The Mahablog: Truth and the Bush Administration

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friday, june 3, 2005

What's the Matter With the Democrats?
Not only were you wrong about the war, and people like Kos and me dead right, you continued to be wrong for over a year. The combat never ended, the government never worked, WMD never found. Yet, it took some of you well into 2004 to admit this whole colonial war was a horrible fiasco.

So why should anyone care about your opinions? I mean if you can't see a fiasco in fromt of your faces, how can you be trusted on anything else?
I should explain context. Mr. Yglasias is all tied up in knots over the "problem" Iraq poses for the Democrats:
Far too large a proportion of the party's rank-and-file are anti-war for a nominee to position herself as a credible Iraq hawk. Conversely, far too large a proportion of the party's national security elites were pro-war to put together a viable anti-war team. The truth of the matter is that most pro-war liberals seem willing to privately admit that they were mistaken about the war (I was), but don't want to publicly say so lest their credibility take the hit that necessarily comes with admitting you were wrong about a very important issue.   
Oh, please, son, get a grip. Get out of Washington before it's too late and get a job writing a sports column for the Klamath Falls Herald, or something. Do it now while you are still young and your brain cells are still fresh and pliable.
I'm with Mr. Gilliard on this. There are, certainly, some military actions that are hard to judge. I was conflicted about Somalia and Bosnia, for example. But Iraq had DISASTER written all over it, from the start. In flashing neon lights. I have rarely seen my country do anything that obviously stupid in my life, and I've been around the block a couple of times. I think in many ways it was more obviously stupid from the start than Vietnam was, especially since we now have the example of Vietnam to go by. When I realized the Bushies were really going to invade Iraq, that they weren't just saber rattling, I felt physically ill. 
So, to those who couldn't see what I could see--what's wrong with you?
Further, although the Democratic Party may be conflicted, I'm not seeing much conflict out here in Virtual Grass Roots Land. There is near unanimity of opinion on the Left Blogosphere that (a) the invasion was a terrible mistake; and (b) we gotta get out ASAP. And if the Democrats in Washington aren't clear on that, then they indeed have a problem. Any candidate in 2006 who supported the war initially, and who cannot now say "I was wrong," has a problem. No more of the Kerry-esque posturing to be right and wrong at the same time.
Just practice, guys. Stand in front of a mirror, and look yourself in the eye, and say, "I was wrong." Keep practicing until it's easy, and there's no chance you're going to panic and say something else when the press is around.
In principle, I understand wanting to try to clean up some of the mess we made before we leave. That would be the right thing to do. But I don't think we can do it. There's too much corruption; there's too much incompetence; there's too much nonsense like this going on. The longer we stay, the more damage we're going to do.
End of rant.
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8:08 pm | link

Glasses Half Full
I am fascinated by the way the Left and the Right reacted to this news story by Ellen Knickmeyer in today's Washington Post. From WaPo:
Violence in the course of the insurgency over the past 18 months has claimed the lives of 12,000 Iraqis, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Thursday, giving the first official count for the largest category of victims of bombings, ambushes and other increasingly deadly attacks. ...
... Interior Ministry statistics showed 12,000 civilians killed by insurgents in the last year and a half, Jabr said. The figure breaks down to an average of more than 20 civilians killed by bombings and other attacks each day. Authorities estimate that more than 10,500 of the victims were Shiite Muslims, based on the locations of the deaths, Jabr said.
This rightie blogger found the 12,000 figure gratifying:
The America bashing world media and the left are always ranting about the discredited Lancet report on hypothetical civilian deaths in Iraq. So it's good to see The Washington Post report on Interior Minister Bayan Jabr's statement that 12,000 civilians have been killed by the terrorists in Iraq.
Good news, huh? Only 12,000 civilians killed by those pesky terrorists. Uncork the champagne!
This other rightie, Cori Dauber of Rantingprofs, must've gotten a different memo:
This is amazing on multiple levels. The Iraqi government has released figures for how many civilians have been killed by the enemy in the last 18 months and the numbers are staggering. To be clear, this is the count of civilians killed, pretty much the threshold test for any reasonable definition for terrorism and terrorist activity: the intentional targeting of civilians.
Professor Dauber and James Joyner both zero in on the essential injustice being perpetrated in Iraq, which is that the evil MainStreamMedia keeps calling the killers "insurgents" instead of "terrorists."

But what's this? Juan Cole has a whole 'nother take:

Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post reports the allegation by Bayan Jabr, the Iraqi Minister of the Interior, that 12,000 Iraqis have died in the guerrilla war during the past 18 months. A member of the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), he maintained that most of the victims have been Shiites and rather defensively said that no Sunni mosques had been destroyed. He was referring to the bombings at Shiite mosques by Sunni guerrillas. But many innocent Sunnis have suffered in the guerrilla war (including virtually the entire civilian population of Fallujah), and he was unwise to downplay that, making himself sound partisan and sectarian.

In other words, Bayan Jabr is not entirely unbiased.

The Washington Post did not refer to the findings of Knight Ridder for last summer that US troops were responsible for twice as many Iraqi deaths as the guerrillas themselves over a four-month period.

The figure of 12,000 killed in guerrilla violence in the past 18 months tracks generally with the figures arrived at by
Iraq Body Count, which gives between about 22,000 and 25,000 civilian deaths for the two years since the beginning of the war. If we subtract the 7,000 or so civilians Iraq Body Count gives as killed during the war through May 1, 2003 from the minimum number, we get a postwar two-year total of 15,000, making an 18-month total of 12,000 plausible in this light.

