Sunday, October 31, 2004
Saturday, October 30, 2004
How might this affect the election? It is very difficult to guess. As I pointed out in my blog last night, bin Laden seems to be doing just fine. It's some manhunt we've got going for him if he's able to take time out to produce policy videos. It doesn't support Bush's comment that al Qaeda is "on the run." Will people stop and think, "I thought he was supposed to be hiding?"
On the other hand, he has some very specific and pointed criticisms for Bush. Thankfully he does not "endorse" John Kerry, and as I pointed out last night made an issue of saying that American security does not depend upon the outcome of the election. But you can bet your last dollar that the GOP is spinning this as al Qaeda support for Kerry. Will people buy that?
That's why it's important for people to actually get bin Laden's text for themselves. Pass this around to everyone you know...let people decide for themselves what's accurate and not get their information from partisan spin filtered through corporate news organizations and talking heads.
Among the highlights:
- "Security is an important foundation of human life and free people do not squander their security, contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not attack Sweden for example. "
- "We fought you because we are free and because we want freedom for our nation. When you squander our security we squander yours."
- "I am surprised by you. Despite entering the fourth year after Sept. 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened."
- "We had no difficulty in dealing with Bush and his administration because they resemble the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half by the sons of kings ... They have a lot of pride, arrogance, greed and thievery. "
- "[Bush] adopted despotism and the crushing of freedoms from Arab rulers and called it the Patriot Act under the guise of combating terrorism."
- "It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American forces (Bush) would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone at a time when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. This had given us three times the time needed to carry out the operations, thanks be to God."
Friday, October 29, 2004
So...four days now until the election, who should enter the debate? Why, it's our old friend Osama bin Laden. Okay, now, don't go all ballistic on me, I know he's not our "friend." It's an expression. I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. You don't have to tell me, okay? I will never forget.
But it seems even al Qaeda has gotten sick of the campaign rhetoric. They're tired of being misrepresented. Today they released a video directly rebutting Dick Cheney's repeated assertion that a vote for Kerry is a vote for the terrorists.
"Your security is not in the hands of (Democratic candidate John) Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands,'' bin Laden said, according to the New York Times.
Bin Laden rejected Bush's repeated characterization that al Qaeda fights us because they hate freedom. "If Bush says we hate freedom, let him tell us why we didn't attack Sweden, for example," the terrorist explained.
I confess I was worried when I say the breaking news headlines saying there was a new tape from bin Laden. First of all, I live in Manhattan. Welcome to life in the bull's eye, living in the crosshairs of terrorism every day of your existence. I don't particularly enjoy it when threats, or even rumors of them, are made. I confess that the threat of an attack worried me that iffy voters, if any still exist, could decide that the more "decisive" Bush would be the better choice against this enemy.
Look at this picture. It's bizarre, isn't it? It sure doesn't look like he's in a cave hooked up to a dialysis machine. This man is somewhere, and he seems to be doing fine. He doesn't look like he's on the run at all. In fact, he's giving a speech on U.S. foreign policy.
"To the U.S. people, my talk is to you about the best way to avoid another disaster,'' he said. "I tell you: security is an important element of human life and free people do not give up their security.''
Now, here we have one of the greatest mass-murderers in history, speaking more plainly to an American audience about the nature of security than either of our two candidates for President. It's probably too late, but had this tape surfaced earlier, perhaps it would have forced our candidates to have a legitimate discussion of al Qaeda's motives. Bush would have us think they are cartoon villains who are "evil." Yes, they're bad people. They've murdered thousands of innocents. But they're not doing it for shits and giggles. They have clearly defined geo-strategic goals. It's no mystery what al Qaeda really wants to accomplish, and it's not getting American women to wear burqhas. "Our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon," explained the al Qaeda leader, plain as day. Yet our political discourse is at such a level of banality that the real issues facing the U.S. and its national security aren't even being discussed. As grotesque as it is to have to say it, we owe bin Laden a thank you for injecting a reality check, belated as it may be.
If my blog were widely read, of course I'd be receiving death threats in 5...4...3...2...but it's not, so hopefully I'm okay.
The point is, Bush didn't take his eye off the ball. He never knew what the ball was. If we want to defeat terrorism, we can't do it with a bomb. It only plays into their beliefs about America and creates more terrorists. I'm not saying "appease" them, either. Has nothing to do with that. It has to do with winning the hearts and minds of the people in the Arab world. Unfortunately, Bush doesn't realize that they're not dummies. They can't be hoodwinked into thinking America is on their side, as hundreds of innocent Iraqis perish every week. It has to do with addressing the real needs in this part of the world, and approaching them in a culturally sensitive way. We do not need to remake the world in the image of America. But we need to do something that is utterly altruistic in the region, find some act of kindness and generosity that legitimately benefits these people more than it benefits ourselves, especially financially. Integrity, honesty, friendship...these are values that transcend every culture.
May God help us all, including our leaders, whoever they may be, to achieve real and lasting peace in this world.
- Florida. I think the electoral votes will go to Bush. It will be declared early as a red state. But after the chips fall, perhaps even after the election is decided, either way, discrepancies will be discovered that will be impossible to explain. I think Bush will "win" Florida by a margin that far exceeds any poll estimates. Basically, I think they'll cheat, and because of the no-paper trail electronic technology, there won't ever be a way to prove it. Conspiracy theories will abound.
- Turnout. I think voter turnout will reach a record high this year, and I think particular increases will be seen in first-time voters, especially the under 25 set and African-Americans.
- Surprises. I think at least one state that has long been considered an "out of play" lock for Bush will go blue. Additionally, I think there will be at least one major event or outcome that absolutely no one predicts.
- Polls. I think everything we think we know about how people vote will be tossed out the window this year. This election will be unlike any we've ever seen.
- Electoral vs. Popular. I think there is, sadly, a good possibility that once again Bush could take the electoral vote and lose the popular vote. If he does, I predict the margin by which he loses the popular vote will be substantial.
- Instant winner vs. long legal battle. If there is a decisive victory with a clear winner on November 3rd, I think that it will be Kerry. If there is a long legal battle and the Supreme Court gets involved again, Bush will emerge victorious. Which of the two outcomes is more likely? I have no idea.
- My accuracy. I also predict that at least two of my predictions, including this one, will be dead wrong.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Are you voting for John Kerry but wishing there was a viable, more progressive alternative out there?
In New York State, Kerry will be on the ballots as the candidate for two parties, Democrat and also the Working Families Party. An editorial in The Nation assures that "a vote on the WFP line for Kerry counts just as much as a vote on the Democratic line, but it sends a message about what you believe in. It's a vote for equality and democracy, and for living wage jobs, affordable housing, universal healthcare and an end to preemptive wars."
I urge you to consider voting WFP this time. We can elect Kerry but also let the Democratic leadership know how important progressive values are.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
I only got to hear him live once, which was at the Yankees' season opener in 1998, when he sang the national anthem. (It was definitely the highlight of the afternoon.) Even with all the other stadium noise and the far-from-concert-quality of the speaker system, the then-81 year old baritone's mahogany-colored voice was vibrant and powerful. I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to hear him in his prime in the opera house.
I discovered Merrill in 1992, when I was still very much a novice when it came to opera. I had purchased a highlights album of Puccini's La Boheme, which I picked not for the cast, since I wasn't familiar with that many singers, but rather because it was the only option at the Tower Records in Beaverton, Oregon. At the beginning of the opera, the baritone Marcello ascends to a high F on the phrase, "Per vendicarmi affogo un Faraon!" The richness of Merrill's sound in the upper register caught my attention immediately, and I've been a fan ever since.
Somewhere along the way I came across a used copy of his autobiography, Once More from the Beginning, which I believe is out of print. (He also wrote another book, Between Acts, which is a collection of opera-related anecdotes, but is far inferior to the biography.) He was born Moishe Miller to Polish immigrants in a cold-water flat in Brooklyn. I remember being very moved by the recollections of his very humble childhood, and inspired by how hard he worked to get his career off the ground, and comforted by the lucky breaks that allowed him to get his foot in the door. He partnered the greatest singers of his age, and made legendary recordings that still stand as masterpieces of such works as Il barbiere di Siviglia, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Traviata, and my personal favorite, a 1963 Rigoletto with Anna Moffo.
He also possessed a great sense of humor; a story goes that, dying onstage as Valentin in Faust at the Met, he rolled over to the mezzo singing Siebel and muttered, "Oy, it hoits!"
My favorite Merrill story came straight from the mouth of one of his colleagues, the tenor Gabor Carelli. The two were appearing in La Traviata at the Met with soprano Joan Sutherland in the title role, who was as famous for her mushy diction as she was for her stratospheric high notes and fearsome coloratura. As the cast gathered in the wings to watch La Stupenda sing the difficult aria that ends the first act, Merrill turned and whispered, "And now ladies and gentlemen, Miss Sutherland will sing 'Thuppralubberuh.'"
Thanks, Mr. Merrill.
Well, we're in the home stretch. One week from today Americans will go to the polls. What will happen? No one knows. The only certainty is that the campaign commercials will stop. To get a sense of the national mood, one need only look at the text on the cover of the November 1, 2004 issue of Time Magazine:
"On November 3, assuming we have a decision, America will wake up to either a President returning to office or a newly elected one. To the victor goes a nation divided. A nation split over its place in the world, over its basic values, over its future direction. No matter who wins, the Uncivil War is likely to continue. After such a venomous campaign, will it be possible to pick up the pieces, bridge the gaps and reunite the United States? To restore trust — not only in our leaders but also in one another? The stakes are higher than we could ever imagine."
Is that depressing or what?
How chilling is the clause, "assuming we have a decision"? There have been periods of uncertainty following elections before, notably in 1800 and 1876, as an op-ed in today's New York Times (written by Theodore B. Olson, who represented George W. Bush before the Supreme Court in 2000) points out, but until 2000 there wasn't an election in living memory so hotly contested, an election with results that remain controversial four years later. It's cause for tremendous anxiety. Those of us who shrugged in 2000 and asked, "How bad could it be?" are sorry to have found out. There is every reasonable suspicion that, should the election once again be too close to call on November 3, rife with controversies over disenfranchised voters, illegible ballots, inconsistent procedures, and partisan involvement, we will see a legal battle that dwarfs 2000 with its scale and aggression.
So many factors remain in play. Some counties in Florida have eliminated the pregnant/hanging/dimpled chads and replaced the troublesome butterfly ballots with electronic voting machines, which have a proven history of malfunction and no means of verification of accuracy. There has been no widespread national effort to learn from the problems of 2000 and standardize procedures for counting questionable ballots. It's as if the debacle never occurred.
There isn't a poll out there showing Bush with a score of 50% or better. Only in the past couple of days have guesses about which way the electoral chips will fall flipped to indicate a likely Bush win, having shown Kerry with a comfortable electoral lead for months. Yet many of the polls on which these guesses are based show Bush leading by percentages within the margin of error. Polls can also just be wrong; last year at this time Gallup showed Bush ahead by about 13%, but when it came down to it he lost the popular vote. Complicating the matters further, should the election wind up back at the Supreme Court, we now learn that Chief Justice Rehnquist has only just undergone a tracheotomy for thyroid cancer.
The G.O.P. is dispatching a volunteer army to polling stations in Ohio to “verify voter eligibility.” Of course preventing election fraud is a non-partisan issue, one in which everyone has a stake. But the Republicans are sending their volunteers to urban centers in Cleveland and Dayton with high minority populations. The lead editorial in today’s New York Times argues that such tactics could be used to intimidate legitimate voters. In populous urban areas, voters sometimes have to wait in long lines to cast their ballots. If challengers succeed in slowing down the process even by a few minutes per voter, some may be discouraged or might simply not have the time to wait. Additionally, “aggressive challengers have been known to bully poll workers, many of whom are elderly and have only limited knowledge of election law.” One can be sure that such tactics will be deployed outside of Ohio, as well.
The news isn’t helping Bush, either. The story about the missing 380 tons of high-grade explosives has been widely covered in the press. White House spokesman Scott McClellan tried to spin it away by pointing out that the U.S. has destroyed 163,000 tons of munitions in Iraq, but that doesn’t explain why a site the U.N. referred to as “the greatest explosives bonanza in history” was left unguarded. It brings to mind Kerry’s rebuttal from the last debate, when he was talking about financing education in this country. You don’t measure success by a percentage increase, you measure it by whether you’re getting the job done. With regard to making Iraq secure, Bush is clearly not getting the job done. And yet…are there any voters out there remaining to be swayed?
There are other factors, “known unknowns,” if you will, that Michael Moore pointed out in an email to supporters on September 20:
“The polls are wrong. They are all over the map. On Friday, one poll had Bush 13 points ahead -- and another poll had them both tied. There are three reasons why the polls are b.s.: One, they are polling "likely voters." "Likely" means those who have consistently voted in the past few elections. So that cuts out young people who are voting for the first time and a ton of non-voters who are definitely going to vote in THIS election. Second, they are not polling people who use their cell phone as their primary phone. Again, that means they are not talking to young people. Finally, most of the polls are weighted with too many Republicans, as pollster John Zogby revealed last week. You are being snookered if you believe any of these polls.”
And so we sit here in utter uncertainty about what the future will bring.
Time refers to the “Uncivil War.” We on the left are fighting deeply ingrained misperceptions about who this president is, what he’s doing, and what his policies are really about. I think in my earlier post “Is George Bush Who You Think He Is?” I was maybe unclear about the results of the polls of Bush supporters. When I wrote that 13% knew that Bush was opposed to labor and environmental standards in international trade agreements, what that means is that 87% are under the impression that he supports them. That’s what I’m talking about. They don’t know who their candidate is. A majority – 55% -- believe that the 9/11 Commission concluded that Iraq was providing “substantial support to al Qaeda.” We are confronted with an almost Galilean conundrum; we’ve got millions of people who take it on faith that the sun revolves around the earth, and refuse to acknowledge overwhelming evidence to the contrary. How do we resolve this?
The good news is that Kerry still has a shot…a pretty reasonable shot, even. We’ve all just got to keep our fingers crossed.
Monday, October 25, 2004
He maketh me lie down on park benches,
He leadeth me beside the still factories.
He restoreth my doubts about the Republican Party.
He leadeth me into the paths of unemployment for his cronies' sake.
Yea, though no weapons of mass destruction have been found,
he maketh me continue to fear that illusion, for his namesake.
His tax cuts for the rich and his deficit spending discomfort me.
He anointeth me with never-ending debt:
Verily my days of savings and assets are kaput.
Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me all the days of his administration,
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.
The Lewinsky affair was tacky and embarrassing. But it was a private matter for the Clintons to resolve. It didn't have an effect on foreign policy. She was not exchanging favors with the President on behalf of a corporation or industry. People weren't dying. It didn't cost us anything (aside from the $70 million budget for Ken Starr's fruitless investigations).
So a few years ago when my feelings toward Bush changed from bemused pity at his bumbling to blood-boiling, stomach churning outrage, I prayed for a scandal.
There have now been too many to recall. Enron. The anthrax attacks of 2001. Remember those? Didn't even get a mention in the debates. The great Northeast blackout of 2003. The National Guard fiasco. And more. It makes my head spin.
As if that wasn't enough, there's Iraq. We attacked and invaded a defenseless country, killing tens of thousands of innocents, in order to put one politically isolated and impotent dictator in jail. We argued for the war before the United Nations using false pretenses. We betrayed the deaths of 3,000 Americans by not pursuing their killers and bringing them to justice. The catastrophe that is Iraq is likewise made up of scandals too numerous to recall. Abu Ghraib. WMD. To name but two.
And now today, there's the lead article on the New York Times front page: "Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq." Um, when they say "huge," they aren't kidding. We're not talking estimates of what this site contained, we know exactly what was there because this was one of the sites the UN inspectors had monitored. They told us what it contained and sealed it, but the U.S. failed to secure the location, and now it's gone.
Huge. 377 tons of some of the most potent explosive material that exists. To give you an idea, Pan Am 103 was brought down over Scotland using less than a pound of the kind of explosives that are now missing. So we're talking about 754,000 pounds.
Any of these events dwarf the Lewinsky mess. Well, that's just it right there, I think. Lewinsky was a mess. Iraq, Enron, etc., etc., etc., were disasters and catastrophes.
