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

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

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How Rove Directed Federal Assets for GOP Gains

How Rove Directed Federal Assets for GOP Gains
Bush Adviser's Effort to Promote the President and His Allies Was Unprecedented in Its Reach

By John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 19, 2007; A01

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was "asset deployment," and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush's reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

"The White House determines which members need visits," said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove "deployment" team, "and where we need to be strategically placing our assets."

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove, who announced last week that he is resigning from the White House at the end of August, pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.

Under Rove's direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year's congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays's district in the six months before the election -- once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

"He didn't do these things half-baked. It was total commitment," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), who in 2002 ran the House Republicans' successful reelection campaign in close coordination with Rove. "We knew history was against us, and he helped coordinate all of the accoutrements of the executive branch to help with the campaign, within the legal limits."

In the past few months, revelations about a few dozen political briefings that Rove's team conducted at federal agencies and several election-related slides from those briefings have touched off investigations into whether the White House improperly politicized federal workers or misused government assets to win elections.

Investigators, however, said the scale of Rove's effort is far broader than previously revealed; they say that Rove's team gave more than 100 such briefings during the seven years of the Bush administration. The political sessions touched nearly all of the Cabinet departments and a handful of smaller agencies that often had major roles in providing grants, such as the White House office of drug policy and the State Department's Agency for International Development.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee are investigating whether any of the meetings violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using federal resources for election activities. They also want to know whether any Bush appointees pressured government for favorable actions such as grants to help GOP electoral chances.

"What we are seeing is the tip of a whole effort to make the federal government a subsidiary of the Republican Party. It was all politics, all the time," Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said last week.

The White House has repeatedly said that Rove's team stayed within the confines of federal law and that the meetings were an effort to ensure the president's agenda and those who supported it were fully promoted.

But the Office of the Special Counsel, which protects whistleblowers, has concluded that the Hatch Act was violated during one such briefing, conducted for General Services Administration political appointees by J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy director of political affairs. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said he hopes his investigation of political briefings will have "an educational benefit and a deterrent effect" in reminding federal employees about their legal obligations. "Yes, people have their political parties, and that is good. But they have to check those affiliations at the door when you do the people's business," he said in an interview last week.
'How We Can Work Together'

An invitation to a March 12, 2001, political briefing for federal officials -- one of the Rove team's earliest -- framed the mission this way: "How we can work together."

In practical terms, that meant Cabinet officials concentrated their official government travel on the media markets Rove's team chose, rolling out grant decisions made by agencies with red-carpet fanfare in GOP congressional districts, and carefully crafted announcements highlighting the release of federal money in battleground states.

"We did that from Day One of the administration, strategically utilizing the president's appointees to sell his agenda," Drew DeBerry, the Agriculture Department's liaison to the White House between 2001 and 2005, recalled in an interview last week.

The scope of Rove's ambitions was unprecedented.

"Karl's ability to see the chessboard and deploy all of the various pieces to the maximum effect is flat-out unrivaled," said Mark Corallo, a longtime GOP operative who worked with Rove as a top Justice Department communications official and later as a private consultant. "At the same time, he was always thoroughly aware of the limits and of the boundaries."

To lead the charge, Rove had his "asset deployment team." It comprised the chief White House liaison official at each Cabinet agency. The team members met -- sometimes as often as once a month -- to coordinate the travel of Cabinet secretaries and senior agency officials, the announcement of grant money, and personnel and policy decisions. Occasionally, the attendees got updates on election strategies.

White House officials say Rove had two basic rules: the first was to avoid meddling with grant and contract decisions made by career government employees; the second was to make sure they complied with the Hatch Act. "What was surprising was how adamant Karl and his whole team was that we involve the lawyers in our discussions to make sure we didn't come up with things that ran afoul of the law," DeBerry said. In March 2002, then-White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh gave such a briefing on the "do's and don'ts regarding your participation in politically related activities," according to the invitation.

Most of the political briefings, officials said, were held at the White House or Old Executive Office Building for the liaisons or the agency chiefs of staff. But once or twice a year, Rove's team sought to spread the message beyond this core team. Attendees were presented a slide show with the latest polling data, election talking points and maps identifying competitive media markets, congressional races and presidential battleground states.

The subjects for such meetings -- which involved at least 18 agencies -- ranged from "a political update" and "mid-term election trends" to "outreach" and "coalition activities/organization," according to invitations gathered by congressional investigators.

DeBerry requested one such meeting at the Agriculture Department about five months before the 2004 election.

"We would like to hold a briefing for our political appointees on the strategy we should focus on over the next several months," he wrote on June 15, 2004, to Barry Jackson, the White House chief of strategic initiatives. "The briefing you gave the Asset Deployment team about a year ago would be perfect."

DeBerry's e-mail captures what administration officials said was the essence of Rove's approach: making sure that political appointees at every level of government pushed a uniform agenda in key media markets and on behalf of White House-backed candidates. That meant resisting the natural tendencies of the federal bureaucracy to cater just to congressional purse-string holders, officials said.

"I feel like people need to hear the message about resisting the urge to travel to the districts of the key committee chairmen and members for the sake of building relationships . . . that the White House determines which members need visits and where we need to be strategically placing our assets," DeBerry wrote.

Some briefings targeted political appointees because of their race or ethnicity. On Aug. 11, 2006, for instance, Hispanic political appointees were summoned to a meeting with Rove's team to discuss the administration's accomplishments for Hispanic Americans.

Even agencies traditionally considered to be above the elections fray sent representatives to such briefings. A White House-arranged meeting that year for Justice Department appointees at the Old Executive Office Building included "a presentation about what the Department of Justice is doing for Hispanic American citizens," the department recently told Waxman's committee.

During the Clinton administration, White House officials made their own attempt to harness the federal bureaucracy's grant announcements and travel, but they were far less systematic. The White House political office held two or three meetings in the 18 months before the 1996 election with each Cabinet secretary and one or two top aides, deeming some agencies such as Justice and State as off limits to politics, former Clinton officials said.

"It was not a full-scale agency briefing. There were no targets; we were not calling them in and giving them lists of who to take care of and punish," said Douglas Sosnik, White House political director in 1995 and 1996. "It was an overview of where we were headed with the campaign."
Helping Endangered Republicans

Politically embattled Republicans such as Shays were frequent beneficiaries.

Between April 2006 and Election Day, Shays was able to announce at least 25 new federal grants or projects totaling more than $46 million, including a new veterans medical facility and a long-awaited installment of federal money for ferry service, according to a Post analysis of his news releases. Seven different Bush administration officials, including two Cabinet secretaries and the chief of the highway administration, visited his district during that time.

In contrast, Shays announced just $39 million in grants and got just one visit by a federal official in the prior 15 months, the analysis shows.

No federal generosity was too small to tout. A top official of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was on hand with Shays when the NOAA awarded a single severe-weather alert radio, valued at $23, to an elementary school in Norwalk, Conn., two months before Election Day.

Shays wrote Bush on Sept. 8, 2006, to seek the early release -- before the election -- of heating assistance money for low-income residents in his state. Just four days later, the White House released $6 million. Asked to comment on the administration's help, Shays's campaign manager Michael Sohn said, "Chris was grateful to be returned to office based on his record of hard work and accomplishment."

Similar efforts to promote grants in key states took place across the government. When the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, released 22 grants totaling $35.7 million for community health and disease-prevention programs in late September 2004, The Post analysis found, half the awards went to targeted election states or congressional districts, the rest to noncompetitive areas that included Democratic strongholds such as Boston and New Orleans.

The agency's news release about those grants, however, detailed at the top just four recipients -- in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and an Oklahoma congressional district -- that Rove's team identified in earlier 2004 briefings as key to the GOP's reelection strategy.

The White House briefings also frequently identified key media markets where Republicans most wanted their message out. A Post review of trips announced by several Bush Cabinet members during the 2004 election showed that their travel fell neatly into the markets listed on a slide included in briefings that year.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao made 13 official visits in the last two months of the election, never straying more than 50 miles from the media markets on Rove's office list, the analysis showed. That August, she attended three local Fraternal Order of Police meetings in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to tout new overtime rules that would soon go into effect. Likewise, she traveled to Tampa -- another targeted media market -- to announce grants for recipients who actually lived in Jacksonville, Fla., a less competitive area.

Aside from her home town of Denver, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton visited just five cities in the first two months of 2004, according to the public announcements. But that pace changed between June and November, when -- in visits to 37 cities -- she hit the target election markets 32 times, the announcements show.

Those visits occurred after Interior liaison William Kloiber wrote to White House political affairs aide Matt Schlapp to thank him for a briefing about the political landscape. In an e-mail obtained by congressional investigators, Kloiber wrote, "Sometimes these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographic travel can benefit the President."