Here's the "money quote" section:

The 12,000 figure over 18 months would equal about 8000 deaths a year or 22 per day. ... The Baath Party was in power for about 35 years. If it had killed 8000 civilians per year, that would be 280,000 persons. That is about what is alleged. ...In other words, Bayan Jabr's figures suggest that in US-dominated Iraq, people are dying so far at about the same rate as they did under Baath rule.

But as long as we're clear people are being killed by "terrorists" instead of "insurgents," that's OK.

About that Lancet study. The Lancet study, conducted by scientists from Johns Hopkis U., Columbia U., and Al-Mustansiriya U. in Baghdad, was not a count of reported deaths from violence in Iraq. Rather, it was a projection of "excess" deaths based on a sampling of Iraqi households.

As I understand it, the "excess" was determined by comparing mortality rates before and after the invasion. The number does not distinguish between deaths from bombs or deaths from, say, disease. This is legitimate, because if people are dying from dysentery because war damage caused contamination of the water supply, or from lack of basic health care because the hospital was looted, those deaths would not have occurred had it not been for the invasion.

 Nor, I don't believe, does the Lancet study sort deaths according to who killed whom. Before the invasion there was no insurgency, or terrorist campaign against innocent civilians, if you will. Thus, deaths caused by their attacks would not have occurred had there been no invasion.

Nor did the study distinguish civilian and military deaths, in spite of a Lancet editor's summary saying that it did. The civilian proportion of the 100,000 number is unknown. It's gotta be pretty big, though, she said logically. (See Daniel at Crooked Timber on this point.)

Again, the number 100,000 is an estimate based on statistical sampling of the number of Iraqis who would not have died had it not been for the invasion. Bayan Jabr's number, accurate or not, is a count of civilians killed by the insurgent-terrorists. Apples and oranges.

But Lancet's bottom line is worth noting: since the invasion, the mortality rate in Iraq increased by more than 50% from what it was when Saddam Hussein was running the show.

Further, the Lancet study has not been discredited by scientists, but by non-scientists who don't understand epidemiology and/or statistical sampling. (See this, for example.) Lila Guterman wrote in the March/April Columbia Journalism Review (article not online; see p. 11 in print issue), "I called about ten biostatisticians and mortality experts. Not one of them took issue with the study's methods or its conclusions. If anything, the scientists told me, the authors had been cautious in their estimates." Further, Guterman says, charges that the article was rushed prematurely and recklessly into publication for political purposes could not be proved. "the manuscript's turaround time, about four weeks, was not outside the norm for fast-tracked papers."

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11:23 am | link

Hobgoblins of a Little Mind
Well, folks, the Shrubster did it again. William Neikirk of the Chicago Daily Tribune writes,
President Bush nominated conservative Rep. Christopher Cox as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, prompting speculation that the agency would take a more pro-business approach after it battled financial scandals at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and other companies in recent years.

Business organizations praised Bush's selection of the California Republican and said they expected that he would focus more on regulatory reform than on the enforcement and stiffer rules that characterized the turbulent reign of departing Chairman William Donaldson.

Critics said they feared that Cox would pull back from aggressive SEC enforcement, which has resulted in big fines for some of America's largest companies in recent years and in tougher accounting and corporate governance regulations.

"I think we're going to see something of a U-turn," said John Coffee, law professor and securities regulation expert at Columbia University. "The moment you lay off the night watchman, the greater is the likelihood you will have more Enrons and WorldComs."
See "A Cox in the Henhouse" by Billmon for details. I particularly liked this link via Billmon--"Made in Newport Beach: How Chris Cox helped produce the Enron scandal." Several other links on Whiskey Bar are equally ... interesting.

Once again, Bush betrays ordinary citizens. The one thing you can say for the boy is that he's consistent.

There's a lot of talk about how Karl Rove is rigging the system in to produce a permanent Republican majority. But I think that's just an incremental step. Between the "privatization" scheme and appointments like Cox's, seems to me the real goal is to establish a a permanent plutocracy.

Update: Ellen Dana Nagler has more. 

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9:48 am | link

thursday, june 2, 2005

What's the Matter With Yurp?
I read the opening line of David Brooks's column today with a heavy heart...

Forgive me for making a blunt and obvious point, but events in Western Europe are slowly discrediting large swaths of American liberalism.

... because I realized it would be my duty to blog about this column today, which required me to read the rest of it.

davidbrooks.jpgOf course, in Bobo's World, whenever a tree falls in the forest it discredits large swaths of American liberalism, whether anyone hears it or not. So I am less concerned about what an animated cabbage thinks of American liberalism than I am about what the rejection of the EU constitution actually signifies.

I think it signifies that the people of Yurp are not an alien species but folks like us Amurrkuns, folks who put on leurs pantalon one leg at a time and who are just as capable of making stupid decisions in the voting booth as we are.

This does not comfort me much.

Before wading into the Brooks column I want to go back to the Billmon post on the housing bubble I blogged about last night. Da man said,

It's easy to imagine ways in which the bubble could burst -- as it eventually must. As always, the most likely scenario involves higher interest rates, either as a result of a more resolute monetary policy from the Federal Reserve or a sudden change of direction by our foreign creditors.

However, it appears we don't need to worry about those risks just yet, thanks to the voters in France and the Netherlands. By rejecting the proposed EU constitution, they have rather abruptly tilted the financial playing field, making the euro -- and, by extension, euro-denominated assets -- look like marginally more risky bets. This, in turn, has made the dollar and dollar-denominated assets marginally more attractive to the global speculative class.

