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, November 17, 2007

U.N. Global Warming Report Sternly Warns Against Inaction

U.N. Global Warming Report Sternly Warns Against Inaction

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007; A03

Global warming is destroying species, raising sea levels and threatening millions of poor people, the United Nations'
top scientific panel will say today in a report that U.N. officials
hope will help mobilize the world into taking tougher actions on
climate change.

The report argues that only firm action,
including putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, will avoid more
catastrophic events. Those actions will take a small part of the
world's economic growth but will be substantially less than the costs
of doing nothing, the report will say.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be key ammunition as world leaders meet in Bali next month to try to draft a global plan to deal with Earth's rising temperatures after the Kyoto Protocol
expires in 2012. The United Nations and many countries favor strong
mandatory reductions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming;
the Bush administration wants voluntary measures and wants developing
countries to share the burden of cuts.

The most stringent efforts
to stabilize greenhouse gases would cost the world's economies 0.12
percent of their average annual growth to 2050, the report estimates.

is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result
in near-term co-benefits, for example improved health due to reduced
air pollution, that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation
costs," the report says, summarizing research over five years by more
than 2,000 of the top climate change scientists.

The near-final draft, approved yesterday by representatives of more than 140 governments meeting in Valencia, Spain,
says that global warming is "unequivocal" and that humans' actions are
heading toward "abrupt or irreversible climate changes and impacts."

panel warns that the first to suffer from global warming will be the
poor, who will face faltering water supplies, damage to crops, new
diseases and encroaching oceans.

"Those in the weakest economic
or political position are frequently the most susceptible to climate
change," the panel wrote. "In all regions," it added, those most at
risk are "the poor, young children, the elderly and the ill."

The report by the prestigious panel, which last month shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore,
largely summarizes findings released by the IPCC in reports earlier
this year. Some scientists have criticized the findings as being overly
cautious in the face of an avalanche of evidence of accelerating
environmental changes, while a small minority argue it is needlessly

"This will be viewed by all as a definitive report. It is the blueprint for the Bali talks," said Sen. John F. Kerry
(D-Mass.), who will be at the Indonesian U.N. meeting beginning Dec. 3
as part of a U.S. senatorial delegation. "While the administration
remains reluctant to embrace mandatory [emission quotas], there is a
growing consensus in America" favoring those controls, he said in an
interview this week.

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview last night
that the IPCC report "lays out a wide variety of mandatory and
non-mandatory controls that deal with carbon emissions. These tools
have varying effectiveness that varies from country to country. We have
been careful not to prefer one tool over another, but to ensure that we
are using the right tool."

The U.N. panel embraced the arguments of British economist Nicholas Stern, who concluded last year that the cost of taking tough measures to curb pollution will be repaid in the long run.

are putting very heavily on the table the issue of assistance to
developing countries," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National
Environmental Trust, which has closely followed the proceedings. "They
see as inevitable huge human consequences that will cause enormous
death, suffering and economic loss unless the world begins to act now
to invest in protecting the most vulnerable."

Even if governments
took severe measures today to curb greenhouse gases, the effects of
what mankind has done will remain, the IPCC report says. Glaciers and
ice caps are melting at a rapid rate; animals and plants are shifting
their range to accommodate warmer air and water; and planting seasons
are changing, it notes.

Among the other conclusions: Average
temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the last half of the 20th
century were probably the highest in 1,300 years. Arctic ice and
mountain glaciers have shrunk. The seas are swelling in the heat, and
droughts and heat waves have probably increased. The amount of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere contributing to global warming is the highest
in at least 650,000 years.

IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri has
urged the delegates to the Bali conference to study the IPCC report
before they begin work. He said the panel has been able to "mobilize
the best scientific talent that is available throughout the world on
various aspects of climate change."

The IPCC, formed by the
United Nations in 1988 to determine the state of the climate change,
has issued four main sets of reports. The first and second reports, in
1990 and 1995, laid the groundwork for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The
third report, in 2001, and the fourth report released in sections this
year, were increasingly strident in warning that man is rushing toward
a dramatic alteration of the world's environment by heating up the

Despite the sweep of science and scientists utilized
by the IPCC, its reports have been rejected by some who argue that the
world has gone through natural shifts in temperature before, and who
say society and industry should not be put to the difficult task of
curbing emissions. President Bush, until recently, questioned the validity of global warming.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Bush is the biggest spender since LBJ

Bush is the biggest spender since LBJ
David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: October 23, 2007 07:34:58 PM

WASHINGTON — George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he's arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ.