After 9/11, Rudy wasn't a rescue worker -- he was a Yankee

After 9/11, Rudy wasn't a rescue worker -- he was a Yankee

Giuliani said he spent as much time at ground zero as many rescue workers. Where was he really? Much of the time, at baseball games.

By Alex Koppelman

Aug. 18, 2007 | On Friday, a New York Times story examined Rudy Giuliani's schedule in the months after 9/11 to verify his controversial claim that, like rescue workers, he'd spent long hours at ground zero, and so was "in that sense ... one of them." In fact, the Times found, he only spent 29 hours at the terror site between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16.

What was he doing instead? Giuliani's beloved New York Yankees made it to the World Series in 2001. We decided to compare the time he spent on baseball to the time he spent at the ruins of the World Trade Center.

The results were, considering the mayor's long-standing devotion to the Bronx Bombers, unsurprising. By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 60 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers.

During three postseason playoff series that began Oct. 10, 2001, and ended Nov. 4, 2001, Giuliani attended every one of the team's home games, with the possible exception of the third game of the American League Championship Series, for which Salon could not confirm his attendance. According to Salon's arithmetic, Giuliani spent about 33 hours in stadiums -- this includes two World Series games he watched in Phoenix -- during the Yankees' 2001 postseason run, four hours more than he spent at ground zero. (We do not know if he stayed for every pitch, but famed baseball writer Roger Angell described Giuliani in the the New Yorker as a "devout Yankee fan, a guy who stays on until the end of the game.")

Giuliani also attended the first regular season game the Yankees played in New York after the attacks; that game lasted almost three hours. (We do not know if he was present for any of the Yankees' other seven post-9/11 home games.) And he spent one of the away World Series games in a specially reserved box with his son at the ESPN Zone in Times Square, London's Daily Mail reported. The Daily Mail said he did that, in fact, for every away game of the American League Championship Series and the Yankees' first-round Division Series against the Oakland A's, but Salon could not independently verify that report. (Giuliani watched the first game of the World Series from his City Hall office.)

Then there's the whirlwind tour Giuliani made traveling back and forth to Arizona for games six and seven of the World Series. Granted, he and his now-estranged children were traveling with a small entourage composed of the families of some of 9/11's victims; Major League Baseball had chipped in free tickets, Continental Airlines had donated a charter jet, and hotel rooms were comped as well. Still, once those families were in Arizona, Giuliani -- who had been predicting that game six would bring a Yankees victory and an end to the series -- made an extraordinary effort to ensure that he could attend to his responsibilities in New York and still make it back for game seven.

Giuliani left game six midway through, the Associated Press reported at the time, so that he could make his 12:30 a.m. flight back to New York, where he needed to spend some time discussing the U.S. anthrax attacks, which by then had touched New York's City Hall. The mayor was in Staten Island by 9:30 a.m. to kick off the New York City Marathon. Then it was back to the airport a few hours later, and on to Arizona for game seven. That, in total, meant 22 hours in the air.

But Giuliani's involvement with the team went far beyond a time commitment. He was, in fact, a visible, constant presence at the postseason games and, more than once, a participant in the team's victory celebrations. Dave Johnson, executive sports editor of the Evansville Courier & Press, even wrote a column at the time bemoaning Giuliani's omnipresence and saying, "If I didn't already dislike the New York Yankees, I'd root against them just because of Rudolph Giuliani ... Who anointed Rudy baseball's new Super Fan?" The mayor was pulled on the field after the Yankees clinched both the American League Division Series and Championship Series, and spent time in the clubhouse after those victories as well.

Nor did Giuliani's involvement start as some attempt to boost the city's spirits after the tragedy it experienced. As the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett has previously reported, Giuliani has four Yankees World Series rings from the time he was mayor; by contrast, Barrett reported, no mayor in any other city that's won a championship since 1995 has any Series ring at all. Barrett also reported that Giuliani attended at least 20 of the Yankees regular season games each year he was mayor.

Giuliani also found time during the period studied by the Times to, for example, make a call to slugger Jason Giambi exhorting him to leave the A's and sign with the Yankees. Giambi did, on Dec. 13. A day later, Giuliani introduced Giambi at City Hall, where, according to the Associated Press, Giambi said, "[Giuliani] was going to help me find somewhere to live, so I'm going to take him up on it."

And though the final budget he submitted as mayor called for serious belt-tightening around the city -- cuts as high as 15 percent for most agencies -- in the wake of the attacks and the $40 billion debt New York faced, Giuliani wasn't quite prepared to subject the Yankees or their counterpart Mets to the same penny-pinching. In fact, though nearly everyone expected 9/11 to cause the city to abandon the plans for new stadiums for the teams -- Long Island's Newsday reported that "since Sept. 11, several city officials, including [then-Mayor-elect Michael] Bloomberg, have said the projects were on the back burner because of the city's other pressing needs" -- Giuliani wanted to push forward. The stadiums were projected to have cost $1.6 billion in city, state and private funds.

Giuliani did need a place to play, after all. Though rumors were swirling at the time about what his future held after the end of his final term as mayor, Giuliani was generally unwilling to give specifics. He was willing, however, to jokingly suggest one possibility -- "right field for the Yankees," the Associated Press quoted him as saying while swinging an imaginary bat.

A spokeswoman for Giuliani did not return a voice-mail message left seeking comment.

Frank Rich - He Got Out While the Getting Was Good

He Got Out While the Getting Was Good


BACK in those heady days of late summer 2002, Andrew Card, then the president's chief of staff, told The New York Times why the much-anticipated push for war in Iraq hadn't yet arrived. "You don't introduce new products in August," he said, sounding like the mouthpiece for the Big Three automakers he once was. Sure enough, with an efficiency Detroit can only envy, the manufactured aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds rolled off the White House assembly line after Labor Day like clockwork.

Five summers later, we have the flip side of the Card corollary: You do recall defective products in August, whether you're Mattel or the Bush administration. Karl Rove's departure was both abrupt and fast. The ritualistic "for the sake of my family" rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive. Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?

Perhaps, but the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove's departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp — not the Democrats' familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. — that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring "the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies," not to mention "the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty." Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.

Those Bush dead-enders are in a serious state of denial. Just how much so could be found in the Journal interview when Mr. Rove extolled his party's health by arguing, without contradiction from Mr. Gigot, that young people are more "pro-life" and "free-market" than their elders. Maybe he was talking about 12-year-olds. Back in the real world of potential voters, the latest New York Times-CBS News poll of Americans aged 17 to 29 found that their views on abortion were almost identical to the rest of the country's. (Only 24 percent want abortion outlawed.)

That poll also found that the percentage of young people who identify as Republicans, whether free-marketers or not, is down to 25, from a high of 37 at the end of the Reagan era. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, found that self-identified G.O.P. voters are trending older rapidly, with the percentage over age 55 jumping from 28 to 41 percent in a decade.

Every poll and demographic accounting finds the Republican Party on the losing side of history, both politically and culturally. Not even a miraculous armistice in Iraq or vintage Democratic incompetence may be able to ride to the rescue. A survey conducted by The Journal itself (with NBC News) in June reported G.O.P. approval numbers lower than any in that poll's two decades of existence. Such is the political legacy for a party to which Mr. Rove sold Mr. Bush as "a new kind of Republican," an exemplar of "compassionate conservatism" and the avatar of a permanent Republican majority.

That sales pitch, as we long ago learned, was all about packaging, not substance. The hope was that No Child Left Behind and a 2000 G.O.P. convention stacked with break dancers and gospel singers would peel away some independent and black voters from the Democrats. The promise of immigration reform would spread Bush's popularity among Hispanics. Another potential add-on to the Republican base was Muslims, a growing constituency that Mr. Rove's pal Grover Norquist plotted to herd into the coalition.

The rest is history. Any prospect of a rapprochement between the G.O.P. and African-Americans died in the New Orleans Superdome. The tardy, botched immigration initiative unleashed a wave of xenophobia against Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country. The Muslim outreach project disappeared into the memory hole after 9/11.

Forced to pick a single symbolic episode to encapsulate the collapse of Rovian Republicanism, however, I would not choose any of those national watersheds, or even the implosion of the Iraq war, but the George Allen "macaca" moment. Its first anniversary fell, fittingly enough, on the same day last weekend that Mitt Romney bought his victory at the desultory, poorly attended G.O.P. straw poll in Iowa.

A century seems to have passed since Mr. Allen, the Virginia Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was anointed by Washington insiders as the inevitable heir to the Bush-Rove mantle: a former governor whose jus'-folks personality, the Bushian camouflage for hard-edged conservatism, would propel him to the White House. Mr. Allen's senatorial campaign and presidential future melted down overnight after he insulted a Jim Webb campaign worker, the 20-year-old son of Indian immigrants, not just by calling him a monkey but by sarcastically welcoming him "to America" and "the real world of Virginia."

This incident had resonance well beyond Virginia and Mr. Allen for several reasons. First, it crystallized the monochromatic whiteness at the dark heart of Rovian Republicanism. For all the minstrel antics at the 2000 convention, the record speaks for itself: there is not a single black Republican serving in either the House or Senate, and little representation of other minorities, either. Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party's presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954. Meanwhile, a new census analysis released this month finds that nonwhites now make up a majority in nearly a third of the nation's most populous counties, with Houston overtaking Los Angeles in black population and metropolitan Chicago surpassing Honolulu in Asian residents. Even small towns and rural America are exploding in Hispanic growth.

Second, the Allen slur was a compact distillation of the brute nastiness of the Bush-Rove years, all that ostentatious "compassion" notwithstanding. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove are not xenophobes, but the record will show that their White House spoke up too late and said too little when some of its political allies descended into Mexican-bashing during the immigration brawl. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove winked at anti-immigrant bigotry, much as they did at the homophobia they inflamed with their incessant election-year demagoguery about same-sex marriage.

Finally, the "macaca" incident was a media touchstone. It became a national phenomenon when the video landed on YouTube, the rollicking Web site whose reach now threatens mainstream news outlets. A year later, leading Republicans are still clueless and panicked about this new medium, which is why they, unlike their Democratic counterparts, pulled out of even a tightly controlled CNN-YouTube debate. It took smart young conservative bloggers like a former Republican National Committee operative, Patrick Ruffini, to shame them into reinstating the debate for November, lest the entire G.O.P. field look as pathetically out of touch as it is.

The rise of YouTube certifies the passing of Mr. Rove's era, a cultural changing of the guard in the digital age. Mr. Rove made his name in direct-mail fund-raising and with fierce top-down message management. As the Internet erodes snail mail, so it upends direct mail. As YouTube threatens a politician's ability to rigidly control a message, so it threatens the Rove ethos that led Mr. Bush to campaign at "town hall" meetings attended only by hand-picked supporters.

It's no coincidence that this new culture is also threatening the Beltway journalistic establishment that celebrated Mr. Rove's invincibility well past its expiration date (much as it did James Carville's before him), extolling what Joshua Green, in his superb new Rove article in The Atlantic, calls the Cult of the Consultant. The YouTube video of Mr. Rove impersonating a rapper at one of those black-tie correspondents' dinners makes the Washington press corps look even more antediluvian than he is.

Last weekend's Iowa straw poll was a more somber but equally anachronistic spectacle. Again, it's a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, who put it best: "The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he's little more than Jesus Christ's running mate."

That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove's face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.

The War as We Saw It

The War as We Saw It


VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Hagel: Congress demands facts on Iraq

Hagel: Congress demands facts on Iraq
BY DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star
Friday, Aug 17, 2007 - 06:35:06 pm CDT

Congress will demand a full and frank report on conditions in Iraq next month unfiltered by any White House assessment, Sen. Chuck Hagel said Friday.

Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be expected to present their own on-the-ground assessments to congressional committees in mid-September, Hagel said.

“We’re going to demand we get whatever information we require,” the Republican senator said during a Lincoln interview.

“We fully expect the leaders of our government will comply with their responsibility. We must have all the facts and details required to make intelligent decisions.”

Concerns were raised in Washington earlier this week when the Los Angeles Times reported the White House, not Petraeus and Crocker, would prepare the Iraq assessment for Congress to consider.

Hagel said he believes Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “will be very clear, honest and direct” in presenting his own views to Congress.

“This is serious business,” Hagel said.

“We are in a lot of trouble in Iraq and we need to make decisions based on the best information and intelligence we have, not just for the short term, but for the long term.”

Hagel took issue with House Republican Leader John Boehner’s own assessment that the Bush administration’s strategy has been “very successful” in Iraq.

“Everyone is entitled to his opinion,” Hagel said, “but the facts do not bear that out.”

Boehner, an Ohio congressman, expressed his views during an interview in Lincoln earlier this week.

“On the same day Boehner was boldly proclaiming we were winning in Iraq, Basra was under siege by roving gangs and militias,” Hagel said.

“Shiite militias are in charge in the southern third of Iraq,” he said.

On the same day, Hagel said, as many as 500 people were killed in the north.

“All Sunni cabinet members of Nouri al-Maliki’s government are gone,” he said. “There is no functioning government in Iraq.”

Five U.S. soldiers were killed that day, Hagel said, and the Green Zone was hit by 25 mortar attacks.

“I’m not sure on what basis Boehner says the surge (of additional U.S. troops) is working,” Hagel said.

Mr. Sensitive

Mr. Sensitive
08.18.07 -- 10:09AM
By Steve Benen

In August 2001, the president read a memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush didn't much care, telling his CIA briefer, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."

In August 2007, the president read a style article in a mid-size newspaper about the clothes he wears in Crawford. About this, Bush cared very much.

What really gets George W. Bush riled up? Calling him a fashion victim.

Last week, Marques Harper of the Austin American-Statesman wrote a short piece about the president's sartorial style on his Texas ranch, where Bush is spending a two-week vacation. The article was reprinted Tuesday in a Waco, Tex., paper, and the leader of the free world was not pleased.

Harper received a phone call that morning from White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino, who, Harper told friends, said the president read the article and was unhappy about the way he was portrayed.

First, this comes just days after Karl Rove told Rush Limbaugh about the president's healthy, above-the-fray attitude about criticism in the media. Rove boasted, "The president is very good about saying, 'Look, we came here for a reason. We have an obligation on the country,' and press on by it. I'll be hyperventilating about the latest attack on him by somebody, and he'll say, 'Don't worry. History will get it right and we'll both be dead.' So it's a good, healthy attitude about how to take it." I guess that doesn't apply to his fashion sense.

Second, the article itself was entirely benign, noting that Bush has "opted to look more like 'Walker, Texas Ranger' than a sweaty, tough ranch hand." This mild remark in a brief article was enough for the spokesperson for the President of the United States to call a style reporter for a mid-size newspaper to convey the disappointment of the leader of the free world.

And third, I've heard rumors that George W. Bush is a charming fellow who's easy to get along with. Policies aside, he's supposed to be a "great guy." I don't buy it. Incidents like this one make the president sound temperamental and immature.

Indeed, if we take the White House pitch at face value, Bush is a tough guy, hardened by war, and unconcerned about pettiness -- unless the Austin American-Statesman says something vaguely derogatory about his clothes?

Concern Over Wider Spying Under New Law

Concern Over Wider Spying Under New Law

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches of American citizens and the collection of their business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

The dispute illustrates how Democrats, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought. It also offers a case study in how changing a few words in a complex piece of legislation has the potential to fundamentally alter the basic meaning of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a landmark national security law. Two weeks after the legislation was signed into law, there is still heated debate over how much power Congress gave to the president.

It is possible that some of the changes were the unintended consequences of the rushed legislative process just before this month’s Congressional recess, rather than a purposeful effort by the administration to enhance its ability to spy on Americans.

“We did not cover ourselves in glory,” said one Democratic aide, referring to how the bill was compiled.

Democratic leaders have said they plan to push for a revision of the legislation as soon as September. “It was a legislative over-reach, limited in time,” said one Congressional Democratic aide. “But Democrats feel like they can regroup.”

Some civil rights advocates said they suspected that the administration made the language of the bill intentionally vague to allow it even broader discretion over wiretapping decisions. Whether intentional or not, the end result — according to top Democratic aides and other experts on national security law — is that the legislation may grant the government the right to collect a vast array of information on American citizens inside the United States without warrants, as long as the administration asserts that the spying concerns the monitoring of a person believed to be overseas.

In effect, they say, the legislation significantly relaxes the restrictions on how the government can conduct spying operations aimed at foreigners while also sweeping up information about Americans.

“This may give the administration even more authority than people thought,” said David Kris, a former senior Justice Department lawyer in the Bush administration and a co-author of “National Security Investigation and Prosecutions,” a new book on surveillance law.

Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law undercuts the legal underpinnings several provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States. These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches, and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.

For instance, the legislation would allow the government, under certain circumstances, to search the business records of an American in Chicago without a warrant if it asserts that the search concerns its surveillance of a person who is in Paris, Democratic Congressional aides and other experts said. If the administration meets several specific conditions in the new legislation, Democratic Congressional aides and outside legal experts worry that the government could, for example, seize the computer or other communications-related property of an American in Los Angeles who may have been in contact with a person in Saudi Arabia — if the person in Saudi Arabia is the subject of the government’s interest.

These new powers are considered overly broad and troubling by some Congressional Democrats who raised their concerns with administration officials in private meetings this week.

“This shows why it is so risky to change the law by changing the definition” of something as basic as the meaning of electronic surveillance, said Suzanne Spaulding, a former Congressional staff member who is now a national security legal expert. “You end up with a broad range of consequences that you might not realize.”

But a senior intelligence official who has been involved in the discussions on behalf of the administration said that the legislation was seen solely as a way to speed access to the communications of foreign targets, not to sweep up the communications of Americans by claiming to focus on foreigners.

“I don’t think it’s a fair reading,” the official said. “The intent here was pure: if you’re targeting someone outside the country, the fact that you’re doing the collection inside the country, that shouldn’t matter.”

But the official acknowledged that Congressional staff members had raised concerns about the law in the meetings this week, and that ambiguities in the bill’s wording may have led to some confusion. “I’m sure there will be discussions about how and whether it should be fixed,” the official said.

Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the office of the director of national intelligence, said the concerns raised by Congressional officials about the wide scope of the new legislation were “speculative.” But she declined to discuss specific aspects of how the legislation would be enacted. The legislation gives the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales broad discretion in enacting the new procedures and approving the way surveillance is conducted.

The new legislation amends FISA, but is set to expire in six months. Bush administration officials said the legislation was critical to fill an “intelligence gap” that had left the United States vulnerable to attack.

The legislation “restores FISA to its original and appropriate focus — protecting the privacy of Americans,” said Brian Roehrkasse, Justice Department spokesman. “The act makes clear that we do not need a court order to target for foreign intelligence collection persons located outside the United States, but it also retains FISA’s fundamental requirement of court orders when the target is in the United States.”

The measure, which President Bush signed into law on Aug. 5, was written and pushed through both the House and Senate so quickly that few in Congress had time to absorb its full impact, some Congressional aides say.

Though many Democratic leaders opposed the final version of the legislation, they did not work forcefully to block its passage, largely out of fear that they would be criticized by President Bush and Republican leaders during the August recess as being soft on terrorism.

Yet Bush administration officials have already signaled that, in their view, the president retains his constitutional authority to do whatever it takes to protect the country, regardless of any action Congress takes. At a tense meeting last week with lawyers from a range of private groups active in the wiretapping issue, senior Justice Department officials refused to commit the administration to adhering to the limits laid out in the new legislation and left open the possibility that the president could once again use what they have said in other instances is his constitutional authority to act outside the regulations set by Congress.

At the meeting, Bruce Fein, a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration, along with other critics of the legislation, pressed Justice Department officials repeatedly for an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress. The Justice Department, led by Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, refused to do so, according to three participants in the meeting. That stance angered Mr. Fein and others. It sent the message, Mr. Fein said in an interview, that the new legislation, though it is already broadly worded, “is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president’s Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence.”

Brian Walsh, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who attended the same private meeting with Justice Department officials, acknowledged that the meeting — intended by the administration to solicit recommendations on the wiretapping legislation — became quite heated at times. But he said he thought the administration’s stance on the president’s commander-in-chief powers was “a wise course.”

“They were careful not to concede any authority that they believe they have under Article II,” Mr. Walsh said. “If they think they have the constitutional authority, it wouldn’t make sense to commit to not using it.”

Asked whether the administration considered the new legislation legally binding, Ms. Vines, the national intelligence office spokeswoman, said: “We’re going to follow the law and carry it out as it’s been passed.”

Mr. Bush issued a so-called signing statement about the legislation when he signed it into law, but the statement did not assert his presidential authority to override the legislative limits.

At the Justice Department session, critics of the legislation also complained to administration officials about the diminished role of the FISA court, which is limited to determining whether the procedures set up by the executive administration for intercepting foreign intelligence are “clearly erroneous” or not.

That limitation sets a high bar, argued Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who also attended the Justice Department meeting.

“You’ve turned the court into a spectator,” Mr. Rotenberg said.

'Bush's brain' overran foes, friends alike

'Bush's brain' overran foes, friends alike
Topic: Karl Rove resigns

By Times-Herald editorial staff
Vallejo Times Herald
Article Launched:08/16/2007 07:50:04 AM PDT

For six-plus years, Karl Rove's critics and fans, supporters and detractors - surely you were one, but not the other - had to have wondered what his departure would be like.

Joy? Sorrow? Delight? Despair? Angst? Anger? For perhaps the most polarizing political figure of his generation, the reactions were sure to be as jolting as his time in the spotlight.

Or, not.

Uh, would you believe apathy?

Shockingly, that's what it finally came down to for the departing White House deputy chief of staff and senior political adviser, who, with President Bush standing by his side, announced that his tumultuous time as the president's go-to political man would end on Aug. 31.

Once upon a time, both foes and friends alike referred to Rove as "Bush's Brain." If the president wasn't jokingly calling Rove "Turd Blossom," he was referring to him as "architect" of his rise to power.

Of course, that was all in the heady days of Rove, the ruthless strategist, guiding Bush, the political novice, to the big time. With Rove working his magic behind the scenes, Bush took the governor's house in Texas, exploited the nation's fatigue with the Clinton-Lewinsky saga to a first - and controversial - White House victory, and played the national security issue to his advantage for a second presidential term.

Back in those days, the "boy genius" spoke boldly of a "permanent Republican majority."

Then came the lowest approval ratings for a president in 30 years.

And loss of Republican control in the Congress which, up until the wee hours of Election Night 2006, Rove insisted wouldn't happen.

And a tattered Republican base that has produced polls showing "none of the above" leading a current GOP field of presidential candidates.

And so it was that Rove left with a whimper this week, marking a fall from grace that has left him at odds with both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Rove's ability to parse the electorate and mold a message to fit its mood has been called genius for good reason. Rove was a master campaigner. He pioneered the use of database and marketing technology to find every potential Republican voter; he employed wedge issues such as gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research to get conservatives to the polls. He taught candidates to stay "on message" - often negative - all the time.

True to his bare-knuckles, hardball and many would say cheap shot tactics - political figures from John McCain to Max Cleland to John Kerry say they carry the scars to prove it - Rove has left a White House legacy that turned the president from "a uniter" to a divider.

In the end, Rove's strategy didn't help his boss govern. The legacy of the Bush presidency will undoubtedly center on the administration's inability to convert that election savvy into effective leadership.

With a Republican congressional majority for his first six years, Bush steamrollered Democrats and often failed to listen to GOP leaders. He did it his way, which was Rove's way, putting the "bully" back in "bully pulpit." The vote in the mid-term elections in 2006 was payback.

While others in the White House, notably Vice President Dick Cheney, were more involved in war strategy, Rove politicized the debate at home, including accusing Democrats of "cutting and running" if they expressed any measure of opposition to the war.

It's a phrase that Bush used repeatedly as he alternately tried to cajole America into supporting the war. That derisive phrase seems ironic now as Rove leaves the White House when the situation in Iraq has never been more grim.

Rove's style - ruthless, relentless, arrogant and divisive - has marked the Bush presidency. Now that it's in a tailspin, it's too late for a fresh start, and too late for Bush to pass significant legislation.

Whether he's leaving in an effort to escape a congressional subpoena, shape another Republican presidential campaign, cash in via book and speeches, or spend time with his family, the resignation of one of the president's most trusted advisers 17 months before the end of Bush's term is emblematic of just how weak this White House has become.

Rove Steps Down

Editorial | Rove Steps Down

A threadbare legacy

Philidelphia Inquirer

At the National Constitution Center last month, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas) told an audience that President Bush "really doesn't have a domestic policy" aside from his education program.

That's the legacy of Karl Rove, who will step down later this month after 61/2 years as Bush's top adviser.

Rove, 56, had the undeniable political genius to guide a winning presidential candidate in 2000. But then he squandered his creation by advocating divisive politics over broad-based policy at nearly every turn. He charted a course in which partisan politics became administration policy.

Over his 14-year-long partnership with Bush, Rove has been called many names befitting his importance, from "The Architect" to "Bush's Brain" to "Co-President." But once he got to the White House, Rove was ineffective at helping Bush to craft a popular agenda.

This team came into power in 2001 and promptly cut taxes, as promised. With a Republican Congress, it wasn't such a heavy lift. They also worked with Democrats to enact Bush's No Child Left Behind education plan, which is rightly focused on accountability but is underfunded.

Increasingly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush administration treated Congress as its rubber stamp. Compromise, in the view of the president and his advisers, consisted of giving him what he wanted on various wartime measures. To raise concerns about civil liberties or the absence of Iraqi WMDs was either cowardly or treasonous. Congress invariably complied, until Democrats took it over this year.

Rove pushed a style of governing that mimics a political campaign. Rather than try to build consensus, his team has promoted ideas that were popular with the GOP base, and tried to bully the opposition into acquiescence.

Exhibit A was Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security. It was rooted in the Rovian goal of dismantling one of the last great social pillars built by the Democratic leaders. Many people didn't trust the privatization plan, but Bush's solution was to keep trumpeting it to friendly audiences. The unyielding strategy made it easier for congressional Democrats simply to say "no."

