Friday, August 05, 2005
"Go To Ohio, Mr. President"
As an aside, the White House might keep in mind the previously-established capacity for the Buckeye State to create a seminal turning point in a controversial conflict.
UPDATE: More thoughts on the international and domestic ripples emanating from the insurgency flow at the Syrian border.
Bob, Bill, George -- the '90s Hangover?
Yes, it is true that there is a rather uncomfortable familiarity to Rafael Palmeiro's statement to a congressional panel back in March, "I have never used steroids. Period. I do not know how to say it more clearly than that. Never."
As Tyrell is quick to point out, it sounds something like another now-notorious public pronouncement: "I did not have sex with that woman -- Ms. Lewinsky." (For that matter, one could toss them in with "Read my lips -- no new taxes" into a nice box called, "Public Statements Prominent Individuals Would Prefer To Take Back.")
With a best-selling book on Bill Clinton, it's quite understandble that Bob would say, "Palmeiro is one of Clinton's finest students" from the "Decade of Illusions." There certainly was a certain newly-revealed deceptive culture in the '90s. But, with regard to the question at hand of baseball -- and Rafael Palmeiro specifically -- speculation can drift into areas that have little to do with Slick Willie.
If we go back to that era, one is forced to note a rather significant figure in Rafael Palmeiro's life.
Who was the principal owner of a Texas Rangers team over a period that when its roster included at one time or another Palmeiro, Jose Canseco AND Sammy Sosa -- all of whom testified before Congress on steroids? (Um, that is, they testified on the SUBJECT of steroids -- though, actually, Palmeiro might have been ON them at that moment. Ironically, the one whom engendered nearly universal contempt at the time -- whistle-blowing author Canseco -- looks to be the one telling the truth.)
Who was the man who still calls Palmeiro a friend and -- despite this week's revelations -- says that he believes him?
Early in Clinton years, the Wall Street Journal once famously deplored the import of "Arkansas morés" to Washington. They were somewhat prescient. Fair or otherwise, the fact is that Texas -- most decidedly NOT Bill Clinton country -- seems to have been Ground Zero for this sports-substance scandal which is only now exploding. (The late Ken Caminiti -- the pre-Canseco poster boy for steroids -- was a member of the Houston Astros in the early '90s.)
Texas morés? Well, when it came to steroids it was obviously "the moré, the merrier!" (Well, they do say that they grow 'em bigger in Texas. )
Former Rangers owner George W. Bush claims that he knew nothing of steroid use in his club at the time (Canseco claims he "must" have known, but unlike the shared steroid use of his former teammates, he has no first-hand knowledge). But, it would be nice to hear the president say something -- other than the generic "steroids are bad" -- about his former club's rather big role in this growing scandal.
Needless to say, it doesn't exactly do any good for the image of the president to have the word perjury now swirling around two Texas friends (albeit men with very different professions and roles).
This has little to do with the decade of illusions -- and nothing to do with Bill Clinton (Canseco claims that the steroid use on the Rangers began in 1993 -- it would have been difficult for Clinton to have had that quick of an impact on baseball). Certain tones -- possibly attributable to the 42nd president -- may have been set in the '90s, but the Uh-Oh Decade's grim realities are all its own.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
The Two Faces of John McCain
First, we have a representative example of McCain The Evil -- stack the FEC on ideologically bi-partisan lines: In other words, you can be a Republican or a Democrat -- just as long as you agree with McCain's view of money in the political process. (The fact that Washington campaign finance experts "consider the New Jersey Election Commission, the Illinois Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board aggressive regulatory bodies" adds a sense of hilarity to the issue. When Illinois and New Jersey are mentioned, tell me that the phrase "clean and honest elections" comes to mind!)
On the other hand, here is an example of McCain The Good -- shining a light on one of the most underreported foreign policy stories: The increasing authoritarian nature of Hugo Chavez' Venezuela. McCain, Madeline Albright and former Rep. Vin Weber wrote Chavez urging that he drop the prosecution of opposition campaign workers. (Keep in mind Chavez beat the opposition last year in a referendum that good ole Jimmy Carter prematurely declared clean and in "good faith" -- despite widespread evidence to the contrary. Despite the win, Chavez, Fidel Castro's best friend in Latin America, is out to crush the opposition.)
McCain has been the long-time chairman of the International Republican Institute -- a Congress-funded organization that promotes democracy-building around the world (Yes, there is a Democratic Party-affiliated counterpart). This letter bringing some attention to the Venezuela situation is in keeping with his commitment to these issues. (Full disclosure: I was part of an IRI-sponsored observation team for the 1999 presedential election in Nigeria.)
For those of us who still find a lot to admire in John McCain, there is nothing but visceral frustration at seeing a man committed to developing free elections processes abroad unable to recognize how his signature issue stifles debate at home.
A good comprehensive site on the many facets of the Venezuelan political situation can be found here.
Summer 2005: It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity
No, minor flake-outs like Jude Law, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jessica & Nick and the white-gloved pedophile don't count.
Like the poor, the sexual foibles of the rich & famous will always be with us.
No, we're talking mega-celebrity inanity here. The collapse of the once almost-universally admired.
Appropriately enough, the "summer" season got off to an early start: Tom Cruise's appearance on the May 23rd Oprah Winfrey Show. That would be the now-notorious moment when the one-time can't-miss Hollywood wunderkind had a one-for-the-books meltdown in exuberantly pronouncing his love for Katie Holmes. The sudden Scientology Stepford-ization of the aforementioned Ms. Holmes (even before the engagement/press conference at the Eiffel Tower) and subsequent other bizarre Cruise incidents (such as the anti-psychiatry rant on the "Today Show") managed to put this entire episode in a class by itself -- especially in contrast to Cruise's previously cultivated pure public image. That the Cruise-Stephen Spielberg collaboration managed to produce one of the worst movies in either of their careers was a bonus. That this was a gift that kept giving was revealed in the interesting role Cruise's Scientology plays in a minor political New York scandal unfolding this week.
Proving celebrity stupidity is contagious, Oprah Winfrey herself caught the bug three weeks after Cruise's appearance. The most successful celebrity in the world accomplished the impossible: By throwing a huge temper tantrum after being denied after-hours entry into the chic Parisian Hermes boutique -- and then crying racism -- Oprah actually managed to make Americans feel sorry for the French. Ms. Winfrey and her crew went to Hermes to buy a gift for her dinner guest Tina Turner. The initial story was that because Oprah wasn't all "Oprah-fied" in a fashion sense, the Hermes staff wouldn't let her in, thinking she was some skanky North African. Later, it turned out that this wasn't quite the case: Oprah and Co. were late -- ironically enough, they were trying to buy a watch -- and a security guard explained the store was closed for a private event. ("Private Dancer" Tina Turner might have appreciated the irony).
Nonetheless, Oprah says that she will never shop in Hermes again and -- of course -- will devote an entire show to her personal "crash moment" when the new season starts in September.
How times have changed. When Harry Belafonte faced real racism in the '50s -- not being allowed to buy a co-op because he was black -- he knew how to fight it:
The singer-cum-activist fought back not with picket signs, but with the muscle celebrities give such a workout: money. He bought the entire 13-story building and converted it to a co-op two years later, attracting the likes of singer Lena Horne to take up residence there.Today, proving that there may be some limit to celebrity stupidity, Martha Stewart gets slapped with an additional three weeks in home detention.
Not only has she been clearly violating the terms of her probation, "tooling around in her new off-road vehicle" and "dropping in on a yoga class" in multiple interviews, Stewart has made a mockery of her entire prison time.
In her Vanity Fair interview, she proudly revealed her prison name of "M.Diddy" and boasted of how easy it was to remove her electronic detention anklet. Ah a real Gangsta Doyenne!
Maybe not though. She, of course has to play the role of the unfairly-treated victim. The lesson drawn from her prosecution: "Bring 'em down a notch, to scare other people. If Martha can be sent to jail, think hard before you sell that stock." Poor, poor baby!! As if reality-king Mark Burnett would have approached her to do the "Apprentice" spin-off without the street cred that jail-time gave her.
Martha gets bonus stupidity points for inspiring stupidity in others and laying the seeds for even more to comel: Gangsta rapper Lil' Kim got a relatively mild sentence last month for perjuring herself before a grand jury examining the details of a shooting at a New York radio station. Judge Gerard Lynch said he was worried that the public would compare the fate of the lying "younger African-American entertainer" to that of the lying "older, whiter" Stewart.
So Lynch sentenced Lil Kim to a year and a day -- when she could have gotten 33 to 41 months. In short, lying in a case where bullets went flying and people could have gotten killed is only twice as bad as lying about when a stock was supposed to be sold. So, because of the "inspiration" that "M. Diddy" gave Judge Lynch (who obviously couldn't live up to his own name), we can all look forward to the that-much-quicker return to the streets of this classic sort of urban commentary:
Now, that's a good thing.
The Anne Klein-sportin, coke-snortin ni**az lovely
I keep my p***y fresh like Dudley; watch the show
as my flow bubble over like Mo's and Cristal's
Ain't scared to bust my pist-al, sippin hard on Cristal
Dream accounts, large amounts Cause Frank
don't play with lai money, get high money
Ready to die Grady, no if's, and's, or maybe's
I'm not your average lady; put that on my 380
Me and my b*tch catch flights to Texas
Ni**as call us Crystal and Alexis
Bump into some hoes that be in Houston boostin
Trunk full of Donna Karan in the rental LeBaron
Oprah was right. This is the summer of the uber-celebrity "crash moment": Tom, Oprah and Martha all had crash moments -- when the public persona that they had all built up over decades came crashing down. Tom the smiling good-guy actor; Oprah the self-empowerment queen of daytime; Martha, the confident businesswoman who built an empire.
That is how they were known and admired.
Today, as their self-confidence now mutates into overwhelming self-entitlement, each stands revealed as manipulative, calculating and not a little bit domineering.
Tom -- calling the press conference after a staged, very public engagement; Oprah -- the petulant "don't-you-know-who-I-Am" diva outraged that simple rules can't be changed for her. Martha -- who drifted away from reality last year in comparing herself to Nelson Mandela was completely revealed as she now wavers between personas of tough ex-con pop-gangsta wannabe -- and a poor misunderstood victim.
Who knows: Maybe Oprah can have Martha and Kim on when they're both sprung and they can all plan a group trip to Hermes. Who knows? Tom & Katie may want to hang out at the Eiffel Tower again and they can all fly over? Would it be too cruel to wish for a different sort of "crash moment"? (Hmmm...Lil' Kim is close enough to being a musician that it could happen.)
Ah, let's not got that far. Yes, it's easy to want to wish harm on our Idiots Celebritie. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, "We could do that, but it would be wrong."
My Vote Goes to Kelly Clarkson and the Pussycat Dolls
Even though it peaked weeks ago, "Since You Been Gone" still sticks in my head, can be heard coming out of car radios/CD players and the remix remains a huge club anthem. Meanwhile, "Don't Cha" is THE hot song of the moment, with a hooky chorus impossible to ignore.
The NY Daily News weighed in last week with their own picks:
"Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani
"Feel Good, Inc." by Gorillaz
"Mr. Brightside" by The Killers
"Behind These Hazel Eyes" by Kelly Clarkson
"Wait (The Whisper Song)" by Ying Yang Twins
A few more to watch: "Sugar, We're Going Down," by Fall Out Boy; "Best of You," by Foo Fighters; "Switch," by Will Smith; "Everything's Alright," by Motion City Soundtrack; "Pon De Replay" by Rhianna.
I tend to think of "Mr. Brightside" -- another favorite -- as a spring song, but I guess it went fully mainstream at the beginning of the summer. And, for some reason, "Hollaback Girl" is amazingly annoying -- which could be as good a reason as any to make it the official '05 anthem.
Other suggestions happily accepted.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
The Discreet Charm of the Terrorist Cause|
Timing Is Everything
It Gets So Confusing
"[He's] a friend. He testified...and I believe him." "He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the klieg lights...I believe him. Still do.
"[He's] got my complete confidence. He's a valuable member of [the] team. Why don't you wait and see what the true facts are?"
The above, slightly-edited, comments were said about A) Karl Rove, B) Rafael Palmeiro, C) Neither, D) Both.
Read the story for the answer!
Meanwhile, John Cole raises the right questions on the president and "intelligent design."
The Meeks Shall Inherit The Earth?
FREE-TRADE FIGHT:A NEW DEM DIVIDE
LAST week's free-trade vote had hidden meaning for the future of the Democratic Party.
The House passed the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) by 217 to 215. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) was one of only 15 Democrats — and one of only three members of the Congressional Black Caucus — to support the measure, which President Bush signed into law yesterday.
Meeks says his decision, coming after weeks of "soul-searching and fact-finding," wasn't easy.
What did it? Well, 20 percent to 25 percent of Meek's constituents are Caribbean-born. And the congressman has met with the presidents of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The latter two nations, he points out, were embroiled in civil war during the 1980s. "We have democracy there now. We have to help these fledgling countries. This legislation will stabilize them."
But the overriding concern for him was what it means at home: "The economic impact for my constituents is all positive.
"In the Sixth District, the economic engine is JFK airport; it creates jobs. Expanded free trade means that Fed Ex is shipping more; UPS is shipping more. That means more jobs for New Yorkers. In a city where 50 percent of black males are unemployed, we need to find more jobs.
"Expanded free trade also strengthens the financial services center, which is the heart of the city economy.
"Finally, our upstate small farmers can now export more of their goods. This is a net gain economically [across the board]."
But this wasn't a vote without risk.
Liberal activists call Meeks and the other 14 Democrats "sellouts." The Capitol Hill paper Roll Call reports that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, "furious" over losing, is reviewing "defectors' votes" with an eye to taking away committee assignments.
Is Meeks — a member of the House Financial Services Committee — afraid? "I hope my colleagues will understand that this was a vote of conscience. My heart was with [my fellow Democrats], but my head said to vote 'yes.' I finally chose to vote for jobs, for my constituents and my country."
In talking about the need to create jobs, Meeks sounds similar to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who broke with many city Democrats to support the Manhattan West Side Stadium and the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards complex — both projects championed by Republican Michael Bloomberg.
Meeks did, too. He says, "I supported both — for the same reasons I supported CAFTA. The second phase of the civil-rights movement is economics. The reason we had the initial fight was to have the opportunity to get the same as everyone else."
A similar dynamic has led two black women to boost Mayor Bloomberg's re-election chances.
Lillian Roberts — head of District Council 37, the city's largest union — split from the Democrats to endorse the mayor's re-election. And weeks ago, Bertha Lewis — a major figure in the Working Families Party and head of the leftist activist group ACORN — gave Bloomberg a literal kiss of approval on the Atlantic Yards plan.
Yes, these deals — like a lot of city politics — may be built on multiple motives, base calculation and raw self interest. Many black Democrats, for example, quietly admit that a 2005 Bloomberg win would boost the 2009 mayoral chances of city Comptroller William Thompson.
But principle counts, too. The CAFTA vote — which Brooklyn's Edolphus Towns also supported — makes it clear that a broad economic, job-creating political message resonates with African-Americans.
Meeks says combining education with economics "is how the black community will be empowered."
On the same day last month, President Bush addressed the Indiana Black Expo and spoke about an economic "ownership society," while RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman admitted to the NAACP convention in Milwaukee that the GOP had long erred in ignoring the black vote.
Last week, Sharpton declared before the National Urban League, "As long as we allow people to get elected off of us and deliver nothing to us, then part of our problem is that we have such low political self-esteem. Every time we give them support for no support, we add to the marginalization of black men."
It was quite clear who the "them" was.
Nancy Pelosi can cry about losing trade votes if she wants, but Democrats should understand that simple anti-Republican rhetoric isn't enough to address black political concerns.