Somewhere, over the rainbow, a blog is born. A blog for Kansas. A blog for America. A blog by a reporter with a difficult-to-pronounce last name. But most importantly, a blog that is AMERICA'S ONLY PLACE dedicated to the vital intersection of politics and Sunflowers. The Heartland gods nod in wise approval.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Dole on Kerry

Interviewed Bob Dole in an elevator as the former presidential candidate headed from a Kansas reception to another event. Dole was the news at the '96 convention, and he still makes ripples -- witness his comments earlier this month questioning John Kerry's war record while defending Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who have run ads attacking Kerry in swing states.

I asked Dole to explain his comments. Here's what he said:

"John Kerry and I are friends," he said, "but I didn't think these other guys ought to be denigrated and called liars by the liberal press -- there's a lot of that in the country. And I've talked to Kerry since, and I worked with him 14 years in the Senate.

"I defended him when Gen. (Wesley) Clark was getting on him (during the primaries). But I also I said (before the convention) John, stop pushing your Vietnam record. Not everyone served there, and two-and-a-half million other guys did. And when you left there you hated the war, and now you're something else.

"He's made it the whole campaign, and I don't think it works. I ran against a guy who evaded the draft in '96. We didn't talk about it. I think people get tired of it. There were a lot of good decent people who didn't wear a uniform. And I hope that (now) Kerry will kind of back off. Talk about education, talk about jobs."

I asked him about Bush's chances.

"I think Bush could win it. Not a big landslide, I think he could win it comfortably, with a good convention."

And has it been a good convention? " I think it's been excellent so far."

The elevator door opened, and Dole was whisked to his next appearance.

Pink leotards and freedom

For a preview of Sen. Sam Brownback's convention speech tonight, click here. Some odds 'n' ends:

Jan Provost and Jack Brier of Topeka report their favorite protester this week: a woman in a pink leotard, with turquoise-and-leopard-print tights, carrying a sign that said, "Free Martha."

"It's important to understand that, in New York, protest is a form of social involvement," Brier said.

Show me

Prized reader Libby Quaid of the Associated Press sends this piece of Missouri-Kansas trivia:

As goes Missouri, so goes the nation."

It's commonly said inside and outside Missouri. But that actually isn't how the saying goes. For well over a century, the adage was, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation."

Then, when Republican Alf Landon carried only Maine and Vermont against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, Democratic Party chairman James A. Farley wryly observed, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."

Skynyrd, continued

And this from occasional contributor Dr. William Polley of Peoria, Ill., -- on the ongoing Meaning of Lynyrd Skynyrd debate:

Southern rock must have an interesting history. I'm not an expert by any means. But think about it. Elvis, Skynyrd, REM. Connect those dots.

I like Skynyrd for the same reason that I like REM. I like the music -- the sound -- without getting too hung up on the lyrics. (Though I have alwayswondered about that line about Birmingham and the governor.) Let's face it. Southern rock is for driving. It is meant to be listened to inthe car. Bonus points for being in a rural area. Extra bonus points for being in a pickup.

Hear hear!

Are conventions like cults?

Working through another sleep-deprived, hammered-message political convention, I'm dogged by the same observation I had during the last one: I bet cults are a lot like this.

What?!? You say. How can one even make the comparison!?!? Hey -- after a days of sleep deprivation, repetitive messages and entrapment in an enclosed space, you'd start seeing similarities too. And where do you think the phrase "Drinking the Kool-Aid" comes from?

Following the thesis, I did a quick-and-dirty Web search that turned up this Web description of cults. It's from the University of Alabama (where the stars are so blue ...), so it seems appropriate for this blog:

A cult is a group characterized by (a) distinctive rituals of devotion to an idea or person, (b) isolation from mainstream ("evil") culture, and (c) a living, charismatic leader.

So, for four days, Republicans from across the country are pulled together in Madison Square Garden for speeches, workshops and songs devoted to the re-election of George W. Bush. They do this under a cordon of security officers and avoid protesters, many of whom are closer to the political mainstream of highly liberal New York City. Democrats may quibble with C, questioning Bush's charisma. That will get you nowhere with the Kool-Aid drinkers.

Cult leaders are usually bright individuals who are skilled at manipulating people. They claim special knowledge that they will give to "true believers."

Once again, Democrats may quibble with the choice of Bush as standard-bearer. But Karl Rove? Interesting ...

Cult recruits
A. Recruits are usually under 25.

B. About one-third have depressive symptoms, having just experienced a significant loss (e.g., death of a loved one, end of a relationship, loss of a job). Only 5-6% of recruits demonstrate major psychological problems prior to joining. Cults don't want new members with serious psychological problems.
C. At least temporarily, many recruits are suffering from low self-esteem.
D. Frequently, recruits come from middle-class backgrounds because such people tend to be more trusting of others. It is important to note that there can be exceptions to these characteristics.

This was probably more applicable in Boston. The Democratic Party has rules requiring a significant proportion of young delegates at their convention -- and certainly people who have lost their jobs, i.e. outsourcing -- are more likely to turn to the Democrats this year. And low self-esteem? Watch John Kerry as he attempts to figure himself out. War good? War bad? Warning signs, warning signs ... the nominee may need an intervention.

Recruitment techniques include the following:
A. Initial meeting that emphasizes care for the potential recruit and a general discussion of "philosophy of life". People are invited to return for a follow-up weekend retreat.

Also known as the presidential inauguration.

B. Weekend retreat involves songs, chanting, discussions, and sleep deprivation. Recruits are encouraged to make supportive statements. Commitments that are made voluntarily, publicly, and repeatedly are usually internalized.

Bingo, bingo, bingo, and bingo. From Lee Greenwood's "I'm proud to be an American" to "Four more years" to daily get-out-the-vote meeetings to schedules that start at 7:30 and end at midnight, every mind-control technique is in full force.

C. Physically and psychologically remove members from mainstream society.
D. Distract members from thinking "undesirable " thoughts. This is often accomplished through rituals, chanting, and sleep deprivation.
E. Gradually escalate demands placed on members.
F. Fixate members’ vision on the notion of a "promised land" and better life if they remain faithful.

Nobody, ain't nobody in this Garden leaving without a dose of indoctrination. And by Thursday, the faithful will burst on America, with ads, with door-to-door, with slogans, techniques and messages ready. Folks, we have a thesis.

Cowboy hats and hair spray

"This is election is a choice between a cowboy hat and hair spray."
-- Sen. Pat Roberts, speaking before last night's Travis Tritt reception in his honor.

Roberts had the night's best quote. Not faring so well was Kit Bond, who criticized John Kerry for backing an amendment that would have set SUV standards at 36 miles per hour, he said. Thinkin' he meant per gallon -- I don't think SUVs will move that slow 'til someone comes up with the M1 Abrams model.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Missouri speaks (but doesn't vote)

And here's Missouri:

The Great State of Missouri, the Show-Me State, home of Sen. Kit Bond; home of Sen. Jim Talent, the next governor, Matt Blunt; home of our national co-chair, Republican co-chair Ann Wagner; home of the president's uncle, Bucky Bush -- Missouri passes.

Passes!?! It's all a setup for Texas, folks.

The Great State of Kansas

One of my favorite things about conventions is the big windup intros states give before casting their delegate ballots for president. You know, the whole "Great State of ____, home of the World's Largest ______, it's most succulent ______, and famous _____, ____." For the record, here was the Kansas intro, given by state GOP chairman Dennis Jones (to compare with what Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said at the Democratic convention in Boston, click here) and look for "Dennis Hopper, solved."):

The Great State of Kansas, the Heartland of America, the Breadbasket of the World, the home of such great former Republicans as Charles Curtis, Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum, and the current home to Sen. Pat Roberts, Sen. Sam Brownback, Congressman Jerry Moran, Congressman Jim Ryun, and Congressman Todd Tiahrt, proudly cast our 39 delegate votes for a man we need to lead this country in troubled times -- President George W. Bush!

Not sure how Kassebaum and Dole would feel about being referred to as "former Republicans," but oh well. The voting will continue intermittently over the next few days until Bush is officially put over the top. Missouri hasn't voted yet.

Skynyrd -- a reader rebuttal

Got several letters on my Skynyrd commentary. Liked this one from Erich Dietrich of New York University via Ohio-Minnesota-Wisconsin, establishing his flyover bona fides. Here are his thoughts on "Sweet Home Alabama":

When you say that the song Sweet Home Alabama "speaks to values they [the overwhelmingly white, Republican audience members] take seriously," I think you really need to look into the meaning of the song. Which values are you talking about? The song's lyrics say:

In Birmingham they love the governor
Now we all did what we could do

The song was released in 1974 when (former segregationist) George Wallace was governor. ... Of course, by 1971, Wallace renounced segregation, but by that time he had blocked the schoolhouse door to lots of black Americans seeking educational opportunity.

And when one sings along with:

Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?

I have to wonder, what "values" are they taking seriously?

Response: Fair points, Erich. Since that note, he and I have gone back-and-forth about context vs. subtext and the perils of discourse analysis vs. the need to understand the deeper meaning of things. I'm interested in what other people have to think -- all in the context of my need to maintain my day job rather than sit on e-mail all day.

Kit Bond, Kris Kobach

Kansas 3rd District candidate Kris Kobach and Missouri Sen. Kit Bond both are speaking at the RNC today. Bond's prepared remarks:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have seen a concerted effort by the Democratic smear machine attacking the President. We have heard accusations repeated as if they were the truth. The Senate Intelligence Committee has worked for over a year to find the truth.

And if John Kerry had paid attention, and if John Edwards had ever showed up, they would have known the truth too. The truth is that the President's statement was "well-founded" about Iraq's intentions regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. And there was never pressure put on analysts to change their assessments on Iraq.

President Bush has led with strength, principle, and conviction. He will continue to strengthen our Intelligence network - not politicize it as John Kerry has tried to do. President Bush knows that Intelligence is too important to be politicized. America needs his leadership in the White House now more than ever.

Kobach's remarks, in an Ozblog exclusive!

As counsel to Attorney General Ashcroft, I took concrete steps to fight terrorism. I saw how important it is to give our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need -- and saw vulnerabilities that terrorists continue to exploit. I'll close the door to terrorists who abuse America's open borders.

In the Bush administration I saw the National Guard protect our borders against terrorist infiltration. My opponent's votes placed America at risk. How many terrorists will enter the United States before my opponent realizes we must close the borders to terrorists? I'll work every day to make Kansas safer and more prosperous.

Thus spake Kris Kobach.

Kansas delegates applauded like crazy, in one of the few of their spotlight moments at this convention. But Missouri, the key swing state, is getting front-of-the-floor treatment at the convention. Missouri delegates are most concerned about terrorism and Iraq, and thus far, they're pleased with security at the convention.

Ted Koppel

The interminable wait line for the media check-in metal detectors is much more bearable when you get to see Ted Koppel have to take his laptop out of its case, turn it on, and show it to the security staff before he can be let through. But did they check for all the chemicals that may be hiding in his hair?

Sweet (electoral) home Alabama

I'm not going to pretend last night's Lynyrd Skynyrd GOP fund-raiser was an authentic blast of American Populism -- I saw Jenna Bush in the balcony, of all people. But it certainly illustrated how/why the Republicans keep their edge with cultural conservatives.

From lead singer Johnny Van Zant's "These Colors Don't Run" patch to the flag-wrapped-around-the-microphone for their song "Red, White and Blue" (the flag was U.S. on one side, confederate on the other), the band just showed an ease with waving the flag, with no hint of irony, that the Republican Party in general seems more at ease with doing than the Democrats.

You can bet a lot of folks in the audience weren't Southern rednecks (and please don't harp on the whole racist/redneck stereotype folks who don't attend Skynyrd shows aim at people who do. Yes, the crowd was overwhelmingly white. But yes, these people would party with any race, creed or ethnicity.), but they associate with it -- it speaks to values they take seriously, even if they feel that "elite" pop culture doesn't. I swear I saw half of the GOP Hill people I know at that concert. But half of my Democratic Hill friends wouldn't be caught dead at that show -- it wouldn't meet their musical "standards."

(I've always been amazed at that. I play guitar, and Skynyrd guitar parts are 10 times more challenging than anything you'll hear from the typical librarian-glassed gloom-God Indie America rock niche-star who musically ignorant (but trendy!) progressives will pass off as "cool.")

Therein lies a great part of America's divide. Like 'em or not, Lynyrd Skynyrd's allegiance to the GOP points at a larger electoral phenomenon. I hope John Kerry will remember -- these southern men don't need him around, anyhow. And it would be a lot easier for him to take the White House if they did.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Not in Kansas

--- Heard outside Broadway theater, chanted toward the Georgia GOP delegation.

Some of the protesters aren't being polite, and they definitely won't stand being ignored.

Police can keep the main events in pre-announced areas, but they can't keep people from standing on public streets and exercising free speech. Walking down Broadway was a gantlet of police and protesters, with police directing traffic and protesters directing ire. We'll see how people are feeling Wednesday.

Some of it was pretty creative. "The Wizard of Oz" maintains its grip on American consciousness (the New York Times had a "You're not in Kansas anymore" headline in a guide for convention delegates today), with for New Jersey theater students posing as Dorothy; the Tin Man (with a Dick Cheney face -- oil, ya know); the Cowardly Lion (Don Rumsfeld -- sends other people to die); and W. as The Scarecrow ("If I only had" ... ). I found out they're from Jersey, but Dorothy insisted her name was "Dorothy Gale." No one wanted to give their real names -- I'm mainstream press, ya know.

In terms of numbers, anti-Bush people are dramatically outnumbering pro-Bush. Lots of verbal confrontations, but nothing violent as of yet, although my friend Suzanne got thwacked upside the head with a TV camera. She is in stable condition. Then again, she's a pretty stable person.

Shouts in an echo chamber

Cliches become cliches because often they're true, and one of New York's truest cliches is that it's a big, big place. The city swallows everything it encounters -- witness today's protests. Dozens of arrests, green dragons on fire ... it would seem to have the markings of serious pressure on President Bush and the Republicans as they gather.

Near the protesters, it was easy to sense the anger and frustration -- it was the sort of energy that pressed against you, literally and figuratively. People angry with Bush, the war, the economy .... and Kerry, and the culture, and the media ... and "the establishment," and the Chinese, and the ...

... and I've never been sympathetic to people who complain about protesters because they lack a coherent message. So it's not an anti-Vietnam War march, the seeming gold standard of civil disobedience. If people want to voice 50 complaints, let 'em. What was more striking than that today was how self-contained the protests are. Some of that's by design. Authorities denied protesters permits for where they wanted to go at the times they wanted to, and what's left are oddly timed, oddly located marches that aren't supposed to seriously disturb the lives of Bush and the delegates -- which is, of course, what many protesters feel they need to do to be effective. Looming more largely as an obstacle to the protests' effectiveness is The City -- the simple fact that, in New York City, "tens of thousands" remains a blip.

At the height of today's protests, when entire city blocks were taken over by one mass of outrage, life on city streets three blocks away was undisturbed. The whole convention is like that -- other than a couple blocks around Madison Square Garden and in isolated outposts around the convention hotels, it's very possible to go through the day completely unaware that a major political event is going on, minus the stray political sign or T-shirt. At one point I caught a few straggling Billionaires for Bush walking a side street. Their humor was noted, but really, a woman in a formal gown, wearing a tiara and carrying a map of Pennsylvania, really doesn't stand out in Manhattan. Nothing really does.

The bar is just too high here. The voices cry to be heard, but the cavernous streets drown them out with everyday urban noise. And if a protest falls in Manhattan and New Yorkers can't hear the sound, will anyone even care?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Don't hate us 'cuz we're beautiful

Saturday night "Media Welcome" party at Columbus Circle. Free alcohol, free gourmet food, jazz bands, celebrities, the works. I literally rubbed shoulders with Tom Glavine, the Atlanta Braves/NY Mets pitcher, and spent 10 minutes fighting a bottleneck as Don King held court. I'm sure there were lots of other people I missed -- I'm bad at recognizing celebrities.

Definitely a grand affair, and one that instinctively makes me a bit uncomfortable. Journalists are constantly drilled not to accept free food, favors, etc. That, of course, goes out the window this week, since the convention itself is all about Parties and parties. Thus, I have comp tickets and party invites, all in the name of "news." Combine that with the fact that the whole affair's a melange of journalists and politicians -- two of the lowest species held in lowest regard by the American public -- and it's not hard to figure out why some folks switch the channel when the whole thing comes on TV.

