Saturday, August 26, 2006
By REBECCA CARRCox News Service
WASHINGTON — In an ironic twist, legislation that would open up the murky world of government contracting to public scrutiny has been derailed by a secret parliamentary maneuver.
An unidentified senator placed a "secret hold" on legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would create a searchable database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance, worth $2.5 trillion last year. The database would bring transparency to federal spending and be as simple to use as conducting a Google search.
The measure had been unanimously passed in a voice vote last month by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It was on the fast track for floor action before Congress recessed Aug. 4 when someone put a hold on the measure.
Now the bill is in political limbo. Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.
"It really is outrageous to do this in the dead of night as Congress is recessing," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a budget watchdog group based in Washington. "The public has a right to know how the government spends money."
The secret hold has prompted conservative and liberal government watchdog groups to band together to "smoke out" the senator responsible.
Porkbusters.org, for example, posted photographs of all senatorial suspects underneath a bold-faced headline asking, "Who is the Secret Holder?"
It remains unclear if the senator responsible will be able to withstand the pressure from the broad array of groups and senators supporting the bill.
"It really is a mystery, not only who did it, but what the rationale could possibly be and why they would go to the mat on this," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a new Washington-based nonprofit devoted to helping the public understand Congress through the Internet. "There is no conceivable, rational explanation for killing this legislation unless they have something to hide."
One of Pat Buchanan’s key claims in his new book, State of Emergency, is that Mexicans “prefer to remain outsiders” and “do not wish to assimilate.” Yesterday on Glenn Beck, Buchanan reiterated this argument, claiming that “the road to culture is language” and “they want to keep their Spanish language.”
A quick look at the statistics shows a much different picture. A Pew Hispanic Center poll
shows 96% of foreign-born and Spanish-speaking Latinos believe it is “very important” to teach English to immigrant children. Indeed, they are having enormous success achieving this goal
. While only 4% of Hispanic immigrants are primarily English speakers, 46% of their children and 78% of the third generation are English dominant.
Hispanics are assimilating in other ways as well. 32% of second-generation Hispanics marry outside their race, as does 57% of the third generation. Hispanics enlist in the United States military at a greater percentage than whites.
Assimilation is a process that occurs not in a moment but over generations. Hispanics are engaged in that process, just like earlier generations of Germans, Irish and Italians.
– Scott Keyes
BECK: Let’s talk first about culture, because this is the simplest way. I mean, we’ve got all these threats coming in from overseas, but the simplest way for us to lose the culture of the West is just to do nothing and let illegal immigrants not melt in and take the culture away from us.
BUCHANAN: The road to culture is language. And there’s no doubt about it, in the southwest — Los Angeles now, something like 5 million of the 9 million people don’t even speak English in their own homes. Many of the Hispanics coming in now, they’re patriotic Mexicans, they want to keep their Spanish language and culture and music, and Glenn, when that happens over a period of time — and the numbers are so enormous, and there’s no melting pot ideology anymore in America, what you’re going to have is two languages, two cultures, and eventually two countries.
By MICHELLE ROBERTS, Associated Press WriterFri Aug 25, 2:43 PM ET
First came the floodwaters, then the paperwork. Billions of promised federal dollars to fix New Orleans' crumbling infrastructure have gone largely untapped a year after Hurricane Katrina. City officials complain that a snarl of red tape, restrictions and unexpectedly high costs have kept hundreds of public buildings in disrepair, streets pocked with potholes and most parks too dirty for children to play.
"It's an incredible bureaucracy. It's unbelievable," Mayor Ray Nagin said in an interview with The Associated Press this week.
So far, the city has collected only $117 million to start the repair work in what has been billed as the largest urban restoration in U.S. history.
For every repair project, city officials must follow a lengthy application process — and spend their own money — before getting a dime of federal aid to fix at least 833 projects such as police stations, courtrooms, baseball fields or auditoriums.
Residents don't care much what the cause is. They're just tired of crater-like potholes, sudden drops in water pressure and debris-clogged storm drains.
"We're not asking for a lot. At this point, we're just looking for basic services: power, gas, water. Sewer that doesn't back up into your house would be nice too," said Jeb Bruneau, president of the neighborhood association in the Lakeview area. "Whatever the snafu was, the result is Joe Blow Citizen isn't seeing the effect of that federal money."
Louisiana eventually expects to get at least $25 billion in federal money for rebuilding projects, including everything from levee repairs to homeowner assistance. Of that money, $6 billion to $8 billion will be doled out statewide to repair broken roads, schools, water pipes and countless other problems.
But to get the money, the city — and other agencies such as the Sewerage and Water Board, the Regional Transit Authority and Orleans Parish School Board — must fill out worksheets for every construction project.
The worksheets are submitted to FEMA, which determines whether the project is eligible for federal aid. If approved, the federal government releases the approved money to the state, but the local government fronts the money to have the work done. After that, the local government can submit receipts for reimbursement.
The process takes months and can be further complicated if costs surpass the original request — a particular concern in New Orleans because of shortages of materials and construction workers.
It also requires the city have cash to pay upfront, forcing money to be diverted from other parts of the budget.
President Bush has acknowledged the problems posed by excessive bureaucracy.
"To the extent that there still are bureaucratic hurdles and the need for the federal government to help eradicate those hurdles, we want to do that," Bush said Wednesday at the White House. But he cautioned that rebuilding will take time.
FEMA has signed off on $4.8 billion worth of rebuilding in Louisiana and $1.7 billion in Mississippi so far, said Darryl Madden, a spokesman for FEMA's Gulf Coast recovery office. Louisiana's larger amount reflects a broader scale of destruction caused by two hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, and the concentration of damage in heavily populated areas.
The procedural requirements for local governments to collect federal aid are designed to ensure the money is spent properly, Madden said.
"We are dealing with very, very large dollars. There has to be accountability," he said.
In the meantime, some federal aid has started to arrive.
About $6 billion has been allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers for repairs to the New Orleans flood-control system, and the first bit of the $8.1 billion to help homeowners repair or move from flooded-out homes was given out this week.
The money for the homeowner program was slower to arrive in Louisiana than in Mississippi because Mississippi was quicker to submit a plan that demonstrated checks and balances on the funding.
The process for seeking federal infrastructure aid is the same for governments across the Gulf Coast. For instance, Bay St. Louis, Miss., needs at least $70 million in repairs, and it's still waiting for federal and state help.
"There's just so much red tape on it," Mayor Eddie Favre said. "It's slowing some things down. It's a lot of headaches and heartaches if nothing else."
Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi in New Orleans and Michael Kunzelman in Gulfport, Miss., contributed to this report.
Friday, August 25, 2006
by Glenn Greenwald
Mark Steyn is a hero to neoconservatives. They consider him a true foreign policy genius and run around drooling with praise, like John Hinderaker in the presence of George W. Bush, every time he releases a new column about the Epic Global War of Civilizations We Must Wage. Yesterday, Steyn's status was cemented as he had the privilege of sitting in Rush Limbaugh's Chair as guest host, something which was celebrated
across the Bush-loving world
While looking for something else, I came across this column
written by Steyn on May 4, 2003, in which he laughs about the fact that the U.S. won the war in Iraq so quickly and easily and mocks those who were concerned that it would be a difficult challenge. The column was entitled "The war? That was all over two weeks ago,
" and here is part of what it said, conveying the prevailing "wisdom" among Bush supporters at the time. Just savor every paragraph of intense, complete wrongness:
This war is over. The only question now is whether a new provisional government is installed before the BBC and The New York Times have finished running their exhaustive series on What Went Wrong with the Pentagon's Failed War Plan. . .