Once that proposal collapsed, and immigration reform did as well, Rove's domestic cupboard was bare. So deeply does he believe that America is undergoing a once-in-a-century political "realignment," he ignored the need for persuasion and compromise. Bush became a "war president" in part because of the absence of any agenda at home capable of winning popular support.

Consequently, the war is all Bush has left for a legacy. For too much of Bush's presidency, Rove failed him as an adviser of what works here at home. And the Republican Party that Rove sought to strengthen is weaker for it.

Karl Rove's exit: Presidential emptiness

Karl Rove's exit: Presidential emptiness

Pittsburgh Review-Tribune

Thursday, August 16, 2007

George W. Bush was elected twice to the White House largely because top aide Karl Rove has a keen political intelligence.
But if mastery of politics is all there is, why is Mr. Bush's presidency so terribly wounded? And why is Congress no longer in Republican hands?

Karl Rove is leaving, and it is an apt moment to survey what the Bush presidency has accomplished. Tax cuts, to be sure, and two Supreme Court justices. But Social Security privatization died while Medicare entitlements grew, the Iraq war drags on, the president is still fond of immigration amnesty, and few are putting stock in the one-time hope for a permanent Republican majority.

To a great extent, conservative principles have been cast down.

The rip on Mr. Rove is, simply put, that he is doctrinaire and does not play well with others, even members of his own party in Congress.

However, Rove, who too much melded policy with politics, is not the president. Bush is. We would be remiss to focus too strongly on Rove as Svengali, political strategist and lightning rod and too weakly on his boss.

It may have been Bush's flaw to entrust too much of his presidency to anyone. By having deferred to Rove, the president reveals of himself a needy emptiness into which content is poured by others.

On the stump one can give the same speeches over and over again. In the presidency, a person should be prepared to grow fully into what he is.

In the seventh year of the presidency of George W. Bush, is this all there is?

Karl Rove's exit

Karl Rove's exit

Beyond the West Wing, it will be hard to find much sorrow that Karl Rove is leaving the White House.

Louisville Courier-Journal

That doesn't mean that Mr. Rove, President Bush's principal political adviser, didn't earn the affectionate presidential sobriquet of "boy genius." In certain ways, he did. Nor does it suggest that he wasn't worthy of the label (not always offered by admirers) of "Bush's brain."

Mr. Rove was undeniably the key political architect of Mr. Bush's national rise, first to the governorship of Texas and then in two razor-thin presidential elections. He successfully steered the Bush administration on some early policy victories such as tax cuts that proved popular, if ill-advised.

But Mr. Rove used to speak confidently of a "permanent Republican majority," and that is not what he leaves behind.

The President's popular support is near record low levels. The Republicans lost their congressional majorities last fall and face an uphill struggle in next year's elections. Efforts by Messrs. Bush and Rove to achieve second-term legislative triumphs, in Social Security and immigration reform, ended in resounding failure.

Mr. Rove leaves under a personal cloud as well. He came very close to being indicted in the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity, and he has defied congressional subpoenas to testify about the firings of U.S. attorneys.

But none of that is what is most important about Mr. Rove. It is acceptable and honorable to try to win political campaigns. And it is reasonable to concede that many policy decisions will be influenced by purely political calculations.

However, the country expects limits. That's the point Mr. Rove seemed to miss.

In particular, he bears responsibility for his advice in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. National unity was possible and desirable, but he famously concluded that the fight against terror was an opportunity ripe for partisan Republican exploitation. Thus was born the reprehensible Republican theme that political opposition was disloyal, unpatriotic and a sign of weakness.

The result has been sour for Mr. Rove and his client. As Iraq went bad, for instance, it became "Bush's war" and a GOP liability.

But it has been a loss for the rest of us, too. That sense of common purpose and resolve we felt after 9/11 is gone. That is primarily Mr. Rove's doing.

Commerce, Treasury funds helped boost GOP campaigns

Commerce, Treasury funds helped boost GOP campaigns
Marisa Taylor and Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: August 17, 2007 03:47:33 PM

WASHINGTON — Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.

Political appointees in the Treasury Department received at least 10 political briefings from July 2001 to August 2006, officials familiar with the meetings said. Their counterparts at the Commerce Department received at least four briefings — all in the election years of 2002, 2004 and 2006.

The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the White House's political briefings to at least 15 agencies, including to the Justice Department, the General Services Administration and the State Department, violated a ban on the use of government resources for campaign activities.

Under the Hatch Act, Cabinet members are permitted to attend political briefings and appear with members of Congress. But Cabinet members and other political appointees aren't permitted to spend taxpayer money with the aim of benefiting candidates.

During the briefings at Treasury and Commerce, then-Bush administration political director Ken Mehlman and other White House aides detailed competitive congressional districts, battleground election states and key media markets and outlined GOP strategy for getting out the vote.

Commerce and Treasury political appointees later made numerous public appearances and grant announcements that often correlated with GOP interests, according to a review of the events by McClatchy Newspapers. The pattern raises the possibility that the events were arranged with the White House's political guidance in mind.

The briefings are part of the legacy of White House political adviser Karl Rove, who announced this week that he's stepping down at the end of the month to spend more time with his family. Despite Rove's departure, investigations into the briefings are expected to continue.

One congressional aide, who asked to remain anonymous, said the investigation was revealing "a number of remarkable coincidences" similar to how Treasury and Commerce events appeared to coincide with the strategy in the political briefings. However, it remains to be seen whether the subsequent department actions were intentional, said the aide, who asked not to be named because the investigation is ongoing.

As part of the probe, committee investigators found that White House drug czar John Walters took 20 trips at taxpayers' expense in 2006 to appear with Republican congressional candidates.

In a separate investigation, the independent Office of Special Counsel concluded that GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of government employees. Witnesses told investigators that Doan asked at the end of one political briefing in January 2007 what her agency could do to help GOP candidates. Doan has said she doesn't recall that remark.

Violations of the Hatch Act are treated as administrative, not criminal, matters, and punishment for violations ranges from suspension to termination. The administration has not taken any action against Doan.

Even so, the Hatch Act "is an important statute and it needs to be enforced," said James Mitchell, spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel. "One of the effects we hope our investigations will have is to deter violations during the upcoming election cycle."

In the months leading up to the 2002 election, then-Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Bush's former campaign finance chairman, made eight appearances or announcements with Republican incumbents in districts deemed by White House aides either as competitive districts or battleground presidential states.

During the stops, he doled out millions of dollars in grants, including in two public announcements with Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican in a competitive district.

Republicans ultimately regained control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2002 elections.

In 2004, Evans and his aides significantly scaled back appearances with candidates, but an assistant treasury secretary returned to New Mexico to announce with Republicans Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Steve Pierce the release of $2.5 million in economic development funds.

Evans, who now heads the Financial Services Forum, a trade association for financiers, declined comment, a Forum spokesman said.

In 2006, Evans' successor, Carlos Gutierrez, and his aides also made public announcements with several Republican congressional incumbents, including in the battleground states of Missouri, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Weeks before the 2006 election, Gutierrez and Congresswoman Wilson announced $3.45 million in grants for Albuquerque organizations. Also in the weeks before the election, a deputy secretary and Republican Sen. Rick Santorum announced that the department would be investing $2.25 million in Philadelphia.

The same year, then-Treasury Secretary John Snow and Santorum announced an award of millions in tax credits to Pennsylvania organizations. Santorum later lost his seat.

Snow and his aides also made appearances in 2006 with Republican incumbents or doled out grants in Virginia, Iowa and Ohio, states seen as crucial to the GOP retaining control of Congress.

Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, stuck mainly to giving speeches praising President Bush's economic policies rather than appearing with candidates. O'Neill was unceremoniously dumped after disagreeing repeatedly with the White House.

Current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. was sworn in shortly before the 2006 elections. He and his aides have made few grant announcements.

Administration officials denied that any Treasury and Commerce events were orchestrated to help the Republican Party win elections. The officials said White House aides who briefed the departments were careful not to encourage the appointees to act on behalf of the Republican Party on government time.

Commerce Department spokesman Dan Nelson described the meetings as merely "informational."

"They were not a call to action," he said.

Nelson said grants are awarded after a competitive process and aren't selected based on political considerations.

Ted Kassinger, the Commerce Department's former general counsel and a deputy secretary in the Bush administration, said the department was especially careful about avoiding the appearance of political favoritism during Evans' tenure because of the former secretary's close ties to President Bush.

Kassinger, who left in 2005, said the department turned down several requests from political candidates to make appearances because they seemed to be campaign events.

"It was certainly a concern of mine that the work in the department be separated from campaign activities," he said. "At the top level there was never a discussion of 'What can you do to help these guys?'"

One former political appointee who attended a briefing said for all the hoopla over the briefings, he wasn't impressed with them at the time.

"It wasn't rocket science," said the appointee, who asked to remain anonymous because he didn't want to be publicly linked to the controversy. "It's like, 'Yeah, no kidding. We know.'

But John D. "Jerry" Hawke, who served as Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance in the Clinton administration, said the campaign-style briefings for Treasury appointees were unusual.

"Nothing remotely like that happened," during the Clinton administration, Hawke said. "I never experienced anything like that. The notion that the White House would be holding meetings with Treasury appointees just didn't fit."

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

For Giuliani, Ground Zero as Linchpin and Thorn

For Giuliani, Ground Zero as Linchpin and Thorn

As Rudolph W. Giuliani campaigns around the country highlighting his stewardship of New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks, he is widely hailed for bringing order to a traumatized city. But he has also raised the hackles of rescue and recovery workers by likening his experience to theirs.

On at least three occasions, in responding to accusations that the city failed to adequately protect the health of workers in the wreckage, he has boasted that he faced comparable risks himself. In one appearance he declared that he had been in the ruins “as often, if not more” than the cleanup workers who logged hundreds of hours in the smoldering pile.

Another time he brushed aside safety claims by asserting that his long hours at the site had left him susceptible to “every health consequence that people have suffered.”

So, how much time did Mayor Giuliani spend at ground zero?

A complete record of Mr. Giuliani’s exposure to the site is not available for the chaotic six days after the attack, when he was a frequent visitor. But an exhaustively detailed account from his mayoral archive, revised after the events to account for last-minute changes on scheduled stops, does exist for the period of Sept. 17 to Dec. 16, 2001. It shows he was there for a total of 29 hours in those three months, often for short periods or to visit locations adjacent to the rubble. In that same period, many rescue and recovery workers put in daily 12-hour shifts.

“I think Mayor Giuliani did a fine job as mayor during probably the most difficult time in American history, especially in New York history,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association of New York City. “Having said that, it’s unfair for him to characterize himself as being in the same position as the first responders.”

Mr. Palladino said many of his members logged 30 hours in the first two days after the attacks, and most averaged more than 400 hours at ground zero and in the debris pile at the Staten Island landfill. They are among thousands who claim long-term health damage from the exposure.

The details of those weeks are important for Mr. Giuliani’s campaign as he seeks to win the Republican nomination for president. His performance in those harrowing months after the attacks has become the main pillar of his case to become the next commander in chief, and something he reminds voters of frequently in debates and speeches.

The logs illuminate in minute detail what it was like to be mayor of a damaged city seeking to regain its footing after the attacks. The more than 600 pages include unscheduled stops and time blocked out for events with his children.

The 29 hours Mr. Giuliani spent at ground zero involved 41 appearances, mostly to give tours to other officials and foreign dignitaries. Many entries include meetings away from the site before the tour. For instance, the schedule included 30 minutes on Nov. 15, 2001, for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but Mr. Putin’s tour of ground zero was widely reported to have lasted 13 minutes.

Asked to reconcile what the records show with Mr. Giuliani’s public comments about the extent of his exposure to the site, his campaign provided a written statement from Joseph J. Lhota, a former deputy mayor.

“Hundreds of thousands of people around the country and the world saw Rudy Giuliani’s steadfast and determined leadership firsthand at a time when we needed it most,” the statement said. “In the days surrounding September 11th, the safety and health of all those involved in the search and recovery efforts was Mayor Giuliani’s No. 1 one priority. Make no mistake, it is the very same concern Mayor Giuliani continues to express today when it comes to all those who have made tremendous sacrifices at ground zero.”

The months after the attack have emerged as the focus of a contentious battle over the health effects of the cleanup, with workers at the site saying that their long-term exposure to toxins there caused serious illnesses, and that the Giuliani administration failed to recognize the risks in pushing for a speedy cleanup.

The firefighters’ union has also taken umbrage at Mr. Giuliani’s rhetorical claims of being “one of them.”

John J. McDonnell, a battalion chief and president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York, said many of his members worked weeks of consecutive 12-hour shifts on the rubble pile, interrupted only by nights sleeping on the floor of a nearby church.

It was in the context of the debate over health effects at ground zero that Mr. Giuliani said he spent at least as much time at the site as most of the rescue and recovery workers.

“I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers,” Mr. Giuliani said last week in Cincinnati. “I was there working with them. I was there guiding things. I was there bringing people there. But I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.”

The next day, in an interview with Mike Gallagher, a talk show host, he expressed regret for the tone of his remarks, but reiterated the substance of them.

“I wasn’t trying to suggest a competition of any kind, which is the way it came across,” Mr. Giuliani said. “You know, what I was saying was, ‘I’m there with you.’ Gosh almighty, I was there often enough, even though they were there, people there more and people there less, but I was there often enough so that every health consequence that people have suffered, I could also be suffering.”

And in September 2006, The Associated Press quoted him as saying of ground zero, “I spent as much time here as anyone,” and then adding, “I was here five, six times a day for four months. I kind of thought of it as living here.”

A sample by Mount Sinai Medical Center of 1,138 participants in its study of health problems among rescue, recovery and debris removal workers found that they had spent a median of 962 hours at the World Trade Center site, or the equivalent of about 120 eight-hour days.

The days after the attack for which no detailed records exist were when the dust from smoldering rubble was its thickest, and were also the most dangerous for exposure. Mr. Giuliani was engulfed in the smoke and debris from the collapsing towers the day of the attacks, and escorted President Bush to the site three days later.

The schedules, beginning Sept. 17, show a mayor wrestling with a crushing burden of events.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, for example, he gave three nationally televised interviews before his daily 8 a.m. staff meeting at the command center on Pier 92. At 9:15 a.m., he presided over the opening of Nasdaq trading at Times Square. At 11 a.m., he led a United States Senate delegation on a tour of ground zero, followed that afternoon by a news conference and meetings with Muhammad Ali, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and another staff meeting. At 5:30 p.m., he left for Washington to attend President Bush’s address to Congress and returned to La Guardia Airport at midnight.

Alan I. Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University who specializes in voter behavior, said the Giuliani campaign’s focus on his Sept. 11 record has raised the stakes for any mischaracterization of his actions during that period.

“Its sort of like John Kerry making his war heroism a central focus,” Mr. Abramowitz said, “which may have contributed to the attention that was given to the swift boat veterans’ attacks on him.”

Anthony DePalma contributed reporting.

Giuliani's dangerous bluster

Giuliani's dangerous bluster
Reading Giuliani's pompous foreign policy rhetoric and imagining he might somehow become president induces a deep sense of gloom.

By Joe Conason

Aug. 17, 2007 | Further omens that Rudolph Giuliani aspires to be a worse president than George W. Bush were not long in arriving. First came a fawning profile in the New Yorker, which included assurances from neoconservative panjandrum Norman Podhoretz, who advises Giuliani on foreign policy, that his candidate can be relied upon to bomb Iran.

Then still more evidence arrived in the mail with the new issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, which features a lengthy, pompous and ultimately very confused essay by the former New York mayor.

Giuliani's rhetoric -- which only succeeds in making Bush's oratory sound fresh by contrast -- is a warning in itself. The mind-dulling sentences published under his byline, each the dank spoor of Podhoretz, indicate a heavy proliferation of banal speech if he ever enters the White House.

Captive to his political opportunism and preoccupied with his jaw-jutting image, he simply cannot abide an original phrase, let alone an original thought.

Even more arresting than the moldy language in Giuliani's essay are the toxic policy suggestions. But its rapid barrage of cliché upon cliché is almost enough to conceal those neoconservative nuggets. A few samples, culled from nearly 6,000 words of the same cold-oatmeal consistency, show why digging them out was so onerous:

We are at the dawn of a new era in global affairs, when old ideas have to be rethought and new ideas have to be devised to meet new challenges ...

The United States must not rest until the al Qaeda network is destroyed and its leaders, from Osama bin Laden on down, are killed or captured ...

We must seek common ground without turning a blind eye to our differences with [China and Russia] ...

It is clear that we need to do a better job of explaining America's message and mission to the rest of the world, not by imposing our ideas on others but by appealing to their enlightened self-interest ...

America will win the war of ideas ...

We must learn from our past if we want to win the peace as well as the war ...

It is better to give people a hand up than a handout.

Most of what Giuliani says about "the international system" and the imperatives of American leadership will be familiar to anyone who has read a previous issue of Foreign Affairs or an Op-Ed by Henry Kissinger. But within all the blenderized mush, there can be found belligerent platitudes and hints of policy change that do not bode well.

Giuliani parrots all the usual conservative clichés about the war in Iraq and the baneful effects of withdrawal. Like Sen. John McCain, he draws a parallel to "lessons of the war in Vietnam," where he claims that the United States was on the cusp of victory when our troops began to come home in 1972. (Unlike McCain, however, he managed to avoid serving in Vietnam.) According to him, the decision to withdraw was disastrous for the world and U.S. interests, but "abandoning Iraq would have even worse consequences."

