The Mahablog: Truth and the Bush Administration

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saturday, june 5, 2004

The Horse Lost and Reagan Died
It's safe to say that former President Reagan has actually been gone for quite some time. My mother died of Alzheimer's last year, but in truth the person she was had been gone for a long time before. The ex-President lived a full life. I didn't think much of his presidency, but it retrospect it was brilliant compared to the Bonzo in the White House now.
That being said, I feel worse about the horse.

7:51 pm | link

Go Smarty Jones 11:15 am | link

friday, june 4, 2004

Micromanagement, Inc.
Management. The process of getting activities done efficiently with and though others. Management functions include planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Management roles include interpersonal, informational, and decisional (negotiators) roles.
Much has been written about George W. Bush's "management" style. Bush likes to be the "CEO president," but by most accounts he is less a manager than a dilettante. Paul O'Neill's testimony in particular shows Bush as being weirdly detatched from his job -- a blind man in a room full of deaf people.
IMO this is the most remarkable thing about Bush's management style: He appears to have absolutely no ability to recognize a crisis that wasn't on his schedule and respond to it.  His failure to follow up on the famous August 6, 2001, memo about Osama bin Laden is one example. 
On 9/11, by his own admission, when he found out about the first plane -- a commercial plane full of passengers -- hitting the World Trade Center, his only thought was that the pilot was incompetent. He blithely continued with the day's scheduled event, a visit to a school. Any other president would have insisted on being in touch with NORAD and the FCC to find out what was going on.
More recently, this past April, he continued to vacation on his Crawford ranch while the situation in Iraq was going to hell in a handbasket. One suspects he had to be told it was not the time to be photographed on a fishing trip.
Bush described his own management style in 1999: "My job is to set the agenda and tone and framework, to lay out the principles by which we operate and make decisions, and then delegate much of the process to them." After which he could spend the next four years playing golf?
What's missing from Bush's style is problem solving. He is the one person who should be able to see the Big Picture, whole. He should, for example, set priorities. Upon being informed of a potential problem, such as terrorist infiltration, he should at least be certain all relevant departments are working together on this problem.
Bush seems to think his job is to decree what he wants done, and the little people scurrying around the White House will make these things happen. But who goes to him for direction when unexpected situations arise? Anyone? Bush's "style" doesn't seem to allow for unexpected situations.

Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas government professor who has studied Bush throughout his political career, said the administration's slow response to indications of trouble in military prisons reflects "the tendency for everybody to take signals from the president that this is what we need to do and we're not going to let irritants of a lesser nature divert us from our course." [Mike Allen, Washington Post, June 2, 2004]

When Bush was caught flat-footed by the Abu Ghraib scandal, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defended his boss: "I think it's really sort of bad government, to try to micromanage -- particularly the military."
Micromanage? Bush's hazy faith that his subordinates will take care of things, somehow, without his involvement, is not management at all.
There are some parts of his job that Bush does seem to micromanage, however. From the very beginning of his administration, it was known that White House meetings remained on schedule. See, for example, Kelly Wallace of CNN, reporting on Bush's first 100 days: "The Bush administration tries to run like clockwork, with meetings and events beginning on time...." I remember reading that Bush insisted on this. I wondered at the time if Bush ended meetings even if problems were left unsolved. I guess so.
I've known some really bad managers who had no clue what their jobs were. As a rule, these people latched on to one or two functions they actually understood, and managed those to death. For example, I knew a CEO who was obsessed with making sure the coffee cups in the pantry were sorted by color. True story. His other talent was calling meetings so he could announce to his staff that the world was becoming more global. Meanwhile, the staff was miserable and the company was losing money.
So Bush may not be able to focus on what goes on in meetings, but by golly he can tell time. (Although he may be slipping; today he was 15 minutes late for a meeting with the Pope.)
I bring this up because of Doug Thompson's report that Bush is losing it, and that his aides are alarmed at his erratic behavior. As others have pointed out today, Thompson has proved to be unreliable in the past. But this part, at least, is probably true:

Aides say the President gets “hung up on minor details,” micromanaging to the extreme while ignoring the bigger picture. He will spend hours personally reviewing and approving every attack ad against his Democratic opponent and then kiss off a meeting on economic issues.

Election campaigning is something he understands, and power is what he lives for. I have no doubt he is micromanaging his campaign to death. That's his style.


4:07 pm | link

Women Who Blog
Yesterday Kevin Drum posted on women political bloggers and why there aren't more of them. This came to my attention because Mahareader Lucidity plugged The Mahablog (thank you), but I was intrigued by some of the comments that followed Kevin's post and want to answer them. So here goes:

I'll say it, at risk of being branded a sexist: there aren't as many women bloggers becuase there aren't as many young, computer-savvy women who are interested in politics.

