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)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Larry C. Johnson | Republican Chutzpah on Iran

Republican Chutzpah on Iran
By Larry C. Johnson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 26 August 2006

Chutzpah is a Yiddish term that means "unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity." Got to love Yiddish. No other term captures what the Republican staff members of the House Intelligence Committee accomplished yesterday with the release of a partisan report on Iran. According to the Washington Post account:

A key House committee issued a stinging critique of US intelligence on Iran yesterday, charging that the CIA and other agencies lack "the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments" on Tehran's nuclear program, its intentions or even its ties to terrorism.

Gee whiz, "lack of essential information?" Like what? Nuclear weapons? Which brings me to Valerie Plame.

When Valerie's identity was exposed by Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and others in the Bush administration in the summer of 2003, she was doing undercover work to monitor, detect, and interdict nuclear technology going to Iran. Larisa Alexandrovna broke the story on Raw Story in February 2006. David Shuster confirmed the report on Hardball on 2 May 2006:

While the heart of the CIA leak investigation is the Bush administration's aggressive defense of the WMD case for war in Iraq, there is new evidence now the defense may have undermined intelligence efforts on Iran. The key player in the CIA leak story is Valerie Wilson, a CIA operative whose identity was outed by White House officials. As MSNBC first reported yesterday, Wilson was not just undercover but, according to intelligence sources, was part of an effort three years ago to monitor the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran.

So, the Republicans want to whine about inadequate intelligence on Iran's nuclear program while holding fundraisers for Scooter Libby, one of the men implicated in the leak of Valerie's classified identity? Excuse me? The leak did more than ruin Val's ability to continue working as an undercover CIA officer. The leak destroyed a US intelligence program to collect information about Iran's efforts to get nuclear weapons material.

What is particularly galling about this is how Peter Hoekstra has played politics with intelligence all along. In a letter to the White House earlier this year complaining about the possible appointment of Stephen Kappes as the Deputy Director of the CIA, Hoekstra said:

I am convinced that this politicization was under way well before Porter Goss became the Director. In fact, I have long been convinced that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets.

Instead of mounting an investigation to determine who exposed Mrs. Wilson and the intelligence operation she worked on, Hoekstra attacks CIA officers for being political hacks. Mr. Hoekstra, people who live in glass houses shouldn't chuck stones.

We now see a new effort by the Republicans to bully the intelligence community into identifying an imminent threat that does not exist. Iran has been a threat for 26 years. As reported in the Washington Post and New York Times, the intelligence community does not believe Iran is anywhere near to developing or deploying a nuclear weapon.

Peter Hoekstra wants to use his position as head of the Intelligence Committee to bully analysts and scare Americans. Meanwhile, he has sat idle as the Republican White House destroyed a viable intelligence operation to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear ambitions. That, my friends, is pure Chutzpah. Mazeltov.

Frank Rich - Return to the Scene of the Crime

Return to the Scene of the Crime


PRESIDENT BUSH travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency.

As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s “heckuva job” shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.

What’s amazing on Katrina’s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He’s still in a bubble. At last week’s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the “Today” show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, “Nothing,” adding that “nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.” Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense.

As the rest of the world knows, the White House connived 24/7 to pound in the suggestion that Saddam ordered the attacks on 9/11. “The Bush administration had repeatedly tied the Iraq war to Sept. 11,” Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton write in “Without Precedent,” their new account of their stewardship of the 9/11 commission. The nonexistent Qaeda-Saddam tie-in was as much a selling point for the war as the nonexistent W.M.D. The salesmanship was so merciless that half the country was brainwashed into believing that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis.

To achieve this feat, Dick Cheney spent two years publicly hyping a “pretty well confirmed” (translation: unconfirmed) pre-9/11 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta and a Saddam intelligence officer, continuing to do so long after this specious theory had been discredited. Mr. Bush’s strategy was to histrionically stir 9/11 and Iraq into the same sentence whenever possible, before the invasion and after. Typical was his May 1, 2003, oration declaring the end of “major combat operations.” After noting that “the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11th, 2001,” he added: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.” To paraphrase the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, this was tantamount to saying that the Japanese attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941, and war with Mexico is what they got.

Were it not so tragic, Mr. Bush’s claim that he had never suggested a connection between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq would be as ludicrous as Bill Clinton’s doomed effort to draw a distinction between sex and oral sex. The tragedy is that the country ever believed Mr. Bush, particularly those Americans who were moved to enlist because of 9/11 and instead ended up fighting a war that the president now concedes had “nothing” to do with the 9/11 attacks.

A representative and poignant example, brought to light by The Los Angeles Times, is Patrick R. McCaffrey, a Silicon Valley auto-body-shop manager with two children who joined the California National Guard one month after 9/11. He was eager to do his bit for homeland security by helping protect the Shasta Dam or Golden Gate Bridge. Instead he was sent to Iraq, where he was killed in 2004. In a replay of the Pentagon subterfuge surrounding the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman, another post-9/11 enlistee betrayed by his country, Mr. McCaffrey’s death was at first officially attributed to an ambush by insurgents. Only after two years of investigation did the Army finally concede that his killers were actually the Iraqi security forces he was helping to train.

“He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there,” his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the paper. Last week’s belated presidential admission that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on America that inspired Patrick McCaffrey’s service was implicitly an admission that he and many like him died in Iraq for nothing as well.

Mr. Bush’s press-conference disavowalof his habitual efforts to connect 9/11 to Saddam will be rolled back by the White House soon enough. When the fifth anniversary of 9/11 arrives in two weeks, you can bet that the president will once again invoke the Qaeda attacks to justify the Iraq war, especially now that we are adding troops (through the involuntary call-up of reservists) rather than subtracting any. The new propaganda strategy will be right out of Lewis Carroll: If we leave the country that had nothing to do with 9/11, then 9/11 will happen again.

But before we get to that White House P.R. offensive, there is next week’s Katrina show. It has its work cut out for it. A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A “truth squad” of House Democrats has cataloged the “waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement” in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

How do you pretty up this picture? As an opening act, Mr. Bush met on Wednesday with Rockey Vaccarella, a Katrina survivor who with much publicity drove a “replica” of a FEMA trailer from New Orleans to Washington to seek an audience with the president. No Cindy Sheehan bum’s rush for him. Mr. Bush granted his wish and paraded him before the press. That was enough to distract the visitor from his professed message to dramatize the unfinished job on the Gulf. Instead Mr. Vaccarella effusively thanked the president for “the millions of FEMA trailers” complete with air-conditioning and TV. “You know, I wish you had another four years, man,” he said. “If we had this president for another four years, I think we’d be great.”

The CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, loved it. “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better, a gritty guy named Rockey slugging it out, trying to realize his dream and getting that dream realized against all odds,” he said. He didn’t ask how this particular Rockey, a fast-food manager who lost everything a year ago, financed this mission or so effortlessly pulled it off. It was up to bloggers and Democrats to report shortly thereafter that Mr. Vaccarella had run as a Republican candidate for the St. Bernard Parish commission in 1999. It was up to Iris Hageney of Gretna, La., to complain on the Times-Picayune Web site that the episode was “a huge embarrassment” that would encourage Americans to “forget the numerous people who still don’t have trailers or at least one with electricity or water.”

That is certainly the White House game plan as it looks toward the president’s two-day return to the scene of the crime. Just as it brought huge generators to floodlight Mr. Bush’s prime-time recovery speech in Jackson Square a year ago — and then yanked the plug as soon as he was done — so it will stop at little to bathe this anniversary in the rosiest possible glow.

Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, “The Great Deluge,” is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. “I don’t think anybody’s getting the Bush strategy,” he said when we talked last week. “The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action.” As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans’s opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees (“Only Band-Aids have been put on them”), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. “Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains,” Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. “The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state.”

Perhaps. But with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. While the White House’s latest screenplay may have been conceived as “Mission Accomplished II,” what we’re likely to see play out in New Orleans won’t even be a patch on “Mission: Impossible III.”

Compliant and subservient: Jimmy Carter's explosive critique of Tony Blair

Compliant and subservient: Jimmy Carter's explosive critique of Tony Blair

By John Preston and Melissa Kite
UK Telegraph

(Filed: 27/08/2006)

Tony Blair's lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W Bush lie behind the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the worldwide threat of terrorism, according to the former American president Jimmy Carter.

Outspoken: Jimmy Carter, who condemns the pre-emptive strike on Iraq
Outspoken: Jimmy Carter condemns the Iraq invasion

"I have been surprised and extremely disappointed by Tony Blair's behaviour," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"I think that more than any other person in the world the Prime Minister could have had a moderating influence on Washington - and he has not. I really thought that Tony Blair, who I know personally to some degree, would be a constraint on President Bush's policies towards Iraq."

In an exclusive interview, President Carter made it plain that he sees Mr Blair's lack of leadership as being a key factor in the present crisis in Iraq, which followed the 2003 invasion - a pre-emptive move he said he would never have considered himself as president.

Mr Carter also said that the Iraq invasion had subverted the fight against terrorism and instead strengthened al-Qaeda and the recruitment of terrorists.

"In many countries where I meet with leaders and private citizens there is an equating of American policy with Great Britain - with Great Britain obviously playing the lesser role.