But don't hate us 'cuz we're beautiful. I ran into a lot of hard-working friends and colleagues tonight who were every bit as disoriented and bewildered as I was, and darn it, we had a conscientious good time. And I must admit, I appreciate the free coupon book I got when I went through the door. I discovered this evening that the reason my bag seemed lighter today than it did when I traveled to the Democratic convention was that I forgot to pack ... pants. Other than the jeans I wore on the train and the bottom of my one suit, which I wore to the media party, I am poised to cover the RNC in boxer shorts.

Must shop tomorrow. Don't know if there's Target in Midtown.

Manhattan transfers

Just got in to NY via Amtrak -- kind of. The train broke down in Newark, and a couple RNC volunteers and I cabbed it to midtown. Sidewalks packed around Madison Square Garden -- but you walk five blocks from that, and it's just another sunny afternoon in Manhattan.

Security, as you well know, is at a premium this convention, and Amtrak is no different. On the train from DC this morning they required all passengers to have luggage tags -- a security measure I've never before seen on America's passenger-rail system. That's right, luggage tags -- so now when the evildoers blow us up, we'll have a better shot at IDing who did it. Other than that, no changes whatsoever, as far as I can tell. But I felt safer knowing that, had I been a tragic victim of catastrophe, my carry-on would have returned to 3340 Valley Drive, Alexandria, VA 22302, presumably after which my parents can sell my sport coats at an estate sale.

Another observation: Taking the train to New York, Amtrak seemed overwhelmed with Democrats headin' north to exercise their right to free assembly. That is, unless T-shirts that say www.deanforamerica.com are now the latest in ironic Republican fashion. The train ride seemed less like a convention trip than a People's Convergence -- we'll see if that plays out this week. (Or it might just be that Republicans prefer airplanes.)

Friday, August 27, 2004

Pickup Man (A Kansas-love story)

So I'm driving down 14th Street this Friday night, heading back to the office to get some stuff before I leave for the Republican National Convention tomorrow, and I'm straining my eyes to see what I think is a Kansas license plate belonging to a Mini Cooper in front of me. I pull up closer, and sure enough -- Kansas plate, Johnson County tag. And not only that, but the driver appears to be an attractive young woman.

I hang into the left lane and pull up next to her at the stop light.

I roll down the passenger-side window. If this sounds like a desperate action by a man who has no dating life whatsoever right now, you're right -- but the driver is clearly a Kansan and I'm thus obliged to say hi, I rationalize. Besides, everyone who has ever heard the Joe Diffie classic "Pickup Man" knows that attractive young women love it when guys in pickup trucks shout at them.

I met all my wives in traffic jams,
You know there's something women like about a Pickup Man-- Joe Diffie

She sees me roll down my window, and guided in part by my frantic pointing, she rolls down hers. "I'm from Wichita!" I shout. "I saw your Johnson tags!"

"Wow!" she shouts back. "Thank you!!! I just moved here!"

I could see the light starting to turn green. "Do you do any of the Kansas groups out here!?!" I asked.

"There are Kansas groups!??!" At this point we're driving down 14th Street, side-by-side.

"Sunflowers are everywhere!!!" I shout, hearing a car honk behind me. "See ya!!" I shouted, pulling into the far left lane and speeding ahead.

Now sure, I would have loved to have gotten her e-mail, but even I recognize that only pickup-driving weirdos would do something like that, and there just wasn't time anyway. I'll be sure to check the personals the next couple weeks for a "Me: Mini Cooper. You: Dodge Dakota. Let's make those sunflowers bloom"-type ad.

But it won't happen. And that's not the point anyway. The point is that in this instance, because I saw a Kansas license plate, I felt perfectly comfortable starting a conversation with a total stranger on a busy city street from my driver's seat. (Of course, this may be becoming a habit. Check here.) When you've lived in a place like Kansas and you've moved to a place like DC, that origin is an instant bond of shared experience, common cultural assumptions, and likely overlapping perspectives on the foreign, coastal land we now share.

It's the sort of thing I expect to see all week at the convention -- lots of happy hellos of recognition as all the Midwesterners (in this case, "Red" Midwesterners, the ones from Bush Country and proud of it) will talk about New York and what an odd place it is, even while they totally enjoy the whole experience and secretly envy the place a little bit. Are there weaknesses in the Midwestern character that get exposed when transplanted to a coast? Sure -- a certain passive-aggression, a "we're not that important" mentality that can fester into populist resentment, all that will at times be apparent on the convention platform this week, as some of the harshest language used will be reserved to defend flyover folks who feel encroached upon by Hollywood, New York and Washington, justifiably or not.

But as someone going on three years in D.C., I gotta tell ya, origin from "flyover" America is a bond to cherish. The most fervent Rock-Chalk chants every March can be heard in Alexandria, Va. At the Democratic Convention last month I saw Dan Glickman drive off in a Lexus with Sedgwick County tags -- this from a man who has had no reason to keep a Kansas affiliation (other than his imaginary Senate runs) for the past decade. When you're from a Plains state and you're out East, there's always that part that's an outsider. But when you see a fellow-traveler, you're halfway toward making a friend. And while lots of folks who live near oceans think they have this country under control, the flyover folks are never far off, rising like four-year cicadas in the election cycles, colored both red and blue.

You're going to see that celebrated in part at the GOP convention this week -- admittedly for political ends, but the Democrats could stand to learn from that. Stand up, ye stereotype-at-your-own-risk products of Middle America, driving Minis and pickups through cities of gold. And watch out, New York City.

Revving up

They say it, so Kris Kobach doesn't have to. The National Republican Congressional Committee is accusing Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa, of "soft bigotry" in his attitudes toward Hispanics.

"Dennis Moore is a walking contradiction, saying small businesses are the backbone of America’s economy, and yet trying to break the backs of Hispanic entrepreneurs and families when he votes in Washington," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Alejandro Burgos. "For Moore to say it takes six or seven years for a child to be proficient in English is not only ludicrous, it's a sad example of the soft bigotry of low expectations."

The release, which I can't find posted on the Internet yet, goes on with votes, Moore comments, etc. There will be dozens more of these between now and Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, a Kansan involved with drafting the GOP platform for the RNC helped persuade the party to adopt a more moderate plank on abortion and gay rights. From today's LA Times:

Earlier this month, the [abortion rights] group joined with a gay GOP organization, Log Cabin Republicans, to propose a "unity" plank that would specifically acknowledge party splits over abortion and gay and lesbian issues.

But they failed to persuade anyone on the platform committee to introduce the proposal for debate.

Instead, an antiabortion delegate, James Bopp of Indiana, teamed with an abortion-rights advocate, Stephen Cloud of Kansas, to pass a more generic plank saying the party would "respect and accept" -- rather than merely "recognize" -- people with differing views. A White House aide helped to broker the arrangement.

And so preparations continue. Working from home today, getting details together, packing, etc. Leaving on Amtrak tomorrow morning, getting in town well before the convention media party -- a likely blog topic if ever there was one -- swings Saturday night.

About the blog: Thanks to the loyal readers who have stuck with this between the conventions. Not only is it amazing how many people correspond, it's amazing how many new people I've met through this thing. Remember -- successful blogs are built virally, and the readership push is on for the convention. As Bartles & Jaymes once said, thank you for your support.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Kobach speaks

The NRCC just announced that KS-3rd District challenger Kris Kobach will speak at the Republican National Convention on Monday, probably early afternoon. Prime-time? Uh-uh, but any face time at that podium's a coup for a challenger. Kobach survived a tight primary against 2002 nominee Adam Taff to challenge incumbent Rep. Dennis Moore of Lenexa, the only Dem in the KS delegation.

Looks like he may be taking the podium after Larry Diedrich of South Dakota, who lost a special election to Democrat Stephanie Herseth in June and is trailing her in polls for the regular electino this fall.

Chris Cherches

Note to Wichitans: Longtime city manager Chris Cherches has died. Details can be found here.

A bar called Liberty

So last night I'm supposed to meet a couple Kansans for drinks at this bar in Foggy Bottom called the Library. But in the course of meeting deadlines, swim lessons, cleaning up the place for guests tonight, etc., I got the name switched in my head, and at 9 p.m. I headed back to the District -- looking for a bar that, in my head, was called Liberty, not Library.

I looked for Liberty's address on Yahoo!, and nothing came up. Nor was Liberty available on 411. I was undeterred. It's a new bar, right? Probably not in directory assistance yet. I decided to just drive to the Foggy Bottom Metro stop and ask around for it -- maybe I'd see it, and if not, surely someone would know where it is.

And that's how I ended up driving through D.C. last night, asking people from my rolled-down pickup window, "Do you know where Liberty is?" "Excuse me -- can you help me find Liberty?" "Hey -- where's Liberty?" No one was helpful, and in retrospect, people seemed startled -- of course, I thought I was just asking about a watering hole. But when I realized my mistake (by going back to the office and checking the day's e-mails), I knew that really, I'd been asking an incredibly abstract question of people, one they probably hadn't expected or thought about all that much.

But for epistemological purposes, why not ask? Where, indeed, can Liberty be found? Liberty can be found in free discourse, including Bob Dole and his questioning of John Kerry's war record. It lives in the right to assembly and protest, including in New York at the RNC. Liberty is found whenever one supports human rights, including speaking out against atrocities in the Sudan. And Liberty is opportunity -- to know that if you work hard and play your cards right, you too can rise from the Wichita School Board to the U.S. Congress, to rebound from defeat after 18 years in office to serve in a presidential cabinet, knowing that someday, someday you may be -- a powerful lobbyist. (Glickman starts his new job next week.)

Liberty is not always just, nor is it always safe. Yet, Liberty can be found when driving down a D.C. street at night, windows rolled down, asking bizarre questions of total strangers, and living to blog about it. "Liberty" is more than just a bar -- it's an elixer for the human soul. I'm truly glad I figured out where I needed to go, while growing as a person due to my mistake.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Coming up ...

Midweek, and convention preps are underway. These things are all about five bazillion details, all hard to handle. One difference between the GOP and Dem conventions, GOP delegates report, is that NYC retailers seem a lot more enthusiastic than the Boston folks were. Downtown Boston basically fled the convention -- not so midtown Manhattan. Delegates are being inundated with coupons and invitations to spend, spend, spend -- in a sales-tax-free week, no less. does this count toward the $20 billion President Bush promised after 9/11?

Vice President Cheney was in KC stumping for 3rd District candidate Kris Kobach yesterday -- remarks here. Kobach will be speaking to the Kansas delegation at the convention, no doubt networking the national GOP as well. Sam Brownback gets a mention in Lawrence Levy's Newsday column, in which he looks at the moderate-conservative split in the national GOP.

The point some conservatives are making is, why try to be something the party isn't anymore, moderate. Why champion left-leaning programs, such as No Child Left Behind and prescription drugs for seniors, when they haven't helped Bush win more votes?

There's a good chance the campaign is listening. And that New York may be the party's last stab at pushing moderate, undecided voters their way.

If the convention doesn't move their "numbers," there's an even better chance Bush will try to win with the minority of voters who have made up their minds to support him. That would be risky but doable - if Bush can make the undecideds so disgusted with him and Kerry that they stay home.

That, he says, will make a more negative campaign. We'll see.

Finally -- no surprise here -- editorialists are weighing in on Sen. Pat Roberts' intel reform proposal. Most writers seem to think the radical restructuring that would, among the other things, eliminate the CIA as an agency.

A representative sample from The Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

Clearly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts is not afraid of igniting a massive Washington turf war. His sweeping plan to reorganize the nation's intelligence-gathering has something to offend almost everyone - the CIA, Defense, the FBI, at least four other Cabinet departments plus some powerful members of Congress.

It's tempting to say a plan that steps on that many toes can't be all bad, but the fact is, it's too early in the process to tell.

The Kansas Republican is also clearly not afraid to think big.

Roberts (no big surprise here) was named to the Senate's 9/11 working group yesterday.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Recess? What recess?

Washington gets its knocks outside the Beltway for taking August off -- but have you tried living here that month? It's like a sauna, with baking sun and sultry, heavy air that wakes you up in the middle of the night in a pool of your own sweat, wondering where, oh where, were those weapons of mass destruction, and could I use them on household appliances? (OK, my air conditioner went weird yesterday -- I had time to think of this last night.) But at least we have the August recess -- an age-old tradition of respite that I've used for Kansas travel the last three years.

Not this year.

The Summer With No Vacation is coming to a close, with a flurry of attention to Pat Roberts' intel reform plan, which encountered the expected stiff resistance. The CIA didn't take kindly to its own proposed extinction, and the White House stayed wary -- doesn't mean the plan ain't worth a good hard look, the NY Times writes. Roberts, who the Times terms "an angry Republican," is in some weird alliances with this one, with resistance from usual-ally Sen. John Warner and tentative support from Sen. John Kerry. And what would summer be without fireworks?

The Swift Boat vets, including Kansan Larry Thurlow, are pushing on with their anti-Kerry attack ads despite an appeal from President Bush to stop them, an appeal the Kerry folks called too tepid. Kabuki theater? Been seen before. This space does not believe in a vast right-wing-conspiracy, but anyone who doesn't think that 527s -- for both sides -- don't get wink-wink nudge-nudge treatment, there's a primary election on Venus you might want to run in. Regardless, we're already ugly, and it ain't even Labor Day -- although we've already established that the calendar doesn't mean much this year.

Sorry if the tone's gone negative here -- it's matching the campaign. My foot hurts, darn it, after a painful setback in some ongoing physical therapy, and I'm grumpy. (It's my own fault -- just haaaadd to dance barefoot at that Dead show a couple weekends ago, didn't I?) But we sally forth, confident that September will, indeed, arrive, and that Intelligence -- including, sometimes, our own -- will eventually undergo necessary reforms.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


You know those little things you buy at Christmas, the little towns in glass with all the snowflakes inside that you can make fall if you turn it upside-down and shake it?

Imagine the CIA in a glass, and Pat Roberts as the shaking hand, and you'll get a sense of what happened on "Face the Nation" today, when the chairman of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence proposed spinning the CIA's major divisions into three agencies. The Roberts people say reception from members of the 9/11 Commission are encouraging, but public resistance was immediate and, like anything involving Washington turf, it will be fierce.

Roberts also commented on the Swift Boat contoversy on the appearance, but didn't go as far in criticizing them as his colleague on the show, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who meanwhile expressed skepticism over the Roberts-CIA plan.

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (via his national security adviser, Rand Beers), on the other hand, seemed initially warm to Roberts's idea -- sounds a lot like what Kerry's already been saying, Beers said.

Meanwhile, back in Wichita, it's official -- Lee Jones will run against Sen. Sam Brownback for Brownback's U.S. Senate seat. In the Second District, Rep. Jim Ryun and Democratic challenger Nancy Boyda are campaigning in private homes, reminiscent of urban warfare tactics. But that's nothin' compared to what'll be happening in the Third District, where Vice President Cheney is scheduled to campaign for Republican challenger Kris Kobach on Tuesday. And House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., appeared for Kobach on Saturday

(When I found the link to that story on the KC Star Web site, the article about Hastert's pitch for Kobach appeared under a re-elect Rep. Dennis Moore ad. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Third District campaign so far.)

The New York Times had a big piece on life as a Democrat in red states on Sunday, and The Washington Post had a piece on Republicans heading to a blue state -- New York -- for the convention. Red state, blue state, me state, you state -- it could be a Dr. Seuss book, except the concept's too simplistic for children's lit. But that's what passes for discourse in 50-50 America, and the phrase itself has become part of the political calculus. And until America figures out what to do about it, it's gonna last for some time to come -- at least 'til voters take this tidy political town into their Constitution-granted hands and shake out the all the snowflakes. (What color is the sky in your America?)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Rod Carew

OK -- this is betraying Minnesota roots here, but I need to note a White House press release today announcing that Rod Carew will join the U.S. delegation attending the inauguration of Panama's new president on Sept. 1.

The selection of the one-time Minnesota Twins hitmaster and Panama native sends me to the weekend with thoughts of one of my favorite Beastie Boys songs, "Sure Shot" off their classic album "Ill Communication." Keep this in your thoughts as you spend time with loved ones this Friday:

Pull up at the function and you know I Kojak
To all the party people that are on my bozak
I've got more action than my man John Woo
And I've got mad hits like I was Rod Carew


When Kansans Attack

Right now we're seeing a two-pronged anti-Kerry strategy, and Kansans (or at least kinda-Kansans) played roles in both of them yesterday. On the one hand, we have the discredit-the-war-record strategy, which Larry Thurlow of Bogue is leading as part of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Bogue's own war stories are under question, and Kerry lashed back Thursday.

Meanwhile, as Kerry heads to Charlotte, N.C. today, famous Kansan spouse Elizabeth Dole repeatedly repeated the repeated (and repeated) charges of John Kerry as a flip-flopper. Included in the AP article on her preparation for the visit is a description of a 12-minute anti-Kerry video that shows compiled clips of the candidate's statements on Iraq and Saddam Hussein dating back to the mid-1990s. If you haven't already seen it on the RNC's Web site, click here -- it may well make an appearance at the NY convention as well. It has some nice touches, proving that polemic documentary isn't a talent limited to Michael Moore, et. al. For example, according to the article:

In a clip from Jan. 6 of this year, part of a question from Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," plays:

"Are you one of the anti-war candidates?" Matthews asks.

"I am - yeah," Kerry responds.

The video quickly cuts to the next clip, leaving out the rest of Kerry's answer. The theme song from the television series "Flipper" plays.

All right, folks -- quick! Hum the theme from "Flipper!"

And that's politics today. The Washington Post has an article on the promise of adult stem cells, always dear to Sen. Brownback's heart, and Jim Ryun is getting a ton of media mentions -- for the every-four-year recollection of his fall at the 1972 Olympics. Betting he'd rather have ink on his re-election campaign. Such is the glare of publicity.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Another Kansan influencing politics

For the record, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth member Larry Thurlow is from Bogue, Kan., a small town in the northwest part of the state. Latest news on Thurlow's own military record is here. Thurlow's response is on the Swift Boat site.

Thomas Frank, corrected

Oops! Just got this from a loyal reader:

"You are giving Mr. Frank too much credit...

His book is #12 from what I gather...by posting he's #10, you are truly dissing the Nature Boy Ric Flair and his autobiography of his days as the penultimate professional wrestler."

Sorry! I think I was working off the Aug. 15 list, not the Aug. 22. The writer also notes that the bulk of the Times' best-seller list consists of anti-Bush screeds. There's gold in them-dar screeds -- and apparently some of it's in Wichita, where I've been told Mr. Frank is appearing again on Saturday. He's going to be at DemoFest, where Lee Jones is expected to get the party's Senate nomination.

Distilled spirits

The gear-up to the GOP Convention is beginning. Got my first two party invites this week -- one to the Distilled Spirits Council "Celebrate the Spirits of New York" event and another to a buffet and performance by Travis Tritt honoring Sen. Pat Roberts, among others. (Tritt's got a new album out, BTW -- "Honky Tonk History." Yee haw.) Difficult, difficult tasks, but prepared am I.

On the topic of difficult tasks, Roberts kept the push for a powerful national intelligence director yesterday, saying the window for major intel reform is brief, and closing. The whole debate's getting a lot of wind due to the prominence of the 9/11 Commission's August push for reform -- 'twill be interesting to see how it plays out after Labor Day, when campaigning swallows up everything else.

And in yet another piece of Kansas political weirdness, the loser of the Democratic Party Senate primary might get a second shot at the nomination after a meeting in Wichita on Saturday. Here's what's happened: Party favorite Lee Jones, a 53-year-old railroad worker/lobbyist, unexpectedly lost the party primary to 76-year-old-retiree-to-the-political-right-of-incumbent-Sen.-Sam-Brownback Robert Conroy on Aug. 3. Conroy basically entered the race against Brownback, who non-Martian political analysts consider a heavy favorite to win re-election, for kicks -- he never expected to actually win the primary.

But he did, and now he doesn't want to run this fall. That opens the door to Jones, who said he's interested. That would mean an actual Democrat will run against Brownback this fall -- which (and this says disturbing things about Kansas Democrats this year) is in itself a success for the party in 2004, given their travails in finding a candidate.

(Article on Conroy-Jones brought to you by Jessica Marshall of The Johnson County Sun. I'm thinking that's the same Jessica Marshall I used to work with in Wichita. Must e-mail her and find out.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Today's buzzes

One of the Internet's greatest glories is to see the exotic places in which people find their way into print. Take, for example, Sen. Sam Brownback. Today Kansas's senior senator made The India Times, relaying a Wall Street Journal Article about contributions from the US India Political Action Committee. Brownback's one of the top GOP recipients from the PAC, which probably either has to do with his committee assignments or that burgeoning Indian community in Salina.

Brownback's also in BuzzFlash, a lefty blog/essay site that refers to him as a "conservative figurehead" added to the speaker lineup of the Republican National Convention to appease the party's conservative base, even as the party tries to make its convention moderate-friendly. Closer to the homeland, Brownback's in today's Kansas City Star, lobbying to get the Big Red One army division back at Fort Riley -- a move that might have more legs than a skeptic might normally think, though retired military leaders linked to John Kerry are criticizing the entire redeployment plan that could lead to the division's reassignment.

(Time out. My father served in the Big Red One. That has nothing to do with anything, though. Time in.)

Sen. Pat Roberts is holding his own hearing on intelligence reform today, while the GOP drums louder for John Kerry's intelligence committee attendance records, which isn't getting much attention in mainstream press. And finally, in our continuing observation of the cultural resonance of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" (now down to #10 on the NY Times best-seller list), we see a sure mark of authorial success -- references to the book that are completely superfluous to an author's argument. Check out this essay in the Gadflyer on the wars between liberal and conservative groups on college campuses. WTMWK just kind of gets pulled in, then pulled out. Oh well -- still an interesting read.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Long days in the service

Looooong day today. Messed around on bureaucracy much of the morning, did the networky lunch thing, got thrown onto an intelligence story in the afternoon. And I just got back from Walter Reed after dinner in Silver Spring with a soldier with stories to tell. He's been rehabbing since April, when he lost most of his right leg in Iraq. I've dropped in on a few of his physical therapy sessions, and tonight he, his brother (in for the week from Wichita) and I just sat down and talked for a few hours, tape running. It's quite the story, and it's quite the challenge to gather. He's had experiences I can't truly understand -- yet my job is to somehow convey those experiences in a meaningful way to readers.

I'll start transcribing tomorrow. Follow-ups and calls to friends and family start later this week. Should be able to start writing soon.

So tonight is one of those times when it really strikes home how much of an honor this job can be. Journalism isn't known for favorable hours or great salaries, but like many occupations of that nature, the best compensations are intangible. People open up their lives to you, and in a sense you become part of their lives too. They tell you things, and they trust that you'll do a good enough job with what they tell you to competently share it with thousands of people. That's a big responsibility. But it's also a great privilege, and it's the sort of thing that makes me look at the clock on my computer, realize I was looking at the same clock 15 hours ago, and think, you know, I'd pull the same shift tomorrow for another day like today.

Not that I'm rarin' to actually do that. Well-fed am I (four hours of interviews at a restaurant with free Coca-Cola refills will do that to you) -- well-rested I am not. Roberts has a hearing at 2:30 p.m., but tomorrow morning's pretty flexible. Don't expect another post 'til later in the day.

Big Red burgers

Isn't it great that the Official Restaurant of the 2004 Olympic Games is McDonald's? It's, like, so way appropriate that McDonald's is the official sponsor. I know nothing motivates an Olympic swimmer like a juicy quarter-pounder, or a tasty Chicken McNugget from McDonald's. What better aid to a sprinter than the handy pedometer that comes with the Adult Happy Meal from McDonald's? I know that when I have an Olympic day ahead of me, nothing gets me going like McDonald's. So remember, when you're treating the Olympian in you, eat at McDonald's -- you deserve a break!

(This space available for sponsorship. Write Alan Bjerga c/o Knight Ridder Washington Bureau ...)

With President Bush's plan to take troops home, Sen. Sam Brownback is working the KS angle, calling for a return of The Big Red One to Fort Riley. The 1st Infantry Division has been based in Kansas since 1955, and one brigade of the division remains near Junction City. But bringing back the entire division would be a huge boon to the area economy, and you can bet that Riley's lobbyist has a lot more than BRAC on his plate right now.

More on intel: Pat Roberts said he's willing to oppose the White House with an intelligence director bill that will give a new national intelligence director powers in line with the 9/11 Commission.

"That person would be empowered with the authority to really lead the intelligence community," Roberts said. "These authorities include the ability to hire and fire, as well as the ability to exercise control over the budgets."

Roberts is planning a hearing tomorrow on the plan.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Guns of August

The August Intel wars are raging, and it looks like the Democrats are about to execute a tactical retreat on the Porter Goss nomination. It just ain't worth it for them to fight this one.

Politicizing intelligence investigations, hearings and nominations are a touchy topic on Capitol Hill, but it looks inevitable. Pat Roberts challenged John Kerry to release his attendence records at Senate Intelligence hearings on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, which drew an immediate charge of politicization from the Kerry camp. The problem becomes, when does legitimate questioning end and when does politics begin? And how are they separable, anyway? I mean, there's Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and then there are matters of public policy and record. Lines have to be drawn somewhere -- but isn't line-drawing itself a political act?

(Sorry. Taking a dangerous veer toward grad school discourse classes here. Stop me before I quote Foucault.)

Other news: To answer the burning question, just how is Barack Obama connected to Kansas, look here. Meanwhile, a columnist writing in the Kansas City Star laments the lack of Democrats on the Sunflower State ballot. Are sunflowers perennials? The complaint sure is.

And finally, in this blog's continuing acknowledgement of dead rock legends, let us note the passing of Elvis Aron Presley on this day in 1977. I just clinked on his official Web site, and "Hound Dog" came on. The editor passing by smiled, an appropriate tribute.

Friday, August 13, 2004

An economist's take on WTMWK

Henceforth, all second references to Thomas Frank's book, "What's the Matter With Kansas," will be written as WTMWK. Not only is it edgier, it saves a lot of typing about a book that seems to be lingering much longer than I thought it would.

It's really amazing, the chord this book has struck with Heartland types. Both liberals and conservatives write me about it, and I myself have written about it more than once. But in recent days I've been wondering, 'What would BJ think of the book?' BJ is better known as Dr. William Polley, economics prof at Bradley University in Peoria. He and I go way back to dorm-hall days, when we basically conducted a "from-the-left, and from-the-right" running commentary on issues of the day at Concordia College in Moorhead. Not only is Dr. Polley an accomplished political observer and talented economist, he visits Wichita a lot -- his brother lives there.

So when he told me he got the book, I was waiting for his critique. Three-quarters of the way through, here's an excerpt from what he's saying, which I thought was worth sharing with people, whether they've read the book or not. Of all the stuff I've read on WTMWK, I have yet to hear this perspective -- I find it interesting in that it focuses purely on economic issues, without focusing on the social wedge issues Frank and other reviewers get caught up in. Anyway, use it as a springboard for your own political thought this weekend. (And sorry for the dearth of links. When I work from home I'm using a slow dialup connection, and the decline of layering shows.)

From The Doctor:

Frank paints the picture as if Kansas is what changed, not the Progressive/Populist/Democratic movement.

The whole book (I'm at page 180 now) seems to be about why Kansas no longer looks to the Democrats for the blue collar/labor union/looking out for the little guy politics and why they blindly follow the Republicans down the road to economic ruin. As they say, all politics is local. And Frank's book is a case study in the veracity of that old saying.

Furthermore, I would argue that if anyone screwed up, it was the national version of the Democratic party and the liberal movement that forgot this. What was at the root of the Populist movement? It was largely an East vs West thing. Folks from Indiana westward resented the way the economic conditions of the 1890s extracted wealth from them and sent it to the "Eastern moneyed interests" which were connected to the London bankers (which gave a significant dose of anti-Semitism to the whole thing -- which has, unfortunately, been revived by today's far right militia groups, etc.)

In the 1890s, there was no national income tax, no IRS to confiscate their hard earned money. But taxation was there in a sense -- at least as they perceived it -- in the form of very high real interest rates under a monetary system that was, how shall I put it... a mess. Kansas in the 1890s wasn't under the thumb of big business (railroads excepted) as much as they were under the thumb of this dreadful monetary arrangement. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was a start towards fixing that. After learning some hard lessons in the '30s, we got our monetary act together, and compared to the 1890s it's a non-issue to most Kansans today.

For some reason, in our neck of the woods [note: Dr. Polley is referring to Minnesota here, where he and I both grew up], there arose a large number of people who kept Progressive ideas alive at the local (i.e. grassroots) level. Maybe that didn't happen in Kansas. We had people like Floyd B. Olson, LaFollette, Humphrey, and Wellstone, just to name a few. It was an unbroken chain, and many of them would be unknown names in other parts of the country today. (Ask your friends who Floyd B. Olson was. If they don't know, tell them to read about him.) While some of them went on to national office, many of their most significant acheivements were local.

As you point out [note: Here he's referring to a review I wrote], Minnesota and Wisconsin would make better examples of how the Democrats succeeded in this regard. When Republicans became the party of lower taxes (Reagan), the transition was complete. Now they had an issue that resonated with Kansas (and the rest of the midwest and south) almost as much as the money issues of the 1890s. Kansans of the 1890s didn't want income redistribution, social programs, and so on. They wanted a level playing field with the railroads (fair prices for their crops) and money that didn't suddenly become scarce.

Frank's strongest argument is about deregulation. But I repeat, all politics is local. Speaking out for local control of the schools so that they can teach creationism is more resonant than national regulatory issues. So far, the only politician on the national stage that articulates a progressive message that might satisfy a Kansan of the 1890s as well as a liberal or even a moderate today is Barack Obama. If a few people would run for local office on his message, that just might bring back a grassroots progressive revolution.

Enough for now, but I'll just toss this one out there for you to consider. Frank gets economists all wrong. I can see nothing in his writing to indicate that he has ever had a one-on-one serious discussion with an economist. Indeed, I get the distinct impression that he would react with disdain to the idea of it -- unless it was Paul Krugman.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Prince and politics

Ahhh, August, with monsoon rains in our nation's capital and little politics to report. I'm about to head to for a pre-Prince concert dinner, hoping the streets don't look like downtown Venice by the time I get to the MCI Center.

Pat Roberts now says his Porter Goss confirmation hearings will start the first week of September. Democrats aren't likely to put up a huge fight, with election-year dynamics putting them in a bind. Jim Ryun's son Ned is getting ink as a board member of Redeem the Vote, a group attempting to get Christian youth involved in the 2004 election.

And finally,with Kansas moderate Republicans getting used to their 3rd District candidate, Kris Kobach, a Kansas City alt-paper has this unique take on the Kobach-Taff race. Shades of McGreevey?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A recipe

Hey -- I know this space is normally reserved for weighty political issues of the day, but I'm coming to the office late tomorrow and all the KR bloggers were told in a conference call today that it's important to have fresh content for readers in the morning. In that spirit, I thought I'd share this recipe that I just developed while fooling around in my kitchen this evening. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I call it, "The Soy Milk Milkshake."

Here's the recipe:


1. Ice Cream
2. Soy Milk

Directions: Scoop ice cream from ice cream container into suitable container, often a glass. Add soy milk to ice cream, taking care not to overfill. Stir evenly until soy milk and ice cream are thorougly mixed. Serve and enjoy. Thickness and number of servings vary depending on the amount of ice cream and soy milk.

"The Soy Milk Milkshake" is a healthy twist on an old standby. It's like a milkshake -- with soy milk! That's why I call it, "The Soy Milk Milkshake." It's easy, it fun, and mmmmm ... is it tasty! Try it with your friends!

OK. So I'll stick with my day job.

Wakeful or not

Ever have those days where you're, like, up until 2 a.m. for no good reason? You're just kind of tossing around, puttering a bit, looking at unfinished housework and thinking, I could do that, but maybe I'll fall asleep in five minutes? Then you don't, and then you are, and then it's 7 a.m. and you really must be starting the day.

So it was.

Maybe I was subconsciously disappointed because the plea hearing of Mike Sears was postponed. Sears is a pivotal figure of the 767 tanker scandal, which I've been covering for three years. Today he was supposed to enter a guilty plea in Alexandria, Va., but the hearing was postponed for not-publicly disclosed reasons. No reset date. Last week's Darleen Druyun hearing got postponed too, which means I hardly ever write about the 767 tanker anymore. And that seems wrong.

Porter Goss is the controversial figure du jour, and Pat Roberts is giving support despite earlier skepticism of Goss's prospects. Democrats are in a bind on this one -- Goss isn't particularly popular with them, accused of foot-dragging in investigating the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq. But they don't want to be seen as holding up a CIA nomination in an election year fraught with terror threats. A similar thing happened with the GOP plan to create the Homeland Security Dept. in the fall of 2002, when Democratic opposition might have cost then-Sen. Max Cleland his seat.

But during all the hoopla it's important to remember one thing about Washington right now: It's August. Congress isn't in session, the city feels like a swamp (which, in origins and often in character, it is), and the thousands of journalists disgruntled that they're not on vacation need something to swarm around to justify their jobs to the folks back home. Fortunately, I love my job and all it entails, and nothing makes me more excited than a chance to get up in the morning and provide more service to Knight Ridder Newspapers and its audience of millions. Even when I was up 'til 2 for no good reason at all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Attending to business

In the continuing flow of feedback, Joe C. from Allentown, Penn. writes:

"I love the fact that Tony Ridder is paying to post Jerry Garcia lyrics on the Internet."

As do I, Joe, as do I. But not every day can be an homage to a legend -- much work remains, and there's no better time to do it than now.

The results are in, and Kris Kobach edged Adam Taff in the 3rd by a hair over 200 votes. Taff has until 5 p.m. today to decide whether to ask for a recount, but said he'd support Kobach if the 38-year-old former Ashcroft adviser is indeed the winner. After a bruising campaign in which Kobach spent a quarter-million more than Taff, Kobach's now looking to incumbent (and lone Kansas congressional Democrat) Rep. Dennis Moore, who has conducted clinics on how to divide and conquer Republicans every two years since 1998. But every two years the district gets a little more Republican, and Kobach has one heckuva resume.

A little catchup here -- John Kerry and John Edwards did appear in Lawrence last weekend, but they didn't stop there, by decision of train conductor. To make up for the slight, Edwards came back and stopped in Lawrence on Sunday, drawing heavy local and national press. Edwards said the backtrack was worth it, despite Kansas's deep-red reputation.

"For all those politicians and pollsters who say, 'Wait a minute, why are you taking one valuable day to come back to Kansas to campaign? Kansas is a red state,' " Edwards said. "To John Kerry and I, there is no red state, there is no blue state, there is only one United States of America."

So there you have it -- Kansas is important to John Edwards. But committees chaired by Kansans may not be. Republicans are making an issue of Kerry-Edwards attendance at Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. It's not getting a lot of ink right now, but both Democrats have used their experience on Intel -- Kerry from 1993-2001, Edwards currently -- to tout their credentials fighting terror. But they aren't getting any perfect attendance awards. Background info says the candidates could clear the whole matter up by volunteering to release their attendance at open and closed hearings, which are normally off-record due to the committee's secretive nature. Don't bet on it.

And in one final note, another milestone of sorts -- not Jerry Garcia, but maybe more important. After more than 20 years, tomorrow is the last day of Wichita work on the Boeing 757.

"We know there's something new that will replace it eventually," Boeing sheet metal mechanic Todd Shoemaker said on a break from installing floorboards in the fuselage last week.

We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Long, strange trips to be continued

First of all, the numbers are now in, and THANK YOU for making this the most-read Knight Ridder Democratic National Convention blog of 2004. (Dave Barry excepted. Can't compete with Dave.) Onward and upward for the GOP.

Other 'n' that, this space is on hiatus for one day to honor the memory of Jerry Garcia, who passed away in San Francisco this day in 1995. Also, high-level discussions are underway about revamps to this blog. And people wonder why I mutter all the time ...

Jack Straw from Wichita, shot his buddy down.
Dug for him a shallow grave and lay his body down.
One man gone and another to go,
My old buddy you're movin' much to slow ...

-- J. Garcia, 1943-1995.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Waiting for colors to change

Bad traffic jams in Washington this week.

Checkpoints on Constitution Avenue, new barricades on Capitol Hill, restricted parking by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings . . . drivers are learning new routes to work, and the turning, lane-shifting cars leave everyone stuck.

The stoplight turns green, and it's meaningless. Green isn't the important color right now orange is. Orange as in, "orange alert," which Washington has been in since last weekend, when Homeland Security raised the threat level in response to intelligence that indicates possible terror attacks on major financial institutions in Washington, New York or New Jersey.

An orange, "high risk" day. Not red (severe risk), not yellow (elevated risk). Orange.

Other than the barricades, it's tough to know what that means. The color-coded alert system is under heavy criticism. Critics say the Red-Orange-Yellow-Blue-Green threat level system is about as useful as a stoplight with too many colors. Most of the colors aren't even used. Since the system was introduced after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it's been yellow most of the time, orange when the threat's judged higher.

Never has the alert turned red not even before the Iraq War, with all the talk about buying extra duct tape. Nor have we experienced a blissful green day a day when children will run through meadows knowing that terror is conquered.

The result, critics say, is a meaningless system that isn't specific enough for people to act upon.

This Orange Alert is different for the first time, it's targeted to specific sites. People are still skeptical. It turns out that much of the intelligence the threat level is based upon is at least three years old, and the government is being cagey about what fresh information it does have.

That leaves people wondering about what to do, about why the alert's coming now -- and about whether politics, not security, is ruling threat-level decisions.

The government's hesitancy to share information is understandable it doesn't make sense to tip off terrorists or give away sources by revealing more than necessary. But frustration with lack of openness is understandable too.

This is America -- people like to decide for themselves how threatened they should feel, and "trust our intelligence" doesn't ring too well after the massive failures connected to the Iraq War.

By its very nature, terrorism seems destined to drive the American political system nuts.

Democracy works best when open information is available to informed voters. Terror operations work underground, and disrupting them requires behind-the-scenes work too.

But less information means less accountability, which means more potential for abuse, which means more suspicion of motives. "Winning" the war on terror, in the sense of greatly reducing threats, may happen. Conducting it in a way that doesn't make people suspicious of what the government's doing may be impossible.

Every situation is a tough call. If no warning's issued and nothing happens, then people think everything's fine, even if it isn't. If no warning's issued and something happens, people will wonder why there was no warning.

If a warning is issued and something happens, people will wonder why the attack wasn't stopped. And if a warning's issued and nothing happens, then people will think that maybe there shouldn't have been a warning to start with.

The fact is, warnings serve as a useful deterrent to actual terrorist attacks -- the bipartisan 9/11 Commission notes that in its report (which an encouraging number of people are reading). Shine light on a threat, and it's more likely to shrink away. And when the government's in doubt, it makes sense to err on the side of caution.

But every warning that comes and goes without incident decreases the seriousness with which the warning is taken. How should citizens react? Is the administration overreacting, manipulating? Are its opponents criticizing genuine threats just to score political points?

The honest answer is, we don't know. Opinions you hear are based more on perceptions of how the world works, and on perceptions of motives that are really known only by the people making decisions, than they are on verifiable facts.

But right or wrong, opinions seem to be getting stronger. You can already see that in this campaign year of life-and-death issues. More emotion. More people spinning their wheels. More political gridlock. Everyone's stuck in this traffic jam. Road signs don't help, and there's no easy way out.

The traffic inches along. Turn off the talk show, pop in a CD. Watch the light change color again. Hope the cars start moving soon. Hope security trumps politics. Hope the stoplight's the only alert that ever turns red.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Rick James

I just want to note that I was at my desk, sipping a Diet Coke, when I heard the news that Rick James had died. I'm fixing the image in my mind, since I'm sure that everyone will remember where they were when they learned the "Super Freak" belonged to the ages.

Poor guy. Doomed to eternity as a pop-cult punchline.

Taff picks up five

Provisional vote-counting under way in KS3, and Taff picked up five in Wyandotte County, putting him down by 82 against Kris Kobach. Most provisional votes are in Johnson County, which Taff won on Tuesday. The razor gets thinner ...

Whistle-stop (or slow)

Well, stop may be a generous way to describe it. More details on the Kerry-Edwards "whistle-slowdown" tonight in Lawrence. The real main event is in K.C. Mo., where the Democratic team is announcing their energy proposal in yet another swing-state appearance.

Today's Kansas City Star has an analysis on why Taff-Kobach ended up being so close. Basically, the Star's Brad Cooper argues that Kobach took a more aggressive stance toward Taff than Taff did against incumbent Dennis Moore in 2002, using tried-and-true social wedge issues to knock Taff off-stride as the "incumbent" GOP nominee.

"The Kobach campaign made no secret of its strategy of going after Taff, setting the agenda and forcing Taff to talk about same-sex marriage, immigration and abortion, volatile issues that would help electrify a conservative base," Cooper writes.

Even national media are getting in on the act, with a National Review piece on "Landslide" Kobach. Author Deroy Murdoch, who has known Kobach for 20 years, writes that if Kobach survives the primary and beats Moore, "free-marketeers can expect to see someone hardcore, whip smart, young, handsome, and tough on Capitol Hill."

"Hardcore" Kobach. Huh.

Meanwhile, the provisional ballot process continues. Given the divisive campaign and zillions of ways to count or not-count votes, expect some sort of legal ramifications coming out of this.

And hey -- if you're bored today, check out this clip from The Daily Show. It's the would've been, coulda been, shoulda been clip on convention journalists. I didn't make the cut.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Kerry coming to Lawrence

Second time this year, vs. one trip to KS for President Bush, who leads by about 20 points in statewide polls.

KR pride

From Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, it's nice to be part of this: http://www.ajr.org/article_printable.asp?id=3725.

Day 2 of Kobach-Taff watch, and despite a show of unity, you know that KS Republicans are pins-and-needles on this one. The Eagle's Steve Painter has a story on how conservative groups like Club For Growth and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity are spending big money to influence Kansas races -- AFP succeeds the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation in pushing grassroots, low-tax initiatives nationwide. Also, with conservatives now back in control of the KS Board of Education, a return to the evolution debate of 1999 may be in the offing. Moderates and liberals are holding their collectivist breath as the implications of the primary elections start to unfold.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Wichita and abortion

The latest Rolling Stone has an article about Operation Rescue West and Wichita's increasingly aggressive anti-abortion movement. Link is here. (Operation Rescue likes the article, by the way.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" is #5 on the NYTimes best-seller list. Freezerbox riffs on Frank's subject matter with an analysis of what he calls "spite voters."

And one alert blog-reader sent on kudos for Knight Ridder cited in today's Progress Report from the Center for American Progress, a leftish DC think tank/advocacy group. Scroll down the "Under the Radar" section.

Primary politics

Primary time in the Heartland last night. Missouri voters backed a gay marriage ban, a vote with national implications. A similar move failed earlier before the Kansas legislature, which factored into primary elections in that state. In Wichita, the political comeback of former Mayor Bob Knight got squashed by incumbent Susan Wagle, in another victory for the conservative wing of Kansas's Republican Party.

But the biggest Kansas news might have been the 3rd District primary, where a bitter match between Kris Kobach and 2002 GOP nominee Adam Taff remains too close to call. The unofficial results show Kobach, the conservative's candidate, leading Taff by 87 votes. You can bet this one will have a challenge, which may be a break for Dennis Moore, Kansas's only Democrat in Congress and a man who profits from Republican catfights every two years. This one's going to play out over the next week, as provisional ballots are counted.

Meanwhile, in blogworld, we have our first submission to The Cabbie Project. A letter-writer pointed out to me that since this blog is aimed at Middle America, it's going to be tough to get a lot of these stories -- "not many cabs in Joplin, Mo." was the phrase used, I believe. Point taken. But I've noticed that many readers are also Midwest transplants who go to www.kansas.com for updates on the home front -- I'm relying on their stories to tell. This one comes from Meredith Sedlachek, formerly of St. Paul, Minn. and now of Washington, D.C."

"I was returning from NY and when I got into the cab, the man-who was east African, after hearing the address where I was going started ranting, ( with no urging from me) "In my country, if someone lies, they do not stay in office. This is ridiculous." He continued criticizing the Bush administration for a full five minutes, and every attempt to insert my own comments was thwarted. Finally, and just as my cell phone started ringing-I said "Well, the best weapon you have is to be certain you vote in November!" and I answered my cell phone. While on my call, I heard him saying under his breath "you don't care about the world, you just have to answer your phone...."

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Just say no to meth in church

Special shout-out to readers in Minneapolis, which was named the nation's most literate city again by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's annual study. DC was tops in newspaper reading and publishing, but got hit in other categories. Kansas City took 12th place out of 79 cities -- Wichita took 55th, right between Dallas and Fort Worth. Not a good result for the homeland. But thats OK because we no that Wichita has lots of literat peopul who read and spell good. Really.

Also on the northern Plains, one alert reader sent in this item about eco-devo in North Dakota -- a meth lab hidden in a church. Imagine the suspicious signals that must have accompanied this. "Lars, why are you bringing ammonium and cough medicine to the potluck?" or "Ya know, Ingrid's sure been acting funny after Luther League. She talks a mile-a-minute, and she can't get to sleep!"

But seriously, folks, methamphetamine is a serious scourge that's really hurting rural areas all across the heartland. So please, please don't build meth labs in churches -- and if you see someone walking through a church door with boxes and boxes of Nyquil and lighter fluid, please call local law enforcement. ...

... Primary day in Kansas, with all eyes on the 3rd District. Sam Brownback faces token opposition in his primary, and Wichita school board member Michael Kinard faces Marty Mork in the Democratic primary for the right to face Todd Tiahrt in the fall. And in an odd twist, a 79-year-old former transportation secretary under former Gov. Mike Hayden has filed as an independent against Brownback. Looks like a crowded, if not particularly competitive, field this fall in the Senate race.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Leftists w/cameras

Just finished watching "The Corporation," a Canadian documentary making its run in the U.S. It's one of a seeming slew of lefty documentaries out this summer, from "Fahrenheit 911" to "Outfoxed" to "Orwell Rolls in His Grave" to "Supersize Me." I'm not sure why documentaries are so popular, and so left-dominated, this summer, though the Washington Post took a stab at that question a couple weeks back. Maybe conservatives are too glued to their AM radios to head to the theater. Maybe moderates are too busy reading political subtext into "Spiderman 2." Regardless, this is the Summer of the Leftist Filmmaker, and I'm trying to reel it all in before the country gets back on track and America goes back to blissful unawareness.

"The Corporation" at times borders on parody of the liberal-documentary genre. It's like the filmmakers wanted to pile every usual-suspect thinker and progressive-film cliche into one blowout package. Long head-shot interviews with Noam Chomsky. And Naomi Klein. And Michael Moore. Also, lots of kitschy shots from 1950s newsreels meant to induce ironic audience laughter -- the sort of tired, "Leave It To Beaver" irony that looked witty when Tom Tomorrow drew it in 1994. There were inspiring shots of doomed protesters, the obligatory Latin American Populist Who Will Continue the Fight Against the American-Backed Oppressor, and last but not least, shots of 1930s Captains of Industry with Hitler, just in case you didn't catch the message that Corporations are Evil.

Yup. That about covers it. Any cliches I missed?

Despite all that, I'd highly recommend the film. For all of the not-always-intellectually honest polemicism we're seeing in these films, every one of them contains varying degrees of honest critique that a viewer can keep in mind while being bombarded with endless corporate pitches, political ads, etc. It's a way of making the debate, to borrow a phrase, "fair and balanced." My only fear is that their preach-to-the-converted tone and marketing diminishes their chance to inspire any real dialogue. That's too bad, because often issues like war and globalization don't cut on partisan lines -- there was a section of "The Corporation," for example, in which the filmmakers protested corporate ability to patent life forms by using the exact same arguments Sen. Sam Brownback, KS Republican, uses to oppose embryonic stem cell research. Now that is something that hasn't been tilled into the ground yet.

(Note to self: Call Brownback's office this week. Suggest he ally with Klein, Moore and Chomsky.)

At least this summer we're getting something that's getting people whipped up about debates. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing some right-wing documentaries too (for the same reasons I'm glad Al Franken's radio show seems to be doing better). Such films do exist -- a couple weeks ago I pulled a copy of "Waco: The Something-Or-Other" (not its real title, but it was about Waco) from a clearance bin and threw it in my VCR just for kicks. I couldn't resist the cover -- a montage of the White House, the burning Branch Davidian compound, and a black helicopter. I was paying half-attention to the movie while I washed dishes, learning all about how the Clintons were plotting against those poor Branch Davidians, when my VCR went haywire. I ended up completely taking my VCR apart to get to the tape. When I put it back together, I couldn't get it to work again. I had that VCR for 10 years, and that's how its life ended -- as a casualty of Waco.

Coincidence? I don't think it was a conspiracy. But I did see a black helicopter flying over my condo a couple weeks ago.

Under construction

Kansas primaries are tomorrow, and turnout's expected to be highest in Johnson, Shawnee and Sedgwick counties, where local races and the battle to beat Dennis Moore are drawing interest.

I'm taking comp time today, recovering from the primaries and trying to get my shower to work before guests arrive tomorrow. The Unity journalism conference is in Washington this week -- it's a huge shindig of the national organizations for black, Asian and Hispanic journalists, and Bush and Kerry are both speaking to it. But as it's a gathering of journalists, nobody has money for hotel rooms, so Condo Alano's booked all week starting tomorrow. Unfortunately, the shower nozzle unit rebelled this morning and I need to replace it. I'm also working off a bad dialup Internet connection, explaining the brevity of this entry.

But the feedback keeps coming, and I'm anticipating some changes to the blog in the next week or so. I've got Cabbie Project stories coming soon -- also, I found out yesterday that my brother's getting married, and that's worth noting. So be patient. The plumbing will be back in order soon.