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The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged by Frank Rich

Op-ed by Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich/The New York Times

New York Times/Frank Rich~~No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

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Paranoia Strikes Deep by Paul Krugman

Op-ed by Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman, New York Times

Paul Krugman, New York Times

New York Times/Paul Krugman—Last Thursday there was a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to protest pending health care legislation, featuring the kinds of things we’ve grown accustomed to, including large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare.” It was grotesque — and it was also ominous. For what we may be seeing is America starting to be Californiafied.

The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.

True, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, offered some mild criticism after the fact. But the operative word is “mild.” The signs were “inappropriate,” said his spokesman, and the use of Hitler comparisons by such people as Rush Limbaugh, said Mr. Cantor, “conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”

What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.

gallery-bachmannteaparty30The state of mind visible at recent right-wing demonstrations is nothing new. Back in 1964 the historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which reads as if it were based on today’s headlines: Americans on the far right, he wrote, feel that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Sound familiar?

But while the paranoid style isn’t new, its role within the G.O.P. is.

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Who Are You Calling a Narcissist, Rush? by Maureen Dowd

Op-ed by Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

I had a four-hour dinner once with Rush Limbaugh at the “21” Club in Manhattan, back in the days when I was still writing profiles as a “reporterette,” to use a Limbaugh coinage.

He was charming, in a shy, awkward, lonely-guy way. Not a man of the people. He arrived in a chauffeured town car and ordered $70-an-ounce Beluga, Porterhouse and 1990 Corton-Charlemagne.

But he was not a Neanderthal, though he did have a cold and blew his nose in his napkin. He talked about Chopin’s Polonaise No. 6, C.S. Lewis and how much he loved the end of the movie “Love Story.”

In those days, he called himself a “harmless little fuzzball.” He’s a lot less harmless now. I went on to columny, as my pal Bill Safire called it, and Rush went on to calumny.

As he and Sarah Palin conduct their auto-da-fé of moderate Republicans — “Moderates by definition have no principles,” he told his radio audience on Monday — Limbaugh is more than ever the face of his party, as Rahm Emanuel said.

He’s also the mouth.

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Book Review: Lustrum by Robert Harris

Posted by Audiegrl

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Times Online–In recent years, ancient Rome has provided the setting for dozens of historical crime novels. In their pages, whole posses of classical private eyes prowl the city’s mean streets. Robert Harris’s Lustrum, the second, enthralling volume in what he promises will be a trilogy set in the last decades of the Roman republic, opens with a scene that suggests this might be just another one to add to the genre. A young slave has been found murdered and eviscerated, his body dumped in the Tiber. Consul-elect Marcus Tullius Cicero is called to the scene. When he learns that the boy has been killed as a human sacrifice, it seems that Cicero might be taking on the role of a toga-clad Philip Marlowe in tracking down the murderers.

Yet it soon becomes clear that Harris has no interest in that kind of story at all. His focus instead is firmly upon the dangers and temptations of politics. Over the course of the next 400 pages, the gritty and tortuous realities of power take precedence over the contrived puzzles of crime fiction.

lustrombookcoverIt is not difficult to see why Harris was so drawn to the years between 63BC and 58BC when the novel is set (Lustrum means “five-year period” in Latin). The stakes then, in a period when the Roman republic was perpetually at risk of disintegration, were so much higher than they are now. Plunge to catastrophic defeat in modern British politics and the worst that awaits you is an early elevation to the House of Lords; failure in Roman politics could result in exile, assassination or an inescapable invitation to open your veins in a warm bath.

It is against this background of the ever­present potential for violence and death that Harris’s gripping narrative unfolds. Within a few chapters, readers learn who killed the slave and why. He was the victim of Catilina, one of Cicero’s beaten rivals for the consulship, who offered the boy up as the sacrificial seal on an oath taken by a group of decadent aristocrats to murder Cicero and take control of the state.

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Other Best-sellers by Robert Harris

pompeiicoverPompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris

Harris’s historical novel begins in August, 79 B.C., two days before the eruption of Vesuvius. The hero is Marcus Attilius Primus, an aqueduct engineer who is investigating a mysterious blockage, apparently related to recent tremors, in the aqueduct that runs from Misenum to Pompeii. In addition

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

to landing this prestigious job—it’s the Empire’s longest aqueduct—he has met a young woman who has the “same darkness of hair” and the “same voluptuousness of figure” as his dear departed first wife. The only problem is her father, a corrupt and powerful millionaire who is stealing from the water supply. Although the plot seems to owe more to “Chinatown” than to Pliny, Harris garnishes the action with seductive period detail, and the novel comes alive in the main event, a cataclysmic explosion with a thermal energy equal to a hundred thousand Hiroshimas.~~The New Yorker

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imperiumbookcoverImperium : A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Bestselling British author Harris (Pompeii; Enigma) returns to ancient Rome for this entertaining and enlightening novel of Marcus Cicero’s rise to power. Narrated by a household slave named Tiro, who actually served as Cicero’s “confidential secretary” for 36 years, this fictional biography
Rome Coliseum            (Photo by Audiegrl)

Roman Coliseum (Photo by Audiegrl)

follows the statesman and orator from his early career as an outsider a “new man” from the provinces to his election to the consulship, Rome’s highest office, in 64 B.C. Loathed by the aristocrats, Cicero lived by his wits in a tireless quest for imperium the ultimate power of life and death and achieves “his life’s ambition” after uncovering a plot by Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar to rig the elections and seize control of the government. Harris’s description of Rome’s labyrinthine, and sometimes deadly, political scene is fascinating and instructive. The action is relentless, and readers will be disappointed when Harris leaves Cicero at the moment of his greatest triumph. Given Cicero’s stormy consulship, his continuing opposition to Julius Caesar and his own assassination, readers can only hope a sequel is in the works. Until then, this serves as a superb first act.
~~Publishers Weekly

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Rapping Joe’s Knuckles, an Editorial by Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

NYT/Maureen Dowd—Joe Wilson, congressman, argued that Joe Wilson, chucklehead, should not be formally rebuked.

It would be a waste of time, he asserted on the House floor where, six days earlier, he had committed his conduct most unbecoming.

Other Republicans stepped up to the microphone to agree that this was a distraction from the important things they could be doing. (Like stepping up their effort to kill President Obama’s attempt to provide health care for the have-nots in society?)

“When we are done here today,” said the man who accused the president of lying, “we will not have taken any steps to improve the country.”

Actually, Wilson is dead wrong again. When House Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, reprimanded the congressman on Tuesday evening for refusing to apologize to his colleagues for breaking the rules, it was quite a wonderful way to improve America.

It was a rare triumph for civility in a country that seems to have lost all sense of it — from music arenas to tennis courts to political gatherings to hallowed halls — and a ratification of an institution that has relied on strict codes of conduct for two centuries to prevent a breakdown of order.

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Boy, Oh, Boy, an Editorial by Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

NYT Columnist Maureen Dowd

NYT/Maureen Dowd—The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

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