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, June 09, 2007

Paris Hilton for President

Paris Hilton for President
by Hunter (dailykos)

Sat Jun 09, 2007 at 05:18:05 PM CDT

Attention, please. I have learned some very important and interesting and remarkable things, and they are things which we must discuss, right now, and at length, and to the exclusion of all else.

I don't wish to panic anyone, but I have just learned that Paris Hilton went to jail. Except then she got out of jail, because she was sad, and she got a rash, and jail was intolerable; perhaps there was a pea under her mattress. But then -- wait, this is important -- everyone got mad, and she was ordered back to jail, because the judge determined that being sad about going to jail wasn't actually a legal reason for being let out. And people drove various places, and there were various buildings and courtrooms and mansions involved, and ankle bracelets, and parents were there, and prosecutors, and she was seen wearing various things. And then some other stuff happened, but my vision got blurry and I had to step away for a moment.

This sequence of events, mind you, is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN IN YOUR LIFETIME, at least for this particular week. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you know what is happening to Paris Hilton during every particular moment of this day, and yesterday, and the next few days, because WITHOUT THIS INFORMATION, YOU WOULD NOT KNOW ABOUT IT. And that would leave you feeling vacant and hollow. There would be an emptiness in your life, if you had to wait until the next morning to find out where Paris Hilton was, or what she was feeling, or what a hundred different people thought about her and her wealthy travails at that particular time.

She might get another rash -- and you wouldn't know it for hours. She might throw up, and in the void of a media vacuum, it would be as if it had never happened at all. She might make a homemade shiv from her own sense of ostentatious entitlement, and kill three other inmates, and you would not know, you would not be prepared for it to happen, it would come as a shock to you, and would rattle the foundations of your existence. It is for this reason that the entire media infrastructure of this nation exists. To make sure you know the things you must know in order to live and be happy and keep informed about the world around you. To make sure you know, at any given moment of the day, what is happening to a wealthy, spoiled young heiress of no identifiable talent, responsibility, or political or social significance. This, finally, is news. A white girl, excess, sin, sex, crime, and melodrama. Something you can rally a network around. Something you can rally a nation around.

I am finally beginning to understand the appeal of Fred Thompson. Even though he seems at a loss to describe, rationally, why he might want to become president, or what he might do when he was president, or what the difference might be between being president and having a really good sandwich, the simple fact cannot be argued: Fred Thompson has been on the TV. And being on TV is, in these most modern times, exactly equivalent to reality. It's better then reality, even: it's megareality, for those people who, unlike you, can afford to supersize their reality, and bling it out a bit. Reality is not reality unless it has a narrative, and a plot, and is populated by people more attractive and influential than you. Fred Thompson is an accomplished lawyer, because he played one in a fictional TV show. Fred Thompson became a Senator because in a movie, he had played a Senator. In the same way that Paris Hilton is important because there is an entire industry which revolves around telling us she is important, Fred Thompson is presidential because on the TV, it currently says so.

Thompson, inescapably, has been on TV. This is inarguable, and with that one sparkling nugget of experience, the case is -- or should be -- closed. Like Reagan, he has played roles which required looking earnest, which is entirely the same thing as being earnest. He has read lines which were witty and articulate, which is exactly the same thing as being witty and articulate. Like a political version of Paris, we are required to be entranced by him, because somebody in charge of such things decided that he was "attractive", which is exactly like being intelligent and knowledgeable, except much better, because attractiveness is worn on the face and in the hair, admired by all, whereas more ephemeral "intelligence", if it threatens to be made visible for even a moment, is roundly disliked and frowned upon. Attractive people -- and by that I mean, the people who have been deemed to be attractive not by you or I, but by people whose entire jobs it is to decide these things and announce them earnestly on the newsstands and the Idiot Box -- are celebrated, are fawned over, are sought after. Intelligent people, though, are just pushy. Al Gore thought he was better than you; this is why he was loathed. The handsome Thompson, however, is better than you, by virtue of the aforementioned being attractive whilst on TV, which makes it all right. He deserves entry into the race, based on those qualifications: he is eminently presidential, based on that resume. He is Reaganesque, even, if Reagan had been less of a 50's-era leading man type and more of a tenderized, slightly doughy, puzzlingly lumpy ex-football player turned midpriced motivational speaker.

I'm not sure whether Thompson ever played second fiddle to a dull-eyed and vaguely unwilling thespian chimp, however. But if both Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney could do it, I'm sure Fred could if the situation ever came up. Which, no doubt, it might.


Thompson could have been, however, lacking one critical requirement for the presidency. Thompson was elected to the United States Senate after he portrayed a Senator in a movie, thus giving the American people a nice fictionalized demonstration of how he'd look in the role -- a visual aid we get much too infrequently, in these days when we are Far Too Goddamn Stupid To Extrapolate These Things Out On Our Own. He's played the director of the CIA, he's played military men and various law enforcement officers, thus by modern publicity standards amply qualifying him for all those real-life roles. He has played a white supremacist.

And at least twice now, in two separate strokes of fortune, he has played an American president.

That had threatened to be a resume hole that couldn't be overlooked. Without him playing the role on the TV or in a movie theater or on a convenient freely distributed DVD, we would have no idea what kind of president he'd be. Would he be a stern but gruffly lovable Martin-Sheenesque-but-conservative presence, dispensing pearls of wisdom as he, when offstage for an idle moment, appoints the last necessary Supreme Court Justices to cement far right conservative positions into the law for the next several decades? Or more the Lloyd Bridges type, from Hot Shots! Part Deux? Would he be one of those shadowy, barely visible chief executives that haunt the presidential visions of those that create our darkest thrillers -- an incompetent boob or malicious, venomous half-criminal, world entwined around his fingers, the obstacle in chief, powerful would-be thwarter of some as-of-yet unknown but no doubt far more handsome action-oriented protagonist?

There was no way to know -- until 2005, when Thompson starred as a fictional president in a 45 minute docudrama produced for the Nuclear Threat Initiative about the possibility of terrorists using stolen "loose nukes" against America, and more recently a mere few weeks ago, when Fred Thompson quite remarkably and fortuitously appeared as President Ulysses S. Grant in an HBO made-for-cable adaptation of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The potential resume hole in his fictional expertise has thus been doubly fictionally plugged, the last instance being a mere fortnight before his sorta-not-but-kinda-yes unofficial official entrance into the race and we can, with satisfaction, know what sort of chief executive Fred Thompson would be. Or rather, we can choose between two possibilities. He might be a theatrically stern president, heading a complacent and incompetent American government incapable of taking proactive action to prevent terrorist attacks on our soil -- perhaps a little too close to the current mark for comfort, for 2008 voters -- or alteratively, he would be theatrically stern president who dresses in old-timey clothes, drinks brandy freely, and who and we'd see for maybe about five stern minutes out of his term in grand total. But in either case, that'd be enough for the usual conservative suspects to bubble with admiration. Either would suffice, so long as he played the role sternly, and with conviction.

There is no difference, after all, between being truly erudite, and merely playing the part. That much we know; that much has been demonstrated. There is no difference between being a good leader, and pretending to be one: it is a distinction without value. There is no between doing something, and merely saying you will do it; both will be treated the same. There is no difference between being competent and being incompetent, so long as competence is asserted. There is no difference between having integrity, and being corrupt but genial; either will gain the same praise, and in the same proportions. We have learned all these things from the words and actions of the national pundit press, this last decade-plus. These things must be true, must all be synonymous -- for the only other possibility is that the entire fabric of our nation, collectively, from the top down, from page A1 onward, is too stupid or corrupted to really know the difference.


I propose, therefore, that since we seem utterly and hopelessly doomed towards blurring the worlds of the real and the fictional -- listening to a mere five minutes of the Republican presidential debate should have demonstrated the unholy merging of the two nicely, especially re: the recitations of fictional histories of the Iraq War -- we simply go whole hog, so to speak. We cut the middleman, we stop going for the merely half-empty glass, we give up and finally throw the baby out with the now disturbingly filthy bathwater. We treat the press as the entertainment supernova it so earnestly strives to be, we finally cut to ribbons that one remaining thin, translucent plastic sheet separating politics and reality television, between the socially responsible and the salaciously irresponsible, we abandon forever the notions of political accountability, we stop feigning interest in issues, in accuracy, in oversight, and in ideas entirely, and merely go for the haircut and boobs coverage.

There is a more direct path towards presidential mediocrity than a mere Fred Thompson, and one that will finally arrive at the goal we have been striving for since long before the days of Mencken. The perfect nexus of reality TV, of entirely fictionalized earnestness, of slavish, spittle-flecked reporting and vapidity practiced as deadly art. The simpleness is staggering in its simple simplicity.

We should, in deference to the enforced vapidity of the press, simply abandon all hope of anything better, and elect Paris Hilton as our president. We have already had a reality TV series revolving around the seemingly simple proposition of trying to somehow coax an honest day's work out of the delicate and endowed heiress: this could be the much-needed blockbuster sequel.

She may not strictly meet Constitutional requirements -- her age, for example, seems to constantly oscillate between twelve and pickled -- but she meets the wealth and connectedness requirements so admirably that I am sure we would be quite willing to waive whatever remaining laws might obstruct her upwards ascension, just as we already have taken to doing. I am not saying she would be a great president, or even a tolerable one, or even a less than catastrophic one. I am saying that, given the predictable interests of the nation and the press, she may be the best we can do. At the very least she comes with a dedicated press phalanx, a veritable (if uncalled for) media army steeped in the tawdry, savage and cannibalistic in their fights over even the slightest trinkets of personal misery -- oh, what we would not give for dedication towards exposure and probing, monomaniacal research, in the Washington press. The things those reporters would find, if redirected away from Paris Hilton's shoe rack, and towards the halls of power!


We've lived through six years of Bush. We've seen Paris' boobs, and we've seen Bush's boobs, and Bush's various and more free-ranging boobs have done more lasting damage and gotten far less slavish coverage. It is entirely possible, I admit, that under a Paris Hilton presidency things would take a dramatic turn towards the even worse, and that her administration would, between drinking binges, White House sex tapes, and pandering celebration of the wealthy and powerful that sails right past the lofty heights of the oligarchic and into circuslike and Neroesque, along with all the rest of the presumably predictable peccadillos -- none of these flaws on their face much worse, we must admit, than the abstract behavior of many previous presidents -- bring even more ruin upon the nation.

But at least it would be very well covered, in the press. Very, very well covered indeed. With cameras, and helicopters, and driving scenes, and earnest psychological analyses, and computer generated models of the various rooms she might or might not be in at any particular time, and smiles on anchors' faces like it was Christmas morning and Santa had just delivered anatomically correct Ken and Barbie dolls just like they had asked for, and pundits galore, by satellite and in studio and via telephone and remote feeds and perhaps the entire prolonged event could even gain its own musical theme: maybe a single riff, descending, a siren call towards national apocalypse.

The national interest, covered with such fervor and fanfare? The fate and future of the nation, the fate of the courts, of our sky and soil, our national security, the future dreams of our children, all covered as if it were a single extraordinarily wealthy and connected and spoiled white girl?

We should be so lucky.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/6/9/181441/2008

Friday, June 08, 2007

Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate

Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate

By STEPHEN BENJAMIN

Atlanta

IMAGINE for a moment an American soldier deep in the Iraqi desert. His unit is about to head out when he receives a cable detailing an insurgent ambush right in his convoy’s path. With this information, he and his soldiers are now prepared for the danger that lies ahead.

Reports like these are regularly sent from military translators’ desks, providing critical, often life-saving intelligence to troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the military has a desperate shortage of linguists trained to translate such invaluable information and convey it to the war zone.

The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay.

My story begins almost a year ago when my roommate, who is also gay, was deployed to Falluja. We communicated the only way we could: using the military’s instant-messaging system on monitored government computers. These electronic conversations are lifelines, keeping soldiers sane while mortars land meters away.

Then, last October the annual inspection of my base, Fort Gordon, Ga., included a perusal of the government computer chat system; inspectors identified 70 service members whose use violated policy. The range of violations was broad: people were flagged for everything from profanity to outright discussions of explicit sexual activity. Among those charged were my former roommate and me. Our messages had included references to our social lives — comments that were otherwise unremarkable, except that they indicated we were both gay.

I could have written a statement denying that I was homosexual, but lying did not seem like the right thing to do. My roommate made the same decision, though he was allowed to remain in Iraq until the scheduled end of his tour.

The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The 68 other — heterosexual — service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn’t consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.

My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism. An untold number of closeted gay military members don’t re-enlist because of the pressure the law puts on them. This is the real cost of the ban — and, with our military so overcommitted and undermanned, it’s too high to pay.

In response to difficult recruiting prospects, the Army has already taken a number of steps, lengthening soldiers’ deployments to 15 months from 12, enlisting felons and extending the age limit to 42. Why then won’t Congress pass a bill like the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”? The bipartisan bill, by some analysts’ estimates, could add more than 41,000 soldiers — all gay, of course.

As the friends I once served with head off to 15-month deployments, I regret I’m not there to lessen their burden and to serve my country. I’m trained to fight, I speak Arabic and I’m willing to serve. No recruiter needs to make a persuasive argument to sign me up. I’m ready, and I’m waiting.

Stephen Benjamin is a former petty officer second class in the Navy.

Poll: Same Number Know About Edwards' $400 Haircut That Know Saddam Didn't Have WMDs

Poll: Same Number Know About Edwards' $400 Haircut That Know Saddam Didn't Have WMDs


By Greg Sargent

Here's some cheery news for a Friday. Buried in the new Fox News poll is a startling number that doesn't reflect terribly well on the priorities of our political media:

From the new Fox poll of registered voters:

32. Do you happen to know which presidential candidate has been in the news recently for paying four hundred dollars for a haircut?

Edwards 44%
Hillary 2%
Obama 1%
Other 1%
Don't know 53%

So astonishingly, nearly half of respondents knew about Edwards' haircut and were able to volunteer his name off the top of their heads, as it were.

So just for the fun of it, we went and dug up the most recent poll we could find on the question of whether people know that Saddam didn't have WMDs.

From a Harris Interactive poll on July 21, 2006:

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded.

True 50%
Not True 45%

Only one point more knew Saddam didn't have WMDs -- a statistically identical amount. That's right -- the same number know about Edwards' haircut that knew the truth last year about Saddam and his phantom weapons.

Meanwhile, here's a special Friday bonus! From a Washington Post poll on September 6, 2003 , flagged by Glenn Greenwald in another context:

How likely is it that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks? Would you say that it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not at all likely?

Likely 69%
Not likely 28%

So nearly 20 percent more know about Edwards' haircut than believed Saddam wasn't behind 9/11 -- two years after the attacks and six whole months after the invasion.

Something's wrong here.

http://electioncentral.tpmcafe.com/blog/electioncentral/2007/jun/08/poll_more_know_about_edwards_400_haircut_than_knew_saddam_didnt_have_wmds

The Day the Laws Came Back

The Day the Laws Came Back
David Bromwich

Huffington Post

Posted June 8, 2007 | 05:43 PM (EST)


There are people who think rights were made only for good people, and laws were made only for bad people. Americans were reminded twice last week that laws and rights both matter because they apply to everyone.

On June 4, military judges dismissed the charges against two Guantanamo prisoners. The charges of war crimes depended on the classification of the men as unlawful enemy combatants whose war was itself a crime; yet the preliminary tribunals had not used the word "unlawful," but classified the detainees merely as "enemy combatants." The judges, Captain Keith Allred of the Navy and Colonel Peter E. Brownback III of the army, knew the meaning of the dismissals. "A person," said Colonel Brownback, "has a right to be tried only by a court which he knows has jurisdiction over him."

"Unlawful enemy combatant" is a totalitarian coinage of inspired wickedness. It takes the idea of a criminal who has the right to confront the evidence against him; it combines that with the idea of the prisoner of war, captured for the duration, whose name and condition are reported to the relevant outside associates; and by collapsing the two, it yields a monstrous portmanteau, a portable jail in words, "unlawful enemy combatant." Someone captured in the field who is suspected of being a terrorist now becomes, by virtue of the suspicion and the captivity, an agent of metaphysical evil whose name and fate are removed from the visible world. The unlawful enemy combatant is held without habeas corpus; he cannot confront the evidence; and he serves a sentence of unspecified rigor and duration at the pleasure of his keepers. This was the definition the military judges rejected.

It has been clear for some time now that the army is a force of prudence by comparison with the revolutionists of the executive branch. Military judges, too, are products of a tradition older than Blackwater. Their justice has not yet been privatized, or brought into the family; the verdicts in these cases could not be eased or strong-armed or turned back for re-evaluation.

The day after those decisions were handed down, I. Lewis Libby was sentenced by Judge Reggie B. Walton to serve a prison sentence of 30 months for obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury about his role in "outing" a CIA agent anathematized by the vice president. Libby seems to have justified his actions to himself by a mental reservation common in such cases. He was serving a higher cause. Most of the mischief in the world comes from people who are sure of their good intentions; and to hide the truth of a crime by throwing lies in the path of those charged with discovering the truth, is substantially to harm the laws.

The judges in the military and civilian cases only did what their jobs required. But we are living in an extraordinary time, when to perform your public duty asks a ponderable strength of heart. You are doing it in the face of well-equipped sophists like those now angling for a pardon for Libby, who say that his trial "criminalized political differences." It would be truer to say that pardons of government felons have the effect of politicizing criminal differences.

These cases have a common factor. The advent of the term "unlawful enemy combatant," the perpetuation of Guantanamo, and the crime whose discovery Libby prevented, all are closely linked to the Office of the Vice President. We Americans haven't been allowed to hear much about that office: how many work there for example, and their names and what jobs they do. It is a secret institution without parallel. And yet, we know something about them from their actions and their writings; such of their actions as have come to light, and fragments of their memos and arguments. The little that we do know, as Patrick Fitzgerald remarked, suggests the enormity of what we don't know.