On the other hand, everything that has taken place is strictly local, freelance, improvised. Many commanders have done nothing: they're the ones I wrote about, the ones so paralysed by the silence from HQ that they're not even capable of showing the initiative to surrender; they're just waiting for the orders that never come.
Others have figured the jig's up, discarded their uniforms and returned to their families. Some guys have gone loco, piling into pick-ups and driving themselves into the path of the infidels' tanks. A relatively small number have gone in for guerrilla tactics in the southern cities. . . .
It takes two to quagmire. In Vietnam, America had an enemy that enjoyed significant popular support and effective supply lines. Neither is true in Iraq. Isolated atrocities will continue to happen in the days ahead, as dwindling numbers of the more depraved Ba'athists confront the totality of their irrelevance. But these are the death throes: the regime was decapitated two weeks ago, and what we've witnessed is the last random thrashing of the snake's body.
By the time you read this, Tariq Aziz and the last five Ba'athists in Baghdad may be holed up in Fisk's Ba'athroom, and he'll be hailing the genius of their plan to lure the Americans to their doom by leaving his loo rolls on the stairwell for the Marines to slip on.
But, for everyone other than media naysayers, it's the Anglo-Aussie-American side who are the geniuses. Rumsfeld's view that one shouldn't do it with once-a-decade force, but with a lighter, faster touch has been vindicated, with interesting implications for other members of the axis of evil and its reserve league.
By the time you read this column, Steyn says, only "the last five Ba'athists in Baghdad" will be left. Rumsfeld proved to be a genius because we won so quickly and easily with a small force. There was little resistance because the Iraqis were so scared that they all ran home, too afraid even to surrender. There are a handful of insurgents engaging in guerilla tactics, but the number is so small that -- even as of May, 2003 (more than three years ago) -- they were already in their "death throes." The only thing I have seen that competes with this Steyn column for its mix of pure wrongness and gloating self-celebration over being so wrong is this humiliating April, 2003 screed
from Glenn Reynolds.
Despite all of that, Steyn is the person whom Bush followers think is a visionary and prophet whom we should also listen to now with regard to what we should do about Iran and the broader Middle East. Allegiance to the Cause of Good is paramount, and there is thus no price paid by True Believers for fundamental error, grave misjudgment, or just outright deceit. Steyn -- and the long list of Bush loving comrades who mouthed these same pieties -- was painfully, disastrously wrong about the most profound political and military question of our generation. He ought to be too ashamed to continue pontificating and too shunned to be able to do so -- at the very least without his admitting error, recanting and apologizing.
But the opposite is true. The same people who were wrong about everything -- literally -- and who viciously mocked those who were right, now want to use the same mindset and assumptions to guide us into our next war. That really is what Democrats ought to be asking the country this year -- whether they want those who promised quick victory in Iraq, and who proclaimed that we had quick victory, to be able to lead us into more wars of the same kind.
Charles Krauthammer today came out and explicitly said
that it is necessary for us to confront Iran militarily, i.e.
, start a new war against Iran. Democrats should make this election about this question because it is, in large part, what the election is about -- whether the country wants the same people who dragged us into Iraq to do the same in Iran, Syria and beyond.
The last thing this country needs as it heads into this election season is another attempt to push the intelligence agencies to hype their conclusions about the threat from a Middle Eastern state.
That’s what happened in 2002, when the administration engineered a deeply flawed document on Iraq that reshaped intelligence to fit President Bush’s policy. And history appeared to be repeating itself this week, when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, released a garishly illustrated and luridly written document that is ostensibly dedicated to “helping the American people understand” that Iran’s fundamentalist regime and its nuclear ambitions pose a strategic threat to the United States.
It’s hard to imagine that Mr. Hoekstra believes there is someone left in this country who does not already know that. But the report obviously has different aims. It is partly a campaign document, a product of the Republican strategy of scaring Americans into allowing the G.O.P. to retain control of Congress this fall. It fits with the fearmongering we’ve heard lately — like President Bush’s attempt the other day to link the Iraq war to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But even more worrisome, the report seems intended to signal the intelligence community that the Republican leadership wants scarier assessments that would justify a more confrontational approach to Tehran. It was not the work of any intelligence agency, or the full intelligence panel, or even the subcommittee that ostensibly drafted it. The Washington Post reported that it was written primarily by a former C.I.A. official known for his view that the assessments on Iran are not sufficiently dire.
While the report contains no new information, it does dish up dire-sounding innuendo, mostly to leave the impression that Iran is developing nuclear weapons a lot faster than intelligence agencies have the guts to admit. It also tosses in a few conspiracy theories, like the unsupported assertion that Iran engineered the warfare between Israel and Hezbollah. And it complains that America’s spy agencies are too cautious, that they “shy away from provocative conclusions.”
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, put it even more bluntly in explaining some Republicans’ dissatisfaction with the C.I.A. reporting on Iran: “The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible.”
All in all, this is a chilling reminder of what happened when intelligence analysts told Vice President Dick Cheney they could not prove that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon or had ties with Al Qaeda. He kept asking if they really meant it — until the C.I.A. took the hint.
It’s obvious that Iran wants nuclear weapons, has lied about its program and views America as an enemy. We enthusiastically agree that the United States needs every scrap of intelligence it can get on Iran. But the reason American intelligence is not certain when Iran might have a nuclear bomb is because the situation is so murky — not because the agencies are too wimpy to tell the scary truth.
If the Republicans who control Congress really wanted a full-scale assessment on the state of Iran’s weapons programs, they would have asked for one, rather than producing this brochure.
The nation cannot afford to pay the price again for politicians’ bending intelligence or bullying the intelligence agencies to suit their ideology.
Whistleblowers Say State Farm Cheated Katrina Victims
from ABC News
Brian Ross and Joseph Rhee Report:
State Farm Insurance supervisors systematically demanded that Hurricane Katrina damage reports be buried or replaced or changed so that the company would not have to pay policyholders' claims in Mississippi, two State Farm insiders tell ABC News.
Kerri and Cori Rigsby, independent adjusters who had worked for State Farm exclusively for eight years, say they have turned over thousands of internal company documents and their own detailed statement to the FBI and Mississippi state investigators.
In an exclusive interview with ABC news, to be broadcast on 20/20 -- Watch 20/20 tonight at 10 --and World News, the Rigsby sisters say they saw "widespread" fraud at the State Farm offices in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss.
"Katrina was devastating, but so was State Farm," says Cori Rigsby.
At one point, they say State Farm brought in a special shredding truck they believe was used to destroy key documents. State Farm says shredding is standard to protect policyholders' privacy.
The sisters say they saw supervisors go to great lengths to pressure outside engineers to prepare reports concluding that damage was caused by water, not covered under State Farm policies, rather than by wind.
They say reports that concluded that damage was caused by wind, for which State Farm would have to pay, were hidden in a special file and new reports were ordered.
Cori Rigsby says she recalls a senior coordinator ordering that an engineering company be told to alter the findings in its report so that State Farm would not have to pay. "Tell them if they don't change their report, we're not paying their invoice," she remembers the supervisor saying.
