Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins AlterNet Archive

Molly Ivins's death on January 31, 2007 was a very sad moment and a major loss for AlterNet and the progressive community. The Texas Observer dedicated a tribute issue to Ivins, and Arianna Huffington
and Amy Goodman were among the many who wrote touching farewells to one of the greatest progressive journalists and opinion writers in American history. The following is the archive of Molly Ivins's superb collection of columns and articles published on AlterNet.

Stand Up Against the "Surge"
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders and we need to raise hell.
Posted on Jan 12, 2007

Now They're All For Bipartisanship
Apparently, the people of this country did not elect liberals to Congress last week. Nope, they elected populists!
Posted on Nov 15, 2006
Post-Election Etiquette
The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.
Posted on Nov 9, 2006
Campaign '06: Goodbye and Good Riddance
Congress stands before us so hopelessly corrupt that the stench has washed all over the country.
Posted on Nov 7, 2006
GOP Ineptitude and Advice for Dems
Victory looks likely; prepare for not gloating.
Posted on Oct 31, 2006
Rush Limbaugh's Sleaze Campaign
For misinformation and cruelty, not to mention plain bad manners, it is so hard to beat Rush Limbaugh.
Posted on Oct 26, 2006
Bush's Economy 'Doing Remarkably Well'
For those of us who aren't rich, however, incomes are stagnant while healthcare and education costs skyrocket.
Posted on Oct 24, 2006
Election Day Still a Long Way Off
I'm not close to calling this election, and I'm sure not into celebrating anything yet.
Posted on Oct 19, 2006
Iraq War: Despair is Not an Option
The administration has released three pages of the 30-page report. We may see the rest of it, but not 'til post-election.
Posted on Oct 17, 2006
Our Dear Leaders
Belligerent Mr. Bush has stirred up a hornet's nest in North Korea.
Posted on Oct 12, 2006
The Not-So-Great Texas Gubernatorial Debate
Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state.
Posted on Oct 10, 2006
Why the Torture Bill Matters
The detainee bill now in the Senate throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems necessary; basic principles of decency and law.
Posted on Sep 28, 2006
Noshing on the News
Stealing money from little kids' reading programs? What's that about?
Posted on Sep 26, 2006
A Tortured Debate
Bush's problem is that despite repeated warnings, he went ahead with 'the program' without waiting for Congress to provide a fig leaf of legality.
Posted on Sep 22, 2006
The Presidential Three-Year-Old
...Or the worst press conference in history.
Posted on Sep 21, 2006
Remembering Ann Richards
The recently deceased former Texas governor was a great reformer and staunch liberal in the reddest of states.
Posted on Sep 15, 2006
Cow Whisperers Against the War
What I learned from women peace activists: spill love and calm and reassurance and, well, peace all over them.
Posted on Aug 29, 2006
The New 'Activist' Judges
Somehow, activist judges are held responsible for gay marriage, Roe v. Wade and everything else Americans disagree about.
Posted on Aug 24, 2006
Truth-Telling Gone Wild
The Bushies are having the hardest time trying to un-lie.
Posted on Aug 22, 2006
Indiana: The New Terrorist Target?
The Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument might merit a little more attention than the Wabash Cannonball.
Posted on Aug 17, 2006
Stunned, Scared and Silent
The Bush administration's reliance on scare tactics -- to beat Americans into stunned submission -- is becoming outright laughable.
Posted on Aug 15, 2006
No Guts, No Grace
I'm starting to feel like Casey Stengel looking at the early Mets: 'Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?'
Posted on Aug 3, 2006
Media Coverage Doesn't Cut It
By the time Chapter 9,271 of the conflicts in the Middle East had gotten its own logo, everyone knew it was huge.
Posted on Jul 27, 2006
Bill Moyers for President
Can Moyers win? No, but he can show the Democrats what political courage looks like.
Posted on Jul 25, 2006
Capitalism's Suicide
Hedge funds are investment pools for the rich -- and they're causing serious harm to our country's economy.
Posted on Jul 18, 2006
The Politics of American Greed
Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers.
Posted on Jul 11, 2006
More Immigrant Bashing on the Way
House Republicans know a good, divisive election-year issue when they see one.
Posted on Jul 6, 2006
N. Korea and the 'Anti-Missile Missile'
If you think the "military standoff" with North Korea sounds silly, wait'll you hear about the diplomatic maneuvering.
Posted on Jun 30, 2006
An Epic Week of Cutting and Running
In the middle of the GOP's weeklong festival of referring to Dems as the party of 'retreat,' they abruptly announced their own cut'n'run program.
Posted on Jun 28, 2006
Credit Where Credit is Due
By declaring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument -- which will help protect its marine life -- Bush has made at least one good decision lately.
Posted on Jun 22, 2006
Our Pathetic State of Government
Attention, scandal-ridden Republicans: if you are put in charge of government, the least you can do is run it well.
Posted on Jun 20, 2006
Does the World See Bush As a Moron?
Do you suppose the rest of the world just assumes George W. Bush is a moron when he goes overseas?
Posted on Jun 15, 2006
Iraq: A Grudge Worth Holding
Morale, my ass. It's time the antiwar side in this country started using a few threats of its own.
Posted on Jun 13, 2006
An About-Face on Iran
Why is Bush now full of reason, offering to have diplomatic talks with the very people he's been denouncing as beyond vile?
Posted on Jun 8, 2006
What Republicans Worry About
Republicans are concerned with gay marriage and the burden of the estate tax on the rich, while the rest of us question war, economy, environment and civilization.
Posted on Jun 6, 2006
Bush & Enron: The Takeover is Complete
I'll be damned if Enron's No. 1 show pony politician, George W. Bush, should be allowed to walk away from this.
Posted on May 31, 2006
GOP: Outsourcing Everything
The administration just keeps passing off its dirty work: the war in Iraq, the war on 'foreigners' -- and that ingenius 50-foot wall to keep them out.
Posted on May 23, 2006
Bush's Wreckage
The minimum we should expect of Bush in return for dropping the issue of impeachment (or not) is that he cease breaking the law.
Posted on May 18, 2006
Is Bush a Lunatic?
Insane immigration policies, a new $70 billion tax cut for the rich, and increasing ineptitude in Iraq all indicate that this administration has lost its marbles.
Posted on May 17, 2006

Rolling Over for Bush
The extent to which corporate power has taken over the country can't be exaggerated. Thankfully, a slew of young authors know this.
Posted on May 11, 2006

The Best Little Whorehouse in Washington
Who can pass up a scandal involving poker, hookers and the Watergate building?
Posted on May 9, 2006

Republicans Wake a Sleeping Giant
They decided to play the race card when they tackled the immigration issue. Now what?
Posted on May 4, 2006

The No-Reform Lobby Reform Bill
This weak 'reform' bill proves that the entire Congress is rotten with corruption, and Republicans are proud of not cleaning it up.
Posted on May 2, 2006

The Great Bush Reclassification Project
Why does the FBI want to go through a dead man's files and reclassify public information?
Posted on Apr 28, 2006

Israel Lobby Nutjobs on the Loose
The abuse heaped on two academics by America's Israel lobby only proves the point that we need an honest debate on the topic.
Posted on Apr 26, 2006

Flawed Justice
As Zacarias Moussaoui and Ken Skilling illustrate, the quality of justice in this country is deeply affected by how much you can pay for it.
Posted on Apr 20, 2006

Election-Year Investigations
There always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. Now it's Rove's turn.
Posted on Apr 19, 2006

More 'Huh?'-Inducing News
The 'mobile weapons labs' introduced by Bush as pre-war evidence of WMDs were not, in fact, mobile weapons labs. What?
Posted on Apr 18, 2006

The Latest White House Whopper
Bush's newest defense of his rush to war in Iraq is another doozy in a regular stream of lies and deception coming from the Oval Office.
Posted on Apr 14, 2006

Special Favors for Special Interests
In another example of Congress' corporate shilling, the House just repealed more than 200 food safety protections -- with nary a public hearing.
Posted on Apr 11, 2006

A Good Swift Kick
I never minded DeLay being a tough guy -- it was his syrupy claims to carry the banner for Christianity that I found offensive.
Posted on Apr 6, 2006

Global Warming: What, Me Worry?
For a profession that thrives on pushing the panic button, many journalists are remarkably ho-hum about global warming.
Posted on Apr 4, 2006

Immigration 101
Racists seem to think that illegal workers -- the hardest-working, poorest people in the US -- are getting away with something.
Posted on Mar 30, 2006

