NDN Blog

And you thought Brownie was bad

As you've seen often in this space I believe the meta-political story of our time is the profound and deep failure of Republican government to deliver on its basic obligations.  We think of Iraq, the broken levees, declining wages, unprecedented institutional corruption, a failed Doha trade round, out of control spending, sanctioned torture, and no action on emerging challenges like global climate change, energy independence, health care and immigration.  

As former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough put it in a piece in the Post's Outlook section this weekend: "How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?"

In the reading the paper the past few days, I came across a series of stories whose headlines suggest, remarkably, that there may be even more to this already sad story: "Islamists’ Rise Imperils Mideast’s Order," "Major Problem at Polls Feared," "NATO Faces Growing Hurdle As Call for Troops Falls Short," "Chirac Signals Widening Divide," and "Trade Deficit 2nd Highest Ever."

But of all the stories I read these past few days about how our government is failing the American people, one stood out.  It was a front page piece in the Post on Sunday, a piece that I hope all of you will read in its entirety.  It is an excerpt from a new book detailing the early days of our occupation of Iraq.  And it is one of most damning things I've ever read about anyone or anything in politics.  Here are the first few graphs:

"After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort."

And it gets worse from here.  Read it and weep, my friends, for our country who has been led by incompetent fools these past few years. 

Hiaasen weighs in on Bush FL media payola scandal

Miami Herald columnist weighed in today on the relevation this week that the Administration has been paying and paying off 10 journalists and commentators in South Florida. 

The GOP is in extraordinary disarray

This was supposed to be the week they turned it around.  A new White House offensive on terrorism, the nutty ABC movie, a primetime speech by Bush, a come from behind win in Rhode Island. Stories early in the week all pointed to a resurgent GOP, ready to turn around their bad poll numbers and use their political mastery to whack the Dems, again.

Didn't really play out that way, did it?

Pentagon lawyers publically rejected the Adminstration's proposal for new military tribunals.  House Republicans rejected the Bush/McCain-led Senate-passed immigration bill, relabeling it the "Reid-Kennedy Democratic Amnesty" Bill.  Senate Republicans and Secretary Powell choose the Geneva Conventions over Bush's detention and interrogation plan.  Iraq had some of the most violent days in its recent history.  The sordid scandals of the Bush era returned with a vengence, as a 2nd Republican Congressman, Bob Ney, pled guilty to corruption charges.  He is now set to return to court October 13, just a few weeks before the election. 

The week began with the story line R's resurgent.  It ended with Rs in deep and difficult disarray. 

One other sign of how desperate the Administration is to change the story line of this election is their effort to lie about current economic circumstances.  As James Crabtree reported earlier this week on our blog, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors gave a speech this week repeating the Administration's case that contrary to all public analyses wages and income are rising in the United States.  He based his argument on what is called nominal wages, or the actual rise of wages prior to adjusting for inflation.  Of course these figures have risen, but once inflation is accounted for peoples incomes and wages have declined in recent years.  All public analyses use these figures, or real wages and income as their measure.  It is extraordinary for an economist to be making this case, as he is surely aware of the ridicule that will be heaped upon him by his peers.  And to us, here at NDN, this effort to recast the economic debate needs to be understood simply as an incredible and purposeful lie by the Administration, something I guess we've all become used to in recent years. 

The Washington Monthly on the GOP, Immigration and Hispanics

Rachel Morris has an excellent piece on the battle for Hispanics in the current edition of the Washington Monthly.  The first two graphs set the tone, and it is a piece well worth reading:

"Karl Rove’s storied partnership with George W. Bush, now in its second decade, has long been concerned with more momentous matters than simply winning elections. Famously, Rove has sought to engineer a seismic realignment in American politics. To that end, he’s perfected two signature strategies. He’s mastered a “base-in” approach, designing policy positions first for the party’s core conservatives, then marketing them to moderates (in contrast to the “center-out” model preferred by Bill Clinton). At the same time, Rove has made ingenious appeals to new constituencies that he believed were already Republicans, but just didn’t know it. Because these tactics defy all kinds of conventional wisdom and have delivered Bush a string of victories, they’ve won Rove a reputation for political genius. Stories about him invariably make dazzled references to his latest scheme to bring some unlikely group into the GOP fold: black conservatives, Arabs in Michigan, outlier Jews.

But for Republicans eyeing a long-term majority, the Hispanic vote is considered the real prize, particularly immigrant Hispanics. While two thirds of registered U.S.-born Hispanics reliably vote Democratic, foreign-born Hispanics remain up for grabs. This group now comprises nearly half the Latino electorate, which has tripled between 1980 and 2004 to 10 million voters; that figure is expected to double by 2020. For Republicans, this growth is especially important, because their core constituency—white voters—is in demographic decline. But what makes Hispanic voters so coveted by both parties is also their location on a stratified electoral map. As the last two presidential contests have demonstrated, the Democrats have a lock on the Northeast and California, while Republicans hold the South; the two parties split the Midwest. The real battleground is the West and Southwest, traditionally GOP regions that have been drifting leftward, partly because of their growing concentrations of Hispanic residents. If one party wins their loyalty, the theory goes, it holds the key to a generation of political dominance."

NDN statement on immigration reform

Yesterday Speaker Hastert made it official. The House Republicans have chosen to walk away from a deep and broad bi-partisan coalition - including President Bush, John McCain, Mel Martinez, a majority of the US Senate, the RNC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, immigrant groups - who were poised to make great progress on immigration reform this year.

Rather than working with this impressive bi-partisan coalition the House Republicans have chosen to pursue a set of policies that, while appealing to some, will simply not be enough to solve the immigration problem.

The American people are looking for a new direction this year because the governing party has been so unsuccessful at tackling tough problems. Their foreign policy has failed to bring about promised results despite hundreds of billions spent, tens of thousands of casualties and plenty of time; their economic policy has resulted in out-of-control spending, huge deficits and a declining standard of living for most Americans; and now on immigration, when a sensible and comprehensive bill is offered, one that would go a long way to solving the challenge of immigration, they walk away.

The Republican Party no longer has the vision, courage, or the toughness to govern America at this time of tremendous challenge. Their failure to pass meaningful immigration reform this year - despite controlling all of Washington and with unqualified support from Democrats - is one of the most graphic demonstrations of their inability to do what it takes to make America a great nation in the 21st century.

The ABC Movie, part II

Depsite my reservations I watched the first part of Path to 9/11 last night.  As an ABC alumnus, I have been stunned to watch this whole extraordinary set of events unfold, something I wrote about last week.  I kept thinking - okay, okay, they are just blowing this thing, it can't seem so thoroughly right-wing, and out of control.....

But in the run up I went from disbelief to believing this was a successful use of the public airwaves to promote a right-wing agenda.   The first moment was when ABC released a statement mid-week saying that the show was not yet finished and therefore it would be "irresponsible" to offer a critique.  And this was after review DVDs had been sent to the press. meaning that reviewers would be offering what was in ABC "irresponsible" reviews across the nation.  It seemed more like a response one would get in politics than in the entertainment business. 

The second moment was when ABC refused the President of the United States and any progressive commentators an advance copy of the show, even though right-wing bloggers and commentators had gotten copies at least a week in advance.  Again, this was not about the content of the show itself, which we didn't have access to, it was about what was becoming a purposeful right-wing influenced media strategy.  How could ABC turn down the President, and essentially give him the back of the hand? At one point, director Cunningham was quoted saying something like I have my CIA consultants and Clinton has his. 

So I watched.  And what I saw was amazing.  It was a right-wing hit piece on Clinton and the Administration.  Repeated, gratuitous slaps at the President.  But above all, as others have noted, the core segment of the whole first part was the near capture of Osama in the summer of 1998, culminating in the moment when Sandy Berger doesn't give the go ahead to the operatives in the field.  As we all know by know, of course, that scene never took place, and we never had operatives in the field that summer.  The whole key segment of the first night, the one that places the blame right at Clinton and Berger simply never took place.  It is scandalous. 

I am still amazed by what I saw last night, and saddened by it all.  How this thing got through ABC is a mystery.  Controls are in place in the network to prevent things like this from happening.  But as Iger digs out, he needs to come to grips with not just the production, but the marketing.  His communications folks were in on it too. 

For a depressing and remarkable piece about the background of the team who produced the movie, read Max Blumenthal's latest piece.  It is now clear that thing film was in part the project of a Richard Scaife funded group, yes, the same man who has been bankrolling the conservative movement for years. 

But how could that be? Bob Iger, by all accounts a good man, needs to come clean here. 

At the end of the day that we should take a degree of solace in the film.  The grim reality of their failed ideological movement, government and President has forced the conservatives to turn to fiction to get their message out. 

Republicans buy off journalists in Florida

For the past several years I've been discribing the modern conservative movement and their Republican leaders as an "Information Age Tammany Hall."  It is a modern, and different, kind of political machine, but it is a classic political machine nonetheless. 

A few days ago, another piece of the machine unraveled.  In Miami, the political base of Jeb Bush, ten independent journalists and commentators were discovered to also be on the US government payroll, a seldom listened to TV and radio operation directed at sending American media to Cuba called TV Marti.  Given Jeb's relationship to this community, it is impossible to believe that he was not personally involved in the decisions on whom to pay off. 

As anyone who has worked in Miami knows, the Cuban media there is wildly Republican.  It seldom criticizes the Bush family, Republican Cuban leaders or the Republican Party.  In many ways it has been Rush Limbaugh and Fox News rolled into one.  Now we know one of the reasons why - payola. 

Our Miami-based Hispanic Strategy Center director Joe Garcia described the TV Marti payola scandal to the St Pete Times this way: "They have turned it into a banana republic radio station that is used for political patronage". 

My hope is the media there keeps digging on this one.  At some point it will all head right back to the two Bush brothers.

Five years later - are we better off?

Tomorrow night the President speaks to the nation.  He will be looking back at 9/11 and assessing our progress since that terrible day five years ago.  It will be the political equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.

There is little question the nation is in a much weaker position today.  We have spent trillions on security, taken tens of thousand of casualties and lost a great deal of power and prestige around the world, all in a period greater than the time from Pearl Harbor to the end of WW II - and what do we have to show for it? A Middle East in much greater turmoil today; Osama Bin Laden still alive and active, and terrorist attacks around the world increasing; as Peter Bergen outlines today in the Post, the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan; Latin America much more hostile to America and our government; our military dangerously degraded, as has the capacity for the UN and other international institutions to take collective action to solve global challenges; global trade talks have collapsed; high oil prices which fueling instability, as Iran, Russia and Venezuela have used their new riches to export anti-Americanism, and our government still has no serious plans to end our dependence on foreign energy sources; as Katrina showed here at home we are still not ready, and DHS continues to be mired in extraordinary bureaucratic and operational troubles;

and finally, as the Senate Intelligence Committee Report confirmed on Friday, our President and his team are epic liers, willing to spin the world into war, serially torture and lie about it - and in the process have seriously degraded America's capacity to lead and pursue our interests around the world. 

The Governing Party's response to 9/11 has been a disaster for America and our interests.  They have made an extraordinary effort, and it has left us much worse off today.  Simply put what they tried after 9/11 failed.

So, on this difficult anniversary, tomorrow should not be just a day to remember the fallen, but a day to recommit ourselves to find a new American strategy that brings greater peace and prosperity to the world; firmly re-commits our government to the formula that worked so well for America for so long - advocacy of democracy, free markets, liberty and the rule of law; and above all, I hope a day to inspire us to not accept our nation's current path, but to commit to do what is in our power, each of us, to restore the promise of this great nation we love and the world so desperately needs. 

A sad and terrible report from the Senate

Most papers had made major coverage of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report.  The Times has these opening graphs:

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 — The Central Intelligence Agency last fall repudiated the claim that there were prewar ties between Saddam Hussein’s government and an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to a report issued Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The disclosure undercuts continuing assertions by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The Republican-controlled committee, in a second report, also sharply criticized the administration for its reliance on the Iraqi National Congress during the prelude to the war in Iraq."

These stories and the report itself are well worth reading.  And they are a shocking indictment of the carelessness and outright deceit of the Administration.  It is very clear from this report that Bush and Cheney knowingly and repeatedly lied to the American people about the cause of the Iraq War.  While this may not be news, this historic effort to mislead the American people and the world has now been documented and confirmed by the Congress - the Government - of the United States itself. 

One new area that many will be looking into is how the Administration was duped by the Iraqi exiles, who exagerated and lied to help bring the US into Iraq.  A small mention, but one certainly examining, is the claim that this group had been infiltrated by foreign intelligence services.  Is the implication here that the Iranians helped dupe the US into attacking their worst enemy? 

One of the main reasons Iran has become such a regional and even global threat today is the elimination of Saddam Hussein and the Sunni dominance of Iraq.  Did the neo con cabal in the White House get taken for a ride - to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, tens of thousands of casualties, the loss of our prestige around the world - by the Iranians?  Clearly this is a question that must be answered as soon as possible.   

All in all this report recounts a sad and terrible chapter in our history. 

Bush world crashes into the real world, again

From the NYTimes today:

"The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terrorism suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally."

It happened so fast.  On Wednesday the President launches an aggressive effort to recast the national security/foreign policy conversation.  On Thursday, leaders of his own Party and the Pentagon repudiate his new approach.  From a governing standpoint, we should be pleased with has happened.  From a political standpoint, it shows how extraordinarily out of touch and removed the White House has become from the rest of Washington, and of course, the country.  Their political endgame this fall will be ferocious, hard-fought, well-funded and coordinated.  But it is hard to spin away, and advertize away, the hard reality of a failed foreign policy and an economic policy that has benefited only a tiny few.  The speedy crash of this new initiative should worry Republicans that there is no easy way out of the current mess they've made out of our government. 

One interesting thing to watch next week is that the House Republicans, the most terrified group in Washington today, are standing firm with the President's already dead on arrival package.  Will we have immigration reform redux, where the House R's take a narrow and base-driven position at odds with good governing and the Senate R's, leaving no room from compromise? Or will the President in this case have to bring all parties together, including the Democrats, and work out a deal to get something passed before the fall?

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