[Update: Well, it looks like Friday the 13th bit me on the hind end. I wrote the entire beginning to today's column without closely checking my facts. Therefore, it is totally and utterly wrong. Since this is the first time I've made an error of this monumental proportion, I will leave the text in this article as a warning to all bloggers to always check your facts -- especially names! Robert Bauer is the incoming White House Counsel, not the outgoing one, which completely destroys my premise. No wonder the media wasn't making such a big deal of it.... Anyway, mea maxima culpa everyone, and my thanks to the Huffington Post commenter who pointed this out so I could correct it so quickly.]
There was an absolute prime, Grade-A example of media cluelessness this week which is still unfolding, much to my bemusement, so I thought I'd start by pointing it out. Nothing to perk everyone up like a little well-deserved media-bashing, eh?
I speak of the resignation of White House Counsel Robert Bauer. When his resignation was announced, there was a flurry of media speculation as to why he was stepping down. Showing their always-astounding ability to add together two and two... and come up with zero; the media latched onto pretty much every reason they could think up for Bauer's leaving, except for the most obvious and plausible one.
"He's getting the boot because he mishandled the closing of Gitmo!" was the first rumor out of the box. Nobody can quite come up with exactly what Bob Bauer did or didn't do on Gitmo to deserve this rumor, but it didn't matter because it was so much fun to run with the wild rumor instead. Belatedly, a second and less-ominous media storyline developed -- Bauer had always said he was only accepting the office on a "temporary" basis, and had served out most of the first year, fulfilling his promise.
But even that was probably wrong, which few seem to have picked up on (whether from the lefty press or the righty press).
Let's take a detour here, and examine someone else leaving the White House this week -- Anita Dunn. Dunn is leaving her job as White House Communications Director, after (according to them) "starting a war" with Fox News. What happened was that Dunn committed what is known as a "D.C. gaffe," which is defined as "accidentally telling the bald truth in a political discussion." She essentially said that Fox News is an arm of the Republican Party, and not a "fair and balanced" news organization.
Now, you can argue whether this gaffe was approved at the highest levels or not, or whether Dunn was fired or decided to quit on her own (always a fun game in Washington), but she spoke to the press one last time today, ripping not only Fox News but pretty much every "journalist" in the room by saying the following:
"A fun fact from this week is that an opinion show on a certain news network was using edited footage to make it appear that a rally last week, and political opposition to the president, was much larger than it appeared. Some of you may have heard about it. The people who went in and did fact checking on that, and actually exposed the spliced edit was... Jon Stewart of the 'Daily Show' on Comedy Central. Well, that is where you are getting fact-checking and investigative journalism these days, folks. It is a different media environment."
Allow me to translate this statement into plain English, for those of you not fluent in the arcane dialect spoken in the White House Briefing Room:
"A comedian is doing better journalism right now than everyone in this room. Up yours, folks, I'm outta here."
Bet that clip doesn't make it onto the evening news broadcasts. Ahem.
In any case, Fox won't have Dunn to kick around any more (or vice versa, I guess), as she is leaving the White House.
You may be wondering why I set off on this Dunn tangent, when we were discussing Bob Bauer leaving his job at the White House. But it's not just because I'm a media misfit and the quote was so worthy of repetition. Remember the "two plus two" metaphor I used earlier? Here's where we add them up and get the proper answer.
Robert Bauer is married to Anita Dunn.
Anyone who shaves his philosophy using Occam's razor would have to immediately conclude that Dunn's leaving might just possibly have something to do with Bauer's leaving. But, at least in the media reports I have seen (right, left, and "mainstream"), virtually none of them even mention this fact.
Well, I guess there's always hope. Maybe Jon Stewart will bring it up. Or some other misfit.
Democratic Representative Tom Perriello from Virginia is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House of Representatives, having won his seat by a margin of only 727 votes over a Republican incumbent last year. He voted for the House version of healthcare reform last weekend, and has been attacked for his vote by Republicans ever since (the National Republican Congressional Committee, who decides which House seat races to put money into, immediately sent off a broadside under the heading of: "BREAKING: The end of Tom Perriello's political career").
