Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm considering turning this blog into a garden blog. I'll have to see if I can figure out how to upload pictures, etc. At least I won't have much need for blockquotes. WordPress (where I went after this) is much easier, at least for me.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

For the last 2 days I've not been able to get blockquote to work, either by selecting text or by using HTML. If anyone has any idea why I'd love to know. Today it’s Bobo and Bob Herbert on black unemployment. Let’s get Bobo out of the way:

"Senator Carl Levin has always been one of the most serious participants in the Iraq debate. He’s one of those politicians who could actually pass a test of Middle East cultural literacy — who could tell you what the Mahdi Army is or whether Al Qaeda is a Sunni or Shiite organization. He’s one of the Democrats who generally hasn’t formed his Iraq position with an eye to Iowa primary voters or the party’s donor base.

Which is why it’s significant that his speeches during yesterday’s Senate war debate were so utterly unconvincing.

The essential Levin argument was that the Iraqi leaders have been shirking their duties and it’s time to force them to get serious. “It is time for Congress to explain to the Iraqis that it is your country,” Levin declared. It is time to shift responsibility for Iraq firmly onto Iraqi shoulders, and give them the incentives they need to make the tough choices. The Democratic timetable resolution, Levin concluded, “will deliver a cold dose of reality to Iraqi leaders.”

But does anybody think that Iraqi leaders, many of whom have seen their brothers and children gunned down, need a cold dose of reality delivered from the U.S. Congress? Does anybody buy the Levin model of reality, which holds that Iraqi leaders are rational game theorists who just need to have their incentives rearranged in order to make peace? Does anybody believe the rifts in Iraqi society can be bridged by a few “tough choices” made by the largely reviled Green Zone politicians?

The Democrats spent three years attacking the Bush administration for ignoring intelligence, but now they’re making the Republicans look like pikers. In this debate, they have rigorously ignored the latest intelligence estimates, which take a much deeper, more organic view of Iraqi reality than the technocratic, top-down approach Levin was articulating Wednesday afternoon.

The intelligence agencies paint a portrait of a society riven at its base with sectarian passion. They describe a society not of rational game theorists but of human beings beset by trauma — of Sunnis failing to acknowledge their minority status, of Shiites bent on winner-take-all domination, of self-perpetuating animosities, disintegrating bonds and a complex weave of conflicts.

The intelligence agencies see chaos if the U.S. withdraws. Carl Levin, based on phantom intelligence, sees newly incentivized Iraqis returning to reason and moderation.

The fact is there are two serious approaches to U.S. policy in Iraq, and the Democratic leaders, for purely political reasons, are caught in the middle, and even people like Carl Levin are beginning to sound silly.

One serious position is heard on the left: that there’s nothing more we can effectively do in Iraq. We’ve spent four years there and have not been able to quell the violence. If the place is headed for civil war, there’s nothing we can do to stop it, and we certainly don’t want to get caught in the middle. The only reasonable option is to get out now before more Americans die.

The second serious option is heard on the right. We have to do everything we can to head off catastrophe, and it’s too soon to give up hope. The surge is already producing some results. Bombing deaths are down by at least a third. Execution-style slayings have been cut in half. An oil agreement has been reached, tribes in Anbar Province are chasing Al Qaeda, cross-sectarian political blocs are emerging. We should perhaps build on the promise of the surge with regional diplomacy or a soft partition, but we certainly should not set timetables for withdrawal.

The Democratic leaders don’t want to be for immediate withdrawal because it might alienate the centrists, and they don’t want to see out the surge because that would alienate the base. What they want to do is be against Bush without accepting responsibility for any real policy, so they have concocted a vaporous policy of distant withdrawal that is divorced from realities on the ground.

Say what you will about President Bush, when he thinks a policy is right, like the surge, he supports it, even if it’s going to be unpopular. The Democratic leaders, accustomed to the irresponsibility of opposition, show no such guts.

As a result, nobody loves them. Liberals recognize the cynicism of it all. Republicans know the difference between principled opposition and unprincipled posturing. Independents see just another group of politicians behaving like politicians.

What we get is foreign policy narcissism. The Democrats call it an Iraq policy, but it’s really all about us. "

That's the end of Bobo. And now here’s Bob Herbert:

"The national unemployment rate came in at 4.5 percent last week and was generally characterized as pretty good. But whatever universe those numbers came from, it was not the universe that black men live in.

Black American males inhabit a universe in which joblessness is frequently the norm, where the idea of getting up each morning and going off to work can seem stranger to a lot of men than the dream of hitting the lottery, where the dignity that comes from supporting oneself and one’s family has too often been replaced by a numbing sense of hopelessness.

What I’m talking about is extreme joblessness — joblessness that is coursing through communities and being passed from one generation to another, like a deadly virus.

Forget, for a moment, the official unemployment numbers. They understate the problem of joblessness for all groups. Far more telling is the actual percentage of people in a given segment of the working-age population that is jobless.

Black men who graduate from a four-year college do reasonably well in terms of employment, compared with other ethnic groups. But most black men do not go to college. In big cities, more than half do not even finish high school.

Their employment histories are gruesome. Over the past few years, the percentage of black male high school graduates in their 20s who were jobless (including those who abandoned all efforts to find a job) has ranged from well over a third to roughly 50 percent. Those are the kinds of statistics you get during a depression.

For dropouts, the rates of joblessness are staggering. For black males who left high school without a diploma, the real jobless rate at various times over the past few years has ranged from 59 percent to a breathtaking 72 percent.

“Seventy-two percent jobless!” said Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, which held a hearing last week on joblessness among black men. “This compares to 29 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.”

Senator Schumer described the problem of black male unemployment as “profound, persistent and perplexing.”

Jobless rates at such sky-high levels don’t just destroy lives, they destroy entire communities. They breed all manner of antisocial behavior, including violent crime. One of the main reasons there are so few black marriages is that there are so many black men who are financially incapable of supporting a family.

“These numbers should generate a sense of national alarm,” said Senator Schumer.

They haven’t. However much this epidemic of joblessness may hurt, very little is being done about it. According to the Labor Department, only 97,000 new jobs were created in February. That’s not even enough to accommodate new entrants to the work force.

And then there’s the question of who’s getting the new jobs. According to statistics compiled by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, the only groups that have experienced a growth in jobs since the last recession are older workers and immigrants.

People can howl all they want about how well the economy is doing. The simple truth is that millions of ordinary American workers are in an employment bind. Steady jobs with good benefits are going the way of Ozzie and Harriet. Young workers, especially, are hurting, which diminishes the prospects for the American family. And blacks, particularly black males, are in a deep danger zone.

Instead of addressing this issue constructively, government officials have responded by eviscerating programs that were designed to move young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the labor market.

Robert Carmona, president of Strive, an organization that helps build job skills, told Senator Schumer’s committee, “What we’ve seen over the last several years is a deliberate disinvestment in programs that do work.”

What’s needed are massive programs of job training and job creation, and a sustained national effort to bolster the education backgrounds of disadvantaged youngsters. So far there has been no political will to do any of that.

You get lip service. But when you walk into the neighborhoods and talk to the young people, you find that very little, if anything, is being done. Which is why the real-world employment environment has become so horrendous for so many."

Here endeth the reading.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Judith Warner on “The Really Real Hillary.” Sigh….

(For some reason blockquote is not working today... Neither is preview...)

"Poor Hillary Clinton. Not only does she have to overcome the electability thing, the likability thing and — with some voters at least — the Bill thing. Now she’s got to live up to the whole woman thing — the promise that, as Ellen Malcolm, president and founder of the fund-raising group Emily’s List, recently proclaimed on behalf of all women nationwide, she will be “a president of the United States who is like us.”

In other words, to garner widespread support among the vast, inchoate, contentious, ever-evolving 54 percent of the electorate that her advisers project to be female in the next general election (and to hold the keys to victory), Hillary has to become someone every woman can relate to. She not only has to represent us, but also to mirror us, lift us up and move us, and know how we feel, what we want, and how we live. And, worst of all, she’s got to be real.

And that, pollsters, pundits and voters tend to agree, is a bit of a problem.

“I don’t feel the realness from her,” is how a young woman in Florida put it to Melinda Henneberger, whose book “If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear” will be published in May.

“You hear this over and over,” Henneberger told me.

You don’t have to go rereading Simone de Beauvoir, of course, to know that the perception of realness in a woman has very little to do with reality. It has nothing whatsoever to do with biology, only a little to do with the kinds of experiences that women tend to share and a great deal to do with expressive style: how many signifiers you can knock off in the space of a sound bite to get across to the greatest possible number of women that you are — really — one of them.

You can do this, as a freshman senator, Claire McCaskill, did at a celebratory Emily’s List luncheon in Washington last week, by sharing your insecurities: “I can’t believe I’m here. ... I can’t believe I’m in the room with these giants in our government,” she told the crowd, recalling the “pinch-me moments” she’d experienced upon arrival in Washington. (She also said she wanted to hug every person in the room.) You can shed a tear, or better yet, movingly suppress your tears while inspiring buckets more as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, did, speaking tremolo-voiced of her encounters with Iraq soldiers.

What you probably shouldn’t do is talk policy, with a passion and warmth and profound sense of purpose that contrasts sharply with your rather flat delivery of lines like, “The fact is that being a woman — being a wife, a mother, having to work my way forward in the legal profession and politics — is part of who I am.”

But then, Hillary’s a real tear-stopper. She has a voice that is metallic and somewhat atonal. She has the sentence structure and cadences of a political science professor. I do not mean these things as insults; she is trying out, after all, for the job of president of the United States, not fairy godmother. Nor, for that matter, your best friend. Hillary’s friends say she is warm and certainly very real. But she clearly isn’t wired to project “realness” on the national stage. And frankly, for political figures, projection is what matters most.

It’s the mimicry of authenticity that carries or sinks them. It either rings true — in the case of women, by setting off lots of “just like me ... or my sister ... or my mother ... or my best friend” bells — or it falls flat.

Pelosi’s got her reality show down pat. She’s an Everymom, the strict taskmaster who will rip the throat out of anyone, including her own kids, who behaves badly. When she swells with pride — as she did the other day, twisting her shoulders in girlish excitement as she discussed Hillary’s run — you get all warm and happy inside. You can picture her shaking a finger in the face of major potentates, filling them with fears they didn’t know lay dormant in their psyches.

Her performance of femininity is so far superior to Clinton’s that it’s painful. That doesn’t mean she’s a better woman or more “real”; it’s just that she’s got the schmaltz factor all sewn up. Schmaltz — what my piano teacher, with some desperation, used to urge me to put into my playing — is something that Bill Clinton just oozes. But Hillary doesn’t.

We might wish her to gain it for the sake of winning the election. But that could just mean that in the quest for “authenticity,” she would lose a little piece of her soul. "

Here endeth the quote.

Judith Warner is the author of “Perfect Madness” and a contributing columnist for TimesSelect. She is a guest Op-Ed columnist this month.Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd are off today.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Nicholas Kristof on genocide and Rory Stewart on Tolstoy and a book Bush should put on his reading list. Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For anyone who thinks that “genocide” is absolutely the rock-bottom possibility, keep an eye on Darfur.

The area of crisis has already spread from an area the size of France to one the size of Western Europe, encompassing Chad and Central African Republic while threatening to reignite the separate war between north and south Sudan. And aid workers increasingly are finding themselves under attack, so that humanitarian access is now lower than at any time since 2004.

Six weeks ago, I invited readers to send in their own suggestions for what we should do about Darfur, and the result was a deluge of proposals from all over the world.

The common thread was a far more muscular approach. Several readers suggested that we should dispatch a private force — supplied by a military contractor like Blackwater USA — to fight the janjaweed militia.

Many readers also recommended that we supply arms to Darfur refugees or rebel groups. Some people suggested that we blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan exports oil.

Many also wanted a much tougher approach toward China, which has protected Sudan diplomatically. Some advocated a boycott of all Chinese products, while others favor a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

After inviting the discussion, I feel ungrateful in criticizing such well-meaning suggestions — but I’m afraid that in the aftermath of the Iraq war, aggressive military measures would be counterproductive. We would be handing President Omar al-Bashir a propaganda victory and a chance to rally support (“Those American crusaders are trying to steal another Arab country’s oil!”).

Likewise, Darfur is already awash with guns and irresponsible armed factions terrorizing civilians. The last thing Darfur needs is more AK-47s.

As for China, a boycott would antagonize ordinary Chinese and cause Beijing to dig in its heels. But I like the idea of activists like Eric Reeves of organizing a “Genocide Olympics” campaign to shame Beijing into better behavior.

Likewise, I approve of many suggestions that sought more television coverage of Darfur. The slacker now is ABC News. The Tyndall Report, which monitors network news coverage, found that ABC’s nightly newscasts included just 11 minutes of coverage of Darfur in all of 2006, compared with the 23 minutes ABC devoted to the false confession to the killing of JonBenet Ramsey. If only a Darfuri would falsely confess to killing JonBenet, maybe ABC would cover genocide ...

I’ve posted more reader suggestions on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground. But in general, what Darfur needs isn’t a single dramatic solution but a collection of incremental steps that add to the pressure for a peace agreement there.

President Bush could ratchet up the pressure by giving a prime-time speech on Darfur. He and Tony Blair could lead a summit on Darfur in Europe. He could invite leaders of China and Egypt to join him on a trip to a Darfur refugee camp in Chad.

Mr. Bush is expected to announce soon a series of financial sanctions on Sudan (similar to those that have inflicted considerable pain on North Korea and Iran), and those are welcome. Enforcing a no-fly zone would also help add to the pressure.

But the top priority for Darfur is something that few people talk about — a negotiated peace agreement. Peacekeepers are desperately needed, but the only real hope for lasting security is a negotiated peace among all the tribes of Darfur. And that is conceivable: an attempt last April came close, but ultimately a flawed deal was reached that made the conflict worse.

Human rights groups have laid out excellent proposals for a Darfur peace process, and they need a vigorous push. To get an agreement, Khartoum will have to make a few more concessions (such as naming a Darfuri vice president, uniting the Darfur provinces, verifying the disarming of janjaweed), and it will also have to allow rebels to meet to work out negotiating positions.

Western countries should also pledge to help finance reconstruction and compensation schemes, as incentives to wary Darfuris to back a peace deal. So far the U.S. has spent $2.7 billion on Darfur, and it would be a bargain to invest several hundred million dollars in a peace. Otherwise, north central Africa may collapse completely into war and anarchy, costing us countless billions and resulting in several million deaths over the coming decade.

You are invited to comment on this column at www.nytimes.com/ontheground. Interested in joining me on a reporting trip to Africa? I’ll be picking one university student and one school teacher in my second annual “Win-a-Trip” contest. Applications are accepted beginning today at www.nytimes.com/winatrip.

And now here’s Rory Stewart:

Politicians have taken to publicizing “reading lists.” President Bush, we were told, last summer was to read a comic historical novel on the first Afghan war and Camus’s “The Stranger.” The Tory members of the British Parliament were issued weighty books on Middle Eastern politics. But why is no one reading Tolstoy’s novel “Hadji Murad”?

Tolstoy served as a soldier in the Russian campaign in the Caucasus in 1851, which was presented as a mission to bring modern government and economic growth to a medieval Muslim state. It was resisted by a bloody jihad, one of whose leaders, Hadji Murad, kidnapped widows, annihilated Russian columns, executed 26 prisoners and twice joined and then defected from the Russian administration.

In a letter at the time to his brother, Tolstoy described Hadji Murad’s actions as “base.” Fifty years later, after having espoused nonviolence and apparently given up on writing novels, Tolstoy decided to make this warlord the center of one of the great portraits of violent occupation.

The action is driven by ignorance and corrosive bureaucracy. The occupiers are isolated: living in a barracks, being rocketed at night and encountering the local population only through raids on villages and sudden ambushes. The tactics switch at whim, the strategy is destabilized by political rivalries.

But the local population is equally fractured and confused. The Chechen leader of the resistance “had declared his campaign victorious but knew it had been a failure, that many Chechen villages had been burned and devastated and that the fickle, frivolous Chechens were vacillating, and those of whom were nearest to the Russians were ready to secede.”

Tolstoy stubbornly records details inside Russian camps and, transcendentally (for he was as isolated as any soldier in a foreign land), inside Chechen homes. He opens the novel with the smell of the dung-fed fire in a mud hut, where Hadji Murad is preparing his defection. The conversation has nothing to do with money or grand theories of progress. Instead, quick sparks of sentiment and honor flicker out of the rituals of greeting, eating and prayers.

This empathy allows Tolstoy to catch the generosity and joy in battle of a young Russian officer attacking a village, but also the burned house and the bayoneted boy. Tolstoy shows how, in the fine texture of the local resistance, self-interest can blend with honor, fury and religion in “a natural instinct akin to the instinct of self-preservation.”

In the simplest interaction between the two sides, different world-views shimmer around the language of the interpreters. Hadji Murad is asked whether he liked the capital, Tiflis:

“ ‘Alya’, he replied.

“ ‘He says, “Yes,” ’ said the interpreter."

‘And what did he like best there?’

“Hadji Murad said something in reply.

“ ‘He liked the theater best.’

“ ‘Well, and did he like the viceroy’s ball?’

“Hadji Murad frowned. ‘Every tribe has its customs. Our women do not dress so,’ he said.”

The occupiers and occupied both despise and mimic each other. Hadji Murad delights in a modern chiming clock and uses it to time his prayers. The Russian officer dresses like a Chechen. The different national honor codes drive fights but also reconciliations: greed and nobility combine in a single exchange. Hadji Murad presents a sword as an almost contemptuous gesture to a Russian; the recipient examines it to see if it is a fake.

After 50 years of reflection, Tolstoy no longer considers Hadji Murad “base” or even glamorous. He ignores Hadji Murad’s youthful adventures and begins with his defection as a middle-aged man, negotiating with spies for the release of his family and vainly petitioning the bureaucracy. In the viceroy’s palace, crowds of Russians gaze at Hadji Murad, but he disdains to look back. Tolstoy, who is normally judgmental, hardly explores the character of Hadji Murad. Instead, he maintains a respectful distance, concluding perhaps that it is not his place to judge. What Tolstoy recognizes, and what ultimately makes this the great portrait of occupation, is Hadji Murad’s autonomy.

Rory Stewart’s latest book is “The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.” He runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and is a guest columnist this month.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Bob Herbert on indentured servitude in America, otherwise known as guest worker programs, and Paul Krugman on Alberto Gonzalez. His first words are “Nobody is surprised to learn that the Justice Department was lying…” I never thought I would have to consider such a phrase… Here’s Mr. Herbert:

A must-read for anyone who favors an expansion of guest worker programs in the U.S. is a stunning new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that details the widespread abuse of highly vulnerable, poverty-stricken workers in programs that already exist.

The report is titled “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States.” It will be formally released today at a press conference in Washington.

Workers recruited from Mexico, South America, Asia and elsewhere to work in American hotels and in such labor-intensive industries as forestry, seafood processing and construction are often ruthlessly exploited.

They are routinely cheated out of their wages, which are low to begin with. They are bound like indentured servants to the middlemen and employers who arrange their work tours in the U.S. And they are virtual hostages of the American companies that employ them.

The law does not allow these “guests” to change jobs while they’re here. If a particular employer is unscrupulous, as is very often the case, the worker has little or no recourse.

One of the guest workers profiled in the report was a psychology student recruited in the Dominican Republic to work at a hotel in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The woman had taken on $4,000 in debt to cover “fees” and other expenses that were required for her to get a desk job that paid $6 an hour.

But after a month, her hours were steadily reduced until she was working only 15 or 20 hours a week. That left her with barely enough money to survive, and with no way of paying off her crushing debt.

The woman and her fellow guest workers had hardly enough money for food. “We would just buy Chinese food because it was the cheapest,” she said. “We would buy one plate a day and share it between two or three people.” She told the authors of the report: “I felt like an animal without claws — defenseless. It is the same as slavery.”

Steven Greenhouse of The Times recently reported on a waiter from Indonesia who took on $6,000 in debt to become a guest worker. He arrived in North Carolina expecting to do farm work but found that there was no job for him at all.

The report focused primarily on the 120,000 foreign workers who are allowed into the U.S. each year to work on farms or at other low-skilled jobs. In most cases the guest workers take on a heavy debt load to participate in the program, anywhere from $500 to more than $10,000. Worried about the welfare of their families back home, and with the huge debt hanging over their heads, the workers are most often docile, even in the face of the most egregious treatment.

The result, said the report, is that they are “systematically exploited and abused.”

Some of the worst abuses occur in the forestry industry. The report said, “Virtually every forestry company that the Southern Poverty Law Center has encountered provides workers with pay stubs showing that they have worked substantially fewer hours than they actually worked.”

A favorite (and extremely cruel) tactic of employers is the seizure of guest workers’ identity documents, such as passports and Social Security cards. That leaves the workers incredibly vulnerable.

“Numerous employers have refused to return these documents even when the worker simply wanted to return to his home country,” the report said. “The Southern Poverty Law Center also has encountered numerous incidents where employers destroyed passports or visas in order to convert workers into undocumented status.”

Without their papers the workers live in abject fear of encountering the authorities, who will treat them as illegals. They are completely at the mercy of the employers.

President Bush has been relentless in his push to greatly expand guest worker programs as part of his effort to revise the nation’s immigration laws. To expand these programs without looking closely at the gruesome abuses already taking place would be both tragic and ridiculous.

“This is not a situation where there are just a few bad-apple employers,” said Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has initiated a number of lawsuits on behalf of abused workers. “Our experience is that it’s the very structure of the program that lends itself to abuse.”

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

Nobody is surprised to learn that the Justice Department was lying when it claimed that recently fired federal prosecutors were dismissed for poor performance. Nor is anyone surprised to learn that White House political operatives were pulling the strings.

What is surprising is how fast the truth is emerging about what Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, dismissed just five days ago as an “overblown personnel matter.”

Sources told Newsweek that the list of prosecutors to be fired was drawn up by Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, “with input from the White House.” And Allen Weh, the chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, told McClatchy News that he twice sought Karl Rove’s help — the first time via a liaison, the second time in person — in getting David Iglesias, the state’s U.S. attorney, fired for failing to indict Democrats. “He’s gone,” he claims Mr. Rove said.

After that story hit the wires, Mr. Weh claimed that his conversation with Mr. Rove took place after the decision to fire Mr. Iglesias had already been taken. Even if that’s true, Mr. Rove should have told Mr. Weh that political interference in matters of justice is out of bounds; Mr. Weh’s account of what he said sounds instead like the swaggering of a two-bit thug.

And the thuggishness seems to have gone beyond firing prosecutors who didn’t deliver the goods for the G.O.P. One of the fired prosecutors was — as he saw it — threatened with retaliation by a senior Justice Department official if he discussed his dismissal in public. Another was rejected for a federal judgeship after administration officials, including then-White House counsel Harriet Miers, informed him that he had “mishandled” the 2004 governor’s race in Washington, won by a Democrat, by failing to pursue vote-fraud charges.

As I said, none of this is surprising. The Bush administration has been purging, politicizing and de-professionalizing federal agencies since the day it came to power. But in the past it was able to do its business with impunity; this time Democrats have subpoena power, and the old slime-and-defend strategy isn’t working.

You also have to wonder whether new signs that Mr. Gonzales and other administration officials are willing to cooperate with Congress reflect the verdict in the Libby trial. It probably comes as a shock to realize that even Republicans can face jail time for lying under oath.

Still, a lot of loose ends have yet to be pulled. We now know exactly why Mr. Iglesias was fired, but still have to speculate about some of the other cases — in particular, that of Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney for Southern California.

Ms. Lam had already successfully prosecuted Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican. Just two days before leaving office she got a grand jury to indict Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor, and Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the former third-ranking official at the C.I.A. (Mr. Foggo was brought in just after the 2004 election, when, reports said, the administration was trying to purge the C.I.A. of liberals.) And she was investigating Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, the former head of the House Appropriations Committee.

Was Ms. Lam dumped to protect corrupt Republicans? The administration says no, a denial that, in light of past experience, is worth precisely nothing. But how do Congressional investigators plan to get to the bottom of this story?

Another big loose end involves what U.S. attorneys who weren’t fired did to please their employers. As I pointed out last week, the numbers show that since the Bush administration came to power, federal prosecutors have investigated far more Democrats than Republicans.

But the numbers can tell only part of the story. What we really need — and it will take a lot of legwork — is a portrait of the actual behavior of prosecutors across the country. Did they launch spurious investigations of Democrats, as I suggested last week may have happened in New Jersey? Did they slow-walk investigations of Republican scandals, like the phone-jamming case in New Hampshire?

In other words, the truth about that “overblown personnel matter” has only begun to be told. The good news is that for the first time in six years, it’s possible to hope that all the facts about a Bush administration scandal will come out in Congressional hearings — or, if necessary, in the impeachment trial of Alberto Gonzales.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bobo on “The Vanishing Neoliberal,” and Frank Rich explaining why Libby’s pardon is a slam dunk. Let’s get Bobo out of the way first. Nicholas Kristof is also in the paper today, but he's out from behind the firewall for even the hoi polloi to read.

On July 25, 1981, Michael Kinsley published an essay in The New Republic called “The Shame of the Democrats.” The Democratic Party, the young Kinsley wrote, is viewed “with growing indifference.” It is run “by lawyer-operators with no commitment to any particular political values.” It is filled “with politicians who will do or say anything for a word or a dollar of support.” It represents “a dwindling collection of special interest groups whose interests are less and less those of either the general populus or the tired and poor.” In short, Kinsley wrote, “the Democratic Party has collapsed not just politically but morally.”

And so began the era of neoliberalism, a movement which, at least temporarily, remade the Democratic Party, redefined American journalism and didn’t really die until now.

In the early days, the neoliberals coalesced around two small magazines, The New Republic and The Washington Monthly. They represented, first of all, a change in intellectual tone. While the old liberals could be earnest and self-righteous, the neoliberals were sprightly and lampooning. While the old liberals valued solidarity, the neoliberals loved to argue among themselves, showing off the rhetorical skills many had honed in Harvard dining halls.

On policy matters, the neoliberals were liberal but not too liberal. They rejected interest-group politics and were suspicious of brain-dead unions. They tended to be hawkish on foreign policy, positive about capitalism, reformist when it came to the welfare state, and urbane but not militant on feminism and other social issues.

The neoliberal movement begat politicians like Paul Tsongas, Al Gore (the 1980s and ’90s version) and Bill Clinton. It also set the tone for mainstream American journalism. Today, you can’t swing an ax in a major American newsroom without hitting six people who used to work at The New Republic or The Washington Monthly. Influenced by their sensibility, many major news organizations became neoliberal institutions, whether they knew it or not.

Neoliberals often have an air of perpetual youthfulness about them, but they are now in their 40s, 50s and even their 60s, and a younger generation of bloggers set off a backlash. If you surf the Web these days, for example, you find that a horde of thousands have declared war on the Time magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein’s mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but “like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late ’90s.” Drum says he’s reacting to Ken Starr, the Florida ballot fight, the Bush tax cuts, the K Street Project and the war in Iraq.

Drum and his cohort don’t want a neoliberal movement that moderates and reforms. They want a Democratic Party that fights. Their tone is much more confrontational. They want to read articles that affirm their anger. They are also further to the left, driven there by Iraq on foreign policy matters and by wage stagnation on economic matters.

For the past few years, The New Republic has tried to keep the neoliberal flame alive, under editors like Peter Beinart. But there is no longer a readership for that. The longtime owner, Marty Peretz, has sold his remaining interests and, starting this month, the magazine will go biweekly.

The new format is partly a response to the Web. The forthcoming issue has a lot of good, long, nonideological reports. (Ryan Lizza has a fascinating piece on Barack Obama’s Chicago years.) But it’s also a shift leftward. As the new editor, Frank Foer, says, there’s a generation gap within the magazine, with young interns further to the left. That’s where the future lies. Foer is hiring the Ph.D. neopopulist Thomas Frank to write essays on the presidential campaign. Recent editorials have called for tax increases to finance universal health care. The magazine now habitually calls on Democrats to take bold action on things like the war and global warming, but it’s still a little fuzzy on what that bold action should be.

Over all, what’s happening is this: The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform and coming to look more like its old, pre-neoliberal self. The right is growing more fractious. And many of those who were semiaffiliated with one party or another are drifting off to independent-land. (The Economist, their magazine, now has over 500,000 American readers — more than all the major liberal magazines combined.)

Neoliberalism had a good, interesting run — while it lasted.

Yeah. Thanks, Bobo. Now here’s Frank Rich:

Even by Washington’s standards, few debates have been more fatuous or wasted more energy than the frenzied speculation over whether President Bush will or will not pardon Scooter Libby. Of course he will.

A president who tries to void laws he doesn’t like by encumbering them with “signing statements” and who regards the Geneva Conventions as a nonbinding technicality isn’t going to start playing by the rules now. His assertion last week that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the Libby case is as credible as his pre-election vote of confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. The only real question about the pardon is whether Mr. Bush cares enough about his fellow Republicans’ political fortunes to delay it until after Election Day 2008.

Either way, the pardon is a must for Mr. Bush. He needs Mr. Libby to keep his mouth shut. Cheney’s Cheney knows too much about covert administration schemes far darker than the smearing of Joseph Wilson. Though Mr. Libby wrote a novel that sank without a trace a decade ago, he now has the makings of an explosive Washington tell-all that could be stranger than most fiction and far more salable.

Mr. Libby’s novel was called “The Apprentice.” His memoir could be titled “The Accomplice.” Its first chapter would open in August 2002, when he and a small cadre of administration officials including Karl Rove formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a secret task force to sell the Iraq war to the American people. The climactic chapter of the Libby saga unfolded last week when the guilty verdict in his trial coincided, all too fittingly, with the Congressional appearance of two Iraq veterans, one without an ear and one without an eye, to recount their subhuman treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It was WHIG’s secret machinations more than four years ago that led directly to those shredded lives. WHIG had been tasked, as The Washington Post would later uncover, to portray Iraq’s supposedly imminent threat to America with “gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence.” In other words, WHIG was to cook up the sexiest recipe for promoting the war, facts be damned. So it did, by hyping the scariest possible scenario: nuclear apocalypse. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn report in “Hubris,” it was WHIG (equipped with the slick phrase-making of the White House speechwriter Michael Gerson) that gave the administration its Orwellian bumper sticker, the constantly reiterated warning that Saddam’s “smoking gun” could be “a mushroom cloud.”

Ever since all the W.M.D. claims proved false, the administration has pleaded that it was duped by the same bad intelligence everyone else saw. But the nuclear card, the most persistent and gripping weapon in the prewar propaganda arsenal, was this White House’s own special contrivance. Mr. Libby was present at its creation. He knows what Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney knew about the manufacture of this fiction and when they knew it.

Clearly they knew it early on. The administration’s guilt (or at least embarrassment) about its lies in fomenting the war quickly drove it to hide the human price being paid for those lies. (It also tried to hide the financial cost of the war by keeping it out of the regular defense budget, but that’s another, if related, story.) The steps the White House took to keep casualties out of view were extraordinary, even as it deployed troops to decorate every presidential victory rally and gave the Pentagon free rein to exploit the sacrifices of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in mendacious P.R. stunts.

The administration’s enforcement of a prohibition on photographs of coffins returning from Iraq was the first policy manifestation of the hide-the-carnage strategy. It was complemented by the president’s decision to break with precedent, set by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter among others, and refuse to attend military funerals, lest he lend them a media spotlight. But Mark Benjamin, who has chronicled the mistreatment of Iraq war veterans since 2003, discovered an equally concerted effort to keep injured troops off camera. Mr. Benjamin wrote in Salon in 2005 that “flights carrying the wounded arrive in the United States only at night” and that both Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda barred the press “from seeing or photographing incoming patients.”

A particularly vivid example of the extreme measures taken by the White House to cover up the war’s devastation turned up in The Washington Post’s Walter Reed exposé. Sgt. David Thomas, a Tennessee National Guard gunner with a Purple Heart and an amputated leg, found himself left off the guest list for a summer presidential ceremony honoring a fellow amputee after he said he would be wearing shorts, not pants, when occupying a front-row seat in camera range. Now we can fully appreciate that bizarre incident on C-Span in October 2003, when an anguished Cher, of all unlikely callers, phoned in to ask why administration officials, from the president down, were not being photographed with patients like those she had visited at Walter Reed. “I don’t understand why these guys are so hidden,” she said.

The answer is simple: Out of sight, out of mind was the game plan, and it has been enforced down to the tiniest instances. When HBO produced an acclaimed (and apolitical) documentary last year about military medics’ remarkable efforts to save lives in Iraq, “Baghdad ER,” Army brass at the last minute boycotted planned promotional screenings in Washington and at Fort Campbell, Ky. In a memo, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley warned that the film, though made with Army cooperation, could endanger veterans’ health by provoking symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The General Kiley who was so busy policing an HBO movie for its potential health hazards is the same one who did not correct the horrific real-life conditions on his watch at Walter Reed. After the Post exposé was published, he tried to spin it by boasting that most of the medical center’s rooms “were actually perfectly O.K.” and scapegoating “soldiers leaving food in their rooms” for the mice and cockroach infestations. That this guy is still surgeon general of the Army — or was as of Friday — makes you wonder what he, like Mr. Libby, has on his superiors.

Now that the country has seen the Congressional testimony of Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who has melted flesh where his ear once was, or watched the ABC newsman Bob Woodruff’s report on other neglected patients in military medical facilities far beyond Walter Reed, the White House cover-up of veterans’ care has collapsed, like so many other cover-ups necessitated by its conduct of this war. But the administration and its surrogates still won’t face up to their moral culpability.

Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who served with Mr. Libby on WHIG and is now on the board of his legal defense fund (its full list of donors is unknown), has been especially vocal. “Scooter didn’t do anything,” she said. “And his personal record and service are impeccable.” What Mr. Libby did — fabricating nuclear threats at WHIG and then lying under oath when he feared that sordid Pandora’s box might be pried open by the Wilson case — was despicable. Had there been no WHIG or other White House operation for drumming up fictional rationales for war, there would have been no bogus uranium from Africa in a presidential speech, no leak to commit perjury about, no amputees to shut away in filthy rooms at Walter Reed.

Listening to Ms. Matalin and her fellow apparatchiks emote publicly about the punishment being inflicted on poor Mr. Libby and his family, you wonder what world they live in. They seem clueless about how ugly their sympathy for a conniving courtier sounds against the testimony of those wounded troops and their families who bear the most searing burdens of the unnecessary war WHIG sped to market.

As is often noted, any parallels between Iraq and Vietnam do not extend to America’s treatment of its troops. No one spits at those serving in Iraq. But our “support” for the troops has often been as hypocritical as that of an administration that still fails to provide them with sufficient armor. Health care indignities, among other betrayals of returning veterans, have been reported by countless news organizations since the war began, not just this year. Many in Congress did nothing, and we as a people have often looked the other way, supporting the troops with car decals and donated phone cards while the same history repeats itself again and again.

Now the “surge” that was supposed to show results by summer is creeping inexorably into an open-ended escalation, even as Moktada al-Sadr’s militia ominously melts away, just as Iraq’s army did after the invasion in 2003, lying in wait to spring a Tet-like surprise. And still, despite Thursday’s breakthrough announcement of a credible Iraq exit blueprint by the House leadership, Congress threatens to dither. While Mr. Bush will no doubt pardon Scooter Libby without so much as a second thought, anyone else in Washington who continues to further this debacle may find it less easy to escape scot-free.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

This morning it’s Judith Warner discussing the death of Cinderella and Rory Stewart on Politics Lite. Here’s Ms. Warner:

We were laid out on the couch the other weekend, stopped in our tracks by an unforeseen afternoon broadcast of “Maid in Manhattan,” when an importantmoment of sociological revelation arose.

Ralph Fiennes’s character, the Senate candidate Christopher Marshall, and Jennifer Lopez’s Marisa Ventura, a hotel maid mistaken by Marshall for a socialite, locked eyes for a searing moment. “I only came to tell you that this, you and me, can’t go anywhere beyond this evening,” J. Lo said.

“Well then,” purred the man best known for his impersonation of a sadistic Nazi, “you should’ve worn a different dress.”

“Why’d he say that?” asked my daughter Emilie, who is nearly 7.

“He said that,” I answered, “because he is arrogant. He’s a man who’s used to getting his way. He figures that he knows better than she does why she’s wearing that dress.”

“Tradition! Tradition!” Nine-year-old Julia was booming upstairs, simultaneously embroidering, dressing the dog, cleaning her room, listening to Bill Harley and practicing for her school musical.

“It’s just a fairy tale, Em,” my husband, Max, said with a sigh. “A Cinderella story.”

“A stupid Cinderella,” she countered. But nothing then — not Monopoly, not War, not even a go at the hypertoxic crystal-making kit — could make her peel her eyes away.

I shouldn’t have worried. And I could have spared her the lesson in dime-store feminism. Truth is, in the real world, the fantasy of a highly successful man swooping down to make off with a winsome, wide-eyed maid is pretty well dead. Instead, according to recent sociological research, what these alpha males are doing is marrying equally high-octane women.

It’s the latest twist in what social scientists call “assortative mating” — like marrying like, in normal-people-speak — and it’s been going on pretty much forever. But until recently, according to the sociologist Barbara Risman at the Council on Contemporary Families, the phenomenon played out in terms of race, ethnicity or the social class of origin. “It never before meant men and women were choosing each other or were like each other in terms of achievement level in the work world,” she said.

The coming together of equally well-educated and successful people can be very good, particularly when worldly ambition doesn’t fly to extremes and the partnership translates into more equal task-sharing and co-parenting. But the mating of like-wired colleagues and college pals is raising some questions as well.

Some economists worry that the concentration of income in high-achieving two-earner homes is aggravating the wealth gap. Some evolutionary psychologists say that pumping up certain kids’ genes for intelligence will increase the achievement gap (by creating supersmart kids with an even more unfair advantage than their smart parents had).

In Britain, Simon Baron-Cohen, the Autism Research Center director at the University of Cambridge, postulates that assortative mating among people with great skills in understanding and building systems, like engineers and economists, may be linked to the greater numbers of autistic children. Similar hypotheses have been floated around to explain the increased and earlier incidence of bipolar disorder and anorexia (too many perfectionists marrying perfectionists, too little “hybrid vigor”).

This is all speculation. For our family, though, the message is clear: if Emilie persists in her declared career path of being “a artist,” she isn’t likely to be swept off her feet by an investment banker and to spend her life working within the velvet bondage of having him pay her Bergdorf’s bills. She’s more likely to marry a guy she meets in art school, whose economic prospects will be as dim as her own.

All that bodes badly for a future in which she was supposed to grow up and take care of her parents, writers who bonded over their mutual dislike of Thomas Wolfe — “O rock, o leaf, o pretzel,” Max wrote to me — and over their shared ambition of reading as many books as possible while living as expensively as possible and working, perhaps, not at all.

Julia plans to spend her life swimming with dolphins. It just goes to show: if you’re going to marry your soul mate, better beware of the content of your soul.

Correction: In my last column, the names Clare Boothe Luce and Ted Sorensen were misspelled (shades of idiocracy!).

Judith Warner is the author of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” and a contributing columnist for TimesSelect. She is a guest Op-Ed columnist this month. You are invited to comment on this column on Ms. Warner's blog, Domestic Disturbances.

And now here’s Rory Stewart:

The accepted wisdom in British political circles is that Tony Blair won three elections by giving the British voters charisma and energy unfettered by dull or controversial policies. The Tories have now taken the lesson to heart. They are fighting back with feel-good, idea-light campaigns of their own, and it seems to be working. They are now significantly ahead in the polls.

This is not just electoral strategy. Many of them believe that we live in a postideological age, that there are no great questions anymore and that there can be no new solutions for domestic poverty or problems with immigration, energy or the economy.

But why do people stand as politicians if they have no policies? Many politicians claim privately that they are simply concealing their policies until they are elected. It is more likely that when the winds of office change in their favor, they will find their faces frozen into an expression of affable inaction. The role of a modern politician is apparently to be likable, to tinker with existing institutions and to manage occasional crises.

Churchill has been replaced by Bertie Wooster.

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands have died over the last few years and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by the U.S.-led coalition. The international system is fractured; the Islamic world is angry. Yet both major British political parties still refuse to admit the problem and instead tweak the current mission: withdraw some troops from Iraq, put a few more in Afghanistan.

A million people took to London’s streets to stop the invasion. Thirty million now think we should withdraw from Iraq. Whatever the correct policy, there should be a fierce practical and ideological political debate. But it is not happening in Parliament.

Even though Britain is in a crisis, its other major policy issues seem to be approached with the same complacency. In many parts of the country, Asian Muslim and white communities live separate lives; people shun each other at school and in the streets and defend themselves in gangs.

This very wealthy country has pockets of shameful poverty. I have encountered a level of random hostility, aggression and bitterness in Scottish public housing that I have never seen in an Afghan village. British “civilization” is as tainted by this inequity as Rome by the Colosseum.

The Labor Party continues to invest in child poverty, but three weeks ago a U.N. agency ranked Britain 18th out of 18 rich countries in a study of children’s well-being. (The United States was 17th.) Islamist terror is answered with unprecedented levels of money and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and comparatively little investment in intelligence and security, community relations and politics at home.

In Kabul I work with a local government councilor called Aziz, who was a champion wrestler. For 40 years, he has dealt with war, pogroms and government. He is assessed by members of his community on whether he is generous to the poor, courageous even in the face of death, a powerful representative of their interests and able to keep his promises. He and they believe that leadership is an exercise in moral virtue and courage, that politics should be a noble profession and politicians virtuous. A British voter might think that is naïve. But I believe Aziz is right.

It is patronizing to assume that voters can’t handle demanding, imaginative and risky policies. More Britons voted for the contestants on the TV programs “Big Brother” and “Pop Idol” last year than in the national elections. But the way to persuade people to vote is to make politics less, not more, like “Big Brother.”

We are as reluctant to acknowledge the popularity of the Taliban as we are to acknowledge poverty in Glasgow. We are as reluctant to believe in the Iraqis’ ability to build a nation without us as we are to believe that our citizens will make sacrifices to prevent global warming. Courage, honesty about problems and faith in the population is as necessary domestically as it is abroad. Our failure in these areas explains our hubristic confidence internationally and our cynicism and lack of ambition at home.

Rory Stewart’s latest book is “The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.” He runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and is a guest columnist this month. Maureen Dowd is on leave.

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