The results of this chain reaction, I think, were evident on Wall Street today, as bond and stock prices both jumped, despite weak manufacturing data (ordinarily bad news for stocks) and rising oil prices (bad both for stocks and bonds.) It appears a seismic portfolio shift is under way, one that is sending a little more of Fed governor Ben Bernanke's "global savings glut" sloshing into the U.S. markets.

Oldman of BOP News adds:

 Meanwhile the euro continues its slow retracement from highs. In the short term the Euro's outlook is bearish. How bearish well "The euro is down 9.3% against the dollar this year and is at a four-month low versus the yen." There's already been a recession priced into the Euro. However it is unlikely that the Euro would lose more than another 10%. That would truly be a bear market in the Euro.

What is more likely is that the Euro will stabilize soon. I should emphasize that this is a case of the old adage "politics trumps economics" bearing fruit. Politics in the grassroots or elite aspects will determine the fact of the European union. In the medium term to long term the Euro is still bullish since it is unlikely that having committed a decade to the process the EU will have a complete political collapse but Europe needs a few years to get its act together after the failed French and Dutch referendums.

In addition the EU will find itself without a coherent economic policy easy prey for outside trade issues. Indeed already China has attacked it by rescinding voluntary export tariffs of Chinese textiles. So the EU has a strong incentive to make this work in the long run. It will take time however and it will take several years to form a new European consensus and rewrite their Constitution and realign their economies. The Mastricht economic pact which has been dying for some time must be replaced with a new coordinated intra European economic policy standard. In the time it takes to produce that then there will be a two to four year stabilization period of the dollar allowing this bull market in real estate to continue to visit new heights.

See also Hale Stewart's comments at BOP News.

So, by rejecting the constitution, voters were shooting themselves in the foot, economically speaking. If only they knew the "no" vote would help prop up the American economy and thereby the Bush Administration, I'll bet that constitution would have passed by a landslide. C'est la vie.

Next question: If rejecting the EU constitution was bad for Europe's economy, why was it rejected? Here is the Cabbage explanation:

Western Europeans seem to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Election results, whether in North Rhine-Westphalia or across France and the Netherlands, reveal electorates who have lost faith in their leaders, who are anxious about declining quality of life, who feel extraordinarily vulnerable to foreign competition - from the Chinese, the Americans, the Turks, even the Polish plumbers.

Polish plumbers? Harold Meyerson mentioned the plumbers yesterday... "But with unemployment high, and with the specter of border-crossing, low-wage Polish plumbers haunting the French working class, the constitution was probably doomed from the start." Of course, we Americans never worry about immigrants taking jobs and driving down wages. Brooks continues,

Anybody who has lived in Europe knows how delicious European life can be. But it is not the absolute standard of living that determines a people's morale, but the momentum. It is happier to live in a poor country that is moving forward - where expectations are high - than it is to live in an affluent country that is looking back.

Brooks goes on to list what's the matter with Yurp--high unemployment, low economic growth, low productivity. And in spite of the "deliciousness" of European life, the "standard of living" in Europe is about a third lower than in America, according to Brooks. The "no" votes came from diverse political factions--

The "no" campaign united the fearful right, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the fearful left, led by the Communists.

Influenced by anxiety about the future, every faction across the political spectrum found something to feel menaced by. For the Socialist left, it was the threat of economic liberalization. For parts of the right, it was the threat of Turkey. For populists, it was the condescension of the Brussels elite. For others, it was the prospect of a centralized European superstate. Many of these fears were mutually exclusive. The only commonality was fear itself, the desire to hang on to what they have in the face of change and tumult all around.

We Americans don't have anything to worry about, of course, because we trust free markets, deregulation, and walking economic high wires without a safety net. But... what's this? What did Bobo write a few weeks ago?

But when you look at how Republicans behave in office, you notice that they are often clueless when it comes to understanding the lower-class folks who put them there. They are good at responding to business-class types and social conservatives, but bad at responding to poor Republicans.

That's because on important issues, the poor Republicans differ from their richer brethren. Poor Republicans aspire to middle-class respectability, but they are suspicious of the rich and of big business. About 83 percent of poor Republicans say big business has too much power, according to Pew, compared with 26 percent of affluent Republicans. If the Ownership Society means owning a home, they're for it. If it means putting their retirement in the hands of Wall Street, they become queasy.

Remember, these Republicans are disproportionately young women with children. Nearly 70 percent have trouble paying their bills every month. They are optimistic about the future, but their fear of their lives falling apart stalks them at night.

Poorer Republicans support government programs that offer security, so long as they don't undermine the work ethic. Eighty percent believe government should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt. Only 19 percent of affluent Republicans believe that.

Everyone I know who knows anything about economics is pessimistic--to say the least--about America's economic long-range future. The biggest challenge is demographic--an aging population. That's why we need to be concerned about Social Security solvency. It's why health care costs are going to go up and up and up. Both Europe and the U.S.face this challenge. 

The Right is absolutely certain that the United States is better positioned to deal with the demographic time bomb than Europe. As Avedon says,

The wingers have been having fun all week talking about the vote for the European constitution that failed in France and seems to be going nowhere whenever it comes up for referendum. They have different explanations (and different reasons) for this, but I think it's just that they desperately need to believe that Europe is a failure, and they'll take any "evidence" of this that they can get.

One way we're preparing for the future is by maintaining our behemoth of a health care system. David Broder wrote recently,

Without fundamental change, by 2015, the United States is likely to have 54 million uninsured -- 20 percent more than today -- and be spending 19 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, compared with 15.6 percent today.

See? Nothin' to worry about.

One of America's strengths is its "productivity," meaning that U.S. workers produce more wealth per capita than European workers. We do so because we work longer hours and take fewer days off than Europeans. Even better, our wages have not kept up with our productivity. So even though the average worker is not getting ahead, the wealthy are getting wealthier. Averaged out, it makes our "standard of living" look pretty good. The poor go without basic health care so the wealthy have more disposable income to pay for liposuction, and America has the best health care system in the world!

I know Europeans are beside themselves with envy.

"The core fact," Brooks says, "is that the European model is foundering under the fact that billions of people are willing to work harder than the Europeans are. Europeans clearly love their way of life, but don't know how to sustain it."

Clearly, Europeans are lazy slobs who want to waste time enjoying life and interacting with their children instead of dedicating their lives to corporate productivity, as we Americans do. The people of Yurp need to realign their priorities.

Oddly, Europeans don't understand that the rejection of the EU constitution was a rejection of American liberalism. I studied this Dutch news story that gives all manner of other excuses, like "Western Europe is going through a phase of nationalism." Strangely, I can't find anyone in Europe who thinks Europeans are clamoring to end the "welfare state."

Still we Americans--soldiers for corporate profit--are marching to a glorious  future under the banner of free, unregulated markets. I found a description of that future by George Scialabba in The Nation:  

After the long detour of Second and Third World pseudosocialism, capitalism has resumed the path Marx and Engels foresaw: toward one wholly rationalized, seamlessly integrated world; with everything for sale; with no one and no activity exempt from the pressure of competition, the risk of obsolescence, the specter of ruin; with no rest, no external haven, no inner sanctuary. A flat world.

I can hardly wait.

See also Ben P. at MyDD and Praktike at Liberals Against Terrorism.  


Quote du jour: Stirling Newberry, on a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy: "Hillary isn't going to get any votes more than 15 miles from the nearest starbucks."  

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9:45 am | link

wednesday, june 1, 2005

Toil and Trouble
Billmon and Oldman provide two perspectives on the housing bubble. Responding to news of rapidly rising housing prices, Billmon writes,
This exciting news (for real estate speculators anyway) comes to us today courtesy of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, the obscure federal agency charged with overseeing (snort) and regulating (giggle) the giant federally chartered mortgage twins not-so-affectionately known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which between them now hold some $1.7 trillion in mortgages or mortgage-backed securities.
Adjusted for inflation, the current bubble has the late-1980s Reagan-era bubble beat all to heck. How well I remember when that little souffle went flat, and many people found themselves saddled with bigger mortgages than their homes were worth. Remember, folks, what goes up ...
I love the way Billmon can make economics both clear and interesting, such as his explanation of the way the recent rejection of the EU Constitution by France (helps us; hurts Europe). Bottom line: short-term the economy should wobble along; long-term, keep a lot of candles and canned goods in the cellar.
Oldman is even less cheerful. He had speculated earlier there is collusion at the highest levels to maintain the bubble as long as possible.

Today we have news from a Federal Reserve official signaling that this is precisely the course that the Federal Reserve intends to take.

“I think we’ve room to tighten a little bit further,” Fisher said, but, using a baseball analogy, added that the U.S. central bank is in the eighth inning of its tightening cycle and entering the ninth, and usually final, inning this month.

This is despite the fact that oil prices are reaching frothy levels again resurging on shortage fears. Higher energy prices mean more inflation, but the Federal Reserve is firmly committed to protecting the real estate bubble.

And why would the Federal Reseve be so committed?
What the Fed wants is for American consumers to continue buying and consuming imported goods on foreign credit. If savings were to go up then spending would have to go down. This would result in a short term slump in the economy. The Fed would rather everyone keep on buying even if our long term economic system is becoming more and more unstable.
In other words, we're sacrificing long-term stability in order to keep the economy artificially propped up.
Housing prices have been rising faster than incomes since 2000, and the ratio of housing costs to incomes is now the highest since the Depression.
 To compensate, home buyers are borrowing more than ever, before home ownership gets away from them altogether. On average, homeowners have less equity and more debt than in 2000. And more home buyers are taking bigger risks, using adjustable rate mortgages and interest-only mortgages, which leaves them little wiggle room as interest rates rise or housing values decline.
Both Kuttner and Billmon write that when a housing bubble deflates, it deflates slowly. Kuttner says that when that time comes,
The pain will be concentrated among recent buyers and those stretched thin with adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity loans. Many American homeowners will see their paper wealth decline modestly, stay put, and wait for the next cycle.
That doesn't sound so bad. But Billmon says that housing slumps last longer than stock market slumps and do more economic damage.
Kuttner continues,
What usually gets left out of this story is bad public policy. Greenspan gave us unsustainably low interest rates to compensate for a stock market crash fueled by other bad policies that rewarded speculation. President Bush's deficits are causing the Fed to hike rates, maybe more than necessary.

Bush also choked off money for new housing subsidies, making the supply of existing housing more expensive and forcing home buyers to go dangerously into hock. The subsidies in the tax code are too friendly to speculators and upper-bracket homeowners. With different policies, housing could be more affordable and less volatile.

Favoring risk and speculation over stability is Bush's theme song, isn't it? Time and time again, he favors schemes that give the high rollers better odds at the expense of citizens who are more interested in keeping a roof over their heads and having some money to retire on.  

What usually gets left out of this story is bad public policy. Greenspan gave us unsustainably low interest rates to compensate for a stock market crash fueled by other bad policies that rewarded speculation. President Bush's deficits are causing the Fed to hike rates, maybe more than necessary.

Bush also choked off money for new housing subsidies, making the supply of existing housing more expensive and forcing home buyers to go dangerously into hock. The subsidies in the tax code are too friendly to speculators and upper-bracket homeowners. With different policies, housing could be more affordable and less volatile.

In BushWorld, "affordable" is for the peasants, and "less volatile" is for losers.

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7:56 pm | link

Our Guy
I know many of you will enjoy this Washington Times article on Howard Dean by Donald Lambro, via this Kos diary entry.
Howard Dean's plan to put more money into rebuilding Democratic organizations in Republican "red" states in the South, West and Midwest is winning cheers from state party leaders who say the new funding will make them more competitive in the elections next year. ...
...When Mr. Dean, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, announced earlier this year that he will begin pouring more of the committee's campaign resources into Republican states to help Democrats hire more party organizers, there were doubts that it would make much of a difference. 

    But interviews with party chairmen whose states Mr. Dean picked for increased financial aid are singing his praises. Some even are criticizing previous party leaders for routinely writing off the red states before the election. 

    "The Republicans have been beating our brains out for too many years because of their greater ability in grass-roots organizing and a willingness to put more resources into that," said Mr. Achelpohl, party chairman of one of eight red states that Mr. Dean has targeted for additional funding.
And the righties laughed when Dean became DNC chair. Let's see how hard they laugh after the 2006 elections.
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11:15 am | link

Meet the Faux Nooz Challenge!
"This is a test of the left-wing blogosphere," said FOX News. "In many ways that memo might prove all of the arguments the critics of the war have made. But the bulk of Americans don't agree, or don't seem that alarmed, so it is a power test to see if they can drive it back on the agenda."

The "It" is, of course, the Downing Street Memo, which was written by British national security aide Matthew Rycroft from notes he took during a July 2002 meeting with Tony Blair and his advisers. Also in attendance were Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The "They" is us.

From the memo:

Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route .... There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. ...

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

The memo also reports on something Richard Dearlove learned from his meetings with Bush Administration officials that summer:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route ... There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Straw confirmed Dearlove's assessment:

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

Joe Conason wrote, "Those few lines sum up everything that went wrong in the months and years to come -- and place the clear stamp of falsehood on the Bush administration's public pronouncements as the president pushed the nation toward war."

The memo did not become a hot story. Not even a room temperature story. Faux Nooz argues that the American people don't care about this story. We on the Left Blogosphere argue that the American people don't know about this story. Joe Conason said,

Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?

There is a "smoking memo" that confirms the worst assumptions about the Bush administration's Iraq policy, but although that memo generated huge pre-election headlines in Britain, its existence has hardly been mentioned here.

There was coverage, yes, but the story dribbled out slowly and most newspapers buried deep on the inside, small columns of gray text competing with splashy department store ads for readers' attention. (For example, the Washington Post ran it on page A18.) And on television and radio, the Downing Street story was drowned out by the Newsweek flap

Anyone who thinks that was a coincidence must write "I will not be Bush's stooge" on a blackboard 1665 times. 

(1665 = number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq as of this morning)

Bush apologists argue that the Downing Street memo is Rycroft's opinion and does not amount to proof of deception. Strictly speaking, this is true. But added to the testimony of Richard Clarke, Bob Woodward and Paul O'Neill, among many others, we've got a stronger circumstantial case for deception than the righties had for the "Rathergate" forgery theory.  

This blog is part of a blog coalition supporting an organization called After Downing Street. ADS is a coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups that is urging the U.S. Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war. 

Are we liberals and patriots, or are we weenies?   

Visit After Downing Street to register your support. Sign Congressman Conyer’s letter here. Write to your Congresspeople here.

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8:19 am | link

tuesday, may 31, 2005

One Trick Pony
Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post write that Bush has blown his "political capital."

With his approval ratings in public opinion polls at the lowest level of his presidency, Bush has been stymied so far in his campaign to restructure Social Security. On the international front, violence has surged again in Iraq in recent weeks, dispelling much of the optimism generated by the purple-stained-finger elections back in January, while allies such as Egypt and Uzbekistan have complicated his campaign to spread democracy.

The series of setbacks on the domestic front could signal that the president has weakened leverage over his party, a situation that could embolden the opposition, according to analysts and politicians from both sides. Bush faces the potential of a summer of discontent when his capacity to muscle political Washington into following his lead seems to have diminished and few easy victories appear on the horizon.

It's entirely possible that Bubble Boy has no idea he's got a problem. A few days ago Peter Baker described Bush's weird cluelessness about public support for his Social Security scheme.

In the Pew survey, 53 percent endorsed the idea while 36 percent opposed it, with greater support among Democrats than among Republicans. But when Pew changed the question to add the phrase "George W. Bush has proposed . . .," overall support fell to 45 percent and opposition grew to 43 percent. "Bush is a drag on the popularity of his own Social Security indexing plan," Kohut said.

Bush ignores the bad news and keeps hopping across the country on Air Force One, betraying no fear of failure. "I think we're going to get something done," he said Thursday. "I really do. I think the American people understand we've got a problem." ...

...Still, the half-empty press charter and filing center Thursday spoke to the dwindling news media interest. None of the networks sent its regular White House correspondent. USA Today, the Washington Times and other papers that usually cover presidential trips saw no reason to cover this one. Even some White House aides weary of the barnstorming privately roll their eyes and groan at the notion of yet another Social Security trip.

Bush explained his strategy a few days later:

See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.

But if it's not working, wouldn't a sensible person switch to Plan B? Maybe he doesn't have a Plan B. Bush may be a one-trick pony. Thanks to 9/11 and a compliant news media Bush's trick worked real well until recently. But even Houdini had to change his act now and then to stay in business.

Baker and VandeHei write:

Through more than four years in the White House, the signature of Bush's leadership has been that he does not panic in the face of bad poll numbers. Yet many Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the lobbyist corridor of K Street worry about a season of drift and complain that the White House has not listened to their concerns. In recent meetings, House Republicans have discussed putting more pressure on the White House to move beyond Social Security and talk up different issues, such as health care and tax reform, according to Republican officials who asked not to be named to avoid angering Bush's team.

"There is a growing sense of frustration with the president and the White House, quite frankly," said an influential Republican member of Congress. "The term I hear most often is 'tin ear,' " especially when it comes to pushing Social Security so aggressively at a time when the public is worried more about jobs and gasoline prices. "We could not have a worse message at a worse time."

Next, Baker and VandeHei get reaction from conservative "pundits" that reveal they are just as disconnected from reality as Bush is. For example, Newt Gingrich advises that Bush focus harder on "personal" Social Security accounts, and Bill Kristol thinks that pushing through John Bolton's nomination would be just the thing.  

As Steve Soto points out, "these GOP guys are scared and clueless, if this is the best they can come up with." Steve says,

We’re only six months into a second term and from reading this piece, the White House and its sycophants have no idea or energy for turning their situation around, no matter what sunny bullshit Rove peddles to a lapdog media. Add to that Frist’s talk yesterday about forcing a Social Security bill to the floor over Chuck Grassley’s head to get Bush’s private accounts into legislation, and you have the makings of a political Armageddon this summer where the only real losers will be the GOP senators and representatives running scared for their reelection next year.

The GOP is very good at creating their own reality by repeating a mantra over and over again until they make their own history. It's time for Democrats to begin repeating over and over again that this president and his administration are out of touch, captives of the far right lunatic fringe, are lame ducks already, and on the verge of irrelevancy.

Further erosion of rightie influence is far from inevitable. Bush and his cronies could still win back what they've lost. But, barring extraordinary events like another 9/11 (and I'm not sure it would work as well for him the second time), the Bushies would have to change course and learn some new tactics. And I wonder if they are capable of doing that.

Update: Quack!

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5:54 am | link

monday, may 30, 2005

Years ago, pre-Web, I  used to participate in online forums (Usenet, Prodigy) discussing Buddhism. Believe me, political forums are less contentious. But there's a psychological phenomenon I first noticed in those days that I see today in many righties.
In those days there was a spectacularly phony cult leader named Fred Lenz, a.k.a. "Rama," who claimed to be a Zen master. Since this is not a spirituality blog I won't go into all of the reasons why it was obvious Lenz was a phony. But imagine you bumped into some guy in a clown suit who claimed to be a Catholic archbishop (although he never attended a seminary and wasn't recognized by the Catholic church) and who told you that Jesus lives on Mars. If you had any aquaintance with Catholicism you would probably question this guy's credentials. Lenz's claims to be a "Zen master" were just that outlandish. However, since few Americans have a clue what Zen actually is, he fooled a lot of people.
Anyway, back in the day Lenz culties were all over the Internet, and frankly I found them to be more interesting than Lenz himself. Remarkably, it was common for Lenzies to reject traditional Zen (or other long-established schools of Buddhism) because, they said, it was too authoritarian and didn't respect their individuality. These were people who had given their lives, bodies, and money to a cult leader.  By rejecting a traditional path in favor of Lenz worship, the culties embraced the very loss of individuality they claimed to fear.
Of course, what people say they're afraid of, and even what they may think they're afraid of, may not be what they're really afraid of. "We run fastest and farthest when we run from ourselves," said Eric Hoffer in The True Believer (1951). By losing themselves in a cult, the Lenzies sought liberation from a painful self-identity.
But what about the Bushies, who claim to love democracy even while they work to destroy it? And who claim to oppose media bias when it's obvious that what they really want is media that reflects their biases? You see over and over again with the righties that what they claim to value, and what their actions reveal about their values, are miles apart.
There's fear of change, and of Other, behind rightieness, of course. Righties want to either eliminate or assimilate anything that challenges their worldview. Because of their insecurities they desperately need to be assured that they are, in fact, exceptional and deserving of respect. If the world doesn't understand that Americans are better, then the world can go bleep itself.
Hoffer wrote that mass nationalist movements in recent times "were conceived not by men of action but by faultfinding intellectuals."
It is the deep-seated craving of the man of words for an exalted status which makes him oversensitive to any humiliation imposed on the class or community (racial, lingual or religious) to which he belongs however loosely. ... the faultfinding man of words, by persistent ridicule and denunciation, shakes prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and familiarizes the masses with the idea of change. What is not so obvious is the process by which the discrediting of existing beliefs and institutions makes possible the rise of a new fanatical faith. For it is a remarkable fact that the militant man of words who "sounds the established order to its source to marks its want of authority and justice"* often prepares the ground not for a society of freethinking individuals but for a corporate society that cherishes utmost unity and blind faith. ...
...the militant man of words prepares the ground for the rise of a mass movement: 1) by discrediting prevailing creeds and institutions and detaching from them the allegiance of the people; 2) by indirectly creating a hunger for faith in the hearts of those who cannot live without it, so that when the new faith is preached it finds an eager response among the disillusioned masses; 3) by furnishing the doctrine and the slogans of the new faith; 4) by undermining the convictions of the "better people"--those who can get along without faith--so that when the new fanaticism makes its appearance they are without the capacity to resist it. ...
...Thus when the irreverent intellectual has done his work:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.**
Creepy, huh? But we're dealing with a new variation of Hoffer's model. The Bushies have adopted the language of liberalism and speak glowingly about democracy, civil liberty, and justice. Their actions and policies make a mockery of these ideals, of course. But then they turn on us liberals (who think that democracy, civil liberty, and justice should be honored by deed as well as by word) and make us out to be radicals and agents of dangerous and unwelcome change, while they paint themselves to be keepers of the flame of eternal American values.
So you've got a fanatical mass movement against freedom and democracy being carried out in the name of freedom and democracy, and those of us who genuinely value freedom and democracy are painted as enemies of freedom and democracy who must be resisted.
I started to keyboard "eliminated" instead of "resisted"; not yet, but that'll be next. Fred Lenz was a piker compared to the Bushies.
*Pascal, Pensees
**Yeats, "The Second Coming."
Update update: The lie about liberty.
2:19 pm | link

No. News.
On this beautiful Memorial Day I find myself googling around to find out what's up with Operation Lightning. This might be a Big Deal, even though it seems most of the former warbloggers today are ignoring this story. Can't pass up an opportunity to diss the European Union, you know.
I could have saved myself some trouble and gone right to Juan Cole. The insurgents fought back. There might yet be a civil war. Nasty business.
This may be the most significant news this morning: Juan Cole writes, 
US troops arrested Muhsin Abd al-Hamid Monday morning. He is the head of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party and had served on the Interim Governing Council appointed by Bremer. The IIP initially announced that they would take part in the parliamentary elections, then declared neutrality because of the November, 2004, Fallujah campaign.

Forbes reports, "Hamid, leader of the Iraq Islamic Party, was hooded and taken away after US troops broke windows in his home and allegedly mistreated him and his sons, the party official said. "

Actually it is not clear under the provisional Iraqi constitution that it is legal for US troops just to go arrest people.
Note that it's  been four months since the famous Iraqi elections, and two years plus thirty days since our mission was accomplished.
You'll forgive the warbloggers if they're not paying attention, though, because Faux Nooz told them Operation Lightning would be a glorious success. Check out New Hounds's account of the Heritage Foundation senior follow who predicted on the Big Story that the terrorists would get out of Dodge, so to speak, and not put up much resistance. 'Tis a hoot.
And then the New Hound author, Marie Therese, observes: "Why is it, whenever I watch the mainstream media, I feel like I'm watching a rerun of the Stepford Wives?"
Speaking of the evil "MSM," a professor of journalism unfortunately named Conrad Fink writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
A subtle but dangerous threat is building toward mainstream media in America and the wider, professional view they bring to our public dialogue.

The business model that for decades produced independent, watchdog journalism is hemorrhaging --- and we have no new, supportive business model in sight. ...

... Newspaper readership and television news viewing are slipping --- and so, thus, is reader and advertiser revenue that pays for serious journalism.

Professor Fink points to the recent street revolution in Kyrgyzstan.
A street revolt in a small, far-off, unheard-of Asian nation is important to us? You bet, and the mainstream media were on the story.

My old regiment, the Associated Press, had first-day coverage out of the capital, Bishkek, produced by seasoned foreign correspondents skilled in covering such important news. So did mainstream newspapers.

The Associated Press and others were there because the current business model of newspapers is rich enough to support such coverage.

Professor Fink and the rest of us have reason to be concerned about the demise of newspapers and the impact this will have on journalism. On the other hand, was news coverage of Kyrgyzstan totally independent from Bush Regime spin? Professor Fink sings the praises of the "watchdog" role of  independent, professional news media, but the fact is the dog ain't been watchin' and, anyhoo, it don't have no teeth.
Fink blames bored young people with short attention spans and palm pilots with the demise of newspapers. But maybe if some news outlet started offering something other than reruns of the Stepford Wives...
BTW, Captain Ed weighs in on this story over on the Right Blogosphere. Among other things, the Captain says he took a couple of journalism courses at Cal State Fullerton and from that decided that a journalism education is overrated. I was amused.  "Journalism is a craft learned by practice, not a science taught through lecture," he says. 
This is true. But if you've never had the practice of being called into the publisher's office because he just got off the phone with the mayor, who complained about a misplaced decimal point in your city budget story; or if you've never been skinned alive by some old-time, eyeshade-wearing newsroom editor because you left out an "allegedly"; I'm doubtful you're going to learn much.
(Thank you, Tom Duffy, wherever you are. My ears are still ringing, but allegedly I'm a better person for it.)
The problem with amateur blogger-"journalists" (and I say again, blogging is not journalism) is that no one holds their feet to the fire when they screw up. Instead, they make excuses for themselves and skip merrily along. Or else they establish what's true or not (and I'm thinking now of "Rathergate" and the alleged forging of the Killian memos) by forming mobs and lynching (virtually, so far) anyone who dares disagree with them.
That's why they'll always be amateurs.  
Yet these days the pros aren't covering themselves with glory, either. Citing this Matt Taibi column, Jay Rosen at Press Think says "The real crime is not bias or secret sources. It's fluff. It's pseudo-sophistication. It's a lost sense of what good journalism is all about. The real problem with investigative reporting is that it so rarely happens."
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11:26 am | link

