donkey o.d. too

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

Friday, October 21, 2005

Krugman on Vacation? How Dare He?

Well! In that case, maybe I'll get to know him a bit better. I find INCIDENTS FROM MY CAREER on Paul's Princeton website, which promises to tell us how he (in his words):

came to be the particular sort of economist I am -- how I came to write the books and papers I did, and more generally how I arrived both at the particular ideas I have inflicted on the world and at whatever distinctive features there are in my intellectual style. Lives are seamless, so everything affects everything else: my economic theories have no doubt been influenced by my relationship with my cats (which is, I hasten to add, mature and mutually supportive) and vice versa. What I will try to focus on in this essay, however, are the incidents in my professional life that I think were important -- the experiences that in obvious ways influenced the way I write and think.

John Biguenet's NOLA Journal - Hot Water

Oct. 20, 2005
Hot Water

As it would have been described when I was a child, we are living in reduced circumstances. Marsha and I have moved from our three-bedroom home on the lakefront to a three-room house near the river in uptown New Orleans.

Actually, in the seven weeks or so since Hurricane Katrina came ashore, what we’ve done most of all is move. The day before the storm hit, without a hotel room available anywhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, we drove six hundred miles to my brother’s place in Dallas. Then, after a week there, we wedged the two cats beside our son in the backseat of our VW Beetle and traveled 1,600 miles to our daughter’s home near New York. Finally, two weeks ago, we returned to New Orleans, completing a circuit of roughly 3,500 miles. Since our house was uninhabitable after sitting flooded for three weeks, Marsha and I moved into the back of a daycare center after our search for a place to rent had turned up nothing. Unfortunately, because of the hurricane, the center still has no hot water, so each evening when we returned from the filthy work of hauling our ruined possessions out to the street, we had to take cold showers.

Thanks, though, to a kind real-estate agent with nothing to show us in our price range but who remembered his cousin had half of a shotgun double available, we now have hot water — surrounded by a charming little house. With wooden-bladed fans hanging from fourteen-foot ceilings, low doorknobs, a cozy patio in the back, and a floor-to-ceiling window to the front porch with working shutters, it couldn’t be a more traditional New Orleans home.

Our side of the double is small, but the furniture we salvaged from our second story doesn’t quite fill the place. We’re using what was my daughter’s high-school desk as the table in our kitchen/dining room. I’m writing this column on the other student desk from our son’s old room. Our bed — after airing — was fine. And, of course, we brought all the upstairs bookcases and what artwork survived.

With water still sloshing inside our TV set, we thought about living without television, but Hurricane Wilma, currently churning through the Caribbean, convinced us we needed a TV at least to keep track of the weather; we found one on sale yesterday. My collection of vinyl records and our sound system are gone, but we’ve hooked up our iPod to two small speakers. So at the moment, I’m listening to Aretha Franklin insist that I make her feel like a natural woman.

A friend lent us some pots, and Marsha has developed a meticulous method for cleaning our plates and glasses that weren’t submerged in the floodwater in our kitchen. Friday night, we’ll host our first dinner party here, probably on the patio by candlelight, for a few of the friends who have been feeding us regularly since we returned to New Orleans.

We’ve got music, food, a cool breeze off the river, and hot water at the end of the day. At least this morning, life’s good.

Moving into our new rental in uptown New Orleans, near the river.

Marsha unpacking.

A restaurant near our new rental has just reopened. it's a good place for breakfast.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

To Post or not to Post Brooks? That was the Question

I debated about this as I am what could politely be called not a fan of Brooks. Greg helped me make up my mind to go ahead when he said the following:
Brooks is known as Bobo I believe and his stuff is so nerdy--it's like "Hey kids, come on, the jocks and stoners can all get together and make the best prom ever!" It makes me want to puke. Last week he listed a bunch of really stupid things Harriet had written, totally cutting her up, and then ended saying she was a great lady...what a putz...sure lets read it.

October 20, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Scenes From a Meltdown

"This country is in one heck of a mess."

If there is a single sentiment members of Congress heard while back in their districts this month, that was it.

