Wealthy Frenchman

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards for President

ELIZABETH EDWARDS’S choice to stay in the political arena despite a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about Elizabeth Edwards. People admired her before she was ill for the same reasons they admire her now. She comes across as honest, smart and unpretentious — as well as both devoted to and independent of her husband. But we have learned a great deal about the political arena from the hubbub that greeted her decision. For all the lip service Washington pays to valuing political players who are authentic and truthful, it turns out that real, honest-to-God straight talk about matters of life, death and, yes, political ambition, drives “some people” (to use Katie Couric’s locution) nuts.

If you caught Elizabeth and John Edwards in the Couric interview on “60 Minutes” or at their joint news conference in Chapel Hill, you saw a couple speaking as couples chasing the presidency rarely do. When Ms. Couric gratuitously reminded Mrs. Edwards that she was “staring at possible death,” Mrs. Edwards countered: “Aren’t we all, though?” It’s been a steady refrain of her public comments that “we’re all going to die” and that she has the right to make her own choice to fight for her husband’s candidacy even as she fights for her life. There are no euphemisms or equivocations in her language. There’s no apologizing by either Edwards for the raw political calculus of their campaign plans. There’s no sentimental public hand-wringing about the possible effect her choice might have on her children. The unpatronizing Mrs. Edwards sounds like an adult speaking to adults.

Americans understood. A CBS News poll found that by more than two to one, both women and men support the decision to move forward. So do prominent cancer survivors in the media establishment, regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum: Tony Snow (before his own rehospitalization), Laura Ingraham, Cokie Roberts and Barbara Ehrenreich all cheered on Mrs. Edwards. But others who muse on politics for a living responded with bafflement and implicit moral condemnation — and I don’t mean just Rush Limbaugh, who ridiculed the Edwardses for dedicating themselves to their campaign instead of, as he would have it, “to God.”

No less ludicrous were those pundits who presumed to bestow their own wisdom upon the Edwards household as it confronted terminal illness. A Washington correspondent for Time (a man) fretted that “Edwards’s supporters, and surely many average Americans” will be wondering when his “duties as a husband and a father” will “trump his duty to his country and the cause of winning the White House.” (Oh those benighted “average” Americans!) A former Los Angeles Times reporter (a woman) who covered the 2004 Edwards campaign suggested to USA Today that “this is a time when they would want to be home together savoring every moment that they’ve got.” A Washington Post columnist, identifying herself as a fellow mother, faulted Mrs. Edwards for not being sufficiently protective of her children.

As Mrs. Edwards moves forward both to manage her cancer and to campaign for her husband, she’ll roil more of the Beltway crowd. In a political culture where nearly every act by every candidate and spouse is packaged to a fare-thee-well for the voters’ consumption, the Edwardses’ story by definition will play out unpredictably in real time, with a spontaneity that is beyond any consultant’s or media guru’s control. Here is one continuing familial crisis that cannot be scored with soothing music to serve as a Hallmark homily in an inspirational infomercial at the next election-year convention. The Edwardses’ unscripted human drama will be a novelty by the standards of our excessively stage-managed political theater and baffling to many in its permanent repertory company.

That’s one reason it will be good for the country if Mr. Edwards can stay in this race for the duration, whether you believe he merits being president or not. (For me, the jury on that question is out.) The more Elizabeth Edwards is in the spotlight, the more everyone else in the arena will have to be judged against her. Next to her stark humanity, the slick playacting that passes for being “human” and “folksy” in a campaign is tinny. Though much has been said about how she is a model to others battling cancer, she is also a model (or should be) of personal transparency to everyone else in the presidential race.

This is especially true in a campaign where the presumptive (or at least once-presumptive) front-runners in both parties have made candor their calling card: John McCain is once again riding his Straight Talk Express and Hillary Clinton is staking her image on the rubric “Let the Conversation Begin!” They want us to believe that they are speaking in a direct, unfiltered manner, but so far their straight talking, even without Elizabeth Edwards as a yardstick, seems no more natural than Cheez Whiz.

Senator McCain’s bus has skidded once more into a ditch since the Edwards news conference. He’s so desperate to find the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq that last week he told the radio jock Bill Bennett that “there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk.” Yes, if they’ve signed a suicide pact. Even as the senator spoke, daily attacks were increasing in the safest of Baghdad neighborhoods, the fortified Green Zone, one of them killing two Americans. No one can safely “walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi, without heavily armed protection,” according to the retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who delivered an Iraq briefing (pdf) to the White House last week.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign “conversations” with the public have not stooped to the level of Mr. McCain’s fictions. But they have been laced with the cautious constructions that make her stabs at spontaneity seem as contrived as her rigidly controlled Web “chats.” This explains why a 74-second parody ad placed on YouTube by a Barack Obama supporter had enough resonance to earn (so far) nearly three million views. Reworking a famous Apple Macintosh commercial from 1984, the spot recasts Mrs. Clinton as an Orwellian Big Brother by making her seemingly innocuous campaign catchphrases (“I intend to keep telling you exactly where I stand on all the issues” and “We all need to be part of the discussion”) sound like the hollow pronouncements of the Wizard of Oz rather than the invitations to honest interchange the words imply.

Since the Edwards storm broke, there have been unintended consequences for other campaigns, too. In an accident of timing, Judith Nathan picked the same day as the Edwards news conference to explain that she was only now, after six years in public life, correcting the inaccurate published record of the number of her pre-Giuliani marriages (two, not one). Juxtaposed with the Edwards headlines, the dishonesty unmasked by this confession looked even worse than it might have otherwise. In a less vulgar vein, the first major Democratic campaign event after the Edwards announcement, a forum on health care, prompted more than the usual sniping about Mr. Obama’s substance when his policy prescription lacked the specifics in Mr. Edwards’s plan.

The power of Elizabeth Edwards’s persona is such that the husband at her side will be challenged to measure up to her, too, perhaps even more so than his opponents. No one may be labeling him “the Breck girl” anymore (the subject of another popular Web video parodying his coiffure maintenance), but should his campaign prove blow-dried when he moves beyond health care, he’ll pay his own hefty political price for the inauthenticity.

Whatever Mr. Edwards’s flaws as a candidate turn out to be, he is not guilty of the most persistent charge leveled since his wife’s diagnosis. As Ms. Couric phrased it, “Even those who may be very empathetic to what you all are facing might question your ability to run the country at the same time you’re dealing with a major health crisis in your family.”

Would it be better if he instead ran the country at the same time he was clearing brush on a ranch? Polio informed rather than crippled the leadership of F.D.R.; Lincoln endured the sickness and death of a beloved 11-year-old son during the Civil War. In the wake of our congenitally insulated incumbent, who has given our troops neither proper armor nor medical care and tried to hide their coffins off camera, surely it can only be a blessing to have a president, whether Mr. Edwards or someone else, who knows intimately what it means to cope daily with the threat of mortality. It’s hard to imagine such a president smiting stem-cell research or skipping the funerals of the fallen.

Indeed, of all the reasons to applaud Elizabeth Edwards’s decision to stay in politics, the most important may be her insistence, by her very action, that we not compartmentalize the harsh reality of death and the imperatives of public policy, both at home and at war. Let the real conversation begin.

Bush team is adept only at bungling

March 30, 2007

The Bush administration reminds me of Jimmy Breslin's comic novel, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. The premise of the novel was what if you had a Mafia gang whose members were incompetent at the things that mafiosi are supposed to do. Similarly, the Bush administration has often shot itself in the foot because its key players are not qualified for their jobs. They make a mess of the job and are protected by secrecy; or if that isn't possible, by spin.

The current example is the selective firing of U.S. attorneys for reasons that are not yet clear. The gnomes who created the mess are two of President Bush's old cronies from Texas: Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers. Neither, as is now patent, is a heavy hitter. Gonzales has been involved in controversies over the Geneva Convention (which he called "quaint") and legal memos that appear to involve approval of secrecy, torture, imprisonment without trial and spying on Americans without legal warrants. Small wonder the president does not want him to testify under oath.

Another example of not being able to do the job were the men who were supposed to deal with Hurricane Katrina: Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown (of Homeland Security and FEMA, respectively), neither of whom had the intelligence to deal with a catastrophe or the experience of responding to major disasters (unlike Brown's predecessor Edward Witt). However, they were loyal Republicans, so no other competence was required. New Orleans continues to be a mess; FEMA continues to be unable to spend the money. No heavy hitters in this mess.

Then there is the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was supposed to govern Iraq in the years after the war. L. Paul Bremer, the head of CPA, did not speak Arabic and had never served in the Middle East. He had been a staff aide to Henry Kissinger and ambassador to Norway. The members of his staff, mostly younger Republicans, seem to have been even less qualified, and according to journalists covering Iraq, did not speak Arabic and rarely left the fortified Green Zone. Whatever Bremer's intentions, he and his staff must share the blame for what came after the new government was installed. None of them seems to have been a heavy hitter.

The worst example by far of the gang that could only shoot itself in the foot is the president's foreign policy team. Condoleezza Rice had been provost at Stanford University, which might have qualified her to become president of a state college in the California system, but scarcely the president's top foreign policy adviser or now secretary of state. Donald Rumsfeld was a hard-driving and arrogant corporate executive skilled at bureaucratic infighting who ignored the advice of the experienced military officers and ran the Defense Department as his own fiefdom. He used the war to prove his hypothesis that a small American military force would easily triumph, and he made no preparations for reconstruction after the war -- two tragic mistakes, the results of which are still with us.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on the basis of the ''Scooter'' Libby trial, seems an angry man with paranoid tendencies who may even now suspect an Iraq link with al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction hidden away somewhere. Mixed in were a clique of neocons: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Libby, who could write strong memos. The only heavy hitter, who might have been able to prevent the mistake of the war, was Colin Powell, whom Rumsfeld and Cheney marginalized. No wonder the war went terribly wrong and tens of thousands have died.

Gonzales, Miers, Chertoff, Bremer, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz: Could any of the members of this gang have been expected to shoot straight? Besides Powell, where were the wise men (and women) who could have protected the country from a string of disasters?

Bush is a victim of his bad taste in advisers and staff, his propensity to Texas cronyism and his inclination to cover up and spin the truth. There is no reason to believe that he is better advised about the ''new'' strategy in Iraq, or that the mistakes will not continue till Jan. 20, 2009. No heavy hitters need apply.

Maureen Dowd is on vacation, grace a dieu.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Paul Krugman is off today.

Story Time in the Senate

In his Senate testimony yesterday, Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, tried to be a “loyal Bushie,” a term Mr. Sampson used in his infamous e-mail message to describe what he was looking for in United States attorneys. But if Mr. Sampson was trying to fall on his sword, he had horrible aim. In testimony that got so embarrassing for the White House that the Republicans tried to cut it off, Mr. Sampson simply ended up making it clearer than ever that the eight prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

He provided more evidence, also, that the attorney general and other top Justice Department officials were dishonest in their initial statements about the firings.

Mr. Sampson flatly contradicted the attorney general’s claim that he did not participate in the selection of the prosecutors to be fired and never had a conversation about “where things stood.” Mr. Sampson testified that Mr. Gonzales was “aware of this process from the beginning,” and that the two men regularly discussed where things stood. Mr. Sampson also confirmed that Mr. Gonzales was at the Nov. 27 meeting where the selected prosecutors’ fates were sealed.

The hearing brought out evidence that Mr. Sampson also may have made false statements. A Feb. 23 letter to Congress based on information from Mr. Sampson stated that Karl Rove was not involved in replacing the United States attorney in Arkansas with Timothy Griffin, Mr. Rove’s former aide. Mr. Sampson could not convincingly explain why he wrote that, when he had said in an e-mail message two months earlier that getting Mr. Griffin appointed was “important” to Mr. Rove. He finally acknowledged that he had discussed the appointment with Mr. Rove’s two top aides.

The senators questioning Mr. Sampson pointed to a troubling pattern: many of the fired prosecutors were investigating high-ranking Republicans. He was asked if he was aware that the fired United States attorney in Nevada was investigating a Republican governor, that the fired prosecutor in Arkansas was investigating the Republican governor of Missouri, or that the prosecutor in Arizona was investigating two Republican members of Congress.

Mr. Sampson’s claim that he had only casual knowledge of these highly sensitive investigations was implausible, unless we are to believe that Mr. Gonzales runs a department in which the chief of staff is merely a political hack who has no hand in its substantive work. He added to the suspicions that partisan politics were involved when he made the alarming admission that in the middle of the Scooter Libby investigation, he suggested firing Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago who was the special prosecutor in the case.

The administration insists that purge was not about partisan politics. But Mr. Sampson’s alternative explanation was not very credible — that the decision about which of these distinguished prosecutors should be fired was left in the hands of someone as young and inept as Mr. Sampson. If this were an aboveboard, professional process, it strains credulity that virtually no documents were produced when decisions were made, and that none of his recommendations to Mr. Gonzales were in writing.

It is no wonder that the White House is trying to stop Congress from questioning Mr. Rove, Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, and other top officials in public, under oath and with a transcript. The more the administration tries to spin the prosecutor purge, the worse it looks.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

End-game of a tormented presidency has begun

McClatchy Newspapers

Not since the latter days of Richard M. Nixon have we had so clear a spectacle of arrogant politicians bumbling into fatal mistakes and poorly planned and executed cover-ups as George W. Bush administration is now providing, day by day.

How strange that an administration that took such pride in putting up a seamless wall around the White House and marching in lock-step, all reading from the same script and spinning in one direction, has come to this.

What should have been a simple matter of replacing a handful of U.S. attorneys - seven of 93 political appointees - now threatens to devour a presidential buddy of long standing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

So far it is not so much about what was done but what was said by Gonzales and others in an attempt to hide the real political reasons for firing the prosecutors.

Gonzales, who has lawyered for Bush since he was governor of Texas, seems unlikely to survive long enough to keep his mid-April date with the congressional committees to explain his actions and his Justice Department aides' misstatements, misinformation, denials and flat-out lies on the issue of the dismissal of those prosecutors.

One of those aides has hired a veteran Watergate lawyer to defend her and promptly announced that she'll be hiding behind the 5th Amendment to avoid self-incrimination when she returns to Capitol Hill.

Gonzales' own chief of staff resigned when the scandal began brewing and will testify Thursday before Congress, perhaps to the sorrow of his former boss and former colleagues at both Justice and the White House.

Justice has released three batches of e-mails on the discussions leading up to firing the prosecutors, but, in another Nixonian coincidence, there is an unexplained 16-day gap in the e-mail traffic. Nixon, by contrast, left only an 18-minute gap in his secret tapes.

The Democrats who control Senate and House Judiciary Committees have voted authority to their chairmen to subpoena key White House aides including political wizard Karl Rove to testify under oath about the prosecutor firings and the reasons for the action. President Bush offered them up for private, closed-door "conversations" with the nosy Democrats. No transcript and no one sworn to tell the truth.

The president threatens a court fight over executive privilege while telling the country that no administration has ever allowed White House aides to testify under oath before congressional investigators, which is, itself, another large misstatement.

The wheels began falling off the Republican wagon with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which put one GOP congressman and a high-ranking Interior Department political appointee behind bars.

Then came the bribery case of Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham and his resignation and imprisonment. One of the fired prosecutors was pursuing an indictment of a high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency official in that case.

Then there was the trial of Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and his conviction on perjury charges arising from sworn testimony before a grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Libby's appealing his conviction and praying for a presidential pardon.

All of this is a token of much more still to come as President Bush and his closest aides endure the death of a thousand cuts in their final 21 months in power.

For six long years the Republicans had it all their way, with control of the White House and both houses of Congress. There was no oversight to speak of; no one asking pesky questions about the routine incompetence and breath-taking mismanagement of everything from the war in Iraq to the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Now, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the president's approval ratings down around his shoe tops, the end-game of a tormented presidency has begun.

George Bush can draw lines in the sand, make imperious declarations of defiance and issue orders to Congress but he better be buying Band-Aids by the carload.

The D.C. Tea Party


Larry Chapman is a firefighter, and during an interview the other day I couldn’t help but notice the burns from a recent fire that circled both of his wrists. He shrugged them off. Part of the job.

He and I were talking about something that bothered him a lot more. He’s an American citizen, lives in the nation’s capital, has kept his nose clean his entire life and has always had a strong interest in national politics and government.

So why, he wanted to know, should he be denied the right to be represented in Congress?

President Bush was on television yesterday explaining why he feels it’s so important to keep fighting the war in Iraq. Nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens showed up to vote, he said, “to express their will about the future of their country.”

Supporting that effort, in Mr. Bush’s view, is an important enough reason to send Americans off to fight and die in Iraq.

But in Washington, D.C., which has more than a half million residents, American citizens are denied the right “to express their will about the future of their country” by voting for members of Congress. And Mr. Bush has not only opposed their effort to right this egregious wrong, he has threatened to veto legislation that would give these D.C. residents — hold your breath — one seat in the House of Representatives.

Someone please explain why the president is sending young Americans to fight and die for democracy abroad while working vigorously to deny the spread of democracy to American citizens here at home.

“Just because I live here,” said Mr. Chapman, “I’m denied the fundamental rights of every other American in the United States. That is messed up.”

The slogan on license plates in the district is “Taxation Without Representation.”

There’s a poster in wide circulation in the city, put out by DC Vote, a group that has campaigned hard for an expansion of voting rights. It shows two firefighters in full gear. One is Mr. Chapman, and the other is Jayme Heflin, who lives in Maryland. The poster says:

“Both will save your life. Only ONE has a vote in Congress — Washington D.C.’s nearly 600,000 residents include firefighters, nurses, teachers and small business owners. They pay federal taxes like all Americans, but are denied representation in Congress. That’s taxation without representation — and it’s still wrong.”

This denial of a fundamental voting right is especially significant at this moment in history. The executive branch is under the control of a belligerent and often amateurish group that has hacked away at civil liberties and is adamant about pursuing a war that neither Congress nor the public wants.

The rest of the nation’s business, including the economy, which looks increasingly like it may be going south, has been neglected. Nothing was more basic to the establishment of a co-equal legislative branch than the idea that it would serve as a check on a runaway executive.

And yet the residents of Washington (who can vote for president) are prevented from having any real say in the business of the legislature. (Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as a nonvoting delegate from the District.) There are, in fact, some Republicans who have stepped up valiantly on behalf of voting rights for the District. Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, has been a leader in the fight to have a Congressional seat established.

