukasey) and C.I.A. director (Michael Hayden) who won't shut the door firmly on torture even now.

Nixon parallels take us only so far, however. "The Dark Side" is scarier than "The Final Days" because these final days aren't over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president's narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer's portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure, and the motives invoked by Mr. Cheney to restore Nixon-style executive powers are theoretically selfless. Possessed by the ticking-bomb scenarios of television's "24," all they want to do is protect America from further terrorist strikes.

So what if they cut corners, the administration's last defenders argue. While prissy lawyers insist on habeas corpus and court-issued wiretap warrants, the rest of us are being kept safe by the Cheney posse.

But are we safe? As Al Qaeda and the Taliban surge this summer, that single question is even more urgent than the moral and legal issues attending torture.

On those larger issues, the evidence is in, merely awaiting adjudication. Mr. Bush's 2005 proclamation that "we do not torture" was long ago revealed as a lie. Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated detainee abuse for the Army, concluded that "there is no longer any doubt" that "war crimes were committed." Ms. Mayer uncovered another damning verdict: Red Cross investigators flatly told the C.I.A. last year that America was practicing torture and vulnerable to war-crimes charges.

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, "Torture Team." After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted -- apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to "never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel." But while we wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly, there are immediate fears to tend. Ms. Mayer's book helps cement the case that America's use of torture has betrayed not just American values but our national security, right to the present day.

In her telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney's descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House's failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.'s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was "all preventable." By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.'s inspector general, "50 or 60 individuals" in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects -- soon to be hijackers -- were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, "I don't want to hear about that anymore!"

After 9/11, our government emphasized "interrogation over due process," Ms. Mayer writes, "to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized." But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced "confession" to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in "The Dark Side," is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam's biological and chemical W.M.D. -- and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda -- were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: "They were killing me. I had to tell them something."

That "something" was crucial in sending us into the quagmire that, five years later, has empowered Iran and compromised our ability to counter the very terrorists that torture was supposed to thwart. As The Times reported two weeks ago, Iraq has monopolized our military and intelligence resources to the point where we don't have enough predator drones or expert C.I.A. field agents to survey the tribal areas where terrorists are amassing in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the threat to America from Al Qaeda is "comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001," said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation terrorism expert and Pentagon consultant. The difference between now and then is simply that the base of operations has moved, "roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia."

Yet once again terrorism has fallen off America's map, landing at or near the bottom of voters' concerns in recent polls. There were major attacks in rapid succession last week in Pakistan, Afghanistan (the deadliest in Kabul since we "defeated" the Taliban in 2001) and at the American consulate in Turkey. Who listened to this ticking time bomb? It's reminiscent of July 2001, when few noticed that the Algerian convicted of trying to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium testified that he had been trained in bin Laden's Afghanistan camps as part of a larger plot against America.

In last Sunday's Washington Post, the national security expert Daniel Benjamin sounded an alarm about the "chronic" indecisiveness and poor execution of Bush national security policy as well as the continuing inadequacies of the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Benjamin must feel a sinking sense of dj vu. Exactly seven years ago in the same newspaper, just two months before 9/11, he co-wrote an article headlined "Defusing a Time Bomb" imploring the Bush administration in vain to pay attention to Afghanistan because that country's terrorists "continue to pose the most dangerous threat to American lives."

And so we're back where we started in the summer of 2001, with even shark attacks and Chandra Levy's murder (courtesy of a new Washington Post investigation) returning to the news. We are once again distracted and unprepared while the Taliban and bin Laden's minions multiply in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This, no less than the defiling of the Constitution, is the legacy of an administration that not merely rationalized the immorality of torture but shackled our national security to the absurdity that torture could easily fix the terrorist threat.

That's why the Bush White House's corruption in the end surpasses Nixon's. We can no longer take cold comfort in the Watergate maxim that the cover-up was worse than the crime. This time the crime is worse than the cover-up, and the punishment could rain down on us all.


© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Obama and McCain Offer Two Very Different Americas


When Barack Obama achieved his historic victory on Tuesday night, the battle was joined between two Americas. Not John Edwards’s two Americas, divided between rich and poor. Not the Americas split by race, gender, party or ideology. What looms instead is an epic showdown between two wildly different visions of the country, from the ground up.



On one side stands Mr. Obama’s resolutely cheerful embrace of the future. His vision is inseparable from his identity, both as a rookie with a slim Washington résumé and as a black American whose triumph was regarded as improbable by voters of all races only months ago. On the other is John McCain’s promise of a wise warrior’s vigilant conservation of the past. His vision, too, is inseparable from his identity — as a government lifer who has spent his entire career in service, whether in the Navy or Washington.

Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues. Never was this more evident than Tuesday night, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

All presidential candidates, Mr. Obama certainly included, are egomaniacs. But Washington’s faith in hierarchical status adds a thick layer of pomposity to politicians who linger there too long. Mrs. Clinton referred to herself by the first-person pronoun 64 times in her speech, and Mr. McCain did so 60 times in his. Mr. Obama settled for 30.



Remarkably, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. McCain had the grace to offer a salute to Mr. Obama’s epochal political breakthrough, which reverberated so powerfully across the country and throughout the world. By being so small and ungenerous, they made him look taller. Their inability to pivot even briefly from partisan self-interest could not be a more telling symptom of the dysfunctional Washington culture Mr. Obama aspires to mend.

Yet even as the two establishment candidates huffed and puffed to assert their authority, they seemed terrified by Mr. Obama’s insurgency, as if it were the plague in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Mrs. Clinton held her nonconcession speech in a Manhattan bunker, banishing cellphone reception and television monitors carrying the news of Mr. Obama’s clinching of the nomination. Mr. McCain, laboring under the misapprehension that he was wittily skewering his opponent, compulsively invoked the Obama-patented mantra of “change” 33 times in his speech.



Mr. McCain only reminded voters that he, like Mrs. Clinton, thinks that change is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. He has no idea what it means. “No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically,” he said on Tuesday. He then grimly regurgitated Goldwater and Reagan government-bashing talking points from the 1960s and ’70s even as he presumed to accuse Mr. Obama of looking “to the 1960s and ’70s for answers.”

Mr. Obama is a liberal, but it’s not your boomer parents’ liberalism that is at the heart of his appeal. He never rattles off a Clinton laundry list of big federal programs; he supports abortion rights and gay civil rights with a sunny bonhomie that makes the right’s cultural scolds look like rabid mastodons. He is not refighting either side of the domestic civil war over Vietnam that exploded in his hometown of Chicago 40 years ago this summer, long before he arrived there.

He has never deviated from his much-quoted formulation in “The Audacity of Hope,” where he described himself as aloof from “the psychodrama of the baby boom generation” with its “old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago.” His vocabulary is so different from that of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain that they often find it as baffling as a foreign language, even as they try to rip it off.



The selling point of Mr. Obama’s vision of change is not doctrinaire liberalism or Bush-bashing but an inclusiveness that he believes can start to relieve Washington’s gridlock much as it animated his campaign. Some of that inclusiveness is racial, ethnic and generational, in the casual, what’s-the-big-deal manner of post-boomer Americans already swimming in our country’s rapidly expanding demographic pool. Some of it is post-partisan: he acknowledges that Republicans, Ronald Reagan included, can have ideas.

Opponents who dismiss this as wussy naïveté do so at their own risk. They at once call attention to the expiring shelf life of their own Clinton-Bush-vintage panaceas and lull themselves into underestimating Mr. Obama’s political killer instincts.

The Obama forces out-organized the most ruthless machine in Democratic politics because the medium of their campaign mirrored its inclusive message. They empowered adherents in every state rather than depending on a Beltway campaign hierarchy whose mercenary chief strategist kept his day job as chief executive for a corporate P.R. giant. Such viral organization and fund-raising is a seamless fit with bottom-up democracy as it is increasingly practiced in the Facebook-YouTube era, not merely by Americans and not merely by the young.



You could learn a ton about the Clinton campaign’s cultural tone-deafness from its stodgy generic Web site. A similar torpor afflicts JohnMcCain.com, which last week gave its graphics a face-lift that unabashedly mimics BarackObama.com and devoted prime home page real estate to hawking “McCain Golf Gear.” (No joke.) The blogs, video and social networking are static and sparse, the apt reflection of a candidate who repeatedly invokes “I” as he boasts of his humility.



