Tuesday, October 31, 2006

GOP May Turn on Remnants of Gingrich Era

The Gingrich/DeLay/Hastert era may be coming to a close. After a 14 year run, the Republicans in Congress have lost their way. To be honest, they didn't start out with much of a vision except the sky-is-falling fear-mongering that gave them control of Congress in the first place. In the 90s, Republicans pushed for deficit reduction until DeLay, Karl Rove and yes, George W. Bush, showed them how to feed at the public trough and suddenly we saw deficits as far as the eye can see and the scandals in the halls of Congress began to hit the nightly news at least once a month for over two years.

Here's an article about Dennis Hastert from Raw Story; even Republicans are getting tired of it all:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert is expected by many Republicans to step aside as the GOP's leader if Democrats win big in next week's election. He may be on his way out even if the GOP emerges with a narrow majority.

The No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, is looking very much like a candidate to fill Hastert's shoes even though some Republicans appear to be agitating for fresh faces all around, win or lose.

There's lots of grumbling among Republican insiders over real and imagined leadership lapses. Not the least of those is the way Hastert's office handled - mishandled, some critics say - the Mark Foley page scandal.

Earlier episodes, including changing House rules two years ago to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, in case he got indicted, helped breed the unhappiness. Interviews with current and former congressional aides, GOP lobbyists and strategists reveal surprisingly widespread discontent with Hastert, suggesting a demoralizing election could cement calls within GOP ranks for new leadership.

So even if the Republicans retain the House, Dennis Hastert may be on the way out. It's embarrassing that they're even considering John Boehner who's been a part of the same do-nothing Republican machine that winks and nods at the nonsense that seems to go on behind closed doors.

Here's a reminder, by the way, about the boastful Tom DeLay who, according to Think Progress, went on the Republican Party's Fox News and had the nerve to say he has no ethical problems:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been a busy man these last few years. Whether bribing congressmen, threatening political opponents, vacationing with lobbyists, or gutting House ethics rules, it’s been hard to keep up with all the Hammer’s activities. Here are thirteen highlights from DeLay’s illustrious career:

DELAY KILLED INVESTIGATION INTO LABOR ABUSE IN MARIANAS ISLANDS: In 1998, DeLay helped kill a “congressional fact-finding trip that was being planned as part of an investigation of sweatshop conditions in the garment industry in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.” Jack Abramoff represented the Northern Mariana Islands at the time, aiding them in their quest to avoid U.S. labor laws. To this end, Abramoff flew dozens of lawmakers and their aides for luxurious vacations to the balmy islands, including one 1997-98 New Year’s trip for DeLay and his wife. (It was on this trip that DeLay called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends.”) Later that year, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) decided to leading a fact-finding investigation into worker abuse in the islands’ garment industry. When DeLay caught wind of the investigation, his office threatened the Hoekstra with loss of his subcommittee chairmanship if he continued.

Read the rest of Think Progress for the other 12 lapses.

The Republicans can't run on Bush's many failures and they can't run on the issues. Today, desperately looking for an issue, Republicans were charging Democrats with prematurely measuring offices for drapes. Just think of the repercussions if the Republicans win. The nation will be saved from new drapes! Is that their October Surprise? It sounds to me like more of the same. And that exactly defines the problem with the Republican Party: more of the same. And that is something our nation cannot afford.

Fighting for Our Nation's Future Is Worth Doing

Yes, most Americans hate politics. We hate the noise, the phone calls, the stupid ads and so on. But it's important to remember what we love. We love our families and we want them to thrive. We love that we live in a free country, even if there are people who itch to tell the rest of us what to do (and maybe both sides of the aisle need to think about that).

But we also love our history, flawed so much of it may be. I've talked about my great-grandfather helping to build a community from nothing in the 19th century and how he and his neighbors worked for the common good at times building irrigation canals or other things for themselves and their children. Many of us who are drawn to the power of words love reading the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights or the US Constitution; and we have enormous respect and love for the words of some of our better presidents, the farewell address of Washington, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, his Emancipation Proclamation and so much else that he wrote, Roosevelt's inaugural address that reminds us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and John Kennedy's inaugural address that inspired so many of us to give back to our country.

Sometimes people act as if belonging to a political party means nothing more than just rooting for the home team or stirring up divisiveness by screaming at the other guy, or they act as if the word 'American' is a label some people get to wear but not others, though they know better. But there are real issues to discuss in our country and it takes at least two political parties to work out the issues in the country. But one party has decided to cut off discussion. One party seems to have forgotten what democracy means though it's a word easily thrown around to justify war.

One party has decided it has all the answers. The rest of us look at Iraq and we don't see those answers. We look at the ruins of Hurricane Katrina and we don't see those answers though we see their photo ops. We look at good paying jobs disappearing overseas and we don't see those answers. We look at the president's energy policy and we don't see those answers. Where are these answers that the president's party says they have? They are not to be found. So many of us are concerned and feel strongly that we need change.

Here's a post by S.W. Anderson of Oh!pinion who comments on the last three elections; I've included an excerpt from his discussion of 2006:
Now in 2006, it’s the same old story. The Iraq war is a bloody, costly debacle that has gone from bad to worse under the direction of the most thoroughly incompetent bunglers to ever control the federal government. Our soldiers are paying the price for their leaders’ wanton stupidity every day, with their blood and their lives. Bad leadership doesn’t get any worse than that.

Everywhere you look in America, there’s ample reason for most Americans to be angrily, actively dissatisfied and more than ready for a complete change of leadership in Washington. They’ve been conned, bilked, cheated and lied to without letup for years, and the results are so outlandishly bad and so painfully obvious that the jig is finally up.

And yet . . . and yet — again! — with no pride, no shame, no guile, even, the neocon Republican scourge is playing the same stupid game. They want us to be very concerned not about our 3,000 needlessly sacrificed troops in their Iraq quagmire, which is now a wide-open, bloody civil war, but instead about whether a Democrat running for the Senate wrote some steamy sex scenes in a novel 20 years ago.

And now here's a post by Mike Bock of Alone on a Limb who imagines a sensible speech by Nancy Pelosi if the Democrats win the House; here's the last paragraph:

The task of government is to lead with wisdom. The huge errors in Iraq and in our economy were the result of politics, the result of a failed democracy -- not the result of objective thinking guided by a profound understanding of the common good. Now that the Democrats have a forum of leadership, we need to demonstrate our commitment to the common good via clear thinking and shared problem solving; we need to structure a thoughtful process that shows no fear of objectivity and truth, and that seeks the best insights and ideas. I am urging the House of Representatives to meet the challenge that I am outlining and to act on this request immediately.

...a thoughtful process that shows no fear of objectivity and truth. Throughout history, there have been great religious thinkers that will tell you that if you face life with strength and courage and without fear, if you look honestly at the world and yourself, you can find your way. The thought of those religious thinkers laid down the foundations of our democracy and the real strength of our nation.

Even if the Democrats win a house, the road ahead is going to be a bumpy one until the current generation of right wing Republicans are thoroughly rejected and the Republican Party rebuilds itself on principles Americans can recognize as part of the real dialogue that has to take place in American discourse. But we should all remember what's worth fighting for in the final days of this election, win or lose.

Flailing Desperately, Republicans Just Make Up Things as They Go

I got a good laugh out of this, courtesy of Think Progress:
Snow: President Bush Has ‘Actually Taken The Lead’ On Climate Change

Today White House Press Secretary Tony Snow stated that “contrary to stereotype,” President Bush has been “actively engaged in trying to fight climate change.” He also took issue with a reporter’s comment that the United States has been absent from a global emissions and cap trade program, arguing that the Bush administration has “actually taken the lead on those kinds of innovations.”

Too funny. I can't help sympathizing with former Bush press secretary, Scott McClellan. As the White House leaned on McClellan more and more to just outright lie, he just couldn't do it. While McClellan's press conferences were infuriating, they were also painful to watch. He would wriggle and squirm and spin and bloviate and pontificate and change the subject but he just couldn't lie outright. But his replacement, Tony Snow, has no problem in that department.

It can't be said too often: George W. Bush and his friends in Congress have nothing to run on. That's why we're hearing so much nonsense.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Howard Dean Has His Eyes Open

Howard Dean may have lost the nomination in 2004 but his commitment to build up the Democratic Party in all 50 states is looking good. The former governor is also aware of the desperation of Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman and Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist and George W. Bush and a host of other Republicans who aren't missing any tricks to keep as much power as they can. Hat tip to Suburban Guerilla for noticing the article in Raw Story:
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has used the 25th anniversary of a GOP voter suppression scheme to challenge his Republican counterpart not to attempt to block votes, RAW STORY has learned.

In a letter to RNC chair Ken Mehlman, Dean asks the RNC to pledge it "will refrain from engaging in, assisting in or participating in any" program that could potentially disenfranchise voters in the upcoming midterm elections.

(snip) [The following is part of Dean's letter to Mehlman]

Dear Mr. Chairman:

As the chairmen of the two major national parties, we have a responsibility to encourage people to participate in the political process and aggressively guard their constitutionally protected right to vote. As you know, the modified consent decree in the case of Democratic National Committee v. Republican Committee, C.A. No. 86-3972, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, entered on July 29, 1987, remains in effect. That decree, as you know, resulted from the RNC engaging in so-called "ballot security" programs targeted at challenging minority voters in African American and Hispanic communities.

That consent decree prohibits the RNC from engaging in, assisting in or participating in any "ballot security program," other than "normal poll watch functions," "unless the program (including the method and timing of any challenges resulting from the program) has been determined by this Court to comply with the provisions of the Consent Order and applicable law." Applications by the RNC "for determination of ballot security programs by the Court shall be made following 20 days notice to the DNC which notice shall include a description of the program to be undertaken, the purpose(s) to be served and the reasons why the program complies with the Consent Order and applicable law."

At this point, it is too late for the RNC to comply with the 20 day deadline for notifying the DNC of any intended application to the Court for approval of any ballot security program. We assume, therefore, that the RNC does not intend to apply to the Court for approval of any such program, and that you intend to respect both the letter and the spirit of the law. ...

The Republicans can't run on Bush's performance and they can't run on the issues. All the right wingers can run on these days is fear, negative ads and divisiveness. If the voters say they've had enough and if enough of them turn out, the Democrats may win a house. To be honest, the Republicans won't lose their majority unless the independents too say it's time to clean house. There may be districts where even a few moderate Republicans may have to say enough is enough until the Republican leaders reform themselves. If Americans want change, they have to vote and turn out in large numbers. That's just the way it is.

Bush is still going to have the veto. The media has awakened somewhat but it will still be half asleep and barely aware that changes are taking place in the world while the Republicans have been feeding at the public trough.

Bush is trying to scare people about the Democrats and once again he conveniently seems to have forgotten about catching Osama bin Laden, except when he's scaring people to get their votes. The truth is Democrats are neighbors, friends, and coworkers with families and concerns like all other Americans. People know that. It's no different for most Republicans who are honest and hardworking. But the Republicans are led by people who don't have much interest in the average American, not when it comes to getting things done instead of just talking about it like Bush has so often done.

Half the Democrats are moderates these days and most of the liberals are now pragmatists; Democrats these days are concerned about a common good that works for everyone and not just the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans who now control the Republican Party. And Democrats want a foreign policy that's smart, that acknowledges how important it is to work with other nations and how important it is to talk to our enemies and strike hard bargains with them instead of going to war on false pretenses.

Now there's a limit to what Democrats can do if they win a house since Bush will remain president but there will be changes in Washington, and committees in the halls of Congress will be turning a bright shining light on the dark secret corners of the back rooms where lobbyists, cronies, and people hardly interested in the average American do their dirty work. As for Iraq, Congress is going to have to let the experts and the generals have their say and tell us what the options really are, and how we restore our nation's credibility and our place in the world regardless of how it affects Bush's image. And then, in the next two years, though most of us hate talking about politics, we're going to have to start talking about the future of our country because it's important, because we need to make sure there is a future for ourselves, our children and their children.

Nov. 7 Is About an Incompetent Named Bush

Incompetents are often the last to notice their failures. It would be a mistake to put all the blame on Bush. Certainly, Cheney and Rumsfeld have had a role in creating the fiasco in Iraq and elsewhere. But at the end of the day, the president must be in charge and must make changes when the incompetence becomes evident. In Bush's case, the incompetence isn't merely evident, it is rampant.

Every administration inherits highly qualified professionals from the previous three or four administrations. Our government can't function well without them. The FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon, the State Dept. and many other agencies would have trouble maintaining their skills without the continuity that the professionals provide. One of the marks of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld era is the relentless effort by these three men to shove experts and professionals aside to pursue their ideological delusions. Bush has a great public relations machine but that machine can no longer obscure Bush's many failures.

Here's another selection from Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine, that illustrate the breakdown of the presidency under Bush; the two excerpts concern Zubaydah, a barely functional travel agent for al Qaida who was 'interrogated' weeks after his capture by clumsy methods one expects of third-rate countries:
Zubaydah's injuries—gunshot wounds to the leg, groin, and abdomen—had been successfully treated by the finest U.S. physicians in late April and early May. The doctors repaired internal bleeding, a fracture and organ damage.

He was stabilized by mid-May and, thus ready. An extraordinary moment in the "war on terror" was about to unfold. After months of interdepartmental exchanges over the detainment, interrogation, and prosecution of captives in the "war on terror"—as well as debates over which "debriefing" techniqaues would work most effectively on al Qaeda—the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he said. [pg. 111]


According to CIA sources, [Zubaydah] was water-boarded, a technique in which a captive's face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuing noise and harsh lights. He was, as a man already diminished by serious injuries, more fully at the mercy of interrogators than an ordinary prisoner.

Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by Al Qaeda. That information traveled the globe in an instant. Agents from the FBI, Secret Service, Customs, and various relaed agencies joined local police to surround malls. Zubaydah said banks—yes banks—were a priority. FBI agents led officers in a race to surround and secure banks. And also supermarkets—al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation's economy would be crippled. And the water systems—a target too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.

Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiply by ten, there still wouldn't be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried. The FBI generally kept its various alerts secret. But word drifted out to the media, time and again, considering the thousands that were involved. [pgs. 115-116]

The signature operation of the Bush Administration will always be remembered by historians as this: garbage in, garbage out. Running around in circles based on the rantings of an unstable person is not preferable to letting the professionals do things in a way that is productive. Let's not forget that warnings about 9/11 by experts were ignored by Bush. The fiasco in Iraq too was largely a function of ignoring experts and professionals before and after the fall of Baghdad in order to send cronies, ideologues and young Bush loyalists to run Iraq and disappear with billions of dollars of reconstruction money. While all this incompetence and larceny was going on, while the experts and professionals were being ignored, shoved aside or fired, the Republican majority in Congress sat on its hands and watched with glee how Bush's numbers soared with each new phony victory and each new fearful revelation.

Cheney, who says the insurgents are "in their last throes," is still on the job and should have been replaced at the 2004 Republican convention. Calls for Rumsfeld's resignation have been repeatedly ignored by the White House. In the end, George W. Bush does know how to campaign and smile and lean forward and wave his arms, but he still doesn't know how to run a country.

We need to rein him in before he does more harm. We need to sit down with the military and ask what they really think. And we need to start dealing with our nation's future.

Staying home Nov. 7 is not an option.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Neoconservative Mythology

tHaving watched conservatives for decades, one of the things I have to conclude about the WMD theory about Iraq is that neoconservatives found it convenient in the 1990s to hold the belief that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. During the 90s, being out of power, it wasn't necessary for neoconservative intellectuals to lie about WMDs exactly because so many conservatives were amplifying and passing along the nonsense. From about the middle of the 90s to the launching of the war in Iraq, however, the evidence was very thin that Iraq had any kind of WMDs left and the evidence for a nuclear program was always the thinnest. None of the neoconservatives who ever provided the intellectual framing of the war in Iraq seem to have spent much time doing their homework.

I noticed a paragraph in Ron Suskind's, The One Percent Doctrine (page 22) that I feel a need to respond to since that paragraph is a good example of the mythologies of conservatives over the last twenty-five years that begin to be accepted in some places as canon. Here's the paragraph concerning some of the beliefs of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon regarding the CIA (meaning people like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle):
They all also shared a well-seasoned antipathy for the CIA. The cited grievances were vast, a catalog of CIA failures and foolish pride dating back twenty years. It had missed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the Ayatollah Kohmeni in Iran. It had missed the fall of the Soviet Union. It had missed Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait. As to 9/11, the critics' case for CIA incompetence was clouded by the repeated warnings from Tenet and top deputies about the al Qaeda threat, starting with their first briefing to the incoming President. Neither Bush nor the more experienced Cheney had reacted with a plan of action. Bin Laden was a problem without a ready solution, a combination that often spells inertia for the vast U.S. government. The primary focus, January 2001 at the first NSC meeting of the Bush presidency—was on "how Iraq is destabilizing the region," and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Throughout the spring and summer of 2001, dozens of reports were generated inside the Defense and State Departments about a possible invasion of Iraq, as the CIA increasingly warned about the threat from al Qaeda.

I recall reading in the late 1970s that there was a CIA report that the Soviet Union might fall in ten to twenty years because of ethnic and economic problems and also because of the rampant corruption at the time under Brezhnev; at the same time, before the invasion of Afghanistan, there was concern about the Soviet Union expanding its navy and flexing its muscles in other areas. Although I don't know if the CIA caught this particular angle, there had to be people who noticed that the Soviet Union might be engaging in some military activity as a way of distracting domestic attention from the growing problems.

It's odd to charge the CIA with having failed to read Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq when the problem had more to do with the State Department at the time misreading Saddam Hussein and not giving strong assurances that an invasion would be unacceptable (if I recall correctly, a wink may even have been given for taking a small slice of Kuwaiti territory where some shared oil fields straddled the border). We also need to remember that the first President Bush was at first reluctant to deal with the invasion of Kuwait until Scowcroft and Margaret Thatcher made it clear that allowing the invasion of other territories in the post-Cold War world was not a particularly good idea (by no means was Saddam Hussein the only one out there with an itchy finger).

Although I'm an admirer of Jimmy Carter, it was clear he had some shortcomings and one of those shortcomings was his tendency to micromanage without following through necessarily on what the consequences were of his changes. The CIA was not oblivious to Khomeni; they had been paying him monthly payments for years while he was in exile. Apparently Carter, for budget and moral reasons, cut Khomeni's funding and it appears this was one of the reasons Khomeni returned to Iran. I don't believe Carter is exclusively to blame; there was an institutional breakdown of some sort that can be traced to some of the chaos that went from the Nixon to Carter years, a time, by the way, during which the first President Bush served a stretch as CIA Director and Cheney and Rumsfeld were serving in the Ford Administration.

Institutional memory has been a problem in every administration since World War Two. Some administrations have been better at passing on issues that may not be at the forefront of the thinking of the incoming administration, and some administrations have been poor at listening to what was being passed on. There's plenty of evidence that the Bush Admnistration not only did not listen well to the outgoing Clinton Administration, but that much of Bush's inner circle and his neoconservative advisers simply discounted much of what had happened in foreign policy during the 1990s. By 2001, the thinking of the Bush Administration was already fossilized, and in more ways than one.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Thinking About the Issues of Tighter Oil Supplies

In the last three years, oil producers have experienced growing difficulty keeping up with global demand; this is raising a number of issues that are still not fully appreciated. We knew thirty years ago that we needed to start thinking about alternatives to oil but not much progress has been made and much time has been lost. I can't emphasize enough that the window for dealing with the issues is growing narrower by the month. And it's important to note that President Bush's habit of seeing the world in black and white doesn't work very well for our energy problems, the global consequences of oil politics, global warming and the need to find ways to gear up for alternative energy.

Oil supplies might loosen from time to time in the next five years or so but it isn't always because more oil has been found or produced, nor because conservation efforts in the US might be having an effect. Sometimes, it's because poor countries are being forced out of the market. Abdoulaye Wade, the president of Senegal, has an article in The Washington Post about oil and energy:
In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the oil crisis is not a vexing "cost crunch"; it is an unfolding catastrophe that could set back efforts to reduce poverty and promote economic development for years.

In the United States, working men and women fretted when gas prices topped $3 a gallon this year. Here in the capital of Senegal, gasoline costs $5.62 a gallon. Unlike the United States, we are not a rich nation. Imagine having to pay such an exorbitant price to fill up your tank -- but in a country where per capita income is $849 a year. Senegal's electrical utility has been forced to turn off the lights throughout the nation for long periods every day, a crippling problem that could be eased if energy cost less.

The math is not hard to do. Everywhere in West Africa, governments are being forced to reallocate lifeline budget subsidies to counterbalance unprecedented oil and electricity prices. Senegal's direct oil subsidies to domestic consumers have increased fivefold since 2002. Niger's fuel costs have quadrupled. Even in Africa's oil-producing nations, windfall profits from oil have failed to reduce poverty. Per capita income in Nigeria is still $1,400 a year.

If the price of crude oil reaches $100 a barrel within the next year -- as some analysts predict -- a pan-African disaster will be upon us. Richer, oil-producing countries in Africa risk being inundated with mass migrations of people seeking survival.

By draining government treasuries, the soaring price of oil in West African nations has made it all but impossible to proceed with antipoverty efforts, and it is hindering work to increase access to public health services...

I don't know much about Abdoulaye Wade, but I know the issues he is talking about are quite real. Wade goes on to suggest things that Africa can do to relieve some of the problems and things that perhaps the west can do. But the thing to keep in mind is that when prices drop in the US, it's likely that it's other people in the world who are tightening their belts. The more oil we insist on consuming during this era of tight supplies, the more problems that will emerge elsewhere. No one can doubt the ingenuity of Americans and how hardworking most Americans are, but we are a heavyweight in the world economy and we need to think more seriously about what we're doing. On the other hand, if there are solutions out there, we are the country most likely to provide them.

Maybe the oil companies are beginning to move in that direction, though their public relations departments have always been quick to pick up the prevailing social winds to improve their image. But even oil executives, and their investors, need to start thinking more seriously about where we're going. Here's a story from The Oregonian by Ted Sickenger who has interviewed the president of Shell Oil:
It's finally come to this: Even oil executives are sounding alarms about U.S. oil consumption.

"The ease with which we all lived in the last 50 years, with cheap energy, is coming to a close," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., told a City Club luncheon crowd Friday in Portland. "The next 50 years cannot be like the last 50 years."

The oil demand-and-supply equation, Hofmeister said, now constantly flirts with crisis. Americans, he said, need to develop a sense of privilege rather than entitlement when it comes to energy use.

At the helm of Houston-based Shell Oil since March 2005, Hofmeister aims to take that message to 50 cities around the country by the end of 2007. In his talks, he is promoting a panoply of supply-side measures, from expanding access to oil fields that are off-limits today to developing alternative and renewable energy resources. Shell, he said, also is eager to persuade consumers to conserve.

Hofmeister spent a few minutes answering questions for The Oregonian after his speech. Here are excerpts. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you drive a hybrid?

No. Not presently.

You mentioned your industry's credibility problem. Many of our readers won't think an executive from big oil has much credibility when it comes to energy security, alternative fuels, foreign policy, global warming. You're speaking to audiences in 50 cities. How do you deal with that?

What Shell is trying to demonstrate is that it cares by being physically present in the markets that we serve. We have a story that needs to be told. We want to hear the stories that others have to tell. If we have a reputation or a credibility issue in Portland, we want to deal with it head on. I hope people will give us the opportunity to hear and be heard.

To me, the above sounds like a slight tilt towards reality but otherwise it feels too much like a public relations effort. I notice by the way that the use of the words 'entitlement' and 'privilege' can mean one thing to Democrats and another thing to Republicans though that may just be a clumsy handling of language. And I suspect Hofmeister may be more interested in developing more oil fields than in developing more alternative energy. But I hope Mr. Hofmeister proves me wrong.

I appreciate the enormous technical skills of oil engineers and workers; and their skills will grow increasingly important as oil becomes more difficult to produce, but it's the broader policies of their companies that concern me. I believe the role of corporations can be important and useful, but we have left our energy future almost entirely in the hands of the oil companies who have been major donors to the Republican Party. We as a nation cannot afford to let oil companies have a monopoly on our future (or even coal companies, for that matter). We need a partnership between the government, the oil companies, the coal companies and a whole new slate of energy research and development companies who are not directly tied to oil or coal. Energy independence may not just mean independence from foreign oil, it may also mean independence from the dominance of oil companies and their agenda.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bush Trips Over His Own Rhetoric

Did I say there were at least 30 times that Bush has mentioned 'staying the course' even when he denies that it's his own policy? Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing on The Washington Post says the number is now up to 96 occassions caught on videotape:
It may go down as one of the most ridiculous -- and ridiculed -- utterances of the Bush presidency.

In an interview with ABC News broadcast on Sunday, President Bush gamely suggested that "we've never been 'stay the course'" when it comes to Iraq.

With mid-term elections just around the bend -- and with public opinion starkly and unhappily focused on Iraq -- it's understandable that Bush might want to rewrite history. But his attempt failed miserably.

Less than a week later, there are 96 and counting entries on You Tube making a lie of his assertion, trumpeting videotaped examples of Bush using that particular phrase to describe his Iraq strategy -- over and over again.

In contrast to press secretary Tony Snow's insistence on Tuesday that his office could only find eight times when Bush had used the phrase, the official compilation of presidential documents contains 52 such public utterances by the president since 2003.

Deceiving the American people just isn't as easy as it used to be. You cannot have a democracy unless the people are informed and clearly the internet is making it easier to be informed, if you're careful. Now if we can just get a president in two years who also takes the trouble to be informed. In the meantime, I want a Congress that can politely say to the president when he utters nonsense, "What's that again, Mr. President? We think we misheard you. Would you like to try that again?"

Froomkin's post today is well worth reading; here's more on the president who never learns from his mistakes:
Linguistics professor George Lakoff writes in a New York Times op-ed: "The first rule of using negatives is that negating a frame activates the frame. If you tell someone not to think of an elephant, he'll think of an elephant. When Richard Nixon said, 'I am not a crook' during Watergate, the nation thought of him as a crook.

"'Listen, we've never been stay the course, George,' President Bush told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News a day earlier. Saying that just reminds us of all the times he said 'stay the course.' . . .

"'Stay the course' was for years a trap for those who disagreed with the president's policies in Iraq. To disagree was weak and immoral. It meant abandoning the fight against evil. But now the president himself is caught in that trap. To keep staying the course, given obvious reality, is to get deeper into disaster in Iraq, while not staying the course is to abandon one's moral authority as a conservative. Either way, the president loses."

And the nation loses. We're stuck with Bush for another two years. We need a Congress in Washington that will speak the facts loud and clear and not just rubber stamp the president.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bush Meeting with Right Wing Journalists

Twenty-five years of increasing right wing conservatism has not only been damaging our country, it has damaged the clear vision and analysis that's needed to move forward in the world. There is a reason right wingers were never taken too seriously during the Cold War; they have a knack for making things worse. I'm not talking about Nixon or Reagan, whose policies were at times flawed but otherwise part of the bipartisan foreign policy we had for sixty years. I'm talking about the people who sometimes were invited into the Pentagon or White House to give the most hawkish position possible so that our leaders could clearly see the edge of what was possible and what was clearly reckless. With President Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, we have gone over that edge. Last May, Bush started pulling back a little from that edge (I suspect for reasons of political expendiency) but his flawed vision of the world is still alive and well.

Here's a transcript from the National Review of a very strange meeting that Bush had after his big news conference on Wednesday with right wing journalists (hat tip to Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing); it's a long and tedious transcript but here's a few excerpts in blue type with some of the stranger remarks that I've highlighted in bold:
... What I thought I would do is talk a little bit, share my mind with you, and then answer questions for a while. We're on the record until I tell you we're not on the record. And some times that works, and a lot of times it doesn't work. I'm a skeptical "off the record" guy.

I have no idea what that last means.
As I said in the press conference today, it is conceivable that 20 or 30 years from now the world will see a Middle East in which violent forms of — extreme forms of Islam compete for power, moderate governments will be toppled, oil will be used to extract concessions, and Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and writers such as yourself would say, what happened to them?

What happened to who?
How come they couldn't see the great conflict taking place in front of their very eyes? Why did they lose their nerve? Why did they not support moderate people who yearn for something better than the vision of the extremists? And my answer to it is, I see the threat, and will use American power to protect ourselves, and at the same time, try to create the first victory in this ideological — the first victories — in the ideological war of the 21st century.

Right wing conservatives are adept at using the word "they" without taking the trouble to define who they mean and why they have singled out a group of people; it's vague because a precise definition would lead to their argument being undermined. Also, Bush is apparently talking about an ill-defined threat related to Islam without mentioning he has his own ideology to bring forward that most Americans still poorly understand, partly because of Bush's incoherence and partly because he has chosen to hide so much of his agenda.
So, much of the thinking and decision-making that I do now is based upon my belief that we're in this grand ideological struggle. It is a struggle between moderate people, and a struggle between ideologues who are totalitarian and kill to achieve an objective without conscience. It's interesting, here in America, I ran into a kid the other day who used to work here and he goes to a famous law school, and he said, the problem, Mr. President, is people don't believe we're at war. I not only believe we're at war, I know we're at war.

First of all, beware of anyone who talks about grand ideological struggles as breezily as the president does. If Bush believe in grand ideological struggles as much as he says, then, by his own conception, he should have committed himself to finishing the job in Afghanistan instead of letting it languish. The comment about the law school reminds me of Nixon's famous resentment, a common enough flaw even among well-educated, wealthy and powerful right wing Republicans; the resentment is often used as an excuse for ethical shortcuts or blaming others for their failures. The comment about being at war is muddled; first, Bush is putting up a straw man that doesn't really exist; secondly, he vaguely seems to be responding to charges against him that he has not put the nation on a serious war footing because of his tax cuts and refusal to demand any sacrifices from much of America and general refusal to consider a bipartisan approach.
My biggest issue that I think about all the time is the next attack on America, because I am fully aware that there are people out there that would like nothing more than to have another spectacular moment by killing the American people. And they're coming. And we've got to do everything we can to stop them.

For an optimist, Bush chooses the most fear-invoking description of what may or may not come to pass. Actually, Bush has such a dark pessimistic view of human nature, I'm surprised the press let's him get away with calling himself an optimist. I know the president's language is frequently muddled, but let's be clear about this: nobody can kill the American people even with a larger 9/11 attack. And yet, to this date, Bush has avoided some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission such as tighter port security. Let's also keep in mind that Bush actually had al Qaida on the run before deciding to go off to Iraq. His recklessness in starting an optional war has reenergized those who would turn to terrorism.
That's why I believe we ought to listen to their phone calls, obviously on a limited basis, one coming out of the country, and why I know we need to interrogate these people. That's why we need the Patriot Act. That's why we need to be on the offense all the time. Iraq is the central part of this global war right now. The extremists, radicals have made it clear that they want us to leave. You know, it's an interesting world in which people are not willing to listen to the words of an enemy, but in this case, we're able to listen to the enemy and find out what the enemy thinks and publish their thoughts. The Commander-in-Chief must listen carefully and take their words extremely seriously.

(Sigh.) Would somebody else like to take a crack at the nonsense in the above paragraph? I'll only mention that if Iraq is now the central part of the global war [on terrorism?], it was in part no thanks to Bush. By the way, what I have quoted so far was only the first paragraph of the National Review transcript.

Bush Still Doesn't Have an Energy Plan

Does stealing Iraq's oil count? I still trying figure out what Bush thinks he's winning in Iraq. I've been doing errands today and reading. There's not much to add to what I've said in the last week about Bush's failed foreign policy. But I'll have something later tonight.

In the meantime, there are people out there trying to remind people that behind the hype we still don't have good alternatives to oil and we're in need of some serious investment and research now just to deal with the next ten years. Robert Rapier of The Oil Drum has a good post that offers some perspective on the excessive hype over cellulosic ethanol. You have to see his post to appreciate it.

Bush Is Staying the Course, Except When He Isn't

What Bush is really saying: "When I say I'm staying the course, I'm staying the course unless the polls are bad two weeks before the election and Karl Rove says I can't say it no more! I'm the decider here!"

For George W. Bush, talking is easy. As David Gergen says, it's policy the president has trouble with. Zbigniew Brzezinski suspects that in the next year or so there's a good chance that Bush will simply "blame and run."

For the record, Think Progress has found 30 occassions when Bush has used the phrase, "stay the course" (it would not surprise me if more are found):
On Sunday, President Bush told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that his Iraq policy has “never been stay the course.” (Today, Rumsfeld disagreed, calling suggestions they were backing away from the phrase “nonsense.”)

Moments ago on Fox News, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said “we went back and looked today and could only find eight times where he [Bush] ever used the phrase stay the course.”


Apparently, the White House research team isn’t very good at “the Google.” ThinkProgress has documented 30 times that Bush has used the phrase to describe his policy in Iraq: ... [there's a link for each of the 30 times]

Notice that someone forgot to tell Rumsfeld that "stay the course" is now an inoperative Bush Administration slogan. Keith Olbermann, by the way, managed to put together video of the 30 times so far that we can find Bush saying he's staying the course.

Here's Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times on Bush's attempt to save what's left of his failed presidency:
Facing public dismay over the war in Iraq, President Bush on Wednesday somberly acknowledged the broad scope of American setbacks and missteps there. But he urged Americans to look beyond the violence on their TV screens and avoid disillusionment over a war he said was being won.

The war in Iraq is not being won. What exactly is being acknowledged if Bush cannot admit that the war is not being won? The best Bush can hope for is to clean up his mess. That is not winning. That is cleaning up the mess. We have gained nothing from Bush's war, partly because there was never a consistent set of achievable goals. Bush has now established that arrogance, unilateralism and right wing ideology do not lead to realistic and achievable goals.

Here's more from The New York Times article:

Mr. Bush’s comments were the latest iteration in a recent rhetorical evolution that has seen him move from vowing to “stay the course” in Iraq to promising flexibility. But Mr. Bush also said, “We cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war.” He said eight separate times, in various formulations, that he was committed to getting the job done.

When asked whether the United States was winning in Iraq, Mr. Bush said, “Absolutely, we’re winning” — a declaration that prompted a volley of statements from Democratic leaders, who accused Mr. Bush of being “in denial” about Iraqi violence.

It sounds like Bush is back to playing words games. Some reporters noted that the prepared statement that Bush read, a careful statement probably prepared by his national security staff, was undermined by Bush's own responses to questions after he read the statement.

Here's what Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post had to say about the press conference:
The text of President Bush's news conference yesterday ran to nearly 10,000 words, but what may have been more significant were the things he did not say.

The president talked repeatedly about "benchmarks" for progress in Iraq, using that word 13 times. But he did not discuss the consequences of the Iraqi government missing those targets. Such a question, he said, was "hypothetical."

That response left unclear how the benchmarks would be different from previous times when the United States has set out intentions, only to back down. For example, the original war plan envisioned the U.S. troop presence in Iraq being cut to 30,000 by the fall of 2003.


Yet under his sober mien and a newfound insistence on adaptability, he appeared to be quietly digging in his heels. "Our goals are unchanging," he emphasized in his opening remarks. "We are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals."

And what goals are those? This late in the game, the only goal that I can see in Iraq is cleaning up Bush's mess, holding some troops at a distance to keep the region from spiraling out of control and then getting ourselves out of there so that we can concentrate on rebuilding our military, our credibility and our broken foreign policy. Bush is very unclear about what he's trying to accomplish at this point. Even his point about benchmarks is meaningless unless there's some sort of time framework to those benchmarks and also consequences if those benchmarks are not met (such as packing up and leaving).

I'm sure by now the reader gets the general idea. Let me end with Senator Bill Frist, who, unwittingly, explains why we need change in Congress (via Think Progress):
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said today that if conservatives want to be reelected, “they should turn their focus away from the Iraq war.” Frist told the Concord Monitor, “The challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, and not on the Iraq and terror issue.”

Ignoring Iraq and ignoring Bush's growing failures is exactly what is wrong with the right wing Republicans in Congress and why we need change (and what has Frist done for our pocketbooks except give us a deficit as far as the eye can see while good jobs keep going overseas?). Republicans have been ignoring the problems in the White House and Iraq for three years. Republicans are doing nothing to hold George W. Bush accountable. Even if Bush promises to change his ways, we need a Congress that would hold him to his promises instead of repeatedly ignoring his growing failures.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"Staying the Course": Style Over Substance

President Bush's spinmeister, Karl Rove, has the money for every kind of focus group study possible. He tries out numerous slogans that might improve Bush's numbers. "Stay the course" is an empty slogan but it worked for a long time. But no longer.

Maureen Dowd has an article in The New York Times as Bush once again changes his public relations strategy but not his war strategy:
Things have become so dire for the Republicans that now even Bush is distancing himself from Bush.

The president is cutting and running from the president.

In a momentous event at the White House on Monday, Tony Snow made a major announcement about an important new strategy for Iraq. The president will no longer stay the course on the rallying cry "stay the course."


In a White HOuse with a Fox News all-spin sensibility, officials don't think they need to change the strategy as much as they need to change their slogan.


Unwilling to admit mistakes or face the urgent need to go past semantic changes in a protectorate that has fallen into a vicious civil war, in which Ameridcans are merely referees and targets, the White House is falling back on marketing. Just as Andy Card rolled out the war as a marketing event [back in 2002], the Bush team now thinks that all it needs to do is come up with a catchy and chesty new advertising pitch.


To W., the words he says to Americans don't matter as much as the words Dick Cheney says to him.

One of Bush's new meaningless buzz words is, "Victory!" George W. Bush has never defined what he means by victory and he seems utterly clueless concerning the conditions in Iraq and how bankrupt his ever-changing goals are. Was it "victory" when we put Afghanistan on the back burner and allowed it to languish while we raced off to Iraq to launch what we now know was an optional war we did not need?

Was it "victory" when we found no weapons of mass destruction? Was the looting a sign of "victory"? Was the disappearance of billions of reconstruction dollars "victory"? Was Abu Ghraib the road to "victory"? Was creating more terrorists than there were in 2002 "victory"? Was the death and destruction, most of it now now at the hands of Iraqis against one another, "victory"?

The Republican majority in the current Congress indulged Bush's delusions for the last four years. Only now, as Bush's numbers fall and their own numbers fall, are some Republicans backing away from Bush. If Republicans maintain control of Congress, there can be no doubt that business as usual will be the order of the day for the remainder of Bush's presidency. We need a Congress we know for sure will bring Bush back to planet Earth.

Oops! Oil Prices Climbing Two Weeks Early

It looks like whoever was helping Bush on oil prices just two months before the midterm elections couldn't quite hold the line. Oil prices jumped two dollars a barrel today.

Now I'm convinced oil is going to be volatile for the next few years but generally, in the long term, prices will be climbing significantly over the next ten years relative to inflation. Here's Bloomberg on today's price jump:
Oil futures rose after the U.S. government reported that supplies had their biggest one-week decline since July, contradicting analysts' forecasts that stockpiles would increase.

U.S. crude inventories dropped 3.21 million barrels last week to 332.3 million after imports tumbled 6.9 percent from the average of the past four weeks, the Energy Department reported. Stockpiles had been forecast to rise 3 million barrels, the median estimate of 15 responses in a Bloomberg survey. Supplies of gasoline and distillate fuel also fell last week.

``It's clearly very bullish,'' said Peter Linder, an energy analyst and senior adviser with DeltaOne Capital Partners in Calgary. ``We've already seen the beginning of winter and we'll start to see OPEC cuts next week. I'm convinced we've seen the low prices for the year.''

President Bush has no energy policy worthy of the name. In the meantime, Republicans in Congress have perfected the art of sucking their thumbs while sticking their heads in the sand while thrashing arms and legs to show how hawkish and patriotic they are while covering up how little they're doing for America. Okay, that's an absurd image, but is it too far from the truth?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Recognizing the Crisis in the Bush White House

It's safe to say that a majority of Americans recognize Bush's Iraq policy is failing and that Bush has also failed the American people on a number of other issues. What isn't clear is how many Americans believe it's time for Congress to examine Bush's policies more closely, while insisting on changes that will put our nation back on course.

One thing is certain. The Bush White House is in disarray. Now one way to think about Bush is to think of a store that has great ads in the newspapers and on TV; but when you go to the store, it's obviously a mess, with empty shelves, merchandise that hasn't been put away, signs in the wrong places, and frustrated employees trying to make things work despite incompetent management. But boy, those ads are sure great! And, according to the same ads, isn't it awful that the competition is even worse?

Yes, Bush has the money for the ads and the image-making but that doesn't mean he knows what he's doing. There are still a significant number of Americans who are catching on to Bush's dodges and weaves. Despite what right wing Republicans say, there are also people out there who know what they're talking about.

Lately, Bush has been denying that he's for 'staying the course' but one person who takes Bush at face value is Laura Bush as reported by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:
Laura Bush, when asked on the Today Show (9/18/06) what she tells people when asked about Iraq: "Well, I say the--exactly what the president says, that we need to stay the course."

That was only a month ago. Bush's 'stay the course' slogan has tanked in the polls recently. No doubt, staffers are training Laura on the new White House spin.

The problems our nation faces, however, are quite real and it would be a mistake to delay confronting those problem until they get even worse. A year ago, Rep. Murtha (D-PA) warned that the wheels are beginning to come off our military; he got his own information from informed officers. Increasingly, there are others talking about the problems. Here's an article by David Wood of The Baltimore Sun:
Pressed by the demands of fighting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has been unable to maintain proficiency in the kind of high-intensity mechanized warfare that toppled Saddam Hussein and would be needed again if the Army were called on to fight in Korea or in other future crises, senior officers acknowledge.

Soldiers once skilled at fighting in tanks and armored vehicles have spent three years carrying out street patrols, police duty and raids on suspected insurgent safe houses. Officers who were experienced at maneuvering dozens of tanks and coordinating high-speed maneuvers with artillery, attack helicopters and strike fighters now run human intelligence networks, negotiate with clan elders and oversee Iraqi police training and neighborhood trash pickup.


Army officers are ''simply not developing the capacity for independent operations or initiative at lower levels," said retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, a former tank commander and strategist. The Army's "ability to conduct large-scale [armored] operations has atrophied," he said.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz recently returned from Iraq, where he served for 13 months as an armored corps commander in Baghdad. Now, as deputy commanding general of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, he will be tackling the issue of how to squeeze out more training time for high-intensity warfare.

"The Army's got to be ready for the next fight," he said. "As much as no one wants that next fight to come, it's coming."

I don't know if anything is coming or not, but the longer our military flounders because of blunders at the Pentagon and White House, the more likely it is that somebody somewhere will try to test the American military. Our military is still powerful but we obviously didn't have a game plan for Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. Nor did Bush have a clear strategic vision for being in Iraq in the first place. The lack of success in Iraq and Bush's clumsiness in foreign policy and lack of credibility has already emboldened various leaders of other countries around the world. Just the other day, as Bush was speaking at the UN about Sudan and the atrocities at Darfur, Sudan's UN ambassador was smirking because he knew that what Bush was saying was nothing but words (and apparently our policy behind the scenes is more or less pro-Sudan which raises other issues).

When right wing Republicans are floundering, they often complain that the other guy can't do any better, which simply ignores that competent Republicans and competent Democrats are in plentiful supply and there's a reason why both groups avoid the ideology and special glasses of right wing Republicans. If James Baker has the guts to be straight with Bush, I fully expect Bush to reject most of whatever is presented. Today, I read an article by Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer who's written several times about Iraq; here's her article in the Sacramento Bee:
Waiting for Baker.

That may be the last, desperate Bush administration hope for rescuing its flailing Iraq policy. U.S. officials are anxiously awaiting the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State and Bush family confidante James A. Baker III, whose task is to reassess Iraq strategy.

The group's report won't come out until after the November elections, but, in a sign of how bleak the Iraq situation has become, Baker is being looked at as a sort of Houdini. Never mind that he has already warned "there is no magic bullet" for the Iraq situation. He knows he will be constrained by the fact that the administration's disastrous policy errors have foreclosed any good options.


With Iraq convulsed by sectarian killing, and the Sunni insurgency unchecked, Baker will have to pick and choose among a list of unsatisfactory choices:

1. Change the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proved incapable of the tough leadership needed to reconcile with "moderate" Sunnis, stop the sectarian slaughter, and undercut the Sunni insurgency. But this is not Vietnam 1963; the gung-ho-for-democracy Bush can't depose an elected Iraqi leader. The White House is stuck with an Iraqi government that can't govern.

2. Pull out immediately. Baker has already rejected this option. He fears a chaotic Iraq would become a regional battleground, as Iran, Syria and Sunni Arab states rush to fill the power vacuum left by the U.S. exit.

3. Push for the division of Iraq into three federal states for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, in hopes this would stop the fighting.

Baker says he can't see how one could draw the boundary lines, since Iraq's cities and towns are mixed. Sunnis and many Shiites bitterly oppose this idea, and I see no way U.S. occupiers could impose such a plan on Iraqis.

4. Send more troops. This isn't on because the U.S. military has run out of available bodies.

5. Draw down U.S. forces, but insert more teams of U.S. military trainers inside Iraqi security force units. A good idea -- but military experts say it will be hard to find enough additional U.S. trainers, since this requires stripping officers out of their units.

6. Give the Maliki government a finite deadline to design a reconciliation pact with the Sunnis, and ratchet up the pressure by setting a timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces -- say, in two years. Then convene a conference of Iraq's neighbors and big powers to help stabilize the country. Such a conference would require the White House to deal with Iran (Baker supports negotiating with one's enemies).

Rubin goes on to say that she guesses Baker will choose a combination of 5 and 6; and she pointedly asks why Bush didn't turn to Baker three years sooner. Actually, there have been a succession of studies by various experts that Bush has proceeded to ignore and the problems in Iraq have only gotten worse.

Sometimes, things like foreign policy, economics and energy policy seem like abstractions to American voters. But the rising oil and gasoline prices we have seen in recent years are quite real and can be attributed, in part, to Bush's failures. Right now, for various reasons, we're seeing what many believe is a temporary break in the prices. But it is only temporary. If Bush is not checked and compelled to adjust his policies, the quite real consequences of his blunders will only grow. It's time for a Congress that can rein in Bush's recklessness and incompetence.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dean's 50 State Strategy Looking Smart Now

Howard Dean was urged to concentrate on a few seats that could be picked up but he said it was time for the Democrats to rebuild the party. No one knows what's going to happen on Nov. 7th since there's always that small detail that people have to show up and they have to vote. And then there's that other detail that negative campaigns tend to lower voter turnout and this always favors Republicans and of course the Republicans, who have no issues to run on that resonate with a majority of Americans, know all well the value of negative campaigns.

But it's becoming increasingly obvious to a majority of Americans that Republicans in Washington aren't doing much for our country and that things are getting bad in Iraq and there are right wing Republicans eagerly trying to do things such as privatize social security, and, well the list just goes on. Here's a story from The Los Angeles Times that suggests that Howard Dean was on the right track, that there are more seats in play than Democrats thought possible, and just maybe the Democrats might take a house:
A growing number of GOP incumbents in seats once considered "safe" — including Melissa A. Hart in Pennsylvania, Ron Lewis in Kentucky, Richard W. Pombo in Tracy, Calif., and Gutknecht here — are struggling this month against a powerful current of discontent with the nation's direction, the performance of Congress and President Bush, and the war in Iraq.

Republican seats at risk have nearly tripled since January, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Then, 18 GOP seats were endangered; now, 48 are considered in play.


To take back the House, which they lost in 1994, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats — something they could do, perhaps, without capturing any of these newly competitive seats. But Democratic strategists believe that if the party can break into this second tier of Republican-leaning districts, they could greatly increase their odds of building a majority large enough to survive for longer than two years.

In a measure of the party's growing optimism, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to announce Tuesday that it will begin airing advertisements in 11 new districts, including eight the party had not considered competitive until recently, party sources say.


...in elections characterized by a strong desire for change, such as 1974 and 1994, the current of discontent was powerful enough to sweep in even underfunded challengers. And whatever happens Nov. 7, it is already clear that Democrats have generated intense pressure on many Republicans who have not needed to run full-scale campaigns for years — and did not expect to do so now.

I'm convinced that it's going to take another election cycle or two to turn things around. We're in an age where it's taking longer for a majority of Americans to catch up to what's going on in the world and to see past the hype and spin that effectively covers up failure and incompetence and to see the problems that our children will be facing if we don't start dealing with those problems now in an intelligent way.

The truth is that things are changing rapidly and we need a functional government in Washington. Maybe, just maybe, a majority of the American voters are turning to the Democrats this year knowing that we need change, that we need to start moving forward again, that we need to take on the new problems of our age with new ideas instead of falling back on the failed policies of the past. There's no courage and not much of a future in a Republican Congress that rubber stamps Bush. Instead of huddling in fear, as Bush and his friends seem to want, maybe Americans will stand up and demand their future back.

The Decider-in-Chief Seems Confused

It's becoming increasingly clear that with the midterm elections just two weeks away that Bush is driven entirely and utterly by what the polls says as he weaves and waffles and flip flops. He's now saying he never said he's 'staying the course' which of course is utter nonsense since that's what he's been saying for three years. But the phrase 'staying the course,' is not polling well among the voters so Bush is desperately attempting to change the rhetoric which to him is always more important than changing his policies when things aren't going well.

Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing has an excellent post today documenting the confusion within the White House:
With just more than two weeks to go before a mid-term election that promises to be in large part a referendum on the war in Iraq, President Bush and his aides continue to muddy the debate by trying to redefine their terms on the fly.


Anchor George Stephanopoulos was asking Bush about comments from James A. Baker III, who has said that the independent commission he co-chairs is pursuing alternatives to "cut and run" or "stay the course" in Iraq.

Said Bush: "Well, listen, we've never been stay the course, George. We have been -- we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting the tactics, constantly."

Being a Democrat, I'm not a great fan of James Baker but he's a competent individual and the help he gave the senior Bush in the Gulf War in 1990-91 as secretary of state was brilliant as he put together a true multilateral force. If James Baker thinks there ought to be a change of strategy, he's the guy we should be listening to, not our reckless and incompetent president and certainly not Cheney and Rumsfeld and certainly not the rubber stamp Republican Congress.

Here's more from Froomkin's post:
No one has made more of a hash of explaining Bush's Iraq policies than Tony Snow, his Fox News-trained press secretary.

And on Friday, in what I suspect is the first time in briefing-room history, Snow banged his head against the podium in exasperation with a reporter who was trying to get him to confront some of his own contradictions.


"Q: Yes, and what you're telling me is in the strategy, in this big picture, he's entertaining no change.

"MR. SNOW: No, what I'm telling you is, tactically, you adjust all the time. . . .

"Q: I just want to know, James Baker is using -- will look at strategy, and you're saying you're going to listen to James Baker and Lee Hamilton and this bipartisan report --

"MR. SNOW: Well, I think what they're talking --

"Q: -- then what's strategy in your definition?

"MR. SNOW: I think they will agree with what I described as 'strategy,' which is --

"Q: But you just said you're not even considering a change in -- [SNOW BANGS HIS HEAD ON THE PODIUM] -- no, Tony, sorry.

"MR. SNOW: No, that's because I'm not going to -- we are not going to change our belief that you require -- this is the strategy -- this is the strategic picture that requires an economic, political and security component. And I guarantee you people on that commission agree. So what we're talking about they describe as strategy, I'll describe as tactics...

Even when Tony Snow is trying to be clear, it comes out as nonsense. Bush last press secretary, Scott McCellan, must be grinning as even Tony Snow can't handle the many contradictions of the Bush Administration. Let's be clear: if James Baker says it's time to pull our ass out of Iraq, phased timetables or not, with all the diplomatic manuevering to make it possible, it's a change of strategy that will not fulfill any of Bush's delusional goals that are in any way meaningful to his original conception of our foreign policy. Whether Bush will accept any of Baker's recommendations, of course, is still debatable.

In the meantime, we have an election and Baker's recommendations and any possible changes won't be seen until after the election. What Bush says in the next two weeks is meaningless. After almost six years, we now have a clear picture of Bush's abilities, methods and priorities. There's something very wrong about a president who is quick to change a public relations strategy but reluctant to change a flawed and disastrous strategic vision, largely because the facts contradict his ideology and his own conception of his image. The moment Bush decided to leave Afghanistan behind to attack Iraq, without any clear goals or clear understanding of how to achieve his goals, our foreign policy started running off the tracks. Ratifying our president's delusions is not how to move our nation forward.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bush and Republicans Scrambling for a Winning Election Strategy

On Nov. 7, a certain percentage of the voters will be thinking seriously about the issues and they will be Republican or Democrat or independent. But a certain percentage will believe they're thinking seriously about the issues but they will allow themselves to be swayed by a Republican campaign that has run out of issues to run on and has no effective accomplishments to brag about. Time is running out for the Republicans and they are in a desperate scramble to hang on to power in Congress. After an avalance of bad news, what options are left to Bush, Karl Rove, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist and even sometimes, shock though it may be, John McCain? Apparently, not much. Other than making promises that somehow things will be different if Republicans remain in control of Congress, the options are the usual for a party increasingly bereft of moral leadership and ideas: smears, lies, spending lots more money than the Democrats, and fear. That's a pathetic excuse for a campaign and Americans ought to know better by now.

Howard Fineman of Newsweek has some thoughts on this year's campaign:
Backed into a corner, George W. Bush gets louder and more deeply West Texas: a high-school football coach, down by 20 points at halftime, banging on the metal lockers for inspiration. He thinks that even a trace of presidential doubt will embolden Democrats at home and evildoers in Iraq. So here he was, at a not-oversubscribed Washington fund-raiser, launching the last drive of his last campaign with grim determination and warnings of apocalypse if Democrats take Congress. "They are the party of cut and run," he said. "Victory in Iraq is vital for the security of a generation of Americans who are coming up. And so we will stay in Iraq! We will fight in Iraq! And we will win in Iraq!"

First of all, is Fineman sure that Bush knows what game is being played? But more to the point: Bush is president, not a cheerleader and being president means knowing what you're trying to accomplish. It's means firing people who aren't getting the job done. It's means being honest with yourself about the facts and being reasonably honest with the American people. It means talking to our enemies because that's what the job calls for. It means putting the US Constitution and the American people above your own political desires and the desires of your cronies. What we do not need from President Bush is more of the same.

Let's hear more from Fineman:
The Bush administration now administers two Green Zones, one in Baghdad and one in the White House. The question raised by both is the same: can the people inside deal with the people outside?


Bush's newfound confidence in and focus on his role as commander in chief matched Karl Rove's my-way-or-the-highway theory of public life. He hasn't bothered to meet with Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who recently came back from a fact-finding trip to Iraq. Watch for Warner to reward the president by declaring that American soldiers are now dying there in vain.

Only the voters can decide what happens on November 7th. Whether voters allow themselves to be seduced once more by a barrage of negative ads from Republicans or whether a majority finally says enough is enough, the Republican Party is crumbling from its own contradictions, ineptness and corruption.

There is already rumbling that the Republican Party needs to rebuild itself. Although I don't want to read too much into his words, because sometimes he backpedals from his own assertions, the curious David Brooks of The New York Times seems to be sending a shot across the bow of right wingers who are determined to maintain their domination of the Republican Party and therefore the nation:
"Tell us, why, again, Republicans need 55 senators?" Rush Limbaugh asked not long ago. "Why do we need 55 senators when we have so many malcontents and traitors in the bunch? And they all happen to be from the Northeast, and they all happen to be moderates, they all happen to be liberals."

In that spirit, the National Federation of Republican Assemblies set out to rid the party of this threat. It set up a "RINO Hunters Club" to "root out and hunt down" the squishy centrists who are Republicans in Name Only. The Club for Growth ran candidates to defeat them. Last week on his radio show, Sean Hannity blasted the RINO's again, saying they were costing good conservatives their jobs.


Why have 55 Repubican senators? Why not 25? Why not 15 brave and true? Throw in a few dozen pure-minded Republican House members and you could hold the next Republican convention in a living room.

When people like Rush Limbaugh start devouring members of his own party, isn't that a sign of a party that's grown dysfunctional beyond repair? Democrats need to learn a lesson here: the Republicans, if they go down on Nov. 7th, are going down because they no longer are representative of the American people. (I worried that the attack on Lieberman was an attack on the big tent that Democrats should have but Lieberman has completely given himself away and is no moderate but simply a politician convinced of his personal entitlement; nevertheless, Democrats need to maintain the big tent elsewhere.)

Here's more from David Brooks:
[Republican moderates] are looking for orderly places to raise their children. They are what you might call antiparty empiricists. They distrust partisans and can't imagine why anyone would be sick enough to base an identity on a political organization. They don't expect much from government but a few competently delivered services, and they don't like public officials who unnerve them.


The big issue is Iraq, but the core problem with suburban voters is not the decision to go to war; it's the White House reaction to the mess afterward. As Robert Lang, the superlative specialist at Virginia Tech, notes, when people mess up a project in an office park, there are consequences. But Donald Rumsfeld never gets fired. Jerry Bremer and Tommy Franks get medals.

This is not how engineers and empirically minded managers behave. The people in these offices manage information for a living, and when they see Republicans denying obvious trends, or shutting out relevant data, they say to themselves, "Those people are not like me."

So there goes your majority. ...

Brooks is talking about the average rational Republican and makes a number of excellent points, but he also misses a few things. The main thing he misses is that as rational Republicans finally take time from their busy jobs to examine what Bush has done, they are not pleased. And an increasing number of them recognize the fiasco in Iraq not just for the numerous blunders, but for the strategic blunder it was from its initial conception. Keeping right wing Republicans in power Nov. 7th is probably the worse thing the voters can do. There are consequences to what Bush is doing and consequences from the lack of oversight and acccomplishment by the current Congress and it's not a pretty picture. There is no chance of restoring order in the next two years if right wing Republicans remain in power and remain unaccountable.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bush's Position on Iraq Is Growing More Confusing

It is not a good sign that our president is unable to make up his mind which way to go on Iraq. And who can believe anything he says less than three weeks from an election? For that matter, who can believe the hundreds of Republicans running for office who are determined to distance themselves from Bush's policies after spending five years giving Bush everything he wants. Let's see: five years of rubber-stamping Bush's failed Iraq policy versus three weeks of appearing independent just before an election; which one might represent the real Republican philosophy?

Raw Story carries an Associated Press article by Jennifer Loven that suggests the president is back in his strange image-protection mode instead of admitting his mistakes and thinking seriously about what's best for the country:
President Bush on Saturday reviewed Iraq strategy with top war commanders and national security advisers, but indicated little inclination for major changes to an increasingly divisive policy.

"Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal."

Under bipartisan, pre-election pressure for a significant re-examination of the president's war plan, the White House is walking a fine line.

It made sure to publicize the president's high-level meeting on the deteriorating conditions in Iraq —October already is the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops. At the same time, officials characterized the session as routine and part of a continuing discussion that seeks merely tactical adjustments to —not a radical overhaul of —war policy.

Our goal is victory. Got that? That's our goal. And that's the problem in a nutshell. Vague public relations trumps real policy change. Once again, our strange president puts his cowboy foreign policy style over substance. Once again, our president is unable to admit his mistakes. Once again, the president is unable to understand that the war in Iraq, the war we did not need, is a strategic blunder. Bush's priority seems to be his political image rather than our troops or our foreign policy.

Larry Johnson, who worked for the CIA for many years, has a post in No Quarter on Iraq:
Hey, let's buy Tony Snow a copy of Carl von Clausewitz's classic, ON WAR, and help him understand the difference between "strategy" and "tactics". Tony's tap dancing today during the White House press briefing revealed a shallow political hack swimming in deep waters. When asked, "are we winning", poor Tony could not come up with a definition of victory. In fact, he responded rhetorically, "what is victory". According to Clausewitz:
tactics teaches the use of armed forces in the engagement; strategy, the use of engagements for the object of the war.
What is our objective in Iraq? Eliminating weapons of mass destruction? Promoting democracy? "Fighting them (the terrorists) there so we don't have to fight them here?" These are not mutually compatible objectives. It is the lack of a clear answer that accounts for our nation's inability to define victory in Iraq. Bush, Cheney, and Rummy need to figure out what in the hell we are trying to do. Once that is clearly defined then we will be in a position to devise tactics that will complement the strategic objective.

There's local strategic thinking and global strategic thinking. On both counts, it's not clear what Bush is trying to accomplish in Iraq but he's failing on both counts, particularly on global strategic thinking since the United States, thanks to Bush's bungling, is now in a weaker position in the world than it was four years ago.. 'Staying the course' cannot of itself improve our position since things are beginning to happen while we're tied down in Iraq that are not in our best interests.

Larry Johnson goes on to make some suggestions on how to proceed in Iraq. The first comment after his post is by Daniel A. Greenbaum who makes a good observation:
One of the odder features of the war in Iraq is that it is totally unclear what George Bush thinks the goal is. There seems to be many groups or advisors or Cheney and Rumsfeld all of whom have a goal but what is Bush's goal or what was it?

One of the main points of Supreme Command by Eliot Cohen is that only the elected leader of a nation can really have the final say about the goal of war. War is ultimately about achieving some defined political goal. Military commanders can provide strategic and tactical means but not the political goal. Bush has been so vague and so out of command it is no doubt that the war in Iraq has been such a disaster.

Greenbaum makes a good point (and I've read Cohen's useful book) and I don't want to diminish what he's saying but I have to mention the strong feeling I've had for the longest time that Bush has no goal in Iraq except to be remembered as a war president and as the son who supposedly finished his father's job. These are not the political goals in the sense that Greenbaum is talking about and, in a sense, they are only personal goals. They are goals not worthy of a foreign policy to be embraced by the American people. So we've had a public relations parade for four years of contradictory goals, none of which seem to have Bush's full commitment.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Iraq and John McCain's Sinking Star

I used to like John McCain but his inability to criticize Bush's management of the war in Iraq, even obliquely, has become ridiculous in the face of Bush's repeated blunders.

There's a reason Republicans are slipping in the polls. The American people are looking for leadership, they're looking for voices that know what they're talking about, or, at the very least, will tell it like it is.

The last thing Americans want right now are rubber stampers. McCain used to be known for being independent-minded. No longer. Ever since John McCain tied his wagon to the Bush presidency back in the spring of 2004, he makes less and less sense. But then how can McCain make sense if he has to avoid seriously contradicting what Bush says?

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory has a post on McCain:
When pro-war advocates talk about Iraq these days, what they say is not only misguided and false, but almost always incoherent. ... ... Here is the very serious, responsible, straight-talking national security guardian John McCain, "explaining" his view of Iraq to Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about an area where we‘ve all been involved, you especially, in talking about Iraq and how we can win this war or deal with it. You‘ve called, just in the last couple of days, for 100,000 more troops on top of the 140,000 we have as a compliment there.

When I read that on the clips this morning, I went to General Barry McCaffrey, whom you know so well, and he said we‘ve got only a total of 19 brigades that we could actually put into combat right now. We have 17 committed, two of those brigades to Afghanistan, 15 brigades already in Iraq. He says we simply don‘t have the capability to sustain another 100,000 troops in Iraq. You disagree?

MCCAIN: I said we need 100,000 more ...


MCCAIN: ...members of the Marines and the Army. We need additional troops there, but I think we need to expand the Army and the Marine Corps by 100,000 people.

MATTHEWS: More recruitment.

MCCAIN: I didn‘t say we need 100,000 -- more recruitment.
Huh? I've heard McCain more or less make an argument before for additional troops. McCain isn't always clear but I keep waiting for him to explain just exactly what the heck he's talking about. McCain is so vague I suspect the White House has given him the green light to sound more hawkish than Bush who's decided to 'stay the course,' meaning no more troops, no phased withdrawal, and actually, as we all know, just more paralysis and buck passing.

Glenn Greenwald goes on to summarize the McCain interview:
So, to recap McCain's position: (1) in order to win in Iraq, we need to expand our military by 100,000 more troops; (2) we don't have anywhere near 100,000 troops to send to Iraq, and nobody suggests that we do; (3) a draft is absolutely unnecessary.

Actually, it's worse than that and McCain ought to know it. We would have trouble rounding up enough equipment for 100,000 additional troops while still satisfying our obligations elsewhere. Three years ago, we had that equipment.

At this late date, of course, even if equipment were available, and even if it were politically acceptable, a draft would almost be pointless since it would require about a year to get troops selected, trained and shipped. The reality is that time is growing short. If McCain is talking about a voluntary recruitment drive, it doesn't change much. Iraq is in a downward spiral and we all know it and there's not much to be gained by staying in Iraq except perhaps at a distance from the fighting to keep the war from spreading beyond Iraq's borders. It's increasingly up to the Iraqis to decide their own fate. Most of the fighting is now among themselves.

Now the war in Iraq was flawed for strategic reasons as well as constitutional ones but once we made the commitment and recognized the numerous blunders made (including lack of planning), it was probably still possible to send another 100,000 fully equipped troops by early fall of 2003 to help clean up the mess and in fact calls were made to do so. As I recall, McCain was not one of those voices.

Here's another point: the longer troops remain in the field (cycling in and out every six to twelve months doesn't much matter), the more discipline breaks down. We're at a point where we need to start talking seriously about rebuilding the military and bringing it back up to speed. We can probably still handle an emergency elsewhere but the longer the war in Iraq drags out, the less we're going to be in a position to handle other problems.

Then, there's the issue that nearly every country in the world knows we're tied down. Bush's war in Iraq and his repeated blunders are seriously limiting what we can do in foreign policy. John McCain's failure to recognize the situation is disturbing, to say the least.

Like Bush, John McCain is three years too late.

The Test of Globalization

There's been a lot of talk about Globalization in the last twelve years or so. One of the selling points of Globalization is that all boats will begin to rise. The argument is that as other economies around the world improve, those economies will begin to buy more of our goods. The argument was meant to include people at all economic levels, including laborers of all sorts who are the backbone of so many of the new factories in places like China. But officials in China have noticed, as have many others, that wages of workers are not climbing nearly as rapidly as profits.

Here's a story from earlier in the month by David Barboza of The New York Times about the efforts in China to correct the situation and the balking of big corporations:
China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.

The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here.


Whether the foreign corporations will follow through on their warnings is unclear because of the many advantages of being in China — even with restrictions and higher costs that may stem from the new law. It could go into effect as early as next May.

It would apply to all companies in China, but its emphasis is on foreign-owned companies and the suppliers to those companies.

Low wages in China has an impact on American jobs. Workers in America are also growing impatient with frozen wages while CEOs become the beneficiaries of record bonuses and stock options (even to the point of stock options being back-dated). I have no problem with capable people being paid more but I do have a problem with a system that is increasingly rigged to favor wealth. With one per cent of our population owning ninety per cent of America's wealth, something is very wrong.

Paul Krugman has a column in today New York Times that points out the disparity between the past when executives did quite well and the absurd scale of our current era:
In the 1960's and 1970's, C.E.O.'s of the largest firms were paid, on average, about 40 times as much as the average worker. But executives wanted more...


In the 1990's, executive stock options proliferated— and executive pay soared, rising to 367 times the average worker's pay by the early years of this decade.

From 40 times more than the average worker to 367 times more than the average worker. Average, it should be noted. Just how many yachts, planes and vacation homes does the average CEO need while wages in America race to the bottom?

Globalization was supposed to raise everybody's boats, and instead wages have stagnated. Let's keep in mind that workers of all kinds built America, not just CEOs. The system has become rigged (no bid contracts, for example) and it seem the boats of low income workers and much of the middle class have been made to leak and too many people are spending time bailing out the water just to stay afloat.

I wish China well if they can manage to improve the conditions of workers. I don't expect, however, that our current president will start doing more for American workers. He's been too busy protecting the wealth of his friends instead of creating new opportunities and fostering new technologies such as alternative energy, efficient environmental systems, stem cell research and a host of other things languishing because they don't create an immediate profit for corporations which are top-heavy with people too busy with five-year personal enrichment programs no matter the cost to the country and future generations.

A democracy cannot remain healthy if the middle class is under threat and low income workers have little hope. We need hope for America to thrive. We need changes and given the greed of the current Republican Party which has spent far too much time at the feeding trough (think Hastert, Cunningham and Halliburton), we know we cannot turn to them.