He doesn't seem to have noticed that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is now an American trading partner -- and of course he doesn't mention that by the time we left Vietnam, more than 58,000 Americans had died there. The logical inference is that if only we were willing to sacrifice an additional 55,000 troops in Iraq, we would be able to triumph there too.

He takes an equally hard line on Iran, again resorting to the usual clichés when he urges that America should talk with the mullahs only "from a position of strength." He doesn't seem to comprehend that the occupation of Iraq, where our troops are propping up a Shiite government allied with Iran, has left us in a position of grave weakness in the region.

On Cuba and the Middle East, his enthusiastic pandering to the far right leads him into dangerous positions. When Fidel Castro dies, Giuliani apparently believes that the United States should "help the Cuban people reclaim their liberty and resist any step that allows a decrepit, corrupt regime from consolidating its power under Raúl Castro." Does this mean a military intervention -- another Bay of Pigs?

As for Israel and the Palestinian territories, he departs from one of the few redeeming aspects of Bush foreign policy to renounce U.S. support for Palestinian statehood. The Palestinians must earn a homeland by proving that they are good global citizens, according to Giuliani. Otherwise, the new state will simply encourage terrorism, he writes -- as if the statelessness and desperation of the Palestinians had not already bolstered terrorism throughout the region.

Although Giuliani blusters on at great length about American leadership and the importance of our alliances abroad, he doesn't understand how the policies he has endorsed will further diminish our prestige and undermine our remaining allies. He scarcely mentions AIDS and doesn't bother to discuss climate change, the issue that now drives policy around the world. This omission too reeks of pandering.

Reading Giuliani and imagining that he might somehow become president induces a profound sense of gloom. Fortunately, there is comic relief. At one of many points where he attempts to display his erudition and expertise, he notes the "cultural exchanges" that allegedly brought about the end of the Soviet empire. The example he cites is pianist Van Cliburn's concerts in Moscow, which "hastened change."

Van Cliburn played Moscow in 1958. The Soviet Union fell in 1989. If change were any hastier, the Berlin Wall would still be intact.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Go Speed Limpet, Go.

Go Speed Limpet, Go.
by Hunter (dailykos)

Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 01:31:51 PM PDT
Ah, the memorials to Karl Rove are out in force. Now Fred Barnes has one, so let's take a look and... um...

Sigh. You know what? I can't do this. I'm sorry, I just don't have it in me.

So in honor of our new modern economy, I'm going to outsource my remarks in this column to my six year old daughter. In this case, she's doing the job an American -- me -- doesn't want to do. So take it away, Fred Barnes, and I'll put the insights of my young daughter up against yours. She's very creative, it's about time she got a national audience.

Rove is the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation. He not only is a breathtakingly smart strategist but also a clever tactician. He knows history, understands the moods of the public, and is a visionary on matters of public policy. But he is not a magician.

I think you and I should invent a burping machine together. Then I could make it burp in your ear.

Political advisers like Rove offer advice, not magic. And Rove's advice has been very good over the years. He got Bush to run as "a different kind of Republican" in 2000--that is, different from Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. And he made sure that as president, Bush (unlike his father) stayed closed to the conservative base of the Republican party.

I can read that sign! It says "Speed Limpet 45". Daddy, what's a Speed Limpet?

Yet the legend of [strategists'] capability to achieve much more simply won't die. Rove has been faulted for the failure of Bush's two major domestic initiatives of his second term, Social Security reform and immigration reform. For sure, Rove strongly favored both policies and expected them to fare better than they did. But is he to blame for near-unanimous Democratic opposition to overhauling Social Security? Of course not. And it was Bush's dip in popularity, not anything Rove did or didn't do, that wiped out any White House influence on immigration.

Oh yeah? Well you smell like a chickenburger. And now I'm invisible, so you can't see me. I'm not under the blanket, that's a ghost. The ghost of a tiger.

If you lift the blanket, the tiger will eat you, so you better not do it.

OK, Hunter taking over again. I suppose that was devolving a little too rapidly into silliness (on both sides.)

Here's the thing. Someday, Karl Rove will die. When that day comes, we will all have to pretend he was something other than a piss-headed man hated by everyone but those he found useful, and as matter of convention we will have to treat him with momentary respect. So let's write his epitaph now, while being as mean to him is still perfectly allowable and much more sporting.

Karl Rove was not a "great political mind". His sole contribution to the nation was getting the worst president in history elected on a campaign of unabashed bullcrap, then proceeding to help guide that president into foreign and domestic policy failures at every opportunity. If that's what passes for Republican brilliance, then it explains... well, pretty much everything, actually. Point taken.

Rove's oft-touted "genius" is nothing more than single-minded amorality. In campaigns and in the administration, he was and is unapologetically amoral in service to his own cause or that of his client: his "genius" is that he has consistently been willing to go farther, be meaner, and invent more astonishing lies than would be done by anyone in politics with a thin remaining threads of a conscience. From smearing John McCain's children with race-baiting taunts to attacking the careers and wives of critics to helping corrupt the most basic and foundational premises of the the United States Department of Justice, nothing has ever been considered "out of bounds". If a malevolent action is not taken -- such as ratcheting up the already venomous Republican rhetoric against immigrants -- it is done only in service to calculated poll numbers, never as a nod to basic morality or patriotism or human decency.

Under Rove, White House policies have revolved around manufacturing false frames for the press, and punishing reporters who stray too far from those frames. Terrorism, war, social security, the economy, government oversight: the defining characteristic of each administration campaign was an almost (but not quite) comical divorce of the asserted statements and the actual facts. Rove's "genius" was that he could plan and launch a campaign announcing that the sky was green, and the mechanisms of the entire executive branch, from press flunkies to cabinet secretaries to low-level political appointees, would spring into action as coordinated effort to assert the fiction as fact. Government reports would be rewritten to reflect the assertion, and government scientists and experts who objected could either pipe down or get out. Faxes would go out to the media, and Fox News would start calling the sky green. Fred Barnes would pen columns devoted to its brilliant emerald hue. Rush Limbaugh would assert it as transparently obvious, and rail against the seventy percent of America that dared look out their window. The President would travel from town to town, meeting with hand-chosen groups of Americans willing to sign statements that they did, in fact, believe in the new Healthy Green Skies initiative. And if you, American citizen, were left out of the fun, who the hell cares? You are not part of the fifty-one percent of Americans that matter in the complex spreadsheet that masqueraded as the only consistent White House apparatus of national policy, these last six years. Half the country matters: the other half is obstacle.

Rove's "genius" has been that he has, in campaigns and government, been entirely unencumbered by morality or shame. Rove's "genius" has been a complete inability to even distinguish between campaigning and government. Rove's only contribution to politics has been to bemusedly mock the very notion of a government existing to serve the people, instead harnessing it at every opportunity to act in mere service of politics for politics' sake. He at no point has shown interest in guiding his president in service to his nation: his strategies of constant national division, most often appearing as meanspirited campaigns of prejudice and fearmongering, were constant reminders that this White House had absolutely no intention of governing all the people, and the politicization of even the most essential tasks of government made sure that they did not do so even as accident.

A great political mind? Hardly. He could carve up constituencies with the best of them, and divide the country as easily as columns on a spreadsheet -- and with no more thought -- but Karl Rove was no more a political genius than Jeffrey Dahmer was a brilliant culinary artist. Being the most unapologetically unethical person in the room does not make you avant-garde. Time and time again, though, it's been proven to make you famous.

Having said all that, this is hardly a fitting epitaph, because it's not like Rove's going to be going anywhere. Let's see, can we fathom any possible reason why a lifelong political operative would leave a lame-duck White House for a private career in the very months when the next presidential election cycle is finally starting to simmer?

Hmm. That's a tough one. Yes, it must be because he wants to spend more time with his family.

This Road to Hell was Paved by MBAs

This Road to Hell was Paved by MBAs
by Tusconian

Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 12:25:26 PM PDT
Over roughly the last quarter century, a once-obscure graduate degree has come to have a wide-reaching, if widely overlooked, influence on our society. The Masters of Business Administration degree, commonly known as an MBA, was once a rare and exclusive shortcut to upper management positions in major corporations. Now the degree is common throughout our economy and is a fixture of mid-level careers. What affect has this had on our nation? As you can guess from the title of this diary, my conclusion is that the rise of MBA culture has contributed greatly to our ongoing series of national fiascos.

We begin our story with a famous pulp writer who salted his works with criticism of American corporations and the culture they fostered...

John D. MacDonald received his MBA from Harvard in 1939, a year before he accepted a commission in the Army. MacDonald was impressed with the education he received, but he obtained the degree to please his father and did not put it to any conventional use. After service in the Far East during World War II, he moved to Florida, began writing pulp fiction, and established a career as a novelist. Most famous for his Travis Magee series, the characters in MacDonald's lesser-known work includes several junior executives, young men of promise, who feel trapped by their corporate careers and the lifestyle they are expected to maintain. These protagonists start down a path of self destruction and find redemption only when they buck the system and quit the jobs that are killing them.

Clearly MacDonald felt that American corporate culture was unhealthy and unsustainable, that it crushed our best and our brightest. To many readers, the finest moments in MacDonald's Travis Magee books come when the protagonist steps out of his role as hero and offers scathing indictments of conformity and the rush toward homogeneity in American culture, or attacks the rapaciousness of real estate developers in his beloved Florida. Magee's deep-thinking sidekick Meyer, MacDonald's tribute to the education he received at Harvard, is a retired economist who brutally dissects the narrow and misguided thinking that plagues business and politics alike and man in general. Meyer's perspective ranges from the biggest of big pictures to the intricate workings of market and societal niches. He is widely considered a stand-in for the author.

Economic orthodoxy in MacDonald's time was largely Keynesian, seeing vital roles for both the public and private sectors. Accordingly, MacDonald's analysis of our economy and related social problems, as voiced by Meyer and other characters, is critical of both business and government alike. He castigates businessmen for their short-sighted avarice and eagerness to corrupt the economic process, and he attacks politicians for their failure to understand economic issues and their willingness to be corrupted. He sees our economic and political systems as far too rewarding of greed, at the detriment of our long term social and economic health.


Fast forward to the 1980s. Economic orthodoxy has undergone a revolution. Keynes is out and Friedman is in. What is old is new again and laissez-faire capitalism is all the intellectual rage. If unfettered, the "magic of the marketplace" will solve all our ills. Business good, government bad. Where's the hotbed of this sea change in economic thinking? In our premier graduate schools, of course. And as fate would have it, an exotic degree offered by those fine institutions, a graduate educational track seeped in and fostered by the "new" economic thinking, is on the rise and will soon be exotic no more. The MBA has arrived and is taking over American business.

This is where your humble diarist enters the story. In the mid-1980s, I graduated from NYU with a bachelor's degree in economics and was hired into the Corporate Finance Training Program at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, then the world's premier commercial bank. Morgan Guaranty came into being when J.P.Morgan & Company was split apart by the Glass-Steagall Act, a prime example of the government regulation all the Friedmanistas clamored against.

My training class contained about fifty people, about half of whom had graduate degrees, predominantly MBAs. I quickly noticed a difference between the MBAs and everyone else, an impression I corroborated with other non-MBAs. There were exceptions, of course, but by-and-large the MBAs were more competitive than the other trainees, quicker to anger, apparently under more stress, more rigid and doctrinaire, less open minded and less imaginative, and far less likely to joke around. They also tended to come from less affluent backgrounds, a modest start in these circles being upper middle class and expensively educated. (At the other end of the spectrum, our training class also included a Rockefeller, the son of the chairman of American Express, and some Europeans who had truly old money. I was the interloper, a scholarship kid who got in because he was good with computers.)

The MBAs were also predominantly Friedmanites, having been taught the new orthodoxy in business school. They would espouse laissez-faire, and I would argue that those policies had in the past led to the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands, which divided our society, oppressed the poor, hindered the spread of information and ideas, impeded advancement based on merit, and was all around bad for democracy. The MBAs would get mad and say I didn't know what I was talking about, that "the economy had changed". Often the MBA would quote Adam Smith--which seemed odd, going all the way back to the Scottish Enlightenment, given that "the economy had changed"--and I would point out that Smith said the government's role was to maintain a level playing field. Then we would argue about what constituted a level playing field.


The MBAs began their take over of American business in consulting and finance, and as those fields were conquered, spread out into other industries. At first they were hired away from the consulting and financial firms they started with, going to work for the same corporations that had recently been their customers. As more MBAs entered top management across the economy, these new managers decreed that more MBAs must be hired, and the process reinforced itself. Hiring of MBAs spread out from finance and consulting across the economy as a whole. And how convenient it was for big business to have a new management class steeped in an ideology that made rapaciousness into an uncontestable virtue. Downsizing wasn't much of a moral problem when you looked at every problem though laissez-faire-colored glasses.

As the MBAs came in and took over, their common values gained prominence in our society, particularly veneration for "the magic of the marketplace" and cold disdain for all organizations and individuals who do not share that veneration. Little effort was made to learn from the old ways of doing business, few pains taken to adjust firms slowly to the new methods. It is a cornerstone MBA belief that all businesses are essentially alike and can be improved by the application of rigorous principles. And the quicker you apply the harsh medicine, the better. They saw American business as terminally ill and themselves as the cure.

MBAs are a subculture, and within that subculture the strongest strains emanate from the academic seats of power, the exclusive premier private institutions that educate our ruling class. They are much like any self-selected group, sharing an indoctrination experience (business school = boot camp), not quite as gung ho as the United States Marines, but there is a certain amount of similar pride and zeal and belief in their own infallibility. MBAs are by-and-large conformists, eager to replicate what is familiar and to eliminate what is new. And many of them feel superior to common mortals who don't have their great wisdom about the mysterious and all-important ways of Business. In short, many of them are self-important and lack the ability to think creatively. Which makes them dangerous. And their influence is everywhere.

Let's double-back, not quite to John D. MacDonald himself, but to his industry of employment: the business of publishing fiction. The arrival of the MBAs at the big publishing houses coincided with the rise of the MFAs among fiction writers published by those houses. To the MBA mind, people with credentials are better than people without. Why else would the typical MBA have added those three letters after his name? How to judge who is capable of writing good fiction? Obviously someone with an MFA has to be better than someone without one. Editors at the big publishing houses don't typically have MBAs, but they work for MBAs, and the marketing departments are run by MBAs. And in the publishing business today, marketing has at least as much clout as editorial.

It would be bad enough if the influence of MBA culture was limited to business, but it has extended beyond, into the public sector and our society at large. Long after I left Wall Street, I met people who worked in the library system at a major public university. One day MBA thinking arrived in the form of a new boss, and suddenly the library was supposed to become a profit center. Everything I heard about the new methods and modes at the library were straight out of the MBA handbook. The transformation failed miserably, because public institutions like universities and libraries (and governments--more on that later) cannot and should not be run like businesses. They exist to provide resources to enrich our civilization, not to make a profit on those resources. But although the new boss shortly left, the integrity of the library's holding were already physically compromised. Rare manuscripts were damaged because the budget for preservation was slashed.


MBA culture is the iceberg beneath the Libertarian ice cube. If Libertarians are the nerdy bookish oddball younger sister that no one wants to date, then MBAs are the brash bossy cheerleader older sister who gets elected homecoming queen, marries the captain of the football team, and has five kids that terrorize their small town. Out in public, the two sisters may pretend not to know each other, but they share the same bloodlines, and they both firebreath about "the magic of the marketplace". And as we all know, it's the cheerleaders who have all the influence. They may be happy to tisk-tisk and shake their heads when little sis gets caught saying something wacko again, but their thinking and behavior comes from the same dark place. And it's their world we're living in.

Which brings us to a former cheerleader who just happens to have a Harvard MBA. But unlike good old John D. MacDonald, this degree was minted in 1975, a year before Friedman received the Nobel, and after his economic sea change had transformed academe. I am of course talking about our president, George W. Bush, the man who once threatened to run the country like a CEO. Given how well those MBA-toting-and-hiring CEOs have been able to destroy major corporations, it looks like George made good on his intentions. From a management perspective, does the Iraq disaster differ greatly from the other grotesque examples of mismanagement that have rocked our nation? Hubris, incompetence, closed ranks against outsiders and nonbelievers, and a dogmatic belief in "the magic of the marketplace"--these qualities unite the great failure in leadership that has betrayed our nation. And our president is part of the picture, not as much an anomaly as he otherwise seems. This is, after all, the president who called for transforming America into an "ownership society," the kind of bland Orwellian phrasing with a subtle negative kick that could have been drafted by a committee of MBAs. The phrase tells us that we have now is less than full ownership, that we've got stuff coming to us--it's marketing that plays implicitly but directly to greed, the most insidious kind. Among the worst of the MBAs I met all those years ago, Bush would have fit right in. From cheerleader, to frat brat, to MBA, to running the country into the ground--it's all of a piece.

So what's my big final concluding point? Dogma is bad. Yeah, that's it, it's that simple. Any subculture or system of belief, be it as fundamentalist religion or MBA enculturation, that encourages adherence to a strict code of thought, that believes significant complex aspects of life can be tamed by simple rules, that discourages imagination, is toxic. Dogma kills. And the dogma swallowed by all those MBA students and pumped down into the veins of corporate America and out into the rest of our society is killing us all.

Fight the dogma!