Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Washington Post on the Gonzales "Coverup"

The Gonzales Coverup
Congress must find out what the administration was doing that its own lawyers wouldn't approve.

Thursday, May 17, 2007; A16

WHY IS IT only now that the disturbing story of the Bush administration's willingness to override the legal advice of its own Justice Department is emerging? The chief reason is that the administration, in the person of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, stonewalled congressional inquiries and did its best to ensure that the shameful episode never came to light.

In February 2006, the Senate Judiciary Committee was inquiring into the warrantless wiretapping program whose existence had been revealed just two months before. Sketchy details had also begun to emerge of the March 2004 hospital room ambush, in which Mr. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and then-White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. tried to browbeat the gravely ill Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who had temporarily yielded his office to his deputy, into approving the warrantless surveillance program.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who was then chairing the Judiciary Committee, got Mr. Gonzales to agree to have Mr. Ashcroft testify. But when Mr. Specter followed up with a letter asking as well that the department approve the appearance of former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, Mr. Gonzales balked.

If called to testify, Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Comey wouldn't be allowed to reveal "confidential Executive Branch information," William E. Moschella, an assistant attorney general, wrote to Mr. Specter. "In light of their inability to discuss such confidential information . . . we do not believe that Messrs. Ashcroft and Comey would be in a position to provide any new information to the committee."

If you were Mr. Gonzales, you'd certainly want to make sure they stayed quiet. Consider: Mr. Gonzales, as the president's lawyer, went to the hospital room of a man so ill he had temporarily relinquished his authority. There, Mr. Gonzales tried to persuade Mr. Ashcroft to override the views of the attorney general's own legal counsel. When the attorney general refused, Mr. Gonzales apparently took part in a plan to go forward with a program that the Justice Department had refused to certify as legal.

Then, when part of the story became public, Mr. Gonzales resorted to word-parsing. "[W]ith respect to what the president has confirmed, I believe -- I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program," he said.

Mr. Gonzales's lack of candor is no longer surprising. What's critical here is that lawmakers get a full picture of what happened, obtaining whatever documents -- Office of Legal Counsel opinions -- and testimony are necessary, behind closed doors if need be. "Jim Comey gave his side of what transpired that day," White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday. If there's another side to the story, we'd like to hear it.

What was the administration doing, and what was it willing to continue to do, that its lawyers concluded was without a legal basis? Without an answer to that fundamental question, the coverup will have succeeded.

Jonathan Alter on Jerry Falwell

Mr. Alter's column in Newsweek cuts to the chase when reviewing the so-called "contributions" of Jerry Falwell.

I mean no disrespect to the dead, but I take the British view of obituaries, which is to try to capture the true public significance of the person who died, not just his good qualities. The truth about the Rev. Jerry Falwell is that he was a character assassin and hype artist who left little positive impact on the United States -- and little negative impact either, for that matter.

Besides founding Liberty University, he won't be remembered as nearly as influential as he's made out to be.

First, his real legacy: Falwell built the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia from scratch into a mega-church with a 6,000-seat auditorium. And he built Liberty University into a formidable institution that attracts over 20,000 students from around the world and a qualified faculty. Last year, Liberty's debate team won the national championship. It's not easy to create a university and Falwell deserves credit as an institution-builder. He will also be remembered through a famous Supreme Court case he lost, Hustler vs. Falwell, which established that public figures cannot recover damages when depicted in parodies. (The story of the lawsuit is told in the film, The People vs. Larry Flynt). In that sense, he inadvertently helped bolster the First Amendment.

But Falwell's political legacy is much less impressive. He started out as a segregationist who harshly attacked Martin Luther King through the 1960s and later called Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa a phony. He was a strong supporter of Israel but openly anti-Semitic, announcing on many occasions that the anti-Christ would return as a Jew.

On September 13, 2001, Falwell said this on Pat Robertson's show, The 700 Club: "The enemies of America give us probably what we deserve." When asked to elaborate, Falwell added, "When we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'you helped this happen.'" Robertson replied, "Well, I totally concur." Falwell later apologized, unconvincingly, for offending anyone.

It was fitting that this was said on Robertson's program, not Falwell's. That's because Falwell never had great success as a broadcaster or televangelist. His Old Time Gospel Hour was never the most popular religious program. While he claimed 20 million viewers, the real number was a tiny fraction of that, usually below one ratings point. In the November, 1980 Nielsen ratings, for instance, Old Time Gospel Hour was watched by 1.21 million people -- well behind not just Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggert but Rex Humbard and James Robison.

According to lore (and much of the coverage of his death), November, 1980 found Falwell at the peak of his powers. That was the month Ronald Reagan was elected president, after having met with Falwell and other members of his brilliantly-named organization, "The Moral Majority." While Falwell might have contributed slightly to Reagan's margin of victory, he was not even close to being instrumental in his election. With incumbent Jimmy Carter bogged down with the Iranian hostage crisis and double-digit inflation and interest rates, Reagan won with 57 percent of the vote -- a huge landslide. At best, the Moral Majority added a point or two to Reagan's totals. More likely, it contributed nothing. Exit polls showed that Carter bested Reagan among Southern Baptists, 50-46 percent. And abortion ranked well behind foreign policy and economics among issues that mattered most to voters that year.

The Moral Majority claimed to have registered eight million new voters but could never provide any hard figures, and many smaller evangelical organizations said they operated independently of Falwell. (In fact, there was considerable tension within the religious right). The real political muscle was provided by Robertson and his protégé, Ralph Reed. Their Christian Coalition was far more powerful than the Moral Majority, whose voter guides were never credited with winning any particular election.

From the 1980s on, Falwell existed mostly as a media creation, not a real player in national politics. He missed the cable TV revolution, which deprived him of a platform. He took over Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL after it collapsed in scandal, but by then its revenues were a modest $13 million. The related theme park, Heritage USA, went into Chapter 11. His monthly magazine, National Liberty Journal, became a modest success, with an unaudited circulation of 250,000.

Falwell's power was hyped not just by him but by a media establishment that needed a consistently conservative voice -- not to mention a "guest" who could usually be counted on to show up at the studio on time and say something provocative. On shows like Nightline and Larry King Live, Falwell became a spokesman for the religious right and "good TV." Who can forget when he claimed that the Teletubbies character Tinky Winky was actually a hidden symbol of the homosexual agenda? Ironically, he may have loomed larger among secular audiences than religious ones.

In 1994, Falwell paid for a documentary called The Clinton Chronicles that supposedly implicated Bill Clinton, Vincent Foster, Ron Brown and Jim McDougal in a cocaine-smuggling operation. A man shown in the film in silhouette claimed that President Clinton ordered several of his critics killed. Falwell never repudiated the film, though he later admitted "I do not know the accuracy" of it. Some of the characters featured in the film became involved in the Paula Jones lawsuit that led to Clinton's impeachment, though Falwell was not central to that story either.

The rise of the religious right was an important development in late-20th Century American history. Falwell's name is among those associated with the movement. But just because someone is famous doesn't make him significant. Jerry Falwell wasn't.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Christopher Hitchens on "Reverend" Jerry Falwell's Death

Christopher Hitchens was on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 last night and danced a jig on the freshly dead corpse of bloated hate-meister Jerry Falwell.

Newly naturalized Christopher Hitchens did his version of a homily for the Rev. Jerry Falwell on last night's Anderson Cooper 360. Joining Cooper from Raleigh, N.C., the atheist author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything figuratively boogied on Falwell's barely cold corpse. Watch the video above; highlights from the transcript are after the jump ...

Cooper: Christopher, I'm not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?
Hitchens: No. And I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to.

Hitchens: "The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September 11 were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification? People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup."

Hitchens: "...[T]he country suffers, to a considerable extent, from paying too much, by way of compliment, to anyone who can describe themselves as a person of faith: Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Chaucerian frauds, people who are simply pickpockets..."

Cooper: Do you believe he believed what he spoke?
Hitchens: Of course not. He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again.
Cooper: You think he was a complete fraud, really?
Hitchens: Yes.
Cooper: You don't believe that, I mean, in his reading of the Bible, you don't think he was sincere in his—whether you agree or not with his reading of the Bible—you don't think he was sincere in what he spoke?
Hitchens: No. I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud. And I think, if he read the Bible at all—and I would doubt that he could actually read any long book of—at all—that he did so only in the most hucksterish, as we say, Bible-pounding way.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Little More Music

Patti Labelle, Billy Preston and Joe Cocker at The Apollo Theater.

What a night!

Nessun Dorma

Aretha Franklin is my favorite singer. Let me make that clear at the outset. And one of my favorite types of music is classical music either sung by artists not typicaly associated with classical music or arranged in a contemporary fashion. To wit:

Aretha Franklin sings Nessun Dorma from the opera Turandot by Puccini. It is brilliant. I hope you enjoy it.