Not just a sexist, my dear, but an ageist as well. I am slightly past the point that I can get away with "young." I realized when the AARP card showed up in the mail that it was time to admit to being "middle age." Also, the fact that you are reading this shows you don't have to be all that computer savvy to run a blog.

This same fellow goes on:

Women, even those who stay home all day and have more free time, generally watch the Today show instead of Chirs Matthews or Bill O'Reilly.

Proof of superior intelligence, say I. Although I prefer Animal Planet and reruns of Law and Order.

Female subscribers to Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the American Spectator, and the Washington Monthly are undoubtedly vastly outnumbered by male subscribers.

Does the commenter know this for sure, or is he speculating? And if a subscription is in a man's name, does that mean his wife isn't reading the magazine, too? 

Given this, is there any surprise that there aren't as many female political bloggers? I don't think so.

And if there were, would a D***head like this guy read them?

A commenter responds to another commenter:

SSJPabs: Here's a tip for you - most women bloggers could care less whether some random stranger on the 'net think we're hot and/or have a "nice rack".

Yeah, some of us already know we are hot.  A little overripe, I admit, but still hot.

This writer asks a truly vexing question,

There is a question, I think, as to why none of the exceptional women bloggers mentioned here rank very high on the traffic standings or ever get mentioned in mainstream journalism reviews of the blogging phenomenon. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy - blogreaders don't think there are good women bloggers out there, so don't seek them out, so don't increase their traffic, etc. etc?

Or is it really a testosterone-fueled conspiracy to dominate the next generation of political discourse? ;)

Seems to me that what makes a really outstanding politics blog is (a) insight into issues, and (b) frequency of updating.

Most of the bloggers I turn to for insight are guys -- Josh Marshall, Billmon, Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog, the abovementioned Kevin Drum, etc. I do not think women are less insightful than men (if anything, the reverse is true). However, men may be more insightful about what's going on with other men.

And highest political power in the U.S. is a male-dominated place that is foreign to many women, including me. I tend to write less about political power than about political psychology--the underlying pathologies that make people believe and act as they do. I have some insight into people, I think, but I have little personal acquaintance with power.

As far as frequency goes -- as one commenter pointed out, if Kos were a new mother instead of a new father, he wouldn't be blogging now. And don't forget the Second Shift.

Also, for reasons that are partly social conditioning and partly physiological, men and women generally see the world from slightly different angles. For this reason, it is probably the case that male bloggers resonate better with other male bloggers, so that male bloggers are more likely to admire and promote other male bloggers. Also, as another commentor writes,

Too often, our voices are dismissed if we are identifiable as women.

I think there's some truth to that, even among liberal guys who are respectful of women. It's a subconscious thing. In a similar manner, issues identified as "women's issues" such as child care, education, and reproductive health are not always seen as political, but social, issues.

And finally, this charming fellow writes,

HAHAHA That's the end of feminism. Let's be honest. The blogosphere is blind. You can pretend to be anybody you like. If women can not make it on the blogosphere it is because the [sic] don't have the capacities. Period! Wonkette is pretty good because she went the gossip tooth way. Maybe that's all women can do.

Now, I would very much like to have a face-to-face discussion with this fellow concerning gender capabilities, but not right away. I want about six months of intensive weight training first, and then I could probably take him on. Even if I am an old lady.


9:40 am | link

It's Official
Bob the Lizard says Tenet's resignation on Wednesday night was a surprise to Bunnypants. Tenet resigned because he anticipates being skewered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Also, Queen Bee Condi doesn't like him. But Bush, says Reptilian Bob, did not ask for Tenet's resignation.
People will continue to speculate, but I say The Reptile knows all.
Fred Kaplan points out that Tenet's departure is risky for Bush.
Whatever the real reason, a team player is now a free agent, and those left on the bench must be nervous about that. All presidents learn quickly that spy chiefs are dangerous creatures if let loose or treated harshly. John F. Kennedy was held in constant check by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's knowledge of his sexual peccadilloes. Lyndon B. Johnson kept Hoover on, telling a friend, "I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." No FBI or CIA director has wielded his leverage as brashly as Hoover did; still, the shrewd ones keep the crowbar in the closet, and Tenet couldn't have lasted as long as he did—through the Clinton and Bush presidencies—if he weren't shrewd.

So, what would happen if the 9/11 commission or any of the other boards of inquiry dealing with the various intelligence scandals were to re-call Private Citizen Tenet to testify? Would he suddenly remember meetings and conversations that had earlier slipped his mind? Years ago, Tenet worked as a staff member for Sen. John Heinz, whose widow is now married to John Kerry. Do they keep in touch? (Just asking.)