"We now have a situation where America is so unpopular overseas that even in countries like Egypt and Jordan our approval ratings are less than five per cent. It's a shameful and pitiful state of affairs and I hold your British Prime Minister to be substantially responsible for being so compliant and subservient."

The outspoken attack by the former Democratic president shows the extent of the alienation between the Labour Party and its traditional Democrat allies in America.

It will embarrass the Prime Minister on his return from his summer family holiday in Barbados and comes as Mr Blair prepares to make a defiant speech warning his party that it risks losing the next election if it does not unite behind him.

As friends of the Prime Minister mounted frenzied briefings in his defence yesterday, the Downing Street spin machine appeared to run out of control. A statement first put out on Friday was reissued, in which Mr Blair made a desperate defence of his Government, insisting that "after nearly a decade in office the PM is convinced that his Government has the experience and authority to meet these challenges".

Later officials at Downing Street admitted that they had simply redated the identical statement before sending it out to the press.

At 81, Mr Carter - the 39th American president, from 1977 to 1981, and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize - plainly has no intention of sitting on his porch and nodding quietly away as the sun goes down over his peanut farm. He has just published a book, Faith and Freedom, in which he savages the American administration for leading the country into insularity and intolerance.

"We've never before had an administration that would endorse pre-emptive war - that is a basic policy of going to war against another country even though our own security was not directly threatened," he said. In his book, President Carter writes: "I have been sorely tempted to launch a military attack on foreigners."

But had he still been president, he says that he would never have considered invading Iraq in 2003.

"No," he said, "I would never have ordered it. However, I wouldn't have excluded going into Afghanistan, because I think we had to strike at al-Qaeda and its leadership. But then, to a major degree, we abandoned the anti-terrorist effort and went almost unilaterally with Great Britain into Iraq."

This, Mr Carter believes, subverted the effectiveness of anti-terrorist efforts. Far from achieving peace and stability, the result has been a disaster on all fronts. "My own personal opinion is that the Iraqi people are not better off as a result of the invasion and people in America and Great Britain are not safer."

Asked why he thinks Mr Blair has behaved in the way that he has with President Bush's belligerent regime, Mr Carter said he could only put it down to timidity. Yet he confessed that he remains baffled by the apparent contrast between Mr Blair's private remarks and his public utterances.

"I really believe the reports of former leaders who were present in conversations between Blair and Bush that Blair has expressed private opinions contrary to some of the public policies that he has adopted in subservience."

Clinton's Efforts to Fight Terrorism

DATA DUMP: "9/11 was Clinton's fault"

by William Pitt

Thu Aug 24th 2006, 01:34 PM

The two great myths that have settled across the nation, beyond the Hussein-9/11 connection, are that Clinton did not do enough during his tenure to stop the spread of radical terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, and that the attacks themselves could not have been anticipated or stopped. Blumenthal's insider perspective on these matters bursts the myths entirely, and reveals a level of complicity regarding the attacks within the journalistic realm and the conservative political ranks that is infuriating and disturbing.

Starting in 1995, Clinton took actions against terrorism that were unprecedented in American history. He poured billions and billions of dollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the intelligence community. He poured billions more into the protection of critical infrastructure. He ordered massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines to prepare for a possible bioterror attack. He ordered a reorganization of the intelligence community itself, ramming through reforms and new procedures to address the demonstrable threat. Within the National Security Council, "threat meetings" were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton raised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the last three years of his tenure. In 1996, Clinton delivered a major address to the United Nations on the matter of international terrorism, calling it "The enemy of our generation."

Behind the scenes, he leaned vigorously on the leaders of nations within the terrorist sphere. In particular, he pushed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to assist him in dealing with the threat from neighboring Afghanistan and its favorite guest, Osama bin Laden. Before Sharif could be compelled to act, he was thrown out of office by his own army. His replacement, Pervez Musharraf, pointedly refused to do anything to assist Clinton in dealing with these threats. Despite these and other diplomatic setbacks, terrorist cell after terrorist cell were destroyed across the world, and bomb plots against American embassies were thwarted. Because of security concerns, these victories were never revealed to the American people until very recently.

In America, few people heard anything about this. Clinton's dire public warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the massive non-secret actions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was far more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When the administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist network, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress as scandalous "wag the dog" tactics. The TV networks actually broadcast clips of the movie "Wag The Dog" to accentuate the idea that everything the administration was doing was contrived fakery.

The bombing of the Sundanese factory at al-Shifa, in particular, drew wide condemnation from these quarters, despite the fact that the CIA found and certified VX nerve agent precursor in the ground outside the factory, despite the fact that the factory was owned by Osama bin Laden's Military Industrial Corporation, and despite the fact that the manager of the factory lived in bin Laden's villa in Khartoum. The book "Age of Sacred Terror" quantifies the al-Shifa issue thusly: "The dismissal of the al-Shifa attack as a scandalous blunder had serious consequences, including the failure of the public to comprehend the nature of the al Qaeda threat."

In Congress, Clinton was thwarted by the reactionary conservative majority in virtually every attempt he made to pass legislation that would attack al Qaeda and terrorism. His 1996 omnibus terror bill, which included many of the anti-terror measures we now take for granted after September 11, was withered almost to the point of uselessness by attacks from the right; Jesse Helms and Trent Lott were openly dismissive of the threats Clinton spoke of.

Clinton wanted to attack the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with foreign banks and financial institutions that al Qaeda was using for its money-laundering operations. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, killed Clinton's bill on this matter and called it "totalitarian." In fact, he was compelled to kill the bill because his most devoted patrons, the Enron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same terrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the Enron stockholders.

Just before departing office, Clinton managed to make a deal with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have some twenty nations close tax havens used by al Qaeda. His term ended before the deal was sealed, and the incoming Bush administration acted immediately to destroy the agreement. According to Time magazine, in an article entitled "Banking on Secrecy" published in October of 2001, Bush economic advisors Larry Lindsey and R. Glenn Hubbard were urged by think tanks like the Center for Freedom and Prosperity to opt out of the coalition Clinton had formed. The conservative Heritage Foundation lobbied Bush's Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, to do the same. In the end, the lobbyists got what they wanted, and the Bush administration pulled America out of the plan. The Time article stated, "Without the world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world's financial system of dirty money was short-circuited."

This laundry list of partisan catastrophes goes on and on. Far from being inept on the matter of terrorism, Clinton was profoundly activist in his attempts to address terrorism. Much of his work was foiled by right-wing Congressional conservatives who, simply, refused to accept the fact that he was President. These men, paid to work for the public trust, spent eight years working diligently to paralyze any and all Clinton policies, including anti-terror initiatives that, if enacted, would have gone a long way towards thwarting the September 11 attacks. Beyond them lay the worthless television media, which ignored and spun the terrorist issue as it pursued salacious leaks from Ken Starr's office, leaving the American people drowning in a swamp of ignorance on a matter of deadly global importance.

Over and above the theoretical questions regarding whether or not Clinton's anti-terror policies, if passed, would have stopped September 11 lies the very real fact that attacks very much like 9/11 were, in fact, stopped dead by the Clinton administration. The most glaring example of this came on December 31, 1999, when the world gathered to celebrate the passing of the millennium. On that night, al Qaeda was gathering as well.

The terrorist network planned to simultaneously attack the national airports in Washington DC and Los Angeles, the Amman Raddison Hotel in Jordan, a constellation of holy sites in Israel, and the USS The Sullivans at dock in Yemen. Each and every single one of these plots, which ranged from one side of the planet to the other, was foiled by the efforts of the Clinton administration. Speaking for the first time about these millennium plots, in a speech delivered to the Coast Guard Academy on May 17, 2000, Clinton said, "I want to tell you a story that, unfortunately, will not be the last example you will have to face."


Clinton proved that Osama bin Laden and his terror network can be foiled, can be thwarted, can be stopped. The multifaceted and complex nature of the international millennium plots rivals the plans laid before September 11, and involved counter-terrorism actions within several countries and across the entire American intelligence and military community. All resources were brought to bear, and the terrorists went down to defeat. The proof is in the pudding here. September 11, like the millennium plots, could have been avoided.

Couple this with other facts about the Bush administration we now have in hand. The administration was warned about a massive terror plot in the months before September by the security services of several countries, including Israel, Egypt, Germany and Russia. CIA Director George Tenet delivered a specific briefing on the matter to the administration on August 8, 2001. The massive compendium of data on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda compiled by Sandy Berger, and delivered to Condoleezza Rice upon his departure, went completely and admittedly unread until the attacks took place. The attacks themselves managed, for over an hour, to pierce the most formidable air defense system in the history of the Earth without a single fighter aircraft taking wing until the catastrophe was concluded.

It is not fashionable these days to pine for the return of William Jefferson Clinton. Given the facts above, and the realities we face about the administration of George W. Bush, and the realities we endure regarding the aftermath of September 11, the United States of America would be, and was, well served by its previous leader. That we do not know this, that September 11 happened at all, that it was such a wretched shock to the American people, that we were so woefully unprepared, can be laid at the feet of a failed news media establishment, and at the feet of a pack of power-mad conservative extremists who now have a great deal to atone for.

Had Clinton been heeded, the measures he espoused would have been put in place, and a number of powerful bulwarks would have been thrown into the paths of those commercial airplanes. Had the news media been something other than a purveyor of masturbation fantasies from the far-right, the American people would have know the threats we faced, and would have compelled their Congressmen to act. Had Congress itself been something other than an institution ruled by narrow men whose only desire was to break a sitting President by any means necessary, we would very probably still have a New York skyline dominated by two soaring towers.

Had the Bush administration not continued this pattern of gross partisan ineptitude and heeded the blitz of domestic and international warnings, instead of trooping off to Texas for a month-long vacation, had Bush's National Security Advisor done one hour's worth of her homework, we probably would not be in the grotesque global mess that currently envelops us. Never forget that many of the activists who pushed throughout the 1990s for the annihilation of all things Clinton are now foursquare in charge of the country today.

The Cheney presidency - The Boston Globe

The Cheney presidency

By Robert Kuttner | August 26, 2006

GEORGE W. BUSH has been faulted in some quarters for taking an extended vacation while the Middle East festers. It doesn't much matter; the man running the country is Vice President Dick Cheney.

When historians look back on the multiple assaults on our constitutional system of government in this era, Cheney's unprecedented role will come in for overdue notice. Cheney's shotgun mishap, when he accidentally sprayed his host with birdshot, has gotten more media attention than has his control of the government.

Historically, the vice president's job was to ceremonially preside over the Senate, attend second-tier foreign funerals, and be prepared for the president to die. Students are taught that John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, compared the job to a bucket of warm spit (and historians say spit was not the word the pungent Texan actually used).

Recent vice presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore were given more authority than most, but there was no doubt that the president was in charge.

Cheney is in a class by himself. The administration's grand strategy and its implementation are the work of Cheney-- sometimes Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes Cheney and political director Karl Rove.

Cheney has planted aides in major Cabinet departments, often over the objection of a Cabinet secretary, to make sure his policies are carried out. He sits in on the Senate Republican caucus, to stamp out any rebellions. Cheney loyalists from the Office of the Vice President dominate interagency planning meetings.

The Iraq war is the work of Cheney and Rumsfeld. The capture of the career civil service is pure Cheney. The disciplining of Congress is the work of Cheney and Rove. The turning over of energy policy to the oil companies is Cheney. The extreme secrecy is Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

If Cheney were the president, more of this would be smoked out because the press would be paying attention. The New York Times' acerbic columnist Maureen Dowd regularly makes sport of Cheney's dominance, and there are plenty of jokes (Bush is a heartbeat away from the presidency). But you can count serious newspaper or magazine articles on Cheney's operation on the fingers of one hand. One exceptional example is Jane Mayer's piece in the July 3 New Yorker on Cheney operative David Addington .

Cheney's power is matched only by his penchant for secrecy. When my colleague at the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss, requested the names of people who serve on the vice president's staff, he was told this was classified information. Former staffers for other departments provided Dreyfuss with names.

So secretive is Cheney (and so incurious the media) that when his chief of staff, Irving Lewis Libby, was implicated in the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, reporters who rushed to look Libby up on Nexis and Google found that Libby had barely rated previous press attention.

Why does this matter? Because if the man actually running the government is out of the spotlight, the administration and its policies are far less accountable.

When George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry in 2004, many commentators observed that Bush was the fellow with whom you would rather have a beer. It's an accurate and unflattering comment on the American electorate -- but then who wants to have a beer with Cheney? The public may not know the details of his operation, but voters intuitively recoil from him.

Bush's popularity ratings are now under 40 percent, beer or no, reflecting dwindling confidence in where he is taking the country. But Cheney's ratings are stuck around 20 percent, far below that of any president.

If Cheney were the actual president, not just the de facto one, he simply could not govern with the same set of policies and approval ratings of 20 percent. The media focuses relentless attention on the president, on the premise that he is actually the chief executive. But for all intents and purposes, Cheney is chief, and Bush is more in the ceremonial role of the queen of England.

Yet the press buys the pretense of Bush being ``the decider," and relentlessly covers Bush -- meeting with world leaders, cutting brush, holding press conferences, while Cheney works in secret, largely undisturbed. So let's take half the members of the overblown White House press corps, which has almost nothing to do anyway, and send them over to Cheney Boot Camp for Reporters. They might learn how to be journalists again, and we might learn who is running the government.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe

Maureen Dowd - Junior Needs a Spanking

Junior Needs a Spanking



The Old King put the Boy King over his knee yesterday and gave him a good thwack with a lobster-shaped paddle.

O.K., that didn’t happen, but don’t you wish it had?

Junior certainly deserves it, with recent attempts to blame his dad for policies that led to 9/11 and the rise of Osama and Middle East terrorism.

As with so many things about this byzantine, Shakespearean relationship between father and son, reunited here at last for a wedding, a christening and a funeral this weekend, it’s an ironic turn of events.

The son was furious when the father was painted as a wimp in the 1988 campaign, and now he and his spinners are painting 41 as a weak leader. W.’s pain at what happened to his aristocratic dad with “the wimp factor” led him to overreact in the other direction when he became president, embracing a West Texas-tough, muscle-bound foreign policy that shunned diplomacy, nuance, compromise, multilateral treaties and allied coalitions as measures that reflected impotence.

And now it has led him to scapegoat his own father, and Bill Clinton, for sending signals of weakness that encouraged the terrorists — even as many Middle East experts say it is W.’s culturally obtuse, diplomatically averse and morally simplistic style that has spurred terrorism and made the world more dangerous.

The Bush spokesman Tony Snow recently told reporters that “when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn’t stay the course, and that led to September 11th.”

Afterwards, questioned by furious Bush I foreign policy types, Bush II officials tried to claim that Mr. Snow was talking about President Clinton running away from Somalia, but clearly the spokesman was referring, as he originally confirmed, to the truncated end of Desert Storm.

In Crawford recently, the president also criticized previous administrations for policies that indicated that “stability is more important than form of government.”

Translation: Dad cuddled up to the corrupt Saudi monarchy and other Middle East dictators and let Saddam stay in power and was tough on Israel. I got rid of Saddam to establish a democracy and uncritically sided with Israel, a democracy.

Of course, now W. has now been reduced to pleading with dictatorial Mideast leaders to help him quell the violence engulfing Iraq and Lebanon, and with the military dictator Musharraf to help him capture Al Qaeda members.

The Bush I inner circle whispers that W. and Condi are “in over their heads,” as one told me, and that without 41, Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft around, there is no one to “corral” Dick Cheney from his hard-line craziness.

“They misread history,” said one Bush I foreign policy official. “43’s born-again background and lack of experience and simple view of the world made him think it was easy to define who the enemy is. But hope is not a policy — hoping to win, hoping to make a democracy. They came in with the philosophy that the U.S. was the most powerful country in the world and they could remake the world any way they wanted. Condi and others assumed that the Middle East would fall apart peacefully, the way the Soviet Union did, if given a chance. But the Middle East is a totally different place.”

They agree, as one said, that 41 is a “very private guy who loves his son dearly, and you will not catch any daylight between them. I doubt that he’s taking any joy from the fact it’s clear now that he did the right thing in ’91 and his son is screwing up.”

Poppy Bush did not like it when Jimmy Carter tried to give him advice after he took over the job and he would be very loath to do that with any successor — much less a son who was so threatened by his dad’s shadow that he drifted until his 40’s.

Father and son do talk quite a bit on the phone, and sometimes about world affairs. But 41, as one associate notes, “is not the type of guy to say, ‘George, you should be doing x, y and z.’ He might say something more oblique, like, ‘So-and-so says this is happening.’ ”

At this hazardous moment in world history, somebody has got to grab the stubborn, shuttered scion wearing the “43” windbreaker and talk some sense into him, the way Dwight Eisenhower did when he privately dressed down the young J.F.K. after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. And who better than his dad, that 82-year-old still demonically driving his cigarette boat around the Bay of Bushes?

Katherine Harris says failure to elect Christians will `legislate sin'

Katherine Harris says failure to elect Christians will `legislate sin'

By Jim Stratton

The Orlando Sentinel


ORLANDO, Fla. _Rep. Katherine Harris said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that a failure to elect Christians to political office will allow lawmaking bodies to "legislate sin."

The remarks, published in the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, unleashed a torrent of criticism from political and religious officials.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she was "disgusted" by the comments "and deeply disappointed in Rep. Harris personally."

Harris, Wasserman Schultz said, "clearly shows that she does not deserve to be a Representative . . ."

State Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, demanded an apology, saying the statements were "outrageous, even by her standards.

"What is going through this woman's mind?" said Slosberg. "We do not live in a theocracy."

The criticism was not limited to Democrats.

Ruby Brooks, a veteran Tampa Bay Republican activist, said Harris' remarks "were offensive to me as a Christian and a Republican."

"To me, it's the height of hubris," said Brooks, a former Largo Republican Club president and former member of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

And Jillian Hasner, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said: "I don't think it's representative of the Republican Party at all. Our party is much bigger and better than Katherine Harris is trying to make it."

The fallout follows an interview published in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. Witness editors interviewed candidates for office asking them to describe their faith and positions on certain issues.

