Friday, October 08, 2004

Quick take, debate II 
Kerry in another slam-dunk. Bush was a bit better than last Thursday, but that's damning with faint praise.

Kerry once again kicked ass. He was sharp, authoritative, direct, calm - one might say presidential. He communicated feistiness without rancor. He was better than last week - more relaxed, and in command. A+

Bush looked like he was trying hard not to make those faces again. He didn't always succeed. He was certainly sharper than last week, but he just doesn't have the knowledge or the tools to seem anything but bellicose and short on understanding of the issues. A weak C.

Vice President Gone, your pants are on fire! 
The other night, Cheney referred to John Edwards as "Senator Gone." Actually, he claimed that Edwards' "home town newspaper" called Edwards that way, a claim that the paper in question denies
It’s not every day that a non-daily paper in a small town gets mentioned in a nationally televised debate in prime time. But it happened to The Pilot Tuesday night.

“His hometown newspaper has taken to calling him ‘Senator Gone,’” Vice President Richard Cheney said of his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Edwards.

Well, not exactly.

The Pilot hasn’t “taken to calling him” anything. In fact, the vice president’s obscure reference sent us scrambling to our library. And sure enough, we did publish an editorial 15 months ago, on June 25, 2003, headlined, “Edwards Should Do His Day Job.” In it, we noted that Sen. Jesse Helms used to be called “Senator No.” And we added: “Four and a half years into his first term, John Edwards is becoming known as Senator Gone.”


But we also wrote: “Members of the senator’s staff point out that Edwards’ attendance record this year has been better than the three other Democratic senators who are campaigning for president — Joe Lieberman, Richard Gephardt and Bob Graham. And the aides also say none of the votes Edwards missed was close, so his presence on the floor would not have changed the outcome.”

There's an even bigger whopper behind that one, though. The Vice President of The United States has one, and only one, statutory responsibility - to act as President of the Senate. That's it. Since inauguration day 2001, the Senate has convened 127 times. Dick Cheney has been present to perform his duty as presiding officer exactly twice. John Edwards, even as a first term Senator, presided over the Senate the same number of times as Cheney. In fact, Dick Cheney's attendance record as Vice President is a whopping 1.6%!

Flash! No WMD in Iraq. WMD in Indiana and New Jersey 
After defecting from Iraq in 1995, Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and his head of weapons development, testified that Iraq had destroyed all their WMDs. He had no incentive to lie on Saddam's behalf - he was trying hard to ingratiate himself with the west. In fact, he was killed by Saddam in 1996 when he returned to Iraq.

So it came as no surprise that George Bush's hand-picked weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, reported the same thing. But there are still plenty of WMD, right here in the United States. We (the US government, that is) have over 2.5 million pounds of VX nerve gas stored in Newport Indiana.

Thankfully, the Army has now slated for the VX for destruction. However, instead of dealing with the resulting waste in Indiana, they want to ship the whole mess to a duPont treatment facility here in NJ. There's no guarantee that all the gas will have been neutralized. In fact
This summer, the Army conceded that small but unacceptable amounts of VX from some containers in the stockpile had survived the original disposal treatment. Officials said the problem agents came from containers with particular stabilizing chemicals, about 54 percent of the total, but they declined to release results.

via Fred Clark at Slacktivist

Somehow I don't find this very reassuring.

Judith Miller, hack 
I have very mixed feelings about The New York Times' Judith Miller being sent to jail for contempt. It's very important to support 1st Amendment rights. I'm not at all sure whether Miller and The Times have a 1st Amendment case or not, since she never wrote the story nor is she being asked to reveal her source in public - just to the grand jury.

One thing I AM sure about, though. Miller may or may not be in contempt, but her stenography (it can't be called journalism) on behalf of Ahmed Chalabi was contemptible.

Here's a question: Why isn't Tom DeLay in a jail cell?

Once again House Majority Leader Tom DeLay finds himself being censured by the House Ethics Committee. His most egregious ethics violation was offering another House member money for his son's Congressional campaign, in exchange for a vote. For this, DeLay was chastised by the House.

If I, or any other normal citizen, had offered the same compenasation for the same vote, it would be called bribery, and we'd be sitting in jail awaiting trial in federal court. Why shouldn't DeLay be subject to the same laws as you or me?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Vote Bush...for a more dangerous America 
I think Kerry would do much better than Bush in keeping us safe. We'll only know after the fact what steps John Kerry will take to make the US more secure, but it's abundantly clear what Bush has done so far - not exactly nothing, but certainly nothing good...
Of the nation's 15,000 chemical plants, the Environmental Protection Agency has identified 123 where toxic gases released by a terrorist assault could kill or injure more than 1 million people, and 700 others where deaths and injuries would exceed 100,000. Yet a series of recent investigations by news organizations has found that most of these plants are effectively unguarded, even though the risks are beyond dispute and Al Qaeda's interest in these targets is generously documented.

Seven weeks after 9/11, a GOP-controlled Senate committee unanimously passed a bill to require chemical plants to take steps to protect the public from terrorist attacks. But the White House, at the chemical industry's behest, derailed the bill and then removed the EPA's existing regulatory authority to require improvements in chemical plant security. Why would the Bush administration do this? All we know for sure is that President Bush and his party have accepted more than $22 million from the chemical industry since 1998.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Whither gasoline prices? 
The spot market crude price in NY is now over $52/bbl.
...we find ourselves now ... atop $50 perhaps headed for $60 absent some unforeseen catalyst for a wave of speculative selling," said Marshall Steeves of brokers Refco.
Yet gasoline is now a quarter CHEAPER than when oil was at $40/bbl. You think some somebodies in the US oil business want to keep the price of gas down until after election day??? Hmmmm?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

What Cheney didn't realize he said... 
A very telling comment by Cheney, near the end of the debate:

His question was about the polarization of the nation, and his response was, essentially, that it is MUCH worse now than when he was working in earlier administrations and when he was in Congress.

Exactly. In those earlier, more bi-partisan, less divisive, times, Democrats held the Congressional/Senate majorities. Now that the Publicans rule the roost, they have no interest in bipartisanship or collegiality.

The Final Frontier 
Outer space 'celebrated' two milestones yesterday - one sad, one exciting, both related.

Gordon Cooper - space pioneer and Project Mercury astronaut, passed away at the age of 77.

But the torch has finally, and very definitely, been passed to a new generation of space pioneers. SpaceShip One, the privately funded, privately owned prototype re-usable space vehicle designed by Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, yesterday won the Ansari X-Prize by successfully completeing its second manned space flight within a week, ushering in a new era of relatively cheap, private-enterprise space flight. Within days of the first flight, Richard Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic, the first commercial 'spaceline.'

DD Harriman must be itching to get on a ship and restless in his fictional grave, and his creator, Robert Heinlein, must be smiling in his real one.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Profile of Bush, Digby style 
Still busier than I'd like ... too busy to do much blogging.

I don't know exactly who Digby is - I gather he is, or was, a journalist, but I don't know when or where. But he writes both elegantly and expressively, and his blog, Hullabaloo, is more than worth the daily reading time. A post of his from yesterday so well expresses what I'd like to say (if I had the time right now, and the writing chops ever) that I'm reposting it in its entirety:
Two Faces. One Public, One Private. One Phony, One Real.

Over the last week or so we have seen an edgy, enigmatic black and white image of George W. Bush appear on web-sites and blogs. At first people thought that sites had been hacked, as Eschaton and Kos and Democratic Underground spontaneously erupted with the black and white figure only to have it disappear and randomly return. Within days it linked to a mysterious DNC web-site with cryptic material that only slowly came into focus. Clearly something was up.

This image is disconcerting and it evokes strong reactions because it symbolizes the cognitive dissonance so many of us have been living with for the last four years as we’ve watched the man who lost the election but won the office drive us to distraction with the contradictions of his character. And nothing has been more frustrating than the fact that so many in the media and in the public at large seemed to see something entirely different than we did.

I believe that this happened because after 9/11, the media cast Bush in the role of strong, resolute leader, perhaps because the nation needed him to be that, at least for a little while. And the people gratefully laid that mantle on him and he took it because the office demanded no less. The narrative of the nation at war required a warrior leader and George W. Bush was all we had. Karl Rove and others understood that they could use this veil to soothe the American people and flatter the president to take actions that no prudent, thoughtful leader would have taken after our initial successes in Afghanistan. This “man with the bullhorn” image of Bush crystallized in the minds of many Americans and has not been revisited until now.

That phony image took us from a sense of national unity to a misguided war with Iraq; it excused his failure to effectively manage the economy and fomented partisan warfare by portraying dissent as unpatriotic; it allowed people to overlook his obvious failure to take the threat of al Qaeda seriously before 9/11 (and even after) and created a hagiography based on wishful thinking and emotional need rather than any realistic appraisal of his leadership.

His handlers wisely kept him under wraps, allowing him face time on television only in the company of world leaders or to give stirring speeches written by his gifted speechwriter, Mark Gerson. He rarely held press conferences and when he took questions, he was aggressively unresponsive, choosing instead to offer canned sound bites and slogans and daring the press corps to call him on it. Few did. The mask stayed in place and he remained a symbol instead of a president --- the symbol of American strength, resilience and fortitude. He was, in many people’s minds, the president they wished they had.

On Thursday night sixty-one million people watched George W. Bush for the first time since 9/11 not as that symbol, but as a man. And for those who had not reassessed their belief in his personal leadership since 9/11, it was quite a shock. Their strong leader was inarticulate, arrogant, confused and immature. They must be wondering who that man was.

The truth is that since George W. Bush entered politics he has always had two faces. In fact, virtually everything you know about his public persona is the opposite of the real person.

He claims to be a compassionate, caring man, often admonishing people to "love your neighbor like you loved to be loved yourself." Yet, going all the way back to Yale, he is quoted as saying he disapproved of his fellow students as "people who felt guilty about their lot in life because others were suffering." His business school professor remembers him saying that poor people are poor because they are lazy. This from a man who was born rich into one of America's leading families and relied on those connections for everything he ever achieved.

He lectures on responsibility, saying that he's going to end the era of "if it feels good do it" and yet he failed to live up to his responsibility as a young man in the crucible of his generation, the Vietnam war. In fact, if it felt good, he did it and did it with relish --- for forty years of his fifty eight year life. He has never fully owned up to what he did during those years spent in excess and hedonism, relying on a convenient claim of being “born again” to expiate him of his sins. Would that everyone had it so easy.

He ostentatiously calls himself a committed Christian and yet he rarely attends church unless it’s a campaign stop or a national occasion. The man who claims that Christ is his favorite political philosopher famously and cruelly mocked a condemned prisoner begging for her life. He portrays himself as a man of rectitude yet he pumped his fist and said "feels good!" in the moment before he announced that the Iraq war had begun. (One would have thought that if there was ever a time to utter a prayer it was then.) How many funerals of the fallen has he attended? How many widows has he personally comforted?

He portrays himself as a salt of the earth "hard working" rancher, clearing brush on his land in an artfully sweaty Calvin Klein-style t-shirt. Yet in the first 8 months of his presidency leading up to 9/11, he spent 42% of his time on vacation. His "ranching" didn't begin until he bought his million dollar property just before he ran for president in 1999. He has lived in suburbs and cities since a brief period in his childhood in the 50’s, when he lived in the medium sized boom town of Midland before going to Andover.

He actively promotes the notion that he is a man of action yet in the single most important moment of his life he froze in front of school kids, continuing on with a script prepared before the national psyche was blown to bits. He didn’t take charge. He didn’t react. He was paralyzed at the moment of the nation’s worst peril.

He claims to be a strong leader and yet he is skillfully manipulated by his staff, who learned early that the only thing they needed to do to convince him of the rightness of their recommended course was to flatter him by saying it was the "brave" or "bold" thing to do. His self-image as a resolute leader is actually a lack of self confidence that is ripe for exploitation by competing advisors who use it to convince this him to do their bidding. This explains why he seems to believe that he is acting with resolve when he has just affected an abrupt about-face. His advisors had persuaded him to change course simply by telling him he was being resolute.

George W. Bush is a man with two faces--- a public image of manly strength and a private reality of childish weakness. His verbal miscues and malapropisms are the natural consequence of a man struggling with internal contradictions and a lack of self-knowledge. He can’t keep track of what he is supposed to think and say in public.

There is no doubt that whether it's a cowboy hat or a crotch hugging flightsuit , George W. Bush enjoys wearing the mantle of American archetypal warriors. But when he goes behind the curtain and sheds the costume, a flinty, thin-skinned, immature man who has never taken responsibility for his mistakes emerges. The strong compassionate leader is revealed as a flimsy paper tiger.

On Thursday night, the president forgot himself. After years of being protected from anyone who doesn't flatter and cajole, he let his mask slip when confronted with someone who didn't fear his childish retribution or need anything from him. Many members of the public got a good sharp look at him for the first time in two years and they were stunned. Like that black and white image, the dichotomy of the real Bush vs. the phony Bush is profoundly discomfiting.

Luckily for America and the world, a fully synthesized, mature man stood on the other side of that stage ready to assume the mantle of leadership, not as a theatrical costume but as an adult responsibility for which he is prepared by a lifetime of service, study and dedication. I would imagine that many voters felt a strong sense of relief that he was there.

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