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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Firewall Fairy Finally Fucking, Fuh...Feturns

Rich:

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.
...
When the line separating spin from reality is so effectively blurred, the White House's propaganda mission has once more been accomplished. No wonder President Bush is cocky again. Stopping in Sydney for the economic summit after last weekend's photo op in Iraq, he reportedly told Australia's deputy prime minister that "we're kicking ass." This war has now gone on so long that perhaps he has forgotten the price our troops paid the last time he taunted our adversaries to bring it on, some four years and 3,500 American military fatalities ago.

Fucking commas.

Dowdy:

Fred is not Ronnie; he’s warmed-over W. President Reagan always knew who the foe was.

Fred followed W.’s nutty lead of marginalizing Osama on a day when TV showed another creepy, fruitcake manifesto by the terrorist, who was wearing what seemed to be a fake beard left over from Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and bloviating on everything from the subprime mortgage crisis to the “woes” of global warming to a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory to the wisdom of Noam Chomsky to the unwisdom of Richard Perle to the heartwarming news that Muslims have lived with Jews and not “incinerated them” to the need to “continue to escalate the killing and fighting” against American kids in Iraq.

Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that Osama is hiding in “harsh terrain,” hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age?

How about Al "I'm Fucking Fat And Fart So Much I Caused Global Warming" Gore?

Stache:

Above all, Iraq teaches us that democracy is possible only when people want both pillars of it — liberty and self-government — and build both themselves. We’re miles away from that in Baghdad.

Good thing we invaded to impose liberty and self-government at the point of a gun, eh?

ntodd

September 9, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
As the Iraqis Stand Down, We’ll Stand Up
By FRANK RICH

IT will be all 9/11 all the time this week, as the White House yet again synchronizes its drumbeating for the Iraq war with the anniversary of an attack that had nothing to do with Iraq. Ignore that fog and focus instead on another date whose anniversary passed yesterday without notice: Sept. 8, 2002. What happened on that Sunday five years ago is the Rosetta Stone for the administration's latest scam.

That was the morning when the Bush White House officially rolled out its fraudulent case for the war. The four horsemen of the apocalypse — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice — were dispatched en masse to the Washington talk shows, where they eagerly pointed to a front-page New York Times article amplifying subsequently debunked administration claims that Saddam had sought to buy aluminum tubes meant for nuclear weapons. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN, introducing a sales pitch concocted by a White House speechwriter.

What followed was an epic propaganda onslaught of distorted intelligence, fake news, credulous and erroneous reporting by bona fide journalists, presidential playacting and Congressional fecklessness. Much of it had been plotted that summer of 2002 by the then-secret White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a small task force of administration brass charged with the Iraq con job.

Today the spirit of WHIG lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent "nuclear holocaust" has been rebooted in President Bush's arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.

The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information "war room" conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House "facts" about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush's pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.

As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend's precisely timed "surprise" presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success "on the ground here in Anbar" (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base.

A more elaborate example of administration Disneyland can be found in those bubbly Baghdad markets visited by John McCain and other dignitaries whenever the cameras roll. Last week The Washington Post discovered that at least one of them, the Dora market, is a Potemkin village, open only a few hours a day and produced by $2,500 grants (a k a bribes) bestowed on the shopkeepers. "This is General Petraeus's baby," Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell told The Post. "Personally, I think it's a false impression." Another U.S. officer said that even shops that "sell dust" or merely "intend to sell goods" are included in the Pentagon's count of the market's reopened businesses.

One Baghdad visitor left unimpressed was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Chicago, who dined with her delegation in Mr. Crocker's Green Zone residence last month while General Petraeus delivered his spiel. "He's spending an awful lot of time wining and dining members of Congress," she told me last week. Though the menu included that native specialty lobster tortellini, the real bill of fare, Ms. Schakowsky said, was a rigid set of talking points: "Anbar," "bottom up," "decrease in violence" and "success."

In this new White House narrative, victory has been downsized to a successful antiterrorist alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and the American military in Anbar, a single province containing less than 5 percent of Iraq's population. In truth, the surge had little to do with this development, which was already being trumpeted by Mr. Bush in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.

Even if you believe that it's a good idea to bond with former Saddamists who may have American blood on their hands, the chances of this "bottom up" model replicating itself are slim. Anbar's population is almost exclusively Sunni. Much of the rest of Iraq is consumed by the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Shiite civil wars that are M.I.A. in White House talking points.

The "decrease in violence" fable is even more insidious. Though both General Petraeus and a White House fact sheet have recently boasted of a 75 percent decline in sectarian attacks, this number turns out to be as cooked as those tallies of Saddam's weapons sites once peddled by WHIG. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, it excludes Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence. The Government Accountability Office, which rejected that fuzzy math, found overall violence unchanged using the methodology practiced by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

No doubt General Petraeus, like Dick Cheney before him, will say that his own data is "pretty well confirmed" by classified intelligence that can't be divulged without endangering national security. Meanwhile, the White House will ruthlessly undermine any reality-based information that contradicts its propaganda, much as it dismissed the accurate W.M.D. findings of the United Nations weapon experts Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei before the war. General Petraeus intervened to soften last month's harsh National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.

Those benchmarks, the war's dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president's own benchmarks? Remember "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army's training and proclaimed it "on track and increasing in capacity" three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush's former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." On that scorecard, he's batting 0 for 3.

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

Next to such "real" news from CBS, the "fake" news at the network's corporate sibling Comedy Central was, not for the first time, more trustworthy. Rob Riggle, a "Daily Show" correspondent who also serves in the Marine Reserve, invited American troops in Iraq to speak candidly about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation.

When the line separating spin from reality is so effectively blurred, the White House's propaganda mission has once more been accomplished. No wonder President Bush is cocky again. Stopping in Sydney for the economic summit after last weekend's photo op in Iraq, he reportedly told Australia's deputy prime minister that "we're kicking ass." This war has now gone on so long that perhaps he has forgotten the price our troops paid the last time he taunted our adversaries to bring it on, some four years and 3,500 American military fatalities ago.

-----

September 9, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Old School Inanity
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Dying for a daddy, the Republicans turn their hungry eyes to Fred.

Fred Thompson acts tough on screen. And like Ronald Reagan, he has a distinctively masculine timbre and an extremely involved wife.

In his announcement video, Mr. Thompson stood in front of a desk in what looked like, duh, a law office, rumbling reassuringly that in this “dangerous time” he would deal with “the safety and security of the American people.”

As Michelle Cottle wrote in The New Republic, far more than puffy-coiffed Mitt and even more than tough guys Rudy and McCain, the burly, 6-foot-5, 65-year-old Mr. Thompson exudes “old-school masculinity.”

“In Thompson’s presence (live or on-screen),” she wrote, “one is viscerally, intimately reassured that he can handle any crisis that arises, be it a renegade Russian sub or a botched rape case.” But she wondered, was he really “enough of a man for this fight,” or just someone who meandered through life, creating the illusion of a masculine mystique?

Newsweek reported that some close to the Tennessean “question whether moving into the White House is truly Thompson’s life ambition — or more the dream of his second wife, Jeri, a former G.O.P. operative who is his unofficial campaign manager and top adviser.”

It took only two days of campaigning to answer the masculine mystique question. Fred gave an interview to CNN’s John King as his bus rolled through Iowa.

“To what degree should the American people hold the president of the United States responsible for the fact that bin Laden is still at large six years later?” Mr. King asked.

“I think bin Laden is more of a symbolism than he is anything else,” Mr. Thompson drawled. “Bin Laden being in the mountains of Afghanistan or — or Pakistan is not as important as the fact that there’s probably Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America.”

Usually, you can only get that kind of exquisitely inane logic from the president. Who does Fred think is sending operatives or inspiring them to come?

Fred is not Ronnie; he’s warmed-over W. President Reagan always knew who the foe was.

Fred followed W.’s nutty lead of marginalizing Osama on a day when TV showed another creepy, fruitcake manifesto by the terrorist, who was wearing what seemed to be a fake beard left over from Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and bloviating on everything from the subprime mortgage crisis to the “woes” of global warming to a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory to the wisdom of Noam Chomsky to the unwisdom of Richard Perle to the heartwarming news that Muslims have lived with Jews and not “incinerated them” to the need to “continue to escalate the killing and fighting” against American kids in Iraq.

Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that Osama is hiding in “harsh terrain,” hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age?

Fred must have missed the news of the administration’s intelligence estimate in July deeming Al Qaeda rejuvenated and “a persistent and evolving terrorist threat” to Americans.

Pressed by Mr. King on the fact that the Bush hawks went after Saddam instead of Osama, Fred continued to sputter: “You — you’re — you’re not served up these issues one at a time. They — they come when they come, and you have to — you have to deal with them.”

Democrats pounced. John Edwards issued a statement saying, “That bin Laden is still at large is Bush’s starkest failure.” John McCain and Rudy Giuliani also stressed the need to take out Osama.

Fred quickly caved on the matter of men in caves. At a rally later in the day he manned up. “Apparently Osama bin Laden has crawled out of his cave long enough to send another video and he is getting a lot of attention,” he said, “and ought to be caught and killed.”

He continued to insist that killing bin Laden would not end the terrorist threat, without realizing that this is true now because, by not catching bin Laden, W. allowed him to explode into an inspirational force for jihadists.

Republicans are especially eager for a papa after their disappointing experiences with Junior. After going through so many shattering disasters, W. seems more the inexperienced kid than ever.

In Australia, the president called Australian soldiers in Iraq “Austrian troops,” and got into a weird to-and-fro on TV with the South Korean president.

W. cooperated with Ropert Draper, the author of a new biography of him, yet the portrait was not flattering. Like a frat president sitting around with the brothers trying to figure out whether to party with Tri-Delts or Thetas, W. asked his advisers for a show of hands last year to see if Rummy should stay on. And W. is obsessed with getting the Secret Service to arrange his biking trails.

“What kind of male,” one of his advisers wondered aloud, “obsesses over his bike riding time, other than Lance Armstrong or a 12-year-old boy?”

-----

September 9, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
What’s Missing in Baghdad
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Erbil, Iraq

One of the most troubling lessons of the Iraq invasion is just how empty the Arab dictatorships are. Once you break the palace, by ousting the dictator, the elevator goes straight to the mosque. There is nothing in between — no civil society, no real labor unions, no real human rights groups, no real parliaments or press. So it is not surprising to see the sort of clerical leadership that has emerged in both the Sunni and Shiite areas of Iraq.

But this is not true in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan. Though not a full-fledged democracy, Kurdistan is developing the key elements of a civil society. I met in Erbil with 20 such Kurdish groups — unions, human rights and political watchdogs, editors and women’s associations. It is worth studying what went right in Kurdistan to understand what we still can and can’t do to promote democratization in the rest of Iraq and the Arab world.

The United States played a critical role in Kurdistan. In 1998, we helped to resolve the Kurdish civil war — the power struggle between two rival clans — which created the possibility of a stable, power-sharing election in 2005. And by removing Saddam, we triggered a flood of foreign investment here.

But that is all we did. Today, there are almost no U.S. soldiers or diplomats in Kurdistan. Yet politics here is flourishing, as is the economy, because the Kurds want it that way. Down south, we’ve spent billions trying to democratize the Sunni and Shiite zones and have little to show for it.

Three lessons: 1) Until the power struggle between Sunnis and Shiites is resolved, you can’t establish any stable politics in southern Iraq. 2) When people want to move down a progressive path, there is no stopping them. When they don’t, there is no helping them. 3) Culture matters. The Kurdish Islam is a moderate, tolerant strain, explained Salam Bawari, head of Kurdistan’s Democracy and Human Rights Research Center. “We have a culture of pluralism,” he said. “We have 2,000 years of living together with people living around us.” Actually, there are still plenty of Arab-Kurdish disputes, but there is an ethos of tolerance here you don’t find elsewhere in Iraq.

While visiting Kurdistan, I read a timely new book, “Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government,” by my friend Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign affairs expert at Johns Hopkins University. It is highly relevant to America’s democracy project in Iraq and beyond.

Mr. Mandelbaum argues that democracy is made up of two elements: liberty and popular sovereignty. “Liberty involves what governments do” — the rule of law, the protection of people from abuses of state power and the regulations by which government institutions operate, he explains. Popular sovereignty involves how the people determine who governs them — through free elections.

What Baghdad exemplifies, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is what happens when you have elections without liberty. You end up with a tyranny of the majority, or what Fareed Zakaria has labeled “illiberal democracy.” Kurdistan, by contrast, has a chance to build a balanced democracy, because it is nurturing the institutions of liberty, not just holding elections.

What the Kurdistan-Baghdad contrast also illustrates, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is that “we can help create the conditions for democracy to take root, but people have to develop the skills and values that make it work themselves.”

In the southern part of Iraq “you have people who are undemocratic who have a democratic government,” said Hemin Malazada, who heads a Kurdish journalists’ association. “In Kurdistan, you have a democratic government for a democratic people.”

One way a country develops the software of liberty, Mr. Mandelbaum says, is by nurturing a free market. Kurdistan has one. The economy in the rest of Iraq remains a mess. “A market economy,” he argues, “gives people a stake in peace, as well as a constructive way of dealing with people who are strangers. Free markets teach the basic democratic practices of compromise and trust.”

Democracy can fail because of religious intolerance, the curse of oil, a legacy of colonialism and military dictatorship, or an aversion to Western values — the wellspring of democracy. The Middle East, notes Mr. Mandelbaum, is the one region afflicted by all of these maladies. That doesn’t mean democratization is impossible here, as the Kurds demonstrate. But it does mean it’s really hard. Above all, Iraq teaches us that democracy is possible only when people want both pillars of it — liberty and self-government — and build both themselves. We’re miles away from that in Baghdad.

September 8, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Firewall Fairy Did Like The Chicks In Ace Of Base Almost As Much As The Ones In ABBA

The Shrill One:

Last week the scene at branches of Countrywide Bank, with crowds of agitated depositors trying to withdraw their money, looked a bit like the bank run in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

As it happens, Countrywide’s customers were overreacting. True, the bank is owned by Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender — and mortgage lenders are in big trouble these days. But bank deposits up to $100,000 are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Old-fashioned bank runs just don’t make sense these days.

New-fashioned bank runs, on the other hand, do make sense — and they’re at the heart of the current financial crisis.

The key to understanding what’s happening is taking a broad view of what constitutes a bank. From an economic perspective, a bank is any institution that offers people liquidity — the ability to convert their assets into cash on short notice — while still using their money to make long-term investments.

Traditional banks promise depositors the right to withdraw their funds at any time. Yet banks lend out most of the money depositors place in their care, keeping only a fraction in cash. The reason this works is that normally a bank’s depositors want to withdraw only a small proportion of their money on any given day.

Banks get in trouble, however, when some event, like a rumor that major loans have gone bad, leads many depositors to demand their money at the same time.
...
Whatever happens now, it’s hard to avoid the sense that the growing complexity of our financial system is making it increasingly prone to crises — crises that are beyond the ability of traditional policies to handle. Maybe we’ll make it through this crisis unscathed. But what about the next one, or the one after that?

Countrywide was a major topic of conversation when I was teaching at the FDIC last week.  Krugman's piece is a bit scary, but my students were pretty confident that we've learned some important lessons from disasters like Katrina and that overall our policies are sound.  Still, are they stuck in the same traditional mindset that is inadequate for our modern financial system?  More importantly, is it justifiable homicide if Shrillboy has got Ace of Base's "Beautiful Life" stuck in my head?

Mustachio of Misunderstanding:

[Y]ou need to listen to a proposal being aired by Jim Rogers, the chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy, and recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Duke Energy is headquartered in Charlotte.) It’s called “save-a-watt,” and it aims to turn the electricity/utility industry upside down by rewarding utilities for the kilowatts they save customers by improving their energy efficiency rather than rewarding them for the kilowatts they sell customers by building more power plants.

Mr. Rogers’s proposal is based on three simple principles. The first is that the cheapest way to generate clean, emissions-free power is by improving energy efficiency. Or, as he puts it, “The most environmentally sound, inexpensive and reliable power plant is the one we don’t have to build because we’ve helped our customers save energy.”

Second, we need to make energy efficiency something that is as “back of mind” as energy usage. If energy efficiency depends on people remembering to do 20 things on a checklist, it’s not going to happen at scale.

Third, the only institutions that have the infrastructure, capital and customer base to empower lots of people to become energy efficient are the utilities, so they are the ones who need to be incentivized to make big investments in efficiency that can be accessed by every customer.
...
“Energy efficiency is the ‘fifth fuel’ — after coal, gas, renewables and nuclear,” said Mr. Rogers. “Today, it is the lowest-cost alternative and is emissions-free. It should be our first choice in meeting our growing demand for electricity, as well as in solving the climate challenge.”

Because energy efficiency is, in effect, a resource, he added, in order for utilities to use more of it, “efficiency should be treated as a production cost in the regulatory arena.” The utility would earn its money on the basis of the actual watts it saves through efficiency innovations. (California’s “decoupling” systems goes partly in this direction.)
...
“Universal access to electricity was a 20th century idea — now it has to be universal access to energy efficiency, which could make us the most energy productive country in the world,” he added.

Pulling all this off will be very complicated. But if Mr. Rogers and North Carolina can do it, it would be the mother of all energy paradigm shifts.

Yup.  And that damned song is still in my head.

That Guy Whose Stuff I Like But For Whom I Haven't Made Up A Nick:

Bryan Anderson, a 25-year-old Army sergeant who was wounded in Iraq, was explaining, on camera — to James Gandolfini, of all people — what happened immediately after a roadside bomb blew up the Humvee that he was driving.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we got hit. We got hit.’ And then I had blood on my face and the flies were landing all over my face. So I wiped my face to get rid of the flies. And that is when I noticed that my fingertip was gone. So I was like, ‘Oh. O.K.’

“So that is when I started really assessing myself. I was like, ‘That’s not bad.’ And then I turned my hand over, and I noticed that this chunk of my hand was gone. So I was like, ‘O.K., still not bad. I can live with that.’

“And then when I went to wipe the flies on my face with my left hand, there was nothing there. So I was like, ‘Uh, that’s gone.’ And then I looked down and I saw that my legs were gone. And then they had kind of forced my head back down to the ground, hoping that I wouldn’t see.”
...
Dawn Halfaker, a 28-year-old former Army captain, is among those featured in the documentary. She lost her right arm and shoulder in Iraq, along with any illusions she might have had about the glory of war.

“I think I was a little bit naïve to what combat was really like,” she told me in an interview on Sunday. “When you’re training, you don’t really imagine that you could be holding a dying boy in your arms. You don’t think about what death is like close up.

“There’s nothing heroic about war. It’s very tragic. It’s very sad. It takes a huge emotional toll.”

Who knew war sucks?  Well, at least that song's out of my head now.

ntodd

August 20, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
It’s a Miserable Life
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Last week the scene at branches of Countrywide Bank, with crowds of agitated depositors trying to withdraw their money, looked a bit like the bank run in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

As it happens, Countrywide’s customers were overreacting. True, the bank is owned by Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender — and mortgage lenders are in big trouble these days. But bank deposits up to $100,000 are protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Old-fashioned bank runs just don’t make sense these days.

New-fashioned bank runs, on the other hand, do make sense — and they’re at the heart of the current financial crisis.

The key to understanding what’s happening is taking a broad view of what constitutes a bank. From an economic perspective, a bank is any institution that offers people liquidity — the ability to convert their assets into cash on short notice — while still using their money to make long-term investments.

Traditional banks promise depositors the right to withdraw their funds at any time. Yet banks lend out most of the money depositors place in their care, keeping only a fraction in cash. The reason this works is that normally a bank’s depositors want to withdraw only a small proportion of their money on any given day.

Banks get in trouble, however, when some event, like a rumor that major loans have gone bad, leads many depositors to demand their money at the same time.

The scary thing about bank runs is that doubts about a bank’s soundness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: a bank that should be safely in the black can nonetheless fail if it’s forced to sell assets in a hurry. And bank failures can have devastating economic effects. Many economists believe that the banking panic of the early 1930s, not the stock market crash of 1929, was the principal cause of the Great Depression.

That’s why bank deposits are now protected by a combination of guarantees and regulation. On one side, deposits are federally insured, and the Federal Reserve stands ready to rush cash to troubled banks if necessary. On the other side, banks are required to keep adequate reserves, have adequate capital and make conservative loans.

But these guarantees and regulations apply only to traditional banks. Meanwhile, a growing number of unregulated bank-like institutions have become vulnerable to the 21st-century version of bank runs.

Consider the case of KKR Financial Holdings, an affiliate of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a powerhouse Wall Street operator. KKR Financial raises money by issuing asset-backed commercial paper — a claim that’s sort of like a short-term C.D., used by large investors to temporarily park funds — and invests most of this money in longer-term assets. So the company is acting as a kind of bank, one that offers a higher interest rate than ordinary banks pay their clients.

It sounds like a great deal — except that last week KKR Financial announced that it was seeking to delay $5 billion in repayments. That’s the equivalent of a bank closing its doors because it’s running out of cash.

The problems at KKR Financial are part of a broader picture in which many investors, spooked by the problems in the mortgage market, have been pulling their money out of institutions that use short-term borrowing to finance long-term investments. These institutions aren’t called banks, but in economic terms what’s been happening amounts to a burgeoning banking panic.

On Friday, the Federal Reserve tried to quell this panic by announcing a surprise cut in the discount rate, the rate at which it lends money to banks. It remains to be seen whether the move will do the trick.

The problem, as many observers have noticed, is that the Fed’s move is largely symbolic. It makes more funds available to depository institutions, a k a old-fashioned banks — but old-fashioned banks aren’t where the crisis is centered. And the Fed doesn’t have any clear way to deal with bank runs on institutions that aren’t called banks.

Now, sometimes symbolic gestures are enough. The Fed’s surprise quarter-point interest rate cut in October 1998, at the height of the crisis caused by the implosion of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management, was similarly a case of providing money where it wasn’t needed. Yet it helped restore calm to the markets, by conveying the sense that policy makers were on top of the situation.

Friday’s cut might do the same thing. But if it doesn’t, it’s not clear what comes next.

Whatever happens now, it’s hard to avoid the sense that the growing complexity of our financial system is making it increasingly prone to crises — crises that are beyond the ability of traditional policies to handle. Maybe we’ll make it through this crisis unscathed. But what about the next one, or the one after that?

-----

August 22, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Go Green and Save Money
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Have your eyes recently popped out of your head when you opened your electric bill? Do you, like me, live in one of those states where electricity has been deregulated and the state no longer oversees the generation price so your utility rates have skyrocketed since 2002?

If so, you need to listen to a proposal being aired by Jim Rogers, the chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy, and recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Duke Energy is headquartered in Charlotte.) It’s called “save-a-watt,” and it aims to turn the electricity/utility industry upside down by rewarding utilities for the kilowatts they save customers by improving their energy efficiency rather than rewarding them for the kilowatts they sell customers by building more power plants.

Mr. Rogers’s proposal is based on three simple principles. The first is that the cheapest way to generate clean, emissions-free power is by improving energy efficiency. Or, as he puts it, “The most environmentally sound, inexpensive and reliable power plant is the one we don’t have to build because we’ve helped our customers save energy.”

Second, we need to make energy efficiency something that is as “back of mind” as energy usage. If energy efficiency depends on people remembering to do 20 things on a checklist, it’s not going to happen at scale.

Third, the only institutions that have the infrastructure, capital and customer base to empower lots of people to become energy efficient are the utilities, so they are the ones who need to be incentivized to make big investments in efficiency that can be accessed by every customer.

The only problem is that, historically, utilities made their money by making large-scale investments in new power plants, whether coal or gas or nuclear. As long as a utility could prove to its regulators that the demand for that new plant was there, the utility got to pass along the cost, and then some, to its customers. Mr. Rogers’s save-a-watt concept proposes to change all of that.

“The way it would work is that the utility would spend the money and take the risk to make its customers as energy efficient as possible,” he explained. That would include installing devices in your home that would allow the utility to adjust your air-conditioners or refrigerators at peak usage times. It would include plans to incentivize contractors to build more efficient homes with more efficient boilers, heaters, appliances and insulation. It could even include partnering with a factory to buy the most energy-efficient equipment or with a family to winterize their house.

“Energy efficiency is the ‘fifth fuel’ — after coal, gas, renewables and nuclear,” said Mr. Rogers. “Today, it is the lowest-cost alternative and is emissions-free. It should be our first choice in meeting our growing demand for electricity, as well as in solving the climate challenge.”

Because energy efficiency is, in effect, a resource, he added, in order for utilities to use more of it, “efficiency should be treated as a production cost in the regulatory arena.” The utility would earn its money on the basis of the actual watts it saves through efficiency innovations. (California’s “decoupling” systems goes partly in this direction.)

At the end of the year, an independent body would determine how many watts of energy the utility has saved over a predetermined baseline and the utility would then be compensated by its customers accordingly.

“Over time,” said Mr. Rogers, “the price of electricity per unit will go up, because there would be an incremental cost in adding efficiency equipment — although that cost would be less than the incremental cost of adding a new power plant. But your overall bills should go down, because your home will be more efficient and you will use less electricity.”

Once such a system is in place, Mr. Rogers added, “our engineers would wake up every day thinking about how to squeeze more productivity gains out of new technology for energy efficiency — rather than just how to build a bigger transmission or distribution network to meet the growing demands of customers.” (Why don’t we think about incentivizing U.S. automakers the same way — give them tax rebates for save-a-miles?)

That is how you produce a more efficient energy infrastructure at scale. “Universal access to electricity was a 20th century idea — now it has to be universal access to energy efficiency, which could make us the most energy productive country in the world,” he added.

Pulling all this off will be very complicated. But if Mr. Rogers and North Carolina can do it, it would be the mother of all energy paradigm shifts.

-----

August 21, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
War’s Chilling Reality
By BOB HERBERT

Bryan Anderson, a 25-year-old Army sergeant who was wounded in Iraq, was explaining, on camera — to James Gandolfini, of all people — what happened immediately after a roadside bomb blew up the Humvee that he was driving.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we got hit. We got hit.’ And then I had blood on my face and the flies were landing all over my face. So I wiped my face to get rid of the flies. And that is when I noticed that my fingertip was gone. So I was like, ‘Oh. O.K.’

“So that is when I started really assessing myself. I was like, ‘That’s not bad.’ And then I turned my hand over, and I noticed that this chunk of my hand was gone. So I was like, ‘O.K., still not bad. I can live with that.’

“And then when I went to wipe the flies on my face with my left hand, there was nothing there. So I was like, ‘Uh, that’s gone.’ And then I looked down and I saw that my legs were gone. And then they had kind of forced my head back down to the ground, hoping that I wouldn’t see.”

HBO’s contribution to an expanded awareness of the awful realities of war continues with a new documentary, “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq.”

Mr. Gandolfini, one of the executive producers of the film, steps out of his Tony Soprano persona to quietly, even gently, interview 10 soldiers and marines who barely escaped death in combat.

The interviews are powerful, and often chilling. They offer a portrait of combat and its aftermath that bears no relation to the sanitized, often upbeat version of war — not just in Iraq, but in general — that so often comes from politicians and the news media.

Dawn Halfaker, a 28-year-old former Army captain, is among those featured in the documentary. She lost her right arm and shoulder in Iraq, along with any illusions she might have had about the glory of war.

“I think I was a little bit naïve to what combat was really like,” she told me in an interview on Sunday. “When you’re training, you don’t really imagine that you could be holding a dying boy in your arms. You don’t think about what death is like close up.

“There’s nothing heroic about war. It’s very tragic. It’s very sad. It takes a huge emotional toll.”

Still, she said, there was much about her experience in Iraq that she was grateful for.

“Nobody in the film is asking for pity or sympathy,” she said. “We’re just saying we had this experience and it changed our lives, and we’re coping with it.”

The term “alive day” is being used by G.I.’s to refer to the day that they came frighteningly close to dying from war wounds, but somehow managed to survive. There are legions of them.

Miraculous advances in emergency medicine, communication and transportation are enabling 90 percent of the G.I.’s wounded in Iraq to survive their wounds, although many are facing a lifetime of suffering.

It’s become a cliché to talk about the courage of the soldiers and marines struggling to overcome their horrendous injuries, but it’s a cliché embedded in the truth. Sergeant Anderson, a chatty onetime athlete, is doing his best to put together a reasonably satisfactory life without his legs or his left hand, and with a damaged right hand

He told Mr. Gandolfini, “If I didn’t have my hand, if I lost both my hands, I’d really think, you know, it wouldn’t be worth it to be around.”

He has a wry take on the term “alive day.”

“Everybody makes a big deal about your alive day, especially at Walter Reed,” he said. “And I can see their point, that you’d want to celebrate something like that. But from my point of view, it’s like, ‘O.K., we’re sitting here celebrating the worst day of my life. Great, let’s just remind me of that every year.’ ”

Last year HBO produced a harrowing documentary called “Baghdad E.R.” that showed the relentless effort of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to save as many lives as possible from what amounted to a nonstop conveyor belt of G.I.’s wounded in combat. At the time, Shelia Nevins, the head of documentary programming at the network, said, “We tried to put a human face on the war.”

They’ve done it again with “Alive Day Memories,” which is scheduled to premiere Sept. 9.

There are no politics in either production. They are neither pro- nor anti-war.

But the intense focus on the humanity of the men and women caught up in the chaos of Iraq, and the incredible sacrifices some of them have had to make, is an implicit argument in favor of a more thoughtful, cautious, less hubristic approach to matters of war and peace.

August 21, 2007 in Biofuels, Bitches!, Firewall Fairy, Why We Fight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Firewall Fairy Surges Toward A New Brand

Mustachio:

Is the surge in Iraq working? That is the question that Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will answer for us next month. I, alas, am not interested in their opinions.

It is not because I don’t hold both men in very high regard. I do. But I’m still not interested in their opinions. I’m only interested in yours. Yes, you — the person reading this column. You know more than you think.

Dude, we already knew that we know more than you think because, you know, we were right about the fucking war.  Oh, and here's my answer: no.  Now why don't you find a goddamned cabbie to explain the General Theory of Relativity to your dumb ass.

RIch:

The rise of YouTube certifies the passing of Mr. Rove’s era, a cultural changing of the guard in the digital age. Mr. Rove made his name in direct-mail fund-raising and with fierce top-down message management. As the Internet erodes snail mail, so it upends direct mail. As YouTube threatens a politician’s ability to rigidly control a message, so it threatens the Rove ethos that led Mr. Bush to campaign at “town hall” meetings attended only by hand-picked supporters.

It’s no coincidence that this new culture is also threatening the Beltway journalistic establishment that celebrated Mr. Rove’s invincibility well past its expiration date (much as it did James Carville’s before him), extolling what Joshua Green, in his superb new Rove article in The Atlantic, calls the Cult of the Consultant. The YouTube video of Mr. Rove impersonating a rapper at one of those black-tie correspondents’ dinners makes the Washington press corps look even more antediluvian than he is.

Last weekend’s Iowa straw poll was a more somber but equally anachronistic spectacle. Again, it’s a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, who put it best: “The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he’s little more than Jesus Christ’s running mate.”

That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove’s face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.

Caveat emptor, baby.

ntodd

August 19, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Seeing Is Believing
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Is the surge in Iraq working? That is the question that Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will answer for us next month. I, alas, am not interested in their opinions.

It is not because I don’t hold both men in very high regard. I do. But I’m still not interested in their opinions. I’m only interested in yours. Yes, you — the person reading this column. You know more than you think.

You see, I have a simple view about both Arab-Israeli peace-making and Iraqi surge-making, and it goes like this: Any Arab-Israeli peace overture that requires a Middle East expert to explain to you is not worth considering. It’s going nowhere.

Either a peace overture is so obvious and grabs you in the gut — Anwar Sadat’s trip to Israel — or it’s going nowhere. That is why the Saudi-Arab League peace overture is going nowhere. No emotional content. It was basically faxed to the Israeli people, and people don’t give up land for peace in a deal that comes over the fax.

Ditto with Iraqi surges. If it takes a Middle East expert to explain to you why it is working, it’s not working. To be sure, it is good news if the number of Iraqis found dead in Baghdad each night is diminishing. Indeed, it is good news if casualties are down everywhere that U.S. troops have made their presence felt. But all that tells me is something that was obvious from the start of the war, which Donald Rumsfeld ignored: where you put in large numbers of U.S. troops you get security, and where you don’t you get insecurity.

There’s only one thing at this stage that would truly impress me, and it is this: proof that there is an Iraq, proof that there is a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who share our vision of a unified, multiparty, power-sharing, democratizing Iraq and who are willing to forge a social contract that will allow them to maintain such an Iraq — without U.S. troops.

Because if that is not the case, even if U.S. troops create more pockets of security via the surge, they will have no one to hand these pockets to who can maintain them without us. In other words, the only people who can prove that the surge is working are the Iraqis, and the way they prove that is by showing that violence is down in areas where there are no U.S. troops or where U.S. troops have come and gone.

Because many Americans no longer believe anything President Bush says about Iraq, he has outsourced the assessment of the surge to the firm of Petraeus & Crocker. But this puts them in an impossible position. I admire their efforts, and those of their soldiers, to try to salvage something decent in Iraq, especially when you see who we are losing to — Sunni suicide jihadists and Shiite militants, who murder fellow Muslims by the dozen and whose retrograde visions offer Iraqis only a future of tears. But we could never defeat them on our own. It takes a village, and right now too many of the Iraqi villagers won’t work together.

Most likely the Bush team will say the surge is a “partial” success and needs more time. But that is like your contractor telling you that your home is almost finished — the bricks are up, but there’s no cement. Thanks a lot.

The Democrats should not fight Petraeus & Crocker over their answer. They should redefine the question. They should say: “My fellow Americans, ask yourselves this: What will convey to you, in your gut — without anyone interpreting it — that the surge is working and worth sustaining?”

My answer: If I saw something with my own eyes that I hadn’t seen before — Iraq’s Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders stepping forward, declaring their willingness to work out their differences by a set deadline and publicly asking us to stay until they do. That’s the only thing worth giving more time to develop.

But it may just be too late. Had the surge happened in 2003, when it should have, it might have prevented the kindling of all of Iraq’s sectarian passions. But now that those fires have been set, trying to unify Iraq feels like doing carpentry on a burning house.

I’ve been thinking about Iraq’s multi-religious soccer team, which just won the Asian Cup. The team was assembled from Iraqis who play for other pro teams outside Iraq. In fact, it was reported that the Iraqi soccer team hadn’t played a home game in 17 years because of violence or U.N. sanctions. In short, it’s a real team with a virtual country. That’s what I fear the surge is trying to protect: a unified Iraq that exists only in the imagination and on foreign soccer fields.

Only Iraqis living in Iraq can prove otherwise. So far, I don’t see it.

Maureen Dowd is off today.

[ed note: so's Tommy]

-----

August 19, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
He Got Out While the Getting Was Good
By FRANK RICH

BACK in those heady days of late summer 2002, Andrew Card, then the president’s chief of staff, told The New York Times why the much-anticipated push for war in Iraq hadn’t yet arrived. “You don’t introduce new products in August,” he said, sounding like the mouthpiece for the Big Three automakers he once was. Sure enough, with an efficiency Detroit can only envy, the manufactured aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds rolled off the White House assembly line after Labor Day like clockwork.

Five summers later, we have the flip side of the Card corollary: You do recall defective products in August, whether you’re Mattel or the Bush administration. Karl Rove’s departure was both abrupt and fast. The ritualistic “for the sake of my family” rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive. Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?

Perhaps, but the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove’s departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp — not the Democrats’ familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. — that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring “the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies,” not to mention “the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty.” Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.

Those Bush dead-enders are in a serious state of denial. Just how much so could be found in the Journal interview when Mr. Rove extolled his party’s health by arguing, without contradiction from Mr. Gigot, that young people are more “pro-life” and “free-market” than their elders. Maybe he was talking about 12-year-olds. Back in the real world of potential voters, the latest New York Times-CBS News poll of Americans aged 17 to 29 found that their views on abortion were almost identical to the rest of the country’s. (Only 24 percent want abortion outlawed.)

That poll also found that the percentage of young people who identify as Republicans, whether free-marketers or not, is down to 25, from a high of 37 at the end of the Reagan era. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, found that self-identified G.O.P. voters are trending older rapidly, with the percentage over age 55 jumping from 28 to 41 percent in a decade.

Every poll and demographic accounting finds the Republican Party on the losing side of history, both politically and culturally. Not even a miraculous armistice in Iraq or vintage Democratic incompetence may be able to ride to the rescue. A survey conducted by The Journal itself (with NBC News) in June reported G.O.P. approval numbers lower than any in that poll’s two decades of existence. Such is the political legacy for a party to which Mr. Rove sold Mr. Bush as “a new kind of Republican,” an exemplar of “compassionate conservatism” and the avatar of a permanent Republican majority.

That sales pitch, as we long ago learned, was all about packaging, not substance. The hope was that No Child Left Behind and a 2000 G.O.P. convention stacked with break dancers and gospel singers would peel away some independent and black voters from the Democrats. The promise of immigration reform would spread Bush’s popularity among Hispanics. Another potential add-on to the Republican base was Muslims, a growing constituency that Mr. Rove’s pal Grover Norquist plotted to herd into the coalition.

The rest is history. Any prospect of a rapprochement between the G.O.P. and African-Americans died in the New Orleans Superdome. The tardy, botched immigration initiative unleashed a wave of xenophobia against Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country. The Muslim outreach project disappeared into the memory hole after 9/11.

Forced to pick a single symbolic episode to encapsulate the collapse of Rovian Republicanism, however, I would not choose any of those national watersheds, or even the implosion of the Iraq war, but the George Allen “macaca” moment. Its first anniversary fell, fittingly enough, on the same day last weekend that Mitt Romney bought his victory at the desultory, poorly attended G.O.P. straw poll in Iowa.

A century seems to have passed since Mr. Allen, the Virginia Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was anointed by Washington insiders as the inevitable heir to the Bush-Rove mantle: a former governor whose jus’-folks personality, the Bushian camouflage for hard-edged conservatism, would propel him to the White House. Mr. Allen’s senatorial campaign and presidential future melted down overnight after he insulted a Jim Webb campaign worker, the 20-year-old son of Indian immigrants, not just by calling him a monkey but by sarcastically welcoming him “to America” and “the real world of Virginia.”

This incident had resonance well beyond Virginia and Mr. Allen for several reasons. First, it crystallized the monochromatic whiteness at the dark heart of Rovian Republicanism. For all the minstrel antics at the 2000 convention, the record speaks for itself: there is not a single black Republican serving in either the House or Senate, and little representation of other minorities, either. Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party’s presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954. Meanwhile, a new census analysis released this month finds that nonwhites now make up a majority in nearly a third of the nation’s most populous counties, with Houston overtaking Los Angeles in black population and metropolitan Chicago surpassing Honolulu in Asian residents. Even small towns and rural America are exploding in Hispanic growth.

Second, the Allen slur was a compact distillation of the brute nastiness of the Bush-Rove years, all that ostentatious “compassion” notwithstanding. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove are not xenophobes, but the record will show that their White House spoke up too late and said too little when some of its political allies descended into Mexican-bashing during the immigration brawl. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove winked at anti-immigrant bigotry, much as they did at the homophobia they inflamed with their incessant election-year demagoguery about same-sex marriage.

Finally, the “macaca” incident was a media touchstone. It became a national phenomenon when the video landed on YouTube, the rollicking Web site whose reach now threatens mainstream news outlets. A year later, leading Republicans are still clueless and panicked about this new medium, which is why they, unlike their Democratic counterparts, pulled out of even a tightly controlled CNN-YouTube debate. It took smart young conservative bloggers like a former Republican National Committee operative, Patrick Ruffini, to shame them into reinstating the debate for November, lest the entire G.O.P. field look as pathetically out of touch as it is.

The rise of YouTube certifies the passing of Mr. Rove’s era, a cultural changing of the guard in the digital age. Mr. Rove made his name in direct-mail fund-raising and with fierce top-down message management. As the Internet erodes snail mail, so it upends direct mail. As YouTube threatens a politician’s ability to rigidly control a message, so it threatens the Rove ethos that led Mr. Bush to campaign at “town hall” meetings attended only by hand-picked supporters.

It’s no coincidence that this new culture is also threatening the Beltway journalistic establishment that celebrated Mr. Rove’s invincibility well past its expiration date (much as it did James Carville’s before him), extolling what Joshua Green, in his superb new Rove article in The Atlantic, calls the Cult of the Consultant. The YouTube video of Mr. Rove impersonating a rapper at one of those black-tie correspondents’ dinners makes the Washington press corps look even more antediluvian than he is.

Last weekend’s Iowa straw poll was a more somber but equally anachronistic spectacle. Again, it’s a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, who put it best: “The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he’s little more than Jesus Christ’s running mate.”

That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove’s face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.

August 18, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Firewall Fairy Wonders Who Supports The Supporters

Rich:

The ranks of unreconstructed Iraq hawks are thinner than they used to be. Some politicians in both parties (John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Gordon Smith) and truculent pundits (Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan) who cheered on the war recanted (sooner in some cases than others), learned from their errors and moved on. One particularly eloquent mea culpa can be found in today’s New York Times Magazine, where the former war supporter Michael Ignatieff acknowledges that those who “truly showed good judgment on Iraq” might have had no more information than those who got it wrong, but did not make the mistake of confusing “wishes for reality.”

But those who remain dug in are having none of that. Some of them are busily lashing out Korff-style. Some are melting down. Some are rewriting history. Most seem more interested in saving their own reputations than the American troops they ritualistically invoke to bludgeon the wars’ critics and to parade their own self-congratulatory patriotism.

It was a rewriting of history that made the blogosphere (and others) go berserk last week over an Op-Ed article in The Times, “A War We Just Might Win,” by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. The two Brookings Institution scholars, after a government-guided tour, pointed selectively to successes on the ground in Iraq in arguing that the surge should be continued “at least into 2008.”

The hole in their argument was gaping. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said honorably and bluntly in his Congressional confirmation hearings, “No amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference” in Iraq if there’s no functioning Iraqi government. Opting for wishes over reality, Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack buried their pro forma acknowledgment of that huge hurdle near the end of their piece.

But even more galling was the authors’ effort to elevate their credibility by describing themselves as “analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” That’s disingenuous. For all their late-in-the-game criticisms of the administration’s incompetence, Mr. Pollack proselytized vociferously for the war before it started, including in an appearance with Oprah, and both men have helped prolong the quagmire with mistakenly optimistic sightings of progress since the days of “Mission Accomplished.”

You can find a compendium of their past wisdom in Glenn Greenwald’s Salon column. That think-tank pundits with this track record would try to pass themselves off as harsh war critics in 2007 shows how desperate they are to preserve their status as Beltway “experts” now that the political winds have shifted. Such blatant careerism would be less offensive if they didn’t do so on the backs of the additional American troops they ask to be sacrificed to the doomed mission of providing security for an Iraqi government that is both on vacation and on the verge of collapse.
...
Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.

The same playbook was followed by the war’s champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his “near insubordination.” When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.

Only one flaw in the Ignatieff piece Rich lauds is balanced by the very next graf:

We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history. What they didn’t do was take wishes for reality. They didn’t suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn’t suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn’t suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little. They didn’t believe that because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo it had to be doing so in Iraq. They avoided all these mistakes.

I don't like his unsupported "But many" claim, a variant of the "some say" gambit, but he recovers the high ground almost immediately when he recognizes that we who truly showed good judgment didn't "take wishes for reality."  I'm willing to forgive his one minor faux pas in an otherwise pretty good mea culpa.  Would that more war supporters would have the courage to admit they were wrong and work constructively with us to end this tragic mistake.

ntodd

August 5, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Patriots Who Love the Troops to Death
By FRANK RICH

GERALD FORD spoke the truth when he called Watergate “our long national nightmare,” but even a nightmare can have its interludes of rib-splitting farce.

None were zanier than the antics of Baruch Korff, a small-town New England rabbi who became a full-time Richard Nixon sycophant as the walls closed in. Korff was ubiquitous in the press and on television, where he would lambaste Democrats and the media “lynch mob” for vilifying “the greatest president of the century.” Despite Nixon’s reflexive anti-Semitism, he returned the favor by granting the rabbi audiences and an interview that allowed the embattled president to soliloquize about how his own faith and serenity reinforced his conviction “deep inside” that everything he did was right.

Clearly we’ve reached our own Korffian moment in our latest long national nightmare. The Nixon interviewed by the rabbi sounded uncannily like the resolute leader chronicled by the conservative columnists and talk-show jocks President Bush has lately welcomed into his bunker. For his part, William Kristol even published a Korffian manifesto, “Why Bush Will Be a Winner,” in The Washington Post. It reassured us that the Bush presidency would “probably be a successful one” and that “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome” in Iraq. A Bush flack let it be known that the president liked this piece so much that he recommended it to his White House staff.

Are you laughing yet? Maybe not. No one died in Watergate. This time around, the White House lying and cover-ups have been not just in the service of political thuggery but to gin up a gratuitous war without end.

There is another significant difference as well. Washington never drank the Nixon Kool-Aid. It kept a skeptical bipartisan eye on Tricky Dick throughout his political career, long before the Watergate complex had even been built. The charmed Mr. Bush, by contrast, got a free pass; both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and both liberals and conservatives in the news media were credulous enablers of the Iraq fiasco. Now a reckoning awaits, and the denouement is getting ugly.

The ranks of unreconstructed Iraq hawks are thinner than they used to be. Some politicians in both parties (John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Gordon Smith) and truculent pundits (Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan) who cheered on the war recanted (sooner in some cases than others), learned from their errors and moved on. One particularly eloquent mea culpa can be found in today’s New York Times Magazine, where the former war supporter Michael Ignatieff acknowledges that those who “truly showed good judgment on Iraq” might have had no more information than those who got it wrong, but did not make the mistake of confusing “wishes for reality.”

But those who remain dug in are having none of that. Some of them are busily lashing out Korff-style. Some are melting down. Some are rewriting history. Most seem more interested in saving their own reputations than the American troops they ritualistically invoke to bludgeon the wars’ critics and to parade their own self-congratulatory patriotism.

It was a rewriting of history that made the blogosphere (and others) go berserk last week over an Op-Ed article in The Times, “A War We Just Might Win,” by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. The two Brookings Institution scholars, after a government-guided tour, pointed selectively to successes on the ground in Iraq in arguing that the surge should be continued “at least into 2008.”

The hole in their argument was gaping. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said honorably and bluntly in his Congressional confirmation hearings, “No amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference” in Iraq if there’s no functioning Iraqi government. Opting for wishes over reality, Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack buried their pro forma acknowledgment of that huge hurdle near the end of their piece.

But even more galling was the authors’ effort to elevate their credibility by describing themselves as “analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” That’s disingenuous. For all their late-in-the-game criticisms of the administration’s incompetence, Mr. Pollack proselytized vociferously for the war before it started, including in an appearance with Oprah, and both men have helped prolong the quagmire with mistakenly optimistic sightings of progress since the days of “Mission Accomplished.”

You can find a compendium of their past wisdom in Glenn Greenwald’s Salon column. That think-tank pundits with this track record would try to pass themselves off as harsh war critics in 2007 shows how desperate they are to preserve their status as Beltway “experts” now that the political winds have shifted. Such blatant careerism would be less offensive if they didn’t do so on the backs of the additional American troops they ask to be sacrificed to the doomed mission of providing security for an Iraqi government that is both on vacation and on the verge of collapse.

At least the more rabid and Korff-like of the war’s last defenders have the intellectual honesty not to deny what they’ve been saying all along. But their invective has gone over the top, with even mild recent critics of the war like John Warner and Richard Lugar being branded defeatist “pre- 9/11 Republicans” by Mr. Kristol.

It’s also the tic of Mr. Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly Standard (and its Murdoch sibling The New York Post), to claim that the war’s critics hate the troops. When The New Republic ran a less-than-jingoistic essay by a pseudonymous American soldier in Iraq, The Weekly Standard even accused it of fabrication — only to have its bluff called when the author’s identity was revealed and his controversial anecdotes were verified by other sources.

A similar over-the-top tirade erupted on “Meet the Press” last month, when another war defender in meltdown, Senator Lindsey Graham, repeatedly cut off his fellow guest by saying that soldiers he met on official Congressional visits to Iraq endorsed his own enthusiasm for the surge. Unfortunately for Mr. Graham, his sparring partner was Jim Webb, the take-no-prisoners Virginia Democrat who is a Vietnam veteran and the father of a soldier serving in the war. Senator Webb reduced Mr. Graham to a stammering heap of Jell-O when he chastised him for trying to put his political views “into the mouths of soldiers.” As Mr. Webb noted, the last New York Times-CBS News poll on the subject found that most members of the military and their immediate families have turned against the war, like other Americans.

As is becoming clearer than ever in this Korffian endgame, hiding behind the troops is the last refuge of this war’s sponsors. This too is a rewrite of history. It has been the war’s champions who have more often dishonored the troops than the war’s opponents.

Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.

The same playbook was followed by the war’s champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his “near insubordination.” When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.

One person who has had enough of this hypocrisy is the war critic Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University professor of international relations who is also a Vietnam veteran, a product of the United States Military Academy and a former teacher at West Point. After his 27-year-old son was killed in May while serving in Iraq, he said that Americans should not believe Memorial Day orators who talk about how priceless the troops’ lives are.

“I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life,” Professor Bacevich wrote in The Washington Post. “I’ve been handed the check.” The amount, he said, was “roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning.”

Anyone who questions this bleak perspective need only have watched last week’s sad and ultimately pointless Congressional hearings into the 2004 friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman. Seven investigations later, we still don’t know who rewrote the witness statements of Tillman’s cohort so that Pentagon propagandists could trumpet a fictionalized battle death to the public and his family.

But it was nonetheless illuminating to watch Mr. Rumsfeld and his top brass sit there under oath and repeatedly go mentally AWOL about crucial events in the case. Their convenient mass amnesia about their army’s most famous and lied-about casualty is as good a definition as any of just what “supporting the troops” means to those who even now beat the drums for this war.

August 4, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Firewall Fairy And Rosencrantz Are Dead

The Shrill One:

President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room” — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any [State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip)] expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.
...
[D]enying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans — including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans — support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.

Hamlet had pretty lousy healthcare...

ntodd

July 30, 2007
An Immoral Philosophy
By PAUL KRUGMAN

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room” — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans — including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans — support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.

July 30, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Firewall Fairy Likes To Take It Up The Colon

Rich:

[A]nyone can make a mistake. And when General Petraeus cited soccer games as an example of “the astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad last month, he could not have anticipated that car bombs would kill at least 50 Iraqis after the Iraqi team’s poignant victory in the Asian Cup semifinals last week. This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn’t account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

On “Meet the Press,” Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate’s last gung-ho war defenders in either party, mentioned General Petraeus 10 times in one segment, saying he would “not vote for anything” unless “General Petraeus passes on it.” Desperate hawks on the nation’s op-ed pages not only idolize the commander daily but denounce any critics of his strategy as deserters, defeatists and enemies of the troops.

That’s because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush’s claims of seeking “candid” advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for “candid” views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. “The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus,” he said, in National Review’s account.

To be the “most credible” person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for “kicking some butt” in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon’s pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.
...
Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his “main man” to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a “merger” between Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and what he calls “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that “Cingular is now the new AT&T.” He doesn’t seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda’s name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

On Tuesday — a week after the National Intelligence Estimate warned of the resurgence of bin Laden’s Qaeda in Pakistan — Mr. Bush gave a speech in which he continued to claim that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” makes Iraq the central front in the war on terror. He mentioned Al Qaeda 95 times but Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf not once. Two days later, his own top intelligence officials refused to endorse his premise when appearing before Congress. They are all too familiar with the threats that are building to a shrill pitch this summer.

Should those threats become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus.

Best news of the day: Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today.

ntodd

July 29, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Who Really Took Over During That Colonoscopy
By FRANK RICH

THERE was, of course, gallows humor galore when Dick Cheney briefly grabbed the wheel of our listing ship of state during the presidential colonoscopy last weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts. A once-durable staple of 21st-century American humor is in its last throes. We have a new surrogate president now. Sic transit Cheney. Long live David Petraeus!

It was The Washington Post that first quantified General Petraeus’s remarkable ascension. President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander’s name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone.

As always with this White House’s propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush’s relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the “main man.” He is the man who gives “candid advice.” Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must “wait to see what David has to say,” Mr. Bush says.

Actually, we don’t have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September “is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy.” In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) — full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy. As Michael Gordon reported in The New York Times last week, General Petraeus has collaborated on a classified strategy document that will keep American troops in Iraq well into 2009 as we wait for the miracles that will somehow bring that country security and a functioning government.

Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam,” he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon’s own June report.

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. “Training is on track and increasing in capacity,” he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no “surge” would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when Gen. Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling — now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

But even more revealing is what was happening at the time that General Petraeus disseminated his sunny 2004 prognosis. The best account is to be found in “The Occupation of Iraq,” the authoritative chronicle by Ali Allawi published this year by Yale University Press. Mr. Allawi is not some anti-American crank. He was the first civilian defense minister of postwar Iraq and has been an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; his book was praised by none other than the Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami as “magnificent.”

Mr. Allawi writes that the embezzlement of the Iraqi Army’s $1.2 billion arms procurement budget was happening “under the very noses” of the Security Transition Command run by General Petraeus: “The saga of the grand theft of the Ministry of Defense perfectly illustrated the huge gap between the harsh realities on the ground and the Panglossian spin that permeated official pronouncements.” Mr. Allawi contrasts the “lyrical” Petraeus pronouncements in The Post with the harsh realities of the Iraqi forces’ inoperable helicopters, flimsy bulletproof vests and toy helmets. The huge sums that might have helped the Iraqis stand up were instead “handed over to unscrupulous adventurers and former pizza parlor operators.”

Well, anyone can make a mistake. And when General Petraeus cited soccer games as an example of “the astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad last month, he could not have anticipated that car bombs would kill at least 50 Iraqis after the Iraqi team’s poignant victory in the Asian Cup semifinals last week. This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn’t account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

On “Meet the Press,” Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate’s last gung-ho war defenders in either party, mentioned General Petraeus 10 times in one segment, saying he would “not vote for anything” unless “General Petraeus passes on it.” Desperate hawks on the nation’s op-ed pages not only idolize the commander daily but denounce any critics of his strategy as deserters, defeatists and enemies of the troops.

That’s because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush’s claims of seeking “candid” advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for “candid” views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. “The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus,” he said, in National Review’s account.

To be the “most credible” person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for “kicking some butt” in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon’s pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to “our own debates at the birth of our nation,” as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his “main man” to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a “merger” between Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and what he calls “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that “Cingular is now the new AT&T.” He doesn’t seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda’s name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

On Tuesday — a week after the National Intelligence Estimate warned of the resurgence of bin Laden’s Qaeda in Pakistan — Mr. Bush gave a speech in which he continued to claim that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” makes Iraq the central front in the war on terror. He mentioned Al Qaeda 95 times but Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf not once. Two days later, his own top intelligence officials refused to endorse his premise when appearing before Congress. They are all too familiar with the threats that are building to a shrill pitch this summer.

Should those threats become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus.

Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today.

July 28, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Don't You Forget About Firewall Fairy

Bobobbbbbbbbpppthtbbthbbbbbackspitcough:

If you’ve paid attention to the presidential campaign, you’ve heard the neopopulist story line. C.E.O.’s are seeing their incomes skyrocket while the middle class gets squeezed. The tides of globalization work against average Americans while most of the benefits go to the top 1 percent.

This story is not entirely wrong, but it is incredibly simple-minded. To believe it, you have to suppress a whole string of complicating facts.
...
All of this is not to say everything is hunky-dory. Inequality is obviously increasing. There’s evidence that global trade is producing more losers.

Instead, the main point is that the Democratic campaign rhetoric is taking on a life of its own, and drifting further away from reality. Feeding off pessimism about the war and anger at Washington, candidates now compete to tell dark, angry and conspiratorial stories about the economy.

I doubt there’s much Republicans can do to salvage their fortunes by 2008. But over the long term a G.O.P. rebound can be built by capturing the Bill Clinton/Democratic Leadership Council ground that the Democrats are now abandoning. Whoever gets globalization right will have a bright future, and in the long run, the facts matter.

Speaking of simple-minded, Mr Brooks, I'd suggest you look at your own fucking column.

ntodd

July 24, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
A Reality- Based Economy
By DAVID BROOKS

If you’ve paid attention to the presidential campaign, you’ve heard the neopopulist story line. C.E.O.’s are seeing their incomes skyrocket while the middle class gets squeezed. The tides of globalization work against average Americans while most of the benefits go to the top 1 percent.

This story is not entirely wrong, but it is incredibly simple-minded. To believe it, you have to suppress a whole string of complicating facts.

The first complicating fact is that after a lag, average wages are rising sharply. Real average wages rose by 2 percent in 2006, the second fastest rise in 30 years.

The second complicating fact is that according to the Congressional Budget Office, earnings for the poorest fifth of Americans are also on the increase. As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution noted recently in The Washington Post, between 1991 and 2005, “the bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-income group and around 20 percent for each of the other three groups.”

The third complicating fact is that despite years of scare stories, income volatility is probably not trending upward. A study by the C.B.O. has found that incomes are no more unstable now than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

The fourth complicating fact is that recent rises in inequality have less to do with the grinding unfairness of globalization than with the reality that the market increasingly rewards education and hard work.

A few years ago, the rewards for people earning college degrees seemed to flatten out. But more recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the education premium is again on the rise.

Fifth, companies are getting more efficient at singling out and rewarding productive workers. A study by the economists Thomas Lemieux, Daniel Parent and W. Bentley MacLeod suggests that as much as 24 percent of the increase in male wage inequality is due to performance pay.

Sixth, inequality is also rising in part because people up the income scale work longer hours. In 1965, less educated Americans and more educated Americans worked the same number of hours a week. But today, many highly educated people work like dogs while those down the income scale have seen their leisure time increase by a phenomenal 14 hours a week.

Seventh, it’s not at all clear that the big winners in this economy are self-dealing corporate greedheads who are bilking shareholders. A study by Steven N. Kaplan and Joshua Rauh finds that it’s not corporate honchos who are filling up the ranks of the filthy rich. It’s hedge fund managers. Or, as Kaplan and Rauh put it, “the top 25 hedge fund managers combined appear to have earned more than all 500 S.&P. 500 C.E.O.’s combined.” The hedge fund guys are profiting not because there’s been a shift in social norms favoring the megarich. It’s just that a few superstars are now handling so much capital.

Eighth, to the extent that C.E.O. pay packets have thickened (and they have), there may be good economic reasons. The bigger a company gets, the more a talented C.E.O. can do to increase earnings. Over the past two and a half decades, the value of top U.S. companies has increased 500 percent, according to Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier. The compensation for the C.E.O.’s of those companies has also increased 500 percent.

Ninth, we’re in the middle of one of the greatest economic eras ever. Global poverty has declined at astounding rates. Globalization boosts each American household’s income by about $10,000 a year. The U.S. economy, despite all the bad-mouthing, is chugging along. Thanks to all the growth, tax revenues are at 18.8 percent of G.D.P., higher than the historical average. The deficit is down to about 1.5 percent of G.D.P., below the historical average.

All of this is not to say everything is hunky-dory. Inequality is obviously increasing. There’s evidence that global trade is producing more losers.

Instead, the main point is that the Democratic campaign rhetoric is taking on a life of its own, and drifting further away from reality. Feeding off pessimism about the war and anger at Washington, candidates now compete to tell dark, angry and conspiratorial stories about the economy.

I doubt there’s much Republicans can do to salvage their fortunes by 2008. But over the long term a G.O.P. rebound can be built by capturing the Bill Clinton/Democratic Leadership Council ground that the Democrats are now abandoning. Whoever gets globalization right will have a bright future, and in the long run, the facts matter.

July 23, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Firewall Fairy Wants Higher Speed Internet Porn

The Shrill One:

As recently as 2001, the percentage of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.

Even more striking is the fact that our “high speed” connections are painfully slow by other countries’ standards. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours. Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much cheaper in both countries than it is here.

As a result, we’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

America’s Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue — but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.

And when the Bush administration put Michael Powell in charge of the F.C.C., the digital robber barons were basically set free to do whatever they liked. As a result, there’s little competition in U.S. broadband — if you’re lucky, you have a choice between the services offered by the local cable monopoly and the local phone monopoly. The price is high and the service is poor, but there’s nowhere else to go.

Meanwhile, as a recent article in Business Week explains, the real French bureaucrats used judicious regulation to promote competition. As a result, French consumers get to choose from a variety of service providers who offer reasonably priced Internet access that’s much faster than anything I can get, and comes with free voice calls, TV and Wi-Fi.

It’s too early to say how much harm the broadband lag will do to the U.S. economy as a whole. But it’s interesting to learn that health care isn’t the only area in which the French, who can take a pragmatic approach because they aren’t prisoners of free-market ideology, simply do things better.

Yup, it pisses me off to no end that a little old lady in Sweden can get 40gig service while I'm creaming my shorts over 100k on my cell phone (which is twice as fast as my crappy dialup connection).  But please note that this is once again about ACCESS, not TRANSPORT (and thus not about NN).

I will observe that the US does have a unique problem with the "last mile" in that there are many more access lines that extend rather far out to reach a dispersed population than you'll find in Europe.  That's why the telcos have resisted, until recently, replacing the facilities--it's pricey and they're already in quite a cuthroat, price competitive environment with little margin.  Yet people bitch when the telcos try to deploy new facilities and services.

Anyway, I'm primarily in Krugman's camp here, but if you want a counterpoint, try this article by some AEI types...

ntodd

July 23, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The French Connections
By PAUL KRUGMAN

There was a time when everyone thought that the Europeans and the Japanese were better at business than we were. In the early 1990s airport bookstores were full of volumes with samurai warriors on their covers, promising to teach you the secrets of Japanese business success. Lester Thurow’s 1992 book, “Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America,” which spent more than six months on the Times best-seller list, predicted that Europe would win.

Then it all changed, and American despondency turned into triumphalism. Partly this was because the Clinton boom contrasted so sharply with Europe’s slow growth and Japan’s decade-long slump. Above all, however, our new confidence reflected the rise of the Internet. Jacques Chirac complained that the Internet was an “Anglo-Saxon network,” and he had a point — France, like most of Europe except Scandinavia, lagged far behind the U.S. when it came to getting online.

What most Americans probably don’t know is that over the last few years the situation has totally reversed. As the Internet has evolved — in particular, as dial-up has given way to broadband connections using DSL, cable and other high-speed links — it’s the United States that has fallen behind.

The numbers are startling. As recently as 2001, the percentage of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.

Even more striking is the fact that our “high speed” connections are painfully slow by other countries’ standards. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours. Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much cheaper in both countries than it is here.

As a result, we’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

America’s Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue — but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.

And when the Bush administration put Michael Powell in charge of the F.C.C., the digital robber barons were basically set free to do whatever they liked. As a result, there’s little competition in U.S. broadband — if you’re lucky, you have a choice between the services offered by the local cable monopoly and the local phone monopoly. The price is high and the service is poor, but there’s nowhere else to go.

Meanwhile, as a recent article in Business Week explains, the real French bureaucrats used judicious regulation to promote competition. As a result, French consumers get to choose from a variety of service providers who offer reasonably priced Internet access that’s much faster than anything I can get, and comes with free voice calls, TV and Wi-Fi.

It’s too early to say how much harm the broadband lag will do to the U.S. economy as a whole. But it’s interesting to learn that health care isn’t the only area in which the French, who can take a pragmatic approach because they aren’t prisoners of free-market ideology, simply do things better.

July 22, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Firewall Fairy Claims That There's A Woman To Blame

Rich:

Most amazing is the cultural makeover of Mr. Bush’s own party. The G.O.P. that began the century in the thrall of Rick Santorum, Bill Frist and George Allen has become the brand of Mark Foley and Mr. Vitter. Not a single Republican heavyweight showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral. Younger evangelical Christians, who may care more about protecting the environment than policing gay people, are up for political grabs.

Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible — or more fun to watch — than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it’s a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which “Obama Girl” taunts her rival: “Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin’/ At least Obama didn’t marry his cousin.”

As Margery Eagan, a columnist at The Boston Herald, has observed, even the front-runners’ wives are getting into the act, trying to one-up one another with displays of what she described as their “ample and aging” cleavage. The décolletage primary was kicked off early this year by the irrepressible Judith Giuliani, who posed for Harper’s Bazaar giving her husband a passionate kiss. “I’ve always liked strong, macho men,” she said. This was before we learned she had married two such men, not one, before catching the eye of America’s Mayor at Club Macanudo, an Upper East Side cigar bar, while he was still married to someone else.

Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.’s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a “highly personal” matter.

The religious right’s own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul.

Dodo:

Things are getting confusing out there in Genderville.

We have the ordinarily poker-faced secretary of defense crying over young Americans killed in Iraq.

We have The Washington Post reporting that Hillary Clinton came to the floor of the Senate in a top that put “cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2.”

We have Mitt Romney spending $300 for makeup appointments at Hidden Beauty, a mobile men’s grooming spa, before the California debate, even though NBC would surely have powdered his nose for free.

We have Elizabeth Edwards on a tear of being more assertive than her husband. She argued that John Edwards is a better advocate for women than Hillary, explaining that her own experience as a lawyer taught her that “sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women’s issues.”

We have Bill Clinton, who says he’d want to be known as First Laddie, defending his woman by saying, “I don’t think she’s trying to be a man.”

We have The Times reporting that Hillary’s campaign is quizzical about why so many women who are like Hillary — married, high income, professional types — don’t like her. A Times/CBS News poll shows that women view her more favorably than men, but she has a problem with her own demographic and some older women resistant to “a lady president” from the land of women’s lib.

Sex, sex, sex!  The Boys are marching...

ntodd

July 22, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman
By FRANK RICH

IT’S not just the resurgence of Al Qaeda that is taking us back full circle to the fateful first summer of the Bush presidency. It’s the hot sweat emanating from Washington. Once again the capital is titillated by a scandal featuring a member of Congress, a woman who is not his wife and a rumor of crime. Gary Condit, the former Democratic congressman from California, has passed the torch of below-the-Beltway sleaziness to David Vitter, an incumbent (as of Friday) Republican senator from Louisiana.

Mr. Vitter briefly faced the press to explain his “very serious sin,” accompanied by a wife who might double for the former Mrs. Jim McGreevey. He had no choice once snoops hired by the avenging pornographer Larry Flynt unearthed his number in the voluminous phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, now the subject of a still-young criminal investigation. Newspapers back home also linked the senator to a defunct New Orleans brothel, a charge Mr. Vitter denies. That brothel’s former madam, while insisting he had been a client, was one of his few defenders last week. “Just because people visit a whorehouse doesn’t make them a bad person,” she helpfully told the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate.

Mr. Vitter is not known for being so forgiving a soul when it comes to others’ transgressions. Even more than Mr. Condit, who once co-sponsored a bill calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, Mr. Vitter is a holier-than-thou family-values panderer. He recruited his preteen children for speaking roles in his campaign ads and, terrorism notwithstanding, declared that there is no “more important” issue facing America than altering the Constitution to defend marriage.

But hypocrisy is a hardy bipartisan perennial on Capitol Hill, and hardly news. This scandal may leave a more enduring imprint. It comes with a momentous pedigree. Mr. Vitter first went to Washington as a young congressman in 1999, to replace Robert Livingston, the Republican leader who had been anointed to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. Mr. Livingston’s seat had abruptly become vacant after none other than Mr. Flynt outed him for committing adultery. Since we now know that Mr. Gingrich was also practicing infidelity back then — while leading the Clinton impeachment crusade, no less — the Vitter scandal can be seen as the culmination of an inexorable sea change in his party.

And it is President Bush who will be left holding the bag in history. As the new National Intelligence Estimate confirms the failure of the war against Al Qaeda and each day of quagmire signals the failure of the war in Iraq, so the case of the fallen senator from the Big Easy can stand as an epitaph for a third lost war in our 43rd president’s legacy: the war against sex.

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush and his running mate made a point of promising to “set an example for our children” and to “uphold the honor and the dignity of the office.” They didn’t just mean that there would be no more extramarital sex in the White House. As a matter of public policy, abstinence was in; abortion rights, family planning and homosexuality were out. Mr. Bush’s Federal Communications Commission stood ready to punish the networks for four-letter words and wardrobe malfunctions. The surgeon general was forbidden to mention condoms or the morning-after pill.

To say that this ambitious program has fared no better than the creation of an Iraqi unity government is an understatement. The sole lasting benchmark to be met in the Bush White House’s antisex agenda was the elevation of anti-Roe judges to the federal bench. Otherwise, Sodom and Gomorrah are thrashing the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition day and night.

The one federal official caught on the D.C. Madam’s phone logs ahead of Mr. Vitter, Randall Tobias, was a Bush State Department official whose tasks had included enforcing a prostitution ban on countries receiving AIDS aid. Last month Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network succeeded in getting a federal court to throw out the F.C.C.’s “indecency” fines. Polls show unchanging majority support for abortion rights and growing support for legal recognition of same-sex unions exemplified by Mary Cheney’s.

Most amazing is the cultural makeover of Mr. Bush’s own party. The G.O.P. that began the century in the thrall of Rick Santorum, Bill Frist and George Allen has become the brand of Mark Foley and Mr. Vitter. Not a single Republican heavyweight showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral. Younger evangelical Christians, who may care more about protecting the environment than policing gay people, are up for political grabs.

Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible — or more fun to watch — than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it’s a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which “Obama Girl” taunts her rival: “Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin’/ At least Obama didn’t marry his cousin.”

As Margery Eagan, a columnist at The Boston Herald, has observed, even the front-runners’ wives are getting into the act, trying to one-up one another with displays of what she described as their “ample and aging” cleavage. The décolletage primary was kicked off early this year by the irrepressible Judith Giuliani, who posed for Harper’s Bazaar giving her husband a passionate kiss. “I’ve always liked strong, macho men,” she said. This was before we learned she had married two such men, not one, before catching the eye of America’s Mayor at Club Macanudo, an Upper East Side cigar bar, while he was still married to someone else.

Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.’s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a “highly personal” matter.

The religious right’s own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul. The party’s faith-based oligarchs are getting frantic. Disregarding a warning from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said in March that he didn’t consider Fred Thompson a Christian, they desperately started fixating on the former Tennessee senator as their savior. When it was reported this month that Mr. Thompson had worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights organization in the 1990s, they credulously bought his denials and his spokesman’s reassurance that “there’s no documents to prove it, no billing records.” Last week The New York Times found the billing records.

No one is stepping more boldly into this values vacuum than Mitt Romney. In contrast to Mr. Giuliani, the former Massachusetts governor has not only disowned his past as a social liberal but is also running as a paragon of moral rectitude. He is even embracing one of the more costly failed Bush sex initiatives, abstinence education, just as states are abandoning it for being ineffective. He never stops reminding voters that he is the only top-tier candidate still married to his first wife.

In a Web video strikingly reminiscent of the Vitter campaign ads, the entire multigenerational Romney brood gathers round to enact their wholesome Christmas festivities. Last week Mr. Romney unveiled a new commercial decrying American culture as “a cesspool of violence, and sex, and drugs, and indolence, and perversions.” Unlike Mr. Giuliani, you see, he gets along with his children, and unlike Mr. Thompson, he has never been in bed with the perverted Hollywood responsible for the likes of “Law & Order.”

There are those who argue Mr. Romney’s campaign is doomed because he is a Mormon, a religion some voters regard almost as suspiciously as Scientology, but two other problems may prove more threatening to his candidacy. The first is that in American public life piety always goeth before a fall. There had better not be any skeletons in his closet. Already Senator Brownback has accused Mr. Romney of pushing hard-core pornography because of his close association with (and large campaign contributions from) the Marriott family, whose hotel chain has prospered mightily from its X-rated video menu.

The other problem is more profound: Mr. Romney is swimming against a swift tide of history in both culture and politics. Just as the neocons had their moment in power in the Bush era and squandered it in Iraq, so the values crowd was handed its moment of ascendancy and imploded in debacles ranging from Terri Schiavo to Ted Haggard to David Vitter. By this point it’s safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party’s preacher politicians that they’d consider hitting a cigar bar or two with Judith Giuliani.

-----

July 22, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
A Woman Who’s Man Enough
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Things are getting confusing out there in Genderville.

We have the ordinarily poker-faced secretary of defense crying over young Americans killed in Iraq.

We have The Washington Post reporting that Hillary Clinton came to the floor of the Senate in a top that put “cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2.”

We have Mitt Romney spending $300 for makeup appointments at Hidden Beauty, a mobile men’s grooming spa, before the California debate, even though NBC would surely have powdered his nose for free.

We have Elizabeth Edwards on a tear of being more assertive than her husband. She argued that John Edwards is a better advocate for women than Hillary, explaining that her own experience as a lawyer taught her that “sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women’s issues.”

We have Bill Clinton, who says he’d want to be known as First Laddie, defending his woman by saying, “I don’t think she’s trying to be a man.”

We have The Times reporting that Hillary’s campaign is quizzical about why so many women who are like Hillary — married, high income, professional types — don’t like her. A Times/CBS News poll shows that women view her more favorably than men, but she has a problem with her own demographic and some older women resistant to “a lady president” from the land of women’s lib.

In a huge step forward for her, The Times said that “all of those polled — both women and men — said they thought Mrs. Clinton would be an effective commander in chief.”

So gender isn’t Hillary’s biggest problem. Those who don’t like her said it was because they don’t trust her, or don’t like her values, or think she’s too politically expedient or phony.

There is a dread out there about 28 years of Bush-Clinton rule. But most people are not worried about Hillary’s ability to be strong. Anyone who can cast herself as a feminist icon while leading the attack on her husband’s mistresses, anyone who thinks eight years of presidential pillow talk qualifies her for the presidential pillow, is plenty tough enough to smack around dictators, and other Democrats.

John Edwards and Barack Obama often seem more delicate and concerned with looking pretty than Hillary does. Though the tallest candidate usually has the advantage, Hillary has easily dominated the debates without even wearing towering heels.

When she wrote to Bob Gates asking about the Pentagon’s plans to get out of Iraq, it took eight weeks for an under secretary, Eric Edelman, to send a scalding reply, suggesting that she was abetting enemy propaganda. But Mrs. Clinton hit back with a tart letter to Secretary Gates on Friday and scored something of a victory, since he issued a statement that did not back up his own creep.

Maybe Hillary has had her tear ducts removed. If she acted like a sob sister on the war the way Mr. Gates did, her critics would have a field day.

Even in an era when male politicians can mist up with impunity, it was startling to see the defense chief melt down at a Marine Corps dinner Wednesday night as he talked about writing notes every evening to the families of dead soldiers like Douglas Zembiec, a heroic Marine commander known as “the Lion of Falluja,” who died in Baghdad in May after giving up a Pentagon job to go on a fourth tour of Iraq. “They are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a Web page,” he said. “They are our country’s sons and daughters.”

The dramatic moment was disconcerting, because Mr. Gates, known as a decent guy who was leery of the Bushies’ black-and-white, bullying worldview, has clearly been worn down by his effort to sort out the Iraq debacle. He and Condi, who worked together under Bush I, have been trying to circumvent the vice president to close Gitmo without much success, while the president finds ingenious new ways to allow torture.

Mostly, though, it was moving — a relief to see a top official acknowledge the awful cost of this war. The arrogant Rummy was dismissive. The obtuse W. seems incapable of understanding how inappropriate his sunny spirits are. And the callous Cheney’s robo-aggression continues unabated. (What could be more nerve-racking than the thought of President Cheney, slated to happen for a couple of hours yesterday while Mr. Bush had a colonoscopy? Could it be — a Medal of Freedom for Scooter?)

Mr. Gates captured the sadness we feel about American kids trapped in a desert waiting to be blown up, sent there by men who once refused to go to a warped war themselves.

July 21, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Firewall Fairy Felt Humiliated By The Failure Of His Irony And By The Evocation Of This Figure From The Dead

The Shrill One:

People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.

Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously to head off another foreign policy disaster, persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos, the corrupt leader of the Philippines, after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq, and Republicans responded by threatening a filibuster. Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate, thereby helping ensure that the folly he described so accurately in his Iraq speech will go on.

Boboborino:

Carol’s death brought home that when people communicate, they send out little flares into each other’s brains. Friends and lovers create feedback loops of ideas and habits and ways of seeing the world. Even though Carol was dead, her habits and perceptions were still active in the minds of those who knew her.

Carol’s self was still present, Hofstadter sensed, even though it was fading with time. A self, he believes, is a point of view, a way of seeing the world. It emerges from the conglomeration of all the flares, loops and perceptions that have been shared and developed with others. Douglas’s and Carol’s selves overlapped, and that did not stop with her passing.

I bring all this up in an Op-Ed column because most political and social disputes grow out of differing theories about the self, and I find Hofstadter’s social, dynamic, overlapping theory of self very congenial.

It emphasizes how profoundly we are shaped by relationships with others, but it’s not one of those stifling, collectivist theories that puts the community above the individual.

It exposes the errors of those Ayn Rand individualists who think that success is something they achieve through their own genius and willpower.

It exposes the fallacy of the New Age narcissists who believe they can find their true, authentic self by burrowing down into their inner being. There is no self that exists before society.

It explains why it’s so hard to tackle concentrated poverty. Human beings are permeable. The habits that are common in underclass areas get inside the brains of those who grow up there and undermine long-range thinking and social trust.

It illuminates the dangers of believing that there is a universal hunger for liberty. That universal hunger may exist in the abstract, but we’re embedded creatures and the way specific individuals perceive liberty depends on context.

It lampoons political zealotry. You may be a flaming liberal in New York, but it’s likely you’d be a flaming conservative if you grew up in Wyoming.

Finally, it points toward a modern way of understanding how people fit into society. In the 19th century, Marx thought that people were organized according to their material interests and their relationship to the means of production.

In the information age, it seems fitting that we’d see people bonded by communication. It’s not exactly new to say that no man is an island. But Hofstadter is one of hundreds of scientists and scholars showing how interconnectedness actually works. What’s being described is a vast web of information — some contained in genes, some in brain structure, some in the flow of dinner conversation — that joins us to our ancestors and reminds the living of the presence of the dead.

Generous tears filled NTodd's eyes...

ntodd

July 20, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
All the President’s Enablers
By PAUL KRUGMAN

In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably friendly pundits — amazingly, they still exist — to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.

What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing.

Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.

Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bush’s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.

Sorry, but that’s not reassuring; it’s terrifying. It doesn’t demonstrate Mr. Bush’s strength of character; it shows that he has lost touch with reality.

Actually, it’s not clear that he ever was in touch with reality. I wrote about the Bush administration’s “infallibility complex,” its inability to admit mistakes or face up to real problems it didn’t want to deal with, in June 2002. Around the same time Ron Suskind, the investigative journalist, had a conversation with a senior Bush adviser who mocked the “reality-based community,” asserting that “when we act, we create our own reality.”

People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.

Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously to head off another foreign policy disaster, persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos, the corrupt leader of the Philippines, after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq, and Republicans responded by threatening a filibuster. Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate, thereby helping ensure that the folly he described so accurately in his Iraq speech will go on.

Thanks to that vote, nothing will happen until Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, delivers his report in September. But don’t expect too much even then. I hope he proves me wrong, but the general’s history suggests that he’s another smart, sensible enabler.

I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we’re in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.

Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation’s security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

-----

July 20, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
A Partnership of Minds
By DAVID BROOKS

Douglas Hofstadter was a happily married man. After dinner parties, his wife Carol and he would wash the dishes together and relive the highlights of the conversation they’d just enjoyed. But then, when Carol was 42 and their children were 5 and 2, Carol died of a brain tumor.

A few months later, Hofstadter was looking at a picture of Carol. He describes what he felt in his recent book, “I Am A Strange Loop”:

“I looked at her face and looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes and all at once I found myself saying, as tears flowed, ‘That’s me. That’s me!’

“And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children, about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that wielded us into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized that though Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it had lived on very determinedly in my brain.”

The Greeks say we suffer our way to wisdom, and Hofstadter’s suffering deepened his understanding of who we are, which he had developed as a professor of cognitive science at Indiana University.

Hofstadter already understood that the mind is not a centralized thing. There are dozens of thoughts, processes and emotions swirling about and competing for attention at any one time. It’s like a quantum mechanics light show.

Carol’s death brought home that when people communicate, they send out little flares into each other’s brains. Friends and lovers create feedback loops of ideas and habits and ways of seeing the world. Even though Carol was dead, her habits and perceptions were still active in the minds of those who knew her.

Carol’s self was still present, Hofstadter sensed, even though it was fading with time. A self, he believes, is a point of view, a way of seeing the world. It emerges from the conglomeration of all the flares, loops and perceptions that have been shared and developed with others. Douglas’s and Carol’s selves overlapped, and that did not stop with her passing.

I bring all this up in an Op-Ed column because most political and social disputes grow out of differing theories about the self, and I find Hofstadter’s social, dynamic, overlapping theory of self very congenial.

It emphasizes how profoundly we are shaped by relationships with others, but it’s not one of those stifling, collectivist theories that puts the community above the individual.

It exposes the errors of those Ayn Rand individualists who think that success is something they achieve through their own genius and willpower.

It exposes the fallacy of the New Age narcissists who believe they can find their true, authentic self by burrowing down into their inner being. There is no self that exists before society.

It explains why it’s so hard to tackle concentrated poverty. Human beings are permeable. The habits that are common in underclass areas get inside the brains of those who grow up there and undermine long-range thinking and social trust.

It illuminates the dangers of believing that there is a universal hunger for liberty. That universal hunger may exist in the abstract, but we’re embedded creatures and the way specific individuals perceive liberty depends on context.

It lampoons political zealotry. You may be a flaming liberal in New York, but it’s likely you’d be a flaming conservative if you grew up in Wyoming.

Finally, it points toward a modern way of understanding how people fit into society. In the 19th century, Marx thought that people were organized according to their material interests and their relationship to the means of production.

In the information age, it seems fitting that we’d see people bonded by communication. It’s not exactly new to say that no man is an island. But Hofstadter is one of hundreds of scientists and scholars showing how interconnectedness actually works. What’s being described is a vast web of information — some contained in genes, some in brain structure, some in the flow of dinner conversation — that joins us to our ancestors and reminds the living of the presence of the dead.

July 19, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Firewall Fairy Likes To Braid His Pony's Tail

Mustachio of Misunderstandio:

Quitting Iraq would be morally and strategically devastating. But to just drag out the surge, with no road map for a political endgame, with Iraqi lawmakers going on vacation, with no consequences for dithering, would be just as morally and strategically irresponsible.

We owe Iraqis our best military — and diplomatic effort — to avoid the disaster of walking away. But if they won’t take advantage of that, we owe our soldiers a ticket home.

Shorter Friedman: I woulda got my pony if those stupid Iraqis hadn't fucked it all up.

Dodio of Dodio:

The Bushies, who once mocked Bill Clinton for doing only “pinprick” bombings on Al Qaeda, now say they can do nothing about Osama because they can’t “pinpoint” him, as Ms. Townsend put it. She assured reporters that they were “harassing” Al Qaeda, making it sound more like a tugging-on-pigtails strategy than a take-no-prisoners strategy.

We’ve had it up the wazir with Waziristan. Surely there are Army Rangers and Navy Seals who can make the trek, even if it’s a no-man’s land. If it were a movie, we’d trace the saline in Osama’s dialysis machine, target it with a laser and blow up the mountain.

W. swaggers about with his cowboy boots and gunslinger stance. But when talking about Waziristan last February, he explained that it was hard to round up the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders there because: “This is wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West.”

Yes, they shoot with real bullets up there, and they fly into buildings with real planes.

If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now.

Shorter Dowd: I'll bet those Rangers and Seals have dreamy hair.

ntodd

July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Help Wanted: Peacemaker
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I were the parent of a soldier in Iraq and I had just read that the Iraqi Parliament had decided to go on vacation for August, because, as the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, explained, it’s really hot in Baghdad then — “130 degrees.”

I’ve been in Baghdad in the summer and it is really hot. But you know what? It is a lot hotter when you’re in a U.S. military uniform, carrying a rifle and a backpack, sweltering under a steel helmet and worrying that a bomb can be thrown at you from any direction. One soldier told me he lost six pounds in one day. I’m sure the Iraqi Parliament is air-conditioned.

So let’s get this straight: Iraqi parliamentarians, at least those not already boycotting the Parliament, will be on vacation in August so they can be cool, while young American men and women, and Iraqi Army soldiers, will be fighting in the heat in order to create a proper security environment in which Iraqi politicians can come back in September and continue squabbling while their country burns.

Here is what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty — and for the Bush White House to excuse it with a Baghdad weather report shows just how much it has become a hostage to Iraq.

The administration constantly says the surge is necessary, but not sufficient. That’s right. There has to be a political deal. And the latest report card on Iraq showed that a deal is nowhere near completion. So where is the diplomatic surge? What are we waiting for? A cool day in December?

When you read stories in the newspapers every day about Americans who are going to Iraq for their third or even fourth tours and you think that this administration has never sent its best diplomats for even one tour yet — never made one, not one, single serious, big-time, big-tent diplomatic push to resolve this conflict, but instead has put everything on the military, it makes you sick.

Yes, yes, I know, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to make one of her quick-in-and-out trips to the Middle East next month to try to enlist support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in the fall. I’m all for Arab-Israeli negotiations, but the place that really needs a peace conference right now is Iraq, and it won’t happen with drive-by diplomacy.

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:

“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”

The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

That’s why the Iraqi Parliament is on vacation in August and our soldiers are fighting in the heat. Something is wrong with this picture. First, Mr. Bush spends three years denying the reality that we need a surge of more troops to establish security and then, with Iraq spinning totally out of control and militias taking root everywhere, he announces a surge and criticizes others for being impatient.

At the same time, Mr. Bush announces a peace conference for Israelis and Palestinians — but not for Iraqis. He’s like a man trapped in a burning house who calls 911 to put out the brush fire down the street. Hello?

Quitting Iraq would be morally and strategically devastating. But to just drag out the surge, with no road map for a political endgame, with Iraqi lawmakers going on vacation, with no consequences for dithering, would be just as morally and strategically irresponsible.

We owe Iraqis our best military — and diplomatic effort — to avoid the disaster of walking away. But if they won’t take advantage of that, we owe our soldiers a ticket home.

-----

July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Hey, W! Bin Laden (Still) Determined to Strike in U.S.
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Oh, as it turns out, they’re not on the run.

And, oh yeah, they can fight us here even if we fight them there.

And oh, one more thing, after spending hundreds of billions and losing all those lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re more vulnerable to terrorists than ever.

And, um, you know that Dead-or-Alive stuff? We may be the ones who end up dead.

Squirming White House officials had to confront the fact yesterday that everything President Bush has been spouting the last six years about Al Qaeda being on the run, disrupted and weakened was just guff.

Last year, W. called his “personal friend” Gen. Pervez Musharraf “a strong defender of freedom.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be Al Qaeda’s freedom. The White House is pinning the blame on Pervez.

While the administration lavishes billions on Pakistan, including $750 million in a risible attempt to win “hearts and minds” in tribal areas where Al Qaeda leaders are hiding and training, President Musharraf has helped create a quiet mountain retreat, a veritable terrorism spa, for Osama and Ayman al-Zawahiri to refresh themselves and get back in shape.

The administration’s most thorough intelligence assessment since 9/11 is stark and dark. Two pages add up to one message: The Bushies blew it. Al Qaeda has exploded into a worldwide state of mind. Because of what’s going on with Iraq and Iran, Hezbollah may now “be more likely to consider” attacking us. Al Qaeda will try to “put operatives here” — (some news reports say a cell from Pakistan already is en route or has arrived) — and “acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material in attacks.”

(Democrats on cots are ineffectual, but Al Qaeda in caves gets the job done?)

After 9/11, W. stopped mentioning Osama’s name, calling him “just a person who’s now been marginalized,” and adding “I just don’t spend that much time on him.”

This week, as counterterrorism officials gathered at the White House to frantically brainstorm on covert and overt plans to capture Osama, the president may have regretted his perverse attempt to demote America’s most determined enemy.

W. began to mention Osama and Al Qaeda more recently, but only to assert: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.” His conflation is contradicted by the fact that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, as the Sunni terrorist group in Iraq is known, did not exist before 9/11.

Fran Townsend, the president’s homeland security adviser, did her best to put a gloss on the dross but failed. She had to admit that the hands-off approach used by Mr. Musharraf with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan, which always looked like a nutty way to give Al Qaeda room to regroup, was a nutty way to give Al Qaeda room to regroup.

“It hasn’t worked for Pakistan,” she conceded. “It hasn’t worked for the United States.”

Just as we outsourced capturing Osama at Tora Bora to Afghans who had no motive to do it, we outsourced capturing Osama in Pakistan to Mr. Musharraf, who had no motive to do it.

Pressed by reporters on why we haven’t captured Osama, especially if he’s climbing around with a dialysis machine, Ms. Townsend sniffed that she wished “it were that easy.” It’s not easy to launch a trumped-up war to reshape the Middle East into a utopian string of democracies, but that didn’t stop W. from making that audacious gambit.

The Bushies, who once mocked Bill Clinton for doing only “pinprick” bombings on Al Qaeda, now say they can do nothing about Osama because they can’t “pinpoint” him, as Ms. Townsend put it. She assured reporters that they were “harassing” Al Qaeda, making it sound more like a tugging-on-pigtails strategy than a take-no-prisoners strategy.

We’ve had it up the wazir with Waziristan. Surely there are Army Rangers and Navy Seals who can make the trek, even if it’s a no-man’s land. If it were a movie, we’d trace the saline in Osama’s dialysis machine, target it with a laser and blow up the mountain.

W. swaggers about with his cowboy boots and gunslinger stance. But when talking about Waziristan last February, he explained that it was hard to round up the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders there because: “This is wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West.”

Yes, they shoot with real bullets up there, and they fly into buildings with real planes.

If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now.

July 17, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Firewall Fairy Knows All There Is To Know About The Crying Game

The Shrill One:

[N]ot all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

This can lead to ordeals like the one recently described by Mark Kleiman, a professor at U.C.L.A., who nearly died of cancer because his insurer kept delaying approval for a necessary biopsy. “It was only later,” writes Mr. Kleiman on his blog, “that I discovered why the insurance company was stalling; I had an option, which I didn’t know I had, to avoid all the approvals by going to ‘Tier II,’ which would have meant higher co-payments.”
...
To be fair, Mr. Kleiman is only surmising that his insurance company risked his life in an attempt to get him to pay more of his treatment costs. But there’s no question that some Americans who seemingly have good insurance nonetheless die because insurers are trying to hold down their “medical losses” — the industry term for actually having to pay for care.

On the other hand, it’s true that Americans get hip replacements faster than Canadians. But there’s a funny thing about that example, which is used constantly as an argument for the superiority of private health insurance over a government-run system: the large majority of hip replacements in the United States are paid for by, um, Medicare.

That’s right: the hip-replacement gap is actually a comparison of two government health insurance systems. American Medicare has shorter waits than Canadian Medicare (yes, that’s what they call their system) because it has more lavish funding — end of story. The alleged virtues of private insurance have nothing to do with it.

The bottom line is that the opponents of universal health care appear to have run out of honest arguments. All they have left are fantasies: horror fiction about health care in other countries, and fairy tales about health care here in America.

SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!  SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!

It's weird that conservatives accept socialized police, fire, military, roads, and other services...

ntodd

July 16, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Waiting Game
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Being without health insurance is no big deal. Just ask President Bush. “I mean, people have access to health care in America,” he said last week. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

This is what you might call callousness with consequences. The White House has announced that Mr. Bush will veto a bipartisan plan that would extend health insurance, and with it such essentials as regular checkups and preventive medical care, to an estimated 4.1 million currently uninsured children. After all, it’s not as if those kids really need insurance — they can just go to emergency rooms, right?

O.K., it’s not news that Mr. Bush has no empathy for people less fortunate than himself. But his willful ignorance here is part of a larger picture: by and large, opponents of universal health care paint a glowing portrait of the American system that bears as little resemblance to reality as the scare stories they tell about health care in France, Britain, and Canada.

The claim that the uninsured can get all the care they need in emergency rooms is just the beginning. Beyond that is the myth that Americans who are lucky enough to have insurance never face long waits for medical care.

Actually, the persistence of that myth puzzles me. I can understand how people like Mr. Bush or Fred Thompson, who declared recently that “the poorest Americans are getting far better service” than Canadians or the British, can wave away the desperation of uninsured Americans, who are often poor and voiceless. But how can they get away with pretending that insured Americans always get prompt care, when most of us can testify otherwise?

A recent article in Business Week put it bluntly: “In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems.”

A cross-national survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that America ranks near the bottom among advanced countries in terms of how hard it is to get medical attention on short notice (although Canada was slightly worse), and that America is the worst place in the advanced world if you need care after hours or on a weekend.

We look better when it comes to seeing a specialist or receiving elective surgery. But Germany outperforms us even on those measures — and I suspect that France, which wasn’t included in the study, matches Germany’s performance.

Besides, not all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

This can lead to ordeals like the one recently described by Mark Kleiman, a professor at U.C.L.A., who nearly died of cancer because his insurer kept delaying approval for a necessary biopsy. “It was only later,” writes Mr. Kleiman on his blog, “that I discovered why the insurance company was stalling; I had an option, which I didn’t know I had, to avoid all the approvals by going to ‘Tier II,’ which would have meant higher co-payments.”

He adds, “I don’t know how many people my insurance company waited to death that year, but I’m certain the number wasn’t zero.”

To be fair, Mr. Kleiman is only surmising that his insurance company risked his life in an attempt to get him to pay more of his treatment costs. But there’s no question that some Americans who seemingly have good insurance nonetheless die because insurers are trying to hold down their “medical losses” — the industry term for actually having to pay for care.

On the other hand, it’s true that Americans get hip replacements faster than Canadians. But there’s a funny thing about that example, which is used constantly as an argument for the superiority of private health insurance over a government-run system: the large majority of hip replacements in the United States are paid for by, um, Medicare.

That’s right: the hip-replacement gap is actually a comparison of two government health insurance systems. American Medicare has shorter waits than Canadian Medicare (yes, that’s what they call their system) because it has more lavish funding — end of story. The alleged virtues of private insurance have nothing to do with it.

The bottom line is that the opponents of universal health care appear to have run out of honest arguments. All they have left are fantasies: horror fiction about health care in other countries, and fairy tales about health care here in America.

July 15, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Firewall Fairy's Heart Is Aching For Breaking Each Vow

Rich:

The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war — "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" — is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would "stand up" so we could stand down. So now there's a new "mission" — or at least new boilerplate. "Victory is defeating Al Qaeda," Tony Snow said last week, because "Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq." What's more, its members are, in Mr. Bush's words, "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn't even the chief organizer of the war's mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.
...
The capital's entire political debate over Iraq — stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" — is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.
...
For all Washington's hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation plans, it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

I'm more afraid of failed car bombings in London and transmogrifications caused by flies getting into teleporters.

Dodo:

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by George W. Bush
...
If only I had kept my promise to go after the thugs who attacked us on 9/11, because now I’ve made Osama and Al Qaeda stronger. I know my false claim about Al Qaeda’s ties with Iraq led to Iraq’s being tied down by Al Qaeda. I see now that my bungled war on terror has created more terror, empowered Iran and made America less secure. Oh, yeah, and I’m sorry I broke the military.
...
How could I have let Dick bring in his best friend, Rummy, my dad’s old nemesis? Dummy Rummy let Osama escape at Tora Bora, messed up the Iraq occupation and aborted a mission to wipe out top Al Qaeda leaders because he was protecting Musharraf, who was protecting Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. Even though I promised to get rid of dictators who helped terrorists, I ended up embracing a Pakistani dictator who helps terrorists.

I’m embarrassed that the Iraqi Parliament is taking a monthlong vacation in the middle of my surge. Could I have set a bad example when I rode my bike in Crawford while New Orleans drowned?

I’m sorry I keep pretending Iraq will get better if we stay longer. It wasn’t very nice of me to push the surge when I knew it couldn’t work. I just wanted to dump the defeat on my successor. I wish Hillary the best of luck.

If I had left the gym long enough to read about Algeria or even one of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, then I might have not gotten bogged down in Iraq and let North Korea, China and Russia slide.

Being the Decider is so confusing. I regret stealing the presidency and wish I could give it back.

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by Dick Cheney

Buzz off.

She spelled 'go fuck yourself' wrong.

ntodd

July 15, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff
By FRANK RICH

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, President Bush's fallback choice for secretary of Homeland Security after Bernard Kerik, is best remembered for his tragicomic performance during Hurricane Katrina. He gave his underling, the woeful Brownie, a run for the gold.

It was Mr. Chertoff who announced that the Superdome in New Orleans was "secure" even as the other half of the split screen offered graphic evidence otherwise. It was Mr. Chertoff who told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water," even after his fellow citizens had been inundated with such reports all day long.

With Brownie as the designated fall guy, Mr. Chertoff kept his job. Since then he has attracted notice only when lavishing pork on terrorist targets like an Alabama petting zoo while reducing grants to New York City. Though Mr. Chertoff may be the man standing between us and Armageddon, he is seen as a leader of stature only when standing next to his cabinet mate Gonzo.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Last week, as the Bush administration frantically tried to counter Republican defections from the war in Iraq, Mr. Chertoff alone departed from the administration's script to talk about the enemy that actually did attack America on 9/11, Al Qaeda, rather than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the jihad-come-lately gang Mr. Bush is fond of talking about instead. In this White House, the occasional official who strays off script is in all likelihood inadvertently coughing up the truth.

Mr. Chertoff was promptly hammered for it. His admission of "a gut feeling" that America might be vulnerable to a terrorist attack this summer was universally ridiculed as a gaffe. He then tried to retreat, but as he did so, his dire prognosis was confirmed by an intelligence leak. The draft of a new classified threat assessment found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than at any time since 2001. Its operational base is the same ungoverned Pakistan wilderness where we've repeatedly failed to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive for six years.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only. Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration's latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

The White House's game is to create a new fictional story line to keep the war going until President Bush can dump it on his successor. Bizarrely, some of the new scenario echoes the bogus narrative used to sell the war in 2002: an imaginary connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11. You'd think the Bush administration might think twice before recycling old lies, but things have gotten so bad in the bunker that even Karl Rove is repeating himself.

Fittingly, one of the first in Washington to notice the rollout of the latest propaganda offensive was one of the very few journalists who uncovered the administration's manipulation of W.M.D. intelligence in 2002: Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy newspapers.

This time around, he was ahead of the pack in catching the sudden uptick in references to Al Qaeda in the president's speeches about Iraq — 27 in a single speech on June 28 — and an equal decline in references to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence at the heart of the Iraqi civil war America is powerless to stop. Even more incriminating was Mr. Landay's discovery that the military was following Mr. Bush's script verbatim. There were 33 citations of Al Qaeda in a single week's worth of military news releases in late June, up from only 9 such mentions in May.

None of this is accidental. The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war — "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" — is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would "stand up" so we could stand down. So now there's a new "mission" — or at least new boilerplate. "Victory is defeating Al Qaeda," Tony Snow said last week, because "Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq." What's more, its members are, in Mr. Bush's words, "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn't even the chief organizer of the war's mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the "surge" is trickier. It's hard to argue that we're on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House's ingenuity. It turns out that the "surge," which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We're just "at the starting line," Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that "we have a new course in Iraq, and it's two weeks old."

Mr. Snow's television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge's first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the "baseline from which to measure future progress." That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush's mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf's shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital's entire political debate over Iraq — stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" — is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that "gut feeling" about, the Qaeda not in Iraq. Last week we learned from a sting operation conducted by Congressional investigators that this enemy needs only a Mail Boxes Etc. account, a phone and a fax machine to buy radioactive material from American suppliers and build a dirty bomb.

For all Washington's hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation plans, it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

-----

July 15, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Who’s Sorry Now?
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

There’s not much lately that we’d like to import from China.

Certainly not the yummy steamed buns stuffed with shredded cardboard soaked in a caustic agent used to make soap. Or the tasty toothpaste laced with an antifreeze ingredient. Or the scrumptious seafood with a chemical kick. Or those pet foods with kibbles and bits of poison.

But there is one thing made in China we could use: mea culpas of high officials.

Zheng Xiaoyu, a top regulator who helped create China’s Food and Drug Administration, accepted $850,000 in bribes from drug companies and became enmeshed in the mistakes that flooded the market with dangerous drugs. Before he was executed Tuesday, he wrote a short confession titled “How I Look on My Mistakes.”

“Thinking back on what has happened these years, I start to see the problems clearly,” he wrote in prison. “Why are the friends who gave me money all the bosses of pharmaceutical companies? Obviously because I was in charge of drug administration.

“I am confessing here that I loosened self-discipline, ignored the bottom line,” he said, adding that he had to confess his mistakes “as an act of saving my soul.”

We would skip the execution — although perhaps there should be ranch arrest for W., and Cheney could do community service passing out condoms at Gay Pride festivals.

But it is time for the lethally inept duo running the country to do some painstaking self-examination and confession. Just as the Communist Party helped the late Mr. Zheng compose his thoughts, I volunteer to ghost-write our leaders’ self-scrutiny:

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by George W. Bush

The people trusted me with an important position. I didn’t live up to expectations. I let Dick supersize the executive branch and cast Democrats as whiners and traitors. Why did I not suspect that Dick might be power-hungry when he appointed himself vice president? Why did I let him take over my presidency and fill it up with warmongers? I was so afraid to be called a wimp, as my father once was, I allowed Dick and Rummy to turn me into a wimp. I should never have allowed Dick to conspire with energy lobbyists and steer contracts to Halliburton. A tip-off should have been when Dick kept giving himself all the same powers that I had. Or when he outed that pretty lady spy.

If only I had kept my promise to go after the thugs who attacked us on 9/11, because now I’ve made Osama and Al Qaeda stronger. I know my false claim about Al Qaeda’s ties with Iraq led to Iraq’s being tied down by Al Qaeda. I see now that my bungled war on terror has created more terror, empowered Iran and made America less secure. Oh, yeah, and I’m sorry I broke the military.

I stained the family honor when I ignored the elders of the Iraq Study Group. I should not have worried that I would be seen as kowtowing to my dad’s friends. The Oval Office is not the right place for a teenage rebellion.

I should not have picked that dimwit Brownie, and I should have trusted the gut of anyone besides that goof-off Chertoff to keep the nation safe. And what was I thinking when I said Harriet Miers should be a Supreme Court justice? That was loony. I’m sorry I made the surgeon general mention my name three times on every page of his speeches. That was childish.

How could I have let Dick bring in his best friend, Rummy, my dad’s old nemesis? Dummy Rummy let Osama escape at Tora Bora, messed up the Iraq occupation and aborted a mission to wipe out top Al Qaeda leaders because he was protecting Musharraf, who was protecting Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. Even though I promised to get rid of dictators who helped terrorists, I ended up embracing a Pakistani dictator who helps terrorists.

I’m embarrassed that the Iraqi Parliament is taking a monthlong vacation in the middle of my surge. Could I have set a bad example when I rode my bike in Crawford while New Orleans drowned?

I’m sorry I keep pretending Iraq will get better if we stay longer. It wasn’t very nice of me to push the surge when I knew it couldn’t work. I just wanted to dump the defeat on my successor. I wish Hillary the best of luck.

If I had left the gym long enough to read about Algeria or even one of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, then I might have not gotten bogged down in Iraq and let North Korea, China and Russia slide.

Being the Decider is so confusing. I regret stealing the presidency and wish I could give it back.

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by Dick Cheney

Buzz off.

July 14, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Firewall Fairy Hates Atrios With The Intensity Of Ten Thousand Electronvolts

The Shrill One:

[C]losing the carried interest loophole should be a simple question of fairness: other Americans also earn their pay, but they don’t get special tax breaks. Plus, we’re talking about a lot of lost revenue due to that loophole — revenue that could, for example, be paying for the health care of tens if not hundreds of thousands of children.

And since we’re living in the real world of politics, there’s also the Republicrat issue: the hesitation of the Senate Democrats is terrible for the party’s image. It conveys the impression that they’re as beholden to hedge funds, one of the few types of businesses whose campaign contributions strongly favor Democrats, as Republicans are to the oil and drug industries.

So here’s a plea to Democratic senators on the fence: do the right thing and close this unjustified tax loophole.

Taxes.  Yawn.  No wonder Atrios posted about this.  Fucking economists.

The Dumb One:

The deeper truth is that the end-the-war forces are divided on several fundamental questions, and there’s not even a mechanism for resolving these differences. Normally, war policy disputes are resolved in the executive branch, but in this case, the executive branch is unwilling to play.

First, is genocide inevitable? Some anti-war advocates believe Iraq is so broken that genocide is unavoidable, and we might as well get U.S. forces out of the way. Others find this view abhorrent and shortsighted.

Second, is there a middle way? Some argue that as soon as the U.S. announces its intention to withdraw, the Iraqi power struggle will begin in earnest. Iraqi security forces will collapse. The government will disappear. The U.S. has to be all the way in, or it’s got to get all the way out.

Others believe that’s a false dichotomy. The U.S. will still have vital interests in Iraq, like preventing a terror state and stopping an Iranian takeover. Military planners believe a reduced force is viable: 20,000 troops to protect the Iraqi government, 10,000 to train and advise, 10,000 in headquarters and a smaller number of special forces to chase terrorists.

Third, how exactly do you manage withdrawal? Will there be a receding line of U.S. troops, followed by an approaching line of Talibanization? How do you fight when every day your forces get weaker? It will take 3,000 huge convoys and 10 months to get out. How do you preserve soldiers’ faith in the mission and prevent a Saigon-style collapse?

Fourth, how amid withdrawal do you handle future Anbars? In that province, the tribes have united to fight Al Qaeda. When far-flung tribes in other places ask the U.S. to flood the zone to help fight terror, do we just say no?

The questions go on. Deadlock in Baghdad will be matched, in paler form, by deadlock in Washington. The next change in policy will not come from Congress or the White House.

It will come from General Petraeus in September. His recommendations — on troop strength, political strategy and everything else — will be the only coherent platform in town.

It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's...SUPERPETRAEUS!  He'll save the day...

ntodd

PS--Nobody's really going to get the post title.  Especially stupid, never-linking economists.

July 13, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
An Unjustified Privilege
By PAUL KRUGMAN

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Ralph Nader mocked politicians of both parties as “Republicrats,” equally subservient to corporations and the wealthy. It was nonsense, of course: the modern G.O.P. is so devoted to the cause of making the rich richer that it makes even the most business-friendly Democrats look like F.D.R.

But right now, as I watch Senate Democrats waffle over what should be a clear issue of justice and sound tax policy — namely, whether managers of private equity funds and hedge funds should be subject to the same taxes as ordinary working Americans — I’m starting to feel that Mr. Nader wasn’t all wrong.

What’s at stake here is a proposal by House Democrats to tax “carried interest” as regular income. This would close a tax loophole that is complicated in detail, but basically lets fund managers take a large part of the fees they earn for handling other peoples’ money and redefine those fees, for tax purposes, as capital gains.

The effect of this redefinition is that income that should be considered by normal standards to be ordinary income taxed at a 35 percent rate is treated as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent instead. So fund managers get to pay a low tax rate that is supposed to provide incentives to risk-taking investors, even though they aren’t investors and they aren’t taking risks.

For example, the typical hedge-fund manager has a 2-and-20 contract — that is, he gets a fee equal to 2 percent of the funds under management, plus 20 percent of whatever his fund earns. It’s not exactly straight salary, but none of this income comes from putting his own wealth at risk. Except for the fact that he might make a billion dollars a year, he resembles a waitress whose income depends on a mix of wages and tips, or a salesman who lives on a mix of salary and commissions, more than he resembles an entrepreneur who sinks his life savings into a new business.

So why does he get the same tax breaks as that entrepreneur? Not to put too fine a point on it, why does Henry Kravis pay a lower tax rate on his management fees than I pay on my book royalties?

There’s a larger question one could ask: should we even be giving preferential tax treatment to true capital gains? I’d say no, because there’s very little evidence that taxing capital gains as ordinary income would actually hurt the economy. Meanwhile, the low tax rate on capital gains is one main reason the truly rich often pay lower tax rates than the middle class.

A couple of weeks ago, Warren Buffett pointed out that he pays an average federal income tax rate of 17.7 percent, while his receptionist pays about 30 percent.

But even those who disagree with me on the larger point, who think the special treatment of capital gains is justified, should be able to agree that treating the income of fund managers differently from the way we treat the income of everyone else who works for a living makes no sense. And that’s why it’s very disheartening to read that prominent Democratic senators are taking seriously the claims of fund managers that making them pay taxes like regular people would discourage risk-taking.

The immediate response should be: what risk-taking? To repeat: the fund managers aren’t entrepreneurs; they aren’t putting their own assets on the line.

Look, this isn’t about envy, about punishing success. No doubt many fund managers earn their pay. Some of them also give generously to worthy causes.

But closing the carried interest loophole should be a simple question of fairness: other Americans also earn their pay, but they don’t get special tax breaks. Plus, we’re talking about a lot of lost revenue due to that loophole — revenue that could, for example, be paying for the health care of tens if not hundreds of thousands of children.

And since we’re living in the real world of politics, there’s also the Republicrat issue: the hesitation of the Senate Democrats is terrible for the party’s image. It conveys the impression that they’re as beholden to hedge funds, one of the few types of businesses whose campaign contributions strongly favor Democrats, as Republicans are to the oil and drug industries.

So here’s a plea to Democratic senators on the fence: do the right thing and close this unjustified tax loophole.

-----

July 13, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Endgame Deadlock
By DAVID BROOKS

Until this week I thought we were entering the last stages of the Iraq war. Roughly 40 percent to 60 percent of Republican senators have privately given up on the war. Senior G.O.P. officials have told President Bush that they are unwilling to see their party destroyed by this issue.

I figured that sometime between now and September the White House would be so isolated that it would have to launch withdrawal plans.

But ending a war is as complicated as starting one. In order to wind up the Iraq conflict there has to be some general agreement about how to do it. We’re nowhere close to that. In fact, the U.S. is now entering a phase you might call the Endgame Deadlock.

In this phase everybody argues bitterly over how to get out of Iraq, but amid the discord nobody can do anything about it. This phase — and with it, the war — could go on for a while.

In the Senate, for example, there are several major factions, but there’s no prospect that these factions are going to merge to form a majority that will change policy.

To simplify a bit, roughly 20 senators, led by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, believe in Gen. David Petraeus and the surge. There are roughly 30 Republicans, led by Dick Lugar, John Warner and Lamar Alexander, who believe that the U.S. should scale back its mission and adopt the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. There are roughly 30 Democrats, led by Carl Levin and Jack Reed, who also want to scale back and adopt the study group’s approach. And finally, there are roughly 20 Democrats, led by Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold, who just want to get out as quickly as possible.

In theory, it should be possible to get the 30 Republicans and the 30 Democrats who support the study group’s framework together to embrace a common plan. But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is doing everything he can to prevent a bipartisan consensus. It’s much better politically for the Democrats to stay united and force the Republicans to vote with the president.

And even if Reid were to allow bipartisanship, in practice it’s hard to write a single piece of legislation that can get you 60 votes. Senior staffers are finding that if they tweak the language to get four more Republicans, they wind up losing seven Democrats. It’s a bit like immigration reform: In theory there is a centrist majority; in practice, it’s hard to put it together.

The deeper truth is that the end-the-war forces are divided on several fundamental questions, and there’s not even a mechanism for resolving these differences. Normally, war policy disputes are resolved in the executive branch, but in this case, the executive branch is unwilling to play.

First, is genocide inevitable? Some anti-war advocates believe Iraq is so broken that genocide is unavoidable, and we might as well get U.S. forces out of the way. Others find this view abhorrent and shortsighted.

Second, is there a middle way? Some argue that as soon as the U.S. announces its intention to withdraw, the Iraqi power struggle will begin in earnest. Iraqi security forces will collapse. The government will disappear. The U.S. has to be all the way in, or it’s got to get all the way out.

Others believe that’s a false dichotomy. The U.S. will still have vital interests in Iraq, like preventing a terror state and stopping an Iranian takeover. Military planners believe a reduced force is viable: 20,000 troops to protect the Iraqi government, 10,000 to train and advise, 10,000 in headquarters and a smaller number of special forces to chase terrorists.

Third, how exactly do you manage withdrawal? Will there be a receding line of U.S. troops, followed by an approaching line of Talibanization? How do you fight when every day your forces get weaker? It will take 3,000 huge convoys and 10 months to get out. How do you preserve soldiers’ faith in the mission and prevent a Saigon-style collapse?

Fourth, how amid withdrawal do you handle future Anbars? In that province, the tribes have united to fight Al Qaeda. When far-flung tribes in other places ask the U.S. to flood the zone to help fight terror, do we just say no?

The questions go on. Deadlock in Baghdad will be matched, in paler form, by deadlock in Washington. The next change in policy will not come from Congress or the White House.

It will come from General Petraeus in September. His recommendations — on troop strength, political strategy and everything else — will be the only coherent platform in town.

July 12, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Firewall Fairy Hasn't Had A Haircut In A Friedman

Stache:

I prefer setting a withdrawal date, but accompanying it with a last-ditch U.N.-led — not U.S. — diplomatic effort to get the Iraqi parties to resolve their political differences. If they can, then any withdrawal can be postponed. If they can’t agree — even with a gun to their heads about to go off — then staying is truly pointless and leaving by a set date is the only option.

So...one more Friedman then?

Dowdy:

The president mentioned in his speech yesterday that he was reading history, and he has been summoning historians and theologians to the White House for discussions on the fate of Iraq and the nature of good and evil.

W. thinks history will be his alibi. When presidents have screwed up and want to console themselves, they think history will give them a second chance. It’s the historical equivalent of a presidential pardon.

But there are other things — morality, strategy and security — that are more pressing than history. History is just the fanciest way possible of wanting to deny or distract attention from what’s happening now.

But how'd his hair look?

ntodd

July 11, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
In or Out
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

When it comes to Iraq, September will be coming early this year — like now.

Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, are determined not to wait until September for the president to report on whether the surge is working. The American people have had enough. They want out. As we move into the endgame, though, the public needs to understand that neither Republicans nor Democrats are presenting them with a realistic strategy.

Obviously, President Bush’s stay-the-course approach is bankrupt. It shows no signs of producing any self-sustaining — and that is the metric — unified, stable Iraq. But the various gradual, partial withdrawal proposals by many Democrats and dissident Republicans are not realistic either. The passions that have been unleashed in Iraq are not going to accommodate some partial withdrawal plan, where we just draw down troops, do less patrolling, more training and fight Al Qaeda types. It’s a fantasy.

The minute we start to withdraw, all hell will break loose in the areas we leave, and there will be a no-holds-barred contest for power among Iraqi factions. Our staying there with, say, half as many troops, will not be sustainable.

Look at the British in Basra. The British forces there have slowly receded into a single base at Basra airport. And what has happened? The void has been filled by a vicious contest for power among Shiite warlords, gangs and clans, and British troops are still being killed whenever they venture out.

As the International Crisis Group recently reported from Basra: “Basra’s political arena is in the hands of actors engaged in bloody competition for resources, undermining what is left of governorate institutions and coercively enforcing their rule. Far from being a model to replicate, Basra is an example of what to avoid. With renewed violence and instability, Basra illustrates the pitfalls of a transitional process that has led to the collapse of the state apparatus.”

We must not kid ourselves: our real choices in Iraq are either all in or all out — with the exception of Kurdistan. If those are our only real choices, then we need to look clearly at each.

Staying in means simply containing the Iraqi civil war, but at the price of Americans and Iraqis continuing to die, and at the price of the U.S. having no real leverage on the parties inside or outside of Iraq to negotiate a settlement, because everyone knows we’re staying so they can dither. Today, U.S. soldiers are making the maximum sacrifice so Iraqi politicians can hold to their maximum positions.

Getting out, on the other hand, means more ethnic, religious and tribal killings all across Iraq. It will be one of the most morally ugly scenes you can imagine — no less than Darfur. You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door. We need to take with us everyone who helped us and wants out, and give green cards to as many Iraqis as possible.

But getting out has at least four advantages. First, no more Americans will be dying while refereeing a civil war. Second, the fear of an all-out civil war, as we do prepare to leave, may be the last best hope for getting the Iraqis to reach an 11th-hour political agreement. Third, as the civil war in Iraq plays out, it could, painfully, force the realignment of communities on the ground that may create a more stable foundation upon which to build a federal settlement.

Fourth, we will restore our deterrence with Iran. Tehran will no longer be able to bleed us through its proxies in Iraq, and we will be much freer to hit Iran — should we ever need to — once we’re out. Moreover, Iran will by default inherit management of the mess in southern Iraq, which, in time, will be an enormous problem for Tehran.

For all these reasons, I prefer setting a withdrawal date, but accompanying it with a last-ditch U.N.-led — not U.S. — diplomatic effort to get the Iraqi parties to resolve their political differences. If they can, then any withdrawal can be postponed. If they can’t agree — even with a gun to their heads about to go off — then staying is truly pointless and leaving by a set date is the only option.

“It is one thing to try to break up a fight between two people who disagree; it is another thing to try to break up a riot,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy expert at Johns Hopkins. “You just get sucked into the middle.”

We need to determine — now, today — whether this is a fight that can be resolved or a riot that we need to build a wall around and wait until it exhausts itself.

-----

July 11, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
History as an Alibi
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

On Friday, Condi Rice played hooky and spent the afternoon at the Tiger Woods golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in suburban Maryland.

She had lunch at the clubhouse with Tiger, who had dedicated the contest to American servicemen. She followed Phil Mickelson and Brad Faxon for a bit, after having them over to the White House on the Fourth to watch the fireworks. She gave interviews about her newfound affection for golf, laughing about her errant drives and “wicked hook.”

Like W. going out boating and fishing in Kennebunkport as Britain and its new prime minister, Gordon Brown, reeled from terrorist attacks, Condi acted as if she didn’t have a care in the world. And why on earth should she?

The homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, has a gut feeling that a Qaeda cell might be coming or already be here. “Summertime seems to be appealing to them,” he said, sounding more like a meteorologist than the man charged with keeping us safe.

With 30 mortars hitting the Green Zone yesterday and Army recruiting wilting, some Bush advisers are at long last coming around to the Baker-Hamilton report recommendation that they should engage in intense diplomacy with the countries around Iraq.

Someone might tell Condi — who said in one of her golf interviews that her zest for sports is so all-encompassing that “I love anything with a score at the end” — that she’d better get to work or America’s score in Iraq will be zero.

The Iraq war she helped sell has turned into Grendel, devouring everything in sight and making it uninhabitable. It has ravaged Iraq, Bush’s presidency, the federal budget, the Republican majority, American invincibility and integrity, and now, John McCain’s chance to be president.

And there’s no Beowulf in sight. Just a bunch of spectacularly wrong hawks stubbornly continuing to be spectacularly wrong at what an alarmed Republican Senator John Warner calls “a time in our history unlike any I have ever witnessed before.”

Watching the warring tribes in Iraq grow more violent has caused the beginning of a reconciliation among the warring tribes in Washington, as they realize they have to get the car keys away from the careening president who has crashed into the globe.

With Republicans in revolt over the surge and losing patience, and Bushies worried, as one put it to The Washington Post, that “July has become the new September,” the president decided to do a p.r. surge to sound as if he’s acquainted with reality.

But in a speech in Cleveland yesterday, the president was still repeating his deranged generalities. Making a tiny concession, he said we would be able to pull back troops “in a while,” whatever that means, but asked Congress to wait for Gen. David Petraeus to debrief on the surge in September — rather than focus on the report due this week that says the ineffectual Iraq government has failed to meet benchmarks set by America.

It was ironic that his strongest supporter to the bitter end was the Republican who was once his bitter rival. There was speculation that Mr. McCain would come back from his visit to Iraq and revise his bullish support of the war to save his imploding campaign. But the opposite happened.

As his top advisers were purged, Mr. McCain went to the floor of the Senate to reassert his warped view that “there appears to be overall movement in the right direction.”

Like W., Senator McCain values the advice of Henry Kissinger and said, “We can find wisdom in several suggestions put forward recently by Henry Kissinger.”

Why they continue to seek counsel from the man who kept the Vietnam War going for years just to protect Richard Nixon’s electoral chances is beyond mystifying. But Mr. Kissinger holds their attention with all his warnings of “American impotence” emboldening radical Islam and Iran. Can’t W. and Mr. McCain see that American muscularity, stupidly thrown around, has already emboldened radical Islam and Iran?

The president mentioned in his speech yesterday that he was reading history, and he has been summoning historians and theologians to the White House for discussions on the fate of Iraq and the nature of good and evil.

W. thinks history will be his alibi. When presidents have screwed up and want to console themselves, they think history will give them a second chance. It’s the historical equivalent of a presidential pardon.

But there are other things — morality, strategy and security — that are more pressing than history. History is just the fanciest way possible of wanting to deny or distract attention from what’s happening now.

July 10, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Firewall Fairy Never Gets Thanked For Reading Dowd

Rich:

No one can stop Mr. Bush from freeing a pathetic little fall guy like Scooter Libby. But only those who paid the ultimate price for the avoidable bungling of Iraq have the moral authority to pardon Mr. Bush.

Stache:

There’s a saying at the Pentagon that “a vision without resources is a hallucination.” For my money, the green revolution today is still a hallucination.

Dowdy:

Recalling his first date with Elizabeth, in law school, he says: “I was such a classy guy, I took her to the Holiday Inn to dance. It was loud. Elizabeth made fun of me for weeks for taking her there. Elizabeth thinks the two rules you always use in politics are: Don’t dance. And don’t wear hats.”

Especially not if you’ve got such a fabulous haircut to show off.

Rich = good; Stache = okay; Dowdy = stupid fucking git who makes my eyes bleed.

ntodd

July 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
A Profile in Cowardice
By FRANK RICH

THERE was never any question that President Bush would grant amnesty to Scooter Libby, the man who knows too much about the lies told to sell the war in Iraq. The only questions were when, and how, Mr. Bush would buy Mr. Libby’s silence. Now we have the answers, and they’re at least as incriminating as the act itself. They reveal the continued ferocity of a White House cover-up and expose the true character of a commander in chief whose tough-guy shtick can no longer camouflage his fundamental cowardice.

The timing of the president’s Libby intervention was a surprise. Many assumed he would mimic the sleazy 11th-hour examples of most recent vintage: his father’s pardon of six Iran-contra defendants who might have dragged him into that scandal, and Bill Clinton’s pardon of the tax fugitive Marc Rich, the former husband of a major campaign contributor and the former client of none other than the ubiquitous Mr. Libby.

But the ever-impetuous current President Bush acted 18 months before his scheduled eviction from the White House. Even more surprising, he did so when the Titanic that is his presidency had just hit two fresh icebergs, the demise of the immigration bill and the growing revolt of Republican senators against his strategy in Iraq.

That Mr. Bush, already suffering historically low approval ratings, would invite another hit has been attributed in Washington to his desire to placate what remains of his base. By this logic, he had nothing left to lose. He didn’t care if he looked like an utter hypocrite, giving his crony a freer ride than Paris Hilton and violating the white-collar sentencing guidelines set by his own administration. He had to throw a bone to the last grumpy old white guys watching Bill O’Reilly in a bunker.

But if those die-hards haven’t deserted him by now, why would Mr. Libby’s incarceration be the final straw? They certainly weren’t whipped into a frenzy by coverage on Fox News, which tended to minimize the leak case as a non-event. Mr. Libby, faceless and voiceless to most Americans, is no Ollie North, and he provoked no right-wing firestorm akin to the uproars over Terri Schiavo, Harriet Miers or “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

The only people clamoring for Mr. Libby’s freedom were the pundits who still believe that Saddam secured uranium in Africa and who still hope that any exoneration of Mr. Libby might make them look less like dupes for aiding and abetting the hyped case for war. That select group is not the Republican base so much as a roster of the past, present and future holders of quasi-academic titles at neocon think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute.

What this crowd never understood is that Mr. Bush’s highest priority is always to protect himself. So he stiffed them too. Had the president wanted to placate the Weekly Standard crowd, he would have given Mr. Libby a full pardon. That he served up a commutation instead is revealing of just how worried the president is about the beans Mr. Libby could spill about his and Dick Cheney’s use of prewar intelligence.

Valerie Wilson still has a civil suit pending. The Democratic inquisitor in the House, Henry Waxman, still has the uranium hoax underlying this case at the top of his agenda as an active investigation. A commutation puts up more roadblocks by keeping Mr. Libby’s appeal of his conviction alive and his Fifth Amendment rights intact. He can’t testify without risking self-incrimination. Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that he has paid his remaining $250,000 debt to society independently of his private $5 million “legal defense fund.”

The president’s presentation of the commutation is more revealing still. Had Mr. Bush really believed he was doing the right and honorable thing, he would not have commuted Mr. Libby’s jail sentence by press release just before the July Fourth holiday without consulting Justice Department lawyers. That’s the behavior of an accountant cooking the books in the dead of night, not the proud act of a patriot standing on principle.

When the furor followed Mr. Bush from Kennebunkport to Washington despite his efforts to duck it, he further underlined his embarrassment by taking his only few questions on the subject during a photo op at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. You know this president is up to no good whenever he hides behind the troops. This instance was particularly shameful, since Mr. Bush also used the occasion to trivialize the scandalous maltreatment of Walter Reed patients on his watch as merely “some bureaucratic red-tape issues.”

Asked last week to explain the president’s poll numbers, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center told NBC News that “when we ask people to summon up one word that comes to mind” to describe Mr. Bush, it’s “incompetence.” But cowardice, the character trait so evident in his furtive handling of the Libby commutation, is as important to understanding Mr. Bush’s cratered presidency as incompetence, cronyism and hubris.

Even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a consistent Bush and Libby defender, had to take notice. Furious that the president had not given Mr. Libby a full pardon (at least not yet), The Journal called the Bush commutation statement a “profile in non-courage.”

What it did not recognize, or chose not to recognize, is that this non-courage, to use The Journal’s euphemism, has been this president’s stock in trade, far exceeding the “wimp factor” that Newsweek once attributed to his father. The younger Mr. Bush’s cowardice is arguably more responsible for the calamities of his leadership than anything else.

People don’t change. Mr. Bush’s failure to have the courage of his own convictions was apparent early in his history, when he professed support for the Vietnam War yet kept himself out of harm’s way when he had the chance to serve in it. In the White House, he has often repeated the feckless pattern that he set back then and reaffirmed last week in his hide-and-seek bestowing of the Libby commutation.

The first fight he conspicuously ran away from as president was in August 2001. Aspiring to halt federal underwriting of embryonic stem-cell research, he didn’t stand up and say so but instead unveiled a bogus “compromise” that promised continued federal research on 60 existing stem-cell lines. Only later would we learn that all but 11 of them did not exist. When Mr. Bush wanted to endorse a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage, he again cowered. A planned 2006 Rose Garden announcement to a crowd of religious-right supporters was abruptly moved from the sunlight into a shadowy auditorium away from the White House.

Nowhere is this president’s non-courage more evident than in the “signing statements” The Boston Globe exposed last year. As Charlie Savage reported, Mr. Bush “quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.” Rather than veto them in public view, he signed them, waited until after the press and lawmakers left the White House, and then filed statements in the Federal Register asserting that he would ignore laws he (not the courts) judged unconstitutional. This was the extralegal trick Mr. Bush used to bypass the ban on torture. It allowed him to make a coward’s escape from the moral (and legal) responsibility of arguing for so radical a break with American practice.

In the end, it was also this president’s profile in non-courage that greased the skids for the Iraq fiasco. If Mr. Bush had had the guts to put America on a true wartime footing by appealing to his fellow citizens for sacrifice, possibly even a draft if required, then he might have had at least a chance of amassing the resources needed to secure Iraq after we invaded it.

But he never backed up the rhetoric of war with the stand-up action needed to prosecute the war. Instead he relied on fomenting fear, as typified by the false uranium claims whose genesis has been covered up by Mr. Libby’s obstructions of justice. Mr. Bush’s cowardly abdication of the tough responsibilities of wartime leadership ratified Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to go into Iraq with the army he had, ensuring our defeat.

Never underestimate the power of the unconscious. Not the least of the revelatory aspects of Mr. Bush’s commutation is that he picked the fourth anniversary of “Bring ’em on” to hand it down. It was on July 2, 2003, that the president responded to the continued violence in Iraq, two months after “Mission Accomplished,” by taunting those who want “to harm American troops.” Mr. Bush assured the world that “we’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” The “surge” notwithstanding, we still don’t have the force necessary four years later, because the president never did summon the courage, even as disaster loomed, to back up his own convictions by going to the mat to secure that force.

No one can stop Mr. Bush from freeing a pathetic little fall guy like Scooter Libby. But only those who paid the ultimate price for the avoidable bungling of Iraq have the moral authority to pardon Mr. Bush.

-----

July 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Live Bad, Go Green
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Over dinner with friends in London the other night, the conversation drifted to global warming and whether anything was really being done to reverse it. One guest, Sameh El-Shahat, a furniture designer, heaped particular scorn on programs that enable people to offset their excessive carbon emissions by funding green projects elsewhere. “Who really checks that it’s being done?” he asked. And how much difference does it really make?

But then he hit on an ingenious idea: If people really want to generate money to plant trees or finance green power, why not have them offset their real sins, not just their carbon excesses? We started to play with his idea: Imagine if you could offset the whole Ten Commandments.

No, really, think about it. Imagine if there were a Web site — I’d call it GreenSinai.com — where every time you thought you had violated one of the Ten Commandments, or you wanted to violate one of them but did not want to feel guilty about it, you could buy carbon credits to offset your sins.

The motto of Britain’s Conservative Party today is “Vote Blue, Go Green.” GreenSinai’s motto could be: “Live Bad, Go Green.” That would generate some income.

Here’s how it would work: One day, you’re out in the backyard mowing the lawn and suddenly you covet your neighbor’s wife. Hey, it happens — that’s why “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” is one of the Ten Commandments. No problem. You just go to GreenSinai.com and buy 100 trees in the Amazon or fund a project to capture methane from cow dung in India — and, presto, you’re free and clear.

Obviously there would be a sliding scale. Taking God’s name in vain or erecting an idol might cost you only a few solar water heaters for a Chinese village, whereas bearing false witness or stealing would set you back a pilot sugar ethanol plant in Louisiana.

As for adultery, well, I think that’s where the big money could be made. My guess is that we could achieve a carbon-neutral world by 2020 if we just set up a system for people to offset their adultery by reversing deforestation of tropical rain forests or funding mega wind and solar power systems in China and India.

O.K., O.K., more seriously, I raise this issue of carbon offsets because they’re symptomatic of the larger problem we face in confronting climate change: everyone wants it to happen, but without pain or sacrifice. On balance, I think carbon-offsetting is a good thing — my family has purchased offsets — if for no other reason than it directs resources toward clean technologies that might not have been funded and, therefore, moves us down the innovation curve faster.

But the danger, argues Michael Sandel, Harvard’s noted political philosopher, “is that carbon offsets will become, at least for some, a painless mechanism to buy our way out of the more fundamental changes in habits, attitudes and way of life that are actually required to address the climate problem.”

“If someone drives a Hummer and buys carbon offsets to salve his conscience, that is better than driving the Hummer and doing nothing,” added Mr. Sandel, author of “The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering.” “But it would be even better to trade in the Hummer for a hybrid. The risk is that carbon offsets will make Hummers seem respectable rather than irresponsible, and distract us, as a nation, from harder, bigger changes in our energy policy.”

People often refer to the current climate buzz as “a green revolution,” but the very term revolution suggests a fundamental break with past habits, attitudes and public policies. Yet, when you suggest a carbon tax or a higher gasoline tax — initiatives that would redirect resources and change habits at the scale actually needed to impact global warming — what is the first thing you hear in Congress? “Impossible — you can’t use the T-word.”

A revolution without sacrifice where everyone is a winner? There’s no such thing.

Katherine Ellison wrote a wonderful piece on this topic for Salon.com in which she quoted Stephen Schneider, the Stanford University climatologist, as saying: “Volunteerism doesn’t work. It’s about as effective as voluntary speed limits. No cops, no judges: road carnage. No rules, no fines: greenhouse gases. We’re going to triple or quadruple the CO2 in the atmosphere with no policy. I don’t believe offsets are just a distraction. But we’ll have failed if that’s all we do.”

There’s a saying at the Pentagon that “a vision without resources is a hallucination.” For my money, the green revolution today is still a hallucination.

-----

July 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Phantom at the Opera
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Here are five things you might not know about John Edwards:

¶He never saw a single episode of “The Sopranos.”

¶He doesn’t like the opera, but his favorite musical is “Phantom of the Opera.”

¶His first date with Elizabeth was dancing at the Holiday Inn in Durham or Chapel Hill — he can’t remember which — sometime after which she made an ironclad rule that politicians should never dance.

¶He became a lawyer because as a kid he loved watching “Perry Mason,” “The Defenders” and “The Fugitive.” (Richard Kimble really needed a lawyer.)

¶His top sex symbol is a fellow North Carolinian, Andie MacDowell.

John Edwards has not written soulful poetry, like his old running mate John Kerry or his current rivals Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich. And he says that “if I have a Saturday off, I’m not going to the ballet.”

His approach to culture tends to be geographic — lots of Southerners, especially North Carolinians — and thematic, embracing subjects that dovetail nicely with the campaign trope of Two Americas.

After Mr. Edwards told George Stephanopoulos that “The Trial of Socrates” by I. F. Stone was “a wonderful book,” Bob Novak jumped on him, claiming that he had chosen a book by a “radical” journalist “identified as a covert Soviet agent.”

I tell the Democrat that Poppy Bush drolly told the story about his ’64 Texas Senate race, when a John Birch Society pamphlet suggested that Barbara Bush’s father, the president of McCall Publishing, put out a Communist manifesto called Redbook.

He laughs and says of Bob Novak, “Wait till he finds out I also like Langston Hughes.”

“There was a really beautiful piece about African-Americans and rivers,” Mr. Edwards says. “And another one that starts something like, ‘My old man is a white old man, my mother’s black.’ I thought it was really well done.” Those are from Hughes’s poems “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Cross.”

Though he’s often compared to a Southern lawyer out of John Grisham, and he says he used to “blow through” Grisham novels, Mr. Edwards doesn’t read him much anymore. The literary character he is “inspired” to identify with is, of course, Atticus Finch.

He likes Kaye Gibbons’s novel “A Virtuous Woman.” “She’s from North Carolina,” he says. And he enjoyed “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier, another North Carolinian. “That was set in North Carolina,” he says. Right now he’s reading nonfiction, “The Race Beat,” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, a chronicle of civil rights press coverage in the South.

He says the paintings in his house are by Southern artists, including North Carolinians named Joe Cave and James Kerr.

Asked about his Hollywood dream girl, natch, she’s a North Carolinian. “She’s in those skin commercials,” he says. “She was in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ ” And his favorite actress is Glenn Close, who had to dub Andie MacDowell’s lines in her first big part, “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan,” because her Southern accent was so thick.

Fave actors? Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. (Don’t tell Bob Novak.)

He doesn’t watch much TV, he says, except when his son Jack gets him to watch “Jimmy Neutron,” or Elizabeth gets him to watch “Boston Legal” and “Brothers & Sisters” (a show he likes).

He loves Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who once defended the right of rich pols like him to talk about poor people. He says he’s seen his fellow Southern lawyer Fred Thompson on “Law & Order” a time or two when flipping channels to get to sports. “I’m a huge Tar Heels fan,” he says. “I know way too much about basketball and football.”

Movies? “ ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ ” he says. “I loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ‘Schindler’s List.’ And on a much lighter note, ‘Old School.’ ”

He may look like Bobby Sherman, but as a teen he liked the Allman Brothers, the Doors and the Stones. Now he plays U2, Springsteen and Dave Matthews on his iPod, “mostly compilations.” He says he’s not particularly fond of Celine Dion, whose “You and I” is Hillary’s insipid jingle.

Recalling his first date with Elizabeth, in law school, he says: “I was such a classy guy, I took her to the Holiday Inn to dance. It was loud. Elizabeth made fun of me for weeks for taking her there. Elizabeth thinks the two rules you always use in politics are: Don’t dance. And don’t wear hats.”

Especially not if you’ve got such a fabulous haircut to show off.

July 7, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Firewall Fairy Will Teach Your Grandmother To Suck Eggs

Moustachio of Misunderstanding:

I knew something was up when I couldn’t get a cab. Then there were sirens and helicopters whirring overhead. I stopped a passerby to ask what was going on.

The passerby said: you won't be able to get any Received Taxi Wisdom upon which you can base an entirely fucking useless column.  Then Tom harangued the Tuareg who ran the nearest KwikiMart and was able to bang out a few words.

Dodo of Miss Dodoing:

As Bill works on The New York Times crossword puzzle, Hill tugs on the sleeve of his black shirt in what she hopes is a playful manner.

Because god knows she doesn't actually have any clue about what's playful with her husband of many years, as Dowd can divine with her Dowsing Rod of Ten Thousand Truths.  Which also allows her to snarkily pronounce that Hil cannot mention cronyism regarding the travesty of justice that Bush foisted upon us with Scooter because her husband got a blowjob from some zaftig chick because Hil wouldn't put out because Amanda Marcotte said giving head is wrong.

Or something.

ntodd

July 4, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
At a Theater Near You ...
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

London

I knew something was up when I couldn’t get a cab. Then there were sirens and helicopters whirring overhead. I stopped a passerby to ask what was going on. He said something about a car bomb outside a disco six blocks from my hotel. A few hours later, I finally found a taxi. The driver warned me that it was nearly impossible to get across town. Another bomb had been uncovered in a car park. Next day, more news: a suicide bomber had driven his Jeep into an airport and jumped out, his body on fire, screaming “Allah! Allah!”

Where was I? Baghdad? Kabul? Tel Aviv? No, I was in England. But it could have been anywhere. The Middle East: Now playing at a theater near you.

But this movie gets more confusing every time you watch it. When you watched it on 9/11 it was about America’s presence in the heart of Arabia. And when you watched it on 7/7 it was about unemployed and alienated Muslim youth in Britain. In Jordan not long ago it was about a wedding at a Western hotel. In Morocco recently it was about an Internet cafe. And two days ago in Yemen it was about seven Spanish tourists who were killed when a suicide bomber drove into them at a local tourist site. Wasn’t Spain the country that quit Iraq to get its people out of the line of fire?

Because these incidents are scattered, we’re growing numb to just how crazy they are. In the past few years, hundreds of Muslims have committed suicide amid innocent civilians — without making any concrete political demands and without generating any vigorous, sustained condemnation in the Muslim world.

Two trends are at work here: humiliation and atomization. Islam’s self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God’s monotheistic message, and the Koran is God’s last and most perfect word. To put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0. Christianity is God 2.0. Judaism is God 1.0. And Hinduism and all others are God 0.0.

One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme, expressive violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect and complete operating system, every day they’re confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0., God 1.0 and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.

In the old days, you needed a terror infrastructure with bases in Beirut or Afghanistan to lash out in a big way. Not anymore. Now all you need is the virtual Afghanistan — the Internet and a few cellphones — to recruit, indoctrinate, plan and execute. Hence, the atomization — little terror groups sprouting everywhere. Everyone now has a starter kit.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, recently noted in a speech that during the cold war “the enemy was easy to find, but hard to finish,” because the Soviet Union was so big and powerful. “Intelligence was important” back then, he added, “but it was overshadowed by the need for sheer firepower.”

In today’s war against terrorist groups, said General Hayden, “it’s just the opposite. Our enemy is easy to finish, but hard to find. Today, we are looking for individuals or small groups planning suicide bombings, running violent Jihadist Web sites, sending foreign fighters into Iraq.”

I’d go one step further. The Soviet Union was easy to find and hard to kill, but once it died, it was dead forever. It had no regenerative power because it had no popular base. The terrorists of Iraq or London are hard to find, easy to kill, but very difficult to eliminate. New recruits just keep sprouting.

Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it’s been widely noted that virtually all suicide terrorists today are Muslims. Angry Norwegians aren’t doing this — nor are starving Africans or unemployed Mexicans. Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.

This cancer is erasing basic norms of civilization. In Iraq, we’ve seen suicide bombers blow up funerals and schools. In England, seven out of the eight people detained in the latest plot are Muslim doctors or medical students. Doctors plotting mass murder? Could that be? If Muslim leaders don’t remove this cancer — and only they can — it will spread, tainting innocent Muslims and poisoning their relations with each other and the world.

-----

July 4, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Fireworks for Former First Lady and Future First Lad
By MAUREEN DOWD

Hillary looks over at her husband.

He’s in a pretty good mood. He just finished a grilled chicken sandwich from the Dairy Queen near Grinnell, and as a reward for eating healthy, she gave him a bite of her Snickers Blizzard. Crowds all over Iowa have been clamoring for him. Here in the privacy of their black S.U.V., driving through flat Iowa farmland with the press bus trailing, she senses an opportune moment to iron out a few wrinkles.

As Bill works on The New York Times crossword puzzle, Hill tugs on the sleeve of his black shirt in what she hopes is a playful manner.

“Sweetie,” she says, smiling brightly. “Everything’s going really well. You abide by your five-minute limit and talk only about me. You’re still having a little trouble getting that adoring smile down. In fact, on our first stop you actually looked bored and fidgety while I was talking. But I think we solved that problem today by having you leave the stage as soon as I start speaking. If you can just refrain from looking so longingly at the microphone, our pas de deux will be perfect!”

Her smile fades. “Of course,” she frowns, “there was that awkward moment when I said Bush should not have commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence because he was elevating cronyism over the rule of law, and there you were, Mr. Elevate-Cronyism-Over-The-Rule-of-Law, sitting on a stool right behind me in that look-at-me Crayola yellow shirt, reminding everyone of that passel of pardons you sneaked in under the wire, including one for that fugitive tax-evader Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was your fund-raiser and whose lawyer was — can it get any worse? — Scooter Libby! And as soon as we get out of cow country, you’ve got to start dialing for dollars. How could that pest Obama outraise us by $10 million?”

Bill looks dolefully at her, his pen poised in midair. “What’s a seven-letter word for ball-and-chain,” he asks. “Hillary?”

“ ‘Partner,’ ” she replies briskly. “Now listen, Bill, this is important. Everyone’s asking what your role in my administration will be, and I think it’s time we figure that out.”

“Oh, baby,” he says, taking her hand. “Don’t fret over me. I’ll be as happy as a tick on Al Gore. I’ll resolve some little conflicts here and there, stop some genocides, powwow with Tony Blair in the Green Zone. Maybe I’ll be U.N. Secretary General, or some little thing like that.

“You focus on the big stuff, sweetcakes. I’ll just be hanging with Vernon in the East Wing, or maybe in a suite at Blair House, organizing some spouse retreats. I think I could learn a lot from Cécilia Sarkozy. French, after all, is the language of diplomacy. And I could do some bipartisan outreach with, oh, I don’t know, maybe Fred Thompson’s wife? She seems smart.”

“You know, hon,” Hillary says, shaking off his hand. “Hillaryland has some ideas about Billville.”

“I have ideas, too,” he interrupts, excitedly. “I can redecorate the family quarters, get Kaki Hokersmith to come by with some leopard-skin swatches, get rid of all that boring stuff Laura Bush brought in after we left. Put up my Salma Hayek poster. Maybe have an open bar in the Lincoln Bedroom. Call it Club Mandela.

“I’ve been the first black president, the first female president and now I’m going to be the first man who’s First Lady, with my own staff of ladies — ”

“BILL!” Hillary shouts. “Enough! Hillaryland has spoken. You’re not going to have your own office in the East Wing or your own staff there. And don’t even think of pulling a Cheney and destroying the visitor logs. We’re going to set up a desk for you in the Oval. In Hillaryland, we say: Keep your friends close but your husband closer. You’ll have a nice little room of your own in the pantry. You were, after all, the guy who put the pant in pantry.”

“That sounds great, my little Arkansas watermelon,” he coos. “I love the time I spend with your big gang of chicks. But alas, I’ll have to be out of the country a lot of the time as your roving ambassador.”

“Speaking of roving, don’t even think about going on your Hollywood rat pack’s planes after I’m elected,” she snaps. “Strictly Air Force for you, mister, with extra federal marshals. You promised me two terms after your two terms, and I’m not going to get that if you’re caught Burkling or Binging. And Hillaryland wants you to use the title Mr. Ambassador after the corona— , I mean, inauguration. Two presidents in one White House will be too confusing.”

Her voice softening, she asks, “Do you know what your First Lad project will be?”

“ ‘Just Say Yes?’ ” he proffers. Going back to his crossword puzzle, he asks, “Do you know an eight-letter word for `loving wife?’ ”

“Overlord,” she replies, smiling lovingly.

July 3, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Firewall Fairy Feels The Farce Flowing Through Him

Bobo Wan Kenobi:

In retrospect, Plamegate was a farce in five acts. The first four were scabrous, disgraceful and absurd. Justice only reared its head at the end.

The drama opened, as these dark comedies are wont to do, with a strutting little peacock who went by the unimaginative name of Joe Wilson.
...
[F]inally, yesterday, came Act Five, and a paradox. Scooter Libby emerged as the least absurd character in the entire drama, and yet he was the one who committed a crime. President Bush entered the stage like a character from another world, a world in which things make sense.

His decision to commute Libby’s sentence but not erase his conviction was exactly right. It punishes him for his perjury, but not for the phantasmagorical political farce that grew to surround him. It takes away his career, but not his family.

Of course, the howlers howl. That is their assigned posture in this drama. They entered howling, they will leave howling and the only thing you can count on is their anger has been cynically manufactured from start to finish.

The farce is over. It has no significance. Nobody but Libby’s family will remember it in a few weeks time. Everyone else will have moved on to other fiascos, other poses, fresher manias.

I guess it's hard for Bobo to write a decent column when he's got an entire week to do it--this week he had only mere hours to eat some alphabet soup and then take a shit to produce this column.  1000 monkeys with mad cow disease and syphilis could do little better...

ntodd

July 3, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Ending the Farce
By DAVID BROOKS

In retrospect, Plamegate was a farce in five acts. The first four were scabrous, disgraceful and absurd. Justice only reared its head at the end.

The drama opened, as these dark comedies are wont to do, with a strutting little peacock who went by the unimaginative name of Joe Wilson.

Mr. Wilson claimed that his wife had nothing to do with his trip to investigate Iraqi purchases in Niger, though that seems not to have been the case. He claimed his trip proved Iraq had made no such attempts, though his own report said nothing of the kind.

In short order, Wilson established himself as the charming P.T. Barnum of the National Security set, an inveterate huckster who could be counted on to wrap every actual fact in six layers of embellishment. His small part in the larger fiasco of the Iraq war would not have registered a micron of attention had the villain of the epic — the vice president — not exercised his unfailing talent for vindictive self-destruction.

Act Two opened with a cast of thousands crowding the stage, filling the air with fevered vapors and gleeful rage. Perhaps you can remember those days, when the Plame story pretended to be about the outing of an undercover C.I.A. agent. Perhaps you can remember the howls of outrage from our liberal friends, about the threat to national security, the secret White House plot to discredit its enemies.

Perhaps you remember the media stakeouts of Karl Rove’s driveway, the constant perp-walk photos of Rove on his way to and from the grand jury, the delirious calls from producers (The indictment is coming today! The indictment is coming today!).

There were media types so eager to get Rove, so artificially appalled at the thought of somebody actually leaking classified information, they were willing to forgive prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for throwing journalists in jail. It was like watching a city of Ahabs getting deliriously close to the great white whale.

That was back when everybody thought Rove was the key leaker. But then it turned out he wasn’t. Richard Armitage was, as Fitzgerald knew from the start.

By the start of Act Three, nobody cared about the outing of a C.I.A. agent. That part of the scandal disappeared. And all that was left of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame were the creepy photos in Vanity Fair.

Act Three was the perjury act, and attention shifted to the unlikely figure of Scooter Libby. As Joe Wilson was an absurd man with a plain name, Scooter Libby was a plain man with an absurd name. And the odder thing was that Libby was the only normal person in the asylum. People who knew him thought him discreet, honest and admirable. And yet the charges were brought and the storm clouds of idiocy gathered once more.

Republicans who’d worked themselves up into a spittle-spewing rage because Bill Clinton lied under oath were appalled that anybody would bother with poor Libby over lying under oath. Democrats who were outraged that Bill Clinton was hounded for something as trivial as perjury were furious that Scooter Libby might not be ruined for a crime as heinous as perjury. It was an orgy of shamelessness. The God of Self-Respect took sabbatical.

The trial and sentencing, Act Four, was, to be honest, somewhat anticlimactic. Fitzgerald, having lost all perspective, demanded Libby get a harsh sentence as punishment for crimes he had not been convicted of. The judge, casting himself as David against Goliath, demonstrated an impressive capacity for talking about himself.

And finally, yesterday, came Act Five, and a paradox. Scooter Libby emerged as the least absurd character in the entire drama, and yet he was the one who committed a crime. President Bush entered the stage like a character from another world, a world in which things make sense.

His decision to commute Libby’s sentence but not erase his conviction was exactly right. It punishes him for his perjury, but not for the phantasmagorical political farce that grew to surround him. It takes away his career, but not his family.

Of course, the howlers howl. That is their assigned posture in this drama. They entered howling, they will leave howling and the only thing you can count on is their anger has been cynically manufactured from start to finish.

The farce is over. It has no significance. Nobody but Libby’s family will remember it in a few weeks time. Everyone else will have moved on to other fiascos, other poses, fresher manias.

July 2, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Firewall Fairy's Wicked Hot

Kristof:

If we need any more proof that life is unfair, it is that subsistence villagers here in Africa will pay with their lives for our refusal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

When we think of climate change, we tend to focus on Alaskan villages or New Orleans hurricanes. But the people who will suffer the worst will be those living in countries like this, even though they don’t contribute at all to global warming.

My win-a-trip journey with a student and a teacher has taken us to Burundi, which the World Bank’s latest report shows to be the poorest country in the world. People in Burundi have an annual average income of $100, nearly one child in five dies before the age of five, and life expectancy is 45.

Against that grim backdrop, changing weather patterns in recent years have already caused crop failures — and when the crops fail here, people starve. In short, our greenhouse gases are killing people here.

“If the harvest fails in the West, then you have stocks and can get by,” said Gerard Rusuku, an agriculture scientist here who has been studying the impact of global warming in Africa. “Here, we’re much more vulnerable. If climate change causes a crop failure here, there’s famine.”

Guillaume Foliot of the World Food Program notes that farmers here overwhelmingly agree that the weather has already become more erratic, leading to lost crops. And any visitor can see that something is amiss: Africa’s “great lakes” are shrinking.

Yup, some bad shit.  Coupla germane posts at Pax here and here.

ntodd

June 28, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Our Gas Guzzlers, Their Lives
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

BUJUMBURA, Burundi

If we need any more proof that life is unfair, it is that subsistence villagers here in Africa will pay with their lives for our refusal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

When we think of climate change, we tend to focus on Alaskan villages or New Orleans hurricanes. But the people who will suffer the worst will be those living in countries like this, even though they don’t contribute at all to global warming.

My win-a-trip journey with a student and a teacher has taken us to Burundi, which the World Bank’s latest report shows to be the poorest country in the world. People in Burundi have an annual average income of $100, nearly one child in five dies before the age of five, and life expectancy is 45.

Against that grim backdrop, changing weather patterns in recent years have already caused crop failures — and when the crops fail here, people starve. In short, our greenhouse gases are killing people here.

“If the harvest fails in the West, then you have stocks and can get by,” said Gerard Rusuku, an agriculture scientist here who has been studying the impact of global warming in Africa. “Here, we’re much more vulnerable. If climate change causes a crop failure here, there’s famine.”

Guillaume Foliot of the World Food Program notes that farmers here overwhelmingly agree that the weather has already become more erratic, leading to lost crops. And any visitor can see that something is amiss: Africa’s “great lakes” are shrinking.

Burundi is on Lake Tanganyika, which is still a vast expanse of water. But the shoreline has retreated 50 feet in the last four years, and ships can no longer reach the port.

“Even the hippos are unhappy,” said Alexander Mbarubukeye, a fisherman on the lake, referring to the hippos that occasionally waddled into town before the lake retreated.

The biggest of Africa’s great lakes, Lake Victoria, was dropping by a vertical half-inch a day for much of last year. And far to the north, once enormous Lake Chad has nearly vanished. The reasons for the dipping lake levels seem to include climate change.

Greenhouse gases actually have the greatest impact at high latitudes — the Arctic and Antarctica. But the impact there isn’t all bad (Canada will gain a northwest passage), and the countries there are rich enough to absorb the shocks.

In contrast, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned this year that the consequences for Africa will be particularly harsh because of the region’s poverty and vulnerability. It foresees water shortages and crop failures in much of Africa.

“Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50 percent by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall as much as 90 percent,” the panel warned. It also cautioned that warming temperatures could lead malaria to spread to highland areas. Another concern is that scarcities of food and water will trigger wars. More than five million lives have already been lost since 1994 in wars in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, and one factor was competition for scarce resources.

“It seems to me rather like pouring petrol onto a burning fire,” Jock Stirrup, the chief of the British defense staff, told a meeting in London this month. He noted that climate change could cause weak states to collapse.

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, describes climate change as “the latest form of aggression” by rich countries against Africa. He has a point. Charles Ehrhart, a Care staff member in Kenya who works full time on climate-change issues, says that the negative impact of the West’s carbon emissions will overwhelm the positive effects of aid.

“It’s at the least disastrous and quite possibly catastrophic,” Mr. Ehrhart said of the climate effects on Africa. “Life was difficult, but with climate change it turns deadly.”

“That’s what hits the alarm bells for an organization like Care,” he added. “How can we ever achieve our mission in this situation?”

All this makes it utterly reckless that we fail to institute a carbon tax or at least a cap-and-trade system for emissions. The cost of our environmental irresponsibility will be measured in thousands of children dying of hunger, malaria and war.

You are invited to comment on this column at Mr. Kristof’s blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground.

June 27, 2007 in Biofuels, Bitches!, Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Firewall Fairy Was Here First

Mustache of Late To The Party:

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, even though I was clearly there first.

If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

Ezra's wrong about one thing (via Mr Never Links To Me):

the pictures of you as an acrobatic alcoholic can be taken down when you apply for jobs -- nothing permanent about that fingerprint

Heard of Google Cache and the Wayback Machine?  Stuff you put out there has a longer half-life than you might realize.  Regardless, Friedman is acting like he just discovered another Airport Truth when this shit's been covered time and again.

Dodo:

A group of high school Presidential Scholars visiting the White House on Monday surprised President Bush by slipping him a handwritten letter pleading with him to not let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees.

The president reassured the teenagers that the United States does not torture. Then the vice president unleashed a pack of large dogs on the kids, running them off the White House lawn, before he shut down the Presidential Scholars program and abolished high schools.

Since it’s rare that Mr. Bush ever sees groups that have not been prescreened to be nice to him, he made the mistake of opening the letter in front of the students and was surprised to learn that he has made many Americans ashamed by subverting values that the country has always held dear, like abiding by the Constitution and respecting human dignity.
...
The president was trying to talk to the students about No Child Left Behind. Maybe that program’s working better than we thought if these kids are able to pull off such a knowing note left behind.

Wow, two columns in a row that didn't attack Democrats' hygiene habits.  Next one will be a doozy, I'm sure.  Funniest part is the column hed: W. Learns From Students.  No, darls, he didn't learn a fucking thing from them...

ntodd

June 27, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Whole World Is Watching
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, even though I was clearly there first.

If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and C.E.O. of LRN, a business ethics company. His book is simply called “How.” Because Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor. To win now, he argues, you have to turn these new conditions to your advantage.

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman. “In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

Ditto in business. Companies that get their hows wrong won’t be able to just hire a P.R. firm to clean up the mess by a taking a couple of reporters to lunch — not when everyone is a reporter and can talk back and be heard globally.

But this also creates opportunities. Today “what” you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone. But “how” you engage your customers, “how” you keep your promises and “how” you collaborate with partners — that’s not so easy to copy, and that is where companies can now really differentiate themselves.

“When it comes to human conduct there is tremendous variation, and where a broad spectrum of variation exists, opportunity exists,” writes Seidman. “The tapestry of human behavior is so varied, so rich and so global that it presents a rare opportunity, the opportunity to outbehave the competition.”

How can you outbehave your competition? In Michigan, Seidman writes, one hospital taught its doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, and dramatically cut their malpractice claims. In Texas, a large auto dealership allowed every mechanic to spend freely whatever company money was necessary to do the job right, and saw their costs actually decline while customer satisfaction improved. A New York street doughnut-seller trusted his customers to make their own change and found he could serve more people faster and build the loyalty that keeps them coming back.

“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides ... visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the newsstand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don’t.

-----

June 27, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
W. Learns From Students
By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

A group of high school Presidential Scholars visiting the White House on Monday surprised President Bush by slipping him a handwritten letter pleading with him to not let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees.

The president reassured the teenagers that the United States does not torture. Then the vice president unleashed a pack of large dogs on the kids, running them off the White House lawn, before he shut down the Presidential Scholars program and abolished high schools.

Since it’s rare that Mr. Bush ever sees groups that have not been prescreened to be nice to him, he made the mistake of opening the letter in front of the students and was surprised to learn that he has made many Americans ashamed by subverting values that the country has always held dear, like abiding by the Constitution and respecting human dignity.

Mari Oye from Wellesley, Mass., who is headed to Yale in the fall, handed W. the letter signed by 50 students as they posed for a group picture. She told John Roberts on CNN that her mother had been a Presidential Scholar back in 1968 and always regretted not saying something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam War. She also said her grandparents were Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, so she has compassion for those “in a similar situation.”

“We asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill, which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture,” she said. “I really feel strongly about this issue and also about the treatment of some Arab- and Muslim-Americans after September 11th.”

The president was trying to talk to the students about No Child Left Behind. Maybe that program’s working better than we thought if these kids are able to pull off such a knowing note left behind.

The White House got another unpleasant surprise Monday when the ordinarily compliant Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who has gone along with the Bush administration on every Iraq vote, came to the Senate floor to upbraid the president on his Iraq policy in a 50-minute speech.

“Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists,” the 75-year-old senator told the deserted chamber.

Another Republican on the committee, George Voinovich, sent a letter to the president yesterday, suggesting it’s time to start pulling troops out. “My heart has been heavy for a long time,” he told Jeff Zeleny of The Times. “We’re talking $620 billion. We’re talking over 3,500 people killed.” He said he keeps a photo of an Ohio Marine killed in Iraq on his desk “so I don’t forget, O.K.?” Mr. Lugar said the ’08 race is on, so time is scarce for a bipartisan solution.

Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, immediately expelled Mr. Lugar and appointed himself the new senator from Indiana. It was a busy day of Constitutional shape-shifting for the vice president, who had earlier nominated and confirmed himself to the Supreme Court, so that he could roll back judicial decisions tempering his desire for torture galore, and then morphed back into his executive branch role to bar the door to the Oval Office sandbox and prevent Condi and Bob Gates from giving W. the plan he wanted to close down Gitmo.

Once his BFF Rummy was pushed out, Vice mentally absorbed the role of Defense Secretary into his own portfolio. He allows Mr. Gates — that pragmatic meddler from the skeptical world of Daddy Bush — to keep Rummy’s chair warm, but the new Pentagon chief is certainly not included in the super-secret paper flow Vice created to always get his own way. And Mr. Cheney never acknowledges the power of any secretary of state, be it Colin or Condi. Diplomacy is for wimps.

The Black Adder, David Addington, the Vice’s enforcer of all things evil, sent a snippy reply to a letter from Senator John Kerry yesterday, asking why Vice says his dual role in the legislative and executive branches means he doesn’t have to catalog any classified papers. What could those papers be? Cooked intelligence on invading Iraq? Ill-gotten profits for Halliburton? More chicanery about Scooter Libby? Gitmo and Abu Ghraib torture memos? So many embarrassing options, so little oversight.

In essence, the bizarre response is that nothing applies to the vice president because the vice president is everything. Because he is everything, he relaunched the Swift Boats against Skipper Kerry.

June 27, 2007 in Firewall Fairy | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack