The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hunter - Bush Administration Creates New Levels of Cronyism and Corruption

Washington, DC -- The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.

The October 11, 2005 order issued by NPS Director Fran Mainella requires that the selection criteria for all civil service management slots (Government Service grades or GS-13, 14 and 15) include the "ability to lead employees in achieving the ... Secretary's 4Cs and the President's Management Agenda." In addition, candidates must be screened by Park Service headquarters and "the Assistant Secretary [of Interior] for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks," the number three political appointee in the agency. [...]

The President's Management Agenda includes controversial policies and proposals such as aggressive use of outsourcing to replace civil servants, reliance on "faith-based initiatives" and rollbacks of civil service rights. [...]

"Presidents come and go but the civil service is designed to serve whoever occupies the swivel chair in the Oval Office," Ruch added. "It is downright creepy that now every museum curator, supervising scientist and chief ranger must be okayed by a high-level political appointee."

Creepy is, I suppose, the best marginally objective word that can be placed on it. What the Bush administration and Republican Party has done is expand the number of purely political appointees far beyond even normal crony-laden levels, drilling those appointees deeper into various government functions, and giving them unprecedented instruction to short-circuit scientific studies and otherwise enforce "ideological purity" on the science and everyday function of basic government tasks.

That the Bush administration is openly hostile to science and book-learning is hardly new news, but it is worth reflecting on how quickly they managed to find these new sunken levels of cronyism and corruption, and what a long-term project restoring basic competence to these functions of government might yet turn out to be. We've been losing a great many experienced, apolitical career civil servants, in the Bush years, resulting in a "brain drain" in everything from the EPA to Energy to Customs to the CIA and DOD. And they're being replaced by campaign consultants, drivers, lobbyists and others who the Party owes favors to.

As Hurricane Katrina proved, such cronyism has real-world consequences. But as the brief period after Hurricane Katrina also has proved, the Bush administration functions so completely from cronyism (cough*Miers*cough) that it simply doesn't know how to function any other way.

And I can't find fault with the commenters on Maccabee's recommended diary, yesterday, that observed that party-based loyalty requirements for even midlevel government positions have been typically associated with regimes, shall we gently say, not typically thought of as ideal models for American government. I'll charitably just say that it isn't conservatism as I've typically understood the phrase to mean.

In any event, I'm not sure how far down the basic competence ladder the Bush administration can yet tumble. But when you've even got George Will condemning the "faux conservatism" of the administration, and of key Republican figures like DeLay, Abramoff and their K Street assemblages, I'm pretty sure you've left actual "conservative" government in a ditch quite a ways back.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/10/14/173523/83

Keith Olbermann - The Nexus of Politics and Terror

The Nexus of Politics and Terror
Keith Olbermann - MSNBC


Secaucus - Last Thursday on Countdown, I referred to the latest terror threat - the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system - in terms of its timing. President Bush’s speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation.

I suggested that in the last three years there had been about 13 similar coincidences - a political downturn for the administration, followed by a “terror event” - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning.

We figured we’d better put that list of coincidences on the public record. We did so this evening on the television program, with ten of these examples. The other three are listed at the end of the main list, out of chronological order. The contraction was made purely for the sake of television timing considerations, and permitted us to get the live reaction of the former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson.

We bring you these coincidences, reminding you, and ourselves here, that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called “the logical fallacy.” Just because Event “A” occurs, and then Event “B” occurs, that does not automatically mean that Event “A” caused Event “B.”

But one set of comments from an informed observer seems particularly relevant as we examine these coincidences.

On May 10th of this year, after his resignation, former Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge looked back on the terror alert level changes, issued on his watch.

Mr. Ridge said: “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on (alert)… there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said ‘for that?’”

Please, judge for yourself.

Number One:

May 18th, 2002. The first details of the President’s Daily Briefing of August 6th, 2001, are revealed, including its title - “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S.” The same day another memo is discovered - revealing the FBI knew of men with links to Al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school. The memo was never acted upon. Questions about 9/11 Intelligence failures are swirling.

May 20th, 2002. Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares another terrorist attack “inevitable.” The next day, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide, and against New York City landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Number Two:

June 6th, 2002. Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley’s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers.