Pardoning the Pentagon
The Pentagon has investigated its own habit of paying people to lie -- and, lo and behold, it found itself not guilty.
Posted on Mar 28, 2006

The Slow Death of Newspapers
For some reason, publishers assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful to people.
Posted on Mar 23, 2006

Democracy: What A Concept
Finally, there's a dandy way to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.
Posted on Mar 22, 2006

So Far, No Good
As Rep. John Murtha put it, 'The only people who want us in Iraq are Iran and al-Qaida.'
Posted on Mar 16, 2006

Internationalist or Isolationist?
For a president who openly scoffed at the idea of nation-building, Bush is meddling an awful lot in other countries' affairs.
Posted on Mar 15, 2006

You Call This Progress?
Despite Rumsfeld's public rationalizing, Iraq is in a deep pile of poop.
Posted on Mar 9, 2006

Abortion Rights Go South
Who needs choice when South Dakota senator Bill Napoli is around to decide for us?
Posted on Mar 7, 2006

The Cost of Incompetence
The Bush administration's unique brand of ineptitude is both chilling and really, really expensive.
Posted on Mar 3, 2006

Bush's Corporate Contortionist Act
The Dubai ports controversy is only the latest example of how willing Republicans are to bend over backwards to fight for Big Business's right to make massive profits.
Posted on Mar 1, 2006

It's the Corporation, Stupid
The government is willing to outsource American jobs for the holy grail of free trade. Why is it surprising that national security is ditto?
Posted on Feb 23, 2006

Will Reform Follow Scandal?
Abramoff got indicted; but all we got was this lousy $20 gift ban.
Posted on Feb 21, 2006

Dick Cheney Goes Hunting
Of course the Cheney shooting was an accident, but it still helps illustrate the Bush administration's curiously shifting history on issues of blame and responsibility.
Posted on Feb 14, 2006

Impeachment: The Cure For Executive Excess
In politics, as in kindergarten, the all-important word is 'no.'
Posted on Feb 9, 2006

Those Republican Jokers
Apparently, the push for energy independence is just another Bush punchline.
Posted on Feb 8, 2006

Bush vs. Reality
A rebuttal to Bush's naive assertions that we're doing well in Iraq.
Posted on Feb 3, 2006

Lying About the State of the Union
As Bush officials keep more and more information from us, they are less and less accountable for what they do.
Posted on Jan 31, 2006

Time for a Pragmatic Approach
We have made a horrible mess of this 'war on terrorism' -- now how do we fix it?
Posted on Jan 25, 2006

Why Hillary Won't Save Us
If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to own the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.
Posted on Jan 23, 2006

Time to Go Long
What matters here is not what the Republicans or the Democrats do -- it's what you do before November.
Posted on Jan 17, 2006

Making Incompetence a Reality
For sheer government incompetence, this administration sets new records daily.
Posted on Jan 12, 2006

Hang in, and Raise Hell
Corrupt politicians think we're morons. It's time to strike back -- with reform, not cheap cynicism.
Posted on Jan 11, 2006

Not Proud to Be an American
Abramoff and DeLay used nonprofit organizations to launder money and pay for high-flying perks. That's just Bad Taste.
Posted on Jan 10, 2006

Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden
So Bush unnecessarily breaks a law, then denounces anyone who discusses it as helping 'the enemy.'
Posted on Jan 5, 2006

Stupidity, Survived
The end of the year is occasion to pause in wonder that we have once again survived, even in the face of fresh heights of human stupidity.
Posted on Dec 31, 2005

For the entire listing of Ivins's work, visit her AlterNet author page.

Post-Election Etiquette

The sheer pleasure of getting lessons in etiquette from Karl Rove and the right-wing media passeth all understanding. Ever since 1994, the Republican Party has gone after Democrats with the frenzy of a foaming mad dog. There was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, not to mention the trashing of both Clinton and his wife -- accused of everything from selling drugs to murder -- all orchestrated by that paragon of manners, Tom DeLay.

Media Matters collected some gems of fairness. For instance, Monica Crowley with MSNBC, in the wake of John Kerry's botched program, astutely observed "how lucky we are that he was not elected president. ... The Republicans remain the grown-ups, the responsible ones on national security."

How many dead Americans has this grown-up war resulted in?

And how darling of Fox's Juan Williams, upon learning polls show the people favor Democrats on taxes, to say, "To me, that's crazy."