In the past few days I've been speaking with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill (mostly Republicans) about the mood back home. I've learned that it's one thing to read in the paper that two-thirds of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. It's an altogether more bracing experience to go to town meetings and church and the supermarket and find this sentiment blasting you in the face.

The most interesting tales came from Republicans elected from districts President Bush carried by fewer than 10 points. Those districts were once moderately supportive of the president, but now, as one member of Congress said, the anger at Bush is so deep it's almost indescribable.

It's a generalized feeling of betrayal. At town meetings, big subjects like Iraq and the deficits barely come up. But there is a sense that this guy Bush promised to make us feel safe, and it's clear from the Katrina fiasco and everything else that we are not safe.

For Republicans from vulnerable districts in the Northeast and Midwest, the president has become, as another member put it, radioactive. These Republicans return from districts where they are being called upon to give back the money Tom DeLay raised for them, and go back to a Washington where G.O.P. indictments, and hence trials, promise to stretch on for years.

And yet Republicans are not panicked. They know that if the election were held today, their base would stay home, but they look over at the Democrats and say: Thank God for Nancy Pelosi. Thank God for Howard Dean. They see that Dean refers to his base as "merlot Democrats," and it confirms their suspicion that the opposition party is really run by imbeciles.

The odd thing is that the Democrats, who have the self-assurance of a beaten dog, feel this way about themselves. Most sense, in their heart of hearts, that they are the Palestinians of American politics: they'll never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The most common word I hear from Democratic partisans to describe their own party is "pathetic."

Indeed, when you look at the graphs showing both parties' approval ratings, it's like looking at a pair of expert-only ski slopes. A Pew Research Center poll showed the parties' approval ratings plummeting to around 32 percent - below their own bases.

So politicians are not panicked, but they are mobilized. They have just a few months to redefine themselves and avoid catastrophe. Over the next weeks, we are going to see an ideas race, as both parties hustle to get out new, positive agendas.

On the Democratic side, the party leadership is in control. To nationalize the election, Democrats are about to roll out a big agenda. Unfortunately, their big idea consists of Spending for Everything and a Return to Fiscal Restraint. The Democrats are promising universal health insurance, college for all, a Manhattan Project on energy and an end to runaway spending. This is using Teddy Kennedy means to achieve Robert Rubin ends. In a country disillusioned with parties, it's going to be a tough sell.

On the G.O.P. side, this is a moment of Republican glasnost. After years of following the leaders, Republicans are suddenly rebelling and innovating on all fronts. Conservatives like Mike Pence and moderates like Mark Kirk are joining forces to battle the old DeLay institutionalists to actually cut spending, including cuts in defense and veterans affairs. Orthodox conservatives are meeting with the renegade John McCain. Members from marginal districts are putting together agendas that will distance them from the dominant G.O.P. voices from the South and West.

The Republicans are going to end up localizing the election. Listening to constituents, these Republicans sense that people are exhausted by big visions and grand dreams. They want small, achievable ideas. The best ones I heard were from members who wanted to promote open-space initiatives and suburban livability, members who wanted to reduce medical paperwork. This is politics on the alderman level, but it's probably right for the moment.

Congress is polarized, but this isn't an ideological moment, liberal or conservative. It's a moment when voters want to know someone is running the country, that there's someone to project authority and take responsibility, to establish international and domestic order, so they can get on with their lives.

Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde? By BOB HERBERT

October 20, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde?

Please welcome the latest entry to the Chutzpah Hall of Fame: the mighty Chevron Corporation.

On Oct. 28, during a gala ceremony at its headquarters in San Ramon, Calif., the company, which until May was known as ChevronTexaco, will honor the latest recipients of the annual Chevron Conservation Awards. The awards are meant to recognize the achievements of men and women who have "helped to protect wildlife, restore wilderness, create natural preserves and parks, and institute educational programs to heighten environmental awareness."

Meanwhile, Chevron's lawyers are in Ecuador defending the company against charges that it contributed to one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet. The company is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, over a period of 20 years, into the soil and water of a previously pristine section of the Amazon rain forest.

