Saturday, April 30, 2011

Forget State Flowers, State Firearms, State Rocks, & State Birds! Here's An Idea Whose Time Has Come: The Official State Idiot!

The floor is now open for nominations for the Official State Idiot wherever you reside in the Land O'The Dumb and the Home O'The Dumber. Here in the Lone Star State, we have multitude of candidates for the title of Official Texas State Idiot. Hint: if you see an announcement of a gathering of Dumbos/Teabaggers in your locale, get thee hither and find a suitable candidate for Official State Idiot. The Krait (Gail Collins) is so designated because The Dumbster annointed The Krait's NY Fishwrap stablemate (Maureen Dowd) as The Cobra during the 2000 campaign. The Krait is favored in this blog because she is unencumbered with the plagiarism baggage of The Cobra. Today, The Krait tackles the insanity that afflicts the 50 states when their legislatures are in session with the primal urge to designate this or that as the "official state this or that." In Texas, we have an official flower, an official tree, an official bird, an official... yada, yada, yada. What we don't have in Texas (or in any of her sister states) is an "Official State Idiot." New York (or New Jersey) can claim Donald Trump as "Official State Idiot." Like most villages in the land, there is not a single state lacking a candidate for "OFficial State Idiot." Again, the floor is open for nominations. If this is the (fair & balanced) democratic process, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Introducing The Things Of Spring
By The Krait (Gail Collins)

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Springtime Progress Report: Early this year, we learned that Utah was considering a bill to name a Browning pistol its official state firearm. Meanwhile in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was pushing for a bill that would make it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch list. I am excited to report that one of these pieces of legislation finally has been passed into law.

Yes! Utah now has an official state gun. It beat out Arizona, which this week bestowed its honor on the Colt Single-Action Army pistol.

Lautenberg’s bill, meanwhile, has gone nowhere whatsoever. It would require that gun purchases by people on the terror watch list be vetted by the attorney general’s office to make sure that arming the individual in question would not pose a danger to homeland security. Opponents point out that the terror watch list is not always reliable, and the bill might therefore force innocent Americans to go through an entire additional step while purchasing armaments and explosives.

“It’s taking a little bit of a back seat,” the senator conceded. “But we’re on it.” Like all advocates of sensible gun regulation, he has, by necessity, developed an incredibly optimistic outlook.

Speaking of the sunny side, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is happy to report that so far this year, no state has passed a law prohibiting colleges from banning guns on campus. This is pretty notable, since failure to require that institutions of higher learning be gun-friendly is the only thing that stands between some states and a perfect 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association. “It’s failed 51 straight times in 21 states,” said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign.

Actually, it did pass in Arizona recently, although it was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. We have had cause to make fun of Governor Brewer in the past, sometimes for matters as trivial as making up stories about illegal immigrants leaving piles of severed heads in the desert. However, this woman has had a heck of a lot of crazy legislation to plow through. Besides the “campus carry” bill, she nixed a “birther” bill aimed at knocking President Obama off the next state presidential ballot. So, really, even though Brewer did sign the bill making the Colt pistol Arizona’s state gun, you cannot say she had a bad April.

The Colt bill, which had originally failed during the Arizona Legislature’s rush to adjournment, was resuscitated and passed in the wee small hours of the morning just before everybody left town. You’d have thought this would be a hard sell, what with the memory of the Tucson massacre so fresh, not to mention the fact that, as a lawmaker of Navajo descent pointed out, the Colt’s role in winning the West has somewhat less pleasant connotations to Arizona’s American Indian population.

However, in the end, the majority conceded to the logic of people like Senator Steve Smith, one of the sponsors. “One would argue the white men themselves were instrumental weapons of mass destruction against the Native Americans. Should we not honor any white people?” he demanded.

What with all this excitement, the lawmakers did not have enough time to make a miniscule change in state law that would have allowed 20,000 residents to get extended unemployment benefits, which would have been paid for entirely by federal funds. The state has a 9.5 percent unemployment rate.

But, you know, they had the official state gun thing to work out. “It wasn’t their priority,” said the House minority whip, Anna Tovar.

Besides deliberately ignoring the long-term unemployed and caving in to lobbying by the gunmakers, I’m sorry to say that Arizona also gave the whole state thing-naming tradition a bad name.

I have always been a big fan of official state rocks and birds and flowers, in part because selecting them really does tend to distract legislatures from other more alarming activity. Also, the nominations usually come from groups of schoolchildren, who then get to watch democracy in action as the contenders for state fern or state song go head to head in a battle down to the wire. Many years ago, I was privileged to watch a fight over the official state mammal of Connecticut, in which the whale beat out the deer, to the edification of all homeowners who have never once woken up to discover that overnight, a whale had eaten their tulips.

But it’s pretty creepy to imagine a bunch of third graders debating the merits of potential state guns. There are plenty of other routes to go here. I believe New York is working on a state dog. Neither Arizona or Utah has a state dog, although I was impressed to note that Utah has both an official state vegetable (Spanish sweet onion) and an official state historic vegetable (sugar beet).

Opportunities abound. If you want to name something, states, go for a beagle. Ω

[Gail Collins joined the New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an op-ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times editorial page. At the beginning of 2007, she took a leave in order to complete America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. Collins returned to the Times as a columnist in July 2007. Collins has a BA (journalism) from Marquette University and an MA (government) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, April 29, 2011

This Blogger Bids: "3 No-Trump!"

Mention Donald Trump to any stand-up comedian — e.g., Bill Maher, Jon Stewart (even though he "sits" at an anchor desk), and Jerry Seinfeld — and they all echo Seinfeld's recent comment about The Trumpster:

Let me say this about Donald Trump. I love Donald Trump, all comedians love Donald Trump. If God gave comedians the power to invent people, the first person we would invent is Donald Trump... God's gift to comedy.

Seinfeld is embroiled in a current "feud" with The Trumpster because the comedian canceled an appearance at a St. Jude's Hospital fundraiser that was organized by Eric Trump (third child of the marriage of Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump). Seinfeld raised The Trumpster's ire because the comedian's reason for backing out of the event was The Trumpster's Birther campaign.

Well, Trumpster: bring it on with this blog! You are a loudmouth buffoon and a joke. You have Dumbo support because they are... D-U-M-B! If this is a (fair & balanced) bad hair day, so be it.

[Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] Donald Trump's Birther Certificate
[2] TNR Editorial On Donald Trump
[3] Donald Trump's Political "Machine"

[1]Back To Directory
Boulder Fishwrap
Certificate Of Live Birther
By John Sherffius

Click on image to enlarge. Ω

[John Sherffius began drawing editorial cartoons for the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper at UCLA. After two years of working as a freelance artist, after graduation, he was hired by the Ventura County Star in Southern California as a graphic artist and gradually worked his way into editorial cartooning for the paper. In 1998, he was hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as the newspaper's editorial cartoonist, a job he held until 2003 when he quit the paper over editorial differences. Sherffius bridled at editorial insistence that he tone down cartoons attacking Republicans. Sherffius then went to work for the Boulder Daily Camera where his cartoons appear regularly and are syndicated nationally by the Copley News Service. Sherffius won the 2008 Herblock Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2011 John Sherffius/Boulder Daily Camera
[2]Back To Directory
[x TNR]
Liberals: Don’t Even Consider Gloating About Donald Trump
By Editors

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Now that Donald Trump appears on the verge of launching a presidential campaign, it is worth reflecting on the meaning of this low moment in American political history. Trump is a clown and a buffoon, and the odds of him winning even one Republican caucus or primary appear slim. But there is no denying that Trump has managed to tap into something genuinely worrisome in American politics. Democrats may be tempted to take pleasure in the fact that Trump will likely push the GOP presidential field to the right, and thereby help Obama in 2012. But this would be sheer myopia, and any delight over Trump’s arrival on the political scene is entirely misplaced. The Trump ascendancy calls not for glee, but for serious concern about the state of our country.

It’s true that the media erred in awarding Trump such a large spotlight—did all the cable news networks really have to cover his press conference on Wednesday?—but, at this point, the Trump phenomenon does not seem to be a mere media creation. His popularity (he currently leads in several polls) can no longer be denied. So what is Trump’s appeal? Why do his message and vulgar personality resonate with such a significant percentage of Americans? Trump’s embrace of birtherism has been the most widely discussed aspect of his rise. But this only scratches the surface of the Trump phenomenon.

What Trump actually stands for is an exaggerated sense of victimhood. This is the theme that unites his personal style with the political views he has thus far expressed. Are you tired of being pushed around? Are you tired of our country being pushed around? Trump’s political acuity lies in his ability to take these grievances and turn them into politics. His foreign policy views in essence consist of a pledge to bully other nations. China is “decimating our country.” OPEC is imperiling the economy. And ungrateful Libyans and Iraqis are trying to build a society from oil that is rightfully ours. (“We won the war. We take over the oil fields. We use the oil.”) When Bill O’Reilly, in an interview with Trump, seemed taken aback by the idea that we could simply force OPEC or China to do our bidding, Trump appeared surprised that anyone could view international relations as anything more than a contest of machismo. “The messenger is the key,” Trump told O’Reilly. “If you have the right messenger and they know how to deliver the message... you’re going to scare them, absolutely.”

Trump’s thinly veiled accusation that President Obama benefited from affirmative action when he applied to college derives from the same theme. This time the victims aren’t Americans as a whole, they are white Americans; but the message—of anger, resentment, and victimhood—is identical.

America is currently engaged in three wars. The country faces major economic challenges. Global warming is continuing apace. There is no chance any of these issues can be solved by yelling at foreign countries, or stirring up anger at Iraqis or Libyans or minority applicants to elite colleges. Donald Trump has appointed himself spokesman for some of the nastiest impulses in American politics, and he seems to have a following. The sooner the Republican mainstream rejects him, the better. And we liberals should be cheering them along as they do. Ω

[The Editors include Editor-In-Chief Richard Just, Editor-at-Large Franklin Foer, Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier, Executive Editor Rachel Morris, Managing Editor Jeremy Kahn, Senior Editors Jonathan Chait, Jonathan Cohn, Ruth Franklin, John B. Judis, Adam Kirsch, Noam Scheiber, Jason Zengerle, and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Martin Peretz.]

Copyright © 2011 The New Republic
[3]Back To Directory
[x TNR]
Trump’s Team
By James Downie

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Over the past few weeks, many people have dismissed Donald Trump’s possible presidential campaign as a joke. But don’t tell that to the people volunteering behind the scenes—an eclectic crew of young enthusiasts, old Reagan hands, and one especially slimy and notorious political operative.

I spent the past week making phone calls to people who are hosting Trump events in various states, as well as combing through other news sources, in order to try and answer the question: Who exactly is orchestrating Trump’s proto-campaign? Here is the picture I was able to assemble of the Trump political organization.

The two groups behind the Trump movement are Should Trump Run? and Draft Trump 2012. Michael Cohen, Trump’s special counsel, along with another Trump friend, businessman Stewart Rahr, founded the first organization, which took the lead in promoting a potential Trump candidacy last fall. Cohen has met with a number of Iowa Republicans and arranged Trump’s speech at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner this coming June. But, since then—at least partly because he may have already violated campaign finance laws—his role in the campaign has shrunk. Trump’s stops in Nevada, New Hampshire, and Florida have all been organized through others, including Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff.

Recently, Draft Trump 2012 has taken up the charge. The titular head of the group is Nick McLaughlin, a former Marine and Iraq veteran who has no previous connection to Trump, nor any political experience. Beyond McLaughlin, though, the people who’ve joined Draft Trump 2012 are all veteran Republican activists. National political director Lynn Krogh, who joined after this year’s CPAC (at which Trump spoke), is a former executive director of the Young Republicans and served as George Pataki’s deputy spokesperson. (Because of McLaughlin’s inexperience, Krogh handles much of the actual politicking.) The group’s new Illinois co-coordinators, Eric Johnson and Michael LaPidus, also have Young Republican ties: Johnson recently served as co-chairman of the Illinois Young Republicans, and LaPidus chaired this year’s Young Republicans meeting in Chicago. Reagan vets are the other core constituents of the volunteers. Trump’s southern regional director, Kenny Klinge, was the southern political director for Reagan; western states coordinator James Stockdale was the California state director; and Oregon co-coordinator (and rockabilly legend) Jerry Naylor was national director of special events in 1980.

The biggest name, however, is Roger Stone, the veteran Republican operative who is only too happy to be described as a “hit man.” After getting his start performing dirty tricks for Richard Nixon, Stone worked as eastern political director for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 and 1984 campaigns. He most recently made headlines when he took credit for tipping off the FBI to Eliot Spitzer’s dates with call girls, less than a year after he allegedly made threatening phone calls to Spitzer’s father. He first worked for Trump as a lobbyist for his casinos before chairing the real estate mogul’s quixotic bid for the 2000 Reform Party nomination, the closest Trump had previously come to an actual campaign. Trump has denied any connection between Stone (who he once called “a stone-cold loser”) and his campaign, but it was Stone’s name that repeatedly surfaced when I spoke to sources close to Draft Trump 2012 about recruiting other Reagan veterans. Stone has also served as the contact person for groups interested in hosting Trump, including the Chamber of Commerce in Nashua, New Hampshire, whom Trump will speak before in May.

When I talked to him, Stone neither denied nor confirmed any official association with Trump, but was happy to muse upon his appeal: “He brings something significant to the race, which is celebrity. He brings a certain size.” And indeed, those staffers I spoke with, as well as leaders of Tea Party and Republican groups who have hosted or will be hosting Trump, take his candidacy seriously. “He’s very genuine,” says the head of one Republican women’s group who is co-hosting Trump’s visit to Las Vegas this week. “With Donald Trump, what you see is what you get.” For them, a Trump campaign is no joke. Ω

[James Downie is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic. Previously, he worked at Foreign Policy, Time, and Campus Progress. Downie graduated from Columbia University, where he edited its undergraduate news blog, The Bwog.]

Copyright © 2011 The New Republic

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trump Is Trumped By The Dumbest Dumbo Of Them All

The Lone Star State is going to Hell (if it exists) in a fiscal handbasket. However, a Dumbo in the Texas House of Representatives has found a more important issue to focus upon: Birtherism. This loon needs a double-dose of thorazine — stat! The man who proclaimed "the YouTubes" [sic] as a reliable source of information has outdone The Trumpster as the looniest of the Birthers. If this is (fair & balanced) dementia, so be it.

[Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] The Dumbest Dumbo Of Them All — Leo Berman Outed By The Texas Tribune
[2] Politifact Texas On Berman's Blather — Truth-O-Meter Finding: Pants On Fire!

[1]Back To Directory
[x TX Trib]
Texas Pol Still Isn't Satisfied On Obama Birthplace
By Emily Ramshaw

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State Representative Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has checked out the birth certificate President Barack Obama released this morning — and he's not satisfied.

GOP leaders like U.S. House Speaker John Boehner may believe the matter "has long been a settled issue," as he said today in a statement. But Berman, who has raised persistent questions about Obama's birthplace, said he has many more questions and that it will take "someone like a Donald Trump" to really determine whether the president has "pulled the greatest swindle, the greatest hoax, in the history of the United States."

Berman, who has filed a "birther" bill this session that would force future presidential and vice presidential candidates to show their birth certificate in order to get on the Texas ballot, said he's got several key questions with Obama's birth certificate: Why did it take the president so long, amid a conservative firestorm, to release it? Why does it look "brand new," he said, when it's supposed to be five decades old? Why doesn't the hospital listed on the birth certificate have a "plaque on the door" commemorating Obama's birth there? And has anyone checked with the delivery room doctor listed on the birth certificate (whose name Berman says is curiously difficult to make out)?

"I'm hopeful that it's a good birth certificate," Berman said, "and that's all I can say."

Hawaii's registrar certified the newly released photocopy of Obama's long form birth certificate, which provides greater detail than the shorter version that is the state's official certification of birth and was released by the Obama campaign in the 2008 presidential race. Multiple media investigations have determined that Obama was born in Hawaii, and state officials there, both Republican and Democratic, have attested to it repeatedly.

But it's not enough for Berman, who has famously declared the "YouTubes are infallible." He said he's now seen two birth certificates: the Hawaiian one released by Obama this morning, and one he said indicates Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya. And he claims the hospital Obama lists on his birth certificate — in fact, all hospitals in Honolulu — have denied the president was born there. Ω

[Emily Ramshaw investigates state agencies and covers social services for the Tribune. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she received a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.]

Copyright © 2011 The Texas Tribune
[2]Back To Directory
[x Austin Fishwrap]
PolitiFact Texas: State Representative Leo Berman Says "All Hospitals In Honolulu Have Denied The President Was Born There"
By Meghan Ashford-Grooms and Ciara O'Rourke

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Trying to quell recurrent unfounded claims that he wasn’t born in Hawaii, President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate Wednesday.

In a White House news conference, the president said he was releasing the document in order to move on from the so-called "birther" issue: "We have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get a hold of the deficit and debt. But we're not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We're not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts."

Nevertheless, Obama said, there will likely be "a segment of people" for whom the evidence of his birth certificate is not enough. Indeed, shortly after Obama spoke, state Representative Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said he’s still not persuaded that Obama was born in a Honolulu hospital, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Tribune reported that Berman, who has filed legislation to require presidential candidates who want to appear on the Texas ballot to present their birth certificate to the secretary of state, "claims the hospital Obama lists on his birth certificate — in fact, all hospitals in Honolulu — have denied the president was born there."

We followed up with Berman, who told us that two hospitals, including Kapiolani Medical Center For Women and Children, where Obama says he was born, have denied it. He couldn’t recall the name of the other hospital.

Asked where and when the hospitals made the denials, Berman told us: "In several places over the past year and a half," but provided no more specifics. "Neither hospital recognized the fact that he was born there and not only that, but you would think that the hospital that gave birth to the president of the United States would have some kind of commemorative plaque or something."

Berman also said that "it’s going to take someone with a lot of money like Donald Trump to take a look at this and see if Kapiolani will admit whether or not he was born there."

Trump, a possible GOP presidential candidate, has repeatedly suggested that Obama was not born in the United States. Earlier this month, for example, he said Obama’s "grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya and she was there and witnessed his birth." PolitiFact rated that statement False. Responding to a 2008 question about whether "she was present when he was born in Kenya," Obama’s grandmother, who speaks Swahili, at first said through a translator that she was. Then she clearly and repeatedly corrected herself, saying that he was born in the United States.

A subset of Obama critics, dubbed "birthers," doubt that he is a natural-born U.S. citizen, a requirement to serve as president. PolitiFact has checked at least five other claims about Obama’s birthplace, finding no truth to any of them. One was a February claim by Berman, who said Hawaii’s governor "can’t find anything that says (Obama) was born in Hawaii." Finding no evidence that the governor said that, we rated his claim False.

We searched the Lexis-Nexis database, which archives news articles, and the Internet, where skepticism about Obama’s proof of citizenship thrives, for assertions that Kapiolani hospital had ever denied that it was the site of Obama’s birth.

We found no instances of hospital officials making that assertion. However, we found a January 18 story by World Net Daily, a conservative news website that has fanned the birth certificate controversy, reporting that a former Honolulu elections official had said that Kapiolani hospital has no record that Obama was born there.

Two days later, Hollywood reporter Mike Evans, claiming to be a longtime friend of Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie’s, told Minnesota’s KQRS-FM radio that the governor had told him that he had searched "everywhere using his powers as governor" at Kapiolani and Queen’s hospitals and that "there is no Barack Obama birth certificate in Hawaii. Absolutely no proof at all that he was born in Hawaii."

However, later quoted Evans as saying that he had misspoken. "I haven’t talked to Neil since he’s been governor," he said. According to Fox, Evans said that he called Abercrombie’s office after reading online reports that the governor couldn’t find Obama’s birth certificate but Abercrombie did not return his call.

Obama’s newly-released long-form birth certificate contradicts those reports — and Berman’s claim. The document says that Barack Hussein Obama II was born at Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital at 7:24 p.m. Aug. 4, 1961.

We attempted to reach officials from the Kapiolani Medical Center for Woman and Children on Wednesday and didn’t hear back. But as reported in its April 9 look at Trump’s claims, Kapiolani can’t legally release individually identifiable health information, which the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits.

Individually identifiable health information, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is information relating to the provision of health care to an individual, or anything that can reasonably be used to identify the individual, such as a name, address, birth date or Social Security number.

An individual’s health information can only be shared under certain circumstances, according to the site, such as reporting a gunshot wound to the police. Protected information includes information in an individual’s medical record, and health providers must comply with an individual’s right to decide whether or not health information can be shared for certain purposes.

In July 2009, World Net Daily quoted Kristy Watanabe, a spokeswoman at Hawaii Pacific Health, which includes the Kapiolani hospital, as saying: "Our comment to everyone who has been calling is that federal law does not permit us to provide any more details concerning information about Obama’s birth without authorization from Mr. Obama."

However, the medical center has promoted a January 2009 letter Obama wrote on White House stationery to congratulate the medical center on its centennial celebration. "Kapiolani was one of Hawaii’s earliest hospitals, and it has served many generations of Hawaii’s people with distinction," the letter says. "As a beneficiary of the excellence of Kapiolani Medical Center — the place of my birth — I am pleased to add my voice to your chorus of supporters."

The Foundations of Hawaii Pacific Health published the letter in the spring 2009 issue of its Inspire magazine, and the medical center posted video of Abercrombie reading Obama’s letter at the centennial dinner on its website.

For CNN’s recent investigation into "birther" claims, which aired April 25-26, CNN reporter Gary Tuchman traveled to Hawaii to conduct numerous interviews, including one with Monika Danielson, who says she was in the hospital at the same time as Obama's mother and saw him in the nursery. He also interviewed Chiyome Fukino, who was the state Health Department's director under Republican Governor Linda Lingle.

The bottom line, according to Tuchman: His research "reveals what most analysts have been saying since the 'birther' controversy erupted during the 2008 presidential campaign: Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. Period."

So far as we can tell, Kapiolani hasn’t confirmed that Obama was born there, citing federal privacy law that prevents it from doing so. But we found no record that the hospital has ever denied it, as Berman claims. Nor did the lawmaker provide evidence of such.

We have a rating for such statements. Pants on Fire! Ω

[Meghan Ashford-Grooms is a PolitiFact Texas staff writer and a student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Before this year, she worked for five years as a copy editor and wire editor on the Austin American-Statesman's news desk, where she edited stories, wrote headlines and scoured the wires for stories about government. She previously worked as a features reporter and designer at the Gazette in Prince George's County, MD, and started her career in 2001 on the news desk at The Tennessean in Nashville. Ashford-Grooms is a graduate of Columbia University.

Ciara O'Rourke joined the Austin American-Statesman in 2009. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and French from Western Washington University.]

Copyright ©' 2011 Austin American-Statesman

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tom Tomorrow Thinks The POTUS (44) Is Slip Slidin' Away

Paul Simon wrote the anthem for the early 21st century: "Slip Slidin' Away" — "You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away...." Tom Tomorrow has returned from his Tuscan sojourn to Bella Italia and he doubled up to catch up with due 'toons this week. If this is (fair & balanced) pessimism that is short of despair, so be it.

[x YouTube/Stratocastermagic Channel]
"Slip Slidin' Away" (1977)
By Paul Simon

[x This Modern World]
Two Guys Standing On An Incline
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Click on image to enlarge. Ω

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Salon and Working for Change. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2011 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WTF! "The World's Best Blogger" Isn't Moi ?!?

In mid-December 2008, this blog featured Andrew Sullivan and his apologia for blogging when he was on the staff of The Atlantic. Read it here. A few weeks thereafter in 2008, Time ranked Sullivan at #13 in the blogosphere. Now, Harvard Magazine annoints Sullivan — now blogging (and writing) for The Daily Beast and Newsweek — as "the world's best blogger." Puh-leeze! If this is (fair & balanced) outrage, so be it.

[x Harvard Magazine]
World’s Best Blogger?
By Jesse Kornbluth

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It was noon in Washington, DC, when the shooting began in Tucson. Across the country, reporters and media executives rushed to cover the story of the gunman, the Congresswoman he shot at close range, and the 14 other victims. But the news couldn’t reach one of the Internet’s most important writers. For Andrew Sullivan, M.P.A. ’86, Ph.D. ’90, the editor of a blog called, the weekend is a time for rest, and having teed up on Friday afternoon a half-dozen evergreen posts for Saturday, he had turned off his communication devices and was sleeping in.

Sullivan had been lightly ill that week, so he slept unusually late, until almost two in the afternoon. Before he was quite ready to deal with the world, he checked his mailbox—and woke up fast. Along with the news of the shooting was an urgent question from readers: Andrew, where are you?

Sullivan winced. He e-mailed his four young assistants: “We have to go cable”—that is, pump out blog posts 24/7. Then he climbed four unpainted wooden steps to what anyone else would call a large windowed closet and he calls “the blog cave.” He pulled a velvet curtain shut to seal himself off from his husband and their beagles, settled into an armchair with his laptop, and began a siege of blogging that would last six days.

Sullivan and his team had worked like this before. During the 2010 protests in Iran, they had scoured Facebook messages, Twitter bleats, Al Jazeera dispatches, and Iranian blog posts. The eclectic charm of the Dish (formerly TheDailyDish)—poems, philosophical and religious speculation, photographs from the windows of readers, the latest Sarah Palin outrage, and videos by The Pet Shop Boys—disappeared. The site became all Iran, all the time, and the Dish quickly became the Web’s go-to site for news and context. In the process, the site’s traffic spiked.

The Dish’s coverage of the Tucson shootings paralleled its Iran coverage. While other bloggers ascribed blame, Sullivan filtered new reports, asked important questions, grieved for the victims—and avoided partisan speculation. Once again, his audience grew.

But this round of blogging was different. Andrew Sullivan is a lifelong asthma sufferer. He has sleep apnea, and at night wears a mask connected to a machine that regulates his breathing. And since 1993, he has been HIV-positive. Although Sullivan isn’t the only writer with HIV to have survived for almost two decades, no other HIV-positive writer publishes anything like 300 blog posts a week, year after year; he needs to monitor his health.

Shortly after the week of Tucson, the Internet’s Iron Man faltered—exhaustion and an unusually cold winter created so much bronchial distress that his doctor ordered him to take to his bed. During his unprecedented two-week silence, governments toppled in the Middle East. While his assistants did great work, friends teased Sullivan: “Andrew, you’re missing an entire revolution.”

When Sullivan returned, he had news of his own—he was leaving the Atlantic website, his home for the last four years, to join and Newsweek magazine, both edited by Tina Brown. In the traditional media paradigm, it’s a promotion for a writer to move from the website of a highbrow monthly magazine like the Atlantic (circulation: 400,000) and the occasional article for that publication to America’s second-largest weekly news magazine (circulation: 1.5 million) that has just become the partner of a website with five million monthly readers. But when the writer in question has a blog that’s more popular than the websites of many publications, it’s clear that Newsweek/Beast got something equally important in this deal.

“The Dish has twice as many readers as the New Republic and more than National Review,” Sullivan says. And on the Atlantic site, the Dish also ruled. Some days, according to, which measures site traffic on the Internet, the Daily Dish accounted for more than half of the visitors to In cold numbers: Andrew Sullivan—one blogger, with a small budget and a minimal staff—has presented Tina Brown with a gift of about 1.3 million Internet readers.

Blogging Brahmin

American media have three castes. At the top is “The Village,” a term created by a progressive blogger who calls herself “Digby” to describe a rarefied league of highly paid bold-faced names—think David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Howard Kurtz—who move easily between print columns and television punditry. In the middle is the working press, a stressed-out group of reporters and columnists employed by increasingly desperate newspapers and magazines; to their daily tasks has been added blogging on their publications’ websites. At the bottom are bloggers.

Most of the Internet’s 150 million blogs serve up highly personal dispatches, the equivalent of those year-end letters that arrive in Christmas cards. Very few of those bloggers post news and views as a primary activity—there’s no money in it. So blogging as a professional journalistic activity really involves at most a few thousand independent writers.

These elite bloggers are serious and knowledgeable, but they are often described as the untouchables of American media—unemployed, unemployable pajama-clad slackers who live with their parents and tap out overwrought screeds on basement computers. That view is not the verdict of critics who have visited the sites of elite bloggers; it’s a media god’s throwaway line. ("NBC News" anchor Brian Williams, for example: “All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.”) Beyond a general disdain for the Internet, the reason is often personal—bloggers don’t just write about politicians, they also attack the media. And because media potentates don’t welcome criticism, they lash back.

Andrew Sullivan also moves easily from blogging and print journalism to TV, but his resemblance to the Villagers ends there. For one thing, his views are ever-changing and all over the map; a TV producer can’t count on him to speak for any one constituency. For another, although he has a résumé that qualifies him as a media elitist, he has dramatically redefined his idea of success. At 47, his concerns are no longer those of the overachieving wonder boy he used to be.

Sullivan earned a first-class degree (equivalent to a summa) in modern history and modern languages at Oxford, where, in his second year, he was president of the Oxford Union, the debating body that claims to be “the most illustrious student society in the world.” He won a Harkness Fellowship to the Kennedy School in 1984; back in London, he interned at the think tank of one of his idols, Margaret Thatcher. He returned to Harvard in 1989 to write his doctoral thesis, “Intimations Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott,” which won the government department’s Toppan Prize, for the best dissertation “upon a subject of Political Science.” In 1991, when he was just 27, he was named editor of the New Republic; under his leadership, the magazine grew impressively in both circulation and advertising. He left the New Republic five years later, “at the tail end of a series of differences,” says New Republic owner Martin Peretz, Ph.D. ’66. Sullivan moved on to write books and become a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for the Sunday Times (of London).

To see such precocity is to be mystified—why would a writer with such impeccable credentials cast his lot more with bloggers than with people of his own kind?

“He’s Catholic and gay and an exile,” says the writer and feminist historian Naomi Wolf. “That’s all very helpful—his background forces him not to be confined in any single identity.”

Sullivan is bald, bearded, and bespectacled; in photographs he has an intellectual’s intensity. At the same time, he’s quite adept in social settings, and has immense personal charm. Hendrik Hertzberg ’65, IOP ’85, who knew him in Cambridge and preceded him as editor of the New Republic before joining the New Yorker, recalls Sullivan as “a strikingly beautiful young man…who had to fend off the women with a cricket bat.” David Frum, J.D. ’87, a Harvard colleague who went on to become a speechwriter for George W. Bush, M.B.A. ’75, describes Sullivan as a social powerhouse: “Over drinks, Andrew dazzled a table of teaching assistants with his knowledge of pop bands. We knew nothing, but it wouldn’t have made a difference—we were spellbound.”

The motivation behind Sullivan’s accelerated trajectory and outsized personality is grittier. He may have seemed sophisticated in Cambridge, but he was raised in Sussex by parents who hadn’t gone to college; their marriage was less than happy, and his mother bipolar. “I had to be independent quite early,” he explains, “and I had to get out. The escape was my brain.”

At 11, he commuted three hours a day to attend a school for gifted boys. His protection was his Roman Catholic faith. He’d been an altar boy; now he drew crosses in the margins of his books “to ward off evil” and, in art class, refused to draw anything unrelated to the Bible. His ambition could not have been more conventional—to become a Tory member of Parliament.

Sullivan was 23 when he acknowledged his homosexuality and jettisoned his virginity. Years later, when his byline started to matter, he went public. “Every day, you have to say who you are, or live in fear,” he explains. “I thought, ‘If I do this, I’ll never get to be a Tory MP.’ And I said, ‘Screw it.’ I knew I wanted even more to be happy, have love and sex.”

He had, by his account, a great deal of sex. In 1996, when he revealed he had contracted HIV, a friend asked whom he had unprotected sex with. In Love Undetectable, his 1998 book about “friendship, sex, and survival,” Sullivan writes that he admitted it could have been anyone. His friend was incredulous: “Anyone? How many people did you sleep with, for God’s sake?”

In the book, Sullivan held nothing back. “Too many. God knows. Too many for meaning and dignity to be given to every one; too many for love to be present at each; too many for sex to be very often more than a temporary release from debilitating fear and loneliness.”

That is classic Sullivan: the unsparing candor, the over-sharing, the spiritual afterthought. Three years later, when he started to blog, that kind of writing would become his signature—and, for all its outsider status, the first really comfortable identity he’d known.