And how many times did Chris Matthews use the Republican talking points about Nancy Pelosi? Extremist, uncooperative, incapable, unwilling to work with the president.

So after 12 years of tolerating lying, cheating and corruption, the press is prepared to lecture Democrats on how to behave with bipartisan manners.

Given Bush's record with the truth, this bipartisanship sounds like a bad idea on its face. Go back to the first year of the administration, when Bush double-crossed Ted Kennedy in the No Child Left Behind Act. Think about it: You've said at the outset of your administration that you need cooperation to get anything done. Then you double-cross one of the senior senators of the other party when your re-education and labor agenda is dependent on him?

These people are not only dishonest -- they're not even smart. Not that I recommend nailing them at every turn, but I wouldn't be surprised if they try to do it to Democrats. If what Republicans have been practicing is bipartisanship, West Texas just flooded.

O.K., here's what the D's have going for them. New kids. Easy, popular first moves -- for example, increasing the minimum wage. Republicans so inept that it's painful. You want to look at some really, really basic legislation, try fixing the Medicare prescription drug bill. Or the bankruptcy bill. Or new dollar and trade policies.

Then we get to the real meat of this election. There are all manner of shuffle steps and politically shrewd thing for the D's to do. But now is not the time to be clever. The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.

I noticed when Republicans are forced to talk about how to end this, they tend to announce that it's all hopeless: They have no ideas at all. Thanks, guys. Of all the options, I would say splitting Iraq into three states is least advisable. First, it puts us in the position of screwing the Kurds once again. Second, Turkey has serious objections to a Kurdistan. Third, Turkey is not a militia. Fourth, it gives Iran and Saudi Arabia a pawn apiece. And there'd be an unimaginable amount of future hassle.

Do I have any good ideas? Yes, but it's not a solution. We need to start the Middle East peace process again. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it's what Bush should have done to begin with. Because we have to start somewhere.

GOP Ineptitude and Advice for Dems

"There's no doubt in my mind, with your help, Dave Lamberti will be the next United States congressman." -- President George Bush last week, endorsing Jeff Lamberti.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has announced his candidacy for the president of the United States. Until now, he's barely been noticed as a guy who took money from Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, whose bribes to Randy "Duke" Cunningham led to his resignation from Congress and a plea of guilty to bribery charges. Hunter is widely expected to be the next congressman indicted in this scandal.

As for the chair of the House Armed Services Committee's presidential candidacy, we have been thinking of scarcely little else around here. It's about time we had some good news.

There's so much evidence stacking up in the "Can't These People Do Anything Right?" File, you'd suspect their secret strategy is to reward incompetence. It's like the hiring of Michael "Brownie" Brown at FEMA or John Bolton at the United Nations -- it's just hard to imagine why.

So now the latest report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says we have lost track of hundreds of thousands of guns we shipped to Iraq, many of which are likely now being used to kill our soldiers. For this administration, "Who's in charge of getting the plastic forks for the potato salad at the company picnic?" has deadly consequences.

A depressing story like this, and the week has barely even begun. I hate to imagine what will be on our plates by Friday.

So with the Bushies continuing their tailspin, it might be time to review the rules in case WE WIN in the upcoming midterm elections:

I realize for many Democrats it has been so long since we won, we have completely forgotten the etiquette. And I realize I'm taking a chance here -- there's nothing more dangerous than overconfidence -- but you have to practice for victory as well as defeat.

First rule: No gloating. Actually, there is gloating allowed, but only in the exclusive presence of other Democrats. Gloating in the face of Republicans is rude and unsportsmanlike, and just gives them one more thing to complain about. Also, remember there is a possibility there may be some Republicans on the civil service staff -- I have seen this when the R's win -- and it is really not good manners to watch them wailing around with their eyes brimming with tears.

Second, I'm sure we will all be full of grand theories if Republicans lose and we win. Dems will be ready to be helpful, offer advice and sort of try to perk the R's up. I do not recommend this. It somehow never feels to me when R's are dumping truckloads of good advice on the D's that they are, actually, sincere about it.

Third, celebratory jigs, reels and renditions of "Danny Boy" are best limited to Irish bars.

Fourth, try to refrain from insulting Republicans en masse. A good start would be, "You know, it was mostly the ones under indictment that hurt you."

Election Day Still a Long Way Off

Stunning coincidence. The verdict in the long-running trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is now due two days before our congressional elections in November. Astounding. How ineffable.

