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                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rise of the Vulcans and Plan of Attack

I've now finished reading James Mann's excellent chronicle of the back history of the Bush war cabinet, Rise of the Vulcans (Martin Sieff's linked 2004 Salon review is worth a read) and Bob Woodward's account of the lead up to the war, Plan of Attack...(the Guardian review I link to features the British cover, worth a peek.)

Both these books, in blog terms, are in the "old news" heap...ready for remainder. If you want the hot scoop, firedoglake and the huffington post will have more to offer...and more about the, ahem, trials and tribulations of Bob Woodward, than a couple of books that you can easily check out of the library in well-thumbed copies. That being said, I learned some valuable things from both books:

1. Scooter Libby was omnipresent

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby pops up everywhere in the story of the Bush Administration and the war. His omnipresence, of course, stems from the centrality of his boss, the Vice President, but it's even deeper than that. Libby really was everywhere..."the ever-present other guy in the room." It's funny how many of the photos included in both books have Libby in one corner or another. (Of course Libby's presence is not totally coincidental...Libby was very obviously a source for both Woodward and Mann.)

Libby was a former student and protege of Paul Wolfowitz. When Wolfowitz served as head of the State Department's policy planning staff under Reagan he replaced virtually every staffer, and Libby was one of the new hires that formed, according to Mann, "the heart of a new neoconservative network within the foreign policy bureaucracy." It was working under Wolfowitz and Libby that Zalmay Khalilzad authored the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (must read link) that served, later, in the Bush / Cheney administration, as a strategic blueprint for American military dominance and use of force.

By the time we get to the presidency of George W. Bush and the run up to war in Iraq, Libby literally is everywhere. Which is fitting, since, he held three jobs, including, unknown to many, a position that was directly responsible to George W. Bush, "Special Assistant to the President." From Woodward, we learn that Libby provided the very flawed and poorly-sourced intelligence dossier that Colin Powell used to prep for his speech before the U.N. We also find this passage, about a summary of intelligence Libby had made to key political strategists just one week before Powell's speech:

On Saturday, January 25, Libby gave a lengthy presentation in the Situation Room to Rice, Hadley, Armitage, Wolfowitz, Dan Bartlett and Michael Gerson. Though she had formally left the White House staff, Karen Hughes was there. Karl Rove was in and out of the meeting.

Holding a thick sheaf of paper, Libby outlined the latest version of the case against Saddam. [snip]...He began each section with blunt conclusions--Saddam has chemical and biological weapons, was producing and concealing them; his ties to bin Laden's al Qaeda network were numerous and strong. (Woodward, 289)

Given what has transpired since, it's hard not to think we'll be hearing more about that meeting, and Woodward's account of it in the weeks to come. It's in recounting moments like this that makes Woodward's book worthwhile. The fact that Libby was deeply involved with the "selling" of the war coupled with his indictment and resignation, percolating on the back burner for now, cannot be anything but hugely significant to the legal and political fate of this administration. Given those indictments, Libby's name now leaps off the page.

2. Bush decision making and cabinet rifts

Analysis of the rifts within the Bush Administration is in some ways the premise of both books. The importance of advisers to this president's decision-making makes who those advisers are and their internal disagreements highly significant. The split everyone talks about is between Powell / Armitage and Cheney / Rumsfeld. Clearly, Cheney and Rumsfeld "won," though you could say the outcome was predetermined. Both books show ample evidence why. (Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson's recent public avowals complete the tale.)

There's another potential split that's less obvious, and it gives real insight into Bush's decision-making process. Here's my surmise from reading the two books. For Bush' s first term we can draw up a chart which has these two groups:

  • On foreign policy: (Cheney / Bush + Rice flowed to DOD / SOS / Libby and Hadley)
  • On political strategy: (Rove / Bush + Hughes flowed to Card / Cheney / Bartlett)

  • The premise of this split is this: George Bush tended to put his decision making "under" the advice of a close advisor (Cheney or Rove) and then "checked it" with another close advisor (Rice or Hughes) before passing it on to the rest of the administration and their underlings. We read evidence of exactly this in a passage of Woodward's book following the moment where Bush reveals that he did not ask Powell's or Rumsfeld's advice on the decision to go to war, while admitting he did confer with Rice:
    One person not around was Karen Hughes, one of his top advisers and longtime communications director. Hughes, who had resigned the previous summer to return to Texas, probably knew how Bush thought and talked as much as anyone. "I asked Karen," the president recalled, "She said if you go to war, exhaust all opportunities to achieve [regime change] peacefully. And she was right. She actually captured my own sentiments."(Woodward, 252)

    I think Woodward is revealing something essential about standard operating procedure for this president. Bush hides how dependent his decision making process is on the input of close advisers, and, even given that fact, how that process itself is deeply flawed and unconventional. With Bush, there are no general policy discussions where advice is sought and offered. The fact that advisers like Cheney, Rove, Rice and Hughes speak to the president largely in private must create deep instability among his cabinet. Those four advisers had more input into Bush's ultimate decision to take the nation to war than did the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. That is something to consider.

    Incidentally, given the Fitzgerald investigation, it seems to me the natural split between political strategy and foreign policy, exemplified in how Bush used Rove and Cheney, might transform itself into the fault lines of a second "split" inside the administration. Regardless, hidden in the subtext of both books...books which are, after all, about the players that make up "team Bush," and not the president himself...is this core question: what are the consequences of an essentially passive president?

    3. Meet the New Boss

    Reading Mann's book makes it clear, the war in Iraq is the product of a team of Bush players who knew exactly what they were getting into. While Woodward's book serves to offer a fig leaf of deniability to Colin Powell; that fig leaf means nothing when one considers the long history these players have with one another and the mindset they come out of. The war in Iraq is a part of a deep continuity in U.S. foreign policy.

    Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Dick Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleeza Rice were the foreign policy establishment. They executed plans and thinking whose framework had been the norm for decades. In fact, their conception of the use of U.S. military power is directly related to their service under presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41. Far from being a "new departure" for the "neocons", the war in Iraq was simply business as usual to the core players in Team Bush. That is the only way to understand this war.

    For all the talk of "freedom," "democracy" and the "war on terror" and "neocon thinking"...Bush foreign policy has always been about the central continuity in U.S. foreign policy: maintaining U.S. military and economic power. This passage about Condoleeza Rice's entrance into that establishment says it all:

    Rice in 1991 returned to the Stanford University faculty. She made clear, however, that she was not returning to the routine academic life of an ordinary faculty member. She quickly befriended George Shultz, the former secretary of state, who was at Stanford's Hoover Institution. "I'd like to get more acquainted with American business and how it operates," Rice told Shutz. As Rice probably realized, the former secretary of state was serving on the board of Chevron at the time. "How would you feel about a big bad oil company?" Shultz asked Rice. Within months Rice was named to the Chevron board. (Mann, 225)

    Thinking about how that quote become available to Mann makes for an interesting reflection on its source. Incidentally, George Shultz is mentioned twenty-two separate times in Mann's book. This behind-the-scenes power broker was very much a key player in shaping "the Rise of the Vulcans." George Shultz, of course, exemplifies business as usual of a previous generation of leaders. Painting those connections, and fleshing out that backstory is one of Mann's strengths.

    4. Donald Rumsfeld did his job.

    This is a simple point that echoes what I've written before. You read it in Mann's book, you can read it in Woodward's in great detail. The reason Donald Rumsfeld hasn't been fired is because he did his job. He did it willingly. He did it with gusto. But Rumsfeld did what we has told to do, and what everyone involved knew he was going to do. There is nothing in Iraq that he didn't okay and plan.

    Bush doesn't fire people who get results.

    5. the Weekly Standard

    Time and again articles in the Weekly Standard pushed the Bush Administration further than they might have gone. If anything represents the real core of "neo-con" power it would be this: all through Rise of the Vulcans there are moments like this one:

    When Bush authorized the letter of regret over the spy plane, some of the neoconservatives were outraged. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Robert Kagan and Willian Kristol said Bush ahd brought a "profound national humiliation" upon the United States; they branded the Bush policy one of appeasement and called for the revocation of China's trade benefits. For a time relations between the neoconservatives and the Bush White House were strained. (Mann, 284)

    Word to bloggers everywhere...things that are said in public DO have an effect, no matter the disavowals. In the case of the Weekly Standard, it's quite clear that with Bushco, what the Weekly Standard wanted, the Weekly Standard mostly got. This is an incidental detail, but it in light of the Miers nomination, it's important to note. Mann's book makes a particular point of noticing how Bush's policy, especially the war in Iraq, was directly influenced by the posturing of this hotbed of "neocon" thinking. It's a point worth thinking about and expanding on.

    Those are the five things I take from Mann's and Woodward's books. Rise of the Vulcans is an essential read for understanding the lay of the land inside the Bush Administration. I recommend giving it a read if you're so inclined. Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, of course, is still in the news. You can read about Bob Woodward and his book in the newspapers....on a daily basis.

    Little did Woodward know that he was writing that kind of history. Access journalism indeed.


    Monday, November 28, 2005


    faboo mama celebrates the arrival of Alton to the world.