A lawyer for State Farm, Wayne Drinkwater, told ABC News he was unfamiliar with the Rigsby sisters but denied State Farm cheated policyholders or pressured outside engineers to reach particular conclusions in their damage reports.
"We, of course, have not been cheating," Drinkwater said.
The allegations, if proven, would support the suspicions of thousands of homeowners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who have been unable to collect enough insurance money to rebuild their homes.
Many have filed lawsuits against State Farm and other insurance companies alleging the companies of wrongly denying or low-balling their claims. The Rigsby sisters' allegations are now a key part of suits filed against State Farm by well-known Mississippi lawyer Dickie Scruggs, famous for taking on the tobacco companies.
See Photos of Katrina, One Year Later - the National Disgrace That Is Still Going On.
If you have had a horrible experience with an insurance company, click here to share your story with us.
» Click here for Brian Ross & Investigative Team's Homepage
Fascism In Colorado: Geography Class Apparently Not Allowed To Include Other Countries.
Teacher showing foreign flags put on leaveJeffco leaders say the state bans the banners, even in geography class, when they are not part of the lesson.
By Karen Rouse
Denver Post Staff Writer
A seventh-grade geography teacher who refused to remove Chinese, Mexican and United Nations flags from his classroom was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday by Jefferson County officials who were concerned that the display violates the law.
District officials said state law forbids the display of foreign flags unless they are temporary and related to the curriculum.
Carmody Middle School principal John Schalk looked at the curriculum for Eric Hamlin's world geography class "and there was nothing ... related to any of these countries," said Lynn Setzer, district spokeswoman.
She said Schalk asked the teacher three times to remove the flags and warned there would be consequences, but Hamlin refused.
Hamlin, in his first year at Carmody, said he regularly displays flags from different countries, rotating them out based on countries being studied.
He said that the first six weeks of school are devoted to discussing the "fundamentals of geography" and that the flags were randomly selected.
District officials are citing Colorado Revised Statute 18-11- 205. It says: "Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense."
It says an exception to that law is "the display of any flag ... that is part of a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings ... ."
Mark Silverstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he didn't see how the statute applied to this situation.
District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the district has contacted Hamlin and is trying to resolve the issue.
"We have not heard back," she said.
She said Hamlin could have complied with the principal's request and then followed policies that allow him to appeal.
Schalk did not return a phone call seeking comment, but Stevenson said the current topic for the class was "latitude and longitude, not the culture of China, not the culture of Mexico."
The punishment for insubordination could range from a reprimand to dismissal, Setzer said.
Hamlin said he was in his classroom Monday when an assistant principal came in, saw the flags and told him they needed to be removed.
Hamlin said there is an American flag stationed permanently in the classroom.
He said he believes school officials are being extra cautious because of a controversy at Denver's North High School when a Mexican flag was hung by a social studies teacher and people complained.
Staff writer Karen Rouse can be reached at 303-820-1684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 24, 2006; 11:56 AM
There is a popular sentiment among the Washington elite that what went wrong in the run-up to the war in Iraq has been sufficiently examined, and that it's all water under the bridge anyway.
It's popular in the White House and among Republicans for obvious reasons. But it's also remarkably popular among top Democrats and the establishment media, because they aren't all that eager to call any more attention to the fact that they were played for suckers.
There are, however, some people who believe that what led this country to launch a war of choice under false pretenses must be examined in detail -- over and over again if necessary -- until the appropriate lessons have been learned.
Otherwise, one might argue, history is doomed to repeat itself.
Enter history, stage right.
Once again, powerful neoconservative politicians who just know in their hearts that there is a terrible threat posed by a Middle Eastern country they have identified as part of the axis of evil are frustrated by the lack of conclusive evidence that would support a bellicose approach. So they are pressuring the nation's intelligence community to find facts that will support their argument.
This time, that scenario is being played out right in front of our eyes. Maybe that will make a difference?
Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times: "Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States. . . .
"The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq.
"The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate."
Mazzetti writes that "privately some Democrats criticized the report for using innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions to inflate the threat that Iran posed to the United States. . . .
"Some veterans of the intelligence battles that preceded the Iraq war see the debate as familiar and are critical of efforts to create hard links based on murky intelligence.
" 'It reflects a certain way of looking at the world -- that all evil is traceable to the capitals of certain states,' said Paul R. Pillar, who until last October oversaw American intelligence assessments about the Middle East. 'And that, in my view, is a very incorrect way of interpreting the security challenges we face.' "
Dafna Linzer writes in The Washington Post that the report was "principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran," and "fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States. . . . [I]it chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion."
Linzer writes that "the principal author was Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department."
Translation: That means he's Vice President Cheney's man.
Here's a little taste of the Fleitz way of doing business, from The Post in May 2005 .
Meanwhile, at the State Department
And yet, there are signs that someone with Bush's ear is advocating diplomacy, at least for now.
Here's Bush on Monday: "In order for the U.N. to be effective, there must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council."
Here's spokeswoman Dana Perino yesterday, after Iran thumbed its nose at the Security Council: "We acknowledge that Iran considers its response as a serious offer, and we will review it. The response, however, falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. We are closely consulting with the other members of the Security Council on the next steps. . . .
"Q Do you want tough sanctions, though? I mean, what can you do? There's been a carrot out there with incentives, but where is the stick from the United States?
"MS. PERINO: We're going to allow all of our allies to -- the P5 plus one to talk about it and try to figure that out. And when we have next steps to announce, we'll announce them."
Kirit Radia of ABC News offers a clue: "U.S. officials tell ABC News the White House had intended to issue a stronger statement rejecting Iran's response and calling for talks on sanctions against Iran to begin quickly, but pressure mounted from European countries overnight to hold off on the strong language and to allow time for countries to carefully consider Iran's response.
"Ultimately, U.S. officials say, the United States yielded to pressure from the European countries, namely Britain and France, to issue the milder statement that was released today."
'If You Think It's Bad Now'
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post that Bush has apparently dropped his attempts to reassure Americans that more progress is being made in Iraq than they realize, "in favor of the contention that things could be even worse.
"The shifting rhetoric reflected a broader pessimism that has reached into even some of the most optimistic corners of the administration -- a sense that the Iraq venture has taken a dark turn and will not be resolved anytime soon. . . .
"While still committed to the venture, officials have privately told friends and associates outside government that they have grown discouraged in recent months. . . .
"But with crucial midterm elections just 2 1/2 months away, Bush and his team are trying to turn the public debate away from whether the Iraq invasion has worked out to what would happen if U.S. troops were withdrawn, as some Democrats advocate. The necessity of not failing, Bush advisers believe, is now a more compelling argument than the likelihood of success."
Baker quotes Christopher F. Gelpi, a Duke University scholar whose research on public opinion in wartime has been influential in the White House: "If the only thing you can say is 'Yes, it's bad, but it could be worse,' that really is a last-ditch argument."
Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "In the thick of an election campaign, President Bush has revived and retooled his argument that the U.S. must fight terrorists overseas or face them here. Despite the unpopularity of the Iraq war, some GOP candidates are borrowing Bush's line. . . .
"The fight-them-there theme has been part of Bush's national security stump speech since 2003. But the 'follow us here' part is a relatively new twist."
What makes Bush so convinced that the terrorists would follow us here? Many of my readers have e-mailed me in the past several days suggesting that reporters should press the White House on that point.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis profiles Karl Rove in the Baltimore Sun: "Since learning in June that he would not be indicted for his role in the unmasking of a CIA officer's identity, a slimmed-down Rove has thrown himself into his latest, career-defining test. He knows the outcome of the November elections will determine how successful he has been in reaching his goal of cementing a lasting Republican majority and, in the shorter term, how influential Bush can be during his last two years in the White House. . . .
"Rove's 'trademark approach is to hit hard, near the edge. He likes to go for the opponent's strength and undermine it with edgy tactics,' said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political scientist who has tracked Rove's career."
The Associated Press reports from Toledo: "Presidential adviser Karl Rove criticized a federal judge's order for an immediate end to the government's warrantless surveillance program, saying Wednesday such a program might have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
Time for . . . Some Golf
Michael Hirsh writes in Newsweek: "It is the sort of moment when peace and history could be hanging in the balance for a generation to come -- the kind of tipping point when American presidents can no longer leave the negotiating to underlings. They must take the world stage themselves to find a new way out, simply because no one else has the globo-oomph to do so. There is a grand American tradition behind this sort of personal involvement of America's chief executive."
Moments like these have tested the resolve of previous president, Hirsh writes.
"George W. Bush is going to Kennebunkport, where he'll test his golf skills with Poppy."
The Katrina PR Blitz
The White House doesn't let just anyone see the president. In Minnesota on Tuesday, for instance, photographs with Bush were going for $5,000 a pop at a fundraiser.
Critics like Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq, don't have a chance. In fact, critics in general aren't welcome anywhere near the president.
What helps is if you only have nice things to say. And you're a Republican. And you fit into a PR campaign.
Hurricane Katrina survivor Rockey Vaccarella met all those requirements.
Will Bunch blogged for the Philadelphia Daily News: "The good news is that CNN seems to have finally stop obsessing over John Mark Karr. Instead, they've found a new soap opera to go ga-ga over, Katrina survivor Rockey Vaccarella, who drove his FEMA trailer from his home in ravaged St. Bernard Parish to Washington with 'the hope' of convincing President Bush to meet with him. . . .
"Turns out that the earthy Vaccarella -- a highly successful businessman in the fast-food industry -- is indeed a Republican pol, having run unsuccessfully under the GOP banner for a seat on the St. Bernard Parish commission back in 1999. . . .
"Shouldn't the media be a tad more skeptical about events like these? And isn't the fact that Vaccarella was once a Republican candidate for office a relevant fact that should be mentioned, to help viewers place his effusive, nationally televised praise in context. With Vaccarella the 'Katrina soundbite' of the day, TV is not reporting this ."
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "The Vaccarella visit was part of a preemptive effort by the White House to fend off fresh criticism of the administration's handling of Katrina as the first anniversary approaches. Vaccarella praised the government effort while saying he 'wanted to remind the president that the job's not done, and he knows that.' . . .
"Democrats quickly responded with a statement noting that Vaccarella once ran for local office as a Republican and with a report blasting the administration's post-Katrina work.
" 'In our Gulf Coast, the tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors are still engaged in an unparalleled struggle to rebuild their lives,' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). 'Meanwhile, back in Washington, President Bush is holding a public relations blitz that the survivors of Katrina can ill afford.'"
As for Vaccarella's most sycophantic of suggestions?
Agence France Presse reports: "A Hurricane Katrina survivor called for a third term for US President George W. Bush, but ran into another obstacle besides the two-term constitutional maximum: the White House staff.
" 'Believe me, I think the staff thinks that two are plenty,' Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino quipped. . . .
"Asked why Bush aides believed that two four-year stints in the White House were enough, Perino said: 'Because I'm tired.' "
Not exactly an inspiring turn of phrase. But in that same briefing yesterday , Perino chose her words very carefully indeed when asked what the White House knew about Vaccarella when.
Keep in mind that there was a significant time lag between the White House confirmation that Vaccarella would be meeting with Bush -- and the announcement that he would appear with the president in public.
"Q Were you aware of Rockey Vaccarella's political background? Was he invited to meet with the President because he supports the President?
"MS. PERINO: I checked into that, and at the time of invitation, no, there was no knowledge of his political affiliation.
"Q You didn't know he had ever been a Republican candidate?
"MS. PERINO: No, he was not invited -- he was invited before anybody knew that."
As for news -- remember news? -- it's possible Bush unwittingly made some yesterday. Or maybe he was just humoring Vaccarella. Or maybe Vaccarella misheard him. But on CNN yesterday, Vaccarella said that "one of the main things the president and I addressed was the insurance and the mortgages. I felt like the mortgage companies -- you know what, they got paid.
"You know, if -- let's work at some easy numbers, for example. If somebody had $100,000 mortgage and they only had $80,000 of insurance, well, they owe the mortgage company $20,000. I don't think that's fair. And the president agreed with me on that. And that's one thing he's going to address."
Will he really?
Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "Senator George Allen of Virginia personally apologized to a volunteer for his opponent's campaign on Wednesday for a perceived racial insult, addressing a misstep that has complicated his re-election campaign and raised doubts about his potential as a Republican presidential contender in 2008.
"A few hours before he appeared with President Bush at a fund-raising event, Mr. Allen telephoned the volunteer, S. R. Sidarth, to say he was sorry for mockingly referring to him as 'macaca' at an Aug. 11 campaign event."
Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig write in The Washington Post that "about 50 Democratic activists protested outside a Fairfax County fundraiser for Allen headlined by President Bush."
Did the president have anything to say about the matter? We don't know: his event was closed to reporters and photographers.
Tolstoy He Ain't
Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon: "Every Bush presidency is unhappy in its own way. George W. Bush has contrived to do the opposite of his father, as if to provide evidence for a classic case of reaction formation. . . .
"But Bush is trapped in a self-generated dynamic that eerily recalls the centrifugal forces that spun apart his father's presidency."
Another Vietnam (Movie)?
Michael Hastings writes in Newsweek: "Is Iraq the latest stage for an American psychodrama? President George W. Bush seems to think so. His remarks earlier this week about how the war is 'straining America's psyche' suggest that the key to winning is preventing a nervous breakdown on a national scale. . . .
"I was reminded of all the Vietnam films I'd watched as a kid. . . .
"In the classic Vietnam flicks, America's own national identity crisis is almost always more important than the country where the war is actually being fought."
Pat Oliphant on the one true king; Tony Auth on the Bush-Cheney baby; Ann Telnaes on Bush as fashion critic; Mike Luckovich on American behind bars.
There is no "Shahab-4 missile and Iran does NOT control Kuwait, but hey, you wanted our government to work more like corporate America. This is what you get: people made dead by dumb ideas that came from people who feel entitled to be wrong at other people's expense. And until the people who're making the mistakes are the same as the people who are doing the dying, this will continue.
They are doing this because it's a critical time: it's an election year. The pressure is on ... again:
"American intelligence agencies do not know nearly enough about Iran's nuclear weapons program" to help policy-makers at a critical time, the report's authors say. Information "regarding potential Iranian chemical weapons and biological weapons programs is neither voluminous nor conclusive," and little evidence has been gathered to tie Iran to al-Qaeda and to the recent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, they say.
Creationist foreign policy demands with a stamp of its curiously small, six-toed foot that those propeller-head guys at Langley with their whatever machines confirm the Republicans' unified-field theory of Islamic Eviltude.
Like, the nuke thing isn't selling anymore, n' stuff? 'Cause, like, somehow the word got out that, like, less than 10% purity is not the same as more than 80% purity? And people, like, are staying away in droves, so, you know, now it's gotta be, like, biological and chemical weapons instead? Then, we gotta make the pitch that a radical, like, Sunni Arab group wants to help a radical Shi'ite Lebanese group, and that Osama is in Beirut.
Shouldn't you be writing this down?
No, shut up. I talk, you listen. Either you pin the WMD on the sand-nigger or I'll find someone who will, capiche? I didn't spend three years on my knees at the Leadership Institute just to get back-talked by some ... analyst:
The report relies exclusively on publicly available documents. Its authors did not interview intelligence officials.
Well, of course they didn't interview intelligence officials. Can't you read an organizational chart? We tell them what to confirm and then they confirm it. Then something goes boom. That's our whole fucking model. We don't give a shit what intelligence officials have now, we're telling them what we need in time for November!
Still, it warns the intelligence community to avoid the mistakes made regarding weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war, noting that Iran could easily be engaged in "a denial and deception campaign to exaggerate progress on its nuclear program as Saddam Hussein apparently did concerning his WMD programs."
Right, because you failed to find the absense of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, you're probably failing to find suspicious absences of evidence confirming the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iran. Saddam tried to fool us into thinking he didn't have what he didn't have which is why you need to show what you don't know about what Iran hasn't had time to make so we can blow up something that doesn't exist.
All in time for the election.
Since Rove isn't going to get 51% of the American electorate to believe that the terrorists took out a whole planet, they're going to have to come up with something else. Iraq has changed from an asset to a liability because Bush is fighting a rear-guard action there, not against the insurgents but against the final and symbolic admission that he has failed there: withdrawal. Instead, Americans will just have to keep dying there so that Bush can save face.
The Republican strategy, therefore, has long since switched from Iraq to terror. Up 'till now, that has meant trying to guarantee another terrorist attack on America by refusing to secure America's ports, nuclear and chemical facilities, etc. Since such attacks only happen to blue states, that's an easy sacrifice for the Republicans to make. But they have failed to get thousands of Americans killed again because Osama already got the Soviet-style disaster he wanted (albeit in Iraq, not Afghanistan). Must be very frustrating being a Republican and all those Americans stubbornly not dying in another fiery assault on our country. It's enough to make you go back to beating your mistress.
So, if scaring people by leaving thousands to die (again) doesn't work, we can scare people with Iran. Instead of a new 9/11 they need a new Iraq. Instead of another Osama, Rove will make sure we get another Saddam. This is why Rove is so optimistic. This is the plan. Or rather, plan B.
It doesn't matter that there is no military option in Iran. Republicans don't listen to military professionals any more than they do intelligence professionals. Both are supposed to keep their little "oh, I work for a living and actually know what I'm talking about" ideas to themselves, repeating and doing only what they are told.
It doesn't even matter that exercising a non-viable military option in Iran will only make things worse for the US. That hasn't stopped any other administration policy over the last several years, has it? It is enough that the proper application of failure can keep the losers in power. Long term costs are for Democrats to clean up, and for working families to pay for. Properly timed, the spectacle of Iran in flames will be enough to throw the elections in November. What's the power of the presidency for if you can't murder people to help your party?
A Debilitating Condition
For the conservative movement, the ultimate downside of punking ignorant, superstitious, and frightened people is that you wind up with a political movement full of people who "want to believe," like this idiot. Conservatives aren't prepared to deal with a world that does not conform to and confirm their expectations. They are congenitally infantile, in this respect, but this also explains the persistance of compulsive self-delusion: comfortable ignorance can be a kind of luxury. The concentration of unaccountable power that only a few at the top on the right can ever personally attain, and that the rest mistakenly believe will be theirs one day, does actually produce the occasional Lord High Two-Year Old or King Sociopath, someone who can at least command that he be lied to so that he can believe whatever he wants. It's the solace of solipcism. People like Howard Ahmanson Jr. or Richard Mellon "get out of my way, you commie cunt" Scaife can pay people to humor their superstitions and the rest of us will just have to be dragged down by the ignorance they've paid for.
Rank-and-file conservatives may ape their elite, but they will never be liberated from their own failure. Instead, they are left to shriek about the liberal media and bully the CIA, et al., for not playing along. That's right: for conservatives, a real man is someone who tries to get people fired for not confirming his dumbass ideas.
The fantasy must, at all costs, be isolated from the proof of its failure. The strength of the kind of people who are attracted to this creationist epistemology is that they stick together. They would have to. But their weakness is that delusion is ultimately more important than success. Their strength lies in the fact that failure does not matter. Their weakness lies in the fact that, because of the latter, failures accumulate. They make for great cabals, and can occasionally hack their way to power, but they are inevitably doomed (as are those around them) to pay the price of not growing up and dealing with the real world.
The Alternative is Competence
Friends in low places are more useful more frequently than friends in high places. Friends in low places know how to get things done. Friends in high places wouldn't be missed if they disappeared for a week. I have, for this reason, an annoying habit of pumping new acquaintances for information about their expertise and experience. If someone works in that agency or for that department or in that industry, I'm always interested in comparing what I think I know from media sources with the reality, especially the reality that spews out in bitter tirades from people who've had a few. I'm convinced that you learn more from people who do the work than those who manage those who do the work. Leadership, from this perspective, means getting the best out of your subordinates. You ignore their consensus at your own peril, and had better be right.
We are up against Republicans (and some Democrats) who take the opposite view. Leadership, if that buzzword means anything at all to them, seems to refer to unaccountable power over others. No matter how ill-informed, regardless of whether its failed before, the "idea" of the "leader" is paramount.
But it's easy to be the "party of ideas" when you have no plans, when the details (and the costs) are for the little people.
It is for this reason that the wingnuts will challenge you to suggest an alternative to their miserable failure. In part, this is a sincere question. They really can't think of an alternative. If they could think for themselves, they wouldn't be wingnuts. But mostly the challenge is another dishonest ploy taught to them by the right-wing noise machine. They've been told that you just hate Bush, personally, and have no ideas.
In short, wingnuts live in their own little private North Korea.
But the alternative is simple: liberals, progressives, and most Democrats (other than the ones we're trying to take out) value the opinions of people who know what they're talking about. A Democratic president wouldn't ignore the advice of intelligence professionals or military professionals, making September 11th, Iraq, and whatever the Republicans are going to fuck up next highly unlikely. It's all part of valuing and respecting people who work, rather than the Republican's ambition of getting the little people to pay for his lifestyle. Democrats respect people who work for a living. Republicans, however, think people who work for a living are a bunch of suckers.
So it's no wonder that Republicans treat the intelligence community like servants and treat our troops like toilet paper. Those people work for a living, and are therefore beneath a Republican's contempt. That's why they can't govern worth a tin shit.
Rep. Rush D. Holt (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that prepared the report, said he agreed to forward it to the full committee because it highlights the difficulties in gathering intelligence on Iran. But he added that the report was not "prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on."
And there it is. For the Republicans, the problems of intelligence are a failure to be on-message. For the ranking Democrat, however, it means that this report is an insufficient basis for policy. Here is your clash of civilizations.
