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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Gellman speaks -- okay, types. Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman yesterday conducted an online conversation with readers to discuss his Thursday bombshell, in which he wrote that terrorists linked to Al Qaeda may have smuggled nerve gas out of Iraq. (Click here, here, and here for my earlier posts on this.)

The transcript is worth reading in full, but here is the most salient exchange:

Fairfax, Va.: How certain are you that this transfer may have actually occurred? If it did occur, are any sources discussing specific plots in which the nerve gas might be used?

Barton Gellman: Many levels of uncertainty. One, whether the information that the CIA obtained is true -- it comes mainly from a single, sensitive source that's seen as credible, but it's not corroborated by another source yet (that I know of) and errors of interpretation are always possible. Two, whether those who got the chemical agent are working for al Qaeda. three, whether they got it out of the country (though age old smuggling routes are efficient). Four, whether any such transaction had Saddam's consent. Five, whether I know as much as (no I don't) what the US government knows, and whether what I do know is accurate (I have good reason to think so). No simple answers here, I'm afraid.

Thanks to RB for the link.

posted at 4:19 PM | link

Tricky Bernie. They're right, but they don't know why. The two dailies trot out apologists for Cardinal Law today -- Eugene Kennedy in the Globe and Joe Fitzgerald in the Herald -- and they each make the same breathtakingly idiotic analogy: Someday we'll all appreciate the good that Law did. Just like we did with ... Richard Nixon!

Neither Kennedy nor Fitzgerald is obtuse enough to assert that Law hadn't made serious mistakes (as Nixon might put it, "Mistakes were made"), or that he shouldn't have resigned. But they each argue that, over time, we'll see that the good Law accomplished outweighed the bad, just as it did with Nixon. Kennedy writes of Nixon -- who launched a secret, illegal war in Cambodia, who facilitated the assassination of Salvador Allende, and who repeatedly and flagrantly subverted the Constitution -- that he was "undone by one fatal misjudgment about Watergate." Fitzgerald notes that a lot of people turned out for Nixon's funeral. Well, there's nostalgia for Stalin in Russia, too.

This follows on the heels of the Reverend Peter Gomes's truly embarrassing defense of Law in Friday's Globe. Gomes offered his own analogy: "The news is bad enough, but when columnists and editorial writers weigh in with their shrill characterizations and cries for arch-episcopal blood, one cannot help but empathize just a bit with the Nixon-like figure who is damned at every turn."

As Hunter Thompson put it in his now-classic Nixon obituary, "He was a crook." Whether Law was actually a crook, or was simply an egregious enabler of child abuse, remains to be seen. What's certain is that he will mainly be remembered for the vigorous manner in which he helped pedophile priests rape kids again and again. That Law had a rational approach to Cuba policy, or that he reached out to the Jewish community, is nice but beside the point.

By the way, Dale Stephanos's Law cartoon in today's Herald is so good that you should go out and buy a copy just for that.

posted at 9:33 AM | link

Friday, December 13, 2002

One-day wonder? No real follow-up today to yesterday's explosive Washington Post story on allegations that Iraq recently supplied a group linked to Al Qaeda with nerve gas. The Post itself runs a dispatch from the Associated Press in which Saddam Hussein's government issues a ritual denial.

Reader RB upbraided me last night for failing to note that the sourcing in the original story was a tangled mess of anonymity. Fair point, though I believe anyone who read the story could tell that it was transparently coming from Bush-administration sources. Protecting sources is unremarkable; the question is whether reporter Barton Gellman and his editors exercised due diligence in determining whether those sources were passing along reliable information, or were simply trying to blow smoke up the Post's, uh, tailpipe.

Not that the Post was under any particular obligation to advance the story today. But if there's no significant follow-up soon, that will speak volumes about the original report.

posted at 10:13 AM | link

Zittrain on the Aussie Internet ruling. Got some excellent e-mail regarding the Australian court decision ruling that Dow Jones may be sued for libel in Australia for a piece published by Barron's magazine, which it owns. The court's ruling, in a nutshell, held that because the piece was available on the Web, it was "published" in Australia just as surely as it was published in the United States. Click here and here for my earlier posts on the ruling.

The most interesting e-mail comes from Harvard Law School professor Jonathan Zittrain, whom I tweaked for not reacting with what I believed was the appropriate level of outrage. Here's his entire e-mail:

I don't see how the court could have realistically decided otherwise without essentially immunizing Internet speech from any legal boundary, while keeping books, magazines, etc., in a separate box. Certainly the U.S. view of its own jurisdiction is broad: if someone far away does something to hurt someone here, and there's any indication that the activity was targeted to the U.S. or even likely to end up here, that's all it takes. (Just ask Manuel Noriega.) I was actually impressed with how solicitous the written opinion is about the burden to someone publishing over the Internet of knowing and hewing to dozens of countries' respective laws about speech. A lot of discussion in the opinion distinguishes a paid-subscription site that actively solicits business around the world from a site that might simply be up and not targeted anywhere in particular -- so there's room for the average blogger to not be hailed into court in Australia for saying the same thing the Barron's article did.

On the actual merits, I think this really is a dilemma: like you, I don't want to see the revolutionary reach of the Internet gummed up by a network of oft-conflicting laws. But the other side is that it's not fair for someone injured by a faraway wrongdoer to have to travel to, say, New Jersey to seek vindication. (At the extreme, one might publish through Sealand and then say, since Sealand bans very few things, that there's no recourse.) One might think that there ought not to be any laws restricting speech at all (the First Amendment certainly says that on its face!), but then the issue isn't jurisdiction, but that any sovereign near or far might complain about speech. The satellite point is an interesting one -- how terrible if each country (or individual homeowner...), with respective airspace going straight up forever, could complain about satellite orbits. But that's too easy: satellite orbits have no measurable burden on life in the country they overfly. (Leaving aside spying.) Imagine one simply wanted to fly planes, or hot air balloons, around the world without regard for boundaries -- somehow a country demanding permission for that doesn't seem so archaic. Balloons and planes can impact the citizens within, giving the country some measure of moral authority to regulate.

Zimbabwe will do whatever it does -- restraint by Australia would bring no particular pressure on that country to refrain from trying impose touch speech laws if that's what it's inclined to do. It's probably worth noting that Dow Jones doesn't care one bit what Zimbabwe thinks about its publishing, since there's no realistic way for that country to make Dow Jones's life hard. Ultimately what would make an adverse judgment in Australia have bite is a bank account or other operation by Dow Jones there -- much more fair game. An attempt to get U.S. courts to execute an Australian judgment against U.S. assets would have to pass some form of first amendment scrutiny. So, so long as one keeps one's arms and legs inside the U.S. car, judgments other countries make about one's Internet speech don't matter so much -- at least if they would not pass constitutional muster here.

Much of this debate seems frozen in 1995 or so. The dilemma of Internet jurisdiction goes back that far, with the underlying Internet technology evolving all the while. The real advance that will impact this debate is the ability of the provider of content on the Internet to actually express a preference for who should be able to see it. If Dow Jones could check a box that said, "This material not for consumption in Australia," it'd be a lot harder for them to cry foul if they left the box unchecked and then had to answer in Australia for it. I think these checkboxes are in rapid development -- they're the sort of thing that a three-expert panel found Yahoo could implement to keep those on French territory largely away from Yahoo auctions that would be banned in France -- and they suggest a world in which really strict countries end up shooting themselves in the foot: if Australia wants to have draconian speech laws, everyone outside will check the "no Australia" box and citizens there will find a much less interesting Internet to surf. I find the prospect of a cantonized Internet horrible, but it may be inevitable, and countries could find themselves under a natural pressure to harmonize their rules about speech so as to encourage Internet speakers not to exclude their citizens from what they have to say. Australia may think that a given article in Barron's is no good, but they're not China -- they wouldn't be pleased to see Dow Jones taking its ball home if it were easy to do. I hate the idea of a "little guy" Internet speaker being cowed into circulating her stuff only to her neighbors -- checking most of the boxes -- so as to avoid faraway lawsuits. But as the architecture of the Internet starts to more and more track that of the physical world, we need either to make a compelling case to Australia to simply change its defamation laws to be a little more lenient, or see that it won't hesitate much to impose its laws as soon as our bits cross its borders.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the Australian ruling is that it does make sense. Yes, of course the Barron's article was "published" in Australia. How can anyone argue that it would be wrong for the aggrieved party to be able to sue for libel in Australia? But though not necessarily wrong, it's still bad. As Zittrain himself notes, what we may be seeing is the cordoning-off of the Internet, which would be terrible news for anyone who cares about free speech.