According to a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of some 30,000 impoverished residents of the rain forest, this massive, long-term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers.

Chevron, which likes to promote itself as a champion of the environment, contends that no such catastrophe occurred. A spokesman told me yesterday that the billions of gallons of waste that was dumped "wasn't necessarily toxic."

"We've done inspections," the spokesman said. "We've done a deep scientific analysis, and that analysis has shown no harmful impacts from the operations. There just aren't any."

You would have a very difficult time selling that story to the people in the rain forest who have been drinking and bathing in water fouled with the byproducts of oil-drilling processes. Parents have watched their children play and their livestock feed in areas contaminated with oily substances. Pits that perpetually ooze gunk and oil are ubiquitous.

Two years ago, a reporter from The Times interviewed a man named René Arévalo who lived near a separation plant that was once operated by a Texaco subsidiary. The house in which Mr. Arévalo and his five children lived had been built on a mound of dirt that covered a pit where wastewater had been dumped.

The family got its water from a well. "If you dig here just a meter deep," said Mr. Arévalo, "you hit oil. The water is contaminated, very contaminated. But we drink it. What else can we do?"

Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001. From the early 1970's to 1992, the Texaco subsidiary was part of a consortium that ran the oil-drilling operations in an area of virgin rain forest known simply as the Oriente - the East. Texaco discovered oil there in the late 60's.

According to nearly all accounts, neither Texaco nor its primary partner in the consortium, Ecuador's state oil company - Petroecuador - paid much attention to the effects of the venture on the surrounding environment and its people. Tremendous amounts of waste generated from the drilling, extraction, processing and transportation operations - billions upon billions of gallons - were dumped into unlined pits in the ground or poured into freshwater streams.

"The systematic way that they disposed of toxic waste in Ecuador was to dump it into open-air pits that they dug out of the jungle soil, or directly into rivers, streams and swamps in one of the most delicate ecosystems on the planet," said Steven Donziger, who is part of a team of American and Ecuadorean lawyers handling the lawsuit.

Crude oil was also spilled in the jungle, millions of gallons of it.

Disasters of this kind, involving poor people in remote areas of foreign countries, tend to stay low on the level of awareness of the American news media. The suffering tends to go unnoticed by the outside world.

The families in the vicinity of the Ecuadorean oil-drilling operations have had to drink from contaminated rivers and streams because they had such limited access to running water. And any pollution-related illnesses they may contract pose an even greater danger than normal because of their abject poverty and the absence of adequate health care.

Officials at Chevron do not see any of this as their problem. They will tell you that they've cleaned up any mess they might have made, and then some. And they will deny to their dying breath that they have harmed anyone.

After all, they're champions of the environment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

John Biguenet's Back to New Orleans - 100 Sick Kids

Oct. 18, 2005
100 Sick Kids

Few of the scenes the world witnessed on television in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were as distressing as watching besieged doctors and nurses at New Orleans hospitals beg for help in evacuating their critically ill patients. With local government overwhelmed by the scope of the catastrophe and an unprepared federal government dithering for days, medical staffs worked without electrical power or water to save those they could. The bodies of those they couldn’t were left behind on the lower floors or in the stairwells of the hospitals as water rose after the levee system had failed. But in the end, the city’s medical professionals saved most of those entrusted to their care.

My wife, Marsha, has taught the children of a number of doctors over the years, so we often recognized the faces of the physicians interviewed in those desperate days in makeshift wards or on hospital rooftops as they waited for helicopters to evacuate their patients. Now that we’re back home, we’ve heard story after story of the incredible job men and women in the New Orleans medical community — and often their spouses, who worked alongside them in the hospitals — performed in the chaotic conditions of the flooded city.