Sometimes you know the Republicans have just lost the rag completely. This week, Dick Cheney said to Rush Limbaugh regarding the Iraqi government, "If you look at the general, overall situation, they're doing remarkably well." The vice president also acknowledged there's some concern because the war wasn't over "instantaneously." We have now been in Iraq just one month shy of the entire time it took us to fight World War II. Seventy Americans dead so far in October. Electricity in Iraq this year hit its lowest levels since the war started.

What infuriates me about this is the lying. WHY can't they level with us? Just on the general, overall situation.

Put me in the depressive Dems camp. We always look good going into the last two weeks, until we get hit with that wall of Republican money (though I do think Ohio is beyond political recall at this point for the R's). Of course, both sides always complain about unfair advertising, but I must admit that almost all political advertising strikes me as ludicrous and I don't notice the D's looking simon-pure. A little shading, a little emphasis here and there -- I'm hard to shock on political ads, but I do get more than miffed when they take the truth and just stand it on its head.

For example, if ever there has been a friend to Social Security it would be Rep. Chet Edwards from Waco, Texas, a D loyal to the FDR, LBJ and government-exists-to-serve-the-people tradition. So what are the R's attacking him on? Not supporting Social Security. All this kind of thing does is render political debate completely meaningless.

The argument now is that D's have a seven-point structural deficit going into any election. I see the problem, I just have no idea what the actual numbers are.

Let's start with the easy end, the Senate. From the book "Off Center" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, as recently quoted by Eric Alterman in his blog: "The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won 2.5 million more votes than Republicans. Yet now they hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily overrepresented in the Senate. As journalist Hendrik Hertzberg (of the New Yorker) notes, if you treat each senator as representing half that state's population, then the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million people."

OK, we all know about the small-state advantage in the Senate. How did the People's House get so far out of fair? Paul Krugman explains: "The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted -- they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the GOP to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts."

I should also point out that Democrats used to pack minority voters into the same districts when they drew the redistricting lines because of simple racism. Minority candidates need more votes to win, as polling consistently shows them several points ahead of where they actually finish because some people still cannot bring themselves to vote for black politicians even if they agree with them.

For instance, race is a factor this year in Harold Ford's Tennessee Senate contest -- even though political people keep pretending it's not.

I'm the one who has been writing for two years that the American people are fed up with the war in Iraq and with the Bush administration's lies and incompetence. I'm the one that keeps beating the Washington press corps about the head over how out of touch it is. I'm the one who has been insisting there's a Democratic tide out here, and that the people are so far ahead of the politicians and the media it's painful to watch.

So how come I'm not thrilled? Because I watched this happen two years ago -- same rejection of the Iraq war, same disgust with Bush and Co., same understanding Republicans are for the rich, period, same polls showing D's with the lead going right into Election Day. And the same geographic gerrymander and same wall of money in the last two weeks. I'm not close to calling this election, and I'm sure not into celebrating anything yet.

Our Dear Leaders

Nobody else seems to be asking the obvious question about Susan B. Ralston, former administrative assistant to Jack Abramoff and, until last week, assistant to Karl Rove. She got hired by Rove at $64,700 after the 2004 election and then received a raise to $122,000. Why? I've never gotten a 100 percent raise. Did you? Is this common?

I know next to nothing about North Korea, but I know how to find out. People who do know the weird country have been worrying about it in print for six years now. (See articles in The New York Review of Books.) Eric Alterman picked this bit up in "The Book on Bush:" "The tone of Powell's tenure was set early in the administration, when he announced that he planned 'to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off" in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, 'We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements,' he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean President (and Nobel laureate for peace for his own efforts with the North) Kim Dae-Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest, as well.

"A day later, Powell backpedaled. 'The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea,' Powell said. 'There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin -- that is not the case.'"

This was pre-9/11, when Bush's entire foreign policy consisted in not doing whatever Clinton had done, and vice versa. Also from "The Book on Bush": "As former Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush's carelessly worded 'Axis of Evil' address, 'Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president,' the speech would likely cause 'dangerous escalatory consequences, (including) ... renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast.' ... North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes (Washington Post) columnist Richard Cohen, was 'a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper ... as appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I.'"