Harris said her religious beliefs "animate" everything she does, including her votes in Congress.

She then warned voters that if they do not send Christians to office, they risk creating a government that is doomed to fail.

"If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she told interviewers, citing abortion and gay marriage as two examples of that sin.

"Whenever we legislate sin," she said, "and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don't know better, we are leading them astray and it's wrong . . ."

Harris also said the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

In reality, she said, "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," she said.

"And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's (sic) certainly isn't what God intended."

Harris campaign spokesman Jennifer Marks would not say what alternative to "a nation of secular laws" Harris would support. She would not answer questions about the Harris interview and, instead, released a two-sentence statement.

"Congresswoman Harris encourages Americans from all walks of life and faith to participate in our government," it stated. "She continues to be an unwavering advocate of religious rights and freedoms."

The notion that non-Christians "don't know better," or are less suited to govern disturbed Rabbi Rick Sherwin, president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis.

"Anybody who claims to have a monopoly on God," he said, "doesn't understand the strength of America."

Sherwin and others also said Harris appeared to be voicing support for a religious state when she said God and the founding fathers did not intend the United States to be a "nation of secular laws."

The alternative, they said, would be a nation of religious laws.

"She's talking about a theocracy," said Sherwin. "And that's exactly opposite of what this country is based on." A clause in the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

Ahmed Bedier, the Central Florida Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was "appalled that a person who's been in politics this long would hold such extreme views."

Bedier said most Christians would find such comments "shameful."

Harris has always professed a deep Christian faith and long been popular with Christian conservative voters.

In the Senate primary race, she has heavily courted that voting bloc, counting on them to put her into the general election against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

But publicly, she rarely expresses such a fervent evangelical perspective.

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said the comments will appeal to Christian fundamentalists who typically turn out for Republican primaries.

But he said the strong evangelical tone could alienate non-Christians and more moderate Republicans who had been thinking of supporting Harris.

"It's insane," he said. "But it's not out of character for Katherine Harris."

Harris, a Republican from Longboat Key, is running against Orlando attorney Will McBride, retired Adm. LeRoy Collins and developer Peter Monroe in the GOP Senate primary.

McBride and Collins also did interviews with Florida Baptist Witness. Both said faith is an important part of their lives, but Harris' responses most directly tie her role as a policy maker to her religious beliefs.

Ruby Brooks, the Tampa area GOP activist, said such religious "arrogance" only damages the party.

"This notion that you've been chosen or anointed, it's offensive," said Brooks. "We hurt our cause with that more than we help it."

Joe Conason - To Iran with love

To Iran with love
From the botched Iraq war to threatening Iran with "regime change," neoconservative policies have been a boon for Tehran.

By Joe Conason

Aug. 25, 2006 | If the neoconservatives were not so adept at claiming the patriotic high ground for themselves -- and convincing the nation that they are interested only in advancing the security of America and Israel and the cause of democracy -- it might be time to start asking which of them are actually agents of Iran. The question is pertinent because "objectively," as they like to say, neoconservative policy has resulted in enormous profit to the Iranian mullahs, at grave cost to the United States and with little or no benefit to Israel.

The most obvious example, of course, is the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has conveniently eliminated Iran's chief military rival in the region, and replaced Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime with a weak government dominated by Shiite Islamist parties friendly to Tehran. The only certain outcome of our misbegotten effort is that the Iranians have finally gotten what they could not achieve during eight years of war with Iraq, despite the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. And we delivered the prize to them at no cost -- except what we have lost in thousands of dead and wounded U.S. troops and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Oddly enough, they don't seem any more grateful than the Iraqis.

Remember that the war's chief instigator, aside from the neoconservatives themselves, was their friend and collaborator Ahmed Chalabi, who has since proved to be a more reliable ally of the Iranians than of his former American sponsors. With much help from domestic propagandists, Chalabi oversaw dissemination of the disinformation about Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" that served as the rationale for war. The original neocon plan was to enthrone him in Baghdad as a strongman ruler, at least on a temporary basis. He had promised, among other things, that the new Iraq would grant diplomatic recognition to Israel. Things haven't quite worked out that way.

Could the neocons truly have been so dense and clueless about the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq? Not if one believes their constant flattery of their own seriousness and sagacity. They did do an excellent job of misleading the American public about how the war would proceed, from their promises that the costs would be underwritten by Iraqi oil, to their predictions that a "new democratic Iraq" would radically improve the prospects for regional peace and progress, to their assurances that Shiite domination would prove benign. William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor whose magazine so assiduously promoted war, brushed aside any concerns about empowering the Shiites during an April 2003 interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross:

"And on this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." For a man who by then had spent almost 10 years arguing for war in Iraq, he was either stunningly ignorant or intentionally deceptive.

It would be easier to believe that Kristol and his fellow war enthusiasts were merely misinformed or stupid if all of their mistakes did not so consistently benefit Tehran. But consider the results of the policies pursued by the White House at their insistence.

By constantly threatening Iran and proclaiming a policy of "regime change" that may someday be imposed militarily, the Bush administration has gravely weakened the domestic opposition to the mullahs. This loud, clumsy approach has made the U.S. so unpopular among the Iranian people that exile groups seeking democratic reform dare not identify themselves with us. Actually, the excessive belligerence of the neoconservatives is a great boon to the otherwise unpopular mullahs, creating an external threat that unites the Iranians and distracts from their domestic misery. And the threat of an attack by the United States has given Tehran an excellent reason to continue seeking a nuclear deterrent.

In the same vein, Tehran profited from the original Bush policy of refusing to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, which divided the United States from its traditional allies in Europe and allowed the mullahs to play Russia and China off against the West. Indeed, the overarching Bush policy of breaking apart our alliances and acting unilaterally has aided all of our adversaries, especially Tehran, by dividing and weakening us. (See Iraq war, above.) Meanwhile, the failure to unite the world behind sanctions much sooner has allowed Iran to accelerate its nuclear program.

The Iranians have also enjoyed the fruits of an incredibly reckless decision by the Bush administration -- again encouraged by the neoconservatives -- to back Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. Tehran's friends in Hezbollah are now the toast of the Arab world, and they are well on their way to destabilizing Iran's enemies (and America's allies), destroying any chance to revive the peace process, and radicalizing Muslims around the world. What benefit, if any, the U.S. or Israel derived from this latest misadventure is hard to see.

At still another level of policy, the Bush administration has fought to prevent the imposition of automobile fuel economy standards or other conservation measures that would begin to free us from Iranian threats to withhold oil. While the White House occasionally pretends to be interested in new energy technologies, the government has done little or nothing to pursue real energy independence. But then, that is simply the inevitable result of electing George W. Bush as president, a failed oilman more concerned with chopping brush and making fart jokes than foreign policy.

And then there's Dick Cheney, the real author of these disastrous policies. It is the vice president who has provided the bureaucratic muscle behind the neoconservatives, whose patronage he has long enjoyed at the American Enterprise Institute. Cheney too has a curious history with Iran, as the former chief executive of Halliburton, a company that blithely and repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions against Iran through foreign subsidiaries. As a congressman, Cheney was also the most outspoken apologist for the secret arms trading with the Iranian mullahs, despite their record of supporting terrorism against American troops, that almost brought down the Reagan administration.

But Cheney is an opponent of Tehran, as are his comrades at the Weekly Standard, in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the ranks of neoconservatism. They aren't secretly trying to give aid and comfort to Tehran.

It only looks that way.

Glenn Greenwald - Who decides what the U.S. will do about Iraq and Iran?

Who decides what the U.S. will do about Iraq and Iran?

A somewhat overlooked part of President Bush's Press Conference this week was his comments strongly suggesting that he believes only he -- and not the Congress -- has the power to decide when the war in Iraq ends, as well as whether we will begin a new war with Iran. All of the debates we are having about what to do about Iran and Iraq are meaningless if the President believes (as he seems to) that all power to decide these matters rests with him.

As Atrios noted the other day, the administration's intentions regarding a war with Iran are unclear. The most likely reason that it's unclear is because the administration is still undecided about whether to start that war, most likely because the more extremist warmongers in the administration have yet to convince those who need to be convinced of the war's necessity (at least its pre-November necessity). No reasonable person can doubt that political considerations will play a significant role in all of this. Will forcing a mere debate over military action against Iran be enough for Karl Rove to create the warrior-appeaser dichotomy which is all he knows, or will more be required, i.e., an all-out military conflict in order to generate war-based support for the President and his party?

But whatever the administration's plans are, there is, as I have written about before, a very real question as to whether the administration believes it can attack Iran on its own, i.e., without the approval of the American people through the Congress. The theories of executive power embraced by the administration leave little doubt that they believe, at least in theory, that decisions about whether to go to war against Iran, or to end the war in Iraq, are for the President alone to make, and that Congressional authorization is unecessary to attack Iran, and for the same reason, Congress cannot end the war in Iraq.

When speaking about Iraq at his Press Conference this week, the President seemed to make rather clear that he believes Congress has no role to play in decisions concerning when wars begin and end:

And any sign that says we're going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists and creates a certain amount of doubt for people so they won't take the risk necessary to help a civil society evolve in the country.

This is a campaign -- I'm sure they're watching the campaign carefully. There are a lot of good, decent people saying, get out now; vote for me, I will do everything I can to, I guess, cut off money is what they'll try to do to get our troops out. It's a big mistake. It would be wrong, in my judgment, for us to leave before the mission is complete in Iraq.

That is very deliberate wording; he went out of his way to point out that the only thing Congress could do to "try" to compel a withdrawal of troops is to cut off funding. The President clearly has been involved in discussions where it was told to him that he does not need Congressional authorization to fight wars and that Congress cannot force him to end a war by voting, for instance, to revoke the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq. Clearly, the President believes he can stay in Iraq even if such authorization is revoked.

That the President believes Congress is powerless with regard to war matters seems independently clear from the President's emphatic declaration that "We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President." Senators have introduced and debated legislation to compel troop withdrawals from Iraq, but the President quite clearly believes that such debates are meaningless because only he -- not the American people's representatives -- decides if and when troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq.

The significance of these views for the Iran situation is obvious. It seems quite clear that the President believes he has the power to begin a war with Iran without Congressional approval, or even in the face of Congressional opposition to such a war. That view is plainly contrary to core principles of our system of government. In Federalist 69, Hamilton sought to assuage fears that creating a President would lead to monarchical rule, and to do so, he contrasted the "inferior" powers of the President with those of the British King, particularly in the area of war-making (last emphasis added):

The most material points of difference are these: -- First. The President will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision may be called into the actual service of the Union. The king of Great Britain and the governor of New York have at all times the entire command of all the militia within their several jurisdictions. In this article, therefore, the power of the President would be inferior to that of either the monarch or the governor.

Second. The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies -- all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.

How much clearer could that be? The President does not have the power to simply deploy armies at will. He merely commands armies which Congress deploys into battle. Congress decides when and if wars will be fought; the President merely decides as the "first General" how they will be fought. As John Jay explained in Federalist 4, requiring that the American people approve of wars (through their Congress) is essential for avoiding unnecessary wars, because Presidents will start wars that are unnecessary i.e., for their own benefit, if they can do so without the authorization of Congress:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.

That is why it was critical to the Founders that wars not be waged unless those wars have the support of the people through the Congress. The Founders recognized the danger of vesting power to start wars with the President -- a power which President Bush clearly believes he has. As Jay made clear, allowing Presidents the power to decide when wars begin and end would ensure that America wages wars in order to aggrandize the personal interests of the President rather than to serve the national interest.

It's nice that so many people seem interested in debating whether military confrontation with Iran is prudent and/or whether we should withdraw from Iraq, but there is a real question as to whether the President thinks the outcome of those debates matters. Indeed, he has made clear that he believes only he can decide when wars begin and end. Finding out from the administration whether they believe they can wage war on Iran without Congressional approval, and/or whether Congress has the power to compel the end of the war in Iraq, is something that probably ought to be a high priority for our nation's journalists. The American people should know whether the President believes they have any role in deciding matters of war and peace.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ray McGovern - Just When You Thought You'd Seen Everything: Hoekstra's Hoax

Just When You Thought You'd Seen Everything: Hoekstra's Hoax
By Ray McGovern
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 25 August 2006

Talk about chutzpah! I was suffering a bit from outrage fatigue yesterday but was shaken out of it as soon as I downloaded an unusually slick paper, "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States," released this week by House intelligence committee chair, Pete Hoekstra.

No, not "Hoaxer." This is serious - very serious. The paper amounts to a pre-emptive strike on what's left of the Intelligence Community, usurping its prerogative to provide policymakers with estimates on front-burner issues - in this case, Iran's weapons of mass destruction and other threats. The Senate had already requested a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. But Hoekstra is first out of the starting gate. Professional intelligence officers were "as a courtesy" invited to provide input to Hoekstra's report.

While you can't judge a book by its cover, you can glean insight these days from the titles given to National Intelligence Estimates and papers meant to supplant them. Remember "Iraq's Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction," the infamous NIE of October 1, 2002, by which Congress was misled into approving an unnecessary war? "Continuing" leaped out of the title, foreshadowing the one-sided thrust of an estimate ostensibly commissioned to determine whether WMD programs were "continuing," or whether they had been dead for ten years. (The latter turned out to be the case, but the title - and the cooked insides - provided the scare needed to get Congress aboard.)

Now suddenly appears a pseudo-estimate titled "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States." To wit, the challenge set before the Intelligence Community is to get religion, climb aboard, and "recognize" Iran as a strategic threat. But alas, the community has not yet been fully purged of recalcitrant intelligence analysts who reject a "faith-based" approach to intelligence and hang back from the altar call to revealed truth. Hence, the statutory intelligence agencies cannot be counted on to come to politically correct conclusions regarding the strategic threat from Iran.

Hoekstra to the Rescue

Pete Hoekstra apparently has set his sights on outstripping his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts of Kansas, for first honors as intelligence partisan of the year. Roberts, who has torpedoed all attempts to complete the long-promised study on whether the George W. Bush administration played fast and loose with intelligence on Iraq, is a formidable competitor, but Hoekstra is moving up steadily on the right. Tellingly, his zeal (and that of FOX News) recently found him well ahead of even Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Citing an Army report that units had dug up corroded canisters of chemical agent dating back decades, Hoekstra and Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) insisted that weapons of mass destruction had indeed been found in Iraq. "We were right all the time!"

Shameless as Cheney and Rumsfeld have been in stretching the truth, not even they would go along with that one. No doubt they pledged to find more credible ways to shore up Santorum's flagging campaign to hang onto his Senate seat. One can understand the pressure on Santorum to find some deus ex machina to rescue his campaign. What was most remarkable was his ability to enlist the chair of the House intelligence committee in this charade and make him the laughingstock of Washington. Was Hoekstra unfamiliar with the donnybrook over the administration's fatuous claims of WMD in Iraq, and its eventual concession that there were none there? Where has he been?

As recently as May 4, in answer to a question after a speech in Atlanta, Rumsfeld conceded, "Apparently there were no weapons of mass destruction." Was Hoekstra so naive as to think he could pressure the administration into recanting its painful recantation and risk opening that still festering wound?

Undiminished Zeal

The snub by the administration has not affected Hoekstra's zeal to do its bidding, even if further embarrassment waits in the wings. He has violated all precedent in consenting to have his committee author this faux-National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, making it out to be a strategic threat. But a threat to whom? The answer leaps off the cover. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pictured giving a Nazi-type salute behind a podium adorned with a wide poster (in English) "The world without Zionism." And atop the first page stands an Ahmadinejad quote: "The annihilation of the Zionist regime will come ... Israel must be wiped off the map ..."

The authors make a college try to persuade that Iran is also a threat to the US, but is singularly unpersuasive. Like Cheney's major speech of August 26, 2002, which provided the terms of reference and conclusions of the subsequent NIE of October 1, 2002, it merely asserts that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and probably has offensive chemical and biological weapons programs and "the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East." The text then tacks on for good measure Iranian support for terrorist groups and support for the insurgency in Iraq.

The paper gives most space to the nuclear issue (shades of the "mushroom cloud" conjured up before Congress voted to authorize war on Iraq in October 2002). But the best it can do in conjuring up a threat that most see as 5 to 10 years out is that a nuclear-armed Iran might be emboldened to "advance its aggressive ambitions in and outside of the region ... [and] ... threaten US friends and allies." Stretching still further, the authors argue that Iran might think that a nuclear arsenal might protect it from retaliation and thus would be "more likely to use force against US forces and allies in the region." Last, but hardly least: "Israel would find it hard to live with a nuclear armed Iran and could take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities."

Principal Author

The Hoekstra-issued draft bears the fingerprints of one Frederick Fleitz - the principal drafter, according to press reports. Fleitz did his apprenticeship on politicization under John Bolton when the latter was Under Secretary of State, and became his principal aide and chief enforcer while on loan from the CIA. In this light, his behavior in trying to cook intelligence to the recipe of high policy is even more inexcusable. CIA analysts, particularly those on detail to policy departments, have no business playing the enforcer of policy judgments; they have no business conjuring up "intelligence around the policy."

Fleitz must have flunked Ethics and Intelligence Analysis 101. For he is the same official who "explained" to State Department's intelligence analyst Christian Westermann that it was "a political judgment as to how to interpret" data on Cuba's biological weapons program (which existed only in Bolton's mind) and that the intelligence community "should do as we asked."

But Iran Doesn't Need Electricity

The authors include this familiar canard: "Iran's claim that its nuclear program is for electricity production appears doubtful in light of its large oil and natural gas reserves." But back in 1976 - with Gerald Ford president, Dick Cheney his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld secretary of defense, and Henry Kissinger national security adviser - the Ford administration bought the Shah's argument that Iran needed a nuclear program to meet its future energy requirements.

They persuaded the hesitant president to offer Iran a deal that would have meant at least $6.4 billion for US corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric, had not the Shah been unceremoniously ousted three years later. The offer included a reprocessing facility for a complete nuclear fuels cycle - essentially the same capability that the US, Israel, and other countries now insist Iran cannot be allowed to acquire. Cheney must have forgotten all this, when he noted early last year that the Iranians are "already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

The Current Hype on Iran

Hoekstra's release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing. There are misplaced modifiers, and verbs often do not take enough care to agree in number with their nouns.

One wag suggested that the president may have taken a direct hand in the drafting. My guess is even more troubling. It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in "recognizing Iran as a strategic threat."

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. A CIA analyst for 27 years, he is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Thomas Frank - Thus Spake Zinmeister

Thus Spake Zinsmeister


In their more grandiloquent moments, conservative publicists will say that the decades-long Republican ascendancy in American government has been an intellectual achievement, that the G.O.P. prevails because it is the “party of ideas.” And, indeed, during the last three decades a cottage industry of conservative institutes and foundations has grown into a powerful quasi-academy with seven-figure budgets and phalanxes of “senior fellows” and “distinguished chairs.”

While real academics dither and fret over bugbears like certainty and balance, the scholars of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute act boldly in the knowledge, to quote a seminal conservative text, that ideas have consequences. Luckily, the consequences are for other people.

Now upon the national stage steps one Karl Zinsmeister, formerly the editor of the American Enterprise Institute’s flagship magazine and now the president’s chief domestic policy adviser. In right-wing circles he is regarded as an intellectual heavyweight. What his career really shows us, though, is the looming exhaustion of the conservative intellectual system; its hopeless addiction to dusty, crumbling clichés; and a blindness to the reality of conservative power so persistent and so bizarre that it amounts to self-deception or, in Zinsmeister’s case, delusion.

Let us begin with Zinsmeister’s infamous remark that the people of Washington are “morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings,” a declaration he later clarified to encompass only the city’s “overclass.” One could justifiably read his words as an obvious reference to the lobbyists, think-tankers, and fund-raising Congressmen who make up the Republican machine.

But a brief read through Zinsmeister’s journalistic oeuvre reveals that liberals are, with a few exceptions, the only ones capable of repugnancy, shiftiness and membership in overclasses. This last quality is a point of particular emphasis in Zinsmeister’s writing. Over the years, his editorials come back again and again to “elites” and their nefarious ways: “educated elites,” “East Coast elites” and “professor/lawyer/journalist/activist elites,” all of them shamefully out of tune with the good people of America.

Now, I am all for criticizing elites, beginning with Zinsmeister’s former employer, the American Enterprise Institute, which has long been the reliable voice of corporate money. Its principals effectively ran the Goldwater campaign in 1964, and it was deep thinkers from the institute who, after moving into the Bush administration, dreamed up the war in Iraq. Today, its roster is a comprehensive directory of conservative Washington power; there is no better-connected group of people outside the government itself.

One might say the institute is a living lesson in the power of elites and shifty overclasses to distort debate. But that would imply that we have classes, and as Zinsmeister once wrote, the idea “that the United States has separate classes is dubious.”

Then why has Zinsmeister expended so much ink assailing elites and their works? Enter the magic concept of the market, the source of corporate power and all else that is sacred. The working of the free market “is democracy,” Zinsmeister writes, “with pluralities of economic actors exerting votes.” Democracy itself, however, if it takes the form of a regulatory state, “is monarchism. It lets the handful at court boss the masses.”

Swallow this, and all the rest of it starts to make sense: how liberals are elites even when they aren’t, how the sweatshop economy of the Mariana Islands is the will of a humble people looking to be free from a domineering central government (an argument Zinsmeister’s magazine made in 1997), and how a well-subsized think-tank editor can advise the victims of economic dislocation to stop whining.

Swallow too much of it, though, and the almighty market will start to dissolve your moral sense. You might even unconsciously decide to reduce the Almighty to an advertising slogan. For an issue in 2003, Zinsmeister’s magazine bore as its headline the words, “Things Go Better With God,” a repurposed Coca-Cola slogan in which the King of Kings was allowed to momentarily occupy the throne of the brand of brands. A better writer would have titled it, “I’d Like to Buy the World a God” — but maybe Zinsmeister can propose that as a motto for his new employer.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.’’ He is a guest columnist during August.

Garrison Keillor - Hear the Voices of 9/11

Published on Thursday, August 24, 2006 by the Baltimore Sun (Maryland)
Hear the Voices of 9/11
by Garrison Keillor

It was painful to hear the woman in anguish on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center, crying, "I'm going to die, aren't I? I'm going to die." Melissa Doi was 32, beautiful, with laughing eyes and black hair. She was lying on the floor of her office at IQ Financial, overwhelmed by smoke and heat, calling for help. And then there was Kevin Cosgrove on the 105th floor, moments before it collapsed, gasping for breath, saying, "We're young men, we're not ready to die." And then he screamed, "Oh my God" as the building started to collapse. It's in their voices, what they went through.

Those were two of the 1,613 calls to 911 released by New York City last week, on almost all of which the caller's voice was beeped out. The city argued that to hear people in anguish in their last minutes constitutes invasion of privacy. The truth is that the callers had no interest in privacy - they were desperate to be heard, and censoring them now is a last insult by a bureaucracy that failed to protect them in the first place.

They were people like us; we might have sat near them in a theater or restaurant, asked them for directions on the street. They went to work that fine Tuesday morning and suddenly found themselves facing the abyss, and the first thing we thought, seeing the burning buildings on TV, was, "What is it like for the people in there?" We wanted to know.

Then, inevitably, politicians began to seize the day and turn it into a patriotic tableau starring Themselves. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who does not appear in a leadership capacity in the reliable accounts of that morning - who was captured on videotape fleeing uptown - soon stepped into the TV lights and put on his public face, and a few days later the Current Occupant mounted the wreckage with bullhorn in hand and vowed vengeance. The media were glad to focus on the martial moment, the flag waving over the wreckage, the theme of America United, and the anguished voices from the towers were unheard; the people who fell from high floors and smashed into the pavement were not seen on American TV. The media averted their eyes from the reality of Sept. 11 and started looking for the Message.

The best book on the subject, by the way, is 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, two New York Times reporters who fashioned a plain narrative out of thousands of stories that took place in the time between the first strike and the collapse of the second tower. You read it, you're there.

Mr. Giuliani is still flying around giving speeches on leadership, knocking down a hundred grand per shot, getting standing ovations everywhere as a stand-in for the police and firemen who died in the towers. He has never faced up to his failure to prepare for the attack, even after the 1993 bomb explosion at the center, when it was shown clearly that police and fire couldn't communicate with each other by radio.

Eight years passed, little was done, and then came the 19 men with box cutters. The 911 operators took thousands of calls and had no information to give. Police helicopter pilots, who had a clear view of the infernos and could see that the buildings were going to collapse, couldn't get word to fire chiefs on the ground who, unable to see the fire, sent their men up the stairs to die. Official bungling cost those men their lives.

In the end, what we crave is reality. The woman crying on the 83rd floor was real. Our countrymen died real deaths on a warm September morning, and then, to avenge them, even more have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. In our hearts, we know we're on the wrong road, the road to unreality, but the man says to stay the course. And now, as November nears, congressmen who have supported the war, no questions asked, find it convenient to admit to having "questions" about it. "We are facing a difficult situation," they say. They are "troubled."

The woman who cried on the 83rd floor was more than troubled. She saw death. It is indecent for New York to stifle the voices of the people in the towers. The congressmen who deal so casually with life and death ought to sit down and listen to those phone calls.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

AlterNet: Cheney thinks economy sucks

Cheney thinks economy sucks
By Evan Derkacz
Posted on August 24, 2006, Printed on August 25, 2006

What's that expression? Money talks, bulls**t walks...

Via a tip to PEEK, I was directed to a May report that flew under my radar: Are Dick Cheney's Money Managers Betting on Bad News?

According to Kiplinger's, the Cheneys, who may be worth close to $100 million, have invested the vast majority of their wealth overseas, in markets that do not fluctuate based on the U.S. dollar:

Vice President Cheney's financial advisers are apparently betting on a rise in inflation and interest rates and on a decline in the value of the dollar against foreign currencies. That's the conclusion we draw after scouring the financial disclosure form released by Cheney this week.

The Cheneys' money is not in a blind trust but, according to his advisers: "the vice president pays no attention to his investments."

Perhaps. What we DO know is that he and his boss pay no attention to the well-being of the economy at large. Besides, what's nearly as flabbergasting as the possibility that Cheney chose to invest outside of U.S. markets is that he didn't bother to direct his money managers to keep his money domestic. Oh Dick.

Here's a clip from an interview with Ron "The Price of Loyalty" Suskind (emphasis added):

He talks to Dick Cheney at the end, after O'Neill says, "We really need an economic policy, we don't really have one." And he confronts the president and says, "We don't need this second giant tax cut." And Dick Cheney says to O'Neill, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the midterm elections. Our due is another big tax cut." And I paraphrased the end. This stuns O'Neill because all of the facts, as O'Neill has read them and many others, show that deficits have guided fiscal policy for 20 years. Those are the kind of dialogues that define this man's journey and really the journey of many in the building.

Evan Derkacz is a New York-based writer and contributor to AlterNet.

Why Bush Can't Talk: It's not the drugs, and it's not senility

Why Bush Can't Talk: It's not the drugs, and it's not senility.
by Inland (DailyKos)
Thu Aug 24, 2006

Bush's press conferences and unscripted remarks are so painfully bad, it spurs the question: what is his PROBLEM?

People have remarked that he wasn't that way when he was the Governor of Texas, and therefore theorize that he has deteriorated due to premature senility or a lifetime of drug use.

I think the reason George Bush stumbles, ends sentences midway through to jump to another thought, rattles off non-sequiturs, and makes up words, is that George Bush is breaking under the strain of lying almost all the time about almost everything.

I think it's because lying is hard work, and he's trying to hold several different false scenarios in his head while not blurting out what he's really being told behind closed doors.

Bush looks like a person stumbling over the easiest things, but in fact, he's not a person unable to relate simple facts. He's a person trying hard to NOT relate simple facts. He's a person trying to avoid the pitfalls of saying what's on his mind, and trying to keep his stories straight.

As I lawyer, I see people trying to construct false scenarios all the time. But you don't remember lies the way you remember truth. It's easier to remember, e.g., how fast you were driving than it is to remember the exact lie you told the police officer about how fast you were driving. People who lie have to put a lot of energy into keeping their lies consistent with each other and, well, consistent with undeniable facts.

My grand theory is that Bush's entire presidency, from the beginnings of his campaign until now, is based on his taking public stances that at least obscures goals and positions shared secretly. He and his Roves have always accepted that the majority of the country wouldn't want him if they knew the promises he made to the right wing christians and the rich, if they knew the actual effect of his tax cuts, if they knew the evidence behind environmental damage, and on and on. Now, he's hiding the entire foreign policy fiasco(s), who is being held by him incognito, who is being spied upon, what he knew before 9/11, and on and on and on.

If you had so much to hide, you too would only use canned speeches, carefully vetted by speechwriters who don't know the real story anyway, to keep it all straight, and you would stumble and hem and haw in all other circumstances.

Which explains why his problem wasn't so evident as Texas Governor. Bush's brand of crony capitalism and piestic christianism went down well in Austin, at least for a governor with no real constitutional authority: Bush only had to repackage himself for the national race, essentially submerge his real persona and his real ideas and his real goals and pretend to a compassionate, not-asshole conservativism.

You know how they tell you, on a date, just be yourself? And how you think, no, I don't want her to meet that guy just yet? Well, Bush and Rove have been saying that for six years, and Bush has been schizo, trying to send signals and winks and nods to his fundamentalist christians and send money to his corporate sponsors while slinging a load of bull at the nation. Add to that all the bodies he has to keep buried, and you've got a guy who is in a state of flop sweat every time he has to open his mouth in public.

Bush isn't senile, or drug addled. He's a lying asshole. And it's hard work. Only truly gifted and intelligent sociopaths like Rove and Cheney can rattle it off. Bush can't.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sidney Blumenthal | How to Look Like a Failure

How to Look Like a Failure
By Sidney Blumenthal
The Guardian UK

Thursday 24 August 2006

By linking Iraq with the war on terror, Bush has created a dynamic that threatens to destroy him.

Each Bush presidency is unhappy in its own way. George W has contrived to do the opposite of his father, as if to provide evidence for a classic case of reaction formation. Rather than halt the army before Baghdad, he occupied the whole country. Rather than pursue a Middle East peace process that dragged along a recalcitrant Israeli government, he cast the process aside.

"Frustrated?" President Bush volunteered in his Monday press conference. "Sometimes I'm frustrated." His crankiness has deeper sources than having truncated his usual month-long summer vacation in Texas. "Rarely surprised," he continued, extolling his world-weary omniscience. "Sometimes I'm happy," he plunged on. "This is - but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times."

Bush is trapped in a self-generated dynamic that eerily recalls the centrifugal forces that spun apart his father's presidency. It was not until the Gulf war that the public became convinced that the elder Bush was a strong leader and not the "wimp" stereotypically depicted. Then came a recession. Bush's feeble response was not seen as merely an expression of typical Republican policy, but as a profound character flaw. If Bush was strong, why didn't he solve the problem?

The younger Bush's staggering mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation has until recently served his purpose of seeming to defy the elements of chaos he himself has aroused. By stringing every threat together into an immense plot that justifies a global war on terrorism, however, he has ultimately made himself hostage to any part of the convoluted storyline that goes haywire.

Having told the public that Iraq is central to a war on terror, the worse things go in Iraq, the more the public thinks the war on terror goes badly. Asked at his press conference what invading Iraq had to do with September 11, Bush seemed so dumbfounded that at first he answered directly. "Nothing," he said, before sliding into a falsely aggrieved self-defence: "Except for it's part of - and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack."

Asked about sectarian violence in Iraq, Bush's voice suddenly went passive. "You know, I hear a lot of talk about civil war." Indeed, he might have heard it from his top generals, John Abizaid and Peter Pace, who, seriously off-message from Bush's PR campaign of relentlessly stressing "victory", testified before the Senate on August 3, as Abizaid said: "Sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it."

All the stopgap strategies have failed to halt it eliminating Zarqawi, the civil action teams, building up the police, concentrating forces in Baghdad. Asked three times what his strategy is, or whether he has a new one, Bush tried to fend off the question with words like "dreams" and "democratic society". "That's the strategy," he said. Then Bush confused having a strategy with being in Iraq. "Now, if you say, are you going to change your strategic objective," he struggled to explain, "it means you're leaving before the mission is complete."

Perhaps Bush's bizarre summer reading, according to his press office, of Camus's The Stranger, is responsible for his melange of absurdities, appeal to existential threat, and erratic point of view, veering from aggressor to passive observer. Would a staff aide have the audacity to suggest that he read Strategy, BH Liddell Hart's military classic? "Self-exhaustion in war," writes Hart, "has killed more states than any foreign assailant." It was a lesson in restraint the father understood when he stopped short of Baghdad.


Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Clinton; his new book, How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime, is published next month.

Gary Hart - 21st Century Rome

For those of us who believe history holds valuable lessons, there is instruction to be had from the experience of other great powers. In the particular case of the American Republic it is important to consider the history of other republics. Not the least of these examples is the demise of the ancient Roman Republic and its transition to the Roman Empire.

That history is well known. The civil wars of the mid-first century BC led to the acquisition of dictatorial power by Julius Caesar lasting from about 49 BC until his assassination on the Ides of March 44 BC. Further unrest if not chaos ensued until, in 27 BC, Caesar’s adopted son Octavianus became the first Roman emperor as the first Augustus.

So much for the dates and names. The question is how Augustus became emperor. How did he go about finally ending a republic founded in 510 BC?

First, “he took steps to neutralize the army as a political force.” Of course, in a republic that would be a good thing, because in republican Rome the armies as political forces had helped bring about the demise of the Republic. But in Augustus’s case he achieved his objective by making the army his instrument. Control of the army was control of state power.

Second, he took control of the system of laws and justice. Little could happen with the magistrates and judges that did not meet his approval and conform to his policies. To control the legal system was to control the entire nation.

And, third, like his adoptive father Caesar, Augustus was “imaginative and innovative in his exploitation of religious sentiments.” Augustus understood that the integration of the state with religion was the key to control of the nation’s culture.

The army, the courts, and religion. The keys to the creation of the Roman Empire.

In 21st century America the current government (the presidency and Congress of one party) has taken control not only of defense and military policy, but also military operations. No other administration, including that of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War or Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, has ever done that. The unprecedented imposition of neoconservative ideology on military operations has led directly and inevitably to the debacle in Iraq.

In the last five years we have seen an effort by the current government to control the American judicial system by the appointment of ideologically selected judges. The unprecedented attempt to make the administration of justice the instrument of ideology is incompatible with the Constitution of the Republic whose flag we salute.

And, of course, the Republican party has been imaginative and innovative in its exploitation of religious sentiments. The unprecedented submission of social policy, and foreign policy in the Middle East, to religious fundamentalists violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and has weakened America in the world.

The army, the courts, and religion. The keys to the creation of the American Empire.

The Land is Red Land. . . Paid For Blue Land

Thanks to my friend John for passing on this link to an article (in pdf) from Fortune magazine, which shows that when it comes to taxation, "red states" are mostly takers and "blue states" are mostly givers.

money quote:

For blue staters, it’s one thing to watch red states pick the President
and set national policy on everything from Iraq to judges. But to pay them lavishly for the pleasure suggests that blues aren’t just losers, they’re stupid losers. You can feel blue anger rising. You reds don’t like taxes? Okay, stop taking mine! You can have
your states’ rights too—and we’ll start by cutting your allowance!

Glenn Greenwald - Those opposed to nuclear annihilation are appeasers and guilty of "handwringing"

Those opposed to nuclear annihilation are appeasers and guilty of "handwringing"
Glenn Greenwald

I read numerous pro-Bush blogs on a daily basis, including many war mongerers who routinely imply that we ought to be eradicating large numbers of Middle Eastern civilians as the solution to all of our woes, so it takes a lot in the extremism department to really surprise me. But this column from Walter Williams -- highly recommended today by National Review's Mark Levin -- did so with plenty of room to spare.