In the councils of state, the law-abiding have been overtaken by the lawless for the past six years. Last week offered a contrast. But really to recover the Constitution and the Bill of Rights will depend on more than the decisions of honest judges and the testimony of honest and shockable public servants like James Comey and Daniel Iglesias. The energetic men of power who work in the dark will fight back every inch.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bromwich/the-day-the-laws-came-bac_b_51375.html?view=print

MSNBC Cuts Away From Pentagon To Paris (Hilton)

MSNBC Cuts Away From Pentagon To Paris

June 8, 2007 12:56 PM


With obvious yelling in the background, MSNBC cut away from an interview with Colonel Rick Francona on the Defense Secretary replacing the Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, to show Paris Hilton leaving her house in West Hollywood to attend court.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/06/08/msnbc-cuts-away-from-pent_n_51315.html

Paul Krugman - Lies, Sighs and Politics

Lies, Sighs and Politics

By PAUL KRUGMAN

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.

Now fast forward to last Tuesday. Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

There wasn’t anything comparable to Mr. Romney’s rewritten history in the Democratic debate two days earlier, which was altogether on a higher plane. Still, someone should have called Hillary Clinton on her declaration that on health care, “we’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” While the other two leading candidates have come out with plans for universal (John Edwards) or near-universal (Barack Obama) health coverage, Mrs. Clinton has so far evaded the issue. But again, this went unmentioned in most reports.

By the way, one reason I want health care specifics from Mrs. Clinton is that she’s received large contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Will that deter her from taking those industries on?

Back to the debate coverage: as far as I can tell, no major news organization did any fact-checking of either debate. And post-debate analyses tended to be horse-race stuff mingled with theater criticism: assessments not of what the candidates said, but of how they “came across.”

Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.

Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)

Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts — not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.

For if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it’s that it matters who becomes president — and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.

And I don’t know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.

It’s Subpoena Time

June 8, 2007
New York Times Editorial
It’s Subpoena Time

For months, senators have listened to a parade of well-coached Justice Department witnesses claiming to know nothing about how nine prosecutors were chosen for firing. This week, it was the turn of Bradley Schlozman, a former federal attorney in Missouri, to be uninformative and not credible. It is time for Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to deliver subpoenas that have been approved for Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and their top aides, and to make them testify in public and under oath.

Mr. Schlozman was appointed United States attorney in Missouri while the state was in the midst of a hard-fought Senate race. In his brief stint, he pushed a lawsuit, which was thrown out by a federal judge, that could have led to thousands of Democratic-leaning voters being wrongly purged from the rolls. Just days before the election, he indicted voter registration workers from the liberal group Acorn on fraud charges. Republicans quickly made the indictments an issue in the Senate race.

Mr. Schlozman said it did not occur to him that the indictments could affect the campaign. That is hard to believe since the Justice Department’s guidelines tell prosecutors not to bring vote fraud investigations right before an election, so as not to affect the outcome. He also claimed, laughably, that he did not know that Acorn was a liberal-leaning group.

Mr. Schlozman fits neatly into the larger picture. Prosecutors who refused to use their offices to help Republicans win elections, like John McKay in Washington State, and David Iglesias in New Mexico, were fired. Prosecutors who used their offices to help Republicans did well.

Congress has now heard from everyone in the Justice Department who appears to have played a significant role in the firings of the prosecutors. They have all insisted that the actual decisions about whom to fire came from somewhere else. It is increasingly clear that the somewhere else was the White House. If Congress is going to get to the bottom of the scandal, it has to get the testimony of Mr. Rove, his aides Scott Jennings and Sara Taylor, Ms. Miers and her deputy, William Kelley.

The White House has offered to make them available only if they do not take an oath and there is no transcript. Those conditions are a formula for condoning perjury, and they are unacceptable. As for documents, the White House has released piles of useless e-mail messages. But it has reported that key e-mails to and from Mr. Rove were inexplicably destroyed. At the same time, it has argued that e-mails of Mr. Rove’s that were kept on a Republican Party computer system, which may contain critical information, should not be released.

This noncooperation has gone on long enough. Mr. Leahy should deliver the subpoenas for the five White House officials and make clear that if the administration resists, Congress will use all available means to get the information it needs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/08/opinion/08fri1.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bailing on Bush

Bailing on Bush

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 7:22 AM

Now that the Bush ship has hit its share of icebergs, it's interesting to watch how many conservatives are heading for the lifeboats.

The immigration bill, and the president's aggressive defense of the measure, has really ticked off some of his remaining pundit supporters. But the disaffection on the right has been building for some time, as I've chronicled in this space.

Which raises an interesting question: Let's say you support someone running for the White House, you support him as president, you roundly criticize your ideological opponents for taking potshots at your man and not recognizing his greatness.

Then, you have to admit, he screws up. He makes mistakes. He fails to live up to your high hopes and parts company with you on key issues. You feel betrayed.

If you're intellectually honest and not just a partisan water-carrier, you level with your readers or viewers. But questions arise: Why did it take six years for you to figure this out? Do you owe an apology to those you castigated for making the kind of criticism that you are now echoing? Or do you simply try to airbrush the past?

Salon's Glenn Greenwald accuses conservatives of revisionist history:

"The great fraud being perpetrated in our political discourse is the concerted attempt by movement conservatives, now that the Bush presidency lay irreversibly in ruins, to repudiate George Bush by claiming that he is not, and never has been, a 'real conservative.' This con game is being perpetrated by the very same conservatives who -- when his presidency looked to be an epic success -- glorified George W. Bush, ensured both of his election victories, depicted him as the heroic Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, and celebrated him as the embodiment of True Conservatism.

"This fraud is as transparent as it is dishonest, yet there are signs that the media is nonetheless beginning to adopt this theme that there is some sort of epic and long-standing 'Bush-conservative schism.' But very little effort is required to see what a fraud that storyline is.

"One of the few propositions on which Bush supporters and critics agree is that George Bush does not change and has not changed at all over the last six years. He is exactly the same.

"And none of the supposed grounds for conservative discontent -- especially Bush's immigration position -- is even remotely new. Bush's immigration views have been well-known since before he was first elected in 2000, yet conservatives have devoted to him virtually cult-like loyalty and support."

Among various examples, he offers:

"Jonah Goldberg, May 29, 2007 (Bush approval rating - 32%)

"Bush, The Liberal

"Richard Cohen discovers something some of us on the right have been saying for a while: if you hold your head just so and look at Bush from the right angle, he looks an awful lot like a liberal.

"Jonah Goldberg, November 8, 2003 (Bush approval rating - 60%)

"But it is now clear that Bush's own son takes far more after his father's old boss than he does his own father, at least politically speaking. From tax cuts (and deficits, alas), to his personal conviction on aborrtion (sic), to aligning America with the historical tide of liberty in the world, Georrge (sic) W. Bush has proved that he's a Reaganite, not a 'Bushie.' "

One of the latest to break with the president is Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who took leave from her job to support Bush in the 2004 campaign:

"What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.

"The White House doesn't need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don't even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.

"For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

"But on immigration it has changed from 'Too bad' to 'You're bad.' . . .

"The beginning of my own sense of separation from the Bush administration came in January 2005, when the president declared that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation. This was at once so utopian and so aggressive that it shocked me. For others the beginning of distance might have been Katrina and the incompetence it revealed, or the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq.

"What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom."

Give her points for honesty.

Well, the only remaining mystery in the Jefferson case is: What took so long?

"Representative William J. Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat at the center of an investigation that included an F.B.I. raid at his Congressional office and accusations that he hid $90,000 in bribe money in his home freezer, was indicted Monday by a federal grand jury on 16 corruption-related felony counts," reports the New York Times.

I mean, if 90,000 bucks was found in your freezer, do you think you would skate for two years?

Actually, there's another big question: What are the Democrats, who ran against GOP corruption, going to do about their Jefferson problem?

"'The charges in the indictment against Congressman Jefferson are extremely serious,' Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. 'While Mr. Jefferson, just as any other citizen, must be considered innocent until proven guilty, if these charges are proven true, they constitute an egregious and unacceptable abuse of public trust and power.' "

Meanwhile, public approval of the Democratic Congress is down to 39 percent, says this WashPost poll, just barely above Bush's 35. One reason is dissatisfaction among the war's opponents.

Why is this survey different than all the other ones that give Hillary a big lead? Beats me:

"Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are essentially tied for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the first time that the New York senator hasn't clearly led the field.

"The Illinois senator bests Clinton by a single percentage point, 30%-29%, if the contest includes former vice president Al Gore. Clinton bests Obama by a single point, 37%-36%, if it doesn't include Gore."

On the Republican side, it's Rudy 32, McCain 19.

We're still rehashing the Democratic debate as we gear up for tonight's Republican debate. Slate's John Dickerson says Hillary is fuzzing up the differences:

"The Democrats have now held two debates and for a second time Hurricane Katrina was uttered only in passing. The catastrophe and the issues of poverty and government competency it raised once animated discussions among Democrats, but not Sunday night. Nor was there discussion of other issues Democrats have talked about in the past like pensions, wages, and education. The candidates debated health care at some length, but Iraq and the war on terror dominated much of the evening."

