Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

A great actor and a greater human being has passed away. Condolences to Joanne Woodward, his daughters, and his many friends.

Here's Paul Newman's imdb page. From The Washington Post, here's his obituary, an appreciation by Stephen Hunter, a list of his 10 Oscar-nominated performances, and an article on his arrangements to continue his charities. Here's The New York Times obituary, an appraisal, a remembrance from a friend, and a short humorous piece making fun of that Fox News lawsuit against Al Franken. The Los Angeles Times has the official obituary from his publicist and a retrospective. NPR has a remembrance and links a number of older pieces, including a short anecdote about Paul Newman's "potty humor." Meanwhile, here's the pages for Newman's Own (organic food before it was fashionable) and for the original Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Dahlia Lithwick has a lovely piece about working there (her Slate colleagues also have some good pieces linked on the same page). David Letterman had a nice, funny remembrance, and Newman's close friend Robert Redford made some remarks. I'm sure more will follow.

Newman really belonged to an earlier generation than mine, but who didn't like Paul Newman? When I was a kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was always on TV, and we watched it more times than I can count (William Goldman never gets tired about talking about that film). The Sting ran a decent amount, too. My dad was quite a fan of The Hustler. As I grew older, I finally got to see why everyone raved about Cool Hand Luke, and I raved about Nobody's Fool to everyone the year it came out. Newman's so good in The Road to Perdition and, well, everything, it's easy to take him for granted. There a few classic Newman films I still haven't seen, actually, but I certainly saw enough to prize how damn good he was. The Verdict is a marvel. Roy Edroso has a great short piece about two of his favorite Newman performances (that match mine, actually), and how Newman "played the trick of submerging his charm early on and letting it creep out as the character made progress." Many remembrances note his charisma and good looks, but also how he played against them. He could handle both subtlety and power, and it made for some vibrant performances.

As much as I'll always admire Newman the actor, I've really been struck for the past decade or so by his model philanthropy. Both he and Redford have built quite the legacies, and I always appreciate it when successful people give back. Newman's Own has donated a staggering 250 million to charity. Meanwhile, there are the Hole in the Wall camps, which provide an amazing camp experience for kids with serious illnesses. Unlike Dahlia Lithwick, I didn't work there, but I was privileged enough to visit the original camp twice. One of the part-time staffers at our school in Connecticut worked at the Hole in the Wall camp in the summer, and arranged for a tour of the camp for faculty and staff who were interested one Sunday morning. Tours very intentionally are limited for when the camp isn't in session to maintain the kids' privacy. But the place is extraordinary. All the staff who were present were proud and excited to work there. A new theater was being built when I visited, and that building and the dining hall had a palpable, positive energy radiating from the walls. The medical ward is designed as a large Butch and Sundance bunkhouse, and decorated with a colorful, friendly, western motif. The arts and crafts rooms have stacks and stacks of buttons, beads and other materials, mostly stored in cleaned out Newman's Own jars. The camp reminded me the most of the Eugene O'Neill Center, because they share a similar vibe – even when both places are mostly empty, there's a resonance present, perhaps from all the positive creative energy, photos, paintings and tapestries. We were told that at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the last session of the summer was reserved for siblings of kids with illnesses, since they can get lost in the shuffle. For the kids who attend, everything's paid for. They all want to come back, which the camps try to accommodate, but they give priority to kids who haven't attended before. Newman spent a fair amount of time at the Connecticut camp. Read through all the pieces linked above, and it becomes clear that Newman was very competitive and a prankster, but also extremely modest and generous. (A book on Art Direction I own has an anecdote about a movie production dinner decades back where Newman graciously stopped by to chat with the wives of the art department and told them how important the work their husbands did was. There seem to a lot of stories like that.) Newman used his celebrity for good causes, but really enjoyed not being seen as a movie star, and clearly just loved kids. (Some celebrities volunteered at the camps and worked fairly incognito as well.) In any case, I enjoyed visiting the camp so much, I inquired about seeing it one last time before I moved (and chatted with a visiting clown about Commedia dell'arte techniques, actually). It would have been fun talking film and acting with Newman, but I think it'd be hard not to talk about the camps. Some projects are simply lasting, unqualified goods, and there's something really profound and special about the Hole in the Wall camps. One of the pieces linked above says that Newman went with a western motif partially so kids going through chemo could hide their baldness beneath cowboy hats. That's very thoughtful, but I'm not sure it was necessary after a while. Let's close with Dahlia Lithwick, who sums it up the best:

Today there are 11 camps modeled on the Hole in the Wall all around the world, and seven more in the works, including a camp in Hungary and one opening next year in the Middle East. Each summer of the four I spent at Newman's flagship Connecticut camp was a living lesson in how one man can change everything. Terrified parents would deliver their wan, weary kid at the start of the session with warnings and cautions and lists of things not to be attempted. They'd return 10 days later to find the same kid, tanned and bruisey, halfway up a tree or cannon-balling into the deep end of the pool. Their wigs or prosthetic arms—props of years spent trying to fit in—were forgotten in the duffel under the bed. Shame, stigma, fear, worry, all vaporized by a few days of being ordinary. In an era in which nearly everyone feels entitled to celebrity and fortune, Newman was always suspicious of both. He used his fame to give away his fortune, and he did that from some unspoken Zen-like conviction that neither had ever really belonged to him in the first place.

Hollywood legend holds that Paul Newman is and will always be larger-than-life, and it's true. Nominated for 10 Oscars, he won one. He was Fast Eddie, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy. And then there were Those Eyes. But anyone who ever met Paul Newman will probably tell you that he was, in life, a pretty regular-sized guy: A guy with five beautiful daughters and a wonder of a wife, and a rambling country house in Connecticut where he screened movies out in the barn. He was a guy who went out of his way to ensure that everyone else—the thousands of campers, counselors, and volunteers at his camps, the friends he involved in his charities, and the millions of Americans who bought his popcorn—could feel like they were the real star.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Retro Chic

When I saw this Dior ad...

Notwithstanding the large and capacious handbag...

It made me think of a certain other woman:

Although whether as Emma Peel or not, Diana Rigg had more talent, greater style - and smaller hair.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Handling the Big Ego

Visiting performers and celebrities can be a real pain to handle, storming off and refusing to go on, requiring plenty of stroking and praise... With this in mind, I offer you:

John McCain: Aretha Franklin, without the talent.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Right-Wing Cartoon Watch #32 (7/21/08 – 9/25/08)

The much-anticipated long-delayed 32nd, over-sized installment of RWCW is here, covering ten weeks of terrifying turmoil and tabloid tumult. See our usual gang trot out their favorite attacks against their avowed foe! Watch them swoon over their latest conservative darling! And observe as economic woes make the reality-based community grow just a little bit larger.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eclectic Jukebox 9-25-08

John Coltrane - "My Favorite Things"

In honor of Coltrane's birthday on the 23rd...

Eclectic Jukebox

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eclectic Jukebox 9/18/08

Ladytron – "Destroy Everything You Touch"

In honor of the GOP…

Eclectic Jukebox

Upcoming: Banned Books Week and the National Book Festival, 2008

"Celebrating the Freedom to Read," Banned Books Week runs September 27th to October 4th this year. Starting on September 27th as well is the eighth annual National Book Festival, taking place on the National Mall. Presented by the Library of Congress and Laura Bush, over 70 authors will be participating, and the website will post podcasts of events. I'll also promote the wonderful, ongoing Favorite Poem Project yet again.

The American Library Association has a page on Banned Book Events, including a page for events by state (at least one listed event appears to be from 2007 or else there's a typo, so you may wish to confirm an event before attending). There are official Facebook and MySpace groups for Banned Books Week, and you can also find several "I Read Banned Books" groups. Apparently, there will even be Banned Books Week activities in Second Life (details forthcoming on the website). Children's author Sam Riddleburger shows how you can use an online motivational poster generator to make your own "Read" posters. (Continuing on the lighter side, The Onion has a piece called "Nation's Teens Disappointed by Banned Books.")

[Update 9/26/08: More information on Banned Books Week activities for Second Life, and the Facebook and MySpace groups.]

I'll also invite any and all bloggers to a very informal blogswarm on banned books and intellectual freedom. Feel free to link your post(s) in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail, if you'd like.

I write a little post for Banned Books Week every year, but this year the subject's been, well, more on my mind. Banned Books Week is a fine time to celebrate "Biblio-Americans" and all those teachers, librarians, parents, siblings and friends who may have introduced us to a great book or the joy of reading. It's a great excuse to revisit a favorite book or read a new one – especially a banned one. It's a nice way to share a favorite book with someone else, or start a conversation about why a challenged book such as 1984, The Great Gatsby or The Color Purple means so much. That's not to mention books banned in other countries currently or throughout history. One of my favorite novels, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, was initially published in the Soviet Union only in censored form, but the original was one of many works passed around between friends clandestinely (and illegally) in Samizdat form. (The excellent 2006 film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) portrays a similar dynamic in East Germany in the 80s.)

Personally, I draw the most inspiration from hearing tales like that, and by reading over the lists of the many books challenged over the years – it's venerable company. To that effect, from the Frequently Challenged Books page, here's:

The most frequently challenged books of 2007

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 challenges last year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

The "10 Most Challenged Books of 2007" reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

1) "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) "Olive's Ocean," by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) "The Golden Compass," by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) "The Color Purple," by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) "TTYL," by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Off the list this year, are two books by author Toni Morrison. "The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved," both challenged for sexual content and offensive language.

The most frequently challenged authors of 2007

1) Robert Cormier
2) Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3) Mark Twain
4) Toni Morrison
5) Philip Pullman
6) Kevin Henkes
7) Lois Lowry
8) Chris Crutcher
9) Lauren Myracle
10) Joann Sfar

To add some perspective, here's the:

Most Challenged Books of 21st Century (2000-2005)

1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier
3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
5. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
6. "Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers
7. "It's Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris
8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
9. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
10. "Forever" by Judy Blume

Meanwhile, I find the following list the most interesting (follow the link for explanations on why they were challenged; I've changed the order slightly):

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Ulysses, James Joyce
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1984, George Orwell
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Native Son, Richard Wright
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, DH Lawrence
Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence
Women in Love, DH Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, John Updike

My all-time favorite might still be Dr. Seuss' The Lorax being challenged for being pro-environment and anti-corporate (I'd have to dig up the exact language from an older hard copy report).

Unfortunately, not all the ALA links are up to date, and a few 'banned book list' pdfs are missing, but the site's still very useful overall. The American Library Association also has a "suggested editorial" that can be adapted for local libraries. I think good, original op-eds have more style, but this does cover banned book issues nicely and may give some inspiration:

Suggested Editorial

Edit and adapt this opinion column "Elect to Read a Banned Book" for your local newspaper. Include the name, address, telephone number and credentials of the person submitting (library director, president of library board, trustee, school/campus administrator, community activist, etc.).

Elect to Read a Banned Book

Throughout the country, most children are starting a new academic year. Teachers are sending out their lists of required readings, and parents are beginning to gather books. In some cases, classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Catcher in the Rye," and "To Kill a Mocking Bird," may not be included in curriculum or available in the school library due to challenges made by parents or administrators.

Since 1990, the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has recorded more than 7,800 book challenges, including 458 in 2003. A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum. About three out of four of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries, and one in four are to material in public libraries. OIF estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.

It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and reading materials like "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," "Slaughterhouse Five," the Harry Potter series, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series, which topped OIF's most challenged list in 2003 and ended the four-year reign of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, remain available.

The most challenged and/or restricted reading materials have been books for children. However, challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; on the contrary, they are an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best—their parents!

In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the ALA and [Name of Library] are sponsoring Banned Books Week (September 25 - October 2, 2004), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. This year's observance is themed "Elect to Read a Banned Book," and commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society—the freedom to read freely—and encourages us not to take this freedom for granted.

Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view. [Name of library] and thousands of libraries and bookstores across the country will celebrate the freedom to read by participating in special events, exhibits, and read-outs that showcase books that have been banned or threatened. The [name of library] will be hosting the following activities: [List activities, displays, presentations, read-outs of favorite banned books etc. with date, time and location.]

The American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the ALA; the American Society of Journalists and Authors; the Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores sponsor Banned Books Week. The Library of Congress Center for the Book endorses the observance.

American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read @ your library! Elect to read an old favorite or a new banned book this week.

Finally, from the Intellectual Freedom Issues page:

"Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas."— Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas," The One Un-American Act," Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1953): p. 20.

"[F]reedom of expression and the free flow of information, to which it is closely linked, are the essential conditions of the emergence of knowledge societies."— "Towards Knowledge Societies," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Report.

So get to reading! Get to, um, talking about reading! And remember - Manuscripts Don't Burn.

Update: Blue Gal passes on "The Big Read" from the National Endowment for the Arts. It's a project to "restore reading to the center of American culture." You can see their current highlighted books here, and also check to see if there's a Big Read event in your community. Many communities and libraries also have book discussion groups, of course, but this looks like a fantastic way to supplement and energize those. It's also a great excuse to read some good books you may never have gotten around to reading (because as the old joke goes, we buy books pretending we are also buying the time to read them).

Update 9/26/08: The ALA completely reworked their site a few days after my post, which broke all my links. The design looks better, though. I've gone back through and I believe I've fixed all links. I've also written them about some typos and old information still listed. Do confirm a Banned Books Week event before attending, but it appears the events by state page is mostly if not entirely up to date now. Celebrate reading, especially banned and challenged books!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Say Potato, I Say Conscienceless Sleazebag

First, from "moderate" blog Obsidian Wings, here's Eric Martin:

You know you're setting a new standard for shameless dishonesty when even Fox News and Karl Rove call you out. Karl Freakin Rove! The man who took the baton from Lee Atwater and [deleted] it up a rat's [deleted]. I apologize for the vulgar imagery, but John McCain refused to do a series of town hall appearances with me, so I had no choice.

It is now patently obvious that the McCain camp is committed to a strategy of lying big and small from now until November (here's one of the latest, a rerun of one of their greatest hits and a foolish attempt to count to infinity). What is perhaps more significant is the reason for McCain's mendacity: running on the issues is a losing play. He's scared of a straight-up contest.

With good reason in a purely cynical sense. McCain/Palin are offering the same disastrous foreign policy approach as Bush, a deeper commitment to Bush's hapless, deficit busting economic plan (which greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans while depleting the middle class), a continuation of denial in the face of global warming, the same preference for hiring unqualified cronies to key offices in government (again, favoring loyalty over expertise - heckuva job legion of Brownies!), closeness with lobbyists/industry insiders that will (again) assume positions regulating the industries for which they work for, hostility toward Social Security and other entitlements, etc....

I will note the Karl Rove was making a necessary strategic concession to maintain a shred of credibility, but quickly pivoted to slam the Obama campaign, pretending that they've been just as bad as the McCain campaign and their relentless lies. (When one gig is up, move back to an old familiar one – everybody's been lying – never mind that even Howard Kurtz has written that "there have been some Obama falsehoods as well, but of lesser frequency and magnitude.")

Compare Eric Martin's mention of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater with the reference from Jennifer Rubin at neocon magazine Commentary (via Howard Kurtz):

Mickey Kaus posits: “The current lib blog-MSM-campaign tack–getting outraged by McCain’s “lies”–is a total loser strategy.” (Yes, the three hyphenated allies are joined at the hip but you already knew that.) I think he’s right that it makes them all look weak, whiny and in cahoots with one another.

But there is a good reason to do it. They are preparing their excuses for defeat. No matter how foolhardy the Democratic primary voters in selecting a high risk candidate, no matter how bizarre the policy choices of that candidate, no matter how outlandishly wrong the conventional press wisdom and no matter how inept the campaign operation there is a cure-all excuse: McCain lied, our hopes died.

I am not saying Barack Obama is going to lose; I am saying the Obama Gang of Three (i.e. the mind-melded bloggers/MSM/campaign operation) now thinks that is a distinct possibility. So how to explain how they all messed up? When in doubt, revive the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove/Gore v. Bush/Swiftboat rationale which is “It is never our fault.”

The problem, of course, is that doesn’t work if the aim is to win elections. In fact the opposite occurs: the cures (e.g. violent partisan counterpunches, media whining) usually turn off key Independent voters. But if the aim is to save face with your peer groups (e.g. fellow journalists, campaign donors, political operatives) who want to know what the heck went wrong, it works as well as anything.

This is prime concern troll stuff! It would be silly to only denounce the McCain-Palin campaign (accurately) as liars and beg the media to punish them for it, but of course, the Obama-Biden campaign hasn't been doing just that. As we recently covered (and as Kaus even advocated), they've been hammering the economy, hard. But of course, assertively denouncing McCain is hardly "weak," and it's frankly essential (Obama and Biden do need to stop vouching for McCain at all, though, and make things more forceful). The press lied about Gore in the 2000 campaign and created a false 'serial liar' narrative. It's actually deserved in the case of McCain and Palin.

We'll see if Rubin's political acumen exceeds her ethics, but after reading over this and a few other posts, apparently, she actually believes the corporate media is liberal, and plays the familiar, tired conservative martyr card (ironic given her highlighted post). She also cheerleads the most vile of National Review-McCain bullshit, the one about Obama and comprehensive sex ed for kindergartners. (Byron York's piece on this is absolutely loathsome. His only possible legitimate critique is that the bill (not passed) should have clarified some issues, but he purposefully tries to brush past the bill's intent, and tries to dismiss language that said all sex ed had to be age-appropriate. If you ever needed further proof these are not honorable people, here it is.) Still, the element that really leaps out for me is that Rubin evidently doesn't give a damn about Rove, Atwater, McCain, and Palin lying. (Her sex ed post suggests she might really believe her own side's bullshit when it comes to McCain, but what about Palin - Rove - and Atwater?!?). As to why she doesn't give a damn, or hasn't bothered to fact-check anything – well, Eric Martin sorta covered that. Really, who needs merit when you've got wingnut welfare, and why expect someone who spreads lies to call out liars on her own team?

(Wow – looking over some more Rubin posts, she's clearly a true zealot, conscienceless hack, or both. She also spreads another scurrilous charge by a proven liar, and actually argues - wait for it – that Obama not choosing Hillary Clinton for his VP proves that McCain with his Palin pick cares more about pay equity for women. I guess the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that would help millions of women, doesn't matter after all. Maybe that's why Ledbetter spoke at the DNC and is campaigning with Michelle Obama, while McCain voted against the bill.

Relatively sane Eisenhower Republicans, take your party back, already!)

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obama on the Economy

We've been covering McCain's ineptitude, confusion and bad policies on the economy pretty often at BH recently. So what does that other guy, Obama, have to say?

TPM Election Central has the transcript. Whether you like all of Obama's economic policies or not, it's refreshing to hear a candidate speak at length on these issues. To date, McCain's mainly offered the conservative orthodoxy in terms of sound bites and disastrous policies. (He's also either confused again or misrepresenting what he did on the Senate Commerce Committee.) One of his chief economic advisors, Phil Gramm, is a key culprit in creating the current mess, and another, Donald Luskin, recently repeated the Gramm-McCain-Bush line about the economy being great and the problems being all in your mind.

I do wonder – I know greed blinds many, but how many practical, country club conservatives are really eager for McCain at this point? Sure, Obama will raise their taxes, but are some of them now starting to realize that their personal wealth may drop precipitously if the same irresponsible Republican policies continue? (Maybe they'll all just move to the Cayman Islands.)

There are quite a few good posts on Obama, McCain, the economy and related matters, so here's a roundup:

New York Times: "In Candidates, 2 Approaches to Wall Street" and "How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy." Also, Paul Krugman, "Financial Russian Roulette."

McClatchy: "Wall Street crisis is culmination of 28 years of deregulation."

Obsidian Wings: "Donald Luskin Reclaims His Title" and "20 Million: Give or Take?"

Mahablog: "Economy in Meltdown?" and "Bogeyman Regulations."

Newshoggers: "Laissez-faire leads to nationalization."

Digby: "Mr Fix It."

I'll also throw in a late August post of mine, " The Needy Rich and the Unwashed Masses."

Hoover economics are the problem, not the solution.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

The Truth on "The Surge"

Within the past 12 months, Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw (among others) have badgered leading Democrats to proclaim "the Surge" a success. In each case that I've seen, the Democrat (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards) has given a serious and accurate response, to which the reporters have been dismissive, pushing on with their same insistence – 'Say it! The Surge has worked! Hallelujah!' There's some good reporting on Iraq in the newspapers, particularly from McClatchy, but the reporting on television is often frustratingly misleading. As we've often discussed, any drop in violence is most welcome, but the supposed purpose of "the surge" was to buy time for a political reconciliation that hasn't occurred yet, and may be very far off. The drop in violence has multiple causes, including the escalation of American troops, but there are other extremely significant factors it would be dishonest (and folly) to ignore. That said, while things may no longer be horrifically dreadful, they're still quite dreadful. There are still 4-5 million displaced Iraqis, a staggering number especially give the population size, and basic services such as water and electricity are still below pre-war levels for many Iraqis. There is some sincere disagreement on whether withdrawal is the best move, and at what pace - although given the feelings of the Iraqi people and the position of the Maliki government, currently all American troops would be out by 2011 (we'll see how that plays out). Regardless, there's much less room for wild disagreement when it comes to (ahem) serious discussion of the realities of Iraq – realities which are complex, thorny and dire. The occupation cheerleaders rarely mention those realities, preferring to present an extremely narrow, misleading, sometimes Pollyanna view. Some go further, and add the vile McCarthyist rhetoric employed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham at the Republican National Convention, where he all but denounced Barack Obama and other Democrats as traitors. Some of this is an extremely repulsive breed of politics, some of it's myopic zealotry, some of it's a fervent desire for vindication - but it's all dangerous.

Some of the press might also seek this justification, however unconsciously, given that so many pushed a "pro-Bush, pro-war narrative" and so many still feel they did a good job in the run-up to the war. A large number of prominent reporters (especially on television) never seem to consider for even a moment that a key goal of "the surge" was to influence American politics, a critique confirmed by Bob Woodward's latest book (the basic game was long ago figured out by liberal bloggers, Tom Tomorrow and The Daily Show). But then, this is a group who all but ignored the story about an illegal, domestic propaganda campaign by the Pentagon they abetted, rather than admit that they were, yet again, credulous dupes.

There are a number of excellent media outlets and bloggers for Iraq news and analysis, and we have several fairly extensive pieces among the BH and VS posts on Iraq. Meanwhile, Dan Froomkin's 9/9/08 column, "Inside Bush's Surge," spurred by excerpts from Woodward's book, provides a good overview of the complex realities of "the surge." For instance:

In a sidebar, Woodward criticizes the conventional wisdom that the surge worked. "[T]he full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge. These factors either have not been reported publicly or have received less attention than the influx of troops.

"Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups. The operations incorporated some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the U.S. government. . . .

"A second important factor in the lessening of violence was the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces."

(Woodward neglects to mention the $25 million a month that the U.S. government is paying those Sunni gunmen for their services.)

"A third significant break came Aug. 29, when militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations, including attacks against U.S. troops," Woodward writes.

And there are some other factors Woodward leaves out. Consider, for instance, the possibility that years of ethnic cleansing have left a formerly integrated country fragmented into internally peaceful but heavily armed pieces. And there is growing evidence that all sides are now just patiently waiting until we leave to start fighting again -- this time with plenty of American money and weapons on every side.

Froomkin's intro spells things out very well (emphasis added):

It's not exactly news that President Bush dismisses the advice of his military commanders when it doesn't suit him -- and did so, most notably, when he ordered a surge in troops to Iraq early last year over the intense objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his top commanders in the region.

Bob Woodward's new book calls renewed attention to Bush's problematic decision-making style, but leaves unanswered some key questions. Among them: Were Bush's motivations in pushing through the surge noble or self-serving? And was he, ultimately, right or wrong to do so?

A lot rests on the answer to those questions -- maybe even the November election. And although Woodward doesn't appear to be quite ready to weigh in, he does provide some hints. He accuses Bush of deception and disengagement. He airs top military leaders' well-founded concerns that the surge would do enormous damage to the long-term fighting ability of the armed forces. And he argues that the surge is far from the sole reason for the reduction in violence in Iraq.

He also raises the distinct possibility that domestic political factors were a big factor: He quotes Bush telling soon-to-be-ousted Central Command commander Gen. John P. Abizaid at a National Security Council session in December that the surge would "also help here at home, since for many the measure of success is reduction in violence."

But you could also reasonably read Woodward's book as primarily a complaint that it took Bush so long to act, rather than that he did the wrong thing. Woodward is much more critical of the process than of the decision.

Indeed, conventional wisdom in Washington has coalesced around the notion that surge -- a plan Woodward describes as being masterminded by retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, using his back-channel relationship with Bush and Vice President Cheney -- has been a success.

But the evidence actually suggests that its most dazzling success has been the effect here at home -- precisely the one Bush had in mind.

The surge, among other quite possibly more significant factors, has dramatically reduced violence in Iraq, leading the American public to turn its attention elsewhere, and leaving the issue of withdrawal for the next president to worry about.

But has it led to the sort of Iraqi political reconciliation Bush promised would come as a result? Hardly.

Has it overstrained the army to the breaking point? The stress fractures we see so far, including the incredible burdens on the troops and their families, have yet to fully express themselves.

Has it led to a faster pullout than would have otherwise been possible? Certainly not. Given the political tenor of the country shortly before Bush announced an escalation, a lot of our troops could well have been withdrawn by now had things gone otherwise. Instead, as Bush made clear this morning, there will be more troops in Iraq when he leaves office than there were in January 2007.

Meanwhile, the BBC interviews General Petraeus, who is still offering variations on his "fragile but reversible" assessment. The web summary is titled "No victory in Iraq, says Petraeus":

The outgoing commander of US troops in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said that he will never declare victory there.

In a BBC interview, Gen Petraeus said that recent security gains were "not irreversible" and that the US still faced a "long struggle".

When asked if US troops could withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year, he said that would be "doable"...

Gen Petraeus took up his role in Iraq in February 2007, as President Bush announced his "surge" plan.

He has overseen its implementation, including the deployment of nearly 30,000 additional troops to trouble spots in Iraq.

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme, Gen Petraeus said that when he took charge in Iraq "the violence was horrific and the fabric of society was being torn apart".

Leaving his post, he said there were "many storm clouds on the horizon which could develop into real problems".

Overall he summed up the situation as "still hard but hopeful", saying that progress in Iraq was "a bit more durable" but that the situation there remained fragile.

He said he did not know that he would ever use the word "victory": "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan."

He said al-Qaeda's efforts to portray its jihad in Iraq as going well were "disingenuous". It was, in fact "going poorly", he said.

Of his strategy of establishing joint security stations in key locations, Gen Petraeus said that "you can't secure the people if you don't live with them".

He said it was now fair to say that the Iraqis were standing up as US forces stood down. The confidence and capability of Iraqi forces had increased substantially, he said.

In a post titled " We’ll always do just well enough in Iraq to never leave," John Amato remarks, "Long struggle, not irreversible, still hard, many clouds on the horizon… These aren’t words of praise about Iraq being uttered by the General. Once again we hear the "fragile" word. Is that what success is, fragile?"

I guess Petraeus just doesn't know what military genius and Iraq expert Jonah Goldberg does, since Goldberg crowed that "America is very close to flat out winning in Iraq," thanks almost entirely to the Republicans, of course. (Goldberg's latest bullshit is ably challenged by Warren Street and Blue Girl).

On the one hand, we have deluded and/or dissembling hacks like Joe Lieberman, who's shamelessly trying to have the Senate proclaim "the surge" a success. On the other, if one but reads a decent newspaper - or good roundups by bloggers such as Cernig – one can get a sense of what "fragile" really means. I'm anxious about the presidential debates and more potentially misleading Iraq questions, because the stakes are just too high for that. To date, far too many leading television journalists have pushed the hack view, and have shown but a "fragile" respect for the truth.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tucker's Very Bad Day

So exactly how many douchebags named "Tucker" does the GOP have, anyway? (DDay has more on this one.) But good grief, is the sky falling? Tucker Bounds is taken to task by Meghan Kelly on friggin' Fox News, and also by Norah "war protesters are un-American" O'Donnell?!? (C&L has the video; Tucker was saved by "technical difficulties" in that case.)

So far, Tucker Bowen's responses seem to be, "They lied, too!" and "Obama said ridiculous crap he never actually said but we claim he did!" I suppose it gives some variety to whiny McCain's "I lied because Obama wouldn't meet me in town halls" and "I was a POW!" defenses. Oh, and we shouldn't forget Sarah Palin and her daily lie-and-bullshit count.

I'd still like to see one of these lying scumbags break down in tears on the air under tough questioning, but it's a start. Sarah Palin is a serial liar. John McCain has run a dishonorable campaign full of lies and smears. McCain's offering four more years of the same old failed Bush policies. Pass it on – with video proof.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another Piece to the Book-Banning Story

The New York Times has a thorough, scathing exposé on Palin (Questiongirl previously linked it). It should be read in its entirety, but here's the section relevant to the book-banning story we've covered in some depth =. After describing Palin's firing of the museum director and attempt to break up the museum staff (make sure to read it), the article states:

Ms. Palin ordered city employees not to talk to the press. And she used city money to buy a white Suburban for the mayor’s use — employees sarcastically called it the mayor-mobile.

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

That's some new information. So to recap, even if we leave aside Palin's other vendettas, abuses of power, cronyism, attempts at secrecy, general authoritarianism, and constant, repeated lying even after being exposed, here's what we have on her attempts to ban books alone.

• In 1995, Palin wanted to remove from the town library a book (Daddy’s Roommate) dealing with homosexuality that she hadn't even bothered to read.

• Also in 1995, according to librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, Palin was 'distressed' by a case where a book was challenged. It's unclear whether that was the same book Palin objected to, or what the outcome was (although I would think the challenge failed). Regardless, Palin was aware of the book-challenging policy in the borough.

• In 1996, Palin asked Emmons "rhetorically" (hypothetically) about banning books in the library at least twice, in some accounts three times, despite already knowing the book-challenging policy and being reminded of it by Emmons. According to Emmons, "She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library." Emmons said she would oppose it strongly.

• In 1996, Emmons told Frontiersman reporter Paul Stuart that Palin had mentioned three specific books at some point during their book-banning discussions. When interviewed by ABC in 2008, Emmons said she couldn't "dispute or substantiate" Stuart's account and that "I don't care to revisit that time in my life." Stuart sticks by his account.

• Palin's socially conservative church sought to remove at least three books, including Go Ask Alice and Pastor, I am Gay by local resident Reverend Howard Bess. It's unclear whether Palin's list was the same as her church's, and whether the third book targeted by the church was Daddy's Roommate.

• Palin fired Emmons in late January 1997, but reinstated her almost immediately due to public outcry. Emmons eventually left in 1999, and with ABC "would not address her reasons for leaving Wasilla, but friends say she felt badly treated by Mayor Palin."

• Palin and her supporters claim she never sought to ban books, and the McCain campaign has pushed back on this tale, but mostly by using narrow refutations that do not address the whole story.

Palin didn't actually ban books, but again, it's more accurate to say she didn't succeed in banning books. She tested the waters to see if it was feasible and if Emmons would play along. This is not a story where the McCain-Palin campaign wants more scrutiny. There are more important, damning stories about Palin out there, but the McCain-Palin pushback does need to be addressed, and the story is telling about Palin's character, approach and mindset. The more one digs, the worse Palin looks, and WaPo and NYT exposés show a vindictive, corrupt, occasionally incompetent, lying authoritarian who tries to cover it all up and sell it with charm (as many a politician has over the ages). Add in the UK Telegraph piece on Palin and the neocons, and it's an increasingly scary picture.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Palin and the Neocons

U.K. paper The Telegraph has a piece on Palin and the neocons, if you weren't alarmed enough:

In 1988, Mr Kristol became a leading adviser of another inexperienced Republican vice presidential pick, Dan Quayle, tutoring him in foreign affairs. Last week he praised Mrs Palin as "a spectre of a young, attractive, unapologetic conservatism" that "is haunting the liberal elites".

Now many believe that the "neocons", whose standard bearer in government, Vice President Dick Cheney, lost out in Washington power struggles to the more moderate defence secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, last year are seeking to mould Mrs Palin to renew their influence.

A former Republican White House official, who now works at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of Washington neoconservatism, admitted: "She's bright and she's a blank page. She's going places and it's worth going there with her."

Asked if he sees her as a "project", the former official said: "Your word, not mine, but I wouldn't disagree with the sentiment."

Pat Buchanan, the former Republican presidential candidate and a foreign policy isolationist, who opposes the war in Iraq, the project most closely associated with the neocons, said: "Palin has become, overnight, the most priceless political asset the movement has.

"Look for the neocons to move with all deliberate speed to take her into their camp by pressing upon her advisers and staff, and steering her into the AEI-Weekly Standard-War Party orbit." The AEI, or American Enterprise Institute, is a free-market think-tank with many neo-cons among its members.

That line about Palin being a "blank page" (the aide really should be named) reminded me of something Kevin Drum wrote back in November 2006, on a much-discussed Vanity Fair piece:

THE LIGHT MAN....This might be the most pathetic thing I've ever read. It's David Frum talking about George Bush:

I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.

Shorter David Frum: I used to think Bush was such an empty vessel that if I could just get him to parrot the words I wrote, they'd bounce around in his skull and become actual ideas for lack of any competition. Later, though, I finally realized why his skull was empty of serious ideas in the first place.

And, yes, this is the root of everything.

The neocons' wisdom and influence have long been inversely proportional, and their arrogance and vanity really cannot be overstated. It's interesting to read through that Vanity Fair piece on the neocons again, and watch how the neocons scrambled to blame others for their own mistakes - not that that's anything new for them. (At the time, Richard Perle was angry because, well, he wouldn't have been as honest about how disastrous Iraq was if he knew his remarks would be published before the 2006 midterm elections. Perle occasionally still claims he's a Democrat, despite working for Reagan, Bush the younger and apparently rooting against the Democratic Party regaining Congress in 2006. Perle's Democrat status may be technically true, but I think it's basically a bullshitter's quibble he brings to unbalance questioners and pretend to some sort of independence and intellectual integrity. It's similar to his fellow neocon and Reagan crewmate Michael Ledeen claiming he's not a conservative — although unlike Ledeen, Perle at least doesn't lie about urging to invade Iraq.)

Dicy Cheney argued that "Reagan provided deficits don't matter," and Karl Rove, movement conservatives and the press showed with their choice of Bush that they thought qualifications and competence didn't matter. David Frum with his 'empty vessel' notions evidently never thought much of Bush, and he was far from alone even within the administration. We see the same disdain for thought and competence in the Palin pick - and in her subsequent conduct, lying constantly even when debunked, we can see a familiar contempt for the truth, democracy and the American people. I suspect Sarah Palin is independent enough to have truly awful ideas all on her own. But after watching her interview with Charlie Gibson, and seeing as she combines some of the worst elements of both Nixon and Bush the younger, she'll fit right in with the neocon crew, who are still unwilling to learn much from their war of choice and what's arguably the worst foreign policy debacle in American history. Ah, neoconservatism – I guess they think Sarah Palin can put lipstick on it.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Keillor on Palin and the GOP

Garrison Keillor has a great piece called "Forget the past - it's only history" (passed along by Mike Finnigan). Read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

McCain has decided to run as a former POW and a maverick, a maverick's maverick, rather than Bush's best friend, and that's understandable, but how can he not address the $3 trillion that got burned up in Iraq so far? It's real money, it could've paid for a lot of windmills, a high-speed rail line in Ohio, some serious R&D. The Chinese, who have avoided foreign wars for 50 years, are taking enormous leaps forward, investing in their economy, and we are falling behind. We're wasting our chances. The Republican culture of corruption in Washington hasn't helped.

And a former mayor of a town of 7,000 who hired a lobbyist to get $26 million in federal earmarks is now running against the old-boy network in Washington who gave her that money to build the teen rec center and other good things so she could keep taxes low in Wasilla. Stunning. And if you question her qualifications to be the leader of the free world, you are an elitist. This is a beautiful maneuver. I wish I had thought of it back in school when I was forced to subject myself to a final exam in higher algebra. I could have told Miss Mortenson, "I am a Christian and when you gave me a D, you only showed your contempt for the Lord and for the godly hard-working people from whom I have sprung, you elitist battleaxe you."

In school, you couldn't get away with that garbage because the taxpayers know that if we don't uphold scholastic standards, we will wind up driving on badly designed bridges and go in for a tonsillectomy and come out missing our left lung, so we flunk the losers lest they gain power and hurt us, but in politics we bring forth phonies and love them to death.

Well, at least some people and one party in particular does. It's as if the GOP said, "Ya know, that George Bush wasn't qualified, either, and he turned out great!"

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Palin as Mayor

(Yup, that's City Hall, although the entire building's a bit bigger than this picture shows.)

The Washington Post has a good piece on Sarah Palin's career as mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska. It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's a taste:

Since joining the Republican ticket, Palin has faced questions about whether she is qualified to be vice president or, if necessary, president. In response, the first-term Alaska governor and Sen. John McCain point to the executive qualifications she acquired as Wasilla mayor, a six-year stint from 1996 to 2002 that represents the bulk of her political experience.

Palin says her time as mayor taught her how to be a leader and grounded her in the real needs of voters, and her tenure revealed some of the qualities she would later display as governor: a striving ambition, a willingness to cut loose those perceived as disloyal and a populist brand of social and pro-growth conservatism.

But a visit to this former mining supply post 40 miles north of Anchorage shows the extent to which Palin's mayoralty was also defined by what it did not include. The universe of the mayor of Wasilla is sharply circumscribed even by the standards of small towns, which limited Palin's exposure to issues such as health care, social services, the environment and education.

Firefighting and schools, two of the main elements of local governance, are handled by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the regional government for a huge swath of central Alaska. The state has jurisdiction over social services and environmental regulations such as stormwater management for building projects.

We already covered the book-banning story in earlier posts. Meanwhile, this paragraph leapt out at me:

Palin took office as mayor in October 1996 with a show of force. She fired the museum director and demanded that the other department heads submit resignation letters, saying she would decide whether to accept them based on their loyalty, according to news reports at the time. She clashed with Police Chief Irl Stambaugh over his push for moving bar closing time from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. and for his opposition to state legislation to allow people to carry guns in banks and bars.

5 a.m.?!? That's a hard-drinking town (in an area dubbed the meth capital of Alaska a few years back). And gosh, what negative consequences could possibly result from people being allowed to carry guns into banks and bars?!? (Ah, in Palin's case, those "authentic small-town values" stand for far more than merely lying constantly.)

This story doesn't cover Palin's stint as governor, which is obviously relevant, but the idea that Palin's experience in any way trumps Obama's, Biden's, or McCain's has always been laughable (Hilzoy and Publiius hit the key points nicely). Meanwhile, we know from Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson that her knowledge and level of engagement aren't terribly high, either. We'll see how her charisma, crowd-pleasing lies and clear lack of fitness for VP play out in the coming weeks.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Speaking of Libraries...

(Click for a larger view.)

Don't ask. Just marvel at its strange appropriateness. (Well, if you want to, you can read the story at this awesome site.)


Sadly, there aren't any more polar bear librarians, because Sarah Palin has drowned arrested them all.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Just Another Concerned Parent Firing Librarians

We've covered the tale of Sarah Palin's repeated inquiries into banning books at the Wasilla town library and firing the librarian in earlier posts. False rumors, misleading denials and minor discrepancies have muddied the waters on this story, so let's attempt to clear things up. We now have a few new developments - pushback from the McCain campaign, an ABC piece on the story, and other new details. Let's start with ABC:

Pam's House Blend has a transcript. It's a pretty good segment from ABC, and I'm glad they managed to contact librarian Mary Ellen Emmons (now Mary Ellen Baker). It's especially helpful to know that Palin's church was seeking to ban books, specifically two dealing with drugs and sexuality.

As Publius writes:

To believe Palin's version, you must think (1) she was just casually asking a rhetorical question; and (2) the subsequent firing of the librarian had nothing to do with the librarian's sharp resistance to Palin's question.

The key part of the ABC News story, though, is that Palin's prior -- and bat do-do crazy -- church had started making some noise about banning books from the library around the time she was elected. That is, removing certain books (e.g., "Pastor, I am Gay") had been on the church's radar at the time, and the church had been instrumental in getting her elected. Thus, it makes sense that Palin would -- upon taking power -- look into removing books. All in all, it's a pretty strong data point against her.

That's a good summary, although I'd add that the more one digs, the more reasons emerge to cast doubt on Palin's version of events. (Palin and some of her supporters have said her questions were "rhetorical," although I believe they and Publius mean "hypothetical.")

Meanwhile, Seth Colter Wallis has a piece at The Huffington Post about the McCain campaign's pushback on the story:

In a page right out of the Obama playbook, John McCain's campaign is responding directly and forcefully to a smear email campaign currently making the rounds. Betting against the conventional wisdom -- which, until this cycle, held that scurrilous rumors were not worth drawing attention to via a rebuttal -- the Republican nominee is disputing the charge that Sarah Palin supposedly banned a list of books when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

Introducing the comprehensive memo to reporters in an email that recalls the Obama camp's "Fight the Smears" missives, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers decried "the latest false smear spreading from liberal blogs to the mainstream press - that Governor Palin banned books as Mayor of Wasilla. This is categorically false. The fact is that as Mayor, Palin never asked anyone to ban a book and not one book was ever banned, period."

That is true, though not a comprehensive account of the matter. The librarian in question has admitted that she only ever heard from Palin in the abstract on the issue of whether books could be pulled from library stacks. After the librarian responded that she would oppose such a move, no further discussions were held with Palin. Certainly, there was no official list drawn up. However, in a fact the McCain email leaves out, Palin approached the librarian three times to ask about the possibility, which could legitimately appear to some as something of a pressure campaign (especially considering that Palin attempted to have the librarian removed afterward).

Wallis is basically correct, but Palin did fire Emmons, giving her two weeks' notice in January 1997. However, due to public outcry, Palin rescinded that order the next day (more on this later on). One can parse the language, I suppose, since Emmons apparently was back at work before the termination was to take effect, but I don't think 'tried to have her fired' (or any variation) without further explanation captures the full timeline and dynamic, and it's rather important. FactCheck's summary blurb on the book-banning story is misleading on this point, but their actual analysis, which they apparently updated, is far better. Police Chief Irl Stambaugh was fired at the same time as Emmons, but stayed fired. The Time article on Palin's stint as mayor states that "The animosity spawned some talk of a recall attempt, but eventually Palin's opponents in the city council opted for a more conciliatory route," and that "At some point in those fractious first days, Palin told the department heads they needed her permission to talk to reporters."

Let me recap some key links and add a few new ones. Here's The Frontiersman article from 1996, the recent Anchorage Daily News piece, and this Unbossed post, which links the Time, Politico and New York Times pieces that mention this story. There are some minor discrepancies between articles, and the timeline's a bit muddled in some accounts.

GLBT site Bent Alaska links the ABC segment and cites another old Frontiersman article by Paul Stuart that puts Reverend Howard Bess (now retired) and his book Pastor, I am Gay into a more central role. Bess is interviewed in the ABC story above, and the ABC website also covers this angle:

Palin's church at the time, the Assembly of God, had been pushing for the removal a book called "Pastor I Am Gay" from local bookstores, according to the book's author Pastor Howard Bess, of the Church of the Covenant in nearby Palmer, Alaska.

"And she was one of them," said Bess, "this whole thing of controlling information, censorship, that's part of the scene," said Bess…

The local newspaper reporter who covered the controversy, Paul Stuart, claims he was later told by the librarian that Palin wanted three specific books removed from the library.

In her statement to ABC News, the librarian said, "I am unable to dispute or substantiate the information Paul Stuart provided to you."

Stuart said he was confident of his memory. "She may have said that but that's not how it was."

After she got her job back, Baker spent two more years in Wasilla before leaving for a library job in Fairbanks.

She would not address her reasons for leaving Wasilla, but friends say she felt badly treated by Mayor Palin.

"I don't care to revisit that time in my life," Baker told ABC News.

Baker doesn't want to speak on it, but to recap, according to Stuart, there were at least three books Palin actually mentioned to Baker/Emmons at the time. According to the ABC account, Palin's church was targeting Howard Bess' book and Go Ask Alice (a frequently-challenged book over the years). If Palin's list was the same as her church's, there's still a 'targeted book to be named later.' (I'd still like more detail and further confirmation on all this, but I'm not counting on it, given the reticence factor and the passage of time.)

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Frontiersman article from December 1996, also by Paul Stuart, adds a wealth of details. It's a short read, but here's the bulk of it (the web version currently has several typos):

WASILLA -- In the wake of strong reactions from the city's library director to inquiries about censorship, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin on Monday was taking pains to explain her questions about censoring library material were “rhetorical.”

Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons last week said Palin broached the subject with her on two occasions in October - once Palin was elected mayor Oct. 1 but before she took office on Oct. 14, and again in more detail on Monday, Oct. 28. Besides heading the Wasilla City Library, Emmons is also president of the Alaska Library Association. The issue became public last Wednesday, when Palin brought it up during an interview about the now-defunct Liquor task Force. Palin used the library topic as an example of discussions with her department heads about understanding and following administration agendas. Palin said she asked Emmons how she would respond to censorship.

Emmons drew a clear distinction Saturday between the nature of Palin's inquiries and an established book-challenge policy in place in Wasilla, and in most public libraries.

“I'm not trying to suppress anyone's views,” Emmons said. “But I told her (Palin) clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves.”

Palin said Monday she had no particular books or other material in mind when she posed the questions to Emmons.

Emmons said in the first conversation, before being sworn in as mayor, Palin briefly touched on the subject of censorship.

But on Monday, Oct. 28, Emmons said Palin asked her outright if she could live with censorship of library books. This was during a weak when Palin was requesting resignations from all the city's department heads as a way of expressing loyalty.

“This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy,” Emmons stressed Saturday. “She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library.”

Monday Palin said in a written statement she was only trying to get aquatinted with her staff at the time. “Many issues were discussed, both rhetorical and realistic in nature,” Palin added.

Emmons recalled that the Oct. 28 conversation she pulled no punches with her response to the mayor.

“She asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied 'Yup',” Emmons recounted Saturday. “And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would get involved, too.”

Emmons said Palin asked her on Oct. 28 if she would object to censorship, even if people were circling the library in protest about a book. “I told her it would definitely be a problem the ACLU would take on then,” Emmons said

Asked who she thought might picket the library, Palin said Monday, “Had no one in mind ... again, the issue was discussed in the context of a professional question being asked in regards to library policy.

“All questions posed to Wasilla's library director were asked in the context of professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city. Obviously the issue of censorship is a library question... you ask a library director that type of question,” Palin said

“Palin also said Monday censorship issues would not involve any departments other than the library.

Emmons said she has been offered help if it is ever needed on censorship issues from the state library association's Intellectual Freedom Committee and the National Freedom to Read Foundation.

Palin called Emmons into her office Monday to discuss the censorship questions again.

Palin also attended Friday's staff meeting at the library, but without mentioning censorship , Emmons said.

“I'm hoping it was just a trial balloon,” Emmons said, “because the free exchange of information is my main job, and I'll fight anyone who tries to interfere with that.”

The timing of the issue comes at a time when Emmons is trying to get the book-challenge policies of the Wasilla Library and of the Palmer City Library in line with the Mat-Su Borough policy, revised in December of last year.

Emmons described the new borough policy as “a very good one.”

It is a step-by-step blueprint of procedures for anyone wanting to challenge the selection and availability of library material, Emmons explained. “it is a good process, and almost all public libraries have one.”

The borough's policy was revised mainly to replace the borough manager as the final decision maker with a formal Reconsideration Committee Mat-Su Borough Manager Don Moore said Saturday that changes were made, with the blessings, after a dispute that was resolved about two years ago involving a challenged book at the Big Lake Library.

Emmons said the current Wasilla policy, which she described as written in more general terms than the borough's, also worked procedurally in a book-challenge case last year. Emmons said then-council-woman Palin was distressed about the issue when it came up, indicating she was aware of the city's book-challenge policy.

Emmons said in the conversations with now-Mayor Palin in October, she reminded her again that the city has a policy in place. “But it seamed clear to me that wasn't really what she was talking about anyhow,” Emmons added. “I just hope it doesn't come up again.”

Several other accounts report that the matter also came up at a City Council meeting, according to Wasilla resident Ann Kilkenny, with a similar interchange – a hypothetical inquiry by Palin, and the same basic response by Emmons. I wasn't there to hear tone or judge dynamics, but everything Emmons said certainly corresponds with my understanding of common library procedures and professional conduct for a librarian. Any citizen should be able to express concerns, of course, but the library had provided a formal mechanism for doing so if, say, a citizen wasn't satisfied by an informal discussion with the librarian or library staff. In any case, I'd hope all librarians would stand up for the same principles Emmons expressed.

The newly linked pieces clear up some chronology issues for me. The 'tests of loyalty' requests for resignation (which I still think are troubling) were submitted by Palin to all department heads in October 1996 when she took office. She fired Emmons in January 1997, then reinstated her the next day due to public pressure. Stambaugh, the police chief, was fired at the same time, but stayed fired. Some accounts conflate the resignation requests with the later termination letters, which had been confusing me. Unless I'm missing something, the ABC Blotter piece repeats this same mistake. That's not to say that the two events were completely unrelated, just that they were distinct events. Some of the pushback I've seen claims that Emmons was not fired (she was), or that she was asked for her resignation, but merely along with everybody else (she was, but in a separate event a couple of months before being fired).

There are a few key elements for me. One is that, according to Emmons, Palin wasn't inquiring about existing procedures, with which she was already familiar, since a case the previous year had "distressed" Palin. Palin was asking about outright banning. And her rhetorical-hypothetical queries were about how Emmons would react if Palin asked/ordered her to yank a book – "She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library.” Maybe that was just Emmons' characterization, but I doubt it. It sounds like Palin was testing the waters. Looking at this from a slightly different angle, Palin continued to ask about banning books (hypothetically) even after she had been informed of the borough's challenging policy (which she apparently already knew anyway). What's the explanation for that one? If she wanted to challenge a book, or was asking on behalf of one of her constituents who did (or several in her church), she had the answer for how to proceed already. Outright banning would only be a way to bypass the existing process, avoiding oversight and a panel's input, or perhaps to hide that banning had occurred - if the librarian was willing to play along, or cowed into complying. And Palin's stated reason for firing Emmons a couple of months later, "'I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla," raises the question we explored in earlier posts – isn't it odd for a mayor to talk about "full support" and "administrative agendas" regarding a librarian? Even if we grant that Palin's book-banning questions were strictly hypothetical, or even some sort of "test" for Emmons, Palin comes off as inept or maybe just petty. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time, suggesting she was well-regarded by her peers, and the public outcry over her firing indicates she was popular with many of the townsfolk.

Meanwhile, Palin's a socially conservative authoritarian and evangelical with extremist, fringe views on abortion and global warming, among other things, but also an extremist agenda. She opposes gay marriage. She's also shown she's a brazen liar on bridges, state troopers and other matters. Time's article reported Palin made her social conservatism (including her anti-abortion stance) a key part of her campaign for mayor, and such "culture war" issues were a marked change in tone for local politics. According to ABC, her church, which supported her, has some pretty extreme beliefs too, is hardly gay-friendly, and wanted to ban certain books.

All that's still circumstantial, of course, but it goes to character, credibility and plausibility. And ABC's information from Howard Bess and Paul Stuart further undercuts the plausibility of Palin's version of events.

The list of books Palin "banned" that's circulating is not real – those are books that have been challenged over the years, but they were not banned in the Wasilla town library. Palin didn't actually ban books. Or, if you prefer, she didn't succeed in banning books. She didn't get that far. She inquired about what the librarian's response would be to censorship. Palin may be a liar, but she's not dumb, and I think she knew she might wind up with a lawsuit on her hands. If the ACLU got involved, it might become a national story. Emmons, Kilkenny, Stein, Reverend Bess and others interviewed by ABC and in the linked pieces certainly thought Palin's intent was to ban books, or at least to float a "trial balloon" (as Emmons put it) to see if it was feasible. Palin's essentially claimed they misunderstood her intent. Personally, I don't buy her version at all. But she still does have some deniability.

This story makes for interesting comparison and contrast with her veto as governor of a bill that would prohibit granting benefits to same-sex partners. Palin doesn't have a great record on gay rights, and stated that she still opposed gay marriage, but that she had to veto the bill on constitutional grounds (although it may have actually been a procedural necessity). Regardless, her veto of the bill was contrary to her political position, and more a matter of maneuvering and feasibility.

In this book-banning story, feasibility was also key – it was unlikely Palin could pull off banning books outright, certainly if Emmons remained as librarian – but Palin's denying her intent was to ban books. That's not surprising, since banning books would play well with authoritarian conservatives – as does banning gay marriage – but banning books would play worse with the public at large. There's still not incontrovertible proof; it's a circumstantial case, but I'd say a fairly solid one. Palin's conduct and statements raise several red flags, especially if you've seen such things play out. (I'll disclose once again that I count some librarians among my family and friends, and ran into similar issues as a teacher, if far less extreme.) You'll also notice that the McCain campaign pushback consists of narrow refutations, based on the facts that the Wasilla banned books list is bogus, and Palin didn't get as far as actually banning books. I don't think they want close scrutiny on this one in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, my favorite lines so far come from GOP op Alex Castellanos:

"A mom being concerned about what kind of books our kids read and asking rhetorical questions about what can legally be done to protect them? What's wrong with that? ... This kind of foolishness is making her a hero to more than the evangelical right. It will make her a hero to working class women."

Castellanos is correct about the evangelical right, but not about "working class women," nor the majority of Americans, if the details get out – the GOP wants the public to receive a very select, favorable fact-check, not the context of the full story or any more pieces like the ABC segment. Palin wasn't asking as a mom, she was asking in her official capacity as mayor, and had already been informed of the borough's challenge policy and that Emmons would fight any attempts at outright banning. But sure, Palin was just another concerned parent firing a librarian.

Anyway, that's my take, some of which is speculation, obviously. Anyone's free to disagree, and please pass on any significant new pieces of information I've missed. I hope I've provided enough links that people can get the facts and make up their own minds. It's a principle I think I read about in a book somewhere...

Update 9/14/08: A new piece has been added, discussed in a followup post. In 1995, Palin wanted to remove from the town library a book (Daddy’s Roommate) dealing with homosexuality that she hadn't even bothered to read. But she's no book-banner, in deed nor intent, no sirree!

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)