“He’s a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

The numbers are clear, credible and conclusive, added David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, a budget-watchdog group.

“He’s a big spender,” Keating said. “No question about it.”

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors.

When adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending — or budget items that Congress and the president can control, including defense and domestic programs, but not entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare — shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush’s first six years, Slivinski calculates.

That tops the 4.6 percent annual rate Johnson logged during his 1963-69 presidency. By these standards, Ronald Reagan was a tightwad; discretionary spending grew by only 1.9 percent a year on his watch.

Discretionary spending went up in Bush's first term by 48.5 percent, not adjusted for inflation, more than twice as much as Bill Clinton did (21.6 percent) in two full terms, Slivinski reports.

Defense spending is the big driver — but hardly the only one.

Under Bush it's grown on average by 5.7 percent a year. Under LBJ — who had a war to fund, too — it rose by 4.9 percent a year. Both numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Including costs for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending under Bush has gone up 86 percent since 2001, according to Chris Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Current annual defense spending — not counting war costs — is 25 percent above the height of the Reagan-era buildup, Hellman said.

Homeland security spending also has soared, to about $31 billion last year, triple the pre-9/11 number.

But Bush's super-spending is about far more than defense and homeland security.

Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, points to education spending. Adjusted for inflation, it's up 18 percent annually since 2001, thanks largely to Bush’s No Child Left Behind act.

The 2002 farm bill, he said, caused agriculture spending to double its 1990s levels.

Then there was the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit — the biggest single expansion in the program’s history — whose 10-year costs are estimated at more than $700 billion.

And the 2005 highway bill, which included thousands of “earmarks,” or special local projects stuck into the legislation by individual lawmakers without review, cost $295 billion.

“He has presided over massive increases in almost every category … a dramatic change of pace from most previous presidents,” said Slivinski.

The White House counters by noting that Bush took office as the country was heading into a recession, then reeled from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“This president had to overcome some things that required additional spending,” said Sean Kevelighan, a White House budget office spokesman.

Bush does have other backers.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group, blamed a ravenous Congress that was eager to show constituents how generous it could be. (Republicans ran that Congress until January. Bush never vetoed a single GOP spending bill.)

The White House points out that, nearly four years ago, Bush vowed to cut the deficit in half by 2009, and he's well on his way to achieving that goal. The fiscal 2004 deficit was a record $412.7 billion; the 2007 figure plunged to $163 billion.

But the deficit drop may be fleeting, experts say, since lawmakers are likely to extend many of Bush’s tax cuts, which expire by the end of 2010, and the imminent retirement of the baby boom generation will send Medicare and Social Security costs soaring in the years ahead.

Now, near the end of the seventh year of his presidency, Bush is positioning himself as a tough fiscal conservative.

He says Congress is proposing to spend $22 billion more in fiscal 2008 than the $933 billion he requested for discretionary programs — and that the $22 billion extra would swell over five years to $205 billion.

Eventually, Bush said, “they’re going to have to raise taxes to pay for it.”

And so, the president told an Arkansas audience earlier this month, people should brace for “what they call a fiscal showdown in Washington.

“The Congress gets to propose and, if it doesn’t meet needs as far as I’m concerned, I get to veto,” he said. “And that’s precisely what I intend to do.”

Bush is getting tough on fiscal policy — after running up a record as the most profligate spender in at least 40 years.

“The spending did happen,” said Keating, “and a lot of it shouldn’t have happened.”

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Army Desertion Rate Highest Since 1980

Army Desertion Rate Highest Since 1980
By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press Writer

Nov 16th, 2007 | WASHINGTON -- Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. And efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.


On the Net:

Defense Department:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Iraq, Afghanistan wars twice as expensive as expected, report says

Iraq, Afghanistan wars twice as expensive as expected, report says
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday November 13, 2007

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'Hidden costs' behind skyrocketing price of war

President Bush's six-year invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq will end up costing Americans about $1.5 trillion, or nearly twice as much as the White House has actually spent to fight its wars, because of unseen costs like inflation, rising oil prices and expensive care for wounded veterans.

The estimate was revealed in a Democratic staff report from Congress's Joint Economic Committee. The staff report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that the Iraq and Afghan wars have cost the average family more than $20,000.

"The full economic costs of the war to the American taxpayers and the overall U.S. economy go well beyond even the immense federal budget costs already reported," said the report, which was obtained by the Washington Post.

The White House apparently has vastly underestimated the war's costs. It requested $804 billion -- just more than half the total costs -- to keep up its wars and occupations through 2008.

"The report argues that war funding is diverting billions of dollars away from "productive investment" by American businesses in the United States. It also says that the conflicts are pulling reservists and National Guardsmen away from their jobs, resulting in economic disruptions for U.S. employers that the report estimates at $1 billion to $2 billion," reports the Post's Josh White.

Furthermore, the report takes into account the massive healthcare costs for injured veterans and the declining economic productivity of vets who return home seriously injured. It also takes into account the massive interest the US will have to pay on the borrowed money that is funding the war.

Republicans took issue with the Democratic staff report.

"We'll see what they come up with, but it sure seems that the Senate leadership is trying to protect their continual proclamations of defeat instead of working for bipartisan progress," a spokesman for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), the top GOP member of the joint panel, told White.

Some of the report's estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt, experts warn, because it is difficult to ascribe factors like increasing oil prices to the war in Iraq alone.

The report finds that skyrocketing oil prices -- which tripled since 2003 to surpass $90 per barrel recently -- cannot be blamed solely on the war in Iraq, but declining production from Iraq's ravaged oil fields have likely caused the price to tick up "between $4 and $5 a barrel."

The Democratic staff on the Joint Economic Committee -- which includes bipartisan representatives from the House and Senate -- is hardly the first to try to sum up the true costs of the war.

Harvard University economist Joseph Stiglitz last year attempted a similar study that would take into account outside costs of war -- such as long-term care for the thousands of US troops injured on the battlefield. He estimated a total cost as high as $2 trillion for the war in Iraq alone.

The Post spoke to Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs and a former National Security Council staffer under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. Hormats took issue with the specificity of some of the Democratic report's findings, but he said President Bush has taken greatly differed from his predecessors when it comes to funding the war.

"The wars will cost a lot more than the appropriated sums, and it's certainly true our children will be paying for this for a long, long time," he told the paper. "I'm very critical of the way they have financed the war, but I always hesitate to try to quantify any of these things, to make these numerical judgments."

CBS: 'Stunning' veteran suicide rate is twice that of non-veterans

CBS: 'Stunning' veteran suicide rate is twice that of non-veterans

11/13/2007 @ 10:47 am

Filed by David Edwards and Muriel Kane

The problem of suicide among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has recently been in the news, with the Department of Veteran Affairs promising to beef up its mental health services in response. Veterans of previous conflicts continue to have problems as well, and the VA has estimated that a total of 5000 suicides among veterans can be expected this year.


However, CBS News has now completed a five-month study of death records for 2004-05 which shows that the actual figures are "much higher" than those reported by the VA. Across the total US veteran population of 25 million, CBS found that suicide rates were more than twice as high as for non-veterans (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide accounted for 32,439 deaths in 2004).

CBS spoke to the families of several veterans who killed themselves after returning from Iraq. "The war didn't end for him when he came home," said the mother of one soldier. "I think he was being tormented and tortured by his experiences."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told CBS, "That's a lot of young men and women who've gone to fight for us who've come home and found themselves that lost."

CBS News has more HERE.

The following video is from CBS's Early Show, broadcast on November 13, 2007.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dianne Feinstein -- Bush's key ally in the Senate -- to support telecom amnesty

Dianne Feinstein -- Bush's key ally in the Senate -- to support telecom amnesty

(updated below)

Two months ago, Dianne Feinstein used her position on the Senate
Intelligence Committee to enable passage of Bush's FISA amendments,
granting the President vast new warrantless surveillance powers.