Williams points out that we could easily "annihilate" Iran or Syria with nuclear weapons launched from submarines. He then claims that the Great Generation of World War II would have done so already, but laments the tragic fact that we are deterred from doing this by what he calls the "handwringing about the innocent lives lost, so-called collateral damage" (all emphasis mine):

Does the United States have the power to eliminate terrorists and the states that support them? In terms of capacity, as opposed to will, the answer is a clear yes.

Think about it. Currently, the U.S. has an arsenal of 18 Ohio class submarines. Just one submarine is loaded with 24 Trident nuclear missiles. Each Trident missile has eight nuclear warheads capable of being independently targeted. That means the U.S. alone has the capacity to wipe out Iran, Syria or any other state that supports terrorist groups or engages in terrorism -- without risking the life of a single soldier.

Terrorist supporters know we have this capacity, but because of worldwide public opinion, which often appears to be on their side, coupled with our weak will, we'll never use it.

Today's Americans are vastly different from those of my generation who fought the life-and-death struggle of World War II. Any attempt to annihilate our Middle East enemies would create all sorts of handwringing about the innocent lives lost, so-called collateral damage.

Such an argument would have fallen on deaf ears during World War II when we firebombed cities in Germany and Japan. The loss of lives through saturation bombing far exceeded those lost through the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Like all lovers of the Western way of life, Williams blames the free press for these threats to our freedoms: "Our adversaries in the Middle East have advantages that the axis powers didn't have -- the Western press and public opinion." After spilling his nuclear annihilation fantasies out in the open, Williams pays lip service to the idea that we should at least think a little bit before eradicating entire countries -- "I'm not suggesting that we rush to use our nuclear capacity to crush states that support terrorism" -- but there is little doubt about what he is advocating.

Many Bush supporters routinely play this game of leapfrog where they inch closer and closer to being explicit (rather than coy) about what they really want -- the use of unrestrained force, meaning nuclear force, in Iran, Syria, against Hezbollah and even in Iraq. Williams advances that ball rather substantially. He goes so far as to mock as "handwringing" concerns over the (hundreds of millions or so) innocent lives that would be eradicated if we dropped nuclear weapons and eliminated whole countries. Those who think we ought not to vaporize Syria and Iran off the face of the earth are, to Williams, weak, appeasing losers who can't stop their annoying "handwringing" over all this "innocent life" garbage. What is there to say about that? It would be funny if it weren't quite so sick. Maybe it's time to hear some more life-affirming sermons from Ramesh Ponnuru about how amoral Democrats are the Party of Death.

It is tempting to dismiss insanity like that spewing forth from Williams because, well, because it's so insane, patently so. Some ideas are so self-evidently outrageous that even analyzing them rationally is impossible. If there is any such "idea" which clearly qualifies, it would be using nuclear weapons to offensively eradicate a country which has not attacked us. Even suggesting that is monstrous and dangerous (isn't that supposedly what makes the Iranian president so evil, so Hitlerian -- that he openly speaks of eradicating Israel from the map?).

And yet Walter Williams and Mark Levin are perfectly mainstream figures, as are Shelby Steele, John Podhoretz and scores of others who -- with varying degrees of candor -- have insinuated their support for similar bloodthirsty proposals. All this complaining about how we are losing in Iraq, being humiliated by Iran and Syria, getting pushed around by Hezbollah, all because we are too restrained in our use of military force has been edging closer and closer to collective calls for all-out destruction of our enemies.

It's plainly time to add pre-emptive nuclear annihilation of entire countries to the list of policies (along with the use of torture as an interrogation tool, rendition, laweless detention of U.S. citizens, and presidential law-breaking) which are so self-evidently contrary to the defining values of our country that they used to be taboo even to advocate, but are now commonly accepted policies among many mainstream pundits, including those who most ardently support the current president.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Digby - Remedial Democracy

Remedial Democracy

by digby

Scott Winship has an interesting article in The Democratic Strategist today in which he dissects one of those polls that measures how stupid Americans are about politics. And boy are they stupid about politics --- only one in ten knows who Denny Hastert is. But the good news is that they aren't measurably more stupid than they were in the 40's and 50's when there was a lot more illiteracy and many people didn't graduate from High School. I suppose that's good news.

Here's the part I find interesting:

Bennett shows that consistency in positions taken across issue areas increases as political knowledge increases. Those who have little knowledge tend to have unconventional combinations of issue positions. If it is also the case that those with little political knowledge are less consistent in their positions on individual issues over time than other people are, then the result might be a sizeable constituency for demagoguery and misdirection. Bennett’s results imply that that bloc would be as large as one-third of the population. It seems important to separate these people out, to the extent possible, when analyzing characteristics of the electorate by, say, party or ideology. And it would be nice to know more about the positions they take on issues and the candidates they support.

I happen to know an excellent place to start. Chris Hayes wrote an article about exactly this odd phenomenon after the 2004 election and I posted about it here.
Hayes wrote:

Undecided voters aren't as rational as you think. Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We're giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man's house, she still couldn't make sense of his decision.


A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists. In the age of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, pundits agreed that this would be the most foreign policy-oriented election in a generation--and polling throughout the summer seemed to bear that out...But just because voters were unusually concerned about foreign policy didn't mean they had fundamentally shifted their outlook on world affairs. In fact, among undecided voters, I encountered a consistent and surprising isolationism--an isolationism that September 11 was supposed to have made obsolete everywhere but the left and right fringes of the political spectrum.


To be sure, maybe they simply thought Kerry's promise to bring in allies was a lame idea--after all, many well-informed observers did. But I became convinced that there was something else at play here, because undecided voters extended the same logic to other seemingly intractable problems, like the deficit or health care. On these issues, too, undecideds recognized the severity of the situation--but precisely because they understood the severity, they were inclined to be skeptical of Kerry's ability to fix things. Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general.


undecideds seemed oddly unwilling to hold the president accountable for his previous actions, focusing instead on the practical issue of who would have a better chance of success in the future. Because undecideds seemed uninterested in assessing responsibility for the past, Bush suffered no penalty for having made things so bad; and because undecideds were focused on, but cynical about, the future, the worse things appeared, the less inclined they were to believe that problems could be fixed--thereby nullifying the backbone of Kerry's case. Needless to say, I found this logic maddening.

Undecided voters don't think in terms of issues. Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the "issues." That is, while they might favor Kerry on the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage, they also support social welfare programs. Occasionally I did encounter undecided voters who were genuinely cross-pressured--a couple who was fiercely pro-life, antiwar, and pro-environment for example--but such cases were exceedingly rare. More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.


But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to... So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.


In this context, Bush's victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed "values" as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn't the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like "character" and "morals." Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values--we all know what's right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don't even grasp what issues are?

Liberals like to point out that majorities of Americans agree with the Democratic Party on the issues, so Republicans are forced to run on character and values in order to win. (This cuts both ways: I met a large number of Bush/Feingold voters whose politics were more in line with the Republican president, but who admired the backbone and gutsiness of their Democratic senator.) But polls that ask people about issues presuppose a basic familiarity with the concept of issues--a familiarity that may not exist.

As far as I can tell, this leaves Democrats with two options: either abandon "issues" as the lynchpin of political campaigns and adopt the language of values, morals, and character as many have suggested; or begin the long-term and arduous task of rebuilding a popular, accessible political vocabulary--of convincing undecided voters to believe once again in the importance of issues. The former strategy could help the Democrats stop the bleeding in time for 2008. But the latter strategy might be necessary for the Democrats to become a majority party again.

I think Democrats need to do a bit of both. Certainly, the Republicans, for whatever reason, seem to better understand heuristics and are willing to demagogue wherever necessary. These last few years have taught us nothing if they haven't taught us how far you can go even when you make no sense whatsoever.

But the fact remains that this is not good for the country. We simply cannot adequately govern ourselves if a large number of us are dumb as posts and vote for reasons that make no sense.

The polling data suggests that the best solution is this:

The surest way to enhance political information levels is to convince people to become more interested in politics. In 2004, the mean score on the PI scale for the least interested segment of the public was 1.7. Among the most interested, the mean score was 6.2.

Increasing political interest won’t be easy, however. One suggestion has been for schools to conduct more classes in civics or American history, but the link between the number of such classes taken K-12 and informed citizenship is extremely weak. Get-out-the-vote campaigns in the mass media have also been popular, but the people who most need such encouragement don’t read newspapers or watch the news on TV. “Kids Voting” programs may benefit some, but they tend to be too few in number around the country, and their effects are generally minor.

Tne possible solution is deliberative polls, as suggested by University of Texas professor James Fishkin. The 2004 ANES found, for example, that persons who reported discussing politics with family and friends were significantly better informed than those who eschewed political talk. It is likely that political information and political discussions are mutually reinforcing.

And that, my friends, is our mission, should we decide to accept it. As the trainspotting, vanguard political junkies, our job is to take this conversation offline and spread the good word to our families and friends and co-workers. We can hang out in the blogosphere and hash out the arguments and organize ourselves around issues and candidates and raise money and volunteer. But if we do nothing else, we need to talk about this stuff out in the real world and build this dialog into the body politic.

I don't know how many people you can inspire or how many in whom you can even tweak an interest. But it doesn't take very many. Once a poltically informed person is created they tend to create more. I've been quite hopeful that this will be a positive benefit of the blogosphere for sometime. And when you read that data you can see just how necessary it is.