Tenet may be just a first rat fleeing a sinking ship. Kaplan reminds us of several unfolding stories: the Chalabi espionage scandal, the Plame scandal (for which Shrub has sought counsel), multiple Halliburton-Cheney scandals, and the Abu Ghraib scandal.
'Twill be a long, hot summer for the Bushies, methinks.   
So now the critical question is -- will Tenet write a book? Nobody knows. But unless he's already got a manuscript hidden under his mattress, it won't be published this year. Even so, publishers are licking their chops. A book deal could be worth as much as $1.5 million to Tenet, says one agent.

7:04 am | link

thursday, june 3, 2004

Going, going ...
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report for Newsweek that the timing of George Tenet's resignation as head of the CIA was "influenced by the impending release of a massive Senate Intelligence Committee report that one official described as a 'devastating indictment' of the agency’s handling of pre-war intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."  Further,
Another report expected next month from the national commission investigating the September 11 attacks is expected to roundly criticize the agency’s failure to develop sources inside Al Qaeda and piece together evidence—including information in its files on two of the hijackers—that might have helped uncover the plot.
According to Josh Marshall, the chatter in Washington says Tenet was fired. Josh also says the way Bush announced the resignation was bizarre. And also via Josh, this Associated Press story says Ahmed Chalabi is blaming Tenet for the allegation that Chalabi passed U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran.
"One Down, Five to Go" writes Eric Alterman, recalling that last week Al Gore called for the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglass Feith, Steven Cambone and George Tenet. One is not enough, say I. Alterman continues,
The question regarding Tenet is, which fall is he taking? Is it the

a)  “I screwed up on 9/11” fall?

b)  "I made up that stuff about WMD” fall?

c)  “I also made up that stuff about Iraq and Al-Qaida” fall?

d)  “And yeah, that stuff about the nukes, I made that up, too” fall?

e)  “I shoulda taken a look at that “State of the Union” thingy” fall?

f)  “Ahmad Chalabi is a bery, bery, good friend of mine” fall?

g)  “And so is Robert Novak” fall?

h)  “And what ever did happen to that bin Laden fellow?” fall?

i)  “Um, we could probably get some better info out of those prisoners if we roughed ‘em up a bit” fall?

j)  And don’t forget, the "We’re wasting billions on a useless star wars program while ignoring homeland security for our nuclear and chemical plants” fall.

We have only time constraints to keep us from going through the entire alphabet.

Back to the bizarre nature of Bush's announcement -- Kevin Drum revisits the story, which is that Bush had finished making an innocuous statement to the press prior to his departure to Europe. The session was adjourned, Bush left, but then came back to say, oh, by the way, Tenet resigned.
If Tenet had been fired, wouldn't this have been handled more smoothly? asks Kevin Drum. Maybe, say I, but if we consider my George Bush Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder Theory, it's just as likely that Bush was so wrapped up in talking to the press about himself and his trip, he just forget the Tenet thing.
Mark Kleiman thinks Tenet resigned:

I have absolutely no information on this I didn't get from public sources, but it seems to me more plausible that Tenet decided he'd had enough -- perhaps after having seen a draft of the Senate Intelligence Committee report -- and headed for the door on his own, catching Team Bush flat-footed.

An even more optimistic possibility from the anti-Bush perspective: Tenet wanted to use the fact that the neocons in OSD and the VP's shop and their buddy Chalabi had managed to blow a major cryptographic secret to persuade the President to carry out a purge of the people who have been giving him such bad advice, and quit when he lost that argument.

Another thing -- Bush doesn't fire anybody except for perceived disloyalty to him. Massive incompetence is not grounds for a pink slip these days.
Very weird.

7:38 pm | link

Bush Campaign Follies
Or, Why the Natives Are Restless
Bob the Lizard writes that there is great unhappiness with Bush in the GOP base.
The voters of the conservative base have no use for ''no child left behind,'' but what acutely torments these voters is the prescription drug bill. Republicans fear the plan will take away benefits they have now and replace them with something they don't want.

It was common for Republican congressmen during this recess to be approached by a voter asking: Isn't it true that if we had John Kerry as president and a Republican majority in Congress opposing him, we never would have had this prescription drug bill? The implication is that conservatives in Congress could be real conservatives with an ineffective Democrat in the White House.

Actually, Bush's defeat more likely would trigger an enormous internal explosion inside the Republican Party between forces temporarily held together in an effort to elect a president. Nor are Republicans still confident that in the wake of Bush's defeat, they would hold the Senate or even the House.

According to Lauren Shepherd of The Hill, the old folks are very angry about the prescription drug plan. Senators of both parties are getting lots of negative feedback.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she spent the recess meeting seniors who were “volcanic” about the program, which the Senate approved in November and the GOP expected to prove a big winner.

Mikulski said seniors “feel like day traders and they’re ready to get on a bus and go to Canada” where prescription drugs are cheaper.
Even more remarkable, National Review is pissed off. NRO contributing editor Deroy Murdock admits the Bush Administration most likely broke federal law by concealing the actual cost of the program in order to get Congress to pass it.
Medicare's chief actuary, Richard S. Foster, recalls sharing figures on the drug plan with his former boss, Thomas Scully, Medicare's then-administrator. Last November, Foster's numbers far exceeded the $395 billion, ten-year cost at which the Congressional Budget Office appraised the drug bill. Foster says Scully replied: "We can't let that get out."

Scully's alleged comment epitomized the Bush administration's evident desire to keep Congress and taxpayers ignorant of figures that showed this already controversial legislation might cost far more than CBO's $395 billion valuation that the administration publicly touted. Fiscally responsible members of Congress, mainly Republicans, had little interest in a brand-new entitlement with a price tag higher than the $400 billion reserved for it in last year's federal budget.

On June 1 Medicare recipients could begin using a prescription drug discount card that could save them as much as 15 to 20 percent on drugs costs. Not as many seniors have signed up for this card as anticipated, possibly because the seniors are confused. It may be that by November seniors will be less confused and not so angry about Medicare. But don't count on it; it's still cheaper to smuggle drugs from Canada.


Tenet Resigns

Can't wait to hear the dish on this!

Timothy Noah: Did the Pretzel Cause Brain Damage?


10:45 am | link

wednesday, june 2, 2004

The Plot Thickens
The New York Times reports that, about six weeks ago, Ahmed Chalabi told the Iranian ministry of intelligence that the U.S. had broken its code and was was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service.
I have no use for Chalabi, but last night I read something in Time magazine that suggests we should take these new revelations with a grain of salt:
The White House meeting in late April opened with the presentation of a seven-page, single-spaced memo titled "Marginalizing Chalabi." Drafted by the National Security Council (NSC), the document detailed three options for sidelining the controversial Iraqi political figure Ahmad Chalabi — methods ranging from gently pushing him offstage to cutting off U.S. funds for his intelligence-gathering operation. Once a Pentagon favorite to lead Iraq, Chalabi had been criticizing Washington for dragging out the transfer of power to Iraqis. It was time for Chalabi to go.
The April memo marked the beginning of the White House's strategy to cut its ties to Chalabi — a campaign that reached its climax late last month when Iraqi police, backed by U.S. forces, raided the former exile's house and office in Baghdad. But that move hardly came out of the blue. New details of the relationship between the U.S. and Chalabi, provided to TIME by senior Administration and intelligence officials, reveal that after a decade of lobbying Washington, Chalabi began to lose his footing early this year after he ran afoul of President Bush and L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq. ...

...The beginning of the end came in February when Chalabi was quoted in a London Daily Telegraph article saying that even if the intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs that Chalabi passed to the U.S. before the war was faulty, it was "not important," compared to the end result of toppling Saddam. "We were heroes in error," he said in the article. Chalabi insists he was misquoted, but the damage was done. "That set the President off," a senior Administration official told TIME. The general feeling among top officials was "We gotta do something about this guy." [Brian Bennett and Michael Weisskopf, Time, June 7, 2004, issue; emphasis added]

Providing false intelligence and ripping off the U.S. generally is one thing, but you don't dare piss off the Shrub.

Joel Mowbray, a columnist at Townhall who must not have gotten the White House memo, still thinks Chalabi is a swell guy who is being persecuted by those weenies in the State Department. If Time is right, however, Chalabi is actually being persecuted by those weenies in the White House. Whatever. Mowbray has a point, which is that journalists should not be taking the information the feds are giving it at face value.

The ever savvy Buzzflash is calling for regime change at the New York Times. Buzzflash points out,

... the NYT posted an editor's note acknowledging the highly flawed reporting only after the White House, for reasons still not fully clear, decided to brand Chalabi, their erstwhile puppet, as a man who betrayed them. Whether this charge is true or not – or whether it is just a way that the Bush Cartel is setting Chalabi up to appear not to be a puppet of the White House or whether it is all just Neo-Con/CIA infighting – is irrelevant as far as the NYT admission of "flawed" journalistic standards.

In another interesting twist, Editor and Publisher reports that a niece of Chalabi's worked for the New York Times as their office manager in Kuwait for five months in 2003.

At least the Times still has a great op ed page ... well, except for David Brooks, who's an idiot, and William Safire, who today brings forth a hard-hitting demand to abolish the penny. Paul Krugman alone more than makes up for the minuses.