June 10th, 2002. Four days later, speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than a month.

Number Three:

February 5th, 2003. Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq’s concealment of weapons, including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike. Many in the UN are doubtful. Months later, much of the information proves untrue.

February 7th, 2003. Two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites “credible threats” by Al Qaeda, and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison - who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster - advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack.

Number Four:

July 23rd, 2003: The White House admits the CIA -- months before the President's State of the Union Address -- expressed "strong doubts" about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. On the 24th, the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued; it criticizes government at all levels; it reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future hijackers; and it concludes that Iraq had no link to Al-Qaeda. 28 pages of the report are redacted. On the 26th, American troops are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners.

July 29th, 2003. Three days later, amid all of those negative headlines, Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks.

Number Five:

December 17th, 2003. 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a Federal Appeals Court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation-bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, and the chief U.S. Weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, announces he will resign his post.

December 21st, 2003. Three days later, just before Christmas, Homeland Security again raises the threat level to Orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are cancelled after some passenger names purportedly produce matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identify those matched names: one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year old boy.

Number Six:

March 30th, 2004. The new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer tells Congress we have still not found any WMD there. And, after weeks of refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice finally relents and agrees to testify. On the 31st: Four Blackwater-USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is widely questioned.

April 2nd, 2004. Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains, using fertilizer and fuel bombs - like the one detonated in Oklahoma City - stuffed into satchels or duffel bags.

Number Seven:

May 16th, 2004. Secretary of State Powell appears on “Meet The Press.” Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking him about the “enormous personal credibility” Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein. An aide to Powell interrupts the question, saying the interview is over. Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about Weapons of Mass Destruction was “inaccurate and wrong, and, in some cases, deliberately misleading.”

May 21st, 2004, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison are released. On the 24th - Associated Press video from Iraq confirms U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party - killing more than 40.


Wednesday the 26th. Two days later, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warn that intelligence from multiple sources, in Ashcroft’s words, “indicates Al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard,” and that “90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on the United States were complete.” The color-coded warning system is not raised, and Homeland Security Secretary Ridge does not attend the announcement.

Number Eight:

July 6th, 2004. Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry selects Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate, producing a small bump in the election opinion polls, and a huge swing in media attention towards the Democratic campaign.

July 8th, 2004. Two days later, Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about Al-Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn. Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest B. Soaries, Junior, confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming Presidential election in the event it is interrupted by terrorist acts.

Number Nine:

July 29th, 2004. At their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for President. As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats dominate the media attention over the ensuing weekend.

Monday, August 1st, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning - reconnaissance data, left in a home in Iraq - later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out-of-date.

Number Ten:

Last Thursday. At 10 AM Eastern Time, the President addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.

At 3 PM Eastern Time, five hours after the President’s speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA Leak Grand Jury, and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted.

At 5:17 PM Eastern Time, seven hours after the President’s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city’s subway system - based on information supplied by the Federal Government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is “of doubtful credibility.” And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days, and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. Local New York television station, WNBC, reports it had the story of the threat days in advance, but was asked by "high ranking federal officials" in New York and Washington to hold off its story.

Less than four days after revealing the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says "Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future, we'll slowly be winding down the enhanced security."

While news organizations ranging from the New York Post to NBC News quote sources who say there was reason to believe that informant who triggered the warning simply ‘made it up’, a Senior U.S. Counter-terrorism official tells the New York Times: "There was no there, there."

The list of three additional examples follows.

Number Eleven:

October 22nd, 2004. After weeks of Administration insistence that there are terrorist plans to disrupt the elections, FBI, Law Enforcement, and other U.S. Intelligence agencies report they have found no direct evidence of any plot. More over, they say, a key CIA source who had claimed knowledge of the plot, has been discredited.

October 29, 2004. Seven days later - four days before the Presidential election - the first supposedly new, datable tape of Osama Bin Laden since December 2001 is aired on the Al-Jazeera Network. A Bush-Cheney campaign official anonymously tells the New York Daily News that from his campaign’s point of view, the tape is quote “a little gift.”

Number Twelve:

May 5th, 2005. 88 members of the United States House of Representatives send a letter to President Bush demanding an investigation of the so-called “Downing Street Memo” - a British document which describes purported American desire dating to 2002 to "fix" the evidence to fit the charges against Iraq. In Iraq over the following weekend, car bombings escalate. On the 11th, more than 75 Iraqis are killed in one.

May 11th, 2005. Later that day, an instructor and student pilot violate restricted airspace in Washington D.C. It is an event that happens hundreds of times a year, but this time the plane gets to within three miles of the White House. The Capitol is evacuated; Vice President Cheney, the First Lady, and Nancy Reagan are all rushed to secure locations. The President, biking through woods, is not immediately notified.

Number Thirteen:

June 26th, 2005. A Gallup poll suggests that 61 percent of the American public believes the President does not have a plan in Iraq. On the 28th, Mr. Bush speaks to the nation from Fort Bragg: "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

June 29th 2005. The next day, another private pilot veers into restricted airspace, the Capitol is again evacuated, and this time, so is the President.

--

To summarize, coincidences are coincidences.

We could probably construct a similar time line of terror events and warnings, and their relationship to - the opening of new Walmarts around the country.

Are these coincidences signs that the government’s approach has worked because none of the announced threats ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public?

Is there, in addition to the "fog of war" a simple, benign, "fog of intelligence”?

But, if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country - questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering; questions about which is the threat of death by terror, and which is the terror of threat.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6210240

Paul Krugman - Questions of Character

Questions of Character
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Friday 14 October 2005

George W. Bush, I once wrote, "values loyalty above expertise" and may have "a preference for advisers whose personal fortunes are almost entirely bound up with his own." And he likes to surround himself with "obsequious courtiers."

Lots of people are saying things like that these days. But those quotes are from a column published on Nov. 19, 2000.

I don't believe that I'm any better than the average person at judging other people's character. I got it right because I said those things in the context of a discussion of Mr. Bush's choice of economic advisers, a subject in which I do have some expertise.

But many people in the news media do claim, at least implicitly, to be experts at discerning character - and their judgments play a large, sometimes decisive role in our political life. The 2000 election would have ended in a chad-proof victory for Al Gore if many reporters hadn't taken a dislike to Mr. Gore, while portraying Mr. Bush as an honest, likable guy. The 2004 election was largely decided by the image of Mr. Bush as a strong, effective leader.

So it's important to ask why those judgments are often so wrong.

Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.

Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media.

Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. The fact is that most people - myself included - are pretty bad at using personal impressions to judge character. Psychologists find, for example, that most people do little better than chance in distinguishing liars from truth-tellers.

More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies. (Yes, I'm speaking in part from experience.) Only now, with Mr. Bush in desperate trouble, has the structure of rewards shifted.

So what's the answer? Journalists who are better at judging character? Unfortunately, that's not a practical plan. After all, who judges their judgment?

What we really need is political journalism based less on perceptions of personalities and more on actual facts. Schadenfreude aside, we should not be happy that stories about Mr. Bush's boldness have given way to stories analyzing his facial tics. Think, instead, about how different the world would be today if, during the 2000 campaign, reporting had focused on the candidates' fiscal policies instead of their wardrobes.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/101405K.shtml

Thursday, October 13, 2005

George Will - On K Street Conservatism

On K Street Conservatism
Conservatives are not supposed to be cuddly. They are supposed to be competent, and to understand the scarcity of everything.
By George F. Will
Newsweek

Oct. 17, 2005 issue - For a few conservatives, the accumulation of discontents may have begun building toward today's critical mass in December 2001 with the No Child Left Behind law, which intruded the federal government deeply into the state and local responsibility of education, grades K through 12. That intrusion has been accompanied by a 51 percent increase in the budget of the Education Department that conservatives once aspired to abolish.

The accumulation accelerated in December 2003, when the Republican House leadership held open for three hours the vote on adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare. The time was needed to browbeat enough conservatives to pass the largest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ—an entitlement with an unfunded liability larger than that of Social Security. The president's only believable veto threat in nearly five years was made to deter an attempt to cut spending by trimming the drug entitlement.

