donkey o.d. too

My main site, donkey o.d. is moving here. Pardon the dust...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nicholas D. Kristof - On The Ground

Oct. 6, 2005
My African Diet
I'm headed off in a few hours to Niger in West Africa, so I'm not sure how much I'll add to this in the next week. But I'm traveling with Naka Nathaniel, my partner in multimedia columny, and he'll be preparing some video and sound presentations from Niger.

By the way, since everybody looks blank when I say Niger, it's properly pronounced Nee-jair, the French way, not as if it were Nigeria with the last two letters lopped off.

Oh, and if I find any of Saddam Hussein's agents in Niger, looking for uranium, I'll be sure to tell Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, not to mention the Veep. Now that would be a fine column.

Oct. 11, 2005
It's True: I'm 'On the Ground!'
So here I am, actually on the ground in an interesting place – Niger – and I’m not filing much for “On the Ground.” My apologies. I’ve been bouncing over roads all day, and the only way to get an Internet connection is with a satellite phone. And that means sitting around outside at night when the malarial mosquitoes are most active. If I get malaria again, I’m going to sue “On the Ground.”

Niger is actually a lovely place to visit, aside from the wrenching poverty. People are very friendly, and there’s much less of the theft and corruption that make other countries in Africa sometimes aggravating. And although right now I’m in the provincial town of Zinder, the hotel is perfectly okay, clean, with electricity and no large rats.

Naka Nathaniel is traveling with me, shooting photos and video, and he has an audio slide show that (if I have figured out how to do links) is here: audio slide show.

In talking to villagers, you get an overwhelming sense of how hard life is. Sometimes people have to travel 20 kilometers to a well to get water, and then bring it back by camel. In one clinic I met a teenage girl who had an obstructed labor and had to be carried by camel for 60 kilometers while she was in labor to get to the nearest trained midwife. As a result she lost the baby and developed a fistula. Now she has to come up with either $14 for a public bus fare to Zinder to see a surgeon to repair the fistula, or pay $50 for an ambulance to take her.

Oct. 11, 2005
So What Is This Place?
Watch: On the Ground Video Journal

In a previous entry, I made a somewhat pompous assertion that Americans tend to mispronounce Niger, calling it "Nigh-ger" instead of the more proper "Nee-jair." I immediately got an email from an Africaphile saying, "Right on!"

So imagine my surprise when, on my arrival in Niamey, the local AFP correspondent, Natasha Burley, welcomed me to Nigh-ger. Oops.

I asked Natasha, and she said that although in French everybody says "Nee-jair," in English it's often referred to as Nigh-ger. She doesn't really know if either is officially right. Since then I've asked a few others, and while it's clear that in French and Hausa, people say Nee-jair, and that that's the more acceptable pronunciation, there are a fair number of people who say Nigh-ger when speaking English.

Meanwhile, another crisis when I filed my column last night. I had a line about "We are all Nigeriens," stolen of course from the famous Le Monde headline after 9/11: We are all Americans. The copy editor told me that the New York Times Stylebook says that the term for the people of Niger is Nigerois, and not to use Nigeriens because of the risk of confusian with Nigerians.

Unfortunately, the people here are adamant that no one ever says Nigerois, and that the proper term is Nigeriens. So I broke style (that's the rare privilege of a columnist) and used Nigeriens.

Oct. 13, 2005
Tangling With Readers
Here are some of the comments on my Tuesday column from Niger. Martha from Seattle writes: “Are you condoning that these famine prone African nations be propelled toward farming techniques of the mid-20th century, using techniques such as fertilizer, herbicides and genetically modified seeds that have ultimately proven detrimental to the environment?”

Yup, Martha, I am – to some degree. Look, there are real problems with factory farming techniques, particularly for hogs. But fertilizer has been a huge lifesaver. When scientists figured out how to make Urea, to put Nitrogen in the soil, they saved a billion lives or more – it may have been the greatest discovery of the 20th century. And the fact is that everything we eat is genetically modified. Just compare regular rice with wild rice, or a steer with a wild buffalo. If you deny people in Africa access to Urea, you’re consigning them to famine.

Steve from Los Atlos Hills, CA writes, “Hunger in Africa is no longer real news, one assume it is always there, if not in this country then in that. Bringing the more agricultural technology may or may not be the solution. As you pointed out, the land has almost no nutrients left.” The best parallel is with Asia. Countries like Bangladesh and China used to have great difficulty feeding their populations, and Kissinger famously called Bangladesh an international basket case. But new strains of rice and other crops were developed that were better suited to the monsoon season, and the upshot was enormous gains in crop yields. China has done much the same, with its own crop research. But Africa has never had the same research directed on its behalf – and that’s what it needs.

A reader writes: “You omit that it is even more difficult for some of us in the West to comprehend why Haroun Mani would try to bring 7 more children into the world after realizing that he has problems feeding his first child. Why isn't this listed as one of the contributing factors to the problem you attempted to analyze on your 650 mile voyage?” Other people made the same argument. As one put it: “Surely, you and Niger must learn that there can be no enduring solution to Niger's agony without birth control! Repeated shipments of food, without birth control, simply delay the reckoning a little while and enlarge the problem.”

It’s true that birth control is needed, but I think there’s a general recognition that the blind faith in birth control approaches of the 1960’s and 1970’s failed. First, it’s now recognized that there’s no clear correlation between population growth rates or population densities and economic growth rates or wealth. (Africa is very sparsely populated.) There is a strong correlation between the ratio of the working-age population and the total population, though, so you tend to get a strong economic benefit when you initially practice more birth control – you have few old people, and fewer babies, but a larger chunk of the population is of working age. That’s been one of the factors in China’s dynamism.

We also now understand that population-control strategies aren’t about supplying technology but about changing minds. Basically, in Africa women have the number of children they want. In Niger, they have seven or eight children because they want seven or eight – and supplying more condoms or IUD’s isn’t going to change that and won’t bring down birth rates. What you need to do is to change the psychology, and one way to do that is by improving child health. When families worry about losing one-quarter of their children, they have more. When their children survive, they have fewer.

In addition, one of the factors most closely correlated to smaller families is education, particularly for girls. If we can send more girls to school, they will grow up to have fewer children and more of them will survive. So, sure, population control is crucial, but we have to realize that it’s not so much about technologies as about, for example, educating girls. The World Food Program may do as much to bring down birth rates (by running school feeding programs that keep girls in school) as the UNFPA does by supplying birth control technologies.

Oct. 13, 2005
My Travel Bag
A reader asked what I pack on a trip to a place like Niger.

I always try to travel very light, partly so I don't have to check bags on planes. There's nothing more distressing than arriving in a remote country and find that one of your bags didn't arrive and can't come until the next plane arrives in three days. So I take only a few clothes, including some of my backpacking clothes that are very light and that can be laundered in a hotel sink and will dry quickly. I try to have one slightly nicer shirt that won't look to bad if I interview the president, and a pair of brown athletic shoes that go with my khakis (jeans are too hot) and don't look too out of place at a diplomatic reception. But I don't take a jacket or tie or dress shoes to a place like Niger.

Communication is key, so I take an international cell phone and a Thuraya satellite phone. And Naka Nathaniel, my travel partner who shoots pictures for the Web, has an R-Bgan satellite phone that permits data links at a reasonable speed (but no voice).

On this trip, I took a mosquito net, because of malaria problems, and DEET for the same reason. (Watch today's "On the Ground Video Journal" about malaria) I often take a sheet sack -- kind of a sleeping bag but made out of a sheet, to reduce problems with bed bugs. And I take loads of cheap Bic pens to hand out to kids and make friends in the villages.

I tend to use a waist pouch to put odds and ends in, but I don't keep money it because it's an obvious thing to be stolen if a soldier with a gun comes along. I keep my money in a hidden pouch that attaches to my belt and loops down under my khakis.

And when traveling to a place like Niger or Darfur, I take granola bars, since there isn't much food around. My base for Niger has been Zinder, an eastern provincial town, and it has an okay restaurant, but it takes at least an hour after ordering before you get any food. Granola bars are quicker.

Then I pack everything into either a duffel bag or an old blue pack I have that can be a backpack or a duffel.

Sex, Envy, Proximity By MAUREEN DOWD

October 15, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

President Bush started his weekend early. He decided to leave for Camp David at 2 p.m. yesterday.

Can you blame him?

The White House has lost its mind - and its survival instincts. The monomaniacal special prosecutor is moving in for the kill. Republicans are covered in dirt. And we may be only moments away from another Newsweek cover on another President Bush headlined "The Wimp Factor."

W.'s political career was structured to ensure that he would never suffer his father's problems by seeming weak or wobbly on conservatism. Everything would be about projecting strength and protecting the base.

But the reverse playbook got washed away with Katrina, when Karl Rove and W. did not jump to attention at the word hurricane. W. ended up with a job approval rating of 2 percent among African-Americans, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. He missed the golden hour, as it's called in combat medicine, the precious time when acting fast may save those in jeopardy.

W.'s presidency has become branded with rushing into one place too fast and not rushing into another fast enough.

Astonishingly, with the choice of Harriet Miers, this Bush has ended up exactly where the last Bush ended up: giving affirmative action for the Supreme Court a bad name and angering conservatives, who call him a mollycoddle.

Just as the father clearly missed the wily strategist Lee Atwater after he died, so the son clearly misses the Atwater protégé Karl Rove, who has been distracted by kidney stones and trips to testify to the grand jury looking into the outing of Valerie Plame.

Lyndon Johnson said the two things that make politicians behave more stupidly than anything else are sex and envy. You might add one more: proximity. I always think men are more prone to get seduced by proximity into making unwise choices. They tend to be a bit lazy. They'll grab the closest doughnut off the platter. Like Jude Law and the Nanny.

It was Monica Lewinsky's proximity that caused Bill Clinton to forget the dignity of his office. It was Harriet Miers's proximity - she has spent more time with W. than any aide except Andy Card - that caused George Bush to forget that flattery and catering to his every need are not qualifications for the Supreme Court.

"We're innately lazy, like lions," a male friend said. "We like whoever happens to be around."

President Bush is still the same loyalty enforcer he was in his dad's White House. He likes deference and dislikes checks and balances. Having one of his handmaidens on a Supreme Court designed to be free of "obsequious instruments," as Alexander Hamilton called cronies, makes perfect sense to him, just as paying conservative columnists to spread the administration agenda made sense.

Without his "Boy Genius," Mr. Bush has turned to other shields. Laura gave the fidgeting and blinking president support on the "Today" show on Tuesday, telling Matt Lauer that criticism of Ms. Miers might be sexist.

That's silly. The conservatives want a female justice - they just want one who will be reliably certain to influence the court to curb women's rights.

On Thursday, again with weird and stilted body language, and an earpiece that kept falling out, W. held a teleconference and tried to use 10 American soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit and one Iraqi soldier as props to offer a more upbeat assessment of the security preparations for the weekend vote.

The surprise wasn't that it turned out to be rehearsed, although that angered some uniformed officers at the Pentagon who felt the troops were being politicized and used as military wallpaper. If these brave young men and women can be trusted to carry guns and kill insurgents, these officers reasoned, why can't they be trusted to speak into a microphone without stage-managing and a rehearsal from a civilian Pentagon spin doctor?

The surprise was how inept the event was. The White House was always able to pull off these stagey, scripted events during the campaign and when selling the Iraq war.

It's hard to believe sunny reports from Tikrit with Syria turning into Iraq's Cambodia. As James Risen and David Sanger write in The Times today, "A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops ... has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war."

It was hard to tell whom that teleconference was aimed at impressing - unless it was just meant to cheer up the edgy W. Instead, it just made him seem more lost than ever.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Keeping Us in the Race by Thomas Friedman

(not a fan, but got a request, and I aim to please!)
October 14, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Keeping Us in the Race
What if we were really having a national discussion about what is most important to the country today and on the minds of most parents?

I have no doubt that it would be a loud, noisy dinner-table conversation about why so many U.S. manufacturers are moving abroad - not just to find lower wages, but to find smarter workers, better infrastructure and cheaper health care. It would be about why in Germany, 36 percent of undergrads receive degrees in science and engineering; in China, 59 percent; in Japan, 66 percent; and in America, only 32 percent. It would be about why Japanese on bullet trains can get access to the Internet with cellphones, and Americans get their cellphone service interrupted five minutes from home.

It would be about why U.S. 12th graders recently performed below the international average for 21 countries in math and science, and it would be about why, in recent years, U.S. industry appears to have spent more on lawsuits than on R.&D. Yes, we'd be talking about why the world is racing us to the top, not the bottom, and why we are quietly falling behind.

And late in the evening, as the wine bottles emptied, someone at the national dinner table might finally say: "Hey, what if we were really thinking ahead? What if we asked some of the country's best minds to make a list of the steps we could take right now to enhance America's technology base?"

Fortunately, two senators, Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman, asked the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine to form a bipartisan study group to produce just such a list, which was released on Wednesday in a report called "Rising Above the Gathering Storm."

Because of globalization, the report begins, U.S. "workers in virtually every sector must now face competitors who live just a mouse-click away in Ireland, Finland, India or dozens of other nations whose economies are growing. ... Having reviewed the trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. ... We are worried about the future prosperity of the United States. ... We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost - if indeed it can be regained at all."

The report's key recommendations? Nothing fancy. Charles Vest, the former president of M.I.T., summed them up: "We need to get back to basic blocking and tackling" - educating more Americans in the skills needed for 21st-century jobs.

Among the top priorities, the report says, should be these:

(1) Annually recruiting 10,000 science and math teachers by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships, to be paid back through five years of K-12 public school teaching. (We have too many unqualified science and math teachers.)

(2) Strengthening the math and science skills of 250,000 other teachers through extracurricular programs.

(3) Creating opportunities and incentives for many more middle school and high school students to take advanced math and science courses, by offering, among other things, $100 mini-scholarships for success in exams, and creating more specialty math-and-science schools.

(4) Increasing federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years.

(5) Annually providing research grants of $500,000 each, payable over five years, to 200 of America's most outstanding young researchers.

(6) Creating a new Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Energy Department to support "creative out-of-the-box transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support and in which risk may be high, but success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation."

(7) Granting automatic one-year visa extensions to foreign students in the U.S. who receive doctorates in science, engineering or math so they can seek employment here, and creating 5,000 National Science Foundation-administered graduate fellowships to increase the number of U.S. citizens earning doctoral degrees in fields of "national need." (See the rest at

These proposals are the new New Deal urgently called for by our times. This is where President Bush should have focused his second term, instead of squandering it on a silly, ideological jag called Social Security privatization. Because, as this report concludes, "Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position."

Questions of Character By PAUL KRUGMAN

October 14, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Questions of Character

George W. Bush, I once wrote, "values loyalty above expertise" and may have "a preference for advisers whose personal fortunes are almost entirely bound up with his own." And he likes to surround himself with "obsequious courtiers."

Lots of people are saying things like that these days. But those quotes are from a column published on Nov. 19, 2000.

I don't believe that I'm any better than the average person at judging other people's character. I got it right because I said those things in the context of a discussion of Mr. Bush's choice of economic advisers, a subject in which I do have some expertise.

But many people in the news media do claim, at least implicitly, to be experts at discerning character - and their judgments play a large, sometimes decisive role in our political life. The 2000 election would have ended in a chad-proof victory for Al Gore if many reporters hadn't taken a dislike to Mr. Gore, while portraying Mr. Bush as an honest, likable guy. The 2004 election was largely decided by the image of Mr. Bush as a strong, effective leader.

So it's important to ask why those judgments are often so wrong.

Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.

Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media.

Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. The fact is that most people - myself included - are pretty bad at using personal impressions to judge character. Psychologists find, for example, that most people do little better than chance in distinguishing liars from truth-tellers.

More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies. (Yes, I'm speaking in part from experience.) Only now, with Mr. Bush in desperate trouble, has the structure of rewards shifted.

So what's the answer? Journalists who are better at judging character? Unfortunately, that's not a practical plan. After all, who judges their judgment?

What we really need is political journalism based less on perceptions of personalities and more on actual facts. Schadenfreude aside, we should not be happy that stories about Mr. Bush's boldness have given way to stories analyzing his facial tics. Think, instead, about how different the world would be today if, during the 2000 campaign, reporting had focused on the candidates' fiscal policies instead of their wardrobes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


I refuse to pretend that racism and sexism no longer

I don't believe that "market forces" are some magical

I don't believe cutting the military from being able to
blow up the world 10 times over down to only 8 times
over is a bad thing...

I don't believe "family" means a man ruling over a
wife and kids...

I don't believe that money magically trickles down
from the rich...

I don't believe giving a mother food stamps to feed
her kids is a waste of money, while buying the air
force a billion dollar bomber it doesn't want isn't...

I don't believe cutting the taxes of the rich helps the

I don't believe Rush Limbaugh has "talent on loan
from God"...

I don't believe that the profit motive creates virtue
in people...

I don't believe that "might makes right"...

I don't believe the government should control women's
reproductive choices...

I don't believe that single mothers are necessarily bad

I don't believe only northern Europeans have culture...

I don't believe a union worker making $17/hr is overpaid
while a CEO making $1 million/year is not...

I refuse to ignore the long history of oppression...

I don't believe teaching children about cultural diversity
is wrong...

I don't believe the only good jobs are ones where someone
else is skimming off a profit...

I don't believe Americans are inherently superior to other

I don't believe homosexuals are evil...

I don't believe non-Christians are evil...

I don't believe liberals are subhuman monsters...

I don’t believe that messing up the planet is
good for living things...

I don't believe that things are black-and-white...

I don't believe their lies...

So they call me a liberal.

The more they talk...

The more being called liberal sounds like a compliment.

[thx barbi]

Bush's Pledge? The Joke's on the Poor By BOB HERBERT

October 13, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

A Page 1 article in The Times on Tuesday carried the following headline: "Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate."

I might have started laughing if the subject weren't so serious. Who in their right mind - liberal, moderate, Rotarian, contrarian - could have possibly thought that George W. Bush and his G.O.P. Wild Bunch (Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay et al.) had suddenly seen the light ("Eureka! We've been wrong!") and become serious about engaging the problem of poverty in America?

The article noted that some liberal activists had hoped that the extraordinary suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina might lead to a genuine effort by the administration and Congress to address such important poverty-related matters as health care, housing, employment and race.

After all, the president himself had gone on national television from the French Quarter of the stricken city of New Orleans and promised "bold action."

"As all of us saw on television," said Mr. Bush, "there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality."

I assumed that most people watching the president realized that he was deeply embedded in a Karl Rove moment. The speech was a carefully scripted, meticulously staged performance designed primarily to halt the widespread criticism of Mr. Bush's failure to respond more quickly to the tragedy.

As the president spoke, it never occurred to me that anyone would buy into the notion that Mr. Bush and his supporters would actually do something about poverty and racism. Someone who believed that could probably be persuaded to make a bid on eBay to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mr. Bush is the standard-bearer par excellence of his party's efforts to redistribute the bounty of the U.S. from the bottom up, not the other way around. This is no longer a matter of dispute. Mr. Bush may not be the greatest commander in chief. And he may not be adept at sidestepping the land mines of language. ("I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here.") But if there's one thing the president has been good at, it has been funneling money to the rich. The suffering wrought by Katrina hasn't changed that at all.

One of the first things the president did in the aftermath of Katrina was to poke his finger in the eyes of struggling workers by suspending the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act in the storm-ravaged areas. Passed during the Great Depression, the law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay at least the prevailing wage in the region.

This is one more way of taking money from the working poor and handing it to the wealthy. A construction laborer in New Orleans who would ordinarily be paid about $9 an hour, the prevailing wage in the city, can now be paid less. So much for the president's commitment to fighting poverty.

Poverty has steadily increased under President Bush, even as breathtaking riches (think tax cuts, cronyism, war profiteering, you name it) have been heaped upon those who were already wealthy. Class divisions are hardening, and economic inequality continues to increase dramatically.

Mr. Bush's political posturing (his speeches, his endless trips to the Gulf Coast) is not meant to serve as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden. It is a message to middle-class voters, who have become increasingly disturbed by the president's policies and were appalled by the fact that he seemed unmoved by the terrible suffering that followed Hurricane Katrina.

The man who campaigned as a compassionate conservative and then turned the federal government into a compassion-free zone is all but handing out press releases that say, "I care."

He cares all right. About his poll ratings. In the end, much of the money to help lower-income victims of the recent storms will most likely be siphoned from existing, badly needed and already underfunded programs to help the poor and near-poor.

A real effort to fight poverty and combat discrimination? From this regime? You must be joking.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

To Sir, With Love By MAUREEN DOWD

October 12, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist


W. was the best Harry ever had.

"You are the best Governor ever - deserving of great respect!" gushed Harriet Miers, then the Texas Lottery chief, to George W. Bush in 1997. The belated birthday card she sent her boss with a sheepishly eager puppy poking his head up and a poem that read: "This is the wish/That should have been sent/Before your birthday/Came and went."

According to a cache of mash notes released by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in response to formal requests from The Times and other news organizations, Ms. Miers also told W. that he was "cool" and "the best!"; that he and Laura were "the greatest"; that Texas was "in great hands"; and that the governor should "keep up the great work. Texas is blessed."

Since there is no breathtaking Miers judicial record to pore over, I was eager to read more breathless Miers missives to a president she describes as the most brilliant man she has ever met. How could I get the notes from the White House, given how opposed Mr. Bush is to leaks? I called Scooter and Karl and they sent the secret documents right over.

August 2001 "Thank you so much for letting me bundle up and drag away the brush that you cut down today. And if I might add, Sir, I've never seen a man wield the nippers so judiciously. It was awesome! You are the best brush cutter ever!!"

September 2001 "I found out today that you handed down a decision for the White House mess to offer three different kinds of jelly with its P.B.&J. sandwiches. Sweet!! As you know, I'm the only member of the staff who eats three meals a day in the mess. Now I get to have a different type of jelly at every meal! The mess is blessed to have a president who cares so much. I know I'm probably just flattering myself, but I like to think that you are thinking of me, also. (Smile.)

"P.S. Can you believe Condi cares more about W.M.D.'s than P.B.&J.'s?"

April 2002 "I was worried that it could go unstated in the rush of business around here, but I just wanted to pause and say how amazing it is that, after doing so much for the American people already, you keep showing up for work most days. We have to come, but you choose to. You're the hardest-working president ever!!"

October 2002 "I'm not sure Condi has made the time to thank you herself, so I just wanted to say how much we appreciated the tickets to 'Madame Butterfly' on Saturday night. I wore my long black robe - I mean, opera cape. I just wish it had had that song from 'The Sound of Music' - I know you love it, too - 'Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels. ...' You're one of my favorite things, sir!"

January 2003 "Just a quick note to say how cool it is that you picked Brownie to head FEMA. There's nothing like having someone you know and trust in a top job. Your gut is the best judge ever!!"

April 2004 "There is no other president who would have had the courage to allow torture, dude! (It's only too bad that Abu Ghraib rules out Alberto's chances of getting on the Supreme Court.) You are the best torturer ever!! xo, H."

June 2005 "Make sure you take a good, long vacation this summer! Last year, you only took two weeks. You are pushing yourself way too hard, Sir!!"

August 2005 "I've half a mind to come down there myself and chase that witch, Cindy Sheehan, off your property with an injunction!! Yours, with you in Christ, Harriet."

September 2005 "In all this fuss about that bad-girl buttinsky Katrina, no one else seems to have noticed - not even Karen - that you've achieved your bold vision of losing that seven pounds. That extra week of mountain biking was so much more important than people realize. You're the most chiseled commander in chief ever, and the most rad guitar player ever!!"

October 2005 "How can I thank you, Sir? I never, ever expected the Supreme Court. Phat! I hope Clarence doesn't make me watch 'Debbie Does Dallas' again. That movie is so anti-Texas! I miss you already!!

"But now I will be able to serve your interests - and those of your family - forever and ever. If there's another recount you need help with, count on me. They say I don't have experience, but I've had the experience of polishing the boots of the wisest ruler since Solomon. I may not know stare decisis, but I know when to be starry-eyed. I await your instructions, Master."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

John Biguenet Homecoming-A Video Report

Oct. 10, 2005
Homecoming — A Video Report

My family and I fled our house near the lakefront of New Orleans more than five weeks ago to escape the approaching Hurricane Katrina. For nearly three of those past five weeks, salt water from a breached levee flooded our house. A few days ago, we finally returned to see what the storm had done to our home.

See the video.

The temperature in New Orleans most days in September was in the 90’s; with the windows and doors shut, the temperature inside must have been over 100 degrees. Even as the roughly four feet of stagnant water sat in our living room, our dining room, our laundry room, our kitchen, a downstairs bathroom, and my study, mold began to colonize the white walls. When the water finally receded, the mold descended with it, eventually carpeting the floor with malodorous slime and staining every surface with vivid, furry blotches.

The flood somehow toppled bookshelves, lifted a heavy sofa onto a staircase, tossed furniture across the room. Impossibly, a bottle of wine from the dining room made its way through an open door into the living room, past a jumble of furniture, to stand upright just a few steps from the front door. I had been warned by neighbors not to open the refrigerator; I took their advice. But even with a mask on, the hour I spent surveying the wreck water had made of our house left my throat raw, my nostrils singed with the acrid scent of — I don’t know how else to describe it — something dead.

The video and photographs I took on our first visit back to the house give a glimpse of what we found waiting for us at home.

See the video. [I hope you guys can see these. -jenny]

The force of the storm twisted the fence, hurling sections as far as the front door of the house.

The living room: I can’t explain how the furniture wound up where it did; nothing is in its original spot.

The mold on a living room wall.

My study in ruins.

A tin tool shed blew away in the storm; an exposed basin is now thick with pea-green mold.

The high water mark on our garage doors is shoulder high on Marsha, my wife.

Year After Year, Grave After Grave By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

October 11, 2005
Year After Year, Grave After Grave

Gouré, Niger

Welcome to the most wretched country in the world.

Niger is dead last of the 177 nations ranked in the latest U.N. Human Development Report, based on its heartbreaking rates of poverty, illiteracy and mortality. On a 650-mile drive across the country from the Niger capital, Niamey, to this eastern city of Gouré, I stopped in village after village where peasants told of young children dying of starvation in the last few months. One man named Haroun Mani had just buried three of his eight children.

"They didn't have enough to eat, and then they got diarrhea and weakened and died," he explained. None had seen a doctor; in Niger, there is one doctor for every 33,000 people.

