Saturday, December 31, 2005

Rein in the Stallion Sex

By Maureen Dowd: The New York Times
Conservatives are having fun e-mailing around the sex scenes in Barbara Boxer's new novel, "A Time to Run." A particular favorite is the equine entwine on Page 210, when "these two fierce animals were coerced into their majestic coupling by at least six people."

"The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly," Ms. Boxer wrote with her co-author, Mary-Rose Hayes. Soon, "the stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves."

The mare's owner remarks that she's hotblooded because she's from Argentina.

Ms. Boxer's literary alter ego, Ellen Fischer, the liberal 5-foot-2 senator from California, also has her share of ecstatic biting and nuzzling.

As when Greg kisses Ellen "long and deep."

"Ellen had never tasted such pent-up, aggressive determination and desire. ... She bit at his lips, heard her own gasping breath - and she knew she really must stop this. ... She felt his competent hands undressing her, and they fell together through the darkness onto his bed. Greg's naked body was long and elegant, and they meshed with ease and grace."

Reading pols' strained attempts at steamy scenes is discomfiting. Like thinking about your parents and sex, it gives you the heebie-jeebies.

"You just don't want to imagine any of these people in their underwear," one Democrat said, laughing.

Besides, Washington types are more consumed with the line-item veto than majestic meshing. The modern history of sex in the capital has been more maladroit du seigneur than droit du seigneur. From Bob Packwood to Clarence Thomas, the men in the middle of sex scandals always seem more dysfunctional than sensual.

The adolescent Bill and Monica pantry trysts were anything but sultry. The president was tormented, dismissing the dalliance as a mere antidote for Oval Office tension.

Monica described their final rendezvous in drab terms: "This was another one of those occasions when I was babbling on about something, and he just kissed me, kind of to shut me up, I think."

Even the most glamorous hookup - J.F.K. and Marilyn Monroe - lost some of its film noir allure after a report of how Marilyn had robotically described it to her shrink: "Marilyn Monroe is a soldier. ... The first duty of a soldier is to obey her commander in chief."

A decade ago, Clintonites had fun passing around passages from Newt Gingrich's thriller "1945," written with William Forstchen, featuring such titillations as biting foreplay, "pouting sex kitten," "exotic mistress" and "after-bout inhalation."

At one point, the mistress of the president's chief of staff sits "athwart" her lover's chest and hisses that he must tell her a secret "or I will make you do terrible things." (Kinkier than the Contract With America?)

When Scooter Libby got in trouble over Valerie Plame, The New Yorker dug out his 1996 book, "The Apprentice," and reviewed its sex scenes. Lauren Collins took note of its homoeroticism and incest, and compared some passages to Penthouse Forum.

Scooter had his own animal erotica: "At age ten the madam put the child in a cage with a bear trained to couple with young girls so the girls would be frigid and not fall in love with their patrons. They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest."

Proving that conservatives are not as prudish in fiction as in legislation, Lynne Cheney's 19th-century Wild West book, "Sisters," a sort of distaff "Brokeback Mountain," featured lesbian romps and, oddly, a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack during sex with his mistress.

In Mrs. Cheney's 1981 novel, a woman says of her lesbian lover: "How well her words describe our love - or the way it would be if we could remove all impediments, leave this place and join together. ... Our lives would flow together, twin streams merging into a single river."

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Heck of a Job, Bushie

By Paul Krugman: The New York Times
A year ago, everyone expected President Bush to get his way on Social Security. Pundits warned Democrats that they were making a big political mistake by opposing plans to divert payroll taxes into private accounts.

A year ago, everyone thought Congress would make Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent, in spite of projections showing that doing so would lead to budget deficits as far as the eye can see. But Congress hasn't acted, and most of the cuts are still scheduled to expire by the end of 2010.

A year ago, Mr. Bush made many Americans feel safe, because they believed that he would be decisive and effective in an emergency. But Mr. Bush was apparently oblivious to the first major domestic emergency since 9/11. According to Newsweek, aides to Mr. Bush finally decided, days after Hurricane Katrina struck, that they had to show him a DVD of TV newscasts to get him to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

A year ago, before "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" became a national punch line, the rising tide of cronyism in government agencies and the rapid replacement of competent professionals with unqualified political appointees attracted hardly any national attention.

A year ago, hardly anyone outside Washington had heard of Jack Abramoff, and Tom DeLay's position as House majority leader seemed unassailable.

A year ago, Dick Cheney, who repeatedly cited discredited evidence linking Saddam to 9/11, and promised that invading Americans would be welcomed as liberators - although he hadn't yet declared that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes" - was widely admired for his "gravitas."

A year ago, Howard Dean - who was among the very few prominent figures to question Colin Powell's prewar presentation to the United Nations, and who warned, while hawks were still celebrating the fall of Baghdad, that the occupation of Iraq would be much more difficult than the initial invasion - was considered flaky and unsound.

A year ago, it was clear that before the Iraq war, the administration suppressed information suggesting that Iraq was not, in fact, trying to build nuclear weapons. Yet few people in Washington or in the news media were willing to say that the nation was deliberately misled into war until polls showed that most Americans already believed it.

A year ago, the Washington establishment treated Ayad Allawi as if he were Nelson Mandela. Mr. Allawi's triumphant tour of Washington, back in September 2004, provided a crucial boost to the Bush-Cheney campaign. So did his claim that the insurgents were "desperate." But Mr. Allawi turned out to be another Ahmad Chalabi, a hero of Washington conference rooms and cocktail parties who had few supporters where it mattered, in Iraq.

A year ago, when everyone respectable agreed that we must "stay the course," only a handful of war critics suggested that the U.S. presence in Iraq might be making the violence worse, not better. It would have been hard to imagine the top U.S. commander in Iraq saying, as Gen. George Casey recently did, that a smaller foreign force is better "because it doesn't feed the notion of occupation."

A year ago, Mr. Bush hadn't yet openly reneged on Scott McClellan's 2003 pledge that "if anyone in this administration was involved" in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity, that person "would no longer be in this administration." Of course, some suspect that Mr. Bush has always known who was involved.

A year ago, we didn't know that Mr. Bush was lying, or at least being deceptive, when he said at an April 2004 event promoting the Patriot Act that "a wiretap requires a court order. ...When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

A year ago, most Americans thought Mr. Bush was honest.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Jets, War and Lessons Still Unlearned

By Bob Herbert from The New York Times
The more things change ...
Emerson said: "There are people who have an appetite for grief. Pleasure is not strong enough and they crave pain."

I know who those people are. They are fans of the New York Jets, and I'm one of them.

On Sept. 21, 1970, the Jets played in the first "Monday Night Football" game on ABC and lost to the Cleveland Browns, 31-21. This week they played in the last "Monday Night Football" game on ABC and lost to the New England Patriots by exactly the same score, 31-21.

In between, the Jets have lost many more games than they've won.

The world has changed in remarkable ways during those three and a half decades. But in some very important ways, like my Jets, it hasn't changed much at all.

Richard Nixon was president when that Monday night game was played, and the nation was in a schizoid frenzy over Vietnam. Words like "fast-food," "hype" and "rip-off" were gaining footholds in the national conversation. Blackberries were still something you ate. Newspaper articles were typed on cranky Underwoods and edited with the help of straight edges and glue pots.

Walter Winchell, Harry Truman and Pablo Picasso were still alive.

What struck me when I hit the digital files for information about 1970 was how easy it was to get the data, but how little we seem to have learned since then. Americans were split like the Hatfields and the McCoys over the war. But its opponents did not yet have the muscle to bring it to an end. Many thousands more would have to die, each death more pointless than the last.

In May 1970, during a series of encounters at Kent State University in Ohio, members of the National Guard bayoneted and ultimately opened fire on students (not all of whom were antiwar protesters). Four students were shot to death.

Days later, in Lower Manhattan, flag-waving, helmeted construction workers broke up a student antiwar demonstration and beat up several protesters. As The Times reported:

"The workers then stormed City Hall, cowing policemen and forcing officials to raise the American flag to full staff from half staff, where it had been placed in mourning for the four students killed at Kent State University on Monday."

The hawks claimed the flag and branded the opponents of the war as cowardly and unpatriotic. Nixon invited the leaders of New York's construction unions to the White House and thanked them for their support.

Kathy Huppe was treated somewhat differently. She was Miss Montana in the Miss America beauty pageant that year. While carrying a bouquet of roses in her right hand, she raised her left and made a fist to show her opposition to the war. Pageant officials, as Life magazine noted, were not amused. They barred her from the finals.

On the same day that The Times was reporting on the Jets' Monday night defeat in Cleveland, it ran a freelance column by Walt Rostow, one of the ultimate hawks from the Johnson administration, who warned that the sky would fall if the U.S. were to "cut and run" in Vietnam.

Said Rostow:

"Contrary to every short-run political and personal interest, three successive American presidents decided over the past decade that the events set in motion by a prompt withdrawal of our forces and commitment from Vietnam and the Asian mainland would risk a larger war there and create dangerous instability elsewhere."

In other words, we have to keep feeding the flames of war with the healthy bodies of our kids because if we were to stop something bad might happen.

Sound familiar?

The main lesson that should have been learned from the 60's, the 70's and every other decade is the lunacy of sending young people to die in unnecessary wars. It's a lesson the species seems incapable of learning.

Another important lesson was offered by James Reston of The Times, who wrote in his column of Sept. 9, 1970, about the alarming number of U.S. citizens "who seem to feel that voting is not the answer to their grievances."

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Vice Axes That 70’s Show: Maureen Dowd

Courtesy of True Blue Liberal and The New York Times

We start the new year with the same old fear: Dick Cheney.

The vice president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive that if you use Google Earth’s database to see his official residence, the view is scrambled and obscured. You can view satellite photos of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol – but not of the Lord of the Underworld’s lair.

Vice is literally a shadow president. He’s obsessive about privacy – but, unfortunately, only his own.

Google Earth users alerted The Times to this latest bit of Cheney concealment after a front-page story last week about the international fears inspired by free Google software that features detailed displays of things like government and military sites around the world.

“For a brief period,” they reported, “photos of the White House and adjacent buildings that the United States Geological Survey provided to Google Earth showed up with certain details obscured.” So Google replaced those images with unaltered photographs taken by a private company.

Even though the story did not mention the Cheney residence – and even though it’s not near the White House – The Times ran a clarifying correction yesterday that said, “The view of the vice president’s residence in Washington remains obscured.”

Fitting, since Vice has turned America into a camera obscura, a dark chamber with a lens that turns things upside down.

Guys argue that women tend to stew and hold grudges more, sometimes popping up to blow the whistle on a man’s bad behavior years later, like a missile out of the night, as Alan Simpson said of Anita Hill.

Yet look at Cheney and Rummy. Their steroid-infused power grabs stem from their years stewing in the Ford White House, a time when they felt emasculated because they were stripped of prerogatives.

Rummy, a Ford chief of staff who became defense secretary, and his protégé, Cheney, who succeeded him as chief of staff, felt diminished by the post-Watergate laws and reforms that reduced the executive branch’s ability to be secretive and unilateral, tilting power back toward Congress.

The 70’s were also a heady period for the press, which reached the zenith of its power when it swayed public opinion on Vietnam and exposed Watergate. Reporters got greater access to government secrets with a stronger Freedom of Information Act.

Chenrummy thought the press was running amok, that leaks should be plugged and that Congress was snatching power that rightfully belonged to the White House.

So these two crusty pals spent 30 years dreaming of inflating the deflated presidential muscularity. Cheney christened himself vice president and brought in Rummy for the most ridiculously pumped-up presidency ever. All this was fine with W., whose family motto is: “We know best. Trust us.”

The two regents turned back the clock to the Nixon era, bringing back presidential excesses like wiretapping along with presidential power. As attorney general, John Ashcroft clamped down on the Freedom of Information Act. For two years, the Pentagon has been sitting on a request from The Times’s Jeff Gerth to cough up a secret 500-page document prepared by Halliburton on what to do with Iraq’s oil industry – a plan it wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.). Very convenient.

Defending warrantless wiretapping last week, the vice president spoke of his distaste for the erosion of presidential authority in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam.

“I do believe that, especially in the day and age we live in, the nature of the threats we face, it was true during the cold war, as well as I think what is true now, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy,” he intoned. Translation: Back off, Congress and the press.

Checks, balances, warrants, civil liberties – they’re all so 20th century. Historians must now regard the light transitional tenure of Gerald Ford as the petri dish of this darkly transformational presidency.

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