HOME NEWS

Heads up that I’m on Hardball tonight with Chris Matthews. Political buzz, Jeffords, Jenna, Hillary, etc. And I’d also just like to say thanks to all of you who have written me emails of support during a very difficult time for me personally. Your support means more to me than I can say.

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SO WHERE WERE WE?

Oh yes. California Governor Gray Davis did his best to look menacing alongside the president yesterday. Today, he takes over the op-ed page of the New York Times (Jim Carville and Paul Begala had the day off) to whine yet again about how his state’s utility mess is someone else’s fault. Check out this interesting cover story in the current San Francisco Weekly, a liberal alternative weekly that is no sap to Republicans. What the story details is how California’s state bureaucracy negotiated contracts with the electricity companies that all but encouraged price gouging, that provided minimal protection against all sorts of obvious potential abuses of deregulation, and generally brought this whole steaming mess on itself. I must say the economics of electricity deregulation do not exactly set my brain-waves afire, but this was a fascinating piece. And damning for Governor Davis.

NO-ONE HAS PROVEN INTENT: Good piece in the Washington Post today about the incompetence of Florida’s attempt to clean up its voter rolls and remove convicted felons. It seems to me that this operation was clearly a scandal, disenfranchising many. But the Post ruins a good point by repeating the following mantra: “No one has proven intent to disenfranchise any group of voters, but the snafus have fueled a widespread perception among blacks that an effort was made to dilute their voting powerx85” So what? The issue is not what people perceive, it is what is true. Crediting some people’s perceptions, even when they may be completely wrong, is to engage in subjective fantasy. If the screw-ups were deliberate, then indeed righteous indignation is appropriate. If the screw-ups were accidental, then those responsible for the mess should be held accountable and changes made to make sure it doesn’t happen again – but at the same time, those engaging in conspiracy theories and paranoia should be debunked. The Post unwittingly lends credibility to this paranoia, while providing no reason to believe it’s justified. That isn’t reporting. It’s pandering.

SEXUAL McCARTHYISM

A real and present danger. See the article posted opposite. My apologies for being forced to write it.

THE EVIL OF SAVING LIVES

A plucky Ontario doctor, Tom McGowan, has had the effrontery to tackle Canada’s lengthening waits for cancer radiation treatment by running his own for-profit radiation clinic. Under Canada’s socialized healthcare system, it’s getting harder and harder to get prompt radiation therapy, because like all good socialist systems, rationing is the main means to keep a lid on spending. Canadians who don’t want to die have had to go to the U.S. to get treatment before their cancer does irreparable damage. But thanks to Dr. McGowan, waiting lists in Ontario have now been cut from 16 to around 4 weeks, since excess demand has been mopped up by the private sector. McGowan’s reward? A notice pinned to his door with the words “Radiation Mercenary” written on it. A photo of the cancer doc was also pinned to the hospital bulletin board, with a devil’s horns and tail added, according to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal (sorry, it’s only for paid subscribers). Of course, what Dr McGowan is doing is not illegal in a free country. It’s just a recipe for social ostracism and hate mail.

HATE CRIME LUNACY I: Why would what appears to be a stupid prank by some kids who used some left-over white paint from a church renovation become the catalyst for a hate crimes law in Texas? A recent story from the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer is a classic. One night, a predominantly black church had some graffiti daubed on it, including a swastika. The paint used is a paint that matches some on a renovation project thrown into a dumpster near the church. The only witness of what might have happened has identified the culprit as a young black kid, and, according to the Morning News, “authorities have no evidence to suggest the vandalism was a hate crime.” But the “hate-crime” label stuck, legislators in Austin used the case as a reason for passing a law criminalizing bigotry, and were it not for some simple reporting, this particular prank would have been recorded for posterity as yet another example of indelible racism in America today.

HATE CRIME LUNACY II: A gruesome alleged murder by some young thug who allegedly targeted an older man because “he liked boys” just happened in Baraboo, Wisconsin. An evil crime which, if proved, should be punished. But a hate crime? Wisconsin authorities are apparently considering this measure under state law because, according to the local district attorney, “One of the areas for the hate crime is sexual orientation, and certainly an allegation that someone is a child molester goes to their sexual orientation. We believe that may support a hate crime enhancer.” Child abuse a sexual orientation? Excuse me?

DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: “You lock the door and she [Hillary] comes through the window, you lock the window and she comes up the floor boards. This is like “Alien” – she lives in Tom Daschle’s stomach. Just as the music gets soft and the scene winds down you hear the wild “Eeek! Eeek!” and she bursts out of Tom and darts through the room.” – Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday. But who, one wonders, controls the mothership?

LIFE IN VENICE

Idyllic Memorial Day in Venice Beach, California. Since San Diego was atypically gloomy, we decamped for the weekend at the Jolly Roger Motel in Venice and biked and roller-bladed up and down the coast trails to Santa Monica and back. Heaven – except for the sunburn. I love motels. When I first arrived here in America seventeen years ago, a buddy and I rented a car and drove through 30 or so states, from Miami to L.A. to Seattle to Boston. We often stayed in cheap motels. My favorite was one right out of a Coen brothers movie in Ozona, Texas – crazy owner, weird noises through the night, howling hounds in the back, and so on. Maybe it’s being an immigrant but I live for this kind of Americana. Perhaps for the same reasons, I also love Memorial Day. England celebrates its war-dead in far gloomier fashion – in November, with commemorative poppies, services, and so on. America does all that – but also takes the day off and celebrates the first day of summer. And what could be more American? The point of the sacrifice we commemorate, after all, was to preserve this country’s freedom, an inextricable part of which, for most Americans, is the ability to goof off, drag out the barbecue, or head to the beach. It’s memories of Memorial Days like these that probably kept many soldiers posted abroad vaguely sane over the years. Reminiscences like these are also probably what any American soldier always longs to get back to. Which is why the best way to commemorate them is to renew those memories each year; mint them anew – even in the Jolly Roger Motor Hotel.

BEGALA AWARD NOMINEE: “Mr. Bush is proposing a diminution of the government’s ability to protect its citizens that is breathtaking in its scope. His environmental agenda would put more arsenic in the water and more pollutants in the air.” Yes, it’s Paul Begala and Jim Carville in their Sunday New York Times op-ed. Of course, what they mean by the government’s ability to “protect” its citizens means protecting Americans from the right to control and spend their own money without government funneling up record amounts of it. Another interesting nugget in the piece is the frank admission that fully funding a massive, open-ended prescription drug benefit for seniors will indeed destroy fiscal health unless taxes are kept high, and in the short term, raised even higher. But heck, you gotta win Florida somehow.

AFTERLIFE: The strange post-career of an ex-president, Bill Clinton. Check out the latest piece from the Sunday Times (of London) posted opposite. Back in D.C. later today. Post-Memorial Day service will continue as soon as I touch ground.

FROM THE RIGHT?

The Democratic Party line, faithfully repeated as “news” by Rick Berke in the New York Times, is that Jim Jeffords’ defection is a result of Bush foolishly governing “from the right.” Huh? The only hard evidence of conservatism is the budget deal and tax cut, which Jeffords supported. The other major legislative achievements poised for passage are the Education Bill – a deeply bipartisan measure crafted by Ted Kennedy and boosting federal education spending by 30 percent – and the campaign Finance Reform Bill, crafted by John McCain. Ashcroft’s tenure at Justice has been moderate, bordering on liberal. Environmental policy is barely distinguishable from Clinton’s, except for terrible p.r., and a belated recognition that we need more energy sources. On abortion, which Berke dutifully cites, the administration has been completely AWOL. There hasn’t even been an attempt at a partial birth abortion ban, perhaps the minimum measure sought by the religious right. The administration is strikingly diverse on racial and gender matters and has reached out to gay Americans. Berke hauls out all the usual blowhards – from Bill Kristol to Bob Strauss (remember him?) to make what is a completely unsubstantiated case. Is this a sign of what Howell Raines has in store for the whole paper? Propaganda disguised as news? At the very least, this is over-interpreting Jeffords. If he hadn’t been able to tip the balance of the Senate, this would be a non-story, a quirky little regional piece on a fickle leftie trapped in a Republican Party were he clearly hasn’t belonged for twenty years. Jeffords was fine with the Gingrich revolution but balks at Bush? Give me a break. All this does, as I said yesterday, is ratchet down the chance that Bush will drastically remake the judiciary; make a bipartisan approach even more important for Bush; and put some real pressure on Daschle to deliver. It’s the status-quo ante with a twist. Whatever else it is, it isn’t an earthquake.

RIGHT-WING DORKS UNITE!: Kinsley has a typically smart piece about William Hague and his ilk. Only in Britain do the dorks and weirdoes actually run for office. Here, they run think-tanks, editorial pages, and, er, weblogs.

GO WEST: Dragging my near-expiring lungs into an Airbus 320 for a long weekend in San Diego with the new squeeze. Postings might be sporadic for the weekend if things go well. If they don’t, look for a forthcoming tirade against the idiocy of romantic love. No-one can say I’m not tryingx85

WAITING FOR JEFFORDS

The rumors tonight in Washington are that Jeffords may not do the dirty after all. Who knows? More to the point, who cares? Jeffords is a de facto Democrat on most of the important issues. He voted for HillaryCare, for goodness’ sake. His defection will help scupper some of Bush’s more extreme judicial appointments (good), won’t jeopardize the most important part of his agenda, the tax cut, (good), and will force W into more accommodations with moderate Democrats rather than with prickly liberal Republicans (even better). If Bush and Rove don’t panic, this can surely work to their advantage. The Democrats’ strongest weapon in 2002 would have been recapturing one of the two Houses. Now they’ll have to share the burden of leadership and, to some extent, responsibility for what transpires. They have already dictated the terms of Bush’s education bill, so I don’t see any drastic damage they can do in the months ahead. And the Republicans can go into the 2002 cycle with some fire in their belly, instead of in a defensive crouch. My only worry is that Jeffords represents a kind of political creature that largely destroyed the Tory party in Britain in the 1990s. The Tory Wets, as Thatcher dubbed them, were forever bleating on about their “conscience,” moderation, etc etc, while essentially supporting an ever larger welfare state and ever higher taxes. In the long run, best to get rid of them – because they are a treacherous breed who largely want to get rid of principled conservatives. And better to get rid of them before they try and get rid of you. Are you listening, Senator Chafee?

BURYING FETUSES: An interesting nugget from Britain, where National Health Service nurses are actually campaigning for the right to bury abortions and miscarriages. “Parents should be given the same choice on the disposal of fetal remains as for a stillborn child. They should be clearly and sensitively informed of the options available to them, both verbally and in writing, by trained health professionals,” the nurses’ report advised. They refused to be drawn on whether they were implying that the fetuses should have the status of a human life. They were merely arguing, they said, that these measures were necessary to be sensitive to grieving or traumatized parents. Interestingly, it is against the law in Britain to dispose of fetuses without burial if they are aborted or miscarried in the third trimester. I have no idea what the laws are here about it, and what the Medicaid and Medicare systems mandate, but I’d be interested to hear if any of you know about it. I wonder if NARAL would object in principle to treating dead fetuses with dignity, even if they’re quite happy to extinguish live ones.