posted at 10:13 AM | link

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Lott, Republicans, and African-Americans. The story that Drudge linked to tonight should finish off Trent Lott by no later than sundown on Friday. Lott, it seems, helped lead an effort to keep black students out of his fraternity at Ole Miss. Segregation now, segregation forever! Meanwhile, Lott's friends at the racist Council of Conservative Citizens have finally updated their website, and they've got a really spiffy contribution from one Michael Andrew Grissom, the author of such tomes as Southern by the Grace of God, The Last Rebel Yell, and Can the South Survive? Grissom writes:

Lott may never have meant, as happily charged in the press, that we would have been better off with a segregationist President, but I wish he had. It is true, and it is time someone says so....

Politicians, who make the laws, have submitted to the black agenda, and we see an increasingly socialistic government as a result. In other words, give up your liberties quietly or be prepared to suffer ignominy. There is no fight left in the white public sector. That is why we saw immediate disavowals and apologies from Trent Lott.

Thanks for sharing, Michael.

Meanwhile, I got several e-mails today from people who thought I was too easy on George W. Bush, reminding me of Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University during the 2000 presidential campaign, among other things. To which I say, Come on. I mean, I like to think I'm a fairly unstinting Bush critic, but I really don't think the man has a racist bone in his body. And I would believe that even if Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were not among his closest advisers.

But it's true that the Bushes have a complicated relationship with race. As Franklin Foer observed two years ago in the New Republic, the Bush family is forever baffled at their lack of African-American support, believing they should be judged by what's in their hearts rather than by the conservative policies they support, many of which blacks rightly perceive are not in their interests. Foer writes:

In fact, the Bushes' problem on race isn't that they're insincere; it's that they're overly sincere. They're so convinced of their personal decency that they expect it to trump the deep, long-standing ideological differences that separate their party from black political opinion.

Foer's piece mainly traces Jeb Bush's efforts to do away with affirmative action in Florida. But you can see George W. in it, too. In many ways, his faith-based initiative was a way for him to reach to black ministers such as the Reverend Eugene Rivers. But, as John DiIulio wrote in his astounding letter to Ron Suskind, Bush ended up letting it fall apart in the name of appeasing "the most far-right House Republicans."

Faced with the choice between doing the right thing and doing the political thing, the Bushes have invariably chosen the latter. Unfortunately, that hardly makes them unique.

posted at 10:42 PM | link

Bush lets Lott have it. And we didn't even have to wait another day. CNN quotes the president as saying, "Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized and rightly so. Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals." Good for Bush. Unfortunately, he did not call on Lott to resign. We can only hope that Lott has already told Bush that he's going, thus sparing himself further public humiliation.

posted at 1:39 PM | link

More on Saddam and Al Qaeda. The indefatigable Glenn Reynolds has found this on the links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Guess I'm going to have to go check out Vanity Fair for this month.

Meanwhile, Barry Crimmins writes of my item from this morning on the Washington Post piece: "Dan, I don't understand.The US is now supposed to bomb the populace of Iraq if this story is accurate? Why?" My answer: I don't think we need to bomb Iraqi civilians, and I hope to God that we don't.

Assuming the Post story is accurate -- and I'm not prepared to assume anything yet -- it's still hard to imagine that Iraq has any significant war-fighting capability left after more than a decade of sanctions, no-fly zones, and steady bombings by the US and Britain.

I have no first-hand understanding of military matters, but since our armed forces will be fighting in our name, and since I haven't given up on the idea of democracy quite yet, I'll risk sounding like a fool. I would hope that if we do any bombing at all, it will be limited to carefully targeted Iraqi military facilities. If Saddam has surrounded said facilities with, say, a ring of nursery schools, then leave 'em alone. We're not talking about Germany circa 1942 here; we're talking about a country that couldn't surrender fast enough in 1991, when it was presumably a lot stronger than it is today.

If we absolutely, positively have to invade -- if more sanctions and more inspections simply aren't going to get the job done -- then let's invade by land and hope for a rapid collapse of the Iraqi army, followed by the fall of Saddam. We may even be greeted as liberators -- for a day or two. After that it could get incredibly ugly. But if the Iraqi exile groups can put their country back together with a minimum of involvement on our part, that would certainly be the best we could hope for.

But I'm not a pacifist. I'd rather see the US and its allies take action than let Saddam equip terrorists with nerve gas that can be set off in cities throughout Europe and the United States.

This is a terrible moment. President Bush needs to approach it with humility -- a word he used a lot when he was running for office, but which we haven't heard much of since he was installed.

posted at 12:41 PM | link

Lott's conservative critics II. Didn't mean to leave the ultraconservative Family Research Council out of the list of former Trent Lott allies who are appalled by his racist remarks. Council president Ken Connor writes:

Sen. Lott has apologized for his thoughtless remarks, dismissing them as "A poor choice of words [that] conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past." A poor choice of words? Discarded policies? This is a quaint and benign way to describe the insidious evil that was Jim Crow. Now, we do not believe that Sen. Lott is a racist. But such thoughtless remarks -- and the senator has an unfortunate history of such gaffes -- simply reinforce the suspicion that conservatives are closet racists and secret segregationists.

Connor concludes by suggesting that the Republican Party would be a lot better off if Lott would resign.

posted at 12:41 PM | link

Lott's conservative critics. What Trent Lott and nitwits such as Sean Hannity seem not to realize is that this isn't partisan, and it's not really about the racist remarks Lott made at Strom Thurmond's birthday party last week. Many conservatives have been leading the charge in the effort to drive Lott out as Senate Republican leader, if not out of the Senate itself. And the reason is that Lott's praise for Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign was reflective of Lott's longstanding practice of seeking friendship and support from the most racist, retrograde elements of the Republican Party.

This morning, Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, a stalwart conservative, calls on Lott to resign, calling him "a witless yahoo who waxes nostalgic for the pre-civil rights South." WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin, who stands approximately to the right of Tom DeLay, has been urging Lott to step down as well. No surprise there: Severin delights in calling affirmative action a form of "racism," but he also marched for civil rights in the 1960s.

Another conservative, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund, writes today, "Mr. Lott's remarks reopen one of the rawest and ugliest moments in American politics." Fund reports that the four Republican appointees to the US Civil Rights Commission -- including the extremely conservative, anti-affirmative-action Abigail Fernstrom -- have issued a statement saying that Lott's comments "were particularly shameful coming from a leader of the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, and the party that supported all of these essential steps forward far more vigorously than the Democratic Party, which at the time was the home of Congressional southerners committed to white supremacy." (Question for Thernstrom: the Democrats used to support slavery, too. Is that still relevant?)

Conservative Andrew Sullivan has been huge on this, and has posted more good stuff this morning -- including a shot at the loathsome Hannity. (Last night, on the Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes, the witless cohost demanded that the black congressman who'd agreed to come on the show defend the Reverend Jesse Jackson's statements that he spit into the food of white people when he was a youth. Say what?) Sullivan writes that Lott "cannot be Republican Senate Majority Leader any more without destroying a good deal of what George W. Bush has accomplished" -- a reference, I suppose, to the president's halting but sincere efforts to make the Republican Party more inclusive.

Reader LC called my attention to yet another conservative columnist who is demanding Lott's resignation, Charles Krauthammer, who writes in today's Washington Post:

This is not just the kind of eruption of moronic bias or racial insensitivity that cost baseball executive Al Campanis and sports commentator Jimmy the Greek Snyder their careers. This is something far more important. This is about getting wrong the most important political phenomenon in the past half-century of American history: the civil rights movement. Getting wrong its importance is not an issue of political correctness. It is evidence of a historical blindness that is utterly disqualifying for national office.

And on and on it goes, and will go, until Trent Lott finally goes.

One final point. Hannity-inspired boneheads who blame Lott's woes on liberals should consider that it's the Democrats who have the most to gain by his staying on, as Wayne Woodlief notes in today's Boston Herald. You can be sure that President Bush is waiting for Lott to do the right thing so that he doesn't have to whack him in public. But Lott's values are not Bush's, and if Lott insists on staying, he's going to cripple the next two years of Bush's presidency.

I suspect Lott has maybe one more day to step down before Karl Rove tells him to expect the president to mention him in a brief statement on the White House lawn.

posted at 10:28 AM | link

The smoking gun? If you haven't turned on a radio or TV set today, you may not know that today's Washington Post reports that a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda may have obtained nerve gas from Iraq and smuggled it out through Turkey in October.

If this proves true, then the endgame really is at hand. Even most of us who have opposed the Bush administration's war plans have said that if there were credible evidence of a threat against us, then we should go in.

But Mr. President, please: we need proof. Some of us haven't forgotten the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Turn the evidence over to the UN Security Council and give it, say, one week to make its own evaluation. If the council agrees that it's credible, then I guess it's bombs away. Ugh.

posted at 10:18 AM | link

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

More on the Aussie court ruling. The Phoenix's Seth Gitell called my attention to this excellent editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. The Journal, in turn, reports that Stakhanovite blogger Glenn Reynolds has been all over it. Well, not quite; but Reyolds does direct his readers to an op-ed piece he wrote for the Australian, making the argument that the court's ruling raises concerns similar to those posed by space travel a half-century ago:

Each nation's territory thus consisted of a wedge beginning at the Earth's core and continuing infinitely upward and outward. This posed a number of absurdities, but the greatest difficulty was to orbiting spacecraft. Flying over a nation's territory without permission was illegal, perhaps even an act of war.

Similarly, Reynolds notes, holding the New Jersey-based Barron's to the libel standards of Australia simply because the Barron's website is available in Australia means that

internet publishers -- simply by choosing to publish on the internet -- are held to be subject to the various laws of every nation reached by the internet, which means, of course, of every nation on earth. The results are likely to be damaging for the internet, encouraging a lowest common denominator approach in which internet publishers strive not to be offensive according to anyone's standards, which is likely to mean not publishing at all, or publishing only inoffensive pap.

I've already gotten several e-mails suggesting that this is no big deal. Folks, this is a big deal.

posted at 1:26 PM | link

A terrifying blow to free speech. Those who think John Ashcroft is the biggest threat to their free-speech rights are about to get a terrifying awakening. The High Court of Australia has ruled that a mining mogul can file a libel suit against Dow Jones in the Australian court system, even though the offending article -- in Barron's magazine -- was published in New Jersey. The rationale: the article was posted on the Web. Thus the court ruled that the article was "published" in Australia just as surely as it was in the United States.

And what is the deal with this bit of nonsense from the usually stalwart Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor who's an outspoken advocate of online freedom? Zittrain told the AP that the ruling was no big deal, explaining, "Their words are their product and if they export it internationally they know how to work the cost of litigation into the sale of their product." Huh? One of the most important qualities of Internet journalism is that it gives independent, alternative voices the power to go up against Big Media. Dow Jones may be able to afford the cost of defending itself against an Australian libel suit. An independent operator, on the other hand, is going to have to stay out of Australia -- or avoid writing anything controversial in the first place.

As an example of how the Australian ruling could affect free speech on the Internet, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told the Wall Street Journal (also owned by Dow Jones): "If Dow Jones is subject to a Singapore court ruling on things communicated from one American to another within the U.S. because it related to Singapore, then the very availability of the Internet as a place where people can communicate will be imperiled." (No link; subscription required.)

David Schultz, the lawyer who represented a consortium of media companies that supported Dow Jones's defense, told the New York Times (a member of that consortium): "In a nutshell, what the court said was that there is nothing wrong with an Australian court hauling Dow Jones into Australia to go to court.... If that becomes the law of the Internet, the problem isn't that individuals will be suing all over the world -- though that is a problem. The problem is that rogue governments like Zimbabwe will pass laws that will effectively shut down the Internet."

Abrams and Schultz are right. But by reaching for the extreme examples of anti-speech, authoritarian regimes, they actually manage to play down the problem. The US has the freest press in the world, guaranteed by the First Amendment. Our libel laws are far more favorable to publishers than are libel laws in democratic countries such as Canada, Britain, Germany, France, and, of course, Australia -- never mind Singapore and Zimbabwe. And there's not a damn thing the ACLU can do about it.

The reaction to this dangerous ruling is just beginning.

posted at 9:39 AM | link

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Trent Lott's racist past. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman this morning doesn't hesitate to remind readers that incoming Senate majority leader Trent Lott -- under fire for praising the racist 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond -- has a, uh, history with this sort of thing. Krugman notes that, as recently as the 1990s, Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, was involved with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a notorious white-supremacist group.

In fact, the CofCC's website -- festooned with a Confederate flag -- was full of praise for Lott even before Lott's surprising endorsement of segregation (surprising in the sense that he said it out loud). The site was last updated on Friday, before Lott's racist words had hit the fan. But there's a big smiling photo of him, labeled "A LOTT of Courage! Sen. Trent Lott calls for the Army to PROTECT U.S. Borders against the Illegal Alien Invasion." That, in turn, leads you to the transcript of a radio interview Lott recently gave to the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly in which he did, indeed, suggest the use of troops to keep illegal immigrants out, and to a resolution that the council recently passed in support of Lott.

So what is this racist group with which Lott is so closely associated? Click on "Editorial," and you'll find this essay by someone called "Beauregarde," titled "Deconstructing Liberals." Every sentence is a hate-filled gem, but it all comes to a head here:

When liberals extol tolerance, they do so with haughty distain for anyone who does not concede to the liberal mantra on the subject. Liberal tolerance is not a matter balancing opposites without losing the liberal perspective, but is instead a freeze-out of nonliberal views; particularly those ideas concerning white racial consciousness. Due to prevalent liberal attitudes on race, many otherwise rational white people have a superstitious aversion to racial self-awareness. Whites, when confronted by racial hostility, automatically deny being racist. Chief among these superstitions is the notion that all races are created equal.

The Anti-Defamation League says of the Council of Conservative Citizens that its ideology is "Christian Identity, white supremacy, neo-Nazi, paramilitary," adding:

Advances its ideology by inflaming fears and resentments, among Southern whites particularly, with regard to black-on-white crime, non-white immigration, attacks on the public display of the Confederate flag, and other issues related to "traditional" Southern culture.

Now, it's only fair to note that Lott claims the CofCC's love for him is unrequited. But it's equally fair to point out that Lott seems not to be telling the truth. Consider, for example, this, published in the New Republic in January 1999, when Lott's racist associations briefly became an issue:

According to a number of CofCC members, ... Mississippi Senator Trent Lott is a dues-paying member of the group, which is particularly strong in his home state.... The Citizens Informer [the CofCC newsletter] occasionally carries Lott's freely distributed newspaper column. Moreover, despite Lott's claim that he had "no firsthand knowledge" of the CofCC, Edsall [Thomas Edsall, of the Washington Post] reported on December 16 that Lott addressed the group in 1992, telling the audience members that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

And there's this, from CQ Weekly, published around the same time as the TNR piece:

No matter how hard Lott tries to distance himself [from the CofCC], questions remain because his uncle Arnie Watson, a former Mississippi state senator and current member of the council's executive board, remembers Lott being an "honorary member." Watson and others find it hard to fathom that Lott could be uninformed about a widely known political group in his own state.

"In Washington, they like to use the word 'disingenuous,'" said Bill Minor, a political columnist in Mississippi for 51 years, when asked about Lott's assertion that he was unaware of the council's beliefs.

"He had good reason to know what was going on, but if he didn't, he was like the piano player in the house of ill repute who didn't notice what was going on all around him."

The big question remains: will President Bush do the right thing and demand that Trent Lott step down as the Senate Republican leader before the GOP assumes the majority next month?

posted at 9:50 AM | link

Bill Bulger: the aftermath. Two fascinating postscripts on UMass president Bill Bulger's refusal to testify before a congressional committee investigating the FBI's corrupt deal with Bulger's gangster brother, James "Whitey" Bulger.

Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis today passes along some speculation that Bill Bulger's 17-year Senate presidency may have been jump-started by former FBI agents John Connolly and John Morris, the duo that served as Whitey Bulger's handlers and protectors. The question Gelzinis asks: did Connolly and Morris deliberately target state senators Joe DiCarlo and Ronald MacKenzie in the MBM scandal of the 1980s in order to grease Bulger's path to the Senate presidency? To be sure, Gelzinis offers nothing more than the whispers of an anonymous tipster, but it sounds like a matter worth investigating.

Differing 180 degrees is Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, who blasts the congressional investigation as an exercise in buffoonish grandstanding. Oliphant can't help himself -- he goes way too far, all but nominating Bill Bulger for the Nobel Peace Prize. Nevertheless, he's dead right in denouncing Watermelon Man Dan Burton's performance as a "farce" and a "sham."

posted at 9:50 AM | link

Monday, December 09, 2002

Trent Lott's racist outburst. I'm only beginning to catch up on incoming Senate majority leader Trent Lott's shocking statements of last Thursday in which he slobbered over that ancient segregationist Strom Thurmond and waxed nostalgic over the good ol' days of good ol' boys, separate rest rooms for them coloreds, and crosses burning in the night.

At a 100th-birthday party for Thurmond, Lott lauded the Methuselah-like bigot's 1948 campaign for president:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

As commentators from conservative Andrew Sullivan to liberal Joe Conason have noted, Lott's got to go. Conason thinks there's no chance that George W. Bush will speak up for decency, and he's probably right -- but this would be a perfect opportunity for the president to put a little distance between himself and the more retrograde elements of his party on Capitol Hill.

Anyway, Sullivan's been all over this. And Conason expresses the appropriate outrage that the so-called liberal media have gutlessly given Lott a pass on this not-uncharacteristic outburst.

posted at 4:48 PM | link

Another take on James Foley. Hub Blogger Jay Fitzgerald considers himself a personal friend and (former?) admirer of Catholic priest James Foley, whose horrendous but by-now-unsurprising misdeeds (affairs with married women; two children by a woman who died of a drug overdose, possibly because he failed to call 911 quickly enough) were revealed last week.

I wouldn't cut Foley one millimeter of slack. But Fitzgerald's post is fascinating for its insight into how complicated these people really are. I don't doubt for a moment that Foley has done a lot of good in his life. But, unfortunately, he has to come to terms with the awful truth: his entire career will be judged by his misdeeds, at least in this life. And, worse for him, it should be.

posted at 10:05 AM | link

Stop this cardinal from taking flight. Maybe state attorney general Tom Reilly doesn't want to tip his hand just yet. But he'd better act quickly, given that Cardinal Bernard Law has both the means and the motive to become a fugitive from justice.

Means: both the Globe and the Herald report this morning that Law slipped out of the country once again last week, allowing his handlers to lie about his schedule, so that he could seek advice in Rome. Motive: elected officials have been understandably reluctant to suggest that Law could face criminal charges. But his failure to report the involvement of a priest, James Foley, with a woman who died of a drug overdose would certainly strike many observers as the sort of thing that could land the globe-trotting cardinal in very serious legal trouble. It's unlikely that the thought hasn't occurred to Law, too.

At the very least, Reilly should seek to have Law designated as a material witness who cannot leave the state without the permission of the attorney general's office. Not only would that have the practical effect of preventing this loathsome cleric from going on the lam, but it would also have the symbolic effect of publicly underscoring precisely how contemptible -- and possibly criminal -- Law's conduct has been.

posted at 9:34 AM | link

You mean Brian Williams left MSNBC? Here's how little attention anyone is paying to MSNBC these days. The New York Times today has the latest in what seems like an endless string of articles on the woes of the cratering all-news cable network. And the print edition of the story includes a photo of Brian Williams. The cutline: "Brian Williams, left, is the network's anchor."

Well, uh, no, he's not. Williams, now the official heir apparent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, fled to sister station CNBC in July. No one watches him there, either, but at least he's able to avoid the stench of high-profile failure that has become to pervade MSNBC, whose latest bright idea is ... Jesse Ventura! John Ellis had the definitive take on the Ventura-to-MSNBC idiocy way back on November 13.

posted at 9:33 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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