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saturday, october 8, 2005

Support the Troops
 
Here's a clip & save for you, via Sharon Jumper at Kos. The next time righties claim that you can't support the troops without supporting the "mission," shove this in their faces--a blog post by a soldier serving in Iraq:
There are battles which need to be fought and there are battles which serve no good purpose. Afghanistan and Bin Laden lay forgotten as if they were discarded toys left by a spoiled child.

Iraq is the new frontier of poor foreign policy and poor planning. Even the soldiers can see it. Why do you think nobody is re-enlisting? They don't want to keep leaving their families to go fight a loosing battle and to die for an empty promise. The promise that somehow staying in Iraq makes America safer.

We have created a martyr factory here, and we are beginning to wade through the next Vietnam. How wrong do you want to be before you close down shop and send the troops home? 2,000 dead? Is that wrong enough? How about 10,000?

There is a field back home at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. There a tree has been planted for each soldier who has been killed in Iraq. After we returned in 2003 there were only a few trees, now an entire side of the field is full of them. My sister asked where they would plant more now that the row was complete and sadly I replied, "we still have three more sides to fill." Maybe then when we have enough names for a beautiful war memorial we can leave Iraq.
I know as surely as the sun comes up in the mornin' that, if righties get hold of this, they will smear the sergeant ruthlessly. Soldiers exist to gratify rightie desire for vengeance, not to ask questions about what it is they are risking their lives for.
 
(Although vengeance isn't the right word, since the blood lust to kill "ragheads" has spilled way over retribution for 9/11. The 9/11 terrorist attacks are more an excuse than a reason.)
 
We lefties are often accused of hating the military. One does bump into lefties with a knee-jerk antipathy to anyone wearing a uniform, as though the uniform obliterates the humanity of the soldier wearing it. This is a minority of the Left, IMO.
 
But the Right is no better. The Right sees the troops as props in their sociopolitical fantasy, in which omnipotent America assimilates the world, destroying not-American things like so much vermin. Soldiers who question the mission or complain about lack of armor or who harbor progressive political views or otherwise behave like autonomous human beings spoil the picture.
 
The Right's trump card is, of course, that questioning the "mission" amounts to helping the enemy. You know they're all set to blame us lefties if when the "mission" finally turns into a rout--as if the incompetence and blundering of the Bush Administration had nothing to do with it.  It should go beyond saying that, considering the strength and military resources at our disposal in March 2003, it took some serious imbecility to fail. But never sell the Bush White House short ...
 
The old slogan "ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die" might be applicable to soldiers about to enter a battle, but the fact is that citizens are supposed to reason why. That's our duty. In the United States, citizens are not subjects who must be blindly loyal to a sovereign. The government is us; the government is the will of We, the People made manifest. Or, at least, that's what it is supposed to be. When government operates in the dark and makes decisions that citizens are not supposed to question, it is a betrayal of everything America is supposed to be about. 
 
Let me expand that -- someone will argue that some functions of government, especially functions that involve intelligence and security, need to be covert. That's true, and it's acceptable as long as the ends serve the will of the people. What worries me is when government is no longer responding to the will of the people and is following its own ends, and uses "security" as an excuse to hide the evidence. That's a problem. Even a rightie ought to be able to see that.   
 
When a rightie puts "troops" and "duty" into the same sentence, it's usually to point to the duty of the troops to follow orders and fight where their government tells them to fight. Lefties, on the other hand, think of the duty of citizens to honor the troops as fellow citizens, not robots. We have a duty to citizen-soldiers to ask them to risk their lives only when the need is dire and the nation is in peril.
 
But the people who blame the Left for failure are the same ones who shouted down any attempt an meaningful debate before the Iraq invasion. Having hustled We, the People into war on false pretenses, now they scream that opposition to the war is unpatriotic. Sorry; democracy doesn't work that way. 
 
A democratic government's duty is to loyal to the people and faithfully carry out the will of the people. But the people have no duty to be blindly obedient to elected officials who act in opposition to their will.
 
According to a CBS poll released yesterday, 55 percent of American adults believe the invasion was a mistake and 59 percent think the U.S. should withdraw ASAP. It's true that a majority of Americans supported the invasion in March 2003, but the only "debate" I recall amounted to White House surrogates screaming at television cameras that we have to invade now or risk destruction by Saddam Hussein's mighty WMDs. The people may have consented to the war, but it was not an informed consent. And now that they are informed, they do not consent to staying "as long as it takes."
 
Live by the hustle, die by the hustle. 
 
Be sure to read the other soldiers' blog posts linked at Kos. Very illuminating.

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friday, october 7, 2005

Bush: Do As I Say ...
 
Have you ever noticed that, on a very simple level, righties support Bush because of what he says and lefties oppose him because of what he does? 
 
For example, I'm sure at some point you've crossed paths with a rightie who is fired up about the "liberation" of Iraq. You know the dance. You make faces; the rightie assumes you oppose the war because you don't want the Iraqi people liberated. But in fact you oppose the war because the Iraqi people aren't being liberated. At best they're in a transitional phase between despots. Americans are fighting and dying to establish an Islamic theocracy, assuming civil war doesn't take down the "nation-building" process first.  But the rightie won't even listen to this. Bush says we're liberating Iraq, and that's it.
 
This truth popped into my head this morning while I read the reviews of Bush's "big speech" yesterday. Full disclosure: I didn't listen to the speech because I feared I would be incited to riot. This is hard on the furniture, you know, and it upsets Miss Lucy. But it's pretty clear the boy was up to his usual tricks.
 
PRESIDENT BUSH SPOKE FORCEFULLY on Thursday about the threat from within to Islam, and what the United States is doing to protect Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia. Yet the president is strangely reluctant to take even the smallest step to protect Muslim prisoners being held by U.S. forces in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. His rhetoric will be exposed as even emptier than usual if he keeps squandering opportunities to back it up.
See? There's what Bush says, and then there's what Bush does; two elements that rarely inhabit the same time-space continuum.
 
The New York Times has two snarky editorials today about the Bush speech. Here's the first one:

Yesterday, the same day New Yorkers were warned there was a "specific threat" of a bombing on their subways, President Bush delivered what the White House promoted as a major address on terrorism. It seemed, on the surface, like a perfect topic for the moment. But his talk was not about the nation's current challenges. He delivered a reprise of his Sept. 11 rhetoric that suggested an avoidance of today's reality that seemed downright frightening.

The period right after 9/11, for all its pain, was the high point of the Bush presidency. Four years ago, we hung on every word when Mr. Bush denounced Al Qaeda and made the emotional - but, as it turned out, empty - vow to track down Osama bin Laden. Yesterday, it seemed as if the president was still trying to live in 2001....

You can still find righties who get all misty-eyed about the "bullhorn moment" but are not at all bothered by the fact that Osama bin Laden was never brought to justice. It's as if the rhetoric itself is all that matters, and reality is just an inconvenient minor detail.

This is from the second editorial:

We've lost track of the number of times President Bush has told Americans to ignore their own eyes and ears and pretend everything is going just fine in Iraq. Yesterday, when Mr. Bush added a ringing endorsement of his own policy to his speech on terrorism, it was that same old formula: the wrong questions, the wrong answers and no new direction.

Mr. Bush suggested that people who doubt that nation-building is going well are just confusing healthy disagreement with dangerous division. "We've heard it suggested that Iraq's democracy must be on shaky ground because Iraqis are arguing with one another," he scoffed. What he failed to acknowledge was that the Iraqi power groups seem prepared to go through the motions of democracy only as long as their side wins. ...

... Given the state of the American adventure in Iraq and the way it has sapped the strength and flexibility of the United States armed forces, it was unnerving to hear Mr. Bush talk so menacingly about Syria and Iran. It was also maddening to listen to him describe the perils that Iraq poses while denying that his policies set them in motion.

Be sure to read both editorials all the way through; they are very good, and right on the money.

Fred Kaplan offers similar commentary in Slate:

President Bush's speech this morning, billed as a major statement about Iraq and the war on terror, was a sad spectacle—so ripe with lofty principles, so bereft of ideas on what to do with them. He approached the podium amid growing disapproval of his performance as a war president, ratcheting chaos and violence in Iraq, continuing terrorist attacks worldwide—and pleaded for nothing more than staying the course, with no turns or shifts, for a long, long time to come.

He crisply outlined the stakes of the larger struggle against Islamofascism: fear vs. freedom, oppression vs. tolerance, the dark ages vs. modern civilization. "The defense of freedom," he declared, "is worth our sacrifice." And he's right. Which is why his failure to articulate a strategy—his evasion of the difficulties and dilemmas that his own aides and commanders are grappling with—is so distressing.

By now it should be pretty clear that, with Bush, rhetoric is all you're going to get. He can't do shit. Given that he is speech impaired, his inability to do anything but regurgitate prepared remarks makes him all the more pathetic.  

Compare and contrast Kaplan's article and the New York Times's editorials with this post by obedient rightie shill John Hinderaker. Hinderaker's take is that the President was trying to warn us of the dangers of terrorism, and the news media won't listen.

I was talking with a liberal the other day, who tried to explain to me that democracy in Iraq is impossible because of that country's religious and ethnic diversity. Only civil war can result from such conditions, he said. Oh, great, now they tell us--multiculturalism is impossible!

Non sequitur. There's a huge difference between a political power struggle among long-warring factions and "multiculturalism."  

As he did before the war began, Bush laid out the most important purpose of the Iraq war: to promote the spread of freedom in the Middle East, as the only long-term solution to the perpetuation of Islamic terrorism:

The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East. This is a difficult and long-term project, yet there's no alternative to it. Our future and the future of that region are linked. If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery, while radicals stir the resentments of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, and for our generation and the next. If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and by their participation as free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow, and eventually end. By standing for the hope and freedom of others, we make our own freedom more secure.

Four years after September 11, neither the Democrats nor anyone else has proposed an alternative to Bush's strategy for long-term victory in the war on terror.

Well, actually, several people have proposed such strategies. Here's just one. But the larger point is that Bush may have a grand strategy for "long-term victory," but he has no tactics to achieve that strategy.

Once again: The rightie presents a paragraph from Bush's speech and challenges us lefties to argue with it. But I cannot argue with the paragraph. It's a fine paragraph. I agree with everything Bush says in that paragraph. The problem is not with what he says, but with what he does.

No one denies that it would be just grand if genuine democracy could flower in the Middle East, but it ain't happenin'. And Bush's blundering around isn't making it happen. 

You see the problem. Hinderaker accepts the rhetoric as reality and assumes that people who diss the rhetoric are opposed to the ideas Bush expresses, like "democracy is good" and "let's liberate oppressed Iraqi people." But in fact, we diss the rhetoric because the rhetoric has nothing to do with anything that's actually happening on this planet. Hinderacker continues,   

This was another in a series of great speeches in which President Bush has outlined his strategies and policies in the war.

And, of course, he did nothing of the sort. He presents goals. And there's nothing wrong with most of his goals. They are perfectly fine goals. But his policies and strategies, such as they are, are not sufficient to achieve those goals. Iraq is drifting toward either theocracy or chaos. "Homeland security" is going nowhere. Earlier this week I quoted Richard Clarke:

 After opposing the creation of the department [of homeland security], the Bush administration flip-flopped under public pressure and decided that it was a great idea. There were always signs, however, that the administration did not really mean it. ... although many new programs were launched, few were ever brought to fruition. The department has never produced a multi-year plan based on actual requirements—a path to achieve specific, measurable goals. None of our vulnerabilities—on our borders, or in our transportation system, our chemical plants, our energy facilities, our ports—have been significantly diminished. And now we see that our ability to deal with the aftermath of disasters, whatever their cause, has actually regressed since the mid-1990s, when FEMA was an independent agency with cabinet status, run by competent and nonpartisan personnel.

From the Fred Kaplan article linked above:

It was almost exactly two years ago, on Oct. 16, 2003, that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent his aides a searching memo (soon after leaked to USA Today), in which he noted:

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

The shocking thing is not so much that it took two years, following 9/11, for Rumsfeld to formulate the right question; it's that two more years have passed, and the administration is only now seeking an answer. Military analyst William Arkin reports in his Washington Post blog, Early Warning, that just last month the Defense Department issued a solicitation for outside contractors to devise "a system of metrics to accurately assess US progress in the War on Terrorism, identify critical issues hindering progress, and develop and track action plans to resolve the issues identified."

Every time a rightie complains that no Democrat has presented a plan for fighting terrorism, I want to ask, why isn't the bleeping President presenting a plan for fighting terrorism? Because there is no plan. There's just intentions, and rhetoric. And bullshit.

Kaplan's article is worth reading all the way through, also, but I want to call attention to this part:

It was an uncharacteristically defensive speech, Bush reciting, then rebutting, the arguments of his critics. But his counterblows were usually unpersuasive. For instance:

Some have argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September 11, 2001, and al-Qaida attacked us anyway.

This is mere playing with words. Notice: First, he cites the claim that the U.S. occupation has "strengthened" the extremists; then he dismisses some straw man's contention that our presence has "caused or triggered" the radicals' rage. The fact that 9/11 preceded the invasion of Iraq is irrelevant to the point that he started to counter—that the occupation "strengthened" the insurgency. This point is incontestable. (On the most basic level, before the invasion, there was no insurgency and no al-Qaida presence in Iraq, except for a training camp run by Zarqawi—and that was in the Kurdish-controlled northern enclave, which Bush could have bombed, and was encouraged by the Joint Chiefs to bomb, at any time.) More important, to evade the point is to misunderstand this phase of the war—and, therefore, to misjudge how to win it.

The question is, does Bush see his own disingenuousness? Or does he really believe this shit? The fact that we're dealing with someone who rose to power without ever having accomplished anything tangible in his life makes me suspect the latter is very possible.
 
Update: Howler of the week--Via Daou Report, One Hand Clapping (does Donald know it's a koan?) thinks Bush shouldn't have waited so long to become so specific. Snort.  
 
Update update: See also Juan Cole.

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Payback
 
Oooo, those Swedes. They gave the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohamed ElBaradei and International Atomic Energy Agency. The Bushies must be mightily pissed.
 
Mohamed ElBaradei, you might recall, is the same guy who, before the Iraq invasion, did everything but stand on his head and whistle Dixie to warn that Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons capability (see old Mahablog post on this here). Beginning the day before Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address--home of the Sixteen Words!--ElBaradei made the rounds of talk shows and said his inspectors were not finding evidence of nuclear weapons of mass desctruction, or even weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, for example. Saddam Hussein's old nuclear weapons facilities and equipment were still sitting dormant, and sealed, just as the IAEA had left them in 1998.
 
When it became obvious even to the Bushies that ElBaradei had been right and the Bushies wrong, naturally ElBaradei became a target of Bushie wrath. This past January they tried desperately to replace him as head of the IAEA and failed spectacularly:

The United States has failed to persuade 15 countries to support an effort to replace International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, effectively stalling the plan, the Washington Post reported Saturday (see GSN, Jan. 10).

“It’s on hold right now,” said one U.S. policy-maker who lobbied against ElBaradei. “Everyone turned us down, even the Brits.”

In addition to the United Kingdom, the United States also unsuccessfully approached Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa and South Korea, U.S. officials said.

“We can certainly live with another ElBaradei term,” a British official said.

Slap. But the Bushies still have enough clout to keep ElBaradei out of the sandbox, even if they can't have him evicted from the playground. They've refused to allow the IAEA to have full access to Iraq's old nuclear sites since the March 2003 invasion. After a highly restricted and tightly supervised inspection in the summer of 2003, the IAEA was kept out of Iraq entirely from August 2003 until July 2004, when "sovereignty" was "transferred" to Iraq. The government of Iraq has permitted limited "safeguard" inspection, but the IAEA site adds this disclaimer: "The safeguards inspections are separate from weapons inspections mandated by the UN Security Council that ceased in mid-March 2003."
 
This in spite of warnings from the IAEA that alarming things are going on, like entire buildings disappearing--buildings that once housed Iraq's nuclear program. The IAEA can tell this from satellite photos.
 
Somebody walked off with a lot of old but usable stuff, like milling machines and electron beam welders. I don't believe the White House has commented on this at all.  The only available clue about who is taking this stuff is that the U.S. Department of Energy admitted to taking 1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium plus "roughly 1000 highly radioactive sources" in July 2004. 
 
(Note that the uranium was still secured by IAEA seals when IAEA inspectors checked it prior to the invasion, meaning Saddam Hussein hadn't done anything with the stuff for many years. It was just there. I mention this because righties tend to get all worked up whenever they learn about the uranium. But it was not only sealed, it was years away from being weapons-ready as it was.)
 
Fred Barbash and Dafna Linzer report in today's Washington Post that "ElBaradei was virtually unknown when the United States engineered his candidacy eight years ago to run the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency." In other words, the Clinton Administration supported him. Another black mark. Further,
In an interview with The Washington Post last fall, ElBaradei said the day the United States invaded Iraq "was the saddest in my life." It was not because he was a fan of Hussein, but because he was so sure Washington's assertions about weapons stockpiles and a secret program would be proved wrong.

Washington responded to ElBaradei's findings on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction by trying to prevent him from taking a third term, despite requests from other board members that he stay on. "I am staying because I was asked, because so many board members made me feel guilty about leaving at such a crucial time," he said in an interview earlier this year.

The Bush administration launched a vigorous but solitary campaign -- including a complete halt of intelligence sharing, recruitment of potential replacements for ElBaradei and eavesdropping on him in search of ammunition against him. But as his popularity diminished in Washington, it soared elsewhere.

Heh.
 
Update: See Meteor Blades--
 Naturally, the Bush administration wants the IAEA and its director to perform as its agent in all things, just as it did in the case of weapons inspector Hans Blix. Acting contrariwise risks having one's competence and impartiality called into question. In the case of El Baradei, these methods were combined with attempts to smear and humiliate the man. Par for the course in this administration, as anybody who's watching knows too well. White House slimeballs even bugged El Baradei's  phones in hopes they would find something to incriminate him of over-friendliness toward the Iranians so they could use this evidence to replace him.

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thursday, october 6, 2005

Tired of This
 
There is breaking news on MSNBC of increased terrorist warnings for the New York City subways. It's not clear to me where this threat is coming from. Combined with Bush's "they're still out to get us" speech from this morning, I am (shall we say) skeptical.  (Hey! Over here! Terrorism! Don't look at Karl Rove, look at terrorism! Look heeeeere!)
 
Still, my daughter rides the subways every day. Four years after September 11, and the subways are no more secure than before.
 
BTW, this is the post I was going to write about Bush's speech, but Bob Cesca wrote it first.
 
By now you've probably heard that Karl volunteered to go testify some more for Patrick Fitzgerald. Gettin' twitchy there, Karl? Speculation is that Karl got a target letter from Fitzgerald and believes indictments are on the way.
 
Fitzgerald does not have to send Rove or anyone else a target letter before indicting him. The only reason to send target letters now is that Fitzgerald believes one or more of his targets will flip and become a prosecution witness at the pre-indictment stage. A veteran prosecutor told me, "If Fitzgerald is sending target letters at the end of his investigation, those are just invitations to come in and work out a deal."

Prosecutors prefer pre-indictment plea bargaining to post-indictment because they have more to offer you, like not being indicted at all or downgrading your status to unindicted co-conspirator. And pre-indictment plea bargaining can greatly enrich the indictments that the prosecutor then obtains. If, for example, Fitzgerald has a weak case against, say, Scooter Libby, imagine how much Rove's cooperation might strengthen that case.

The theory that Karl might flip Scooter is especially tantalizing, considering this theory that Scooter Libby's famous letter to the imprisoned Judy Miller was an attempt at coaching. Mickey Kaus came up with this one.

The Aspens Sleep With the Fishes: Is it just me or is this sentence in Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's letter to reporter Judith Miller regarding the Plame-leak case just a little too suggestive of how she might want to testify:

Because, as I am sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me, or knew about her before our call.

(The suggestion, of course, would be that this is how Miller might also testify--e.g. no discussion of "Plame's name or identity"--unless she wants to stand out from the pack as someone who contradicts Libby's defense.) ... P.S.: Libby's letter ends, somewhat mysteriously, with this sentence:

Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.

And you know what happens to the aspens that sever their deep connections and fail to turn with all the others, don't you, my little pretty? ... 

While we're all just speculating, do you think Karl would flip somebody higher up than Scooter to save his own skin? Or will Karl fall on his sword to protect his boy? 

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Death of a Salesman
 
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He's pitching as hard as he can, but so far he's not closing the deal.
 
The conservative uprising against President Bush escalated yesterday as Republican activists angry over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court confronted the president's envoys during a pair of tense closed-door meetings.

A day after Bush publicly beseeched skeptical supporters to trust his judgment on Miers, a succession of prominent conservative leaders told his representatives that they did not. Over the course of several hours of sometimes testy exchanges, the dissenters complained that Miers was an unknown quantity with a thin résumé and that her selection -- Bush called her "the best person I could find" -- was a betrayal of years of struggle to move the court to the right.

I just love the next paragraph:
At one point in the first of the two off-the-record sessions, according to several people in the room, White House adviser Ed Gillespie suggested that some of the unease about Miers "has a whiff of sexism and a whiff of elitism." Irate participants erupted and demanded that he take it back.
According to Dana Milbank at WaPo, Gillespie later told reporters that  "people are getting excited about her confirmation." Snort.
 
Maura Reynolds and Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times write that yesterday conservative leaders put Gillespie through a wringer.
 Many expressed feelings of anger and betrayal to Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and others sent to the gathering by the White House.

"Trust has been broken," said one attendee who asked to not be named. The meeting participant told Gillespie that efforts to reassure conservatives "won't work," adding, "You can't unbreak an egg."

The crowd applauded as one speaker after another peppered Gillespie with questions regarding Miers' past political contributions to Democrats, her votes as a member of the Dallas City Council and whether her nomination smacked of cronyism, according to meeting participants.
It seems particularly galling to the righties that a nominee can't sail into the Court under a right-wing flag, never mind that no one has attempted the journey under a left-wing flag in my memory.  
"With this nomination, we have ratified the strategy of the left and they have won," said Richard Lessner, former executive director of the American Conservative Union. "With this pick, the White House has ratified what the left did to Bork."

He was referring to Robert H. Bork, President Reagan's conservative nominee for the court who was rejected by the Senate after liberals challenged his well-documented views. ...

 ... Lessner said in an interview later that Bush should have picked from the long list of qualified "conservative heroes."

 He added that Miers' nomination sent a message from Bush "that a jurist with established conservative credentials cannot be confirmed for the Supreme Court. He has capitulated to that view, and that's why this is a major loss for the conservative movement."

Translation: We want an activist judge who will "activate" our agenda. And we will hold our breath until we get one.

The males of the pack are snarling over who gets to be next alpha dog:

On Wednesday, skepticism about Miers' nomination came from some GOP senators who normally are party loyalists.

"There are a lot more people — men, women and minorities — that are more qualified in my opinion by their experience than she is," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said in a television interview. "I don't just automatically salute or take a deep bow anytime a nominee is sent [to the Senate]…. I have to find out who these people are, and right now, I'm not satisfied with what I know."

Lott's sentiments echoed those of a number of fellow conservative Republican senators, including John Thune of South Dakota, George Allen of Virginia and Sam Brownback of Kansas — all of whom are thought to harbor presidential aspirations.

Another signal the Bush Era is over--the Republican contenders are already starting to run against the Bush legacy.

Regarding Ms. Pig in a Poke, Thomas Oliphant presents one of her "legal opinions" in today's Boston Globe. It seems Miers had a hand in the White House argument that it was perfectly legal to pay Armstrong Williams to promote No Child Left Behind.

Take Armstrong Williams -- please. A friend from the left alerted me to this example of Bush administration antiethics, and it could be a representative indication of Miers's devotion to her boss at the expense of independent, sound judgment.

When the conservative commentator's receipt of money, via the Education Department for activities in support of its flawed and underfunded No Child Left Behind program, was exposed, the Bushies went into full damage control. From Bush himself down to department officials, shock and horror were expressed, as was a vow not to pay for praise anymore.

Much less noticed was the administration's careful legal argument that although the activities of Williams and others on the take were politically dumb, they were not illegal -- a judgment in which the White House counsel's office was not a disinterested observer. Two Democratic senators -- Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Edward Kennedy -- asked Congress's investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office, to probe further.

The GAO not only confirmed the six-figure payments to Williams via subcontract from a public relations firm, it also uncovered some previously undisclosed actions -- notably the commissioning of a newspaper column from a press syndicate that was distributed nationally as if it had been independent opinion. And it also probed the use of public money at the Education Department to monitor and rate the coverage by individual outlets and commentators for fealty to the administration line.

For all its spin about stupid ideas, the administration took the odd position that the activity was perfectly legal. These opinions came not only from the Education Department itself but, more important, from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, whose ties to the White House counsel's office are famously intimate.

Both entities opined that because what was being disseminated was information, there was no requirement that the government disclose that it was the source of the information.

This did not pass the GAO's laugh test, and it termed all the expenditures improper precisely because the public was being fed government positions in the guise of actual journalism. The law that was violated is designed to avoid what this stuff really was -- covert propaganda.

I hope somebody grills Miers about that in the hearings.

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wednesday, october 5, 2005

Today's Lawnorder Nooz
 
David H. Safavian was indicted by a federal grand jury today. He received five felony counts. From the Associated Press:

The Bush administration's former chief procurement official was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements and obstructing investigations into high-powered Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The five felony counts in the indictment charge David H. Safavian with obstructing Senate and executive branch investigations into whether he aided Abramoff in efforts to acquire property controlled by the General Services Administration around the nation's capital.

The charges have to do with Abramoff and Ralph Reed and playing golf in Scotland. These alleged criminal plots are getting too complicated for an old lady like me to keep straight.

The indictment covers May 16, 2002, until January 2004, when Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration, the government housekeeping agency. From November 2004 until late last month when he resigned three days before his arrest, he was the government's top procurement officer, in the Office of Management and Budget.

The indictment said Safavian falsely told a GSA ethics officer, a GSA inspector general's agent and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that Abramoff had no business with GSA at the time the Scotland trip was being planned. It said Safavian concealed that Abramoff did have business with GSA before the trip and that Safavian was aiding him in dealing with GSA.

Safavian is expected to plead not guilty.

But, ladies and gentlemen, in other lawnorder news we've got a guilty plea from a former top Pentagon analyst!  

A top Pentagon analyst pleaded guilty Wednesday to giving classified information to an Israeli diplomat and members of a pro-Israel lobbying group, saying he did it because he was frustrated with U.S. government policy.

Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, a policy analyst whose expertise included Iran and Iraq, pleaded guilty to three felony counts as part of a plea bargain. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped three other felony charges....

... Franklin said during the plea hearing that he was frustrated with a government policy that he did not specify, so he leaked classified information to two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He said he hoped the two would provide the information to contacts of theirs on the National Security Council and possibly get the policy changed.

The council comprises top government officials who advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies.

Here's some background from Juan Cole.

At the Pentagon, Franklin used to work for Douglas Feith on issues involving Iran and the Middle East. He also sometimes worked directly with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Update: Another alleged spy!

Officials tell ABC News the alleged spy worked undetected at the White House for almost three years. Leandro Aragoncillo, 46, was a U.S. Marine most recently assigned to the staff of Vice President Dick Cheney. ...

Note that this guy got a White House job in 1999 and worked for Al Gore when he was veep, ABC says.

... Federal investigators say Aragoncillo, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, used his top secret clearance to steal classified intelligence documents from White House computers. ...

...Last year, after leaving the Marines, Aragoncillo was caught by the FBI while he worked for the Bureau at an intelligence center at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

According to a criminal complaint, Aragoncillo was arrested last month and accused of downloading more than 100 classified documents from FBI computers.

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8:43 pm | link

All Over But the Shoutin'
 
The Bush Era is over. A couple of weeks ago E.J. Dionne said the Bush Era ended on September 2, 2005. Many righties scoffed at what Dionne wrote.
 
They aren't scoffing now.
 
But I'm going to disagree with Dionne. The Bush Era may have gone into cardiac arrest on September 2, but it died on October 3
 
Caroline Daniel writes in today's Financial Times that righties are feeling used.

...To some on the right, Mr Bush's second term is revealing him not to be the true believer they expected.

Hurricane Katrina, and the huge federal response pledged by Mr Bush, had already alarmed some fiscal conservatives. The president, they worry, is instinctively a "big government" Republican....

...But the nomination of Harriet Miers as Mr Bush's second Supreme Court nominee has had far greater impact, triggering outrage among a different wing of the conservative coalition.

You know something's up when bleeping Richard Viguerie accuses a fellow Republican of deceptive politics. Daniel quotes Viguerie:

"He is his father's son. George never was a movement conservative. He was always suspect, but he learned from his father's mistakes.

"He developed an election strategy based on bribery. He put tariffs on steel. Florida was awash in federal spending in the run-up to the election."

He was always suspect. We thought he was one of us, but we were wrong. Even the "social" conservatives are finally catching on, Daniel says:

The idea that Mr Bush's conservatism was a campaign feint, designed to motivate the "base" and avoid the electoral consequences that felled his father's re-election, is gaining some currency among some religious conservatives, who wonder whether they were hood-winked by his evangelical rhetoric.

"I have increasingly over time become dubious about Mr Bush's desire to materially alter the impact of Roe v Wade", said one leading religious conservative. "He has offered good rhetoric about every child to be welcomed as an abstract principle, but he has never come out and said it should be reversed.

"He has played the social conservatives like a violin. It is a faux pas by social conservatives that they have aligned themselves with the party and a personality in a way that was unhelpful. They have accepted rhetoric in lieu of results. The movement has a measure of accountability."

Meanwhile, another old lion of the Right, Robert Bork, says Bush is signaling conservatives to be cautious about expressing their views. Ron Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times:

"I don't know that there is a deliberate message — I think he is just trying to avoid trouble — but the message comes through: Do not be controversial, do not express strong opinions that arouse opposition," said Robert H. Bork, the conservative legal scholar and former federal judge. ...

... During almost five years of bruising partisan warfare on issues from taxes to Iraq, few people have ever accused Bush of dodging a fight. But that's exactly the charge he is now facing from disgruntled conservatives.

They contend that Bush has chosen Miers, and even Roberts, largely because he fears Democratic resistance to conservatives with more concrete public records, such as appellate court Judges J. Michael Luttig and Edith H. Jones.

"Is the president sending a message that these distinguished conservatives are too controversial to be nominated for the high court, even with a Senate containing 55 Republicans?" a Wall Street Journal editorial asked Tuesday.

Fact is, an anti-Roe nominee with a distinguished legal background could probably get confirmed by today's Senate fairly easily, even if that nominee has an extensive paper trail. Sure a lot of Dems would oppose that nominee and might even filibuster, but in the end the Republican majority would probably prevail. And this would be true in spite of Bush's lack of political capital, because the fight wouldn't be about Bush, but about abortion, and about longstanding rightie disdain for judges who actually take civil liberties seriously (i.e., "activist judges").

Come to think of it, a messy ideological fight might be just the distraction Bush needs to hold on to his rightie base. Bush's "cautious" choice is lookin' like a huge mistake. Of course, Bush no doubt has his own reasons for wanting Miers on the SCOTUS.

At the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson revisits the phrase "compassionate conservatism" and wonders if Bush's entire political career has been a hustle (ya think?).

... There was always an ambiguity about this brilliant phrase. Is compassionate conservatism (a) a genuine governing philosophy or (b) merely a clever sound bite?

Five years later, we know that the answer is (b). There is no obvious agenda that a successor could claim to follow as, for example, Lyndon Johnson claimed the Great Society followed the New Deal. In practice, Bush has taken the most self-serving aspect of modern liberalism (its instinct to buy public support with massive government handouts) and fused it with the most self-serving aspect of modern conservatism (its instinct to buy support with massive tax cuts).

Amassing power by trading campaign contributions for government largesse is, of course, the purpose of Tom DeLay's K Street Project. How independent from the White House are DeLay's schemes, really? Heh.

... "Compassion" for Bush has consisted mostly of distributing new benefits to large constituencies in the hope of purchasing their gratitude and support. He persuaded the Republican Congress (albeit with vigorous arm-twisting) to enact a Medicare drug benefit, the biggest new social program since the Great Society. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost at $851 billion from 2005 to 2015. Bush proposed not a penny of taxes to cover these immense outlays, which will continue rising after 2015. Next, he advocated "individual investment accounts" for Social Security -- a program designed to win the allegiance of younger voters by assuring them of future Social Security benefits. From 2009 to 2015, the cost could reach nearly $1 trillion, says the CBO. Bush proposed no tax increases for that either.

Because he doesn't care about governing. He doesn't care about the United States or its citizens. Bush is strictly in it for Bush. Even the generally clueless Samuelson is catching on. (Will David Broder be far behind?)

George Will says that conservatives have no reason to trust Bush. Wingnut Ur-Mother Phyllis Schlaffly agrees "Bush is building his own empire without regard for the conservative movement or the party."

I have said that the Bush Era is dead. The rightie Washington power coalition, a.k.a. the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, is still breathin'. The VRWC came into being before Bush's rise to power, and it'll be around after we've shipped Boy Wonder off to The Hague for trial (I can dream, can't I?). The Bush Administration is still in the White House and still capable of doing a lot of damage. It's possible the Bushies still have enough muscle to shove through the Miers nomination; we'll see. This is no time to be complacent. But from this day forward we will be fighting for America on new ground.

See also Harold Meyerson, "The Right's Dissed Intellectuals."

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10:40 am | link

Bleeping Scooter, Bouncing Miers
 
 
 
Walter Shapiro writes that there's a good chance SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers is opposed to abortion rights, although no one claims to know where she stands on Roe v. Wade. But this is more worrisome:
The most troubling aspect about Miers' stealthy record is her apparent bias in favor of unchecked presidential power on national-security grounds. As White House counsel, according to the Post, Miers has advised Bush on "the role of torture in the fight against terrorism." (Somehow I doubt that her recommendation to the president was a Nancy Reagan-esque, "Just say no"). And The Hill, a Washington newspaper covering Congress, reports that Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman has been phoning conservative leaders to chillingly portray Miers as a justice who "will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terrorism."
Let's not kid ourselves that Miers might be a a closet moderate and maybe we liberals shouldn't oppose her. The Right doesn't like her? Fine, let's work with them to block confirmation. No more stealth candidates.
 
I think this comment on The Sideshow reveals the real reason for the Miers nomination:
 This is about secrecy. For the entirety of the rest of my life, I and thousands of other people will be filing FOIA requests with the government to get access to Bush's treachery, and that of his father, Reagan, Clinton, etc. This lady is supposed to last at least 10 years because some of those secrecy cases will definitely come up, and Bush wanted someone on his side, in his pocket, whatever. Keeping the records of his rule secret is personal, not some high-winded gaga-speak about 'conservative principles' and abortion and affirmative action and stuff Bush doesn't give a rat's ass about.

We knew about the Archivist. We knew about the new Homeland Security classifications. Some of us knew about the ballooning increase in classification of documents. This is the nail that Bush hopes will seal the deal for good.

Protecting his legacy through secrecy - that was the aim of this pick.

Agree.
 
And now for something completely different: Beware of Hoosiers.

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8:59 am | link

tuesday, october 4, 2005

Chickenshit
 
Richard Clarke has an opinion piece in the new issue of the Atlantic that speaks to the Bush approach--or non-approach--to national security. 
After opposing the creation of the department, the Bush administration flip-flopped under public pressure and decided that it was a great idea. There were always signs, however, that the administration did not really mean it. ... although many new programs were launched, few were ever brought to fruition. The department has never produced a multi-year plan based on actual requirements—a path to achieve specific, measurable goals. None of our vulnerabilities—on our borders, or in our transportation system, our chemical plants, our energy facilities, our ports—have been significantly diminished. And now we see that our ability to deal with the aftermath of disasters, whatever their cause, has actually regressed since the mid-1990s, when FEMA was an independent agency with cabinet status, run by competent and nonpartisan personnel.
For the past four years the Bush Administration's national security efforts have reminded me of a barnyard full of chickens--lots of random activity without purpose or direction. Time and time again I and others have ranted about the lack of attention paid to port security, first responders, identifying and providing enhanced security around likely targets such as chemical plants, etc.
 
Instead, we've been treated to well-produced dog and pony shows while our resources are spent in Iraq.
 
Clarke continues,
Why has an administration that talks so much about terrorism and homeland security demonstrated so little competence when it comes to securing the homeland? Part of the reason is management style: the president says he sees his role as that of a CEO, but he performs like a non-executive chairman of the board, not a hands-on supervisor.
Hammer. Nail. Head. I've ranted this same rant many times; Bush and his minions are not managers. They don't know what management is. They have no appreciation of how people in corporations or bureaucracies actually work together to accomplish things. Forget national security; these people couldn't get a brand of toothpaste produced and shipped to retailers.
 
Clark goes on to list three other factors that undermine national security policy. First, at least two-thirds of the al Qaeda leadership that existed on 9/10/01 have been killed or apprehended, so al Qaeda is less of a worry, the Bushies think. Never mind that new leaders are coming forward and new terrorist alliances are being formed every day.
 
Second, there have been no attacks on American soil since 9/11, so by Bushie logic it's safe to be complacent again.
 
Third, writes Clarke,
... some who would defend the administration argue that the entire GDP could be poured into the bottomless pit of homeland security. Better, they say, to invest in intelligence to nail terrorists before they strike. Well, of course that's better; but as the second round of London subway bombings showed, not even knowing that an existing terrorist cell is going after a particular target means you will find the cell in time. Conversely, spending money and effort on countermeasures really can work: planned attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and the U.S. consulate in Istanbul were thwarted because the defenses were good.
Most important, though, is that "other administration policies regularly trump homeland security." And these "other administration policies" involve either a voting block or the vested interests of big GOP donors. 
Under a firearms policy largely dictated by the National Rifle Association, people on terrorist watch lists can and do buy guns in the United States without difficulty. Congress decided, over the objections of the FBI, that government records of who bought guns should not be kept for more than twenty-four hours. Health-care policy has contributed to the reduction in the number of beds in America's hospitals, reducing the surge capacity required to handle a catastrophe like Katrina, a biological-weapons attack, or a pandemic such as avian flu. Immigration policy seems designed mostly to provide American businesses and farms with millions of low-wage laborers, rather than to keep track of who is crossing our borders or living here illegally. Energy policy, particularly the new Energy Act, gives priority to building new fossil-fuel and nuclear facilities. Congress has just given the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clear authority to locate highly volatile liquid-natural-gas ports—perfect terrorism targets—over the objections of city and state governments.
After September 11, the "war on terror" somehow got twisted around into the reason for whatever bonehead policies the Bushies had wanted to pursue before September 11. Now, sit back and watch hurricane reconstruction provide reasons for the same bonehead policies the Bushies wanted to pursue before Hurricane Katrina. Watch labor, environment, and energy policies in particular, along with who gets the contracts. And notice that after billions of dollars are spent and many speeches are made, we won't be a dadblamed bit better prepared for disasters than we were before Katrina.

