James J. Lee - Discovery Channel Hostage Taker - Anti-Immigration Zealot
By now you've heard of that crazy Discovery Channel hostage taker James J. Lee and you're probably aware that his big plan was to hold hostages until Discovery put him in charge of their fall lineup. And he was not a big fan of Kate Plus 8.
As soon as I read he was anti-baby and concerned for the environment (let alone had written a manifesto), I wondered if the right wing hate machine would use this incident to make their enemies out to be homeless hostage-takers. It seemed like the kind of tragedy that would get the pulse racing for some of bloggers on the right-wing fringe at least. But would they really stoop that low? I kind of figured they would. Sure enough, many did:
...and so on. Naturally, you all represent the Republican Party and the Right Wing as a whole. My hat is off to you all (and you know who you are) for exposing how the right-wing mind works.
The crazy Mr. Lee was a right-winger himself. He is to the right of Jan Brewer on anti-immigration. He raged against "filthy anchor babies" in his manifesto:
Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)
You see how the game works? You can just pick one part of the crazy and ignore the other. :) It's so easy a child could do it.
Witness the flawless reasoning that powered the 8 Bush years, the greatest economic and military era in American History:
Acorn - Framed
Any responses from the Conservative side of the house?
Breitbart concocting a video hoax, that's ordinary enough. But Fox News picking it up and running with it - that looks like one of the biggest stories of the year to me.
Litmus test on whether we have any hope as a nation: will the hoax become a bigger story than Acorn itself? Or does this trick now work, even when exposed?
Political Hate Speech
Remember this gem?
The kind of rhetoric you hear from [Democratic presidential candidates] ... on either side of the aisle, Ronald Reagan never said Jimmy Carter couldn't find countries in his own hemisphere. Walter Mondale never said that President Reagan was a miserable failure. When Bill Clinton ran against President Bush, he didn't compare him to Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. And when Bob Dole ran against President Clinton, he didn't say that he was an absolute phony or a liar. The kind of words we're hearing now from the Democratic candidates go beyond political debate. This is political hate speech. -Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chair
A "miserable failure"? Seriously? phony? liar?? That's hate speech? You didn't even use the n-word. Or compare anyone to Lenin. Or Stalin. Or Hitler. Or call a black man a racist.
Oh Ed, why have you hung up your political hate speech sword? The GOP was already comparing liberals to Al Qaeda.
For that matter, why has the New York Times let this go? They just published a whole article about hateful GOP speech without, apparently, recognizing the irony that for about 5 minutes in 2003, the GOP had the audacity to coin the phrase "Political Hate Speech." You know, when they were criticized in whatever way. Like being called a "phony." Or, you know, passing off their Iraq war agenda as a response to 9/11.
Then about a year later, they stopped using the trick, because they were busy ramping up the biggest political hate speech machine ever created in modern America. Doing both at once might, you know, be awkward. Today, Republican hate speech is now an industry. Republican party experts, in think tanks and PR agencies, create huge volumes of hate speech daily and distribute it via a vast network of radio and television shows, including an entire cable channel devoted to Republican propaganda that calls itself a 24/7 news network. At their darkest and most juvenile, the democratic critics of GWB couldn't even fantasize something so ambitious. They're still playing politics as they were played in 1980, which is part of why they are sucking so badly.
What's especially funny and ironic is that the GOP hate speech has risen to the level where it can actually be objectively compared to fascism.
You see, if your accusations of fascism are part of an organized and deliberate campaign to stir up violence and silence dissent, so you can subvert the democratic process and foster a corporatist theocracy, you might actually be a fascist. And then if someone called you that... well, it might just be the truth. As opposed to, you know, hate speech. :)
Since Republicans are the party of Hypocrisy, this shouldn't be too big a leap to make. Fox News is Fair and Balanced. Budget Reconciliation is a violent coup that we refer to as the Nuclear Option. The GOP is outraged about budget deficits. And so forth. Calling their opponents fascists and accusing them of hate speech fits the pattern pretty well.
Republican Scoreboard, March 2010
So guys, 2 justices and a 5-4 conservative supreme court. Nice job. So what did this get you?
Abortion is still legal. But campaign finance reform is now unconstitutional. Domestic and foreign companies can now spend unlimited money in elections.
Is this what you signed on for?
We should commiserate down at the bar. Have a contest on who's more pissed at their party.
Sarah Palin's Media Strategy - Facebook and Twitter
Politico is running a story on how well Sarah Palin's media strategy is working.
In brief, that strategy seems to be:
- Avoid The Press
- Communicate Through Posting Online
While I am validated that Mrs. Palin has finally adopted my strategy, and pleased that the "mainstream media" are reporting on its effectiveness, I am a little troubled that Politico seems to miss the main benefits.
Allow me to break it down:
- Take hours to write only a few sentences - but boy are they beautiful!
- Let your team of minions copy edit after you finish - no more embarrassing factual or spelling mistakes!
- Never answering questions means never not knowing the answer!
Obviously, the superiority of this method cannot be in doubt. It seems certain that this trend will grow. I would not be surprised if in 10 years no American politician will even show their face in public.
Credit-worthiness and Representative Government
It's common knowledge that our government borrows money on a staggering, fantastic scale. And that, in 2009 alone, we are borrowing and spending on a scale not contemplated outside of global wars gone by.
As the U.S. economy as we know it ends, foreign holders of American debt are beginning to make their unhappiness known, and this is getting a lot of press.
But the real story of American debt, and the credit-worthiness of our government, is not a foreign vs. domestic issue. It has to do with the legitimacy of the U.S. government itself.
The American public at large has absolutely no conception of what has just happened to them. To put it simply, one of the the largest mass transfers of wealth in the first world has just occurred - from ordinary taxpayers to a few ultra-wealthy individuals, both foreign and domestic.
Although the paperwork for this is done and filed safely away, it is far from clear to me that it will stand. When all the hand-waving and bullshit is over, eventually American voters will begin to wonder why they pay so much in taxes and get so little. The answer will be that we are paying a lot of our taxes directly to a group of rich individuals, instead of using them to perform services.
This is the magic of "too big to fail" and "government borrowing." Sleight of hand. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. That giant mountain of money you're giving away? It is merely your interest payments. Your bailout funds. You must pay them. The government's debt obligations are sacred. The economy might collapse. Soldiers and schools and police and EMTs come later. Healthcare? You cannot afford healthcare. You must pay the rich people first. After all - you borrowed their money. Or, you needed them to stay in business, so they wouldn't lay you off.
You don't remember agreeing to this? You feel it's unfair? Too bad. You have a Sacred Contract. "There is no way out of it."
Or is there?
Eventually, if it becomes bad enough, some firebrand politician will run on the platform of abrogating certain loans. Others might find themselves losing to competitors who promise prosecution of those responsible for that epic wealth transfer. Senators and presidential hopefuls might see the poll numbers jump for those who promise to try to reclaim some of that vast stolen treasure.
It is vast. Maybe you didn't look at that chart earlier. Look, to see what the stakes are.
There is much theater around the sacredness of contracts. Geithner, for instance, suggested that it was "legally difficult" to limit executive pay in companies we bailed out because those executives have "contracts" and they have to be honored.
Only, there are no contracts anymore. No rules at all, really. Those same executives should get no bonuses, no private jets, because they let their companies fail. They should get nothing, because there should be no company left to pay them. Those were the rules.
We could have refused to bail out any company unless their executives agreed to end their old contracts (which were about to be worthless) in exchange for the government's aid. We could have set any terms we liked.
We did not.
You may use your own common sense to guess why.
So to recap: contracts are only as good as the government that enforces them. Democratic governments are only as good as their poll numbers.