In saying we-Dems-are-all-against-the-war, writes Dickerson, "Clinton, like Giuliani, wasn't just switching the subject but trying to behave like the leader of the party as if the general election were already under way. Good thing for her she was able to pull it off. She made almost no mistakes and looked in command. She rebutted John Edwards' claim that the 'war on terror' is just a bumper sticker, making a forceful case for why jihadists must be confronted. She didn't exactly risk anything, but then she doesn't have to. She was the front-runner coming in, and she still is.

"Obama and Edwards fought but Hillary stayed above the fray. Afterward her aides said this was proof of her presidential temperament. Those lesser candidates had to squabble because they were scraping for second place--the one slot to be the Hillary alternative."

Walter Shapiro uses the P-word, as I did, in characterizing the action:

"Make no mistake, this was still a mostly polite debate, not a political blood bath designed to prime voters for the next-to-the-last episode of 'The Sopranos.' Nothing that occurred on the stage at Saint Anselm College on this late spring night is apt to be specifically remembered when New Hampshire voters go to the polls in the dead of winter. There were no devastating one-liners, no breakthrough emotional moments nor candidate meltdowns.

"But what the debate did underscore was the unfair nature of the 2008 Democratic contest. From the not-so-random positioning of Edwards, Clinton and Obama at the center of the stage to the flexible time clock when any of the trio were speaking, this debate highlighted the reality that while all candidates are equal, three of them are more equal than the others.

"CNN, which hosted the debate with local TV station WMUR, clearly made a decision that the emphasis of the debate should reflect the pre-primary polls and fundraising numbers. This decision may not have been equitable, but it is journalistically defensible, unless you happen to believe that former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel (who has not held office since the Reagan administration) has as good a chance of being the Democratic nominee as Hillary Clinton."

National Review's Jim Geraghty is lukewarm on Hillary:

"Well, that was abysmal.

"You need a microscope to measure the policy differences with this crowd, so it may turn out that the most important measuring sticks are presence, charisma and personality.

"Obama remains likeable (not quite as good as his usual speech-mode). I'd crown him the winner, or at least the one who I think the Democrats watching liked the most.

"I thought it was a not-that-great performance by Hillary tonight. She sounded like a whiner complaining about the hypothetical questions. She certainly seemed on top of the issues, and interestingly, she was left on the sidelines when Edwards and Obama went at it on Iraq early on. She seemed eager to turn the guns on Republicans, and while the audience seemed okay with it, it seems a bit early. She's acting like she's closed the deal, and while she's the frontrunner, I'm not sure if she's not moving a little early on Republican-bashing."

The Nation's David Corn deconstructs the HRC strategy:

"The positions staked out by the leading candidates were--no shocker here--obvious. Clinton wants to play down the fact that until recently she was out of step with Democratic primary voters concerning the war, for she had (a) voted to grant George W. Bush the authority to attack Iraq and then (b) more or less defended the war for several years before she (c) announced her campaign for presidency and starting calling (and voting) for an end to the war. So on the stage she pointed out that ' we all believe we need to end the war.' . . .

"It was a typical frontrunner's performance. Focus not on the rivals in your own party but on the other side. After all, Clinton doesn't want to encourage Democratic voters to compare the Democratic contenders on the Iraq war . . .

"Bottom-line (for those keeping score at home): it was a good night for the former First Lady. Anytime she makes it through a debate without being clobbered, she's the winner."

Talk about spoiling our fun! The New York Sun's Ryan Sager makes an attempt:

"Here's a little secret that drama-craving political reporters are reluctant to let you in on: Hillary Clinton will be the nominee of the Democratic Party for president in 2008 (barring an unforeseen entry into the race by Al Gore or Martin Sheen)."

Well, I guess I can take the next six months off.

How are the GOP candidates dealing with the terror issue? Not very well says Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria:

"More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. 'They hate you!' says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. 'They don't want you to be in this college!' he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. 'Or you, or you, or you,' he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, 'We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us.' On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. 'This is reality, ma'am,' he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. 'You've got to clear your head.'

"The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion--more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and--by some definitions--torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?"

Finally, a court puts the F back in FCC.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2007/06/05/BL2007060500451_pf.html

"Are We Rome?"

"Are We Rome?"
Hollowed out by arrogance, corruption and a bloated military, the greatest empire the world has ever known fell. Is America doomed to follow in its footsteps?

By Gary Kamiya

Jun. 07, 2007 | Comparing the present historical epoch to a past one is an excellent intellectual parlor game. It requires you to know enough about the two periods to assess their similarities and differences. It encourages a broad, synthetic analysis and a long view. And it defamiliarizes the present, forcing you to look with fresh eyes at cultural and political realities you had previously taken for granted. At its worst, it can become a mere display of superficial knowledge, in which facile analogies take the place of real engagement. But at its best, it can illuminate both periods, creating that simultaneous sense of recognition and mystery that the best history does.

Cullen Murphy's "Are We Rome?" is an example of the parlor game played at its best. Murphy, the former managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly, brings just the right combination of erudition, audacity and caution to this tricky undertaking. He isn't afraid to make informed generalizations about both contemporary America and an empire that ended more than 1,500 years ago, yet acknowledges the limits of such generalizations, and the areas where historical ignorance rules. He offers stimulating discussions of the similarities, both obvious and hidden, between America and Rome, but also points out that in profound ways their citizens would find each other utterly alien.

And wisely, he avoids trying to do too much. The words of the Greek poet Callimachus, "A big book is a big evil," may not be universally true, but they certainly apply to the genre Murphy is working in. Simply to acquire a working familiarity with the theories that have been advanced to explain the fall of the Roman empire -- Murphy notes that a German historian has listed 210 of them -- is a massive undertaking; to advance an original thesis is the work of decades; to compare Rome to America could occupy a Casaubon -- the pedant who searches in vain for a "Key to All Mythologies" in George Eliot's "Middlemarch" -- for several lifetimes. Mercifully, Murphy is no pedant. He wears his considerable knowledge lightly, avoids overdrawing his analogies and focuses in on a few areas where the comparisons are most illuminating -- and where we would do well to change our ways. You painlessly learn a lot about ancient Rome in this smart, briskly paced book, and a lot about contemporary America, too -- not all of the latter quite as painless.

The Rome-America comparison predates the American Revolution. In those days, Murphy notes, Americans were drawn to the Roman Republic, seeing in it a reflection of their own nascent republic. Today, for obvious reasons, it's the empire that grabs Americans' attention -- although no one can agree upon whether America really possesses an empire or not. The comparison, he notes, "serves as either a grim cautionary tale or an inspirational call to action." Those who are inspired include figures whom Murphy calls the "triumphalists," who "see America as at long last assuming its imperial responsibilities, bringing about a global Pax Americana like the Pax Romana at its most commanding, in the first two centuries A.D." In this camp are neoconservative pundits like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Max Boot and "the triumphalist-in-chief, trading jodhpurs for flight suit," George W. Bush. These figures unapologetically advocate that the U.S. dominate the world. Against them stand the "declinists," who believe that America is overstretched, that its "imperial need for secrecy, surveillance and social control, all in the name of national security, is corroding our republican institutions." The declinists include the likes of Chalmers Johnson and Paul Kennedy. There is also an in-between group, led by the historian Niall Ferguson, who argue that the U.S. should be an imperial power, but lacks the gumption.

Then there are those critics who see doom and gloom when they compare Rome to America. On the left, the urban planner Jane Jacobs saw the decline of family and community, bad science and the ascendance of economically based individualism as leading to a "post-Roman" dark age. On the right, the saber-rattling classicist Victor Davis Hanson attacks Americans as decadent, weak-willed and weak-kneed.

Murphy himself is no triumphalist. He might be called a moderate declinist. He argues that America, like Rome, is threatened by self-inflicted wounds -- in particular our mania for privatization, our fading belief in government and the ensuing decay of civic society, our vast and unsustainable military, our ignorance of the outside world and our short-sighted attitude toward immigration and assimilation.

These positions stamp Murphy as an old-school liberal, albeit hardly a knee-jerk one. Clearly aiming at the big historical picture and not wanting to get caught up in ephemeral political disputes, Murphy goes out of his way to avoid framing his argument in partisan terms. This is a laudable impulse, but Murphy's reluctance to take a deeper historical look at the Bush administration ends up feeling excessively cautious and constrains his argument. Bush's entire approach to governance epitomizes all the tendencies in modern American life that Murphy finds most dangerous. Yet Murphy never explores the important question of whether Bush's secretive, imperial presidency is a historical anomaly, a perfect storm created by the rare convergence of 9/11 and a rigid, ideologically driven president, or the shape of the American empire -- and emperors -- to come. This is an issue that bears directly on Murphy's thesis.

