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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

February 3, 2008

 

What Do You Think?

(The following is the press conference/ argument between Mitt Romney and Associate Press writer Glen Johnson which took place in a Staples Office store just days before the South Carolina primary. I viewed the video and transcribed it myself. -NG)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY: I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign. I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my (interruption)
GLEN JOHNSON (AP reporter): That’s not true, Governor. That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist. How can you say that Ron Kaufman is not a lobbyist?
(Some back and forth.)
ROMNEY: Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said Glen? I don't have lobbyists running my campaign, and he (Kaufman) is not running my campaign.
JOHNSON: (excitedly): He's an advisor! (interruption))
ROMNEY: He's an advisor. And the person I have running my campaign is Beth Myers. And I have a whole staff of deputy campaign managers, and (interruption)
JOHNSON: Has Beth Myers even been on the plane with you?
ROMNEY: Beth Myers has been on the plane with me, and Beth Myers is running my campaign. Absolutely. Do I know Ron (interruption)
JOHNSON: (sarcastically): He's window dressing, He's a potted plant.
ROMNEY: Ron is a wonderful friend, and advisor. He's not paid - he's an advisor, like many others. Bu I do not have lobbyists running my campaign.
(Johnson laughs)
ROMNEY: Glenn, I am appreciative that you think that's funny, but Ron Kaufman is not even in the senior strategy meetings. We don't have him in (interruption)
JOHNSON: That's (inaudible) untrue. That is utterly untrue.
ROMNEY: He is not in the senior strategy meetings of our campaign.
JOHNSON: Has he been any debate sessions at all, at any time?
ROMNEY: Sure. Is that a senior strategy meeting - a senior strategy meeting of our campaign? No. Let me go back and make the point I was making. I - My campaign is not based on Washington lobbyists. I haven't been in Washington. I don't have lobbyists at my elbows that are arguing for one industry or another industry. And I do not have favors that I have to repay to people who've been in Washington for years, or scores I have to settle. And I'm going to Washington to make things happen. And somebody doesn't put the kind of financial resources that I've put into this campaign, and the personal resources that I've put into this campaign in order to do favors for lobbyists. I'm going to Washington to help the American people, and that's what this campaign is all about.
(after the rest of the event breaks up, Romney seeks out and finds Johnson, and the cameras were still rolling)
ROMNEY (to Johnson, face-to-face): Listen to my words, alright? Listen to my words. I said (inaudible).
JOHNSON: C'mon!
ROMNEY: Let's talk. Let's you and I talk.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM: (Romney's press secretary jumping into the fray): Glenn, I think your argument's (inaudible)
ROMNEY (to another reporter, back turned to Johnson): Let's leave here Abby. Let's you and I talk.
(others laughing and talking)
FEHRNSTROM (to Johnson): Hey. You're acting a little unprofessionally and you're being argumentative with the candidate -
(talking back and forth)
FEHRNSTROM: It's out of line.
JOHNSON: No. He shouldn't be say those (inaudible). It's a total falsehood.
FEHRNSTROM: Save your opinions - save your opinions -
JOHNSON: It's a matter of fact. Ron Kaufman is a registered lobbyist -
FEHRNSTROM: Save your opinions - save your opinions and act professionally - act professionally. Don't be argumentative with the candidate.
WOMAN (to Johnson): No you're not. You're very rude. I'm not with the campaign. I think you're rude and ugly.

Is it just me, or does anyone else out there reminded of a game-show host every time former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney appears? That fake, perfect smile and the Ronald Regan-like black slick-backed hair make Mitt look more like the host of "What's My Policy?" than someone who actually has a policy. Even the name, Mitt, sounds like it was made up for a TV game show by Chuck Barris.

By now we're all familiar with the Mitt Romney blow-up at a Staples Office Store in South Carolina. Some of you might have seen it on your favorite cable news outlet while many others of you have watched it, repeatedly, on Youtube.com. When- or where- ever you've seen it, certainly it had to make an impression on you. Has any candidate for president ever tried to intimidate a reporter the way in which Romney came after Glen Johnson, a reporter who had just about had enough of Romney's truth-stretching?

Just to get this straight - Ron Kaufman is a registered lobbyist who travels with Mitt Romney on "Air Romney" He goes to the debates and is part of the debate strategy meetings. He is with the Romney campaign. as an advisor who doesn't get paid. What, then, shall we call Mr. Kaufman? Perhaps he's simply a traveling companion who is simply part of Romney's "posse". You know, his "peeps".

And if a pre-debate meeting isn't a "senior strategy meeting", what is? After all, debates are what is called "free media" where the candidate doesn't have to pay for air time. You would think that a meeting prior to a debate, especially for the guy trailing, would be of the highest priority to his campaign.

Mitt Romney has put much of his personal fortune at stake trying to become president, as he bragged about. So, certainly, he should get what he pays for. After all, what's all that money for if you can't buy the big seat in the oval office. He better be careful, however, Mike Bloomberg could still outbid him.

And what's with Romney looking for AP writer Johnson after the little get-together in Staples had ended, anyway? It was almost like the grade school bully telling the school geek, who finally stood up to him, "Oh yeah? I'll meet you after school in the paper clip aisle."

At first, it appeared that Press Secretary Fehrnstrom did the right thing in getting between Romney and Johnson. it appeared that Romney could keep his own definition of who is and isn't "special" to his campaign going all day long. He was, in fact, calling Johnson out. What Mitt was looking for was Johnson saying, "I'm so sorry, Governor Romney. I must have been mistaken. Please allow me to make amends by taking my own life, or at least, stabbing myself in the hand with a Mont Blonc pen. They are on sale, you know." However, Fehrnstrom went too far. If a reporter for the Associated Press (or any press, for that matter) isn't supposed to ask the man who wishes to be president tough questions (and call him out when he is obviously stretching the truth), then who is going to ask those questions? And if the candidate lies, or mis-represents what's out there for all to see, when is it appropriate to point it out?

And, by the way, Johnson was right - it isn't an opinion, as Fehrnstrom insisted, nor is it a matter of semantics that Kaufman, a paid and paying lobbyist, is part of the Romney campaign. Pointing out that Kaufman doesn't take a salary from Romney doesn't make him any less a part of the campaign. This guy is in the business of giving money to political candidates, not take from them. That (taking money), they do from the American people in the form of relaxed government regulations and big federal no-bid contracts.. Kaufman is as much there to "advise", as to watch out for his investment. He is babysitting the candidate who will be the most help to his industry. Of that there can be no doubt.

The Republicans are fond of intimidation as a tactic against anyone in the media who isn't "on board". And they have help in the likes of Fox News, New York City's ABC (AM) Radio station (the home stations of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) and a host of other swift-boaters whose only job is to support the words of the president, or the Republican candidate for president who is more pliable to their cause.

It's a symbiotic relationship.

Good for the Glen Johnson for not giving into the Romney intimidation. We already gave a free pass to one son born on third base and thinking he hit a triple. Do we really need another one? We need more reporters such as Johnson who will challenge our elected leaders, "ugly" and all.

-Noah Greenberg



"Clean" Energy

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush called for "Clean Energy, Nuclear Power, and Coal." Coal and Nuclear power are not clean, or "green." Nuclear is terribly expensive, and both, and especially nuclear, present a security nightmare.

If the Sept. 11 killers had crashed one of the hijacked planes into Oyster Creek much of the Jersey Shore would be like the area around Chernobyl — condemned, abandoned and uninhabitable.

Nuclear Power produces tremendous amounts of wastes – radioactive waste and thermal pollution when electricity is produced, and radioactive waste and carbon dioxide during the fuel cycle, when the fuel is mined, milled, and shipped.

Nuclear power plants have not been built in the United States after electricity was deregulated. Not because of the Three Mile Island accident or the Chernobyl disaster, and not because of the protests against nuclear power or "fear", but because of the time and costs required to build nuclear power plants. When you look at the capital costs of all the hardware, concrete, computers, pipes, and the safety systems, and add the costs of insurance, evacuation plans, security systems and government regulation, and you factor those costs over the 20 years needed to build the plants, nuclear power just doesn’t make sense. Watts Barr, the last reactor built in the US, came online in 1996, 23 years after construction began in 1973. If we start building nuclear plants today, they will be ready to produce power by 2031.

The operating license for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant should not be renewed. It is 40 years old, brittle, probably unsafe – we don’t know because the NRC, the “Nuclear Rubberstamping Commissars” fires whistle-blowers who do their job. Rather than nuclear power, coal, and oil, we should move forward quickly on offshore wind, photovoltaic solar, geothermal, ocean current turbines and conservation.

-Larry Furman



An Endorsement

With Super Tuesday's primaries only two days away, I just want to let you know that I will be voting for Barack Obama in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary.

Until he suspended his campaign this week, John Edwards was my first choice for President. But Barack Obama was always a close second. I believe he has the intelligence, character, vision, and yes, the experience to not only lead our country, but also to unite it.

For many years, America has been divided sharply along political lines.
While I do believe Hillary Clinton is capable of being an excellent President, I have serious doubts about her ability to unite our country. I have no such doubts about Barack Obama. I have seen enthusiasm about Senator Obama in the eyes of casual Democrats, independents, and even Republicans. That's not why I'm voting for him - I'm supporting Senator Obama because I agree with him on a majority of the issues, and I feel he has the unique traits necessary to be President. But the interest I have seen in Barack Obama among people who would almost never vote Democratic (or even vote at all), gives me hope that he can bring our country together and heal many years of partisan division.

-Eddie Konczal



THE LAVENDER TUBE: SITUATION ROOM
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008, The San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.


Well, here we are, entering the *third month* of the WGA strike and we are close to blowing our brains out from the misery factor. Ahhh, the hell of it.

One of our more snide acquaintances said to us, “Well, you can always *read.*” Like we *don’t.* Of *course* we can read. We *do* read. In fact, given that we have an alternative career as both book critic and English professor, it could be said we read for a living. (Okay, *living* is a strong term, but...) Listen up, folks: books and TV–not the same. One does not replace the other. *Ever.*

When, dear god, will the strike be *over*? NBC just renewed *Celebrity Apprentice,* which is–well, at least with Gene Simmons–like the monster outtakes from *Buffy, the Vampire Slayer* melded with the really grisly scenes in *Dexter.* Except without the charm and wit of either show. It’s just all brutality, all the time. How bad is it when Donald Trump gets a ratings bump?

Bad enough that they have lost their minds over at HBO. How else to explain that there are not one but two shows about....wait for it....*therapy.* herapy? As entertainment? We think not, kids.

Okay, we admit, we fell asleep repeatedly when watching *Tell Me You Love Me,* and not only because it was tedious. Well, not only that, but because it was so uncomfortable to watch, about sex and intimacy and three straight couples who either are or are not having sex. It’s very unsexy. It’s very unnerving, too.

Sometimes *verite* just isn’t the kind of truth you want to see. *Tell Me You Love Me* has a hyper-realism that makes you want to change the channel to something like...*The Simpsons.* It is, as Seinfeld would say, *cringeworthy.* Which is generally not entertainment worthy. So HBO decided *Tell Me* was such a great idea–because Jane Alexander plays the sexagenarian sex therapist (and yes, she has a lot of sex on the show)–that they’d get another great dramatic actor to play another therapist and build another show around it.

And that’s how *In Therapy* was born.

We love Gabriel Byrne. We always have. He’s darkly sexy (who else could pull off Byron as other than caricature?), he’s deep, he has a tremendous voice, he’s a stunning actor. So of *course* we would want to see him in a new HBO drama, right? Well, he’s still all of those things. But that’s not enough to keep anyone from changing channels on the unbearable tightness of being that is *In Therapy.* It’s like the therapy version of watching your neighbors’ slide show of their kid’s birthday party. We kept thinking as we suffered through the first three half-hour shows (yes, only a half hour, but just like real therapy, it feels like a *lot* more) of Sartre’s line about hell being other people. Or at least *these* people. If we were Byrne, we’d have prescribed each of them sedatives–take the whole bottle and never call us again.

We feel no empathy for these stagy characters who whine and moan and fidget and bore us to the point where *we* are on the ledge where we scream: *Will the strike never end?*

And can we just ask this: Is Blair Underwood the *only* African-American actor anyone in Hollywood knows about? Not that we don’t like Underwood, but every time we turn around, he’s the token black guy in another TV series. *Law&Order: SVU,* *Dirty Sexy Money,**The New Adventures of Old Christine* and now, *In Treatment.* It’s enough to make one wonder where Isaiah Washington is hanging out these days. So, with this kind of show leading their *new* lineup, does HBO think they don’t need writers, either?

Let’s repeat: Writers are essential to all good TV. End the strike now. *Viva la tube!*

How do we know how important writers are? Because *the* best show on network, vying with *The Wire* for best show on all TV is back.

*Lost* returned last week after an eight-month hiatus. We had forgotten just how much we missed it. This is what we can say about season four: It’s scary. It’s spectacular. It’s full of surprises. It catches you off guard again and again. It is, in a word, brilliant. *Brilliant.* It is an hour that is over way too soon. So soon you are moaning at the TV like Oliver Twist for, please sir, some more. The problem with talking about *Lost* is it’s so complicated and the things that happen are so unexpected and interconnected, that even reviewing it constitutes a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say that if you watch nothing else on network now or even when the strike ends, this is the hour to watch.

The ratings were amazing for the new series that follows *Lost* on ABC. *Eli Stone* can best be described as “quirky.” Not *Pushing Daisies* quirky (when will the strike be over?), but odd quirky. Produced by the same team that created the fabulous *Dirty Sexy Money* last season as well as *Everwood*, *Eli Stone* is about finding your soul after nearly losing it. Jonny Lee Miller is superb in the title role as an attorney who, due to the hallucinatory impact of a brain aneurysm, starts to have visions of doing good. Stone hears music–mostly George Michael performing his hit *Faith,* and there are lots of fun moments of choreography gone wild–and then he decides to do stuff. Good stuff. But can we believe in lawyer as prophet? Maybe in the era of the megachurch, but it’s a stretch. Still, Miller is very engaging and the show’s quirkiness is fetching. Plus, there’s nothing else on, is there?

One aside: the first episode brought a disclaimer from the American Pediatric Association about a case Stone argues. The case posits that vaccines (well, actually the adjuvant used in vaccines) cause autism. The APA rightly notes that this accusation has been soundly discounted by real science and that it’s dangerous to present it as fact in the show. There, we told you. We agree with the APA about the danger, but it *is* a fictional TV show about a lawyer who sees George Michael performing in his living room. Somehow that does not translate to us into parents not vaccinating their children. But you never know.

Among the other new–and largely forgettable, which is why they are being trotted out now that there’s nothing else to watch but game shows and reality TV–shows in what should have been a great mid-season, is CBS’s sitcom *Welcome to the Captain* which joins CBS’s stellar Monday night comedy lineup. The show stars *Arrested Development’s* Jeffrey Tambor and features Raquel Welch, so how bad can it be? Comedies have to be funny. This one is only intermittently so. But where it is funny, it’s hilarious. It’s worth a look, if only to wonder how Raquel Welch, who is 67, still looks so amazing and sexy.

We caught Welch on Craig Ferguson the other night and were *mesmerized.* She was in a tighttight black dress, with come-fuck-me shoes tied at the ankle and enormous hoop earrings and the tumbling red hair that made her famous. Plus she was funny, sexy, erudite and thoroughly engaging.

Erudite and engaging are not words one every uses about Fox news, however. Over in the (pseudo-) reality part of TV land, Fox news is in trouble. Forgive us while we chortle for a moment. After all, it couldn’t happen to a more worthy network.

Why is Fox in trouble? Because it hitched its right-wing wagon to the Bush “star” and now it’s losing ratings faster than you can say recession. Compounding its initial egregious error, Fox backed Rudy Giuliani as the heir-apparent to Bush. Oops.

Then the Democratic candidates all refused to debate over at Fox. But every lick of excitement in the 2008 campaign has been generated by the Democrats. Which has meant viewers have been running to CNN and MSNBC for their debate fix.

