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Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

In the words of Molly Ivins


Let's Declare August 8 "Mollyday"

Goodbye, Molly I.

Molly's final column: Stand up Against the Surge

  + WRITER, OPTIMISTIC PATRIOT     Molly Ivins is gone, and hardly any more unexpected combination of letters and numbers could be written. It's almost as unlikely as, "scientists find cigarettes cure cancer," or "President apologizes, quits." Even more improbable than "Uncle Dick Made me Invade, Blubbers Baleful Bush." Molly Ivins can't be dead, can she?

The most remarkable thing about Molly is how much she was loved, and she was loved because everyone felt they knew her, an old friend resuming a conversation that's been going on for years. Every column had an unwritten first paragraph: "Oh, there you are! As I was saying..."

Molly was the kind of bright soul who brought the party with her, and those that knew her best shared their memories in a tribute collected by her beloved Texas Observer. Judging by the stories there, she spent lots of her time laughing with a cigarette and longneck beer in hand. Molly was apt to take you by surprise. When she first met Jessica Mitford, Molly introduced herself with an off-color joke (Punchline: "Texas men'll eat anything with BBQ sauce").

Some of the Tales of Molly are familiar to long-time fans: She used to have a car named "Tank" that had no reverse gear -- because it was too good a story (she was driving a metaphord, perhaps). She had a Texas hound dog named "Shit" that she kept for no accountable reason. Once when she was living in Manhattan the dog got loose; the vision of six-foot Molly, barefoot with her blazing red hair, running down West 67th yelling, "Shit! Shit!" must've been something to see.

More than a few who've eulogized her in print or in the blogosphere have compared her to Will Rogers; others have quoted favorite "Mollyisms" from her columns, both the sort of down-home Texas riffs that friend Richard Aregood called her "chicken-fried epigrams" and her bon mots, such as her famous 1992 putdown of a Pat Buchanan speech: "It must have sounded better in the original German." Neither do the lady justice. Rogers was a humorist who lampooned current events; if he had a descendant today, it would be Stephen Colbert. As for the Mollyisms, read her original columns and you'll find them far between. She was always funny and entertaining, but the one-liners are rare.

Give Molly her due: She could write like hell. She did not finesse her words; readers didn't look to Molly for the too-pretty prose of Garrison Keillor or James Wolcott, or reach for the dictionary kept handy to translate Alexander Cockburn. Readers found in her a writer who wouldn't mince words. She wrote from the heart as a deeply optimistic patriot.

The Monitor began running her column in May of 1999, publishing every one of the 708 columns that followed -- as such, it's probably the largest collection of her works outside the archives at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. These are memorable passages from some of our favorites:


AFTER THE 9/11 ATTACKS:   The worry is that Bush is painting himself into a corner with his rhetoric. This is not a war, it's a gigantic police operation in the face of a crime beyond all understanding.

Unlike FDR, we can no longer say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but fear itself is one of the things we need to be most afraid of. Fear is at the root of most evil. As Boots Cooper, age 8, said after a close encounter with a chicken snake, "Some things'll scare you so bad, you'll hurt yourself."

These dotty proposals to breach the Constitution fall into that category. We cannot make ourselves more secure by making ourselves less free. According to reporting in the Los Angles Times and The New York Times, the terrorists got in and stayed through loopholes in the visa system, not some fundamental constitutional principle.


BEFORE THE Y2000 ELECTIONS:   The outrage shortage or outrage fatigue appears to be a looming national emergency. It'll be the Outrage Crisis in no time flat if we don't work up enough energy to get seriously ticked off -- by seriously, I mean ticked off enough to Do Something.

And therein lies the problem. The reason we don't Do Something about the various idiocies being committed in our names is because we don't think anything we do is going to do any good. Cynicism leads to inaction, and inaction reinforces cynicism.

Of course, our government has been largely hijacked by big-money special interests. We live in a corporate oligopoly, and none of us is stupid enough to think that his or her mite of indignation is going to sway policy. But let's try a little exercise in constructive indignation and see if we can't find something that motivates you to sit on your backside and write a letter to your congressperson.


AFTER HOWARD DEAN WITHDREW FROM THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARIES IN 2004:   I'm not crazy about anger as a motivating force in politics -- but didn't someone need to point out that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes? Didn't someone need to say that we were led into war under false pretences? Imagine an entire campaign in which all the candidates ignored that because they were all complicit in it.

I think we owe Howard Dean more than a, "Gee thanks for participating in our noble political system." Personally, I'd like to say, "Gee, thanks for helping keep democracy alive when it looked fairly dicey."


BEFORE THE 2004 ELECTIONS:   Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television program you can decide you just don't care for. Our entire lives are set into and written by the warp and woof of politics. Political decisions affect your life every day in thousands of way -- whether the food you eat is safe, what books your children read in school, how deep you will be buried when you die, if the lady who dyes your hair is competent, how safe your money is in stocks or banks, whether you have a job, whether your kid has to go fight in a war, who is qualified to prescribe your eyeglasses -- that's all politics.

No, they're not all crooks, and most of them go into politics out of idealism, whether you like their ideas or not. Sure, the system is corrupted -- by money, the usual suspect. But it can be fixed, and whether it is fixed is also up to us. American politics has earned a heavy dose of cynicism from all of us, but the ideas behind our politics have not. It's our heritage, our political legacy, most of us get it free just for being born here.

No, the party's not over because Molly's left, but it will just be less fun. A whole lot less fun.   (February 20, 2007)

News updates


The Serial Abuser of Air Force One

The Militarization of America's Skies

Who Executed Saddam?

Arab World Abuzz With Rumors Of Bush - Saddam Deal On War (2003)

  + PELOSI'S PLANE, HUSSEIN'S HANGING     In its first salvo since losing the battle of the ballot box, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy has targeted Nancy Pelosi's trips to her home district in California, screeching that the new Speaker is abusing her privleges by expecting transport home via a military plane -- the same privlege enjoyed by her predecessor, Repub Hastert. It was a fine example of the VR-WC machine at work: The lies and faux outrage began at The Washington Times and quickly spread to Fox News and CNN, where Lou Dobbs thumped the tub for a week. Wolf Blitzer droned about it on "The Situation Room," and Jake Tapper at ABC News gave it the nod as a Real Mainstream News Story. By the end of the week, the scut troops of the right were rushing to join the fun; even the Christian Coalition sent an alert to members, demanding an end to Pelosi's "abuse of power" (presumably assured Jesus would weigh in on the issue). That all this controversy distracted from the planned debate in Congress over the conduct of the war in Iraq was, of course, coincidental.

Many came to Pelosi's defense, but none mentioned the most appropriate riposte to the charges: Any discussion of aircraft abuse should start with Bush and Cheney.

As noted in an earlier 404 report, Bush, has racked a staggering number of frequent flier miles, starting with those endless Washington - Crawford jaunts in his quest to be the most vacationed president in history. And then there was the record-setting number of trips during election 2004, where Bush spent much of his time barnstorming politically-valuable states, staying only spent ten nights at the White House that summer.

As with Pelosi's travels, the political party is supposed to pick up the tab for trips that are "political" and pay the cost of a first-class plane ticket for each "political" passenger. For the 2004 election cycle, the GOP reimbursed White House Airlift Operations slightly over $1 million; the total paid so far for the 2006 elections is about $950k. That may seem like a lot, but it's estimated that it costs $60,250 for every hour Air Force One is in the air -- and that calculation was made using much cheaper Y2000 jet fuel costs. That means the Repubs paid for less than 17 hours of total flight time in 2004, and less than 15 hours for 2006.

There's far more to the scandalous abuses of presidential flight privleges -- including the story of how Bush actually hindered Hurricane Katrina relief efforts with his PR trips to the disaster zone -- but the issue has received scant media attention, and Congressional scrutiny is certainly overdue.

LATE UPDATE: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said Feb.9 that he's asked the Pentagon for all records of executive and congressional travel on military aircraft over the last two years, and hearings will be conducted in a few months.

§   §   §   §   §  

Another recent 404 item questioned who was really behind the hurried execution of Saddam -- was it Maliki and the Iraqi Shiites lusting for revenge? Or was it the Bush administration, rushing him to the gallows before the start of the genocide trial that would implicate the U.S. for Reagan-era arms sales to the dictator?

Sharp-eyed MONITOR reader B.L. points out that on Jan. 15, former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov said in an interview that Saddam was executed in an "unexpected" way so "he could not have the last word," the Indian news agency PTI quoted Primakov as saying in a televised interview. "[If Saddam] had said everything [he knew], the current United States president would have been greatly embarrassed," said Primakov.

Besides importing weapons-grade anthrax, botulin, and chemicals used to make mustard gas from U.S. companies with White House approval, Primakov also said that Saddam had a secret deal with the Americans before the 2003 invasion of Iraq to allow the United States to to hand over Baghdad without opposition. Rumor of such a deal, brokered by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, was the #1 topic for gossip on the Arab street for months after the invasion.

Primakov is the highest-level official to allege that the story was true. He's a highly credible figure; former head of the KGB, Gorbachev's special envoy to Iraq in the run-up to the Gulf War and Russia's Foreign Minister in the mid-90s, Primakov was sent to Iraq twice by Putin in the weeks before the U.S. invaded.

Although ignored in the West, Primakov's recent comments have been widely published in the Muslim world's news media, where the old story of Saddam's deal takes on a fresh and ominous meaning: Don't expect to save your neck by making deals with Americans.   (February 9, 2007)

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