He's Not Joking
Late one Friday night in February, exactly one year to the day after embarking on an unlikely campaign for the U.S. Senate, Al Franken is lying on the floor of his Minneapolis townhouse, moaning. The detritus of a long evening is spread out around him: the video camera, lighting equipment, and MacBook used to create the funny fund-raising video he has just finished shooting. The entourage of disheveled, tech-savvy 20-somethings who staff his campaign are splayed across couches and chairs. There are piles of Franken for Senate buttons and bumper stickers, and a flattened pink box of Franken Berry breakfast cereal that was briefly considered as a prop but rejected, to Franken's evident disappointment. He once did a skit on Saturday Night Live that involved his threatening to sue the makers of the monster-themed sugar cereal for appropriating his name and likeness. (Indeed, the Franken Berry monster bears a striking resemblance to the 56-year-old comedian: same wide face, broad goofy grin, and owlish eyes. Franken insists, furthermore, that the twin lumps atop the monster's head are a virtual replica of his rear end.) But running for the Senate is serious business, so the monster had to go.
Until now, the evening has afforded Candidate Al the rare luxury of goofing off as Comedian Al. A practice run-through of the script's "hard ask" for money prompted a raised hand and a query: "What's my motivation?" Where the script encouraged viewers to grab a bumper sticker, Franken deadpanned, "Remember—if you put one on your car, don't cut anyone off." A brief debate ensued over whether buttons, too, should feature in the video, until Franken's professional dignity asserted itself. "I don't want this to be a prop act," he protested, and added, with a grin, "I'm not Carrot Top."
The video now in the can, Franken's fun has ended. He is on the floor moaning because he's dreading what comes next. Beneath the Franken Berry box lies a manila folder containing the biographies and phone numbers of dozens of local luminaries he must call or write before turning in for the night. This is the unglamorous, unfunny reality of running for public office that has consumed much of his past year—the endless series of bean feeds, spaghetti dinners, precinct meetings, obscure county fairs, and phone calls that constitute true political organizing. It's why so many celebrities who muse about running for this or that rarely follow through. But tonight, as he does practically every night, Franken eventually picks himself up, plops himself down at the dining-room table, and reaches for the phone.
No candidate this year has attracted anything like the curiosity Al Franken has, because no one quite like him has ever seriously pursued high office. (Jesse Ventura, the pro wrestler elected governor of Minnesota 10 years ago, essentially ran on a lark.) His career as a satirist—as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, as the author of best-selling polemics like Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, as the voice of the liberal radio network Air America—is famously outrageous, and promises to be both boon and burden to his political career. "When I first heard he was running," says Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, "I thought it was a book project." That's a fair supposition. Franken wrote a satirical novel, Why Not Me?, in which he ran for president on a single-issue platform—eliminating ATM fees—and won.
But as reports of Franken's doings began filtering in from around the state, Jacobs and other skeptics began to realize they were wrong. Over the past year, Franken has quietly built a grassroots organization that helped him raise more money than any other challenger in the country and erase what began as a 22-point deficit to the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman. Franken was considered a long shot for his party's nomination. But by January, he had not only pulled well ahead of his Democratic rivals but had nosed ahead of Coleman, too. Here's the punch line: he did it not through his comedy but through old-fashioned shoe-leather politicking.
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Our Very Own Axis of Evil in Guantanamo
A former prisoner describes the foul essence of the Bush presidency
by Nat Hentoff
If the deciders at the White House, the Justice Department, and the CIA who are responsible for war crimes ever face the equivalent of the Nuremberg trials - or at least an unsparing Congressional investigation - an essential witness against them will be Murat Kurnaz. His book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo (Palgrave MacMillan), has just been published.
CBS's 60 Minutes, keeping Edward R. Murrow's legacy alive, provided an introduction to Kurnaz on March 30, with Scott Pelley detailing how, three months after 9/11, this German citizen "found himself in a [U.S.] prison system that required no evidence and answered to no one"even though a secret government file eventually revealed "information from the FBI, German intelligence and even the U.S. military pointing to his innocence." Even then, he was kept in his cage.