The model here is that of the banana republic. The old Shah of Iran may have given British Petroleum a fantastically good deal on drilling rights back in the day, at the expense of the people of Iran. This, after all, is why he was installed. But the value of the lease was tenuous - because the lease was not with the Iranian people. It was with a government that they loathed, and which was unstable. Eventually (despite ruthless and horrifically violent attempts to stay in power), the Shah was deposed. Iran's oil industry was nationalized. 100% of its profits now line the pockets of Iranian, rather than foreign, power brokers.
Revolutionary governments do this all the time. They abrogate contracts, nationalize ("steal") factories, ports, ships, bank accounts, etc. They jail or torture or behead those who formerly sat on boards or at the heads of courtrooms or in the hearts of command bunkers. One needs only to claim that this is in the interest of law and order. It becomes legitimate when people believe it is.
Revolutions are violent in countries that are undemocratic. In countries like America we have them all the time, in voting booths instead. The idea that we might suddenly no longer feel obligated to pay our debts, or that we might suddenly view the law in such a way that many formerly powerful Americans become criminals, is not at all so far-fetched.
Should the public come to understand that their indebtedness is part of a criminal enterprise, the purpose of which is stealing tax money, they will simply treat US bonds like the chits of busted mafia bookies. Bailout cash will become stolen goods. Politicians, Captains of finance industry, may find themselves discussing RICO with their lawyers from prison.
All just from a shift in perspective. Watchers of public perspective can tell you, bigger shifts have occurred. When they start, they spread like brushfire.
The concept of using the taxes and indebtedness of voters to enrich already rich people may seem unassailable in the U.S. today. But we have never pushed it so far before. There are certainly limits. History tells us that when we cross those limits, all the rules will change. No paperwork, no matter how beautifully crafted, holds its value when enough voters (and their representatives) deem otherwise.
If I were holding bonds issued by the U.S. government, I might start thinking extremely hard about who holds the other end of that debt. The American taxpayer? Or a political paradigm that may not be long for the world?
Capitalism for the Poor, Socialism for the Rich
Today Fannie and Freddie are being bailed out. A Sunday, no less. I can hear the chuckling all the way from Greenwich CT, and the D.C. and Dallas suburbs.
I quote the associated press, in wondering why these two titans of mortgage-backed securities have come to need help from you, the taxpayer:
"How could you look at an enormous rise in prices and not think there was a potential for them to fall?" said Christopher Thornberg, a principal with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.
Gee, good question Yogi. How about because it's actually kind of fun to take risks when there is no actual downside?
Apparently, everybody knew the government was going to bail them out if they ever got in trouble.
Pretty good racket. How can I get in? LOL.
I can't come here and argue that we shouldn't bail them out. Only that they never should have existed in the first place.
Did they really do something the market couldn't have done for itself? And suppose they really did. Since it was apparently an open secret all along that they represented the US Treasury, why were they not simply wholly a part of the government? You know, in good times and in bad?
Ah, but if they were a government agency, then those guys in Greenwich CT, and in VA and TX would have to find a different job, rather than robbing on your tax money (both paid and prospective).
But lest you all think I'm just here to bring everyone down, I do have one good suggestion. Why don't we all write to our senators and ask them how long it will be before the people involved in both running and regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be in prison?
I mean, I assume even though they stole billions of dollars from us, rather than a car stereo, they're still thieves, right? And I think they haven't even gone into hiding yet.
I just want to try to instill some discipline lest we have an even wilder, more unruly orgy of treasury looting.
Oh, how far we've come
Well, it's been a fun year and a half since I got sucked into becoming a corporate executive again and lost most of my remaining time to post on slashdot. But of course the train keeps on a'rollin. American neoconservative economists and stock market pundits must be at least slightly chagrined at the relative returns on a French checking account versus US equities or bonds. Gold is topping $900 per ounce. The price of oil is no longer funny either. Our dalliance with right-wing cleptonomics has turned out badly enough that we've already had one run on a major American bank, despite a desperately massive federal campaign to inject liquidity. The AP wire is running stories on a new wave of survivalists.
Eventually, even for the most fanatical, there must be a moment of fear, a potential even of reckoning.
Even treading on our sleepy electorate, the GOP has stumbled on the last three off-season elections, including the most recent, in that notoriously red House district. And I just know there are enough old school racists left in the GOP to feel some supernatural anguish at the peril of the possible defeat of their presidential candidate by an African American.
But I was especially moved to retrospection because today the AP is carrying a story about Scott McClellan - press secretary to President Bush of so many recent months. I can only imagine the agony it is causing right now, from think-tanks to Young Republican clubhouses across the nation.
Exposing Washington's spinning permanent campaign
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent Wed May 28, 5:16 PM ET
WASHINGTON - In a White House full of Bush loyalists, none was more loyal than Scott McClellan, the bland press secretary who spread the company line for all the government to follow each day. His word, it turns out, was worthless, his confessional memoir a glimpse into Washington's world of spin and even outright deception.
Instead of effective government, Americans were subjected to a "permanent campaign" that was "all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president's advantage," McClellan writes in a book stunning for its harsh criticism of Bush. "Presidential initiatives from health care programs to foreign invasions are regularly devised, named, timed and launched with one eye (or both eyes) on the electoral calendar."
The spokesman's book is called "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."
Governing via endless campaigning is not a new phenomenon, but it accelerated markedly during the tumultuous Clinton White House and then the war-shaken years of the Bush administration. Bush strategist Karl Rove had a strong hand in both politics and governing as overseer of key offices, including not only openly political affairs and long-range strategic planning but as liaison for intergovernmental affairs, focusing on state and local officials.
Bush's presidency "wandered and remained so far off course by excessively embracing the permanent campaign and its tactics," McClellan writes. He says Bush relied on an aggressive "political propaganda campaign" instead of the truth to sell the Iraq war.
That's about right, says Brookings Institution political analyst Thomas Mann, co-author of a book entitled "The Permanent Campaign."
"It was such a hyped-up effort to frame the problem and the choices in a way that really didn't do justice to the complexity of the arguments, the intelligence," Mann said in an interview. Though all presidents try to "control the message," he said, "it was really a way of preventing that discussion. It just had enormously harmful consequences. I think they carried it to a level not heretofore seen."
Each day, underscoring the daily blend of politics and government, Bush and his administration make an extraordinary effort to control information and make sure the White House message is spread across the government and beyond. The line for officials to follow is set at early-morning senior staff meetings at the White House, then transmitted in e-mails, conference calls, faxes and meetings. The loop extends to Capitol Hill where lawmakers get the administration talking points. So do friendly interest groups and others.
The aim is to get them all to say the same thing, unwavering from the administration line. Other administrations have tried to do the same thing, but none has been as disciplined as the Bush White House.
It starts at the top.
McClellan recounts how Bush, as governor of Texas, spelled out his approach about the press at their very first meeting in 1998. He said Bush "mentioned some of his expectations for his spokespeople -- the importance of staying on message; the need to talk about what you're for, rather than what you are against; how he liked to make the big news on his own time frame and terms without his spokespeople getting out in front of him, and, finally, making sure that public statements were coordinated internally so that everyone is always on the same page and there are few surprises."
In September 2002, Bush's chief economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, ran afoul of the president's rules by saying the cost of a possible war with Iraq could be somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion. Bush was irritated and made sure that Lindsey was told his comments were unacceptable. "Lindsey had violated the first rule of the disciplined, on-message Bush White House: don't make news unless you're authorized to do so," McClellan wrote.
Within four months, Lindsey was gone, resigning as part of a reshaping of Bush's economic team.
While message control has been part of many administrations, Mann said that, "They were just tougher and more disciplined about it than anyone else had been."