Last month, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary
Committee to ensure confirmation of Bush's highly controversial
judicial nominee Leslie Southwick, by being the only Committee Democrat
to vote for the nomination (The Politico: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein had emerged as a linchpin in the controversial nomination").

This week, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary
Committee to enable confirmation of Bush's Attorney General nominee by
ensuring that the frightened Chuck Schumer didn't have to stand alone (Fox News:
"Schumer's and Feinstein's support for Mukasey virtually guarantees
that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation").

And now, Feinstein is using her position on the Senate Judiciary
Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee -- simultaneously -- to single-handedly ensure fulfillment of Bush's telecom amnesty demands, as her hometown newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, reports:

Feinstein backs legal immunity for telecom firms in wiretap cases

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday that she favors legal immunity for
telecommunications companies that allegedly shared millions of
customers' telephone and e-mail messages and records with the
government, a position that could lead to the dismissal of numerous
lawsuits pending in San Francisco.

In a statement at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is
considering legislation to extend the Bush administration's electronic
surveillance program, Feinstein said the companies should not be "held
hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about
administration activities" . . .

Feinstein, D-Calif., plays a pivotal role on the Judiciary Committee, which has a 10-9 Democratic majority.
If she joins committee Republicans in voting next Thursday to protect
telecommunications companies from lawsuits for their roles in the
surveillance program, the proposal -- a top priority of President Bush
-- will become part of legislation that reaches the Senate floor.

is nothing worth critiquing in what Feinstein specifically said, since
she just recited the administration's standard pro-amnesty talking
points, leading with its most deceitful ones. As but one example,
Feinstein -- echoing John Aschroft's NYT Op-Ed
from this week -- said in her statement that "suits are unfair to the
companies, which are 'unable to defend themselves in court' because the
government has insisted that their activities be kept secret." That is
just false. As the Chronicle reported: "federal law allows such
defendants to present secret evidence in private to the judge, a
practice [EFF's Cindy Cohn] said has been carried out for decades
without any leaks."

Oddly (or not), the Chronicle article quotes Feinstein as
saying that telecoms "should not be 'held hostage to costly litigation
in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities'" --
the same exact phrase, verbatim, featured in Fred Hiatt's Editorial
two weeks ago urging telecom amnesty (Hiatt: "we do not believe that
these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is
essentially a complaint about administration activities").

I wrote about Feinstein at length
a month ago here, including all the ways her administration-coddling
and courting of intelligence officials benefits her
defense-contractor-husband. But still, this recent behavior is really

Feinstein is not merely voting reliably for the most extremist Bush
policies, though she is doing that. Far more than that, she has become,
time and again, the linchpin of Bush's ability to have his most radical
policies approved by the Senate.

Could the universe be any larger between what Feinstein's constituents want and what she is doing in the Senate? Here are the latest views of California voters of the President to whose agenda Feinstein is displaying such ferocious fidelity:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as President?

Approve -- 28%

Disapprove -- 70%

Among California Democrats, a grand total of 9% approve of Feinstein's beloved President; 90% disapprove.
Obviously, nothing could be less relevant to Feinstein than the views
of her constituents, but still, the disparity between what they believe
and what she is doing is just striking, even for the Beltway.

Let us close with the very emotional and undeniably moving scene that took place after Feinstein stood up for Bush's judicial nominee, Leslie Southwick of Mississippi:

even showed up at the press conference, where Sen. Arlen Specter
(R-Pa.) asked her to speak before the Mississippi senators who lined up
the votes for Southwick.

"This may be out of precedent," Specter said, "but if I may, with
the concurrence of the home-state senators, yield to the hero -- the
lady -- of the day, Sen. Feinstein."

"I don't know about this heroine business," Feinstein demurred.

Moments later, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) got choked up talking about her.

"She took a tough stand and showed a lot of courage," Lott said,
tears collecting in his eyes and his voice quivering. "It is emotional
for me because this is a good man, and he will make a great judge on
behalf of my state, which I feel has been maligned in this and other

He later accepted a congratulatory call from President Bush.

Fred Hiatt concurs wholeheartedly:
"It is reassuring when not one but two lawmakers show the moral
fortitude to defy party politics to take a stand on principle.
Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein
(Calif.) showed such courage Friday when they announced their support
for attorney-general nominee Michael B. Mukasey."

Dianne Feinstein may be betraying the overwhelming majority of
her constituents. But as a result of her "heroic" work in the Senate, her husband sure is getting richer.
And she is beloved -- just beloved -- by Arlen Specter, Trent Lott,
Fred Hiatt and George W. Bush. And in Beltway World, that is far, far
more important.

UPDATE: Feinstein herself spent inordinate sums of money
from corporate donors in 2006 to ensure she was re-elected, so she is
not up for re-election until 2012 (when she'll be 80). Hopefully,
though, the ethics process relating to her highly questionable behavior in directing multi-billion-dollar defense contracts to her husband's companies will proceed in earnest.

While Feinstein is not up for re-election, there are many Bush-enabling Democrats who are. And as this rather good Washington Post article
this morning details, liberal blogs are doing what is, in my view, the
most important thing they can be doing -- targeting for defeat those
incumbent Democrats who deserve it by supporting and funding primary

The article details the highly successful campaign by bloggers such as
Jane Hamsher, Matt Stoller, Duncan Black, Digby and others to
counteract fundraising efforts by Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic
establishment for any Democratic incumbents -- including those who
continuously support the Bush agenda -- by raising equal amounts (and,
in many cases, more) for the primary challengers. The article documents
how bloggers raised more than $100,000 over the last week for Donna
Edwards, the primary challenger to the pro-war, pro-Bush Democratic
Rep. Al Wynn (and you can aid their effort by donating to Edwards here).
That is exactly what is needed -- incumbent Democrats knowing that they
will be targeted and will face credible primary challenges for
following in Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein's Bush-enabling

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Frank Rich - The Coup at Home

The Coup at Home

AS Gen. Pervez Musharraf arrested judges, lawyers and human-rights activists in Pakistan last week,
our Senate was busy demonstrating its own civic mettle. Chuck Schumer
and Dianne Feinstein, liberal Democrats from America’s two most highly
populated blue states, gave the thumbs up to Michael B. Mukasey, ensuring his confirmation as attorney general.

So what if America’s chief law enforcement official won’t say
that waterboarding is illegal? A state of emergency is a state of
emergency. You’re either willing to sacrifice principles to head off
the next ticking bomb, or you’re with the terrorists. Constitutional
corners were cut in Washington in impressive synchronicity with General
Musharraf’s crackdown in Islamabad.

In the days since, the coup in Pakistan has been almost universally
condemned as the climactic death knell for Bush foreign policy, the
epitome of White House hypocrisy and incompetence. But that’s not
exactly news. It’s been apparent for years that America was suicidal to
go to war in Iraq, a country with no tie to 9/11 and no weapons of mass
destruction, while showering billions of dollars on Pakistan, where
terrorists and nuclear weapons proliferate under the protection of a con man who serves as a host to Osama bin Laden.

General Musharraf has always played our president for a fool and still does, with the vague promise
of an election that he tossed the White House on Thursday. As if for
sport, he has repeatedly mocked both Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda” and
his post-9/11 doctrine that any country harboring terrorists will be “regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

A memorable highlight of our special relationship with this prized
“ally” came in September 2006, when the general turned up in Washington
to kick off his book tour. Asked about the book by a reporter at a White House press conference,
he said he was contractually “honor bound” to remain mum until it hit
the stores — thus demonstrating that Simon & Schuster had more
clout with him than the president. This didn’t stop Mr. Bush from
praising General Musharraf for his recently negotiated “truce
to prevent further Taliban inroads in northwestern Pakistan. When the
Pakistani strongman “looks me in the eye” and says “there won’t be a
Taliban and won’t be Al Qaeda,” the president said, “I believe him.”

Sooner than you could say “Putin,” The Daily Telegraph of London reported
that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had signed off on this “truce.”
Since then, the Pakistan frontier has become a more thriving terrorist
haven than ever.

Now The Los Angeles Times reports that much of America’s $10 billion-plus in aid
to Pakistan has gone to buy conventional weaponry more suitable for
striking India than capturing terrorists. To rub it in last week,
General Musharraf released 25 pro-Taliban fighters in a prisoner exchange with a tribal commander the day after he suspended the constitution.

But there’s another moral to draw from the Musharraf story, and it
has to do with domestic policy, not foreign. The Pakistan mess, as The
New York Times editorial page aptly named it,
is not just another blot on our image abroad and another instance of
our mismanagement of the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It also casts
a harsh light on the mess we have at home in America, a stain that will
not be so easily eradicated.

In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our
democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble
the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like
Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to
democracy-lite. That’s why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with
bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not
necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected
Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry
assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have
brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from
within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch
has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The
results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a
blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s.

More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he’s championing democracy even as he strangles it. Mr. Bush repeated the word “freedom” 27 times in roughly 20 minutes at his 2005 inauguration, and even presided over a “Celebration of Freedom
concert on the Ellipse hosted by Ryan Seacrest. It was an Orwellian
exercise in branding, nothing more. The sole point was to give cover to
our habitual practice of cozying up to despots (especially those who
control the oil spigots) and to our own government’s embrace of
warrantless wiretapping and torture, among other policies that invert
our values.

Even if Mr. Bush had the guts to condemn General Musharraf, there is
no longer any moral high ground left for him to stand on. Quite the
contrary. Rather than set a democratic example, our president has
instead served as a model of unconstitutional behavior, eagerly
emulated by his Pakistani acolyte.

Take the Musharraf assault on human-rights lawyers. Our president
would not be so unsubtle as to jail them en masse. But earlier this
year a senior Pentagon official, since departed, threatened America’s major white-shoe law firms
by implying that corporate clients should fire any firm whose partners
volunteer to defend detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere. For its
part, Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department did not round up
independent-minded United States attorneys and toss them in prison. It
merely purged them without cause to serve Karl Rove’s political agenda.

Tipping his hat in appreciation of Mr. Bush’s example, General Musharraf justified his dismantling
of Pakistan’s Supreme Court with language mimicking the president’s
diatribes against activist judges. The Pakistani leader further echoed
Mr. Bush by expressing a kinship
with Abraham Lincoln, citing Lincoln’s Civil War suspension of a
prisoner’s fundamental legal right to a hearing in court, habeas
corpus, as a precedent for his own excesses. (That’s like praising
F.D.R. for setting up internment camps.) Actually, the Bush
administration has outdone both Lincoln and Musharraf on this score:
Last January, Mr. Gonzales testified before Congress that “there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.”

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush
presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted
over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in
America has now been internalized as the new normal.

This is most apparent in the Republican presidential race, where
most of the candidates seem to be running for dictator and make no
apologies for it. They’re falling over each other to expand Gitmo, see
who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of
constitutional rights. The front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, boasts a proven
record in extralegal executive power grabs, Musharraf-style: After 9/11
he tried to mount a coup, floating the idea that he stay on as mayor in defiance of New York’s term-limits law.

What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it
shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators
Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued
that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as
Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job
otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney
torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.

In a Times OpEd article justifying his reluctant vote to confirm a man Dick Cheney promised
would make “an outstanding attorney general,” Mr. Schumer observed that
waterboarding is already “illegal under current laws and conventions.”
But then he vowed to support a new bill “explicitly” making
waterboarding illegal because Mr. Mukasey pledged to enforce it.
Whatever. Even if Congress were to pass such legislation, Mr. Bush
would veto it, and even if the veto were by some miracle overturned,
Mr. Bush would void the law with a “signing statement.” That’s what he effectively did in 2005 when he signed a bill that its authors thought outlawed the torture of detainees.

That Mr. Schumer is willing to employ blatant Catch-22 illogic to
pretend that Mr. Mukasey’s pledge on waterboarding has any force shows
what pathetic crumbs the Democrats will settle for after all these
years of being beaten down. The judges and lawyers challenging General
Musharraf have more fight left in them than this.

Last weekend a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found
that the Democratic-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush are both roundly
despised throughout the land, and that only 24 percent of Americans
believe their country is on the right track. That’s almost as low as the United States’ rock-bottom approval ratings in the latest Pew surveys of Pakistan (15 percent) and Turkey (9 percent).

Wrong track is a euphemism. We are a people in clinical depression.
Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the
world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to,
they do not see a restoration anytime soon.

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