Mr. Obama’s deep-rooted worldliness — in philosophy as well as itinerant background — is his other crucial departure from the McCain template. As more and more Americans feel the pain of spiraling gas prices and lost jobs, they are also coming to recognize, as Mr. Obama does, that the globally reviled American image forged by an endless war in Iraq and its accompanying torture scandals is inflicting economic as well as foreign-policy havoc.

Six out of 10 Americans do want their president to talk to Iran’s president, according to the most-recent Gallup poll. Americans are sick of a national identity defined by arrogant saber-rattling abroad and manipulative fear-mongering at home. Mr. Obama closed his speech on Tuesday by telling Americans they “don’t deserve” another election “that’s governed by fear.” Of the three candidates, he was the only one who did not mention 9/11 that night.



Mr. Obama isn’t flawless. But it’s hard to see him hitching up with Mrs. Clinton, who would contradict his message, unite the right, and pass along her husband’s still unpacked post-presidency baggage. A larger trap for Mr. Obama is his cockiness. His own tendency to preen and to coast could be encouraged by recent events rocking the Straight Talk Express: Mr. McCain is so far proving an exceptionally clumsy candidate prone to accentuating everything that’s out-of-touch about his American vision.

Mr. McCain’s speech in a New Orleans suburb on Tuesday night spawned a cottage industry of ridicule, even among Republicans. The halting delivery, sickly green backdrop and spastic, inappropriate smiles, presumably mandated by some consultant hoping to mask his anger, left the impression that Mr. McCain isn’t yet ready for prime-time radio.

But the substance was even worse than the theatrics. Incredibly, Mr. McCain attacked Mr. Obama for being insufficiently bipartisan while speaking to the most conspicuously partisan audience you can assemble in today’s America: a small, nearly all-white crowd that seconded his attack lines with boorish choruses of boos. On TV, the audience came across as a country-club membership riled by a change in the Sunday brunch menu.



Equally curious was Mr. McCain’s decision to stage this event in Louisiana, a state that is truly safe for the G.O.P. and that he’d last visited less than six weeks earlier. Perhaps he did so because Louisiana’s governor, the 36-year-old Indian-American Bobby Jindal, is the only highly placed nonwhite Republican he could find to lend his campaign an ersatz dash of diversity and youth.

Or perhaps he thought that if he once more returned to the scene of President Bush’s Katrina crime to (belatedly) slam that federal failure, it would fool voters into forgetting his cheerleading for Mr. Bush’s Iraq obsession and economic policies. This time it proved a levee too far. The day after his speech Mr. McCain was caught on the stump misstating and exaggerating his own do-little record after Katrina. Soon the Internet was alight with documentation of what he actually did on the day the hurricane hit land: a let-us-eat-cake photo op with Mr. Bush celebrating his birthday in Arizona.



Anything can happen in politics, and there are five months to go. But Tuesday night’s McCain pratfall — three weeks in the planning by his campaign, according to Fox News — should be a clear indication that Mr. Obama must accept Mr. McCain’s invitation to weekly debates at once. Tomorrow if possible, and, yes, bring on the green!

Mr. Obama must also heed Mr. McCain’s directive that he visit Iraq — as long as he avoids Baghdad markets and hits other foreign capitals on route. When the world gets a firsthand look at the new America Mr. Obama offers as an alternative to Mr. McCain’s truculent stay-the-course, the public pandemonium may make J.F.K.’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” visit to the Berlin Wall look like a warm-up act.


© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Why Americans Are Tuning out the Disaster in Iraq


The night before last week’s Senate hearings on our “progress” in Iraq, a goodly chunk of New York’s media and cultural establishment assembled in the vast lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. There were cocktails; there were waiters wielding platters of hors d’oeuvres; there was a light sprinkling of paparazzi. Then there was a screening. We trooped like schoolchildren to the auditorium to watch a grueling movie about the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Not just any movie, but “Standard Operating Procedure,” the new investigatory documentary by Errol Morris, one of our most original filmmakers. It asks the audience not just to revisit the crimes in graphic detail but to confront in tight close-up those who both perpetrated and photographed them. Because Mr. Morris has a complex view of human nature, he arouses a certain sympathy for his subjects, much as he did at times for Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary, in his Vietnam film, “Fog of War.”



More sympathy, actually. Only a few bad apples at the bottom of the chain of command took the fall for Abu Ghraib. No one above the level of staff sergeant went to jail, and no one remotely in proximity to a secretary of defense has been held officially accountable. John Yoo, the author of the notorious 2003 Justice Department memo rationalizing torture, has happily returned to his tenured position as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. So when Mr. Morris brings you face to face with Lynndie England — now a worn, dead-eyed semblance of the exuberant, almost pixie-ish miscreant in the Abu Ghraib snapshots — you’re torn.

Ms. England, who is now on parole, concedes that what she and her cohort did was “unusual and weird and wrong,” but adds that “when we first got there, the example was already set.” That reflection doesn’t absolve her of moral responsibility, but, like much in this film, it forces you to look beyond the fixed images of one of the most documented horror stories of our time.



Yet I must confess that, sitting in MoMA, I kept looking beyond the frame of Mr. Morris’s movie as well. While there’s really no right place to watch “Standard Operating Procedure,” the jarring contrast between the film’s subject and the screening’s grandiosity was a particularly glaring illustration of the huge distance that separates most Americans, and not just Manhattan elites, from the battle lines of our country’s five-year war. If Tom Wolfe was not in the audience to chronicle this cognitive dissonance, he should have been.

Mr. Morris’s movie starts fanning out to theaters on April 25. We don’t have to wait until then to know its fate. Sympathetic critics will tell us it’s our civic duty to see it. The usual suspects will try to besmirch Mr. Morris’s patriotism. But none of that will much matter. “Standard Operating Procedure” will reach the director’s avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.



It would take another column to list all the movies and TV shows about Iraq that have gone belly up at the box office or in Nielsen ratings in the nearly four years since the war’s only breakout commercial success, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They die regardless of their quality or stand on the war, whether they star Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”) or Meryl Streep (“Lions for Lambs”) or are produced by Steven Bochco (the FX series “Over There”) or are marketed like Abercrombie & Fitch apparel to the MTV young (“Stop-Loss”).

As The New York Times recently reported, box-office dread has driven one Hollywood distributor to repeatedly postpone the release of “The Lucky Ones,” a highly regarded and sympathetic feature about the war’s veterans, the first made with full Army assistance, even though the word Iraq is never spoken and the sole battle sequence runs 40 seconds. If Iraq had been mentioned in “Knocked Up” or “Superbad,” Judd Apatow’s hilarious hit comedies about young American guys who (like most of their peers) never consider the volunteer Army as an option, they might have flopped too. Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.



This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.

That’s why last week’s testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was a nonevent beyond Washington. The cable networks duly presented the first day of hearings, but only, it seemed, because the show could be hyped as an “American Idol”-like competition in foreign-policy one-upmanship for the three remaining presidential candidates, all senators. When the hearings migrated to the House the next day, they vanished into the same black media hole where nearly all Iraq news now goes. If the Olympic torch hadn’t provided an excuse to cut away, no doubt any handy weather disturbance would have served instead.

The simple explanation for why we shun the war is that it has gone so badly. But another answer was provided in the hearings by Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, one of the growing number of Republican lawmakers who no longer bothers to hide his exasperation. He put his finger on the collective sense of shame (not to be confused with collective guilt) that has attended America’s Iraq project. “The truth of the matter,” Mr. Voinovich said, is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”



This is how the war planners wanted it, of course. No new taxes, no draft, no photos of coffins, no inconveniences that might compel voters to ask tough questions. This strategy would have worked if the war had been the promised cakewalk. But now it has backfired. A home front that has not been asked to invest directly in a war, that has subcontracted it to a relatively small group of volunteers, can hardly be expected to feel it has a stake in the outcome five stalemated years on.

The original stakes (saving the world from mushroom clouds and an alleged ally of Osama bin Laden) evaporated so far back they seem to belong to another war entirely. What are the stakes we are asked to believe in now? In the largely unwatched House hearings on Wednesday, Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, tried to get at this by asking what some 4,000 “sons and daughters” of America had died for.

