Thursday, August 31, 2006

THOMAS FRANK: Rendezvous With Oblivion

NYT Guest Columnist



Over the last month I have tried to describe conservative power in Washington, but with a small change of emphasis I could just as well have been describing the failure of liberalism: the center-left’s inability to comprehend the current political situation or to draw upon what is most vital in its own history.


What we have watched unfold for a few decades, I have argued, is a broad reversion to 19th-century political form, with free-market economics understood as the state of nature, plutocracy as the default social condition, and, enthroned as the nation’s necessary vice, an institutionalized corruption surpassing anything we have seen for 80 years. All that is missing is a return to the gold standard and a war to Christianize the Philippines.


Historically, liberalism was a fighting response to precisely these conditions. Look through the foundational texts of American liberalism and you can find everything you need to derail the conservative juggernaut. But don’t expect liberal leaders in Washington to use those things. They are “New Democrats” now, enlightened and entrepreneurial and barely able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone muster the strength to deliver some Rooseveltian stemwinder against “economic royalists.”


Mounting a campaign against plutocracy makes as much sense to the typical Washington liberal as would circulating a petition against gravity. What our modernized liberal leaders offer — that is, when they’re not gushing about the glory of it all at Davos — is not confrontation but a kind of therapy for those flattened by the free-market hurricane: they counsel us to accept the inevitability of the situation and to try to understand how we might retrain or re-educate ourselves so we will fit in better next time.


This last point was a priority for the Clinton administration. But in “The Disposable American,” a disturbing history of job security, Louis Uchitelle points out that the New Democrats’ emphasis on retraining (as opposed to broader solutions that Old Democrats used to favor) is merely a kinder version of the 19th-century view of unemployment, in which economic dislocation always boils down to the fitness of the unemployed person himself.


Or take the “inevitability” of recent economic changes, a word that the centrist liberals of the Washington school like to pair with “globalization.” We are told to regard the “free-trade” deals that have hammered the working class almost as acts of nature. As the economist Dean Baker points out, however, we could just as easily have crafted “free-trade” agreements that protected manufacturing while exposing professions like law, journalism and even medicine to ruinous foreign competition, losing nothing in quality but saving consumers far more than Nafta did.


When you view the world from the satisfied environs of Washington — a place where lawyers outnumber machinists 27 to 1 and where five suburban counties rank among the seven wealthiest in the nation — the fantasies of postindustrial liberalism make perfect sense. The reign of the “knowledge workers” seems noble.


Seen from almost anywhere else, however, these are lousy times. The latest data confirms that as the productivity of workers has increased, the ones reaping the benefits are stockholders. Census data tells us that the only reason family income is keeping up with inflation is that more family members are working.


Everything I have written about in this space points to the same conclusion: Democratic leaders must learn to talk about class issues again. But they won’t on their own. So pressure must come from traditional liberal constituencies and the grass roots, like the much-vilified bloggers. Liberalism also needs strong, well-funded institutions fighting the rhetorical battle. Laying out policy objectives is all well and good, but the reason the right has prevailed is its army of journalists and public intellectuals. Moving the economic debate to the right are dozens if not hundreds of well-funded Washington think tanks, lobbying outfits and news media outlets. Pushing the other way are perhaps 10.


The more comfortable option for Democrats is to maintain their present course, gaming out each election with political science and a little triangulation magic, their relevance slowly ebbing as memories of the middle-class republic fade.

PAUL KRUGMAN: The Big Disconnect

There are still some pundits out there lecturing people about how great the economy is. But most analysts seem to finally realize that Americans have good reasons to be unhappy with the state of the economy: although G.D.P. growth has been pretty good for the last few years, most workers have seen their wages lag behind inflation and their benefits deteriorate.

The disconnect between overall economic growth and the growing squeeze on many working Americans will probably play a big role this November, partly because President Bush seems so out of touch: the more he insists that it’s a great economy, the angrier voters seem to get. But the disconnect didn’t begin with Mr. Bush, and it won’t end with him, unless we have a major change in policies.

The stagnation of real wages — wages adjusted for inflation — actually goes back more than 30 years. The real wage of nonsupervisory workers reached a peak in the early 1970’s, at the end of the postwar boom. Since then workers have sometimes gained ground, sometimes lost it, but they have never earned as much per hour as they did in 1973.

Meanwhile, the decline of employer benefits began in the Reagan years, although there was a temporary improvement during the Clinton-era boom. The most crucial benefit, employment-based health insurance, has been in rapid decline since 2000.

Ordinary American workers seem to understand the long-term disconnect between economic growth and their own fortunes better than most political analysts. Consider, for example, the results of a new poll of American workers by the Pew Research Center.

The center finds that workers perceive a long-term downward trend in their economic status. A majority say that it’s harder to earn a decent living than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and a plurality say that job benefits are worse too.

Are workers simply viewing the past through rose-colored glasses? The report seems to imply that they are: a section pointing out that workers surveyed in 1997 also said that it had gotten harder to make a decent living is titled, “As usual, people say things were better in the good old days.”

But as we’ve seen, real wages have been declining since the 1970’s, so it makes sense that workers have consistently said that it’s harder to make a living today than it was a generation ago.

On the other side, workers’ concern about worsening benefits is new. In 1997, a plurality of workers said that employment benefits were better than they used to be. That made sense: in 1997, the health care crisis, which had been a big political issue a few years earlier, seemed to have gone into remission. Medical costs were relatively stable, and in a tight labor market, employers were competing to offer improved benefits. Workers felt, rightly, that benefits were pretty good by historical standards.

But now the health care crisis is back, both because medical costs are rising rapidly and because we’re living in an increasingly Wal-Martized economy, in which even big, highly profitable employers offer minimal benefits. Employment-based insurance began a steep decline with the 2001 recession, and the decline has continued in spite of economic recovery.

The latest Census report on incomes, poverty and health insurance, released this week, shows that in 2005, four years into the economic expansion, the percentage of Americans with private insurance of any kind reached its lowest level since 1987. And Americans feel, again correctly, that benefits are worse than they used to be.

Why have workers done so badly in a rich nation that keeps getting richer? That’s a matter of dispute, although I believe there’s a large political component: what we see today is the result of a quarter-century of policies that have systematically reduced workers’ bargaining power.

The important question now, however, is whether we’re finally going to try to do something about the big disconnect. Wages may be difficult to raise, but we won’t know until we try. And as for declining benefits — well, every other advanced country manages to provide everyone with health insurance, while spending less on health care than we do.

The big disconnect, in other words, provides as good an argument as you could possibly want for a smart, bold populism. All we need now are some smart, bold populist politicians.

Check out The Babbling Academy

Bush Appoints Wal-Mart Lawyer to Head Labor's Wage and Hour Division

Bush Appointment Draws Quick Fire

President Bush’s recess appointment today of lawyer Paul DeCamp,to be administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor drew quick fire from some Democrats, particularly those seeking to make Wal-Mart a campaign issue. Bush nominated him for the post, but the Senate hasn’t acted on the confirmation. At the law firm of Gibson Dunn, DeCamp has represented employers and defended Wal-Mart in a big employment-discrimination case.

George Miller of California, senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, promptly fired off a statement: “As a lawyer, Paul DeCamp has never represented American workers in a single case. He has worked on behalf of Wal-Mart - a company with an abhorrent record of labor relations - and other companies against the interests of American workers and consumers in numerous cases. Yet he is the man that President Bush has chosen as one of the nation’s top enforcers of workplace rights….This recess appointment is one more reminder that the President does not care about making sure that workers are treated fairly on the job or enforcing laws that he doesn’t happen to like.”