At dinner a few nights ago, we heard a story about a hospital here where everything went right after the hurricane. Our host, a pediatrician, told us about what happened to the 100 critically ill kids at Children’s Hospital. He began by emphasizing the advantages his hospital had over the downtown medical centers. Located in the university section of the city near Loyola and Tulane, the facility suffered no flooding, and though it had no armed guards, it was not looted. So thanks to a hurricane plan that had provided several weeks of electrical-generator capacity, the hospital was able to offer uninterrupted service to its 100 bed-ridden young patients and their families until a few days after the storm when civil authorities called for a complete evacuation of the city.

Part of the pre-storm planning involved a network of children’s hospitals across the country. As our friend explained, getting the kids out of New Orleans was not the only problem; the bigger challenge was insuring that they wound up at the right facility to treat their particular ailments. So the plan addressed, for example, how to move young heart patients with a team of specialists to a pediatric cardiac-care center somewhere else in the country.

How did they do it? First of all, they decided against planning on any government assistance during an emergency that would require evacuation of the hospital — a wise decision, as it turned out, since no government assistance was available to them after the hurricane. Instead, in cooperation with children’s hospitals elsewhere, they organized an ambulance caravan from Texas, flights of helicopters from Florida as well as fixed-wing aircraft from Kansas City, and an automobile convoy of patients, staff, and associated family members to Baton Rouge. When it was over, all the children had been safely transported to Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

I asked our friend who had paid for such an undertaking. “You worry about the cost later,” he explained.

Now Children’s Hospital is facing additional costs. It has opened regional centers after the storm to treat its other patients scattered in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Metairie. Since at any given time in the New Orleans facility, 65 percent of the kids are Medicaid patients — and since poor children tend to have worse illnesses thanks to delayed treatment — money matters to an institution with its mission. But in the midst of a staggering disaster, the mission mattered more than the money. And so the network of children’s hospitals and their supporters around the country was able to save 100 sick kids.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Leading by (Bad) Example By THOMAS FRIEDMAN

(I'm not a fan, but thought this might be worth a read.)
October 19, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Leading by (Bad) Example

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (Iraq News Agency) - A delegation of Iraqi judges and journalists abruptly left the U.S. today, cutting short its visit to study the workings of American democracy. A delegation spokesman said the Iraqis were "bewildered" by some of the behavior of the Bush administration and felt it was best to limit their exposure to the U.S. system at this time, when Iraq is taking its first baby steps toward democracy.

The lead Iraqi delegate, Muhammad Mithaqi, a noted secular Sunni judge who had recently survived an assassination attempt by Islamist radicals, said that he was stunned when he heard President Bush telling Republicans that one reason they should support Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court was because of "her religion." She is described as a devout evangelical Christian.

Mithaqi said that after two years of being lectured to by U.S. diplomats in Baghdad about the need to separate "mosque from state" in the new Iraq, he was also floored to read that the former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now a law school dean, said on the radio show of the conservative James Dobson that Miers deserved support because she was "a very, very strong Christian [who] should be a source of great comfort and assistance to people in the households of faith around the country."

"Now let me get this straight," Judge Mithaqi said. "You are lecturing us about keeping religion out of politics, and then your own president and conservative legal scholars go and tell your public to endorse Miers as a Supreme Court justice because she is an evangelical Christian.

"How would you feel if you picked up your newspapers next week and read that the president of Iraq justified the appointment of an Iraqi Supreme Court justice by telling Iraqis: 'Don't pay attention to his lack of legal expertise. Pay attention to the fact that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and prays at a Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque.' Is that the Iraq you sent your sons to build and to die for? I don't think so. We can't have our people exposed to such talk."

A fellow delegation member, Abdul Wahab al-Unfi, a Shiite lawyer who walks with a limp today as a result of torture in a Saddam prison, said he did not want to spend another day in Washington after listening to the Bush team defend its right to use torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfi said he was heartened by the fact that the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban U.S. torture of military prisoners. But he said he was depressed by reports that the White House might veto the bill because of that amendment, which would ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of P.O.W.'s.

"I survived eight years of torture under Saddam," Unfi said. "Virtually every extended family in Iraq has someone who was tortured or killed in a Baathist prison. Yet, already, more than 100 prisoners of war have died in U.S. custody. How is that possible from the greatest democracy in the world? There must be no place for torture in the future Iraq. We are going home now because I don't want our delegation corrupted by all this American right-to-torture talk."

Finally, the delegation member Sahaf al-Sahafi, editor of one of Iraq's new newspapers, said he wanted to go home after watching a televised videoconference last Thursday between soldiers in Iraq and President Bush. The soldiers, 10 Americans and an Iraqi, were coached by a Pentagon aide on how to respond to Mr. Bush.

"I had nightmares watching this," Sahafi said. "It was right from the Saddam playbook. I was particularly upset to hear the Iraqi sergeant major, Akeel Shakir Nasser, tell Mr. Bush: 'Thank you very much for everything. I like you.' It was exactly the kind of staged encounter that Saddam used to have with his troops."

Sahafi said he was also floored to see the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, declare that a Bush administration contract that paid Armstrong Williams, a supposedly independent commentator, to promote Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy constituted illegal propaganda - an attempt by the government to buy good press.

"Saddam bought and paid journalists all over the Arab world," Sahafi said. "It makes me sick to see even a drop of that in America."

By coincidence, the Iraqi delegates departed Washington just as the Bush aide Karen Hughes returned from the Middle East. Her trip was aimed at improving America's image among Muslims by giving them a more accurate view of America and President Bush. She said, "The more they know about us, the more they will like us."

(Yes, all of this is a fake news story. I just wish that it weren't so true.)

Naughty Harry: Lawyering Without a License By MAUREEN DOWD

October 19, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Naughty Harry: Lawyering Without a License

I was just coming to grips with the idea that a Supreme Court nominee doesn't need to have any experience for the job.

Now it turns out that a Supreme Court nominee doesn't even need to always be a lawyer in good standing.

Harriet Miers shared a little secret about herself on her application to be an associate justice: "Earlier this year, I received notice that my dues for the District of Columbia bar were delinquent and as a result, my ability to practice law in D.C. had been suspended."

Did that little dog on the birthday card she sent W. eat her dues?

Ms. Miers, then the White House counsel, remedied the situation after she got the letter. But weren't the Bush spinners making a case for her by reporting that she was really great at managing the paper flow when she was the president's staff secretary?

Now we discover that she could be such a scatterbrain about paperwork that a little tiny thing like being able to legally practice law slipped her mind while she was serving as the lawyer for the leader of the free world?

There was another odd, unfocused episode with the Republican senator Arlen Specter this week. He said that he and Ms. Miers had talked privately on Monday and that she had expressed support for two Supreme Court rulings that established a right to privacy and are viewed as the foundation for Roe v. Wade.

Before Ms. Miers could even forget her bar dues again, the White House said that Senator Specter was mistaken, and Ms. Miers called to tell him so. Mr. Specter was willing to say he'd misunderstood, and will surely want to clear all this up in the hearings.

But maybe he'll wind up sticking by his earlier statement: "She needs a crash course in constitutional law."

The White House gambits to soothe the wrath of the right and flesh out the views of Ms. Miers, in lieu of an actual judicial record, are creating more confusion. In order to sell her, officials had to expose her by sending her anti-abortion positions from 1989 to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She's on record as favoring one of the most restrictive positions on abortion: "actively" supporting a constitutional amendment to make abortion illegal except when the mother is actually about to die (never mind if her health might be severely impaired or she's a victim of rape or incest).

When she was running for City Council in Dallas, Ms. Miers answered yes to all the questions from Texans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, elaborating on only one: whether she would vote to keep anyone who supported abortion rights out of city jobs dealing with health issues. After saying yes, she added "to the extent pro-life views are relevant."

"The answers clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade," Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard."

With Karl Rove on grand jury watch and Dick Cheney snugly tucked into his underground bunker, W. and Andy Card are in control, and the West Wing ineptitude is comic.

First the White House tried to make Ms. Miers seem more conservative by peddling her pedigree as a member of an ultraconservative evangelical church to its right-wing base. When injecting religion into the hearings backfired, officials started backpedaling and saying she shouldn't be asked about her faith, even though the president himself had said that her faith was a big part of her appeal.

Then when her draconian views on abortion came out, the White House immediately tried to assuage the left. The White House flack Scott McClellan turned on his fog machine, saying, "The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political officeholder."

Mr. McClellan's answers about the questionnaire were opaque, but were meant to leave the impression that a Justice Miers might view abortion differently than the candidate Miers.

That's very interesting, since the president cited her constancy as one of her chief attractions, implying, to quell conservative worries, that she would not be another David Souter.

"I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today," W. said.

Some Democrats who have interviewed her recently have failed to see in her the intellectual rigor that W. saw and find her résumé so thin that it would not even earn a "Heavy Hitter" profile in The American Lawyer magazine. Answering the Senate Judiciary Committee's questionnaire, she said that in her two years on the City Council she dealt with such weighty constitutional issues as ... zoning.

No Combat for Grannies Full of Fight

October 18, 2005
No Combat for Grannies Full of Fight

TO use a hand-me-down phrase from a more gallant time, they were women of a certain age. More precisely, they were women of a certain age in an uncertain age.

They were not kids, that's for sure, these women who went yesterday to the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.

Ostensibly, they were there to enlist. Send them to Iraq, they said. They've led long lives, long enough to have grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Better, they said, to put them in harm's way than young people just starting out.

"I'm a double grandmother," said Betty Brassell, who is 75 and lives on the Lower East Side. "I have a great-grandson. I'm sorry, I forgot to bring his picture."

It will not shock you to learn that the Army was not interested in signing them up. Same went for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. The crisp-looking young men in uniform who staff the Times Square booth had locked their doors, having been warned that the women would come knocking.

It will also not shock you to learn that the grannies - their word - never thought that anyone would take their volunteering seriously. The military is not in the habit of offering enlistment bonuses to people on walkers.

They were there to protest the war, having perhaps unconsciously taken a page out of President Bush's book. If he can use the troops to sell his war, as he did last week in a scripted Q. and A. session with soldiers in Iraq, why should the grannies not use a military prop to sell their opposition?

"One of them asked me, 'What happens if they accept us?' " said Norman Siegel, the civil liberties lawyer, who was the group's go-between with the police. "I told her: 'Then you're off to Iraq. I'll have to get a habeas writ to get you out.' "

That proved unnecessary.

No question, these were serious women with a serious message, agree with them or not. They understood that if you want the cameras and microphones to pay you and your cause some attention, a bit of street theater helps. It doesn't hurt, either, to march under banners like Raging Grannies, Grandmothers Against the War, and Elders for Peace and Justice for the Next Seven Generations.

It had been arranged with the police that 15 or so would try to enlist and then, once that failed, hold a sit-in outside the booth.

First in line was Joan Wile, 74. She carried a bucket of cookies. Behind her was Marie Runyon, a former state assemblywoman who has fought more left-wing battles than AARP has members. At 90, Ms. Runyon can barely see, but that did not stop her from banging on the booth's door, to the right of the poster of Uncle Sam pointing and saying, "I Want You."

"You" did not include her. "Are you hard of hearing?" Ms. Runyon hollered at the young men inside. "Let's get cracking here. We want to enlist. What's the matter with you?"

After the door-banging went nowhere, it was sit-in time. For some, that was easier said than done. "I can't sit," Ms. Brassell said, clinging to a walker. "I'll stoop as much as I can."

As she went into her best crouch, a police lieutenant, Kevin Lee, approached with a bullhorn and a script of his own. "I'm ordering you to leave this pedestrian area," he read from a sheet of paper.

No way. "We insist we enlist," the grannies chanted.

MINUTES later, the police moved in to make arrests. In some recent antiwar protests, they have been accused of unnecessary roughness. Not this time. This time they were solicitous.

"Is that too tight?" an officer named McMinn asked one woman as he cuffed her hands behind her back - standard procedure. An officer named Frias bent to help another protester, the actress Vinie Burrows, get to her feet. "You all right?" the officer asked.