Agriculture subsidies increased 40 percent while farm income was doubling. Conservatives concerned about promiscuous uses of government were appalled when congressional Republicans waded into the Terri Schiavo tragedy. Then came the conjunction of the transportation bill and Katrina. The transportation bill's cost, honestly calculated, exceeded the threshold that the president had said would trigger his first veto. (He is the first president in 176 years to serve a full term without vetoing anything. His father cast 44 vetoes. Ronald Reagan's eight-year total was 78.) In 1987 Reagan vetoed a transportation bill because it contained 152 earmarks—pork—costing $1.4 billion. The bill President Bush signed contained 6,371, costing $24 billion. The total cost of the bill—$286 billion—is more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than the combined costs of the Marshall Plan and the interstate highway system.

With Katrina, "nation building"—a phrase as sensible as "orchid building," and an undertaking expressive of extravagant confidence in government—has come home. It is one thing to invoke, as Reagan frequently did for national inspiration, the Puritans' image of building a "shining city upon a hill." It is another thing to adopt the policy of rebuilding a tarnished city—it was badly tarnished even before the inundation—that sits below sea level.

Could Katrina's costs be paid by budget cuts, perhaps starting with $24 billion of transportation earmarks? No, said the then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay—"The Hammer"—because Republicans have cut all inessential spending. With that, critical mass became explosive.

The indictments of DeLay—although certainly political in terms of the prosecutor's motive and probably unjust as a matter of law—are, considered solely in terms of their consequences, helpful to conservatives. DeLay, who neither knows nor cares any more about limited government than a camel knows or cares about calculus, probably will never return to the House leadership, and might even be voted out of the House in 13 months.

When hammered, people can become as flattened as veal scaloppine, or can become angry. Conservatives' anger forced Speaker Dennis Hastert to abandon his highhanded attempt to name California Rep. David Dreier as DeLay's chosen placeholder. Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, who was named instead, will not relish turning into a pumpkin if DeLay returns. Besides, 50 Republican members can force leadership elections—what a concept—and are apt to do so in January. Furthermore, in 2004 DeLay won with an underwhelming 55 percent, running nine points behind President Bush in his district.

DeLay is exhibit A for the proposition that many Republicans have gone native in Washington. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, leader of the more than 100 conservative members of the Republican Study Committee, charges that some Republicans think "big government is good government if it's our government." DeLay's troubles, and his party's, may multiply with coming revelations about the seamy career of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He is emblematic of DeLay's faux conservatism—K Street conservatism. That is Republican power in the service of lobbyists who, in their K Street habitat, are in the service of rent seekers—interests eager to bend public power for their private advantage.

Since 2000 the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled, from 16,342 to 34,785. They have not been attracted to the seat of government, like flies to honey, for the purpose of limiting government.

Conservatives are not supposed to be cuddly, or even particularly nice. They are, however, supposed to be competent. And to know that scarcity—of money, virtue, wisdom, competence, everything—forces choices. Furthermore, they are supposed to have an unsentimental commitment to meritocracy and excellence. The fact that none of those responsible for the postwar planning, or lack thereof, in Iraq have been sacked suggests—no, shouts—that in Washington today there is no serious penalty for serious failure. Hence the multiplication of failures.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9629463/site/newsweek/

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bill Maher -- New Rule For Dubya

Bill Maher-- New Rule for Dubya

New Rule: George Bush must meet some new people. You know, when Americans see their president giving every job to the same old cronies, they use words like "loyal to a fault" and "stubborn" and "close-minded," "lives in a bubble," "sock-puppet," "asshole." "Worst president ever." But they're missing the point. The problem isn't his political philosophy - "kill people and animals and take their gas" - the problem is he has to expand his circle of friends beyond his mom, Karen Hughes and the House of Saud. Which is why before George Bush makes another political appointment, he has to join Friendster.

This week, President Bush had to nominate a Supreme Court judge, and he picked the most qualified person within 30 feet of his office. Her qualifications: well, she is a lawyer and former commissioner of the Texas State Lottery. And she's seen every episode of "Judging Amy." Abortion, affirmative action, separation of church and state. Yeah, let's ask the lady who peddled scratch tickets to liquor stores.

Does he just go with the first person he sees? I wouldn't be surprised if Laura was his sister. Now, of course - I keep checking with him - of course, George Bush isn't the first politician to hand out graft gigs to his pals, but he doesn't seem to understand that that's what the bullshit jobs are for: ambassador to the Bahamas. The Recycling Czar. Head of the CIA. But George Bush puts stooges where they can do real damage: Director of FEMA? That guy from the horsie show is available. U.N. Ambassador? Dick Cheney knows a guy with a mustache and anger issues.

Supreme Court justice? Lady down the hall. Labor Secretary? The guy who helped me move that hooker's body at Yale could probably do it. You know - you know, Mr. President, when you got elected, we all figured you were no genius, but smart enough to hire qualified people. But it turns out you're just a dimwit who enjoys feeling superior. And the only way to accomplish that is to surround yourself with the likes of Mike Brown and Harriet Miers: Goober and Aunt Bea. Unspectacular souls who make you feel comfortable and unthreatened. Kind of like when Madonna used to hang out with Rosie O'Donnell.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble. But real friends are the ones who tell you the truth. They're also the ones who work hard so as not to embarrass you. These people who work for you aren't behaving like friends. They're behaving far worse. They're behaving...like family.

Yes, it's almost enough to make you miss the old pre-"honor and integrity" days. Because at least when Clinton talked about tapping the woman down the hall, he was just having sex with her.

http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/new_rules/index.html

Monday, October 10, 2005

Frank Rich - The Faith-Based President Defrocked

The Faith-Based President Defrocked
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 09 October 2005

To understand why the right is rebelling against Harriet Miers, don't waste time boning up on her glory days with the Texas Lottery Commission. The real story in this dust-up is not the Supreme Court candidate, but the man who picked her. The Miers nomination, whatever its fate, will be remembered as the flashpoint when the faith-based Bush base finally started to lose faith in our propaganda president and join the apostate American majority.

Though James Dobson, America's foremost analyst of the gay subtext of SpongeBob SquarePants, was easily rolled by Karl Rove and dragged back into the Miers camp, he's an exception. The pervasive mood on the right was articulated by Cathie Adams, president of the Texas branch of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. She told The Washington Post: "President Bush is asking us to have faith in things unseen. We only have that kind of faith in God."

This is a sea change. If anything, Ms. Miers's record of opposition to abortion (a contribution to Texans United for Life, a leadership role at a strenuously anti-abortion church) is less "unseen" than that of John Roberts, whose nomination aroused no protest on the right only three months ago. The difference between then and now is a startling index of the toll taken by a botched war and hurricane response on whatever remains of Mr. Bush's credibility. The continuing inability of the administration to accomplish the mission in Iraq and of its post-Brownie FEMA to do a heck of a job on the Gulf Coast has inflicted collateral damage on its case for Harriet Miers.

"The president's 'argument' for her amounts to: Trust me," George Will wrote in the op-ed column that last week galvanized conservative opposition to the nomination. He then went on to list several reasons why he doesn't trust Mr. Bush. As if to prove the point, the president went out to the Rose Garden and let loose with one whopper after another in his first press conference in four months.

"Of all the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?" Mr. Bush was asked. "Yes," he answered. Has he ever discussed abortion with her? "Not to my recollection." How much political capital does he have left? "Plenty." With a straight face he promised that Ms. Miers was "not going to change" and that "20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today." Even were that a praiseworthy attribute, it would still contradict the history of a woman who abandoned her Roman Catholic faith for evangelical Christianity and the Democratic Party for the Republicans.

But Mr. Bush's dissembling wasn't limited to his Supreme Court nominee. Asked how he was going to pay for Katrina recovery, the president twice said he'd proposed $187 billion in budget cuts over 10 years - but failed to factor in his tax proposals and other budget increases. The real net total for proposed Bush cuts is $103 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and even less according to some independent number crunchers. Turning to Iraq, Mr. Bush once again fudged our "progress" there with a numerical bait-and-switch, bragging about "30 Iraqi battalions in the lead." (Translation: in the lead with American military support.) Less than a week earlier his own commanders had told Congress that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of fighting unaided had dropped from 3 to 1 since June. (Translation: 750 soldiers are now ready to stand up on their own should America's 140,000 troops stand down.) For good measure, Mr. Bush then flouted credibility one more time to set the stage for the next administration fiasco. In the event of a bird flu epidemic, he said, one option for effecting a quarantine would be to use the military. What military? Last week The Army Times reported that the Pentagon, its resources already overstretched by Iraq, would try to bolster sagging recruitment by tapping "a demographic long deemed off limits: high school dropouts who don't have a General Educational Development credential."

Like most Bush fictions, the latest are driven less by ideology than by a desire to hide incompetence. But there's a self-destructive impulse at work as well. "The best way to get the news is from objective sources," the president told Brit Hume of Fox News two years ago. "And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world." Thus does the White House compound the sin of substituting propaganda for effective action by falling for the same spin it showers on the public.

Beware of leaders who drink their own Kool-Aid. The most distressing aspect of Mr. Bush's press conference last week was less his lies and half-truths than the abundant evidence that he is as out of touch as Custer was on the way to Little Bighorn. The president seemed genuinely shocked that anyone could doubt his claim that his friend is the best-qualified candidate for the highest court. Mr. Bush also seemed unaware that it was Republicans who were leading the attack on Ms. Miers. "The decision as to whether or not there will be a fight is up to the Democrats," he said, confusing his antagonists this time much as he has Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Such naked presidential isolation from reality was a replay of his response to Hurricane Katrina. When your main "objective sources" for news are members of your own staff, you can actually believe that the most pressing tragedy of the storm is the rebuilding of Trent Lott's second home. You can even believe that Brownie will fix it. The truth only began to penetrate four days after the storm's arrival - and only then, according to Newsweek, because an adviser, Dan Bartlett, asked the president to turn away from his usual "objective sources" and instead watch a DVD compilation of actual evening news reports.

Mr. Bartlett's one desperate effort to prick his boss's bubble notwithstanding, the White House as a whole is so addicted to its own mythmaking prowess that it can't kick the habit. Seventy-two hours before Ms. Miers was nominated, federal auditors from the Government Accountability Office declared that the administration had violated the law against "covert propaganda" when it repeatedly hired fake reporters (and one supposedly real pundit, Armstrong Williams) to plug its policies in faux news reports and editorial commentary produced at taxpayers' expense. But a bigger scandal is the legal propaganda that the White House produces daily even now - or especially now.

As always, much of it pertains to the war in Iraq. On Sept. 28, to take one recent instance, the president announced the smiting of a man he identified as "the second most wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq" and the "top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad." As New York's Daily News would quickly report, the man in question "may not even be one of the top 10 or 15 leaders." The blogger Blogenlust chimed in, documenting 33 "top lieutenants" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who have been captured, killed or identified in the past two and a half years, with no deterrent effect on terrorist violence in Iraq, Madrid or London. No wonder the nation shrugged at the largely recycled and unsubstantiated list of 10 foiled Qaeda plots that Mr. Bush unveiled in Thursday's latest stay-the-course Iraq oration.

The administration's strategy for covering up embarrassing realities with fiction reached its purest expression two weeks ago when both Laura Bush and Karen Hughes were recruited to star in propagandistic television "reality" shows. In the first lady's case, this was literally so: she was dispatched to Biloxi to appear in an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The thinking seems to be that if Mrs. Bush helps one family on a hit reality series, perhaps no one will notice the reality that no-bid contracts and ineptitude have kept hundreds of thousands of other hurricane victims homeless indefinitely while taxpayers foot the bill for unused trailers and cruise ships.

Ms. Hughes took her act on the road in the Middle East. There she conducted a culturally tone-deaf "listening tour" in which she read her lines from briefing papers and tried to win hearts and minds by posing with little Arab kids as if they were interchangeable with the little black kids in Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservative" photo ops back home. She didn't seem to know that this stunt wouldn't even fly on Fox News anymore, let alone Al Jazeera.

This Saturday is supposed to bring new victories on both these troubled fronts: Oct. 15 is the day that Iraqis vote on their constitution and the day that the president set as a deadline for all hurricane victims to be moved out of shelters. Chances are that the number of Americans who still have faith that the light is at the end of either of these tunnels is identical to the number who believe Harriet Miers is the second coming of Antonin Scalia and that Tom Cruise has found true love.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/100905F.shtml