The Labor Department unit enforces overtime, workplace discrimination and child-labor laws.

US Army Captain: Iraqi soldiers are like a bunch of kids

MSNBC

An Iraqi soldier is running across the street, an automatic weapon in one hand, firing blindly down the alley towards the enemy, apparently unaware of his fellow soldiers in the line of fire. “Somebody slap that f---er,” yells U.S. Army Capt. Josh Brandon. The Iraqi, grinning, safely reaches Brandon on the far side of the square. The captain isn’t smiling.

About 45 minutes into what would turn into a two-and-a-half-hour firefight with suspected terrorists in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, this is no time for the Iraqi troops to start playing cowboy. “A lot of their training comes from watching American movies,” he mutters.

Forty-five minutes, four enemy RPGs, two wounded Iraqi soldiers, and a handful of Brandon outbursts later, the mission is coming to a close. The Iraqi soldiers are making steady ground up the street, and have caught six suspected insurgents and killed four enemy combatants.

Most of the Iraqi soldiers are beaming with pride. But not U.S. Sgt. William Thomas Fraas. He points across the square to two Iraqi soldiers who are kicking a detainee in the rear as they lead him off towards their humvee. “I have to go over there and tell them to stop beating him up,” says Fraas. We’ve got to tell them what to do—they’re like a bunch of kids.” “That’s lucky,” says one American private. “The Iraqi Army usually kills them.”

Positive Press on Iraq Is Aim of U.S. Contract

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq. The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal. More

Aussie WMD expert: Bush Administration interfered in Iraq WMD hunt

Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has confirmed for the first time that he was personally told by a senior Australian weapons inspector that the US-led weapons hunt in postwar Iraq was seriously flawed. But he denies suppressing a damning six-page letter by the inspector, John Gee, who resigned from the Iraq Survey Group in March 2004. The letter outlines in detail interference by the CIA and the Bush Administration in first reports about the weapons hunt to avoid finding that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. More

Limbaugh: CNN Headline News "set the record straight" by describing Limbaugh's "blacks can't swim" remark as "tongue-in-cheek"

Rush Limbaugh claimed that CNN Headline News "set the record straight" by characterizing his August 23 comment that "blacks can't swim" as "tongue-in-cheek." But Limbaugh defended his comment that "blacks can't swim" by again citing the March 2 HealthDay article that he had cited on August 23 program, suggesting it supported his assertion that his comments were "not ... racist." Read more

Hannity: "[M]aking sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the [House] speaker" is "worth ... dying for"

On the August 29 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Fox News host Sean Hannity sought to encourage Republican voters and candidates to ensure a Republican victory in the November midterm elections by proclaiming that "there are things in life worth fighting and dying for, and one of 'em is making sure" that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) "doesn't become the speaker." Hannity then urged his listeners to "[i]gnore the polls, ignore the media, ignore the pundits. It's 70 days to go. The end is not here yet. We still can turn this thing around." Read more

Coulter on Sen. Chafee: "They Shot the Wrong Lincoln"

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter titled her August 30 syndicated column on the Rhode Island Senate race: "They Shot the Wrong Lincoln." The headline is a reference to Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), whom she excoriated throughout the piece -- calling him a "half-wit" and a "silver-spooned moron[] -- while expressing her support for his challenger in the September 12 Republican primary, Stephen Laffey. Read more

Coulter: Terrorists killed in Iraq are "described in the media as 'Iraqi civilians' "

In her August 23 column, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter claimed that "terrorists" in Iraq who are killed by the U.S. military are "described in the media as 'Iraqi civilians,' even if they are from Jordan, like the now-dead leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." In its most recent Human Rights Report, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq found that 5,818 Iraqi civilians were killed between May 1 and June 30; the report added that "[w]omen, children and vulnerable groups, such as minorities, internally displaced and disabled persons continue to be directly affected by the violence." Read more

Bush to Renew Defense of War Strategy

SALT LAKE CITY - President Bush predicts that victory in Iraq will be "a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century" as he prepares to begin a renewed campaign to defend his war strategy ahead of the fall elections and the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Beginning a series of war speeches at the American Legion's national convention on Thursday, Bush planned to acknowledge the unsettling times - marked by sectarian violence in Iraq, disputes along the Israel-Lebanon border and terrorists allegedly plotting to blow up planes between Britain and the United States.

But he was arguing that the bloodshed and threats are part of an ideological struggle between freedom and extremism that the United States must not abandon.

"They're not political speeches," Bush said Wednesday when asked if they might have an impact on the congressional elections just over two months away. "They're speeches about the future of this country, and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation would become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about."

Thousands could be grounded by US-EU air security spat: IATA

TOKYO (AFP) - Over 100,000 people a week could be stopped from flying unless the United States and the European Union strike a deal over the provision of sensitive information on passengers, the top industry body said.

The EU's top court in May overturned a decision forcing airlines to supply data on European passengers to US authorities as part of a security crackdown, giving the two sides until September 30 to reach a new agreement.

"The US and Europe must move quickly to avoid a big potential crisis over the Atlantic in the following weeks," said the director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Giovanni Bisignani.

"Failure to agree by September 30 could ground up to 105,000 travellers a week," he told reporters in a speech in Tokyo.

More4 risks US ire with Bush assassination film

The Guardian

Death of a President: fictional documentary looking back at the assassination of Mr Bush in October 2007

Digital channel More4 will court controversy once again this autumn with a fictional piece, shot as a documentary, about the assassination of the US president, George Bush.
Death of a President seems certain to cause a furore on the other side of the Atlantic when it is premiered at the Toronto film festival next month.

In the UK the 90-minute film will be broadcast first on Channel 4's digital service in October.

The drama takes the form of a fictional documentary looking back at the assassination of Mr Bush in October 2007, after he has delivered a speech to business leaders in Chicago.

When Mr Bush arrives in the city he is confronted by a massive demonstration against the Iraq war and is gunned down by a sniper as he leaves the venue. The hunt for Mr Bush's killer focuses on a Syrian-born man, Jamal Abu Zikri.

Pay To Be Saved

by NAOMI KLEIN


The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box.

This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the government's calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: Businesses do disaster better.

"It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys, currently under hurricane watch for Tropical Storm Ernesto, said in April. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources."

But before this new consensus goes any further, perhaps it's time to take a look at where the privatization of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.

The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter).

We saw the results in New Orleans one year ago: Washington was frighteningly weak and inept, in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. At least by comparison, the private sector looked modern and competent (a New York Times columnist even suggested handing FEMA over to Wal-Mart).

But the honeymoon doesn't last long. "Where has all the money gone?" ask desperate people from Baghdad to New Orleans, from Kabul to tsunami-struck Sri Lanka. One place a great deal of it has gone is into major capital expenditures for these private contractors. Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatized disaster-response infrastructure: the Shaw Group's new state-of-the-art Baton Rouge headquarters, Bechtel's battalions of earthmoving equipment, Blackwater USA's 6,000-acre campus in North Carolina (complete with paramilitary training camp and 6,000-foot runway).

I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, water tanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it. So far, that reality hasn't sunk in because when these companies are getting their bills paid by government contracts, the Disaster Capitalism Complex provides its services to the public free of charge.

But here's the catch: The US government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8-trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260-billion. That means that sooner rather than later, the contracts are going to dry up. And no one knows this better than the companies themselves. Ralph Sheridan, chief executive of Good Harbor Partners, one of hundreds of new counter-terrorism companies, explains that "expenditures by governments are episodic and come in bubbles." Insiders call it the "homeland security bubble."

When it bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose their primary revenue stream. They will still have all their high-tech gear giving them the ability to respond to disasters--while the government will have let that precious skill whither away--but now they will sell back the tax-funded infrastructure at whatever price they choose.

Here's a snapshot of what could be in store in the not-too-distant future: helicopter rides off of rooftops in flooded cities ($5,000 a pop, $7,000 for families, pets included), bottled water and "meals ready to eat" ($50 per person, steep, but that's supply and demand) and a cot in a shelter with a portable shower (show us your biometric ID--developed on a lucrative Homeland Security contract--and we'll track you down later with the bill. Don't worry, we have ways: Spying has been outsourced too).

The model, of course, is the US healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46 million Americans lack health insurance. As emergency response, the model is already at work in the global AIDS pandemic: Private-sector prowess helped produce lifesaving drugs (with heavy public subsidies), then set prices so high that the vast majority of the world's infected cannot afford treatment.

If that is the corporate world's track record on slow-motion disasters, why should we expect different values to govern fast-moving disasters, like hurricanes or even terrorist attacks? It's worth remembering that as Israeli bombs pummeled Lebanon not so long ago, the US government initially tried to charge its citizens for the cost of their own evacuations. And of course anyone without a Western passport in Lebanon had no hope of rescue.

One year ago, New Orleans's working-class and poor citizens were stranded on their rooftops waiting for help that never came, while those who could pay their way escaped to safety. The country's political leaders claim it was all some terrible mistake, a breakdown in communication that is being fixed. Their solution is to go even further down the catastrophic road of "private-sector solutions."

Unless a radical change of course is demanded, New Orleans will prove to be a glimpse of a dystopic future, a future of disaster apartheid in which the wealthy are saved and everyone else is left behind.

Iran defiant on nuclear deadline

BBC

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Tehran will not yield to pressure, as a UN deadline for Iran to stop sensitive nuclear work expires.
"Iran will not back down an inch... and will not accept being deprived of its rights," he said in a speech.

The UN had set a 31 August deadline for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and re-processing activities.

If Iran is found not to comply, the US wants UN powers to discuss a resolution which could impose sanctions on Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to submit a report to the UN Security Council which is expected to say that Iran has not complied with the UN demand.

US ambassador to the UN John Bolton has said Iran is well aware that ignoring the UN demands could trigger sanctions.

He said the five permanent members of the Security Council had repeatedly warned that failure to meet the deadline would result in them seeking sanctions.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

UN denounces Israel cluster bombs

BBC



The UN's humanitarian chief has accused Israel of "completely immoral" use of cluster bombs in Lebanon.
UN clearance experts had so far found 100,000 unexploded cluster bomblets at 359 separate sites, Jan Egeland said.

"Ninety per cent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," he said.

Israel has previously said that munitions it uses in conflict comply with international law.

Earlier estimates from UN experts had suggested a total of about 100 cluster bomb sites.

Mr Egeland described the fresh statistics as "shocking new information".

"Cluster bombs have affected large areas - lots of homes, lots of farmland," Mr Egeland said.

He added: "They will be with us for many months, possibly years. Every day, people are maimed, wounded and killed by these weapons. It shouldn't have happened."

Mr Egeland said his information had come from the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre, which had undertaken assessments of nearly 85% of the bombed areas in Lebanon.

Defense Contractor CEOs' Pay Doubles

The study, conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, found that, on average, CEOs of corporations with extensive defense contracts are getting paid about double what they made before Sept. 11, 2001. CEOs of other large corporations _ without big stakes in the war _ have averaged pay gains of 6 percent during the same period, the study said.

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The study focused on the pay of the CEOs of the 34 publicly traded U.S. corporations that were among the top 100 defense contractors in 2005 and for which defense contracts made up more than 10 percent of revenues. The two groups calculated the CEOs' pay packages based on salary, bonuses, stock awards, long-term incentives and the value of stock options exercised in any given year. The information is publicly available from Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

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Between 2001 and 2005, the profits for the 34 companies have climbed 189 percent. Profits for U.S. corporations as a whole rose 76 percent.

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Another highly paid CEO is Jay Gellert, CEO of Health Net Inc., which provides managed health care to dependents of military personnel as well as Pentagon retirees. In the years immediately before Sept. 11, 2001, Gellert didn't break $1 million in compensation.

Gellert made $11.6 million last year after a big jump in military contracts that the company said in its SEC filings resulted from "a rise in demand for private sector services as a direct result of continued and heightened military activity."

--MORE--

Embattled MoonBat Santorum blasts Bush over visa for Ex-Iranian President

RAW STORY


Embattled conservative Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) blasted the Bush Administration today for allowing a former Iranian president to visit the United States, RAW STORY has learned.

"I am outraged," Santorum said of the administration's approval of Mohammad Khatami's request for visa. "Mohammed Khatami is one of the chief propagandists of the Islamic Fascist regime... I believe that granting a visa to Khatami so that he can travel around the United States and mislead the American people is a mistake."

Ironically, Santorum's chief complaint about Khatami's plans to speak in America is the former president's record on free speach.

Limbaugh blamed the left for obesity crisis, lamented that in America, we "[d]idn't teach them how to ...

...... slaughter a cow to get the butter; we gave them the butter"

Rush Limbaugh blamed "the left" and the United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF) for "the latest crisis" of "obesity among those who are impoverished," adding that Americans "[d]idn't teach them how to ... slaughter a cow to get the butter; we gave them the butter." Limbaugh also called the "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" campaign "[o]ne of the biggest scams on the face of the earth" because its goal was to "get everybody thinking the United Nations is feeding poor people." Read more

AP continues to tout old poll showing 12-point Lieberman lead while ignoring more recent polls showing closer race

Last week, Media Matters for America noted that an August 25 Associated Press article about the Connecticut Senate race "summarized the state of the race by emphasizing a week-old poll showing Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman with a 12-point lead over Democratic nominee Ned Lamont rather than two more recent polls that show the race in a dead heat." Read more

Beck baselessly claimed Nagin did not order evacuation until "the day after President Bush called him and told him" to

On his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck baselessly claimed that as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin did not order an evacuation until "the day after President Bush called him and told him" to. However, news reports indicate that it was Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, not Nagin, who was called by Bush and that Nagin ordered the evacuation the same day that phone call reportedly occurred. Read more

Limbaugh accused media of "pure politics" for supposedly "celebrat[ing]" Katrina anniversary while ignoring 9-11

Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats and the "drive-by media" of "celebrat[ing] a one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina." He complained that the media have recently avoided coverage of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because it "would help the Bush administration," and that this purported lack of coverage is responsible for a "split in public opinion on the war in Iraq and the war on terror." Read more

MAUREEN DOWD: Begat, Bothered, Bewildered

New Orleans




Doing his stations of the Katrina cross, President Bush went for breakfast with Mayor Ray Nagin at Betsy’s Pancake House.

As Mr. Bush tried to squeeze past some tightly placed tables, a waitress, Joyce Labruzzo, teased him, saying, “Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?’’

“No ma’am,’’ he replied, with a laugh and a pause for effect. “Not again.”

It was a rare unguarded moment — showing that his towering Katrina failure is lodged somewhere in the front of his cerebral cortex — in a trip of staged, studiously happy settings, steering away from the wreckage of buildings and people so searing for anyone who loved the saucy and sauce-laden New Orleans of old.

W.’s anniversary contrition for the cameras was a more elaborate version of his famous Air Force One flyover a year ago, when he had to be shown a DVD of angry news coverage of apartheid suffering here before he belatedly and grudgingly broke off his five-week Crawford vacation.

In an interview on the Upper Ninth Ward’s desolate North Dorgenois Street, the president told NBC’s Brian Williams that, besides Camus, he had recently read a book on the Battle of New Orleans and “three Shakespeares.” A White House aide said one of them was “Hamlet.”

What could be more fitting? A prince who dithers instead of acting and then acts precipitously at the wrong moment, not paying attention when someone vulnerable drowns.

Asked by the anchor whether he was asking people in the country to sacrifice enough, he replied briskly, “Americans are sacrificing — we pay a lot of taxes.”

The last two days in Mississippi and New Orleans were W.’s play within the play. He took the role of the empathetic and engaged chief executive, rallying resources to save the Gulf Coast, even as the larger lens showed a sad picture of American communities that are still decrepit and hurting, while the Bush administration’s billions flow to reconstructing — or rather not reconstructing — Iraq.

You longed for this Crawford Hamlet to just go out there and say, “This just isn’t good enough.”

Instead, he gritted his teeth and put on his blandly optimistic cheerleader-in-chief role and talked about restoring “the soul’’ of New Orleans. It always makes me nervous when W. does soul talk.

He was brazen enough to pose as the man of action even in a city ruined by his initial and continuing inaction. “I’ve been on the levees,’’ he told a crowd at a high school here yesterday. “I’ve seen these good folks working.’’

He spoke to a small number of residents in the boiling sun before the one house that had been tidily restored in a blighted working-class neighborhood in Biloxi. Outside the TV frame, there was a toilet on its side in the yard of a gutted house full of dangling wires, iron scraps and other sad detritus. On one fence spoke there was a child’s abandoned stuffed toy.

At a stop at a building company in Gulfport, Miss., he chirped biblically: “There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.”

Douglas Brinkley, the New Orleans writer who recounted the history of the trellis of failure, Republican and Democratic, federal, state and local, in “The Great Deluge,’’ noted that Mr. Bush was merely “sweating bullets trying to get the visit over with.”

“In the Republican playbook, Katrina’s a loser,’’ he said.

Mr. Bush tells journalists he has been reading prodigiously, 53 books so far this year, with three bios of George Washington, two of Lincoln and one of Mao. He seems more attuned to his place in history and yet he doesn’t really seem to get that his presidency will be defined by rushing into one place too fast and not rushing into another fast enough.

He has let Dick Cheney and Rummy launch Cat-5 attacks on critics of the war. Darth Vader reiterated his nutty pre-emption policy, and Rummy compared critics of Iraq to Chamberlains who appeased Hitler, noting that “once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.”

Somebody needs to corner the defense chief and explain that it’s not that we don’t want to fight terrorism, it’s that we want to do it efficiently and effectively. Why is it necessary to scare the country, make false connections between an ill-conceived war and fighting terror, and demonize critics with outrageously careless historical references to Hitler and fascism?

W. needs to restore the soul, not merely of the Big Easy, but of the White House.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Watchdog Group Warns Against AOL’s Free Software

NYT

Dealing yet another blow to AOL, a leading software watchdog group warned users away from AOL’s free client software yesterday on the ground that it displayed characteristics consistent with “badware.”

The term badware describes a wide array of downloadable applications that try to install extra components on a computer without clearly informing users of what they are or what they will do.

The group, StopBadware.org, posted an “open inquiry” into the AOL software yesterday, meaning that a dialogue has been opened with the company and that a full “badware” designation is still pending.

The report, however, stated that the AOL client software, which provides subscribers with a suite of services, also installed extra software deceptively, altered the Web browser and other computer components without notifying the user, and did not uninstall completely, among other “badware behaviors.”

Similar characteristics are often found in pernicious forms of spyware and adware, often called malware. The StopBadware organization was founded in part to assist consumers in spotting shady software. The group is jointly run by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University....

Rumsfeld Lashes Out at Bush's Critics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused critics of the Bush administration's Iraq and counterterrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism."

In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration's critics as suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion" about what threatens the nation's security and accused them of lacking the courage to fight back.

In remarks to several thousand veterans at the American Legion's national convention, Rumsfeld recited what he called the lessons of history, including the failed efforts to appease the Adolf Hitler regime in the 1930s.

"I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," he said.

Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion as part of a coordinated White House strategy, in advance of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to take the offensive against administration critics at a time of doubt about the future of Iraq and growing calls to withdraw U.S. troops.

Wash. Post, O'Beirne misrepresented public support for Iraq timetable

A Washington Post article misrepresented polling to state that the public is "evenly split" on withdrawing from Iraq. Similarly, National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne falsely claimed on NBC's Meet the Press that the public does "not support leaving prematurely, and a timetable to do so." Read more

Blitzer again let Mehlman claim public opposes Iraq withdrawal timetable; polling still shows otherwise

On The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Ken Mehlman's false claim that the American public is opposed to setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The two polls taken in August that asked about a timetable found that a majority of Americans support the idea. Read more

Ignoring Clintons' pre-primary pledge to support Democratic candidate, Blitzer remarked that "now both oppose" Lieberman's independent candidacy

On the August 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, after host Wolf Blitzer noted that former President Bill Clinton campaigned for incumbent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who lost to challenger Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic primary, he asked: "So, why is [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [D-NY] meeting with Ned Lamont today?" Blitzer reported that the Clintons both "supported Lieberman over Lamont in the primary ... [b]ut now both oppose Lieberman's decision to run as an independent this fall, and they are now backing Lamont." In fact, both Bill and Hillary Clinton declared their intentions to support the winner of the Democratic primary, regardless of who that turned out to be, well before Lamont defeated Lieberman. Read more

Matthews ignored Allen's display of Confederate flag, hangman's noose,

On MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews did not respond when former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie asserted that Sen. George F. Allen (R-VA) does not "have a prejudicial bone in his body." Matthews could have pointed out that -- regardless of Allen's attitudes -- he has taken actions in the past that have provoked strong criticism. Read more

Democrats Now Favored to Take Over DeLay’s Old Seat

The Texas Republican Party establishment has rallied around a single candidate, Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, in their unusual write-in campaign to salvage the 22nd Congressional District seat vacated in June by Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.

But the extreme rarity of successful write-in campaigns for Congress and the presence of a solid Democratic nominee on the ballot in former Rep. Nick Lampson has prompted CQPolitics.com to change its rating on the 22nd District race to Leans Democratic from No Clear Favorite.

The GOP faces a world of trouble in this race because of a serious miscalculation on the part of DeLay and his party colleagues.

Party officials initially were encouraged by DeLay’s decisions to renounce the nomination he had won in the March 7 primary and to resign from Congress on June 9. Though long one of the most powerful figures in Texas and national politics, DeLay faced a still-pending trial for alleged state campaign finance violations and ethics controversies stemming from his past ties to now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.


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News From Iraq

Iraq fuel pipeline blast kills 15

NEAR DIWANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 15 people were killed in an explosion in central Iraq late on Monday while people were collecting petrol from pools formed around a breach in a disused fuel pipeline, witnesses said on Tuesday.

A Reuters reporter at the rural site near Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, counted 15 charred bodies. A hospital official said there were also a further four bodies in Diwaniya's morgue. A police source said more than 50 were killed in total, although that figure could not be confirmed.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion at 11 p.m. (1900 GMT), when a large group of people had gathered to scoop petrol at the site, officials said.

The blast did not appear connected to the violence in Diwaniya on Monday, when at least 20 Iraqi soldiers were killed in street fighting with Shi'ite militiamen, some of the bloodiest clashes among rival powers in Shi'ite southern Iraq.

*************************************

2 American Soldier Killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, one in fighting
in the restive Anbar province and the second from injuries sustained
in a Humvee accident, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

A soldier assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 died Sunday after being
wounded in fighting in Anbar, the U.S. command said in a statement.
Anbar province is a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold that has seen some
of the worst fighting since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The military earlier reported that eight other soldiers also died Sunday
in and around Baghdad, making it one of the deadliest days for the
military in recent months.

A Nebraska National Guardsman with the 1st Squadron, 167th Cavalry
at Camp Anaconda, 50 miles north of Baghdad, died Monday of injuries
he suffered in a Humvee accident on Aug. 21, a separate statement said.


******************************************************

Police find 10 bodies in Baghdad school yard

BAGHDAD - Iraqi police on Tuesday found the bodies of 10 men, handcuffed and blindfolded, dumped in the yard of a school in western Baghdad.

The discovery of the bodies, many bearing signs of torture, has become a typical feature of bloodshed gripping Iraq.

Iraqi army agrees truce with Shiite militia after deadly clash

DIWANIYAH, Iraq (AFP) - Iraqi authorities have agreed a truce with a Shiite militia and calm has been restored in the town of Diwaniyah after a battle which left at least 28 people dead, military officials said.

Under the deal brokered by local Iraqi political leaders, the army will pull back reinforcements which came from outside the city, while the Mahdi Army militia will evacuate a district it took control of during the fighting.

"We are now watching the militia withdrawing. They started pulling out early this morning and they're still going," an Iraq army captain told AFP.

Shops began to reopen in Diwaniyah on Tuesday and water and electricity supplies were turned back on, as a tense calm returned to the town that lies 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Radical Cleric Jerry Fallwell: "U.N. is the infrastructure, the stage for the AntiChrist"

From Falwell's August 27 sermon at the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he serves as senior pastor:

FALWELL: I expect the Lord to return in the 21st century to Rapture at his church. Now, I can't prove that. I cannot prove that the Lord is gonna come in this century. No one knows the day or the hour, but in my heart I believe it because there are no more predicted events that need to happen before our Lord can return.

I expect a global economy in the 21st century, which first will manifest itself as a cashless society. I believe that plastic will take the place of cash, and that while this will only be fulfilled during the tribulation period at the Rapture, I believe that God is setting the stage for, and laying the infrastructure for, a cashless society right now. Most people, many pay their bills online already. And the day will come, I believe, when there will be no cash, and the only way you can get cash and trade and to do business is to have the mark of the beast.

And then I expect the nations of the world in the 21st century to move rapidly towards a one-world government. We already have the U.N. -- it's a useless bunch. But we've already got the U.N., and they will not be the one-world government, but they are the infrastructure, the stage on which the Antichrist will build his one-world government.


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THOMAS FRANK: Defunders of Liberty

Guest Columnist


Before he became K Street’s most enterprising racketeer, Jack Abramoff was best known as a sort of young Robespierre of the Reagan Revolution. In 1983, as chairman of the College Republicans, he declared that he and his minions did not “seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently.”

By all accounts, Abramoff carried out this mission with a Ramboesque single-mindedness. A ferocious latter-day red-baiter, he seems to have encountered Communists everywhere he went in early-80’s America, fighting them (literally, with his fists) on campus, detecting their influence in the nuclear freeze movement, scheming to checkmate students worried about El Salvador by calling attention to the crimes of “their beloved Soviet Union.” As a reward he got his handsome mug on the cover of the John Birch Society’s Review of the News.

Abramoff’s remark about liquidating the left was not just the intemperate raving of a hot-blooded youth. It also expressed the essence of the emerging conservative project: You don’t just argue with liberals, you damage them. You use the power of the state to afflict their social movements, to wreck their proudest government agencies, and to divert their funding streams. “Defund the left” was a rallying cry all across the New Right in those heady days; Richard Viguerie even devoted a special issue of Conservative Digest to the subject in 1983.

Abramoff and his clean-cut campus radicals pushed their own “defund the left” campaign with characteristic √©lan, declaring war on Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG, environmental and consumer activist outfits that were funded by student activity fees on some campuses. The young conservatives were always careful to cast the issue as a matter of “student rights” versus political coercion, but Abramoff clearly saw it as an avenue to ideological victory. “When we win this one,” he boasted in 1983, “we’ll have done more to neutralize Ralph Nader than anyone else, ever.”

What the young conservatives of those days understood was that slogans are cheap, but institutions are not. Once broken or bankrupted, they do not snap back to fight another day. Cut off PIRG’s supply lines and the groups must dedicate their resources to justifying their existence, making it that much harder for them to agitate against nuclear power. It’s the political equivalent of strategic bombing, in which you systematically blast the rail junctions and ball-bearing factories of the other side.


Examples of such B-52 politics are all around us today. There are “paycheck protection” and school voucher campaigns, which are sold as rights issues but which are actually megaton devices to vaporize the flow of funds from labor unions to Democratic candidates. Social Security privatization, promoted as a way to make our retirements cushier, will also divert billions of dollars away from the welfare state and into the coffers of the G.O.P.’s allies on Wall Street.

Then there is the K Street Project. Almost as soon as they took control of Congress in 1995, Republican leaders began leveraging their newfound power to transform the corporate lobbying industry into a patronage fiefdom of the G.O.P. Lobbying firms were urged to hire true-believing Republicans or lose their “access”; once the personnel were Republican, the money followed. The result for the other side was also predictable: less money flowing to Democrats and a severe devaluation of a career in progressive politics. If Democrats have no place in Washington’s private sector, then the attractiveness of being a liberal is diminished by just that much more.

What is most ingenious about all this is not so much its destructiveness but the way it appeals to mainstream notions of fairness. Consider another of Jack Abramoff’s remarks from back in the days when he raged against PIRG. The groups, he said, should “compete in the free marketplace of ideas” just like the College Republicans did, where attracting private funding was what proved an idea to be “truly good and truly worthwhile.”

In Washington today, where each bad idea to rattle through the nation’s billionaire class seems to have a dedicated think tank to push it along, we are living out Abramoff’s dictum: that an idea is not worth hearing unless a large amount of somebody’s money is behind it.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.’’ He is a guest columnist during August.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 257





Macaca 2: The Apology Edition

George Allen (1) grabs the top slot again with a fabulous apology to S. R. Sidarth, George W. Bush (2) explains Iraq, and Katherine Harris (3) hits a three-fer to notch up her sixth entry in the last eight weeks. Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman (4) waxes Republican, Conrad Burns (7) drops a bombshell, and Glenn Beck (9) ridicules the blind

Sunday, August 27, 2006

PAUL KRUGMAN: Broken Promises

Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.

But when the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was running Iraq, closed up shop nine months later, it turned out that only 2 percent of the $18 billion had been spent, and only a handful of the projects that were supposed to have been financed with that money had even been started. In the end, America failed to deliver even the most basic repair of Iraq’s infrastructure; today, Baghdad gets less than seven hours of electricity a day.

And so it is along our own Gulf Coast. The Bush administration likes to talk about all the money it has allocated to the region, and it plans a public relations blitz to persuade America that it’s doing a heck of a job aiding Katrina’s victims. But as the Iraqis learned, allocating money and actually using it for reconstruction are two different things, and so far the administration has done almost nothing to make good on last year’s promises.

It’s true that tens of billions have been spent on emergency relief and cleanup. But even the cleanup remains incomplete: almost a third of the hurricane debris in New Orleans has yet to be removed. And the process of going beyond cleanup to actual reconstruction has barely begun.

For example, although Congress allocated $17 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Katrina relief, primarily to provide cash assistance to homeowners, as of last week the department had spent only $100 million. The first Louisiana homeowners finally received checks under a federally financed program just three days ago. Mississippi, which has a similar program, has sent out only about two dozen checks so far.

Local governments, which were promised aid in rebuilding facilities such as fire stations and sewer systems, have fared little better in actually getting that aid. A recent article in The National Journal describes a Kafkaesque situation in which devastated towns and parishes seeking federal funds have been told to jump through complex hoops, spending time and money they don’t have on things like proving that felled trees were actually knocked down by Katrina, only to face demands for even more paperwork.

Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That’s the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology.

But bureaucracies don’t have to be this inefficient. The failure to get moving on reconstruction reflects lack of leadership at the top.

Mr. Bush could have moved quickly to turn his promises of reconstruction into reality. But he didn’t. As months dragged by with little sign of White House action, all urgency about developing a plan for reconstruction ebbed away.

Mr. Bush could have appointed someone visible and energetic to oversee the Gulf Coast’s recovery, someone who could act as an advocate for families and local governments in need of help. But he didn’t.. How many people can even name the supposed reconstruction “czar”?

Mr. Bush could have tried to fix FEMA, the agency whose effectiveness he destroyed through cronyism and privatization. But he didn’t. FEMA remains a demoralized organization, unable to replenish its ranks: it currently has fewer than 84 percent of its authorized personnel.

Maybe the aid promised to the gulf region will actually arrive some day. But by then it will probably be too late. Many former residents and small-business owners, tired of waiting for help that never comes, will have permanently relocated elsewhere; those businesses that stayed open, or reopened after the storm, will have gone under for lack of customers. In America as in Iraq, reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied — and Mr. Bush has, once again, broken a promise.

Brown says White House wanted him to lie

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The ousted head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency says the White House wanted him to lie about the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Former Director Michael Brown told ABC News` 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos' Sunday he stood by comments in a Playboy interview, and President Bush wanted him to take the heat for the bungling.

'The lie was that we were ready and that everything was working as a team. Behind the scenes, it wasn`t working at all,' Brown said. 'There were political considerations going into all the discussions. There was the fact that New Orleans did not evacuate and the mayor (Ray Nagin) had no plan.'

Brown said it was natural to 'want to put the spin on that things are working the way they`re supposed to do. And behind the scenes, they`re not. Again, my biggest mistake was just not leveling with the American public and saying, `Folks, this isn`t working.`'

Two killed, 20 wounded as rebels bomb state-owned Iraq newspaper

BAGHDAD -- At least two people were killed and 20 others wounded Sunday when insurgents blew up a car bomb in the parking lot of Al Sabah, Iraq’s state-owned daily newspaper, a security official said.

Iraqi interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf confirmed the attack but not the casualty toll.

Report: Israel, Hezbollah to hold prisoner exchange in 3 weeks

Haaretz

The Egyptian state-run daily Al-Ahram reports that Israel and Hezbollah have agreed to terms on a prisoner exchange for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

According to the report, senior Egyptian officials have told the paper that the exchange is to take place in two to three weeks' time, and is mediated by Germany.

The sources said that the parties are currently negotiating the framework of the deal, and that the main points of contention are the prisoners' order of release as well as the number and identity of the Lebanese prisoners Israel is to release.

The sources told Al-Ahram that it has not yet been agreed whether Goldwasser and Regev would be released first, and a day or two later Israel would release Lebanese prisoners according to a list provided by Hezbollah, or whether the exchange is to take place concurrently.

MoonBat Katherine Harris attempts to defuse controversy

ORLANDO · Rep. Katherine Harris sought Saturday to smother a campaign brushfire stoked by an earlier claim that failure to elect Christians to public office would allow lawmakers to "legislate sin."

Harris, appearing at a gun show in Orlando, said she did not mean to offend non-Christians in her comments to the Florida Baptist Witness last week. She explained that she referred exclusively -- and repeatedly -- to Christians because she was being interviewed by the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

"My comments were specifically directed toward a Christian group," said Harris, a Republican senate candidate from Longboat Key.

Secretary of Defense responds to criticism over extending Iraq deployments

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - In a lively but polite give-and-take, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fielded questions Saturday from wives and other family members of Alaska-based soldiers whose combat tours in Iraq were abruptly extended just as they prepared to return home this month.

Reporters, including five who traveled with Rumsfeld from Washington, D.C., were not permitted to cover his meeting with the family members, which lasted about an hour. But a wife who made a video tape of the event showed it to reporters afterward.

One wife asked Rumsfeld why the 172nd was doing house-to-house searches in Baghdad instead of, combat operations they are trained to perform. Rumsfeld disputed her assertion, saying that 95 percent of the house-clearing operations are being done by Iraqi troops.

In an interview during his flight to Fairbanks, Rumsfeld said he saw no reason for the soldiers or their families to be angry at him.

Asked why reporters would not be permitted to cover the event, Rumsfeld at first replied, “I don’t have any idea. I haven’t addressed the subject.” Later he said he makes it a practice to make all family meetings private.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

FRANK RICH: Return to the Scene of the Crime

PRESIDENT BUSH travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency.

As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s “heckuva job” shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.


What’s amazing on Katrina’s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He’s still in a bubble. At last week’s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the “Today” show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, “Nothing,” adding that “nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.” Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense.


As the rest of the world knows, the White House connived 24/7 to pound in the suggestion that Saddam ordered the attacks on 9/11. “The Bush administration had repeatedly tied the Iraq war to Sept. 11,” Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton write in “Without Precedent,” their new account of their stewardship of the 9/11 commission. The nonexistent Qaeda-Saddam tie-in was as much a selling point for the war as the nonexistent W.M.D. The salesmanship was so merciless that half the country was brainwashed into believing that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis.


To achieve this feat, Dick Cheney spent two years publicly hyping a “pretty well confirmed” (translation: unconfirmed) pre-9/11 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta and a Saddam intelligence officer, continuing to do so long after this specious theory had been discredited. Mr. Bush’s strategy was to histrionically stir 9/11 and Iraq into the same sentence whenever possible, before the invasion and after. Typical was his May 1, 2003, oration declaring the end of “major combat operations.” After noting that “the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11th, 2001,” he added: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.” To paraphrase the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, this was tantamount to saying that the Japanese attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941, and war with Mexico is what they got.


Were it not so tragic, Mr. Bush’s claim that he had never suggested a connection between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq would be as ludicrous as Bill Clinton’s doomed effort to draw a distinction between sex and oral sex. The tragedy is that the country ever believed Mr. Bush, particularly those Americans who were moved to enlist because of 9/11 and instead ended up fighting a war that the president now concedes had “nothing” to do with the 9/11 attacks.


A representative and poignant example, brought to light by The Los Angeles Times, is Patrick R. McCaffrey, a Silicon Valley auto-body-shop manager with two children who joined the California National Guard one month after 9/11. He was eager to do his bit for homeland security by helping protect the Shasta Dam or Golden Gate Bridge. Instead he was sent to Iraq, where he was killed in 2004. In a replay of the Pentagon subterfuge surrounding the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman, another post-9/11 enlistee betrayed by his country, Mr. McCaffrey’s death was at first officially attributed to an ambush by insurgents. Only after two years of investigation did the Army finally concede that his killers were actually the Iraqi security forces he was helping to train.


“He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there,” his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the paper. Last week’s belated presidential admission that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on America that inspired Patrick McCaffrey’s service was implicitly an admission that he and many like him died in Iraq for nothing as well.


Mr. Bush’s press-conference disavowalof his habitual efforts to connect 9/11 to Saddam will be rolled back by the White House soon enough. When the fifth anniversary of 9/11 arrives in two weeks, you can bet that the president will once again invoke the Qaeda attacks to justify the Iraq war, especially now that we are adding troops (through the involuntary call-up of reservists) rather than subtracting any. The new propaganda strategy will be right out of Lewis Carroll: If we leave the country that had nothing to do with 9/11, then 9/11 will happen again.
But before we get to that White House P.R. offensive, there is next week’s Katrina show. It has its work cut out for it.



A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A “truth squad” of House Democrats has cataloged the “waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement” in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.


How do you pretty up this picture? As an opening act, Mr. Bush met on Wednesday with Rockey Vaccarella, a Katrina survivor who with much publicity drove a “replica” of a FEMA trailer from New Orleans to Washington to seek an audience with the president. No Cindy Sheehan bum’s rush for him. Mr. Bush granted his wish and paraded him before the press. That was enough to distract the visitor from his professed message to dramatize the unfinished job on the Gulf. Instead Mr. Vaccarella effusively thanked the president for “the millions of FEMA trailers” complete with air-conditioning and TV. “You know, I wish you had another four years, man,” he said. “If we had this president for another four years, I think we’d be great.”


The CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, loved it. “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better, a gritty guy named Rockey slugging it out, trying to realize his dream and getting that dream realized against all odds,” he said. He didn’t ask how this particular Rockey, a fast-food manager who lost everything a year ago, financed this mission or so effortlessly pulled it off. It was up to bloggers and Democrats to report shortly thereafter that Mr. Vaccarella had run as a Republican candidate for the St. Bernard Parish commission in 1999. It was up to Iris Hageney of Gretna, La., to complain on the Times-Picayune Web site that the episode was “a huge embarrassment” that would encourage Americans to “forget the numerous people who still don’t have trailers or at least one with electricity or water.”


That is certainly the White House game plan as it looks toward the president’s two-day return to the scene of the crime. Just as it brought huge generators to floodlight Mr. Bush’s prime-time recovery speech in Jackson Square a year ago — and then yanked the plug as soon as he was done — so it will stop at little to bathe this anniversary in the rosiest possible glow.


Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, “The Great Deluge,” is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. “I don’t think anybody’s getting the Bush strategy,” he said when we talked last week. “The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action.” As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans’s opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees (“Only Band-Aids have been put on them”), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands.

The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. “Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains,” Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. “The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state.”

Perhaps. But with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. While the White House’s latest screenplay may have been conceived as “Mission Accomplished II,” what we’re likely to see play out in New Orleans won’t even be a patch on “Mission: Impossible III.”

Precisely False vs. Approximately Right: A Reader’s Guide to Polls

NYT The Public Editor


LAST March, the American Medical Association reported an alarming rate of binge drinking and unprotected sex among college women during spring break. The report was based on a survey of “a random sample” of 644 women and supplied a scientific-sounding “margin of error of +/– 4.00 percent.” Television, columnists and comedians embraced the racy report. The New York Times did not publish the story, but did include some of the data in a chart.

The sample, it turned out, was not random. It included only women who volunteered to answer questions — and only a quarter of them had actually ever taken a spring break trip. They hardly constituted a reliable cross section, and there is no way to calculate a margin of sampling error for such a “sample.”

The Times published a correction explaining the misrepresentation, and the news media that used the story would probably agree with what Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers authority on polls, told Mystery Pollster, a polling blog: how unfair it is to publish a story “suggesting that college students on spring break are largely drunken sluts.”

The story also threatened larger harm. Its general point was indisputable; vacationing collegians often behave recklessly. But there was a larger recklessness in the misrepresentation of the survey. Now that everyone has a phone and calls are cheap, polling organizations have blossomed, and each such example of bad polls risks undermining public confidence in good ones.

Another example surfaced last week in The Wall Street Journal. It examined a “landmark survey,” conducted for liquor retailers, claiming to show that “millions of kids” buy alcohol online. A random sample? The pollster paid the teenage respondents and included only Internet users.

Such misrepresentations help explain why The Times recently issued a seven-page paper on polling standards for editors and reporters. “Keeping poorly done survey research out of the paper is just as important as getting good survey research into the paper,” the document said.

These standards, coming just as the fall campaign heats up, provide a timely reminder of responsible journalism. But the best of intentions are not always met in practice, at The Times or in other media. The standards do not, for instance, discuss how even a punctilious poll story can be given inflated prominence. There is no reason, in any case, to limit such cautions to journalists. Readers, too, need to know something about polls — at least enough to sniff out good polls from bad. Here’s a brief guide.

False Precision

Beware of decimal places. When a polling story presents data down to tenths of a percentage point, what the pollster almost always demonstrates is not precision but pretension. A recent Zogby Interactive poll, for instance, showed that the candidates for the Senate in Missouri were separated by 3.8 percentage points. Yet the stated margin of sampling error meant the difference between the candidates could be seven points. The survey would have to interview unimaginably many thousands for that zero point eight to be useful.

Experienced researchers offer a rule of thumb: rather than trust improbably precise numbers, round them off. Even better, look for whole fractions.

Sampling Error

The Times and other media accompany poll reports with a box explaining how the random sample was selected and stating the sampling error. Error is actually a misnomer. What this figure actually describes is a range of approximation.

There’s also a formula for calculating the error in comparing one survey with another. For instance, last May, a Times/CBS News survey found that 31 percent of the public approved of President Bush’s performance; in the survey published last Wednesday, the number was 36 percent. Is that a real change? Yes. After adjustment for comparative error, the approval rating has gained by at least one point.

For a typical election sample of 1,000, the error rate is plus or minus three percentage points for each candidate, meaning that a 50-50 race could actually differ by 53 to 47. But the three-point figure applies only to the entire sample. How many of those are likely voters? In the recent Connecticut primary, 40 percent of eligible Democrats voted. Even if a poll identified the likely voters perfectly, there still would be just 400 of them, and the error rate for that number would be plus or minus five points. So to win confidence, a finding would have to exceed 55 to 45.

This caution applies forcefully to conclusions about other subgroups. What could a typical survey tell about, say, college-age women? Out of a random sample of 1,000, a little more than half would be women and only about 70 would be of college age. That’s too small a subsample to support any but the most general findings.

Questions

How questions are phrased can mean wide shifts, even with wholly neutral words. Men respond poorly, for instance, to questions asking if they are “worried” about something, so careful pollsters will ask if they are “concerned.”

The classic “double negative” example came in July 1992, when a Roper poll asked, “Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?” The finding: one of every five Americans seemed to doubt that there was a Holocaust. How much did that startling finding result from the confusing question? In a follow-up survey, Roper asked a clearer question, and the number of doubters plunged from the original 22 percent to 1 percent.

Extreme questions are fine if the poll asks questions at both extremes, says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll and author of “Polling Matters,” an authoritative 2004 book on this subject. The difference between the answers “can give us good insights into evolving social norms,” he says. “All data are interesting.”

In any case, Warren Mitofsky, head of a leading international polling company, observes that “for political surveys, most of the questions have been asked for many years, have been tested and are not the source of error.”

The order of questions is another source of potential error. That’s illustrated by questions asked by the Pew Research Center. Andrew Kohut, its president, says: “If you first ask people what they think about gay marriage, they are opposed. They vent. And if you then ask what they think about civil unions, a majority support that.”

Answers

People never wish to look uninformed and will often answer questions despite ignorance of the subject. Some 40 years into the cold war, many respondents were still saying yes, Russia is a member of NATO. That’s why, says Rob Daves, head of the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers, skillful pollsters will first ask, for new or sophisticated subjects, a scaling question like, How much do you know about this issue: a great deal, some, not at all?

Respondents also want to appear to be good citizens. When the Times/CBS News Poll asks voters if they voted in the 2004 presidential election, 73 percent say yes. Shortly after the election, however, the Census Bureau reported that only 64 percent of the eligible voters actually voted.

Jon Krosnick, an authority on polling and politics at Stanford, uses the term “satisficing” to describe behavior when a pollster calls. If people find the subject compelling, they become engaged. If not, they answer impatiently. Either way, says Kathy Frankovich, director of surveys for CBS News, “people grab the first thing that comes to mind.”

Intensity

How strongly people feel about an issue may be the most important source of poll misunderstanding. In survey after survey, half the respondents favor stronger gun controls — but don’t care nearly as much as the 10 percent who want them relaxed.

Intensity can be measured by asking a scaled question: Is the issue of abortion so important that you will cast your vote because of a candidate’s position? One of several important issues? Not important? Each added question increases the interview length, testing the respondent’s patience and the pollster’s budget. Nevertheless, on divisive issues, responsible pollsters will ask four, five, even a dozen questions, probing for true feelings.

Public opinion is not precise, and in any case it is constantly churning. Measuring it cannot hope to be precise. What readers can hope for, whether in an individual poll, a consensus from several polls or from the polling profession generally, is the truth — approximately right.

Jack Rosenthal, president of The New York Times Company Foundation, was a senior editor of The Times for 26 years. Byron Calame, the public editor, is on vacation.

Israeli Airstrike Hits Journalists' Car

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli aircraft fired two missiles early Sunday at an armored car belonging to the Reuters news agency, wounding five people, including two cameramen, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.

The Israeli army said it was checking the report.

The airstrike came as Israeli soldiers backed by two dozen tanks, two bulldozers, helicopters and drone planes moved into an area just inside the Gaza Strip near the Karni crossing, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said.

The army said the troops were searching for explosives planted by Palestinian militants alongside the border fence.

The Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shama'a, 23, and Sabah Hamida, 25, who worked for a local television company, had the doors open and were about to get out of the armored vehicle in the nearby Shajaiyeh neighborhood to film the raid when it was struck by the missiles, according to Shamas Odeh, chief of Reuters TV in Gaza.

More on the MoonBat ... Rep. Harris' Religious Remarks Draw Ire

MIAMI - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is "a lie" and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws."

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will "legislate sin," including abortion and gay marriage.

Harris made the comments in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which interviewed political candidates and asked them about religion and their positions on issues.

Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris said.

Her comments drew criticism, including some from fellow Republicans who called them offensive and not representative of the party.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who is Jewish, told the Orlando Sentinel that she was "disgusted" by the comments.

"Congresswoman Harris encourages Americans from all walks of life and faith to participate in our government," said a brief statement from the Harris campaign. "She continues to be an unwavering advocate of religious rights and freedoms."

Harris' opponents in the GOP primary also gave interviews to the Florida Baptist Witness but made more general statements on their faith.

Harris, 49, faced widespread criticism for her role overseeing the 2000 presidential recount as Florida's secretary of state.

State GOP leaders - including Gov. Jeb Bush - don't think she can win against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November. Fundraising has lagged, frustrated campaign workers have defected in droves and the issues have been overshadowed by news of her dealings with a corrupt defense contractor who gave her $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

U.S. Senator (Allen) Confronted Over Race Questions

STAUNTON - Just when U.S. Sen. George Allen was starting to put a controversy behind him, the junior Virginia senator was confronted by a man Friday asking him if he had ever used the word “nigger.”

Stopped after finishing a speech at the Staunton Holiday Inn, Allen told first-year University of Virginia law student Mike Stark he had never used the word.

Stark also asked Allen why he had a Confederate flag and a noose in his office.

Allen asked Stark if this was an interview, and also asked if he could talk later because he was meeting with media.

Stark, 37, was asked to leave the Holiday Inn by Allen aide David Snepp.

Stark then asked Snepp if he worked for the hotel. A short time later, a hotel employee asked Stark to leave.

War Widow To Bush: "As President, you're here to serve the people. And the people are not being served with this war."

TPM Cafe

I just got off the phone with Hildi Halley, a woman from Maine whose husband is a fallen soldier. Yesterday President Bush met with her privately, and news of their meeting was reported in a local Maine paper, the Kennebec Journal. The paper shared few details of the meeting, saying simply that Halley objected to Bush's policies and that she said Bush responded that there was no point in them having a "philosophical discussion about the pros and cons of the war."

But Halley has just given me a much more detailed account of her meeting with Bush. She told me that she went much farther in her criticism of the President, telling him directly that he was "responsible" for the deaths of American soldiers and that as a "Christian man," he should recognize that he's "made a mistake" and that it was his "responsibility to end this." She recounted to me that she was "very direct," telling Bush: "As President, you're here to serve the people. And the people are not being served with this war."

Harris campaign awaits her cash

In an emotional announcement on national TV in March, Harris said she would use every penny her late father had left her.Minutes later, while still in the New York studio where she made the announcement, Harris received a call from her sister.

She and their brother were furious that she had not told them she was going to spend family money on her campaign, according to her former senior consultant Ed Rollins, who was with her that night.In the days that followed, several former staffers, including Rollins, said Harris learned she would not directly receive any inheritance from her father. Instead, his assets, reported to be as much as $100-million, were left to her mother, Harriet. More

CNN's Pilgrim uncritically repeated Rove's dubious claim that warrantless wiretapping "might have prevented September 11th"

CNN's Kitty Pilgrim uncritically repeated White House senior adviser Karl Rove's dubious claim that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program "might have prevented" the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In fact, the Bush administration had information on two of the 9-11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks occurred, and according to the 9-11 Commission and congressional investigators, it was primarily bureaucratic problems -- rather than a lack of information -- that resulted in their escaping detection. Read more

On Countdown, Limbaugh received "Worst Person" second place for Survivor comments, O'Reilly third for dig at Time's Hillary poll

On the August 24 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann awarded nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly second and third place, respectively, in his nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment. O'Reilly was recognized for dismissing without explanation a Time magazine poll showing 53 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) as "not scientific, in my opinion." Limbaugh took the second spot for his invocation of ethnic stereotypes in discussing which "tribes" on the new season of CBS' reality TV program Survivor, in which the teams are reportedly divided by ethnicity, will outperform the others. Read more

AP touted old poll showing Lieberman lead in CT Senate race, downplayed newer polls showing dead heat

An August 25 Associated Press article about the Connecticut Senate race -- with Democratic candidate Ned Lamont, Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger, and Connecticut for Lieberman candidate Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman -- summarized the state of the race by emphasizing a week-old poll showing Lieberman with a 12-point lead over Lamont rather than two more recent polls that show the race in a dead heat. Read more

Defending Allen's "macaca" remarks, Blankley claimed: "In Italian ... it means a clown"

On Hardball, The Washington Times' Tony Blankley stated that the word "macaca," "[i]n Italian, I'm told, it means a clown." The term was twice used by Sen. George Allen to refer to S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer with the campaign of Allen's Democratic Senate challenger Jim Webb. Read more

Matthews let slide Gillespie's denial that McCain criticized "the president" for overly optimistic rhetoric on Iraq

Chris Matthews failed to challenge former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie's false suggestion that Sen. John McCain had not recently criticized "the president" for his overly optimistic rhetoric on the war in Iraq, but rather had stated that "the people thought it was going to be easier than it was." In fact, the four comments McCain specifically quoted as having "led" the American people "to believe that this [the Iraq conflict] would be some kind of a day at the beach" all came from high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including one statement from President Bush himself. Read more