The right expects the left to be a mirror image of their self-satisfied incompetence. They expect that leftwing pundits drive Democrats' policies. Our answer is that we trust people of ability to do their job. We don't tell them to tell us what we want to hear. We leave that to the kind of insecure little men who flock to the Republican party. The expertise already exists (and is already being paid for by the American taxpayer) to handle and succeed in any situation that might confront our country. If Republicans weren't more interested in being on-message than actually, you know, succeeding, they might know that by now.
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 — Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.
Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq.
The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.
The dissonance is surfacing just as the intelligence agencies are overhauling their procedures to prevent a repeat of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate — the faulty assessment that in part set the United States on the path to war with Iraq.
The new report, from the House Intelligence Committee, led by Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, portrayed Iran as a growing threat and criticized American spy agencies for cautious assessments about Iran’s weapons programs. “Intelligence community managers and analysts must provide their best analytical judgments about Iranian W.M.D. programs and not shy away from provocative conclusions or bury disagreements in consensus assessments,” the report said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction like nuclear arms.
Some policy makers also said they were displeased that American spy agencies were playing down intelligence reports — including some from the Israeli government — of extensive contacts recently between Hezbollah and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “The people in the community are unwilling to make judgment calls and don’t know how to link anything together,” one senior United States official said.
“We’re not in a court of law,” he said. “When they say there is ‘no evidence,’ you have to ask them what they mean, what is the meaning of the term ‘evidence’?”
The criticisms do not appear to be focused on any particular agency, like the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency or the State Department’s intelligence bureau, which sometimes differ in their views.
Officials from across the government — including from within the Bush administration, Congress and American intelligence agencies — spoke for this article on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a debate over classified intelligence information. Some officials said that given all that had happened over the last four years, it was only appropriate that the intelligence agencies took care to avoid going down the same path that led the United States to war with Iraq.
“Analysts were burned pretty badly during the run-up to the war in Iraq,” said Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “I’m not surprised that some in the intelligence community are a bit gun-shy about appearing to be war mongering.”
Several intelligence officials said that American spy agencies had made assessments in recent weeks that despite established ties between Iran and Hezbollah and a well-documented history of Iran arming the organization, there was no credible evidence to suggest either that Iran ordered the Hezbollah raid that touched off the recent fighting or that Iran was directly controlling attacks against Israel.
“There are no provable signs of Iranian direction on the ground,” said one intelligence official in Washington. “Nobody should think that Hezbollah is a remote-controlled entity.” American military assessments have broadly echoed this view, say people who maintain close ties to military intelligence officers.
“Does Iran profit from all of this? Yes,” said Gen. Wayne A. Downing Jr., the retired former commander of the Special Operations Command and a White House counterterrorism adviser during President Bush’s first term. “But is Iran pulling the strings? The guys I’m talking to say, ‘no.’ ”
Many senior Bush administration officials have long been dismissive of the work of the intelligence agencies. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon set up an office led by Douglas J. Feith, the Defense Department’s third-ranking civilian official at the time, that sifted through raw intelligence to look for links between terrorist networks and governments like Iraq’s.
In the months before the Iraq war, Vice President Dick Cheney made repeated trips to the C.I.A. and asked analysts pointed questions about their conclusions that Iraq had no direct ties to Al Qaeda. Both the Pentagon office and Mr. Cheney’s visits were roundly criticized, which is why officials said that policy makers were now being careful about circumventing the intelligence agencies to seek alternate analyses.
During his confirmation hearings in May, the director of the C.I.A., Gen. Michael V. Hayden, said he had been “uncomfortable” with the work of the Pentagon intelligence office.
The House Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday was written primarily by Republican staff members on the committee, and privately some Democrats criticized the report for using innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions to inflate the threat that Iran posed to the United States.
The report’s cover page shows a picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran speaking at a lectern that bears the message “The World Without Zionism.”
Page 3 of the report lists several public comments from Mr. Ahmadinejad, including his statement, “The annihilation of the Zionist regime will come. . . . Israel must be wiped off the map.”
Earlier this year, the intelligence agencies put new procedures in place to help avoid the type of analysis that was contained in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq and to prevent another “Curveball” — the code name of the Iraqi source who fed the United States faulty intelligence about Iraq’s biological weapons program. “I think that the intelligence community is being appropriately cautious,” said John E. McLaughlin, a former director of central intelligence.
“I think that what is going on is that people are holding themselves to a higher standard of evidence because of Iraq.”
Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said analysts now had much more information about the sources of raw intelligence coming from the field.
“Analysts have to know more about the sources than was generally the case before the Iraq estimate,” Mr. Fingar said.
Analysts also are required to include in their reports more information about the chain of logic that led them to their conclusions about sensitive topics like Iran, North Korea and global terrorism — “showing your work,” as Mr. Fingar put it.
At the same time, Mr. Fingar dismissed the notion that intelligence analysts should try merely to connect random intelligence findings. “As a 40-year analyst, I’m offended by the notion of ‘connecting dots,’ ’’he said. “If you had enough monkeys you could do that.”
The consensus of the intelligence agencies is that Iran is still years away from building a nuclear weapon. Such an assessment angers some in Washington, who say that it ignores the prospect that Iran could be aided by current nuclear powers like North Korea. “When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: ‘If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible,” he said.
Some veterans of the intelligence battles that preceded the Iraq war see the debate as familiar and are critical of efforts to create hard links based on murky intelligence.
“It reflects a certain way of looking at the world — that all evil is traceable to the capitals of certain states,” said Paul R. Pillar, who until last October oversaw American intelligence assessments about the Middle East. “And that, in my view, is a very incorrect way of interpreting the security challenges we face."
The good news is that CNN seems to have finally stop obsessing over John Mark Karr.
Instead, they've found a new soap opera to go ga-ga over, Katrina survivor Rockey Vaccarella
, who drove his FEMA trailer from his home in ravaged St. Bernard Parish to Washington with "the hope" of convincing President Bush to meet with him.
You can see why TV loves this story (the guy's named 'Rockey,' for cryin' out loud!), because to those who pay casual attention, i.e., the vast majority of viewers, the parallels to another news story are striking.
It was exactly one year ago that the headlines were all about Bush, on another lengthy vacation in Crawford, refusing to meet with an average American who was devastated by a tragedy -- Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq. It was a publicity bloodbath, and it rolled right into the horrors of Katrina and a seemingly indifferent White House, beginning the long slide in Bush's approval rating.
Now comes Rockey, a plain-talking character who lost it all in Katrina, who nearly died in the hurricane, forced to hang onto a rope for four hours (some of that was captured on film), and now wants to government to do more for Katrina victims. And what a difference a year makes -- not only did Bush, not in Crawford but hard at work in the White House, meet with this "average American," but check out the glowing praise our president received in return.
First, here's the way that the media spun the meeting: A triumph for the little guy:
CNN's RICK SANCHEZ: I don't know if you were watching a couple days ago, but you might remember that we talked to a man named Rockey Vaccarella. I got a lot of phone calls on this interview. He's a Katrina victim who was driving to the White House with a FEMA trailer. And he seemed to strike a nerve with people. He's there now. He's actually been invited inside. He wanted to go and met with the president. Well, guess what, the president has decided to meet with him. Last night he met with Donald Powell (ph), the government's point man for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Told him just what he and his family went through during Katrina.
A minute later:
SANCHEZ: And amazing his persistence because he was originally told that the president was just busy. Look, he's not going to be able to meet with you.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: He's like, that's all right. I'm still going.
SANCHEZ: I'm going to hang out there.
O'BRIEN: I've driven all this way.
SANCHEZ: He was confident when he told us that the president would come out and find a way to talk to him.
Here's so here's what Rockey told the nation just now on TV:
You know, it's really amazing when a small man like me from St. Bernard Parish can meet the President of the United States. The President is a people person. I knew that from the beginning. I was confident that I could meet President Bush.
And my mission was very simple. I wanted to thank President Bush for the millions of FEMA trailers that were brought down there. They gave roofs over people's head. People had the chance to have baths, air condition. We have TV, we have toiletry, we have things that are necessities that we can live upon.
But now, I wanted to remind the President that the job's not done, and he knows that. And I just don't want the government and President Bush to forget about us. And I just wish the President could have another term in Washington.
This guy is a symbol of the misery that so many people in Louisiana and Mississippi? If we didn't know any better, this couldn't have been more of home run for Bush if the whole thing had been set up by Karl Rove.
In fact, we had a hunch -- that maybe, just maybe, Rockey Vaccarella had a background himself in GOP politics.
And, whaddya know? Turns out that the earthy Vaccarella -- a highly successful businessman in the fast-food industry -- is indeed a Republican pol, having run unsuccessfully under the GOP banner for a seat on the St. Bernard Parish commission back in 1999. We don't have a good link, but here (via Nexis) is part of his bio that ran in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Oct. 15, 1999:
35. Born in New Orleans. Grew up in Arabi and Chalmette. Lived 11 years in
Married, two children.
Graduated from Chalmette High, 1982. Attended St. Bernard Community
Director of operations, Lundy Enterprises, as manager of 31 Pizza Hut
restaurants and 450 employees. Former general restaurant manager of Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits on East Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette.
And in fact, Vaccarella seemed very confident that he would be meeting with Bush when he left home, to the point where he had a date scheduled and everything:
Dinner with the President is planned for the evening of August 22nd.
As it turned out, dinner last night was with the White House aide running Katrina relief, and he met Bush at the White House today. Close enough. Before he left Louisiana earlier this month, Vaccarella made it clear that he's no Cindy Sheehan:
"We want to thank President Bush and the American people for everything they have done so far for south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region but, to remind everyone that the job is not complete and to please do whatever is possible to help clean-up and re-build so our people can return home."
Shouldn't the media be a tad more skeptical about events like these? And isn't the fact that Vaccarella was once a Republican candidate for office a relevant fact that should be mentioned, to help viewers place his effusive, nationally televised praise in context. With Vaccarella the "Katrina soundbite" of the day, TV is not reporting this:
The job of clearing debris left by the storm remains unfinished, and has been plagued by accusations of fraud and price gouging. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to obtain permanent housing. Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed. And little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans.
This is a White House that has pledged, as you recall, "create our own reality," and they're doing it again. How many times we will in the media act as Charlie Brown, kicking with futility at the phony football that Rove and this White House hold out for us, again and again and again.
UPDATE: GMTA :-) ....Digby has a great post along the same lines. And Think Progress has the video of Bush and Rockey gaming the media on live national TV.
UPDATE II: Here's more from Holden
, including a very interesting shot of Rockey's FEMA trailer, and a reporter who asked a real question
by Norman Solomon
Nearly five years into the “war on terror,” it’s still at the core of American media and politics.
Yeah, I’ve seen the recent polls showing a drop in public support for President Bush’s “war on terror” claims. And I’ve read a spate of commentaries this month celebrating Bush’s current lack of political traction on the terrorism issue, like the New York Times piece by Frank Rich last Sunday triumphantly proclaiming that “the era of Americans’ fearing fear itself is over.”
That’s a comforting thought, hovering somewhere between complacent and delusional.
Reflexive fear may be on vacation, but it hasn’t quit. The “war on terror” motif is fraying -- but it remains close at hand as a mighty pretext for present and future warfare.
The U.S. war effort in Iraq is, if anything, more horrific than it was a year ago. Back then, in late summer, Frank Rich wrote a Times column -- under the headline “Someone Tell the President the War Is Over” -- mocking Bush’s assertion on Aug. 11, 2005, that “no decision has been made yet” about withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Responding in print days later, Rich concluded: “The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We’re outta there.”
A year later, are we “outta there”? Only via the intellectualizing gymnastics of punditland.
More Americans are aware that the “war on terror” -- as an umbrella excuse for making war -- is a bunch of lethal baloney. But can anyone point to a falloff of active U.S. militarism as that realization has dawned? Did the Pentagon’s warfare dissipate in the slightest while disdain from mainstream anti-Bush pundits went through the roof?
Looking ahead, does anyone credibly think that Democratic Party leaders can be relied on to stand up against rationales for a huge air assault on Iran -- in the face of predictable claims that a massive attack became necessary to forestall the development of nuclear weapons by a Tehran regime that supports the “terrorist” Hezbollah organization and has pledged the destruction of Israel?
In late summer 2006, all you’ve got to do is read the news pages of the New York Times to see systematic agenda-building for an airborne assault on Iran. Right now, in front of our eyes, the propaganda blitz is rivaling the kind of war groundwork laid by the same newspaper four years ago, replete with endless coverage of the U.S. government’s supposed “diplomatic” efforts.
“The era of Americans’ fearing fear itself is over”? Don’t make me laugh to keep from crying.
A war against a defined enemy can end; a war against an undefined threat can’t.
In late November 2002, appearing on the “Washington Journal” program, retired U.S. Army Gen. William Odom told C-SPAN viewers: “Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It’s a tactic. It’s about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we’re going to win that war.”
Continuing his heretical comment, Odom said: “We’re not going to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few.”
The Bush administration, of course, has bypassed -- and frequently vilified -- any such insights. Meanwhile, few Democrats on the national stage have gone near challenging the themes of the “war on terror(ism).” And while some journalists have grown to express skepticism about the nonstop “anti-terror” rhetoric from the White House and its supporters, the overall stance of news media has involved routinely embracing the assumption that the USA is at war with terrorism. Along the way, that means ignoring how American firepower has been terrorizing civilians -- directly in Iraq and Afghanistan, indirectly in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
The movie “Good Night, And Good Luck” dramatized Edward R. Murrow’s decision to (finally) take on Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting tactics. For those who wonder why so many journalists hung back and declined to directly challenge those tactics, which ran roughshod over the American political process for years, we can look around the U.S. news media of 2006 and get a partial answer.
Yes, we can point to quite a few journalists who have gotten tough on Bush’s refusal to address substantive criticism without reverting to the anti-terrorism pitch to tar his critics. But on the whole -- and most egregiously in routine news coverage on front pages and news shows -- the reporting accepts and propagates the basic world view of the Bush administration.
Typically, under the headline “Number of U.S. Troops in Iraq Climbs,” an Aug. 23 story from Associated Press reported matter-of-factly: “No more than 2,500 Marines will be recalled at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number who may be forced back into service in the coming years as the military helps fight the war on terror.” But the assertion that the U.S. military is fighting a “war on terror” amounts to rhetoric, not fact.
Only as journalists stop cowering and start reporting on the basic flaws of the “war on terror” concept will the body politic benefit from the free circulation of ideas and information -- the lifeblood of democracy. And only then will there be appreciable media space to really explore why so many people have become violently angry with America.
Lawrence M. Krauss | New York Times | August 15, 2006
Voters in Kansas ensured this month that noncreationist moderates will once again have a majority (6 to 4) on the state school board, keeping new standards inspired by intelligent design from taking effect.