Remember Bush's diplomatic interview with Bob Woodward, when he said, "I loathe Kim Jong-Il!" Waving his finger, he added, "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people." Bush also said he wanted to "topple him" and called him a "pygmy." How old were you when you learned not to antagonize and infuriate the local crazy bully?

Always a top diplomat. But I warn you, when Bush makes reference of this, as in "my gut tells me," we are in big trouble. By any measure, North Korea continued to be more dangerous than Iraq.

I don't see how this mess can be blamed on anyone but Bush, but I notice that a few Republicans have dragged out the shade of Bill Clinton because he tried to deal with North Korea. I would have thought there wasn't much water left in that bogeyman, but I guess he is the straw man for all seasons among Republicans. Why doesn't someone on Fox News ask him about it?

Meanwhile, our fiendishly clever president has dragged his daddy's old family consigliore, James Baker, out of retirement to think of something to do about Iraq. A three-part partition is mentioned. Michigan History Professor Juan Cole on his blog explains why that's a disaster, but I suspect that's where the poor Iraqis end up anyway, followed by war with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The Not-So-Great Texas Gubernatorial Debate

AUSTIN, Texas -- I sacrificed an hour Friday evening to watch the Texas gubernatorial debate on your behalf, since I knew none of you would do it. Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state -- he was intelligent, well-informed and even funny. But the question remains: Can Texas afford to lose that hair?

The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry simply disagreed, standing there proudly behind that 35 percent voter support he has so richly earned. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response.

At one point, the debate actually became more interesting, as a panel of reporters with Belo Corp. changed formats. Doing a quick pop quiz, they asked independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn who had won the election in Mexico. She informed us the winner had won by a narrow margin, and she is ready to work with him. They asked Goodhair the interest rate on a home mortgage. He said 5.9 percent, and it is 6.4 percent (I don't think I would have known that, either). Independent candidate Kinky Friedman didn't even try to guess the average cost of a year's tuition at the University of Texas ($7,630). They asked Bell when the battle of the Alamo was fought. He correctly answered 1836.

One overall impression: It seems to me both Strayhorn and Friedman damaged themselves. Lots of people are voting for Kinky for the fun of it, but the thin-skinned Texas Jew reacted badly to questions about his recent racist remarks. He first became defensive and then petulant -- sort of, if you can't take a joke, to hell with you. The politically incorrect humor didn't work because it wasn't funny ... in fact, it was painfully bad. Strayhorn seemed over-prepped and over-amped. As Texas political guru Bob Armstrong said, she talked 40 mph, with gusts up to 70.

So that leaves us with two Protestant white guys again. Just FYI, the percentage of minority citizens working for the state government has gone down steadily since Ann Richards.

Rick Perry and Chris Bell: Compare and contrast.

Rick Perry has really good hair.

Chris Bell has everything else.

Obviously, you think my prejudices are showing here, but others who reported on the debate, while often taking shelter behind the "no major blows landed" dodge, rather clearly thought Bell had done best, even if Perry won on the politics of it by not actually saying anything totally idiotic.

According to the post-debate "fact check" article in the Dallas Morning News, Perry claimed he had pushed a tax bill through the Legislature "lowering property taxes by a record amount." He didn't mention that the bill is not a tax cut, it's a tax-swap -- it didn't lower taxes, it just moved them over to business and smokers.

He also claimed teachers could get a $12,000 raise under his school plan. Actually, the pay raise for teachers is $2,000 across the board, with the stated recommendation to the school districts that they add merit pay raises between $3,000 and $10,000. That's some mighty fancy slicing and dicing there.

Bell picked up a $1 million pledge that night from John O'Quinn, the Houston trial lawyer. The trial lawyers have almost blown a good shot here -- all it takes is one more vote than 36 percent, there is no run-off, this is winner-take-all, sudden death. Polls show two out of three Texas voters ready to vote against Perry. The Democrats have a base vote around 40 percent. I think it would be a real tragedy to throw this one away, and you know what is tripping us up? We think we can't win.

We're in a real "why try, why work, why contribute?" spiral, believing our guy doesn't have a chance. Nonsense. You couldn't ask for an easier win.

Why the Torture Bill Matters

Oh dear. I'm sure he didn't mean it. In Illinois' 6th Congressional District, long represented by Henry Hyde, Republican candidate Peter Roskam accused his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth of planning to "cut and run" on Iraq.

Duckworth is a former Army major and chopper pilot, who lost both legs in Iraq after her helicopter got hit by an RPG. "I just could not believe he would say that to me," said Duckworth, who walks on artificial legs and uses a cane. Every election cycle produces some wincers, but how do you apologize for that one?

The legislative equivalent of that remark is the detainee bill, now being passed by Congress. Beloveds, this is so much worse than even that pathetic deal reached last Thursday between the White House and Republican Sens. Warner, McCain and Graham. The White House has since reinserted a number of "technical fixes" that were the point of the putative "compromise." It leaves the president with the power to decide who is an enemy combatant.

This bill is not a national security issue -- this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies.

Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place.

The first reported case of death by torture by Americans was in The New York Times in 2003 by Carlotta Gall. The military had announced the prisoner died of a heart attack, but when Gall actually saw the death certificate, written in English and issued by the military, it said the cause of death was homicide. The "heart attack" came after he had been beaten so often on this legs that they had "basically been pulpified," according to the coroner.

The story of why and how it took the Times so long to print this information is in the current edition of Columbia Journalism Review. The press in general has been late and slow in reporting torture, so very few Americans have any idea how far it has spread. As is often true in hierarchical, top-down institutions, the orders get passed on in what I call the downward communications exaggeration spiral.

For example, on a newspaper, a top editor may remark casually, "Let's give the new mayor a chance to see what he can do before we start attacking him."

This gets passed on as, "Don't touch the mayor unless he really screws up."

And it ultimately arrives at the reporter level as, "We can't say anything negative about the mayor."

The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration's first proposal. In one change, the original compromise language said a suspect had the right to "examine and respond to" all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word "examine" and left only "respond to."

In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words "outside the United States," which means prosecutors can ignore American legal standards on warrants.

The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." Quick, define "purposefully and materially." One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.

The bill simply removes a suspect's right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.

As Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet dissident, wrote, an intelligence service free to torture soon "degenerates into a playground for sadists." But not unbridled sadism -- you will be relieved that the compromise took out the words permitting interrogation involving "severe pain" and substituted "serious pain," which is defined as "bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain."

In July 2003, George Bush said in a speech: "The United States is committed to worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right.

Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes, whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit."

Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems it necessary -- these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law.

I'd like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis.

Noshing on the News

  • The National Intelligence Estimate, agreed upon by 16 Bush-controlled spy services within the U.S. government, says the war in Iraq is making the war on terrorism harder and worse. It gives the phrase "leaking intelligence" a new meaning (a line not original with me).

    We've been having a debate in this country about whether to continue the war -- or "the comma," as the president calls it -- until it has become a semi-colon. Now, the debate is over, and what we need to discuss is the best way out. This war is not a goddamn comma.

  • According to The Associated Press, the directors of the Legal Services Corp., a program for poor people, have been trying to get rid of their inspector general, who has clocked them for, among other things, expensive meals, using limousine services and wasting money on a ritzy headquarters.

    The board members said the inspector general had a "fetish" for independence (how horrible) and that he's a character assassin backed by a delusional staff, and so forth. While this was going on, one half of the poor clients applying for legal services were rejected.

  • The AP reports the Education Department has ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wants. The billion-dollar-a-year Reading First program is apparently riddled with problems, including political favoritism, conflicts of interest and mismanagement. In a hair-raising memo, the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, wrote members of the staff at the Department of Education regarding one company, "They are trying to crash our party, and we need to beat the (expletive) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags."

    Doherty recently resigned from the department "to return to the private sector," a spokeswoman said. Isn't that nice? I kind of wish he was back in government helping to answer the eternal mystery, "Is our children learning?"

  • For the second time since August, the Army is ordering the combat tours of thousands of soldiers past the promised 12 months. This time, it's nearly 4,000 soldiers in the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored.

    Again in Iraq, the Army chief of staff is refusing to submit a budget because he says he needs billions more dollars before the Army can meet its obligations. He will surely get help from ol' "anything they ask for" Bush.

    The question is: Can these people run anything right? The other question is: Is there anything they can't screw up?

I don't know about you, but I think the Education deal has me more upset. I mean, we already knew the Big Comma was producing a backlash, didn't we, really? Where are we now -- 2,700 dead Americans, nearly 50,000 dead Iraqis ... come on, that's at least familiar, what Donald Rumsfeld would call a "known-known." But stealing money from little kids' reading programs? What is that about? Iraq -- Bush made a horrible mistake because he knows relatively little. But stacking the bidding in favor a reading program that may not be the best available? I suppose the answer is that Republicans (except for Bush) never did think having the feds in education was a good idea.

I'm ready to settle for a bar of common decency. Lead us into an insane war, get the troops killed, lie about whatever you want, eat fancy meals on the government tab ($14 for a chocolate dessert?), but please, oh please, do not rig the bids for reading material for our adorable little children, who will soon be appearing with President Bush in a rainbow of colors in ads dreamed up by Karl Rove. They're really great for photo ops.

A Tortured Debate

Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?

I'd like to thank Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham -- a former military lawyer -- and John Warner of Virginia. I will always think fondly of John Warner for this one reason: Forty years ago, this country was involved in an unprovoked and unnecessary war. It ended so badly the vets finally had to hold their own homecoming parade, years after they came home. The only member of Congress who attended was John Warner.

A debate on torture. I don't know -- what do you think? I guess we have to define it, first. The White House has already specified "water boarding," making some guy think he's drowning for long periods, as a perfectly good interrogation technique. Maybe, but it was also a great favorite of the Gestapo and has been described and condemned in thousands of memoirs and novels in highly unpleasant terms.

I don't think we can give it a good name again, and I personally kind of don't like being identified with the Gestapo. How icky. (Somewhere inside me, a small voice is shrieking, "Are you insane?")

The safe position is, "Torture doesn't work."

Well, actually, it works to this extent -- anybody can be tortured into telling anything that's true and anything that's not true. The more people are tortured, the more they make up to please the torturer. Then the torturer has to figure out when the vic started lying. Since our torturers are, in George Bush's immortal phrase, "professionals" and this whole legislative fight is over making torture legal so the "professionals" can't later be charged with breaking the Geneva Conventions, Bush has vowed to end "the program" completely if he doesn't get what he wants. (The same thin voice is shrieking, "Professional torturers trained with my tax money?")

Bush's problem is that despite repeated warnings, he went ahead with "the program" without waiting for Congress to provide a fig leaf of legality. Actually, we have been torturing prisoners at Gitmo, prisons in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan for years.

Since only seven of the several hundred prisoners at Gitmo have ever been charged with anything, we face the unhappy prospect that the rest of them are innocent. And will sue. That's going to be quite an expensive settlement. The Canadian upon whom we practiced "rendition," sending him to Syria for 10 months of torture, will doubtlessly be first on the legal docket. I wonder how high up the chain of command a civil suit can go? Any old war criminals wandering around?

I was interested to find that the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I'd like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don't know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as ... well, torture. And, um, wrong.

And I've smoked dope! Boy, everything those conservatives tell us about the terrible moral values of us liberals must be true after all. Now, in addition to the slightly surreal awakening to find we live in a country that's having a serious debate on a torture bill, can we do anything about it? The answer is: We better.

We better do something about it. Now, right away. What do we do? The answer is: anything ... phone, fax, e-mail, mail, demonstrate -- go stand outside their offices or the nearest federal building in the cold and sing hymns or shout rude slogans, chant or make a speech, or start attacking federal property, like a postal box, so they have to arrest you. Gather peacefully and make a lot of noise. Get publicity, too.

How will you feel if you didn't do something? "Well, honey, when the United States decided to adopt torture as an official policy, I was dipping the dog for ticks."

As Ann Richards used to say, "I don't want my tombstone to read: 'She kept a clean house.'"

The Presidential Three-Year-Old

Is it just me, or was that the worst presidential press conference in history? So I went back and read it over. Of course, in print you don't get the testy tone: I heard it on radio and thought the man was about to blow up -- not just because he was being questioned, which Bush appears to consider an offensive action in the first place, but because people continue to refuse to see things the way he does. How can they be so stupid or malign, he appears to wonder.

I ask: How can he be so repetitive, repeatedly using the oldest tactic of a verbal bully -- saying the same thing louder, as though that would make it true?

Last Friday's Rose Garden press conference seemed so awful I thought it worth wading through it again to see what set him off. Maybe if you saw it on television, it seemed better. Perhaps his banter with reporters works better on TV. But I left with the impression that this is a spoiled man whose frustration level when someone disagrees with him is that of a 3-year-old and that he's the last person you want to see operating under a lot of stress because he doesn't handle it well. See what you think:

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Happy Holidays!