Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time for a Gold Watch

"I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully."
--Chief Justice John Roberts, mis-administering the Presidential oath on Tuesday

In the moments
following this verbal fumble, righties in offices as grand as the Fox News studios and as humble as home offices began with a narrative they couldn't possibly have coordinated: Obama's not the president. Certain elaborations to the analysis were inevitable: "who's Mr. Eloquent now?", "even Bush managed to get through the oath," etc. That it was Roberts, the textualist, who mangled the phrase because he was too vain to read it--this fact was less dwelt upon.

Righties are now the loyal opposition, and they're taking to it like fish to water. With their dark view of the world, colored by fear and resentment, their natural hatred of collectivism and governance, they were never much cut out for leadership. Theirs is a destructive instinct, and it functions so much more ably when they aim it at ruling Dems. They are barbarians, and they're happiest beyond the gates.

We liberals, on the other hand, are the collectivists. We are optimists and our world is colored by the creative instinct to build and grow and change. When I started blogging in the early days of January 2003 (we passed my 6th blogoversary on the 10th), the destroyers were ruling the country and preparing to unleash the dogs of war on the wrong country. In the light and promise of Obama, we sometimes forget how dark those days were. The Bush administration was doing its best to demonize and criminalize liberalism. Speaking against him was treasonous; those who didn't knuckle under were not existentially different from terrorists ("you're with us or against us"). The religious wing of the party was regularly condemning us to hell--literally.

This blog died long ago, lacking only the sense to fall over--I know that. It has expired not so much of old age but lack of purpose. In those days of Bush's panic-fueled popularity (70% when I started writing the blog), there was little else to do but blog. The Dems were completely useless appeasers; liberals had seen their infrastructure erode for 50 years. It seemed like being a witness was the most many of us could muster. And so witness I did, for 6 years. I enjoy a sense of vindication in seeing the Bush years end in humiliation and failure. The ignorance, arrogance, and viciousness that guided the country was, after all, ignorant, arrogant, vicious--and incompetent.

For 20 years I spent election cycles jumping on the wrong horse (Jesse Jackson, Tom Harkin, Nader, Nader, Kucinich/Dean). In May 2007 I jumped on yet another unlikely horse, but this long-shot came in. Obama's election was the repudiation of a governing philosophy in ascent my entire adult life. I started blogging during the Bush years, but he was just the terminal stage of the disease.

Obama, the antidote, has made the need to blog--or anyway the inclination--obsolete. I don't know what comes next, but brutalizing Muslim countries, blind, fascist partisanship, giving all our tax dollars to the rich, establishing moral codes of behavior, reveling in ignorance at the expense of experience and education--these things are done. America finally reached a level of toxicity and like a drunk vomiting his last three drinks into a toilet, we have disgorged the Republican Party from the body politic.

I don't know what comes next, and I don't assume I'll stay away from this blog. But I'm done with it for now and for awhile. When I've discontinued past blogs, I declare them dead. From this one I'm merely retiring, and like Brett Favre, I won't consider anything permanent. Maybe there's emeritus blogging in the future.

For those who stumble buy and actually see this--my thanks to you. We did it. Bush has been vanquished, so spectacularly that a black guy named Hussein was the only reasonable alternative. We did all right.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Assessing Bush: The Divider

"I just want to make sure we don't start confining ourselves to, you know, politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government."
--Brad Schlozman, second in command in the Civil Rights Division, in a report released last week. The report found that 2/3s of Schlozman's hires were "clearly conservative" and that he lied about hiring practices in congressional hearings.

This is the final of my four posts about the Bush administration's legacy, and I'll keep it brief. When Bush came into office in 2001, he arrived during a constitutional crisis following what many Americans (including this one) believed was a stolen election. Rather than try to repair the damage, George Bush immediately set about conducting one of the most vindictive, partisan administration in US history. He stocked his administration with political lackeys whose central qualification was loyalty. As the years played out, catastrophic failures of management mounted as quickly as reports of agency witch hunts like last week's report about the Civil Rights Division. Among the many quotes that capture this element of his presidency, "Heck of a job, Brownie" stands as a particular testament.

During his administration, his toadies doctored reports, fired apostates, and used the Justice of Department to assault political foes. The attack dogs of the campaigns were brought into governance and let loose against career federal employees. Bush administration officials tarred Democrats as enemies of the state or terrorists, and, during the dark days following 9/11, some in the administration threatened to silence those who disagreed with Bush policy. All of this was by way of establishing a dream of Karl Rove: to create a "permanent governing majority."

Tomorrow the United States will inaugurate a black liberal whose middle name is Hussein. He will govern a country with large majorities in both the House and Senate. And, perhaps most notably, the new president has made civility and bi-partisanship a centerpiece of his governing style. There can be no greater repudiation of the cancerous politics left by George Bush that America's embrace of Barack Obama.

That's change we can believe in.

Assessing Bush: The Divider

"I just want to make sure we don't start confining ourselves to, you know, politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government."
--Brad Schlozman, second in command in the Civil Rights Division, in a report released last week. The report found that 2/3s of Schlozman's hires were "clearly conservative" and that he lied about hiring practices in congressional hearings.

This is the final of my four posts about the Bush administration's legacy, and I'll keep it brief. When Bush came into office in 2001, he arrived during a constitutional crisis following what many Americans (including this one) believed was a stolen election. Rather than try to repair the damage, George Bush immediately set about conducting one of the most vindictive, partisan administration in US history. He stocked his administration with political lackeys whose central qualification was loyalty. As the years played out, catastrophic failures of management mounted as quickly as reports of agency witch hunts like last week's report about the Civil Rights Division. Among the many quotes that capture this element of his presidency, "Heck of a job, Brownie" stands as a particular testament.

During his administration, his toadies doctored reports, fired apostates, and used the Justice of Department to assault political foes. The attack dogs of the campaigns were brought into governance and let loose against career federal employees. Bush administration officials tarred Democrats as enemies of the state or terrorists, and, during the dark days following 9/11, some in the administration threatened to silence those who disagreed with Bush policy. All of this was by way of establishing a dream of Karl Rove: to create a "permanent governing majority."

Tomorrow the United States will inaugurate a black liberal whose middle name is Hussein. He will govern a country with large majorities in both the House and Senate. And, perhaps most notably, the new president has made civility and bi-partisanship a centerpiece of his governing style. There can be no greater repudiation of the cancerous politics left by George Bush that America's embrace of Barack Obama.

That's change we can believe in.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Assessing Bush: Domestic Policy

In the third of four posts assessing the presidency of George Bush, we turn now to domestic policy. Compared to the economy and foreign policy, Bush's domestic policies can get lost in the shuffle. Yet here, too, he was an activist president who left a mixed legacy.

Bush came into office with big plans to forge a new kind of politics based on "compassionate conservatism." This was always a slightly confused governing philosophy because it fused the methods of activist liberalism--using government to craft social change--with the morals and goals of Christian conservatism. Bush wanted to reform areas hitherto considered the domain of liberals--education, social security, immigration, and poverty--but rather than putting them under the purview of government, he wished instead to farm them out to favored private sectors. When he arrived, his to-do list consisted of reforming education, creating a network of quasi-government "faith based" programs, reforming immigration, and privatizing Social Security. As I mentioned in earlier posts, these were again fairly radical new ways of thinking about problems. Bush was, above all, willing to put untested theories to work in real-world experiments.