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1:08 pm | link

Playing Defense
 
As I keyboard, Bush is holding a Rose Garden press conference. The reporters are asking if Harriet Miers is qualified. Bush sounds whiny and defensive. He keeps repeating the same few talking points -- she's qualified (how?), she's bright (so you say), she has strength of character (so why does she work for you?). He insists she is the best candidate he could find, a statement even his staunchest supporters don't believe.
 
A reporter just asked Bush if he had ever discussed abortion with Miers and has gleaned where she stands. He says, "I don't have a litmus test." Not an answer to the question, of course.
 
Somebody just asked him about Iraq. More and more Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy, he says. More than 80 [Iraqi] army battalions are fighting alongside coalition troops, he says. Over 30 battalions are something--in the lead? He slurs his words sometimes. Didn't a general say yesterday only one battalion was capable of operating without supervision? I believe so.
 
Regarding paying for hurricane reconstruction, he said in his opening remarks that he would work with Congress to find budget offsets. Is that not a concession?
 
He will not commit to removing White House personnel who might be indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald. Let the investigation run its course, he says.
 
Regarding disaster reponse, he's still claiming there are laws on the books that prevent quick deployment of federal resources.
 
He's trotting out his whole playbook--ownership society, Social Security reform, No Child Left Behind, faith-based programs, stimulating economic growth. I think he's on continuous play--the talking points just loop around. 

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10:42 am | link

Damage Control
 
It has been 24 hours since Bush dropped the Miers bomb on an unsuspecting Right. The fallout is still, well, falling. I think it's too soon to determine where opinion is going to settle. Bush surrogates are spreading a "trust the President" message, but many on the Right still feel betrayed.
 
Will they get over it? Yesterday there was talk on the Right of fighting Miers's confirmation. I'd be very surprised if it gets that far.
 
On the other hand, no Senator in either party would pay a political price for voting against her, seems to me. If she stumbles badly during confirmation hearings she might very well get bounced. We'll see.
 
I'm sayin' no good can come from anyone so blindly loyal to George W. Bush that she thinks him brilliant. And the overuse of eyeliner is nearly always a bad sign, a sign that says she's not her own woman. It's likely she'd get sucked into the Scalia-Thomas Axis and become a second rubber stamp to Scalia's opinions.  

Don't tell the righties I said that.

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9:01 am | link

monday, october 3, 2005

No Rest for the Wicked
 
I walk away from the computer for a couple of hours and Tom DeLay gets indicted again. Jeez, what a day.
 

A Texas grand jury on Monday indicted U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on a new charge of money laundering.

A different grand jury whose six-month term ended last week indicted him on a conspiracy charge, forcing DeLay to temporarily step down as House majority leader.

Both indictments accuse DeLay and two political associates of conspiring to get around a state ban on corporate campaign contributions by funneling the money through the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee to the Republican National Committee in Washington. The RNC then sent back like amounts to distribute to Texas candidates in 2002, the indictment alleges.

I'm blogged out. Go read what Josh says, here and here.
 
Also, regarding the Miers nomination, read Billmon, here and here.

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7:37 pm | link

Another Michael Brown?
 
To be fair, part of the Dems' problem with Roberts is that the television and newspaper political pundits tripped all over themselves praising Roberts and gushing about how supremely qualified he is to be a Supreme Court justice. And this happened because Roberts is a long-time Washington insider, and he and the pundits and the rest of The Powers That Be in Washington all go to the same parties. And he's such a nice guy, etc. 
 
Remember what Peter Daou wrote about the power triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment? If one side of the triangle caves, the other two don't have much of a chance. 
 
Will Bush find someone equally charmed to be the next nominee? We'll see.
I believe we already have an answer--he didn't. No power triangle of steel will form around Miers the way it did around Roberts. A power triangle of tin, maybe. But it's interesting to me that Bush went with a candidate who is not only remarkably unimpressive but also disses his base. I'm sure he was trying to be politically cautious, but in the long run, this nomination may prove to be a misstep.
 
Wingnuttia is rather angry at the choice. I don't think this is because they're really concerned that she's not conservative enough for their tastes, although that's part of it. They're angry because this was supposed to be their nomination. This was their moment. They didn't just want a stealth victory, they wanted parades and fireworks. They wanted Bush to find the wingnuttiest wingnut on the planet, fully clothed and accessorized in all the latest wingnut fashions, not just to give them their desired Court rulings, but also to publicly validate their influence and power. They didn't just want substantive results, what they wanted even more were symbolic ones. They wanted Bush to extend a giant middle finger to everyone to the left of John Ashcroft. They wanted to watch Democrats howl and scream and then ultimately lose a nasty confirmation battle. They wanted this to be their "WE RUN THE COUNTRY AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT" moment.

Whatever kind of judge she would be, she doesn't provide them with that.
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog speculates that the Right might be upset enough to withhold support and kill the nomination. "They would prefer Miers to be rejected in the hope - misguided, I think - that the President would then nominate, for example, Janice Rogers Brown," he writes. Democrats, on the other hand, will view the Miers hearings as an opportunity to damage the President.
 
Kos already sees that opportunity-- "Democrats should appreciate this event [the upcoming hearings] for what it truly is--political gold," he writes.Miers has connections to Bush's National Guard service (Bush paid her to research public records), the White House response to the Plame leak, and has provided the White House with legal advice on the war on terror. It would be better for the country not to have a nonentity like Miers on the SCOTUS, but the hearings could be a ton of fun.  
 
The thought of Miers cluttering up the bench for the next 20 or so years doesn't cheer me much, though.
 
More commentaries on the Miers nomination--
 
Move over, FEMA. President Bush has designated a new official dumping ground for hacks: the Supreme Court....
 
... Unfortunately, so far as we know, Joe Allbaugh didn't have any college roommates who were women. So Bush picked Miers '67, who overlapped with Laura '68 at SMU. Even if she turns out to be qualified, the Miers nomination starts out looking like another inside deal from an administration that has made far too many.

The right wing has only itself to blame for Bush's choice. For the last six months, they have waged a bitter war against Bush's first White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, on the grounds that Gonzales was "Spanish for Souter."

Gonzales may have been a hack with suspect conservative credentials, but at least he would have been an inspiring and historic hack. Now the right is stuck with Miers, who may not even be "SMU for Gonzales."

Joel Achenbach, Washington Post:

Apparently she is very detail conscious. We learn this from Legal Times, which recently ran a profile of Miers that was hardly flattering (and borderline mean):

    "She has also earned a reputation as exacting, detail-oriented, and meticulous -- to a fault, her critics say. 'She can't separate the forest from the trees,' says one former White House staffer...

    ...One former White House official familiar with both the counsel's office and Miers is more blunt. 'She failed in Card's office for two reasons,' the official says. 'First, because she can't make a decision, and second, because she can't delegate, she can't let anything go. And having failed for those two reasons, they move her to be the counsel for the president, which requires exactly those two talents.'

From the Right, here's Rich Lowry at The Corner:

Just talked to a very pro-Bush legal type who says he is ashamed and embarrassed this morning. Says Miers was with an undistinguished law firm; never practiced constitutional law; never argued any big cases; never was on law review; has never written on any of the important legal issues. Says she's not even second rate, but is third rate. Dozens and dozens of women would have been better qualified. Says a crony at FEMA is one thing, but on the high court is something else entirely. Her long history of activity with ABA is not encouraging from a conservative perspective--few conservatives would spend their time that way. In short, he says the pick is “deplorable.” There may be an element of venting here, but thought I'd pass along for what it's worth. It's certainly indicative of the mood right now...

Billmon, on the other hand, believes the hearings and nomination will be fireworks-free--

Bottom line: The Demopublicans and the Republicrats are both hugely relieved that nuclear war has been avoided once again. These guys know that ideological zeal and moral clarity are for the rubes -- except in the summer and fall months of years divisible by two. And right now everybody is uncertain enough about what the next such year might bring to favor compromise over showdown. The Demopublicans sense an opportunity, but know deep down in their hearts that they will blow it, while the Republicrats smell danger, but aren't sure how to escape it. So they both want to play it safe. And now Shrub has given them the perfect opportunity to do so. Smart thinking, Karl.

And if the price of peace is the elevation of a loyal mediocrity to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's undogmatic shoes, well the late Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska probably put it best when he defended Tricky Dick's nomination of the profoundly undistinguished G. Harrold Carswell to replace (just by coincidence) LBJ's partner in election fraud, Abe Fortas:

"Even if he [Carswell] is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska declared. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises and Cardozos and Frankfurters and stuff like that there."

Personally, my own opinion is that with Shrub and Dick Cheney in the White House, the federal government already has all the mediocre people it can use -- and then some. But I guess there always room for one more.

Other stuff: "Meyers Had Stormy Tenure at Texas Lottery"; "Miers Led Bid to Revisit Abortion Stance."

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2:03 pm | link

Well, Miers Ain't John Roberts
 
Already this morning there's a backlash from the Right on the Miers nomination. The righties aren't all lining up to buy the product.
 

George Bush's decision to appoint Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is bitterly disappointing.

Miers is a Bush crony with no real conservative credentials, who leapfrogged legions of more deserving judges just because she was Bush's pal. She used to be Bush's staff secretary for God's sake and now she's going to the Supreme Court while people like Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown & Emilio Garza are being left on the sidelines.

To merely describe Miers as a terrible pick is to underestimate her sheer awfulness as a selection.

People didn't like Roberts' track record? Miers has never been a judge, so she has almost no track record. She's 60 years old, which is getting up there for a Supreme Court selection. Not only will she not excite the base like a Janice Rogers Brown, Miers' selection will lead to a wave of attacks on the President by conservatives. Moreover, not only is there no guarantee that Miers will be another "Scalia or Thomas," it's an open question whether she'll be as conservative as Sandra Day O'Connor.

Keep in mind that we're talking about a woman who has donated to Al Gore, Lloyd Bentsen, & the Democratic National Committee before. You want a candidate who has "Souter" written all over her? You want a candidate who can't be trusted to overturn Roe v. Wade? Well, her name is Harriet Miers.

This is undoubtedly the worst decision of Bush's entire presidency so far.

Captain Ed is "disappointed." Glenn Reynolds, is "underwhelmed." PoliPundit is "not thrilled." Even that faithful mouthpiece of the GOP John Hinderacker says he is disappointed by the Miers nomination, although he then pulls himself together and decides to trust the President. "I'll take it on faith that she will be a principled strict constructionist on the Court," he says.

Pam of the House Blend provides a sampling of Freeper quotes, which range from "Conservatism is officially dead" to  "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooo."

On the other hand, Hugh Hewitt has managed to find a pro-Meirs angle--that she can be counted on to represent the White House's interests on the Court. (Yeah, who needs that separation of powers stuff?) In particular, Hewitt contends that Meirs will uphold whatever travesties to civil liberties the White House wants to perpetrate in the name of fighting terrorism.

Consider that none of the Justices, not even the new Chief, has seen the battlefield in the GWOT from the perspective or with the depth of knowledge as has the soon to be Justice Miers. The Counsel to the President has seen it all, and knows what the President knows, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs and the Attorney General.

I suspect that the President thinks first and foremost about the GWOT each morning, and that this choice for SCOTUS brings to that bench another Article II inclined justice with the sort of experience that no one inside the Court will have.

Article II, of course, refers to the section of the Constitution that spells out the powers of the presidency. Yes,  enhancing the powers of the president is what the Supreme Court is all about. (Sarcasm off)

One interesting development is that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid proposed a Miers nomination last week. (See Sam Rosenfeld at TAPPED for background.) This puts the Dems in a bit of a box if they should choose to fight the nomination, doesn't it? At the same time, the very rightie John Podhoretz declared last week that if Miers is the nominee,  "I will spend the weekend banging my head against a concrete wall" (via Holden).

Of course, just because righties are upset doesn't mean us lefties should be complacent. Stirling Newberry writes, "Miers is completely unqualified, having neither judicial experience nor judicial temprament. She has not held outstanding office of any kind. It would have been like Nixon appointing Dean. She is a sycophant."

Others on the Left seem inspired. Max writes,

MaxSpeak is angling for Commandant of the Marine Corps, seein as how we were awarded an NRA Sharpshooter badge in summer camp. Hoo-wah!

Norbizness:

I like baseball. I played Little League / Pony League / Colt League baseball for nearly ten years (ages 6-15, beginning of my career documented here). I didn't have a great arm, but as a left-handed pitcher, I was crafty in changing speeds and locating the ball. I didn't have great power, but I managed to spray the ball around. Even as a skinny pre-teen, I was remarkably slow, but I learned how to run the bases. I can still play softball with a decent amount of coordination, even if the body is a little heavier and slower.

In addition, I am a diehard Astros fan. I am pretty well aware of all of the players on the team, catch games on TV or in person whenever I can, and can actually fill out a box score and explain the action to baseball amateurs. I have baseball cards from my favorite team that extend back to the hideous Orange Breakout uniforms of the late 70s and early 80s.

Therefore, I think I should be added to the Astros playoff roster when they begin their NLDS series with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

Hey, if George W. Bush can be president ...

Back to Harry Reid--Senator Reid's statement of this morning praising the Miers nomination has been greeted with considerable alarm on the Left Blogosphere, but Max thinks it's part of a plot to enflame the wingnuts. Hmmm.

The only thing this nomination says to me is that Bush wanted to avoid a fight. He may get a fight, anyway; just not the one he had anticipated.

Update: Tom Curry, MSNBC, calls Miers a "political factotum." Further,

This nomination is an historic gamble by a president whom his Democratic adversaries see as gravely weakened because it risks alienating the conservative base to whom Bush has long promised a genuinely conservative nominee, along the lines of Thomas and Scalia.

Is Miers a "safe" choice? Perhaps, in the sense that her record, at least at first glance, does not give the Democrats a clear ideological target. Her views on abortion, gay rights and the death penalty may not be deeply held and, for now, remain unknown.

And even stalwart liberal Democratic senators have remarked over the past few months that they like and respect Miers, but they usually voiced their praise in terms of how quickly she returned their phone calls.

Heh.

Update update: James Ridgeway, Village Voice:

By nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, President Bush is turning to a trusted advisor who has a reputation for keeping her mouth shut—and putting her in a key position for damage control. Her nomination might make people like Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Tom DeLay breathe a little easier. ...

... Never a judge, Miers is a longtime GOP functionary, and has pumped thousands of dollars into the campaigns of right-wing GOP stalwarts in Texas—from Phil Gramm to Kay Bailey Hutchison. It must be noted that in 1988 she gave money to Democrats—$1,000 to Al Gore in his first try for president and $1,000 to Lloyd Bentsen for Senate.

Above all, Miers is loyal to President Bush. It’s hard to imagine her putting faithfulness to the Supreme Court above faithfulness to the Bush family.

Update update update: More analysis by Jack Balkin at TPM Cafe, Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly  ("General counsel? Lest we forget, Mike Brown's first job at FEMA was as general counsel."),  Kos, Ezra Klein at TAP ( "Bill Kristol seems ready to slit his wrists.").

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10:47 am | link

Number Two: Harriet Miers, White House counsel
 
As I keyboard, the New York Times says Harriet Miers is definitely the nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, but WaPo says it's unconfirmed. No, wait; WaPo says it's confirmed. OK.
 
Looks like Miers was a big-shot corporate lawyer before getting mixed up with the Bushies in Texas. She has never been a judge, so there's not much of a paper trail.
 
Now, before everyone gets all worked up about the lack of judicial experience, please note: Earl Warren, who served as Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969, also had never been a judge before he was nominated to be SCOTUS Big Cheese by Eisenhower. And Warren was one of the all-time great justices. His Court was a stalwart defender of individual rights. He is best known for leading the Court to a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. If you're old enough to remember the 1960s, you'll remember that the wingnuts of those days all had "Impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers on their cars. He was that good.
 
Before the nomination, Warren had been a district attorney, then attorney general of California, then governor of California. Never a judge.
 
For this reason, Miers's lack of experience on the bench is not a talking point we liberals ought to emphasize, IMO.
 
One other little factoid about Warren that muddies the waters: As governor, he was instrumental in persuading Franklin Roosevelt to herd Japanese Americans into camps during World War II. Warren later admitted this had been a terrible mistake. But I suspect that, had there been a Blogosphere in 1953, we lefties would have fought the Warren nomination for that reason. Yet he was liberalism itself on the bench. Eisenhower, no extremist, said that nominating Warren was his biggest mistake.
 
However, I am not hopeful that someone who has associated herself with George W. Bush for several years would turn out so well. Scott Shields writes at MyDD:

... what immediately jumps out in the wire story [link] about Miers is that she's "a loyal member of the president's inner circle," having served in the past as Bush's personally attorney. We've seen some what some of the other people in his inner circle are capable of, so I personally can't imagine that's a good thing. And another Bush partisan, "Axis of Evil" speechwriter David Frum, wrote on the National Review website about Miers' loyalty that right now is "no time for the president to indulge his loyalty to his friends." He was referring to the fact that Miers once told him that Bush "was the most brilliant man she had ever met." I'm supportive of the idea that the President deserves a lot of leeway to pick Supreme Court nominees. But this pick -- no matter what Miers' ideology -- seems to be the most egregious example of Bush cronyism we've seen so far.

Nope, I'm not hopeful about this.
 
Rob at AMERICAblog links to a 2004 Q&A by Miers on the White House web site. I haven't read it, but I doubt it reveals much.
 
Update: Xan at Corrente links to a Philadelphia Daily News article that ties Miers to Bush's National Guard scandal--

White House counsel Harriet Miers has never served as a judge before, and while this career "hard-nosed lawyer" (as she is invariably described) from Texas certainly deserves some kudos for a trailblazing career as a female lawyer, she's not a legal scholar, either.

But she does know better than just about anyone else where the bodies are buried (relax, it's a just a metaphor...we hope) in President Bush's National Guard scandal. In fact, Bush's Texas gubenatorial campaign in 1998 (when he was starting to eye the White House) actually paid Miers $19,000 to run an internal pre-emptive probe of the potential scandal. Not long after, a since-settled lawsuit alleged that the Texas Lottery Commission -- while chaired by Bush appointee Miers -- played a role in a multi-million dollar cover-up of the scandal....

Be sure to read the entire article; it's juicy.

Update update: Posted at TalkLeft:

As I recall, going back to law school days, Chief Justice Rehnquist was White House Counsel when he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

NBC's Today Show, however, just opined that she has no paper trail, and that may be the point. She vetted Roberts and other potential nominees for Bush, so that gives some indication. Sen. Schumer essentially said she was an unknown. She should have papers produced in the White House, but they can claim executive privilege as to some, if not all.

Also, half of all Supreme Court nominees had no prior judicial experience. Being a real lawyer, however, would be a help.

Prof. Jonathan Turley of Georgetown Law School just said that she was a bad appointee since being a member of the Dallas City Council for one term and running the Texas lottery hardly qualifies someone for the Supreme Court.

I see another Michael Brown in the making here. "Advise and consent"?

Update update update: Via Daou Report, I see the folks at the rightie blog Confirm Them are not happy "Mr. President, you’ve got some explaining to do. And please remember - we’ve been defending you these five years because of this moment." Interesting.

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8:14 am | link

sunday, october 2, 2005

Termites
 
Thus began what historians will regard as the single most corrupt decade in the long and colorful history of the House of Representatives. ...  never before has the leadership of the House been hijacked by a small band of extremists bent on building a ruthless shakedown machine, lining the pockets of their richest constituents and rolling back popular protections for ordinary people. These folks borrow like banana republics and spend like Tip O'Neill on speed.
These extremists are termites eating away at the People's House, says Alter, and the vermin should be stamped out in the 2006 elections. Oooo, shrill.
 
Nice explanation of the significance of the K Street Project in The Observer, by Will Hutton. Hutton says that the degree of corruption in the House isn't just unprecedented in America; it's unprecedented in "an advanced democracy":
 If DeLay were another Republican politician or even a typical majority leader of the House, the political world could shrug its shoulders. Somebody got caught, but little will change. But DeLay is very different. He is the Republican paymaster, one of the authors of the K Street Project and the driving force behind a vicious, organised demonisation and attempted marginalisation of Democrats that for sheer, unabashed political animus is unlike anything else witnessed in an advanced democracy. Politicians fight their political foes by fair means or foul, but trying to exterminate them is new territory.
In case you've missed it, Hutton explains how the Project works:
The K Street Project is little known outside the Washington beltway and its effectiveness as a political stratagem is only possible because of the unique importance of campaign finance to American politics. DeLay, together with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and some conservative activists, notably the ubiquitous Grover Norquist who runs the anti-state, anti-tax lobby group 'Americans for Tax Reform', conceived the notion 10 years ago that they should use the Republican majority in the House as a lever to ensure that the lobbyists, law firms and trade associations that inhabit Washington's K Street, heart of the industry, should only employ Republicans or sympathisers. To be a Democrat was to bear the mark of Cain; K Street was to be a Democrat-free zone. ...
 
... DeLay's ambition was to construct such a disciplined Republican party that lobbyists would not need Democrats, and so create an inside track in which the only greased palms from legislators to lobbyists would be Republican. ... 

... It has worked. The most influential Washington lobbyist is Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers; it employs not a single Democrat. Last year, in a classic operation, House Republicans let the Motion Picture Association of America (the film industry lobby group) know that appointing a Democrat, Dan Glickman, as its head would mean $1.5 billion of tax relief for the film industry was now in peril. Glickman staffed up the MPAA with Republicans, but the threat remains. In 2003, the Republican National Committee could claim that 33 of the top 36 top-level K Street positions were in Republican hands. Today, it's even closer to a clean sweep.

Corporations get their rewards. The oil and gas industry now gives 80 per cent of its campaign cash to Republicans (20 years ago, the split was roughly 50-50), and influence on this year's energy bill was a classic sting. American petrol can now contain a suspected carcinogen; operators of US natural-gas wells can contaminate water aquifers to improve the yields from the wells; the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is open to oil exploration - concessions all created by DeLay's inside track. And to provide ideological juice, there's a bevy of think-tanks, paid for from the same web of contributions, cranking out the justification that the 'state' and 'regulation' are everywhere and always wrong.

After more details on the several nefarious schemes of the Bugman, Hutton explains how the GOP extremists get away with it:

So far, the US media have been supine. DeLay's tentacles, and those of Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, have cowed media owners into the same compliance; if they want favours, best advance the Republican cause like Murdoch's Fox News. American newsrooms are fearful places.

I'm sorry Frank Rich is behind the New York Times firewall, but here's a bit:

Fasten your seat belt ... for the roller coaster of other revelations and possible indictments that's about to roar through the Beltway.

The most important plot development of the past two weeks, in fact, has nothing to do with Mr. DeLay (as far as we know). It was instead the arrest of the administration's top procurement officer, David Safavian, on charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff. And what an investigation it is: The F.B.I., the I.R.S., the Treasury Department and the Interior Department have all been involved. The popular theory of the case has it that Mr. Safavian, a former lobbying colleague of both Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Norquist, is being muscled by the feds to rat on the big guys in Washington - much as another smaller fish may have helped reel in Mr. DeLay in Texas.

The DeLay and Abramoff investigations are not to be confused with the many others percolating in the capital, including, most famously of late, the Justice Department and S.E.C. inquiries into the pious Bill Frist's divine stock-sale windfall and the homeland security inspector general's promised inquiry into possible fraud in the no-bid contracts doled out by FEMA for Hurricane Katrina. The mother of all investigations, of course, remains the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's pursuit of whoever outed the C.I.A. agent Valerie Wilson to Robert Novak and whoever may have lied to cover it up. The denouement is on its way.

However,

Like the continuing revelations of detainee abuse emerging from Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo, this is a crisis in the governing culture, not the tale of a few bad apples. Every time you turn over a rock, you find more vermin. We've only just learned from The Los Angeles Times that Joseph Schmitz, until last month the inspector general in charge of policing waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon, is himself the focus of a Congressional inquiry. He is accused of blocking the investigation of another Bush appointee who is suspected of siphoning Iraq reconstruction contracts to business cronies. At the Justice Department, the F.B.I. is looking into why a career prosecutor was demoted after he started probing alleged Abramoff illegality in Guam. According to The Los Angeles Times, the demoted prosecutor was then replaced by a Rove-approved Republican pol who just happened to be a cousin of a major target of another corruption investigation in Guam.

This is a degree of corruption more bare-assed and pervasive than any other in our history. Even if the whole web of dirty dealing is exposed to the light of day, and the major players are convicted, is the governing culture too poisoned to be functional again?

Update: Oldman at BOP News writes,

This is not to say they are down and out, but with the failure of Social Security looting attempts and the stripping away of the 9-11 halo they are reduced to mere politicians whom the public holds somewhat in skeptical suspiscion. Even the factional groups like Ignorant Denial ideologies are overplaying their hand, the nation is decisively if slowly swinging behind things like stem-cell therapies and against abortion or anti-gay extremism. People may not be all that eager to to embrace abortion or euthanasia or have their son bring their boyfriend to the company picnic but there's a sense among many that the zealots have gone too far.

A rational group of people would accept the setback and like ever power-hungry Newt fade and come back a decade later when the furor had passed and the short public attention span could be spun by bullshit once the screaming intrusion of reality had stopped constantly creating a credibility gap.

All of them, neocons, theocons, the moment has passed at least for now.

But there has never been anything remotely rational about the reactionary base. In this moment where there is still positive velocity and the base is still making gains like the new shoot-first Florida gun policy they may be tempted to over-reach. They may be tempted to seize by force what the public mandate has denied them by popular acclaim.

Be sure to read the whole post. If the hard-core Right is tossed out of power, will it attempt an armed takeover? It's doubtful they could succeed, but I wouldn't put it past them to try. 

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10:19 pm | link

Let Bush Be ... Somebody Else
 
Via Kos, one of the funnier quotes of the day, from Steve Holland at Reuters: 

U.S. President George W. Bush is battling to climb out of a slump caused by the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war and soaring gasoline prices, events that have all combined to damage his credibility and deflate Americans' confidence in him.

The strategy for getting his groove back, aides say, is to narrow his focus and tackle head-on those three top priorities -- hurricane recovery, Iraq and energy -- and set aside for now other items like Social Security and tax reform that he had expected to spend the fall on.

But all three priorities carry their own risks and challenges, with the cost of rebuilding New Orleans straining the U.S. budget and causing consternation among conservatives, American casualties rising in Iraq and gas prices showing no signs of dropping to pre-hurricane levels.

The strategy, said a senior administration official, is to "stay focused on what we're trying to accomplish and recognize that some of that is going to take some time to change."

"Doing his job has always been his strongest suit," said one adviser close to the White House. "Let Bush be Bush. Let him lead. It's what Bush does in times like these."

Let him lead? What, they got him locked in a closet? He's been kidnapped by Martians?  The dog ate his homework? What's his problem? He's the bleeping president of the bleeping United States; he can lead whenever he likes.

I know this is a takeoff on "let Reagan be Reagan" (I'm not sure Kos does). I believe the quote originated with Nancy, after an over-prepped Ronald had stumbled in a 1984 presidential debate. At least, the over-prepping was blamed for the stumbles at the time. But in that context, the quote makes some sense--Ronnie can do his thing his own way. It doesn't make sense now.

Do they want us to believe Dubya's been working so hard at finding the cure for Spotted Orchid Blight or designing a new Earth to Mars rocket that he's lost track of, you know, governing the country?

itsagoodlife22.jpgAnd if Bush hasn't been Bush lately, who the bleep has he been? Not that I like the other guy any better, but I'm curious.

And somebody should tell Marilyn Brewer, a Republican running for an empty House seat in California, that Bush isn't Bush any more. She's given up on Bush's coattails and is trying to associate herself with the late Ronald of Blessed Memory. Association with Bush, she thinks, is political suicide even for a Republican.

An editorial in today's Los Angeles Times calls Bush "a humbled president."

Less than a year ago, a triumphant President Bush bragged of the political capital he'd earned with his reelection, and of his intention to spend it. Now the capital is all gone, and Bush has precious little to show for it.

The administration and Republican congressional leaders did conclude some of their pending business from the first term — including tort reform, an energy bill and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. But the White House's signature domestic initiative for the second term — a partial privatization of Social Security — proved dead on arrival....

...Bush's second-term implosion is remarkable for its suddenness. Bush has been deprived of even one good year after his reelection. His approval ratings are at a record low, and some Republican lawmakers are already treating him as a lame duck....

itsagoodlife30.jpg"Much of the bravado is gone," continues the LA Times. Bad news for Junior, as the bravado was about the only thing he had going for him, near's I can tell. The Kool-Aiders seem to like it, anyway.

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6:01 pm | link

No Excuse
 
One of the several excuses offered by the Right for the federal government's shockingly inept response to Hurricane Katrina is that disaster response is a state job, and the feds are just supposed to assist.
 
In other words, constitutional principle (say the righties) dictates that the federal government sit on its hands and resources even after states are overwhelmed and begging for help.
 
One wonders why we have a federal government at all. But an editorial in today's New York Times (which I'm pretty sure is not behind the subscription wall) argues that FEMA's job is much more proactive than Michael Brown made it out to be.
 
Michael Brown insists FEMA's job was "only" to coordinate the efforts of state and local governments. Never mind that Michael Brown couldn't coordinate an eighth-grade class field trip.
 
Coordinating, the Times says, "means being in the same room with state and local officials, anticipating and responding to their needs. It means making sure state and local officials get help, quickly. It means focusing on what is actually happening." That last part is, of course, a hangup of the Bush Administration generally. But let's go on.
 
FEMA's job breaks down into four parts: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Prepared FEMA was not, in spite of copious studies and warnings that what did happen was, in fact, going to happen. Even as Katrina was categorized at categories 4 and 5, Brown
decided against a wide-scale deployment of FEMA workers. He put small rescue and communications teams along the Gulf Coast. But it was not until Aug. 29, after the storm hit, that Mr. Brown asked the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to send at least 1,000 federal workers to help with the rescue.
The Bushies and Brownies seemed to have had the idea that their job was to hang back and wait for the state to fail before deploying federal resources, instead of deploying federal resources in a timely and coordinated manner to prevent failure.
 
Response was also a joke, mostly because no one in the federal government seems to have been paying much attention to a category 4 (or 5) hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Michael Chertoff is still claiming he didn't know things were going wrong in New Orelans because of a Tuesday morning newspaper headline that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet." It seems beyond belief that an official heading the bureaucracy in charge of disaster response would be so incurious about the aftermath of a massive hurricane that he would not have made an effort to get more information.
 
This goes for the entire Bush Administration, of course, especially Bush himself. I still can't get over the fact that his staff had to perform a bleeping intervention days after the hurricane had struck to get him to pay attention to the crisis. Didn't he care about what a hurricane might have done to New Orleans? I guess not, until someone whispered the dreaded words "political damage" in his ear.
 
I keep remembering that Abraham Lincoln used to hang out for hours around the White House telegraph, reading dispatches from the generals, sometimes sending questions and comments back. He didn't sit around by the fire waiting for his aides to bring him reports. Some historians accuse Lincoln of being a micromanager, but at least he was fully engaged in doing his job. Unlike George W. Bush, he wasn't just a figurehead or a ribbon-cutter.
 
Regarding response, the Times says,
No one can forget the mostly poor, mostly black refugees in New Orleans begging for help for days from the Superdome and convention center, where they ended up because many did not have the means to leave town. This is one of the points on which Mr. Brown was most eager to blame local authorities, even private citizens. "And while my heart goes out to people on fixed incomes, it is primarily a state and local responsibility. And in my opinion, it's the responsibility of faith-based organizations, of churches and charities and others to help those people," he said in one wildly cynical bit of sworn testimony before the House.

The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, and the former police chief, Edwin Compass, share blame for Katrina's dreadful aftermath. But at the moment of crisis, the buck stops at FEMA. The quality of help that victims of a disaster receive cannot be determined by their location, or their incomes. If Mr. Brown was so dedicated to coordination, he should have been coordinating the effort to get those refugees to safety, not waiting for the church ladies and the Rotarians - who were also flooded out of their homes.

A few days after Katrina I remember some talking head--it may have been Joe Scarborough-- praising the work of church groups to help victims (which certainly was commendable). But then he said that maybe such groups are more capable than the federal government of being "first responders."
 
Granted, there are Brownie Scout troops that would make better first responders than Bush's federal government, but let's think about this.
 
Pretend an earthquake levels a major American city. Roads and bridges are smashed. There are downed power lines and gas leaks, probably fires. You are trapped beneath the treacherous, creaking rubble of a building. Who do you want to come and rescue you?
 
1. People with special training and equipment to deal with these conditions, or
 
2. The Methodist Ladies Bible Club.
 
Again, "faith-based" and other volunteer groups have done much good work helping hurricane victims, but I would call that "second response" work. The fact that federal officials in charge of disaster relief don't clearly see the difference is more than troubling.
 
After Rita, the feds busily congratulated themselves for a job well done, or at least better done than Katrina was. Let's take a look at current disaster relief developments.
 
David Zucchino and Nicholas Riccardi write in today's Los Angeles Times that corpses are getting stuck, if not lost, in bureaucracy.
A month after Katrina upended the lives of hundreds of thousands, families of the dead have been traumatized again by the ordeal of trying to pry their loved ones' bodies from a bureaucratic quagmire. They say they have spent weeks being rebuffed or ignored by state and federal officials at a massive temporary morgue that houses hundreds of decomposed corpses.

Many of those bodies don't have names, the remains so badly damaged by floodwater that fingerprints and other methods of identification are useless. But although authorities have been provided with ample information to identify dozens of corpses, they are still holding onto them — to the dismay of family members scattered across the country.

In one case, a family found the remains of their loved inside their ruined home. There is no question about the individual's identity. Then authorities removed the corpse to a temporary morgue and now won't give it back to the family for burial.  

Even funeral home directors, who routinely retrieve bodies from authorities, say they have been turned away at the heavily guarded morgue in St. Gabriel, La.

Among the remains authorities refuse to release are those of people who had died before Katrina struck Aug. 29, and were transferred after floodwater threatened the New Orleans morgue.

"It's inefficient and inept out there — it's beyond incompetence," said William Bagnell, a funeral director who said he had been refused access to four bodies at the morgue even though officials faxed him forms inviting him to pick up the remains.

Many of the living have other problems. Spencer S. Hsu and Elizabeth Williamson write in today's Washington Post that more than 500,000 people made homeless by Katrina are about to lose what little shelter they have.
Two weeks before President Bush's mid-October goal for moving Hurricane Katrina victims out of shelters, more than 100,000 people still reside in such makeshift housing, and 400,000 more are in hotel rooms costing up to $100 a night.

Housing options promised by the federal government a month ago have largely failed to materialize. Cruise ships and trailer parks have so far proved in large part to be unworkable, while an American Red Cross program -- paid for by the federal government -- that allows storm victims to stay in motels or hotels is scheduled to expire Oct. 15. It is projected to cost the Federal Emergency Management Agency as much as $168 million.

Get this:
In search of temporary housing immediately after the hurricane, FEMA officials went on a $1.5 billion spending spree, buying out entire dealerships of recreational vehicles and signing contracts for more than $500 million with one manufacturer of mobile homes. But the plan to create "cities" of 500 to 600 RVs across the South has run into major logistical and political problems.

In FEMA lots in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, several thousand trailers stand empty, waiting for the agency to navigate land leases, zoning laws, local opposition and policy questions.

Maybe they should just give each homeless family an RV or two (with full gas tanks) and let the families find a place to put their vehicles. This is supposed to be the "ownership" society, after all.
 
Finally, the New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Eric Lipton catch us up on the odyssey of the ice.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.

You've heard the story; trucks full of ice being diverted all over the nation, driving thousands of mles to nowhere at a cost of thousands of dollars per day per truck.
 
This wasn't the first time FEMA had an ice problem:
The new report by the homeland security inspector general says that after last year's hurricanes million of dollars of ice was left unused in Florida because FEMA had "no automated way to coordinate quantities of commodities with the people available to accept and distribute them."
"I can't understand what happened," one dispatcher said. "The government's the only customer that plays around like that."
 
That's what baffles me, too. Companies that produce manufactured goods long ago learned how to get parts and supplies from around the world, assemble them into products, and ship the products to retailers. And they do this without having to keep lot of excess parts in storage, which adds to cost. Purchasing ice here and sending it there doesn't seem all that complicated to me. Maybe if General Motors goes out of business it can take over FEMA.
 
Most of all, though, I keep thinking that another president--I usually imagine Harry Truman or FDR--in these circumstances would be all over these problems, kicking butt and busting heads. And I imagine them working hard on a solution to the shelter problem. But does Bush even know these problems exist?

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12:25 pm | link

Just surrender and it won’t hurt at all
 
... a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.
A criminal conspiracy charge would be easier to indict but harder to convict, says the article, than would be the case for a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
 
All of our speculations amount to reading tea leaves. It's possible Fitzgerald will announce he has no evidence of a crime and will not issue a report, according to "lawyers in the case." Defense lawyers, I assume.
 
But what about Judy Miller? From Liberal Oasis:

How exactly she was brought into compliance remains mysterious.

The stated reason from the Miller camp and the Scooter Libby camp (Libby being Cheney’s chief of staff and Miller’s source) is that Miller felt she didn’t have an personal, uncoerced waiver from Libby, while Libby insisted that she has had one for more than a year.

According to the NY Times account, it took about a month of negotiation between the two camps to figure that one thing out.

This seems highly implausible, since that’s the kind of misunderstanding that takes five seconds to reconcile (“Oh, so I do a waiver? That’s info that would have been more useful a few months ago, but thanks. Gotta run now.”)

Investigative reporter Murray Waas tells us “There is quite a backstory” and will share it at a later date.

Also, 

Assuming there is nothing in Miller’s testimony that leads Fitzgerald to pursue a whole new avenue of investigation, the grand jury should be able to wrap up its work by its Oct. 28 deadline and determine if they have the goods to hand down indictments.

But let us not forget, regardless of the criminal investigation, top White House officials who leaked Plame’s identity -- be it proactively or by merely confirming what a reporter said to them -- have violated their SF-312 national security clearance agreements.

And Bush is required to investigate any such security breach and punish anyone involved.

It is indisputable that both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have violated their national security clearance agreements. They have yet to be punished by their boss.

Update: Our buddy Captain Ed and others on the Right Blogosphere are still plugging the old, tired, and much-disproved allegation that "Joseph Wilson serially leaked secret government material and lied about its contents."  Right Blogosphere Motto: If the facts aren't on your side, just make stuff up.

Update update: Are Bush and Cheney directly involved? See Think Progress.

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The Loyalties of George W. Bush

Terror Alert Level

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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

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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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My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Numchuku of Reasoned Discussion.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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