7:24 am | link

tuesday, june 1, 2004

Win Some, Lose Some
Today a federal judge ruled that the "partial birth" abortion ban passed by a bunch of old white guys in Washington is unconstitutional. That's a win.
However, Time magazine reports that anti-abortion pharmacists are refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.
There is actually an organization called Pharmacists for Life that promotes the rights of pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions on "moral" grounds. The PfL is also opposed to the morning-after pill and stem cell research.
Normally I'd have some sympathy for a pharmacists who handed off filling a prescription for an abortion pill to another pharmacist. But the Time article describes a pharmacist who refused to refill a prescription for Loestrin FE, which is a pill that prevents conception by suppressing ovulation. And the pharmacists refused to allow the woman to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.
In other words, the druggist played judge and jury and decided a woman shouldn't be able to use birth control.
And this is supposed to prevent abortion ... how?
Meltdown News. More news that the Bush "re"-election campaign is in big trouble ... Anne Kornblut of the Boston Globe reports:
Despite President Bush's sagging approval ratings at a national level, strategists have long maintained he would make up the difference by working the Electoral College system in targeted battleground states -- the 18 or fewer states where the 2004 presidential race is likely to be decided.
But in recent weeks, Bush has slipped in key polls in individual states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. That has forced party stalwarts to acknowledge a longstanding truism of presidential politics: It is nearly impossible to patch together the 270 electoral votes needed to win without building broad support nationwide, despite the mathematical quirks of the Electoral College system.

But get this part:
Republicans, who have touted the Bush/Cheney campaign as assembling the greatest grass-roots political operation in history, with an e-mail list of 6 million supporters and an intricate network of volunteers, acknowledge its limits.

You can have the best ground game in history," said Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster, "but a fabulous ground game doesn't make up for the fact you're down 5 points."

Kerry makes bid to sway Virginia for Democrats. A5

After Bush's razor-thin victory four years ago, Republicans put extensive time and money into building a grass-roots machine that could help sew up swing states, confident that tactical maneuvers -- such as working with religious groups to boost the turnout among conservative Christians, targeting specific groups such as Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and registering new voters -- would put Bush over the top in a closely divided electorate.

Grass roots? Hmmm.

Grass roots PLURAL NOUN: (used with a sing. or pl. verb) 1. People or society at a local level rather than at the center of major political activity. Often used with the. 2. The groundwork or source of something.

If the "machine" is organized by the national party, how can it be "grass roots"? Sounds more like the GOP's been putting down sod.

Also in today's Boston Globe, Thomas Oliphant writes that Kerry's proposed Mideast policy is miles away from Bush's. Also, don't miss "Making Hay Out of Straw Men" by Dana Milbank in today's Washington Post.

The Responsible Warrior 

The Saudis Who Got Away


10:38 am | link

monday, may 31, 2004

Maha's Voting Guide, Part 2
,,,in which Maha explains why both parties seem so much alike.
Here is a highly recommended post on the blog PressThink by Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU. I'm going to quote a big chunk of it, but please read the whole thing:

Presidential campaigns had drifted out of alignment with most Americans. The ritual no longer seemed like something the country did for itself every four years, but what a professional cadre did, and sold back to the country as “politics.” ...

What Theodore White in 1960 called the “making of the President,” and Joe McGinnis in 1968 called the “selling of the President” had become the making and selling of a public narrative about politics, the outstanding feature of which was its “remoteness from the actual life of the country," as Joan Didion wrote.

Certainly you could volunteer. You could send money, lots of it. You could watch the debates and read news reports of the campaign. You could take in the pundits at play. You could chart the horse race. You could view the ads and critique them like the pros did.

But could you participate as the rightful owners of politics, in a campaign that requested your talents, needed your energies, tapped some of your ideas, and even gave you a sense of voice? Savvy observers, and the insiders they chronicled, had taken that possibility—robust participation by ordinary Americans--out of the script, even as they spoke nonstop of “grassroots” this, and “populist” that.

And here's the clincher:

Well before the chaos in Florida, the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush had reached one of its logical ends— ideological dead center, where two almost identical campaigns, reading from the same data about the same issues, shouting at the same undecided voters in the same toss up-states, tried to ride slightly different catchwords into the White House.

In 2000, Ralph Nader persuaded many of that year's crop of 18-year-olds that there was no real difference between the two candidates, so they might as well vote for him. And the frustrating thing was, by many appearances, Ralph was right. Bush and Gore were marching around making similar promises about the same issues, and both were packaging themselves as centrists. They even received campaign donations from some of the same special interests.
However, those of us with some familiarity of these guys' records knew that they actually had little in common. We knew that Gore was one of the last of the New Deal-style Democrats; a policy wonk with genuine concern about the environment. And we knew that Bush was the champion of Big Money and Big Oil and Big Polluters and Big Corruption, as well as an incurious little brat who got off on executions.
But these two very different candidates came in nearly identical packaging. Thus, in 2000 Nader got away with calling Bush and Gore "Tweedledum and Tweedledee." And if you tried to explain the difference, the bamboozled 18-year-olds would accuse you of being a party hack.
Attack of the Killer Swing Voters 
I wrote May 16 about a progressive conference at NYU:

...conventional wisdom says that Dems should campaign for voters who have voted in the past. This means Democratic candidates must package themselves to be attractive to "swing" voters who may have gone for Bush last time. This means moving to the right.

The campaigns of both Kerry and Bush are focused on the "swing" voters, which strategists say are only 8 percent of likely voters. These swing voters are being polled and focused grouped to within an inch of their lives so that the campaign messages can be crafted to appeal to them. Thus, the campaigns end up looking very much alike.
If you are a liberal or progressive (I call myself a liberal, but you can be progressive if you want to) and you were basing your opinions of Kerry on the campaign thus far, you might not be terribly interested in Kerry. This is understandable. But the campaigns are all bullshit, for reasons explained above. If you look at the candidates' records, the choice for a liberal is clear -- Kerry. Bush, on the other hand, is to liberalism what the anti-Christ is to Christianity.
I have a lot to say about why it's essential to make electing a president something We, the People, do for ourselves instead of something that's packaged and sold to us by a powerful few. I also have some ideas about how this can be accomplished. But first I want to say something about where liberals are right now, politically, which is pretty much nowhere.
The Incredible Shrinking Influence of Liberals
Since the days of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, liberals and progressives have been increasingly marginalized to the point that we have very little voice at all in government today. Of course, this is in large part the work of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. But liberals themselves are often their own worst enemies. We marginalize ourselves in one of two ways.
One way liberals marginalize themselves is to get wrapped up in ideological purity and refuse to join coalitions that aren't 100 percent in alignment with our pet issues, no compromises allowed. The other way is to compromise away our liberal ideals in order to bargain with right-wing radicals for a few little provisionally progressive tweaks in otherwise conservative policies. Settling for crumbs, in other words.
The path of ideological purity may seem principled, but it's a dead end. I'm told that Washington DC is home to no end of liberal special interest groups that compete with each other for dollars and attention. They have little power because they can't deliver big voting blocks or campaign money. In U.S. politics, power comes from coalition. United we stand, divided we fall.
But then there's the weasle wing of the Democratic Party -- Joe Lieberman and other DLC-style Democats -- who make us want to pick up the whole dadblamed party and shake some sense into it. But one of the reasons the weasles are so prominent is that there is no strong liberal coalition with the power to make demands of the Democrats. Thus, the party drifts to the right. Gotta appeal to those swing voters, you know.
We won't solve this problem by marching away into a dead end with Ralph Nader or by settling for crumbs from the weasles. We will solve it by becoming a force strong enough that politicians have to cater to us. And, as a practical matter, we will most likely accomplish this from within the Democratic Party.
Tune in for our next exciting episode, tentatively called "I don't have anything against third parties, but ..."

9:21 pm | link

Your Title Here
Billmon is back, and he's cookin'. Read this to find out why the Bushies will soon have to bring back Saddam as a consultant.
More stuff --

11:11 am | link

Maha's Voting Guide, Part IA
An addition to yesterday's voting guide -- how to understand an ad campaign. Please read this article by Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei in today's Washington Post.
Last Monday in Little Rock, Vice President Cheney said Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all" and said the senator from Massachusetts "promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office."

On Tuesday, President Bush's campaign began airing an ad saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists.

The same day, the Bush campaign charged in a memo sent to reporters and through surrogates that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as Kerry campaigned in Seattle, he was greeted by another Bush ad alleging that Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001.

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.

The article goes on to say that political scholars and strategists say the Bush "re"-election campaign tells lies about Kerry to a remarkable and unprecedented degree. The journalists don't use the word lies, of course. They say the Bushies are taking "liberty with the facts." But that means lies.

Further, analysis of television ads reveals that the Bush campaign's television ads are negative on Kerry 75 percent of the time, while Kerry's ads about Bush are negative 25 percent of the time.

Although the journalists say the Kerry campaign has been inaccurate also (although the example they gave was way lame), on the whole Kerry's team has been very careful not to "misspeak." That's because in 2000 the Bush team pounced on every tiny misstatement of fact coming out of Al Gore's mouth, as well as statements that were true but which could be twisted around to look false, and persuaded the public and media that Gore was a "serial liar."

(I read an article recently that explained how the Bush's created the false "serial liar" meme and sold it to the idiot news media, but now I can't remember where I read it. I hope I remember because I should link it here. I also remember that Paul Krugman wrote some great columns in 2000 pointing out that Gore's misstatements were of tiny, inconsequential things, like the price of dog medicine, whereas Bush was telling big, whopping lies about his proposed economic policies -- and getting away with it.)

