Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Delusional and Contrary Mr. Bush

It's hard to escape the notion that if liberals say the night is dark, a right-wing contrarian like President Bush will get it in his head to say the opposite just to spite liberals. Right wing conservative pundits have made a living out of being contrarians but the effect of such nonsense on the affairs of our country can only be described as a fiasco when put into action and made part of official American policy. In the end, we are witnessing a national tragedy of historic dimensions.

The month of May was not a good one for Bush's war in Iraq. The death toll of our soldiers in May comes to 124 and the total coalition deaths, which for some reason does not include Iraqis fighting on our side, is 129 deaths. Not since the bizarre punitive battles that took on the entire city of Fallujah have so many Americans died. The attack on Fallujah remains a symbol of Bush's bizarre war; destroying an entire Iraqi city because of the crimes of a few against a handful of contractors who ignored travel warnings against going into Fallujah not only doesn't make sense, the destruction of a city of 300,000 was an operation that can hardly be considered American. The military opposed the initial plan from the White House to attack Fallujah back in April 2004; it was considered counterproductive. But Bush and his inner circle pushed on.

And now three years later, there is no sign that Bush has learned a thing. But he still considers himself the Decider-in-Chief. Think Progress draws our attention to an article by Georgie Anne Geyer in the Dallas News: all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

Destiny. Methinks the president has a touch of what some call the Napoleonic complex. Years before being handed the keys to the White House by his father, Bush once asked Queen Elizabeth who the back sheep was in her family, obviously making it clear that he was the black sheep in his own family. There is no sign that frat boy ever grew up. The bunker mentality of the president is not healthy and Congress need to come to grips with President Bush's increasingly delusional view of the world. A president with that kind of bunker mentality cannot properly do his job and cannot properly serve the American people.

We have a problem of course in the vice president. There is no other way to describe Cheney except to say that he takes pleasure in being sneaky and dishonest. I say that because 'last throes' Cheney has repeatedly lied to the American people, and among his friends he tells stories that are supposed to be about how clever he is but that, to my mind, show a very different person than Cheney would like us to see. Cheney has no understanding that there is no United States as we know it unless there is law and that law is the US Constitution and the laws that follow thereby from Congress. So we have a dysfunctional right wing president and a dysfunctional right wing vice president and a sluggish Congress that is finally becoming aroused but that is still doing too little to hold Bush and Cheney to account.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Jules Witcover on George W. Bush

Veteran reporter, Jules Witcover, is, among other things, a student of the Nixon era and was one of the first to notice the Nixonian qualities of Bush and his inner circle, particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld. Recently he wrote a book on the strange relationship between Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon; here's a review from Charles Trueheart of Bloomberg:
What neither Nixon nor Agnew could have imagined, as Jules Witcover tells us in his highly readable new account, ``Very Strange Bedfellows,'' is that within five years the two would become ``the only case in American political history of back-to- back political suicides of a vice president and the president under whom he served.''

Witcover is a seasoned political columnist who has been fascinated by the bizarre Agnew case from the outset. The tale remains engrossing to this day. He's especially keen-eyed about the lack of chemistry between the two men, who didn't know each other before and, thanks to Nixon's pathological discomfort with his fellow human beings, never got past formalities.

Yet somehow Agnew, an intellectual and political pipsqueak, appealed to Nixon's insecurities. ``[Nixon] seemed to question his own manliness and was overly impressed by big, handsome, and commanding males, almost to the point of envy for their presence, their confidence, and their easy assertiveness,'' Witcover says.

To be honest, the above sounds more like Blair's relationship to Bush; Tony Blair was more than happy to have President Bush's star power rub off on him. But Bush has real insecurities like Nixon did, though they are of a different type and have more to do with a fundamental lack of ability to understand the world or the purpose of government; Bush often uses P.R. to cover up his inadequacies but he also is obsessed with political gamemanship and executive power in exactly the same way as Nixon was. And Bush's relationship with his father is as strange and neurotic as anything we ever saw with Nixon. Without the senior Bush, junior would never have been president and deep down he knows it. And his staff knows it and are often behind the pathetic comparisons of Bush to other presidents and even to Winston Churchill.

I'm glad to see Jules Witcover doing well. He was one of those reporters early on who criticized President Bush as well as his war in Iraq. He had a regular column in the Baltimore Sun but apparently was let go during budget cuts; one suspects the political hysteria of four years ago might have had something to do with Witcover losing his column and job.

As the failure of the Bush presidency becomes more apparent, it seems we're hearing a little more reality in our newspapers these days; the print media, as is often the case, are considerable ahead of the TV news, particularly the cable guys. Truthout has a recent New York Times column by Jules Witcover on Bush and the challenges facing the next president:
More than three decades ago, Nixon White House Counsel John Dean called the Watergate cover-up "a cancer on the presidency." Another one exists today, posing a challenge for the next president to restore the office as a credible voice in foreign policy.

President Bush's detour in Iraq off the multilateral track adhered to throughout the Cold War years has caused a deep drop in American prestige abroad, requiring extensive repair by his successor regardless of which party wins in 2008.

While Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq has been the immediate trigger for the decline of American influence, just as significant was his original failure to capitalize on the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to mobilize a truly collective global response.

Jules Witcover is nobody's network poodle earning seven figures; he's a pro. Give him a read.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

I Support the Troops and Oppose Bush's Fiasco

I support our troops and oppose Bush's reckless and arrogant war in Iraq. I'm tired of the way Bush's many and various reasons for war fall apart. And I'm tired of the latest mindless drivel from right wing Republicans that if we don't fight them there, they'll come here. That's an old line from emotional and baseless arguments that were used by the John Birchers of the Cold War era. During the Cold War, the John Birchers were considered the lunatic fringe by both Republicans and Democrats. Today's Republicans ought to know better.

Despite the hysterical shrillness of the American right, it is no contradiction to say I support the troops and oppose Bush's war in Iraq, and I'm tired of the deliberate distortion of such a simple and straightforward view. The right wingers even fail to note that an overwhelming majority of Americans, myself included, agreed with the necessity of dealing militarily with Afghanistan. But when did we begin accepting the nonsense of starting a second war, a war we obviously did not need, before finishing a war that needed to be finished in the first place? The bottom line is that George W. Bush must be held accountable by the legal means provided by the US Constitution. It is time.

Let me offer an analogy. Keeping in mind that no analogy is perfect, that their purpose is to illustrate a point rather than playing broad word games (Ah! You're really talking about 9/11! (actually no)), consider a crooked mayor of a major city. The mayor has financial reasons for wanting to replace the current city hall but he can't say that to the voters. He tries this and he tries that and the voters don't buy it and he has to be careful that he doesn't get in trouble with the voters, so he backs off. But he still wants a new city hall—with a his name on it—and plenty of contracts for his cronies.

Like I said, this mayor is not particularly honest and he comes up with the bright idea of moving his office to the Hilton because 'city hall is no longer safe: it is old and decrepit and a fire hazard.' Or so the mayor says. The critics take issue with the mayor; it's a perfectly fine building and maybe the critics concede an improvement or two may be necessary (aha! say the mayor friends, see, see!) but certainly not the complete replacement of city hall. The critics, despite the noise of the mayor's supporters, start making headway and the mayor gets nervous and comes up with another bright idea: he calls in his inner circle and he tells his henchmen to burn down the city hall during a parade when no one's looking too closely: the city will have no choice but to replace the city hall!

Now for all practical purposes, the mayor doesn't actually light the fire but he's the one who owns the box of matches. Anyway, the city hall's on fire and he's satisfied that his plan is moving along. He'll have the voters in his hands in no time. But his henchmen didn't know what they were doing. They made such a mess of burning down city hall, that nearby blocks are now on fire. It's a lot bigger fire than the mayor intended. The firemen, who have nothing to do with the mayor's crooked decision to burn down city hall, are doing their job. But it's such a huge fire that firemen are getting injured. Some are getting killed. And people are finding out that the mayor has been diverting funds for fire equipment and training. But the mayor's behind the firemen and when people start suspecting what a crook the mayor is, he tries to say that his critics don't support the firemen.... Bull.

It's a no brainer that people would support the firemen in such a situation. They're just doing their job and they're putting their lives on the line. But somebody started that fire and if you have your eyes open, it's not that hard to notice that the civilian guy in charge is responsible for the fire, and is a crook.

Bush is a crook. He started a fire in Iraq. The fire is a lot bigger than he ever thought it was going to be. He screwed up royally. Our troops are trying to put out the fire that Bush started and the incompetence and ideological rigidity and the budget cuts of the Bush Administration aren't helping our troops. A crook needs to be held accountable. Some argue that Bush is merely incompetent, and not a crook. But these days, not many Americans buy the argument that we can trust Bush, and they're just now beginning to realize that Bush is a lawbreaker and dishonest—I call him a crook, for short. That assessment has nothing to do with our troops. They're doing their job and putting their lives on the line. For all practical purposes, they've done their job and yet they're still on the line. Prolonging the war doesn't make sense. It's time for the Iraqis to put out their own fire. Yeah, we made a mess and we'll have to help them somewhat and no doubt we'll have no choice but to leave some troops nearby and even our air force and navy will have to keep flying overhead, but the Iraqis themselves have been adding fuel to the fire and now have some responsibility for the fire in Iraq. Keep in mind there are no good solutions to Iraq. That is an indication of how badly Bush and his neocons advisers have mucked things.

Congress doesn't have a lot of tools for making a president accountable for his mistakes, his lies, and his dishonesty once a war we did not need is launched. One of those tools happens to be funding. If you want to stop the killing of our soldiers, you have to stop doing the same thing over and over without purpose. And about the only way to do that is to get the president's attention by cutting off funding. There are plenty of ways to protect our troops as we draw down but funding a war whose purpose has been reduced to putting our troops on patrol so they can get shot at is not exactly good for our troops. Sending our troops on tour after tour is not good for our troops. Failing to train our troops is not good for our troops. It doesn't make sense.

Right wingers who say Democrats don't support the troops don't know what they're talking about. And Bush's continuing refusal to listen to the Iraq Study Group in a timely manner, say six months ago instead of six months from now, is inexcusable. Kicking the can down the road is not an acceptable policy. It would make more sense for Cheney and Bush to resign than allow Bush's war to drift for another 20 months in the hands of these two incompetent crooks who have botched things so badly we're now in the middle of a civil war.

And then there's the issue of that box of matches that Bush and Cheney are still holding. They've still got them. They're still capable of starting another war we don't need. Does any conservative at this late date believe another war will be 'supporting our troops'? Or are they just playing politics? Or both? I'm tired of the charade that Republicans know what they're talking about. We've had six years of Republican domination to find out that their philosophy, for what it is, isn't worth a pile a beans.

I repeat: I support the troops and I oppose Bush's fiasco in Iraq. We don't need more excuses and photo ops from Bush, we need accountability. If we are still a democracy, legal procedures must prevail. It's time for responsible Republicans to join Democrats instead of defending Bush. Congress can cut funding for Bush's war. Congress can continue investigations. Congress can appoint special prosecutors. And if these fail to hold Bush and Cheney accountable, there is always impeachment. But it's time to take care of business so our nation can move forward.

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Iran, Oil, and Human Nature

For three hundred years, the human population of the Earth has been exploding while the numbers of many species around the world have been plunging. We know that a large number of species have simply disappeared—and yet I find it odd that there are very large numbers of people who have no curiousity about why such things are happening or if they have any bearing on their own lives or the future of their children.

We don't seem to have a good understanding of why human population starting growing in the 1700s but that rise was nothing compared to the rise that began in the 19th and 20th centuries. To some extent, the rise in human population in the last two hundred years have been driven by new technology but that technology often would not have been possible without finite, nonrenewable fossil fuels like coal and oil. The green revolution, for example, would not have been possible without the use of fossil fuels to make fertilizers.

But human nature is funny. When things are good, memories get very short. In the United States, there are many places in the far west where things were good for a time and memories were very short. I mean gold mining towns, logging towns, fishing villages and so on. During the good times, we forget that gold, trees, fish and a number of other resources are finite. The far west is littered with the remains of ghost towns and signs of old settlements that came and went in a matter of a few decades, or just a handful of years.

For some time, we have been behaving as if carbon-based fuels are infinite or at least some sort of renewable resource. They aren't. At least not the kind we keep pumping or digging out of the ground. If we're lucky, we may eventually be able to run a world economy on renewable resources. But that would require taking a good hard look at where we are and how susceptible we are to our own human nature and how to get around our own shortcomings. And, oh yeah, a lot of research.

Now the Iranians are like everybody else and they're suspect to the same foibles of human nature. Here's an AP story worth thinking about in the International Herald Tribune:
Iran's decision to hike gasoline prices has thrown new light on what could be its most-entrenched problem — a vulnerable, highly subsidized economy, and the political dangers that poses for its populist and hardline president as he faces international pressure over the country's nuclear program.

Even after Tuesday's decision to raise gasoline prices from 800 rials per liter to 1,000 rials per liter (0.059 euros/liter to 0.074 euros/liter, 30 cents/gallon to 38 U.S. cents/gallon), Iran has some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Those rock-bottom prices have led to unnaturally high demand and have saddled the government with fuel subsidies that cost billions of dollars a year.

Iran has any number of economic vulnerabilities, as do most nations around the world, the United States included. In Iran's case, there are vulnerabilities that should be on the negotiating table if the United States is serious about diplomatic breakthroughs (and there are times I doubt that the Bush Administration is in any way serious about any kind of diplomacy unless it's to put off a problem until some later time). Iran has an aging oil infrastructure in bad need of repair and updating. I've talked before about this as a possible venue for lowering tensions if Bush were to choose to do so.

But let's talk about human nature. Iran is very much going down the same path that we did in the 1950s when we had huge oil reserves and we had the notion that the age of oil would last a few hundred years and, therefore we had nothing to worry about. We all remember very cheap gasoline and cars that got ten miles to the gallon. In fact, several of the oil producing countries in the Middle East act as if the oil will last forever and in places like Saudi Arabia, gasoline too is subsidized. I suppose it's human nature to enjoy the good times—while they last. But we're not talking about boom towns of 6,000 people that later become ghost towns because everybody moves away; we're talking about a world of over 6 billion people, that if it doesn't start getting more realistic and pragmatic in its thinking about energy, could be in serious jeopardy.

To be honest, Americans haven't learned much from their own experience with being a major oil producer while once upon a time enjoying the luxury of cheap gasoline (make that twice, if we include the oddly low and deceptive prices of the 1980s and 90s). It's human nature to have short memories, and politicians tend to have even shorter memories. But there are Americans thinking about these things. And Europeans. And others. Of course, it's not clear that the oil producers of the Middle East are thinking about these things, or at least those in charge. I read various articles that suggest sometimes that they do think about these things and yet there are still those odd subsidies that will soon be difficult to maintain for some oil producing countries. That Iran is working to begin reducing the subsidies for gas is actually a good sign. In some ways, it's more than we're doing. If, as some argue, we're in Iraq because of oil, then we have been supporting our oil economy with over $500 billion in direct subsidies since 2003. And that doesn't count the oil subsidies that are already acknowledged.

It's human nature not to want to think about these things. But it's a flaw we can no longer afford.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More on Bush, Cheney, Iran and Journalists

We have learned a lot in the last six years about the relationship between government officials, particularly Bush government officials, and journalists. From a different angle, here's another story on Iran with some interesting observations by Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly:
...let's face it: a campaign of "propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions" is just about the mildest possible covert operation you can imagine. Why would anyone at the CIA, let alone multiple sources, be so outraged by it that they decided to leak its existence to ABC News?

Beats me. Maybe I'm not using my imagination enough. But there is an alternative: namely that this wasn't the work of malcontents at all. Rather, it was deliberately leaked as a way of sending a message to Iran, in much the same way that Simon Tisdall's "senior US official in Baghdad" decided that the Guardian might be a good place to plant a similar message. There seems to be a fair amount of that kind of thing going on right now.

Perhaps Cheney and company are behind the spin on the naval exercises story after all. It's still speculation but we are in dangerous times. And the fact remains that the Bush Administration and any number of journalists, anxious to keep their sources so they can keep writing their stories, are not being entirely straight with the American people these days.

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Naval Exercises in Persian Gulf

As long as our troops are in Iraq, a greater US naval presence than usual is necessary in the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf, besides being the main route for supplying our troops in Iraq, is, after all, our line of eventual withdrawal of at least the majority of our troops at some time in the future (preferably that withdrawal will begin in the next year or two, though no one who has watched the reckless Bush Administration for six years is holding their breath).

While our navy is in the Persian Gulf, they have to be prepared for anything and part of being prepared is holding exercises. That's understood. But how those exercises are portrayed can be a touchy matter. We now have two aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. That's a strong military presence. There was concern for a time that we might put three aircraft carrier groups in the area; three aircraft carriers might have been a serious signal of impending military action against Iran. Naval exercises with three aircraft carriers would have heightened tensions not just in the Persian Gulf but around the world.

The Huffington Post carries an interesting article on the naval exercises by Barbara Surk of AP; I recommend reading the whole article but here's an excerpt:
Ships packed with 17,000 sailors and Marines moved into the Persian Gulf on Wednesday as the U.S. Navy staged another show of force off Iran's coast just days before U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad.

The carrier strike groups led by the USS John C. Stennis and USS Nimitz were joined by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and its own strike group, which includes two landing ships carrying 2,100 members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.


The war games—which culminate in an amphibious landing exercise in Kuwait, just a few miles from Iran —appear to be a clear warning to Tehran, coming just ahead of the Baghdad talks and as the United Nations contemplates tightening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

A good reporter gets a story from multiple sources, if possible. Surk mentions the navy and what I assume is an Arab foreign policy expert in Dubai. No mention is made of the White House but I can't help feeling Cheney's fingerprints are on the story. Maybe not. But consider that the USS Bonhomme becomes a third ship after the two aircraft carriers as if it is almost equivalent to an aircraft carrier. We are told there will be amphibious operations and that's fine; that is a part of naval operations and if we think of it as a defensive capability, it's a capability worth showing, if there's a reason to. Except perhaps as a way of creating uncertainty and tying down Iranian troops at defensive locations, an offensive amphibious capability against Iran, however, doesn't make any sense given our troop shortage (and the very long coastline of Iran). Without a draft, those troops are not going to be available any time soon.

Then there's the odd point made in the article about the amphibious landing being made in Kuwait "just a few miles from Iran." Well, Iraq has a wedge of land between Kuwait and Iran and that's where a lot of our shipping goes through. So why the point about "just a few miles from Iran"? I hope I'm wrong but the tone of the article almost seems designed to be mildly provocative. If someone was urging Surk to mention these points, perhaps someone from the White House or some proxy, she has an obligation to say so to the reader. Then again, it's possible I'm just misreading the article. Cheney doesn't have his hands on everything that seems odd—just some things.

Of course, Iran is continuing to misguage the Bush Admistration and I'm surprised that it behaves as if it has some sort of political or military cover if things gets worse. If Bush somehow launches a war against Iran because Iran stumbles and provides an opening that even our navy must respond to, we will have a major war and, despite the modest return of Democrats to Congress, the White House may feel no restraint to limit the damage it could do to Iran. In fact, given the ineffectual policies in Iraq, and given the reckless and authoritarian nature of Bush and Cheney, who always overreact to their own failures, they could get the stupid idea that it's necessary to show a 'real' demonstration of American power, without the considerable restraints that frankly have operated in Iraq (and that were necessary if we were to accomplish what we reportedly claimed to be our goals). The chance of war with Iran have diminished but no one should take anything for granted, not us and not the Iranians.

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More on Jimmy Carter and Former Presidents

Dan Froomkin of White House Watch has been following the weird tantrum coming out of the White House in response to Carter's comments. Obviously, Carter hit a nerve. Here's more from Froomkin, including relevant comments by Mark Leibovich of The New York Times:
And for the record, Mark Leibovich writes in the New York Times that "there have been several instances of 'when ex-presidents attack' over the years. As recently as a few months ago, former President Gerald R. Ford criticized Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, albeit from the grave. In an article in The Washington Post, Bob Woodward quoted from an interview he conducted with Mr. Ford with the understanding that he could only publish Mr. Ford's remarks after he died.

"Eisenhower was critical of John F. Kennedy's domestic policies, the first President Bush pounded on Bill Clinton, now his pal, for his Haiti policy, and Nixon chided the first President Bush (for comparing himself to Harry Truman in his 1992 re-election campaign)."

The only real problem Bush and his friends had with Carter's comments is that his words had the ring of truth and the truth can sometimes hurt. Carter is an elder statesman and a gentleman and that explains why he somewhat backed off. However, after listening to Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Duncan Hunter and Tancredo, to mention just five of the candidates, it looks to me that the Republicans are pushing to send yet another failure to the White House. That is no way to rebuild a party.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

White House Accuses Jimmy Carter of Breaking Tradition

Those of us who have been watching George W. Bush closely for some time are quite aware of how thin-skinned the current president is and how less than honest the White House is when it comes to defending the president. Although Jimmy Carter is now somewhat backing away from his statements, here's the original story on what the former president said on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religious blog:
In a stinging rebuke to President Bush, former President Carter on Friday called the current administration “the worst in history” when it comes to international relations.

During a telephone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from the Carter Center in Atlanta, the ex-president also accused the current White House occupant of eliminating the line between church and state and of abandoning “America’s basic values.”

“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history. The overt reversal of America’s basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including [those of] George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me,” Carter said.

The White House was so concerned by Jimmy Carter's comments that they apparently had a session on how to respond to him and ended up calling him 'irrelevant':
In a biting rebuke, the White House on Sunday dismissed former President Jimmy Carter as "increasingly irrelevant" after his harsh criticism of President Bush.

Well, that sort of begs the question, doesn't it? If Nobel Peace prize winner and former President Jimmy Carter is irrelevant, then why was it necessary to respond?

As I said, Carter has somewhat backed off from his comments and I wish he hadn't. The media has stuck it's usual clumsy foot in the tiff by irrelevantly pointing out that former presidents do not criticize the sitting president. Yes, that has been a tradition but I would point out that the senior Bush has criticized his son in public by noting that his son is thin-skinned. The junior Bush did not object at the time, possibly because an objection would have drawn unwanted attention to what his father said. So the 'tradition' has already been broken, by George W. Bush's own father.

But let's go back to the cozy word, 'tradition.' There are good traditions and bad traditions. Slavery was a tradition at one time and a bad one; it was at one time acknowledged in the US Constitution and our constitution had to be changed. I'm inclined to think that for the most part it is a good 'tradition' for a former president not to criticize a sitting president. But what if the sitting president is breaking traditions himself, breaking them so recklessly and arrogantly that it becomes a bit of self-serving hypocrisy to invoke 'tradition' when it's convenient?

Let's look at some of the traditions Bush has broken:

It has been a 'tradition' for the president to work together with Congress when thinking about going to war. In 2002, Bush and his proxies repeatedly lied to Congress and claimed the president didn't need Congressional authority to go to war.

It has been a 'tradition' to separate Church and State. Our forefathers had many bad experiences with people who tried to conflate the two; the Baptists, in particular, were persecuted in our early history by those who insisted on a government-back denomination and even insisted on taxes being paid to that church which the Baptists were not members of. There are good reasons for that 'tradition' but Bush has found it politically advantageous to break down the wall that separates Church and State.

It has been a 'tradition' that Americans do not torture people. Bush has violated that tradition and pretended not to violate that tradition while seeking legal 'authority' to break the tradition with ridiculous signing statements that themselves ignore the tradition of leaving large legal issues to Congress and the courts. Congress writes the laws, not the president. The courts interpret the law, not the president. And torture is inconsistent with our values as a democratic nation and Bush's attitude on the matter has severely damaged our reputation around the world. When Bush talks about democracy, the world is no longer listening as closely to the United States as it once did.

It would not be difficult to continue listing 'traditions' Bush has broken. Many of those 'traditions' are in fact the law of the land (and there is no such law about former presidents). The fact of the matter is that George W. Bush is a national and international crisis all by himself. As the evidence mounts of the Bush Administration's blunders and even criminal behavior, I would urge Jimmy Carter and other former president to continue making statements on the most reckless and failed president in our nation's history. None of us are saying these things lightly. They have been imposed on us by a president who is unwilling to admit his mistakes and unwilling to change. Change can only come when our nation acknowledges we have a crisis in the White House.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Poll: While Bush Stays in Bubble, Americans Confronting Real World

Bush's numbers continue to fall as he ignores reality and pushes ahead with his corrupt behavior. Ironically, as Bush continues to defend Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales, he probably ensures more legal trouble for himself than if he simply fired those two and cleaned up his act. But Bush is a truly rigid authoritarian who can't see very well. It's going to take more work on the part of Congress and others to continue limiting the president's recklessness.

Here's an AP poll carried by The Huffington Post:
It's gloomy out there. Men and women, whites and minorities _ all are feeling a war-weary pessimism about the country seldom shared by so many people.

Only 25 percent of those surveyed say things in the U.S. are going in the right direction, according to an AP-Ipsos poll this month....


The current glumness is widely blamed on public discontent with the war in Iraq and with President Bush. It is striking for how widespread the mood is among different groups of people.


When voter optimism hits such low levels, "It's not being driven by any specific group. It's a general kind of malaise that's across the board," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said.

Actually, I'm amazed that Bush's numbers, even at this late date, are still as good as they are. After twenty years of wins by conservatives that year by year pulled our country dangerously to the right, Bush came in. Since 9/11 (but even before), The Decider has had a free hand to pursue his radical right-wing agenda for the last six years—and the results are not pretty. But common sense has deserted much of the Republican Party. As an example, Southern California is experiencing a severe drought. In conservative Orange County, public officials in March asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage. Instead, water usage shot up! Now that's in-your-face conservativism!

There are signs that the rest of America is waking up but that 25-30% of Americans who think Bush's radical right-wing agenda is good for America need to look long and hard in the mirror. Reality is catching up and photo ops, spin, posturing and fantasies are no way to confront those realities. If a dam is beginning to crack, there are things you can do about it but first you have to admit that the dam is beginning to crack.

Our country was built by optimists but that optimism would have been worthless in the vast American wilderness if it had not been paired with the ability to look at things honestly. Among other things, Bush has been stuffing the government with loyalists who are incompetent. A majority of Americans know in their hearts that the government can't function without the professionals who know what their doing and we know we can find those professionals regardless of whether they're Democrats, Republicans or independents. But Bush blunders on. That is where we're at in the spring of 2007, in the seventh year of America's most failed presidency.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Greatest Danger to America

The greatest danger to America is not al Qaida or radical Islam or even terrorism. The greatest threat is an increasingly dysfunctional government. A dysfunctional government cannot deal effectively with terrorism or any of the other important issues facing our nation.

One of the Republican mythologies that has too often gone unchallenged in the last twenty years is the notion that Ronald Reagan 'defeated' the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a serious adversary at the height of its power but it was never the hysterical threat that fearful right wingers made it out to be. The hysteria of the right was even noted by President Eisenhower who observed the coincidence of the growing economic and political interests of America's defense industry which clearly benefited from that hysteria (there used to be jokes in Washington about how that hysteria was most obvious at budget time).

The CIA did several studies of the Soviet Union in the decades that followed World War Two. One of the things that became apparent were the many ethnic, political and economic contradictions of the Soviet Union. In the late 1970s, before Reagan in other words, the CIA predicted that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse because of its internal contradictions. Two of the things that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union were rampant corruption and incompetence. The incompetence was to some extent a direct result of the ideological rigidity of the leadership of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union had less to do with communism than the rigidity which made it nearly impossible to react to changing conditions. In contrast, look at China, which technically is still led by a communist party. After the disasters of the 1950s and 1960s, the pragmatists in China finally gained control and China has become an economic juggernaut, largely because it left its ideology behind in favor of far more realistic and workable policies. There is much that is wrong in China and it's possible that the contradictions that still exist in China, contradictions that the leadership continues to ignore, may eventually undo the gains of recent decades. For one thing, China is having its own problems with corruption. And that too is a lesson for the United States.

The media is still largely asleep about the real dangers that face the United States. In the case of Fox News, of course, we have a media outlet that directly contributes to our own internal contradictions. Fox News legitimizes neoconservative foreign policy fantasies about regime change, it legitimizes hate speech, and it legitimizes business interests who distort scientific research in areas such as global warming, pollution, health, tobacco and so on as a way of avoiding dealing with the changing conditions of the world. The Washington Post is a serious news outlet but it has been sluggish in recent years when it comes to holding President Bush and his advisers accountable despite their recklessness and incompetence and increasingly obvious corruption. Here's The Washington Post's editorial from Friday (via Truthout):
It doesn't much matter whether President Bush was the one who phoned Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's hospital room before the Wednesday Night Ambush in 2004. It matters enormously, however, whether the president was willing to have his White House aides try to strong-arm the gravely ill attorney general into overruling the Justice Department's legal views. It matters enormously whether the president, once that mission failed, was willing nonetheless to proceed with a program whose legality had been called into question by the Justice Department. That is why Mr. Bush's response to questions about the program yesterday was so inadequate.


These are important topics for public discussion, and if anyone doubts that they can safely be discussed in public, they need look no further than Mr. Comey's testimony. Instead of doing so, Mr. Bush wants to short-circuit that discussion by invoking the continuing danger of al-Qaeda.

"And so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people, and programs that we constantly brief to Congress," Mr. Bush assured the country yesterday, as he brushed off requests for a more detailed account. But this is exactly the point of contention. The administration, it appears from Mr. Comey's testimony, was willing to go forward, against legal advice, with a program that the Justice Department had concluded did not "honor the civil liberties of our people." Nor is it clear that Congress was adequately informed. The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Even by the standards of The Washington Post, the editorial is timid but it is at least a step in the right direction. The Washington Post editors have been sluggish about recognizing the scandals and corruption of the White House and Republican Congress. We have, in fact, reached a point where no charge made against the Bush Administration can automatically be dismissed as absurd. That is how bad things have gotten.

One of the most dangerous things Bush has done in the last six years is stuff his administration with people who are not merely loyal but all too often spectacularly incompetent. And too often corrupt. A nation that cannot adapt to the changes that are swiftly beginning to impact it is a nation that is heading for serious trouble.

It is still a fact that the United States is a great nation but there is a real danger of that greatness becoming Republican mythology if we do not protect our democratic institutions along with the pragmatism that came out of those institutions and thereby became an integral part of our economy, science and law. Al Qaida is a problem that must be dealt with—competently. But the reality is that the biggest threat to our country is a dysfunctional government that is crippled by ideological rigidity, fear-mongering, corruption and incompetence.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz and the Bush Governing Style

Yesterday, I pointed out that former Bush Pentagon offical Paul Wolfowitz was never much of an administrator and that his problems as president of the World Bank stem in part from his adoption of the Bush style of governing. The following post by Steve Clemons in The Washington Note naturally caught my interest:
Many officials in the Bank did not like Wolfowitz because of his central role in designing, planning and launching the Iraq War. But had the former Deputy Secretary of Defense come into the Bank with a compelling plan for global economic development that built on the strengths and addressed some of the weaknesses of the Bank's relative skill sets, a relationship of mutual trust and respect, even if grudging, would have taken root.

Even one of Wolfowitz's closest friends and the not-often discussed third political appointee (the other two were the more controversial Kevin Kellems and Robin Cleveland) brought in by Wolfowitz, Karl Jackson, has reportedly told numerous World Bank and diplomatic pals of his that "Paul has no plan. Everything is ad hoc, reactive -- first we go this way, then we go that." If his friends are saying that, imagine what Wolfowitz's enemies think.

And in this sad public battle over whether Wolfowitz acted appropriately or not regarding the employment options, compensation, and performance evaluations of his girlfriend, Wolfowitz also seemed to operate in exactly the mode Jackson describes -- without a plan, reactive, ad hoc, first this way and then that.

Yep, that's very much the Bush style of governing and amplifies what I wrote yesterday. I should also point out something I have mentioned in the past and that columnist Jules Witcover (formerly of the Baltimore Sun) mentioned four years ago: there's a Nixonian streak in the Bush presidency that's obvious for anyone honest enough to see it. I've been convinced for a long time that the Bush inner circle, Cheney and Rumsfeld in particular because of their history, were determined to out-Nixon Nixon in terms of overreaching presidential power and in terms of politicizing the White House. It should be noted by the way that the authoritarian mediocrities that are speaking in the Republican presidential debates keep trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of Ronald Reagan but it's the ghost of Nixon and his McCarthyite past whose dark visage haunts the stage.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Crisis in the White House

The rot inside the Bush Administration and particularly inside the White House is becoming apparent for all to see. The more questions that are asked, the more rot begins to show thus leading to even more questions. And holes in testimony the size of barn doors that require yet another series of questions, including questions about why Congress and the American people were lied to in the first place. The fertile minds of people like Karl Rove can no longer keep track of all the lies and spin being put out by the White House. The next few weeks are going to be interesting.

Let's start with a minor problem: Paul Wolfowitz and his crumbling presidency at the World Bank. Let's keep in mind that Wolfowitz was never known as an able administrator. He is a theorist; that's his calling card. Being president of the World Bank requires a certain amount of administrative ability. And Wolfowitz apparently appropriated the Bush model: arrogant, a small circle of loyal advisers, a loose system of ethics, 24/7 spin, blaming everyone but those responsible, etc. What Wolfowitz has lacked is a compliant press and a compliant Congress willing to look the other way; and Wolfowitz's lack of administrative experience made it difficult for him to sweep some of his transgressions under the rug. Now nothing is ever all one way, but defending Wolfotwitz has become difficult to do, if one is honest about what is happening.

The US Attorney scandal, the dysfunctional behavior at the Justice Department and what appears to be the direct involvement of the White House in ordering the firings for purely partisan political reasons is simply getting larger and spilling over into other issues, including what has been the simmering but always disturbing NSA spying story. Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory has some thoughts about James Comey's Congressional testimony:
...yesterday's hearing underscores how unresolved the entire NSA matter is -- how little we know (but ought to know) about what actually happened and how little accountability there has been for some of the most severe and blatant acts of presidential lawbreaking in the country's history.


Comey then made clear that he and Ashcroft met, determined that the NSA program lacked legal authority, and agreed "on a course of action," one whereby the DOJ would refuse to certify the legality of the NSA program. Yet even once Ashcroft and Comey made clear that the program had no legal basis (i.e., was against the law), the President ordered it to continue anyway. As Comey said: "The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality."

Amazingly, the President's own political appointees -- the two top Justice Department officials, including one (Ashcroft) who was known for his "aggressive" use of law enforcement powers in the name of fighting terrorism and at the expense of civil liberties -- were so convinced of its illegality that they refused to certify it and were preparing, along with numerous other top DOJ officials, to resign en masse once they learned that the program would continue notwithstanding the President's knowledge that it was illegal.

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Though unproven, there has been some speculation that the NSA was sometimes used for purposes other than monitoring al Qaida type terrorists. For example, John Bolton apparently seemed to know too much about conversations people in the State Department were having with the North Koreans under Colin Powell's direction; Bolton was something of a Cheney mole who reported various items back to the vice president's office in their dysfunctional and bizarre political war with Bush's own State Department. Laura Rozen of War and Piece raises a related issue:
A reader raises a good point. Why was FBI director Mueller and the FBI so involved in Comey's decision-thinking on the NSA warrantless domestic spying program? Was this about a separate component of the program, that involved the FBI spying without warrants on Americans? Not just the NSA? And think of the time too: mid March 2004 - a few months before the presidential elections.


Comey was more than adamant in his testimony yesterday that these Republican appointee conservative justice department officials -- he, Ashcroft, Goldsmith, Philbin -- could find no legal basis for the program. As Marty Lederman says, imagine just how bad it must have been. bad it must have been. Hmm. Whatever the reason was. Keep in mind that some of the US Attorneys who were fired were Republican appointees who balked at some of the unethical things that the Bush Administration (and apparently some members of Congress) was asking them to do.

The questions and the scandals are growing. Bush can only get out from under the growing clouds hanging over the White House with the compliant cooperation of the media. So, not just the White House, but an overly complacent Washington media will be under close scrutiny in the coming weeks.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Navy Tries to Put Cheney Back in the Attic

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly has more on the third carrier group, the Nimitz, that appeared at one point to be joining the USS Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf. The Eisenhower is on its way home and the Nimitz has taken its place, meaning we have two carrier groups in the gulf instead of the three that would have heightened tensions (isn't the price of gasoline and oil high enough for Bush and Cheney's oil friends?). Drum's post offers some interesting details on what may have been a showdown between the Navy and Cheney's lunatic fringe.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The Growing Signs of Energy Trouble

While high-priced media pundits focus on nonstories like the price of John Edwards' hair cut, there are troubling signs that we cannot keep putting off dealing with energy. I want to start with a post over at The Oil Drum by regular contributor Stuart Staniford who has been analyzing whether Saudi Arabia's recent cutbacks in production are voluntary or a result of oil depletion:
...Saudi oil production has been falling with increasing speeed since summer 2005, and overall, since mid 2004, about 2 million barrels of oil per day in production has gone missing (about 1mbpd in reduction in total production, and about another 1mbpd in that two major new projects, Qatif and Haradh III, failed to increase overall production). That's 2.5% of world production and, if that production hadn't gone missing, gasoline in the US likely would still be somewhere in the vicinity of $2/gallon instead of well over $3.

(snip) [What follows is after several thousand words of analysis that included many graphs]

As you can see, the whole of North Ghawar is either off plateau already, or getting close. That is something like 3.9mbpd of production based on last known figures. Whatever of this decline has not already occurred will mostly occur during the next decade.

Southern Ghawar, by contrast, can maintain plateau for decades to come, but there is only 1.7mbpd of production there on last known figures.

While we cannot attribute an exact fraction at this time, it seems likely that not-altogether successful attempts to maintain the north Ghawar plateau to the bitter end explain a significant fraction of the sharp increase in oil rigs that began in 2004, as well as the production declines since that timeframe...

Bottom line: while Saudi Arabia still has significant reserves and will remain a major oil producer for many years to come, Saudi Arabia's oil production may be in decline or soon will be. There are few projects worldwide that combined can make up for the potential losses resulting from Saudi Arabia's growing production problems; the downward spiral may be already here or coming quickly. This will only aggravate the growing worldwide energy crisis.

The post by Staniford is well worth reading, along with the ongoing discussions that have been going on within The Oil Drum community. I've been following the Saudi Arabia discussion for some time but I'm not an oil expert or geologist; the current post, by the way, is over 16,000 words long: consider browsing it before deciding whether to read it. But it's well-reasoned and Staniford tries to help out lay readers from time to time (and many of the comments that follow the post are helpful). I should point out that the post is something of a serious collaboration by a number of oil experts.

Staniford's study is not conclusive and he is forced to infer a great deal of information because of the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia to be forthcoming with its hard data. But it strikes me that Staniford's analysis is somewhat similar to what the analysis division of the CIA or the Energy Department might do if they too did not have a full set of data. That begs the question. What analysis, if any, has the Bush Administration being doing in the last six years and, if there have been studies, what are their results? And if there have not been studies, why haven't there been? Congressman Henry Waxman has his work cut out for him on this issue.

Speaking of the CIA, let me go back to an article from a year and a half ago by Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers:
Former CIA Director James Woolsey paints a dire scenario: A terrorist attack causes a months-long, 6 million-barrel reduction in Saudi Arabia's daily petroleum output, sending the price of oil skyrocketing past $100 a barrel.

Matthew Simmons, an industry banker and author, says the kingdom's oilfields are deteriorating anyway. And a recent New York Times story cited an intelligence report suggesting that the Saudis lack the capacity to pump as much oil as they boast they can.

Even if nothing disrupts the projected flow of Middle East petroleum, Energy Department consultants warned earlier this year that "the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking" of global oil production - a problem "unlike any faced by modern industrial society." They wrote that the United States and other nations are in a race with the clock to find alternative sources for oil, "the lifeblood of modern civilization," and avoid potential economic disaster.

I'm no fan of former CIA director James Woolsey (a Clinton neocon, he endorsed the war in Iraq far too enthusiastically) but it is interesting to see him talking about the problem of too little oil and the effects it would have on the US. Note too that this was right after Hurricane Katrina when the information spigot opened somewhat on energy issues; however, since then, the mainstream media (the one with the short attention span) has been behaving sluggishly on the story and the Bush Administration has hardly addressed the issue in any comprehensive way beyond favors for Bush's oil friends. If nothing else, Congress needs to push the Bush Administration for an answer to two questions: what's our energy situation and what are you doing about it? We talk about energy independence as if it's a problem that won't be here for twenty years. But our problems have apparently already arrived.

We are a superpower (though damaged somewhat by Bush's incompetence and lack of credibility) and we are still a powerful economy (a bloated, increasingly dysfunctional economy that tilts towards protecting the wealthy regardless of whether they're productive or not). For some time to come, we have the capacity to deal with the issues that will soon be impacting our nation in ways that even media figures earning seven figures can no longer ignore. But it's not certain how long we will have the capacity to act if we continue to ignore these problems.

I've been quietly watching the impact of energy prices and shortages on the poorest nations of the world. I've been hoping to see a comprehensive analysis of slowly shifting oil distribution around the world but nothing has come my way yet. But the anecdotal evidence is building and it's sobering. Part of the reason we're not fully aware of the growing energy crisis may be the result of the poorest countries of the world absorbing the impact as the wealthier nations wind up with excess oil that poor countries can no longer afford. So far, this is an unproven hypothesis but, as I said, the anecdotal evidence is building; here's an AP story by way of Forbes:
An Indian company has cut off oil supplies to landlocked Nepal because it has not been paid millions of dollars, causing widespread fuel shortages across the Himalayan nation, a government spokesman said Thursday.

Vehicles lined up outside several petrol stations still distributing gasoline and diesel in Nepal on Thursday, as Ichcha Bikram Thapa, a spokesman for the Nepal Oil Corporation warned it would soon run out of all reserves.


Nepal imports all its oil products from neighboring India through the government-owned Indian Oil Corporation, but NOC has failed to pay up to 5.9 billion rupees ($90 million) in back payments.

George W. Bush seems to be working hard to provide us with multiple reasons for believing he will be remembered as the most failed president in American history. His energy policy has been and remains a travesty.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hungering for News and Perspective

I stopped reading Joe Klein years ago. It was nothing personal. I simply got to the point where I knew what he was going to say and I noticed that he didn't add much to the knowledge that I already had about things. The same is true about Time and Newsweek, though I should add that as both magazines drifted to the right, I found them less and less reliable in their general understanding of the issues facing our nation. Ironically, I found US News and World Report more reliable because it made no pretense that it was anything other than a conservative magazine.

But let me go further on Time and Newsweek. Decades ago, when both magazines had a reputation of being more moderate or even mildly liberal at times, I read them closely during the Vietnam War just as I read the Los Angeles Times and watched the nightly news. I can still remember some of the details of a number of the battles, bombing raids and the byzantine merry-go-round that passed for politics in Saigon (and how much more Iraqi politicians are resembling them these days!). After some years, I noticed nothing much new was being added to my knowledge and I cut back my reading on Vietnam and, feeling I needed some perspective, I started reading about World War I and World War II. I encountered a lot of material that started to affect how I saw Vietnam, largely because the material gave me a fresh perspective. After the Vietnam War, I was like a lot of Americans; I got busy and forgot about Vietnam for a bit, but not all that long. I started reading books on Vietnam that I should have read years earlier but, reading them, I found I had a whole different perspective that came from my reading of other wars. I mention these tedious details to point out that some of us evolve, our positions begin to change, we begin to see things very differently over time. Some of us even take the trouble to deepen our knowledge. My problem with a lot of Washington media is that not much changes in the period of two or three or four years except career-oriented herd movements. And my discomfort is not entirely about Republicans or Democrats. I'm frankly tired of listening to Richard Carville though I still like the guy.

Let me turn to something Glenn Greenwald wrote on Friday about Joe Klein:
Time Magazine's Joe Klein at a May 5 Annapolis Book Festival, broadcast on C-SPAN (h/t reader CG):
I am really getting sick and tired of people bashing the press all the time.

It used to be that people like me would get bashed from the right, and now there is the whole blogosphere bashing us as well.

Look, at this point, we're pretty well battered. We're losing advertising revenue.

And unless we can actually have the revenue to go out there and the credibility to report these issues, all of these right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and the left-wing bloggers who are parasites on our reporting, are going to have nothing to do but sit home and twiddle their thumbs and opine about things they have no data for.
Apparently, things were fine -- and the Joe Kleins were perfectly content -- when they were getting viciously attacked and mauled every day by Rush Limbaugh and the right. But matters became intolerable once left-wing bloggers started criticizing the press. That is when things just went too far.

I'm almost too dumbfounded by Klein's remarks to know what to say. It takes an enormous ego to consider himself that self-important. I started searching the internet because I wasn't finding news. I started posting on message boards like thousands of others because there was real fundamental bullshit going on in 2002 and 2003 and most of the media was completely missing the story, 'news' I think they call it. The Guardian, the BBC, some Canadian papers, the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau were on the trail of numerous stories that were ignored by America's mainstream media. Thousands of us were sending these stories to one another by way of message boards and then, later, by way of blogs.

Now back then, even The Washington Post and The New York Times on occassion had stories in their back pages that I thought somebody, anybody would talk about on the nightly news, or cable shows, or PBS. All too often there was nothing. There was silence. There was no followup, though there turned out to be reams of material that would eventually be written and that proved accurate and that many big-name journalists completely missed. This wasn't my first experience of this nonsense. In the 1980s, I heard from people that there was trouble in El Salvador, that there were death squads roaming the rural areas. I'm nobody but I'm generally skeptical by nature and I was struck by the feeling that at least two people I was talking two were reliable. But I didn't see any verification of their stories in the media. Then I learned later that doctors who worked for Doctors without Borders had tried to contact The New York Times and one of the Times' reporters had called the State Department and was told there was no truth to the stories. But it was Reagan's State Department, and some of Reagan's people were up to their eyeballs in Iran/Contra and other nonsense in Central America. As we now know, the death squads were quite real.

Joe Klein is upset that his magazine is losing money. Ouch. Most bloggers blog for free or a few dollars a month. I think I get paid about two cents an hour. I have many things I really would rather be doing with my time. Where Joe Klein sees a loss of revenue dollars, I see a growing crisis across a spectrum of issues in my country that I need to write about. Apparently, George W. Bush is not the only one living in a bubble these days.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reaganomics Versus Bushonomics

When I was growing up in Southern California, I noticed early on that there were a lot of different kinds of Republicans but there were two kinds who caught my attention early on. The first kind to catch my attention were the right wingers, including in particular, the John Birchers. They were clearly the lunatic fringe in those days and yet forty years later they and their allies are now very much in power. The second kind of Republican that caught my attention were the hardnosed, pragmatic businessmen who knew their stuff. You had to watch out for the pragmatic Republican business people, though. If you asked them about things that had to do with their business or how they used money, they were very informative; if you asked them about things outside the main part of their experience and knowledge, they tended to pontificate almost as badly as the right wingers (my great uncle, who had been in the oil business, was a surprising exception, but he wasn't just an engineer, he had a remarkably deep understanding of people and his conservatism had little to do with what we see these days).

Generalizing about anyone is not usually a good thing to do. But understanding general trends can be useful. There's a qualitative difference between the Reagan Administration and the Bush Administration that's easily forgotten. Probably, through sheer dumb luck, or simply because the architects of the Reagan Administration wanted a certain percentage of credible people, the Reagan Administration had a mixture of right wingers and pragmatists. Every time the right wingers got in trouble, the pragmatists, people like James Baker or Howard Baker, would bail them out or force them out of office. It's not quite as clean cut as that, though. The economy of the 1980s was something of an illusion and not the result of Reagan's tax cuts. Incomes for workers were actually stagnant. If Reagan stimulated the economy, it was largely because of his huge and frankly reckless budget deficits, deficits that we spent the 90s paying for. But the thing that keeps getting forgotten as Republican presidential candidates wax nostalgic for the Reagan years is that the price of oil collapsed in the early 1980s. After the high oil prices of the 1970s, it was no surprise that low oil prices had a lot to do with the better economic conditions of the 1980s. And there was a reason why many Americans didn't feel the pinch in the 1980s: the growth of two-income families exploded in those years.

Bush has given us tax cuts and huge deficits, deficits largely driven by a flawed military policy in Iraq that is costing Americans hundreds of billions of dollar with nothing to show for it. Now I'm not an economist. I'm just someone with a long memory and an eye for details. I'm frankly amazed the economy has been doing as well as it has for the last six years despite a growing number of red flags that ought to have people thinking. Unlike the Clinton years, incomes for most Americans are again stagnant. Moreover, the contrast with the Reagan years is disturbing. Instead of low oil prices, the price of oil is definitely impacting our economy. Instead of yielding to the pragmatists in his party, Bush does his best to purge them from his administration while digging a deeper hole. Instead of identifying key areas where our economy needs focused attention and investment (like the computer industry during the Reagan years), Bush has been more concerned with rewarding sagging industries more interested in the status quo than any real innovation for America's future (well, if they're loyal Republicans that seems to be a disgusting factor as well). And Bush has signed into law too much Republican-sponsored legislation that makes life easier for business people who are corrupt.

I was no fan of Reagan's policies but Reagan and his advisers usually managed to keep things from really getting out of hand (though the Savings and Loan industry meltdown was obviously an exception). I don't have the feeling of reasonably competent management in the case with Bush and his advisers. Not even close. Katrina and Iraq have given us many examples of incompetence but even when it comes to the economy, many Americans, myself included, are getting the uneasy feeling no one is properly minding the store.

I've talked about how we seem to returning to the excesses of the Gilded Age and the robber barons who pretty much ruled the country. But there's another era we're beginning to resemble too much: the 1920s. The stock market recently had a string of advances that haven't been seen since 1927, two years before the stock crash of 1929. We clearly are returning to an era of imbalance. The wealthy are becoming very wealthy and the rest of America is falling behind, if not actually moving in the other direction. The real estate market is generally in trouble but not the market for second homes; only those who are well off can afford second homes and there's actually something of a boom in that market. But not in the general housing market.

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly has an excellent graph on how major stores have been doing in the last year and it's pretty much the same story. Sales for Pennys, Walmart, Target and Ross are down but high end stores like Saks are doing very well. This is a pattern that showed up in the 1920s as farm families were struggling while the upper middle class was spending like the boom would last forever. Kevin Drum, by the way, mentions that the cost of moorings in Orange County's Newport Harbor, a haven for the wealthy if there ever was, are rising sharply. Perhaps all those sales people who were making money on mortgages that many home owners can't afford managed to bail out before the mortgage business took a nose dive (one thinks of John Dean's phrase that became the title of his book, Conservatives without Conscience).

Here's more from Jared Berstein of TPM Cafe who points to a number of troublesome economic indicators and notes:
One might note that sales at high-end Saks bucked the trend and were up big in April, and I suppose you could wonder how far the frothy stock market or the spending of hedge fund managers will get you right now.

My guess is: not too far. That wealth is highly concentrated and if the vast majority of families are starting to feel as squeezed as I think they are, it’s hard for me to see where the economy’s stimulus is going to come from moving forward. That’s one reason I was disappointed to see the Federal Reserve not take notice of these recent developments in their last statement on interest rate policy.

I suspect we've been riding the crest of a phony economy for some time now. Things could start getting tough in very short order.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz Explained

Before he was hired by the Bush Administration, Paul Wolfowitz was not known as a particularly competent individual. He's still not known as a particularly competent individual. He wasn't competent in the few real responsibilities he had in the running of the war in Iraq. He also hasn't been competent as the president of the World Bank. In the case of Iraq, it was only necessary for Wolfowitz to be the theorist for the rationale behind Bush's war. His theory, it turns out, was not competent either. But he was effective on those 'news' shows with all the talking heads. He had a gift for sounding sincere while not having the foggiest idea what he was talking about.

What Wolfowitz was not known for, before he came to work for Bush, was a little streak of corruption and excessive self-importance. That became evident in the case he made for war in Iraq, a war that makes no sense, a fiasco, a consequence of broad incompetence and recklessness rarely seen in modern industrialized countries. The incompetence of Wolfowitz was little noticed at the time: there was too much incompetence to go around. And the media was overwhelmed by a noise machine coming from the White House and was oblivious to its own incompetence as fairy tale after fairy tale was being spun by the president and his advisers. Wolfowitz, another spectacular example of the Peter Principle in the Bush Administration, moved on to bigger things and became president of the World Bank.

Wolfowitz's self-importance and little streak of corruption grated on people as he waved his finger at them while talking about the need to control corruption. It tends to grate on people when they have to listen to a hypocrite. As Brad DeLong notes, Wolfowitz simply whines that he's being treated unfairly. After all, special people, particularly precious intellectuals for right wing movements, are not quite subject to the same rules as everyone else. One ought to be able to take care of one's girlfriend with a little financial help; or a lot, if one has power which everyone else doesn't. It's jealousy to demand that special people be held to the same rules as everyone else.

Paul Wolfowitz is not expected to last much longer as president of the World Bank.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

After Four Years of Reckless Incompetence, Cheney Says It's 'Game Time'

It does not take four years to win a war unless something goes very wrong. Some of the possible things that can go wrong include:

a) The two sides are evenly matched.

b) A guerilla war, insurgency, rebellion, whatever you want to call it, is fueled by the growing unpopularity of an occupying army and the leaders who sent that army to war.

c) The dominant military power in a conflict is led by incompetents.

Suffice to say, the two sides in Iraq are not evenly matched. We are a superpower but we have a poor idea what it is we are trying to accomplish and our civilian leaders have little concept of the place where we have gone to war and little understanding of the post-colonial world we live in. Bush and Cheney's war has gone wrong largely because of b and c.

Dan Froomkin of White House Watch writes:
When it comes to today's visit by the beleaguered, credibility-challenged vice president to leaders of the fractured, mostly powerless government of war-torn Iraq, the White House is setting expectations appropriately low.


The other message Cheney brings: "It's game time" -- raising the question what has it been up until now exactly?

Todd J. Gillman of the Dallas Morning News is liveblogging the vice president's trip -- complete with photos -- as well as filing pool reports to his print colleagues.

Gillman writes in a pool report that "according to a senior administration official who gaggled en route and on background, the message Cheney is bringing boils down to this:

"'We've all got challenges together. We've got to pull together. We've got to get this work done. It's game time.'

"The urgency of the situation also came through as this same senior official said: 'Everybody's got to sit down, raise their game, redouble their efforts.'"

Since the spring and summer of 2003, when has the situation not been urgent? Wasn't it 'game time' when Bush decided on war? Wasn't it 'game time' when Bush heard warnings of a possible terrorist attack just before 9/11? Wasn't it 'game time' when Bush repeatedly went on vacation, becoming the most vacation bound president of the modern era? Wasn't it 'game time' as Bush and the White House wasted hours and days and weeks stuffing the federal government with cronies, ideologues and political hacks instead of professionals (believe it or not they can still be found among Democrats, Republicans and independents) who know what they're doing?

Perhaps the reporters misread the meaning of 'game time' and it is a reference to the 2008 election? I know the American people have their own lives to live and are slow to come around on these things sometimes and I happen to be one who respects that because I respect our democracy. Democracy, by nature, is flawed, but it is by far still the best thing we've got.

But if the nonsense by Bush and Cheney continues for much longer, the American people are going to have to start pushing Congress to impeach the president and vice president. In my view, Bush and Cheney made themselves impeachable when they launched their war in Iraq with a long string of outright lies and then led us into a war we did not need and that has no purpose. No WMDs. No al Qaida connection. No democracy. No regional stability. But lots of very high-priced oil that a growing number of Americans cannot afford.

Let us say out loud the obvious: the motivations, words and actions of Bush and Cheney have not been honorable from day one of their fiasco in Iraq. And it's long past time for the media to stop pretending, despite the evidence to the contrary, that somehow Bush and Cheney mean well. They have broken too many laws and broken faith with the American people far too often for that charade to continue. I know, impeachment is not likely, it's messy and unpopular, but given the unwillingness of Bush and Cheney to mend their ways, it is now becoming the responsible course of action for our nation to take.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Majority of Americans Want Out of Iraq

On Iraq, most Americans do not agree with Commander Guy. Here's the latest poll from CNN:
A majority of the U.S. public disapproves of President Bush's decision to veto a war spending bill that called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq in 2008, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

The poll found that 54 percent of Americans opposed Bush's May 1 veto, while 44 percent backed the president's decision to kill the $124 billion bill.

Now that the veto has been cast, 57 percent of Americans said they want Congress to send another spending bill with a timetable for withdrawal back to the White House, the poll found -- but 61 percent would support a new bill that dropped the timetables in favor of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to maintain American support.

What I want to know is why 44% still support a president whose Iraq policy is simply to kick the can down the road for the next president to deal with? Other than that, President Bush has no Iraq policy worthy of the name. We have turned ourselves into an unpopular occupation army in the middle of a civil war without an identifiable goal beyond not being shot at when we patrol a very unhappy and dysfunctional country that we never much thought about before Bush launched an invasion we did not need.

A war should have a realistic and meaningful goal. Bush never explained why (at least not accurately or honestly) we're there beyond his fiction created long after the start of the war that we're there so that the magical they do not come here. Bush can't even define who this magical they happens to be. Leaving war to an incompetent like Bush is also not acceptable. The 44% who think Bush was right to veto the Iraq bill need to get more realistic about what's happening. With the world's most powerful military, wars should not take four or five years to fight. And we should not be in the business of acquiring colonies or behave like we own Iraq which is how much of the world sees our presence in Iraq.

We need to wind the war down and think long and hard about what our military is for and why it should ever be used when there is no imminent threat. I believe in a strong defense but it makes no sense to go to war without an understandable policy or an acceptable and worthwhile goal. Relying on Bush's 'gut instinct' was a poor way to go. Congress needs to get Bush to wind down the war and wind down his strange and very costly ambitions.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Commander Guy at 28% Approval

Sometimes Bush says he's the Commander Guy and sometimes he says he's The Decider. A majority of Americans have their own opinion and are increasingly saying that Bush is The Failure Guy. Petulant and arrogant, unwilling to consider the wisdom of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, stubbornly refusing to engage in diplomacy, pursuing political games with no real value to most Americans, Bush continues to stumble along unwilling to change and unwilling to compromise.

Here's the story from Marcus Mabry of Newsweek:
It’s hard to say which is worse news for Republicans: that George W. Bush now has the worst approval rating of an American president in a generation, or that he seems to be dragging every ’08 Republican presidential candidate down with him. But According to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, the public’s approval of Bush has sunk to 28 percent, an all-time low for this president in our poll, and a point lower than Gallup recorded for his father at Bush Sr.’s nadir. The last president to be this unpopular was Jimmy Carter who also scored a 28 percent approval in 1979. This remarkably low rating seems to be casting a dark shadow over the GOP’s chances for victory in ’08. The NEWSWEEK Poll finds each of the leading Democratic contenders beating the Republican frontrunners in head-to-head matchups.

Three months ago, David Broder of The Washington Post thought Bush was due for a comeback. The dean of what passes for 'conventional wisdom' in Washington, as has been the case so often in the last six years, has considerable explaining to do. We have a failed and floundering president and vice president and it's time for more members of the media to make themselves useful to the American people and hold these two right wing conservatives accountable instead of running cover for their ideologial delusions and serial incompetence. We have problems and we need a functioning government or, barring that, we need a government that will not do us any further harm.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

USS Eisenhower Heading Home

Maybe there's a reason the price of oil has dropped in the last few days (not that it has much impact on the price of gasoline, though): the USS Eisenhower is heading home; here's the story:
The nearly 6,000 sailors aboard ships of the Norfolk-based USS Eisenhower Strike Group are through the Suez Canal and headed for home.

That ends the group’s deployment to the 5th Fleet area, which includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

Although Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are ducking investigations right and left in Washington for their various misdeeds, there's still potential for mischief; here's that story from Michael T. Klare in Mother Jones:
Today, the Nimitz is rapidly approaching the Persian Gulf, where it will join two other U.S. aircraft carriers and the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in the largest concentration of naval firepower in the region since the launching of the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago.

Why this concentration now? Officially, the Nimitz is on its way to the Gulf to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is due to return to the United States for crew leave and ship maintenance after months on station. But the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), which exercises command authority over all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf area, refuses to say when the Eisenhower will actually depart -- or even when the Nimitz will arrive.

If the first story is true about the USS Eisenhower going through the Suez Canal and heading home, we're back to two US carrier groups; that would lower the tensions in the Persian Gulf. Let's hope that's the case.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Critique of King George By Mark Twain

Along with S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion, I've talked about how we seem to have returned to another Gilded Age of corruption and robber barons. Mark Twain lived in the Gilded Age and was a keen observer of the nonsense that took place in that era. Sometimes the best observations of other people's follies are rendered most clearly at a distance, say thirteen hundred years or so. Although set in a long ago imaginary time, Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is very much about the late 19th century and the convenient rules for the wealthy and the inconvenient rules for everyone else.

I could have picked from any number of great passages in the book but I offer here a section on 'freemen,' and in Twain's rendering, since the life and times of the sixth century were and are still not that well understood, he imposes something of the French social model of the 17th century to help us understand a flawed society. By this point in the book, the Connecticut Yankee has done well for himself. On the second day of a 'noble' quest he would prefer not to be on, our Connecticut Yankee is traveling the English countryside with a lady named Sandy when they encounter locals working on the road:
We were off before sunrise, Sandy riding and I limping along behind. In half an hour we came upon a group of ragged poor creatures who had assembled to mend the thing which was regarded as a road. They were as humble as animals to me; and when I proposed to breakfast with them, they were so flattered, so overwhelmed by this extraordinary condescension of mine that at first they were not able to believe that I was in earnest. My lady put up her scornful lip and withdrew to one side; she said in their hearing that she would as soon think of eating with the other cattle—a remark which embarrassed these poor devils merely because it referred to them, and not because it insulted or offended them, for it didn't. And yet they were not slaves, not chattels. By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen. Seven-tenths of the free population of the country were of just their class and degree: small "independent" farmers, artisans, etc.; which is to say, they were the nation, the actual Nation; they were about all of it that was useful, or worth saving, or really respect-worthy; and to subtract them would have been to subtract the Nation and leave behind some dregs, some refuse, in the shape of a king, nobility and gentry, idle, unproductive, acquainted mainly with the arts of wasting and destroying, and of no sort of use or value in any rationally constructed world. And yet, by ingenious contrivance, this gilded minority, instead of being in the tail of the procession where it belonged, was marching head up and banners flying, at the other end of it; had elected itself to be the Nation, and these innumerable clams had permitted it so long that they had come at last to accept it as a truth; and not only that, but to believe it right and as it should be. The priests had told their fathers and themselves that this ironical state of things was ordained of God; and so, not reflecting upon how unlike God it would be to amuse himself with sarcasms, and especially such poor transparent ones as this, they had dropped the matter there and become respectfully quiet.

The talk of these meek people had a strange enough sound in a formerly American ear. They were freemen, but they could not leave the estates of their lord or their bishop without his permission; they could not prepare their own bread, but must have their corn ground and their bread baked at his mill and his bakery, and pay roundly for the same; they could not sell a piece of their own property without paying him a handsome percentage of the proceeds, nor buy a piece of somebody else's without remembering him in cash for the privilege; they had to harvest his grain for him gratis, and be reading to come at a moment's notice, leaving their own crop to destruction by the threatened storm; they had to let him plant fruit trees in their fields, and then keep their indignation to themselves when his heedless fruit gatherers trampled the grain around the trees; they had to smother their anger when his hunting parties galloped through their fields laying waste the result of their patient toil; they were not allowed to keep doves themselves, and when the swarms from my lord's dovecote settled on their crops they must not lose their temper and kill a bird, for awful would the penalty be; when the harvest was at last gathered, then came the procession of robbers to levy their blackmail upon it: first the Church carted off its fat tenth, then the king's commissioner took his twentieth, then my lord's people made a mighty inroad upon the remainder; after which, the skinned freeman had liberty to bestow the remnant in his barn, in case it was worth the trouble; there were taxes, and taxes, and taxes, and more taxes, and taxes again, and yet other taxes—upon this free and independent pauper, but none upon his lord the baron or the bishop, none upon the wasteful nobility or the all-devouring Church; if the baron would sleep unvexed, the freeman must sit up all night after his day's work and whip the ponds to keep the frogs quiet; if the freeman's daughter—but no, that last infamy of monarchical government is unprintable; and finally, if the freeman, grown desperate with his tortures, found his life unendurable under such conditions, and sacrificed it and fled to death for mercy and refuge, the gentle Church condemned him to eternal fire, the gentle law buried him at midnight at the cross-roads with a stake through his back, and his master the baron or the bishop confiscated all his property and turned his widow and his orphans out of doors.

And here were these freemen assembled in the early morning to work on their lord the bishop's road three days each—gratis; every head of a family and every son of a family; three days each, gratis, and a day or so added for their servants. Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever-memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood—one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. ...

These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast and their talk with me, were full of humble reverence for their king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire. There was something pitifully ludicrous about it. I asked them if they supposed a nation of people ever existed, who, with a free vote in every man's hand, would elect that a single family and its descendants should reign over it forever, whether gifted or boobies, to the exclusion of all other families—including the voter's; and would also elect that a certain hundred families should be raised to dizzy summits of rank, and clothed-on with offensive transmissible glories and privileges to the exclusion of the rest of the nation's families—including his own.

They all looked unhit, and said they didn't know; that they had never thought about it before, and it hadn't ever occurred to them that a nation could be so situated that every man could have a say in the government. I said I had seen one—and that it would last until it had an Established Church. Again they were all unhit—at first. But presently one man looked up and asked me to state that proposition again; and state it slowly, so it could soak into his understanding. I did it; and after a little he had the idea, and he brought his fist down and said he didn't believe a nation where every man had a vote would voluntarily get down in the mud and dirt in any such way; and that to steal form a nation its will and preference must be a crime and the first of all crimes.

I said to myself: "This one's a man. If I were backed by enough of his sort, I would make a strike for the welfare of this country, and try to prove myself its loyalest citizen by making a wholesome change in its system of government."

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags—that is a loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose Constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in the peoople, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient."

Under that gospel, the citzen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate any way, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.

And now here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population. For the nine hundred and ninety-four to express dissatisfaction with the regnant system and propose to change it, would have made the whole six shudder as one man, it would have been so disloyal, so dishonorable, such putrid black treason. So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.

New Deal! I grinned when I saw that. That's a good place to stop. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was published in 1889, the height of the Gilded Age and a few years before a series of reforms began, largely under Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Mark Twain died in 1910, long before many of the reforms our country needed at the time were completed. Republicans these days are, of course, trying to undo many of those reforms.

At this late date, does anyone doubt that we need major reforms in Washington that move us forward again? Change is possible. That's a lesson Americans need to remember from the last 250 years. At least our Connecticut Yankee almost got King Arthur to come around. President George W. Bush, however, will leave office not comprehending how profoundly he has failed the American people. After all, in Bush's mind, his corporate friends and sponsors ought to pat him on his back when he returns to his sprawling ranch in Crawford, Texas. Obviously, we need another round of reforms to spare us from the wreckage of any more MBA presidents.

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Jon Chait on Netroots and Blogging

There's been some amount of discussion of Jon Chait's piece in The New Republic on blogs. Big Tent Democrat of Talk Left has a good summary of some of the discussion:
The varied reactions to Jon Chait's Netroots piece brings to mind "Rashomon." My initial reaction is here. Other reactions I would group as reacting to Chait's take on the political activism component, see Bowers, the Right/Left blogwars component, Atrios, the New Left purity reaction, see Booman, and the semi-pundit reactions, featured here by TNR, of Matt Yglesias and Eric Alterman.

Of the folks who were or might be defined as Netroots, Bowers for instance, I think he took personal affront to the idea that he was a propagandist and not someone who is more married to the truth than to his desired political outcome. I understand his reaction but he doth protest too much. There can be no doubt that the Netroots, Bowers, included, pay attention to the stories that are favorable for his desired outcomes while overlooking those that are not. We ALL do that. Certainly propagandist is not right, but the idea that he is not engaged in at the least, advocacy journalism that is not truly interested in telling the whole objective story, is rather silly. Chris admits as much in his wrapup sentence on the subject:
Chait's standard for what counts as propaganda is absurdly broad. Basically, he seems to imply that anyone who is interested in making any impact on politics is engaging in propaganda, because that person is no longer engaging in a purely disinterested pursuit of ideas.

We are not propagandists, but we are advocacy bloggers. And advocates argue a side. And that means NOT being fair. The judge is fair. The lawyer is not....

I'm not sure I even agree with this definition though I accept it as a way of looking at blogging from a certain angle. Now I'm not a netroot though I can't pretend I know the exact definition of a netroot except I sort of know it when I see it: fundraising, advocating for specific candidates, essentially acting a little like a political campaign, a political consultant, etc.

I do know why I've been so heavily involved in commenting on politics and foreign policy for more than four years now: I was tired of being lied to by my government. You can't complain about being lied to and give up credibility, at least not in my book. Credibility and objectivity, however, are not the same thing. I make no pretense of being objective. I'm clearly a writer and a political activist who's very interested in where our country and the world are going. Yes, I do advocate various positions—after I do my homework. Frankly, I'm suspicious of the whole argument. I'm not a reporter. I don't exactly consider myself a journalist though a loose definition might apply.

One of the things that bothers me about criticism of blogging is how often it seems directed to blogs left of center, as if there are no blogs on the right with serious numbers. I don't mind saying that far too many blogs on the right, particularly the far right, often suffer from a lack of credibility and are hard for anyone but the most ardent right wingers to take seriously (and how does one take seriously right wing blogs that repeat the transparent, easily researchable lies of our government?). Personally, I think there's a conventional wisdom out there trying very hard to remain relevant and one way to protect their turf is to attack blogs while ignoring their failures over the last twenty years and particularly the last six.

Again, I don't claim to be objective (and there are very few media outlets that can comfortably wear that tag in any case). When I quote from articles, I sometimes leave things out of my posts because the things I leave out are too often part of a conventional wisdom I reject. If I read a story about a Republican stealing three million dollars from the taxpayers and the 'reporter' (or pundit) lets us know that a Democrat also stole money, I refuse to accept the equivalence if, let's say, the Democrat illegally used a campaign fund to pay a five hundred dollar bill. I refuse to play that game. I fully expect Democrats to be prosecuted like anyone else when they break the law but when we have a party as corrupt as Republicans currently are—and so few of them going to jail or losing their jobs—I have little patience for a phony fair-and-balanced reporting that makes mush of the story. The conventional wisdom is out there and doesn't need help from me but I would argue that some of my posts (and the posts of a number of others more prolific that myself) have been considerably more credible and relevant than the mush published or broadcast in the major media.

Readers too have to do their homework. That's what the links are for. When I read other people's posts, I find myself digging into the story and using Google to answer questions I have and occassionally chasing down information at the library. That's how I got to posting on message boards, making comments on blogs and finally doing my own blog. If what I'm doing is propaganda, then a very broad interpetation is at work. By that definition, Thomas Paine's Common Sense was propaganda. That would be good company. But when a president endlessly repeats the phrase, '9/11,' as a way of excusing or justifying his deceptions and avoiding accountability, we're talking about a kind of propaganda that is truly offensive. We've seen far too much of that kind of propaganda.