Monday, October 30, 2006

I. Lewis Libby, or Scooter the Memorious

By now, awash in Foleygate and the continuing tragedy of Iraq, you may well have forgotten that the matter of I. Lewis Libby is still working its way through our court system. Most news media have been ignoring the story, but the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig has been in the court house and on the story, and it is thanks to her that we know of the strange appearance of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus last week.

Professor Loftus, you will of course recall, is a memory expert, the author of EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY, and a member of the faculty at the University of California at Irvine. It is her expertise in the study of memory that explains her pertinence to Plamegate and to the Libby defense team.

Team Libby wanted to call Professor Loftus in Scooter's defense, which is to be, as it were, the absent-minded professor strategy. The argument is that Mr. Libby, "Scooter" to friend and foe alike, had not in fact lied to the federal investigators. Rather, he was such a busy man, what with the security of the nation at stake and all, that he simply could not remember having met with a reporter for the purpose of leaking the fact that Valerie Plame was a classified employee of the CIA. The purpose in Dr. Loftus's proffer in court last week was to bolster the argument that, as Leonnig reports, "many potential jurors do not understand the limits of memory" and hence that Libby should be permitted to call an expert witness who could explain to befuddled jurors just how befuddled it was possible for Scooter to have been.

The proffer went badly from the moment that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald began his examination of the expert. He quickly had Dr. Loftus conceding that she had often relied on less than scientific methodology in reaching her published conclusions and that she had exaggerated data. "I don't know how I let that line slip by," she offered at one point, speaking of her own writing. Fitzgerald, in the process, demonstrated his legendary command of texts, footnotes and documents.

But in the end, Dr. Loftus did effectively demonstrate one weak memory, at least. She insisted under oath that she had never before met Patrick Fitzgerald.

He gently reminded her that he had previously subjected her to a cross-examination when she appeared before him as an expert witness in a case in New York.

I suspect that if I were ever cross-examined by Patrick Fitzgerald, I would remember it, much as I might prefer not to.

Would that all of us who write had readers as attentive and scrupulous as Patrick Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006



Just days ago, the Republicans were calling a Democrat a racist because he had used the word "slavish" when speaking of candidate Michael Steele's propensity for following the Bush administration line. One might have thought this an indication that the Republican Party had developed a refreshing new sensitivity to racism as a campaign tactic. After all, didn't GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman recently apologize to black Americans for the way that the party had played on racism in the years since Nixon first deployed his "southern strategy," and hadn't this same Ken Mehlman been heard telling every journalist he could buttonhole of his fervent desire that his party should demonstrate a renewed commitment, not seen since the Reconstruction era, to reaching out for African American voters?

By now you've probably seen the ads that Ken Mehlman's Republican National Committee is paying to have run in Tennessee to oppose senatorial candidate Harold Ford, who, if elected, would be the first black Senator from a southern state since Reconstruction. Most of the discussion about this ad has centered, not surprisingly, on that seemingly unclothed blonde who says she met Harold Ford "at the Playboy Party," and who closes out the ad by looking longingly into the camera and cooing seductively, "Call me, Harold."

There can be little doubt what lingering sentiments this part of the ad is meant to appeal to, but the GOP spokesmen profess not to see it. Tonight on the HARDBALL program, Chris Matthews asked White House Spokesman Tony Snow about this point. Snow said he didn't see anything racial about the ad at all. Even when Matthews pressed him in disbelief, pointing out that the blonde was the only person appearing with bare shoulders in the ad, Snow dismissed the suggestion, adding that in every campaign somebody would play the "race card," implying that only someone trying to play the "race card" in a campaign would try to convince the public that there was anything racial in having an apparently naked white woman close out an ad with an open invitation to a black candidate; "call me, Harold."

Bob Corker, Ford's Republican opponent, DOES see something wrong with the ad, or so he would have us believe, and he has professed his desire to see the ad pulled from television. Still, the ad continues to run. In fact, the woman who appeared as an official spokesperson for the RNC to tell reporters that the ad would continue to run is the same woman who has been traveling through the state with Corker on his campaign.

And where is Ken Mehlman in all this? He tells reporters he doesn't have any problem with the ad at all.

Yeah, and George Allen never heard the word "Macaca" before pulling it out of his fevered brain to describe a young man whose family was from India. Meet the new GOP, same as the old . . . well, the Grand Old Party.

And while the Republicans are busy telling journalists that only the deluded, race-card-playing liberal elite would ever see anything racial in this imagery, Rush Limbaugh takes to the air to accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's symptoms in his appearance in a campaign ad on behalf of a candidate who supports stem cell research.

But there's another aspect of the anti-Ford ads that also needs attention. That same ad that closes with a seductive white woman suggesting a tryst with Ford opens with a black woman speaking on camera. What does she have to say about the election?

"Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?"

Is this meant to tell us that Ford is a good looking candidate? Or is it meant to suggest something about the motivations and insights of black women voters?

The Republican Party will not renounce its addiction to racist campaign tactics. The party of Lincoln, the party of Reconstruction, is today the last unapologetic home of unreconstructed bigotry.


"But the White House is cutting and running from 'stay the course.'"

--Peter Baker -- WASHINGTON POST front page

Monday, October 23, 2006

LORENZO THOMAS Remembered in Oakland

. . . accepting the convention
We live for but never mention.
--Lorenzo Thomas

I've been away from the blog for a bit, making my way back and forth across the country to meet with fellow writers and scholars in Oakland and Brooklyn. In the next few entries, I'll be posting photos from those sessions. First up, the convention of the American Studies Association in Oakland.

This year at the ASA, I was part of a panel in tribute to the poet and critic Lorenzo Thomas. Lorenzo was a long-time member of the American Studies Association, and it was at his suggestion that Anna and I presented papers on a panel about black intellectual life in Atlanta the last time the conference met in that city. Lorenzo was to have presented a paper as well, but his health was already failing, and we had to read his paper for him in his absence. This year's panel was a bittersweet followup to the critical session devoted to Lorenzo's own work that was presented at the American Studies Association meeting in Houston. That panel was organized by Barry Maxwell, who is seen gesturing indexically in one of the photos below. The other presenters that year were Kalamu ya Salaam and Maria Damon and your humble blogger

The roundtable for this year's meeting was put together by James Smethurst, of the University of Massachusetts' Department of Black Studies.

The first speaker was Barry, who is editing a posthumous collection of Lorenzo's talks, essays and interviews for the University of Michigan Press. Barry delivered a deeply touching retrospective view of Lorenzo Thomas's life in poetry, teaching and activism.

My own talk was drawn from the preface to another work by Lorenzo that will also be published by Michigan. DON'T DENY MY NAME will be a volume of essays on words, music and the black intellectual tradition. The manuscript had been submitted to Michigan and had already cleared the first hurdle of peer reviewing at the time of Lorenzo's death. I have taken on the task of cleaning up the manuscript, tracking down some of Lorenzo's sources and preparing the volume for release. In addition to Lorenzo's reflections on such topic as the relationships between poetry and the blues, or the Black Arts era comprehensions of music, the book also draws from interviews Lorenzo accomplished over the years with people like Juke Boy Bonner and the men who sponsored Sonny Boy Williamson's KING BISCUIT HOUR broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas. The work on that book should be done shortly, and I'll be turning it over to the press for publication by year's end.

Lastly, we heard from the always provocative Ishmael Reed. Reed had been an associate of Lorenzo's in the days of the UMBRA Writers' workshop in New York, and published one of Lorenzo's major collections of poetry, THE BATHERS,which brings together work that Lorenzo had published in chapbooks and journals between 1972 and 1981.

We had a generous and enthusiastic audience that afternoon in Oakland, an audience brought together by Lorenzo's powerful words.

There will be another panel dedicated to Lorenzo's work at this year's meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Shoe / Other Foot

For decades now, the Right has derided American liberals at large, and African Americans in particular, for "playing the race card," for blindly and blandly enforcing "political correctness," for being, well, over-sensitive. I have never forgotten the howls that filled the airwaves when a politican in D.C. objected to another politican's use of the word "niggardly." Laura Ingraham mugged for the camera intoning, "get a dictionary."

This week, Maryland Senatorial candidate Michael S. Steele complained of his opponent's racism when that opponent complained that Steele "slavishly" followed the Bush administration's every dodge and dart.

Has Laura told him to get a dictionary? Has Tucker Carlson told him to get real? Has any Republican complained of political correctness?

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Have you at last no decency?"

It's been clear throughout the run up to the mid-term elections that the Republican party was following a two-pronged attack. At the national level, the party that once derided the Democrats for "scaring senior citizens into the voting booth" is now, as it did in the last election, trying to scare people into the voting booth. (You know, "Vote Republican or die!")

At the local level, the party was pouring millions of campaign dollars into "opposition research" and the resulting attack ads. If you're near a television set, you've probably seen plenty of these already. Here in Pennsylvania I can't turn on the set without seeing another Santorum attack on Casey.

But you have to be careful what you pray for, as I'm sure the Republicans must have heard from the parents. Pray for slime; you get slime.

"Macaca" dripping from his lips, George Allen now finds himself on the receiving end of the very kind of opposition research his party relies upon. Somehow he isn't pleased to find inquisitors dogging his past steps. Thanks to the "Macaca" episode, journalists are finally waking up to the fact that those Confederate flags Allen sported for years meant something.

Then there's the Foley follies. The story first broke nationally in the frame that the Republicans had hoped would hold. The only Foley emails quoted in the morning papers were those "too friendly" ones that Hastert admits having known about. But by the time I got home from work that day, Foley had resigned, the story of the sexually explicit emails and instant messages had gotten out, and the national Republican apparatus was in full panic mode as the full scale of the evil became apparent.

Meanwhile, over at the Department of Education, we learn (partly due to emails -- will they ever learn?) that the No Child Left Behind Act has become a mechanism for enriching Republican cronies. That part of the act that purportedly made funds available for the adoption of "scientifically tested" reading programs had been perverted, as anyone could have predicted, and was openly employed to steer millions to a few companies close to the administration. The people administering this scam openly (those emails!) gloated about how they were screwing all other reading programs, scientifically tested or not.

And then there are the continual revelations at the White House itself. Not only does it turn out that Abramoff had hundreds of contacts with White House staff, but we now learn (yet more emails!) that Karl Rove's top aide, Susan Ralston, accepted thousands of dollars of booty from Abramoff -- tickets to MCI Center to see Bruce Springsteen, Andrea Bocelli, Capitals hockey games, a Wizards basketball game, an outing with the Baltimore Orioles. The Wizards tickets alone were $1,300 face value. Rove, too, got tickets, but his office assures the press that he paid for them.

Why is Karl Rove buying tickets from a lobbyist in the first place?

This is of a piece with the White House defense against the story of the hundreds of Abramoff contacts. The administration pooh poohs the list, pointing out that Abramoff is known to pad his billings with contacts that didn't happen. But the White House keeps logs of everything. It would be a simple matter for them to produce records showing whether Abramoff's billings were correct or not, and yet we have yet to see any of those records.

And that, my friends, was just in two days of one week.