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President Bush and Nouri Maliki made sweet remarks about one another in Jordan. But it's obvious they aren't enamored of each other. There's no reason they should be. Neither can give the other what he wants, and each has his fate tied to the other in a way that has to be galling. Bush has long since passed beyond either policy or hope and keeps blathering nonsense just because it's his nature. He's irritated at anybody who can't rescue him, and in that respect, Maliki has to head the list. Maliki hoped to use U.S. authority to vault to power. Now he sees there is no authority in the American position. It is respected by no one in Iraq and by decreasing numbers of Americans. He must reflect every night as he goes to bed that he cast his fate with a man who will probably cause him to lose his head. This is a formula for boiling hatred and, eventually, it will spill over. The serious question is how many people have to die before the fiction of friendship and alliance is set aside. The only way for a man to assume genuine authority in Iraq is strike out against the United States. Maliki will probably figure that out before many more months pass. But, then, it may be too late for him. Bush will try to maintain his silliness until he gets out of office.We can only hope that something will happen, either in Iraq or in the U.S. Congress, to stop him from dragging the misery forward.  (Posted, 11/30/06)

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In the Denver airport, after walking a long distance -- the Denver airport is very long -- I bought a USA Today and discovered that Matt Lauer of NBC is calling the situation in Iraq a civil war. The White House says it is not a civil war. How can we know what to believe? We are rapidly approaching a condition in America where a thing is what we call it. It has no reality of its own. We have reversed Shakespeare. If we called a rose something else its odor, for us, would, doubtless, be transformed. On Sunday evening, I heard General Abisaid declare that there is no defeat in Iraq. By definition, we must have victory. He didn't bother to add that victory now would be what defeat was a couple years ago. Somebody needs to come up with a definition of dead people so they won't be dead anymore. That would improve the odor of Bush's adventure. Where's Carl Rove when we really need him? A while back this administration could define reality for itself. It seems to be losing its touch.  (Posted, 11/28/06)

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In The Way to Win, Mark Halperin and John Harris noted that George Bush, with the assistance of Karl Rove, achieved greater solidarity among his supporters than any other president of history. That, of course, went along with extraordinary opposition from those who didn't support him. The authors explain the phenomenon in this way:

"The answer in every case was that Bush and Rove had implemented a political strategy in which
the different parts of the Republican base all perceived their own self-interest and Bush's self-interest
as being squarely the same."

And then, they added:

"Bush delivered a broad message to the whole country and to the coalition, while Rove used targeted
and private communication to ensure that members with special concerns got the kind of singular
assurances they required to stay in the tent."

What Halperin and Harris don't bother to mention is the full nature of these "special concerns." Bush and Rove were able to achieve unusual solidarity of support by playing to the darkest forces of the American psyche. There was no attitude so low, or vile, or bigoted, or hateful they wouldn't appease by sending coded messages which could be denied -- with a wink -- if they were ever challenged. Despite professions of standard values from the president, the haters got the point that he was really on their side. As a consequence, they flocked to him. Halperin and Harris characterize the process as remaining aware of "grievances." They would have written a finer book if they had pointed out that many of these grievances involved hatred of fair play for the full spectrum of Americans, regardless of race, or religion, or sexual preference. Providing a political home for these nasty attitudes may have been good for temporary political advantage. But it was not good for the health of the nation.  (Posted, 11/22/06)

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It's tempting to believe that the supporters of the the invasion and occupation of Iraq have plumbed the depths of stupidity. But they continue to probe into lower levels. Charles Krauthammer's column in today's Washington Post offers another hope that the bottom has been reached. But we shouldn't let ourselves be fooled. Chances are he or one of his colleagues will shortly find a way to burrow deeper. Today's effort proclaims that the mess in Iraq has almost nothing to do with U.S. actions but is, rather, the result of Iraqi ineptitude. We have tried very hard, says Krauthammer, to supply the Iraqis with the system we know they ought to want. They, however, pigheadedly refuse to accept it. So, what's the solution according to the great columnist? We should deconstruct the current puppet government (or what was supposed to be a puppet government) and replace it with a new kind of puppet government, in which partisan passions won't be allowed to interfere with progress towards our desires. There you have it. Brilliance! Stay tuned for further descents. The neo-cons aren't done yet.  (Posted, 11/17/06)

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The mystery of what happened to the Congressional vote in Florida's 13th district continues. Supporters of Vern Buchanan say that 13% of the ballots were left blank in Sarasota County because both candidates were so obnoxious many people couldn't stand to vote for either one. That's not particularly flattering to Vern, but if it were accepted it would help him win. Presumably the denizens of Sarasota County are more sensitive than their counterparts in adjoining counties, where the undervote in the same race was only about 17% of what it was in Sarasota. Meanwhile, lawyers for Christine Jennings, the Democratic candidate, have had to petition the courts to be allowed to be present when the accuracy of the voting machines is tested. Why anyone should object to their presence is hard to understand. No one I've read about has offered an explanation. But, then, what seems reasonable elsewhere seems to have little standing in Florida. The entire voting system here appears to have been designed to allow voting officials rather than voters to determine the outcome of any moderately close contest. It's as though somebody said, "Well, if 45% of the people want the good guy to win, then we need a system that will allow him to win." For "good guy" read "Republican." That may sound fantastic  but I'm afraid it's pretty close to the logic that operates here in southwestern Florida.  (Posted, 11/17/06)

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I am now staying in the 13th Congressional District of Florida, where peculiar things occurred during the recent election. The Republican candidate Vern Buchanan appeared to have received about 350 votes more than his Democratic rival Christine Jennings, out of total of 237,861 votes cast. It turned out, however, that more than 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County registered no choice in the Congressional race. If that number is accepted as legitimate, we have to believe that 13% of the electorate chose deliberately not to vote for their own representative to Congress. And to believe that, you would have to believe, in turn, that Sarasota County is dramatically different from an adjoining county in the same district, where only 2% of the ballots had no choice registered. The number of no-votes in Sarasota County is not credible. There are only three believable explanations for the strange results.

  • One: the voting machines were generally defective.
  • Two: the voting machines were rigged not to record a percentage of the votes cast in the county where the Democratic candidate was known to have an advantage.
  • Three: the machines were rigged not to record some percentage of the votes cast for Christine Jennings.

The third explanation gains weight from the testimony of more than a hundred voters who say their vote for Ms. Jennings was not registered the first time they entered it. There have been no reports of similar complaints from voters for Mr. Buchanan. One might say this is simply a local issue. But that would be shortsighted. It affects not only the behavior of the Congress of the United States but also the trust we can place in the way our elections are conducted. If local authorities cannot offer a credible explanation for the anomalies then Congress itself needs to launch a full-scale investigation. In a democracy, there is nothing more important than recording votes accurately. It's reasonably clear that was not done in Florida's 13th district.  (Posted, 11/10/06)

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The projection of Nancy Pelosi into the national limelight may mean that we'll hear more talk of "San Francisco values." Exactly what is meant by the term, aside from a slur against homosexuals, remains obscure. I doubt that most people who employ it as an insult have a clear definition in mind. Clarity, after all, has not been an element of the Republican program. The leaders of the GOP use words not to convey meaning but primarily to promote a visceral reaction among their supporters. The lasting legacy of the Bush administration may be a political discourse of ejaculation, in which meaning plays virtually no part. The Democrats would be wise to reject sloganeering and try to introduce a conversation of meaning to the electorate. If they could lay to rest the Karl Rove notion of politics, it would be a fine contribution to America.  (Posted, 11/10/06)

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You'll notice that Mr. Bush has made a number of statements since the election which testify that he will lie any time he thinks there's political advantage to be had from it. If anyone took time to analyze all he has said about the decision to drop Donald Rumsfeld -- admittedly a task that might require weeks -- it would be revealed that the president has contradicted himself so many times his statements fashion a kind of spaghetti junction, crossing back on themselves so frequently, there is no clear sense to be made from them -- except that whenever he speaks he's trying to wiggle out of something he has said before. I guess he has concluded that in the immediate aftermath of the voting no one will hold him to account. Some of his opponents might be agreeing with him. But they should recall that he will continue to exercise presidential power for more than two years. Happy as the election results are, we are not finished with George Bush. So we ought to start right now recording his announcements so we can use their falseness when Bush attempts to continue pushing the policies he has pursued all along.  (Posted, 11/9/06)

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We wake up today in a safer country, with the Constitution more secure than it was yesterday. The American electorate tends to be lethargic and ill-informed but there appear to be limits to what it will endure. We can all be grateful for that. The media are hailing the Republican rejection as dramatic.  It wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped it would be, but, still, I'm happy to take it. It will be decades before historians lay out in an undeniable manner the serious threat the Bush administration directed against fundamental American political institutions. It has been no less than an attempt to institute a presidential dictatorship in the interest of creating an imperial nation. It has been disheartening to observe how many Americans have been willing to go along with it. But, today, we can feel we have a fighting chance to maintain a democratic republic, and that's a cause for rejoicing.  (Posted, 11/8/06)

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The newscast out of Tampa last night informed me that there are more political commercials being aired in central Florida and the Tampa Bay region than anywhere else in the nation. There certainly are a lot of them, but their number is not as striking as their character. Short political spots on TV seem designed everywhere to appeal to nincompoops but, here in Florida they are reaching out to the totally brain-dead. It's hard to tell from the messages what any candidate is for or against. All candidates, regardless of their persuasion, are charged by their opponents with being for taxes, as though any taxes, no matter what they're for is, are evil. The implication in the ads I've been watching is that there should be no taxes whatsoever and that any politician who would support taxes of any kind is the spawn of the devil. Who is supposed to be persuaded by arguments of that sort? Do the political operatives presume that large numbers of citizens think society can function with no public services? Are there supposed to be people who believe that Wal-Mart can supply everything anyone needs? In the 13th district, the seat being vacated by Katherine Harris is being sought by Republican Vern Buchanan, whose ads against Christine Jennings are insane. It's as though the legacy of the incumbent prescribes lunacy. And, yet, I heard a political consultant recently intone that many of the current ads are losing their effectiveness because they aren't sufficiently extreme. It's hard to imagine where we may be heading, but harder even than that to imagine a population willing to go there.  (Posted, 11/4/06)

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I continue to see commentary proclaiming that President Bush is trying to scare the people into voting for Republican candidates. This morning in the Washington Post, for example, Eugene Robinson makes that point strongly. I suppose it's true. Even so, I have a hard time conceiving of minds that could lessen their fear by electing a Republican. What is it they fear that Republicanism could possibly protect them against? I suspect this is one of those manufactured assertions that creates its own twisted sort of truth. Mr. Bush repeats, over and again, that failure to maintain Republican hegemony will constitute a threat. And, evidently, after a while, some people react to it automatically without ever asking themselves what possible truth the argument contains. There may be nothing more manipulatable than phony fear, fright that is conjured up more for the pleasure it delivers than out of genuine concern. We have become a nation where considerable numbers of us revel in that type of fear. Perhaps it adds drama to lives that otherwise would be intolerably flat. At any rate, that must be what Bush/Rove/Cheney are counting on.  (Posted, 11/3/06)

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You may think that Terri Schiavo is no longer a political issue but it seems still to be a hot topic in the Florida gubernatorial race. According to today's Tampa Tribune,  the Republican candidate Charlie Crist is being slammed for not taking an active position in the sensational fuss about whether Ms. Schiavo was brain dead. The Tribune,  however, says he did take a stance by refusing to be as dogmatic about it as Governor Jeb Bush was. The Tribune is supporting Mr. Crist in his race against Democratic candidate Jim Davis, who was clear in saying the government should not get involved in the case. Somehow, though, in the mind of the Tribune's editor, Mr. Crist's non-stance deserves more credit than Davis's rightful position because Davis had less to lose than Crist did. I'm not sure anyone from outside Florida can understand how political argumentation works here. To tell the truth, I'm not sure anyone from Florida understands it either. But that doesn't appear to inhibit the passion which flourishes outside either reason or evidence.  (Posted, 11/2/06)

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It would be interesting, and useful, to know what portion of the people of the United States would actually like to scrap the Constitution and replace it with a presidential dictatorship.  It's a thing we can't know, of course, because we could never have an honest debate about it. Those in favor of a dictatorship would always claim to be supportive of the Constitution. Yet, over the course of the Bush administration we have learned that there are millions of citizens who have no concern for the Constitution, and no interest in it. There's no doubt that Bush and his inner circle have made an all-out assault on the Constitution and great numbers have cheered him on. His latest effort came with the "Defense Authorization Act of 2007," which the president signed in the middle of October. It contains a provision slipped in with almost no Congressional debate which, in effect," repeals the Posse Comitatus act of 1878.  This act which has stood for more than a century and a quarter, through two major wars, made it a crime for the president or any other official, to use the military forces to carry out law enforcement within the boundaries of the United States.  Now, an obscure clause in an act so complex few members of Congress have read it, gives the president the power to take charge of state-based National Guard units and to move them anywhere in the country, without the consent of local authorities, for the purpose of suppressing "public disorders." And who decides what a public disorder is? The president, by himself, is granted that authority. As Senator Leahy noted, "We certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. " Mr. Leahy says so because he believes in the authority of the Constitution over the authority of the President. The people of his state stand by him in that belief. But, it's small state. How many other states want the president to be a Constitutional officer and not a dictator is hard to determine.  (Posted 11/2/06)

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