Bush, the former governor with no appetite for "nation building," was far more successful within the sphere of domestic policy. The first months of his presidency were dominated by the passage of "No Child Left Behind," a flawed but serious attempt (co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy) to reform education and improve US performance. A devout man, his belief in faith-based programs was also wholly evident, and he was proud to get these off the ground. Finally, although he failed to get immigration reform passed (failed, in fact, to see how damaging it would be to his own party), he was genuinely invested in creating a workable fix. If he had been in office during Clinton's term, we would be focused on these efforts as the highlights, rather than forgotten sidebars, in what would be regarded as a more successful presidency.

Corporatism, Again
One of the inclinations that marred Bush's domestic programs were his unfailing effort to reward corporate interests to the detriment of the government, small business, and private citizens. Worse, this blinded him to opportunities that might have actually helped revitalize certain sectors (medical, financial, automotive, communications, airline, eco); instead, toadying up to corporate bosses resulted in bloated, consolidated industries that list along or are collapsing. A few examples. When he crafted a new energy plan, he tailored it to the oil and gas executives who alone were invited to participate in the discussions. Farm bills were designed to streamline an industrial model of agriculture that have America in the midst of an obesity crisis (see Michael Pollan for a lot more about that). In considering communication policy, Bush always deferred to behemoths more interested in gobbling up competitors than delivering quality content.

Homeland Security, Medicare Reform
Bush, the conservative, flummoxed and perhaps hamstrung his own party by passing two of the largest expansions of government in the country's history. The first was the sprawling Department of Homeland Security, the kind of agency that gives arch conservatives night terrors. It collected 22 agencies under one umbrella, the idea being that one huge agency could coordinate and communicate better than two dozen. (A hypothesis that would have gotten a great deal more attention had it not been for 9/11, the precipitating event.) The second was a Frankenstein's monster designed to expand prescription coverage under Medicare. It was a deeply flawed and unpopular bill that managed to pass the House only after Speaker Denny Hastert strong-armed his members (and perhaps bribed them). Its popularity has not much grown.

Christian Right
No president in US history enjoyed more support from conservative Christians than Bush, and they expected him to deliver. In one regard he did--he managed to get two very conservative, very young judges onto the Supreme Court, and appointed a raft of conservatives to lower courts. But the structure of government prevented the GOP from doing more during the Bush years. Early in office, he managed to limit government funding of stem-cell research, though this didn't fully satisfy his base nor stop research. Abortion laws tightened at the state level, but Roe was not overturned. Gay marriage was a reliable re-election issue, but during his eight years in office, legal gay marriage and civil unions became the law in several states (including Oregon--yay!). And as a particular low-light to the Christian era, Bush and the GOP attempted to thwart a legal process in the case of Terri Schiavo--an early and embarrassing defeat of Bush's second term.

In the end, Bush managed to do a fair amount with his time in office, but the legacy may be short lived. No Child Left Behind has recorded--at best--mixed success. Faith-based programs are likely to be downplayed and probably face a slow phase-out under Obama. The immigration legislation Bush started might have continued except for other car wrecks he left behind (the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan) that demand immediate attention. And the currency of the Christian right appears to be dramatically declining--a shocking turnaround from just four years ago, when they thought their hour had arrived. But Homeland Security and the Medicare prescription reform--those will, for better or worse, outlast Bush. It ain't much, but given everything else, maybe Bush will be happy to take it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Assessing Bush: The Economy

"It's sad to say, but we really went nowhere for almost ten years, after you extract the boost provided by the housing and mortgage boom. It's almost a lost economic decade."
--Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody's

On Monday I began a series of posts on the Bush years, starting with a look at the administration's handling of foreign policy. The Iraq war will be one of a small number of major initiatives against which history will judge the Bush administration; another is the economy. There are parallels. In Iraq, Bush tested the hypotheses of a radical group of ideologues on the efficacy of "anticipatory defense." He turned the economy over to a different cadre of ideologues who tested out different hypotheses: running deficits to put money in the hands of the very rich; further deregulation of industries; hobbling government regulators to allow for more free-wheeling, Darwinian markets. The results of the economic experiment was no more successful than the one Bush ran in Iraq.

Let's start with a few key statistics, which rise like gravestones from the Bush economy, before working backward:

Bush arrived in Washington as the first "MBA president," and he promised to run the government like a CEO. How apt a metaphor. As you can see in the statistics I cite above, not everything was bad. People at the top did fine. The country got richer, and if you average all those riches out, individuals got richer, too--per-capita GDP went up nearly $4000 (11%). But median incomes were down. This tells us that the riches were spread not uniformly across the income spectrum, but collected among the already-rich. Sound familiar? CEOs spent the decade reaping obscene amounts of money even as their companies foundered, while line-workers got peanuts (or pink slips--see the rise in unemployment).

But even this doesn't tell the whole story. When he was elected, there was an operating philosophy in Washington, birthed in conservative think tanks and propagated for decades in the media, that if government gets out of the way and lets business do business, we will all reap the rewards. The idea was that this business environment would create so much wealth that we would all get a piece of the pie. (To Dems who spent the 00s moaning that infrastructure was collapsing, wages stagnating, and education declining, the GOP offered vague bromides about the riches to come.)

The irony, of course, is that the CEO in Chief had the same blind spots in running a government in this environment as Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld. The US won't go bankrupt like Lehman, but the effect was related. In the end, the CEOs got fired, but they kept the money; workers got laid off. Now tax-payers get the bill, but financial executives keep their jobs.

Bush's Corporatism
There were other elements of the way Bush ran Washington that didn't look high minded even when we could nurture the belief that the overall economy was doing fine. Now they look obscene. Chief among these was the pipeline that funneled billions to corporations (which in turned sent millions back to Bush in fundraising support). Here's one example, though there are dozens to choose from:

Agricultural subsidies were doubled between 2002 and 2005. Tax expenditures—the vast system of subsidies and preferences hidden in the tax code—increased more than a quarter. Tax breaks for the president’s friends in the oil-and-gas industry increased by billions and billions of dollars. Yes, in the five years after 9/11, defense expenditures did increase (by some 70 percent), though much of the growth wasn’t helping to fight the War on Terror at all, but was being lost or outsourced in failed missions in Iraq.

This made Bush's assault on the poor (with, in some cases, the help of Democrats) even more unseemly. Even though their wages were stagnating while their medical bills rose, Bush pushed through a vindictive, banking-industry-backed personal bankruptcy bill that made it far harder to get out of debt. As a consequence, personal debt skyrocketed 53% under Bush. At every stop along his presidency, Bush sacrificed the needs of regular (tax-paying) Americans to help bloated corporations. The nested relationship between the Bush administration, former and future lobbyists, and K Street will be remembered as one of the most corrupt in history. This wasn't an ideological feature of Bush's economic plan, it was hardball politics.

Burst Bubbles, Foreclosures, Ruin
As a coda to the Bush years, 2008 was bad for everyone. The housing bubble popped, and a million people lost their homes to foreclosure. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 4,700 points--over a third of its value. That one stung even a few in the upper income brackets. And of course, the financial sector collapsed, forcing the biggest bailout in US history. The results are written in the statistics, but the overall effect will last far longer than the the Bush recession. With the exit of Bush, a governing philosophy with mighty currency among conservatives has proved a fraud. Long after the US digs out of the massive crater left by the Bush administration's economic policies, the ideology that led us to this point will remembered as a cautionary tale of greed and corruption. So perhaps there's one silver lining.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Assessing Bush: Foreign Policy

In just over a week, the presidency of George W. Bush will creak, finally, to a stop. The joke I keep hearing is that he's forgotten but not gone, and that's not far from the truth--turn on the news or pick up a paper, and nobody's talking Bush. When a guy has made such a hash of things, I guess we all would rather look forward than backward (we're Americans, after all). But for a week or so, I'm going to post on the legacy of the Bush administration because, whatever we think of the man who's leaving, we cannot forget what he's left us with.

Not the Man for the Job
It is one of those intriguing historical ironies that Bush will be remembered mainly as a war president, his administration dominated by foreign policy. Coming in, foreign policy was unknown and uninteresting to the governor--he hadn't traveled abroad nor did he evince any interest or much knowledge in the rest of the world. The early months of his presidency bore out his incuriosity, as he focused on No Child Left Behind, tax cuts, and his faith-based initiatives, outsourcing foreign policy to the Vice President.

And then came 9/11.

Everyone knows the events that followed chapter and verse: Afghanistan, bogus build-up to Iraq, invasion and catastrophe, "Mission Accomplished," Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret rendition, "enhanced interrogation," the surge. These events, when combined with the Bush diplomatic approach (if you can call that) of extreme bellicosity comprise an experiment historians might reasonably call "speaking loudly and carrying a small stick." We have Bush to thank for running such a pure experiment--now we know exactly how badly this approach works in the real world.

The Bush Doctrine
The attacks on 9/11 allowed neocons to test certain hypotheses that would have been unthinkable without them. Key was the National Security Strategy published in 2002. In it, the White House argued that "anticipatory defense" (invasion) of even non-threatening countries was a legitimate measure in the age of terrorism. Even this radical re-imagining of national defense didn't totally justify the Iraq war--its justifications were too thin ("we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud") and Iraq's link to dangerous terrorism too tenuous. Already Bush is beginning to apply revisionism to this recent history, but the bulk of the claims appeared false even in media accounts. It was not the failure of the CIA, but Bush, that created the justification for the war. This shined a light on one enormous difficulties of "anticipatory defense"--how do you know when to anticipate? With Iraq, Bush was wrong.

This National Strategy document had an additionnal purpose; it also became the cudgel the US wielded in its rudimentary diplomacy. Thus did Bush serve notice to the "axis of evil" that if they didn't shape up, we'd shape them up. In the months and years following our invasion of Iraq, the White House rattled its sabers toward Syria, Iran, and North Korea, using the threat of strikes as a replacement for engaged diplomacy.

Bush wishes history to exonerate him in the long view, somehow imagining that a stable Iraq will vindicate the Bush Doctrine. But that ignores the massive failure of the Bush Doctrine according to its own logic. The Bush Doctrine wasn't a philosophical treatise about bringing democracy to unstable countries. Rather--and it's right there in the name--it was security strategy. Judged on these grounds, invasion has proved to be a terrible method of tightening security.

Torture and American Exceptionalism
The Bush administration's foreign policy was animated by the idea of American Exceptionalism--that is, the belief that the US is a more highly evolved democracy than anywhere else on earth. The entire GOP establishment, but especially pious Bush, felt that whatever the US did was almost definitionally moral and correct. This kind of hubris led, perversely, to many of the darkest acts in our nation's history--a different kind of exceptionalism. Relying on this view, the administration developed a series of legal positions allowing the US to permanently detain prisoners, to conduct torture practices explicitly condemned by the UN Convention Against Torture, to use "rendition" to transport prisoners to secret "black sites" where foreign countries would conduct torture. Their rhetoric was clear throughout this period: we have to do this because we are the last bulwark of democracy willing to stand up to extremism. They never got the irony.

In the years since these practices started, no evidence that I'm aware of has emerged suggesting they provided useful intelligence. But they have certainly been a main factor in the declining status of the United States internationally and have now put US citizens and soldiers at risk for brutal practices in response. In this way, the Bush administration has caught up with the 19th-century logic of the Geneva Conventions.

Speaking Loudly and Carrying Small Sticks
When Bush took office, threats to the United States came from terrorists, Middle Eastern instability, the rising powers of China and Russia, and selected troublesome regimes like Burma and North Korea. As he exits office, not a single one of these threats has diminished; thanks to our weakness in Iraq and our inability to dampen the rise of terror or even stabilize Afghanistan (that was our "success"), Bush has exposed the US's strategic weaknesses. Worse: thanks to Bush's spectacular mishandling of foreign policy, the US's leverage to affect these situations has been substantially reduced.

Earlier, I mentioned that Bush managed an inverse Roosevelt--speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. This will be the enduring lesson of the Bush years. His administration has demonstrated that its not possible to invade your way to peace; nor can you threaten your rivals into behavior you wish to see. Countries like Iran and North Korea, erstwhile evil axis team members, now know that the US will not invade. Standing up to the US is great domestic politics, so our diplomatic leverage has been diminished, and the hands of tyrants strengthened. And we have done much to fray long-held strong relationships with Europeans. When Bush took office, US might was unparalleled and our influence at an all-time high. Eight years later, we find ourselves despised and disrespected internationally, our influence badly weakened. There is reason to think that much of the animus is directed at Bush, not the US, and that after another eight years, an Obama administration may have repaired the damage. That remains to be seen.

History will unfold some more before Bush's reputation is solidified. It is extremely hard to imagine a scenario in which any improvement in the world situation improves Bush's standing, however. More likely, it will be a cautionary tale that will cast a 40-year shadow across politics in the way Vietnam did before it. The "Bush Doctrine" will stand in as one of the great foreign-policy disasters in US history. And Bush himself will become the cautionary tale of arrogance and ignorance that almost did us in.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 7, 2009 Edition

Wherein I sift through the archives for posts that shed light on the presidency of one George W. Bush. Let us begin.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

There has been some serious run on this.

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

--George W. Bush to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, according to Abbas

I would probably let it stand, as did Josh Marshall, for it pretty much speaks for itself. (Prudent bloggers should note: it's a second-hand quote. There's a lot of room for misunderstanding there.) If it's relatively close to what the President said, it's not inconsistent with things he's said before, and publically.

But Kevin Drum asks: "I can't pretend to know what Bush really feels in his heart, but is this really so bad?" Adding some analysis about how the remark was made in confidence, when the President was presumably gaining trust, the Calpundit gives Bush a pass. "He's talking to a religious person engaged in a largely religious dispute and trying to gain his trust. The remarks were made privately, and were obviously an attempt to speak in language that would be appreciated by the Palestinians."

Two thoughts. The quote itself, if we take it at face value, is the same kind of simplistic moralism Bush has used to justify about every action he's ever taken. It's unyielding fundamentalism, and he means it very literally: he believes he was instructed by God to invade Iraq. How a Palestinian is to regard this as good news escapes me. If God is on Bush's side and Bush is on Israel's side, how could Abbas think this was a hopeful comment?

More importantly, if Bush is conducting his foreign policy based on religious dictates, we should all be concerned. I'm less interested in letting Bush off the hook on the comment, because he seems insistent on making the point that this is not a game of politics or confidence-gaining, it's moral clarity. You're with him or you're agin him. Kevin compares Bush to Jimmy Carter, who also used his faith to create agreement. But Carter used it in exactly the opposite way: he used the universality of religion and the compassion of Christ as a way of building bridges. Bush isn't interested in agreement--he's interested in others yielding to his (and God's?) will. Big difference.

posted by Jeff | 1:12 PM |

July was a bad month for Bush. It was in the midst of the scandal over the "16 words" in the SotU (blatant lies, they were). On just one day I noted the following difficulties:

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Having a busy morning; I'll blog this afternoon. In the meantime, some good stuff on the implosion of the White House:

Deficits are mushrooming like the accusations of Presidential lying. Up to half a trillion, and that doesn't include the cost of occupation.

Damn those scientists: missile defense won't work. (Prediction: Bush will call it "darn bad science.")

Walter Pincus continues to hammer the President on WMD, and is expanding his inquiry to show a coordinated effort by the administration to deceive. (Anyway that's one reading of his story.)

Conason's incredulous about the line, ""We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." (Though it may actually give the President cover. If he was unaware that inspectors went to Iraq before the war, it's pretty reasonable to assume he might not have known Niger's document was a fake. Of course, it would offer the Democrats some different ammunition.)

Finally, Bush is no longer in control of the news cycles. No--really?

posted by Jeff | 10:30 AM |

Remember the Plame Affair? I know, not really. In retrospect the whole thing seems pretty penny-ante for the Bushies. But it was a big deal in the blogosphere. And it began in July:

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I guess it's finally time to delve into this Plame affair. Tom's been following this thing like a lazer, and he's got a very nice timeline up at Just One Minute. (Nice work, Tom--with this you may make large mammal.) I've printed out the relevant materials, and now I'm off to lunch to, ah, digest it.

[1:22 pm]
All right, I've perused the documents and think I've got it sorted out. The issue at hand is two-fold. First is the revelations by Joseph Wilson regarding the Iraq-Niger connection. In February of 2002, he traveled to Africa and discovered the uranium claim was bogus. No more necessary on that thread--you know where it ends up.

The second issue involves possible White House payback to Wilson for continuing to point out the CIA knew as early as a year before the State of the Union about the bogusness (bogiosity?) of the Niger claim. The payback was this: "administration officials" outed his wife, Valerie Plame, who was an undercover CIA agent. They did so in conversations with Robert Novak, which he revealed on July 14.

The big question on the second issue was whether the source of the outing was really the administration or other "government officials" (read: the CIA). This is significant because it's another link back to abuse of power and lying by the White House. (Tom also questions Krugman's interpretation of events, painting him as a low-down slanderer who can't quote an article without misreading half the meaning. If Bush is my windmill, Krugman is his.)

All of this is interesting, and may finally lead to some congressional investigations. It's subtle and obscure and hard to put together, though, so I don't know if it can be sustained as the kind of story that sells newspapers. (Not that it's been used to sell many newspapers yet, either. A Google News search turns up 14 lone mentions.)
posted by Jeff | 12:36 PM |

I realize, as I read through these old archives, that the collapse of the Iraq "victory" really caused the press to start poking at Bush's underbelly. And if found lots that stank:

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

All right, so apparently Bush said some shocking things in his press conference today, but that'll have to wait, because I don't even have time to read the report. I'm still on DARPA, a day late and a dollar short (well, several thousand actually). I'm a blogger, for Pete's sake. What do you want, the New York Times?

So DARPA. A big coup for our man Ron Wyden and a big blow for John Poindexter, who's probably going to get run out of town on a rail. All well and good, except that the proposal wasn't such a bad idea. (Actually, I don't know what the proposal actually was; I just know what I heard in the news. According to those reports, the FutureMAP plan was designed to be used by Middle East experts in the way that futures trading is conducted. They place "bets" on the likelihood of certain events happening--say Sharon getting whacked--and then a predictive model emerges.)

So let's examine what might be truly horrible about the plan. 1) It's impolite. 2) Well, there is no two--other than it being an unseemly program, it's not like the government would be sifting through your library records, reading your email, or plopping you in the pokey for three months on a "material witness" charge. But I suppose it is a bit unseemly. And by God, we're fighting terrorism, so whatever we do, make sure you don't offend anyone.

It may or may not have been a usable idea, but it's based on an economics model that so far I haven't heard anyone say was suspect. (Maybe Max knows.) You get people to predict what's going to happen, and you ensure they're using their best information because they put money on it. (In one story I heard on NPR this morning, someone--probably a DARPA hack--said it wouldn't actually be money-based, except maybe in terms of grant money. Whether that's true or just spin, I dunno.) Apparently the models have some statistical accuracy.

DARPA's a scary agency--don't get me wrong. But here we have George Bush gutting the judiciary and strong-arming Congress; we have the AG running roughshod over existing law and its practice; in Texas, Republicans are trying create a monarchy; John Poindexter's original vision for TIA was some kind of Orwellian interconnectivity of media, stopping, apparently, just short of the cameras in your living room; and we're worried about an economics modeling system because it's slightly impolite?

I think we oughta make every stinkin politician go through boot camp and put them on a one-month tour in Iraq and see how their vision of war, freedom, and the dangers of offending the 700 Club realign.

posted by Jeff | 11:36 AM |

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best Republican President

Yesterday, six men you never heard of were invited to have an audience with Grover Norquist and debate among themselves the question: who should lead the RNC? Each man advocated on his own behalf.

(One might ask the question why not one of the men failed to get up, walk to the podium and punch Grover in the nose. Is there anyone as useless to this party now as Norquist? He was arguably the most important figure in bringing the ruling coalition to Washington that Americans now despise. But no, the six men were so obsequious that I expected them to jump up and, instead of punching him, kiss his pinky ring. That's a party on the move, I tell ya.)

One of Norquist's questions was: "Who is your favorite Republican President?" It wasn't actually a query but a litmus test. After each had dutifully answered "Reagan," Norquist praised them as having gotten the right answer. The take-away was obvious: this is no time to abandon orthodoxy. The ship of the Republican Party must hold the line, stay the course, mouth the old bromides. Change is for that other guy; stolid knuckling under to geniuses like Grover Norquist is for the Republican Party. Aye aye, cappin.

The allegiance to the Reagan Way is weird not least because it's such a wholesale failure (did any of these men happen to notice what has happened to the Reagan-devised, Bush-deregulated economy?), but because there are actually a few decent Republicans to cite. Beholding the two black men on the stage, I was unable to avoid thinking of Abraham Lincoln--not a bad go-to guy on the "best president" question. I mean, how could you miss it?

Of twelve polls conducted of historians since 1948, Lincoln was identified as the best US president by half. Teddy Roosevelt's a top-five President, and surely a top-three Republican. Ike is in the top ten, but no one really likes Ike all that much. Reagan's rep has really sky-rocketed of late, and he's lately been a top-ten president himself. But he's still trailing TR and Lincoln. But still, six men, six Reagans. They know from where the scepter of power doth bestow might.

Norquist didn't ask the men who their second-favorite president was, but I suspect at least one of them, fairly bowing and scraping, would have gone with Dubya. Anything to grab at the wheel of power--even if it was on the bow of the Titanic. Keep steering, boys, you're headed in the rigt direction!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 5, 2009 Edition

We move along with our chronicle of the corruption, deceit, and incompetence of the Bush regime as blogged by me throughout the past six years. You might notice that I skipped yesterday--that's because the month of May 2003 wasn't particularly rich in blogging. So we move to June.

Mostly my early posts were about the Iraq war--not surprisingly. But on June 19, I discussed Bush's nested relationships to the gas and oil lobby when the Times revealed that the White House was doctoring environmental reports.
Revisionist Science:
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.

Now, talk about your revision. First the President rewrites an agency report, then rolls out some flunkie to lie about revising it, all the while trying to keep a straight face while maintaining that they wished the EPA had kept the damaging information in there.

Damaging, you say? Sure Bush lied about it, but how could that information be damaging? Well, let's check the record. In 2000, George Bush received $3 million from oil, gas, and electrical companies--over 600% more than any other politician received that year. His running mate had just left an oil-services contract, after having created a superhighway between his former company and federal money. His Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, was the number 1 recipient of campaign contributions from the automotive industry. Condi Rice sat on Chevron's board, and was popular enough with the company that they named a ship after her. Gale Norton, the Interior Secretary--charged with protecting our wild lands--represented Delta Petroleum and was chair of a PAC backed by Ford and BP Amoco.

So Bush scrubs a government record of any reference to the industries that are causing grave damage to the earth--the very industries that overwhelming got him elected. So the damage could be to his buddies and the little "arrangement" that keeps the companies rich and the money flowing to George.

It seems criminal, but I suspect that things like trotting out this functionary who heads an Orwellian doublespeak fake "advisory group" will provide sufficient cover. In any case, it's more deception and ass-covering from a man who makes Bill Clinton look like a piker in that arena. Yup, revisionism in Washington is rampant, all right, and the revisionists' King is George Bush.

posted by Jeff | 9:14 AM |
Later, a very small piece shows that when bloggers sift through the minutiae of politics, sometimes they find gold:
Bush is dancin' to the conservatives' tune, and they like it.

Mr. Bush has named Ralph Reed, who first rose to prominence as executive director the Christian Coalition, as a senior member of his campaign team. Beyond that, Mr. Rove and Mr. Mehlman are viewed by conservatives as advocates for their point of view in the White House.

Question is, what do the moderates think? (Maybe there are none left.)

posted by Jeff | 9:45 PM |
(This is the same Ralph Reed who was caught up in the Abramoff scandals Bush tried to ignore.)

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 4, 2009 Edition

We move along with our chronicle of the corruption, deceit, and incompetence of the Bush regime as blogged by me throughout the past six years. This edition features blogging in the month of April 2003, when we were grappling with the war. In a series of early posts, I examined whether the war was just, and concluded with the following post. It is especially relevant as Barack Obama heads to the White House.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

If 9/11 made just war theory mutable, it became mutable for everyone, not just the US. It is a system that describes ethical behavior among nations. As the world changes and unexpected behavior emerges, the ethics of response will also change. The US has taken the lead on redefining ethics (ill-advisedly, in my judgment) in the new millennium, when aggression is committed not by nations but groups of individuals affiliated by religion or cause.

But the US’s action also unwittingly exposed something else: that we live in an age of enormous imbalance. This imbalance has existed for some years or decades (in Israel, for example), but it’s more obvious now that the cold war has ended. Just as the powerful nations look to confront terrorists or “rogue nations,” so the less powerful nations (and non-national groups) are also considering how to manage their weakness.

One of the conditions for war is the possibility of winning. In the year 2003, the rest of the world has been given a reminder that conventional war is never winnable against the United States. Because of the US’s new doctrine of unilateral pre-emption, other countries must consider that the war might be brought to them, whether they can win or not.

From this kind of imbalance—which is surely an unethical one—the just war theory will have to admit the possibility that something like attacks on civilians is ethical, if certain other conditions are met. When the President announced the policy of pre-emption and reserved for himself the decision of whether and whom to invade, did he consider that other countries would also be able to adjust their behavior in war? If the US, rather than making itself safer, actually created the environment in which terrorism is considered the only—and just—response, would it have invaded?

Things are changing. Much as the US was surprised to see stiff resistance in Iraq, it may well find that theories of war are unpredictable and changing. After this war ends, the US has its work cut out for it: to show the rest of the world that it is accountable, that it does still stand for democracy and liberty, and that it is willing to work in a collective way to defeat terrorism. Otherwise, ironically, it may actually create a world in which terrorism is the only response.

posted by Jeff | 11:07 AM |

This next post was easily my most controversial of the war. The title pretty much telegraphs why.

Friday, April 04, 2003

“Support the troops”—but why?

I’m feeling controversial today. So how about this: why support the troops? Okay, because you don’t want to be beaten to death on a public street. But besides that?

I may or may not speak for a group of people who, like me, regard the military with suspicion. On the one hand, the need for a professional military, particularly when you’re a superpower, is well-established. On the other, there’s a whole group of us who don’t necessarily share the values, politics, or worldview of soldiers. In pubs, for example, we scuttle back to the longhairs rather than tarry at the bar talking to the guy in the crew cut who’s advocating invading France. All right, maybe he’s not a marine, but who can say?

I understand the ambivalence: there are kids in Iraq right now who are scared to death they’re going to die. There are kids who have died and maybe even some who are dying. They’ve got families at home who are
worried sick about them. Some of them just joined up to get an education. Others are middle-aged professionals away from their professions and spouses and kids. It’s hard to not feel supportive of people in tough situations like that. We’re human; we’re compassionate.

But let’s look at the other side of the coin. We have a volunteer military, and everyone who joins is clear-eyed about what it means. It means you not only agree that the use of military force is a necessity, but you’re so convinced of it, you’re willing to die for that point. It’s not an accidental position. It’s a martial view of geopolitics. A perfectly legitimate one—the predominant one, in fact—but does mean that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.

But most significantly, to serve in the military means you’re willing to go to war for causes with which you don’t agree. When duty calls, the military is ready. Serving in the military isn’t participation in a consensual process. It couldn’t be, obviously. But again, it’s a choice freely made.

And then at the end of it all, there is yet a final choice: serving in the US military isn’t like serving in the Iraqi military. If you don’t want to fight, you can choose not to. It’s a difficult choice, because it means shame and prison. But you won’t be shot. Many people have made a similar choice, and served their time. If a soldier believed a war was truly unjust, going to prison would be a noble alternative.

The hawks flog the doves with this crap about not supporting the troops. By which they mean to emphasize one's deeply treasonous nature. But it is crap. The hawks flog everyone (including each other) with accusations of disloyalty. For me, the truth is the war is unjust, it may well have enormously negative effects, and has certainly resulted in the lost lives of innocents. And the people who are conducting the war are the troops—citizens who have made any number of active decisions that reflect their conviction that this war is a good thing. Support them? No. They’re wrong. (Which obviously does not mean I wish a single one would die.) We're all citizens, we all make our calls, and we don't always agree.

posted by Jeff | 1:21 PM |

The war "ended" on April 10. This was one of those shadow milestones no one recalls. This is the post from that period.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Well. The war is over, but the spin is just beginning. If the fog of war was dense, then the fog of mop-up (and occupation) is impenetrable. In the fight to write history, we're hearing just about every possible opinion on the war--most of them in perfect, balanced opposition. For example, either: the war was a brilliant success or a catastrophe of poor planning that took 20 days longer than it should have; the Iraqis love Americans and greeted them as liberators or, except for a handful of dissenters who posed for the cameras, Iraqis despise the Americans and oppose the occupation; the war was a surgical example of targeted warfare, or the war was a bloody mess. And so it goes.

The truth? There is no truth, exactly, just spin. We'll never be able to know whether the war could have been a 100-hour job because we can't re-fight it using the Powell Doctrine instead of the Rummy Hypothesis. We'll never know if the Iraqis would have welcomed us as liberators had we not jammed the war down the world's throat. We may never know how many civilians were lost--and certainly won't have accurate numbers about dead soldiers.

The spin is pure politics.

The administration has made a huge gamble. It's betting that the resolution to this war will outweigh all the negatives--the aggressive diplomacy, the lies, and the faulty excuses it offered for invading. It's betting that it can impose democracy on a country divided by violent history, race, and creed. It's betting the war will ultimately lower passions, not raise them, in the region. It's betting other "evil" regimes will fear invasion and stand down. It's betting the American public will have the stomach to spend 20 billion dollars a years to rebuild the country. And it's betting that the rest of the world will look at what happened in Iraq and change their views about American foreign policy.

The spin is all about buying themselves time to see how the gamble turns out. My hope? At this point, now that there are thousands who have paid with their lives for this venture, I desperately hope the administration's right. I would love nothing more than to see the country flourish--after all, it's not the Iraqis who initiated this debacle. Sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reasons. I pray they do here. But I'll tell you, I look at the odds against it, and then I look at the resources of the administration who's attempting to make it happen, and I don't see how it can be done. Enforcing democracy? Enforcing democracy when in the US the administration is systematically trying to dismantle it? Navigating the extremely troubled waters of negotiation and diplomacy between Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias within the country and an angry world outside is difficult in any case, but this administration?

From where I sit, Bush has a better chance of winning the lottery than achieving his objectives in Iraq. No matter how good the spin.

posted by Jeff | 11:21 AM |

There's more, but that's not bad for one month.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 3, 2009 Edition

We move along with our chronicle of the corruption, deceit, and incompetence of the Bush regime as blogged by me throughout the past six years. This edition is from March 2003--the year the US invaded Iraq. Yesterday I went for a concise post of the month; March 2003 calls for the comprehensive look. This first post includes speculation about why we invaded. Of all the things we've learned since we invaded, the "why" has never emerged. Here's early speculation

Friday, March 07, 2003

A few comments on President Bush's news conference last night. He's a man who doesn't put much stock in words. He's a man of action, of clear vision--words are deceptive, obfuscating. But the truth is, even though they are those things--and every honest blogger will admit it--speech can be more revealing. A good poker player will spot a "tell" instantly--some quirk of body or speech that reveals what his fellow player is thinking. I'm not much of a poker player, but last night, I couldn't help but pick up the President's tell. Did you catch it?


For all the support the President tried to give to his argument last night, you couldn't help but feel it was deeply personal. The way he characterized the argument showed, time and again, what the real problem was:

• "We have arrived at an important moment in confronting the threat posed to our nation and to peace by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of terror."
• "Saddam Hussein is not disarming. This is a fact. It cannot be denied."
• Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes."
• The cause of peace will be advanced only when the terrorists lose a wealthy patron and protector, and when the dictator is fully and finally disarmed."
• And I've [not] made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. Hopefully that as a result of the pressure that we have placed--and others have placed--that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country."

For Bush, the problem's personal--it's Saddam. In the course of the news conference, the Presdident used the word Saddam or Saddam Hussein 39 times; add to that 6 times he referred to him not by name (though personally) as "dictator." Throughout the entire news conference, the word "Iraq" or its variants only appeared 36 times together--and many of these referred to the "Iraqi people" and so on.

I think it's very clear, too--despite the President's objections about words--what's going on in his mind in the last comment I quoted (if you overlook the mangled first sentence). Despite all the talk of disarmament, the danger of the Iraqi regime's weapons and their availability on the open terrorist market, the President will be satisfied if Saddam (not Iraq) disarms or leaves the country. Leaves the country? That's not consisent with anything we've heard from the White House. But it is consistent with getting back at Saddam personally. Which, when you read the transcript, is the unmistakeable tell the President gives about his real intention.

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

American Nationalism

Nationalism (n) the conviction that the culture and interests of your nation are superior to those of any other nation. (Princeton)

This next post is more midstream rumination on the historical significance of the invasion. It was one of the more popular posts I ever wrote.

Last night I watched I Am Cuba, a 1964 Soviet-produced anti-American movie about the Cuban revolution. (And not because—as the suspicious among you might imagine—I was in an anti-American pique after the President’s announcement of unilateral pre-emption. Actually it was because a friend had loaned us that DVD, left the country, and is due to return tomorrow: I couldn’t face the prospect of confessing I hadn’t watched it in the five months he was gone. I was, of course, caught in the throes of an anti-Bush pique as well.)

The film is a product of the socialist realism school, and it’s claim to fame is the extraordinary camerawork of director Mikhail Kalatozov. Deservedly so. But beyond that it’s a pretty lousy film, because the dogma is so obvious and cartoonish. It shows creepy American businessmen in the Batista era indulging their basest, capitalist-imperialist desires at the expense of hard-working Cubans. One narrative follows a prostitute whom we realize in 1.3 seconds is a metaphor for Cuba—prostituted to imperialists. And so it goes.

The film’s failure as art is revealed in 2003 much more obviously than it would have been 40 years ago. The hypotheses that saturate the film—that capitalism is the root of all evil, and assorted manifestations—seem silly and quaint at best. Film is most successful when it challenges the viewer to think. I Am Cuba doesn’t, because all the issues are settled in our mind: the result is an oddity from a lost age with bitchin’ camerawork.

Or maybe not. Watching a movie like I Am Cuba reminds us that so much of what we “know” is actually what we assume. It is instructive because we know that at one time, such a film—and films like it—were effective because people held different assumptions. Through the eyes of history, all nationalist rhetoric looks silly and quaint and often deadly dangerous. Nazi nationalism, particularly, fills me with dread because its so easy to see where it came from. Out of the desperation of WWI, Hitler fashioned a nationalism of pride and rage.

So it was interesting to watch that film on the day our own President (sort of) declared war. Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be thrown into deep ambivalence: support for the troops on one hand, resentment and fear that the whole endeavor is a massive debacle on the other. Polls already show that the country is rallying around the President and the troops. Presumably, when the slightest events turn negative, those numbers will drop, reflecting the fear and resentment.

Standing on the edge of the abyss, I can’t help but think that the President’s arrogance is of the same, garden variety arrogance the world has seen so many times. I am willing to bet the farm that in 40 years, his nationalist rhetoric will look as quaint and silly as the Soviet Union’s does now. Americans are not patriots if they follow his blind arrogance—they’re nationalists. The commitment to the ideals of the Constitution are not embodied by a United States that invades countries pre-emptively and against the wishes of its allies. American nationalism is particularly alluring because we all participate in its manufacture—it doesn’t come from the propaganda ministry. But it’s still the same old nationalism. Real patriots question their leaders: patriotic leaders welcome the questions.

Oppose Bush's folly.

posted by Jeff | 9:38 AM

The United States finally did the inevitable and invaded on March 20. This is the post from that day. It was unsurprisingly long-winded.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The bombs are falling. Early reports from the Pentagon are hopeful that in these first hours, Saddam Hussein may even be dead. The war is on—and it will now play out however it can play out, with peace activists and diplomats mute on the sidelines, hoping now that all the intelligence and all the might of the US armed forces will amount to a very quick, very successful resolution.

Meantime, there’s a surge of support for the US at home, abroad, and among foreign nations recently opposed to the war. There are backlashes against those who criticized the White House’s actions leading up to the war, and now, there are even those encouraging progressives to support the war—for progressive reasons.

In an article on Salon, Edward W. Lempinen tries to make this point:

“What are we doing to make sure that not another woman is raped or beheaded as a form of political terror? What are we doing to make sure that not another man is humiliated and rendered mute and powerless as the ex-general was? What are we doing to shut down the headquarters of General Intelligence? In the community of human rights monitors, work toward these goals is heroic and often dangerous. These would seem also to be urgent goals for all who consider themselves progressive. But for the most part, in all the angry debate over the war, the left rarely discusses these issues. We acknowledge Saddam as a ruthless dictator and lament his human rights abuses, but we focus our rage on Bush.”

War is a time of extreme chaos. As people slide into increasingly reactive states of mind and opinion, it’s critical to remind ourselves why this is a bad war: not for leftists or anti-Bushies or pacifists, but for America.

The Pre-emption Doctrine
This war is the first war of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption. The White House has given many reasons why we should invade Iraq, but this is the heart of the argument: because of the “clear and present danger” Iraq poses to the United States, the US is justified in taking a pre-emptive strike. That the US is its own final arbiter in choosing which nations to attack—and when and how—was made clear when the it ignored the will of the UN and began bombing Baghdad today.

The precedent this doctrine establishes is as counter to the United States’ ideals as a democratic nation, and it places the country outside the scope of international law or world oversight. Whether this is relevant to American citizens isn’t exactly the point: rather, the very position the US has placed itself strategically—as an uncooperative member of the world politic—should alarm a nation fighting terrorism.

The Moral War
The second-most cited argument for this war is that we must defeat a ruthless dictator. This argument is well-established; it’s the emotional counterbalance to the realpolitik of pre-emption. It is the argument that appeals to good-hearted people, from Ma and Pa Main Street to Edward W. Lempinen to President Bartlett on the West Wing. But it is a hollow and simplistic argument.

1.) There are some dozens of dictatorial regimes throughout the globe. If the United States is prepared to make the argument that it is going on a campaign of ridding the world of tyrants, so be it. But: let’s have an open dialogue about which regimes are going to be targeted; let us hear which countries are next and why they are more or less dictatorial than others on the list; let’s be very clear that impediments like, say, the presence of nuclear weapons, will not deter us from our righteous cause. If a country is prepared to make foreign policy priorities based on the protection of human rights and liberty, it better damn well get in the business of protecting human rights and liberty—not just use it as an excuse when the opportunity arises.

2.) If the US is serious about protecting human life and liberty globally, Americans should demand that it sever ties with famously repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. If we’re about human life and liberty, then we’re about human life and liberty.

3.) If the US is sincerely committed to the protection of human rights, we should expect to see serious cooperation with foreign governments at all levels—not just invasions when it suits the White House. This means addressing the economic, natural resources, nutritional, educational, and medical needs of the countries that are destabilized by these problems. It means seriously dealing with Israel-Palestine, India-Pakistan, Russia-Chechnya, and so on.

On a less hyperbolic note, if the White House is serious about addressing human rights around the globe, we should expect a very serious articulation of this plan, as fully formed as the pre-emption doctrine. Americans are prepared to give the President latitude here, but not based on the mendacious, craven arguments he has thus far advanced.

The Safety Argument
The final significant argument advance by the proponents of war is that it will ensure the United States’ safety. The superficial justification is that Iraq poses an immediate threat to its neighbors, and a distant threat to the US through “terror networks.” Yet no one buys this one: the Iraqis have been under the literal shadow of US planes for a dozen years and is no threat to its neighbors; as to terror links—not a single other country has agreed that these exist.

The more substantial argument here is geopolitical. It’s also the most appealing argument—Saddam Hussein is a dangerous tyrant, and does seem capable of anything. But here again, there’s a credibility problem. With the changed world situation after 9/11, the US for the first time has a serious threat to its own soil. Realignment after the Soviet collapse have made power centers of Beijing, Delhi, Islamabad, and Pyongyang. As the White House addresses these challenges, the argument that Baghdad should consume the US’s attention, money, and resources is weak at best. Is Baghdad more of a threat than Pyongyang? Actually, it might be—but here again we have the credibility problem: Bush never made the argument. His assertions shift from misleading, absent, or untrue evidence to simplistic moralizing. Based on nothing more than that, what should Americans think?


The White House never made a clear argument about why it invaded Iraq. That’s reason enough to oppose a war. But far worse, the President introduced a number of foreign policy shifts to justify this war that remain unexamined, unexplained, and hidden behind false arguments.

It doesn’t’ mater how this war turns out. The very act of going to war establishes a number of dangerous precedents: the US is now prepared to go to war arbitrarily against whom it deems the most dangerous—without public dialogue or international collaboration—without clear disclosure to American citizens about the cost, risks, hidden political and commercial goals, or long term benefits.

This is what reasonable Americans need to separate from the chaos of war, the flashy logos, and the thunderous wartime rhetoric: we all need to keep our eye on the ball. This war is a bad war because it has no clear foundation, no clear objectives, and puts into place policy priorities that American citizens should be loth to follow.

posted by Jeff | 12:51 PM |

Finally, a post about what it was like to live in that time. In this case, for a pacifist who opposed the war for months before it started.

Monday, March 31, 2003

War and Rage
Pure pacifism is a philosophy few people embrace. There’s something about the image of armed soldiers massing on the border that will impel most folks to take up arms—even if it means death. But there’s a simple logic to the pacifist argument that stops the majority from dismissing it altogether: that the violence of war necessarily produces hatred and violence, not peace and reconciliation.

Say what you will about pacifism, but this much is true: the war’s been magnificent for creating anger. I know I’ve sunk into a kind of torpid rage—something like being sleep-deprived but simultaneously jittery from too much coffee. Last week I pored over the news, ostensibly trying to “stay informed,” but aware that I was looking for evidence to support my growing hatred over the arrogance and stupidity of our administration’s actions. Without projecting too much, I believe I can say I saw clear evidence that others were equally falling prey to their anger.

The problem is that as my hatred grows, my certainty over its cause does, too. As the week wore on, I realized I wasn’t able to contemplate the possibility that the administration had ever had a noble motivation: every bit of information I took in enraged me, and my rage encouraged me to believe the worst. And those who support the war were either violent imperialists or stooges.

The moment I realized how far gone I was came with the report of the Iraqi suicide bomber. Suffice it to say that the thoughts I had weren’t human: they were vile and twisted.

If I could offer up one great wish for the outcome of this war, it’s that we find a way to locate each other’s humanity and to forgive ourselves for acting and speaking (and even thinking) out of our fear and suspicion. I know that everyone’s anger comes from the same kind of fear and sense of helplessness I experience. We react from that emotion in ways most of us probably later regret. But there is some hope there: we can also more easily understand why we do and say the things we do and say during these extreme times.

So I’m going to take a week off from blogging. I’m going to skip the news updates and where possible, avoid basting myself in the acid of my own bile. With any luck, the next time I hear about some horror that happened in Iraq, I’ll react with the kind of normal human compassion I actually feel for the Iraqis and US soldiers trapped in this inhuman situation.

posted by Jeff | 4:09 PM

Friday, January 02, 2009

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 2, 2009 Edition

We move along with our chronicle of the corruption, deceit, and incompetence of the Bush regime--which I documented pretty ably for about four of the past six years. Today's edition, February 2003, in the month before the Iraq invasion. I wrote a fair amount that month, but one post really nailed it. Rather than comprehensive, I'll go for concise:
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

A Nation's Reputation

Whatever ambivalence that remained about the President’s proposed Iraq invasion vanished completely over the weekend: the world does not want to go to war. The leaders of most of the world’s nations are expressing their displeasure at the UN as I write this, and within those countries where there is state support, the population is clearly against it (as measured by bodies and in polls).

The US seems genuinely baffled by the opposition. To the Bush administration, there’s nothing fuzzy about this math: dangerous and evil Saddam plus powerful and good America equals forced regime change. It’s something akin to cutting out a malignant tumor, in the White House’s view. How could such a thing be controversial?

But the issue at hand is not about Saddam—on that issue the world seems in agreement. Yes, he is indeed a Very Bad Man. Instead, the dispute is about the calculation that the US is good—something as inconceivable to Americans as it is obvious to the rest of the world.

The US has created for itself an identity built on hagiography (which every country does). That view was exposed in the famous “old Europe” quote by Donald Rumsfeld. The old Europe is the pre-WWII Europe; the confused Europe who tried to negotiate herself out of a Nazi nightmare. The old Europe is the Europe the United States has fixed in its mind: a place mired in indecision until it was necessary to call on the clear-eyed heroes who would stand against evil.

Rumsfeld didn’t expose Europe so much as he exposed the administration's self image: it sees itself as Normandy Beach America. It is a mythology that has become identity, permeating not only the White House (where the boss styles himself a nouveau Churchill) but the consciousness of a nation swayed by the argument that wherever there is injustice the US has an interest.

But whereas self-identity becomes rigid over time, national reputations are as fleeting as the destruction of a wall. To the rest of the world, the history of the US may be admirable, but it’s not proof of virtuous intent. The nations of the world are aware that the change in presidents can signal wholesale change in policies, priorities, and even alliances. They regard the war on Iraq not as an inevitable triumph of good over evil, but the result of the wishes of a single man. And, because they were not weaned on the hagiography of Normandy Beach America (some even emphasize My Lai America, or Iran-Contra America), citizens and leaders of other nations have no particular belief in the inherent goodness of the United States. It is just another extremely powerful country flexing its muscles.

It looks like the Bush administration will get its war. If their calculations are correct, they may even get a solid victory. But there’s a serious trade-off for this short-term gain. If the US fails to heed the concerns of the rest of the citizens of the globe, it will lose (at least during the Bush years, but likely forever) its credibility as a country willing to work democratically with its fellow nations. President Bush loves to play the game of power politics, pushing his capital to the limit. But this is not a game of administration capital, it’s a game of national credibility. In this respect, the greatest legacy of the Bush administration may well be sadly ironic: the destruction of the very goodwill and trust it established on the beaches of Normandy.

posted by Jeff | 10:29 AM
[Note: I edited one funky sentence for clarity.]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Adieu to Dubya, Jan 1, 2009 Edition

As this blog dies a slow but thankfully anonymous death, I thought I'd send it out with a few past blog posts from the past six years of the Bush regime. A retrospective for the most incompetent, ideologically vicious, corrupt, and destructive presidency since at least Warren G. Harding--if not ever.

January 2003 marked one of the darker periods in American history, as the Bush White House assembled a pack of lies to support its bogus rationale for invading Iraq. Despite the revisionist history, the signs were already present:

Friday, January 24, 2003

Nothing stirs the spirit of liberty more than hearing your President is a liar. The Washington Post reports today on the old White House embellishment about the aluminum (aluminium to you Britons) rods that Condi Rice called "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." Well, turns out that might have been more than an embellishment.
"Iraq imported the same aluminum tubes for rockets in the 1980s. The new tubes it tried to purchase actually bear an inscription that includes the word "rocket," according to one official who examined them."
We must bear in mind that this information was what Bush offered to the UN when he made the US's case against Iraq. And also, that this isn't the first time the white house has "embellished."

posted by Jeff | 10:12 AM

January also saw Bush's State of the Union speech, and I started what became a tradition on the blog, the SotU by the numbers:

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The State of the Union by the Numbers

Total length of speech: 5,400 words*
Percent devoted to tax cuts: 10
On legislation to combat African AIDS: 6**
On the war on terror: 5
On hydrogen cars: 3
On race and affirmative action: 0

Axis of Evil
Percent devoted to Iraq: 25
Korea: 4
Iran: 1

Number of times "Saddam Hussein" was uttered: 19
"Osama bin Laden": 0
"God": 4

*New York Times transcript
**Initiative as a percent of projected 2003 budget: .1%

posted by Jeff | 10:19 AM |

As the month progressed, so did the accusations that Bush was lying. I think this is one of the key points on which bloggers have especial credibility. There was, in fact, ample evidence to suggest that the case for invading Iraq was cooked. As a country, we have all agreed on a narrative that lays blame with the deceiver, not the suckers. Well, we weren't all suckers. I like to point out that if a blogger in Oregon knew the invasion was a crock, there's no way a Senator in Washington can claim ignorance.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Lie (v.i.): To utter falsehood with an intention to deceive; to say or do that which is intended to deceive another, when he has a right to know the truth, or when morality requires a just representation.

--Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary

The question arises: when is it appropriate for the President to lie to the public?

Why does it arise? Because we have so many recent examples. In today's news alone, I've seen two articles that finger the President for outright lies and misuse of information; a third for stifling speech. And of course, there are the aluminum tubes, the tax cuts benefiting the "average citizen," lies about labor unions and more.

Today's reports involve--predictably--Iraq. In the first, Hans Blix calls Bush a liar. Follow the link to read the specific lies--there are three--but the upshot is this: he doesn't think a war is warranted and he's peeved that Bush is using his report to justify one.

The second report is far more disturbing. I haven't had a chance to roam the blogosphere today, but I'll be amazed if it isn't buzzing with news from the Times editorial asserting that Saddam didn't gas the Kurds. According to the author, Stephen C. Pelletiere (no random peacenik--a professor at the Army War College with access to classified material), the Kurds were caught in the crossfire between Iranian and Iraqi fighters and, based on analysis done of the dead, it appears more likely that Iranian gas killed the Kurds. In any case, the gas was employed during war. This is a very different story from the old "Saddam gassed his own people" saw. Furthermore, Pelletiere elaborates on the ulterior motive argument, adding water to the oil mix. It's absolutely shocking news.

Bush has never made a strong case for going to war against Iraq. He's argued two points--that Saddam's a very bad man and that Iraq's a "gathering danger." Most of the arguments he's made about the "gathering danger" have been questioned or proved to be lies. And so he was left with the moral argument, which no one has seen the need to refute. But this evidence (if true, always if true) throws even that into question.

It's always been the case that presidents lie. Sometimes it's necessary to protect the republic. In these cases, no one would argue the truth-at-any-cost line. Sometimes it's to cover up health problems or a seedy rendezvous. After eight years of blue dresses, I'm willing to let these go by, as well. But if the lies are to advance a secret agenda and subvert the intent of the constitution and undermine the republic, they are clearly the most dangerous threat to the US. One doesn't want to go too far on this, but even reasonable people are beginning to wonder about the constant stream of lies. I think it's time to start demanding answers about the President's intentions.

(On a more amusing note, Laura Bush's love affair with books may have hit a bump in the road. After inviting a group of poets to a White House symposium, she learned that they--shockingly--were not high on the whole dead Iraqi kids scenario. Turns out they were even going to use the event to voice their displeasure. Thus was the event scuttled.)

posted by Jeff | 11:02 AM |