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Saturday, March 11, 2006



By Lucian Truscott IV

Bill Cardoso died last weekend in Kelseyville, CA, of heart disease. He was a deadbeat-hipster-journo-master and friend to many of the ink-stained-ilk, and as writer and editor he had a surprising amount of influence in the early days of so-called "new journalism" for someone who wasn't terribly well known and whose work wasn't widely distributed.

His work was published in Rolling Stone, Harper's Weekly, CITY Magazine, New Times, Ramparts, and other more obscure publications, and it should be noted that much of his best work appeared in numerous and lengthy letters to his friends, many of which were so crazed and hilarious, they ended up being copied and passed around hand-to-hand, samizdat-style. In 1984, Athenaeum published "The Maltese Sangweech and Other Heroes," a collection of his pieces that is sadly now out of print.

Bill will be memorialized this week as guy who coined "gonzo" to describe a 1968 article he had assigned Hunter Thompson to write for him at the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine on Nixon's primary campaign in New Hampshire, but I remember him for other reasons, beginning with the way he left us.

Thompson shot himself in his kitchen with his wife on the phone, but Bill had the grace to take a cab, as he always said he would. ("Take a cab" is old hipster slang for dying with your boots on ... with a final measure of self-respect and class.)

I will never forget the story he wrote on the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire, which New Times refused to print. I think I can remember the lede, because I was the one who typed it in a room on the backside of the Chelsea Hotel when a tooth fell out of Bill's mouth and he collapsed, taking to his bed complaining of having had a spell put on him in Kinshasa by someone he referred to darkly as an "Ndoke." I think it went something like:

"From my window here in room 236 in the Membling Hotel in downtown Kinshasa, Zaire -- the only hotel I have ever stayed in where your room is number may be 236, but your phone number is 628 -- I can see the broad, green leaves of the Giant Hyacinth floating in the brown waters of the River Zaire, nee Congo, as it flows slowly, inexorably toward the sea. The International Press is here in force, of course, but they do not know what I know: every single Hyacinth leaf conceals a crocodile, lying in wait...."

He took the view of the river from his hotel room and turned it into the most hilarious, yet ominous image of deep, dark Africa you've ever read in your life. And the piece got darker and weirder and funnier from there.

One of my fondest memories of Bill was when I would pick him up at the Burbank airport back in the early-mid 70's, when I was on a magazine assignment in LA. He was always down on his luck and "short," as he said, so I would buy his ticket at the airport (about $25 in those days from SF) and just sit down and wait for a couple of hours and he would show up on the shuttle. We were usually not even out the door of the airport -- Burbank was and still is a small airport, so it wasn't very far to the door -- when Bill would whisper out of the side of his mouth: Slip me 50. The first time he did it, I thought I didn't hear him right, so I asked him what he said. Slip me 50, will ya? A man can't walk around without something in his kick.

So I would slip him 50 and that would last him until I put him back on a plane to SF, sometimes days later, after we had "holed up," as he put it, in a somewhat less than luxurious suite at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, which at that time cost exactly $23.00 a night. I have a clear memory of one time I arranged our flights so Bill and I met at the airport when I flew in from NY or somewhere else. I rented a car and we drove over the hill to the Marquis and checked in. We had barely closed the door of our "suite" when there came a loud knock at the door. Bill was already in the bathroom, staking his territory by laying out the contents of his Dopp Kit on the sink and checking his "coif" (that's what he always called his curly Portuguese locks...his "coif"), so I opened the door. A skinny, wiry guy with hooded, darting eyes, dressed all in black, rushed into the room right past me. "Bob Neuwirth," he rasped. "Truscott, right?" I nodded. I had heard of him. He was Dylan's road manager on his early tours, and he had achieved something of a reputation as a songwriter and musician. I had seen him from across the room at clubs and a couple of parties in New York. He was wired into every scene you could think of and a few he's probably forgotten by now.

Neuwirth sat down on a sofa that had seen better days and picked up the phone. "You on assignment?" I nodded. "Who for?" I think I said Penthouse. "Great! They pay good expenses!" He dialed the phone and started barking out a lengthy liquor order: "Two quarts of Jack Daniels, three cases of Bud, a quart of Beefeaters..." He paused, turning to me. "You drink vodka?" I nodded. "Two bottles of Smirnoff...uh...make that four cases of Bud." Just then Cardoso appeared in the door of the bathroom. "Two quarts of Dewars," he called loudly. Neuwirth spun around and spying Cardoso, practically dropped the phone in shock. Recovering quickly, he finished the order. "Two quarts of Dewars. Yeah. Room 217. Right." He hung up.

Tapping a cigarette out of his pack of Picayunes (I have an entire sub-section of stories on the lengths we sometimes went to in order to find Picayunes in places like Twin Falls, Idaho) Cardoso slid across the room to Neuwirth and stuck the Pic in his mouth. "Got a light, Bobby?" Neuwirth fumbled for a pack of matches. He looked like he was in the presence of a ghost. Cardoso lit the Pic and sat down on the aging "modern" sofa and crossed his legs. Grinning at me he said, "The last time I saw Bobby was in the alley behind the Club 57. Hemway and I and the drummer for the loneliest plunk (that's what he always called Thelonius Monk) were huddled together smoking a joint and Bobby was jumping up and down around us in a little circle yelling, lemme have a toke, Bill! Al! Al! Lemme have a toke! Please! Please? Cardoso took a drag on his Pic and gave Neuwirth a quick appraisal. "Nice threads, Bobby. Looks like life's treatin' you good. Why don't you let us in on the scam on the phone."

It turned out that Neuwirth was the de facto Mayor of the Marquis, had the whole place wired. Somebody at the desk must have informed him anytime a likely suspect checked in. He would make for the suspect's room, and after checking on whether a record label was picking up the room tab, or there were travel expenses being picked up by Rolling Stone or some other magazine, he would place a generous order with Turner's Liquor's, a notorious outlet just up the street on Sunset Boulevard. "This is the Sunset Marquis, man," Neuwirth explained in his speedy rasp. "At the Sunset Marquis, you dial 411 and you get information. You dial 114 and you get Turner's Liquors and the tab goes on your room bill." When I asked about the rather large size of the order, Neuwirth shot me a what-planet-are-you-on look and said, "There's a lot of people stayin' here, man. Stuff's gonna be happenin' tonight, tomorrow night...you don't want us to run out, do you, man?" At the time, the logic of his question seemed inescapable.

It seems that Neuwirth studied the concept and practice of hip at the feet of Bill Cardoso and friends like Al Hemway and Larry Novick and other bohemians who were around the Boston jazz club scene in the early 60's. It occurred to me that some years later, Neuwirth may have passed along to Bob Dylan some of the bohemian wisdom he had picked up from Cardoso and Hemway, but I was never able to confirm that. When I once broached the subject with Bobby, he gave me an indulgent look, like if you don't know the answer before you ask questions like that, you shouldn't ask them. Bobby always treated Bill with a rare kind of respect you don't see much any more, and Bill, in his way, reciprocated. It wasn't like Bobby ever said anything; nor did Bill acknowledge it. Both of them having received wisdom from unsung Bohemian masters like Al Hemway, they were way too cool for that. But it was there. I remember later one night when at Neuwirth's invite, we showed up at Ben Keith's "suite." (Ben Keith is a famous steel guitar player who has played with Neil Young and most of the Nashville stars you've ever heard on the radio.) Donny Everly, Neuwirth, Geoff Muldaur and several other musicians were sitting around strumming and laughing and singing. When Cardoso entered, Neuwirth wordlessly signaled somebody to move so Bill had a place to sit. Nobody stopped strumming or singing or laughing. As was his wont, Bill took his sweet time sliding across the room to take his seat, giving Ben Keith a nod as he passed. Bill bent at the waist and examined the chair carefully, sweeping an imaginary crumb from the seat before he did a slow pivot and sat down. I think Ben Keith was wearing a cowboy hat, and when there was a pause in the music, Bill nodded to Keith and said, "Nice sky." He motioned with with his fingers around his head, as if he were aligning the brim of a hat. "I should get one of those." He grinned widely, his fingers frozen on the imaginary hat brim. "What do you think?" His words and the elegant little ballet of his fingers were so perfect, it was like you could see a cowboy hat perched ridiculously atop his the black curls of his "coif." Everyone laughed. Bill Cardoso was in the house.

So late at night, we would hang-out in Marquis "suites" with the likes of Keith, Kinky Friedman, Iggy Pop, and others even less reputable. Somehow, Neuwirth's "suite" was never the site of any of the revelry, a move Cardoso observed had been something of a rule back in Boston. "Why mess up your own crib?" Bill explained. At least once every time we met in LA for a summit conference at the Marquis, we would take a drive down to Southgate to visit his old Boston friend, Al Hemway, an aging hipster who lived with his mother in a bungalow in a neighborhood which even then you practically had to shoot your way in and out of. Cardoso introduced me to Hemway as the first guy to "import" pot from Mexico into Boston, principally by driving down there in a car and picking it up and driving it back. Hemway was far more than that, as I soon learned. Bill would describe Hemway completely deadpan to an outsider as "one of the guys I worked with when I drove for Volvo." Long story.

Can I tell one more story? It's the one Bill told about a night he spent carousing Kinshasa with Budd Schulberg and Harold Conrad, who were there for the Rumble in the Jungle. Conrad, for the uninitiated, was the real person the character Humphrey Bogart played in Schulberg's classic fight film in the 50's, "The Harder They Fall." He was a former Brooklyn Eagle sports writer who once did "PR" for Meyer Lansky and later turned fight promoter -- he promoted Ali's first three fights, back in the days when he was called Cassius Clay, and he was the guy who introduced Ali to Norman Mailer and George Plimpton and started him on his high-flying act amongst the NY intelligentsia.

Cardoso was in Zaire for New Times Magazine, which unbeknownst to him was on its last legs, and when Foreman cut his eye in training and the fight was put off for something like 70 days, the entire international press corps went home, except Cardoso, who was stuck by New Times in Kinshasa without a promise that they would fly him back for the delayed fight if he returned to NY with everyone else. Having spent his meager "expenses," Cardoso did what any enterprising Boston boy would do: he started dealing Zaire weed to the small American community in Kinshasa. By the time Conrad and Schulberg returned to Kinshasa some two months later, Bill had an entire chest of drawers stuffed with Zaire weed, and the night they got back to town, Bill treated them to some of his stash. When they returned to the Membling from their night of carousing in Kinshasa, the three of them got on the Membling's aging wire-cage elevator to go up to Bill's room so he could send them back to their digs at the Intercontinental (which Bill referred to somewhat snootily as the "Inter" in his piece) with some weed. According to Bill, as they got on the elevator, Schulberg was telling a Hollywood story, and Conrad was chiming in with his usual sideways observations and Bill was howling with laughter as the two older men fed each other lines. One story led to another and the three of them were cracking each other up. Finally there was a pause in the merriment and someone -- Bill thought it was Schulberg -- commented on how slow the elevator was. Bill looked through the old accordion door of the elevator at the lobby, then he checked his watch. They had been standing in the elevator on the first floor for more than 30 minutes. When he announced this fact to the others, Conrad stroked his pencil-mustache and smiled. That's some weed you've got there, Bill. It felt like we were going up the whole time.

Then there's the story about Bill stealing Francis Coppola's CITY Magazine car (logo emblazoned on a Hondo civic or something like it) when they wouldn't pay his expenses for covering the world series back in '76, sometime around then. It was right when Patty Hearst had just been kidnapped. Bill wrote three or four stories on the Series for CITY, and when he returned to SF, handed in an expense bill for about $1700, and Coppola just flat refused to pay him.

Bill called me up and announced that I had been promoted from Colonel to Marshall Field of his newly-formed ZLA, the Zinger Liberation Army, named after John Peter Zenger, one of Bill's heroes and the only newspaperman jailed for sedition. Patty Hearst had recently been kidnapped by the SLA, and the city of San Francisco was consumed by the story, so Bill named himself Marshall Field of the ZLA, promoted me from Colonel to Chief of Staff, and named his roommate, the mad-crazed VN war photographer Tim Page (who had more shrapnel in head than brains) as Minister of Information.

I flew immediately from wherever I was to SF. Cardoso had the CITY car stashed in a garage in Daly City, and we drove over there with a recorder and taped a message from the car in the style of the dispatches issued by the SLA. First the car's engine started, and then somebody -- I think it was Bill -- mimicked Patty Hearst's voice in a first-person "communication" from the stolen car: I'm being held hostage by the ZLA and won't be released until Francis Ford Coppola pays Bill Cardoso's CITY Magazine expenses, etc etc. Bill released the tape to Pacifica and within a day or so it was all over Bay area radio. Warren Hinckle ran a photo of a tourist with a Pelican sitting on his head in his column, identified the loon under the Pelican as Bill and wrote this hilarious gibberish about the outrageous kidnapping of Coppola's car and demanded that any reader who saw "this man" should immediately call the police, because he was known to be armed and dangerous.

The whole thing went on for days. Coppola had been holding fast, refusing to pay, but when the tape hit the airwaves, reporters and TV cameras staked out his Pacific Heights mansion, and he caved. I think Bill spent most of the $1700 on a week of celebration, and he was back where he was before, cadging cocktails from pals as he held forth at his local watering hole with a new stash of stories about the ZLA's war against Coppola's forces of darkness.

I'm rambling here, but I think there's room for one last story about the two-plus months Bill spent in Africa, a time which haunted him for years and after which his appearances in print became fewer and fewer.

It occurred to me over the last few days that while Bill may have named gonzo journalism, he didn't practice it. Gonzo was a kind of shorthand to describe Thompson's twisted take on things, which included stuff he quite literally made up. The scene of Ed Muskie’s collapse in the 1972 Democratic primaries, which Thompson blamed on Muskie having been addicted to the South American drug Ibogaine, was the example of his gonzo journalism cited most frequently after Thompson's death.

Bill's best stuff was frantic, written like he was a man on the run. It had an edgy noir-ish paranoia -- a motel clerk who looked like a biker who had just finished filing his teeth peered at him darkly through thick bullet-proof glass and gave him the wrong change on purpose when he paid for his room. He was convinced that everyone else had proper terry cloth bath mats, and the paper one placed next to his tub was there to remind him of his place in the world.

But Bill didn't make anything up. Everything he wrote was real, and while most of it was hilarious, a lot of it was as painful for him to write as it was for us to read. I finally concluded that's why his Zaire piece never ran in "New Times" or anywhere else. "New Times" was owned and edited by Jon Larsen, the preppy and wealthy son of one of Henry Luce's partners in Time Magazine. Larsen simply couldn't stomach the Zaire piece. Bill's story about an American prize fight staged in Zaire under Mobutu Seze Seko wasn't profane, but it had a raw and primitive feel that reflected Bill's take on the African continent more than it informed readers about the fight. He was spooked by Africa, and although his writing was hilarious, it was also deeply disturbed.

When he first arrived in Zaire, Bill was amused by the sight of hundreds of night-watchers who were hired by home owners and businessmen to sit on their haunches outside doorways in Kinshasa where they kept oil-fires going in tin cans to ward off evil spirits. "Ndokes" were the zombie-spirits of dead relatives and enemies who came out at night to enter unprotected houses and sit at your bedside where they would watch you sleep and cast a spell if you had the misfortune to awaken and see them. A month or so later, his amusement had turned to fear. Bill swore to me that he woke up one night in his room at the Membling to find an Ndoke sitting in a chair watching him. He was spooked, and when his tooth fell out of his head on the street outside the Chelsea Hotel the day after he returned to the United States, he was convinced it was as a result of the spell that had been cast on him by the Ndoke he saw in his room at the Membling. When he wrote about it in the Zaire piece, it wasn't gonzo, it was real.

Sadly for us today, some of best stuff Bill Cardoso wrote was never written down at all. He lived a life rich enough to fuel a half-dozen literary careers, and if I may take my liberties, Bill Cardoso was a national treasure. Hopefully, one day there will be a Great Reckoning, and someone will add up what we lost when Bill, and Conrad, and Hemway each took a cab.

Unless I miss my guess, somebody else will have to pay the fare, because none of them -- not a one -- would stoop so low as to dig into his own kick and pay for the privilege of going out with class.

So here's $50, Bill. Have a nice ride. We owe you at least that much.

Earlier this week, I posted Lucian Truscott IV's provocative insights into the Dubai port deal on this humble blog. I gave a very slight overview of his credits at the end of that post. His eulogy to Hunter S. Thompson appeared in the NY Times, here.

Poster Boy

by digby

Favorite Claude Allen Katrina Quote:

"Just the mere fact you have pictures of the president on TV embracing grieving mothers, embracing pastors of churches that have been destroyed," Allen said. "That speaks about the personal character of our president, who is truly concerned about healing our nation."

Favorite Claude Allen Bigoted Remark explanation:

During his confirmation hearing, Senate Democrats quizzed Allen about a comment he made in 1984 when he served as spokesman for the reelection campaign of then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He told a reporter that then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., Helms's Democratic opponent, was vulnerable because of his links to the "queers."

Critics charged that Allen used the word to disparage gays. But during his judicial confirmation hearing, Allen told skeptical members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he intended the word to convey "odd, out of the ordinary, unusual," not to denigrate gays.

Favorite Claude Allen Macabre Republican "Life" moment:

Robert G. Marshall, a Republican state delegate in Virginia, worked closely with Allen when the nominee served as Virginia's health secretary. Together, they fought - and lost - a battle to prevent the family of Hugh Finn, a popular TV news anchorman from Kentucky, from removing his feeding tube when he was sick in a Virginia nursing home. Marshall and Allen insisted there was not enough evidence that Finn was in a permanent vegetative state, despite that conclusion from several doctors.

"The media made it look like we were pumping air into a corpse, but I knew my duty and Claude knew his," recalled Marshall, who says Allen rightfully put a state's duty to protect life above public pressure. "I want a federal judge who protects human rights, despite public opinion being whipped up."

But Finn's wife, Michele, wrote a scathing letter to the Judiciary Committee this summer, saying Allen was "unsuitable" for the bench and had tried to "impose his personal agenda and beliefs over the legal and moral rights to which my husband was entitled."

He was Schiavo before Schiavo was cool.

Claude Allen is a Rove republican through and through --- a cheap, opportunistic phony preying on people's prejudices. He rose to the very top of the GOP heap by insulting the intelligence of all around him and daring them to call him on it. Very few people did.

You've gotta love this:

After his nomination was announced, some of Allen's fraternity brothers from Chi Psi, a mostly white and liberal frat at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, called each other to talk about a man who they felt might have always inflated his conservative views.

"Some people have considered that, maybe, when he worked for Helms, he thought that by being an African-American male who holds these views, he could move up fast as a Republican," said Donald Beeson, one of the fraternity brothers. "But I disagree. I don't think he is someone who would do that.



Friday, March 10, 2006

Happy Days

by digby

There must be great joy on the right tonight. One of Rush's loathed leftist feel-good hand-wringers has been shown reality in a big way.

Only "Hillary's face on a milk carton" could make them happier.

*update below

Shoplifting Extremist

by digby

Bush's Domestic Policy advisor, Claude Allen, inexplicably resigned a while back, and today it was revealed that the reason was that he had been arrested for shoplifting. Allen is not just some nobody. He was one of Bush's closest advisors and was paid at the very highest salary level along with Rove and Bartlet and a very few others. He is an extreme social conservative who the Democrats were able to keep off the federal bench when Bush nominated him for a lifetime appointment. (Let's give the Democrats some credit for doing something right on that one.) C. Boyden Gray, the shill in charge of putting far right radicals on the bench wrote this about Allen's nomination in NRO in 2004:

Claude Allen promises not to advance a political agenda from the federal bench he has been nominated to, but to be the type of judge who buttresses the foundation of American government -- by applying the rule of law however he finds it. President Bush, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, could do much worse than Allen. By the grace of democratic principles overriding a minority in the Senate, let us hope they do not have to.

I won't say it.

But here's the real kicker about Allen. From Josh Marshall, back in September 2005

(September 12, 2005 -- 02:10 AM EDT)

Not sure what to make of this small tidbit. But while I was confirming some new entries in our Katrina timeline tonight, I noticed something I hadn't heard before. According to Scott McClellan's August 31st gaggle, in the early days of Katrina, the White House Katrina task force was being run by Claude Allen.

Allen's title at the White House is Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. But he's basically the social policy czar, big into abstinence only education, stem-cell restrictions, stuff like that.

This may simply have been a matter of convening meetings -- I have no idea. But still it seemed an odd choice.

Very odd. In the worst natural disaster in American history the Bush administration's response was assigned to a shoplifting religious extremist and a crony from the arabian horseshow association while the head of homeland security flew off to give a speech. The president and John McCain laughed and ate cake. This is Republican governance.

The administration has known about this for over a month. They lied reflexively and said he had resigned to spend more time with his family. Did they think this wouldn't come out?

Update: Apparently they are still laboring under the illusion that the country will swallow anything:

After the news of Allen's arrest surfaced Friday, White House officials provided an account of their knowledge of the events that led up to it.

The night of Jan. 2, after the alleged incident at the Target in Gaithersburg, he called White House chief of staff Andy Card to inform him of what had happened. The next morning, he spoke again, this time in person, with Card and White House counsel Harriet Miers, assuring them it was all a misunderstanding, press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Allen told his bosses there was merely confusion with his credit card because he had moved several times. "He assured them that he had done nothing wrong and the matter would be cleared up," McClellan said.

Allen told White House officials later that he wanted to resign because the job was too stressful on his family. His last day at the White House was Feb. 17, McClellan said.

The president first learned of Allen's planned departure and the January incident in early February, but since Allen had passed the usual background checks and had no other prior issues that White House officials were aware of, "He was given the benefit of the doubt," McClellan said.

"If it is true, no one would be more shocked and more outraged than the president," McClellan said. Allen has had no contact with the White House since his arrest.

First male prostitutes in the white house press room and now shoplifters in the president's inner circle. The vice president shoots an old man in the face. To say nothing of the indicted and soon to be indicted perjurers and corrupt GOP congressmen and Senators.

These are the people who are asking the nation to trust them with unfettered executive power because they are protecting the country. OK.

**update below

Eunuch's Panic

by digby

"While I don't dispute the fact that we have challenges in the current environment politically, I also believe 2006 as a choice election offers Republicans an opportunity if we make sure the election is framed in a way that will keep our majorities in the House and the Senate," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Stung by criticism, senior officials at the White House and the RNC are reminding GOP members of Congress that Bush's approval ratings may be low, but theirs is lower and have declined at the same pace as Bush's. The message to GOP lawmakers is that criticizing the president weakens him -- and them -- politically.

"When issue like the internal Republican debate over the ports dominates the news it puts us another day away from all of us figuring out what policies we need to win," said Terry Nelson, a Republican consultant and political director for Bush's re-election campaign in 2004.

What's a rubber stamp congress to do? Should they run against their man and take the chance that weakening him weakens them as Kenny Boy Mehlman warns? Or should they go down with the ship? Tough choices.

The problem, of course, is that they can run but they can't hide. They have gone along with every corrupt, inept, absurd and outrageous thing that the failed Bush administration has put out there. They have failed in their duty as a separate branch of government by pledging fealty to George W. Bush instead of the constitution. They are George W. Bush. There is no light between them.

This is the iconic image of the Republican Congress:

While New Orleans Drowned

Update: Tweety is down at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (where they are selling those adorable bumper stickers that say "Happiness is Hillary's face on a milk carton") pretending like he's not running and asking all those who are tempted to write his name on the ballot to write in "George W. Bush" instead. He's tying Frist and the others up in knots.

The press loves the flyboy, never forget it. It's going to take a long determined effort to degrade his favorability if the Democrats hope to win.

Update II: Roger Birnbaum and Howie Fineman are both saying that all the candidates should back putting the name George W. Bush on the ballot because this thing doesn't really matter anyway and it's a nice gesture. Frist has been working feverishly to line up the votes. He wanted to win. McCain just got first blood, and he did it with a smooth slide of the shiv. He's good.

Trash Talk Turkey

by digby

Atrios excerpts a few paragraphs from Paul Krugman's delectable "I told you so" column from today and I thought I'd excerpt a few more paragraphs for those of you who don't have Times select. I chose these in honor of tristero:

Never mind; better late than never. We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters, which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's mendacity was obvious from the beginning.

According to this view, if you're a former Bush supporter who now says, as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that "the administration lies about budget numbers," you're a brave truth-teller. But if you've been saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were unpleasantly shrill.

Similarly, if you're a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that "the people in this administration have no principles," you're taking a courageous stand. If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.

And if you're a former hawk who now concedes that the administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq, you're to be applauded for your open-mindedness. But if you warned three years ago that the administration was hyping the case for war, you were a conspiracy theorist.

The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the facts

No kidding.

It's a good column, but it's made shocking by the one that accompanies it on the page today by Thomas Friedman. Apparently, he didn't get the memo that he was long ago proved to be an ass.

I used to think Friedman was an astute observer of world affairs and had insight into globalization and mid-east politics --- until 9/11 when he showed himself to be an hysterical airhead. I've posted this column a couple of times, but it deserves another round as an illustration of how completely out of his mind he and the rest of the punditocrisy were in the days after the attacks:

... our enemies took us less and less seriously and became more and more emboldened. Indeed, they became so emboldened that a group of individuals - think about that for a second: not a state but a group of individuals - attacked America in its own backyard. Why not? The terrorists and the states that harbor them thought we were soft, and they were right. They thought that they could always "out-crazy" us, and they were right. They thought we would always listen to the Europeans and opt for "constructive engagement" with rogues, not a fist in the face, and they were right.

So our enemies took us less and less seriously and became more and more emboldened. Indeed, they became so emboldened that a group of individuals - think about that for a second: not a state but a group of individuals - attacked America in its own backyard. Why not? The terrorists and the states that harbor them thought we were soft, and they were right. They thought that they could always "out-crazy" us, and they were right. They thought we would always listen to the Europeans and opt for "constructive engagement" with rogues, not a fist in the face, and they were right.

America's enemies smelled weakness all over us, and we paid a huge price for that. There is an old bedouin legend that goes like this: An elderly Bedouin leader thought that by eating turkey he could restore his virility. So he bought a turkey, kept it by his tent and stuffed it with food every day. One day someone stole his turkey. The Bedouin elder called his sons together and told them: "Boys, we are in great danger. Someone has stolen my turkey." "Father," the sons answered, "what do you need a turkey for?"

"Never mind," he answered, "just get me back my turkey." But the sons ignored him and a month later someone stole the old man's camel. "What should we do?" the sons asked. "Find my turkey," said the father. But the sons did nothing, and a few weeks later the man's daughter was raped. The father said to his sons: "It is all because of the turkey. When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything."

America is that Bedouin elder, and for 20 years people have been taking our turkey. The Europeans don't favor any military action against Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Neither do I. But what is their alternative? To wait until Saddam Hussein's son Uday, who's even a bigger psychopath than his father, has bio-weapons and missiles that can hit Paris?

No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through - but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld - he's even crazier than you are."

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.

This is the premiere, serious foreign policy op-ed columnist for the New York fucking Times. This is the level of sophistication we saw among the best and the brightest of famous public intellectuals, opinion makers and government officials as we raced to invade a country that hadn't attacked us. Trash talk foreign policy and sophomoric dick measuring.

Since then Friedman has come to criticize the Bush administration's execution of the Iraq war. But he certainly hasn't changed his puerile desire for the United States to "flex its muscles" and force those recalcitrant arabs into line with a mighty American roar. After everything we know about the efficacy of a superpower "acting crazy," Friedman comes out with this fatuous column today:

We need to bring together all the newly elected Iraqi leaders for a national reconciliation conference — outside Baghdad. We should lock them in a room and not let them out until they either produce a national unity government, so Americans will want to stay in Iraq, or fail to produce that government, which would signal that it's time to warm up the bus.

Those choices need to be put to the Iraqis in the most frank, tough-minded way by the most nasty, brutish and short-tempered senior official we've got — and that is Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney. Mr. Veep, this Bud's for you.


Mr. Cheney could open the meeting with his low growl by telling the Sunnis: "Look, you guys don't want to compromise, fine. Then we'll just leave you to the tender mercies of the Shiites, who vastly outnumber you."

To the Shiites: "You want to rule Iraq and control the oil without real regard to the Sunnis? Well, you're going to rule over nothing but a boiling pot, unless you compromise."

And to the Kurds he could say: "You've behaved most responsibly. Stick with it. If Iraq falls apart, we will make sure you're taken care of. We won't ignore the fact that you've built an impressively decent, democratizing society in your region."

After getting their attention, Mr. Cheney could start cracking heads on the key issues:

First, the Shiite alliance has to come up with a new candidate for prime minister, acceptable to all parties.

Second, the constitution has to be revised so the Sunnis do not feel that the Kurds and Shiites are breaking off their own chunks of Iraq, along with their oil resources.

Third, the Sunnis need to produce a credible plan for ending their insurgency.

Fourth, the parties have to agree on an inner cabinet, with ministers from each community, which will make all key decisions in coordination with the new prime minister.

Fifth, this inner cabinet has to draw up a plan for governing Iraq from the center — and not from any one faction.

Mr. Cheney could then conclude: "Read my lips — these are the minimum requirements for a decent government in Iraq. If Iraqis step up, Americans will want to stick it out. If Iraqis won't step up, Americans will want to step out. The American people are ready to midwife your democracy, but not to baby-sit your civil war."

Mr. Cheney, this is your Kodak moment. Iraqis are notoriously difficult and fractious. You've got the time and the mean streak to deal with them. They'll get serious if you're in the room. But just in case, bring along your shotgun. This is a good job for someone with bad aim.

Sixth: Go fuck youself, Dick.

I do not presume to understand the psychological disorder that leads so many highly placed gasbags to publicly yearn for a tough guy to step in and order everyone to do what he wants or else, but they need to deal with it rather than inflict their immature needs on the rest of the planet. I realize that Friedman thinks he was being funny by using Cheney as his villian, but apparently he truly believes the US can find a way to dictate these events around the world if we just show everyone that we have the biggest codpiece around. Please spare us any more of this juvenile trash talk. It's what got us into this mess in the first place.

Update: Via Atrios, I see that Andrew Sullivan's feelings are hurt that he's being held responsible for his earlier words.

I defer to tristero to make this argument explicitly, but it's important that people like Sullivan and Friedman don't get a free pass. This isn't going to be the last time the government makes devastating errors of judgment (although its going to be hard to beat the sheer scale of the Bush administration's failures.)People who endorsed this folly, over the objections of others with cooler analytical heads, have been discredited. It's that simple. They cannot be trusted the same way again, particularly if they fail to acknowledge that others were right and they refused to listen to them. It's very unpleasant to be wrong but mature people try to figure out where their reasoning failed and admit their mistakes. Simply "discovering" after all this time that Bush does not fit their fantasy image of him is not good enough.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Of Course

by digby

Avedon Carol snares a great quote that finally cleared something up for me: why does Bush always sound like he's talking to five year olds?

"He speaks to the audience as if they're idiots. I think the reason he does that is because that's the way these issues were explained to him." - Graydon Carter

The funny thing is that he sounds irritated too. It has always puzzled me why he seems so inappropriately impatient in his town meetings, as if his rapt audience needs some sort of time-wasting remedial education before he can get to the subject, which he never does. ("See --- social security is program for older people. Older people like ta retire. When you retire you don't work. When you don't work you don't earn money. That's the problem.")

Again, he's just parroting his own tutorial.

They Mean It

by digby

It's pretty clear that the assault on women's reproductive rights is in full swing. I suspect that many Republicans know that their legislative majority days may be numbered and they are trying to deliver for their constituents before they lose their perch.

This one's a twofer.

Today the United States Senate is considering a bill that would have a serious and damaging impact on health coverage for women across the United States. The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (HIMMAA), introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) would allow insurance companies to ignore nearly all state laws that require insurance coverage for certain treatments or conditions, such as laws that require them to include contraceptives in their prescription plans.


For years, many insurance plans covered prescription drugs, but refused to cover birth control pills and other prescription contraceptives for women. In the past decade lawmakers in 23 states have remedied this inequity and enacted contraceptive coverage laws. Under HIMMAA women will lose contraceptive-equity protections currently guaranteed by state law.

They deliver for their primary masters, the insurance companies by "streamlining" the state laws that require the companies to cover certain health needs. This mandated coverage is often aimed at women's reproductive health. Insurance companies prefer not to be required to cover anything they can get away with not covering --- and the theocrats in the republican party want to make birth control more difficult to obtain if not against the law all together. This is one of those times when the interests of the big money boys and the bedroom police can work comfortably together.

This development is very interesting in light of the new emphasis on birth control among strategists in the Democratic party. The next battle is already being fought out on the edges of the abortion debate. If this goes the way of Democrats' previous brilliant strategies in the culture wars, within five years we'll have jettisoned our argument about Roe altogether and will be fighting with all our might to preserve Griswold, which the other side will be arguing is a matter of states' rights just like Roe. (No "streamlining" necessary.)

You'd think that common sense would preclude this, but it won't. Common sense says that regulating guns in a country of almost 300 million people is the smart thing to do. But we can't do it in the case of terrorism even now:

Historically, terrorist watch list checks were not part of the firearms background checkprocess implemented pursuant to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Such watch lists were not checked, because being a known or suspected terrorist is not a disqualifying factor for firearm transfer/possession eligibility under current federal or state law.


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has directed the DOJ Office of Legal Policy to form a working group to review federal gun laws -- particularly in regard to Brady background checks -- to determine whether additional authority should be sought to prevent firearms transfers to known and suspected terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, you'll recall, John Ashcroft refused to extend the very short period that firearm backround checks were kept so that authorities could compare the lists with terrorist watch lists. (At the same time he and the rest of the administration ripped up the constitution because Dick Cheney believed the paperwork involved was too onerous.)

As of right now, it is perfectly legal for a terrorist suspect to buy guns. The right to bear arms is inviolate with these people. Not even a national security argument can be brought to bear --- even while habeas corpus is selectively suspended and the president has asserted a right to do anything it deems necessary to fight terrorism. Democrats can say nothing about this because we completely capitulated on the issue. It no longer even exists.

The Republicans and the NRA wore their opposition down over the course of many, many years and they are doing the same thing with abortion. So far, it's working pretty much the same way. And the icing on the cake from the perspective of the Republicans is that every time they wear the Democrats down on these contentious issues, it makes their "Democratic weakness" argument more believable. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Michael Bérubé discusses this today by reflecting on the wide-spread belief among certain liberals that the anti-abortion people don't really mean it:

My point is that Nader, like all too many men on the left, doesn't believe that the right-wing culture warriors really mean it. They think it's all shadow-boxing, a distraction, a sop thrown to the radical fringe. That same attitude can be found, as I've noted before, in Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, where Frank writes, "Values may 'matter most' to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won. This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent in across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act."

The idea is that an actual abortion ban would go too far: the first back alley death, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble. Well, maybe and maybe not, folks. You might think, along similar lines, "the first hideous death by torture in the War on Terror, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble," or "the first unconstitutional power grab by the executive branch, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble," or "the first data-mining program of domestic spying, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble," or "the first systemic corruption scandal involving Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham and Tom DeLay, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble," and you'd be, ah, wrong, you know. Besides, there's a nasty time lag between that first back-alley death and the repeal (if any) of a state's draconian abortion law, and in that time-lag, that state's Republican Party might or might not be in deep trouble. It's hard to unseat incumbents in this jerry-built and gerrymandered system, after all. So there's no guarantee that popular outrage against back-alley deaths would jeopardize a state's elected GOP officials en masse. But we can be pretty sure that women with unwanted pregnancies would be . . . how shall we say? in deep trouble.

They really mean it. This is no bullshit. There is no downside to overturning Roe for them --- and if there is, they don't care. If they want to overturn Griswald, they'll do that too. They fought the gun control fight when people were freaking out over crime in the streets and political assassinations. Conservative absolutists don't give up just because liberals get up-in-arms. They certainly don't care if we think they are shrill.

I believe that this fight is going to have to be fought on a number of fronts. We must make some decent people who have not fully explored the ramifications of their stand take a good hard look at it from a moral and logical standpoint. They need to be shown that their leaders (in the mode of Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed) are very cynical and deceitful. What they say to their flock is very different from what they believe. From this review of the book "Absolute Convictions" in today's Salon magazine:

"Somebody's intimidating them, somebody's bullying them," Rev. Rob Shenck, a founder of the Christian lobbying group Faith and Action, says of women who seek abortions. Press counters: "None of the women interviewed claimed her decision was anyone's but her own." (He also cites this comment made to a reporter by antiabortion leader Joe Scheidler: "the gals usually know what they're doing and want to do it ... But if we started saying that women who have abortions should be sent to jail for life, we'd get into a real beehive."...)

A real beehive all right. An awful lot of people don't understand that this is where this argument inexorably leads. That means we have to engage at the dinner table and the water cooler as well as among ourselves. We must make some people look more closely at their own self-interest in this issue, particularly men.

But more than anything else we must accept the fact that these people are serious. They want to outlaw abortion and they want to curtail people's access to birth control. They aren't lying. And as they've shown with gun rights, they are in it for the long haul. We must be just a stubborn as they are and seek to wear them down rather than let them wear us down.

This is not an issue for tweaking. Let's tweak on the Ten Commandments or public funds for parochial schools or something else if it is necessary to adjust for this family values crap in order to win elections. State mandated forced childbirth and denial of access to birth control cannot be negotiated or finessed. This one's going to have to be fought out head to head, day to day to a final reckoning. That's what they are going to do and if we don't recognise that and act accordingly, we will lose.

You And What Army?

by digby

I might be crazy but I think that Charles Krauthamer and Fred Barnes just implied that if we suffer another terrorist attack it will be because Bush was not allowed to reward our good friends the UAE with the port deal. Apparently if we don't play ball with our "allies" they'll be forced to do something nasty. It looks like the Bush Doctrine has undergone a little tweaking. The US is now paying off middle eastern countries so they won't help terrorists attack us. It's probably a better approach that "yer either with us or agin' us" thing. Paying off blackmailers directly is a lot cheaper than a war. In fact, it's a lot like the K Street project.

I wonder how the Republican base feels about that?

Meanwhile, Charles, Fred and Mort Kondrake agree that the UN is even more useless than it was before we went into Iraq and we won't be able to move into Iran for at least a year. We must once again unleash our mighty sword and remind some people of the military might of the United States (and Israel.) To hell with the Chinese and the Russians!

Looks like the Beltway Boys are getting ready to hitch up their codpieces and yippie yie yo kie yay, mothafuckahs. Just as soon as they remove their make-up.


Nice little country you've got there. Be a shame is something happened to it:

TODD (voice over): A warning of possible fallout from the port fight.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think we've missed a opportunity.

TODD: CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin, a former deputy CIA director, says American politicians focused too much on the UAE's pre-9/11 terrorist ties and undervalued the Emirates' role since September 11 in catching terrorists, cracking down on weapons trafficking and money laundering.


MCLAUGHLIN: I think the UAE will continue to be a good intelligence partner, but there's a risk here, a chance that they will lose a lot of their enthusiasm for cooperating as closely with us as they have in the past.

TODD: Militarily, U.S. officials consistently hit home one point: the Emirates, specifically their port facilities in Dubai, are critical to U.S. operations in Iraq an Afghanistan. CAPT. THOMAS GOODWIN, U.S. NAVY: On a daily basis there is at least one U.S. ship in a port in the UAE, and oftentimes more than that.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: And as you look to potential problems in the future in that region, the United Arab Emirates' location and capacity will be critical to our ability to succeed.

TODD: Now one former U.S. defense secretary tells CNN the ruling family may not kick American ships out of port, but may, in his words, "rethink their level of participation."

In business, the UAE is a huge American partner. Emirates Airline has placed a multibillion-dollar order for Boeing jets, but also buys planes from European-based Airbus.


RICHARD ABOULAFIA, TEAL GROUP: It's easy to see a scenario where this poisons commercial relations between the Emirates and the U.S., and that could directly impact Boeing's prospects to sell aircraft to the Emirates.

Shell Game

by digby

John Warner says that DP World has agreed to transfer the operation of their US ports to a US "entity." They are guaranteed, apparently, not to suffer any financial loss in the deal. One must wonder exactly how that will be accomplished --- and who will be paying for it.

It appears on the surface that they are going to set up a shell company in the US in which the US taxpayer will guarantee DP World that it won't lose money. Nice deal. It will be interesting to see if that passes muster with the public.


Our Two Bobbies

By Lucian Truscott IV

The steno-pads in the Washington press corps have covered the Dubai Port deal the way they cover everything else, like a herd of hamsters scurrying for space on the airless, cramped exercise wheel that serves as our national capital. The conventional wisdom has focused exclusively on only one aspect of the story, national security, conveniently overlooking the fact that the Bush White House owns the goddamned national security issue. It's the one thing they can spin freely at Rovian whim, because they happen to have noticed that the inhabitants of Redneck Nation responded so warmly to Ronnie "working" at his "ranch" in his cowboy boots and western shirt and rolled up sleeves that Redneck Nation has collectively seized on the idea that anybody who spends lots of time "clearing brush" on his "ranch" in cowboy boots and western shirts with rolled up sleeves can be trusted not only with the Office of the President, but with our "security."

As a sergeant from Tennessee of my acquaintance in the Army used to say every time the Captain would pass down some wisdom from on-high about what was necessary to become a combat-ready rootin' tootin' blood-thirsty warrior: whhuuuut th' fuuuuuuk?

Here is a glimpse of what the Washington press corps steno-pads are failing to copy down:

Ask yourself why Bush suddenly found his Veto Stick and brandished it wildly at any legislation intended to stop the Dubai port deal. Ask yourself why he's out there on the plank facing growing opposition within his own party to the deal. Was it because he believes canceling the deal would send the wrong message to all of our "friends" in the world-- all three of them? Or maybe because he really believes it would be "unfair" to all those sheiks and emirs swathed in gold-embroidered robes having their toes sucked by Imported Blonde Virgins while they tap at their Blackberries, checking their stock portfolios for teeny little hundred-million dollar variances in their multi-billion dollar balances. I've got it! Bush is all upset with Republican Party congressional "leaders" because he's absolutely convinced that Dubai Ports World Inc. -- a national company wholly owned by the Emirate of Dubai -- has been thoroughly and expertly vetted by some "interagency committee" neither he, Rumsfeld, Snow, Chertoff or anyone else ever heard of before last week.

There are a few problems with this interagency committee vetting thing, beginning with the fact that the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury who chaired the interagency committee that vetted Dubai Ports World is the same guy who vetted Dan Quayle as well qualified to be Vice President for Bush's daddy when he was running for President in 1988. You read that right. His name is Robert M. Kimmitt, and believe-you-me, this man has a history of doing a hell of a job when it comes to being Bush Family Deputy-Expert Vetter. This is no doubt because he studied the fine art of vetting at the feet of Bush Family Master Fixer, Expert Vetter and Chief Water Carrier: James A. Baker III.

The Dubai Ports deal stinks to high heaven of tall Texan and master-fixer Baker. Robert M. Kimmitt, chair of the interagency committee that took something like 20 minutes to certify Dubai Ports as a worthy partner in running our ports -- without even taking a vote -- is a familiar name to me. He and I graduated in the same West Point class in June of 1969. Kimmitt, after serving in Vietnam, during which he was awarded three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and an Air Medal, Kimmitt went to Georgetown Law School on the Army's dime and after graduating in 1977, plunged himself immediately into finding his way along Washington's corridors of power. As it happens, Kimmitt had some help reading the Power Map. His father was the man chosen by then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson to replace Bobby Baker as the quietly powerful Secretary to Senate after Bobby Baker was discovered inflagrante in the bathroom of a gay porno theater. If anyone had the Power Map to the maze of corridors in our nation's capital, it was Kimmitt's daddy.

Kimmitt had also benefited from the careful guidance and ministrations of a powerful mentor with a big-time DC Power Job while he was still a cadet at West Point -- loooong story...WAY too long for this brief screed -- and now that he had in hand his Vietnam medals and Georgetown diploma and letters of recommendation from his DC Circuit Court of Appeals judge, whatdayaknow, but our boy Bobby immediately landed a job across town on the National Security Council at the White House. No stopping off to spend a couple of years rooting as an associate, around in a dusty law firm library for this boy! Nosiree! Robert M. Kimmitt knew there was one hell of a lot of vetting in his future, and where better to learn the fine art of vetting, but in the offices of the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States? There just wasn't any better place, that's what! So Kimmitt sets up shop on the staff of the NSC in 1978 and holds his breath and guts it out until that commie pinko peacenik Naval Academy grad and former nuclear submariner Jimmie Carter was ousted by cowboy boot and western shirt wearin', brush clearin' President Ronald Reagan, and he rolled up his sleeves and got busy. Busy doing what, you may ask? Easy! Bob Kimmitt got busy studying at the feet of his new mentor on the NSC -- James A. Baker III, who was installed on the NSC as the Bush Family Master Fixer, Expert Vetter and Chief Water Carrier!

Now you may be thinking, what a lucky guy, this Bob Kimmitt. It's 1978, he's not even 30 years old, and he's held only one real job in his life -- junior officer in the Army -- and there he is with his nose pressed not against the glass trying to get a glimpse of the Asshole of Power in Washington D.C., but on the other side of the glass, inside, really, really, really close to the Asshole of Power in Washington D.C., the one place where those words which ring in such dulcet political tones....national security...are not merely an aspect of policy, or a sideshow to the Real Deal, but the Real Deal Itself! Wow! National Security is right there in the title of the office where Bobby had his desk! And his phone! And his White House Pass! And his parking spot! Say it out loud! Listen!

National Security Council!

Double wow! Triple wow! No...whoopee! He's made it! Across town, mentors and daddies are celebrating! They're pouring tall tumblers of the Good Stuff out there on their patios! A Republican in the White House wearing cowboy boots and western shirts and clearin' brush during those loooooong weekends out there at the Western White House -- don't ya love the sound of it? Western White House! And our boy Bob right in there with him, watching out for our security! Whew! Isn't it great that we can relax out there on the back nine...swing that club a little looser...get that ball a little closer to the pin, maybe...now that Bob is in the White House making sure we're safe?

It was a great time for golfers, those years when Bob Kimmitt was looking out for the safety and security of their country clubs and the skies through which they passed in their Lears and Gulfstreams. Kimmitt spent the years 1978 to 1983 as an NSC staffer, and then he was promoted, and the golf courses turned greener and the Gulfstreams flew faster! Yep! Jim Baker promoted Bob to be his Executive Secretary, and then he made Bob the General Counsel to the NSC! Quadruple wow! But...wait. There was a problem. Some guys down there in the bowels of the NSC, guys flew so close to the Asshole of Power that their noses got singed, guys like North and Poindexter and McFarlane, guys who were messing around with arms for hostages and Contras and so forth. Not only did their noses get singed, some of 'em even got convicted of some crimes! But not our Bobby. No sir. That whole Iran-Contra thing...that was a Reagan deal all the way. Well...sort of. There was one little hiccup, something about Bob and a license that was needed to ship some missiles or rockets or something or another, and Bob was interviewed by the Tower Commission, but he sailed through safely, and in 1985, our Bobby followed the Bush Family Master Fixer, Expert Vetter and Chief Water Carrier over to the Department of Treasury, where he was installed as General Counsel to the Department under Secretary Baker. Now that the golf courses were safe and the Gulfstreams were up there flying through our secure skies, it was time to Watch the Money, and where better to watch it than the place where it was printed and distributed.

Kimmitt remained at Treasury under Secretary of Money Watching Baker until 1988 when he followed Baker into Bush Campaign I, where he distinguished himself by being deputized by Expert Vetter Baker to check out the qualifications of Dan Quayle. But hell. Anybody can make a mistake when it comes to one of those loons from Capitol Hill, and besides, Quayle didn't work out so badly. He turned into a kind of Agnew The Lesser, and baited the Dems and did what he was told, and down the road, he sure as hell wasn't a threat to any of the Bush Boys when one of them decided to run for President!

With Bush I elected in '88, Kimmitt followed the Master Fixer over to the Department of State, where he was made Under Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs! Our boy Bob, who had toiled so long as a little-known player in the back rooms and basements of various government departments, was now up there on a High Floor at Foggy Bottom! And those golf courses and Gulfstreams and all that Republican money? Why, having Insured Security and Watched the Money for years, now Bob would move off-shore and do the same thing all over the world -- making the International Skies safe for the Gulfstreams and Watching the Money as it moved back and forth between friendly companies and banks in the States to foreign countries and friends who could be trusted, because if they stepped out of line, Bob was there to see to it that their Gulfstreams wouldn't be welcome in our skies, and their tacky golf shoes would not sully the groomed greens of our golf courses until they straightened-up and did the Right Thing with Our Money, which of course was to turn the Small Piles into Large Piles, and the Large Piles into Huge, Monciferous Piles of Crinkly-Smacking-Green Cash!

In 1991, Secretary of International Money Watching and Security Insuring Baker put in the fix so Bob was appointed Ambassador to Germany. He stayed in this post until Baker's boss lost in '92, and the Clinton people removed him in '93.

Sigh. Bob was on the street...in a Republican sort of way, you understand. He held a series of big-time, big-bucks corporate jobs during the politically Lean Years of the Clinton Administration, and took a long-awaited and well-deserved vacation in a top job at Time Warner AOL during Bush II's first administration. But recently jaws dropped on the E-ring of the Pentagon when word got around that Kimmitt was offered Secretary of the Navy, and to everyone's surprise, turned down that plum for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Now, why would a Power Guy like Kimmitt turn down a job where you could hop in your own personal Navy Lear Jet and take off to "visit the fleet" in Honolulu for the weekend, and instead take a slot as a deputy to a Bush lapdog who's still wandering the halls of the big building on 14th Street looking for his water bowl? There are probably some cynics who would call Kimmitt a footman riding the back bumper of the Bush Family Power Carriage, but I think of him simply as a wholly-owned subsidiary of James A. Baker III, Inc. Subsidiaries do what they're told to do, and when a former Treasury Secretary drops a hint that there are Things to Do and Money To Be Watched over in a Deputy Secretary's office at Treasury, why, what would you expect a good little Bobby to do, but listen to Duh Man.

When it comes to the Middle East -- specifically, to the Oil Business in the Middle East -- Baker is most assuredly Duh Man. Baker's powerful Houston law firm, Baker & Botts, represents the oil interests of the Saudi Royal family and has a big satellite office in Dubai which does business, among other things, in pipelines, energy and trade. You will recall that in 2003, Bush Family Master Fixer Baker was appointed by Bush as the Special Envoy who "negotiated" Iraq's huge debt, largely held by other Middle East oil-producing nations, including the UAE. Iraqi debt was reduced across the board. Does anyone think that the UAE just wrote off Iraq's debt? Not on your life. They are getting paid off in other ways...such as having the US approve a deal to have the UAE's Dubai company run six US ports, which will doubtlessly turn out to be hugely profitable to them, or else why would they be in the port business in a time when maritime trade is growing by leaps and bounds, and shipyards around the world can't turn out container ships and tankers fast enough. And that doesn't even get into Baker's connections to the Carlyle Group, or Bechtel, which built the port of Dubai, or any of that boring stuff.

Even leaving the Carlyle and Bechtel Boys aside, it gets better. Another "protege" of Baker's appears on the scene: Robert Zoellick, currently Deputy Secretary of State, but from 2001 to 2005, this country's Trade Representative in charge, largely, of setting up free trade agreements such as CAFTA around the world. I guess it was little noticed in 2004 when Zoellick signed a TIFA -- Trade and Investment Framework Agreement -- with the UAE, a first step in the negotiations with the Sheiks of Dubai toward a FTA, a Free Trade Agreement, negotiations for which are ongoing. In a speech in Jordan that year, Zoellick described the UAE as a "very positive partner for free trade in the region. The impending FTA with the UAE follows on the heels of FTA's already negotiated with Jordan, Egypt and Morocco. Trade ministers in the Middle East have described the free trade march of the US across the Middle East as picking off suckers one by one and an attempt to mollify Arab and Muslim nations with the carrot of trade while the stick of war is pounding Iraq. In fact, the several FTA's already signed are the beginnings of a plan for an overall MEFTA -- Middle East Free Trade Agreement -- intended to cover up to 20 nations in the region which is planned for completion by 2013.

And who is Zoellick to James A. Baker III? Why, he was the guy walking behind Baker carrying the briefcase containing Baker's Roman numerals, that's who! His technical job title was Counselor to Treasury Secretary Baker in 1985, and then Deputy Treasury Secretary under Baker until 1988. Then he took a cab down the Mall to Foggy Bottom where he was stood guard as Counselor to the State Department, and then moved into a tidy office down the hall where he went about the business of American Business as Undersecretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs.

You think our two Bobbys ran into each other in the Corridors of Power when they were working for Duh Man? Does "duh" work for you as an answer? You think that the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and the U.S. Trade Representative might have, uh, talked about stuff over a couple of lunches or sixteen or thirty-three? You think they might have played a round of golf or anything like that? You think that the interests of Bobby The Kimmitt and Bobby The Zoellick might not only coincide, but resemble each other so much they would appear as twins?

Consider their mutual interests in the UAE: The UAE is our 3rd largest trading partner in the Middle East, behind only Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Port of Dubai is the 3rd busiest in the world and is Home Away From Home for US warships, not to mention airfields in the UAE serving the same function for US Air Force warplanes. Consider that the Bush Administration's plans for a Free Trade Agreement with UAE are not just a foot but an entire leg in the door of an overall Middle East FTA slated for only 7 years down the road. You think there might be far more at stake with the Dubai Ports deal than our reputation with our "friends" in the world, or maybe even our "national security?" You think with two Money Watchers running things when it comes to Big Business and the UAE, that Bush might consider puttin' on his boots and western shirt and rollin' up his sleeves and brandishin' his Veto Stick if those goofballs on Capitol Hill mess around with his deal? Huh? Ya think?

As usual with the Bush Family -- with this Bush administration and the administration of Bush I -- if you turn over a rock, you won't find Weapons of Mass Destruction or Terrorist Connections or Osama bin Laden, but you will find a gigantic pile of Crinkly Greenbacks being overseen by our two Bobbies, dutifully carrying out their duties as Money Watchers, and buried in there amongst the grass-cuttings from the fresh-mown greens and a faint odor of kerosene dripped from topped-off wing tanks of the Gulfstreams...right down there next to the Veritable Bunghole of Power you will find evidence of fresh spittle from Bush Family Master Fixer, Expert Vetter and Chief Water Carrier James A. Baker III.

Most of you probably already know the name Lucian Truscott IV from the op-ed pages of the New York Times, stories in the Village Voice, novels like Dress Gray and Dress Blue or perhaps even the Sally Hemmings controversy in which Truscott, a Jefferson heir, insisted that Hemmings' family be included in the yearly family reunions. Now he has reached the pinnacle of his career by appearing on Hullabaloo.

By the way, even though he has been publishing op-eds in the New York Times since they started the page, for some reason they weren't interested in (the sedate NY Times version) of this essay. So he blogged it. Hah. ---- digby

Correction: Bobby Baker was discovered running a call girl ring, not in a gay porno theatre. That was Walter Jenkins.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The political decadence of late-stage conservatism

by digby

"I was basically so busy winning that I didn't see what I was doing." Jack Abramoff

There you have it. Winning is the only thing they really care about and the only thing they know how to do. Governing, as we've just had graphically illustrated, was not part of the program.

Jack Abramoff is one of the anointed princes of the second wave of the conservative movement. He came of age politically during the go-go Reagan years, along with his good friends Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. They were renowned for saying things like:

"I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag." (Reed: Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, November 9, 1991)

Abramoff's personal credo was "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing." As we know, Norquist just recently said: "Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such." (All of us in the blogosphere have had to put up with the puerile troll taunt that begins, "Maybe when you start winning elections you can...." fill in the blank.)

This is the real modern Republican party in all its glory. It raised these guys from pups, nurturing their selfishness, their immaturity and their greed. They wanted to win by any means necessary and when you believe that you allow people like Reed and Abramoff to do what they need to do to make it happen. If you can skim some cream off the top, so much the better.

It's great that they are all being exposed, but let's not kid ourselves. They may be decadent and corrupt, but they do know how to win. I wouldn't count on them just folding up their tent and going home. Winning is, after all, the only thing they know how to do.

Still, there is good reason to hope that they are going to start turning part of their firepower on each other, which is the best way to beat people like this. The Dubai port deal shows a huge divide between the rank and file who believed that crap about "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists" and the big money boys who have already progressed past this old fashioned notion of the nation state to embrace the new borderless corporation paradigm. That crack in the coalition is becoming a fissure. There are a bunch of them.

But the crack that intrigues me the most is this one:

As the Jack Abramoff scandal unfolds, it is becoming increasingly clear how extensively he collaborated with the Christian right to advance his casino schemes. Ralph Reed was paid no less than $4 million by Abramoff and his Indian casino clients to serve as a liasion to the Christian right.

Reed managed to lasso Focus on the Family President James Dobson into a series of campaigns to stamp out competition to Abramoff's clients. Though Senate subpeonaed emails seem to confirm that Dobson was manipulated by Reed and Abramoff, he and his employees have repeatedly claimed that his activism against rivals to Abramoff's clients was a complete coincidence.

While I wrote about this for the Nation and Media Matters, there has been very little mainstream press interest on Dobson's role in Abramoff's schemes. So far, some of the best -- and most adversarial -- reporting on the Abramoff/Reed/Dobson saga is coming from the Christian media, namely from Marvin Olasky's World Magazine. As the former welfare guru to Gov. George W. Bush, Olasky coined the phrase, "compassionate conservatism." When Bush moved into the White House, he became the intellectual author of the Faith Based Initiative. Olasky's World Magazine is one of the largest evangelical publications in the country.

On February 4, World published a critical expose of Dobson's role in a 2002 Abramoff campaign to stop expansion of competition to his client, the Coushattas. A World reporter grilled Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery about Dobson's involvement. Minnery responded incredulously that Abramoff was "trying to take credit for" what Focus was supposedly already doing in Louisiana. He refused to criticize Reed, even though Reed clearly manipulated Dobson.

Two weeks later, Minnery and Dobson took to the airwaves in an attempt to defuse the conflict. Minnery claimed once again that "as it happens, we, Focus on the Family, we're fighting this new Indian casino in Louisiana at the very same time. Not because Ralph Reed asked us. Not because Jack Abramoff asked us." And he once again refused to criticize Reed. In fact, Minnery defended Reed, calling him "A wounded brother," who "regretted what he did, that he wouldn't do it again, and realizes that it was wrong."

I was criticized once before for writing that this rift could potentially push some of the evangelical voters back to the non-voting population. These worldly complications, it seemed to me, might make some of these folks ask themselves if they really wanted to devote all this time and energy to something so morally flawed as politics. Some readers felt that I was suggesting that we "suppress" the evangelical vote. Well... I would never try to stop somebody from voting. But I am certainly not going to go out and drag Republicans to the polls. These voters provide a huge, built-in GOP political machine through those churches and it is in our best interest to see that machine break down. As far as I'm concerned if a fight between Olasky and Dobson helps that happen, then I'm all for it. They are always welcome to vote for Democrats, of course.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Never Even Thought About It

by digby

This updates the post below about whether women should be held legally liable for having an illegal abortion. Apparently this video made the rounds some months ago (and I missed it) in which anti-abortion protesters are asked that very question. Turns out most of them haven't ever thought about it before. (Update: Apparently we crashed their server. Greg at the talent Show generously uploaded it on to his site here.)

That is as I suspected. It's time we make them think about it. Most anti-abortion legislation makes no sense morally and these people need to be led through the various steps that will show them this. The cognitive dissonence was apparent on these people's faces. It's a question that everyone from the family pro-choice supporter to professiohnal interviewers should always ask.

Picture if you will a poll in which Americans are asked if women should be jailed for murdering their unborn child with an illegal abortion. What do you think they would say? Considering the fact that even the anti-abortion picketers in that video don't know what to say, I think it's fair to assume that it would be rejected by more than 90 percent of the population.

That's because it's clear that there is almost nobody who believes that abortion is murder in the legal sense of the word. How can there be a law against "murder" where the main perpetrator is not punished? How can it be murder if these people don't believe that the person who planned it, hired someone to do and paid for it is not legally culpable?

The looks on these womens' faces in that video were amazing: confusion, frustration, pain. Their position is untenable and they know it.

I'm reminded of this profoundly dishonest anti-abortion activist from Kansas that I wrote about a while back. There's a reason why she obfuscates and dodges and lies:

BRANCACCIO: I don't understand how Kansas wouldn't-- ban abortion quit quickly after that. What do you know about the state of that debate in your state...

MARY KAY CULP: It isn't that. It's just that I know how the political system works. Then you can have real discussion. Then every-- both sides are gonna get aired, and if the media's fair about it, both sides are gonna get aired. That-- you know, that's a question. But at least democracy will have a chance to work on it. But, that doesn't necessarily mean anything either way.

She wants people to believe that this is going to be a very painless and simple debate in which the world will finally hear the pro-life side and be persuaded when the truth is that she and her fellow political operatives are working very hard to get these laws firmly in place before anyone has a chance to talk about it.

So I think we need to have this discussion. Let's debate it out in the open and "air both sides" because from where I sit it's the "pro-lifers" who haven't thought this thing through. Nobody says they can't agitate against abortion and stand out there with their sickening pictures and try to dissuade women from doing it. I will defend their right to argue against abortion forever. But when they use the law to enforce their moral worldview they need to recognize that they can't have it both ways. If fetuses are human and have the same rights as the women in whom they live, then a woman who has an abortion must logically be subject to the full force of the law. It would be a premeditated act of murder no different than if she hired a hit man to kill her five year old. The law will eventually be able to make no logical moral distinction. Is everybody ready for that?

Thanks to David in the comments for the clip.

Update: Here's an interesting exchange between Chris Matthews and Pat Toomey in 2004 on this very issue. Toomey was stumped.

Thanks to Mitch for the transcript.

Trotting Out The Truth

by digby

The NY Times "trots out" a snotty piece today about how the Democrats are "trotting out" the fact that the Republicans have been lax on port security. That "record of failure" is apparently not convincing to the reporter since he/she puts it in "scare quotes."

Democrats in Congress almost daily blame their GOP counterparts for security holes in the U.S. maritime industry.

They trot out votes that show the Republican-controlled House and Senate turned back more than a dozen Democratic efforts to secure millions of dollars more for port security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

''When it comes to protecting the ports, Republicans really do have a pre-9/11 mind-set,'' said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.

Among the votes:

--In 2003, House Republicans, on a procedural vote, agreed to kill a Democratic amendment that would have added $250 million for port security grants to a war spending package.

--Two years later, nearly all House Republicans voted against an alternative Homeland Security authorization bill offered by Democrats that called for an additional $400 million for port security.

--Senate Republicans stood together in 2003 to set aside a Democratic amendment that would have provided $120 million more for port cargo screening equipment.

--One year later, all but six Senate Republicans voted to reject a Democratic attempt to add $150 million for port security in a Homeland Security appropriations bill.

That "record of failure" presents "an important opportunity for Democrats to argue that they are the ones who have the right approach to protecting the country," maintains Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.

House Republicans were put on record again last week on port security when Democrats tried to force a debate and vote on legislation that would require congressional approval of DP World's takeover. The effort failed. Only two Republicans voted with Democrats.

In defense, Republicans say Democrats always want to throw money at untested technology and that the GOP-led Congress has consistently given more money to port security than what the Bush administration has proposed.

Hahaha. Yeah. I hate when Democrats do that:

For the second time in two months, a test of the national missile defense system has failed, Pentagon officials said Monday.[February 15, 2005]

Military technicians say they believe the failure of the $85 million test was caused by a problem with ground support equipment, not with the interceptor missile itself. A preliminary assessment indicated that the fault had occurred in the concrete underground silo, where a variety of sensors perform safety and environmental monitoring.


The program, by some accounts, has cost $130 billion and is scheduled to require $50 billion more over the next five years. Bush's budget request for the 2006 fiscal year cut about 10 percent from this year's funding of almost $10 billion.

Do Republicans have any good arguments anymore? Aside from leaving themsleves wide open with a charge like that about untested technology, the Republicans in congress are reduced to saying that at least they gave more money for port security than their "tax cuts for millionaires" obsessive president. They are starting to make it look easy and that's never good for our side. I sincerely hope that Democrats are prepared and hungry enough to go for the jugular.

First Degree Parenthood

by digby

I have a question for the innocent life crowd: how come none of the proposed laws anywhere, as far as I can tell, believe that a woman should be tried for the murder of her child if she gets an abortion? Indeed, there is no penalty in the South Dakota law for the woman at all. She isn't even charged as an accessory. Does that make sense? She could be tried for first degree murder for leaving a newborn baby to die on a church doorstep.

Doctors are targeted by all these laws; in South Draconian it's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. We normally give people life in prison or the death penalty for premeditated murder for hire in our system.

I remember once seeing Larry King, of all people, ask this question of a "pro-life" advocate. (He wasn't laying a trap --- he really wanted to know, you could tell.) The "pro-life" advocate sputtered for five minutes. It's a question they need to answer. They've laid landmines everywhere with their hyperbolic nonsense about abortion being murder and "baby killing" and now they need to explain themselves.

If you ask most pro-lifers whether they think that women should be punished as murderers they say no. If you asked if they think women should be punished by the law at all, they say no. They don't want to punish the father either. The proposed laws target only the doctor who performed the surgery (or dispensed the drug) and for much less time than they would receive for killing a child. Now that we are moving beyond the demagoguery of the pulpit and the sidewalk and into the legal arena I think we all have a right to know how these people made these distinctions and why.

As with the arguments about rape and incest, the "pro-life" argument that abortion is murder is morally inconsistent. And if it isn't murder, then what is it?


Monday, March 06, 2006

Democratic Sin Eaters

by digby

Speaking of Amy Sullivan's new article in the Washington Monthly about evangelicals leaving the Republican fold to join the Democrats, Kevin says:

Religion has been a big topic in liberal circles for a while now, and I have to admit that I always feel a bit like a bystander when the subject comes up. It's not like I can fake being religious, after all. Still, no one is really asking people like me to do much of anything except stay quiet, refrain from insulting religion qua religion in ways that would make people like Brinson unwilling to work with us, and let other people do the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading moderate Christians to support liberal causes and liberal candidates. That's not much to ask, and Amy makes a pretty good case that it would make a difference.

Sullivan's article is only partially persuasive to me. I'm with Atrios on this. If people are voting on the basis of abortion or gay rights, then they are unlikely to switch because of the other party's tax platform or approach to education. Those things are indicative of a certain view of personal autonomy in which compromise isn't very likely. I have very little hope that all this tweaking around the edges of the abortion issue with talk of abstinence or birth control will make any inroads into the GOP coalition. (There is better picking in the western libertarian camp in my view.)

However, Sullivan's article talks a lot about an educational program "presenting the Bible in a historical and cultural context—giving students a better understanding of biblical allusions in art, literature, and music," and (assuming the curriculum doesn't proselytise) I think it's a terrific idea and I'm as secular as they get. Back in the day, it was part of plain old Western Civ. and wasn"t particularly controversial. I think that teaching other religions in those terms would be useful and enlightening as well. I've mentioned before that I took a year of comparative world religions in high school that was just great. It's one of those subjects that can make a big impression on a young mind by showing that many religious beliefs are anchored in the same concepts. It promotes tolerance --- which may be one reason why the Christian Right is against this new Bible curriculum. (What fun is religion without coercion?)

But I doubt that it will change anything politically. If there is a religious divide, it's not about being religious per se. Almost the entire country considers itself religious to some degree or another. The parties are divided by religious intensity which is something else entirely. The big divide is between those who go to church more than once a week and those who don't.

Sullivan says, however, that there are a whole bunch of evangelicals who are willing to jump:

But a substantial minority of evangelical voters --- 41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron --- are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs. Broadly speaking, these are the suburban, two-working-parents, kids-in-public-school, recycle-the-newspapers evangelicals. They may be pro-life, but it's in a Catholic, "seamless garment of life" kind of way. These moderates have largely remained in the Republican coalition because of its faith-friendly image.

I'd love to see some data to back that up. It's possible, but I think it's just as likely that they aren't voting for Democrats because of taxes or gay marriage or simple tribal identity rather than because the Dems are great except they aren't "friendly" to faith. After all, millions of religious Democrats don't have this problem. The numbers indicate that the party already gets 48% of the "abortion should be mostly/always illegal" and 29% of the "gays should have no legal recognition" crowds. I think that is probably the maximum social conservative vote that the Democrats can expect to get. (Well, unless it plans to completely sell out its principles, which is always possible.)

That is why this part of the article made me cringe when I read it:

The immediate post-election conventional wisdom was that Democrats lost because they couldn't appeal to so-called "moral values" voters. Democrats immediately embarked on a crash course in religious outreach and sought out people who could teach them about evangelicals. Brinson, who had caught the attention of the Democratic youth-vote industry, seemed like an obvious choice.

As for Brinson, when the Democratic chief of staff on the other end of the line asked whether the doctor would be willing to meet with some Democrats, he thought about his recent experiences with the other side and decided "maybe it wouldn't be so bad to talk to these Democratic people." In quick succession, the lifelong Republican found himself meeting with advisors to the incoming Democratic leaders—Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)—field directors at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and aides to Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee. What they found is that their interests overlapped: The Democrats wanted to reach out to evangelicals, and Brinson wanted to connect with politicians who could deliver on a broader array of evangelical concerns, like protecting programs to help the poor, supporting public education, and expanding health care. It had seemed natural for him to start by pressing his own party to take up those concerns, but Democrats appeared to be more willing partners. They even found common ground on abortion when Brinson, who is very pro-life, explained that he was more interested in lowering abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies than in using the issue to score political points.

Those Democrats who had initially been wary about working with a conservative evangelical Republican from Alabama found Brinson convincing. They also realized that conservatives had done them an enormous favor. "Listening to him talk," one of them told me, "I thought, these guys bitch-slapped him, and he's willing to play ball."

Who's playing ball and who's getting bitch slapped, again?

Hey if I were a social conservative who was trying to leverage some clout against the Republican party for failing to deliver on its promises while in power, I'd run right over to the Democrats too. After all, everybody knows that they have no convictions and are willing to do anything to win. Why not co-opt them with visions of retaking the red states with the evangelical vote? It worked for Republicans on race.