Are we Rome, or not? At a crude level, the parallels are striking. "Rome and America are the most powerful actors in their worlds, by many orders of magnitude," Murphy writes. "Their power includes both military might and the 'soft power' of language, culture, commerce, technology, and ideas." The two are comparable in physical size. Both are open societies, made up of newcomers and immigrants. Both are drawn to grand feats of engineering. ("Whenever I see the space shuttle, standing upright and inching slowly on its crawler toward the launching pad, I think back to the Rome of Hadrian's day, and the gargantuan statue of the Sun-God, as tall as the shuttle, being dragged into place by 24 elephants," Murphy writes.) Both Romans and Americans are extremely litigious, believe in private property, enjoy ritually humiliating public figures, have a love-hate relation with the nouveau riche, and see themselves as the chosen people.

On the other hand, Murphy points out that the dissimilarities are just as striking. The Roman Empire lasted more than a thousand years; the U.S. isn't even 300 years old yet. Rome's entire history took place during the Iron Age, while "America in its short history has already leapt through the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the Biotech Age." Rome often lived on the edge of famine; America's economy is unbelievably robust. Rome held slaves; America rejected slavery. Rome started as a city-state; America as a continental power. Rome had no middle class; "for America the middle class is the core social fact -- our ballast, our gyroscope, our compass." Rome was never particularly democratic. Rome looked down on entrepreneurship and valorized inherited wealth; America worships self-made men. Rome was aggressively expansionist; America prefers to conquer the world through indirect economic means.

At an individual level, Murphy argues, the differences are still more striking. "As individuals, Romans were proud, arrogant, principled, cruel, and vulgar; Americans are idealistic, friendly, heedless, aggressive, and sentimental (but yes, often vulgar, too). I'm not sure that Americans, cast suddenly back in time, would ever warm to second-century Rome, the way they might to Samuel Johnson's London. In their mental maps, their intellectual orientations, their default values, Romans and Americans are further apart than most people suspect. Romans were as bawdy as Americans are repressed. Roman notions of personal honor and disgrace, and the behavior appropriate to each, have no real counterpart in America; Roman officials would unhesitatingly commit suicide in situations that wouldn't make Americans even consider sitting down with Barbara Walters (much less consider resigning)." Anyone who watched the superb HBO series "Rome," with its shockingly casual acceptance of murders, suicides and sex, will have a visceral sense of what Murphy means.

Going beyond these broad similarities and differences, Murphy finds six specific parallels between ancient Rome and America today. "The parallels aren't fixed in place, and they don't point to an inescapable future," he says. "Taken as they are, though, they trace a path that leads to foreseeable consequences -- a path, after all, that Rome has already been down."

First, just as Romans saw Rome as the literal center of the world -- they placed in the Forum a stone omphalos, or "navel," that they believed stood over the entrance to Hades -- America's political ruling class suffers from delusions of Beltway grandeur. "[T]he way the tiny, elite subset of Americans who live in the nation's capital see America -- and see Washington itself," Murphy argues, is a "faulty premise" that "leads to an exaggerated sense of Washington's weight in the world: an exaggerated sense of its importance in the eyes of others, and of its ability to act alone." He tartly recounts the way that courtiers in such self-obsessed capitals become obsessed with prestige. In JFK's time, "only 29 people held the coveted title of 'assistant,' 'deputy assistant,' or 'special assistant' to the President; by the time Bill Clinton left office, there were 141 such people."

Second, there's military power. Like Rome, America suffers from a "two cultures" problem, in which military and civilian society are increasingly alien to each other. A Roman historian wrote that soldiers returning from distant posts were "most savage to look at, frightening to listen to, and boorish to talk with." Murphy notes: "America's Delta Force would fare no better in Saddle River, Brentwood, or Winnetka." Moreover, like Rome, America is unable to sustain its enormous military, and is forced to turn to outsiders -- for Rome, barbarians, for America, contractors. "The Iraq War is the most privatized major conflict since the Renaissance," Murphy notes.

Third, Murphy cites massive privatization and its attendant sins, corruption, the loss of faith in government and the degradation of civil society. To my mind, this is the most original and compelling part of his book. "Rome had trouble maintaining a distinction between public and private responsibilities -- and between public and private resources," Murphy writes. When this happens, "central government becomes impossible to steer. It took a long time to happen, but the fraying connection between imperial will and concrete action is a big part of What Went Wrong in ancient Rome." Similarly, "America has in recent years embarked on a privatization binge like no other in its history, putting into private hands all manner of activities once thought to be public tasks." Murphy says that "the privatization of power isn't a phenomenon of the margins, a footnote to history -- it's a central dynamic of American public life."

The result, he argues, is not only corruption, the what's-in-it-for-me mentality epitomized by the sleazy likes of Jack Abramoff, but loss of government's "management capacity." In part this is because private contractors don't answer to the same laws and regulations that government ones do; in part it's because government itself is simply vanishing. The loss of efficiency and command and control is bad, but still worse are the intangible ramifications of privatization: "the loss of civic engagement and loyalty across the board is a very real threat." Murphy declines to explicitly single out the Bush administration, and in a larger sense the small-government ideology of the Republican Party, as largely responsible for this trend. But that does not alter the fact that his book is a blistering implicit refutation of the GOP's anti-government ethos, and the still more degraded crony capitalism practiced by Bush.

Murphy illuminates one key facet of the decline of Rome by citing the Oxford historian Geoffrey de Ste. Croix, who explored the evolution of a single Latin term: the word "suffragium," which originally meant "voting tablet." Citizens could cast votes, although in practice great men who ran patronage systems controlled large blocs of votes. Over time, Roman democracy withered, but the patronage system remained, and the word "suffragium" came to mean only the pressure that a powerful man could exert on one's behalf. Eventually, the word came to denote simply the money paid for a favor: a bribe. Ste. Croix's devastating conclusion: "Here, in miniature, is the political history of Rome."

In a telling historical-etymological comparison, Murphy looks at the history of the word "franchise." It too originally "had to do with notions of political freedom and civic responsibility": It denoted the right to vote. "Only much later, in the mid twentieth century, did the idea of being granted certain 'rights' acquire its commercial connotation: the right to market a company's services or products, such as fried chicken or Tupperware ... In the Wiktionary, the commercial meaning of 'franchise' is now the primary definition. The definition involving political freedom and the right to vote comes fifth." Murphy's disturbing conclusion: "Looking back at the history of 'franchise,' then, it's tempting to write this epitaph: Here, in miniature, is the political history of America."

The fourth parallel Murphy sees is Rome and America's mutual ignorance of the outside world. Just as Rome disparaged and underrated the people outside its borders, so Americans tend to be dismissive of other cultures and peoples, and shockingly ignorant of them.

Fifth, there's the issue of borders. Rome successfully dealt with the presence of outsiders not by erecting an iron wall but by interacting with them and assimilating them.

Sixth and finally, there's the sheer complexity of Rome and America. Such mega-powers "inevitably become impossible to manage, because the very act of managing has unpredictable ripple effects, of global scale, which in turn become part of the environment that needs to be managed." To this problem, there is no simple answer, except to concentrate on those factors that are within our power to change.

Can we reverse these trends? Is America doomed to share Rome's fate? Murphy is too sophisticated to answer such a question directly. He points out that in an important sense, Rome never did fall: "Its methods of agriculture, its patterns of trade, its cities and ports, its buildings and infrastructure, its modes of administration, its names for objects and places, its laws, its elites -- to varying degrees in various places all of these things lived on, for longer and shorter periods, making the path forward an irregular transition rather than a catastrophic revolution." Another institution that preserved Rome was the church. "In many ways, for good and ill, a version of Rome was carried forward into new places and eras by the Catholic Church -- its language, many of its values, much of its administrative structure, some of its dress."

Despite this, Murphy admits that the fall of Rome was real, a major event in world history: "a great unity was irrevocably diminished; a great and wondrous order became a thing of the past." He astutely points out that when contemplating the end of Rome we feel not regret -- Rome was far too brutal and amoral for us to regret its passing -- but "something far more elemental and emotional: the brutal reminder of impermanence."

There is no magic formula that will guarantee any nation or empire's perpetual survival. Nor is finding one even necessarily Murphy's real interest. He is as concerned with creating a society that we want to live in as one that will endure. In exploring this, he first lists several possible future scenarios that might allow America to endure, but that would not create a society anyone would want.

First is the "Fortress America scenario," in which everything revolves around national security, privacy is curtailed and the executive branch dominates: "Diocletian's empire taken to some future American extreme." Second, there's the "City-State scenario," in which great cities become de facto city-states and central authority withers. Finally, there's the "Boardroom scenario," in which "corporate feudalism on a global scale" triumphs, armies, economies, water and resources are privatized, and huge corporations run the world.

To prevent these unhappy scenarios from coming true, Murphy advances a set of policy prescriptions based on the Roman historian Livy's injunction that "what makes a society strong is the well-being of its people -- basic justice, basic opportunity, a modicum of spiritual reward -- and the people's conviction that 'the system' is set up to produce it."

Here is Murphy's four-part "Titus Livius Hundred-Year Workout Plan." First, America needs to learn about the wider world, by being open to immigration and foreign students and learning foreign languages. (On a lighter but still serious note, Murphy points out that America's entry into the world of soccer-playing nations is a good sign.) Second, America needs to "stop treating government as a necessary evil, and instead rely on it proudly for the big things it can do well ... The Social Security check every month, the safe drugs and highways, the guaranteed student loans, the heath-care safety net in old age, the sandbags when the rivers flood -- their inherent benefits aside, these things promote a sense of common alliance and mutual obligation that dwarf narrow considerations of 'efficiency.'" Third, we should "fortify the institutions that promote assimilation," increasing support for public schools and public health services for immigration and abandoning the futile attempt to wall off our borders. We should institute a program of national service for all young people, "which would revive the militia ethic of long ago. 'We're all in it together' is a spirit that Rome lost." And fourth, we should reduce the bloated size of our military by allowing allies to carry more of the load, and adopt a long-range energy policy that would free us from reliance on Mideast oil and the need to police the region.

Can Americans overcome their weaknesses -- which Murphy says include "their hyper-individualism and their moralizing messianic streak" -- and evolve into a country that might resemble the one he describes? He notes that America may lack one supreme Roman quality: "the stubborn urge, the absolute need, to persevere -- to prevail at all costs in any undertaking, whatever the moral and human price might be." But Americans possess something the Romans didn't, Murphy argues: a deep belief that we can and should make things better, a willingness to change. While Romans were smug and self-satisfied, Americans are open to self-transformation and societal transformation. "The genius of America may be that it has built 'the fall of Rome' into its very makeup: it is very consciously a constant work in progress, designed to accommodate and build on revolutionary change," he writes. "Rome dissolved into history, successfully but only once. America has done so again and again." For Murphy, in the end, the way Americans can avoid the fate of Rome is simple: Be American.

Murphy's optimism may not seem particularly justified right now, but historical time is long. "This, too, shall pass" can be read as a cautionary comment on the fall of mighty empires -- but it also applies to malignant presidencies. History can be an oppressive weight, but it can also be a light in the darkness. Murphy's book reminds us both to look backward, and to look ahead.

http://www.salon.com/books/review/2007/06/07/rome/print.html

Retired Gen. George Washington Criticizes Bush's Handling Of Iraq War

Retired Gen. George Washington Criticizes Bush's Handling Of Iraq War

June 6, 2007 | Issue 43•23
The Onion

Retired Gen. George Washington Criticizes Bushs Handling Of Iraq War


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WASHINGTON, DC—Breaking a 211-year media silence, retired Army Gen. George Washington appeared on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday to speak out against many aspects of the way the Iraq war has been waged.
Enlarge Image Gen. George Washington

Washington likens Vice President Cheney to controversial British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Stamp Act architect George Greenville.

Washington, whose appearance marked the first time the military leader and statesman had spoken publicly since his 1796 farewell address in Philadelphia, is the latest in a string of retired generals stepping forward to criticize the Iraq war.

"This entire military venture has been foolhardy and of ill design," said Washington, dressed in his customary breeches and frilly cravat. "The manifold mistakes committed by this president in Iraq carry grave consequences, and he who holds the position of commander in chief has the responsibility to right those wrongs."

Washington noted that while Saddam Hussein was an indefensible tyrant, that alone did not justify a "conflict that seems without design or end."

"The Iraqi people did suffer greatly under unjust rule," Washington said. "But in truth, it is the duty of any people that wishes to be free to fight for its own independence. Had France meddled in our revolution beyond the guidance and material assistance they provided, I should think similar unrest would have darkened our nation's earliest hours."
Enlarge Image CNN Retired Gen. Speaks Out

Washington made the cable news rounds, telling Wolf Blitzer that the war was a "tragic mistake for our nation."

The Virginia-born Revolutionary War veteran and national-capital namesake also expressed his worry over the state of the American militia, the unchecked powers of the executive branch, and the lack of a congressional declaration of war.

"The very genius of the American presidency is that it is an office held by an elected representative of the people, not by a monarch who can rule by fiat and enact policy at will," Washington said.

The retired general asserted that many of the current problems in Iraq could easily have been predicted by wiser civilian leadership.

"I can say from personal experience that even a malnourished force with feet clad in rags should not be underestimated, even by a far superior power," added Washington, who has disavowed further comparison between the Iraqi insurgency and the American colonists. "There is nothing a committed fighting force cannot accomplish if bolstered by the strength of its convictions."

Washington's critical comments echo those of other retired generals, including Maj. Gen. John Batiste and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, who attacked Bush's Iraq policy in a series of television ads run by political action committee VoteVets.org during the 2006 midterm elections.

"We're very happy that someone of General Washington's stature is speaking out," said Jon Soltz, cofounder and chairman of VoteVets.org. "He has impeccable conservative credentials, extensive foreign policy experience, is a true citizen-soldier with a proven commitment to his country, and, if that's not enough to get Bush to listen, he's the face on the dollar bill."

However, White House response to the former general's criticism was swift and sharp. Spokesman Tony Fratto dismissed Washington as "increasingly irrelevant" and "a relic" who "made some embarrassing gaffes" during his own military career, such as the Continental Army's near destruction in the Battle of Long Island in 1776.

"The general's reckless and irresponsible comments show that he clearly does not understand the realities of 21st-century warfare," Fratto said.

Conservative pundits moved quickly to discredit the decorated general.

"I don't care who you are—or if you cannot tell a lie—it's un-American to question the president in a time of war," Sean Hannity said on his radio program Monday. "Plus, I find it very interesting that a man who owned slaves and sold hemp thinks he's entitled to give our Commander in Chief lessons on how to run a war."

Toward the end of his Meet the Press interview, Washington expressed fears for the future of Iraq, Middle East policy, and America itself.

"These convoluted foreign adventures were not what I envisaged for my young nation," Washington said. "Certainly the citizens of the republic deserve better than this. Had I but known this was the fated course of my country, I might not have found the strength to liberate Her from the mantle of King George."

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/retired_gen_george_washington

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Official: Cheney Urged Wiretaps

Official: Cheney Urged Wiretaps
Stand-In for Ashcroft Alleges Interference

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007; A03

Vice President Cheney told Justice Department officials that he disagreed with their objections to a secret surveillance program during a high-level White House meeting in March 2004, a former senior Justice official told senators yesterday.

The meeting came one day before White House officials tried to get approval for the same program from then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who lay recovering from surgery in a hospital, according to former deputy attorney general James B. Comey.

Comey's disclosures, made in response to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicate that Cheney and his aides were more closely involved than previously known in a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program. The program allowed the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas.

Comey said that Cheney's office later blocked the promotion of a senior Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, because of his role in raising concerns about the surveillance.

The disclosures also provide further details about the role played by then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales. He visited Ashcroft in his hospital room and wrote an internal memorandum on the surveillance program shortly afterward, according to Comey's responses. Gonzales is now the attorney general. He faces possible congressional votes of no-confidence because of his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

"How are you, General?" Gonzales asked Ashcroft at the hospital, according to Comey.

"Not well," replied Ashcroft, who had just undergone gallbladder surgery and was battling pancreatitis.

The new details follow Comey's gripping testimony last month about the visit by Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., then Bush's chief of staff, to Ashcroft's hospital bed on the night of March 10, 2004. The two Bush aides tried to persuade Ashcroft to renew the authorization of the NSA surveillance program, after Comey and other Justice Department officials had said they would not certify the legality of the effort, according to the testimony and other officials.

Ashcroft refused, noting that Comey had been designated as acting attorney general during his illness.

The episode prompted sharp criticism from Democrats and some Republicans, who questioned whether Gonzales and Card were attempting to take advantage of a sick man to get around legal objections from government lawyers. It is unclear who directed the two Bush aides to make the visit.

Democrats said yesterday that the new details from Comey raise further questions about the role of Cheney and other White House officials in the episode.

"Mr. Comey has confirmed what we suspected for a while -- that White House hands guided Justice Department business," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "The vice president's fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program, and the obvious next question is: Exactly what role did the president play?"

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the surveillance program "was always subject to rigorous oversight and review. . . . We have acknowledged that there have been disagreements about other intelligence activities, as one would expect."

Democrats have criticized Gonzales for testifying last year that there were no "serious disagreements" about the program.

According to Comey, the hospital visit was preceded by a March 9, 2004, meeting at the White House on the Justice Department objections. It was attended by Cheney; Gonzales; Card; Cheney's counsel then, David S. Addington; and others, Comey said.

Comey also named eight Justice Department officials who were prepared to quit if the White House had not backed down, including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, current U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg of Alexandria and Jack Goldsmith, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel and led an internal legal review of the surveillance program.

Comey said that the review "focused on current operations during late 2003 and early 2004, and the legal basis for the program." He declined to answer detailed questions about the program or the review, citing restrictions on classified information.

Bush confirmed the existence of the surveillance effort after news reports in December 2005, saying it was authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was vital to protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. The program has since been put under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees clandestine eavesdropping in the United States.

Staff writer Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/06/AR2007060602297_pf.html

Monday, June 04, 2007

NASA’s Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet

NASA’s Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”

Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.

Though the “understand and protect” phrase was deleted in February, when the Bush administration submitted budget and planning documents to Congress, its absence has only recently registered with NASA employees.

Mr. Steitz, the NASA spokesman, said the agency might have to improve internal communications, but he defended the way the change was made, saying it reflected the management style of Michael D. Griffin, the administrator at the agency.

“Strategic planning comes from headquarters down,” he said, and added, “I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion.”

The line about protecting the earth was added to the mission statement in 2002 under Sean O’Keefe, the first NASA administrator appointed by President Bush, and was drafted in an open process with scientists and employees across the agency.

In the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the agency in 1958, the first objective of the agency was listed as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”

And since 1972, when NASA launched the first Landsat satellite to track changes on the earth’s surface, the agency has been increasingly involved in monitoring the environment and as a result has been immersed in political disputes over environmental policy and spending, said W. Henry Lambright, a professor of public administration and political science at Syracuse University who has studied the trend.

The shift in language echoes a shift in the agency’s budgets toward space projects and away from earth missions, a shift that began in 2004, the year Mr. Bush announced his vision of human missions to the Moon and beyond.

The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Hansen’s comments started a flurry of news media coverage in late January; on Feb. 3, Mr. Griffin issued a statement of “scientific openness.”

The revised mission statement was released with the agency’s proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. But Mr. Steitz said Dr. Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.”

Dr. Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a NASA office, has been criticized by industry-backed groups and Republican officials for associating with environmental campaigners and his endorsement of Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

Dr. Hansen said the change might reflect White House eagerness to shift the spotlight away from global warming.

“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” he said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/science/22nasa.html?ei=5070&en=01cd14f04c67ece8&ex=1181102400&pagewanted=print

US Can Forget About Winning in Iraq: Top Retired General

US Can Forget About Winning in Iraq: Top Retired General

by Sig Christenson

The man who commanded US-led coalition forces during the first year of the Iraq war says the United States can forget about winning the war.

“I think if we do the right things politically and economically with the right Iraqi leadership we could still salvage at least a stalemate, if you will — not a stalemate but at least stave off defeat,” retired Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said in an interview.

Sanchez, in his first interview since he retired last year, is the highest-ranking former military leader yet to suggest the Bush administration has fallen short in Iraq.

“I am absolutely convinced that America has a crisis in leadership at this time,” Sanchez told AFP after a recent speech in San Antonio, Texas.

“We’ve got to do whatever we can to help the next generation of leaders do better than we have done over the past five years, better than what this cohort of political and military leaders have done,” adding that he was “referring to our national political leadership in its entirety” - not just President George W. Bush.

Sanchez called the situation in Iraq bleak, which he blamed on “the abysmal performance in the early stages and the transition of sovereignty.”

He included himself among those who erred in Iraq’s crucial first year after the toppling of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sanchez took command in the summer of 2003 and oversaw the occupation force amid an insurgency that has sparked a low-grade civil war in Iraq.

He was in the middle of some of the most momentous events of the war, among them the dissolution of the Iraqi army and barring millions of Baath Party members from government jobs: two actions seen as triggering the rebellion among Sunni Muslims, who fell from power with Saddam.

Sanchez is also most closely identified with the Abu Ghraib scandal, which occurred on his watch.

Though he was cleared of wrongdoing by an Army probe, Abu Ghraib’s images of naked prisoners humiliated by a rogue torture squad cost Sanchez an almost certain fourth star in the Senate, which approves general officer promotions.

Sanchez, 56, declined to talk about Abu Ghraib or other key events of the war, or say who was to blame for what went wrong.

“That’s something I am still struggling with and it’s not about blame because there’s nobody out there that is intentionally trying to screw things up for our country,” he said. “They were all working to do the best damn job they can to get things right.”

Despite those good intentions, Americans will be forced to “answer the question what is victory, and at this point I’m not sure America really knows what victory is,” said Sanchez, who is thinking of writing a tell-all book about his year in Baghdad.

The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, reacted on Sunday to Sanchez’s comments by insisting: “It’s just way premature to be talking in terms of victory or defeat.”

“What we’re trying to do here is stabilize the security situation, particularly in Baghdad, to allow a political process some time and space to work,” he said on Fox News.

He said time was needed for Bush’s “surge” strategy, launched in January, of ploughing thousands more troops into Iraq “to make a difference on the streets and then time for this political process to unfold.”

Sanchez said a large troop commitment would be needed for years to come but conceded it is “very questionable” whether Americans would support it.

Still, he said, “the coalition cannot afford to precipitously withdraw and leave the Iraqis to their own devices.”

Andrew Krepinevich, a former aide to three defense secretaries who heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, shared that assessment.

“What you are looking at are three factions who are profoundly mistrustful of one another,” he said. “Iraq is a country where those on top have brutally repressed those on the bottom, and that is the way they look at seizing power and maintaining power.”

Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, a ground commander in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, said he’s trying to remain optimistic but thinks domestic support for the war will evaporate within 36 months.

“I personally don’t think it’s over yet,” said McCaffrey, who recently toured Iraq. He said he thinks General David Petraeus, the coalition commander in Iraq, and Crocker can stave off a wider civil war.

“The question is, can the ambassador and Petraeus open reconciliation talks among Iraqis, and (Secretary of State) Condi Rice keep the regional powers from meddling any more in Iraq? The jury’s out,” he said.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/06/04/1653/print/

Matt Taibbi - Giuliani: Worse Than Bush

Giuliani: Worse Than Bush
By Matt Taibbi
RollingStone

Thursday 31 May 2007

He's cashing in on 9/11, working with Karl Rove's henchmen and in cahoots with a Swift Boat-style attack on Hillary. Will Rudy Giuliani be Bush III?

Early Wednesday, May 16th, Charleston, South Carolina. The scene is a town-hall meeting staged by GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, only a day after he wowed a patriotic Republican crowd at a nationally televised debate with a righteous ass-kicking of the party's latest Hanoi Jane, terrorist sympathizer Ron Paul. A bump in the polls later, "America's Mayor" is back on the campaign trail - in a room packed with standard-issue Adorable Schoolchildren, in this case beatific black kids in elementary school uniforms with wide eyes and big RUDY stickers pinned to their oblivious breasts.

Giuliani has good stage presence, but his physical appearance is problematic - virtually neckless, all shoulders and forehead and overbite, with a hunched-over, Draculoid posture that recalls, oddly enough, George W. Bush, the vestigial stoop of a once-chubby kid who grew up hiding tittie pictures from nuns. Not handsome, not cuddly, if he wins this thing it's going to be by projecting toughness and man-aura. But all presidential candidates have to play the baby-kissing game, and here is an early chance for Rudy to show his softer side.

"So," he whispers to the kids. "What do you all want to be when you grow up? Do any of you know?"

A bucktoothed boy raises his hand.

"I wanna be a doctor," he says, "and a lawyer."

The crowd laughs, then looks at Rudy expectantly. The obvious line is "A doctor and a lawyer? Whaddya want to do, sue yourself?" and you can see Rudy physically straining for the joke. But this candidate's funny bone is a microscopic thing, like one of those anvil-shaped deals in the ear, and the line eludes him.

"A doctor and a lawyer, huh?" he says, grinning nervously. "Uh ... whaddya want to do, sue the doctor?"

My notes from that moment read: Chirping crickets.

Rudy moves on. "How about you?" he says to the next boy.

"I want to be a policeman!" the kid says.

Rudy smiles. Then the next boy says he wants to be a fireman, and the crowd twitters: Wow, a fireman and a policeman, in the same room! Rudy is beaming now, almost certainly aware that every grown-up present is suddenly thinking about 9/11. His day. As he leans over, the room is filled with popping flashbulbs. Then, instead of capitalizing on the sense of pride and shared purpose everyone is feeling, Giuliani utters something truly strange and twisted.

"A fireman and a policeman, huh?" he says. "Well, the first thing that I want to do is make sure that you two get along."

Huh? Amid confused applause, Rudy flashes a queer smile, then moves on to the heart of his presentation, a neat little speech about how the election of a Democratic president will result in certain nuclear attack and the end of the free market as we know it. I'm barely listening, however, still thinking about the "make sure you get along" line.

Although few people outside of New York know it yet, there is an emerging controversy over Giuliani's heroic 9/11 legacy. Critics charge that Rudy's failure to resolve the feuding between the city's police and firefighters prior to the attack led to untold numbers of deaths, the most tragic example being the inability of firemen to hear warnings from police helicopters about the impending collapse of the South Tower. The 9/11 Commission concluded that the two departments had been "designed to work independently, not together," and that greater coordination would have spared many lives.

Given all that, why did Rudy offer this weirdly unsolicited reference to the controversy now? Was he joking? And if so, what the fuck? It was a strange and bitter comment to make, especially right on the heels of his grand-slam performance in the previous night's debate. If this is a guy who chews over a perceived slight in the middle of a victory lap, what's he going to be like with his finger on the button? Even Richard Nixon wasn't wound that tight.

Rudy giuliani is a true American hero, and we know this because he does all the things we expect of heroes these days - like make $16 million a year, and lobby for Hugo Chávez and Rupert Murdoch, and promote wars without ever having served in the military, and hire a lawyer to call his second wife a "stuck pig," and organize absurd, grandstanding pogroms against minor foreign artists, and generally drift through life being a shameless opportunist with an outsize ego who doesn't even bother to conceal the fact that he's had a hard-on for the presidency since he was in diapers. In the media age, we can't have a hero humble enough to actually be one; what is needed is a tireless scoundrel, a cad willing to pose all day long for photos, who'll accept $100,000 to talk about heroism for an hour, who has the balls to take a $2.7 million advance to write a book about himself called Leadership. That's Rudy Giuliani. Our hero. And a perfect choice to uphold the legacy of George W. Bush.

Yes, Rudy is smarter than Bush. But his political strength - and he knows it - comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal.

Rudy's attack against Ron Paul in the debate was a classic example of that kind of politics, a Rovian masterstroke. The wizened Paul, a grandfather seventeen times over who is running for the Republican nomination at least 100 years too late, was making a simple isolationist argument, suggesting that our lengthy involvement in Middle Eastern affairs - in particular our bombing of Iraq in the 1990s - was part of the terrorists' rationale in attacking us.

Though a controversial statement for a Republican politician to make, it was hardly refutable from a factual standpoint - after all, Osama bin Laden himself cited America's treatment of Iraq in his 1996 declaration of war. Giuliani surely knew this, but he jumped all over Paul anyway, demanding that Paul take his comment back. "I don't think I've ever heard that before," he hissed, "and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th."

It was like the new convict who comes into prison the first day and punches the weakest guy in the cafeteria in the teeth, and the Southern crowd exploded in raucous applause. Coupled with yet another implosion by aneurysm-in-waiting John McCain a few days later ("Fuck you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room!" McCain screamed at a fellow senator during a meeting about immigration), the Ron Paul ass-whipping revived Giuliani's standing among conservatives who lately had begun to abandon him over his pro-choice status.

The Paul incident went to the very heart of who Giuliani is as a politician. To the extent that conservatism in the Bush years has morphed into a celebration of mindless patriotism and the paranoid witch-hunting of liberals and other dissenters, Rudy seems the most anxious of any Republican candidate to take up that mantle. Like Bush, Rudy has repeatedly shown that he has no problem lumping his enemies in with "the terrorists" if that's what it takes to get over. When the 9/11 Commission raised criticisms of his fire department, for instance, Giuliani put the bipartisan panel in its place for daring to question his leadership. "Our anger," he declared, "should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone - the terrorists who killed our loved ones."

Whether Rudy believes in this kind of politics reflexively, as the psychologically crippled Bush does, or as a means to an end, as Karl Rove does, isn't clear. But there's no question that Giuliani has made the continuation of Swift-Boating politics a linchpin of his candidacy. His political hires speak deeply to that tendency. Chris Henick, formerly Karl Rove's most trusted deputy, is now a key aide at Giuliani Partners, the security firm set up by the mayor to cash in on his 9/11 image. One of his top donors, Richard Collins, is a longtime Bush supporter who was instrumental in setting up "Stop Her Now," a 527 group modeled on Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that will be used to attack Hillary Clinton. And the money for the smear campaign comes from the same Texas sources behind the Swift Boaters, including oilman T. Boone Pickens and Houston home builder Bob Perry.

To further emulate the Bush-Rove model, Giuliani has recruited some thirty Bush "Pioneers," the key fund-raisers who served as the president's $100,000 bagmen. In addition, he hired the woman who spearheaded the Pioneer program to be his chief fund-raiser. "Rudy definitely got some of Bush's heavier hitters, including all the Swift Boater types," says Alex Cohen, a senior researcher at Public Citizen, who tracks the president's top donors.

Rudy's stump speech on the trail these days is short and sweet. He talks about two things - national security and free-market capitalism - and his catchphrase for both is "going on offense." When he talks about "economic offense," Giuliani is ostensibly communicating the usual conservative contempt for taxes and big government. But he means more than that. Like the Bush-Cheney crew, Rudy believes everything should be for sale, even public policy - particularly when he's in a position to do the selling.

In his years as mayor - and his subsequent career as a lobbyist - Rudy jumped into bed with anyone who could afford a rubber. Saudi Arabia, Rupert Murdoch, tobacco interests, pharmaceutical companies, private prisons, Bechtel, ChevronTexaco - Giuliani took money from them all. You could change Rudy's mind literally in the time it took to write a check. A former prosecutor, Giuliani used to call drug dealers "murderers." But as a lobbyist he agreed to represent Seisint, a security firm run by former cocaine smuggler Hank Asher. "I have a great admiration for what he's doing," Rudy gushed after taking $2 million of Asher's money.

As mayor, Rudy had a history of asking financially interested parties to help shape important government policies. At one point, he allowed a deputy mayor who was on the payroll of Major League Baseball to work on deals for the Yankees and Mets; at another point he commissioned a $600,000 report on privatizing JFK and LaGuardia from a consultant with ties to the British Airport Authority, Rudy's handpicked choice to manage the airports.

And let's not forget Bernie Kerik, Rudy's very own hairy-assed Sancho Panza, who was nixed as director of Homeland Security after investigators uncovered a gift he received from a construction firm with alleged mob ties that wanted to do business with Giuliani's administration. It is a testament to the monstrous breadth of Rudy's chutzpah that he used his post-9/11 celebrity to push his personal bagman for a post that milks the world's hugest security-contracts tit - at the very moment when he himself was creating a security-services company.

Then there's 9/11. Like Bush's, Rudy's career before the bombing was in the toilet; New Yorkers had come to think of him as an ambition-sick meanie whose personal scandals were truly wearying to think about. But on the day of the attack, it must be admitted, Rudy hit the perfect note; he displayed all the strength and reassuring calm that Bush did not, and for one day at least, he was everything you'd want in a leader. Then he woke up the next day and the opportunist in him saw that there was money to be made in an America high on fear.

For starters, Rudy tried to use the tragedy to shred election rules, pushing to postpone the inauguration of his successor so he could hog the limelight for a few more months. Then, with the dust from the World Trade Center barely settled, he went on the road as the Man With the Bullhorn, pocketing as much as $200,000 for a single speaking engagement. In 2002 he reported $8 million in speaking income; this past year it was more than $11 million. He's traveled in style, at one stop last year requesting a $47,000 flight on a private jet, five hotel rooms and a private suite with a balcony view and a king-size bed.

While the mayor himself flew out of New York on a magic carpet, thousands of cash-strapped cops, firemen and city workers involved with the cleanup at the World Trade Center were developing cancers and infections and mysterious respiratory ailments like the "WTC cough." This is the dirty little secret lurking underneath Rudy's 9/11 hero image - the most egregious example of his willingness to shape public policy to suit his donors. While the cleanup effort at the Pentagon was turned over to federal agencies like OSHA, which quickly sealed off the site and required relief workers to wear hazmat suits, the World Trade Center cleanup was handed over to Giuliani. The city's Department of Design and Construction (DDC) promptly farmed out the waste-clearing effort to a smattering of politically connected companies, including Bechtel, Bovis and AMEC construction.

The mayor pledged to reopen downtown in no time, and internal DDC memos indicate that the cleanup was directed at a breakneck pace. One memo to DDC chief Michael Burton warned, "Project management appears to only address safety issues when convenient for the schedule of the project." Burton, however, had his own priorities: He threatened to fire contractors if "the highest level of efficiency is not maintained."

Although respiratory-mask use was mandatory, the city allowed a macho culture to develop on the site: Even the mayor himself showed up without a mask. By October, it was estimated, masks were being worn on site as little as twenty-nine percent of the time. Rudy proclaimed that there were "no significant problems" with the air at the World Trade Center. But there was something wrong with the air: It was one of the most dangerous toxic-waste sites in human history, full of everything from benzene to asbestos and PCBs to dioxin (the active ingredient in Agent Orange). Since the cleanup ended, police and firefighters have reported a host of serious illnesses - respiratory ailments like sarcoidosis; leukemia and lymphoma and other cancers; and immune-system problems.

"The likelihood is that more people will eventually die from the cleanup than from the original accident," says David Worby, an attorney representing thousands of cleanup workers in a class-action lawsuit against the city. "Giuliani wears 9/11 like a badge of honor, but he screwed up so badly."

When I first spoke to Worby, he was on his way home from the funeral of a cop. "One thing about Giuliani," he told me. "He's never been to a funeral of a cleanup worker."

Indeed, Rudy has had little at all to say about the issue. About the only move he's made to address the problem was to write a letter urging Congress to pass a law capping the city's liability at $350 million.

Did Giuliani know the air at the World Trade Center was poison? Who knows - but we do know he took over the cleanup, refusing to let more experienced federal agencies run the show. He stood on a few brick piles on the day of the bombing, then spent the next ten months making damn sure everyone worked the night shift on-site while he bonked his mistress and negotiated his gazillion-dollar move to the private sector. Meanwhile, the people who actually cleaned up the rubble got used to checking their stool for blood every morning.

Now Giuliani is running for president - as the hero of 9/11. George Bush has balls, too, but even he has to bow to this motherfucker.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/060407O.shtml