The tortures inflicted on Murat Kurnaz - first in a CIA "black site" in Afghanistan, later at Guantanamo Bay - included "holding his head under water, administering electric shocks to the soles of his feet, and hanging him suspended from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar and kept alive by doctors." Kurnaz recalls that every five or six hours, he was pulled down, "and the doctor came. He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart and when he said, 'OK,' then they pulled me back up."
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There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who think it's perfectly reasonable to strip-search a 13-year-old girl suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school, and the kind who think those people should be kept as far away from children as possible. The first group includes officials at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, who in 2003 forced eighth-grader Savana Redding to prove she was not concealing Advil in her crotch or cleavage.
It also includes two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, who last fall ruled that the strip search did not violate Savana's Fourth Amendment rights. The full court, which recently heard oral arguments in the case, now has an opportunity to overturn that decision and vote against a legal environment in which schoolchildren are conditioned to believe government agents have the authority to subject people to invasive, humiliating searches on the slightest pretext.
Safford Middle School has a "zero tolerance" policy that prohibits possession of all drugs, including not just alcohol and illegal intoxicants but prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies, "except those for which permission to use in school has been granted." In October 2003, acting on a tip, Vice Principal Kerry Wilson found a few 400-milligram ibuprofen pills (each equivalent to two over-the-counter tablets) and one nonprescription naproxen tablet in the pockets of a student named Marissa, who claimed Savana was her source.
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I don't get to vote for President this primary season. I live in Michigan. The party leaders (both here and in D.C.) couldn't get their act together, and thus our votes will not be counted.
So, if you live in Pennsylvania, can you do me a favor? Will you please cast my vote -- and yours -- on Tuesday for Senator Barack Obama?
I haven't spoken publicly 'til now as to who I would vote for, primarily for two reasons: 1) Who cares?; and 2) I (and most people I know) don't give a rat's ass whose name is on the ballot in November, as long as there's a picture of JFK and FDR riding a donkey at the top of the ballot, and the word "Democratic" next to the candidate's name.
Seriously, I know so many people who don't care if the name under the Big "D" is Dancer, Prancer, Clinton or Blitzen. It can be Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Barry Obama or the Dalai Lama.
Well, that sounded good last year, but over the past two months, the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting. I guess the debate last week was the final straw. I've watched Senator Clinton and her husband play this game of appealing to the worst side of white people, but last Wednesday, when she hurled the name "Farrakhan" out of nowhere, well that's when the silly season came to an early end for me. She said the "F" word to scare white people, pure and simple. Of course, Obama has no connection to Farrakhan. But, according to Senator Clinton, Obama's pastor does -- AND the "church bulletin" once included a Los Angeles Times op-ed from some guy with Hamas! No, not the church bulletin!
This sleazy attempt to smear Obama was brilliantly explained the following night by Stephen Colbert. He pointed out that if Obama is supported by Ted Kennedy, who is Catholic, and the Catholic Church is led by a Pope who was in the Hitler Youth, that can mean only one thing: OBAMA LOVES HITLER!
Yes, Senator Clinton, that's how you sounded. Like you were nuts. Like you were a bigot stoking the fires of stupidity. How sad that I would ever have to write those words about you. You have devoted your life to good causes and good deeds. And now to throw it all away for an office you can't win unless you smear the black man so much that the superdelegates cry "Uncle (Tom)" and give it all to you.
But that can't happen. You cast your die when you voted to start this bloody war. When you did that you were like Moses who lost it for a moment and, because of that, was prohibited from entering the Promised Land.
How sad for a country that wanted to see the first woman elected to the White House. That day will come -- but it won't be you. We'll have to wait for the current Democratic governor of Kansas to run in 2016 (you read it here first!).
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Rebate won't cure pauper-time blues
by Beth Quinn
As the great economist Yogi Berra once said, a nickel ain't worth a dime anymore.