His spokeswoman responded with the following:
...Perriello met with and respected those who oppose the health care bill but ultimately made the decision he deemed best for his district. Perriello's 5th District stretches from Charlottesville to Danville.
"A lot of the political pundits and all the conventional wisdom is saying that this is going to cost him the election next year," she said. "He didn't come to Congress to get re-elected."
For this display of sheer backbone and for understanding what people in the House are supposed to do once they get there, Perriello is hereby awarded an Honorable Mention this week. If the quote had come from him, and not a spokeswoman, he probably would have won the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week itself.
But this week, that honor goes to the indomitable Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, late last Saturday, got what can only be described as a "truly historic" vote this week in the House when she passed a healthcare reform bill. This bill isn't perfect (no bill is), it has an abortion poison-pill amendment which really needs to be removed in conference committee, but it is a lot better than the media would have had us believe earlier (see: the entire summer's news). It has a national public option, it raises money with a "millionaires' tax" and it does not tax union health benefits.
This is further along this road than we've been in almost half a century. Whether or not Harry Reid ever gets his act together over in the Senate, and whether or not a final bill actually appears on President Obama's desk to sign into law, the achievement of Pelosi getting healthcare reform legislation should stand on its own as an admirable political achievement.
There really was no question in our minds, Nancy Pelosi is the obvious choice this week for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Well done, Madam Speaker!
[Congratulate Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her Speaker contact page to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
All in all, it's been a fairly quiet week for Democrats on the disappointing side of things. We considered not even giving out a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week, until we realized that Pelosi's achievement was not addressed last week (due to the vote coming on Saturday night).
And then we remembered.
The biggest disappointment of the week was, of course, the anti-abortion amendment which was shoved into the healthcare reform bill at the last minute. But there were so many Democrats who voted for it (64 in all) that we simply can't afford to send a statuette to everyone. They'll have to settle for a DisHonorable Mention instead. Here is the complete list of how everyone voted, should you wish to check to see where your Representative is on it (Democrats are in non-italic type, Republicans in italics). And, of course, you should feel free to call them up and let them know what you think of their vote.
But the real MDDOTW award goes to none other than Joe Lieberman. We really shouldn't be handing Lieberman these awards any more, we realize, since he's officially in the "Joe Liebermans for Joe Lieberman Party" (or something), and is not formally a Democrat -- which you would think would make him ineligible for the award.
But we just can't stop ourselves, we fully admit. Lieberman so richly deserves all the dishonor everyone can heap on him, so we are going to bend to popular pressure and declare he's still eligible for the notoriety of the MDDOTW award.
Lieberman is now officially the punchline in the old Washington joke: "What's the most dangerous place in Washington? -- Between Joe Lieberman and a television camera." Without even allowing Nancy Pelosi a full day to enjoy the triumph of passing a healthcare reform bill, Joe went on "Fox News Sunday" mere hours after the vote, to explain once again that the Senate will pass a public option over his cold, dead body.
Basically, Lieberman snookered Harry Reid. Reid was trying to get all 60 votes he needed to move his version of the bill to the Senate floor. He got a promise from everyone to do so. But, you see, there are two chances for a filibuster attempt -- one to move the bill to the floor, and one to move the bill to a vote after the floor debate. Lieberman, splitting hairs he knew Reid was likely not paying attention to, promised to vote against the first, but kept mum on what he'd do in the second vote.
Which he's now explaining to anyone who will listen. Anyone with a teevee camera, that is.
So, Joe (can I call you Joe?) proves once again that he is the biggest, darkest cloud out there who is willing to rain all over any sort of Democratic parade in the same news cycle.
For such a disappointing performance, Joe Lieberman is hereby awarded his sixth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Nice going, Joe. Maybe next time, you could at least wait a day or so? No? Oh, well, it was worth a try.