Neocon Renegade

When Sullivan launched a website in 2000, he thought of it as nothing more than an archive of his magazine articles. He knew nothing about technology—every time he wanted to add another article, he had to ask a friend for help. Sullivan is a prolific writer; for his friend, this routine quickly grew old. “Do it yourself,” he advised.

Self-publishing was liberating. Under a “Daily Dish” headline, Sullivan started adding short posts. Readers sent suggestions. Soon he was updating his site several times a day; if a blogger is defined as a single writer who regularly posts news and commentary, Sullivan was among the first. And, from the beginning, he was popular; within a year, his request for contributions brought in $27,000.

The creation of a community was thrilling. So was the absence of an editor. But that freedom can be a trap for a writer who prides himself on writing from the heart as well as the intellect. Sullivan made what he has come to consider his first significant, sustained blunder after the attacks of September 11, when he compared antiwar dissenters and liberals to traitors: “the enemy within the West itself—a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column that will surely ramp up its hatred in the days and months ahead.”

That was the start of a new Andrew Sullivan: a Brit applauding every escalation of White House rhetoric and cheerleading the invasion of Iraq. “I was caught up in emotion,” he says, beginning a monologue that has not become less painful with the passage of years. “We had every reason to be outraged, and I had a desire to match the magnitude of the event with words of the same magnitude. Sending a few Special Forces units to take out a criminal didn’t seem serious enough.”

Toppling a dictator in Iraq did. Sullivan was committed to that idea—even more committed, he says, than his friend Donald Rumsfeld.

“The son of one of Rumsfeld’s closest friends was a friend of mine,” Sullivan says. “We met in a gay bar. That’s how I came to have dinner with Rummy and stay at his house in Taos. He liked to rag me about the blog: ‘You’ve done this for years and made no money. When will you make money?’ And we fought about gays in the military. But when it came to war in Iraq, I was more bellicose than he was.”

Here Sullivan was right in sync with other neo-conservatives. And he stayed in sync until he saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib: “That was the heartbreaker—torture destroyed all moral basis for the war.”

Sullivan’s Catholicism didn’t allow for situational morality. Neither did his boyhood hero, George Orwell. He had made a mistake—“the darkest political misjudgment of my life.” Now he had to pay for it, and because he was a blogger, he had to pay in public.

“When you write as I do, there’s nowhere to hide,” he says. “I had gone so far that I faced a crisis as a writer. So, first, I had to stand up, acknowledge my error, and make a good-faith apology. Then I needed to analyze what went wrong. And that’s when my doubts about neo-conservatism began.”

The institutions that Sullivan believed in disappointed him so greatly during the Bush administration that in 2004, for the first time, he endorsed a Democrat for president. “I’ve met so many gay soldiers I wasn’t aware there were any straight people in the military,” he says, deadpan, but official recognition of gays in the armed forces made no headway in those years. In the ’90s, long before most gay men thought gay marriage was a possibility, Sullivan had been an activist in that cause; he was furious when the president advocated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a heterosexual partnership only. And as a fiscal conservative, he disagreed with the Bush administration’s enthusiasm for off-the-books funding of expensive wars and medical programs.

But the breaking point was, first and always, torture. In 2006, John McCain—who had once sponsored legislation to ban American military personnel from using torture—abandoned his opposition and supported the Military Commissions Act, which gave the president the right to torture. Sullivan was shattered. “That night, I got on my bike and rode to the Jefferson Memorial,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t believe America had done this.”

When Andrew Sullivan changes his mind, he often goes from one extreme to another. Not long ago, he was the subject of one of those interviews that, for most, is an opportunity to display some wit and warmth. Sullivan did—to a point. Then the interviewer asked: “You’re president of the United States for enough time to make only one executive decision. What is it?” Without hesitation, Sullivan replied: “Announce a full Justice Department investigation into the war crimes ordered by and admitted by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.”

Relentless Heterodoxy

Andrew Sullivan did not support John McCain in 2008. The torture flip-flop would have been enough of a reason. Then McCain added Sarah Palin to the ticket. The combination of her scant government experience and “raw political talent” terrified Sullivan—and with only two months between her nomination and the election, he started hammering.

“I was told: ‘Don’t touch this, it will hurt your reputation,’” he says. During a campaign when most pundits were, at worst, quizzical about Palin, Sullivan filled his blog with questions she was never going to answer. Did he pay a price? “I have become more of an outlaw in this town because I couldn’t hide my amazement from my peers—I’ve definitely become more alienated from mainstream media.”

Since the election, Sullivan has continued to press for clarification about a rumor the mainstream media won’t touch: that Trig is not Palin’s son. Sullivan hasn’t flung any accusations at Palin; he’s just pounded her ever-changing stories about Trig’s birth, and her unwillingness to provide a birth certificate for him. In the heated conversation that surrounds all things Palin, nuance has been lost—and Sullivan has been cast as a crank who takes pleasure in badgering a woman who may have no political future. His response: “Early on, I figured out that anything I write about her can only help her, but I don’t care about that. The job of a journalist is to find the truth.”

This relentlessness has led to continuing analyses of other issues that most media avoid. Once a strong supporter of Israel, for example, Sullivan came to question its settlements in Gaza. His language is not always temperate: “It staggers me to read defenses of what the Israelis have done. They attacked a civilian flotilla in international waters breaking no law. When they met fierce if asymmetric resistance, they opened fire. And we are now being asked to regard the Israelis as the victims.”

Unsurprisingly, he has provoked others to respond in kind.

A few years ago, Sullivan had a dustup about his Jewish “problem” with Leon Wieseltier, JF ’82, a former colleague at the New Republic and a friend. Wieseltier wrote long, and he wrote harsh, concluding, “And this is not all that is disgusting about Sullivan’s approach.” Asked to comment for this article, Wieseltier wrote back: “Sorry, I’m sick of the subject.”

Martin Peretz takes a longer view: “I’m curiously soft on Andrew. I don’t really understand his attitude toward Israel and Zionism. I hope these turbulent days in the Arab world will help him grasp that the Jews of Israel live in a very dangerous environment and that one can’t contemplate peace treaties here the way they’re contemplated in other regions.”

Sullivan’s impassioned prose is matched only by his willingness to change his mind. When Sullivan supported Barack Obama in 2008, it was the final break with his former allies. Of a dozen prominent neo-conservative writers contacted for this profile, only one responded—to decline. His onetime allies have, however, been quite willing to deride him in their blogs, like Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review: “Once a voice of restraint and reason, Sullivan now specializes in shrill panic: mercurial ranting full of operatic arguments, steeped in bad faith, aimed at people he once praised.”

Sullivan’s reasoning exasperates his former friends because it’s as much psychological as it is political. “When I read Dreams from My Father, I read it as a gay book,” he says. “That is, Obama discovered he was black at the same age that others of us learned we were gay. The world had no place for him. He had to make a place for himself.”

Sullivan continues to praise Obama, though as a fiscal conservative, he has some grievances with the president—and with everybody else in Washington: “We all know what the Congress should be doing about the debt right now, don’t we? It should be debating which mix of long-term entitlement and defense cuts and the least economically damaging tax increases would lower the long-term debt, restore global confidence in the long-term solvency of the U.S., and thereby ignite more business confidence and job growth.... What do we have instead? A president too calculating to take a stand and an opposition so focused on drastic cuts to discretionary spending and overreaching on collective bargaining that it is already making independents and moderate Republicans queasy.”

Sullivan doesn’t just criticize. He proposes solutions. He dreams of a Republican candidate who is “a real fiscal conservative, socially inclusive, open to serious tax reform and politically adult conversation to regain the center ground.” Currently he is extremely enamored of Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, who is not, as of this writing, a presidential candidate.

“Intellectual Diva”

David Bradley, owner and publisher of the Atlantic, courted Andrew Sullivan for six years. When Sullivan signed on, had 200,000 unique visitors a month—“less than accidental visits to the New York Times,” Bradley says. On the Dish’s first morning, the publisher had his laptop open: “Our traffic grew sixfold in a moment. It was like Hoover Dam had broken—we were awash with traffic.”

Bradley and Sullivan talked frequently and intimately, and in one of those conversations, Sullivan shared a deep truth about himself. “All my life,” he said, “I’ve been disappointed by powerful men.” Bradley took that to heart. “I made a private vow that, whatever happens, I’m not going to be his next disappointment.”

He wasn’t. Sullivan and Bradley had their differences about money—the Dish may have accounted for as much as $2 million in advertising revenue each year, and Sullivan has long wanted a cut—but Bradley says he was quite willing to share equity. The catch: Sullivan would have to broaden the site, so its success didn’t depend only on him. But in the end, the issue really was Sullivan’s innate restlessness.

These days, that restlessness is limited to Sullivan’s professional life. A few years ago, he was in “one of the sleaziest clubs in Washington at 3 a.m.” when he spotted Aaron Tone. “It was the thunderbolt—a total cliché,” he says. “I didn’t want to believe it.”

In 2007, the short blogger and the tall actor got married in Provincetown, where they spend two weeks each summer, to get off the grid. The rest of the year, they live with two beagles in the large studio apartment that Sullivan bought in 2000 with his profits from day trading. It’s a quiet life; their biggest social event is usually their weekly hosting of the new "South Park" episode.

In 2005, an exhausted Sullivan thought he needed to quit the Dish. When he thought that again in 2010, the hiring of assistants changed his mind. Now there seems to be nothing that makes him dream of slowing down.

“I have a profound professional admiration for the Dish as an editorial enterprise,” Hendrik Hertzberg has blogged. “It’s a kind of internet gyroscope. I find that it orients me in cyberspace. It fends off motion sickness. It gives pleasure. I almost always feel a little better after paying it a visit, even when the news of the day is unusually depressing. There ought to be a name for what the Dish is—‘blog’ doesn’t capture it, somehow. There are many excellent blogs out there in blogland... but Andrew’s ‘The Daily Dish’ is the best.”

Andrew Sullivan is an intellectual diva, prone to epic battles. He’s a showman; call what he does a show. But he performs in the open, without rehearsals, and he reveals everything to his readers, never sparing himself. And then, because he has an acute sense of pacing, he varies his posts with features that have nothing to do with politics, torture, or Palin.

So be warned: Sullivan sometimes posts dozens of times a day. If you’ve never read him, it might be better not to start. A curiosity can lead to a habit, and a habit to an addiction. And then, without quite knowing how it happened, you may find yourself beginning a sentence with, “As Andrew said....” Ω

[Jesse Kornbluth is a New York-based journalist and editor of a cultural concierge service (books, music, movies), As a journalist, he has been a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and New York, and a contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times. His books include Pre-Pop Warhol (1988); Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken (1992); and Airborne: The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan (1995). Kornbluth graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude in English Literature.]

Copyright © 2011 Harvard Magazine Inc.

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves