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saturday, october 15, 2005

Whackjobs Are Made, Not Born
 
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. This is especially true for child-rearing strategies. Each new generation of parents is bound to reject the old-fashioned techniques of their parents, thought to cause obsessive-compulsive and social anxiety and other disorders dramatized on the Family Channel, in favor of more enlightened practices that promise sparkling, minty-fresh, disorder-free children.

And inevitably, the new new thing is actually something the great-grandparents did to the grandparents, who rebelled against it.

Breast or bottle, solid food introduced early or late, the psychological impact of pacifiers–out of such things are many generational arguments born. But the Mother of All Controversies is–toilet training. Early or late?

Every twenty years or so, some genius promotes the idea that babies should be toilet trained at six months. Just imagine–no more diapers! Never mind that the critters can’t walk to the toilet at six months, or that a baby’s tiny bladder requires frequent emptying, and that babies can’t “hold it” even for the amount of time it takes you to grab them and run for the bathroom. Some pediatricians say that babies aren’t aware of their own urination until they are past the age of two.

So, exactly how does one “train” them?

The answer is, one can’t. It’s the parent–more specifically, the mother–who gets “trained” to anticipate when the rugrat will need to be potted.

When I was enjoying the postpartum years, conventional wisdom said that early toilet training resulted in neurotic adults. This, and the fact that Procter & Gamble finally got the hang of making disposable diapers that didn’t leak, inspired us moms of the 1980s to keep the kids diapered until they were well into toddlerhood. (This in spite of the consternation of our mothers, who'd given birth to us during a post-World War II early-potty-training phase.)

But now those toddlers, grown up, are being sold on the glories of fast-track potty training. Last week Tina Kelley wrote in the New York Times (October 9),

… a growing number of parents are experimenting with infant potty training, seeing it as more sanitary, ecologically correct and likely to strengthen bonds between parent and child.

Translation: Mommy Madness writ large. Somebody (guess who) has to watch junior’s every hiccup for signals that he’s about to go, then grab him and dash for the pot. If, after a few weeks, one’s home smells like some of the gamier sections of the Times Square subway station, that’s just one more thing for Mom to feel guilty about. She may have a closer emotional bond with her baby, but whether that emotion is a positive one is another question.

I don’t have any proof, but I can’t help but suspect the same evil forces behind the “good mothers home school their children” movement are responsible for this “diaper free baby” nonsense. It’s a plot against women, I tell you. If they can’t keep us barefoot and pregnant, they’ll find some other way to keep us docile. Or, at least, preoccupied.

About 2,000 people across the country have joined Internet groups and e-mail lists to learn more about the techniques of encouraging a baby - a child too young to walk or talk - to go in a toilet, a sink or a pot. Through a nonprofit group, Diaper Free Baby (www.diaperfreebaby.org), 77 local groups have formed in 35 states to encourage the practice. One author’s how-to books on the subject have sold about 50,000 copies.

A sink? The kids piddle in the sink? That’s more sanitary?

Look, diapers aren’t so bad. In fact, the diaper thing was the one part of my parenting act I believe I got right. My kids never had diaper rash, because I changed and washed them frequently and treated every spot with copious amount of Desitin ointment, which my mother swore by. And for what it’s worth I didn’t use any kind of powder on them. My kids’ doctors often commented that my babies had the clearest butts they’d ever seen. Whatever else I did or didn’t do right–well, we all survived. But parenting is a hard enough job without making it more complicated.

And, please note that disposable diapers amount to less than one percent by weight or 1.5 percent by volume of the waste in landfills.

Tina Kelley continues,

Ingrid Bauer, author of “Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene” (Natural Wisdom Press, 2001), believes it is easiest to begin toilet training in the first six months. To start, parents are taught to hold the baby by the thighs in a seated position against their stomachs and to make an encouraging hiss or grunt. With practice, parents learn their child’s rhythms; some parents sleep next to their children and keep a potty at arm’s reach, or diaper their babies overnight.

One early-training advocate wrote to the New York Times that toilet training for both her daughter and granddaughter began at six months: “Voilà! Both were toilet-trained in a few short weeks.”

A few short weeks? Compare and contrast with the maha method–when my daughter was two and a half, I explained the potty thing to her. She said OK. By the next day she was good to go without diapers, at least during the daytime.

(I’d like to say the same method worked as well with my son. However, he’s a boy, and boys don’t take to civilization quite as easily as girls. He understood perfectly well what was expected; he just didn’t see the point to it. I don’t remember exactly when he finally conceded, but it was in time for Kindergarten.)

Kelley quotes a fast-potty-track mother:

“It’s just so simple,” said Lamelle Ryman, who recently attended a support meeting at an apartment on the Upper West Side. Ms. Ryman, the mother of 7-month-old Neshama, added, “I feel like it’s been such a gift in our relationship.”

Yeah, right. Ms. Ryman may eventually need another maha parenting technique, which I call “locking-the-critters-in-a-room-with-a-case-of-Twinkies-while-Mom-bounces-off-the-wall-for-an-hour-or-two.” It’s cheaper than a therapist.

Speaking of which--when today's babies grow up, will Freud's theories on the connection between toilet training and the anal-retentive personality come back into vogue? Stay tuned ...

Update: Righties call for boycott of the American Girl. Popular dolls not docile enough for 'em.

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9:28 am | link

friday, october 14, 2005

The Sinking of the President
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Today the residents of Left Blogostan have been whoopin' about W's staged teleconference with troops in Iraq. Dan Froomkin quotes NBC's Brian Williams:
"It was billed as a chance for the president to hear directly from the troops in Iraq. The White House called it a 'back and forth,' a 'give and take,' and so reporters who cover the White House were summoned this morning to witness a live video link between the commander in chief and the U.S. soldiers in the field, as the elections approach in Iraq.

"The problem was, before the event was broadcast live on cable TV, the satellite picture from Iraq was being beamed back to television newsrooms here in the U.S. It showed a full-blown rehearsal of the president's questions, in advance, along with the soldiers' answers and coaching from the administration.

"While we should quickly point out this was hardly the first staged political event we have covered -- and we've seen a lot of them in the past -- today's encounter was billed as spontaneous. Instead, it appeared to follow a script."

People of Right Blogaria deny the teleconference was staged. They base their arguments on a highly truncated version of the 45-minute pre-teleconference rehearsal that accidentally slipped through the satellite feed. Naturally, righties leave out the juicy bits, like when assistant defense secretary Allison Barber coached the troops, thus:
"If he gives us a question that is not something that we have scripted, Captain Kennedy, you are going to have that mike and that's your chance to impress us all. Master Sergeant Lombardo, when you are talking about the president coming to see you in New York, take a little breath before that so you can be talking directly to him. You got a real message there, ok?"
Froomkin reports that even Faux Nooz admitted the act was scripted.
Here's Shepard Smith : "At least one senior military official tells Fox News that he is livid over the handling of U.S. troops in Iraq before their talk by satellite live with the president. . . .

"As the White House tries to prop up support for an increasingly unpopular war, today -- to hear it from military brass -- it used soldiers as props on stage.

"One commander tells Fox it was scripted and rehearsed -- the troops were told what to say to the president and how to say it. And that, says another senior officer today, is outrageous.

"It's certainly not the first time a photo op has been staged for the president -- far from it -- but it's the first time we know of that such a staging has touched off such anger."

On comes Carl Cameron: "First, the White House and the Pentagon claimed it was not rehearsed. But for 45 minutes before the event, the hand-picked soldiers practiced their answers with the Pentagon official from D.C. who, in her own words, drilled them on the president's likely questions and their, quote, scripted responses.

"There are folks here at the White House now walking around shaking their heads about how badly it appears to have gone."

Keith Olbermann has the best lines, naturally. "It's like watching the Jesse Ventura show," he said.
 

This thing was not just staged, it was superstaged. In a disgusting display, the President again used our troops as political props in an event so scripted that it basically turned into a conversation with himself. I wish the White House had put this much effort into post-war planning when my platoon hit Baghdad.

Not only were the teleconference troops told what to say by Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Allison Barber, they were also prevented from speaking freely by the looming threat of their ground commanders. Undoubtedly there was a PAO (Public Affairs Officer—likely someone ranking Major or higher) standing directly off-camera making sure the soldiers spoke in line with White House directives. Every troop presented an upbeat view of the situation on the ground in Iraq. There was no talk of armor issues or mortars attacks. A token Iraqi soldier in the group at one point gushed to President Bush, “Thank you very much for everything. I like you!”

To which Billmon adds,
The soldier then broke down and wept. "Please, I'll tell you whatever you want," he sobbed. "Just don't put that wire up my ass again."
Tons o' fun!
 
 [Update: Now the righties are linking to the testimony of one of the teleconferenced soldiers as “proof” that the stunt wasn’t a stunt. Joe Gandelman explains why, in fact, the soldier’s testimony proves it WAS a stunt. Plus, a key participant was a military spokesperson who’s been sheltered from the nastier aspects of the mission, like fighting.]
 
Righties are chagrined that television newsies piled on the hapless W, and the even more hapless Scott McClellan. But I think the newsies have been steaming for a long time about the White House's phony news conferences, town meetings, and photo ops. The satellite feed gave them the chance to vent.
 
The newsies have a lot of bad karma to rectify. This is from today's Paul Krugman column:

Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign....

...Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. ...

... More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies. (Yes, I'm speaking in part from experience.) Only now, with Mr. Bush in desperate trouble, has the structure of rewards shifted.

 
Monday I predicted that the Powers That Be were about to cut W loose because he is no longer useful to them. And if I'm right,  "mass media will no longer wrap Dear Leader in a rosy glow." This is not to say that Bush news from here on out won't still be infested with White House talking points, but I think the press on the whole will be less obsequious.  
 
Via Daou Report, a nice commentary from MediaCitizen that argues from another angle that it's now safe for media to criticize Bush:
That some in mainstream media are no longer giving this president a free pass to the front page is news in its own right. Bush's plummeting approval rating might have something to do with their newfound skepticism<, which raises another issue altogether: It seems our media eagerly pile scorn upon a president when his numbers are down, but give him the benefit of the doubt when they're up.

This would suggest that mainstream media don't inform the public based upon the objective merits of a story, but merely tailor their reporting to respond to the flux and flow of popular opinion.

I'll leave that frightening theory to be sorted out by the media analysts at
Pew and PEJ. ...
One way or another, W's goin' down.
 
Other stuff: Via Matt Y at TAPPED--is Noam Scheiber seriously suggesting that progressives agree to bomb North Korea in exchange for national health care? And when will these boys figure out that there are other ways to be serious about national security than threatening to bomb people? Jeez.

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1:15 pm | link

A Progressive Agenda, Cont.
 
Picking up from last night--today E.J. Dionne explains why it is vital for the Democratic Party to have a clearly articulated agenda:

It has long been said that Americans have short attention spans, but this is ridiculous: Our bold, urgent, far-reaching, post-Katrina war on poverty lasted maybe a month.

Credit for our ability to reach rapid closure on the poverty issue goes first to a group of congressional conservatives who seized the post-Katrina initiative before advocates of poverty reduction could get their plans off the ground.

And you know how they did this. While the progressives were busily studying the details and working out a sensible plan for actually reducing poverty, the Right got in front of cameras with pre-digested talking points and their same old Coolidge-era agenda repackaged for Bush-era consumers. And now that they've seized the initiative, any chance the progressives might have had to do some good is pretty much dead.
 
Dionne continues,

If it didn't matter, I'd be inclined to salute the agenda-setting genius of the right wing. But since we need a national conversation on poverty, it's worth considering that conservatives were successful in pushing it back in part because of weaknesses on the liberal side.

Right out of the box, conservatives started blaming the persistent poverty unearthed by Katrina on the failure of "liberal programs." If there was a liberal retort, it didn't get much coverage in the supposedly liberal media.

It's conservatives, after all, who spent almost a decade touting the genius of the 1996 welfare reform and claiming that because so many people had been driven off the welfare rolls, poverty was no longer a problem.

From day one, Democrats should have been in front of cameras, speaking in one voice, stating the grand themes of the progressive agenda discussed in the last post. Rebuild America first! Make work pay (no suspension of Davis-Bacon)! Keep the promise of opportunity for all Americans, not just Dick Cheney's corporate cronies! Real security for America!
 
This is not to say that all of these themes shouldn't be backed up by detailed, workable policy plans. Of course they should, which would distinguish them from the empty talking points of the Right. We want to be serious about governing, not just bamboozling the public into voting for us. I'm saying this is what needs to be done if progressives are ever going to have a say in the national agenda. While the Left debates details, the Right gets out in front and starts marching--inevitably in the wrong direction. But when people want a leader, they'll get behind someone who appears to be going somewhere. Even if it's off a cliff.

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8:51 am | link

thursday, october 13, 2005

A Progressive Agenda
United and on the offensive, [Democrats] should drive home a simple triumvirate of charges: corruption, incompetence, and unresponsiveness to the concerns of the great American middle.
 
Of course, this will ultimately mean some degree of agreement on a positive alternative—on a shared vision of what America is and what American government should be doing to make America better.  -- Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, The Washington Monthly
Today I (once again!) ran into a rightie blogger who said "Democrats have no ideas." This is an article of faith on the Right, which has been dragging around the same few zombie ideas since Goldwater. The fact is that Demcrats, progressives anyway, have multitudes of ideas. No one ever hears about them because no one, including the gutless wonders calling themselves "Democrats" who inhabit Washington, listens to us.
 
There's an article by Robert Borosage in the current issue of The Nation, called "A *Real* Contract With America" that presents the following items as a clear platform for change [numbers added]:

[1] Crack Down on Corruption: In contrast to conservative cronyism, shut the revolving door between corporate lobbies and high office. Prohibit legislators, their senior aides and executive branch political appointees from lobbying for two years after leaving office. Require detailed public reporting of all contacts between lobbyists and legislators. Pledge to apply this to all, regardless of party. Take the big money out of politics by pushing for clean elections legislation.

[2] Make America Safe: Commit to an independent investigation of the Department of Homeland Security's failures in response to Katrina. Detail action on the urgent needs that this Administration has ignored: Improve port security, bolster first responders and public health capacity, and require adequate defense planning by high-risk chemical plants. End the pork-barrel squandering of security funds.

[3] Unleash New Energy for America: In contrast to the Big Oil policies of the Administration that leave us more dependent on foreign supplies, pledge to launch a concerted drive for energy independence like the one called for by the Apollo Alliance. Create new jobs by investing in efficiency and alternative energy sources, helping America capture the growing green industries of the future.

[4] Rebuild America First: Rescind Bush's tax cuts for the rich and corporations, which create more jobs in China than here, and use that money to put people to work building the infrastructure vital to a high-wage economy. Start with challenging the Administration's trickle-down plans for the Gulf Coast, which will victimize once more those who suffered the most.

[5] Make Work Pay: In contrast to the Bush economy, in which profits and CEO salaries soar while workers' wages stagnate and jobs grow insecure, put government on the side of workers. Raise the minimum wage. Empower workers to join unions by allowing card-check enrollment. Pay the prevailing wage in government contracts. Stop subsidizing the export of jobs abroad.

[6] Make Healthcare Affordable for All: Pledge to fix America's broken healthcare system, with the goal of moving to universal, affordable healthcare by 2015. Start by reversing the Republican sellout to the pharmaceutical industry by empowering Medicare to bargain down costs and by allowing people to purchase drugs from safe outlets abroad.

[7] Protect Retirement Security: In contrast to Bush's plan to dismantle Social Security, pledge to strengthen it and to require companies to treat the shop floor like the top floor when it comes to pensions and healthcare.

[8] Keep the Promise of Opportunity: Instead of Republican plans to cut eligibility for college grants and to limit loans, offer a contract to American students: If they graduate from high school, they will be able to afford the college or higher technical training they have earned. Pay for this by preserving the tax on the wealthiest multimillion-dollar estates in America.

[9] Refocus on Real Security for America: In contrast with Bush's pledge to stay in Iraq indefinitely, sapping our military and breeding terrorists, put forth a firm timeline for removing the troops from Iraq. Use the money saved to invest in security at home. Lead an aggressive international alliance to track down stateless terrorists, to get loose nukes under control and to fight nuclear proliferation.

There is nothing in the list above that I and myriad other leftie bloggers haven't been saying all along. Further, I believe there is nothing on that list that the average, middle-class, middle-of-the-road citizen would find objectionable. In fact, most of these items would be welcomed by the "average middle middle" citizen.  I'd make item six a little bolder--national health care!--but otherwise it seems a good agenda to me.
 
The other day I read that Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders are putting together a Democratic policy platform for next year's campaigns.

An early draft of the agenda outlines the specific initiatives House Democrats will pledge to enact if given control of the House. Leaders have been working on the document for months, and have already started encouraging Members to unify around it and stick to its themes.

Among the proposals are: “real security” for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act.

Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.

I think they should just run with the Borosage list. I'm afraid the Washington Dems will come up with mealy-mouthed promises that will end up sounding the like same old same old. I think they should be careful that grand themes (Rebuild America first!) don't get buried by the policy-wonk stuff (housing vouchers!).  But now's the time to start talking about those grand themes.

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9:15 pm | link

The Coalition Crumbles
 
Following up this post from Monday on the future (or lack thereof) of the conservative coalition, and yesterday's post on The Tanking of the President-- Kevin Drum has some thoughts I'd like to discuss--
The basic thesis of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center is that the Republican party has been taken over by its ultraconservative activist base, and this in turn has pulled the party far away from the center of the American electorate. Normally this would spell doom for a political party, but a variety of institutional controls have converged that are likely to keep Republicans in power for a long time despite their increasing distance from the mainstream. ...

...the activist base of the Republican party is pretty far distant from the middle of American politics, and George Bush recognized this in his first term, mostly steering a center-right course. However, in his second term it's all falling apart, just the way conventional political science suggests it should. The more that Bush panders to the Republican base (Social Security, Terri Schiavo), the more he loses the support of Middle America. At the same time, the more he tries to tack to the center (Katrina, Harriet Miers), the angrier his base gets. Centripetal forces are tearing the Republican coalition apart, and suddenly Beltway buzz suggests that Republicans might actually lose Congress in 2006.

This suggests two possibilities to me. The first is that conventional political science still has it right. It took a few years, but the radicalism of the Republican base is finally putting a stake through the heart of the party, just as you'd expect. The second possibility is that we wouldn't even be talking about this if it weren't for 9/11: Bush would have long ago lost control of his coalition and would have gotten clobbered in 2004. What we're seeing today really is a special case, not a permanent realignment.

Then Kevin poses a question--is Bush going through a second-term slump that could blow over, or is the normal order of things finally reasserting itself?

First off, I think you have to separate Bush from the Republican Party and from the coalition. Both the party and the coalition have been forces in national politics long before Little Georgie decided to get into the family business. And they'll still be around even if Little Georgie were to be abducted by space aliens and never seen again. It's true they've been married to him for a while, but now they're squabbling and heading for a nasty breakup. Even if they decide to stay married for the sake of politics, the marriage will never be what it was, and I doubt the Right will continue to rubber stamp Georgie's every whim. I sincerely believe the Bush Era is over.

Now, what of the ultraconservative activist base? You might recall that, back in the 1970s, the Democratic Party for a brief time (notably the 1972 Democratic National Convention) was hijacked by what might be called an ultraliberal activist base. But the leftie activists never had any real power, and I can't recall any of them being elected to Congress, never mind setting the agenda for the nation. The ultraconservatives have managed somehow to not only take over Congress and the White House, they press forward with their agenda as if a majority of Americans backed their agenda. Which, as was argued here, they don't.

The ultrarighties have been able to do this because they have something the ultralefties did not--backing by a behind-the-scenes elite with considerable wealth and power. And with the backing of wealth and power the ultraconservatives have turned much of mass media into their own private echo chamber. Mass media genuflects to the ultraright agenda and treats it as if it were mainstream, whereas the ultraleft agenda has ever been greeted with jeers and scorn.

This, and the fact that most Americans, most of the time, do not pay much attention to what's going on in Washington, enable the ultraright to treat Washington as its private playground. As long as the bulk of middle-class Americans are feeling secure and complacent, news from Washington is just so much elevator music.  

However--and this is where we crank up the seeds-of-their-own-destruction theme--the ultraright agenda is a horrible blueprint for governing, and sooner or later the damage done will cause most middle-class Americans to feel a whole lot less secure and a whole lot less complacent. I believe that's about where we are now.

It is possible, barring further scandals or disaster, the Bush-GOP-ultraright axis will hold together and keep Dems shut out of power, and with the help of mass media continue to bamboozle the American public. However, even if they get remarkably lucky, and Iraq becomes pacified, and the price of gas goes down, and Patrick Fitzgerald issues no indictments, the lives of ordinary Americans will continue to get harder and harder. Income will remain stagnant, jobs with decent wages and benefits will be increasingly scarce, states will continue to cut needed services, etc. That can't change as long as the righties are in charge, because such are the fruits of rightie policy.

And, frankly, I don't think they're going to get that lucky.

Prediction: If the crunch comes the first thing the Right will do to save itself is throw George W. Bush overboard. We on the Left need to realize that the Right could survive a Bush denouement and maintain its grip on political power. In other words, we could utterly defeat the Bush-Cheney administration, even force them out of office, and still lose the war with the Right. We lefties need to be careful about that.

If Bush goes down the Right would have to find a new figurehead real fast, though, and it's not clear to me who that might be. And if enough of their leadership (e.g., Frist, DeLay) is compromised and/or under investigation or indictment, it's going to be very difficult for the Right to remain cohesive.

Unfortunately, the Right's biggest asset through all this could be the inside-the-beltway Democrats, whom we can pretty much count on to fumble the opportunity. And the moneyed, powerful elite backing the Right and controlling mass media ain't goin' away anytime soon.

One more thought: We'd all love to see Bush and Cheney impeached and tossed out of office, but for a moment let's be contrarian and consider if keeping a seriously lame duck Republican in office where citizens can see him and reflect on what a loser the once mighty Bush turned out to be could work to our advantage in the long run. And giving the GOP an opportunity to build new leadership in the White House before 2008 might work to their advantage. Just a thought.

Anyway, given our leadership vaccuum on the Left, it's not clear to me how the Right's crises will fall out. Feel free to make predictions in the comments.

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wednesday, october 12, 2005

Tanking
 
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll says Bush’s approval rating (finally) has dropped below 40 percent

The poll shows that Bush’s approval rating stands at 39 percent, a new low for the president. In the last NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, which was released in mid-September, 40 percent approved of Bush’s job performance while 55 percent disapproved. In addition, just 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, another all-time low in Bush’s presidency.

Strikingly, much has happened in the time between those two polls — many of them seemingly positive events for the White House. The president delivered a prime-time speech from New Orleans, in which he promised to rebuild the Gulf Coast. He also made several more visits to the region, to examine the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Furthermore, he saw the Senate confirm John Roberts to the Supreme Court, and he nominated Miers, his White House counsel, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor..

I’m hardly objective, but I believe all the trips to the Gulf just make him look desperate.

The Dems should be happy that 48 percent say they’d prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress, as opposed to 39 percent who want to keep the Republicans in charge. I’m not sure the Dems have done anything to deserve their improvement in the polls, but there it is.

Along these lines, David Ignatius has an interesting column in today’s Washington Post:

Watching the Republicans floundering over the past week, I can’t help thinking of a school of beached whales. The leviathans of the GOP have boldly swum themselves onto this patch of dry sand, and it won’t be easy for them to get back to open ocean….

…What’s interesting is that most of these wounds are self-inflicted. They draw a picture of a party that, for all its seeming dominance, isn’t prepared to be the nation’s governing party. The hard right, which is the soul of the modern GOP, would rather be ideologically pure than successful. Governing requires making compromises and getting your hands dirty, but the conservative purists disdain those qualities. They swim for that beach with a fiercely misguided determination, and they demand that the other whales accompany them.

The bickering over the Miers nomination epitomizes the right’s refusal to assume the role of a majoritarian governing party. The awkward fact for conservatives is that the American public doesn’t agree with them on abortion rights. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in late August found 54 percent describing themselves as pro-choice and only 38 percent as pro-life, roughly the same percentages as a decade ago. …

… Bush squandered this opportunity by falling into the trap that has snared the modern GOP — of playing to the base rather than to the nation. The Republicans behave as if the country agrees with them on issues, when that demonstrably isn’t so. The country doesn’t agree about Social Security, doesn’t agree about the ethical issues that were dramatized by the torment of Terri Schiavo, doesn’t agree about abortion. Yet, in a spirit of blind partisanship, House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced last year that bills would reach the floor only if “the majority of the majority” supported them. That notion of governing from the hard right was a recipe for failure.

Righties have a pathological need to believe their point of view is the majority point of view, and that we lefties represent a few bitter enders camped out in a commune for aging hippies. I’ve written about this before. Whenever you pin a rightie in an argument, he or she always falls back on the “oh, yeah? Well, most people agree with me” defense. Except, most people don’t.

And I think the GOP could get away with a lot as long as most middle-class Americans felt safe and complacent. But these days nobody’s feeling safe or complacent. People are getting scared, and pissed off, and they’re looking at Washington, and seeing … Republicans in charge.

And a few Dems have been coming forward with something that looks like an actual agenda, something I hope to write about tomorrow.

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Whigs in the News
 
Per Josh Marshall (see also Raw Story) a Wall Street Journal article  provides tantalizing hints that Patrick Fitzgerald is after a much broader conspiracy than just the leaking of one agent's name. Josh says,
"Mr. Fitzgerald's pursuit now suggests he might be investigating not a narrow case on the leaking of the agent's name, but perhaps a broader conspiracy."

And then further down there's this: "Lawyers familiar with the investigation believe that at least part of the outcome likely hangs on the inner workings of what has been dubbed the White House Iraq Group. Formed in August 2002, the group, which included Messrs. Rove and Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion. The group likely would have played a significant role in responding to Mr. Wilson's claims."

Josh explains the significance of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG).

 This group was the organizational team, the core group behind all the shameless crap that went down in the lead up to the Iraq war -- the lies about the cooked up Niger story, everything. If Fitzgerald has lassoed this operation into a criminal conspiracy, the veil of protective secrecy in which the whole operation is still shrouded will be pulled back. Depositions and sworn statements in on-going investigations have a way of doing that. Ask Bill Clinton. Every key person in the White House will be touched by it. And all sorts of ugly tales could spill out.

Kevin Drum reminds us of earlier indicators:

... keep in mind that Fitzgerald has been investigating the WHIG all along, ever since the first big batch of subpoenas were delivered to the White House last year. Here's the Washington Post in March 2004:

Aides to President Bush agreed to turn over a log of a week's worth of telephone calls from Air Force One and other records to satisfy subpoenas from a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity, White House officials said Friday.

....The subpoenas also seek documents from July 6 to July 30 relating to the White House Iraq Group, a group of communications, political, national security and legislative aides who met weekly in the Situation Room.

... Fitzgerald has been well aware of the importance of WHIG for a long time, which is the reason such a broad group of people have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury already. As near as I can tell, pretty much every single person associated with WHIG has already either testified or given a deposition.

Digby links to a  pdf report called "Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II,"  which identifies "50 false news stories created and leaked by a secretive White House propaganda apparatus." The author of this report, Col. Sam Gardiner, argues that it was not "bad intelligence" that got us into Iraq, Rather, the White House orchestrated a propaganda campaign to deceive the public into supporting the war.

Yeah, I know you know this already, but it's still a big mystery to most Americans.

Digby quotes an August 10, 2003, article from the Washington Post by  Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus:

 This article is based on interviews with analysts and policymakers inside and outside the U.S. government, and access to internal documents and technical evidence not previously made public.

The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied   
 

Again, none of this is news if you're a news junkie. But most Americans remain utterly unaware of how they've been played. And the reason for this, as Digby says, is that news media are complicit. From the cable television bobbleheads who helped squelch meaningful debate to reporters like Judy Miller who acted as conduits for White House disinformation, the media aided and abetted the propaganda effort. Willingly? Willfully? Knowingly?

(Speaking of Baghdad Judy, Steve Soto at The Left Coaster reports that Judy Miller testified to Fitzgerald's grand jury for just over an hour, and left all smiles. She was there "just long enough to hang someone else," Steve says.)

Gene Lyons writes,

The indictments of several name-brand White House aides, should they materialize, would mark the effective end of the Bush administration’s ability to govern in anything but the narrowest formal sense .

What’s more , if ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos’ unnamed source is correct, and President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were directly involved in conversations about how to neutralize Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, after he went public about false claims regarding Iraq’s nonexistent nukes, there’s no telling where things could end .

Where, indeed. AfterDowningStreet reports that "By a margin of 50% to 44%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he lied about the war in Iraq."  

See also,

"CIA Leak Scandal: Rove Defied Bush's Command?" David Corn, The Nation

"Libby Did Not Tell Grand Jury About Key Conversation," Murray Waas, National Journal

"Scooter Libby: Screwed, Blued and Tatooed," Jane Hamsher, The Huffington Post

"DeLay Is a King Without a Crown in the House," Carl Hulse, New York Times

"Frist Accumulated Stock Outside Trusts," Larry Margasak and Jonathan Katz, Associated Press

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Heads' Up
 
Sometime in the next few hours Mahablog will be moving to a new web host and publishing platform, and to a whole new format. (The URL remains the same.)  I hope that the new site opens a lot faster than this one does. I understand that links to old posts will still work, but we'll see. I anticipate that bugs will be discovered over the next several days that will need correcting.
 
Anyway, after the change occurs The Mahablog will look something like this:
 
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It's also possible that Mahablog will be offline for a while as the domain name is redirected. If that's the case, try again later.
 

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tuesday, october 11, 2005

Hooey; or, Why Paper Money Is Unconstitutional

"I told the people on the campaign trail that I'll pick somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law. You might have heard that several times. I meant what I said." -- George W. Bush

"For now, I'll sit the Miers fight out until I know with some certainty that she's a vote for our values." -- Gary Bauer

We've known for a long time the "interpretation of the law" speech is hooey. During the Terri Schiavo episode the social conservatives made it clear they have no regard whatsoever for the constitution, federalism, separation of powers, or the rule of law. They want what they want, period, even if they have to pull on their jack boots and stomp all over democratic principles to get it.

And we've known for a long time that rightie claims of wanting judges who "don't legislate from the bench" is also hooey. Adam Cohen wrote in the New York Times (April 19, 205),

Conservatives claim that they are rising up against "activist judges," who decide cases based on their personal beliefs rather than the law. They frequently point to Justice Antonin Scalia as a model of honest, "strict constructionist" judging. And Justice Scalia has eagerly embraced the hero's role. Last month, after the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for those under 18, he lashed out at his colleagues for using the idea of a "living Constitution" that evolves over time to hand down political decisions - something he says he would never do.

The idea that liberal judges are advocates and partisans while judges like Justice Scalia are not is being touted everywhere these days, and it is pure myth. Justice Scalia has been more than willing to ignore the Constitution's plain language, and he has a knack for coming out on the conservative side in cases with an ideological bent. The conservative partisans leading the war on activist judges are just as inconsistent: they like judicial activism just fine when it advances their own agendas.

Cohen goes on to site examples of Scalia's activism and his uncanny ability to twist the plain language of the Constitution around to mean whatever he wants it to mean. But you knew that.

One of the Right's new buzzwords is originalism, which dKosopedia explains--

The term originalism refers to two distinctly different ideas: One version, known as original intent, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what it was originally intended to mean by those who drafted and ratified it. The other version, known as original meaning, or textualism, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution should be based on what it would commonly have been understood to mean by reasonable persons living at the time of its ratification.

Originalism is only concerned with determining the meaning of a text. Constitutional interpretation is not constitutional construction; rather, construction is the determination of how the provisions of a text apply to a specific question.

The key to originalism is that interpretive decisions made by Judges should be based on facts about the document when it was originally written or ratified, with minimal adjustments for the time or context in which it is interpreted. Under this method, even when a judge sees an issue he is persuaded ought to be ameliorated somehow, if the law as written and interpreted in the light of its original intent or original meaning does not support the end result sought, a ruling supporting that result is not granted. In this manner, originalists contend, alteration of the Constitution remains the perogative of the amendment process outlined in Article V.

I agree with the originalists to a limited extent. Whether the Constitution is or is not a living document, it's written in English, which is a living language. And language changes; the meanings of words and phrases shift over time, and sometimes can end up meaning something quite different from what they meant a couple of centuries ago. So when you're dealing with a specific phrase--for example, "high crimes and misdemeanors"--it's a good idea to find out what that phrase might have meant to a bunch of guys writing a constitution in the late 18th century.

The problem is, it takes someone with at least some scholarly aquaintance with history and legal language to appreciate what those meanings might have been. And we've seen in recent years that righties don't have a lot of patience with scholarship, especially when it gets in the way of their agenda. For example, you might recall the episode, ca. 1998, in which several truckloads of historians tried to explain to the House of Representatives that none of the articles of impeachment they were bringing against President Clinton rose to the level of a "high crime or misdemeanor" as the Framers understood the phrase (one such explanation here). Righties dismissed the scholars as if they were so many annoying mosquitos.

For that matter, continued rightie insistence that the Framers intended for America to be a Christian nation, in spite of the fact that they failed to mention any Person of the Trinity in the Constitution, seems more "revisionist" than "originalist" to me. But let's go on ...

Although I've said that I agree the Constitution should be understood in the context of 18th-century language, the unworkability of rigid originalism struck home to me a few weeks ago as I was reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War--

Chase regularly came to Lincoln and moaned about the spiraling costs of the war and the increasing difficulty of borrowing Wall Street money to pay for the mountains of hardtack, the uniforms, the guns, the soldiers' pay. Then, one day in the summer of 1862, a visitor from Ohio, David Taylor, told Lincoln there was a way for the government to raise huge amounts of money: by issuing interest-bearing notes, which could circulate as currency or be kept as an investment.

Lincoln grasped hold of this idea with an enthusiasm fueled partly by desperation. Chase told him Taylor's plan was impossible, the Constitution did not allow the government to issue a paper currency. [Geoffrey Perret, Lincoln's War (Random House, 2004), pp. 201-202]

I checked. Article I, Section 8, Clause 5, says Congress can coin money. It doesn't say Congress can print money. That's right, folks. Y'know those green paper things you carry around in your wallet? They're unconstitutional.

Apparently Chase's opinion was not some off-the-wall interpretation from one guy. The text goes on to say that Lincoln agreed printing money was unconstitutional, but he did it anyway. And soon everybody was spending "greenbacks" just like coins. 

The money thing is not the only little surprise lurking in a very strict interpretation of the text. The Framers had serious heebie-jeebies about maintaining a standing army, for example, and down in Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 wrote that Congress had the power to "raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years." Needless to say, this provision has been interpreted quite loosely also.

Bottom line: If we woke up tomorrow to find the originalists in charge, the whole dadblamed nation would come to a screeching halt, and we'd spend the next several years working through the Constitution and passing amendments thereto before we could get the critter up and moving again.

The genius of the Constitution is that it gave us a working structure for governance that has lasted these many years. But within that structure We, the People have felt free to expand the role of government as needed to meet changing realities and to  "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty," etc.

What the originalists want to do is toss out more than two centuries of hard-won experience and start from scratch. I vote no.

But back to the courts. In spite of Alexander Hamilton's stern warnings in Federalist #78 that the courts needed to be kept separate from Congress --

In a monarchy [the judiciary] is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws. ...

... though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive....

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex-post-facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.

-- in recent years the Right has embraced the notion that the judiciary is an arm of the legislature and must follow its instructions. Thus, in the Terri Schiavo case, when Congress tried to legislate what the courts should decide, and it didn't work, the righties howled about the "out-of-control judiciary." What they meant, of course, was out of their control.  

A variation on this gripe is that since "liberals" can't win elections they are using the courts to promote the liberal agenda. If by the "liberal agenda" you mean respecting civil liberties and equal treatment under the law I suppose we're guilty as charged. But I'd like to know exactly how it is we liberals are dictating our evil schemes to the courts and if I can apply for a place on the liberal judiciary steering committee. Sounds like fun.

Anyway, I started out to write about Harriet Miers and got sidetracked. Just read this; it's a hoot.

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monday, october 10, 2005

Can This Marriage Be Saved?
 
The political coalition loosely called "movement conservatism" continues to unravel. James Kuhnhenn writes for Knight Ridder that the resulting political upheaval is forcing the Republican Party to re-evaluate its relationship with George W. Bush.
The conservative rebellion against Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is widening the split between the White House and Republicans, sowing fears among party strategists that President Bush is jeopardizing 10 years of GOP congressional dominance.

With defiance unseen since he's been in the White House, Senate Republicans already have reined in the administration on the treatment of foreign detainees, forced it to jettison no-bid post-hurricane reconstruction contracts and given Miers a tepid welcome as Bush's choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Behind these emboldened stances lie growing unease over Bush's Iraq policy, dismay at the federal response to Katrina and Bush's sinking public approval ratings.

The parting of ways signals a loss in Bush's clout after five years that is likely to have consequences for the remainder of his term and possibly beyond.

For all its famous message discipline, contemporary conservatism was always an improbable beast made up of myriad political movements with often conflicting agendas. Somehow, the movement patched together small-government conservatives dedicated to limiting the federal government's ability to encroach on citizens' lives with social conservatives dedicated to using government power to enforce morally correct behavior. It married isolationist paleo-conservatives to neocons--quoting Ian Welsh, "trotskyites who decided that their utopian vision required an iron fist and spilling a lot of blood, and that the rest of the left wing didn't have the stomach for it - but that the right could be convinced by appealing to their militarism and worship of strength."

Cracks have been forming for quite some time. For example, most small-government conservatives were genuinely alarmed when Republicans in Congress tried to intervene in the Terri Schiavo controversy in ways that were blatantly unconstitutional. And the social conservatives revealed they had no interest in the federalist and constitutional principles dear to the hearts of the small-government group. Social conservatives are on a mission from God, after all.    

Recently I wrote about an interview of neocon Bill Kristol by Bernard-Henri Lévy. Lévy observed that Kristol had sold out some of his own principles for the sake of the coalition--

Don't jump to the conclusion that I believe in it, he seems to be saying. That's just the deal, you understand—supporting a crusade for moral values is just the price we have to pay for a foreign policy that we can defend as a whole.

It's one thing for a party to take a "big tent" attitude and agree to disagree, but I don't believe that's what most movement conservatives have been doing. I think most of 'em have been in denial about the very real ideological differences represented in movement conservatism. Or, like Kristol, they've mouthed agreement with views they don't actually hold as a kind of ideological quid pro quo; I'll support your agenda if you'll support mine. But now some are waking up, like the once dewy-eyed bride who finally admits to herself she's married to a jerk. At long last they're taking a hard look at the Bush Administration, and thinking, this isn't what I signed up for.

The question at hand is, are we about to see a major political realignment on the Right, or can the coalition patch itself back together? To answer that question, I think, one needs a clear understanding of whatever it was that has held the coalition together all these years.

Over at Washington Monthly, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson are discussing their new book, Off Center, in which they tackle this question. I haven't read this book yet, but here's what they say in their blog post-- 

In the face of a puzzle like this, the temptation is to search for a one-size-fits-all explanation. In response to Kevin’s post on Friday, a fair number of participants thought they had the single easy answer (“it’s framing!” or “it’s the use of cultural issues as a wedge!” or “it’s because Democrats are bumblers/cowards/sell-outs” or “it’s race”). There were probably a couple of dozen factors raised by one person or another, which strongly suggests that there's more than one thing at work. To us at least, it also suggests that what's crucial is how these different plausible GOP advantages actually come together in reinforcing the party's power.

Our own emphasis lies on the organizational and social foundations of political power, rather than on the character of personalities or particular rhetorical moves. In particular, we think a central source of GOP success lies in the unprecedented (within the contours of modern American politics) capacity of conservative elites to coordinate their activities and operate in a unified fashion.

Movement conservatism is, I think, essentially a faux populist movement controlled and manipulated by conservative elites. These elites have been with us, in one form or another, throughout American history. But IMO the present coalition began to take shape from the white backlash against the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The elites recognized that this backlash was something that could be exploited for their own ends. The elites learned to fan the flames of resentment and victimhood to get "their" candidates elected. They were quick to seize upon fresh issues--e.g., the Vietnam-era antiwar movement; affirmative action; feminism; abortion; gay rights; and the old standby, Communism--to keep the resentment fires burning as anger over desegregation cooled.

As any propagandist will tell you, there is no easier way to unify people than to give them a common enemy. 

The conservative elite benefited from the rise of mass media and learned ever more sophisticated ways to take their unified message to the nation. And as they gained greater control of mass media they were able to prevent opponents from getting their message to the American people.

(For years it's been an ironclad law that no progressive is allowed to speak on a television political talk show without having a rightie goon at his side, shouting him down. I once decided that if I ever saw Joe Conason appear on Hardball and be allowed to finish a sentence without interruption I could die happy.)

The conservative elite can still manipulate mass media pretty much at will and remains a powerful force.  But other elements in the political landscape are changing.

One of those elements is support for George W. Bush. I believe it isn't just some movement conservatives and rightie bloggers who are having second thoughts about his "leadership." I suspect at least some of the elites may have decided he is no longer useful to them. If so, mass media will no longer wrap Dear Leader in a rosy glow. And if my suspicions are correct, there is no way Bush can recover. That duck is dead.

As for the coalition itself, that's harder to say. Surely the elites will try to keep it together. Events over the next few months may determine if they can succeed. In particular, if the Democrats continue to flounder around and fail to present a clear alternative to Republicanism, the Republicans will keep the loyalty of voters.

In conclusion--we'll see.

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sunday, october 9, 2005

Screwed
 
Our government in inaction--hurricane survivors who had jobs with benefits before Katrina, but who lost their jobs and benefits because of Katrina, now find they don't qualify for assistance with health insurance.
 
Like most of those whose lives were upended by Hurricane Katrina, 52-year-old school bus driver Emanuel Wilson can thank the federal government for the fact that he has money to pay rent. He's also been given food stamps to make sure he can buy groceries. And if he had young children, the government would almost certainly be helping them get back to school.

But what Wilson needs is chemotherapy, and that is something the government seems unable to help him with. Wilson was being treated with monthly chemo injections for his intestinal cancer before the hurricane.
He has been denied assistance largely because, before the storm, he had what the government says it wants every American to have: health insurance....

... Wilson can't reinstate his health insurance — which expires at the end of this month — because the storm wiped out his job. The government says he doesn't fall into any of the rigid eligibility categories for federally sponsored Medicaid.

More than half of the Louisiana households displaced by Katrina who applied for Medicaid were denied. There is a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would open Medicaid for Katrina survivors for up to ten months, but the Bush White House opposes it. Why? It would create a "major new entitlement." 

I guess it's more important to give tax cuts to billionaires than to give chemotherapy to a hurricane survivor.

Newt Gingrich thinks that instead of Medicaid, the Katrina survivors should be given vouchers to buy private health insurance. I suppose that would be all right as long as the insurers will accept new customers with pre-existing conditions, although I suspect the Medicaid route would actually be more cost-effective for the government.

But seems to me something needs to be done right now. I'm sure a lot of these people have medical problems that need treatment sometime this decade.

Speaking of health care--via Kevin Drum, be sure to read this column in the Dallas Morning News (registration firewall alert) about a urologist promoting a national health-care plan.

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Clues
 
Another Traitorgate crumb for all of us leftie bloggers to leap upon -- an email sent by Karl Rove to Steven Hadley about Rove's July 11 conversation with Matt Cooper. This just-discovered email is another piece of evidence that Rove might have lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury. Whoopsie!
 
... Fitzgerald appears to be focusing in part on discrepancies in testimony between Rove and Time reporter Matt Cooper about their conversation of July 11, 2003. In Cooper's account, Rove told him the wife of White House critic Joseph Wilson worked at the "agency" on WMD issues and was responsible for sending Wilson on a trip to Niger to check out claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. But Rove did not disclose this conversation to the FBI when he was first interviewed by agents in the fall of 2003—nor did he mention it during his first grand jury appearance, says one of the lawyers familiar with Rove's account. ...
 
...  But after he testified, Luskin [Rove's lawyer] discovered an e-mail Rove had sent that same day—July 11—alerting deputy national-security adviser Stephen Hadley that he had just talked to Cooper, the lawyer says.
In the email, Rove said he had just talked with Cooper about the Niger uranium controversy.
 
I liked this part:
Why didn't the Rove e-mail surface earlier? The lawyer says it's because an electronic search conducted by the White House missed it because the right "search words" weren't used.
Yeah, they tried HillarySaddam, and garden gnome. Yet, somehow, they missed it.
 
Isikoff also reminds us that a hitherto-unknown Judy Miller notebook recently came to light. The notebook contained notes from a conversation Miller had with Scooter Libby about Joe Wilson and the mission to Africa; Wilson's identity was not yet public (see timeline in this post). Emptywheel of The Next Hurrah speculates further about Judy.
 
Speaking of who-knew-what, eriposte at The Left Coaster has evidence that our boy JimmyJeff knew about the classified State Department intelligence memo mentioning Valerie Plame before knowledge of the memo had been made public.  There's background about this memo here.  

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All Talk, No Walk
 
As a practicing politician, Bush is hardly alone in experiencing the kinetic contradiction of declarations by deeds or omissions. But his still-assertive manner underscores a justified concern that Bush too often uses words in place of action. Is it enough for him to say that his job is to decide, to say he has decided and then to step aside so that all that follows is mere detail for others to work out?
Bush's style of "leadership" is to declare what he wants to happen and to expect his underlings to make it happen. This is essentially his approach to Social Security reform, for example. He wants to switch part of the program to private accounts but doesn't bother his smirky little head with the very thorny, and costly, process that would be required to accomplish this. Details are for the hired help to worry about.
 
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.
I doubt that Bush knows the difference. He thinks he's done his job by declaring that he wants democratic government in Iraq. Then he heads off to the golf course. Mission accomplished.
 
Back to Jim Hoagland:

The gap between Bush's declared goals and the means he chooses to accomplish them surfaced last week both in his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the ringing, well-argued rhetoric he deployed in a conceptually sound speech on Iraq and the global war on terrorism.

If a well-crafted speech about Iraq or a bristling, uncompromising defense of a murky judicial nomination could resolve those thorny problems, Bush could cross them off his list. But they can't. So he can't.

As I wrote Friday, the goals Bush presented in the speech sound just grand. I don't disagree with any of them. Who can be opposed to replacing "hatred and resentment with democracy and hope"? And, hey, I'm all for peace and freedom. But by now even a potted plant should have noticed that, with Bush, the gap between rhetoric and results is vaster than the Pacific.

This is not to say that the Bush White House is entirely without skill. They are brilliant at winning elections, and they are expert at getting Congress to dance to their tune. Bush may be all talk when it comes to policy, but when it comes to politics, them jack boots are made for walkin'.  

Hoagland asks an essential question,

It can be argued that the Miers nomination is also part of Bush's continuing, concerted effort to flatten the policymaking landscape of Washington -- to exercise control over the significant agencies of the federal government by populating them with loyalists from his White House. But that raises the unsettled, and unsettling, question: To what end? What does Bush believe he can accomplish through such control -- other than avoiding the disastrous divisions of his first administration?

I'm sure he's hoping to avoid prosecution, for one thing, but beyond that I think Bush is into power for the sake of power. The Bush White House is less a governing body than it is an old-style political machine. Political machines are not about issues or political agendas; they are about money and power. And with political machines, those in control are not necessarily those elected to office.  Bush may still expect to call the shots from behind the scenes after his second term expires.

Although Bush does seem to care personally about Social Security "reform," if not enough to sweat the details, for the most part he uses issues only as a means to achieve power. Whether conservative policies are successfully implemented is a minor concern. Take (please) No Child Left Behind. He still likes to talk about it as if it were a marvelous achievement. But this NPR report says NCLB "has sweeping promises, irresponsible authority, and is more expensive than many school systems can afford." (Hmm, sweeping promises, irresponsible authority, too expensive. The quintessential Bushie program.) Although he seems proud of his program, Bush has shown little interest in dealing with the problems and making the program work as promised. As long as NCLB is a useful rhetorical device for Bush, it's a success as far as he's concerned.

Bush is in trouble now because the social conservatives, finally, are catching on. Even Phyllis Schlaffly has figured this out. "Bush is building his own empire without regard for the conservative movement or the party."

Many argue (e.g., Frank Rich; sorry about the subscription wall) that Bush's recent bumblings came about because he's been drinking his own Kool-Aid, and because he is isolated from anyone but his closest, and pathologically loyal, advisers. Yes, but the boy never showed any keen interest in governing even when all of Washington was groveling at his feet.

So to answer Jim Hoagland's question, to what end? That's easy. Bush is his own end. Everything else is small stuff, and he doesn't sweat the small stuff.  

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The Loyalties of George W. Bush

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

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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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