Granted, it's difficult for Western readers who are dieting to comprehend people who are starving. But Niger seems a good place to ponder the failings of a system of international aid that is often irrational and catastrophically inept, leading to the deaths of those children, Suraj, 5, Barida, 3, and Hawau, 2 - along with millions more across the continent.

A crucial mistake is our refusal to provide substantial agricultural assistance to increase African food production. Instead, we ship tons of food in emergency aid after people have already started dying. It's like a policy of scrimping on manhole covers because we're too busy rescuing people who fall into manholes.

In Niger, it has been apparent since the beginning of this year that a food crisis was coming, but the world ignored a U.N. emergency appeal for $3 million in aid in February. Then in July, BBC television showed wrenching images of children dying. Niger promptly received more aid in the last 10 days of July than it had received in the previous eight months.

In fact, the situation is more complex than the television images suggest. The reality is that people in Niger are always starving.

"There was a crisis last year, and there'll be a crisis next year," said Claude Dunn, who runs the World Food Program office in Maradi. This year's crisis was especially bad, but year in, year out, 160,000 children under the age of 5 die in Niger - one child in four never reaches 5. In other words, every single week this small country faces a 9/11-sized toll, composed entirely of dead children. And yet no one is declaring: We are all Nigeriens.

One problem is that U.S. law generally requires our food aid to be purchased in American markets and transported on American ships. The upshot is that much of the donation is wasted on shipping costs, the aid is delayed, and when it arrives our grain risks depressing local prices and long-term production incentives. To his credit, President Bush has pushed to ease this requirement, but members of Congress are blocking him, because they value farmers' votes more than African lives.

Above all, we need a major new international initiative to extend the green revolution to Africa. Farmers in tropical Africa get only 1,500 pounds of cereal grain per acre, compared with 4,900 pounds in China. Pedro Sanchez, an agricultural expert at Columbia University, has estimated that Africans could triple food production if they used modern seeds and methods.

In the village of Angaual Goge Haouna, where seven children died in the last few months of starvation, villagers said they wanted more fertilizer above all, as well as better seeds and help exploiting a nearby lake for irrigation.

"I'm not only using the same techniques as my grandfather, I'm actually using the same implements," said Momom Bukhary, a 63-year-old man. "And this land used to be far more productive than it is now. When I was young, the annual harvest would last a full year, longer in good times. Now it only lasts three months, and then we run out of food."

A major reason is that the soil has been depleted of nutrients. But in sub-Saharan Africa, farmers apply an average of 9 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare, compared with 206 kilos in industrialized countries.

In the news business, we don't lead with headlines like "Millions of Children Dying in Africa," because that's not actually news. It's the wallpaper.

Yet realities like that should inspire our priorities. And we're not even using our aid money wisely. Unless we help start a green revolution in Africa, we'll be back in Niger year after year - and every village will be surrounded by more tiny graves.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why the U.S. Must Leave Iraq

Sen. Russ Feingold says it's time to admit the war was a disaster -- and accuses his fellow Democrats of going along with Bush out of fear.

By Michael Scherer

Oct. 10, 2005 | Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has latched his political future to the third rail of American foreign policy. This summer, he proposed a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq: Dec. 31, 2006. The date raises a specter that no one in Washington -- and especially no Democrat -- has been willing to broach: that the American people should begin to prepare for a political failure in Iraq, at least a failure by President Bush's standard of establishing, before the troops leave, a fully functional, democratic Iraqi state.

It is not the first time Feingold has gone out on a political limb. In September, he was the only Democratic senator with presidential ambitions to support John Roberts. He was the only senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act. Before that, he spent nearly a decade fighting the culture of political payola, a fight he won in 2002 with passage of the McCain-Feingold legislation.

Salon sat down with Feingold last week in his Capitol Hill office, which he has decorated with the trophies of his career as a populist politician. There was a photo of his garage door, where he wrote out a contract to voters in 1992 during his first statewide race. There were the framed roll-call votes from the final passage of his campaign-finance legislation. And there was the senator himself, dressed in pinstripes and a blue-gray tie, speaking with the urgency of a politician with his eyes on the White House in 2008. In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about the "timidity and weakness" of his own party, the mistakes of Sen. John Kerry, the qualifications of Harriet Miers and his plan for winning the War on Terror.

If President Bush came to you this afternoon and said, "I've got trouble in Iraq. What should I do now?" what would you say to him?

"Well, Mr. President," I would say, "we need to get the focus back on those who attacked us on 9/11." I would say to him that I was proud of the way he and his administration conducted themselves after 9/11. I thought his speech to the Congress after 9/11 was one of the best speeches I've ever heard by a president. I admired not only the focus but the bipartisanship of his approach in the lead-up to Afghanistan. We had a historic unity in this country, and I was pleased to be a part of it.

I would then say to the president that I believe the Iraq war was a divergence from the real issue. Unfortunately, in many ways, it has played into the hands of those who attacked us on 9/11. I witnessed the connection that has grown between Osama bin Laden, al-Zarqawi and now Iraqis who have been radicalized because of our invasion of Iraq. So I would urge him to think in terms of a strategy where we finish the military mission. I would ask him to put forward a plan to identify what that mission is, what the benchmarks are that need to be achieved and when they can be achieved, and that he publicly announce a target withdrawal date, so that the American people, the Iraqi people and the world can see that this is in no way intended to be a permanent American occupation.

Can you be any more specific about what that plan should entail?

Well, I think it's his job to come up with the specifics. But among the things that I would certainly be looking for would be first a recognition that the military mission and the mission of having a democratic and stable Iraq are actually different things. There is a tunnel vision in the White House which suggests we are just going to go out and find the bad guys, we are going to kill them, and we are just going to stay there until that is done. Well, that actually plays into the hands of those who are trying to radicalize the Iraqi people.

So the first thing is, I want the plan to recognize that drawing down our troops in a logical and safe way is a way to defuse the intensity of the insurgency, especially the continuing and growing presence of foreign insurgents. The second recognition of the plan should be that the current troops-on-the-ground military mission is not really the future for Iraq. Actually it calls into question the legitimacy of the current Iraqi government. The plan should recognize that it is our intention to continue joint military operations with the Iraqi government, with their permission, but targeted, laserlike attacks on terrorist elements, just as we are doing with other countries around the world, in the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries. In other words, we are not invading those countries. We are cooperating. We want to continue to have Iraq be part of the international fight against terrorism, but we need to have a course correction. That's the kind of effort where we would be on the offensive, instead of where we are now, which is on the defensive.

Would it be acceptable for us to leave Iraq before it is politically stable, and before the insurgency is calmed down?

If we don't leave, our not leaving is a big part of the political instability. So it's an absurdity to talk in terms of, "How can we leave before it is stable?" In fact, the presence of this huge American, and other [countries'], occupation of this country is what is destabilizing the country even more. It's a completely illogical conversation for people to talk in terms of what is already, many believe, almost a civil war, if not already a civil war. What we need to do is recognize that Iraqis are going to have to stand on their own. When I suggest that we withdraw the ground forces in a reasonable manner, this does not mean that we do not continue reconstruction, it does not mean that we do not continue to help the government, it does not mean that we do not have a very strong partnership with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people on non-military issues as well as military issues.

This is not just leaving as we did in Vietnam or as we did in Somalia. That's a mistake.

If after President Bush left, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean came to your office and said, "We need a more unified Democratic message on Iraq," would you agree that there is a problem with the Democratic message?

Absolutely. There is a real timidity and weakness in terms of Democrats being willing to stand up to this error of American foreign policy. I think one of the greatest errors in American foreign policy in our modern lives is the divergence into Iraq that was done by the president. It is not sufficient for Democrats to point out the dishonest way we were taken into war. Nor is it sufficient for Democrats to simply point out that what is being done now is extremely mistaken. Democrats have to talk in terms of a strategy that, if they were in the White House, they would implement to successfully finish this particular mission, but more importantly, to get back to the real focus on the terrorist networks that attacked us on 9/11.

The Democratic message shouldn't begin with Iraq. The Democratic message should begin with, "We are committed to fighting and defeating the terrorist elements that attacked us on 9/11."

Why don't you think the Democrats have taken these steps? Why is there this confusion, this hedging?


Of what?

Fear of being accused of not being supportive of the troops, which of course is an outrageous response to reasonable questions about Iraq. But it does tend to intimidate people. Fear that somehow people will be accused of being unpatriotic. Fear that the president will say, as he almost always does, that those criticizing the Iraq war don't understand the lessons of 9/11.

I think it is President Bush who doesn't understand the lessons of 9/11. I think it's President Bush who hasn't even read carefully the 9/11 report, which clearly defines the threat we are facing. The threat we are facing is this international terrorist network that attacked us, and the amount of radicalism that may exist among Islamic peoples that can provide the recruits to fuel the international terrorist network. The president doesn't understand the difference between what is going on in Iraq and that effort.

The conventional wisdom coming out of 2004 was that a big reason why John Kerry lost was because President Bush appeared to be a stronger leader on national security issues. The conventional wisdom now says that if a politician says we should leave Iraq before all of our goals are met that will be seen as a sign of weakness.

The president has been masterful -- not in handling this war or explaining why it was done -- but he has been masterful in trying to scare Democrats from having a reasonable position, by saying that is a position of weakness. The response to that is that the terrorist organizations love the fact that we appear to be stuck in Iraq. It's not a sign of weakness to try to change course. It's a sign of intelligence. It's a sign of wanting to win the fight against terrorism. The Democrats have to be comfortable saying that.

That is our biggest problem. The Democrats tend to think, "Oh, I can't question this." The way to deal with this is to make sure that we begin with the commitment to do this right. You don't begin by saying, "Let's just get out of Iraq." That shows the same kind of narrow focus and lack of understanding of the issue as the president has shown. A good way to say it in Iraq is not the be-all and end-all of national security. It happens to be an important place. But it was made more important by errors, not by good policy.

You were involved in the 2004 race, supporting John Kerry. Looking back, what were the mistakes that he made or his staff made? What do you think cost him that race?

I think the mistakes really began with the 2002 congressional election. We were doing very well in the Senate races. And we had a great chance to hold the Senate. I saw that many Democrats in the caucus understood that this Iraq war didn't make sense from the point of view of 9/11. It didn't really seem that persuasive on weapons of mass destruction. But what the party decided, it seemed, was, "OK, look we can't beat Bush on the national security stuff. We'll just cede foreign policy to the Bush administration, and we'll beat him on domestic issues, where clearly we had the upper hand." I felt at the time -- and I certainly voted against the war -- thinking, in part, that there is no way the American people are going to elect a party that only feels they are better on the domestic side.

That's the context that this 2004 election occurred in. And that's the context, that people like John Kerry and John Edwards were stuck with votes in favor of the Iraq war. They were in a box. Those of us that didn't think it was a good idea and didn't think it related to 9/11 were able to say, as Howard Dean said, we never thought this made sense. It put Kerry in this terrible position, even though I think he did as well as he could, of having voted for the war but being critical. And then, of course, the really devastating piece was having voted against the $87 billion [in supplemental funding for the Iraq war], which I happened to have voted for. It just put him in a bind. I think it all related to the decisions that were made in 2002 for which we paid a price in 2004.

So there is a chance of correcting that going into 2008?

We have a wonderful opportunity to say, "Look, however people voted in 2002 on the Iraq war, clearly the war has not been conducted in a way that any reasonable senator could have expected." That is the fault of the administration. That's not the fault of the Congress. I don't think anyone can say it was the fault of the Congress. We should lay out the fact that this administration has failed to anticipate a number of scenarios that many of us have warned them about. They have mismanaged the situation. We as Democrats want to do two things. First, we want to make sure that this Iraq policy has a clear mission and a reasonable, flexible time frame for completion. And secondly, that we are going to return the primary focus of American national security to the overall fight against terrorist networks that are hitting us in Indonesia and the Middle East, in Europe and potentially the United States.

It's fair to say, I think, that foreign policy is not the only area where Democrats have a problem right now. Where else do Democrats have to change course or strategy going into the 2006 and 2008 elections?

I think we have to simplify our themes to the point where we portray ourselves ... as what David Ignatius recently referred to as a "party of performance." He recognized that the American people at this point, especially after Katrina and after the problems in Iraq, are looking for a party that can actually, simply do the job. Of course that relates to FEMA. But I think it also relates to foreign policy, to Iraq, to the fight against terrorism. It also relates to the issues, that if you listen to people, you will hear them talk about ... We should be willing to take a stand on the healthcare issue that is stronger than some people might be comfortable with.

What is the stand?

Guaranteed healthcare for all Americans, mandated by the federal government, but allowing the states to have some flexibility in how they implement it.

Secondly, we should be a party that is not afraid to stand up to unfair trade agreements. Senators on both sides of the party have trouble with CAFTA and the results of NAFTA. We should break with the party's recent past and say we're not going to vote anymore for trade agreements that ship our jobs overseas and are not fair to the workers and the environment of those other countries. Third, there is an overwhelming desire for a real energy-independence approach in this country. People are ready to hear specifics, all the way from wind turbines, to fuel cells, to ethanol, that will make people believe we don't have to have these foreign countries who essentially have us, as I like to say, over the barrel.

A number of people on the left were unhappy with how you voted on John Roberts. After the vote, Ralph Neas of People for the American Way was in the hallway saying you had voted against the interest of the Constitution.

Yes, I read his quotes. The two most important votes about the Constitution were [for the confirmation of] John Roberts and John Ashcroft, according to Ralph Neas. I wonder where he was the day the USA Patriot Act was voted on and I was the only senator to vote no. I think he is a little confused about what are votes on the Constitution, which that was directly, and what are votes on individuals.

But you have Roberts on the bench. Harriet Miers is heading toward the bench.

Don't count on that.

Well, whoever the president's next nominee is, it's very possible that the person could eat away at a number of legal principles that are Democratic foundations.

It's very possible.

But you voted, still, for Roberts.

I have this odd sense that George Bush is going to pick whoever the justice is. So those who are yelling and screaming, apparently, have forgotten who gets to make the nomination. So the question is, what's the best we can get from George Bush? It was my judgment that John Roberts, based on everything I saw and heard, directly and indirectly, was the best possibility we could have to pick somebody who would be non-ideological in his nature, who would try to do the right thing on the court, even though he is certainly more conservative than I am, and who I think in the end will probably be less partisan than his predecessor, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

So I thought it was the best possible scenario for the future of progressive concerns. I may be wrong. But that was my judgment and I think people who wanted a different choice than Roberts would have found out they got something worse.

What is your take on Miers?

I am puzzled. I don't really understand. I will need to be convinced that this is a person who is of the highest standing, who is qualified, in the first place, for the Supreme Court. Secondly, I am really troubled by the notion that her qualification is that she has a close personal relationship with the president. That strikes me as the opposite of the independence and objectivity that I actually admired with Roberts.

You spoke out against the 527 groups in 2004. Democrats historically have depended much more on these large checks, whether it is through 527s or soft money. If the 527 loophole is closed before 2008, do you think it really handicaps the Democratic nominee?

Yeah, everybody says that to ban soft money would be devastating to Democrats. Even Terry McAuliffe has admitted it did just the opposite. We broadened our base of supporters. It basically returned us to being something of the party of the people. The 527s, I think, were a negative for Democrats. I don't think they helped us. I think, on balance, the whole Swift Boat thing was devastating to John Kerry. These groups are just cheating. It's current law, under the 1974 law, not the McCain-Feingold bill, that they should not be able to do this. So I think we would be much better off having a clean message driven by the party and the candidates, rather than these groups. You know, frankly, they run ads sometimes that are obnoxious in terms of not showing Democrats to be respectful and I think that hurts us.

The Swift Boat group was obviously the most effective for the money. But a lot of the big money was going into get-out-the-vote groups on the left and the advertising groups on the left. Do you think those hurt John Kerry's candidacy?

My sense was that that kind of activity was not what was effective. It was the party. It was the organized work that was done in coordination between the state parties and the federal parties and the candidates.

There is a theory in Washington that the Democratic Party is divided between insiders and outsiders, the conventional leadership of the party and the outside activists like bloggers. Do you buy into that?

I think there is a problem with it. I don't know if there is a severe divide, but it is something we need to overcome. I think there are a lot of efforts being made by Democratic senators who have awakened to the reality.

What is the problem that you see?

Well, I think what Democratic senators are beginning to realize is that there is a tremendous potential base of support out there that is represented by the blogs and some elements of the Green Party and especially among young people, who the party has not done a very good job of appealing to. Certain votes that I have taken have caused me to have a lot of exposure to these individuals and groups. I just saw what it meant to people that a Democrat stood up on the USA Patriot Act, that Democrats voted against the Iraq war. This is the key to bringing in people who are looking for strong, alternative leadership to the Bush administration.

We have an opening. We have an opportunity here. Republicans brilliantly figured out before we did direct mail and a number of other things that led to the Reagan revolution and the Contract With America. We have an opportunity here to, I think, be the ones who do a better job with the Internet, with the blogosphere, with the unbelievably democratic, with a little d, opportunities that this all presents. This is a sea change in American politics, giving the average person an opportunity to participate in this exciting, real-time way with the political process. I think we are better positioned to take advantage of that.

2000 dead? Who cares? Why is the country so oblivious to the Iraq war's casualties?

By Mark Benjamin

Oct. 10, 2005 | Sometime soon the war in Iraq will claim the life of the 2,000th G.I., a gut-wrenching milestone in the bloodiest conflict for the United States since Vietnam. Reports of deaths, particularly recently, have been coming in at a frightening clip. On Oct. 6, six Marines were killed by roadside bombs in attacks near Qaim and Karmah, bringing the total of American soldiers who have been killed in Iraq to 1,951.

Vietnam analogies can be dubious or prescient, depending on whom you ask. The 2,000th G.I. fell in Vietnam sometime during 1965, six years after the first two Americans were killed in a guerrilla attack. The final death count from Vietnam was 58,209.

The death rate in Iraq may not compare to those of World War I and World War II, in which, respectively, 116,516 and 405,399 U.S. soldiers were killed. Nevertheless, nearly three years into the war in Iraq, the mounting death toll doesn't seem to register with Americans. If Korea was the forgotten war, Iraq is invisible.

Military analysts say the outcry over deaths in Iraq is muted because the burden of war falls on a tiny percentage of Americans and their families. Most Americans simply don't have any personal connection to the battlefield.

To be precise, less than 1 percent of 297 million Americans are engaged in active duty military or the reserves, the lowest percentage of the population serving under arms in a century. Some Marines who died in Iraq were on their third tour of duty.

Americans felt other wars. Drafted civilians marched alongside career soldiers. More than 12 percent of Americans were involved in World War II, according to data compiled by Louisiana State University. Over 4 percent of Americans were in the military during Vietnam.

"Fewer Americans are serving, and fewer Americans know people who are serving," says Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq vet and the executive director of Operation Truth, an advocacy group for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. "So many people are going about their business without thinking about our soldiers fighting and dying a half a world away. Maybe the 2,000th death will remind people of the human cost of this war, given how few people are really touched by it."

It's not just eerie that fewer Americans feel the burden of war. Politicians no longer have to fear a broad public backlash for waging an unwise and costly conflict. David M. Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and history professor at Stanford University, calls that phenomenon "a standing invitation to military adventurism."

After Vietnam, the military reorganized to restrict politicians from engaging in another unpopular war. In what's called the Abrams Doctrine, after Gen. Creighton Abrams, Pentagon brass backed active-duty fighting units with reserve units, or weekend warriors, for transportation and other logistical support in a big ground war. It was basic politics: The Pentagon figured a president would be reluctant to mobilize waves of weekend warriors from across the American heartland without broad public support. "The logic was to compel the president to carefully evaluate the political price before undertaking a Vietnam-scale military deployment," Kennedy says.

Since then, rapid advancements in military technology have allowed the United States to dispatch an exponentially more lethal, but smaller, all-volunteer force. "What was supposed to be the restraining logic behind the Abrams doctrine has been seriously attenuated," Kennedy says.

In a July 26 opinion piece in the New York Times, "Bring Back the Citizen Soldier," Kennedy argued that compulsory military service would put the American public more in tune with the fate of the G.I. "A universal duty to service -- perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several -- would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres," he wrote.

The media has also struggled to cover the violence in Iraq. Americans see few images of their own dead in Iraq. Roughly two dozen Western photographers are covering a war in a country the size of California. When photographers do manage to capture images of dead G.I.'s, some editors are reluctant to publish the photographs.

Early this month, 1,000 G.I.'s were days into "Operation Iron Fist" in western Iraq. It was a major operation to cut off insurgents entering Iraq from Syria. Five G.I.'s were dead. The only images on television were clouds of smoke.

Editors who shy away from images of dead Americans may be in tune with their readers or viewers. Horrible as it sounds, a few dead Marines each day just isn't news. Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware, and a former CNN world affairs correspondent, says his students have expressed relatively little interest in war news because of the monotonous pace of casualties. A few soldiers die each day, mostly from roadside bombs. "It is like a drip," Begleiter says. "Two marines killed here, and a chopper down there. It is not really a war, or they don't see it as a war. It is just low-intensity conflict."

The White House and Pentagon have also worked to keep the wounded and dead figuratively and literally in the dark. The Pentagon barred photos of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and has scheduled flights of wounded so that they arrive at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland only at night. (Military officials have said both policies have nothing to do with P.R. considerations.)

"It is kind of out of sight, out of mind," says Begleiter, who used legal pressure to force the Department of Defense to release photographs of coffins at Dover.

Meanwhile, President Bush has yet to attend the funeral of a fallen G.I., which would generate significant media coverage. He has met with hundreds of family members of fallen soldiers at military bases across the county, making him arguably the U.S. president most intimately familiar with military families' grief. But those meetings occur only in private. No cameras. No press.

In Iraq, the United States is pushing the military to the limit -- maybe beyond. According to the Department of Defense, 1.1 million American service personnel had served in Iraq or Afghanistan (mostly in Iraq) by the end of June. Almost 300,000 of those have now served more than one tour. Some have gone overseas three times.

The Pentagon says 15,000 G.I.'s have been wounded. Half of those, given the severity of their wounds, could not return to duty. But that number is misleading. The statistics, released in Department of Defense "casualty status" reports, only count G.I.'s wounded by the bullets and bombs of the enemy. The reports exclude tens of thousands of soldiers who became ill or were injured in other ways.

The U.S. Transportation Command says that by the end of August, it had evacuated 23,576 G.I.'s from Iraq and Afghanistan for injuries or illnesses that were not directly caused by combat. Stars and Stripes reports that the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, treated its 25,000th patient from Iraq or Afghanistan in July, including some civilians and coalition partner soldiers.

The Department of Defense says it excludes sick and injured soldiers from casualty statistics to fit "the common understanding of the average newspaper reader," the Pentagon said in a statement. However, it's a strange twist of logic that if a Humvee rolls over in Baghdad, the Pentagon will count a soldier killed in the wreck as a casualty, while a soldier paralyzed in the same wreck is not included in public casualty reports.

Internet chatter has accused the Department of Defense of similar fuzzy math with respect to the dead. The allegation is that the Department of Defense is hiding the number of soldiers killed in the war by failing to count the deaths of soldiers who die from their wounds after returning to the United States. That appears to be incorrect. By the end of August, the department had listed 64 G.I.'s who died outside Iraq as casualties, according to Iraq Coalition Casualties, which counts department press statements on deaths. "If you die as a result of something that happened to you in theater, we would announce that," says Pentagon spokeswoman Martha Rudd.

In recent months, the antiwar movement has gained momentum with a push from Cindy Sheehan. At the same time, support among Americans for the war in Iraq is at an all-time low. According to a CBS News poll published Oct. 6, only 32 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush has handled the war.

But if we've hit a meaningful tipping point in public opinion, it may be hard to tell. Walter Cronkite is widely credited with turning public opinion against the Vietnam War with a pivotal Feb. 27, 1968, commentary. Cronkite called the war "mired in stalemate" and chided Washington officials for "the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds." But there is no reporter with Cronkite's power now.

"I don't know if there is a magic number that most people will tolerate," says David R. Segal, a military sociology professor at the University of Maryland. "I think what happens is the American people do go through a kind of rough mental calculation of what the costs of the war are and what the benefits are. My sense is that 2,000 is going to be more important, in part because people are now aware that there were no weapons of mass destruction and there was no link to al-Qaida. The reasons for going to war are going away."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Drinking the Wine Before It Spoils by John Biguenet

Oct. 9, 2005
Drinking the Wine Before It Spoils

Hospitality still thrives here, along with the mold. We’ve been back in New Orleans for only three nights, but we’ve already been invited to dinner twice. Yesterday after trying to salvage some clothing from our ruined house, we returned to the empty daycare center where we’re staying, took startlingly invigorating cold showers (because the building currently has no hot water), and drove to Uptown New Orleans for a dinner party that began at five o’clock. Thanks to its oppressive heat so much of the year, the city has always taken advantage of the cooler hours after dark for its social life; in fact, it’s a very late-night town. But the 8:00 p.m. curfew, strictly enforced by police and soldiers armed with automatic weapons, demanded that we eat dinner by daylight. Happily, our hosts informed us after we had arrived, they had just heard an announcement that the curfew had been postponed until midnight for the weekend and beyond, so we all relaxed for a leisurely evening together.

The drive over to their house had alternated familiar scenes we remembered from before the storm with nearly incomprehensible visions of devastation and transformation. Across from Notre Dame Seminary on Carrollton Avenue, for example, an entire block of stately homes had gone up in flames; a few steel staircases and charred brick chimneys rose out of what had become simply a field of ashes. Then, at the entrance to the street where we were to have dinner, an Israeli security team in black flak vests with Uzis slung over their shoulders, politely asked us for our identification; one of the young men told us how much he had fallen in love with New Orleans, then lifted the barricade and waved us on.

Our friends, two doctors, greeted us just beyond the heap of appliances and household items destroyed in the storm and stacked along their curb. Their twin three-year-old girls waved to us from the porch, then demonstrated that they could still play horse on the swaying branch of the ancient oak in their yard that swooped so low it had rubbed the ground raw beneath it from years of children’s games. That was their first question after the hurricane, their mother explained. Had the branch broken?

We had been warned that with the refrigerator wrapped in duct tape out front, the dinner would have to be very simple, just pasta and some roasted peppers. But gathering in the kitchen while waiting for the other two guests to arrive, we were handed glasses of a vintage Pomerol. When I remarked that they’d served us an extraordinary wine for such a simple meal, one of our hosts told us that, with the power off in the house for a month and the temperature outside in the nineties every day, their whole collection of wines had overheated. It would all be vinegar in a few weeks. So they were working their way through the bottles that hadn’t been submerged, drinking the oldest vintages first. After what we’d been through since the storm, we were happy to help them with their project.

The other guests arrived, and our hosts opened another old Bordeaux and served a tray of hors d’oeuvres. The new couple explained that they couldn’t stay for dinner; they had to deal with their house. Flooded? I asked. No, I was told, it had exploded three days ago when the electricity was restored and a power surge had sparked a gas explosion from a ruptured line. In fact, we could see what was left of it, if we liked. It was only three houses farther down the block, and the façade was still standing. Our hosts added that it had been the oldest house in the neighborhood, having been built over 150 years ago.

Like everyone else we’ve met who has returned to New Orleans, they were very calm as they recounted the disaster they had experienced. I suppose we’re all getting used to it, losing houses.

After the couple had left with our sympathy, the four of us and the twins ate the simple but absolutely delicious meal with another bottle of the Pomerol. Our friends confessed that they have had the same reaction to what’s happened as Marsha and I: they feel as if a whole new set of possibilities has opened up for them. They have no intention of slipping back into their old lives without making conscious decisions about what they want their future to be. Their two older sons joined us for dessert, and we opened a bottle of port, toasting that future, whatever it may be, while the twins went around the table, making wishes and blowing out the candles in front of each of us.

Who Isn't Against Torture? by BOB HERBERT

October 10, 2005
Who Isn't Against Torture?

Some people get it. Some don't.

Senator John McCain, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq, has sponsored a legislative amendment that would prohibit the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners in the custody of the U.S. military. Last week the Senate approved the amendment by the overwhelming vote of 90 to 9.

This was not a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans, or left against right. Joining Senator McCain in his push for clear and unequivocal language banning the abusive treatment of prisoners were Senator John Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer who is also a Republican and an influential member of the committee. Both are hawks on the war.

Also lining up in support were more than two dozen retired senior military officers, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell and John Shalikashvili.

So who would you expect to remain out of step with this important march toward sanity, the rule of law and the continuation of a longstanding American commitment to humane values?

Did you say President Bush? Well, that would be correct.

The president, who has trouble getting anything right, is trying to block this effort to outlaw the abusive treatment of prisoners.

Senator McCain's proposal is an amendment to the huge defense authorization bill. The White House has sent out signals that Mr. Bush might veto the entire bill if that's what it takes to defeat the amendment.

The Washington Post summed the matter up in an editorial that said:

"Let's be clear: Mr. Bush is proposing to use the first veto of his presidency on a defense bill needed to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan so that he can preserve the prerogative to subject detainees to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In effect, he threatens to declare to the world his administration's moral bankruptcy."

Last Wednesday, Senator McCain rose on the Senate floor and said:

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states simply that 'No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.' The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory, states the same. The binding Convention Against Torture, negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the Senate, prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

"On last year's [Department of Defense] authorization bill, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment reaffirming that no detainee in U.S. custody can be subject to torture or cruel treatment, as the U.S. has long defined those terms. All of this seems to be common sense, in accordance with longstanding American values.

"But since last year's [defense] bill, a strange legal determination was made that the prohibition in the Convention Against Torture against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment does not legally apply to foreigners held outside the U.S. They can, apparently, be treated inhumanely. This is the [Bush] administration's position, even though Judge Abe Sofaer, who negotiated the Convention Against Torture for President Reagan, said in a recent letter that the Reagan administration never intended the prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to apply only on U.S. soil."

The McCain amendment would end the confusion and the perverse hunt for loopholes in the laws that could somehow be interpreted as allowing the sadistic treatment of human beings in U.S. custody.

Senator McCain met last week with Capt. Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate who was one of three former members of the 82nd Airborne Division to come forward with allegations, first publicly disclosed in a report by Human Rights Watch, that members of their battalion had routinely beaten and otherwise abused prisoners in Iraq. In a letter that he sent to the senator before the meeting, Captain Fishback wrote:

"Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

Senator McCain and Captain Fishback get it. Some people still don't.

Will Bush Deliver? by PAUL KRUGMAN

October 10, 2005
Will Bush Deliver?

Ever since President Bush promised to rebuild the Gulf Coast in "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen," many people have asked how he plans to pay for that effort. But looking at what has (and hasn't) happened since he gave that speech, I'm starting to wonder whether they're asking the right question. How sure are we that large-scale federal aid for post-Katrina reconstruction will really materialize?

Bear with me while I make the case for doubting whether Mr. Bush will make good on his promise.

First, Mr. Bush already has a record of trying to renege on pledges to a stricken city. After 9/11 he made big promises to New York. But as soon as his bullhorn moment was past, officials began trying to wriggle out of his pledge. By early 2002 his budget director was accusing New York's elected representatives, who wanted to know what had happened to the promised aid, of engaging in a "money-grubbing game." It's not clear how much federal help the city has actually received.

With that precedent in mind, consider this: Congress has just gone on recess. By the time it returns, seven weeks will have passed since the levees broke. And the administration has spent much of that time blocking efforts to aid Katrina's victims.

I'm not sure why the news media haven't made more of the White House role in stalling a bipartisan bill that would have extended Medicaid coverage to all low-income hurricane victims - some of whom, according to surveys, can't afford needed medicine. The White House has also insisted that disaster loans to local governments, many of which no longer have a tax base, be made with the cruel and unusual provision that these loans cannot be forgiven.

Since the administration is already nickel-and-diming Katrina's victims, it's a good bet that it will do the same with reconstruction - that is, if reconstruction ever gets started.

Nobody thinks that reconstruction should already be under way. But what's striking to me is that there are no visible signs that the administration has even begun developing a plan. No reconstruction czar has been appointed; no commission has been named. There have been no public hearings. And as far as we can tell, nobody is in charge.

Last month The New York Times reported that Karl Rove had been placed in charge of post-Katrina reconstruction. But last week Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, denied that Mr. Rove - who has become a lot less visible lately, as speculation swirls about possible indictments in the Plame case - was ever running reconstruction. So who is in charge? "The president," said Mr. McClellan.

Finally, if we assume that Mr. Bush remains hostile to domestic spending that might threaten his tax cuts - and there's no reason to assume otherwise - foot-dragging on post-Katrina reconstruction is a natural political strategy.

I've been reading "Off Center," an important new book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Yale and Berkeley respectively. Their goal is to explain how Republicans, who face a generally moderate electorate and have won recent national elections by "the slimmest of margins," have nonetheless been able to advance a radical rightist agenda.

One of their "new rules for radicals" is "Don't just do something, stand there." Frontal assaults on popular government programs tend to fail, as Mr. Bush learned in his hapless attempt to sell Social Security privatization. But as Mr. Hacker and Mr. Pierson point out, "sometimes decisions not to act can be a powerful means of reshaping the role of government." For example, the public strongly supports a higher minimum wage, but conservatives have nonetheless managed to cut that wage in real terms by not raising it in the face of inflation.

Right now, the public strongly supports a major reconstruction effort, so that's what Mr. Bush had to promise. But as the TV cameras focus on other places and other issues, will the administration pay a heavy political price for a reconstruction that starts slowly and gradually peters out? The New York experience suggests that it won't.

Of course, I may be overanalyzing. Maybe the administration isn't deliberately dragging its feet on reconstruction. Maybe its lack of movement, like its immobility in the days after Katrina struck, reflects nothing more than out-of-touch leadership and a lack of competent people.

Walking the Talk by NICHOLAS KRISTOF

October 9, 2005
Walking the Talk

A year ago, a group of Swarthmore students decided to take on an unusual extracurricular activity: stopping genocide.

Mark Hanis, one of the students, is Jewish and all four of his grandparents survived the Holocaust. He was troubled by the way generations of Americans acquiesced in one genocide after another - only to apologize afterward and pledge "Never Again."

So Mr. Hanis and fellow students started to raise money to help provide security to stop the slaughter in Darfur. In particular, they wanted to help pay for African Union peacekeepers.

Their Genocide Intervention Fund has now raised $250,000 and is about to hand over the first installment to the leaders of the African Union. The money may be used to pay for female African police officers to protect Darfur women from being raped.

The Genocide Intervention Fund now has an all-star cast, including the backing of former White House officials, generals, and celebrities like Mia Farrow and Don Cheadle. Its spokeswoman, a Rwandan genocide survivor who is now a Swarthmore sophomore, introduced Bill Clinton at a student conference. It has opened a Washington office and is lobbying for the bipartisan Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which calls for sanctions on Sudan and a no-fly zone.

"We do lobby days, where we arrange for people to come to Washington to meet their Congressional offices and say, 'I've put $20 down to protect the people of Darfur. What are you doing?' " said Mr. Hanis, who graduated recently.

So far more than 100 colleges have raised money for the fund (, and universities have become the center of the movement to stop the slaughter. A group started at Georgetown, Stand (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), has chapters nationwide and across Canada, and Harvard led a divestment effort by having its endowment sell stock in companies that support the Sudanese government.

In the long term, the organizers hope to encourage more education about genocide in American schools - California and a few other states have passed laws that public schools must include education about genocide - and to bolster an early warning system so that the world will respond to atrocities more promptly.

"We're getting smarter at this," Mr. Hanis said. "We're building a permanent political constituency against genocide." He paused and added soberly: "Of course, there are lives lost every day."

So while President Bush is proving wimpish on genocide, the response of many ordinary Americans like Mr. Hanis has been inspiring. Aside from students, the leaders in the effort include Jewish and Armenian groups (the word genocide has special resonance for both) and religious groups.

In Dallas, Temple Emanu-El started Dolls for Darfur, which has made thousands of tiny paper dolls representing the victims of Darfur. It has sent them to senators and is preparing "advocacy kits" to help people lobby for a sterner American response to the genocide (see

Then there are the big-hearted folks at Ginghamsburg Church, a large Methodist church in Tipp City, Ohio. After the pastor, Mike Slaughter, read about atrocities in Darfur, he decided to ask the congregation to spend only half as much on Christmas presents last year as they planned, and to donate the rest to victims in Darfur.

The result, along with other fund-raising efforts, was $327,000 in donations; the congregation is planning the same campaign this Christmas. The money is being used to keep children alive and safe in South Darfur.

"We recognize that this is only a pittance in the face of the entire crisis in Darfur," says Karen Smith, director of operations for the church. "However, if we can successfully engage other churches across the U.S. in this call so that they issue the same challenge to their constituents, the impact could truly be God-sized."

During the Holocaust, when Franklin Roosevelt was as uninterested in genocide as George W. Bush is today, Arthur Koestler referred to those who demanded action as "the screamers." Today, Mr. Hanis, Ms. Smith and others like them are "the screamers," and if it weren't for them the death toll in Darfur would be even higher. Countless thousands of survivors sitting in refugee camps owe their lives to screams coming from places like Swarthmore or Ginghamsburg.

So out of the miasma of horror that is Darfur, something uplifting is taking place. Ordinary Americans are finding creative ways to respond to the slaughter, so that they personally inject meaning into those traditionally hollow words: Never Again.

The Faith-Based President Defrocked by FRANK RICH

October 9, 2005
The Faith-Based President Defrocked

TO understand why the right is rebelling against Harriet Miers, don't waste time boning up on her glory days with the Texas Lottery Commission. The real story in this dust-up is not the Supreme Court candidate, but the man who picked her. The Miers nomination, whatever its fate, will be remembered as the flashpoint when the faith-based Bush base finally started to lose faith in our propaganda president and join the apostate American majority.

Though James Dobson, America's foremost analyst of the gay subtext of SpongeBob SquarePants, was easily rolled by Karl Rove and dragged back into the Miers camp, he's an exception. The pervasive mood on the right was articulated by Cathie Adams, president of the Texas branch of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. She told The Washington Post: "President Bush is asking us to have faith in things unseen. We only have that kind of faith in God."

This is a sea change. If anything, Ms. Miers's record of opposition to abortion (a contribution to Texans United for Life, a leadership role at a strenuously anti-abortion church) is less "unseen" than that of John Roberts, whose nomination aroused no protest on the right only three months ago. The difference between then and now is a startling index of the toll taken by a botched war and hurricane response on whatever remains of Mr. Bush's credibility. The continuing inability of the administration to accomplish the mission in Iraq and of its post-Brownie FEMA to do a heck of a job on the Gulf Coast has inflicted collateral damage on its case for Harriet Miers.

"The president's 'argument' for her amounts to: Trust me," George Will wrote in the op-ed column that last week galvanized conservative opposition to the nomination. He then went on to list several reasons why he doesn't trust Mr. Bush. As if to prove the point, the president went out to the Rose Garden and let loose with one whopper after another in his first press conference in four months.

"Of all the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?" Mr. Bush was asked. "Yes," he answered. Has he ever discussed abortion with her? "Not to my recollection." How much political capital does he have left? "Plenty." With a straight face he promised that Ms. Miers was "not going to change" and that "20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today." Even were that a praiseworthy attribute, it would still contradict the history of a woman who abandoned her Roman Catholic faith for evangelical Christianity and the Democratic Party for the Republicans.

BUT Mr. Bush's dissembling wasn't limited to his Supreme Court nominee. Asked how he was going to pay for Katrina recovery, the president twice said he'd proposed $187 billion in budget cuts over 10 years - but failed to factor in his tax proposals and other budget increases. The real net total for proposed Bush cuts is $103 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and even less according to some independent number crunchers. Turning to Iraq, Mr. Bush once again fudged our "progress" there with a numerical bait-and-switch, bragging about "30 Iraqi battalions in the lead." (Translation: in the lead with American military support.) Less than a week earlier his own commanders had told Congress that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of fighting unaided had dropped from 3 to 1 since June. (Translation: 750 soldiers are now ready to stand up on their own should America's 140,000 troops stand down.) For good measure, Mr. Bush then flouted credibility one more time to set the stage for the next administration fiasco. In the event of a bird flu epidemic, he said, one option for effecting a quarantine would be to use the military. What military? Last week The Army Times reported that the Pentagon, its resources already overstretched by Iraq, would try to bolster sagging recruitment by tapping "a demographic long deemed off limits: high school dropouts who don't have a General Educational Development credential."

Like most Bush fictions, the latest are driven less by ideology than by a desire to hide incompetence. But there's a self-destructive impulse at work as well. "The best way to get the news is from objective sources," the president told Brit Hume of Fox News two years ago. "And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world." Thus does the White House compound the sin of substituting propaganda for effective action by falling for the same spin it showers on the public.

Beware of leaders who drink their own Kool-Aid. The most distressing aspect of Mr. Bush's press conference last week was less his lies and half-truths than the abundant evidence that he is as out of touch as Custer was on the way to Little Bighorn. The president seemed genuinely shocked that anyone could doubt his claim that his friend is the best-qualified candidate for the highest court. Mr. Bush also seemed unaware that it was Republicans who were leading the attack on Ms. Miers. "The decision as to whether or not there will be a fight is up to the Democrats," he said, confusing his antagonists this time much as he has Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Such naked presidential isolation from reality was a replay of his response to Hurricane Katrina. When your main "objective sources" for news are members of your own staff, you can actually believe that the most pressing tragedy of the storm is the rebuilding of Trent Lott's second home. You can even believe that Brownie will fix it. The truth only began to penetrate four days after the storm's arrival - and only then, according to Newsweek, because an adviser, Dan Bartlett, asked the president to turn away from his usual "objective sources" and instead watch a DVD compilation of actual evening news reports.

Mr. Bartlett's one desperate effort to prick his boss's bubble notwithstanding, the White House as a whole is so addicted to its own mythmaking prowess that it can't kick the habit. Seventy-two hours before Ms. Miers was nominated, federal auditors from the Government Accountability Office declared that the administration had violated the law against "covert propaganda" when it repeatedly hired fake reporters (and one supposedly real pundit, Armstrong Williams) to plug its policies in faux news reports and editorial commentary produced at taxpayers' expense. But a bigger scandal is the legal propaganda that the White House produces daily even now - or especially now.

As always, much of it pertains to the war in Iraq. On Sept. 28, to take one recent instance, the president announced the smiting of a man he identified as "the second most wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq" and the "top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad." As New York's Daily News would quickly report, the man in question "may not even be one of the top 10 or 15 leaders." The blogger Blogenlust chimed in, documenting 33 "top lieutenants" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who have been captured, killed or identified in the past two and a half years, with no deterrent effect on terrorist violence in Iraq, Madrid or London. No wonder the nation shrugged at the largely recycled and unsubstantiated list of 10 foiled Qaeda plots that Mr. Bush unveiled in Thursday's latest stay-the-course Iraq oration.

The administration's strategy for covering up embarrassing realities with fiction reached its purest expression two weeks ago when both Laura Bush and Karen Hughes were recruited to star in propagandistic television "reality" shows. In the first lady's case, this was literally so: she was dispatched to Biloxi to appear in an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The thinking seems to be that if Mrs. Bush helps one family on a hit reality series, perhaps no one will notice the reality that no-bid contracts and ineptitude have kept hundreds of thousands of other hurricane victims homeless indefinitely while taxpayers foot the bill for unused trailers and cruise ships.

Ms. Hughes took her act on the road in the Middle East. There she conducted a culturally tone-deaf "listening tour" in which she read her lines from briefing papers and tried to win hearts and minds by posing with little Arab kids as if they were interchangeable with the little black kids in Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservative" photo ops back home. She didn't seem to know that this stunt wouldn't even fly on Fox News anymore, let alone Al Jazeera.

This Saturday is supposed to bring new victories on both these troubled fronts: Oct. 15 is the day that Iraqis vote on their constitution and the day that the president set as a deadline for all hurricane victims to be moved out of shelters. Chances are that the number of Americans who still have faith that the light is at the end of either of these tunnels is identical to the number who believe Harriet Miers is the second coming of Antonin Scalia and that Tom Cruise has found true love.