And yet, none of this has stuck. Is that where America is these days? Kill thousands of innocent people, launch a war under false pretences, overlook the theft of enough explosives to bring down 754,000 jumbo jets, and you've still got a shot at being re-elected. As long as you keep your dick in your pants, apparently you can get away with anything.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Here are some sad statistics about what people who support George Bush believe. As I've always said, if Bush weren't a liar, you'd be crazy not to support him, but as it is, everything he's told us and everything the GOP faithful believe is an elaborate deception. Let's rip the wool off these people's eyes and do them a favor.
- 72% of Bush supporters believe that before the war Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
- 57% believe that the recently released report by Charles Duelfer, the administration's hand-picked weapons inspector, concluded Iraq either had WMD or a major program for developing them.
- 75 % believe Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda.
- 55% believe that was the conclusion of the 9/11 commission.
*Above statistics assembled by The Daily Misleader.
- Bush opposes labor and environmental standards in international trade agreements. Only 13% of his supporters know that.
- Only 20% of Bush supporters know he opposes the International Land Mines Treaty.
- 24% know he's opposed to a ban on nuclear testing.
- 38% understand that Bush does not want to participate in the International Criminal Court.
- Somewhat surprisingly, after all the press, only 39% know that he is opposed to the goals of the Kyoto Protocol.
- 47% understand that Bush is building a missile defense system.
*Above statistics assembled by The Washington Monthly.
And finally, "Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the President would not have. Kull continues, "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."
* "Bush Supporters Still Believe Iraq Had WMD or Major Program,Supported al Qaeda," PIPA
I don't know any Republicans. Well, crazy Joan, but she's a lost cause.
If anyone knows any Bush fans out there who would like to have a civilized discussion about this President (i.e., I figure if they're in the "A Vote for Kerry is a Vote for al Qaeda" camp that they are, like Joan, lost causes), please send them my way.
In other news, I can't wait for this election to be over. I console myself with the knowledge that Bush is not sitting nearly as pretty as he'd like to, and most of the current guesses about how the electoral college will play out are predicting a Kerry victory.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Wish I could say the same for the production.
I might expect acting that bad had I gone to see a non-equity community production in Hohokus or something, but I was appalled that the home of the New York Shakespeare Festival couldn't find better talent...in New York, no less! I mean, you can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting an unemployed actor. Talent literally does grow on trees here.
Not everyone was bad, which sort of made it all the more frustrating. The cast was very uneven. Isa Thomas, as Queen Margaret, showed that the trick to good acting is to talk like a normal person. She and her arch rival, the Duchess of York (played by Roberta Maxwell), and a small handful of other actors, were the only ones that seemed to have an emotional lock on their characters. Otherwise it was ham city.
This play should have the pace and momentum of a landslide. Once it begins, it tumbles helter skelter to its inevitable disastrous conclusion. The actors, however, in a vain attempt to create a sense of urgency ranted and raved like madmen when it wasn't called for, and failed to summon the requisite passion when it was. Mostly it seemed like a physical imitation of a hackneyed cliche of so-called "Shakespearean" acting. Woe is me.
In the title role, Peter Dinklage was a huge disappointment. He tossed out his lines with all the passion of an eight year old reciting parts of the catechism in Sunday school for a gold star. He tried to push the action along by speaking as quickly as he could, but he was frequently difficult to understand, and it robbed Richard of his cold, callous, calculating nature. He was petulant and pushy, not evil. His delivery was, frankly, monotonous.
The usher seated to my immediate left began to snore exactly 15 minutes into the first act. M.M. said she liked the nightmare sequence toward the end because it woke her up.
I recall my set-designer friend JWC saying he liked the physical production, but it looked pretty amateur to me. The lighting was stark and basic.
Unable as I am to resist an opportunity bash Bush, I found the scene where Richard has Buckingham (well done by Ty Burrell) spin some p.r. magic by making him look pious sadly relevant.
See where His Grace stands, 'tween two clergymen!
Two props of virtue for a Christian prince,
To stay him from the fall of vanity.
And, see, a book of prayer in his hand,
True ornaments to know a holy man. --
Famous Plantagenet, most gracious prince,
Lend favorable ear to our requests,
And pardon us the interruption
Of thy devotion and right Christian zeal.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
My lords. Though we have achieved victory on the fields of the Pelennor, a great and terrible choice remains before us. Our strength barely sufficed to beat off the first great assault; the next will be greater. This war, then, is without hope. Victory cannot be achieved by arms, whether you sit here and await another siege or march out to be overwhelmed beyond the river. You have only a choice of evils. Prudence would counsel you retire to such strong places as you have, and there await the onset. So shall your time before the end be made a little longer.
Then you would have us retreat like children to Minas Tirith or Edoras, there to sit like sandcastles awaiting the tide?
No. I said that would be prudent. I do not counsel prudence. For we must still consider the fate of the One Ring. If Sauron regains it, his victory will be swift and complete, and all your valour would be in vain. If it is destroyed, he will fall, and his fall will be so low that he will never arise again.
But we have not the Ring; it has gone beyond our reach.
Sauron does not know that; he knows only that it has been found. He may suspect that we still possess it, for we have among us some with strength enough to wield it. He fears yet the heir of Isildur.
But why would he not think it vain to assail us, if we possessed the Ring?
Doubt clouds his mind, and he will not risk waiting until his enemies have gathered strength. The powers of the Ring cannot be mastered in a single day, and it can only be used by one master alone. He would look for a time of strife among us, one when seizes the power.
So what is to be done?
We must call out Sauron’s hidden strength, force him to empty his lands. We must march out and meet him. We will make ourselves the bait, which he will take in hope and greed, for in such boldness he will think he sees the pride of the new Ringlord. He will concentrate all his power on our assault to crush us once and for all, and his eye will be blind to any other movement.
We must walk open-eyed into this trap. It may well prove that we shall perish utterly in a black battle, and yet I deem this our duty. Better to fall in valour at the very gates of Mordor than to perish here, as we surely shall, and know that no new age shall ever be.
As I have begun, so will I go on. To waver is to fall. Let none reject the counsel of Gandalf.
Small chance of victory…certainty of death…what are we waiting for?
Monday, October 18, 2004
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Then on the train there was a woman humming along to her headphones. Humming progressed into murmuring, and before we knew it she was belting out full voice whatever song it was she was listening to. The problem was, the woman couldn't carry a tune. At all. It was bad, whatever it was. And loud. Ah, New York.
By the way, I loved "Huckabees."
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Question #1: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?
Kerry responded, wisely, by saying, "The measurement is not are we safer, the measurement is are we as safe as we ought to be." He's absolutely right. Take safety on airliners. I compare it to a fence. Let's say you want to protect your house from thieves, so you build a fence around it. However, putting a fence all the way around the house costs more than you're willing to spend, so you put up the fence in the front and on the sides, but leave a gap in the back to save money. You know, from the street, no one can see this gap. A lot of thieves will be deterred by the easily visible part of the fence. But it takes just one determined thief who sneaks all the way around before you've got people just walking freely on to your property. If there's a hole in the fence, why bother having the fence?
Kerry also pointed out that we've had staff reductions on police forces and in firehouses. They've closed firehouses in New York City, of all places! Of course you have to do everything in your power to prevent an attack, but there also needs to be a plan to deal with an attack should another one occur. Having fewer first responders in high-profile target areas is not one of the lessons we should be learning from September 11.
Bush responded that he has a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda. And the GOP complains that Kerry is shaky on details! What strategy is that, Mr. President? You know, recently it was discovered that there was a map from 2001 that pre-dated 9/11 on the State Department's website that indicated countries around the globe in which al Qaeda was known or suspected to be operating. The entire middle east was shaded for al Qaeda presence, except for one country: Iraq. [The map has been removed from the State Department website. But you can still see it here.] So I guess the comprehensive plan must be to go around invading countries that have no relationship to al Qaeda. Some plan.
The President also took credit for "ridding the Taliban out of Afghanistan." Now, they may not be controlling the central government in Kabul, but I bet it would be news to the Afghans that the Taliban is no longer in the country. Bush also repeated his claim that "three-quarters of Al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice." He should clarify that he means 75% of known al Qaeda leaders, because as Donald Rumsfeld taught us, there are some things we don't know we don't know. As impressive as that might sound, CNN puts that figure into a pretty sad context: "CIA officials have estimated that 75 percent of the two-dozen or so known al Qaeda leaders, as of September 11, 2001, have been killed or captured. "
Seventy-five percent of 24 is 18.
Now, I will give some credit to Bush for the elections that were recently held in Afghanistan. That is a major step. Its significance cannot be underestimated...it's incredible progress, and the fact that it seems to have gone off fairly well and nonviolently offers us great hope. However, it would be premature to assume that Afghanistan is "fixed" just because they've had an election. Without even looking it up, I know offhand that there have been at least 3 significant assassination attempts on Hamid Karzai, the likely winner of the elections. What happens if he is killed? Is the democratic process in Afghanistan strong enough to hold so that the "next in line" takes over peacefully? Or will it fall apart? And while it's wonderful that the first voter in Afghanistan was a woman, let's not for a moment pretend that we've achieved anything resembling equality over there. We've still got a nation full of burqhas and honor killings. I'm just saying, let's give credit where credit is due, but keep both feet planted in reality.
Bush also complained about Kerry's comment in which he expressed his desire to reduce terrorism to a "nuisance." Bush compares that to similar attitudes toward prostitution and illegal gambling. But Kerry is clearly pragmatic about it. Can you definitively eliminate prostitution and gambling? No. Can you stop terrorism, which is a technique, not an ideology or political movement, once and for all? No. But you can adopt effective counter-strategies. Remember the Unabomber? Now, that's terrorism. Was the nation in a red-alert panic? No. Did it have anything to do with radical Islam? No. We can get this country back to a place where normal people aren't afraid to fly.
Now, in the discretionary additional minute granted by moderator Bob Schieffer, Bush uttered what will be a defining moment in his legacy: Kerry accurately pointed out that the President had once commented that he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden. Bush responded bizarrely. He wasn't outraged. He didn't say, "Senator, I never said that." His attitude resembled bashfulness more than anything else, and he rather shrugged as if it was no big deal and said, "Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations."
I guess the President really didn't see Fahrenheit 9/11 after all. Otherwise he might have remembered the video clip, which has now been seen by millions of people around the world, wherein he said the following, on March 13, 2003:
"I don't know where he is. I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."
Question #2: Suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?
Neither candidate actually answered this question, alas.
Bush responded, "We took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country." He's taking credit for a decision he wasn't allowed to make: the British government saw the vaccine was contaminated and shut down the factory. See what he's done? He took a question about an enormous blunder, doesn't answer it, and manages to actually take credit for it. See what a good President I am? Without me, you'd have contaminated vaccine. Uh huh.
Then he said, "We're working with Canada to...help us realize the vaccine necessary to make sure our citizens have got flu vaccinations during this upcoming season." I see. Is this the same Canada from which he won't allow us to import prescription drugs because they might have been made "in a third world"? [I am not an expert on the pharmaceutical industry, so if anyone knows of any third world countries -- I'm assuming that's what he meant, not Mars or Rigel 7 or Tatooine -- that manufacture pharmaceuticals that might be unsafe for American consumption but just fine for Canadians, let me know.]
Now, Kerry made some fine points about the flaws in our health care system, but he didn't answer the question either. As a matter of fact, in his response, he did not even say the word "vaccine."
In response, Bush got off one of the best lines of his political career: "A plan is not a litany of complaints." Zing! (The President used "litany" twice, prompting one of my colleagues to exclaim, "He learned a new word!") Unfortunately for Dubya, it's clear that Kerry is doing more than complaining. He's pointing out flaws, sure, but he does also have suggestions for how to fix things. And equally unfortunate is the realization that wishful thinking (e.g., Iraq, Star Wars, the deficit, tax cuts creating jobs) isn't a plan, either.
He followed up with this: "He just said he wants everybody to be able to buy into the same plan that senators and congressmen get. That costs the government $7,700 per family." Well, George, welcome to Realityville. That's what health insurance costs in this country. What was your suggestion? Give a $1,000 tax credit to people who buy private insurance plans. That just leaves them $6,700 short. See, here's the problem: Republicans don't want to create the kind of tax breaks that help low income people; they're only talking about income tax, and so in order to qualify for this credit, you have to be making enough money so that your tax liability is more than $1,000. There are millions of people who don't meet this criterion.
Kerry then recalled how the President had touted the new Medicare bill by praising the same program: "He said, if it's good enough for their congressmen and senators to have choice, seniors ought to have choice."
Question #3: How can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep [your pledge not to raise taxes on people making less than $200,000 a year] without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?
Kerry managed to turn this into more of an attack on Bush's fiscal policies rather than give specific details about how he'd make good on his pledge, but I think it was effective. Numbers and technical talk about the economy are not very interesting to the average viewer; that's why responses are limited to two minutes with 90 second rebuttals. It's all about ADD. What he did do was demonstrate that Bush has approved all kinds of spending bills (in fact, every single one that has ever crossed his desk) without saying how it would ever be paid for. Kerry vowed not to run up the nation's credit card, but would reinstate "pay as you go" rules. He vowed to cut pork (well...we've heard that before) and close tax loopholes.
Bush's response to this assault was shamelessly partisan and devoid of any real basis in fact. Again he said Kerry voted to raise taxes 98 times. According to FactCheck.org, that total includes up to 16 votes on a single tax bill, and 43 votes on budget measures that set targets but don't actually legislate tax increases.
Bush said, "[Kerry] voted 277 times to waive the budget caps, which would have cost the taxpayers $4.2 trillion." Allow me to refer you to today's New York Times headline, "As U.S. Debt Ceiling Is Reached, Bush Administration Seeks to Raise It Once Again." I report, you decide.
The President then let fly with another zinger. "He talks about pay-go. I'll tell you what pay-go means: when you're a senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy, pay-go means you pay and he goes ahead and spends. "
I'm sure his base loved that, but it's pretty pathetic. Bush is not one to be throwing "he spends, you pay" stones. Furthermore...poor Massachusetts! What did they ever do to Bush? I would also like to point out that this is the same Senator Kennedy that Bush will take credit for working with in a few moments.
Bush also threw this criticism in for good measure: "There is a tax gap. And guess who usually ends up filling the tax gap? The middle class." I see. And why do you think that is, Mr. President? Is it possibly because the rich aren't paying their share?
Question #4: What do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?
Basically Bush said, "Go back to school." Learn a new job. What he literally said was, "here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college." So, you're a middle-aged person, your job has gone to India...your president wants to offer you some help to go back to school. Not only does this not pay your bills, it's going to cost you something, and the "help" is coming from the taxes you paid back when you had a job. Ask recent graduates of colleges and universities around the country how the job market is doing in their chosen fields of study.
"Perhaps the best way to keep jobs here in America and to keep this economy growing is to make sure our education system works," the President said. You know, I'm not really hearing a lot of talk about how American workers are undereducated and underqualified for 21st century jobs, as true as that might be in some respects. The fact is, foreign workers cost less. No unions, no insurance, no 40 hour work week, no child labor laws...it's a corporate savings bonanza. The solution, as Kerry put it, is to find incentives for companies to keep jobs here at home.
Unfortunately, before Kerry could make that point, he deployed this lead balloon of a sound bite: "Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country." Groan! Christ, John, that was baaaaad. I mean, Tony Soprano is not even real. He might as well have said, "is a little bit like being lectured on hair care by Dr. Evil." It's a variation on a MUCH wittier phrase turned out recently by Travis County, Texas, Prosecutor Ronnie Earle: "Being called vindictive and partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog."
Once we got past that dreadful moment (it's a good thing the audience for the debate was required to be mum, otherwise the ensuing silence would have been deadly...you could have heard a cricket fart) Kerry got down to some real meat: "This president has take a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see. Health care costs for the average American have gone up 64 percent. Tuitions have gone up 35 percent. Gasoline prices up 30 percent. Medicare premiums went up 17 percent a few days ago. Prescription drugs are up 12 percent a year. But guess what, America? The wages of Americans have gone down. The jobs that are being created in Arizona right now are paying about $13,700 less than the jobs that we're losing." The Senator closed by pointing out that in a time of record unemployment, the President refused to extend unemployment benefits or provide health care for workers who had lost their jobs. Of course, in all of this, he also failed to answer the original question.
Question #5: Is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?
I think this was one of the smartest and most interesting questions asked in any of the debates. No, said Kerry, "I blame the President for the things the president could do that has an impact on it." In a rare moment of candor during a high stakes election, Kerry confessed he can't stop the outsourcing of jobs, but discussed ways to encourage and make it easier for corporations to keep jobs here and hire more workers.
The President did not defend his record on the loss of jobs. He said, "We've increased Pell grants by a million students. That's a fact." Well, if that's a "fact," it's very much out of context. The fact is that the President did not "extend" Pell grants to a million more people. The President has no control over that. What happened is, a million more people qualified for the grants because they are poorer now than they were before. There wasn't enough money to go around, so the size of the Pell grants shrank. More people needed help, but because of the tax cuts there wasn't enough money, so the President helped them less. That's some jobs recovery plan. He defended his tax cuts by saying, "When you have more money in your pocket you're able to better afford things you want." This sort of ignores two problems: one, people who are unemployed aren't paying income taxes and therefore are not benefitting from his tax cuts, and second, the President doesn't seem to conceive of an America struggling to pay for things it needs.
When Kerry responded by exposing Bush's Pell grant lie, Bush attacked, not even waiting to be recognized by the moderator: "You know there's a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts." Poor, poor Massachusetts, with its Republican governor.
Question #6: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
The President said, "You know, Bob, I don't know. I just don't know." For a moment, my feelings toward Bush softened, because in that instant I saw utter sincerity in his face. But it evaporated quickly.
So, George, you don't know whether gay people choose their "lifestyles" or whether they are born that way, but you do know that we are a threat to your marriage, indeed, a threat to the very foundations of civilization, as it has frequently been put by people who support your marriage amendment, and therefore we are not entitled to equal protection under the law. If I may borrow a phrase from Dick Cheney's Big Book of Witty Rejoinders, "Go fuck yourself."
If I may momentarily digress from the debate itself and talk about the President and his favorite phrase "activist judges," I would like to point out that the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts (oh...the light goes on, that Massachusetts!) did not wake up one morning and say, "Hey! let's legalize same-sex marriage." Following the procedure that was devised by this nation's founding fathers, a suit was brought before the court challenging the state constitution. The state had full opportunity to defend itself in court. The justices reviewed the evidence, deliberated, and then with the power that is given to them by both the state and national constitutions, decided the law needed to be changed and directed the legislature to act accordingly. This absolutely followed, to the letter, the legitimate process of democracy. When the legislature balked and asked, "Are civil unions enough?" the court reviewed the case again and came back with the argument that in this nation's history, separate has never been equal, and the Constitution guarantees us equality under the law. Personally, I supported the civil union idea until that very moment. I thought that would be sufficient. But when I read the court's opinion, I changed my mind. To hell with civil unions. I am not a second class citizen, and refuse to be treated as such. I want what you've got. I would also like to point out, if it weren't for "activist judges" we'd still have segregation in the schools, interracial marriage would be illegal, and Al Gore would be President.
Hey, did you know Mary Cheney is a lesbian?
Come on, John. Don't you know any other gay people? Why must you exploit this woman? She's made her choice, apparently, which is that her civil rights take a back seat to the goals of the Bush administration. Let's leave her alone.
Meanwhile, Dick and Lynne Cheney should be smacked. Their reaction to the public mention of their daughter's sexuality shows that they are ashamed to talk about it. I'm not giving any credit to people who put their own daughter's civil rights behind their agenda of personal power.
Kerry then pandered on to say, "The president and I share the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace, you can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people. You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth." I see. With all his talk of "rights," he doesn't believe that a gay couple has the same rights as a straight couple. Well, fuck you, too, John Kerry.
Question #7 was for the Senator: Some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem call research. What is your reaction to that?
For the record, I am a fence straddler on this issue. I think abortion is wrong, but I also firmly believe that it's not a problem that can be solved by banning it. As with gambling, alcohol and prostitution, prohibiting it not only doesn't solve the problem or eliminate it, it creates new ones. I also feel strongly that it is not the role of the federal government to make people's reproductive decisions for them. I think we must keep it legal so that we can keep it safe, and support peaceful, grassroots efforts to educate people about the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior and alternatives to abortion.
Therefore, I support Kerry's position, and agree that we can't be taking articles of faith and legislating them for people who don't share them. People who oppose this line of thinking say, "Why not just make murder legal?" Well, because, there is a unanimous consensus that the killing of an actual person, for lack of a better word to separate one from an unborn child, is wrong. There aren't political movements to legalize murder. Likewise with spousal abuse. Some cultures promote honor killings and think it's okay to beat your wife. Why don't we legalize that? Because there is a national consensus that it's wrong. We don't have that consensus on abortion, and we never will.
The President said, "I think it's important to promote a culture of life." I detest snide comments like this, particularly from hypocrites like George W. Bush. The implication is that people who are pro-choice are "pro-abortion." There is an enormous, if subtle difference. I don't think there's anyone out there who thinks abortion is a good thing. People who are "pro-choice" do not want to see more abortions, they want to see a world in which people have the right to make personal decisions of this nature without the government's interference. And, if Bush really wanted to promote a culture of life, he would not have been executing minors and the mentally retarded while he was governor of Texas. He would not have launched a war against a defenseless nation that was, in point of fact, in full compliance with international law.
Question #8: Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years, according to The Washington Post. We're paying more, we're getting less. I would like to ask you who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government, is it the insurance companies, is it the lawyers, is it the doctors, is it the administration?
Bush said, "Gosh, I sure hope it's not the administration."
Maybe, since he doesn't read the papers, he missed that little fiasco last year where the White House intentionally hid the actual estimates of the costs of the Medicare reform bill until after it had been passed, when we found out it was going to cost a few hundred billion more than Bush said it would.
Bush then advocated his plan for health care savings accounts. The idea is, you can set aside money in a special account earmarked for healthcare costs, the interest on which would be tax free, and presumably you could also take a deduction for earned income that you'd set aside for this account. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, except, it ignores the actual problem entirely. The people who need the most help are the ones who can't afford insurance. If they can't afford insurance, how are they going to be able to set aside "just in case" money for when they get sick? So what good is this plan? Simple: who has money? The rich. They take some money that would ordinarily be sitting in a normal savings account earning taxable interest and move it to a tax-free account. Perhaps they can set it up so that a portion of each paycheck is funneled in to the account to avoid income tax. Once again, the folks who least need the help benefit the most from Bush's plan.
Then, despite conclusive evidence that the legal costs associated with medical malpractice constitute less than 1% of the cost of healthcare, the President blamed trial lawyers. He then championed the introduction of better technology in terms of record-keeping, etc., that will reduce costs associated with paperwork. This is one of the central platforms of Kerry's plan.
Kerry came out swinging -- wish he'd do this more often! "The reason health care costs are getting higher...is that this administration has stood in the way of common-sense efforts that would have reduced the costs. Let me give you a prime example. In the Senate we passed the right of Americans to import drugs from Canada....The president blocked you from the right to have less expensive drugs from Canada. We also wanted Medicare to be able to negotiate bulk purchasing. But rather than help you, the taxpayer, have lower costs, rather than help seniors have less expensive drugs, the president made it illegal, illegal for Medicare to actually go out and bargain for lower prices. Result, $139 billion windfall profit to the drug companies coming out of your pockets. That's a large part of your 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums. When I'm president, I'm sending that back to Congress."
He also pointed out the enormous cost benefit (though didn't provide figures...surely intelligent estimates are available) of making sure everyone has regular health care. Look, if you don't have insurance, it's because you don't have money. If you don't have money, you don't pay for doctor visits unless you're really sick. Many chronic diseases which can be cured if detected early or managed with therapy do not have obvious symptoms, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or HIV. Patients who have health care coverage get regular checkups, and these conditions are detected early, often before the patient would have noticed anything wrong. Without regular health care, people put off going to the doctor until it's too late, hoping whatever is bothering them will go away on its own. By the time they do go, they end up in the emergency room (we know how expensive that is!), and they might potentially need expensive drug therapy, surgery, hospitalization, or some combination of the three. If they don't have insurance, they're faced with an insurmountable health care debt, which they can't pay. The hospitals need the money to pay for supplies and pay staff salaries, so the cost gets passed on to people who are insured, which drives up your costs. While it may sound like an expense to send every American to the doctor once a year, it would save us billions.
Question #9: You heard the president say earlier tonight that [your health care plan] going to cost a whole lot more money than [what you can gain from rolling back tax cuts]. I'd just ask you where are you going to get the money?
Once again, Kerry gave a very impressive answer. It's this kind of straight-talking, clear-thinking, fact-based response that has turned me into a Kerry supporter rather than an Anyone But Bush Guy. "Well two leading national news networks have both said the president's characterization of my health care plan is incorrect. One called it fiction, the other called it untrue," said Kerry. Take that, George. (He will try, in a minute. Wait and see.)
"It's not a government plan. The government doesn't require you to do anything. You choose your doctor. You choose your plan. If you don't want to take the offer of the plan that I want to put forward you don't have to. We take over Medicaid children from the states so that every child in America is covered. And in exchange, if the states want to - they're not forced to, they can choose to - they cover individuals up to 300 percent of poverty. It's their choice. I think they'll choose it because it's a net plus of $5 billion to them." Kerry was on a roll.
Then, to a room full of reporters, Bush responded, "I'm not so sure it - it's credible to quote leading news organizations about - oh, never mind."
That's another quote that will live in infamy, I have no doubt.
The President then called Kerry's plan "government-controlled healthcare." Run, people, run! It's socialism! Beware the red menace! Hillarycare!
Further demonstrating that he's completely out of touch with reality, Bush exclaimed, "And just look at other countries that have tried to have federally-controlled health care. They have poor quality health care. Our health care system is the envy of the world because we believe in making sure that the decisions are made by doctors and patients, not by officials in the nation's capital."
Even Homer Simpson isn't fooled by that one. In Episode 9F09, he said, "America's health care system is second only to Japan, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, well, all of Europe, but you can thank your lucky stars we don't live in Paraguay!" The fact is, while the United States spends more on health care than any other country, the quality of care is not better than care in other industrialized nations, and in some categories, we lag behind. If you doubt me, check out these reports from The Commonwealth Fund. And, finally, memo to George Bush: letting doctors and patients decide what's best is the Democrat position. Your folks want HMO's and insurance companies deciding what's best based upon what costs them the least amount of money.
Kerry nailed Bush's outright lie: "I am not proposing a government-run program. That's not what I have. I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Senators and congressmen have a wide choice; Americans ought to have it, too."
The President responded by defending the quality of care that veterans are receiving from his administration. I'll just point out that I watched the debate with a veteran, who is not satisfied and is voting for Kerry.
Question #10: You have proposed to fix [Social Security] by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private savings accounts. But the critics are saying that's going to mean finding a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money?
This is another question the President didn't answer. He said, "Let me make sure that every senior listening today understands that when we're talking about reforming Social Security that they'll still get their checks." That's not where the problem is. The problem is, I'm 30. What about MY checks when I'm 65? At least he didn't repeat his proposal of investing Social Security money in the stock market. Enron, anyone?
Basically, the question was, "Your plan is short by a trillion dollars. What's the solution?" And Bush's answered by promoting the very same plan that is short by one trillion dollars.
Kerry explained why Bush's plan is nuts. Today's workers pay for the benefits of today's retirees with their tax money. If we take the money that I'm paying now for social security and instead of giving it to Grandma we put it in an account for me, even though I don't need it for 35 more years, who pays for Grandma?
In a follow-up question, the moderator pointed out that at the current rate, we are indeed facing a shortfall in funding for Social Security when the baby-boomers retire. He asked Kerry what we can do about it. Kerry responded that if we repealed Bush's tax cuts on just the top 1% of the population, we could pay for social security for the next seventy years.
He then quite reasonably said that, as we go along, if we decide that's still not enough, you can sit down and make more changes at a later time.
Bush said Kerry's plan to fix Social Security is "more of the same." Kerry feels that the only problem with Social Security is how to pay for it, and we've solved that by raising taxes on the top 1%. Bush's "plan," if you want to call it that, not only doesn't deal with the projected shortfall, it creates a shortfall now.
Question #11: 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know; some believe it's an economic issue; some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it, and what do we need to do about it?
Bush wisely responded that it encompasses all three concerns. He gave a decent answer, actually, talking about increased staff and equipment for border controls, and talking -- specifically about Mexico -- about economic conditions that cause people to migrate here.
There was a little back and forth where Kerry accused Bush of not doing enough on border security, but he wasn't able to articulate specific examples and Bush couldn't do much other than to say the statement was "outrageous."
The next question was about raising minimum wage. Kerry pandered and Bush lamely responded that he'd supported a "plan" by Mitch McConnell, without saying what that was. You can be damn sure it wasn't as comprehensive as Kerry's insistence that we raise the wage to $7 an hour. He then talked about the No Child Left Behind Act. What that has to do with minimum wage is anyone's guess.
Bush then had two full minutes to answer the following question: "[Senator Kerry] said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I'd ask you directly would you like to?"
Actually, what the audience heard was, "...I'd ask you directly would --" because the President cut him off and answered, "What he's asking me is will I have a litmus test for my judges. And the answer is no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution. But I'll have no litmus tests."
So perhaps because Bush interrupted the moderator he did not hear the question, which could explain why he didn't answer it. But of course, if you look at the people Bush has nominated to the federal courts, he does have a litmus test.
Thankfully, Kerry quickly dispatched this uncomfortable issue by reaffirming -- strongly -- his support for the Constitutional right of choice, and then moved on to inequality in America. "I don't know how you can govern in this country when you look at New York City and you see that 50 percent of the black males there are unemployed. When you see 40 percent of Hispanic children or black children in some cities dropping out of high school. And yet the president who talks about No Child Left Behind refused to fully fund by $28 billion that particular program so you can make a difference in the lives of those young people. Now right here in Arizona that difference would have been $131 million to the state of Arizona to help its kids be able to have better education and to lift the property tax burden from its citizens."
Here came another shining Bush moment where he set Kerry up for an easy kill, and frankly it's something I've been dying to hear from the Senator for months now. Sorry, Massachusetts, but you're going to get slammed again (although it's the last time this evening). "Only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough. We've increased funds."
Now, here's a great sound bite that I hope gets some play: "You don't measure it by a percentage increase. Mr. President, you measure it by whether you're getting the job done."
That's it. That's the progressive attitude in a nutshell.
Let's use a totally idiotic analogy that is one of my pet favorites. Let's say you go through one roll of toilet paper a week in your household. You need 52 rolls for a year. Let's say, just for the sake of ease, that it costs $1 per roll. That's $52. However, next year, the price goes up to $1.25 a roll. In order to buy 52 rolls, you're going to have to shell out $65. But let's say you don't want to spend $65. You only want to spend $60. You can tell your family that you've increased funding for toilet paper by by 15%, but you still don't have enough toilet paper.
Bush does this with everything, from education to homeland security. Look what I'm spending on security compared to Clinton! exclaims Bush. But look at the needs that are not being met! exclaims Andy.
On a question about the draft, Kerry thankfully pointed out his misleading statement about the cost of the war in Iraq. So far, the bill is only $120 billion. (Heh, only.) Kerry had been using a figure of $200 billion. But if you think we're going to be able to get out of Iraq before we've spent at least $200 billion, you've got another thing coming (and that would be a huge tax bill).
Bush responded by mentioning those 125,000 Iraqis who will make up the security force there so that we can turn the country back over to its inhabitants. A recent report in the New York Times indicated that training sometimes means handing people a police uniform, a badge and a gun and then sending them into a combat zone. Bush talked about how thrilled some members of the National Guard that he recently spoke with were about going back to Iraq. Uh huh. And then he once again raised Kerry's "global test" issue, a position the Senator has made so clear I can't believe the President's handlers are still letting him use it.
Here is the test. When the US says we need to go to war, the reasons should be so obvious to the rest of the world that there aren't any objections and people want to join in. Those are the kinds of wars the United States fights. When the entire planet is saying, "Now...hold on a minute here..." there is a problem. Kerry also says the test includes being straight with our own people. A majority of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11 at the time of our invasion, despite a total lack of evidence.
Question: You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons that you'd sign the legislation. But you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?
The President answered, "I did think we ought to extend the assault-weapons ban and was told the fact that the bill wasn't ever going to move. Because the Republicans and Democrats were against the assault-weapon ban, people of both parties."
Think about that. Here's a man who bases his whole re-election campaign on the idea that he is steadfast and sticks to his guns -- no pun intended! -- in the face of opposition when he's forced to make unpopular decisions. He's said that over and over. And right here, he just admitted he caved on an issue that was supported by 70% of the American public. This bill didn't even get to a vote. What a pussy. He was told the exact same thing about the Marriage Amendment -- last I checked, gay marriage wasn't an issue of importance to law enforcement and homeland security -- but he pushed a vote on that one, a vote that went down in flames. Big pink sparkly flames.
Oddly Kerry did not say he would try to reinstate the ban.
On a question about affirmative action, Kerry lied when he said the President has not met with the Congressional Black Caucus and is the first president not to meet with the NAACP. In fact, Bush is merely the first president in 70 years not to meet with the NAACP, and he did meet with the Black Caucus. Once. In fairness, he did address the Urban League this year.
Bush lamely said he's expanded Pell grants this year. Remember that one?
For me, the oddest moment of the debate came in a response to this important question: What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
First he said, with sincerity, "Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, how do you know? I said I just feel it." As a Christian myself, I know what he means. When I pray, I do feel that sense of calm...you just feel the presence of God. Frankly, it was a lovely answer, very eloquent in its lack of pomp and pretense.
But then he talked about his faith-based initiatives, which have "unleashed the armies of compassion."
Does this not seem weird? When I think "compassion," "army" is not one of the words that easily free-associates itself. Weapons of mass destruction and guard dogs are "unleashed." You don't "unleash" compassion. Armies fight. Armies destroy. They may defend, but they do so by killing. Armies of compassion? This is an image that's just not working for me, sorry. In fact, I think it's indicative of the idea that this President can't envision changing the world except through force.
In response to a question about the current partisan atmosphere of the country, Bush said, "The No Child Left Behind Act, incredibly enough, was good work between me and my administration and people like Senator Ted Kennedy." The same Senator Kennedy from Taxahomochusetts? What do you suppose he meant by, "incredibly enough"?
The evening wrapped up with what my colleagues agreed was a great softball, a question about the influence of women in their lives. Bush was direct and brief and sincere. Kerry got in a 1-2 joke, at his own expense, that actually got a laugh. (Still, it didn't erase the cringe-inducing memory of Tony Soprano.)
I'm voting for John Kerry. How 'bout you?
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
I have downloaded all my photos, but it will be a while before I finish processing them. I'll post the best ones here, but for now I'll just summarize the highlights of the trip.
The flight out last Tuesday was great...the plane was pretty empty so I had the row to myself, and it was very uneventful. Not a cloud in the sky between New York and California...I easily recognized Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City from the air and took some great pictures of Manhattan as we flew over as well as some interesting ground formations from the air. We landed in San Francisco a few minutes early...it was very foggy, we didn't see the runway until we were on it. The air off the bay is pretty cool! I'm glad I brought a light coat and a sweatshirt.
I hopped on BART and was at my hotel by 11:30 a.m. I had intended to just leave my bag there and officially check in later, but they had a room available, so I took it so I could hang up the wedding clothes, etc. The room was okay. Nothing fancy, but it was clean and quiet and I had a private bathroom, which is all I cared about. The TV had CNN, which is more than I can say for the Comfort Inn in Santa Rosa. The only "bad" thing about the hotel was the view out my window: a cinder-block wall topped by razor wire. I felt like Martha Stewart. But, you know, I didn't go to San Francisco to stare out the window of my hotel room. I would totally stay there again sometime.
So after that I took a walking tour of the SoMa area and visited the temporary headquarters of the Academy of Sciences and the Steinhart Aquarium. Then a nap was necessary. I woke up in time to see the Cheney/Edwards debate. Personally, I call it a draw. Edwards of course had his facts more right than Cheney and was very energetic, but Cheney was calmer, more eloquent and more professional. He just lied through his teeth. I also credit him during the exchange about his daughter, which Senator Edwards unnecessarily brought up. Frankly, I thought that was a very cheap shot by Edwards, and Cheney handled it with extreme class. On the other hand, I heard a commentator say it was effective because it showed that social conservatives, when faced with gay issues in their own family, act like liberals.
I went out for a drink in the Castro area that night, but not surprisingly, there wasn't a lot going on on a Tuesday night. Yay for the cheap strong drinks at Badlands!
I started Wednesday off with a walking tour of the North Beach area, and had my morning coffee at Cafe Trieste. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I had wonderful views of the bay from Telegraph Hill, though I did not climb Coit Tower. Am I the only one who did not know there were wild parrots there? Then I trudged down the hill toward Pier 39 and went to the aquarium there, which was pretty cool. Maybe a tad expensive at $13 for a small place, but the acrylic tunnels were great. I also took some great shots of the sea lions out there...what a show they put on! And...what a smell! Then I rode the streetcar along the waterfront back to the Embarcadero and trudged up the hill to my hotel, where I rested for a little bit.
My plan for the afternoon was to take this walking tour of Chinatown and then have dinner there. I enjoyed walking around, but I poked my head in a few markets on Stockton and totally lost my appetite. In addition to great piles of things dried beyond recognition which now reeked like vomit, I saw buckets of dazed live fish, butcher counters that were open to the public -- with shoppers handling all the meat -- and a box of live frogs that a woman was sorting through. She would pick up a frog and handle it, the way I inspect an apple. Then she'd toss it back in the box. I wondered why the frogs didn't try to escape, like the overflowing box of crabs next to it, where a lazy guardian kept them from getting too far away, even though they wouldn't get far on the street. Someone later explained to me that the frogs' legs are broken. Also in a window I saw a tray full of eels covered with fish guts, and next to it a tray that contained...I'm not sure. They looked like small, smooth tennis balls, covered with bloody, wet string. It was for sale, whatever it was. There was also 3/4 of a turtle available. Someone had purchased the rear right leg, I guess.
I ended up going back up to North Beach, where I had a fantastic Italian dinner at Franchino's, on Columbus Avenue just north of Grant. I highly recommend it...it's a real mom and pop operation. I had planned to go out this night, too, but when I got back to the hotel I collapsed.
The next morning fog covered the city, but I had reserved the day for a hike. I rode the Hyde-Powell cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, and then walked along the Pacific Coast trail toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I took some dramatic photos there. I also stopped at a fantastic little coffee house/gift shop near the bridge called the Warming Hut. That would be a fun place to work, I bet! I took the trail up to the western side of the bridge, and hiked through the forest in the fog...it was very beautiful and quiet except for the crashing waves, which could only barely be seen. I kept hiking all the way until I got to the Sutro Gardens...which took about 6 hours or so from the time I left Fisherman's Wharf. I had planned to go even further so I could ride a Muni streetcar back into town, but my legs gave out so I took a bus down Geary. I got off at Japantown and found a copy of a favorite Japanese movie, "Ten to Chi to," on video -- apparently it's not yet available on DVD. It was released while I was in Japan back in 1990.
Back at the hotel, I rested a bit before meeting up with my old pal Brian for dinner and drinks, and then we went to a club called the Powerhouse, because his friend was the DJ that night. Um...that was an interesting experience. It was amateur wrestling night. Not exactly my crowd, but I guess it's good to expand your horizons occasionally. People were friendly, just not flirty.
The next morning was bright and sunny. I checked out of the hotel and spent the first half of the day "shopping," though I didn't really buy anything. I don't like "shopping," but I couldn't really think of what else I could do in just a couple of hours. Then I boarded a commuter bus up to Santa Rosa and met my parents. The rehearsal dinner for the wedding was at a restaurant called "An Italian Affair." The food was great, and it was so nice to see everyone again. The owner was "three sheets to the wind," as they say, and he gave my mom and I a guided tour of the fucking basement. (Fucking was his favorite adjective...probably a favorite verb, too.) Then he showed us a fucking portrait of his father dressed up as a fucking rabbi, by an artist whose works apparently sell for as much as forty fucking thousand dollars. At least that's what this man said.
The wedding was nice and simple, though when we went around to take pictures of the bride and groom coming out of the church my stepfather thought we had abandoned him so he drove to the reception without us. Oops. The reception was at a beautiful old estate in Healdsburg...the food was great, and everyone had a good time. My cousin Greg found a real peach in Adriana.
After all that several of us went to a Mexican restaurant in Santa Rosa for dinner, if you can believe it. I was stuffed to bursting and though I tried to stay awake a bit longer once we got back to the hotel, I was asleep by 9:45.
I did nothing, really, on Sunday. I had wanted to do something -- anything -- rather than sit around at the Comfort Inn, but everyone else was tired, too, so we got a late start. I had a pizza lunch with my cousin Karen and her family, and then we went to see Greg's new home in Cloverdale/burg/ville, I can't remember what the place was called. It's a beautiful home, but I reached saturation point for family stuff. My mother and stepfather and I had a nice dinner at a restaurant back in Santa Rosa, then I went back to the hotel and packed up my stuff.
Got up early the next morning, and caught the 7:30 airporter. Phew! The area of Santa Rosa where the bus picks up smells like COW, and roosters were crowing. I was not in Manhattan! I slept most of the bus ride, but woke up as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge...no fog! It was a beautiful view. We got to SFO 30 minutes early, and I just sat and read the NY Times until it was time to go. This flight was packed, but I sat next to a pleasant young woman, and I slept most of the way. Boring, uneventful flight.
New York welcomed me home in its special way. Several flights arrived at once, and the filthy, poorly lit baggage claim area at JFK was jampacked with angry looking people. They never did post which carousel our flight was coming in on, so I had to wander around until I found it. It took frickin' forever for the bags to arrive. Then when I got outside, there must have been a hundred people (or more) at the taxi stand, and NO CABS. I mean, none. It was ridiculous. I stood there for probably half an hour, fending off illegal cabbies and listening to all these people shout and moan over the din of squealing tires, breaks, blaring horns, and other airport noise.
Despite all my napping, I was tired, so I slept well last night...it was good, at least, to be back in my own bed.
Monday, October 04, 2004
FUN THINGS: if you're bored, track my flight while you're at work!
Tuesday, October 5
American Airlines #59, departs New York/JFK 7:00 a.m. ET
scheduled to arrive San Francisco/SFO at 10:11 a.m. PT
Monday, October 11
American Airlines #16, departs San Francisco/SFO 11:40 a.m. PT
scheduled to arrive New York/JFK at 8:02 p.m. ET
If you're an airline fan, I'm flying both ways on a Boeing 767-200ER.
LORD OF THE RINGS ANNIVERSARIES FOR THIS WEEK:
October 6: The Hobbits and Strider camp at Weathertop, and are attacked at night. Frodo is wounded.
October 9: Glorfindel leaves Rivendell. (If you only saw the movie, you have no idea what I'm talking about.)
October 11: Glorfindel drives off the Black Riders from the Bridge of Mitheithel.
DEBATES THIS WEEK:
Cheney and Edwards go head to head tomorrow night...hopefully I'll be able to watch. Since Cheney can't possibly defend this administration without resorting to egregious lies, I expect Edwards to eat him for lunch. Also, Cheney is so...how do I put this? Ogre-like? Humorless? And Edwards is Mr. Sunshine. Of course, conventional wisdom had Kerry at a disadvantage last week, too...so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Then on Friday, Kerry and Bush face off again, but I won't be able to watch because of family stuff. Hopefully I can read a transcript in the paper somewhere. Keep up the fight, and thanks for reading!
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Friday, October 01, 2004
Recently I've been very depressed about the prospect of Bush's re-election. I asked myself, "How can people not see through this phony? How can Kerry run such an anemic campaign?"
I had trouble falling asleep last night, too.
But for a different reason.
From the moment the debate began last night, my heart was pounding. For a country addicted to "reality tv," it was interesting to watch two men struggle with current, ongoing situations that weren't cooked up by studio executives targeting certain audience demographics. And, unlike with The Real World and its ilk, you and I have a stake in this outcome.
John Kerry spoke clearly and authoritatively, calmly projecting the gravitas he is so famous for. As a performer, I recognize when someone knows how to take a stage and control it, and it's a quality I greatly admire. Kerry may have literally stood to the left of center, but he stole the show. I only caught one statement from him that I would characterize as misleading: during the Republican National Convention in New York in August, there was no alteration of subway service. However, all entrances and exits to the subways and commuter trains at Penn Station, which is basically underneath Madison Square Garden, were closed except for one for security reasons. Additionally, the Republicans did request that subway and train service be suspended, but that request was denied. Kerry's point was that vital infrastructure -- such as public transportation -- has not been adequately secured under Bush's tenure. The fact that the RNC wanted trains stopped during the convention only serves to reinforce Kerry's point.
Though I wish Kerry had taken an opportunity to clarify that he voted for a version of the $87 billion Iraq bill that would have been paid for by a reduction of the tax cuts and against the final version that was put on the nation's American Express card, he firmly established that he has held consistent views on Iraq:
"From the beginning I did vote to give the authority because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence. But I also laid out a very strict series of things we needed to do in order to proceed from a position of strength. And the president, in fact, promised them. He went to Cincinnati and he gave a speech in which he said, "We will plan carefully. We will proceed cautiously. We will not make war inevitable. We will go with our allies.'' He didn't do any of those things."
Mr. Bush's performance, on the other hand, was a wash. He had the same exact answer for every question, some variation of: "My opponent changes his positions" or "It's hard work" or "That's sending mixed messages." The president stayed so "on message" that he occasionally veered wildly off-course, seemingly failing to recognize that the discussion had switched topics. Toward the end of the evening he gave an Iraq answer to a North Korea question:
Kerry: "We can have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il and we can get those weapons at the same time as we get China because China has an interest in the outcome too."
Lehrer: "Thirty seconds, Mr. President."
Bush: "You know my opinion on North Korea. I can't say it any more plainly."
Lehrer: "Right, well, what - he used the word truth again."
Bush: "Pardon me?"
Lehrer: "Talking about the truth of the matter. Used the word truth again. Did that raise any hackles with you? "
Bush: "I'm a pretty calm guy. I mean, I don't take it personally. But, you know, look, we looked at the same intelligence. And came to the same conclusion. That Saddam Hussein was a grave threat."
Foreign policy was supposed to be Bush's position of strength in this campaign; the challenge was Kerry's, and the deck was stacked against him. But Bush folded almost instantly and was reduced to regurgitating vapid soundbites, furrowing his brow and stumbling over "mexed missages."
For my money, the crowning glory of the moment was this exchange:
Kerry: "Jim, the president just said, extraordinarily revealing and, frankly, very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq he just said, the enemy attacked us. Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaeda attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains, with American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's No. 1 criminal and terrorist. They outsourced the job to Afghan warlords who only, a week earlier, had been on the other side fighting against us, neither of whom trusted each other. That's the enemy that attacked us, that's the enemy that was allowed to walk out of those mountains. That's the enemy that is now in 60 countries with stronger recruits.
He also said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually incorrect. Two-thirds of the country was a no-fly zone when we started this war. We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening. If the president had shown the patience to go through another round of resolution, to sit down with those leaders, say, What do you need? What do you need now? How much more will it take to get you to join us? We'd be in a stronger place today."
Bush: "First, listen -"
Lehrer: "Thirty seconds."
Bush: "Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that. And secondly, to think that another round of resolutions would have caused Saddam Hussein to disarm, disclose, is ludicrous, in my judgment. It just shows a significant difference of opinion. We tried diplomacy, we did our best. He was hoping to turn a blind eye and, yes, he would have been stronger had we not dealt with him. He had the capability of making weapons and he would have made weapons."
First: Bush did not here -- or elsewhere -- address why the focus was on Iraq and not al Qaeda. He knows bin Laden attacked us, and then goes on to defend the invasion of Iraq. In a way, he's right that it would have been ludicrous to expect Saddam to "disarm" and "disclose" following another round of resolutions: he didn't have any weapons to dismantle or any programs to disclose. Second: Bush admits as much when he talks about "capability" and saying, "he would have made weapons." Those sanctions and inspections were in place to keep him from having them, and by the president's own admission, they were working.
By and large, the press declared Kerry the winner of the debate, and the rest call it a draw. Given the expectations, even a "draw" for Kerry in the foreign policy arena has to be viewed as a success. Currently on CNN.com's internet poll, out of more than 633,000 votes, 71% give the prize to Kerry.
The campaign is far from over, but that is actually good news. It was do or die for John Kerry last night, and he did.
So last night I had trouble falling asleep because I felt exhilarated and vindicated. Finally someone had the chance to go face to face with President Bush and challenge him on these issues.
More importantly, I finally feel that I can describe myself as a Kerry supporter, rather than merely an "anyone but Bush" guy.