sunday, may 29, 2005

The Drifter
Susan Glasser writes in the Washington Post that the Bush Administration has launched an internal review of its terrorism policies.
This is going to be a challenge, considering that the Bush Regime doesn't seem to have terrorism policies as much as terrorism posturing, unless you count what we're doing to prison detainees. But I infer from Glasser's article that the policies being reviewed are those designed to reduce terrorism. So good luck finding any.
What's worse, this review was initiated by the National Security Council, currently headed by Stephen "let them eat yellowcake" Hadley. I'm not sure Hadley would recognize an actual policy if it bit his butt.
Glasser writes (emphasis added),
The review marks the first ambitious effort since the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks to take stock of what the administration has called the "global war on terrorism" -- or GWOT -- but is now considering changing to recognize the evolution of its fight. "What we really want now is a strategic approach to defeat violent extremism," said a senior administration official who described the review on the condition of anonymity because it is not finished. "GWOT is catchy, but there may be a better way to describe it, and those are things that ought to be incumbent on us to look at."
This year we will observe the fourth anniverasary of 9/11, and we still don't have a "strategic approach to defeat violent extremism." And whose fault is that? Hint: Where is the buck supposed to stop?
"There's been a perception, a sense of drift in overall terrorism policy. People have not figured out what we do next, so we just continue to pick 'em off one at a time," said Roger W. Cressey, who served as a counterterrorism official at the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "We haven't gone to a new level to figure out how things have changed since 9/11."
Four years, mind you.
Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"
I guess they ain't stickin' to the flypaper.
Another key aspect is likely to be the addition of public diplomacy efforts aimed at winning over Arab public sentiment, and State Department official Paul Simons said at a congressional hearing earlier this month that the "internal deliberative process" was broadly conceived to encompass everything from further crackdowns on terrorist financing networks to policies aimed at curbing the teaching of holy war against the West and other "tools with respect to the global war on terrorism."
These were items addressed by the bleeping Hart-Rudman Commission during the Clinton Administration. You may recall that the Commission finished its work and gave its final report to Congress about a month after Bush was inaugurated in 2001 (see critique of plan here; the actual report seems to have been removed from the Web). One of Bush's first acts as President was to flush the commission's work down the toilet. (Note to righties: That was figurative, not literal.) He gave the job of coming up with a new plan to Vice President Dick "the Dick" Cheney, and as  you might recall, on September 11 the Dick had yet to get started. Now, four years later, the Bush Administration has still not put its own plan together.
The review may have been slowed somewhat by the fact that many of the key counterterrorism jobs in the administration have been empty for months, including the top post at the State Department for combating terrorism, vacant since November, and the directorship of the new National Counterterrorism Center. "We're five months into the next term, and still a number of spots have yet to be filled," Cressey said. "You end up losing valuable time."

The counterterrorism center was created nearly a year ago by Bush to serve as the main clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence but is not yet fully operational, and has been run by an acting director and caught up in the broader wave of bureaucratic reorganization that resulted in the creation of the new directorate of national intelligence, whose fiefdom the center will join.

How many vacation days has Bush taken since 9/11?

"They recognize there's been a vacuum of leadership," said a former top counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There has been a dearth of senior leadership directing this day to day. No one knows who's running this on a day-to-day basis."

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Our national "leaders" are a bunch of hothouse flowers who never in their lives produced anything. Most of the people running the national show came out of academia or in think tanks or law offices. They've never once been part of a team that had to have a real product on the shelves by a drop-dead date, or else. They have no clue how to roll up their sleeves and push and hustle and coordinate to make an organization work.

And Bush himself is the worst; I don't think he knows what work is. His modus operandi is to respond to a problem by staging a publicity stunt. Or, he'll publicly hand off a problem to one of his long-time cronies. But there's rarely any follow-up. Bush seems to have a remarkable ability to hand a problem off to someone else and then erase it from his mind. I imagine that if Bush were a general, he'd give an order to attack and go back to the officer's club to relax, thinking he'd done his job, and forget there was a battle going on.

We all remember how well he responded to the famous August 6, 2001, memo titled  "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." A average president would have at least asked heads of intelligence and security agencies to report back to him periodically about what they were doing to meet this threat.  A good president would have kicked some butt and rattled some chains. Bush didn't do anything.

Four years later, I do not believe there has been an assessment of likely terrorism targets in the U.S., much less plans to guard these targets.  As we see in Susan Glasser's article, the issues of funding terrorism networks and of, for example,  Wahabism in Saudi Arabia still need work. Yet these issues were identified as problems way before 9/11. Bill Clinton worked harder to address these problems before 9/11 than Bush has in the nearly four years since 9/11. Clinton was, of course, obstructed by the same rightie extremists in Congress who blamed him for not doing enough to prevent 9/11 later. But that's another rant.

Since his second inauguration, how many hours has Bush put into his little Social Security road show? How many vacation days? How often does he even put in a little extra time on the job after supper? We know he has time to ride his bike in the middle of the day--how nice for him. But it seems to me there is something pathological about his lack of urgency.  

Jim Hoagland makes a similar point in his opinion column today:

American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve the nation's thanks and respect this Memorial Day. But they deserve more. They deserve a clearer, more realistic explanation from President Bush of their strategic mission, and they deserve directives that show them precisely how to accomplish it. The American public also needs explanations and, yes, directives. The White House seems to underestimate the fraying of national support that is occurring for the U.S. military presence in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan. Freedom may be on the march, but Americans need to be told more specifically and persuasively how U.S. and allied combat deaths abroad advance that march now, not years from now.

A similar initiative is needed on homeland defense. Confusion and drift mark public understanding of how individuals, communities and the nation as a whole should respond to terrorist strikes on U.S. soil. Citizens can learn more about how cities would be evacuated or other responses to a future Sept. 11-type event from watching doomsday television dramas such as "24" than from the administration.

I am getting an impression that Bush has just plain lost interest in Iraq. He's not even bothering to crank out pretend policies any more. Our soldiers are cast adrift in the desert, with no clear goals or objectives. Further, Haroon Siddiqui writes in today's Toronto Star that Bush's Middle East policies are hopelessly inconsistent and contradictory

He has no policies, in other words. It's all fake and spin and facade. I doubt Bush knows the difference.

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The Loyalties of George W. Bush

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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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