As spokesman, McClellan ardently defended Bush's decision to invade Iraq and the conduct of his presidency over the course of nearly 300 briefings in two years and 10 months. Now, two years after leaving the White House and eager to make money on his book, McClellan concludes Bush turned away from candor and honesty and misled the country about the reasons for going to war.
It wasn't about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, McClellan writes. It was Bush's fervor to transform the Middle East through the spread of democracy. "The Iraq war was not necessary," writes McClellan, who never hinted at any doubts or questioned his talking points when he was press secretary.
McClellan writes that Bush and his team sold the Iraq war by means of a "political propaganda campaign" in which contradictory evidence was ignored or discarded, caveats or qualifications to arguments were downplayed or dropped and "a dubious al-Qaida connection to Iraq was played up.
"We were more focused on creating a sense of gravity and urgency about the threat from Saddam Hussein than governing on the basis of the truths of the situation," McClellan wrote.
McClellan is not the first presidential spokesman to write a tell-all book, but his is certainly the harshest, at least in recent memory. He says his words as press secretary were sincere but he has come to realize that "some of them were badly misguided. ... I've tried to come to grips with some of the truths that life inside the White House bubble obscured."
White House colleagues were stunned, but not lacking for the day's response. "We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew," said Dana Perino, the current press secretary who was first hired by McClellan as a deputy.
Later in the day, she relayed the reaction of Bush himself: "He's puzzled, he doesn't recognize this as the Scott McClellan that he hired and confided in and worked with for so many years."
Food for thought
Just watch, and think about it for a bit.
A curse on both your houses.
This is, already, turning out like I predicted. From the wire:
"She [House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi] said she would be "the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Democrats." She said Democrats would aggressively conduct oversight of the administration, but said any talk of impeachment of President Bush "is off the table."
In the Senate, Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) of New York, the head of the Democrats' Senate campaign committee, said, "We had a tough and partisan election, but the American people and every Democratic senator - and I've spoken to just about all of them - want to work with the president in a bipartisan way."
Fuck it. Give me the Republicans back. At least I can respect them on a "political demagoguery" level.
The serious prospect (no matter how futile) of justice for all is the only thing that would shock this complacent nation out of its stupor.
Compare and contrast:
Lewinsky, Warrantless Wiretapping
You could say we've impeached for less.
Where is Kenn Starr when you need him?
Well, happy election
Well, like after every election these days, I'm disgusted - the same way I would have been disgusted if Al Gore or John Kerry took the Whitehouse with a 51-49 split.
It's foreboding - even today Republicans can send so many candidates back to Washington that it's close.
Something is deeply broken in this country's social machinery, and a few years of the world's most tepid opposition party is not going to fix it. The architecture of the new conservative movement took generations to build, and it will take generations to tear down.
At this point, I almost wish conservatives didn't have this small abberation to contend with. Why let some of the slightly more responsible theives (Democrats) back in the game? What can they possibly do to clean up such a collossal, epic-making mess?
Iraq can be abandoned but it cannot be "solved" - it's a no-win situation, thank you neocon hawks.
The government's finances can only be saved with the dramatic readjustment that must come whenever the party ends and your loans come due - service cuts and tax hikes.
Our economy is deeply endangered, and the world knows it, and quietly buys Euro-denominated assets... and gold ($600-$700 per ounce anyone?).
You have to envision individuals rather than numbers. Elections hide that, which leads to a dangerous complacency.
What would it take for someone to shake this manufactured faith? An American who voted twice for Bush, who is pro-forced-birth, who believes that opposition to the war supports the terrorists, will certainly not understand the subtleties of how you futilely try to fix this mess. I see many of these people still patiently trolling liberals on slashdot even in some hypothetically ruined America, where the economy and the government have collapsed and such activity can only be a brief respite from dealing with another Great Depression. I think if a Nuke went off in Washington, or gas hit $10 a gallon, they could look you in the eye and blame the liberals.
What's so dangerous about the conservative movement is that it is built with not only the same self-satisfied superiority to truth that Hitler and Lenin enjoyed, but even some of the same extremeties of belief.
If you doubt messianic Christians and athiest oligarchs have the same capacity for self-deception, lawbreaking and violence that messianic Muslims do, turn on your television. Sometimes I wonder - is this a movement that could go quietly, when its successor arrives? Parents homeschooling their children to hate religious rivals and liberals sounds exactly the way it sounded to me to hear Palestinian parents (not violent extremists, just ordinary people) teaching their little children about Jews. When you take it that far, when does it ever end?
To be clear, American conservatives are not suddenly winning after a long American past full of respect for Enlightenment principles and the Bill of Rights. They're turning around a brief, 50 year losing streak. In many ways they are conceding defeat - by trying to accept other races, if not other religions, and trying to accept women (though read the fine print). The Catholic Church is even rumored to be considering liberalizing its ban on condoms.
It's time now to look at what's changed over the last 50 years, and think carefully about how we made the progress we have. My first hint is, you have to fight hard - much harder than this new generation ever has. That was perhaps easier when there was a draft and people could see politics as a life or death struggle. But it always is.
Second hint: fight smarter. Conservatives didn't just run on the treadmill faster. They build their own high schools. Train young recruits in the competitive and twisted debate team culture they've fostered. Created bent law schools and launched bent newspapers (and television news networks). They coordinate their PR campaigns with viciously effective, neurolinguistically vetted talking points authored by scientists.
Well, back to today. I am disgusted. But the day is not without its satisfactions.
The conservatives' inner circle is forced to live quite a bit more in reality than most members. It's the only way they can shape it. It's been fascinating to watch their anguish. I imagine most "true believers" are fairly insulated from these sad moments, and will wake up in the morning fully tuned up to exploit a returning scapegoat for a little while.
So with that, I leave you with some quotes by famous neocon hawks. You know, the people who said Iraq would be a cakewalk, and that they'd throw flowers at our troops' feet. Courtesy of Barista.
Richard Perle: 'The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.... At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.... I don't think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty."
Kenneth Adelman: "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar: "Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."
Richard Perle again: "I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."
To me, the strangest line comes from David Frum, who wrote the 'Axis of Evil' speech:
"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."
If you spurn the reality based community, and live in a world of will, you have to believe the spell as you cast it.
Otherwise, you may accidentally call forth the Golem, and it will punish you, and not your enemies.
Saddam verdict on Sunday, U.S. election on Tuesday...
(A post I just made...)
So, Saddam Hussein's verdict, the death sentence, is read 48 hours before the U.S. midterm elections...
That's just a coincidence, right?
But, when Republican congressmen are discovered to be gay pederasts, or famous evangelical ministers are outed for using methamphetamines with male prostitutes and the news comes out in the weeks prior to the election...
That's a deliberate attempt to time the news with the election, right?
What do you believe?
If you are an American Republican, you will incur the wrath of your fellow party members unless you answer yes to both questions.
What do you think the Iraqis believe?
Given that there are very few Republicans in Iraq, do you suppose it's possible that they might take a more cynical view on the timing of the verdict?
Could an appearance of impropriety by the Iraqi court could be, by far, the most reckless of the "October Surprises"? (Though neither in October, nor a surprise...)
U.S. troops could actually die in greater numbers because of such blows to the credibility of Iraq's supposedly new, independent government (and its courts).
Check out this Journal.
Quick and worth a read.
Why Did Iraq Go Wrong?
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006; 4:06 PM
Adapted from "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, copyright Knopf 2006
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.
To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.
O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .
Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.
The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.
The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.
Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.
"We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job," said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. "It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."
Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government's first and best hope to resuscitate Iraq -- to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government, all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq -- training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation -- could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.
But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.
By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashionedby the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.
To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.
Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.
O'Beirne, a former Army officer who is married to prominent conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne, did not respond to requests for comment.
He and his staff used an obscure provision in federal law to hire most CPA personnel as temporary political appointees, which exempted the interviewers from employment regulations that forbid questions about personal political beliefs.
There were a few Democrats who wound up getting jobs with the CPA, but almost all of them were active-duty soldiers and State Department Foreign Service officers. Because they were career government employees, not temporary hires, O'Beirne's office could not query them directly about their political leanings.
One former CPA employee who had an office near O'Beirne's wrote an e-mail to a friend describing the recruitment process: "I watched résumés of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to 'the President's vision for Iraq' (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was 'uncertain.' I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy . . . and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC [Republican National Committee] contributors."
As more and more of O'Beirne's hires arrived in the Green Zone, the CPA's headquarters in Saddam Hussein's marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations. Other than military uniforms and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" garb, "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.
"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one worker noted to a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."
When Gordon Robison, who worked in the Strategic Communications office, opened a care package from his mother to find a book by Paul Krugman, a liberal New York Times columnist, people around him stared. "It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick," he recalled.
Finance Background Not Required
Twenty-four-year-old Jay Hallen was restless. He had graduated from Yale two years earlier, and he didn't much like his job at a commercial real-estate firm. His passion was the Middle East, and although he had never been there, he was intrigued enough to take Arabic classes and read histories of the region in his spare time.
He had mixed feelings about the war in Iraq, but he viewed the American occupation as a ripe opportunity. In the summer of 2003, he sent an e-mail to Reuben Jeffrey III, whom he had met when applying for a White House job a year earlier. Hallen had a simple query for Jeffrey, who was working as an adviser to Bremer: Might there be any job openings in Baghdad?
"Be careful what you wish for," Jeffrey wrote in response. Then he forwarded Hallen's resume to O'Beirne's office.
Three weeks later, Hallen got a call from the Pentagon. The CPA wanted him in Baghdad. Pronto. Could he be ready in three to four weeks?
The day he arrived in Baghdad, he met with Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing state-owned enterprises. (Foley, a major Republican Party donor, went to Harvard Business School with President Bush.) Hallen was shocked to learn that Foley wanted him to take charge of reopening the stock exchange.
"Are you sure?" Hallen said to Foley. "I don't have a finance background."
It's fine, Foley replied. He told Hallen that he was to be the project manager. He would rely on other people to get things done. He would be "the main point of contact."
Before the war, Baghdad's stock exchange looked nothing like its counterparts elsewhere in the world. There were no computers, electronic displays or men in colorful coats scurrying around on the trading floor. Trades were scrawled on pieces of paper and noted on large blackboards. If you wanted to buy or sell, you came to the exchange yourself and shouted your order to one of the traders. There was no air-conditioning. It was loud and boisterous. But it worked. Private firms raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling stock, and ordinary people learned about free enterprise.
The exchange was gutted by looters after the war. The first wave of American economic reconstruction specialists from the Treasury Department ignored it. They had bigger issues to worry about: paying salaries, reopening the banks, stabilizing the currency. But the brokers wanted to get back to work and investors wanted their money, so the CPA made the reopening a priority.
Quickly absorbing the CPA's ambition during the optimistic days before the insurgency flared, Hallen decided that he didn't just want to reopen the exchange, he wanted to make it the best, most modern stock market in the Arab world. He wanted to promulgate a new securities law that would make the exchange independent of the Finance Ministry, with its own bylaws and board of directors. He wanted to set up a securities and exchange commission to oversee the market. He wanted brokers to be licensed and listed companies to provide financial disclosures. He wanted to install a computerized trading and settlement system.
Iraqis cringed at Hallen's plan. Their top priority was reopening the exchange, not setting up computers or enacting a new securities law. "People are broke and bewildered," broker Talib Tabatabai told Hallen. "Why do you want to create enemies? Let us open the way we were."
Tabatabai, who held a doctorate in political science from Florida State University, believed Hallen's plan was unrealistic. "It was something so fancy, so great, that it couldn't be accomplished," he said.
But Hallen was convinced that major changes had to be enacted. "Their laws and regulations were completely out of step with the modern world," he said. "There was just no transparency in anything. It was more of a place for Saddam and his friends to buy up private companies that they otherwise didn't have a stake in."
Opening the stock exchange without legal and structural changes, Hallen maintained, "would have been irresponsible and short-sighted."
To help rewrite the securities law, train brokers and purchase the necessary computers, Hallen recruited a team of American volunteers. In the spring of 2004, Bremer approved the new law and simultaneously appointed the nine Iraqis selected by Hallen to become the exchange's board of governors.
The exchange's board selected Tabatabai as its chairman. The new securities law that Hallen had nursed into life gave the board control over the exchange's operations, but it didn't say a thing about the role of the CPA adviser. Hallen assumed that he'd have a part in decision-making until the handover of sovereignty. Tabatabai and the board, however, saw themselves in charge.
Tabatabai and the other governors decided to open the market as soon as possible. They didn't want to wait several more months for the computerized trading system to be up and running. They ordered dozens of dry-erase boards to be installed on the trading floor. They used blackboards to keep track of buying and selling prices before the war, and that's how they'd do it again.
The exchange opened two days after Hallen's tour in Iraq ended. Brokers barked orders to floor traders, who used their trusty white boards. Transactions were recorded not with computers but with small chits written on in ink. CPA workers stayed away, afraid that their presence would make the stock market a target for insurgents.
When Tabatabai was asked what would have happened if Hallen hadn't been assigned to reopen the exchange, he smiled. "We would have opened months earlier. He had grand ideas, but those ideas did not materialize," Tabatabai said of Hallen. "Those CPA people reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia."
'Loyalist' Replaces Public Health Expert
The hiring of Bremer's most senior advisers was settled upon at the highest levels of the White House and the Pentagon. Some, like Foley, were personally recruited by Bush. Others got their jobs because an influential Republican made a call on behalf of a friend or trusted colleague.
That's what happened with James K. Haveman Jr., who was selected to oversee the rehabilitation of Iraq's health care system.
Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker, was largely unknown among international health experts, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.
Haveman was well-traveled, but most of his overseas trips were in his capacity as a director of International Aid, a faith-based relief organization that provided health care while promoting Christianity in the developing world. Before his stint in government, Haveman ran a large Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions.
Haveman replaced Frederick M. Burkle Jr., a physician with a master's degree in public health and postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and the University of California at Berkeley. Burkle taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where he specialized in disaster-response issues, and he was a deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which sent him to Baghdad immediately after the war.
He had worked in Kosovo and Somalia and in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. A USAID colleague called him the "single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government."
But a week after Baghdad's liberation, Burkle was informed he was being replaced. A senior official at USAID sent Burkle an e-mail saying the White House wanted a "loyalist" in the job. Burkle had a wall of degrees, but he didn't have a picture with the president.
Haveman arrived in Iraq with his own priorities. He liked to talk about the number of hospitals that had reopened since the war and the pay raises that had been given to doctors instead of the still-decrepit conditions inside the hospitals or the fact that many physicians were leaving for safer, better paying jobs outside Iraq. He approached problems the way a health care administrator in America would: He focused on preventive measures to reduce the need for hospital treatment.
He urged the Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign, and he assigned an American from the CPA team -- who turned out to be a closet smoker himself -- to lead the public education effort. Several members of Haveman's staff noted wryly that Iraqis faced far greater dangers in their daily lives than tobacco. The CPA's limited resources, they argued, would be better used raising awareness about how to prevent childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.
Haveman didn't like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free. He figured Iraqis should pay a small fee every time they saw a doctor. He also decided to allocate almost all of the Health Ministry's $793 million share of U.S. reconstruction funds to renovating maternity hospitals and building new community medical clinics. His intention, he said, was "to shift the mind-set of the Iraqis that you don't get health care unless you go to a hospital."