The best General Petraeus could muster was a bit of bloodless Beltway-speak — “national interests” — followed by another halfhearted attempt to overstate Iraq’s centrality to the war on Al Qaeda and a future war on Iran. He couldn’t even argue that we’re on a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people. That would require him to acknowledge that roughly five million of those people, 60 percent of them children, are now refugees receiving scant help from either our government or Nuri al-Maliki’s. That’s nearly a fifth of the Iraqi population — the equivalent of 60 million Americans — and another source of our shame.



The prevailing verdict on the Petraeus-Crocker show is that it accomplished little beyond certifying President Bush’s intention to kick the can to January 2009 so that the helicopters will vacate the Green Zone on the next president’s watch. That’s true, but by week’s end, I became more convinced than ever that in January we’ll have a new policy that includes serious withdrawals and serious conversations with Mr. Maliki’s pals in Iran, even if John McCain becomes president.

General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker define victory as “sustainable security” in Iraq. But both Colin Powell and Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said last week that current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are unsustainable and are damaging America’s readiness to meet other security threats. And that’s not all that’s unsustainable. An ailing economy can’t keep floating the war’s $3-billion-a-week cost. A Republican president intent on staying the Bush course will find his vetoes unsustainable after the Democrats increase their majorities in Congress in November. No war can be fought indefinitely if the public has irrevocably turned against it.



Mr. McCain says Americans want “victory,” whatever that means today, and yes, they would if it could be won on the terms promised by Mr. Bush five years ago — fast, and with minimal sacrifice. It’s way too late to ask for years of stepped-up sacrifice now in the cause of a highly debatable definition of “national interests.”

This war has lasted so long that Americans, even the bad apples of Abu Ghraib interviewed by Mr. Morris, have had the time to pass through all five of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief over its implosion. Though dead-enders like Mr. McCain may have only gone from denial to anger to bargaining, most others have moved on to depression and acceptance. Unable to even look at the fiasco anymore, the nation is now just waiting for someone to administer the last rites.


© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Does Judith Regan Have the Goods on Rudy Giuliani?


New Yorkers who remember Rudy Giuliani as the bullying New York mayor, not as the terminally cheerful "America's Mayor" cooing to babies in New Hampshire, have always banked on one certainty: his presidential candidacy was so preposterous it would implode before he got anywhere near the White House.

Surely, we reassured ourselves, the all-powerful Republican values enforcers were so highly principled that they would excommunicate him because of his liberal social views, three wives and estranged children. Or a firewall would be erected by the firefighters who are enraged by his self-aggrandizing rewrite of 9/11 history. Or Judith Giuliani, with her long-hidden first marriage and Louis Vuitton 'tude, would send red-state voters screaming into the night.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. But how quickly and stupidly we forgot about the other Judith in the Rudy orbit. That would be Judith Regan, who disappeared last December after she was unceremoniously fired from Rupert Murdoch's publishing house, HarperCollins. Last week Ms. Regan came roaring back into the fray, a silver bullet aimed squarely at the heart of the Giuliani campaign.

Ms. Regan filed a $100 million lawsuit against her former employer, claiming she was unjustly made a scapegoat for the O. J. Simpson "If I Did It" fiasco that (briefly) embarrassed Mr. Murdoch and his News Corporation. But for those of us not caught up in the Simpson circus, what's most riveting about the suit are two at best tangential sentences in its 70 pages: "In fact, a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani's presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik."

Kerik, of course, is Bernard Kerik, the former Giuliani chauffeur and police commissioner, as well as the candidate he pushed to be President Bush's short-lived nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security. Having pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors last year, Mr. Kerik was indicted on 16 other counts by a federal grand jury 10 days ago, just before Ms. Regan let loose with her lawsuit. Whether Ms. Regan's charge about that unnamed Murdoch "senior executive" is true or not -- her lawyers have yet to reveal the evidence -- her overall message is plain. She knows a lot about Mr. Kerik, Mr. Giuliani and the Murdoch empire. And she could talk.

Boy, could she! As New Yorkers who have crossed her path or followed her in the tabloids know, Ms. Regan has an epic temper. My first encounter with her came more than a decade ago when she left me a record-breaking (in vitriol and decibel level) voice mail message about a column I'd written on one of her authors. It was a relief to encounter a more mellow Regan at a Midtown restaurant some years later. She cordially introduced me to her dinner companion, Mr. Kerik, whose post-9/11 autobiography, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice, was under contract at her HarperCollins imprint, ReganBooks.

What I didn't know then was that this married author and single editor were in pursuit of not just justice, but sex, too. Their love nest, we'd later learn, was an apartment adjacent to ground zero that had been initially set aside for rescue workers. Mr. Kerik believed his lover had every moral right to be there. As he tenderly explained in his acknowledgments in "The Lost Son" -- published before the revelation of their relationship -- there was "one hero who is missing" from his book's tribute to "courage and honor" and "her name is Judith Regan."

Few know more about Rudy than his perennial boon companion, Mr. Kerik. Perhaps during his romance with Ms. Regan he talked only of the finer points of memoir writing or about his theories of crime prevention or about his ideas for training the police in the Muslim world (an assignment he later received in Iraq and botched). But it is also plausible that this couple discussed everything Mr. Kerik witnessed at Mr. Giuliani's side before, during and after 9/11. Perhaps he even explained to her why the mayor insisted, disastrously, that his city's $61 million emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center despite the terrorist attack on the towers in 1993.

Perhaps, too, they talked about the business ventures the mayor established after leaving office. Mr. Kerik worked at Giuliani Partners and used its address as a mail drop for some $75,000 that turns up in the tax-fraud charges in his federal indictment. That money was Mr. Kerik's pay for an 11-sentence introduction to another Regan-published book about 9/11, "In the Line of Duty." Though that project's profits were otherwise donated to the families of dead rescue workers, Mr. Kerik's royalties were mailed to Giuliani Partners in the name of a corporate entity Mr. Kerik set up in Delaware. He would later claim that he made comparable donations to charity, but the federal indictment charges that $80,000 he took in charitable deductions were bogus.

Amazingly, given that he seeks the highest office in the land, Mr. Giuliani will not reveal the clients of Giuliani Partners. Perhaps he has trouble remembering them all. He testified in court last year that he has no memory of a mayoral briefing in which he was told of Mr. Kerik's association with a company suspected of ties to organized crime.

Ms. Regan's knowledge of Mr. Giuliani isn't limited to whatever she learned from Mr. Kerik. She used to work for another longtime Giuliani pal, Roger Ailes, the media consultant for the first Giuliani campaign in 1989 and the impresario who created Fox News for Mr. Murdoch in 1996. A full-service mayor to his cronies, Mr. Giuliani lobbied hard to get the Fox News Channel on the city's cable boxes and presided over Mr. Ailes's wedding. Enter Ms. Regan, who was given her own program on Fox's early lineup. Mr. Ailes came up with its rather inspired first title, "That Regan Woman."

Who at the News Corporation supposedly asked Ms. Regan to lie to protect Rudy's secrets? Her complaint does not say. But thanks to the political journal The Hotline, we do know that as of the summer Mr. Giuliani had received more air time from Fox News than any other G.O.P. candidate, much of it on the high-rated "Hannity & Colmes." That show's co-host, Sean Hannity, appeared at a Giuliani campaign fund-raiser this year.

Fox News coverage of Ms. Regan's lawsuit last week was minimal. After all, Mr. Giuliani dismissed the whole episode as "a gossip column story," and we know Fox would never stoop so low as to trade in gossip. The coverage was scarcely more intense at The Wall Street Journal, whose print edition included no mention of the suit's reference to that "senior executive" at the News Corporation. (After bloggers noticed, the article was amended online.) The Journal is not quite yet a Murdoch property, but its editorial board has had its own show on Fox News since 2006.

During the 1990s, the Journal editorial board published so much dirt about the Clintons that it put the paper's brand on an encyclopedic six-volume anthology titled "A Journal Briefing -- Whitewater." You'd think the controversies surrounding "America's Mayor" are at least as sexy as the carnal scandals and alleged drug deals The Journal investigated back then. This month a Journal reporter not on its editorial board added the government of Qatar to the small list of known Giuliani Partners clients, among them the manufacturer of OxyContin. We'll see if such journalism flourishes in the paper's Murdoch era.

But beyond New York's dailies and The Village Voice, the national news media, conspicuously the big three television networks, have rarely covered Mr. Giuliani much more aggressively than Mr. Murdoch's Fox News has. They are more likely to focus on Mr. Giuliani's checkered family history than the questions raised by his record in government and business. It's astounding how many are willing to look the other way while recycling those old 9/11 videos.

One exception is The Chicago Tribune, which last month on its front page revisited the story of how, after Mr. Giuliani left office, his mayoral papers were temporarily transferred to a private, tax-exempt foundation run by his supporters and financed with $1.5 million from mostly undisclosed donors. The foundation, which shares the same address as Giuliani Partners, copied and archived the records before sending them back to New York's municipal archives. Historians told The Tribune there's no way to verify that the papers were returned to government custody intact. Mayor Bloomberg has since signed a law that will prevent this unprecedented deal from being repeated.

Journalists, like generals, love to refight the last war, so the unavailability of millions of Hillary Clinton's papers has received all the coverage the Giuliani campaign has been spared. But while the release of those first lady records should indeed be accelerated, it's hard to imagine many more scandals will turn up after six volumes of "Whitewater," an impeachment trial and the avalanche of other investigative reportage on the Clintons then and now.

The Giuliani story, by contrast, is relatively virgin territory. And with the filing of a lawsuit by a vengeful eyewitness who was fired from her job, it may just have gained its own reincarnation of Linda Tripp.


© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Clarence Thomas Whines His Way to the Bank

What's the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much.

Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls "left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony" -- as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court -- he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by "bigots in white robes." Since kicking off his book tour on 60 Minutes last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh.

We are always at a crossroads with race in America, and so here we are again. The rollout of Justice Thomas's memoir, My Grandfather's Son, is not happening in a vacuum. It follows a Supreme Court decision (which he abetted) outlawing voluntary school desegregation plans in two American cities. It follows yet another vote by the Senate to deny true Congressional representation to the majority black District of Columbia. It follows the decision by the leading Republican presidential candidates to snub a debate at a historically black college as well as the re-emergence of a low-tech lynching noose in Jena, La.

Perhaps most significant of all, Mr. Thomas's woe-is-me tour unfolds against the backdrop of the presidential campaign of an African-American whose political lexicon does not include martyrdom or rage. My Grandfather's Son may consciously or not echo the title of Barack Obama's memoir of genealogy and race, Dreams from My Father, but it might as well be written in another tongue.

It's useful to watch Mr. Thomas at this moment, 16 years after his riveting confirmation circus. He is a barometer of what has and has not changed since then because he hasn't changed at all. He still preaches against black self-pity even as he hyperbolically tries to cast his Senate cross-examination by Joe Biden as tantamount to the Ku Klux Klan assassination of Medgar Evers. He still denies that he is the beneficiary of the very race-based preferences he deplores. He still has a dubious relationship with the whole truth and nothing but, and not merely in the matter of Anita Hill.

This could be seen most vividly on 60 Minutes, when he revisited a parable about the evils of affirmative action that is also a centerpiece of his memoir: his anger about the "tainted" degree he received from Yale Law School. In Mr. Thomas's account, he stuck a 15-cent price sticker on his diploma after potential employers refused to hire him. By his reckoning, a Yale Law graduate admitted through affirmative action, as he was, would automatically be judged inferior to whites with the same degree. The 60 Minutes correspondent, Steve Kroft, maintained that Mr. Thomas had no choice but to settle for a measly $10,000-a-year job (in 1974 dollars) in Missouri, working for the state's attorney general, John Danforth.

What 60 Minutes didn't say was that the post was substantial -- an assistant attorney general -- and that Mr. Danforth was himself a Yale Law graduate. As Mr. Danforth told the story during the 1991 confirmation hearings and in his own book last year, he traveled to New Haven to recruit Mr. Thomas when he was still a third-year law student. That would be before he even received that supposedly worthless degree. Had it not been for Yale taking a chance on him in the first place, in other words, Mr. Thomas would never have had the opportunity to work the Yalie network to jump-start his career and to ascend to the Supreme Court. Mr. Danforth, a senator in 1991, was the prime mover in shepherding the Thomas nomination to its successful conclusion.

Bill O'Reilly may have deemed the 60 Minutes piece "excellent," but others spotted the holes. Marc Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who now directs the National Urban League, told Tavis Smiley on PBS that it was "as though Justice Thomas's public relations firm edited the piece." On CNN, Jeffrey Toobin, the author of the new best-seller about the court, The Nine, said that it was "real unfair" for 60 Minutes not to include a response from Ms. Hill, who was slimed on camera by Mr. Thomas as "not the demure, religious, conservative person" she said she was.

Ms. Hill, who once taught at Oral Roberts University and is now a professor at Brandeis, told me last week that CBS News was the only one of the three broadcast news divisions that did not seek her reaction to the latest Thomas salvos. Mr. Kroft told me that there were no preconditions placed on him by either Mr. Thomas or his publisher. "Our story wasn't about Anita Hill," he said. "Our story was about Clarence Thomas."

In any event, the piece no more challenged Mr. Thomas's ideas than it did his insinuations about Ms. Hill. As Mr. Smiley and Cornel West noted on PBS, 60 Minutes showed an old clip of Al Sharpton at an anti-Thomas rally rather than give voice to any of the African-American legal critics of Justice Thomas's 300-plus case record on the court. In 2007, no less than in 1991, a clownish Sharpton clip remains the one-size-fits-all default representation of black protest favored by too many white journalists.

The free pass CBS gave Mr. Thomas wouldn't matter were he just another celebrity "get" hawking a book. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of all that public policy he can shape -- more so than ever now that John Roberts and Samuel Alito have joined him as colleagues. Indeed, Justice Thomas, elevated by Bush 41, was the crucial building block in what will probably prove the most enduring legacy of Bush 43, a radical Supreme Court. The "compassionate conservative" who turned the 2000 G.O.P. convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

While actuarial tables promise a long-lived Bush court, the good news is that the polarizing racial politics exemplified by the president and Mr. Thomas is on the wane elsewhere. Fittingly, the book tour for My Grandfather's Son began just as word of Harry Dent's death arrived from South Carolina last weekend. An aide to Strom Thurmond and then to Richard Nixon, Mr. Dent was the architect of the "Southern strategy" that exploited white backlash against the civil-rights movement to turn the South into a Republican stronghold.

Mr. Dent recanted years later, telling The Washington Post when he retired from politics in 1981 that he was sorry he had "stood in the way of rights of black people." His peers and successors have been less chastened. One former Nixon White House colleague, Pat Buchanan, said on "Meet the Press" last weekend that it was no big deal for Republican candidates to skip a debate before an African-American audience because blacks make up only about 10 percent of the voting public and Republicans only get about a tenth of that anyway. It didn't occur to Mr. Buchanan that in 21st-century America many white voters are also offended by politicians who snub black Americans -- whether at a campaign debate or in the rubble of Hurricane Katrina.

Republicans who play the race card may find that it has an expiration date even in the South. In 2000, Mr. Bush could speak at Bob Jones University when it still forbade interracial dating among its students, and John McCain could be tarred as the father of an illegitimate black child in the South Carolina primary. No more. Just ask the former Senator George Allen, the once invincible Republican prince of Virginia, whose career ended in 2006 after his use of a single racial slur.

Mr. Thomas seems ignorant of this changing America. He can never see past his enemies' list, which in his book expands beyond his political foes, Yale and the press to "elite white women" and "paternalistic big-city whites" and "light-skinned blacks." (He does include a warm mention of Mr. Thurmond, a supporter in 1991, without mentioning that the senator hid away a child fathered with a black maid.) Always eager to cast himself as a lynching victim, Mr. Thomas is far more trapped in the past than the 1960s civil-rights orthodoxy he relentlessly demonizes.

The only way he can live with his various hypocrisies, it seems, is to claim that he's the rare honest, politically incorrect black man who has the guts to tell African-Americans what no other black leader will. Thus he asserted to a compliant Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News last week that everyone except him tiptoes around talk of intraracial crime and out-of-wedlock births.

This will come as news to the millions of Americans who have heard Mr. Obama, among other African-American leaders whose words give the lie to this bogus claim. But the fact that America's highest court harbors a justice as full of unreconstructed racial bitterness as Clarence Thomas will prove more eye-opening still.

© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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