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January 15, 2006 - Knowing the Rules and What's Permissible

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Tuesday, January 10, was the second day of the Alito hearings, and the first day of actual questions and answers. One could watch that all day long on television, but doing so, and watching the subsequent days of this stuff, is for those of narrow interests. How much of watching a smart man, with a fine grasp of the law, carefully saying "I have no predetermined position on what you ask and will judge each case that comes before me on its merits" would you like? There may be something fascinating in following all the variations of that - and there were many - but there are others things to do - out here on the west coast Turner Classic Movies was running "Casablanca" against the opening hours of the second-day testimony. Rick once more told Elsa about that hill of beans. Anyway, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to change his or her mind, and this will be passed on to the full senate for a vote, eventually, where everyone knows who will vote for or against confirmation. The man will take his seat on the Supreme Court. The chances of Alito saying something outrageous, or even controversial, were nil, and it was unlikely he would suddenly jump on the table and break into a chorus of "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and dance around. As diverting as that would be, there were other things in the news that could not be covered as the media prefers "the major story," as eventless as it seemed to be.

There was no coverage of our return to the late sixties, even though there was this about the National Security Agency, something new and amusing.

It seems some NSA documents they had to cough up in a court case reveal that the agency ran a massive spy operation on a Baltimore peace group, "going so far as to document the inflating of protesters' balloons." Yeah, they kept records of when balloons were inflated and what was printed on them (quotes from Ben Franklin) - the NSA folks made notes every fifteen minutes and didn't miss any details. They planted a mole in the demonstrators - a fellow none of them had ever seen before - who screamed at the police and dared them to bash some heads. Some of the demonstrators were arrested, and he wasn't. They got all the license plate numbers and started files. They sent in a team to check for WMD threats. For those of us old enough to remember the late sixties, it was bit of nostalgia. Two of those arrested sued for the NSA files on all this, and wonder of wonders, got the files.

Civil libertarians are upset, and one presumes moderates are wondering if all this is a rather stupid waste of tax money (surely these NSA guys have better and more important things to do). On the right? Who knows?

For those of us who graduated from college in 1969, what can one do but sigh, and smile ruefully? Some things never change, although when you think about it, even if the same thing happened on Nixon's watch, he was far smarter and far more articulate than this frat boy. Things have gone downhill. Even the villains now are second-rate. Nixon without the smarts.

Also not much reported (a bit in the print media and next to nothing on the broadcast and cable news), was something co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and one Linda Bilmes. They ran the numbers. This war in Iraq will probably run somewhere around two trillion dollars (that really is a "t" there). They just included disability payments for the 16,000 wounded soldiers - twenty percent of them have serious brain or spinal injuries. And there are a few other things - like the July 2005 Army statistics showing thirty percent of our troops had developed mental-health problems within four months of returning from Iraq. And there's the rise in oil prices, and you figure twenty percent of the rise can be attributed directly to the war. That's twenty-five billion there, so far. Then there's the loss to the economy from injured veterans "who cannot contribute as productively as they otherwise would." Add too costs related to civilian contractors and journalists killed in Iraq. It all adds up.

Before the invasion, the White House budget director at the time, Mitch Daniels, said this would be "an affordable endeavor." As you recall, the White House economic adviser at the time, Lawrence Lindsey, was talking one or two hundred billion, and Daniels said that was "very, very high." Lawrence Lindsey lost his job for being such a pessimist, although there was talk Bush didn't like him because he was so overweight (no discipline) and just didn't want the lard-ass around. Wolfowitz and Cheney were saying Iraq oil revenues would pay for most everything. Right.

Anyway, this Stiglitz fellow from Columbia University is a big gun - he was an adviser to Clinton and was chief economist at the World Bank and won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 (bio here). As for Linda Bilmes, she was an assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce from 1999 to 2001 and now teaches budgeting and public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Harvard reprints her August 20th New York Times editorial - a much more conservative take on all this here - only 1.3 trillion. She notes that's over eleven thousand dollars for every household in the United States.

Ah, what do the Clinton folks know? It will cost what it will cost.

Yeah, but is this news? You got a spare eleven grand (plus) sitting around the house to pay for this? If you don't, this may be news.

The price is not what you were told. Let's say you bought a cute little Ford Focus, signing a loan agreement with your credit union, and you got a great deal - three hundred a month. When you get the first monthly bill for three hundred thousand, you'd be... surprised? That's the Daniels to Stiglitz ratio. Sorry about that.