But his decision meant there were no reconstruction funds set aside to rehabilitate the emergency rooms and operating theaters at Iraqi hospitals, even though injuries from insurgent attacks were the country's single largest public health challenge.
Haveman also wanted to apply American medicine to other parts of the Health Ministry. Instead of trying to restructure the dysfunctional state-owned firm that imported and distributed drugs and medical supplies to hospitals, he decided to try to sell it to a private company.
To prepare it for a sale, he wanted to attempt something he had done in Michigan. When he was the state's director of community health, he sought to slash the huge amount of money Michigan spent on prescription drugs for the poor by limiting the medications doctors could prescribe for Medicaid patients. Unless they received an exemption, physicians could only prescribe drugs that were on an approved list, known as a formulary.
Haveman figured the same strategy could bring down the cost of medicine in Iraq. The country had 4,500 items on its drug formulary. Haveman deemed it too large. If private firms were going to bid for the job of supplying drugs to government hospitals, they needed a smaller, more manageable list. A new formulary would also outline new requirements about where approved drugs could be manufactured, forcing Iraq to stop buying medicines from Syria, Iran, and Russia, and start buying from the United States.
He asked the people who had drawn up the formulary in Michigan whether they wanted to come to Baghdad. They declined. So he beseeched the Pentagon for help. His request made its way to the Defense Department's Pharmacoeconomic Center in San Antonio.
A few weeks later, three formulary experts were on their way to Iraq.
The group was led by Theodore Briski, a balding, middle-aged pharmacist who held the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Haveman's order, as Briski remembered it, was: "Build us a formulary in two weeks and then go home." By his second day in Iraq, Briski came to three conclusions. First, the existing formulary "really wasn't that bad." Second, his mission was really about "redesigning the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement and delivery system, and that was a complete change of scope -- on a grand scale." Third, Haveman and his advisers "really didn't know what they were doing."
Haveman "viewed Iraq as Michigan after a huge attack," said George Guszcza, an Army captain who worked on the CPA's health team. "Somehow if you went into the ghettos and projects of Michigan and just extended it out for the entire state -- that's what he was coming to save."
Haveman's critics, including more than a dozen people who worked for him in Baghdad, contend that rewriting the formulary was a distraction. Instead, they said, the CPA should have focused on restructuring, but not privatizing, the drug-delivery system and on ordering more emergency shipments of medicine to address shortages of essential medicines. The first emergency procurement did not occur until early 2004, after the Americans had been in Iraq for more than eight months.
Haveman insisted that revising the formulary was a crucial first step in improving the distribution of medicines. "It was unwieldy to order 4,500 different drugs, and to test and distribute them," he said.
When Haveman left Iraq, Baghdad's hospitals were as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived. At Yarmouk Hospital, the city's largest, rooms lacked the most basic equipment to monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rate, operating theaters were without modern surgical tools and sterile implements, and the pharmacy's shelves were bare.
Nationwide, the Health Ministry reported that 40 percent of the 900 drugs it deemed essential were out of stock in hospitals. Of the 32 medicines used in public clinics for the management of chronic diseases, 26 were unavailable.
The new health minister, Aladin Alwan, beseeched the United Nations for help, and he asked neighboring nations to share what they could. He sought to increase production at a state-run manufacturing plant in the city of Samarra. And he put the creation of a new formulary on hold. To him, it was a fool's errand.
"We didn't need a new formulary. We needed drugs," he said. "But the Americans did not understand that."
A 9/11 Hero's Public Relations Blitz
In May 2003, a team of law enforcement experts from the Justice Department concluded that more than 6,600 foreign advisers were needed to help rehabilitate Iraq's police forces.
The White House dispatched just one: Bernie Kerik.
Bernard Kerik had more star power than Bremer and everyone else in the CPA combined. Soldiers stopped him in the halls of the Republican Palace to ask for his autograph or, if they had a camera, a picture. Reporters were more interested in interviewing him than they were the viceroy.
Kerik had been New York City's police commissioner when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. His courage (he shouted evacuation orders from a block away as the south tower collapsed), his stamina (he worked around the clock and catnapped in his office for weeks), and his charisma (he was a master of the television interview) turned him into a national hero. When White House officials were casting about for a prominent individual to take charge of Iraq's Interior Ministry and assume the challenge of rebuilding the Iraqi police, Kerik's name came up. Bush pronounced it an excellent idea.
Kerik had worked in the Middle East before, as the security director for a government hospital in Saudi Arabia, but he was expelled from the country amid a government investigation into his surveillance of the medical staff. He lacked postwar policing experience, but the White House viewed that as an asset.
Veteran Middle East hands were regarded as insufficiently committed to the goal of democratizing the region. Post-conflict experts, many of whom worked for the State Department, the United Nations or nongovernmental organizations, were deemed too liberal. Men such as Kerik -- committed Republicans with an accomplished career in business or government -- were ideal. They were loyal, and they shared the Bush administration's goal of rebuilding Iraq in an American image. With Kerik, there were bonuses: The media loved him, and the American public trusted him.
Robert Gifford, a State Department expert in international law enforcement, was one of the first CPA staff members to meet Kerik when he arrived in Baghdad. Gifford was the senior adviser to the Interior Ministry, which oversaw the police. Kerik was to take over Gifford's job.
"I understand you are going to be the man, and we are here to support you," Gifford told Kerik.
"I'm here to bring more media attention to the good work on police because the situation is probably not as bad as people think it is," Kerik replied.
As they entered the Interior Ministry office in the palace, Gifford offered to brief Kerik. "It was during that period I realized he wasn't with me," Gifford recalled. "He didn't listen to anything. He hadn't read anything except his e-mails. I don't think he read a single one of our proposals."
Kerik wasn't a details guy. He was content to let Gifford figure out how to train Iraqi officers to work in a democratic society. Kerik would take care of briefing the viceroy and the media. And he'd be going out for a few missions himself.
Kerik's first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad "is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes." He went on NBC's "Today" show to pronounce the situation "better than I expected." To Time magazine, he said that "people are starting to feel more confident. They're coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened."
When it came to his own safety, Kerik took no chances. He hired a team of South African bodyguards, and he packed a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.
The first months after liberation were a critical period for Iraq's police. Officers needed to be called back to work and screened for Baath Party connections. They'd have to learn about due process, how to interrogate without torture, how to walk the beat. They required new weapons. New chiefs had to be selected. Tens of thousands more officers would have to be hired to put the genie of anarchy back in the bottle.
Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter, according to Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission. Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers. With no help on the way, the task of organizing and training Iraqi officers fell to U.S. military police soldiers, many of whom had no experience in civilian law enforcement.
"He was the wrong guy at the wrong time," Burke said later. "Bernie didn't have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person. . . . Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality."
Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer's senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night's adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn't around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.
Several members of the CPA's Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. "Bremer's staff thought he was the silver bullet," a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. "Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11."
Kerik contended that he did his best in what was, ultimately, an untenable situation. He said he wasn't given sufficient funding to hire foreign police advisers or establish large-scale training programs for the Iraqi police.
Three months after he arrived, Kerik attended a meeting of local police chiefs in Baghdad's Convention Center. When it was his turn to address the group, he stood and bid everyone farewell. Although he had informed Bremer of his decision a few days earlier, Kerik hadn't told most of the people who worked for him. He flew out of Iraq a few hours later.
"I was in my own world," he said later. "I did my own thing."
Watching Neocons Attempt to Rewrite the History they Wrote
The following quoted from here:
Glenn Greenwald directs our attention to this astonishing column from ubercon David Frum, in which the master of disaster essentially recants four years worth of views on the wisdom, necessity and feasibility of invading Iraq -- without, of course, ever admitting that he is doing so.
It's like some baby boomer nightmare: after decades of swearing that we would never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we are re-enacting the errors committed in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, every single one.
It seems like everybody's hopping on that bandwagon these days. Of course in Frum's view, the Vietnam errors repeated in Iraq weren't the lies and distortions used to sell the war to the public, the absence of a realistic plan, the lack of international support, the bureaucratic inefficiency, the ideological blindness, etc. etc.
No, the big mistake we repeated, according to Frum, is underestimating the strength of Iraq's "internal enemies" and the willingness of hostile neighbors to provide them with sanctuary and support:
Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border. In some horrible rerun of Vietnam, the US has let the enemy establish safe havens just on the other side of the line, from which it draws supplies and reinforcements with impunity.
Now this is a bit unfair, in my opinion, because it's easy to understand why the Pentagon and the Cheney administration lowballed the potential for guerrilla warfare. They were told by some pretty world-class foreign policy experts that they didn't have to worry about the risk of guerrilla warfare. And who were these experts? Why, David Frum and his mentor, Richard Perle.
Here's what the two of them had to say about it in their 2004 book, And End to Evil:
Now the pessimists are quivering because the remnants of the Baath Party have launched a guerrilla war against the allied forces in Iraq. These guerrillas are former secret policemen and informers, the regime's specially recruited enforcers, murderers, torturers, and rapists . . . But it is wrong to describe these paid killers as a "national resistance," as some even normally sensible people have sometimes done. For a dozen years after Appomattox, former Confederate soldiers terrorized their neighbors, robbed trains, and killed Union soldiers. Was the Ku Klux Klan a "national resistance"? Was Jesse James?
Well, seeing how the Iraqi version of the KKK is on the verge of running our sorry asses out of the country, I guess the answer to that question is yes. And it would appear Frum now agrees, since he seems to have been reduced to a "quivering" plate of strawberry-kiwi jello. Welcome to the Pessimists Club, David. You're going to love the initiation rites.
The other Vietnam-era boo boo that has Frum weeping and tearing his clothes is the Army's failure to stop the Grand Kleagles and Imperial Wizards of the Sunni Klavern from establishing safe havens in neighboring countries, like Syria.
Now it's not clear the rat lines into and out of Syria played a very big part in the growth and success of the domestic resistance movement -- as opposed to the imported Al Qaeda wannabes like Abu Zarqawi. Certainly Iran has played a very important role in building up its favorite Shi'a political parties and helping infiltrate their militiamen into the Iraqi security agencies. But at least up until fairly recently, this was just the Cheney administration's idea of good, solid nation building -- not the 21st century version of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In any case, this is another problem the experts told us we didn't have to worry about -- the expert in this case being Paul Wolfowitz, a.k.a. Wolfowitz of Arabia. Here's Wolfy expounding his theory of "desert impotence" to the Washington Post in June 2003:
I think it is worth emphasizing that these guys lack the two classical ingredients of a victory in a so-called guerrilla war if that's what you want to say they're conducting. They lack the sympathy of the population and they lack any serious source of external support. (emphasis added)
Really David, if you can't take Paul Wolfowitz's word for these things, who can you trust?
It should be clear from the sources cited that Frum's problems are all in his head -- probably the result of too many nights spent smoking dope with Ward Churchill or reading the collected works of Noam Chomsky. Iraq is not collapsing into chaos and ruin. Iran is not poised to pick up the pieces. Only "sunshine patriots" and "weak-kneed media elites" believe such things. Why, Dave and Dick even warned us about people like that:
The gloomsayers were unembarrassable. Having been proven wrong when they predicted the United States would sink into a forlorn quagmire in Iraq, they reappeared days later to insist that while military victory had been assured from the beginning, the United States was now losing the peace.
I think David Frum badly needs to sit down and re-read his own book. Maybe then he'll remember that Iraq is a stunning success -- a role model for the war on terrorism, the key to democracy in the Middle East, the cure for the heartbreak of halitosis and a lot of other wonderful things, although I can't think of any more at the moment.
David should be proud of the role he played in making this foreign policy triumph possible. He should give himself a manly pat on the back. And then I think he ought to take a 45 caliber pistol, lock himself in his office, and "do the right thing."
It's the least his grateful adopted country owes him.
The Russian News
Ghosts of Soviet propaganda machine haunt Russian media
MOSCOW (AFP) - Dead bodies, striptease quiz shows, gala concerts for the secret services: nothing is off limits on Russian television -- except objective news coverage, say critics of media freedom under President Vladimir Putin.
Russian television today is light years from its drab Soviet incarnation, full of brash, sometimes stomach-churning programmes, as well as slick dramas.
But the ghosts of Soviet propaganda haunt the hourly state news broadcasts, dominated by dreary footage of Putin and his ministers at work, patriotic features on army life, or alarming reports about the pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine.
Putin, who hosts the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg later this week, is accused of destroying media freedoms won in the 1990s by monopolising television and marginalising the few remaining independent newspaper journalists.
Russia ranks below countries like Egypt and Haiti in terms of journalists' freedom, the US-based organisation Freedom House says.
A study released in April by the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, which defends journalists' rights in Russia, found that 91 percent of political news on the national television channel ORT was devoted to Putin and his "ruling powers."
Almost three quarters of that coverage was positive and the rest neutral, while opposition voices barely got a look in, the study found.
"There's not censorship as there was in the Soviet Union," said the centre's director Oleg Panfilov, "but there is self-censorship, there's internal editorial censorship, when editors are too scared to give information, and there's censorship by owners."
The Kremlin has also come under fire in Washington and other Western capitals, but insists there is nothing to apologise for.
Putin told a gathering of world media executives in June that Russia's media law "is recognised as one of the most liberal in the world." And last week, his close advisor Vladislav Surkov dismissed allegations of anti-opposition bias on state-run television as "a matter of taste." [I think they stole this line from Rupert Murdoch]
Nikolai Svanidze, a presenter on state-owned Rossiya channel, even suggests that Russians actually demand one-sided news.
"Our guests from the United States and European countries may not understand what I'm talking about, but the classic Soviet viewer is not used to alternatives," he said. "It's tiring to have a choice because you have to think."
The Kremlin's defenders also point to the lively Internet scene in Russia and several high-quality newspapers which frequently publish criticism of the authorities.
But experts said newspapers and Internet sites have a puny impact compared to the three national television channels, which reach almost all this vast country's 143 million people. Serious newspapers rarely have circulations of much more than 100,000.
"There are still media outlets that are not controlled, but those voices are almost totally irrelevant in Russian politics and with the Russian people," said Maria Lipman, an expert on Russian politics with the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
"Free voices are for all practical purposes dissident voices."
A free media was seen by many as one of the biggest achievements of former president Boris Yeltsin's rule, reversing abruptly from 2000 when Putin took over.
Putin accused media barons of trying to undermine the state and in 2001, state-run gas company Gazprom took over the trailblazing television channel NTV. Several leading publications were shut down.
Gazprom has since gone on to buy Ekho Moskvy radio and the once highly authoritative daily Izvestia, while other Kremlin-linked businesses have also moved into the media sector.
But Margarita Simonyan, head of the new English-language 24-hour channel Russia Today and a rising media star, says that press freedom under Yeltsin is a myth.
"Television was as much an instrument for corporate aims as any other," she said. "The idea that television was free in the 1990s is hilarious."
Simonyan also defended the blanket coverage given to the Kremlin on the main channels.
"The state channels show the president of Russia," she said. "State television should tell the people what the state is doing."
Sergei Parkhomenko, who lost his job as editor of the Itogi news magazine under Putin, blamed Russian society.
"Freedom of speech came as a gift. It fell from the sky. But people quietly let it go. Now they struggle to remember why it is they need it," he said.
Another ugly lesson in human nature
They're rioting in France, but not in China.
And why is it that it normally wouldn't even occur to us to wonder if Iran's women would plot some violent revolt?
Injustice isn't the major factor in unrest.
Still think Plame wasn't covert?
Lately I can't decide whether ignoring the Stafford Act and the National Response Plan and "blame gaming" locals in Louisiana, or claiming Plame wasn't covert, is my favorite forehead crease among those who bow their heads. They're both great - its like a reflex that forces the most loyal Party cheerleaders to kick themselves in the nuts whenever you trigger it.
Obviously, she was covert. And we have the permanent records of who got this wrong, and who admits it, and who'se a shameless liar.
If I got this wrong, I would apologize now. It's bad enough to have bowed your head for this for any amount of time, but just look at it... this isn't tax policy we're talking about here. This is deliberately outing a covert officer working WMD proliferation, for petty political revenge. And revenge over what? It was to threaten someone for doing the brave, patriotic thing, standing up to power, and blowing the whistle on a conspiracy to endanger American troops and intelligence agents, to justify a war with lies that can't be justified by telling the plain truth.
Of course, I relish the alternative almost as much. If you still don't admit Plame was covert, you're showing your new opinion of Bush's white house, which opened itself up to obstruction charges to conceal their not actually having committed a crime. Or perhaps you suddenly have a new opinion about special prosecutors. These are even funnier poles to skewer yourself on, in my book.
Lest we forget
(Daniel Goetz is currently serving in Samarra, Iraq. Read his blog here.)
"Seven months ago, my service in the army was to have terminated. Instead, I am in Iraq for the second time. I sit next to a DOD contractor whose job is identical to mine. Except he makes $120,000 more, works four hours less, and visits home four times more often than I do.
I am not alone in my anger and humiliation. When we were here in 2003, there was anger, but there is a difference between anger and bitter hatred. The atmosphere of discontent is thick and contagious. Even soldiers not stop-lossed feel The Betrayal. They know it might be them next time. Dissent will not change anything for us now because our voices are muted. Still, there is hope. It is that in twenty years, it will be these men and women in office. Perhaps, that alone should make me feel better. I don't think it is enough, though, for our wounded and fallen. I can't speak for them, of course. Not yet, at least."
"Tax Breaks for the Rich"
Ellem entered the fray on the "tax cuts for the rich debate" by posting a quote and a link to some conservative propaganda on the subject. Before reading on, go have a look. The quote, at least, is quite brief and to the point.
Anyway, it got me thinking.
The quoted portion deals with how much federal income tax is paid by rich people, and how little by poor people.
The irony is that this article quietly relies on a frightening trend - that the gap between rich and poor is growing rather dramatically. I know most of you have heard that the rich are getting much richer. So, if your income goes up, you pay more taxes. That's why "the rich" are "paying so much more income taxes lately."
That's all that makes this sinister parlor trick work. They took the scary income disparity stats and tried to make them useful by turning them into "tax disparity" stats.
This relationship holds even when the rich are also getting big tax breaks, which they are.
The article never really disputes that, either. At its best, it's just a written attempt to make you think that's a good thing.
Why is this ironic? Big dollar tax breaks focused on the rich have a big effect on government income - as this article handily illustrates. When the government gets less money, eventually, it has to spend less. This will help widen the gap between rich and poor even further. Amazingly, as much as it's fashionable to hate government, that is it's job. It's our robin hood, taking from the rich and giving the poor science classes.
When the government has less money, the schools get even more crowded. The kids of the middle and lower classes will be even less able to compete, less socially mobile, more desperate for fewer jobs. There's less money for policing; crime will rise. These are just a few things that happen; there are so many more. For instance, disaster relief won't be up to snuff. Today's unlucky will be more likely to become lifetime sufferers (and burdens). American poverty will gradually continue to grow in scope and severity.
This is why, in places like this Washington Post article, you can see a tax policy story look so completely different. Remember, America got rich, and smart, not with microgovernment and laissez faire, but with the liberal, progressive policies it's had for so many years. We got there by narrowing these massive income disparities.
We used to measure sucess by our degree of equality, not by the size of our mansions.
I could go on about this article a little more. If you just look at a few more details, it becomes obvious what a trick it is.
Do you notice how it never actually talks about "tax?"
Yes, that's right. It only talks about "federal income tax," not "tax."
They are hoping you might not notice, or think about the difference.
Federal income tax is only one part of how the government (federal, state, and local) collects money. It's usually the most progressive part. Most taxes are already flat - things like sales tax or gasoline tax, for instace, are the same no matter how wealthy you are.
If you want to talk simply and honestly about tax policy as a whole, you talk about "tax." If you want to deceive and confuse people, you talk only about "federal income tax," and leave out the whole picture, like this conservative writer did.
Now, "flat tax" may seem efficient and more "inherently" fair. There's actually an interesting argument there, because there is certainly a lot of merit to simplifying the way we collect taxes. The IRS is invasive, insanely complex, and hugely wasteful.
But, flat tax has a dark side. It's also a way of saying, "tax that affects poor people most." Think about it. Sales tax, and gasoline tax are a rounding error for a millionare, and a major factor in the life of a McDonalds employee. That's true even though the millionare can drive a lot bigger car, and buy a lot more stuff than the minimum wage earner (if he wants to).
So, is less progressive, or just plain flat, tax really a good idea?
The conservative writer makes no argument for this case. He just assumes you already agree. Most of what he does is actually just insult the New York Times. By the way, does name calling make you right? Or does it make you look like you couldn't think of something smarter to say?
If you want to learn about economics, who do you want to talk to? The school bully? Or the wimpy smart kid he's beating up?
The writer probably thinks he'll get away with his tricks because nobody else is going to give his readers a better explanation.
Well, here goes.
Here's a question for you.
Is capitalism a game that rewards the winner?
Over time, does wealth beget wealth?
Rich people can loan money to poor people and make interest just for sitting back in their chair and waiting for the checks to arrive. (Of course, they can only do this safely when there's a healthy government to enforce the law, so they don't get stiffed.) They can buy property and rent it (as long as the courts and police enforce deeds and leases). They can invest in the market (as long as the SEC looks after their investments). They can go to good schools, and send their kids to good schools (much much better than your public schools!). They can get healthcare when they need it (their doctors are great, since they came from a big pool of well educated citizens). If they have an idea for how to start up a business, they don't have to raise money (and give up most of their profits in advance). They simply start one. If it succeeds, they keep all the profits (minus some taxes, although many larger corporations have ways of avoiding paying taxes ). If they want to buy a home, they just buy it. They don't take a loan, that means they really pay six times the price over decades, like most of us. For that matter, if they don't want to pay as much in tax, they can hire experts and attorneys to help them pay less. That's one of those economies of scale you keep hearing about.
It actually happens that the winners have every single advantage in this game. So, they keep right on winning, bigger and bigger with each generation.
If there is nothing to stop them, wealthy families almost always stay wealthy, and poor families have an insurmountable set of barriers keeping them poor.
In our society right now, though, there are lots of things to stop them. Lots of policies and rules. Progressive taxation. That includes things like estate taxes (Republicans call it the "death" tax, although it's really the "Paris Hilton tax"). Labor laws (creating weekends, overtime, etc). Public education. State universities. Strangely, this is exactly the list of things that the Republicans continue to hurt.
All this is so well established that the problem of "wealth begetting wealth" is a recognizably biblical concept, taken from ancient religions including Christianity. Even thousands of years ago, the writers of holy texts were grappling with this issue. And they came up with things like forbidding usury. I'm told even Catholics are technically not supposed to lend money at interest, though obviously in most religions we ignore most of the rules, most of the time.
There are lots of admonitions about the concentration of wealth in our moral codes, and for good reason. Just as communism keeps the individual from prospering, it seems there is another extreme to be concerned about as well.
Have you ever wondered what really happens when a country "goes Republican?" Is there any nation that already follows these policies, and has profited as a result?
That's a good question, isn't it.
We haven't been truly "Republican" in this country in many many years, so nobody alive remembers what it was like. But even if you don't remember your history lessons, let's just make it a conceptual exercise.
If you reduce taxes, you reduce the government.
Many would cheer.
"Good riddance. Government is evil. When we get rid of it altogether, everything will be great. The free market can solve everything."
Well, what's interesting is, when you get rid of government altogether, you no longer have a market.
You have anarchy.
Without government, you have no rules, no law. There are no police, and no army. No currency. No courts. No borders. The strong simply take from the weak. Society is ruled by its most brutal and ruthless elements.
The delicate machinery of agriculture, healthcare, and education crumble like a sandcastle under the first few of the endless waves of violence. Then you get famine. Disease. Suffering on a "biblical" level. Parts of Africa are like this today.
Those guys are begging for government to come back. You can watch it on TV.
"OK, OK, not that little government. When need some. Just not too much."
How much is enough?
"Just an army, to defend the borders, police, to defend property, courts, to settle disputes and allow fair commerce, and of course, you need lots of laws about doing business fairly. Common law, as they call it. Firemen, if you must (most are volunteer, though). No more NEA, no more EPA, no more welfare, no more food stamps, no more state universities. No more subsidies and pork barrels. Public schools are up for debate."
What did you leave out? Trade and labor laws. So the poor go back to working 16 hour days, 7 days a week, and so do their young children.
Occupational health and safety. So when they're injured on the job, they're thrown to the curb to beg.
And because you left out welfare, they die there.
Aristocrats love this kind of setup, because it's "stable." Desperate people struggling just to survive aren't going to become entrepeneurs and compete with the entrenched business owners. The rich not only get richer, but they stay richer.
For that matter, a poor person starting a business usually needs a loan. Who'se going to give him one? There are no rules against discrimination against him, and no bureaucracy to enforce them. If the rich people don't feel like making a competitor for themselves, they'll simply refuse.
"What? Why does the guy at the bank care if someone wants to open another general store? Wouldn't that be good for him?"
What if the guy who owns the store also owns the bank? Or what if they're brothers? Or friends?
Sound silly? It used to happen all the time, when there were no rules.
With no social mobility, there is nothing to threaten established concerns. Ironically, markets are no longer very efficient at all. Monopolies thrive. The economy spirals downwards. Because most people have so little (if any) disposable income or leisure time, there is very little consumer-driven economic activity (hint: our current economy is roughly 2/3rds consumer-driven). Literacy plummets. Lawless ghettos spread across the land. Armed insurrections and guerrilla warfare fester. Sound familiar, amigo?
So, on paper, your banana republic isn't so hot. Of course, from inside the plantation house, life is good. You have servants. Imported goods, the best imported technology, for instance. And you send your kids to America or Europe to study, so they'll get culture and a good education, away from the creeping entropy of the world you created for yourself.
"I wouldn't have it so bad. I'm not a yokel, I have skills, and I have rights."
Where did you get your skills?
From public school? Public university? Or from people who went to either one?
Or did you learn from your family? Were you home schooled? Did you learn a trade from your mom or dad? That was how they used to do it, back in the feudal days.
And where did you get your rights? You just abolished most of them, and destroyed your ability to enforce most of the rest.
"Why is everyone suddenly working so hard? I know we used to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have child labor, but I don't remember why."
Well, there are a lot of people out there in the world. Most of them are starving and desperate and perfectly happy to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and let their kids do the same, just to avoid death from starvation.
You have to compete with all of them. And now there are no more rules to protect you, so you just have to work harder than them, for less, if you want a job. And since there's no social safety net, your alternative is to starve in the street.
"Fuck this. I'll go live somewhere else. I'll grow my own food, live by my own efforts."
There is nowhere else. It's all taken.
"Why am I competing with the whole world, anyway? Why not just with other Americans?"
It's called Free Trade, also known as "Laissez Faire" capitalism.
Maybe you don't want to compete in a labor market with nations that allow slavery. But you have a tiny laissez faire government. You have no complex trade regulations, or the means to really enforce them. You don't want them either, right? You believe in free trade, don't you?
"OK, forget free trade. Let's close the borders."
OK, be my guest. They'll kick you out of the party for that, though.
"Why are there so many desperate people, anyway?"
Well, everyone loves to have babies. Strangely, the more desperate and impoverished we are, the more babies we seem to have. There are billions of people now. Some people say we should slow down, but...
Strangely, some religions are telling people to have even more kids. And not only that, they're telling people not to use birth control (and never, ever have abortions). They're also fighting against effective sex education. This often means that little kids have kids of their own, and they all become impoverished laborers, rather than getting a decent education.
Even more strangely, rich people seem to love these religions. They often support them with their enormous financial resources.
The Republican party seems to support and promote only religions that take these strange views on birth control, sex education, and abortion.
"You're lying. None of this works like you say."
You can read all this for yourself in your American History textbook. Unless the Republicans have re-written it already, that is.
The current Republican leadership is absolutely capable of rewriting American history to make their policies look better. You may already realize it, even if you just think of it as "correcting liberal bias" - Republican code for "anything that contradicts what we say."
"OK... so how did we fix this mess?"
We've done it all before, and it's not so complicated. You make the government more "liberal." By this I mean, have a government that dares to allow the will of the people to redistribute wealth.
Before "liberal" governments, we simply had bloody, disorganized revolutions instead - when the injustices of the system would inevitably build up to the point where people couldn't take it anymore, and would erupt in violence. Throughout history, this has happened over, and over, and over again.
The idea behind liberal governments is to stop this cycle of abuse and violence and use democracy to live in a sustainable and fair way.
It's basically just about people empowering themselves, saying things like, "This government is supposed to serve everybody, but almost everything it's doing is for the idle rich. The rich get more, so they should pay more."
And then you use the money to make social programs and policies that help the poor.
Strangely, this was also an enormous economic success. It turned out that the great teeming mob of "the underclass" wasn't really genetically doomed to be stupid and poor... they were just being oppressed. When they were unleased, they built great cities. They vaulted themselves to the moon. Old money was suddenly competing with new money. The streets, foreigners said, were paved with gold.
We just spent the last few hundred years clawing our way back from the Republican way, step by painful step. Republicans seem to want to go back into the past. Almost all of their policies (from taxes, deregulation and privatization, to the unamerican marriage of church and state) are ancient - relics from the days when we had a tiny class of super-wealthy and a sea of poverty.
Defenders of capitalism claim its greatest ideal is how it treats us equally - that anyone can make it if they're smart and they work hard. "Free Market" Capitalism knows no class barriers. It allows for social mobility.
Of course, we already know there is no such thing as a "free market." Just markets with different kinds of rules.
It turns out that the social mobility that makes capitalism so great is driven by the same socialist rules that Republicans hate.
Socialism is all about fixing the parts of capitalism that reward the winners and punish the losers.
To do it, Socialism gives us things like really good public education, and the leisure and safety to pursue it.
Well, there are lots of ways to have a socialist policies. Europe does it one way, and we do it another. Yes, that's right. The America you know is deeply socialist. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid... And of course, highly progressive taxes, and a host of other rules and programs. None of these ways are perfect, or even all that great... but we do know one thing. They are better than what we used to have.
We used to have a catalogue of injustices and misery, perpetrated by wealthy aristocrats trying to stay on top without actually having to work. Today we have big government, and progressive taxes and social programs, and a great deal of success... at least, until just recently.
There would be one guilty pleasure in watching Republicans succeed in their mission, and take us back into the past. That would be seeing the look in their eyes, as one by one they finally realize there aren't that many seats at the manor house.