So now all the pundits at Fox are just kind of hanging out, hoping for a trend change. They enforced one trend change by dumping Montel Williams after 17 years, when he spoke out declaratively against the war in Iraq on another Fox show.

The Emmy-winning Williams, who suffers from MS and has been a major spokesperson for the disease, is also a frequent commentator on celebrity stuff. On the January 26th *Fox and Friends,* Williams was a featured guest. The ever-outspoken Williams, a former Marine *and* Naval officer who was deployed during the invasion of Grenada and served for 25 years in the military, took the hosts of *Fox and Friends* to task. Williams had been asked to discuss the death of Heath Ledger. He proffered condolences to Ledger’s family, but said that he was personally saddened that there was so much attention paid to one celebrity death when 28 American soldiers had been killed since January 1st. Williams said he had searched the Internet that morning, prior to the show, to collect the names of the recent dead and could find nothing. He said he was haunted by this.

Williams commentary lasted nearly five minutes and included the hosts noting that the show was about celebrities and the audience wasn’t interested in the deaths of American soldiers. (Only on Fox could you even *say* this.) When Williams continued to harangue the hosts about the war, the show’s hosts cut to commercial. When the show returned, Williams was gone.

Four days later the talk show host was informed that his talk show would not be renewed for the 2008-2009 season.

Coincidence?

Fox has consistently belittled American veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bill O’Reilly, Hannity and Colmes, Chris Wallace–all have been engaged in attacks on the credibility of American soldiers returning from Iraq. There are many words for this, but despicable is the only one we can print.

Williams, who grew up in the Baltimore slums, served with distinction in the U.S. military–something the chickenhawks over at Fox have never done. Good for Williams for reminding Fox viewers not only that there’s a war on, but that Americans are dying every day in that war. Maybe there’s a spot for Montel on *The Daily Show.*

CBS news is trying to remind folks about the war and how the government is treating its soldiers. On January 31st, Byron Pitts did a harrowing spot, “A Question of Care,” on the *CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.* Pitts featured the case of Carmelo Rodriguez, a drop-dead-gorgeous 29-year old Marine and veteran of Iraq. Rodriguez literally died on camera as Pitts did his report. Rodriguez was diagnosed with malignant melanoma while in Iraq, but his doctor told him to see a doctor when his tour was done. He died of metastatic cancer 18 months after his initial diagnosis, leaving a young son fatherless.

People in the military cannot sue the federal government for medical malpractice. Rodriguez, who had also been an actor and appeared on Dawson’s Creek with Katie Holmes, wanted to alert the country to this situation.

Adding insult to injury: the military would not pay for him to have a military funeral, because he had “retired” from the military. Check out Pitts’ superb report and full video at CBSnews.com. Warning: it is very graphic.

Speaking of the war, in his State of the Union address, George Bush told the crowd we’d achieved democracy in Afghanistan.

Really?

Because as Bush told that whopper to millions of viewers, Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, a young Afghan journalist, had been sentenced to death *that day.* His crime? Blasphemy against Islam for distributing material about abuses in Iran. Kaambakhsh was given a summary trial in which he had no legal representation and no opportunity to defend himself.

Kaambakhsh wrote: “The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak. They too said nothing. They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death.”

Now *that’s* democracy. Kaambakhsh is 26-years-old. To protest his sentence–which our ally in the war on terror, Hamid Karzai, has failed to mitigate or even comment on–please write: president@afghanistangov.org or contact the The Embassy of Afghanistan at: info@embassyofafghanistan.org. International pressure is the only thing that will save this young TV and print journalist’s life. Someone needs to inform Mr. Karzai that in democracies we do not execute people for blasphemy.

Finally, in the news you’re not seeing, the carnage continues in Kenya. It’s covered daily on BBC, which you can view on cable or on PBS, nightly. But Williams hit it spot on: the tube is egregious in its ignorance of important news and assiduous pursuit of drek. Does Kenya have to turn into another Rwanda before there is coverage by our networks?

Pray to St. Claire, the patron saint of television, for the strike to end and the networks to buy a clue. Then, stay tuned.


Send your comments to: NationalView@aol.com

-Noah Greenberg