This is a victory for public education and sends a message nationwide about the public’s ability to see through efforts by groups like the Discovery Institute to misrepresent science in the schools. But for those of us who are interested in improving science education, any celebration should be muted.
This is not the first turnaround in recent Kansas history. In 2000, after a creationist board had removed evolution from the state science curriculum, a public outcry led to wholesale removal of creationist board members up for re-election and a reinstatement of evolution in the curriculum.
In a later election, creationists once again won enough seats to get a 6-to-4 majority. With their changing political tactics, creationists are an excellent example of evolution at work. Creation science evolved into intelligent design, which morphed into “teaching the controversy,” and after its recent court loss in Dover, Pa., and political defeats in Ohio and Kansas, it will no doubt change again. The most recent campaign slogan I have heard is “creative evolution.”
But perhaps more worrisome than a political movement against science is plain old ignorance. The people determining the curriculum of our children in many states remain scientifically illiterate. And Kansas is a good case in point.
The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”
“I can separate them,” he continued, adding, “My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom.”
A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams’s religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.
I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.
It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain a belief in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology and geology. It is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic, rather than by empirically testable laws.
Dr. Abrams has no choice but to separate his views from what is taught in science classes, because what he says he believes is inconsistent with the most fundamental facts the Kansas schools teach children.
Another member of the board, who unfortunately survived a primary challenge, is John Bacon. In spite of his name, Mr. Bacon is no friend of science. In a 1999 debate about the removal of evolution and the Big Bang from science standards, Mr. Bacon said he was baffled about the objections of scientists. “I can’t understand what they’re squealing about,” he is quoted as saying. “I wasn’t here, and neither were they.”
This again represents a remarkable misunderstanding of the nature of the scientific method. Many fields — including evolutionary biology, astronomy and physics — use evidence from the past in formulating hypotheses. But they do not stop there. Science is not storytelling.
These disciplines take hypotheses and subject them to further tests and experiments. This is how we distinguish theories that work, like evolution or gravitation.
As we continue to work to improve the abysmal state of science education in our schools, we will continue to battle those who feel that knowledge is a threat to faith.
But when we win minor skirmishes, as we did in Kansas, we must remember that the issue is far deeper than this. We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world. The battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University.
Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.
The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. “There is no explanation for it being left off the list,” Ms. McLane said. “It has always been an eligible major.”
Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing.
If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were full-time students majoring in an eligible field.
“If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the process,” he said.
That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about threats to the teaching of evolution.
One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of Education, who got in touch with him after his essay on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter.
An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dr. Krauss said the omission would be “of great concern” if evolutionary biology had been singled out for removal, or if the change had been made without consulting with experts on biology. The grants are awarded under the National Smart Grant program, established this year by Congress. (Smart stands for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent.)
The program provides $4,000 grants to third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security.
The list of eligible majors (which is online at ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN0606A.pdf) is drawn from the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs,” or CIP (pronounced “sip”), a voluminous and detailed classification of courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and subsections.
Part 26, biological and biomedical sciences, has a number of sections, each of which has one or more subsections. Subsection 13 is ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology. This subsection itself has 10 sub-subsections. One of them is 26.1303 — evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time.”
Though references to evolution appear in listings of other fields of biological study, the evolutionary biology sub-subsection is missing from a list of “fields of study” on the National Smart Grant list — there is an empty space between line 26.1302 (marine biology and biological oceanography) and line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology).
Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said Mr. Nassirian of the registrars’ association. “Your declared major maps to a CIP code,” he said.
Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the omission as “a clerical mistake.” But it is “odd,” he said, because applying the subject codes “is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.”
“I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is unintentional,” he added. “But I have to take them at their word.”
Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.
Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the change was not immediately reversed “we will certainly pursue this.”
Dr. Rissing said removing evolutionary biology from the list of acceptable majors would discourage students who needed the grants from pursuing the field, at a time when studies of how genes act and evolve are producing valuable insights into human health.
“This is not just some kind of nicety,” he said. “We are doing a terrible disservice to our students if this is yet another example of making sure science doesn’t offend anyone.”
Dr. Krauss of Case Western said he did not know what practical issues would arise from the omission of evolutionary biology from the list, given that students would still be eligible for grants if they declared a major in something else — biology, say.
“I am sure an enterprising student or program director could find a way to put themselves in another slot,” he said. “But why should they have to do that?”
Mr. Nassirian said he was not so sure. “Candidly, I don’t think most administrators know enough about this program” to help students overcome the apparent objection to evolutionary biology, he said. Undergraduates would be even less knowledgeable about the issue, he added.
Dr. Krauss said: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”
Last week, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional. Subsquently, Taylor was attacked by the conservative group Judicial Watch which claimed that she had a “conflict of interest” because she “serves as a Secretary and Trustee for a foundation that donated funds to the ACLU of Michigan, a plaintiff in the case.”
Judicial Watch’s allegation has garnered extensive media coverage. It’s a bogus charge. Here are the facts:
– Over the last two years the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan has donated about $50 million to charitable causes. Its $45,000 in grants to the ACLU represents just .09% of their total giving.
– The money to the ACLU had nothing to do with their activities relating to this litigation or government surveillance. The grant funded “a gay rights project.”
– Judge Gibbs is one of 50 community members on the foundation’s board. It wasn’t a personal decision by Judge Gibbs.
None of this information was disclosed by Judicial Watch. Once you know the facts, there is not a “reasonable question about [her] impartiality” based on the foundation’s activities. That hasn’t stopped the media (or the blogosphere) from breathlessly reporting the “story.”
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Bush's Folly. Iran Now More Influential In The Middle East. And I bet $80 Barrels of Oil Help Them Too. W really is an Idiot.
US interventions have boosted Iran, says reportStaff and agenciesWednesday August 23, 2006Guardian Unlimited
The US-led "war on terror" has bolstered Iran's power and influence in the Middle East, especially over its neighbour and former enemy Iraq, a thinktank said today.
A report published by Chatham House said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had removed Iran's main rival regimes in the region.
Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and its invasion of Lebanon had also put Iran "in a position of considerable strength" in the Middle East, said the thinktank.
Unless stability could be restored to the region, Iran's power will continue to grow, according to the report published by Chatham House
The study said Iran had been swift to fill the political vacuum created by the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Islamic republic now has a level of influence in the region that could not be ignored.
In particular, Iran has now superseded the US as the most influential power in Iraq, regarding its former adversary as its "own backyard". It is also a "prominent presence" in its other war-torn neighbour, Afghanistan, according to Chatham House's analysts.
The report said: "There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East.
"The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures."
The thinktank said the west needed to understand better Iran's links with its neighbours to see why the country felt able "to resist Western pressure".
"The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region," said the report.
Western countries, led by the US, are locked in a bitter dispute with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says it will not give up what it says is its right to peaceful nuclear technology. The west suspects Tehran is developing nuclear weapons.
The thinktank said: "While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations security council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour."
The report added the country was "simply too important - for political, economic, cultural, religions and military reasons - to be treated lightly".
One of the report's authors, Dr Ali Ansari, reader in modern history at the University of St Andrews, told Radio 4: "The United States needs to take a step back and reassess its entire policy towards Iran and work out, first of all, what does it want and how is it going to achieve it, because at the moment everything is rather like putting a sticking plaster on a fairly raw wound, and it is not really actually doing much at all."