And that's too bad because at least a dime can be used as a screwdriver if one isn't available when a screw needs tending.
I've been thinking deep thoughts like that about money lately, partly because I don't have very much of it. Id like to have some because, as the great philosopher Cyndi Lauper says, money changes everything.
The great financier Crazy Eddie apparently agreed with Ms. Lauper because he was often heard to say, money talks, nobody walks. Or was it the guy at Men's Clothier who said that?
(In truth, I never really knew what it meant. And whatever happened to Crazy Eddie, anyway? The lunatic asylums are all closed now, so perhaps he's being kept in a family attic.)
But back to the point. Most of us have been watching our economy tank with growing concern.
We are, after all, ill-equipped to reel in the spending and make do with less. It would seem preposterous to most Americans especially younger ones to be expected to tighten their belts and buy only what they need, which is actually different from what they want.
But need and want have long since become interchangeable in the little greed centers of American brains. After all, as the great thinker Madonna once said, you know that we are living in a material world. (That line actually sounds better when you sing it.)
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"This is not a religious argument," asserts Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman in conservative Hollywood gadfly Ben Stein's new anti-science propaganda film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The movie opens this Friday in 1,100 theaters, the largest theatrical release ever for a documentary, according to Expelled's producers.
The movie's basic point? To quote a transcript from a Rush Limbaugh show posted to the movie's official website: "Darwinism has taken root, taken hold at every major intellectual institution around the world in Western Society, from Great Britain to the United States, you name it. Darwinism, of course, does not permit for the existence of a supreme being, a higher power, or a God."
Yet despite its topic, the film is entirely free of scientific content - no scientific evidence against biological evolution and none for "intelligent design" (ID) theory is given. Which makes sense because biological evolution is amply supported by evidence from the fossil record, molecular biology, and morphology. For example, the younger the rocks in which fossils are found, the more closely they resemble species alive today, and the older the rocks, the less resemblance there is. In addition, molecular biology confirms that the more distantly related the fossil record suggests species lineages are, the more their genes differ.
Instead of evaluating this evidence, Stein spends most of the movie asking various proponents of evolutionary theory, including Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Michael Ruse, and Daniel Dennett, for their religious views. Neither the producers nor Stein understand that offering critiques of a theory with which they disagree is not the same as proving their own theory.
Stein and the film's producers maintain that belief in evolutionary biology makes societies more likely to succumb to totalitarianism. The flick is replete with grim black-and-white shots of Soviet armies, Nazi thugs, Stalin, Hitler, and concentration camps. The filmmakers portray opposition to teaching ID in universities and public schools as a threat to freedom on a par with Communist and Nazi repression. But ID proponents in the academy are not being dragged off to concentration camps by goose-stepping Darwinist thugs - the worst thing they suffer is the loss of their jobs. That's not fun, but it's not the gas chamber either.
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John McCain is not a very nice man. I have made that abundantly clear in my new book The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him And Why Independents Shouldn't. When I wrote it, I endeavored to write about the actual man, not the myth or the media legend. Perhaps that was where I crossed the line.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker accused me of trading in "trash journalism." Me! Can you believe it? But that was not enough, apparently. The McCain folk then decided they would smear me to try and prevent the truth from setting their man free from the all-encompassing grip of his faux "straight-talk" persona.
Another spokeswoman, Crystal Benton, dissuaded a major European newspaper from writing a review of my book, by accusing me of possessing a "a hate streak," and proffering that I was "known to make outlandish comments." For example, that time I said that we should be in Iraq for 100 more years. Oh wait, that was Senator McCain.
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TONIGHT THE JEWS all over the world will celebrate the Seder, the unique ceremony that unites Jews everywhere in the defining Jewish myth: the Exodus from Egypt.
Every year I marvel again at the genius of this ceremony. It unites the whole family, and everyone - from the venerable grandfather to the smallest child - has a role in it. It engages all the senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. The simplistic text of the Haggadah, the book which is read aloud, the symbolic food, the four glasses of wine, the singing together, the exact repetition of every part every year - all these imprint on the consciousness of a child from the earliest age an ineradicable memory that they will carry with them to the grave, be they religious or not. They will never forget the security and warmth of the large family around the Seder table, and even in old age they will recall it with nostalgia. A cynic might see it as a perfect example of brain-washing.
Compared to the power of this myth, does it really matter that the Exodus from Egypt never took place? Thousands of Egyptian documents deciphered in recent years leave no room for doubt: the exodus of masses of people, as described in the Bible, or anything remotely like it, just never happened. These documents, which cover in the finest detail every period and every part of Canaan during this epoch prove beyond any doubt that there was no "Conquest of Canaan" and no kingdom of David and Solomon. For a hundred years, Zionist archeologists have devoted tireless efforts to finding even a single piece of evidence to support the Biblical narrative, all to no avail.
But this is quite unimportant. In the competition between "objective" history and myth, the myth that suits our needs will always win, and win big. It is not important what was, the important thing is what fires our imagination. That is what guides our steps to this day.
THE BIBLICAL narrative connects up with documented history only around the year 853 BC, when ten thousand soldiers and 2000 battle chariots of Ahab, King of Israel, took part in a grand coalition of the kingdoms of Syria and Palestine against Assyria. The battle, which was documented by the Assyrians, was fought at Qarqar in Syria. The Assyrian army was delayed, if not defeated.
(A personal note: I am not a historian, but for many years I have reflected on our history and tried to draw some logical conclusions, which are outlined here. Most of them are supported by the emerging consensus of independent scholars around the world.)
The kingdoms of Israel and Judea, which occupied a part of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, were no different from the other kingdoms of the region. Even according to the Bible itself, the people sacrificed to various pagan deities "on every high hill and under every green tree". (1 Kings 14:23).
Jerusalem was a tiny market town, much too small and much too poor for any of the things described in the Bible to have taken place there at the time. In the books of the Bible that deal with that period, the appellation "Jew" (Yehudi in Hebrew) hardly appears at all, and where it does, it clearly refers simply to an inhabitant of Judea, the area around Jerusalem. When an Assyrian general was asked "talk not with us in the Jewish language" (2 Kings 18:26), what was meant was the local Judean dialect of Hebrew. The "Jewish" revolution took place in the Babylonian exile (587-539 BC). After the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, members of the Judean elite were exiled to Babylon, where they came into contact with the important cultural streams of the time. The result was one of the great creations of mankind: the Jewish religion. After some fifty years, some of the exiles returned to Palestine. They brought with them the name "Jews", the appellation of a religious-ideological-political movement, much like the "Zionists" of our time. Therefore, one can speak of "Judaism" and "Jews" - in the sense accepted now - only from then on. During the following 500 years, the Jewish monotheistic religion gradually crystallized. Also at this time, the most outstanding literary creation of all times, the Hebrew Bible, was composed. The writers of the Bible did not intend to write "history", in the sense understood today, but rather a religious, edifying and instructive text.
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NEW YORK - When the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles was seeking to finance the purchase of art works, it did what cultural institutions often do to raise money: It issued bonds.
But rising interest rates brought on by turmoil in the financial markets boosted payments, and the organization got socked for an additional $650,000 in fees earlier this year for which it had not budgeted.
Like homeowners and stockholders, museums, concert halls, dance companies and other arts organizations are feeling the pinch from the faltering economy.
Museums and symphony halls that financed renovations with seemingly safe municipal bonds saw interest rates spike in recent weeks; other arts institutions are suffering from low returns on investments; and some arts executives are worried that recession fears could take a bite out of donations and ticket sales.
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Wage erosion cuts deeper in U.S.
By Louis Uchitelle
Whatever Senator Barack Obama meant by his less than artful remarks about small-town Pennsylvanians being "bitter" over lost jobs, he certainly turned a lot of attention last week to the decline of the American worker, bitter or not.
The talk most often has been of shuttered factories, layoffs, outsourcing and other effects of globalization, especially in a state like Pennsylvania, which has lost tens of thousands of industrial jobs. But there is another way to look at blue-collar workers or their counterparts in the service sector.
The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts, but it is becoming extinct.
Americans greeted the loss with anger and protest when it first began to happen in big numbers in the late 1970s, particularly in the steel industry in western Pennsylvania. But as layoffs persisted, in Pennsylvania and across the country, through the '80s and '90s and right up to today, the protests subsided and acquiescence set in.
Hourly workers had come a long way from the days when employers and unions negotiated a way for them to earn the prizes of the middle class - houses, cars, college educations for their children, comfortable retirements. Even now a residual of that golden age remains, notably in the auto industry. But there, too, wages are falling below the $20-an-hour threshold - $41,600 annually - that many experts consider the minimum income necessary to lift a family of four into the middle class.
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McCain bashes Obama on Ayers but stands by his association with anti-Catholic pastor Hagee
By John Amato
Leave it to John McCain to straight talk himself into the ground over John Hagee. Isn't it interesting that it took all this time for the media to finally discuss McCains relationship with John Hagee? McCain foams up over Obama's knowledge of Ayers, not an endorsement mind you, but says he still is very happy with the endorsement of the extreme Catholic hating preacher by the name of John Hagee and is proud to have lobbied to get it. Obama never asked anything of Ayers, but McCain begged Hagee's help. It probably was a mistake actually says STM, but he's glad he got his support anyway. What the heck is he talking about?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you say he should condemn these comments.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Senator Obama's allies and others say that you should condemn the comments of Reverend John Hagee, an evangelical pastor
MCCAIN: Oh, I do. And I did. I said, any comments that he made about the Catholic church I strongly condemn, of course.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you solicited and accepted his endorsement?
MCCAIN: Yes, indeed. I did. And I condemned the comments that he made concerning the Catholic church.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're going to hold onto his endorsement? Your own campaign acknowledged that you should have done a better job of vetting Pastor Hagee.
MCCAIN: Oh, sure.
ABC News supplies the transcripts:
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Even Santorum can't stay away
Oh, Rick. You were supposed to be the lone holdout. All of those other far-right Republicans swallowed hard and endorsed John McCain, but not Rick Santorum. You wouldn't even consider it. No sirreebob.
"The only one I wouldn't support is McCain," Santorum said during an interview in his office at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where he is a senior fellow.
"I don't agree with him on hardly any issues," Santorum said. "I don't think he has the temperament and leadership ability to move the country in the right direction."
And today, those strong-willed principles suddenly mattered a little less.
Those conservatives who still question whether they can support McCain should remember this: The next president will make more than 2,700 political appointments, those who really set policy, across the bureaucracy of our government. I, for one, will sleep better at 3 a.m. if Republicans are in the cabinet and in White House positions that make so many critical decisions. The idea of "Attorney General John Edwards" and "Energy Secretary Al Gore" should cause some sleepless nights for Republicans or conservatives - and those in a U.S. manufacturing sector now struggling to stay afloat.
Here's my final argument for John McCain. He's not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
The GOP closes ranks. It always does.
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In 2002-03, these military analysts were ubiquitous on TV justifying the Iraq invasion, and most have remained supportive of the war in the five years since. The Times investigation showed that the analysts were being briefed by the Pentagon on what to say and had undisclosed conflicts of interest via military contracts.
Retired Green Beret Robert S. Bevelacqua, a former Fox News analyst, said the Pentagon treated the retired military officers as puppets: It was them saying, we need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you. [NYT, April 20, 2008]
None of that, of course, should come as any surprise. Where do people think generals and admirals go to work after they retire from the government?
If they play ball with the Pentagon, they get fat salaries serving on corporate boards of military contractors, or they get rich running consultancies that trade on quick access to high-ranking administration officials. If they're not team players, they're shut out.
Yet, what may be more troubling, although perhaps no more surprising, is how willingly the U.S. news media let itself be used as a propaganda conduit for the Bush administration regarding the ill-advised invasion of Iraq.
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