The state of the Union is not good


Does being at Sundance mean not having to suffer through watching Bush's latest SOTU? Alterman can confirm or deny upon his return tomorrow. Today, it's Eric Boehlert from Media Matters pinch-hitting.

Let's face it, this is the only Bush SOTU that historians will concern themselves with.

But hey, White House, don't be glum; Power Line really, really liked Bush's speech. Then again, that's what bloggers at Power Line do for a living -- they really, really like Bush.

Of course, the real takeaway from last night was that we now know who the next next VP will be.

Libby World. This, I suspect, is not going to end well for the GOP. But it will be fun to watch for the rest of us. Quite a kerfuffle, eh?

The media's Clinton/Obama obsession -- make it stop! Guess how many times "Obama" and "Clinton" were mentioned last week on the cable and network news programs, as well as NPR. Click here for the mind-bending answer.

The longest silly season on record. The press seems intent on making this a very long and frustrating 12-month march to New Hampshire. OK, make that very long.

Time's Jay Carney flunks history:

The mag's D.C. bureau chief ran into a fact-checking buzzsaw this week when he blogged about how Bush, on the eve of the SOTU, found himself in a similar position, job approval ratings-wise, as Clinton did in 1995.

Not true.

I'm glad readers called him on the error because it's a very telling point, and one I raised several times last year, which is the Beltway press, for months, has stubbornly refused to put Bush's spiraling approval ratings into any kind of helpful context. Like, for instance, spelling out plainly and concisely that Bush is the most unpopular second-term president of the last half-century. It's a fact. The press still seems reluctant to type up those words, though. Hell, they spent huge chunks of last year eagerly trying to detect the first signs of the promised "Bush Bounce."

They couldn't find that, and now Carney seems intent on rewriting Clinton history. According to his original post, "In late 1994 and early 1995, President Clinton was in free fall. His aides despaired. ... His approval ratings were mired in the 30's, and seemed unlikely to rise."

As Carney later conceded, Clinton's approval ratings on the eve of the 1995 SOTU were not "mired in the 30's." But Carney insists the Clinton-Bush comparison still works because "Clinton's first-term approval ratings did drop into the 30s, with a low of 37% in June in 1993."

Note that Carney, the D.C. bureau chief for one of the largest news magazines in the country, was off by 20 months in terms of reporting when Clinton's ratings fell into the 30s. (It was June 1993, not January 1995.) More important, Carney's larger comparison remains fundamentally flawed. Yes, Clinton hit a very rough patch early in his first term and fell into the 30s. The part Carney leaves out, though, is that Clinton's dip into the 30s lasted just a couple months (weeks, really) and Clinton never again fell below that dreadful sub-40 mark again.

By comparison, Bush has been bobbing in and out of the 30s (mostly in) for nearly an entire year. I mean, CBS now has Bush plunging all the way down to 28 percent.

The point is, the online commenters to Carney's misguided post were right. (The same commenters Carney lashed out against for being unthinking partisans.) There's absolutely no comparing the political debacle Bush is currently facing in terms of evaporating public support with anything that occurred during the Clinton administration. The only true comparison, of course, is with President Richard Nixon just prior to being run out office in 1974 for his Watergate crimes.

Clinton laps Bush. BTW, If Carney wanted to make a revealing and truly insightful comparison between Clinton and Bush's approval ratings, he would have pointed out the extraordinary detail that at this point in his second term Clinton was polling nearly 40 points higher than Bush. Fact: According to a Gallup poll taken Jan. 22-24, 1999, Clinton enjoyed a stunning 69 percent approval rating.

When Fox News Attacks. This is spooky, even by FNC standards.

Give credit where credit is due. Well done, CNN. Still, makes you wonder why it's taken CNN 10 years to figure out there's a very large niche to be served by fact-checking Fox News nonsense.

Meanwhile, I'm sure ABC's Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America executive producer Jim Murphy are proud of their new hire, Glenn Beck. (ABC calls him "a leading cultural commentator with a distinct voice.") Should we look forward to Beck hosting an upcoming discussion on GMA about "faggots"?

Is Michelle Malkin incapable of telling the truth?

The queen bee of warbloggers, Malkin recently returned from her friendly embed with U.S. troops in northern Baghdad to triumphantly announce that her spirits had been buoyed by what she saw in-person. "I came to Iraq a darkening pessimist about the war," she wrote upon her return to the USA. " I left Iraq with unexpected hope and resolve." Oh good.

Slight problem in terms of that convenient I-was-worried-about-the-war-but-now-my-hope-has-been-restored narrative. Malkin made it up.

Specifically, Malkin purposely misstated her previous comments about Iraq in order to show that her self-described "short trip" to Iraq restored her faith about the battle raging there. The notion that Malkin, a knee-jerk war supporter who was wrong every which way about the pre-emptive invasion, in recent weeks had become a "darkening pessimist about the war" who contemplated the errors of her ways -- even publicly conceded her intellectual failings -- is a joke. Malkin has shown no capacity whatsoever to express serious doubts about Iraq or about her own monumental misjudgments. Indeed, Malkin has been too busy calling Democrats names, mocking Gwyneth Paltrow (I kid you not), concocting a phony controversy about Sen. John Kerry's recent trip to Iraq and how he was allegedly "snubbed" by troops there, and blaming the press for losing the war, for her to take part in actual, serious reflection.

Go back and read Malkin's syndicated columns since December, the transcripts from her Fox News appearances, and scan the 100-plus blog entries she's posted since December. Good luck finding examples from the weeks prior to her Iraq trip where Malkin wandered off the warblogger script and expressed her darkening pessimism about the war.

Therefore, the announcement upon her return that she's as optimistic as ever means absolutely nothing -- Malkin was optimistic about the liberation of Iraq in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and now 2007.

Then again, maybe Malkin meant she was privately pessimistic. And like a noble schoolteacher who didn't want to scare her students by emoting fear and disappointment, she kept her doubts mum. Meaning that Malkin -- who writes online for living, writes a syndicated column for a living and expresses opinions on TV for a living -- for some reason opted to keep her looming sense of pessimism about Iraq strictly to herself.

On a side note, Malkin claimed her gumshoeing over in Baghdad proved that the AP lied about its previous reports about burning mosques there, which is tangentially connected to the defunct Jamil Hussein controversy, although barely. Click here if you are desperate for more details. (See also Correspondence Corner below.)

Finally, some welcomed insight into the Donald/Rosie showdown, courtesy Doonesbury.

This is our country:

It's probably my Hoosier youth (go Fort Wayne Snider!) that explains why I became such a big John Mellencamp fan as a kid. Yet all these years later he's still one of the few artists I eagerly await new recordings from. I'm sure part of it is also the appeal of his progressive, heartland politics, which I admire. (He was almost alone among multiplatinum artists in the winter of 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, to release new music that was critical of the Bush White House.) And in general I've always admired his subtle nod toward racial equality. Go here to watch his latest video; like virtually every music clip Mellencamp's made throughout this 20-plus year career, it features a purposefully multiracial cast, which is almost unheard of in the rock music business.

I've been listening to Mellencamp's latest, Freedom's Road (released yesterday), and enjoying it immensely. (And no, it's not just because he name checks a certain book with this lyric, "Journalistic lapdogs can't seem to find the truth.") I can't wait to see John and his band tear through "Rodeo Clown" in concert, one of the best things he's done in 15 years. (Yes, it's the unmarked track buried at the end of the Freedom's Road CD; Mellencamp never does anything the easy way.)

The album's buzz has largely centered on "Our Country," the Woody Gutherie-esque song that Mellencamp licensed to Chevrolet for its latest incessant ad campaign. It's ironic that Mellencamp is catching flak for the move considering that over the previous 20 years he could have purchased a small Caribbean island for the amount of money he was routinely offered from Madison Avenue clients begging for the rights to his catalog. Mellencamp always said no. (Just as he always refused to let a corporate sponsor attach its name to his concert tours.)

I don't see Mellencamp's decision to OK Chevrolet as some sort of huge cave-in. The fact is that with today's corporate radio landscape, it is literally impossible for an artist like Mellencamp (or Tom Petty or Bob Seger) to land sustained FM rock radio airplay with new material. Mellencamp wanted exposure, and Chevrolet bought it for him. That's business.

More important, I don't think the commercial diminishes the song or its message one bit. (Whereas it sounded thin on TV, the song swells and explodes through stereo speakers.) In fact, I'd love to see Mellencamp perform the song at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. To me, it's a much-needed anthem for progressives as they take back the country and, after years of mindless leadership, articulate the nation's potential:

There's room enough here
For science to live
And there's room enough here
For religion to forgive
And try to understand
All the people of this land
This is our country...

That poverty could be
Just another ugly thing
And bigotry could be
Seen only as obscene
And the ones that run this land
Will help the poor and common man
This is our country

The weight

Meanwhile, I'm anxious to hear next week's big release, Endless Highway, the long overdue tribute album to The Band, featuring Gomez, Jack Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, The Allman Brothers, and many more.

I'm going through a serious Band phase. Actually, I'm probably in month 19 of that "phase." During that time I've been endlessly captivated by The Band's final song from its Thanksgiving, 1976 farewell concert at the Winterland, which was famously captured by Martin Scorsese and his classic concert doc, The Last Waltz. The Band, after a 30-minute curtain call, closed with "Don't Do It," the performance so evocative that Scorsese actually chose to open the film with it.

When you think about it, The Band went out like Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, who swatted a homerun at his last major league at-bat. "Don't Do It" was the last song The Band performed at its all-star farewell show, and it might just be the greatest live performance of the group's entire career.

The song itself is an old, mostly forgotten Marvin Gaye R&B single. But The Band rescued it and created something monumental in its place. Here's what Rolling Stone's David Fricke wrote about "Don't Do It" in the top-notch liner notes from the re-issue of The Last Waltz as a gorgeous CD box set back in 2004:

In The Band's hand, "Don't Do It" became a different fireball: an eruption of desire and soul-shack swagger, spiked by [Robbie] Robertson's silver-dagger guitar, spangled by [Richard] Manuel's hot-saloon piano and [Garth] Hudson's fistfuls of circus organ, and capped by the pleading vocal pow of [Levon] Helms' lusty growl and [Rick] Danko's high-ceiling tenor."

"Don't Do It" was the perfect mix of fondness and disappointment: "Baby don't you do it/Don't do it/Don't you break my heart/Ple-e-e-e-ase!" No one at Winterland, or anywhere else, wanted The Band to break up. The band themselves talked of continuing in some fashion, without touring. But for the original five, "Don't Do It" was the last dance. And they played it like they would always own it.

Do yourself a favor and go download that unforgettable Last Waltz performance ASAP. Then next week go buy Endless Highway, and enjoy a Band phase of your own.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Marc Bergman
Hometown: Las Vegas

Let me get this straight.

Lt. Col. Bateman uses an article by Michelle Malkin to prove an allegation by Michelle Malkin.

How do we know this is the mosque in question? How do we know when the picture was taken?

Do you remember the Baghdad photos taken by the former California congressman? They were taken in Turkey, if I recall correctly.

Unless the Lt. Col. can come up with some better information, I would put his credibility far below the AP and on a par with Michelle. That is a pretty deep hole.

Perhaps their time would be better spent trying to disprove the other 500,000 Iraqi deaths.

Bob Bateman responds:

Well, that's a fun idea. But apparently Mr. Bergman didn't read my earlier stuff. The Army has been out there, and found nothing. The New York Times says they couldn't find anything to substantiate the AP either (unless you don't think they're reliable either). And now Malkin (moving w/ the Army), took pictures of one of the four "blown up" mosques. Now, I'm as inclined as the next guy to note that Malkin makes accusations first, then checks her facts, sometimes, but in this case, the facts came first. Malkin just rode them. (Too far and too hard, as Eric Boehlert points out.) When confronted with the Army, the Iraqi Govt, and the NYTimes, the AP didn't issue a retraction. Indeed, all they did was just change the story they had on the wire, from "four blown up" to "one damaged," all according to a man with a false name, which is also against their professional statement of ethics on their own webpage. Then they made counter-accusations.

It's not supposed to work that way in journalism.

The fact is that the AP *first* put out a story that said that there were US Army units there at the time, who chased off the militias (there was not, according to the Army). The AP later changed what their source said (from 4 to 1 is not small), and that there were six burned to death (which the Army couldn't find, and the AP cannot name), and the NY Times can't substantiate any of the story, all suggests to me that this time, Malkin's right. There is something screwy with the AP reporting from Baghdad. I would not trust them. Read New Yorker, or Washington Post, or New York Times, but be leery of the AP. They appear to be playing fast and loose with both the facts, their sources, and their readers.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


John B from Des Moines points out that our Attorney General's dismissal of habeas corpus -- apparently saying (and I missed this) that it is a right we never had -- is truly insane.

Mr. B correctly points out that we have many rights not specified in our Constitution, and I wish to further the argument: we have ALL rights not specifically yielded to government. This is said, a bit inelegantly perhaps, in Article X of the Bill of Rights (a.k.a. Tenth Amendment): "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

What Gonzales, along with others like Scalia, Thomas, and for that matter the entire Federalist Society, like to pretend is that our Constitution was handed down like the Ten Commandments. In their view, we have no choice but to parse out the words and do our best from there. They deny that there is CONTEXT in which to weigh what is written there.

The context should be obvious -- it is the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. There, we claim that reason ("we hold these truths to be self-evident") tells us we are all born equal. Would that mean anything if it does not mean we are each king or queen, we are each sovereign? Then we state that "in order to secure these rights," we yield some of our individual sovereignty to form a government. That government's sole legitimate purpose is to further and better secure our rights.

So, the actual fact (or in the modern parlance, "default setting") is that we each begin with EVERY right, and that we then proceed, from our collective consent -- we have republican government -- to restrict some of our sovereignty to better secure it in other ways. We give up some "freedom from" in order to get more "freedom to," and vice-versa.

It is this basic, irrefutable fact (individual sovereignty) that the Tories -- yes, they are still as much our enemies as they were in 1776 -- never want to acknowledge. With this as a foundation, and further, with the Declaration's origins in the Enlightenment's emphasis on individual human worth and the process of reason, our constitution is fully "informed" and has excellent context. Sadly for the Tory Federalists, few of their most cherished views can be reconciled with an accurate understanding of the context in which our constitution appears.

Sadly for us, we have been governed for too long by too many who do not really believe what the preamble to the Declaration of Independence says.

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