[Contact Senator Joe Lieberman on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 101 (11/13/09)
Having just finished reading Jeremy Scahill's most excellent award-winning and eye-opening book "Blackwater: The Rise Of The World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," I found myself fully prepared this week for the breaking story that contractors in Afghanistan are paying what can only be described as "protection money" to the Taliban, so they can satisfy their contracts to move supplies around Afghanistan for American and NATO troops. But this time our protection money in Afghanistan -- unlike the scheme in Iraq where we paid off Sunnis not to shoot at our troops any more (see: "the Sunni Awakening") -- wasn't nearly as good a deal, since our dollars didn't go as far. Because we are paying the Taliban not to actually stop shooting at us, just to stop attacking certain of our supply lines.
Which means, stripped of irrelevancies, that our American tax dollars -- yours and mine -- are paying for the American troops to be in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, while at the same time they are also paying the Taliban so that they can continue to shoot at American troops.
Leaving us with only one possible option -- turning the rest of today's column over to passages from "Catch-22." Because we've entered into Yossarian's surreal world, folks.
So rather than tempting fate (it is Friday the 13th after all) by offering up possibly-unlucky advice to Democrats this week, instead we travel back in time to a situation that was supposed to not only be fictional, but an absolute lampoon when it was written -- but which doesn't sound so outlandish any more. Which is why, this week, we present:
The story of Milo Minderbinder and M & M Enterprises.
We are introduced to Milo early on in the book. Any relation Milo bears to Erik Prince and his ilk in the shadowy world of military contracts we find ourselves in today is entirely coincidental, of course.
"What is that?" Major ------ de Coverley demanded at last.
"An egg," Milo answered.
"What kind of an egg?" Major ------ de Coverley demanded.
"A hard-boiled egg," Milo answered.
"What kind of a hard-boiled egg?" Major ------ de Coverley demanded.
"A fresh hard-boiled egg," Milo answered.
"Where did the fresh egg come from?" Major ------ de Coverley demanded.
"From a chicken," Milo answered.
"Where is the chicken?" Major ------ de Coverley demanded.
"The chicken is in Malta," Milo answered.
"How many chickens are there in Malta?"
"Enough chickens to lay fresh eggs for every officer in the squadron at five cents apiece from the mess fund," Milo answered.
"I have a weakness for fresh eggs," Major ------ de Coverley confessed.
"If someone put a plane at my disposal, I could fly down there once a week in a squadron plane and bring back all the fresh eggs we need," Milo answered. "After all, Malta's not so far away."
"Malta's not so far away, " Major ------ de Coverley observed. "You could probably fly down there once a week in a squadron plane and bring back all the fresh eggs we need."
"Yes," Milo agreed. "I suppose I could do that, if someone wanted me to and put a plane at my disposal."
"I like my fresh eggs fried," Major ------ de Coverley remembered. "In fresh butter."
"I can find all the fresh butter we need in Sicily for twenty-five cents a pound," Milo answered. "Twenty-five cents a pound for fresh butter is a good buy. There's enough money in the mess fund for butter too, and we could probably sell some to the other squadrons at a profit and get back most of what we pay for our own."
"What's your name, son?" asked Major ------ de Coverley.
"My name is Milo Minderbinder, sir. I am twenty-seven years old."
Milo's scheme works so well, of course, that all the other officers soon turn over an airplane each to Milo to take over all their mess halls as well. Milo soon has his own private air fleet (given to him for free from the government, something even Blackwater hasn't managed yet, I should add) flying all over the Mediterranean, buying and selling everything in sight in an orgy of war profiteering.
Milo decides at some point, while he isn't being named mayor of the various towns whose economies he now controls, to rebrand himself as a "syndicate," in which "everyone has a share." He names this syndicate M & M Enterprises, Fine Fruits And Produce.
The "M & M" in "M & M Enterprises" stood for Milo & Minderbinder, and the & was inserted, Milo revealed candidly, to nullify any impression that the syndicate was a one-man operation.
