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Friday, March 14, 2003
What the hell was that about?
Gitell offers some useful
thoughts on what he calls George W. Bush's "bizarre statement" on
posted at 12:35 PM |
What the hell was that
about? I went into white-knuckle mode driving in to work, waiting
for whatever President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell were
going to announce at 10 a.m. Now I don't know what to
If you haven't heard,
delivered a brief statement
saying, essentially, that he was really, really glad that the
Palestinian Authority has finally named a prime minister, and that
once he's been confirmed, he'll release his "road map" for peace.
Powell didn't even get to talk.
On NPR, Bob Edwards sounded
dumbfounded both at the brevity of Bush's statement and at the fact
that Powell didn't say anything. Unfortunately, WBUR Radio (90.9 FM)
cut him off and went to The Connection before Edwards and an
analyst could kick it around any further. (Memo to Jane Christo:
What to make of it? Who knows? My
first impression is that the wheels have totally come off the White
House spin machine this week, and that they're just throwing anything
they can against the wall, hoping that something will stick and make
Bush look good.
posted at 10:31 AM |
Aaron Brown's glare of
death? Was I imagining this? Or did Aaron Brown, the host of
CNN's NewsNight, really try to vaporize reporter Jean Meserve
with his laser stare last night? The newscast opened with Elizabeth
Smart, and Brown instantly made it clear that he didn't want to hear
any cynicism or negativity about the 15-year-old kidnap victim,
found, incredibly, near her Utah home on Wednesday. Roll
the CNN transcript:
We begin with Elizabeth
Smart and something unfortunate that crept into the coverage
today, the question: Why didn't she try to escape? There's
something faintly accusing about that, putting the burden not on
the culprits, but on a child who was stolen from her home, from
her bedroom. And as her dad said today, [she] appears to
have been brainwashed.
Meserve then ran through the day's
news, an update on the girl's first day home, why the police
investigation appeared to be so inept and wrongheaded, and some
details on David Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the creepy couple
accused of holding her for all these months. Then this:
[Rick] Dinse [of the Salt Lake City Police] says
he believes he knows whether or not Elizabeth Smart was sexually
abused during her captivity, but he isn't telling the media. He
also says that Mitchell, as part of his religious beliefs,
believed in polygamy. But, again, he will not tell the press
whether or not Mitchell viewed Elizabeth as one of his wives. Back
to you, Aaron.
Brown: Well, to the extent that
that question becomes important, the eventual charges that I
assume will be filed will answer that. Tell us what you know and
what you have been able to find out about the moment that police
came upon her. What she said, what they said.
As I said, it could be my
imagination. But as Brown was speaking, he looked as though he were
trying to figure out a way to reach through the camera and put
Meserve in a chokehold. Meserve finished her report, and that was
If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But if I'm
right, I can't say I blame Brown, who's done an admirable job of keeping
the tabloid values of cable news from infesting his program. Still,
this is the question everyone is asking. Even
the New York Times asks it
today. I'm not sure how you
posted at 7:57 AM |
Deep background on Iraq.
Given that the debate over war with Iraq has been going on since last
summer, it's rather amazing that anyone can come up with something
interesting and original to say. From this morning's Times,
two pieces that qualify on both counts.
-- On the op-ed page, Richard Nixon
Morris offers a fascinating
slice of history: John F. Kennedy's support (over the objections of
France and Germany) of a 1963 coup in Iraq that brought Saddam
Hussein closer to power, and Lyndon Johnson's support of a 1968 coup
that actually vaulted Saddam to within the inner circle. Morris
This history is known to
many in the Middle East and Europe, though few Americans are
acquainted with it, much less understand it. Yet these
interventions help explain why United States policy is viewed with
some cynicism abroad. George W. Bush is not the first American
president to seek regime change in Iraq. Mr. Bush and his advisers
are following a familiar pattern.
-- As columnist Paul
Krugman notes, over the
last few weeks some of the lonely liberals who had supported George
W. Bush's war plans have backed off, repulsed by the president's
inept, bullying approach. Elsewhere, though, reporter
Zernike (a former
Globe reporter) files a piece from Boston on liberals who
do support war, or who at least refuse to side with the
Among them: Nobel Peace Prize
winner Elie Wiesel, Kennedy School of Government dean Joseph Nye, and
Carr Center for Human Rights director Michael Ignatieff, who tells
Zernike, "Liberals are always accused of equivocating and splitting
differences, but this guy [Hussein] really is awful. But I'll
tell you, it's extremely unpopular among my friends."
posted at 7:57 AM |
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Rhetoric and reality at
UMass. Boston Globe columnist Jeff
Jacoby this morning writes
this about UMass president William Bulger, whose job has been
targeted for elimination by Governor Mitt Romney:
Would he sacrifice, say,
some of his immense $309,000 salary or the lavish benefits that go
with it? His personal retinue of -- count 'em -- 68 courtiers? His
opulent chambers at One Beacon Street? Bulger's predecessors
managed to function without such trappings. Could Bulger? He
The notion that Bulger has treated
himself far more lavishly than his "predecessors" is a phony
proposition, and if Jacoby doesn't understand that, then he
The current UMass president's
office was created in 1991, when five separate schools -- UMass
Amherst, as well as colleges and universities in Boston, Lowell,
Dartmouth, and Worcester -- were combined into one massive state
university system in an attempt to put Massachusetts on a par with
The plan was approved by Republican
governor Bill Weld, and at least until Romney came along, it had been
pretty much universally regarded as a success.
Bulger had precisely one
predecessor as president of this reorganized system: Michael Hooker,
who left after just two and a half years. At the time of his
departure, in 1995, Hooker was making $189,000. Bulger was named in
late 1995, and was initially granted the same salary. Bulger's annual
salary increases amount to an average of just under six and a half
percent per year. That's a lot, but it's not as though the Hack God
reached down out of the blue and bestowed $300K on Bulger.
The problem with Jacoby's analysis
is that it's based on the sort of sneering populism that doesn't
depend on facts. Here's what we need to know -- and here's what the
Globe and/or the Herald ought to find out and report
before this debate devolves any further.
- How does Bulger's $309,000
salary compare with those of the presidents of similar-size state
university systems around the country? Is it too high? Too low?
About in the middle?
- We already know that Bulger
lacks the academic qualifications normally found in a major
university president, and that his political background -- mainly
his long stint as president of the Massachusetts Senate -- was
paramount when he was selected. By nearly all accounts, Bulger has
done a good job promoting and running UMass. But has his lack of
academic credentials hurt in other, unseen ways? Again, a look at
other major state university systems would be in
- What do the 68 people who work
for the UMass president's office do? The implication put forth by
Jacoby is that they're all nothing but pinky-rinked coat-holders
whose jobs could be eliminated tomorrow without anyone noticing.
Herald columnist Howie
Carr recently listed a
lot of high salaries, as though that settles the matter. But
again, we need a real analysis: what jobs do those 68 people perform? if they were eliminated, would their duties have to be parceled out to the local campuses? how
does that compare with other major state universities? is their
pay really out of line?
The problem, of course, is that
this has turned into a steel-cage death match between the widely
disliked Bulger and Romney, the new kid whose reputation as a
reformer is likely to survive for at least a few more
As the Globe's
Vennochi argues this
morning, Bulger, having chosen loyalty to his mobster brother over
public accountability, needs to get out of the way so that someone
without taint can make the case for UMass.
posted at 9:31 AM |
Foreign-policy expert Walter
Russell Mead makes the
liberal case for war in Iraq brilliantly in yesterday's Washington
Post. Sanctions, he observes, are killing an estimated 60,000
Iraqi children every year. Our longstanding policy of containment may
be working in a narrow sense, Mead argues, but it's costing the lives
of children, destabilizing the region, and forcing the US to keep
massive numbers of troops in the region, thus indirectly contributing
to the hatred that caused 9/11. He writes:
financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in
the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked
-- made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little
less futile -- but the basic equations don't change. Containing
Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous
psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments
anti-American terror -- with no end in sight.
What Mead fails to address,
unfortunately, is the dubious wisdom of marching behind the banner of
a president who has managed to alienate most of the international
community with his arrogance and his "you're either with us or
against us" rhetoric.
posted at 9:30 AM |
Bias and the media. The myth
of the liberal media is a load of crap. I
explain why in today's
posted at 9:30 AM |
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Non to Freedom fries.
In Newton and Brookline, the main objection to French fries is the
cholesterol, not the French, according to this
article in the Newton Tab.
The best quote is from Jim Barrett, a Brookline Liquor Mart employee
whose wife serves in the Air Force: "The French in general aren't any
more opposed to the war than the average person in Brookline, so am I
gonna go and boycott Brookline?"
posted at 10:17 AM |
Eat the document. With the
House of Representatives changing the name of French fries to
fries, George W. Bush is
starting to look awfully passive, don't you think? Where is the bold
leadership that he showed at his news conference last week, when he
droned about a dozen times that we need to invade Iraq because of
9/11? Why, you'd think Iraq had something to do with 9/11, which I
guess was the point.
Anyway, I suggest that the
president one-up the House by referring to turkey as
constitution in order to signal our displeasure with Turkey,
which continues to believe it's a sovereign state or something. Think
of how proud we'll all be next Thanksgiving, when Bush carves up the
constitution and then eats it. Let French -- er, freedom --
posted at 8:24 AM |
The Buchanan factor. One of
the problems with being antiwar is that you have to hop into bed with
anti-American hate groups like International
ANSWER. Another is that
Buchanan agrees with you.
Buchanan's not anti-Semitic. No, really, he's not. Some of his best
friends are Jews. Just ask him!
Fortunately, the antiwar movement
is picking up more-respectable allies every day. Slate's
Kaus has been keeping a
list of what he calls the "Balking Hawks" -- pundits who were leaning
toward war as recently as a few weeks ago, but who are now backing
off, mainly because of how George W. Bush has botched it.
It's a group that I almost
count myself among. I never favored war, but there were moments when
I thought it might be the least-bad alternative in terms of disarming
Saddam Hussein and liberating the Iraqi people from one of the
world's most vicious tyrants.
But, as "Balking Hawk"
Friedman observes in this
morning's New York Times, you just can't invade a country and
topple a government without international support. Hardly a
controversial argument, but one that the White House just doesn't
seem to get.
posted at 8:23 AM |
Middle East strategery. If
you want to be truly well-informed about the possible outcomes of
invading Iraq, you've got to war-game it, just like the Pentagon
here (make sure you've got
Flash installed), and you'll be a military expert in no
posted at 8:23 AM |
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Wholly war. Within the past
few weeks, the mainstream media have shifted from treating George W.
Bush's religious beliefs as a benign curiosity to a central part of
his being. The question is whether this is an entirely good thing or
if, instead, it has imbued him with the dangerous belief that God is
on his side.
Today, two more entries in the
Bush-and-God sweepstakes. On the op-ed page of the New York
Lears is distressed at how
Bush has allowed his religion to shape his foreign policy,
The belief that one is
carrying out divine purpose can serve legitimate needs and sustain
opposition to injustice, but it can also promote dangerous
simplifications -- especially if the believer has virtually
unlimited power, as Mr. Bush does. The slide into
self-righteousness is a constant threat.
In the current Weekly
Barnes asserts that Bush's
religious beliefs are well within the American mainstream -- true, no
doubt, but beside the point, if the American mainstream believes that
it is our national destiny to wage holy war.
Besides, as former president
Carter reminded us over the
weekend, it is possible to share Bush's intense Christian beliefs
while coming to a diametrically opposite conclusion as to how those
beliefs should be applied to Iraq. Carter wrote in the New York
As a Christian and as a
president who was severely provoked by international crises, I
became thoroughly familiar with the principles of a just war, and
it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq does
not meet these standards.
won the Nobel Peace Prize
earlier this year, Bush played it perfectly. Despite Carter's
considerable accomplishments during his long post-presidency, his
award was widely interpreted as a swipe at Bush's saber-rattling.
Indeed, one of the Nobel judges himself spoke words to that effect.
But as many conservatives fumed, Bush was gracious, congratulating
Carter for recognition that he richly deserves.
Now would be the perfect time for
Bush not just to congratulate Carter, but to pay attention to what
the man has to say. If Bush truly believes he has the mandate of
heaven to wage war, perhaps someone whose religious views are similar
could show him that maybe, just maybe, he might be wrong.
posted at 8:21 AM |
Regulation or harassment? By
all accounts, the tragic nightclub fire in West Warwick last month
was the result of a confluence of mind-boggling stupidity: highly
flammable soundproofing foam; a pyrotechnics display more suitable
for an outdoor concert than a cramped, indoor stage; and, possibly,
building and fire inspections over the years that were obscenely
So it makes sense for officials
elsewhere to take swift action to make sure such a thing could not
happen in their communities. But does it make sense to harass
responsible club owners to the point where they may no longer be able
to do business? The Boston
City Council seems to think
Try to imagine councilor Stephen
Murphy talking his fellow councilors and their aides into squeezing
themselves into a five-foot-by-seven-foot square in order to prove
that current club standards allow for too much crowding. I'm
surprised someone didn't throw a punch.
posted at 8:20 AM |
Veterans for War. First the
South Boston Allied War Veterans Council didn't want lesbians and gay
men proclaiming their identity in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Now
they don't want an antiwar
veterans group sullying the
festivities. Apparently peace is not a family value. One would hope
that Congressman Stephen Lynch, who's refusing to take a stand in
public, is privately counseling parade poobah Wacko Hurley to do the
right thing. But probably not.
posted at 8:19 AM |
Double bogey. Boston
Herald Inside Track columnists Gayle
Fee and Laura Raposa today
insist it was they, not New York Times reporter
Van Natta, who first broke
the story that Bill Clinton cheats at golf -- not in 1999, which is
when Van Natta wrote about it, but way back in 1994. (Third item.)
posted at 8:19 AM |
Monday, March 10, 2003
The problem is pedophilia, not
liberalism. John Farrell has posted a longish and impassioned
of conservative Catholics
such as Richard John Neuhaus, whose recent essay in First
Things, according to Farrell, evinces more interest in attacking
Church liberals than rooting out child molesters. Farrell
I'm not a liberal ...
[but] I am alarmed by the apparent strategy on the part of
critics like Father Neuhaus to go after doctrinally lax clergymen
in print when what he and other writers need to be doing is
reminding the bishops and administrators in the Church in this
country that they need to operate less like corporate bankers and
more like the preservers of the Gospel Jesus Christ meant them to
The Catholic hierarchy's inability
to understand what the problem is continues to astound.
posted at 10:06 AM |
Trivial pursuit. John
Kerry's non-Irish roots are a real -- if exceedingly minor -- story.
But whether you're for Kerry or not, you should be concerned about
the damage that will be done to our public discourse if minuscule
points over whether Kerry may have allowed someone at one time to
believe he might be part-Irish are used by his political enemies and
the media to tar him as some sort of two-faced lying
This is exactly what was done in
the 2000 campaign, when a series of stories about Al Gore's so-called
lying -- led by the false, Republican-created charge that he had once
claimed to have "invented the Internet" -- ended up defining the
context through which the media viewed him, and, given the closeness
of the final vote, probably cost him election. (Not that he actually
Sciacca -- no Kerry suck-up
-- today has an exceptionally lucid take on the nitpicking over
Kerry's ethnic background, his haircut, and even whether he colors
his hair, writing: "If one considers the nature of the scandals that
have hounded Kerry in his White House run so far, it seems the bar
for what constitutes a relevant campaign issue has been lowered to
And here's the Daily Howler's
characteristically caustic deconstruction of the
Globe's latest on
(last item). Unlike the Howler, I do think this is a legitimate
story. But let's get a grip, folks: this is cool stuff to know for a
trivia quiz, nothing more.
posted at 8:02 AM |
More on Shribman. The
Boston Globe's former Washington-bureau chief and now the
executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
Shribman, is profiled today
by the Buffalo News, his wife's hometown paper.
He tells Anthony Violanti: "I spent
nearly two dozen years in bureaus far away from the people who read
the paper. Now, my phone number is in the paper and people call me.
Sometimes they cuss me out. Sometimes they want to give me a hug. But
they call every day, and it's kind of nice to be so close to your
readers." (Via Romenesko.)
posted at 8:01 AM |
Bill, Bob, bore. I was out
last night and messed up my attempt to tape the first 60
Minutes faceoff between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. If you missed
it, too, well, here
it is. Nicholas von Hoffman
and James Kilpatrick it isn't.
posted at 8:00 AM |
The return of Gary Webb. My
former Phoenix colleage Al Giordano, the publisher and editor
of the Narco
News Bulletin, has
taken a sabbatical. His temporary replacement: Gary
Webb, the legendary
investigative reporter whose work for the San Jose Mercury
News demonstrated pretty convincingly that the Contra rebels in
1980s Nicaragua, backed by the US government, funded their activities
by selling crack in the United States -- and that the CIA, under the
best possible interpretation, looked the other way.
reporting ended up in a journalistic
limbo. His editors
apologized for some of the series' excesses, yet Webb claimed that
those excesses were stuck in by those very same editors, over his
objections. At the very least, it seems that the Mercury's
editors, feeling intense heat, were only too happy to use the series'
flaws to discredit Webb's entire body of work.
posted at 8:00 AM |
MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.