    Congratulations! And welcome to the blogosphere, Alton!

    the white angel

    Somewhere on San Francisco's Embarcadaro...between a tourist diner and a corporate office park...is a small stone monument, half-hidden in the bushes, indicating the site where, in 1933, Dorothea Lange took this photograph.

    That fact means it is also the former site of the White Angel Bread Line...and, as a part of that, it is the spot where one hungry old man, unshaven, in a filthy cap, turned his back on other hungry men for a moment and seemed to express in that gesture a universal human feeling: of vulnerability, of solitude, of the indignity of a poverty that herded men like cattle.

    Perhaps it's better that the monument is hidden in the bushes. Visitors to this city, if they can find it, will have already seen hundreds of hungry and disheveled men and women. And if they stay in hotels near the Tenderloin, as many do, they will have seen long lines for food, and the despondent faces of those who live on our streets. Of course, as a nation, after Katrina, only the willfully ignorant can deny the entrenched poverty in this country. We all saw that.

    The power of Lange's photo was that it held up a mirror. The old man elicits sympathy because he had turned the other way. In doing so, in turning towards us, he became real, specific, worthy of compassion.

    I've always felt that the hidden symbolic meaning of the photo was that we encounter him only because he had turned his back on the others. In doing so, he imitated exactly what we have done to countless people just like him.


    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    critical condition

    If you want an example of something that's emblematic of what's broken in America, try health care.

    Sure, our Republican colleagues will mouth the exact same tired language about "the excellence of our hospitals" and those dreaded "trial lawyers."  Truth is, however, for twenty five years the United States, under Republican leadership and the hand of big business, has indulged in an experiment with allowing "market forces" to drive our health care system.

    That experiment has failed.

    We pay more for drugs, basic care, and insurance than ever before.  Due to an unchecked increase in the cost of catastrophic care and a change in bankruptcy laws, we are all more at risk of financial devastation when facing a serious illness.  Many of us are less healthy.  And all of us navigate a labyrinth of byzantine, hyper-duplicated and redundant bureaucratic formulas that consistenly favor profit over people.  Nothing exemplifies this better than the sight of millions of senior Americans struggling to read the fine print of the insanely complex new "Medicare Drug Plan."

    Let's face it, health care is broken in America.2004 saw the publication of Critical Condition: How Health Care in America became Big Business and Bad Medicine by famed investigative journalists, Donald Barlett and James B. Steele.  The book is now available in paperback and can be read in an afternoon or a plane ride.  I highly recommend it.

    Barlett and Steele lay it out:

    Over the last few decades, American health care has radically changed.  A system that was largely not-for-profit has become a field where the profit motive and market forces affect every decision. [snip]

    Much of the turmoil is a direct result of a national policy to run health care like a business, a misguided notion promoted by Washington over the last two decades that the free market and for-profit health care would restrain costs and bring high-quality care to all.  On both counts, the experiment has failed miserably. In the meantime, tens of billions of dollars--money that could have gone into patient care--has been drained from consumers and corporate subscribers and transferred to investors, executives, and others who have a stake in perpetuating this myth.

    The result is a chaotic system that has shifted its focus from saving lives to saving dollars, one that discourages preventive medicine and rewards overtesting and overmedicating; a system that allows insurers to reject those most likely to require medical attention and keep only the healthiest; a system where six times as many people die from medical mistakes as from HIV/AIDS; a system that forces doctors to spend as much time negotiating with insurers over referrals and fees as they do treating patients.

    Barlett and Steele don't mince words.   When you're sick, you're not a "customer"...you're not a "shopper"...you're a patient.  It's obvious.  When one of us gets cancer or has a car accident...it's not like we're wheeling a cart down the aisles of a grocery store comparing prices.  But that's exactly how the Republicans would like to have us imagine it.  (And when we do compare prices we realize, as the authors expose, that hospitals--even non-profit, "charitable" hospitals--price gouge uninsured Americans and send the inflated bills to collection agencies.)

    Health care isn't like other "businesses" where it's perfectly expected and acceptable to make more money by selling more of your product.  When talking about our health, that's insane.  We want fewer diabetics and lung cancer patients.  We want healthier babies and children who grow up with good habits of diet and excercise.  As a society, we want our citizens to be healthy, to need less, not more,  intervention from the health care system.  That was the logic behind the initial governmental investment in "non profit" HMO's in the 1970s.  (It's also the logic behind most other countries vastly less expensive health care systems; countries we compete with in the world marketplace.)

    Non-profit HMO's were invested in keeping all their patients healthy.  If you were in your 30s, and had a reasonable expectation of good health, you still knew that your HMO would cover you in the event of an accident or a chronic illness...and would cover the health care of your children from pre-natal check ups to doctor's visits for a cold or a broken bone.  If you were in your 50s you knew that your HMO was invested in proper diagnostics and preventive care...to keep you healthy, to intervene early, and to guide you into your senior years, and the medicare system, as a healthy senior citizen.

    We've turned that on it's head.  Our government bought into the idea of for-profit HMOs and for-profit medicine...and that happened at exactly the point where conservative ideologues got their hands on U.S. government: during "the Reagan revolution."

    Take this 1979 quote from David Stockman, who went on to become Ronald Reagan's budget director:

    The secret is to liberate health consumers from the policy-induced stupor that has reduced them to passive, indirect payors when by nature they are accomplished, resourceful shoppers.  The activation of 150 million adult health care shoppers would dramatically transform the medical marketplace...

    The conservative kool-aid was flowing even then.  That quote might sound good to some, if you don't stop to think about what a 'medical marketplace' means.  According to Barlett and Steele:
    In 1983 alone, five formerly not-for-profit HMO's with hundreds of thousands of enrollees converted to publicly owned corporations. [snip]

    The move to for-profit health care companies was a profound transformation that would affect milllions of Americans.  It was rationalized, explained, and justified for one reason--as the only way to control costs.  "The object will be to slow the explosive rise in the nation's medical bill." Business Week reported, "and set in motion free market forces that will reduce the waste, inefficiencies, and misuse of health services that have eluded the corrective thrust of government regulations."  For-profit HMOs were the "Johnny-on-the-spot answer to the health care cost problem," said a Piper, Jaffray and Hopwood analyst in 1984. [snip]

    At the time, in 1984, health care costs represented 10.5 percent of gross domestic product.  Twenty years into the experiment to "slow the explosive rise in the nation's medical bill," health care costs at the end of 2003 exceeded 15 percent of GDP.  They are sill rising.  The last time so many on Wall Street and in government were so wrong was 1929--but this time many would  make a great deal of money.

    For those interested in what a "cost savings"...rrr, increase...of 4.5% of U.S. GDP represents:  it's about 500 Billion dollars...annually.

    For-profit medicine, as relentlessly exposed in Critical Condition, has meant big business scamming patients, scamming investors and scamming the government.  Ask yourself, when you look at the health of your fellow Americans, and the vast numbers of uninsured...where do you think that $500 Billion a year goes?  From where I stand, it sure doesn't go to making average Americans more healthy or more secure.

    In fact, the obvious fraud and waste involved in for-profit medicine changed the meaning of HMOs to such an extent that it likely scared voters from supporting any attempt to reform health care away from the failed for-profit system, even though that reform is in all of our best interest.  Average Americans who do have health care see first hand the waste, fraud and corruption in the system; but instead of reforming it, in voting for a Republican-controlled Congress we've voted to let the market fix itself!  Ironically, Republican policies and voter manipulation have had the effect of luring voters to vote for 'more of the same' instead of asking themselves why the system's broken in the first place.  That has to change.  

    Truth is, some people have been getting VERY rich for a VERY long time with business as usual.  The only way to change that is to make the case that the Republican experiment in for-profit health care has failed. The experiment has failed our patients, our children, our doctors, and, in the end, it failed even our big companies.  For profit medicine has failed our country.

    For the scare mongers who preach conservative "market based" values, I have one question.  Would you let market forces raise your child?  Of course not. Just as we have core values we want for our children, we have certain standards and core values that we should expect for health care in this country.  Access to affordable health care that has all of our best interests at heart with an emphasis on preventive and healthy lifestyle choices should be one of those values.

    When we had a basically "not for profit" health care system in this country, it was not perfect...what is?...but one core thing held true: the system was invested in our health,  not in making money off our sickness.

    We've come a long ways from that moment.  As Barlett and Steele point out, health care in the U.S. is like a lottery.  If you're one of the lucky, you're alright.  If you're not.  You're screwed.

    But anyone looking at their neighbors and family knows that it's not that simple.  It's connected.  When GM shuts those factories, in part due to the huge costs of for-profit health care, they will be gone for good.  When our neighbors lose everything over a family health crisis, it's not good for anyone.  The entire United States suffers when we let kids fall victim to an epidemic of childhood obesity due to crappy corporate food and a health care system that isn't doing it's job:  to help keep us healthy.

    Like in so many things, the Republicans have had their chance. Their ideas have failed. It's everyday Americans who have paid the price.

    [Update: Badger Blues joins the call for reform.]


    Saturday, November 26, 2005

    a game of whiffle ball that nobody remembers

    Rachel walked over with her brother from Claremont Avenue. They met us in Sakura Park. The cherry blossoms were in bloom. It was May, the end of the school year. The night was clear and blue-black. The warmth of lights from apartments on Riverside Drive cut through the dark.

    More people arrived as finals let out. Karl and Tom showed up. And Noah. And Kip. I had a bottle of jug wine. Colette and Catherine joined me on the Barnard campus, and then we strolled over. Marc and Sarah and Sara and Katherine and Julie and Jenny and Katie followed soon after. David and Justin and Kiersta walked over after class. Mirja and Bevin and Ilya were late arrivers.

    We had enough people for whiffle ball, so we played. Like so many things, we didn't do it with a plan. It just happened. Wild strikeouts in the dark. Karl hurling himself towards first base. Laughter. Impromptu performance. Exaggerated pitching. Close plays at home plate. The thwak of plastic on...plastic.

    Some people sat and talked. Others focused on the game at hand. Night fell on the Hudson and New York City.

    I dream about those days. Not in a happy way. I wake from a deep sleep, troubled, with a nagging feeling that something is not done. Unaccomplished. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe that’s just how I’m made. My mom tells me that I woke up screaming one night at two years old..."There’s pictures in my crib! There’s pictures in my crib!" Vivid dreams are like memories: they pull you in, they shape your day, they have a force and pull, like tides:

    Karl hurtling through the night. Rachel and Julie laughing. David and Noah running for fly balls. Justin rolling a cigarette.

    There are things that you do and there are things that you lose. Quite often the mechanisms that drive both machines are in operation simultaneously. Doing meaning losing. Losing meaning doing something new. And memory, that stubborn assemblage of neurons...conspiring to fuck you up, to mix you up...to shake you loose from yourself and push you into a state of confusion, of fugue, of dissonance before you stand and begin again.

    The night was dark. Grant’s Tomb was lit against the night. Riverside Church rose up imperious. Towers as play actors looking down upon a game.

    I love those friends. But perhaps I love them as a way to love myself. To stick up for something. Imperfect. The kernel of which has yet to work its way to the fore.

    Karl hurling himself into the night. The ball in play. So many things hanging in the balance.

    A game of whiffle ball that nobody remembers.


    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    thanksgiving roots

    I am home tonight in the house my parents have lived in for 35 years.

    Here in St. Paul the past is all around us. In the corner of my dad's office is a wooden rocking chair from my grandmother, Mary. In various corners of the house are fine examples of Red Wing Pottery, woolen blankets from Faribault Woolen Mills, a stolid chest of drawers that belonged to my Czech great-grandfather Edward...all artifacts of 19th century life in Minnesota.

    Just the other day, my dad and I drove through Stillwater, Minnesota, on the border with Wisconsin, which served as a staging area for so many "Minnesota pioneers" and he recalled how his grandfather, George, bragged of swimming under the logs on the St. Croix River there. Timothy Shields, George's father ran a hotel in Stillwater. Timothy arrived in Stillwater after leaving County Roscommon Ireland for America in 1836. (Grandpa George, it should be said, noted that swimming under logs meant you really had to hold your breath.)

    The past, of course, is all around us. I learned today, as my mom dug through a file folder full of careful notes mailed by a relative years ago, that my great great grandfather, a man named Jan Hoodecheck born in 1840 in Sloupnice in the Czech Republic, and who emigrated to Racine, Wisconsin in 1855 as a teen, had served in the 22nd Wisconsin in the Civil War. The 22nd was known as the "Abolition Regiment" for incorporating freed slaves into their ranks and refusing to release fugitive slaves back to slavery. (They were also some of the first troops into Atlanta under Sherman...and, at wars end, paraded in the Grand Review of Armies.)

    What seems the remote past is not so far distant as we think. My father, as a child, played with his brothers in a log cabin (yes, you read that right) that my grandfather, James, used as a ice house...with ice he cut in the winter from Lake Dora in Le Seuer County and hauled back to Doyle, the "one family town" of which he was the founder and where he operated a general store and grain elevator. When I showed my dad a picture of a "pioneer cabin" and asked if he knew of any in his area growing up, he laughed, and said..."Seen one? I used to play in one!"

    History points in other directions too. On the other side of my family, my grandfather Richard often found Native American arrowheads during spring plowing on the banks of the Crow River, in McCleod County, where my mother grew up. So much so, that he assumed there had been a longstanding settlement near his farm. I remember, as a kid with my cousins in the 1970s, asking my uncle to take us to see the Indian burial mounds on a bend in the Crow River...near where some of my relatives still live. My uncle knew where they were because my grandfather had shown them to him. And standing in the woods that day...we were kids...I defintely remember a hushed feeling when my uncle told us that other families had lived here on the river. Other people had called it home. In fact, some of them were buried right there in the woods.

    Of course, that is true of St. Paul, my home town, as well. St. Paul was earlier known as the Mdewankton settlement of Kaposia, near what is now called Mounds Park. As a kid, my family would often hike on Pike Island, just below Fort Snelling, where after the Dakota War in 1862, 1300-1700 Dakota people were held in a concentration camp...later moved to what is now the site of the Mall of America...before being expelled from Minnesota in an 'ethnic cleansing.' Two winters ago, hiking in the snow on Pike Island, my dad and I found a memorial to this concentration camp consisting of one hundred or so wooden stakes in a circle and driven through the snow...each with a red ribbon and a Lakota name written on it. It was a moving sight in the silent winter woods.

    That story connects to my family in a closer way. In 1863, Taoyateduta,known as 'Little Crow', leader of the Lakota people in the Dakota War, was shot while gathering berries with his son along the Crow River outside Hutchinson...just miles from where my mother grew up.

    The Crow River is a part of my childhood. We ice skated on it in winter...hiked along it in spring and summer. Working with my grandpa and uncle, I would help herd cattle across it from the far pasture. The Crow River made an 'S' shape that encircled the farm my mom grew up on. The history the river represents...complicity, settlement, genocide, family...is hidden in its curves.

    To put that history in the past, as we so often do on Thanksgiving...is in some ways to ignore it, to deny it, to put ourselves outside it when, in fact, we live side by side with it. It is a part of us. That can arrive for us in surprising ways...I remember visiting a friend in Minneapolis and seeing the photo of her American Indian grandparents in the 1940s on the fridge...standing in dress clothes in front of a teepee. Or it can arrive in more official ways, like being a guest for wild rice and walleye dinners at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. Our past, in this regard, is very much our present. That is the point. History can be mundane and still powerful and real.

    Yesterday, shopping with my sister and my one and half year old niece for Thanksgiving groceries on Lake Street...it was remarkable...the mix of faces shopping for groceries for the holiday. There were many, many American Indians from South Minneapolis's large Indian community, moms, kids, grandmas...but there were also African Americans, Hmong, and East African immigrants as well. My sister and I, as European Americans, as grand children of settlers and pioneers...carried our history with us somewhere yesterday, too, as we went about our holiday shopping. Our intermingling, our shopping, the hellos between the children and adults were so matter of fact. Yet even in the grocery store we are, as a community, side by side with our shared history as well. Our task on Thanskgiving, while we celebrate our loved ones and the new histories we are making, is to remember our past, to look, and see with new eyes: our surroundings, our neighbors, and, finally, ourselves.


    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    safe travels

    I'm in Minnesota with family for Thanksgiving, and am working on a Thanksgiving piece for later tonight or tommorrow.

    In the meantime, I wish you all safe travels and a most happy holiday wherever you may be!

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    wood s lot

    wood s lot is consistently one of my favorite reads. The content, on art, poetry, photography and politics is second to none. Just always great stuff.

    It's slightly academic. Maybe just the right thing for a long holiday weekend.

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    rebuilding New Orleans

    Blksista has a great essay up on dailykos on rebuilding New Orleans...the environmental issues and the social justice issues. It's a very worthy read.

    cold water and the popular vote

    I've been reading the 2004 Presidential election results on a state by state and county by county basis. In particular, I've been looking at 2000 v. 2004.

    There's no direct online comparison of 2000 and 2004 that I can find. The one I'm using is the 2006 World Almanac and Book of Facts which breaks down every single county in the U.S. and compares 2000 and 2004...it's sobering and worthwhile.

    2004 was a high turnout year. 105 million voters voted in 2000; 121.5 million voters voted in 2004...or 60.7% of those eligible.

    Both Bush (62,040,606 votes) and Kerry (59,028,109 votes) improved on the Bush/Gore returns from 2000 when Bush won 50,459,211 votes and Gore 51,003,894.

    Simply put, George Bush dramatically improved his totals over 2000 in almost every single county in the U.S., including many urban and largely Democratic counties. In the state of Illinois, a state Bush lost by 546,000 votes, the President still improved his total by 327,000 votes state-wide and improved his totals in every single county in the state. That was not true of John Kerry, who underperformed Al Gore in many rural counties in Illinois while winning 301,000 more votes that Gore did in 2000 statewide on the strength of his performance in big cities.

    Why is this significant? First, it puts to rest the malarky that tampering with the actual votes determined the outcome of the 2004 election. Bush improved his standing in almost every last county in the United States...and by consistent percentages in those counties whether they were Democratic or Republican, urban or rural, in states with closely contested electoral outcomes or not. My home state of Minnesota saw the exact same trend...big improvements for Bush in the suburbs, smaller, but consistent improvements in every single rural county. And again, Kerry won in Minnesota, but he won like he did in most states where he won, on the strength of his very strong improvements in urban counties, and in the face of Bush's own improvements almost everywhere.

    Even looking at cities, the results tell us something. Hennepin County, home of Minneapolis, was one the only urban counties in the country where Bush got fewer votes in 2004 than 2000. Most big cities saw big gains for George Bush. Bush picked up 20,000 more votes in St. Louis County, MO than in 2000, Bush picked up 29,000 more votes in Philadelphia County, PA than in 2000, Bush received 27,000 more votes in King County, WA than in 2000. Those results are similar in states as far afield as Washington, Missouri and Pennsylvania. It goes without saying, as well, that Democratic officials oversee the elections in big cities. The canard that Bush would not, and could not, improve on his performance of 2000 was a deception. Bush added GOP voters in cities across the country.

    Truth be told, the 2004 election was sobering and needs to be examined in the clear light of day. It's a crying shame that fraudsters and hucksters obscured the real lessons of 2004. Our path to victory in 2006 passes through a throrough-going study of 2004, 2002, and 2000. Where is there room for improvement? What did we do well, and how can we capitalize on that? I know that some readers here may feel this last election was tampered with...that we should only look at the two states where some suspect it was stolen; I would argue the opposite.

    A close reading of all the returns shows that the election was won, not stolen. A close reading of those returns nationwide represents our best hope at understanding the character of this electorate and our path to victory in 2006. The hard work is ahead of us.

    (As an aside, these University of Michigan maps are really fascinating.)

    Sunday, November 20, 2005

    two thousand men

    I visited my 93-year-old grandmother today in the small town of 5000 she lives in.

    We talked about the President and the war.

    She said this: "This war. So many men. So many young men lost. Two thousand. Imagine how many that would be all lined up. Imagine."

    (Related: read Sen. Byrd's speech on this topic via Carnacki at dKos.)

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    a turning point

    It's the weekend before Thanksgiving 2005.

    I write this understanding that a confluence of trends (George W. Bush's unpopularity, the persistent failure of the war in Iraq, a series of scandals that touch both the White House and top GOP leadership) have made the Republicans vulnerable in ways they haven't been for years. At the same time I realize that core weaknesses in the Democratic Party (our liberal/mainstream split, our geographic concentration in big cities and the coasts, and a cultural failure and weakness of our leadership) mean that our ability to capitalize on those GOP weaknesses are not much better than they have been for the last 25-30 years.

    It's a familiar litany, with a familiar foundation.

    We don't control the House, and haven't since 1994. We don't control the Senate, and lost enough ground in 2004 that our best hopes for 2006 may simply be drawing even again. John Kerry lost the Presidential contest last year in a high turnout election where he quite often significantly improved on Al Gore's vote totals. In the wake of 2000 and 2004 our "electoral path" to Presidential victory in 2008 is not clear or sure. Even if Kerry had won, however, Congress is solidly GOP. And in the United States, power goes to those with legislative majorities.

    One look at the closeness of the last two Presidential elections seems to imply a nation ready to give Democrats a fair shake, an evenly split country. But that ignores the reality that, structurally, the current layout of the balance of power favors the Republicans. Democrats are more concentrated in big states and cities, we are more concentrated in Congressional districts where we win 80-20 or 70-30, or 65-35, and we are more and more on the losing end of state redistricting that draws maps in Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania that give GOP incumbants districts where they can easily fend off Democratic challengers: ie. multiple "slight lean Republican" districts with GOP incumbants.

    This environment, this structural imbalance, more than anything else explains the current state of U.S. politics. And the symbolic cornerstones of this imbalance: GOP locks on Southern and Heartland states isn't going to change out of the goodness of the Republican's hearts. There are "red trends" in the heartland that won't dissappear simply due to scandal in D.C. In fact, I'd argue that if we give Bush/Cheney enough time, we could see a whole new GOP leadership emerge and win in 2008 on a Republican reform platform.

    The only way to change this structural imbalance is to start by understanding it, and how it affects our politics.

    Since many core Democrats are packed into districts like the one I live in...that of Congresswoman Barbara Lee...where our representatives win with close to 80% of the vote, that means that, quite often, the driving centers of Democratic politics end up way more "out front" and "progressive" than the rest of the country. It's no surprise that many netroots Democratic activists judge politics with a harsh edge, or simply by how much we loathe the oppostion. To win Democratic activist support, you've got to win over activists in our most Democratic districts with a rhetoric that matches those numbers.

    That's a trap.

    I've tried to be a voice for coalition. I find that gets misinterpreted as "special interest politics" which, to me, is a crime. Democrats need a bringing together of both wings. "We" has to mean 60% of the country. "We" has to mean a potential majority in most every state. "We" has to mean a politics that appeals to 'urban democrats' (whom we NEED, every last one of them) and 'heartland voters' whom we need just as dearly...we need a winning politics that clearly isolates the issues the two groups have in common. Not in a surface way...in a real way. We need to talk kitchen table in a language that works in Oakland and in Tracy and in Los Banos.

    It's time for us to come together to win in the environment we've been handed by history. We can't do it without the cities. We can't do it without the heartland. Pandering to either one is...still pandering.

    In my mind, the mistake of "scandal politics" and "internet-based anti-GOP" crusading is that it doesn't get at the core structural reason the Democrats are out of power: all those GOP congresscritters in those "lean Republican" seats.

    There may be thirty of them who are vulnerable. There may be sixty. There may be ninety. Until we identify them, and run credible kitchen table Democrats against them who link their campaigns to a powerful national theme that brings both wings of our party together: we're gonna be stuck on the outside of a GOP majority in our Congress.

    I'm a progressive. I don't intend to change that. I'm proud of it. But I understand that the legacy we leave our kids can't be one of losing year after year. I want to be able to speak those progressive politics and see them represented in legislative majorities that get things done. I am a firm believer that the most powerful political argument is that of success: ie. showing how our ideas work better when the rubber hits the road. I think our progressive ideas can win in that marketplace...they already have in so many ways: from Head Start to Social Security to the Parental and Family Leave Act...and what I'd like is for another generation of those ideas to have a chance. We progressives have got a lot more to give; we deserve a seat at the table.

    That means coalition. That means a politics that focuses on what brings the disparate parts of our coalition together. That means hammering out a "culture" that permits liberals like me to stand behind someone like a John Murtha or a Bob Casey knowing that I will get a fair shake for my ideas too, that those politicians will stand behind folks like me when the chips are down. We need to figure out how to do this without pandering or BS. Ie. without DLC types running against people like me out of convenience...or vice versa. That means no more "Sister Souljah" moments...it also means less easy ranting on the blogs.

    I think this is a turning point for both parties. I think there will be a GOP reform movement...if not in 2006...certainly by 2008. Our chance, as Democrats, is to come together now under two new banners:

  • good government reform
  • a coalition of both wings of our party focused on our core values: fixing health care and the environment would be two

  • To that end, I think we very much need to put up a national platform for 2006. We need to identify districts where House GOP incumbants are weak. And, noting examples like Casey in Pennsylvania, or Herseth in South Dakota, understand that we won't get the "Dean Dream" of a clean sweep of progressive netroots candidates. But what we just might do is lay the foundation for a winning Democratic coalition that reforms our government and get things done on a state and national level.

    As progressives, our job is to address the structural imbalance in American politics by winning where we can...building majorities in coalition where we can...and innovating ways to partner in this political environment. Progressives need to learn that word, "partnership"...and learn how to make it work for us in building our reforms, and our change into American political life. It may be too soon for us on the national stage, but it should not be too soon for us in a host of cities and states and regions. For me, that was the shame of the New York mayor's race and in losing the California Governorship to Arnold. We miss a chance to define ourselves.

    I am convinced, as well, that far from hiding true progressive voices, our party should embrace us as one, strong part of our coalition. Currently, we have the worst of both worlds; our moderates are judged and lambasted as "liberals"...and real progressive values and reform don't even see the light of day. We need to change that and make clear the Democratic Party has room for everyone. In this, I remain a Wellstone Democrat; Paul Wellstone was a great spokesman for progressive values and a great Democrat.

    One final word, I know there is a focus right now on "purple zones" and "making red zones purple." That leads to a lot of talk of taking Democratic politics and making a run for "moral values" and "red flavors" at the expense of investing in our urban democrats as well. One word of caution. Don't forget the cities. Don't forget the urban Democrats and our shared interest in what make this country great. In a mid-term election people write off us voters in safe Dems districts. That's a bad idea. First, because no one on either side should be taken for granted. Second, ignoring the common interests between families in cities and families in the heartland is idiotic if we a trying to build a broad and winning coalition.

    Come 2008 the Democratic party will need every single one of its voters...those in cities and those in the heartland. We need to convince all of our voters of the meaning, the significance and the security of their ballots, and of how much much we all really have in common. 2006 is a chance to do that. A test run. It's a chance to build a coalition based on common values that will take us to victory in 2008...and perhaps, if we target the right districts, build a strong enough coalition, and show unity where we've shown weakness in the past, we just might shock the world in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006.

    God knows it's about time.


    Friday, November 18, 2005

    the road ahead in the House

    Well, it looks like the Republicans have picked their strategy for 2006: unquestioned loyalty to President Bush.

    Calling Jack Murtha a "Michael Moore" is what I would call a "Thanksgiving-sized" mistake.

    The timing of this Congressional resolution and the GOP name-calling it evinced is going to make for some pretty testy Turkey Day conversations.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    outside my front door

    I stepped outside tonight for a quick ten 'o clock run to the market.

    Tonight is garbage and recycling night, and that means that folks are scavenging the recycling barrels for cans and bottles.

    Across the street a woman of indeterminate age shone a flashlight deep into my neighbor's barrel. She moved quickly and didn't pay attention to me. As I crossed the street to my car I saw a figure searching through the barrel in front of my house.

    It was a young boy. Probably ten years old. He was wearing a coat over a plaid baggy shirt and slacks. He had on a knit cap. He had a flashlight too.

    He looked up at me. And I guess I must have looked at him long enough that he thought he had to say something.

    He said, "Hello."

    And his voice sounded like every other ten year old boy in the Bay Area. It was a boy's voice.

    He said it once..."Hello"...and looked at me.

    I didn't say anything back. I figured that it was his mom across the street. And as much I hated the entire situation; there was nothing to say at that time of night to either of them. Nothing that would do any good, at any rate. I did nothing.

    People in our society like to blame the victims. As a matter of brutal urban reality...it's not a wise idea for that mom to take her son out like that. It's not safe. And the police, or a social worker, would not look kindly on it. It's simply unfair to do that to a child.

    But don't tell me you can blame a boy...a ten year old...for being put in that situation. And don't tell me that any parent wants that for their kid.

    Don't tell me that this situation has nothing to do with this story...because it does.

    Those at the top are greedy, those at the bottom are destitute...and those in the middle are anxious and in debt and don't dare offend the fewer and fewer big companies that control our lives.

    You maybe think I'm full of it. I ask you...have you looked out your front door lately?


    Representative John Murtha

    Murtha's statement is huge. It's pithy. It resonates.

    We're not doing any good by staying in Iraq. Our military mission is over.

    The Bush Administration attacks Representative Murtha by calling him "a Michael Moore".

    Of course, whose picture of Iraq from the spring of 2004 has proven more true: Michael Moore's or George Bush's?

    On, June 25th, 2004 the day Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was released in the U.S.....754 U.S. service members had died in Iraq. Today that total stands at 2083.

    Something to think about.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2005

    a serious moment

    I was really struck by this photo, which graced the cover of Tuesday's New York Times, showing Ariel Sharon, Condoleeza Rice and James Baker attending a memorial of the late Yitzhak Rabin in Israel.

    There's something in that picture...in Rice's face, jaw set, eyes hidden behind rockstar sunglasses...and how she is flanked on either side by two men who've played hard-ball power politics for decades: Ariel Sharon, peering beneath his furrowed brow and, always conscious he is being observed, gesturing and thinking...and James Baker, completely hidden behind a permanent dimplomatic mask, an impenetrable sphinx.

    Of course, that photo sends a powerful message to the world. Rice was in Israel to do serious business. The fact that she brought Baker with her meant that the full weight of the U.S. military-industrial complex...the old guard...was with her. That trip to Israel was important; and I would guess that U.S. plans and actions regarding Syria were part of that, as well as many other matters at hand in the Middle East.

    Taking account of Rice's high profile trip to Israel...and President Bush's "freedom push" on his trip to China, his tweaking of the Chinese leadership, I think of this passage from Jeffrey Goldberg's Brent Scowcroft piece in the New Yorker:

    When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, "I don't want to go there," but his dissatisfaction with the son's agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him name issues on which he agress with the younger Bush, he siad, "Afghanistan." He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, "I think we're doing well on Europe," and left it at that...[snip]

    Rice's conversion to the world view of Goerge W. Bush is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her ex-colleagues from the first President Bush's National Security Council say that it is rooted in her Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in moralistic terms, much as the President does....snip...

    Rice's split with her former National Security council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration's impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, "The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up." The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice's "evangelical tone."

    Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for Rice. He did note, however, that her "expertise is in the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle East."

    As I wrote yesterday, even at the highest levels of power, the personal, and personalities, still matter a great deal. In this case, it seems that Scowcroft, perhaps as a stand in for GHW Bush, has received his reply. Rice and the President are pushing hard in Asia and the Middle East. They are taking moralistic stands...they are going to continue to, in Rice's words, "clean things up."

    Now, this is a serious moment. The war in Iraq is going worse than poorly. The Bush administration is faced with an ongoing investigation that is dredging up damaging details, details that may ultimately threaten Vice President Cheney. The Senate is moving; it's in flux. The President can't count on it. Given that, I think one of the reasons that Scowcroft and Wilkerson spoke out...(those kind of things never happen 'by accident' and they always mean much more than what they seem on the surface)...is that George W. Bush represents more than just himself. Very powerful interests are invested in this President, and those interests are not happy. That debate in the Georgetown restaurant in 2002 wasn't about Iraq, it was about the best way to maintain power.

    In that sense...these big global moves are more than simply "personal responses" to a former National Security Advisor, and a former President who happens to be this President's dad. I think those moves also represent a use of power to encourage some behind-the-scenes interests to align themselves behind this President, to join him in his crusade, and in crusades to come. You see, the surest way to insure someone's commitment to you is to get them to sign on your mistakes.

    That is exactly what this President has done in Iraq, it's actually his lifelong modus operandi and it may well be what he and Rice are up to now around the world. Something wicked this way comes. That's why James Baker flanked Secretary of State Rice when she went to Israel. The behind-the-scenes broker will, I'm sure, report back to his friends in the U.S.

    When I look at that photo again, and consider the human cost...in lives and in opportunities...embodied in the politics of those three figures. When I think of how, all three of those figures....Rice, Sharon and Baker....have survived in the political landscape by doing what had to be done to maintain and hold power, regardless of its cost for others. It's striking...and chilling. There is an evil there...and it has to with when a moral absolutism, whether as a pose or an inner delusion, is used to serve the needs of power.

    There is a behind the scenes battle going on in the hidden corridors where things get done and decisions get made. Iraq isn't just a failure for Bush; it's a failure for the military-industrial complex as a whole. To say the word "Iraq" is to know that it rings of Somalia and Viet Nam. That failure, and the scandals surrounding it, threaten to blow the lid off a cabal that has had its fingers all over our government for a half-century. The Fitzgerald investigation, changing tides in the Senate, and a political groundswell away from the GOP in 2006 deeply threaten that cabal, and the tidy coincidences that have propped it up.

    This is a serious moment not simply because the powers that be are deciding how they will make sure that doesn't happen...but also because they are struggling within themselves over how. That the Vice President feels secure enough to continue to push for secret torture centers says to me that we should never underestimate this crew.

    Baker, Rice and Sharon may have appeared to commemorate Rabin as a 'man of peace'; peace had nothing to do with it.


    let's just say...

    That you are on the inside. That you know how things really work.

    You're not a cynic, you're a realist. You know the score. You do what needs to get done. You know things that the little people will never understand.

    Your name might be Scooter Libby or Karl Rove. Your name might be Judith Miller or Bob Woodward. Or your name might be...say...James Baker or George Schultz.

    Regardless, you don't play by little people rules.

    You understand power...and money...and vested interests. You know the key players. The key players know you. You know who really pulls the strings. You know where the real power lies.

    All that being said, there's one thing that even you have to admit.

    History is often made by human beings. Imperfect. Tempermental. Weak. Wrong-headed. Vulnerable. Puny. Individuals.

    Like most "little people"...I can't pretend to know what's actually going on in Washington right now. It gets curiouser and curiouser by the day. Bob Woodward testifying under oath because an official "remembered," after Libby's indictment, an innocuous conversation with Woodward in June of 2003 that mentioned Valerie Plame...hmm.

    Who's the official? What triggered their memory? What compelled that sudden truth telling?

    Regardless of the import of this revelation, it just goes to prove that even behind the scenes we are all people. Full of pride, and vanity, and fear. The pressure gets to everyone at some point. Even presidents.

    You never know who or what will turn up when the pressure is on.

    Deep Throat, after all, was just a guy with a grudge.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005


    George Bush is either digging a hole, or climbing out of it.

    History will tell whether his choice to "fight back" (using terms of argument that he's been using all along, "Democrats are sending the wrong message to our troops.") instead of doing a shake up of his administration (which would be a wise move) will pay off.

    My bet is that he is digging himself deeper. And to hear him actually addressing charges of misleading and mishandled intelligence is stunning.

    Everybody knows that we were told there was WMD in Iraq. There wasn't.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    fire dog lake

    Firedoglake is en fuego. Every article on the front page is great. I recommend them all. Scooter Libby, habeas corpus, Dan Froomkin on the Veteran's Day Speech.

    Sheer Excellence.

    meta from Oakland

    Ah, the health of this blog!

    Things have been slow here...on both ends: both in terms of traffic and returning readers...and in terms of my ability to put a couple new posts up everyday. I have liked some of my recent pieces...but, even given that, they haven't seemed to have quite caught on.

    When I wrote for dKos, I had the luxury of writing when I could. (Which was nice, since I work some very crazy hours at times. And the instant feedback at dkos is truly "one of a kind.") Lately, I've had whole blocks of off-line work...eighty hours in seven days...and that's kept me from indulging the "news junkie blogger" role. Alas. When I read blogs, I start with my current clicks...and read blogs. It might take a couple hours. But I find I really learn a great deal. It is, however, very time consuming.

    Further, I've found that since writing here is more intimate. The lack of the huge amounts of feedback I was used to at dKos means that comments weigh more, and there's less balance sometimes. Frankly, the cynicism or crypticism in the comments here has got me down at times. It's hard to leave for work at 5AM and have your one comment be someone ripping on you. That's cool on a moderated blog like dKos, where we all jump in...it's less cool when the only response you get to an essay is snark. I can understand why some bloggers have turned the comments off, in that context....and just kept writing.

    As a writer, I know that you have to protect the wellsprings of where your writing comes from. Otherwise....burnout lurks. It's axiomatic, your write for your readers and yourself. It has to be sustainable.

    I'm open to your input. What would make this blog better for you? What do you come here for? Should I try to "keep up" with the news when I can...or does that create expectations I can't always live up to? Should I write fewer pieces? How about short pieces? Open threads? Music?

    For what it's worth, I hunger to write essays. Pieces that would be worthy of a reread a year from now. It's something I think I could keep doing in the right context. Building that context...a mix of shorter, political and cultural pieces with more thought out essays...has always been my goal here, what I hoped k/o would be about.

    Let me know what you think.

    I.F. Stone for today

    I've been reading some I.F. Stone, which, if you're not familiar with that name, means that I've been reading some kick ass political writing from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Stone was a blogger before blogging, writing for the one man journal I.F. Stone's Weekly. In that respect, he's the precursor to Josh Marshall, Billmon, Digby and Atrios...and a successor to Benjamin Franklin. You'd think that reading topical pieces from decades ago would be stale and irrelevant. It's not.

    Writing about LBJ in a piece entitled A Man the Whole World Has Begun to Distrust, Izzy Stone could have been writing about Bush in 2003, not Johnson in June of '65:

    The good will built up by Kennedy for our country in every section of the world except East Asia has been dissipated by his successor. It is no exaggeration to say that Johnson is today distrusted everywhere: in Latin America, where he has destroyed the hopes aroused by the Alliance for Progress; in Western Europe, where he is regarded as impulsive and high-handed; in India, where he affronted Shastri by cancelling his visit rather than risk hearing an Asian dissent on our Vietnamese war; and in Eastern Europe, where the Russians had expected a continuation of the detente begun under Kennedy and the stellites had hoped for a continued thaw in the Cold War as their one sure means of liberation. Rarely has one man blasted so many hopes so quickly.

    Ah, yes, that seems familiar. Or take this flashback to Kennedy's nomination of John A. McCone to replace John Foster Dulles at the head of the CIA from 1961's An Appalling Choice to Head the CIA:

    Mr McCone's rising fortunes, financial and political, have been associated with the war and the arms race. In 1937 he helped to form the Bechtel-McCone-Parsons Corporation, a construction and engineering firm. In January 1941he organized and became the president of the California Shipbuilding Company; the Bechtel concern was then given a managment contract to run the shipbuilding company. After the war the General Accounting Office told a House Merchant Marine Committee investigation that the company had made $44,000,000 on an investment of $100,000. The same committee a few months later complained that Mr McCone's company was paid $2,500,000 by the govenment to take over a shipyard costing $25,000,000 and containing surplus material costing $14,000,000.

    Mr McCone did not confine his interests to shipbuilding. Bechtel-McCone-Parsons also built a huge installation at Birmingham, Alabama, during the war for the air force and became a leading construction firm for the A.E.C. Mr McCone also organized a private shipping company which did a big transport business for some of the largest A.E.C. contractors, firms like Union Carbide and Dow Chemical. These diverse enterprises had a common stake in armament expenditure, and Mr McCone made his debut in public service as a member of Truman's Air Policy Commisssion which in 1948 advocated a stepped-up indefinitely prolonged arms race...

    Hmm. Bechtel, where have we read that name? John McConewas indeed confirmed to head the CIA; one can read about his exploits here.

    One interesting note, McCone was one of the early principals of the Committee on the Present Danger, a bi-partisan militarist orgainzation...now given a new lease on life....in the war on terror. (Click on that link. Trust me.) I.F. Stone is relevant once again.

    Stone's writings on the report of the Symington Subcommittee in January 1971's The Price we Pay for Empire, as well, read with a strange familiarity:

    Considering the monumental misjudgements of U.S. intelligence in the past two decades in Korea, in Cuba, and in Vietnam, it's just as well that intelligence reports are confined to a select circle. The Symington report has a lovely quotation from Walter Lippmann. He once wrote of the information funnelled into our policy makers that the men reporting to them realize 'that it is safer to be wrong before it has become fashionable to be right'. Every bureaucracy likes its intelligence apparatus to confirm its preconceptions. But couldn't this reassuring yeamanship be done more cheaply?

    The passion for secrecy, and its use to hide misjudgements from those who must ultimately foot the bill in lives and money, was the main obstacle in this two-year investigation. If ever there was a David-and-Goliath operation, this was it. A newspaperman, Walter Pincus, and a lawyer, Roland A. Paul, were the two-man staff of this special subcommitte of the Senate Foreign Relations under Senator Symington.

    Ah, not only are we stalled out (waiting with Harry Reid & Co.) for our David and Goliath investigation to even begin...but here's Walter Pincus doing due diligence...thirty five years ago...hot on the trail of how our policy makers have deceived the public and manipulated intelligence. 35 years isn't that long a time, I guess...in Washington. Maybe it's a timeless city.

    Finally, an account of I.F. Stone would be remiss if it didn't include a McCarthy era posting. This one from 1953 -Time for a Deportation -- to Wisconsin--reads with a burning relevance to our day, just substitute Karl Rove for Joe:

    McCarthy will never be beaten on the defensive. He loses one fight and starts two new ones. Charges are always more exciting than their refutation, and the thereby dominates the front pages...[snip] He has hardly begun to hit his stride as master of the Big Lie. LIke Hitler and Goebbels, he knows the value of ceaseless reiteration. He has their complete lack of scruple, and sets as low an estimate as they on the popular mind's capacity to remember. His defeat in the fight against Bohlen is a minor episode in the perspective of his ambition and his potentialities.

    If--the fatal if that shadows democratic governments in their contest with fascist pretenders-if this Administration had guts, it would move now to act on the findings of the buried McCarthy report submitted by the Senate subcommittee on privileges and elections. The new Attorney General, in a cheap and vulgar St Patrick's Day speech, announced a heightened deportation campaign against so-called 'subversives'. The most subversive force in America today is Joe McCarthy. No one is so effectively importing alien conceptions into American government. No one is doing so much to damage the country's prestige abroad and its power to act effectively at home. If 'subversion' is to be met by deportation, the it is time to deport McCarthy back to Wisconsin.

    Substitute Texas for Wisconsin...and we've got a oped relevant for this week....deportations, lack of scruple, vulgar holiday speeches...and damage to our country at home and abroad. I.F. Stone has BushCo. down.

    It's worth thinking about that.


    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    Happy Birthday, Myshkin!

    Reader and colleague at Cartel of Defiance, Myshkin, has a birthday today.

    Happy Birthday, Myshkin! I hope you had a most excellent day.

    Scooter Libby

    The President attacked the Democrats on Veteran's day, singling out John Kerry by name in front of a pre-screened audience of supporters. Dan Bartlett then went on NewsHour and practically blamed Senator Edward Kennedy for everything that's wrong in Iraq and this country. (Perhaps Bartlett has forgotten that Veteran's Day has a very real meaning to the Senator.)

    My question in all this distraction: How come nobody talks about Scooter Libby?

    Scooter Libby resigned under indictment. He's been charged with five federal felonies that he obstructed justice and lied during an investigation of an issue that touched our national security. America hasn't really got a chance to know Libby; and now they want to take him off the radar?

    Libby is more than a "liar" and a "leaker." When we talk about "stove-piping" and "manipulating" intelligence, Libby is right there by the side of the Vice President, accompanying him on Cheney's unprecedented meetings at CIA headquarters. Libby didn't just work for the Vice President either, as is popularly understood, he held three titles: Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Assistant to the Vice President for national-security affairs, and Assistant to the President. He sat on the White House Iraq Group and attended meetings of Bush's war cabinet. Libby was at the heart of the Bush Administration.

    Is Libby relevant to the question of whether Iraq WMD intelligence was hyped and manipulated in the run up to the war? Well, the person who prepared the intelligence briefing out of which Colin Powell prepared his 2003 United Nations speech was none other than I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby himself.

    The President and his supporters want us to pretend that Scooter Libby, his indictments, and his resignation don't exist. They'd like to pretend that the manipulation of intelligence, and the manipulation of the American public through scare tactics and bullying is something we put behind us in November of 2004. Of course, bullies don't often quit...even when they should.

    Sooner or later, the President is going to have to talk about Scooter Libby; the longer he waits, the less it will be on his own terms.

    saber rattling

    A familiar chorus is in the air. From Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to John Bolton to these words from the President on October 25th, before the bombings in Jordan:

    Syria is destablising Lebanon, permitting terrorists to use its territory to reach Iraq, and giving safe harbour to Palestinian terrorist groups. The United Nations has passed strong resolutions against terror. Now the United Nations must act.

    Of course, if George Bush had said that in 2002 we'd likely be at war with Syria now, too. John Bolton's phrasing, here referring to the al-Hariri assassination, is significant as well:

    Bolton was consulting with fellow Security Council members on a wide range of possible responses, he said, but he would not say whether sanctions against Syria was among them.

    "This report is obviously very significant. It finds probable cause to believe that the assassination could not have been undertaken without the knowledge of senior figures in Syrian intelligence," Bolton told reporters.

    "It refers to a lack of cooperation by Syria with the investigation, which is diplo-speak for obstruction of justice. It is a very hard-hitting report," he said.

    Asked whether he was looking at U.N. sanctions, he responded, "We're considering still a range of options."


    U.S. saber rattling doesn't mean that fellow security council members aren't moving full steam ahead on oil-related business deals in Syria:

    Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari told a news conference on Nov. 9 that firms from China, France and Russia were bidding to construct oil refineries worth $4.4 billion to process crude oil from Iraq. Dardari, responsible for Syria's economy, said France's Total would submit a formal offer to construct an $800 million refinery with a production capacity of 70,000 barrels per day.

    "There is no reason why Syria shouldn't refine crude oil that's imported from Iraq," Dardari said along the sidelines of the Arab Business Conference in Manama.

    Dardari said Syria has signed a memorandum of understanding with China for the construction of another oil refinery with a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day and worth $1.2 billion.

    What the rattling of sabers does mean is that the United States, three years into the invasion of Iraq, with assasinations in Lebanon, bombings in Jordan, and French, Chinese and Russian petro deals in Syria, has not so much "remade" a more peaceful and stable Middle East as it has opened a Pandora's Box.

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    working life

    For whatever reason it was growing up...I always worked. In this, I know, I'm far from alone. But it's interesting how that part of life is so easily hidden from the surface. At Columbia, after one year of working at a popular desk in a library there, I couldn't go to a party without someone saying to me..."You look really familiar, where do I know you from?"

    Of course, people who work service jobs themselves tend not to ask that question.

    Like a lot of kids in the Upper Midwest...I'm from Minnesota...my first "jobs" were shovelling snow and mowing lawns. I worked with a partner. We'd split the take. In fifth grade, when I took over our best client after my buddy missed a couple big snows...I became persona non grata in that household. Everybody got invited to the Halloween party in my sixth grade class, except for me. It was a life lesson.

    My first real job, at 16, was at a delicatessen on West 7th in St. Paul. I cooked pizzas and did whatever, I sliced eggplant, hauled soda crates up and downstairs, for $3.75 an hour...22-27 hours a week. I had been the unquestioned class valedictorian up to that point. Of course, with that work schedule my standings slipped...working the late shift cooking pizzas was not good for passing chemistry tests.

    At the deli I worked with regular people. Everybody had a nickname: "Poop" "Rock" "Whitey" "Tommy C".....everybody cracked jokes to make the time go by. I'll always remember how the dishwasher and my boss had this ritual of yelling out to each other...."Who loves ya', Baby!" It was a different world. Guys got out of jail, and they'd come for a slice of pizza. The kinds of things that only happened in the movies...happened in real life at the deli. Of course, for the most part, our customers were people with much more sedate existences. We moved a lot of foil-wrapped Italian candy and imported cheeses.

    I got fired from the deli five days after giving my two weeks notice. I'd refused to stay overtime to cover after my boss fired Whitey for a reason I can't remember. (The bad blood didn't matter, two years later, coming back from college and looking for some summer work...there was everybody...Donna and Nancy and David. I got hired back. They half didn't believe I was attending Columbia University. I think I brought in my grades to prove it to them.)

    I'd given notice at the deli because I'd got a job at the St. Paul Public Library. I'd taken a civil service exam at 17..and placed high enough to get one of the next openings. I worked the stacks. It was the first of many library jobs I had in high school and college. I worked in three different libraries at Columbia, as well as doing one semester's stint as an aide to a social worker in Harlem.

    Summers were different, as work study dried up. One summer I cooked at a couple different pizza restaurants. Another summer I worked as a janitor, and mopped floors nights at a dining hall on the side. Another summer, and then for my senior year, I worked as a researcher and editor for Jack Salzman at the Center for American Culture Studies, by far my favorite work study job ever, and my favorite "boss" of all time. Jack Salzman was just, plain and simple, a great man, and everybody who worked for him knew it.

    1991, the year I graduated, was a bad year for cush "college grad" jobs. The white collar sector shrank like hell that year. The Utne Reader, and every other publishing or editing venture in the Twin Cities, didn't need interns. So I worked as a line cook at a small restaurant...and to boost my weekly take worked the 5AM shift at a parking garage. Looking for something more sane and stable, I began temping downtown Minneapolis, at first for $5/hr literally emptying envelopes and, then, gradually making up to $8/hr doing more technical data entry for banks and financial firms. I was offered jobs at the companies I tended to get temp work at...but, as I was paying my way through a film and photography program...I always turned them down. (I remember I was offered $24,500 plus benefits at one firm...not quite 80's money, but it sure seemed like a big deal then.)

    The last job I held, before I began my current career in photography, was one last stint as a pizza and line cook. I worked at a popular Minneapolis restaurant whose cook staff was half Grateful Dead fans...and half young African-American men from Chicago, Gary and Detroit, seeking to build a new, and safer, life in Minnesota. I liked my colleagues...and learned more from them than they ever learned from me. The tape deck in the kitchen alternated between alternative, rap and Jerry Garcia jams and, in retrospect, that was okay.

    I used to give one coworker and friend, Jamie, a ride home late nights...deep on the South Side of Mpls...so he wouldn't have to wait for the bus. He was 19. His grandmother had sent him to Minneapolis to get out of Chicago. He dreamed of playing professional basketball. And though I knew he had no shot at that...it was clear that he did get close looks by community colleges in the area. Getting into a junior college was a possibility for Jamie if he'd got his GED. We'd talk on those late night car rides about stuff you couldn't talk about at work...mostly about how precarious Jamie's life and money situation was. Through him, I came to understand what it's like when the power of one's dreams is about all you've got in the bank.

    When I completed my training and started making a living in film and photography...at a certain point, I had to let my last shifts on the line go. I was making $9.50 a hour. It was 1995. (My best pay ever was as a union janitor in NYC in 1989...but that was because we ALL made $10.83/hr regardless of seniority.)

    As I got more jobs in my field and established myself as a freelancer...I'd stop by the restaurant to say hello from time to time. It's axiomatic that most restaurants are made up of two types of staffers....those on for the long haul, and those just passing through. The long haul crew was always nice when I'd pop by to visit. They'd ask how I was...and nod appreciatively at my "stories" from life in the glamorous world of photography.

    But it was clear, that once you left the restaurant, you'd left the fraternity of workers as well, the protective circle. Folks would smile, but they'd quickly get back to matters at hand. You see, they were too busy working. And every cook knows you don't stand around in street clothes in a kitchen.


    Friday, November 11, 2005

    thoughts on the New York Mayor's Race

    I showed up at the cafe yesterday to find a lively discussion of the NYC mayor's race. Friends who grew up in the Bronx and Brooklyn echoed what another friend of mine, a Manhattanite, had told me months ago: Michael Bloomberg was a shoe-in for reelection because he'd been good for "all of New York City." Bloomberg was essentially a Democrat with an "R" behind his name who'd proved himself in his first term to be worthy of a second by being a hard-working reformer who brought a no-nonsense, inclusive, meritocratic approach to running city government.

    Further, my old school New Yorker friends at the cafe were insistent that New York Republican mayors like Fiorello La Guardia and John Lindsay and Senator Jacob Javits represented a longstanding positive trend in New York City politics that Republicans have stood for reform against the Democratic Party's association with Tammany Hall, machine politics, and more recently, in the words of the New York Times, "racial and ethnic politicking."

    Clearly, Michael Bloomberg won, and won a clear majority of New York City's voters who turned out on Tuesday. That's significant. From the linked NYT article:

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg forged his historic re-election victory on Tuesday by drawing roughly half of New York's black voters and about 3 in 10 Latinos to the Republican line, even though he faced a Hispanic challenger who sought to capitalize on ethnic pride, an analysis of voting returns shows.

    The mayor's wide support among minority voters is a sign that the strategy of the Democrat, Fernando Ferrer, to build on a dependable base of black and Hispanic votes fell victim to emerging political realities: that blacks and Hispanics no longer vote reflexively as a bloc, and that a middle-class coalition can trump traditional ethnic-based appeals. The winning multiethnic coalition turned out to be Mr. Bloomberg's....[snip]

    His victory - 59 percent to 39 percent - defied the conventional political calculus in what was projected as the first mayoral race in which non-Hispanic whites would be a minority of the electorate. Most analysts said it was too early to draw long-term implications from this campaign for several reasons, including that Mr. Bloomberg spent more than $70 million on his campaign. In addition, not only was the mayor an incumbent in a city that typically gives first-term mayors the benefit of the doubt but also a lifelong Democrat until he first ran for mayor as a Republican in 2001, in contrast to his Republican predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

    "He changed his party registration, but not his values," said Robert Shrum...

    That's a powerful argument and a powerful sum of money, ahem. The voters and their votes, however, speak for themselves, including the fact that large swaths of voters of color saw Bloomberg as the better choice for New York's future. Bloomberg, a Republican, won almost half the African-American vote and the traditionally Democratic boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn that he lost to Mark Green in 2001. That's significant and huge. An honest rewriting of the NYT's middle class, multi-ethnic coalition, however, might have mentioned the obvious reality that Mayor Bloomberg won 69% of the white vote, as well. That's the core of the base that delivered Bloomberg's victory:

    He won a second term by wooing liberal defectors from Democratic ranks and by carrying every Assembly district in which white Catholics or Jews predominate. He also carried the only district in which Asians outnumber others.

    So, yesterday, when the conversation turned to me...I had to fess up to my friends that, while I concede Michael Bloomberg's strengths, and they are many, and the validity of his victory and the strength of his coalition, I didn't see his defeat of Fernando Ferrer, or this election, as necessarily being a good thing. First there's the fact that Bloomberg is very much a pro-corporate, pro-big development mayor, as this essay, Where Have all the Fighters Gone?, by columnist Juan Gonzalez had pointed out:

    A report last week by the non-profit Economic Policy Institute, for example, revealed that the city granted more than $1 billion in property tax breaks to corporations and developers during Bloomberg's first two years in office. That was an astonishing 40% increase over the last two years of Giuliani, who himself was known for giving out generous tax breaks to major corporations.

    Many of those tax breaks are guaranteed for 20 or 30 years, and often the discounted Payments in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOTs) that the developers agree to pay are then earmarked to finance new mega-projects, to pay off bonds for new sports facilities or to spur more luxury housing or high rise office buildings, and those revenues are inevitably assigned to new quasi-public agencies that can resist public scrutiny. By siphoning off those tax streams for decades to come, Bloomberg, like Giuliani on a smaller scale before him, is effectively dismantling the tax base that future mayors and city councils will need to pay for basic city services.

    Now, Gonzalez couched his argument in a charged "clash of ethnicities" and class struggle frame, the "two New Yorks," and that will rankle some...but he has a point...a point that didn't get addressed in an election that was more about a rush to proclaim victory than addressing and debating the issues. Gonzalez asks a good question: after sixteen years of GOP politics in New York, what will be left of the city for its working majority many of whom are working poor?

    ...during the past few years I have heard the same refrain from local leaders in scores of working class neighborhoods around the city: the land is being given away at fire sale prices to huge developers. The list of such mega-projects and land rezoning initiatives under Bloomberg is truly breath-taking: the $5 billion plans for a new Jets Stadium, luxury housing and office buildings on Manhattan's West Side; a huge project for luxury condominiums along the Williamsburg waterfront; a giant new Nets arena and high-rise luxury development in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; a big-box retail complex in the South Bronx near Yankee Stadium: hundreds of of millions of dollars in tax abatements for Wall Street's Goldman Sachs to build a new corporate headquarters near Ground Zero. The frenzied construction of luxury housing has been accompanied by the decontrol of more than 200,000 rent stabilized apartments in the past few years that provided affordable housing for the working class; by the conversion of thousands of middle class Mitchell-Lama units to market-rate housing, and by virtually no construction of low-income housing. In every neighborhood, local leaders tell me the same story: City Hall is circumventing established mechanisms of public oversight and community control, making backroom deals with developers and bankers, steamrolling any opposition to its wholesale land giveaways.

    Already more than 500,000 New York City households are paying more than 50% of their income for rent. The poor and working class are literally being pushed out...

    That's a salient point. And if Michael Bloomberg's ability to both mollify critics by doing just enough "gentle development" (like including, under community pressure, higher percentages of affordable housing in that Williamsburg mega project)...and then overwhelming voters by spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money on advertising...preempted a full on debate about these issues, then all New Yorkers are the poorer because of it. It is surprising that Bloomberg's spending never became an issue. It is striking that it was deemed "okay" that a billionaire seemed to buy an election, or at least overwhelm it with advertising overkill, when that billionaire was widely seen as benevolent; but what message does that send to future candidates? What does it say about the state of democracy in New York City?

    And, in fact, the election itself left something to be desired. Early results show a very low turnout. Something like 1.2 million voters went to the polls...lower than the already anemic 1997 Giuliani/Messinger turnout by 100,000 votes...and far fewer than the 1.9 million voters who voted in both of the Giuliani/Dinkins contests, or the 1.5 million voters who came out for the Bloomberg/Green race, post 9/11, in 2001. Simply put, admitting that New Yorkers tend to skip "cake walk" mayoral elections, that kind of low turnout, for whatever reason, is a bad sign for small "d" democracy in New York.

    Much has been made of the Republicans four-term lock on City Hall in NYC. An even greater deal has been made of Ferrer's specific weaknesses as a candidate. It's worth a look then, for context, at the results that paved the way to that record, including the last year the Democrats won, with Dem percentages in bold: (Source: Wiki + Blythe.org)

  • 1989: Dinkins (48%) def. Giuliani (46%) w/ 917,544 votes
  • 1993: Giuliani (49%) def. Dinkins (46%) w/ 930,236 votes
  • 1997: Giuliani (57%) def. Messinger (41%) w/ 757,564 votes
  • 2001: Bloomberg (50%) def. Green (48%) w/ 744,757 votes
  • 2005: Bloomberg (59%) def. Ferrer (39%) w/ 723,635 votes

  • Turnout has gone steadily down and Democrats have failed to win a majority of New York City's voters in a mayor's race since Ed Koch (who was markedly DINO at that point) rolled the opposition twenty years ago. Fernando Ferrer is hardly alone in failing to turn out voters willing to vote Democratic: Ruth Messinger won 540,075 votes, Mark Green won 709,268 votes and, now, Ferrer won only 478,335 votes, barely more than half of what either Giuliani or Dinkins received in their two contests. In New York City, for a Democrat, that's pathetic. For three elections running New York City Democrats have failed to create the context for a high turnout election about the city's future, and Democratic candidates have failed to win the low turnout contests that they found themselves in. I don't think any Democrat can see this trend, and especially how Bloomberg built his new and successful coalition to cement it, and say that it is anything but bad news.

    Politics is not just about power, but what you do with that power. Results are the best political argument, and coalitions coalesce around results. Simply put, New York Democrats now will have to fight a coalition that has delivered two decades of GOP results in trying to convince voters to give them back the mayor's office. And, as Juan Gonazalez points out, even if a Democrat breaks through and wins, the playing field has now been shaped by pro-corporate fiscal policy, tax breaks and "big box" retail for decades to come. Low-income New Yorkers can work for retail employers who will spend thousands on ads that dominate the city's billboards...but don't provide health insurance or a living wage. And Democratic politicians can look in vain for revenues from those very same employers and developers to try to change that situation. These are some of the opportunity costs to the GOP's dominance of the mayor's office.

    Is it too much to ask where is the Democratic vision for the city? Is it too much to ask what a Democratic mayor might have done? For me, it is too easy by half to claim Bloomberg is "really a Democrat" when the real question is: where was the Democratic mayoral candidate with a vision for New York City as bold and reform-oriented as Bloomberg's? Where is the Democrat who could put together a coalition that would generate turnout and compete with the GOP? In a nutshell, where is the Barack Obama of New York politics, and why haven't New York Democrats cultivated a voice like his to take on the Giuliani and Bloomberg?

    One further and related note troubles me, and it has national implications.

    1993 witnessed the first attack on the World Trade Center...adding terrorism concretely to the crime-fighting duties of the mayor of New York. Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, whatever the merits of the claim, have won recognition and praise as mayors committed to "keeping New Yorkers safe". It seems to me that the Democrats being locked out of the mayor's office has something to do with the "heightened" law and order politics of the threat of terrorism. This, too, is an opportunity missed.

    A Democratic mayor who could prove to the nation that he or she could "keep New Yorkers safe" would be a powerful symbol to the nation that Democrats can be strong in defense of our nation's citizens. That is a profound opportunity missed as well. In some ways, there is a kernel of warning in this to Democrats across the nation looking at 2006 and 2008. Michael Bloomberg's national equivalent is someone like John McCain.

    The question for Democrats is how do we compete in this environment? What is our vision? Who are our strong reformers? Feranando Ferrer in his own way, sadly, has proven, like Messinger and Green, that the "same old" won't cut it in the new political environment. What's a shame is that so many Democrats, in embracing Bloomberg, don't pay attention to what that's telling us about ourselves.