But Milo is headed for economic disaster when he impetuously corners the market on Egyptian cotton. M & M Enterprises skids dangerously close to destruction. Until Milo has a bright idea, which is the main reason I'm typing all this stuff out of a book we all had to read in high school (note: if you're one of the few that has never read this book, you should really do so immediately; but it must be pointed out for comprehension's sake that this takes place during World War II, where the Germans were the enemy). Milo got this bright idea after he had already fulfilled a contract to bomb a bridge for the Americans, while simultaneously contracting to defend the bridge for the Germans -- for which he realized a tremendous profit "for doing nothing more than signing his name twice."
M & M Enterprises verged on collapse. Milo cursed himself hourly for his monumental greed and stupidity in purchasing the entire Egyptian cotton crop, but a contract was a contract and had to be honored, and one night, after a sumptuous evening meal, all Milo's fighters and bombers took off, joined in formation directly overhead and began dropping bombs on the group. He had landed another contract with the Germans, this time to bomb his own outfit. Milo's planes separated in a well-co-ordinated attack and bombed the fuel stocks and the ordnance dump, the repair hangars and the B-25 bombers resting on their lollipop-shaped hardstands at the field. His crews spared the landing strip and the mess halls so that they could land safely when their work was done and enjoy a hot snack before retiring. They bombed with their landing lights on, since no one was shooting back. They bombed all four squadrons, the officers' club and the Group Headquarters building. Men bolted from their tents in sheer terror and did not know in which direction to turn. Wounded soon lay screaming everywhere. A cluster of fragmentation bombs exploded in the yard of the officers' club and punched jagged holes in the side of the wooden building and in the bellies and backs of a row of lieutenants and captains standing at the bar. They doubled over in agony and dropped.
Colonel Cathcart manages to free himself from the officers' club, and races to the control tower, all the while horrified at the sight of Milo's planes continuing their attack on his base. We pick up the story as he enters the control tower.
He squeezed the microphone in a bestial grip and began shouting hysterically at the top of his voice,
"Milo, you son of a bitch! Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing? Come down! Come down!"
"Stop hollering so much, will you?" answered Milo, who was standing right there beside him in the control tower with a microphone of his own. "I'm right here." Milo looked at him with reproof and turned back to his work. "Very good, men, very good," he chanted into his microphone. "But I see one supply shed still standing. That will never do, Purvis -- I've spoken to you about that kind of shoddy work before. Now, you go right back there this minute and try it again. And this time come in slowly. . . slowly. Haste makes waste, Purvis. Haste makes waste. If I've told you that once, I must have told you that a hundred times. Haste makes waste."
The loud-speaker overhead began squawking. "Milo, this is Alvin Brown. I've finished dropping my bombs. What should I do now?"
"Strafe," said Milo.
"Strafe?" Alvin Brown was shocked.
"We have no choice," Milo informed him resignedly. "It's in the contract."
"Oh, okay, then," Alvin Brown acquiesced. "In that case I'll strafe."
But the real reason I'm typing all this (note to Heller's publishers: this is all "fair use," so there) is because of the conclusion to this farcical, fantastic fictional fable. OK, Heller got a few of the details wrong, but how can anyone deny that we've now entered into "life imitating art" when it comes to Pentagon contractors today using tax dollars to pay off our enemies to fulfill their contracts?
This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him. High-ranking government officials poured in to investigate. Newspapers inveighed against Milo with glaring headlines, and Congressmen denounced the atrocity in stentorian wrath and clamored for punishment. Mothers with children in the service organized into militant groups and demanded revenge. Not one voice was raised in his defense. Decent people everywhere were affronted, and Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made. He could reimburse the government for all the people and property he had destroyed and still have enough money left over to continue buying Egyptian cotton. Everybody, of course, owned a share. And the sweetest part of the whole deal was that there really was no need to reimburse the government at all.
"In a democracy, the government is the people," Milo explained. "We're people, aren't we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry. If we pay the government everything we owe it, we'll only be encouraging government control and discouraging other individuals from bombing their own men and planes. We'll be taking away their incentive."
Milo was correct, of course, as everyone soon agreed but a few embittered misfits....
Which is where we must leave it, fellow misfits, until next week....
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground