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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

February 10, 2006 PERMALINK
Conservative Governance In Action (and in Inaction)
(posted Feb. 10 2:30 AM ET)

Today’s NY Times scoop – the White House knew of the levee breach in New Orleans the night prior to the day Bush played guitar with singer Mark Willis – is the latest evidence of the deeply callous nature of conservative government.

The Bush Administration was already downsizing FEMA before Katrina because, in the words of Bush's first FEMA chief, “expectations” of the “degree of involvement” for the federal government “may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.”

In other words, natural disasters ain’t a national problem. Let the locals handle it.

So when the White House heard the levee failed, their immediate reaction was: not our problem, let's go about our normal business day.

But it’s not just by passive indifference that conservative governance callously and recklessly ignores the public good.

Conservatives invest considerable effort to prevent our government from working for us.

LiberalOasis has written in the past about the 2001 Heritage Foundation game plan for Bush political appointees to suffocate the career civil service.

Career civil servants are tasked with serving the public and producing straight info so people can make informed decisions.

But straight info can get in the way of pre-cooked agendas, especially when those agendas have no intention of serving the public interest.

That’s why Heritage articulated a philosophy that claimed political appointees should have more control over the civil service, to ensure that it wouldn’t get in the way of Bush’s plans.

As LO has written about previously, Bush has implemented this philosophy to the hilt, squelching and twisting info from civil servants on Social Security, Medicare and Iraq.

In recent days, we’ve seen more examples of political appointees cracking down on civil servants. From yesterday’s W. Post editorial page:

[George] Deutsch [was] one of several White House-appointed public affairs officers at [NASA] who tried to prevent senior NASA career scientists from speaking and writing freely, especially when their views on the realities of climate change differed from those of the White House...

... Mr. Deutsch's attempts to manipulate science and scientists, although unusually blatant, were not unique.

Just before Christmas, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued "talking points" to local environmental agencies.

These suggestions were intended to help their spokesmen play down an Associated Press story that -- using the EPA's own data -- showed that impoverished neighborhoods had higher levels of air pollution.

At the Food and Drug Administration, the director of the Office of Women's Health recently resigned because she believed that the administration was twisting science to stall approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception.

Off the record -- because they fear losing their jobs -- some scientists at the Department of Health and Human Services say that Bush administration public affairs officers screen their appearances and utterances more carefully than anyone ever did.

Scientists at places such as the Agriculture Department, not a part of the government known for its publicity hounds, have made the same claim.

And there’s more about how intelligence officers were ignored in the run-up to Iraq in today’s W. Post:

The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein...

..."Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," [Paul] Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.

Whether it’s by passive indifference or active manipulation, the conservative movement has been systematically destroying the ability of our civil servants to serve the public.

This is not just because of Bush. This is more than one person. This is the philosophy of conservative governance in action.

And as a result of conservative governance, people have died, prematurely and unnecessarily.

February 9, 2006 PERMALINK
Missed Opportunity on McCain
(posted Feb. 9 2:45 AM ET)

LiberalOasis has argued before that John McCain is the most dangerous man in America, because of “his potential to lure Dems and independents into unwittingly voting for a continuation of our disastrous foreign policy course” if he runs for prez in ’08.

McCain has this potential because he has carefully cultivated a maverick image, adopting liberal-leaning positions on select issues to give a veneer of independence and sincerity.

Too many Senate Democrats have been helping McCain out.

By holding him up as an example of bipartisanship, Dems maintain McCain high poll numbers while making themselves seem comparatively small.

If Dems want to maximize their chances at winning back the White House and correcting our foreign policy course, the McCain worship needs to stop, cold turkey.

A chance to change conventional perceptions of McCain presented itself this week.

After Sen. Barack Obama calmly informed him that he believed lobby reform should go through the Senate committee process, and not through a “bipartisan” task force, McCain lost his cool and sent him a sophomoric, sarcastic letter, posted on his website, attacking Obama for “self-interested ... posturing.” (Project much, McCain?)

Of course, in practical terms, it wasn’t a bipartisan task force. It was a McCainocrat task force.

McCain is itching to been seen as Mr. Reform, the centrist savior who cleaned up Washington, as part of his ’08 positioning.

If the task force led the way, McCain’s stature and self-promotion skills would ensure he’d get a disproportionate share of credit, even if the actual result was minor reform.

Obama made a bold move in trying to deny McCain undeserved ownership of the issue, and McCain’s petulant, childish response was more than anyone could have asked for.

But instead of using McCain’s misstep to expose his craven motives, and highlight how the Dem proposals are substantively stronger than his, Obama sought to patch things up.

He sent a deferential letter back in response, and then yesterday, he playfully referred to McCain as his “pen pal,” expressed hope that he could win McCain’s support for his proposals, and posed for pictures with him.

Instead of a larger confrontation that would have knocked McCain back on his heels and helped Dems establish themselves as the true party of reform, this is now a worthless inside baseball episode.

But let’s not just pick on Obama.

Sen. Russ Feingold is senselessly introducing an earmark reform bill with McCain today.

Feingold has already worked with McCain on campaign finance reform, and that’s no crime.

But it’s time to put some distance in that relationship. Feingold is better than a second banana to McCain.

February 8, 2006 PERMALINK
Ruining The Luster of Democracy
(posted Feb. 8 3:15 AM ET)

Perhaps the worst part of the Bush legacy will be the stain he has put upon the good name of democracy.

In Iraq, it’s been two months since the so-called election and a government still has not been formed, meaning the will of the Iraqi people was meaningless, and the US Ambassador has ample opportunity to impose influence by brokering deals between factions.

Last year, Baghdad Burning wrote: “We have a saying ... in Iraq ... ‘If you see death, you settle for a fever.’ We've given up on democracy...”

There’s no reason to believe the Iraqi people are any more impressed with the bastardized version of democracy they’ve been served.

This week’s exercise in sullied democracy was in Haiti.

Two years after a Bush-engineered deposing of the country’s elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (see last month’s NY Times expose and Max Blumenthal’s earlier groundbreaking report for the sordid details), the Haitian people got another election.

Will this be a legit election?

At minimum, it was incompetently run by the UN and the Organization of American States, with overwhelmed poll workers, ballot shortages, inaccessible polling sites, and inaccurate voter lists.

And the election's validity is at least partially suspect because Aristide’s Lavalas party has been marginalized by the current US-imposed caretaker government and the UN mission.

But there does seem to be strong public support for Rene Preval, a previously elected president in the 1990s and a former Aristide ally.

On Sunday, Reuters reported that Preval had a “comfortable lead among the 33 candidates,” that he has “support from many of Aristide loyalists in Haiti's teeming slums,” and that his opposition comes from “the same business elite that pressed for Aristide's ouster two years ago.”

Roger Noriega, who was a Bush Administration force behind the Aristide coup, has been fanning opposition to Preval from his new perch at the AEI think tank, even threatening Preval if as President he lets Aristide back in the country.

Today, the Miami Herald reports that there was “massive turnout from the slums - who consider the populist Aristide a savior”.

That would seem to suggest a Preval victory, and a repudiation of the coup (Preval could also come in first, but not avoid a runoff election).

But if Preval is defeated, expect charges of vote rigging, further harming our reputation as exporters of democracy.

If Preval is declared the winner, expect the Bush Administration to do nothing to help a Preval Administration, undermining him the way they undermined Aristide.

That also would harm our credibility on democracy, reinforcing the impression that we’re for democracy, so long as countries choose leaders blessed by the neocons.

Either way, the hopes of the Haiti people, expressed today by the large turnout despite major obstacles, will likely be dashed.

It will take years of a Democratic White House committed to real democracy to scrape off the stigma the Bushies are affixing to the word across the globe.

February 6, 2006 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Feb. 6 2 AM ET)

The Sunday shows featured the preliminaries to today’s Senate hearings on Dubya’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Dep. Director of National Intelligence Michael "4th Amendment" Hayden continued his role as chief Administration flack on ABC’s This Week and Fox News Sunday, putting on a grandfatherly shtick while relying on parsed words to slide past pointed questions.

With Hayden tasked to handle questions on program details, RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, also on This Week, provided the air cover – insinuating Democrats will not “protect” the country.

On NBC's Meet The Press GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, who will chair the hearings, continued to express skepticism about Dubya’s claims that the program is legal – but also made some pathetic comments that indicate he cannot be counted on to make the case against the program to the public.

Just as he leveraged his pro-choice status to quiz Sam Alito on abortion, and then quickly endorse him, Specter could well be positioning himself to deem the Administration’s answer satisfactory after the hearings are completed.

Fortunately, there are some indications that Dems will take a tough approach.

On CBS’ Face The Nation, Sen. Pat Leahy (who has taken criticism for poor coordination of the Alito questioning) smartly combined Bush’s lawbreaking with Bush’s ineffectiveness, making the issue more than a procedural dispute:

LEAHY: Of course, we want them caught.

But what I worry about is, if we keep out trying all these things that might not be legal, we're distracted from catching them.

Just as we told the administration, go get Osama bin Laden ... Instead, they yanked their best people out of Afghanistan to send them precipitously into Iraq. We didn't catch Osama bin Laden.

Think how much better off we'd be if they had done what they said they wanted to do.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What about the argument that they're making, though, that it's the difference between success and failure. Is it?

LEAHY: Well, there hasn't been too many successes.

Sen. Ted Kennedy appears ready to go at the myth of Bush’s terror record as well, according to a preview of his line of questioning provided to blogger Glenn Greenwald.

This may actually be a (*gasp*) coordinated strategy to show strength on national security by (*gasp*) sticking to principle, not by echoing empty GOP bluster and cowering in the face of Mehlman’s and Rove’s McCarthyism.

(Check out past LiberalOasis posts about how wireless wiretapping has been ineffectual, as well as yesterday's W. Post piece, "Surveillance Net Yields Few Suspects.")

Furthermore, Leahy got downright feisty as GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions sought to peddle the usual mistruths and hypocrisies.

For example, after Leahy called for a subpoena of Administration documents about the program, Sessions tried to argue for keeping them secret. But Leahy was ready for him:

SESSIONS: The president is not going to give these records voluntarily ... those internal documents, those [sic] advice to the president, the president -- every president, Democrat and Republican -- protects their right to have confidential advice from their advisors.

LEAHY: But you supported getting similar documents during the Clinton administration, it was a Democratic president.

Come on, Jeff, you can't be in favor of getting the documents when it's a Democrat, but you'd be against them when it's a Republican.

We got some good signs yesterday, but we’ll know by the end of today if Dems on the Judiciary Committee can make everyone forget the bad reviews they got at the Alito hearings.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Think Progress: "Yesterday, the nation’s top intelligence officials appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee for an annual hearing on national security threats. On at least three occassions, the officials refused to answer critical questions about the administration’s domestic surveillance programs in an open session."

The Left Coaster: "Despite Senate hearings, and academic studies, and the establishment of legal support for America's wounded warriors, [our soldiers] still have serious issues over receiving the care and benefits they were promised in return for their service to the nation."

Laughing Liberally, national political comedy tour, debuts in NYC this Sat.

Balkinization: "I'm honored to be part of a diverse group of 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials who have joined together to question the legality of the NSA domestic eavesdropping program ... we sent to Congress this letter ..."

Unclaimed Territory: "There are some encouraging developments in the effort to induce at least some of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to be receptive to the questions we have developed here and to be willing to listen to some input as to how the questioning should proceed [at Monday's hearing on warrantless wiretaps.]"

The Democratic Party: New House GOP Maj. Leader Boehner once handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry on the House floor

Battlepanda: "A little bit of the post-Roe world is already here ..."

Arms Control Wonk is analyzing the latest IAEA report on Iran

Meet Vernon: Vernon is set to be executed during the week of February 6, 2006

Tapped: "The spending reconciliation bill passed by two votes ... truly odious stuff. Now, onward to the tax cuts!"

Pharyngula: Bush's "human-animal hybrids" comment actually a threat to criminalize certain research on Down Syndrome (via Political Animal)

Talking Points Memo and Eschaton on Special Counsel Fitzgerald's find that " many e-mails from Cheney's office at the time of the Plame leak in 2003 have been deleted contrary to White House policy."

The Sideshow has a SOTU blog roundup

Think Progress comprehensively debunks the SOTU

Open Letter To Chris Matthews: "Chris Matthews and his guests delivered the usual Bush-propping and Democrat-bashing themes. Here are snippets ..."

Faithful Progressive: "THE SOTU speech was classic Bush-speak ... the problem is that there is no there there"

Faith And Policy Weblog: "The leaders of five mainline Christian denominations have once more called on Congress to defeat the fiscal year 2006 federal budget reconciliation spending reduction package due for a vote on February 1"

From The Roots: Bush's SOTU: It's All Old Ideas, Including A Few From Previous SOTU Speeches

MyDD's own poll shows "63% of the country support Murtha's [Iraq] proposal ... particularly stunning ... is how it is supported almost exactly the same by Democrats (59.3%), Republicans (63.7%) and Independents (65.9%)."

Angry Bear: "If he addresses the question of high medical spending at all in his State of the Union address tonight, Bush is likely to focus solely on the medical liability insurance explanation ... Unfortunately, as I’ve written about previously, non-partisan estimates suggest that tort reform is likely to produce only a small decline in health care costs"

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