But President Bush and some of his mean-spirited, antidemocratic allies are determined at all costs to prevent this expansion of the franchise to decent, honorable Americans.

The threat of a presidential veto was already in the air as the House moved close to a vote last week on legislation to create the Congressional seat. And then the entire process was sabotaged when the sleazoids from the gun lobby, acting with their usual hypocrisy and bad faith, tried to insert language that would demolish the District’s gun control laws.

The legislation was pulled, to the delight of the mischief-makers. Democrats said they will try to bring the matter up for a vote again soon, without the offending language.

This is another example of serious matters not being taken seriously in this country. President Bush and the bozos in the gun lobby probably got a chuckle out of their last-minute legislative maneuver. So clever of them.

But the real issue is the continued denial of a vote — something of tremendous value — to men and women who want and deserve more of a say in the important matters facing their country.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Emerging Republican Minority


Remember how the 2004 election was supposed to have demonstrated, once and for all, that conservatism was the future of American politics? I do: early in 2005, some colleagues in the news media urged me, in effect, to give up. “The election settled some things,” I was told.

But at this point 2004 looks like an aberration, an election won with fear-and-smear tactics that have passed their sell-by date. Republicans no longer have a perceived edge over Democrats on national security — and without that edge, they stand revealed as ideologues out of step with an increasingly liberal American public.

Right now the talk of the political chattering classes is a report from the Pew Research Center showing a precipitous decline in Republican support. In 2002 equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Republicans and Democrats, but since then the Democrats have opened up a 15-point advantage.

Part of the Republican collapse surely reflects public disgust with the Bush administration. The gap between the parties will probably get even wider when — not if — more and worse tales of corruption and abuse of power emerge.

But polling data on the issues, from Pew and elsewhere, suggest that the G.O.P.’s problems lie as much with its ideology as with one man’s disastrous reign.

For the conservatives who run today’s Republican Party are devoted, above all, to the proposition that government is always the problem, never the solution. For a while the American people seemed to agree; but lately they’ve concluded that sometimes government is the solution, after all, and they’d like to see more of it.

Consider, for example, the question of whether the government should provide fewer services in order to cut spending, or provide more services even if this requires higher spending. According to the American National Election Studies, in 1994, the year the Republicans began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.

And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up from 59 percent in 2000.

The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement that “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” Interestingly, the big increase in disgruntlement over rising inequality has come among the relatively well off — those making more than $75,000 a year.

Indeed, even the relatively well off have good reason to feel left behind in today’s economy, because the big income gains have been going to a tiny, super-rich minority. It’s not surprising, under those circumstances, that most people favor a stronger safety net — which they might need — even at the expense of higher taxes, much of which could be paid by the ever-richer elite.

And in the case of health care, there’s also the fact that the traditional system of employer-based coverage is gradually disintegrating. It’s no wonder, then, that a bit of socialized medicine is looking good to most Americans.

So what does this say about the political outlook? It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. But at this point it looks as if we’re seeing an emerging Republican minority.

After all, Democratic priorities — in particular, on health care, where John Edwards has set the standard for all the candidates with a specific proposal to finance universal coverage with higher taxes on the rich — seem to be more or less in line with what the public wants.

Republicans, on the other hand, are still wallowing in nostalgia — nostalgia for the days when people thought they were heroic terrorism-fighters, nostalgia for the days when lots of Americans hated Big Government.

Many Republicans still imagine that what their party needs is a return to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan. It will probably take quite a while in the political wilderness before they take on board the message of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback in California — which is that what they really need is a return to the moderate legacy of Dwight Eisenhower.

Campaign Candor


John and Elizabeth Edwards managed to keep smiling last week as their lives once again took a terrible turn. The former senator talked about the importance of staying tough. Mrs. Edwards, whose breast cancer has metastasized, said, “We’re going to always look for the silver lining.”

The public looked on, wondering what to make of the inexplicable. Fate seems to have toyed with the Edwardses, throwing the cruelest of twists into lives otherwise filled with so much good fortune.

“We’ve been confronted with these kinds of traumas and struggles already in our lives,” Mr. Edwards said, referring to the loss of their 16-year-old son Wade, who was killed in a car accident in 1996, and Mrs. Edwards’s initial fight against the cancer that was discovered at the end of the 2004 campaign.

This latest setback, he said, would not stop his current run for the presidency.

Since presidential campaigns are covered like sporting events, the speculation immediately centered on whether Mrs. Edwards’s illness would harm her husband’s fund-raising ability, or cause him to go up or down in the polls, or in some other way hamper or enhance his ability to compete.

The pack is obsessed with the horse race, which is regrettable. It would be far more constructive and interesting if this heightened attention to Mr. Edwards’s campaign resulted in the media and the public taking a closer look at the issues he has been pushing, not just in the campaign but ever since his unsuccessful run for vice president in 2004.

If that were to happen it could be part of the silver lining that Elizabeth Edwards hopes will emerge from her family’s latest devastating crisis.

The 2008 presidential campaign has gotten an absurdly early start and has drawn staggering amounts of media coverage. The result has largely been the triumph of the trivial: Who said what nasty thing about whom? Who flipped? Who flopped?

Substance is considered boring, and thus less newsworthy. How many people really know, for example, what Mr. Edwards proposes to do about health care?

He has, in fact, put together what is probably the most coherent plan for universal coverage of all the candidates thus far. Among other things, he would require employers to either provide coverage or contribute to a fund that would help individuals purchase private insurance.

He wants to expand Medicaid and CHIP, the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program. And he has said that he would help pay for his initiatives by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 annually.

Mr. Edwards and other candidates have offered many important ideas and proposals, but they tend to get lost in a media environment that focuses obsessively on front-runners. What’s Hillary up to, and where’s Barack? Are Rudy’s kids talking to him yet?

Mr. Edwards is one of the few candidates to talk seriously about ending poverty in the U.S. and fighting the ravages of poverty abroad. He once told me: “I feel passionately about this. We have a moral obligation to do what we can. And we can do a lot more than most people realize.”

A closer look at John Edwards’s views on health care, poverty and other issues would require, of course, a closer look at the positions of the other candidates. What could be better? What’s the sense of having a presidential campaign that takes up the better part of two years if the bulk of that time is spent on foolishness?

Elizabeth Edwards’s illness is a logical catalyst for a national discussion about health care in the U.S. But why stop there? Next year’s election will be one of the most important in history. Whatever you think of their politics, John and Elizabeth Edwards are giving the country a world-class lesson in courage and candor.

You want straight talk? “I was wrong.” That’s what John Edwards said about his vote to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq. “The world desperately needs moral leadership from America,” he said, as he acknowledged his contribution to the debacle, “and the foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth.”

The war goes on, and fate has dealt the Edwards family another devastating blow. The rest of us can help invest the absurdity of their tragedy with meaning by paying closer attention to the issues that are important to them. Whether one ends up agreeing with them or not, it’s a way of opening the door to a more thoughtful, rational way of selecting our presidents.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A retirement lesson from Australia

Americans generally don't save for their golden years; down under, the government requires it.

By Kelly Candaele, Kelly Candaele is a trustee of the Los Angeles City Employee Retirement System. He spoke recently at a pension fund conference in Sydney.
March 25, 2007

Sydney, Australia — AMERICANS and Australians have a lot in common. Australians are open and friendly in ways that Americans recognize, and both cultures are mad about sports. Sydney cricket fans have been abuzz because national team captain Ricky Ponting has scored 557 runs in three test matches this year. You figure it out.

But one of the big differences in our respective social systems is the way we plan for retirement: Americans generally don't, while it's now obligatory for most Australians.

In 1992, after a long political struggle led by the Australian labor movement, a compulsory retirement savings plan was established. In its simple outline, employers are required to contribute 9% of a worker's wages into a retirement plan. Employees can also voluntarily add to those contributions. As a result, Australians have more money invested in managed retirement funds per capita than any other economy in the world.

By contrast, the United States faces a retirement crisis. Social Security, the central pillar of our retirement system, will replace only 30% of pre-retirement income for those who qualify. Defined-benefit plans — those that guarantee a pension amount based on salary and years of service — are being abandoned in the private sector and are under attack in the public sphere by conservative ideologues and taxpayer advocates.

Michigan and Alaska have closed some of their public employee defined-benefit retirement plans to new hires, and other states are threatening to do the same.

In the private sector, employees who have devoted themselves to their companies — firms such as Delphi, an auto parts supplier that used to be a part of General Motors and recently declared bankruptcy — are increasingly finding that assured pension promises are being threatened in bankruptcy proceedings.

And 401(k) plans — retirement funds to which both employers and employees contribute — are woefully under-funded. Employers contribute on average up to 3% to such employee "defined-contribution" plans (in which retirement benefits depend on fluctuations in the financial markets). Although many employers agree to "match" the contributions their workers make, declining real wages and extensive personal debt (how many credit card applications do you get each week?) make it difficult for employees to make their maximum allowable contributions. As a result, 50% of private-sector employees have no retirement plan at all outside of Social Security.

According to Mavis Robertson, one of the founders of the Australia model, the difference between the American approach to retirement and the Australian one is partly a function of political culture. "We had a Labor Party government in the early 1990s, and we made a collective decision to move for a broad-based, compulsory system," she said. "Otherwise we'd be in the same place as Americans, trying to persuade workers that they should save more."

The Australian system is not perfect. Because there is not an automatic transfer of the accumulated personal funds into a retirement annuity that would provide a monthly stream of payments, many retirees take their money when they retire and take expensive trips or buy inflated real estate.

But one of the crucial achievements of the Australian model is that younger people, women and minorities — those most often excluded from pension participation in the United States because they disproportionately work for employers who don't provide retirement benefits — are the ones who have gained the most.

An added feature of the Australian system is that many of the funds in which retirement savings are invested are professionally managed and run as nonprofit co-ops. Profits go back to the fund, and there are no commissions paid on stock trading.

The American system is a stark contrast. John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Group mutual funds, wrote a book last year called "The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism." It provided a devastating indictment of the industry he helped create (and which invests close to 40% of the country's 401(k) contributions). He put his case bluntly: "The more the [mutual fund] manager takes, the less the owner makes." The "owners," or individual investors, are the people fund managers are supposed to work for. But according to Bogle, while assets being managed have multiplied by 1,595 times since 1950, expenses and manager fees have multiplied by 2,445 times. And the vast majority of mutual funds don't even beat the broad market.

With the shift to a Democratic majority in Congress, a new focus is taking place regarding retirement. California Rep. George Miller of Martinez chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over private-sector pension plans. Miller has already held a hearing on the 401(k) industry and promised to craft legislation to fight hidden or excessive fees.

And organized labor, which represents only 8% of the private-sector workforce, is strategizing about how best to meet the retirement needs of the tens of millions of workers who are facing poverty in retirement. Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, the group of unions that split from the AFL-CIO last year, have looked at the Australian model for insights. Both organizations are looking at mandatory employer contributions, pension portability from one job to another and low-cost administration as potential solutions.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates have focused on healthcare as our most crucial current and future problem — and rightly so. But the percentage of our population that will be over 65 years of age will increase by 20% over the next 30 years. If we ever fundamentally reform our dysfunctional healthcare system, the retirement crisis will immediately rise to the top of our political agenda. When it does, we just might be talking about what we do with an Australian accent.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When Will Fredo Get Whacked?

PRESIDENT BUSH wants to keep everything that happens in his White House secret, but when it comes to his own emotions, he’s as transparent as a teenager on MySpace.

On Monday morning he observed the Iraq war’s fourth anniversary with a sullen stay-the-course peroration so perfunctory he seemed to sleepwalk through its smorgasbord of recycled half-truths (Iraqi leaders are “beginning to meet the benchmarks”) and boilerplate (“There will be good days, and there will be bad days”). But at a press conference the next day to defend his attorney general, the president was back in the saddle, guns blazing, Mr. Bring ’Em On reborn. He vowed to vanquish his Democratic antagonists much as he once, so very long ago, pledged to make short work of insurgents in Iraq.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast between these two performances couldn’t be a more dramatic indicator of Mr. Bush’s priorities in his presidency’s endgame. His passion for protecting his power and his courtiers far exceeds his passion for protecting the troops he’s pouring into Iraq’s civil war. But why go to the mat for Alberto Gonzales? Even Bush loyalists have rarely shown respect for this crony whom the president saddled with the nickname Fredo; they revolted when Mr. Bush flirted with appointing him to the Supreme Court and shun him now. The attorney general’s alleged infraction — misrepresenting a Justice Department purge of eight United States attorneys, all political appointees, for political reasons — seems an easy-to-settle kerfuffle next to his infamous 2002 memo dismissing the Geneva Conventions’ strictures on torture as “quaint” and “obsolete.”

That’s why the president’s wild overreaction is revealing. So far his truculence has been largely attributed to his slavish loyalty to his White House supplicants, his ideological belief in unilateral executive-branch power and, as always, his need to shield the Machiavellian machinations of Karl Rove (who installed a protégé in place of one of the fired attorneys). But the fierceness of Mr. Bush’s response — to the ludicrous extreme of forbidding transcripts of Congressional questioning of White House personnel — indicates there is far more fire to go with all the Beltway smoke.

Mr. Gonzales may be a nonentity, but he’s a nonentity like Zelig. He’s been present at every dubious legal crossroads in Mr. Bush’s career. That conjoined history began in 1996, when Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, was summoned for jury duty in Austin. To popular acclaim, he announced he was glad to lend his “average guy” perspective to a drunken driving trial. But there was one hitch. On the juror questionnaire, he left blank a required section asking, “Have you ever been accused, or a complainant, or a witness in a criminal case?”

A likely explanation for that omission, unknown to the public at the time, was that Mr. Bush had been charged with disorderly conduct in 1968 and drunken driving in 1976. Enter Mr. Gonzales. As the story is told in “The President’s Counselor,” a nonpartisan biography by the Texas journalist Bill Minutaglio, Mr. Gonzales met with the judge presiding over the trial in his chambers (a meeting Mr. Gonzales would years later claim to have “no recollection” of requesting) and saved his client from jury duty. Mr. Minutaglio likens the scene to “The Godfather” — casting Mr. Gonzales not as the feckless Fredo, however, but as the “discreet ‘fixer’ attorney,” Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen.

Mr. Gonzales’s career has been laced with such narrow escapes for both him and Mr. Bush. As a partner at the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins, Mr. Gonzales had worked for Enron until 1994. After Enron imploded in 2001, reporters wanted to know whether Ken Lay’s pals in the Bush hierarchy had received a heads up about the company’s pending demise before its unfortunate shareholders were left holding the bag. The White House said that Mr. Gonzales had been out of the Enron loop “to the best of his recollection.” This month Murray Waas of The National Journal uncovered a more recent close shave: Just as Justice Department investigators were about to examine “documents that might have shed light on Gonzales’s role” in the administration’s extralegal domestic wiretapping program last year, Mr. Bush shut down the investigation.

It was Mr. Gonzales as well who threw up roadblocks when the 9/11 Commission sought documents and testimony from the White House about the fateful summer of 2001. Less widely known is Mr. Gonzales’s curious behavior in the C.I.A. leak case while he was still White House counsel. When the Justice Department officially notified him on the evening of Sept. 29, 2003, that it was opening an investigation into the outing of Valerie Wilson, he immediately informed Andrew Card, Mr. Bush’s chief of staff. But Mr. Gonzales waited another 12 hours to officially notify the president and inform White House employees to preserve all materials relevant to the investigation. As Chuck Schumer said after this maneuver became known, “Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence.”

Now that 12-hour delay has been matched by the 18-day gap in the Justice Department e-mails turned over to Congress in the dispute over the attorney purge. And we’re being told by Tony Snow that Mr. Bush has “no recollection” of hearing anything about the firings. But even these literal echoes of Watergate cannot obliterate the contours of the story this White House wants to hide.

Do not be distracted by the apples and oranges among the fired attorneys. Perhaps a couple of their forced resignations were routine. But in other instances, incriminating evidence coalesces around a familiar administration motive: its desperate desire to cover up the corruption that soiled what was supposed to be this White House’s greatest asset, its protection of the nation’s security. This was the motive that drove the White House to vilify Joseph Wilson when he challenged fraudulent prewar intelligence about Saddam’s W.M.D. The e-mails in the attorney flap released so far suggest that this same motive may have driven the Justice Department to try mounting a similar strike at Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney charged with investigating the Wilson leak.

In March 2005, while preparing for the firings, Mr. Gonzales’s now-jettisoned chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, produced a chart rating all 93 United States attorneys nationwide. Mr. Fitzgerald, widely admired as one of the nation’s best prosecutors (most famously of terrorists), was somehow slapped with the designation “not distinguished.” Two others given that same rating were fired. You have to wonder if Mr. Fitzgerald was spared because someone in a high place belatedly calculated the political firestorm that would engulf the White House had this prosecutor been part of a Saturday night massacre in the middle of the Wilson inquiry.

Another canned attorney to track because of her scrutiny of Bush administration national security scandals is Carol Lam. She was fired from her post in San Diego after her successful prosecution of Representative Duke Cunningham, the California Republican who took $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Mr. Rove has publicly suggested that Ms. Lam got the ax because “she would not commit resources to prosecute immigration offenses.” That’s false. Last August an assistant attorney general praised her for doubling her immigration prosecutions; last week USA Today crunched the statistics and found that she ranked seventh among her 93 peers in successful prosecutions for 2006, with immigration violations accounting for the largest single crime category prosecuted during her tenure.

To see what Mr. Rove might be trying to cover up, look instead at what Ms. Lam was up to in May, just as the Justice Department e-mails indicate she was being earmarked for removal. Building on the Cunningham case, she was closing in on Dusty Foggo, the C.I.A.’s No. 3 official and the director of its daily operations. Mr. Foggo had been installed in this high intelligence position by Mr. Bush’s handpicked successor to George Tenet as C.I.A. director, Porter Goss.

Ms. Lam’s pursuit sped Mr. Foggo’s abrupt resignation; Mr. Goss was out too after serving less than two years. Nine months later — just as Ms. Lam stepped down from her job in February — Mr. Foggo and a defense contractor who raised more than $100,000 for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign were indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of conspiracy and money laundering in what The Washington Post called “one of the first criminal cases to reach into the C.I.A.’s clandestine operations in Europe and the Middle East.” Because the allegations include the compromising of classified information that remains classified, we don’t know the full extent of the damage to an agency and a nation at war.

Not yet anyway. “I’m not going to resign,” Mr. Gonzales asserted last week as he played the minority card, rounding up Hispanic supporters to cheer his protestations of innocence. “I’m going to stay focused on protecting our kids.” Actually, he’s going to stay focused on protecting the president. Once he can no longer be useful in that role, it’s a sure thing that like Scooter before him, Fredo will be tossed overboard.

That inconvenient science

Leonard Pitts - Miami Herald

Hard to believe, but they’re at it again. After 2002, when a National Cancer Institute statement reporting no link between abortion and breast cancer was changed by the Bush administration to say evidence of a link was inconclusive; after the administration cut language on global warming from a 2003 report by the Environmental Protection Agency; after a government scientist was forbidden in 2001 and 2002 from discussing health hazards posed by airborne bacteria emanating from animal waste at large factory farms; after 60 scientists, 20 of them Nobel laureates, signed a statement in 2004 accusing the White House of manipulating and distorting science for political aims; after all that, Team Bush has once again been caught censoring science it dislikes.

I refer you to this week’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee produced documents documenting many dozens of instances in which the former chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality edited scientific reports on global warming. He cut definitive statements and replaced them with doubtful ones in order to portray climate change as something less than the settled science most experts consider it to be.

And get this: The guy changing the scientific reports is not a scientist. Philip Cooney is an oil man, previously employed by the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s lobbying arm. When he left government in 2005, he went to work for Exxon Mobil. Can you say conflict of interest, boys and girls?

Democrats on the committee certainly could. Rep. Peter Welch from Vermont compared Cooney to the tobacco industry “scientists” who once assured the public cigarettes were perfectly safe.

Republicans struck back, noting that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist who accuses the government of watering down the reports, is the recipient of a $250,000 award for environmental achievement from a foundation run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Hansen, they said, is hardly without political motive. The charge might stick except for all those prior instances of the administration changing science to fit politics.

As the sins of Team Bush go, this isn’t the biggest. That dishonor goes either to bungling the war, mismanaging the peace or leaving New Orleans to drown. Yet this is, in some ways, the sin that tells you the most about the gang running this country and what they think of you and me.

Reasonable people, faced with facts leading to an unwanted conclusion, might seek to discredit said facts or find competing facts supporting a more palatable conclusion. But the Bush Gang simply ignores the facts, declaring reality to be whatever they say it is. And if that bespeaks a breathtaking gall, how much more gall, how much more utter “contempt” for people’s intelligence, is required to keep doing it after you’ve repeatedly been called on it?

I could give you many reasons this makes me angry. I could speak about the people’s right not to be propagandized by their own government. I could point out this facts-optional approach shreds the government’s credibility. But here’s what really burns my toast: These people think I’m stupid. And they think you’re stupid, too. What else can we conclude of a government that treats us with such brazen disdain?

They think we’re a bunch of doofuses, dimwits and dolts who will never notice that they’ve placed the interests of their cronies above our own.

For the record, I am not stupid and I resent being treated as if I am. How about you?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Americans have lost patience with Bush

Marilou Johanek

THE pre-emptive war to pre-empt the world of Saddam Hussein's perceived threat to humanity grinds into its fifth year with no end in sight. The anniversary was marked with an eight-minute speech from the Roosevelt Room of the White House - and bombings as usual in Baghdad.

The President called for patience. Critics countered that patience is not a strategy. And more 20-something Americans joined the military casualty list from Iraq. That's how the day went.

When the next anniversary of Washington's invasion of Iraq rolls around on March 20, 2008, chances are there will be another White House speech, more reaction (ratcheted up by presidential hopefuls) and more names of young Americans killed by roadside bombs. But what must change in the interim is the tolerance level among U.S. citizens for incessant "cut-and-run" spin and partisan parrying.

Forget the worthless war rhetoric. We need strategic and diplomatic goals in Iraq that produce results in months, not years. Because, while politicians study polls to support their posturing on the war, the toll in Baghdad is rising.

For almost five years people have been dying, lives have been destroyed, resources drained, and resentment deepened over lost treasure and trust. Going on five years Americans have patiently listened to political talk that goes nowhere and does nothing to lessen the misery.

Enough of the numbing, pointless arguments and counter-arguments about the imploding Iraq. It's time for deadlines and benchmarks and exit strategies in a four-year war that began as a months-long mission to get rid of Saddam Hussein and leave Iraq liberated.

The crusade the White House couldn't wait to wage in Baghdad has turned into a deadly policing assignment for a military trained to fight, not walk a beat, in a war zone. A rapidly escalating number of U.S. troops find themselves on foot patrol in the middle of raging ethnic and sectarian violence.

Much as many would like to have the White House culprits responsible for the wholly unfounded war impeached for catastrophic crimes in high office, more energy needs to be devoted to salvaging America's wayward agenda at home and abroad.

On the fourth anniversary of the Bush War, two-thirds of the country understands how deception, manipulation, and ulterior motives played defining roles in perpetuating the Iraqi train wreck.

After years of steadily damning revelations about how the Bush Administration schemed to manufacture a crisis worthy of war, Americans know too well about the lies that led them to a dead end in Iraq.

There never were weapons of mass destruction. Iraqis never did welcome the invading army as liberators. And Iraq's oil fields never have offset the U.S. cost of occupation. We were tragically duped.

Regime change in Baghdad was the easy "shock and awe" part. If Americans had known about the impossible part to follow they would never have bought the administration's sales pitch to invade Iraq without provocation.

Why, in God's name, would the U.S. ever sacrifice more than 3,200 troops, sustain tens of thousands of wounded, stretch its military to the ultimate breaking point, and spend half a trillion dollars on a bogged-down nation-building experiment in a hostile environment? It wouldn't.

But on false pretenses it would launch an impressive pre-emptive combat mission that a President with visible swagger would declare accomplished two months later. Yet years later the widely publicized photo-op of the commander in chief smugly donning a flight suit aboard an aircraft carrier has been replaced by a subdued George W. Bush pleading for patience from the American people.

"Prevailing in Iraq is not going to be easy," he said, acknowledging the obvious. His new plan to send nearly 30,000 additional troops to secure Baghdad and the western Anbar province "will need more time to take effect," he added.

By more time the President meant "months, not days or weeks." Perhaps 22 months would be enough time for Mr. Bush to safely pass the baton of unending battle to the succeeding administration. Then he and his corrupt cronies can quietly slip into opulent oblivion.

He broke it, we bought it, he's outta here. But not before he escalates American troop commitment in a bloody civil war beyond their control.

Patience to watch more horrific fallout from failed policy while Mr. Bush counts down the days toward his retirement?


Marilou Johanek is a Toledo Blade commentary writer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stepping on the Dream


One of the weirder things at work these days is the fact that we’re making it more difficult for American youngsters to afford college at a time when a college education is a virtual prerequisite for establishing and maintaining a middle-class standard of living.

Young men and women are leaving college with debt loads that would break the back of a mule. Families in many cases are taking out second mortgages, loading up credit cards and raiding 401(k)s to supplement the students’ first wave of debt, the ubiquitous college loan.

At the same time, many thousands of well-qualified young men and women are being shut out of college, denied the benefits and satisfactions of higher education, because they can’t meet the ever-escalating costs.

You want a recipe for making the U.S. less competitive over the next few decades? This is it.

Traditionally, one of the sweetest periods in the lives of many college graduates has been the time immediately after leaving school, when they could relax and take the measure of the newly emerging adult world. It was a time, perhaps, to travel, or to sample intriguing employment opportunities, even if they didn’t pay particularly well. Debt was not usually the overriding concern of the young graduate.

That has changed. Along with their degree, most graduates leave college now with a loan obligation that will hover over them for years, maybe decades. Student loans have decisively overtaken grants as the primary form of financial aid for undergraduates.

Two-thirds of all graduates now leave college with some form of debt. The average amount is close to $20,000. Some owe many times that.

Tamara Draut, in her book, “Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead,” tells us:

“Back in the 1970s, before college became essential to securing a middle-class lifestyle, our government did a great job of helping students pay for school. Students from modest economic backgrounds received almost free tuition through Pell grants, and middle-class households could still afford to pay for their kids’ college.”

Since then, tuition at public and private universities has soared while government support for higher education, other than student loan programs, has diminished.

This is a wonderful example of extreme stupidity. America will pony up a trillion or two for a president who goes to war on a whim, but can’t find the money to adequately educate its young. History has shown that these kinds of destructive trade-offs are early clues to a society in decline.

At the state level, per-pupil spending for higher education is at a 25-year low, even as government officials and corporate leaders keep pounding out the message that a college degree is the key to a successful future.

Ms. Draut, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos, a public policy group in New York, got to the heart of the matter in her recent testimony before a U.S. Senate committee looking into higher education costs.

“The fundamental problem,” she said, “is rooted in the reality that our government no longer really helps people pay for college — it helps them go into debt for college. The question we need to be asking is not, ‘How much student loan debt is reasonable?’ but, ‘What is the best way to help students afford college?’ ”

The kids who graduate with enormous debt burdens — $40,000, $80,000, $100,000 or more — face a range of uncomfortable and even debilitating consequences, the first of which is the persistent anxiety over how their loans are to be repaid.

I’ve spoken recently with a number of law students who have already decided to go into corporate practice because their first choice — public interest law — would not pay enough to cover their loans. Many students have turned their backs on teaching for the same reason.

At that stage of life, you shouldn’t have to choose between a job you would love and one that you would take simply because it would pay the bills. Talk about stepping on a dream.

There are also plenty of cases of students who have postponed marriage or buying a home or having children because of their college loan obligations.

And then there are those who never see a graduation day. There’s no way of telling what talents have been squandered, or what great benefits to society have been lost, because bright students who were unable to afford the costs have been forced to leave college, or never went to college at all.

In a nation as rich as ours, it should be easy to pay for college. For some reason, we find it easier to pay for wars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

After 5 years, a broken military, broken Constitution, broken laws and broken troops

McClatchy Newspapers

Wars are deceptively easy to get into, but harder than calculus to get out of, especially when things aren't going well.

President Bush is learning the truth of that the hard way this week as his war in Iraq enters its fifth year. Starting five years with $400 billion already spent foolishly, 3,200 soldiers and Marines killed, more than 50,000 wounded or injured and nothing in sight but more of the same.

Remember the fall of 2002 and the beginning of 2003? How fast and easy a cakewalk it would be? How Iraq oil revenues would pay most of the cost? How our troops would mostly be greeted as liberators with flowers and chocolates? How toppling Saddam Hussein's dictatorship would trigger a democratic wave that would sweep the Middle East?

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and, sadly, the then-Secretary of State Colin Powell all declared that invading Iraq was vital to our national security and national interests.

They all asserted that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was well along the road to developing the most fearful of all WMDs - an atomic bomb. George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, was certain that this was a slam dunk, even though many of his own analysts and others at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Energy Department and elsewhere were skeptical, and some were downright dissenters.

Across the Potomac in the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ripped up the carefully thought out contingency plan for invading Iraq - a plan that called for 400,000 U.S. and coalition troops to seize and hold the country - in favor of the tactics that seemingly had worked so well in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld dismissed his Republican predecessor Caspar Weinberger's doctrine, later embraced by Powell, as outmoded, rendered irrelevant by satellite-guided "smart" bombs, Predator drones and other high-priced products of the defense contractors. Surely a couple of divisions of soldiers and Marines would be sufficient to topple Saddam.

That done, the neo-conservatives around Rumsfeld and Cheney told Bush, all we'd have to do is hand the reins of power in Iraq to their buddy Ahmad Chalabi, whose resume didn't include sharing the suffering that Saddam visited on the Iraqi people. No matter. Chalabi would take over, and most American troops would pack up and head home no later than the summer of 2003.

There'd be no costly nation building, which Rumsfeld and Bush hated. There was no need to plan for post-war security operations beyond mopping up a few Baathist dead-enders. In fact, the generals who suggested that it might be wise to do a little planning in case things went wrong were ordered to shut up or be fired.

None of these notions turned out to be true, except one - a small invasion force was sufficient to overthrow the dictator - and now we're in the fifth year of a war that's lasted longer than World War II and has cost more than the Vietnam War.

A nation that approved the president's conduct of the war by nearly 70 percent now disapproves by almost the same percentage. That nation underlined its disapproval by handing control of Congress to the Democrats last fall.

The president can still swagger and smirk on occasion, but all he can promise now - with 150,000 American troops operating in the middle of a bloody civil war that our actions unleashed - is more of the same. More billions. More dead and wounded Americans. More slaughtered Iraqis. That, and as he told the nation: "There will be good days and bad days."

I can promise the president from Texas that this ill-begotten, poorly planned and mismanaged war will be his lasting legacy when, in 22 months, he packs his bags and heads home to the ranch in Crawford.

Iraq will hang around his neck - and those of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Douglas Feith - like a rotting albatross for all the days of their lives.

No doubt the contractors who are bloated like ticks on the billions they've sucked out of the public trough will write the checks to build George W. Bush a really fine presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

All of it will be a lie, just like the lies his administration told to beat the war drums five years ago.

How will the curators portray the broken military, the broken Constitution, the broken laws, the forever broken troops who came home missing limbs or eyes or pieces of their brains, the broken promises to cherish and care for the families of those who were killed and those very wounded veterans?

How will they portray the corruption, both real and spiritual, that this man and his accomplices have visited upon a nation and a people who once could be proud of their place in this world?

How and why did so many Americans, including so many in Congress and in the media, sit idly by while so much that was precious to us was bent and twisted and broken by men who had the power and the money to do the right things but chose to do the wrong things?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Soldier's dad tells Bush `this war is wrong'

Eric Zorn
Published March 20, 2007

The two-page letter is signed from the "proud father of a fallen soldier."

A little more than six weeks ago, his soul a cauldron of grief and rage, Richard Landeck, 56, of Wheaton addressed and mailed it to President Bush.

And since he has yet to receive an acknowledgment or reply, he asked me if I'd help get his message out.

"My voice, and that of many other frustrated Americans, is not being heard," he said.

It's the least I can do, I replied.

"My son was killed in Iraq on February 2, 2007," says the letter. "His name is Captain Kevin Landeck. ...

"He was killed while riding in a Humvee by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad. He has a loving mother, a loving father and loving sister. You took him away from us."

The letter adds that Kevin Landeck, 26, a Wheaton Warrenville South High School and Purdue University graduate, had been married for 17 months and was very proud to be serving his country.

But "the message he continued to send to me was that of incompetence," Landeck's letter says. "Incompetence by you, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (former defense secretary Donald) Rumsfeld. Incompetence by some of his commanders as well as the overall strategy of your decisions.

"When I asked him about what he thought about your decision to `surge' more troops to Baghdad, he told me, `until the Iraqis pick up the ball we are going to get cut to shreds. It doesn't matter how many troops Bush sends, nothing has been addressed to solve the problem he started,'" Landeck's letter says.

This is a reasonably close paraphrase of an e-mail Kevin Landeck sent to his parents on Jan. 19, a short note signed "live from the (excrement) show" that referred to the war strategy as "senseless."

"Answer me this," Richard Landeck's letter demands of Bush. "How in the world can you justify invading Iraq when the problem began and continues to lie in Afghanistan? I don't want your idiotic standard answer about keeping America safe. What did Saddam Hussein have to do with 9/11?"

The letter says, "You have succeeded in taking down over 3,100 of our best young men, my son being one of them. Kevin told me many times we are not fighting terrorism in Iraq and they could not do their jobs as soldiers. He said they are trained to be on the offensive and to fight, but all they are doing is acting like policemen. ...

"He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night-vision glasses--because as he said `we own the night'--and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and `take them out.' He said, `I want them to be the ones that are scared.' He was denied permission. Why?"

Richard Landeck and his wife, Vicki, have never been active in politics, they told me as I sat with them around their kitchen table Sunday night in the Stonehedge subdivision in the heart of DuPage County. He's a sales rep. She's a dental hygienist. Their other child, Jennifer, 23, is an actress who also works part-time at the nearby golf course.

As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, look for families like the Landecks to become the face of the antiwar movement: archetypal middle Americans who can no longer respond with platitudinous faith in our leaders to the persistent waste--a word Richard Landeck does not shy from--of the lives of our young men and women in Iraq.

On Saturday, they went to nearby Bloomingdale to join in a peace rally, their first.

"This war is wrong," says the last paragraph of Landeck's letter to the president. "Because of your ineptness ... I have lost my son, my pride and joy, my hero! (You) will never understand what the families of soldiers are going through and don't try to tell me you do. My wife, my daughter and I cannot believe we have lost our only son and brother to a ridiculous political war."

Here is the complete text of Richard Landeck's letter to President Bush:

Feb 4, 2007

Dear Mr. Bush:

This will be the only time I will refer to you with any type of respect.

My son was killed in Iraq on February 2, 2007. His name is Captain Kevin Landeck.

He served with the Tenth Mountain Division. He was killed while riding in a Humvee by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad. He has a loving mother, a loving father and loving sister.

You took him away from us. He celebrated his 26th birthday January 30th and was married for 17 months. He graduated from Purdue University and went through the ROTC program. That is where he met his future wife. He was proud to be a part of the military and took exceptional pride in becoming a leader of men. He accepted his role as a platoon leader with exceptional enthusiasm and was proud to serve his country.

I had many conversations with Kevin before he left to serve as well as during his deployment. The message he continued to send to me was that of incompetence. Incompetence by you, (Vice President Richard) Cheney and (former Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. Incompetence by some of his commanders as well as the overall strategy of your decisions.

When I asked him about what he thought about your decision to “surge” more troops to Baghdad, he told me, “until the Iraqis pick up the ball, we are going to get cut to shreds. It doesn’t matter how many troops Bush sends, nothing has been addressed to solve the problem he started.”

Answer me this: How in the world can you justify invading Iraq when the problem began and continues to lie in Afghanistan? I don’t want your idiotic standard answer about keeping America safe. What did Sadaam Hussein have to do with 9/11? We all know it had to do with the first Iraq war where your father failed to take Sadaam down.

Well George, you have succeeded in taking down over 3,100 of our best young men, my son being one of them. Kevin told me many times we are not fighting terrorism in Iraq and they could not do their jobs as soldiers. He said they are trained to be on the offensive and to fight but all they are doing is acting like policemen.

Well George, you or some “genius” like you who have never fought in a war but enjoy all the perks your positions afford you are making life and death decisions. In the case of my son, you made a death decision.

Let me explain a few other points he and I discussed. He said when he and his men were riding down the road in their Humvees, roadside bombs would explode and they would hear bullets bouncing off their vehicle. He said they were scared. He thought “why should we be the ones who are scared?” He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night vision glasses because as he said “we own the night” and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and “take them out.” He said, “I want them to be the ones that are scared.” He was denied permission. Why? It made perfect sense to me and other people who I told about this.

When he was at a checkpoint he was told that if a vehicle was coming at them even at a high rate of speed he could not arbitrarily use his weapon. He had to wave his arms and, if the vehicle did not stop, he could fire a warning shot over the vehicle. If the vehicle did not stop then, he could shoot at the tires. If the vehicle did not yet stop he could take a shot at the driver. Who in their right mind made that kind of decision?

How would you like to be at a check point with a vehicle coming at you that won’t stop and go through all those motions? You will never know!

You or Cheney or Rumsfeld will never know the anguish, the worry, the sleepless nights, the waiting for the loved one who may never return. If the soldiers were able to do their jobs and the ego’s of politicians like you, your “cronies” and some commanders had their heads on straight, we would be out of this mess which we should not be involved with in the first place.

My family and I deserve and explanation directly from you……not some assistant who will likely read this and toss it. This war is wrong.

I want you to look me and my wife and daughter directly in the eye and tell me why my son died. We should not be there, but because of your ineptness and lack of correct information I have lost my son, my pride and joy, my hero!

Again, you, Cheney and Rumsfeld will never understand what the families of soldiers are going through and don’t try to tell me you do. My wife, my daughter and I cannot believe we have lost our only son and brother to a ridiculous political war that you seem to want to maintain. I hope you and Cheney and Rumsfeld and all the other people on your band wagon sleep well at night….we certainly don’t.

Richard Landeck

Proud father of a fallen soldier

Monday, March 19, 2007

Don’t Cry for Reagan

As the Bush administration sinks deeper into its multiple quagmires, the personality cult the G.O.P. once built around President Bush has given way to nostalgia for the good old days. The current cover of Time magazine shows a weeping Ronald Reagan, and declares that Republicans “need to reclaim the Reagan legacy.”

But Republicans shouldn’t cry for Ronald Reagan; the truth is, he never left them. There’s no need to reclaim the Reagan legacy: Mr. Bush is what Mr. Reagan would have been given the opportunity.

In 1993 Jonathan Cohn — the author, by the way, of a terrific new book on our dysfunctional health care system — published an article in The American Prospect describing the dire state of the federal government. Changing just a few words in that article makes it read as if it were written in 2007.

Thus, Mr. Cohn described how the Interior Department had been packed with opponents of environmental protection, who “presided over a massive sell-off of federal lands to industry and developers” that “deprived the department of several billion dollars in annual revenue.” Oil leases, anyone?

Meanwhile, privatization had run amok, because “the ranks of public officials necessary to supervise contractors have been so thinned that the putative gains of contracting out have evaporated. Agencies have been left with the worst of both worlds — demoralized and disorganized public officials and unaccountable private contractors.” Holy Halliburton!

Not mentioned in Mr. Cohn’s article, but equally reminiscent of current events, was the state of the Justice Department under Ed Meese, a man who gives Alberto Gonzales and John Mitchell serious competition for the title of worst attorney general ever. The politicization of Justice got so bad that in 1988 six senior officials, all Republicans, including the deputy attorney general and the chief of the criminal division, resigned in protest.

Why is there such a strong family resemblance between the Reagan years and recent events? Mr. Reagan’s administration, like Mr. Bush’s, was run by movement conservatives — people who built their careers by serving the alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. And both cronyism and abuse of power are part of the movement conservative package.

In part this is because people whose ideology says that government is always the problem, never the solution, see no point in governing well. So they use political power to reward their friends, rather than find people who will actually do their jobs.

If expertise is irrelevant, who gets the jobs? No problem: the interlocking, lavishly financed institutions of movement conservatism, which range from K Street to Fox News, create a vast class of apparatchiks who can be counted on to be “loyal Bushies.”

The movement’s apparatchik culture, in turn, explains much of its contempt for the rule of law. Someone who has risen through the ranks of a movement that prizes political loyalty above all isn’t likely to balk at, say, using bogus claims of voter fraud to disenfranchise Democrats, or suppressing potentially damaging investigations of Republicans. As Franklin Foer of The New Republic has pointed out, in College Republican elections, dirty tricks and double crosses are considered acceptable, even praiseworthy.

Still, Mr. Reagan’s misgovernment never went as far as Mr. Bush’s. As a result, he managed to leave office with an approval rating about as high as that of Bill Clinton, who, as we now realize with the benefit of hindsight, governed very well. But the key to Reagan’s relative success, I believe, is that he was lucky in his limitations.

Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Reagan never controlled both houses of Congress — and the pre-Gingrich Republican Party still contained moderates who imposed limits on his ability to govern badly. Also, there was no Reagan-era equivalent of the rush, after 9/11, to give the Bush administration whatever it wanted in the name of fighting terrorism.

Mr. Reagan may even have been helped, perversely, by the fact that in the 1980s there were still two superpowers. This helped prevent the hubris, the delusions of grandeur, that led the Bush administration to believe that a splendid little war in Iraq was just the thing to secure its position.

But what this tells us is that Mr. Bush, not Mr. Reagan, is the true representative of what modern conservatism is all about. And it’s the movement, not just one man, that has failed.

Death of a Marine

Jeffrey Lucey was 18 when he signed up for the Marine Reserves in December 1999. His parents, Kevin and Joyce Lucey of Belchertown, Mass., were not happy. They had hoped their son would go to college.

Jeffrey himself was ambivalent.

“The recruiter was a very smooth talker and very, very persistent,” Ms. Lucey told me in a call from Orlando, Fla., where she was on vacation with her husband and their two grown daughters last week. The conversation was difficult. Ms. Lucey would talk for a while, and then her husband would get on the phone.

“We see him everywhere,” Ms. Lucey said. “Every little dark-haired boy you see, it looks like Jeff. If we see a parent reprimanding a child, it’s like you want to go up and say, ‘Oh, don’t do that, because you don’t know how long you’re going to have him.’ ”

The war in Iraq began four years ago today. Fans at sporting events around the U.S. greeted the war and its early “shock and awe” bombing campaign with chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

Jeffrey Lucey, who turned 22 the day before the war began, had a different perspective. He had no illusions about the glory or glamour of warfare. His unit had been activated and he was part of the first wave of troops to head into the combat zone.

A diary entry noted the explosion of a Scud missile near his unit: “The noise was just short of blowing out your eardrums. Everyone’s heart truly skipped a beat. ... Nerves are on edge.”

By the time he came home, Jeffrey Lucey was a mess. He had gruesome stories to tell. They could not all be verified, but there was no doubt that this once-healthy young man had been shattered by his experiences.

He had nightmares. He drank furiously. He withdrew from his friends. He wrecked his parents’ car. He began to hallucinate.

In a moment of deep despair on the Christmas Eve after his return from Iraq, Jeffrey hurled his dogtags at his sister Debra and cried out, “Don’t you know your brother’s a murderer?”

Jeffrey exhibited all the signs of deep depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Wars do that to people. They rip apart the mind and the soul in the same way that bullets and bombs mutilate the body. The war in Iraq is inflicting a much greater emotional toll on U.S. troops than most Americans realize.

The Luceys tried desperately to get help for Jeffrey, but neither the military nor the Veterans Administration is equipped to cope with the war’s mounting emotional and psychological casualties.

On the evening of June 22, 2004, Kevin Lucey came home and called out to Jeffrey. There was no answer. He noticed that the door leading to the basement was open and that the light in the basement was on. He did not see the two notes that Jeffrey had left on the first floor for his parents:

“It’s 4:35 p.m. and I am near completing my death.”

“Dad, please don’t look. Mom, just call the police — Love, Jeff.”

The first thing Mr. Lucey saw as he walked down to the basement was that Jeff had set up an arrangement of photos. There was a picture of his platoon, and photos of his sisters, Debra and Kelly, his parents, the family dog and himself.

“Then I could see, through the corner of my eye, Jeff,” said Mr. Lucey. “And he was, I thought, standing there. Then I noticed the hose around his neck.”

The Luceys hope that in talking about their family’s tragedy they will bring more attention to the awful struggle faced by so many troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional illnesses. “We hear of so many suicides,” said Mr. Lucey.

Ms. Lucey added, “We thought that if we told other people about Jeffrey they might see their loved ones mirrored in him, and maybe they would be more aggressive, or do something different than we did. We didn’t feel we had the knowledge we needed and we lost our child.”

The Luceys are more than just concerned and grief-stricken. They’re angry. They’ve joined an antiwar organization, Military Families Speak Out, and they want the war in Iraq brought to an end. “That’s the only way to prevent further Jeffreys from happening,” Ms. Lucey said.

Mr. Lucey made no effort to hide his bitterness over the government’s failure to address many of the critical needs of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. His voice quivered as he said, “When we hear anybody in the administration get up and say that they support the troops, it sickens us.”

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Ides of March 2003

TOMORROW night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it’s an eternity. That’s why a revisionist history of the White House’s rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same “bad intelligence” before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion’s aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. “If only I had known then what I know now ...” has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration’s case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

By the time the ides of March arrived in March 2003, these warning signs were visible on a nearly daily basis. So were the signs that Americans were completely ill prepared for the costs ahead. Iraq was largely anticipated as a distant, mildly disruptive geopolitical video game that would be over in a flash.

Now many of the same leaders who sold the war argue that escalation should be given a chance. This time they’re peddling the new doomsday scenario that any withdrawal timetable will lead to the next 9/11. The question we must ask is: Has history taught us anything in four years?

Here is a chronology of some of the high and low points in the days leading up to the national train wreck whose anniversary we mourn this week [with occasional “where are they now” updates].

March 5, 2003

“I took the Grey Poupon out of my cupboard.”

— Representative Duke Cunningham, Republican of California, on the floor of the House denouncing French opposition to the Iraq war.

[In November 2005, he resigned from Congress and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. In January 2007, the United States attorney who prosecuted him — Carol Lam, a Bush appointee — was forced to step down for “performance-related” issues by Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department.]

March 6, 2003

President Bush holds his last prewar news conference. The New York Observer writes that he interchanged Iraq with the attacks of 9/11 eight times, “and eight times he was unchallenged.” The ABC News White House correspondent, Terry Moran, says the Washington press corps was left “looking like zombies.”

March 7, 2003

Appearing before the United Nations Security Council on the same day that the United States and three allies (Britain, Spain and Bulgaria) put forth their resolution demanding that Iraq disarm by March 17, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, reports there is “no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.”. He adds that documents “which formed the basis for the report of recent uranium transaction between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic.” None of the three broadcast networks’ evening newscasts mention his findings.

[In 2005 ElBaradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.]

March 10, 2003

Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks tells an audience in England, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” Boycotts, death threats and anti-Dixie Chicks demonstrations follow.

[In 2007, the Dixie Chicks won five Grammy Awards, including best song for “Not Ready to Make Nice.”]

March 12, 2003

A senior military planner tells The Daily News “an attack on Iraq could last as few as seven days.”

“Isn’t it more likely that antipathy toward the United States in the Islamic world might diminish amid the demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the end of a regime that has few equals in its ruthlessness?”

— John McCain, writing for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

“The Pentagon still has not given a name to the Iraqi war. Somehow ‘Operation Re-elect Bush’ doesn’t seem to be popular.”

— Jay Leno, “The Tonight Show.”

March 14, 2003

Senator John D. Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, asks the F.B.I. to investigate the forged documents cited a week earlier by ElBaradei and alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium transaction: “There is a possibility that the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.”

March 16, 2003

On “Meet the Press,” Dick Cheney says that American troops will be “greeted as liberators,” that Saddam “has a longstanding relationship with various terrorist groups, including the Al Qaeda organization,” and that it is an “overstatement” to suggest that several hundred thousand troops will be needed in Iraq after it is liberated. Asked by Tim Russert about ElBaradei’s statement that Iraq does not have a nuclear program, the vice president says, “I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong.”

“There will be new recruits, new recruits probably because of the war that’s about to happen. So we haven’t seen the last of Al Qaeda.”

— Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism czar, on ABC’s “This Week.”

[From the recently declassified “key judgments” of the National Intelligence Estimate of April 2006: “The Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”]

“Despite the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden, according to administration officials and members of Congress. Senior intelligence analysts say they feel caught between the demands from White House, Pentagon and other government policy makers for intelligence that would make the administration’s case ‘and what they say is a lack of hard facts,’ one official said.”

— “U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms,” by Walter Pincus (with additional reporting by Bob Woodward), The Washington Post, Page A17.

March 17, 2003

Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, who voted for the Iraq war resolution, writes the president to ask why the administration has repeatedly used W.M.D. evidence that has turned out to be “a hoax” — “correspondence that indicates that Iraq sought to obtain nuclear weapons from an African country, Niger.”

[Still waiting for “an adequate explanation” of the bogus Niger claim four years later, Waxman, now chairman of the chief oversight committee in the House, wrote Condoleezza Rice on March 12, 2007, seeking a response “to multiple letters I sent you about this matter.”]

In a prime-time address, President Bush tells Saddam to leave Iraq within 48 hours: “Every measure has been made to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it.” After the speech, NBC rushes through its analysis to join a hit show in progress, “Fear Factor,” where men and women walk with bare feet over broken glass to win $50,000.

March 18, 2003

Barbara Bush tells Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she will not watch televised coverage of the war: “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it’s going to happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

[Visiting the homeless victims of another cataclysm, Hurricane Katrina, at the Houston Astrodome in 2005, Mrs. Bush said, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them.”]

In one of its editorials strongly endorsing the war, The Wall Street Journal writes, “There is plenty of evidence that Iraq has harbored Al Qaeda members.”

[In a Feb. 12, 2007, editorial defending the White House’s use of prewar intelligence, The Journal wrote, “Any links between Al Qaeda and Iraq is a separate issue that was barely mentioned in the run-up to war.”]

In an article headlined “Post-war ‘Occupation’ of Iraq Could Result in Chaos,” Mark McDonald of Knight Ridder Newspapers quotes a “senior leader of one of Iraq’s closest Arab neighbors,” who says, “We’re worried that the outcome will be civil war.”

A questioner at a White House news briefing asserts that “every other war has been accompanied by fiscal austerity of some sort, often including tax increases” and asks, “What’s different about this war?” Ari Fleischer responds, “The most important thing, war or no war, is for the economy to grow,” adding that in the president’s judgment, “the best way to help the economy to grow is to stimulate the economy by providing tax relief.”

After consulting with the homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, the N.C.A.A. announces that the men’s basketball tournament will tip off this week as scheduled. The N.C.A.A. president, Myles Brand, says, “We were not going to let a tyrant determine how we were going to lead our lives.”

March 19, 2003

“I’d guess that if it goes beyond three weeks, Bush will be in real trouble.”

— Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel teaching at Boston University, quoted in The Washington Post.

[The March 2007 installment of the Congressionally mandated Pentagon assessment “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq” reported that from Jan. 1 to Feb. 9, 2007, there were more than 1,000 weekly attacks, up from about 400 in spring 2004.]

Robert McIlvaine, whose 26-year-old son was killed at the World Trade Center 18 months earlier, is arrested at a peace demonstration at the Capitol in Washington. He tells The Washington Post: “It’s very insulting to hear President Bush say this is for Sept. 11.”

“I don’t think it is reasonable to close the door on inspections after three and a half months,” when Iraq’s government is providing more cooperation than it has in more than a decade.

— Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector for the United Nations.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 71 percent of Americans support going to war in Iraq, up from 59 percent before the president’s March 17 speech.

“When the president talks about sacrifice, I think the American people clearly understand what the president is talking about.”

— Ari Fleischer

[Asked in January 2007 how Americans have sacrificed, President Bush answered: “I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”]

Pentagon units will “locate and survey at least 130 and as many as 1,400 possible weapons sites.”

— “Disarming Saddam Hussein; Teams of Experts to Hunt Iraq Arms” by Judith Miller, The Times, Page A1.

President Bush declares war from the Oval Office in a national address: “Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure.”

Price of a share of Halliburton stock: $20.50

[Value of that Halliburton share on March 16, 2007, adjusted for a split in 2006: $64.12.]

March 20, 2003

“The pictures you’re seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the Seventh Cavalry racing across the deserts in southern Iraq. They will — it will be days before they get to Baghdad, but you’ve never seen battlefield pictures like these before.”

— Walter Rodgers, an embedded CNN correspondent.

It seems quite odd to me that while we are commenced upon a war, we have no funding for that war in this budget.

—Hillary Clinton.

“Coalition forces suffered their first casualties in a helicopter crash that left 12 Britons and 4 Americans dead.”

— The Associated Press.

Though the March 23 Oscar ceremony will dispense with the red carpet in deference to the war, an E! channel executive announces there will be no cutback on pre-Oscar programming, but “the tone will be much more somber.”

March 21, 2003

“I don’t mean to be glib about this, or make it sound trite, but it really is a symphony that has to be orchestrated by a conductor.”

— Retired Maj. Gen. Donald Shepperd, CNN military analyst, speaking to Wolf Blitzer of the bombardment of Baghdad during Shock and Awe.

[“Many parts of Iraq are stable. But of course what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everyone.”

Laura Bush, “Larry King Live,” Feb. 26, 2007.]

“The president may occasionally turn on the TV, but that’s not how he gets his news or his information. ... He is the president, he’s made his decisions and the American people are watching him.”

Ari Fleischer.

[The former press secretary received immunity from prosecution in the Valerie Wilson leak case and testified in the perjury trial of Scooter Libby in 2007.]

“Peter, I may be going out on a limb, but I’m not sure that the first stage of this Shock and Awe campaign is really going to frighten the Iraqi people. In fact, it may have just the opposite effect. If they feel that they’ve survived the most that the United States can throw at them and they’re still standing, and they’re still able to go about their lives, well, then they might be rather emboldened. They might feel that, well, look, we can stand a lot more than this.”

— Richard Engel, a Baghdad correspondent speaking to Peter Jennings on ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

Executive MBA
Get An Executive MBA from Top MBA Schools