The Bushies can't run on Bush's successful first term, of course, because the first term was a disaster. All they can do is run negative ads against Kerry in hopes of making Kerry look worse than Bush so that Bush can benefit from the "lesser of two evils" vote.

For years, people have complained that they don't like either presidential candidate and must settle for the one they dislike least. For years, I say. I remember a joke from the 1960s that went, "once again, we must choose between a candidate we don't like, and one we can't stand."

But the truth of the matter is that a clever negative campaign could easily make Abraham Lincoln look bad. (In fact, I do not believe Lincoln would have been elected had there been "Media Age" style campaigns in 1860, but that's another rant.) I do not believe that the quality of presidential candidates is any worse now than it was in the 19th century. The 19th century had its share of bozos, believe me. And 19th century campaigns could be plenty dirty. But 19th century campaigns didn't have negative television and radio campaigns tearing down the opposition, and 19th century news media was not entirely populated with partisan "pundits" oh, so cleverly delivering campaign spin as fact.

My advice is to never trust a campaign ad and always practice good mental hygiene so that propaganda doesn't settle in your brain as fact. If you choose a candidate based on advertising, you're an idiot.

One more campaign story: According to Scott Lindlaw of The Guardian, Bush is using taxpayer-paid Air Force One travel in his campaign travel more than any other president ever has, including Bill Clinton, who was criticized heavily by the GOP for using Air Force One the same way. Also, the White House refuses to release information on how many aides are traveling on the taxpayer dime, how the White House decides whether a trip is a campaign trip or an official presidential trip, etc. etc. For the Bushies, same old, same old.


7:53 am | link

sunday, may 30, 2004

Something the Wingnuts Won't Read
That leftie rag The Financial Times has published an op ed by some peacenik flake named Lawrence Freedman, a professor of war studies at King's College, London.

The chaos and violence unfolding in Iraq have consequences that are beginning to affect the entire international position of the US. Its friends are dumbfounded and its enemies almost overwhelmed by the propaganda bounty that has been handed to them.

Consider the two remaining members of the original "axis of evil" introduced by Mr Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address: Iran and North Korea. Both are more advanced in their nuclear programmes than Iraq was. Any claims made by US officials are now almost certain to be disbelieved - even if they are true - and Washington's ability to maintain pressure on these regimes to comply with their treaty obligations has been eroded.

With "pre-emption fatigue" setting in, US military threats can be more easily discounted. China is now crucial in managing the capricious North Koreans, while the Americans are currently contemplating moving troops away from the Korean peninsula in order to fill gaps in Iraq.

Freedman goes on to say that throughout Europe, association with Bush and his policies have become a major political liability, and that "a vacuum has opened up at the heart of world politics where US leadership ought to be found."

We've become the world's biggest joke. Also the world's unfunniest joke.

Meanwhile, right-thinking patriot Max Boot ignores the fact that the Bush Administration's arrogance mixed with incompetence already has pissed away any possibility of a good outcome in Iraq, and points out that American brutality in Iraq hasn't yet gotten as bad as it was in the Philippines (1899-1903), so we leftie peacenik flakes should all just shut up about Iraq.


10:18 pm | link

Maha's Voting Guide, Part I
My third-year college student son tells me that he hears other college students ask the question, "Why vote for either Bush or Kerry?"
They reason that, although they may not think much of Bush, Kerry doesn't appear to reflect their views, either. And wouldn't America be a better place if the two-party stranglehold could be broken to allow new parties to be viable in national elections?
So my plan is to explain how Democracy in America works, so that these young people understand why (a) they'd have to be flaming idiots not it is in their own best interests to support John Kerry, and (b) a viable national third party will happen when hell freezes over is only a remote possibility.
Today, in Part I, I will explain how to choose a presidential candidate; or, rather, how not to choose one.
The most common mistake people make in choosing a presidential candidate is to pick the guy who makes the best promises. People who make this mistake assume a politician is a kind of major appliance, and they choose a candidate the same way they would choose a washing machine.
Advertisements persuade them that model A would be better than model B because (the ads say) it will wash more clothes, it's quieter, and it has more cleaning cycles than model B, plus it won't raise taxes. Sounds good. So they buy and install the washing machine and expect it to perform as advertised.
But here's where the appliance-politican analogy breaks down. If the consumers find that this washing machine does not function as advertised, or if it breaks down during the warranty period, they can get their money back.
The only warranty you get with politicians is that, maybe, you can get rid of them after their first terms. Although, since incumbents usually have an advantage, don't count on it.
It's important to understand that what presidential candidates promise and what they might actually accomplish are usually two very separate items. Separate like on different planets. There are several reasons for this.
The most important reason is that presidents of the United States have very little power to do anything. Just look at the Constitution, Article II, section 2 and 3. Presidents have the power to pardon criminals, make treaties (but the Senate must ratify the treaties), and appoint people to various positions. And that's about it.
Most of a president's duties, such as being commander in chief of the military, are purely managerial. Presidents may make decisions about how they are going to manage. But the real power to make changes in law and policy and declare wars* and stuff belongs to Congress, or to the states.
(*Yeah I know about the War Powers Act, but I don't want to get into that now. I'm trying to keep this explanation simple.)
Anyway, so when a presidential candidate promises to establish national health care or fill Lake Michigan with grape jello or whatever, what he's really saying is I think it would be really neat if we had national health care. I'll try to get Congress to pass a national health care bill.  
Since the president's ability to fulfill his campaign promises depends entirely on his ability to work with Congress, and Congress can always tell the President to go play in traffic, figuratively speaking, campaign promises are cheap.
(You may ask, why do they  promise to do things they can't do? Because We, the People, expect them to, my dears. If candidate A makes extravagant promises and candidate B says, I'm not going to promise anything because I don't yet know if Congress will agree, guess who wins the election?)
The lesson is that whenever someone tries to persuade you to support so-and-so for President because he has such good ideas, don't buy it. Ideas and $2.00 might get you a tall latte in Starbucks (although not in Manhattan). But they tell you nothing at all about how it might benefit you and America if so-and-so wins the election.
If you discount a candidate's ideas, what's left? You might consider ideology. Frankly, the less of it, the better. An ideologue is a person who bases his views and his decisions on some Grand Theory of the Universe instead of on reality. Whatever this theory is will likely be right part of the time -- even a stopped clock has the right time twice a day -- but history teaches us that political ideologies are always wrong part of the time, as well. Give me a pragmatist over an ideologue any time.
Most of us base our opinions on various values and theories. The difference between a pragmatist and an ideologue is that the pragmatist can chuck his theories out the window when he sees they aren't working, but an ideologue will never see that the theories aren't working. Even when they aren't working. (Example: Neocons like Richard Perle who still believe the occupation of Iraq is a great success and that Ahmed Chalabi is a great man and a friend of the United States.)
Values are another matter, but values is as values does. For example, a president who goes around making speeches on the blessings of liberty while his Attorney General holds U.S. citizens in prison indefinitely without criminal charges or access to an attorney -- hypothetically -- probably doesn't value liberty as much as he says he does.
That's why you can't choose a candidate on face value, or advertising claims, or promises, or speeches. You really have to look at his record. Here's something you may not know about John Kerry's voting record.

CQ [Congressional Quarterly) found that in 2003, Kerry voted with [Senator Edward] Kennedy 93 percent of the time on roll-call votes in which both men were present. While that might seem like a lot, it was, historically, a rather low number for Kerry; who voted with Kennedy 100 percent of the time on key votes in 2001, 1999, 1998, 1993, 1992, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, and 1985, according to a Republican analysis of CQ's designated key votes from those years.

There are other indicators that Kerry's liberalism, when he is present for votes, matches or even exceeds Kennedy's and those of other liberal icons in the Senate. For example, Kerry has earned a lifetime rating of 93* from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, which selects key votes each year and rates lawmakers according to a perfect liberal score of 100. Kerry's rating puts him in league with Kennedy, whose lifetime score is a slightly less-liberal 88, and other liberals like Vermont's Patrick Leahy, with 93, and California's Barbara Boxer, with 96.

Viewed from the other side of the ideological divide, Kerry has a lifetime rating of six from the conservative American Conservative Union, which uses a similar methodology to rate lawmakers according to a perfect conservative score of 100. Kerry's rating is the same as Leahy's and New York's Charles Schumer's, although it is slightly less liberal than Kennedy's lifetime rating of three. [Byron York, "AWOL in the Fight Against George W. Bush," National Review Online, January 22, 2004]

(*By contrast, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, touted by some as the only real progressive in the Western Hemisphere, has a 90 lifetime score from ADA, making him 3 points less liberal than Kerry. However, full disclosure, Kerry's rating for 2003 alone was only 88%.)

Granted, National Review is an instrument of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, and the article cited above was written to frighten people away from voting for Kerry by demonstrating what a liberal he is. But to me, that's as good as an endorsement. And if accurate, this information tells us that Sen. Kerry has liberal values. On the other hand, Bush's values are, um, not liberal.

So when Ralph Nader tells you there's no difference between Kerry and Bush -- Nader is lying. (In a future installment, I will explain why you can't trust Nader as far as you can throw him.)

Next: Part II -- The Spin Cycle.


12:40 pm | link

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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