You might say you'd been misled (no car is worth that, not even the new Bugatti Veyron at 1.2 million).

But you cannot say you've been misled. That's not right. The president said so.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006, Reuters explains the deal


President George W. Bush denounced some Democratic critics of the Iraq war as irresponsible on Tuesday and he wanted an election-year debate that "brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries"

In a speech, Bush made clear he was girding for battle with Democrats in the run-up to the mid-term congressional election in November, when he will try to keep the U.S. Congress in the hands of his Republican Party amid American doubts about his Iraq policy.

... Bush, who has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of Iraq, said Americans know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being handled "and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."

He added, "So I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries."


Got it? Saying anyone was misled about any of this is out of bounds. That would offer "comfort to our adversaries" - as in "providing aid and comfort to the enemy." That's treason, as you know. And no talk about oil and how Israel may be part of the motivation for all this. And he claimed Americans know treason when they see it. He's just, as you see, stating the obvious.

He didn't name names. He didn't have to. He was talking about Howard Dean, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and that pesky Dick Durbin fellow, the senator from Illinois - folks who say such things about how we were all misled. They all said Bush has no strategy for Iraq. Can't do that.

Reuters quotes Ted Kennedy - "I wholeheartedly agree with President Bush about the need for accountability in the debate on the war in Iraq. 2006 must be the year when the American people demand that President Bush and other high government officials be held accountable for their mistakes." He's toast, but he's firing back. Reid said that it was "outrageous" that the president was using our troops "as a shield from criticism in an address to veterans and also had refused to address a recent Pentagon report on the inadequacy of body armor for American soldiers in Iraq." Reid's exact words - "Patriotic Americans will continue to ask the tough questions because our brave men and women in Iraq, their families and the American people deserve to know that their leaders are being held accountable."

Well, Bush did speak to the VFW. They agree this kind of criticism is just wrong, one supposes

California Democratic congressman Adam Schiff agrees we should have some reasoned discussion of the war, but "the administration cannot question the patriotism of those who disagree on war strategy and at the same time call for greater civility. We should be exploiting the divisions among our enemies, not among ourselves."

The White House transcript of the speech is here and the whole thing is about how disagreement is really, really bad - in Iraq the Shiites and Sunni had better stop fighting with each other about all the small stuff.
This was an unusual speech. The message was "shut up or the American people will know you are traitors and we'll have to deal with you."

Cool. That's one heck of a call for civility.

And this reaction seems appropriate –


Seriously. If Bush is going to go on national TV and declare that the Democratic leader in the Senate (Harry Reid), the head of the Democratic Party (Howard Dean), and a lead Democratic Senator (Dick Durbin) are committing treason by "giving comfort to our adversaries" by criticizing Bush's disastrous handling of the Iraq war, then arrest all three of them and have them summarily shot without a trial and let's be done with it.

I'm serious. If our president is going to argue in favor of America embracing the ideals of a Soviet police state, if that's the reason hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives during WWII, if that's the reason 160,000 US soldiers are risking their lives in Iraq right now, all for the purpose of America touting the ideals of our worst enemies, some of the most repressive and hated dictatorships in the history of the world, then be enough of a man to admit it, do it, and be done with it.

Otherwise shut up and start acting like the commander in chief of the greatest democracy on earth rather than some sniveling coward who doesn't even known enough about his own country, let alone the world, to understand what it is we're really fighting for.


That's blunt, but all Bush is saying is let's stop all this bickering. Some, however, think such "bickering" is what people do here. We argue things out. It seems some don't think that, and they're in charge.

Who thinks we do? Note this from Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney –


The Bush Administration's attack, distract and distort tactics reflect a Nixonian paranoia that is un-American. It's shameful that once again the Bush Administration resorted to attacking the patriotism of fellow Americans rather than answering legitimate questions surrounding the President's failures in Iraq. Personal attacks won't change the fact that hundreds of fatalities in Iraq could have been avoided if only our troops had the equipment they asked for.

Democrats welcome and will continue to push for the open and honest debate that is fundamental to our democracy and the liberties we hold dear.


It seem people have different ideas about what is fundamental. As Kos asks, can we debate whether the trillion dollar cost of the war is a wise investment? Can we debate why these clowns got us into a war without adequate planning? Can we debate what "victory" might be, since that's has never been clear? Can we debate why we don't have an exit strategy?

Maybe not. But even some Bush supports are not amused, as in this from Joe Gandelman, who stipulates he has supported the war in Iraq and does not believe an immediate pullout is the wisest course. Even he's got some advice for his leader –


An American President - especially one who has proven to be one of the most partisan in modern times - doesn't get to define a whole part of an issue's limits. You can bet that what Mr. Bush and Karl Rove consider "responsible" debate are points that won't raise prickly issues, don't beg immediate answers (even in the form of a swift denial and condemnation of the question as being silly), or seriously threaten to chip away at their party's standing in the polls.

Presidents don't get to set limits on political debate which centers on the credibility of their own and their cabinet members' statements, the accuracy of original information presented to the public to justify the war, the competency of the administrative policies and execution of the policies... particularly during a year in which Americans will generally vote for one of two parties. And, in a Democracy's tradition, that means FREE DEBATE. If the Democrats' act dumb and irresponsible there will be a price for them.

Mr. President: if you don't like the debating points raised, then answer them. Unequivocally. Point per point. Denounce each question you don't like as being extreme if you feel that is what it is.

But, no, the democracy I read about when I was growing up didn't place critical comments ... off limits.

... By the way: people who ask tough questions are as patriotic as you, Dick Cheney or the officers in the field.


The man thinks Democrats are fools, but he seems a tad put off, doesn't he?

Here's another way of looking at it, logically


Is the Bush administration doing (1) a heckuva job; (2) a heckuva great job; or (3) a totally heckuva great job? And how can we help The President be more right?

Before we can answer that second question, we need to understand exactly why The President refuses to consider the topics he mentions as worthy of responsible discussion.

Of course, we didn't invade Iraq because of oil. Why this isn't obvious to everyone is one of the mind-boggling mysteries of our epoch. Briefly, all we're trying to do is grow the Iraq economy. Now, everyone knows the world is in a post-industrial phase, where it's high tech that rules, not Big oil-gobbling Iron. Therefore, it's vital to Iraq's infrastructure that they make use as soon as possible of their most abundant resource - sand - and become the major player they deserve to be in the international chip market.

... As for Israel, it simply must be recognized that any critic who mentions Israel in the same sentence with Iraq is not only thoroughly irresponsible but clearly an out and out anti-Semite. Now I admit, Pat Robertson may have been overstretching a bit, but only those who refuse to acknowledge cause and effect fail to see the connection between Sharon's recent stroke and the unremitting criticism he received in the past few months by all those here in the US who refused to support the Iraq war.

... How can The President be more right? Okay. I'll tell you and I'm not going to mince words. And I don't care who wants to turn me in for saying them!

I think the Big Problem is that everyone thinks The President is wrong and they won't trust his judgment. I think it's wrong that these people are wasting The President's time by making him worry that he's only doing a heckuva job. I think responsible debate should be limited to whether The President is doing a heckuva great job or better. If this proposal is adopted, The President by definition would immediately be more right! And that's what we, and he, want.

I think if irresponsible opponents weren't clogging The President's time with so many questions and empty scandals that his presidency has begun to resemble a New Orleans sewer, The President would have been able to sign the necessary emergency orders for more upper body armor for our troops. Now, let me be crystal clear about this: Because The President couldn't find time to sign that order, the critics of the The President's performance are responsible for much more - way much more - than aiding and comforting our enemies. The irresponsible critics of The President are systematically killing our soldiers. And I don't care who knows it.

Now, the Doomsayer Democrats object to certain wiretaps made without authorization. I say if they don't like them, here's a plan that will end the "illegal" wiretaps debate immediately. Disconnect the critics' telephones! And while we're at it, deny 'em ADSL. Let them rant over a 28.8k AOL connection and see how well they like it.

Bottom line: The President couldn't be more right. After all, he wouldn't be The President if that wasn't so. That's self-evident, just like it says in the Constitution. Or somewhere.


And that's only part of it. The whole thing is amusing, or would be if this weren't a case of the president making a serious threat to those who have questions.

Ah well.

Things aren't going well for him. You can understand his wanting to strike back. You don't want to mess with him when he's feeing cornered.

So you watch the Alito hearings. It'll take you mind off all this.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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