Watching and chanting "Grannies rock" were about 50 supporters. One of them was Herb Hecsh, a "partner or companion or whatever you call it these days" of Ms. Wile. He could not help observing, he said, that "the cops are the only ones here with their original hips."

In all, 18 women were arrested, some quite familiar with the back of a police van.

As they were taken away, Times Square quickly returned to normal. Tourists snapped their pictures. The recruiting booth unlocked its door. A strapping young man walked in, possibly to enlist.

The war was still on.

John Biguenet,Back to New Orleans: October 13 and 16

Oct. 13, 2005
So Where Do We Begin?

Marsha and I slog through the waterlogged books in my study, still damp two weeks after the flood receded from our house. All the free-standing bookcases collapsed at some point, spilling even the volumes I thought might have survived on the highest shelves into the slimy floodwater that filled our downstairs for three weeks. Some of the books, now sprawled open on the floor and blooming with orange-and-yellow mold, give the appearance of tropical flowers crowding our steps in an overgrown garden. And other mold, sometimes brown, sometimes red, has spiraled up the walls, covering much of the room in a delicate, poisonous vine whose tendrils reach almost to the ceiling in spots.

“So where do we begin?” Marsha asks through the heavy mask she is wearing, sounding like a petite Darth Vader. We want to salvage as much as we can before the mold spreads further.

“How about the kitchen?” I wheeze through my mask.

But the kitchen is, in its own way, worse than the study. At first we think it’s just a skim of mud on the pots we find still neatly stacked in a swollen cabinet we manage to force open. But when we squat to look more closely before we touch them — not easy in the knee-high rubber boots and protective jumpsuits my wife wisely insists that we wear — we see that the veil of scum on our pans and kettles is actually quite delicate. Up close, it looks like dirty cotton stuck to a wound, fine gray strands of it puffing up over the copper and cast iron, sheathing our cookware in darkening clouds of mold.

Marsha has talked to her mother’s stepson, an oceanographer who frequently works in Venice advising on that city’s problems with floods, about whether we can use things that have been submerged. So we already know about the overnight baths of bleach needed to kill just the biological contaminants and the much more complex problem of contamination of household items by floodwater fouled with industrial pollutants and motor oil and mercury from automobile switches and gasoline — not to mention all the poisonous cleaning agents stored under our sink that leached into the kitchen floodwater.

She closes the cabinet door as far as it will shut. “Let’s look upstairs,” she suggests.

We clamber up the bottom steps carefully. Two have cracked, and another has swollen and bellied in an angle difficult to climb in our rubber boots. At the top of the stairs, we strip off our boots and gloves and jumpsuits, leaving our masks on only until we can close a bedroom door on the stench of the mold rising up from the first floor. We crank open all the windows and stand before the billowing curtains for a moment. It’s still in the 80’s here every day, and we are slick with sweat from the protective clothing we wore downstairs over our jeans and T-shirts.

It is all exactly as we left it the Sunday morning we hurriedly fled New Orleans — except that, with the masks off, we suddenly realize everything upstairs, too, smells like mold. It’s nothing like the overpowering reek in my study and the kitchen. In fact, it takes a moment to recognize the dusty, rotting odor for what it is. Every single thing up here will have to be cleaned, Marsha decides. I open our closet and riffle my pants hanging in a row. Somehow, the scent of mold has insinuated itself into every fold.

Marsha slumps down on our bed, its blanket thick with the same smell. She shakes her head. Neither of us expected that the upstairs would be a problem, too.

This time, I’m the one to ask, “So where do we begin?”

Oct. 16, 2005
How They Died

How did they die, the hundreds of people who drowned here? I couldn’t figure it out, at first.

It wasn’t the hurricane itself that flooded New Orleans; we’ve survived more rain than that in the past without a fatality. And you can see from the high-water mark on the levees that Lake Pontchartrain didn’t come over the top of them. So it wasn’t Katrina, passing over the city, that killed most of those who died.

Ask people down here what happened, and you get the same answer from everyone: we all would have been home and back at work two days after the storm if the levees hadn’t collapsed. But how could defective levees have killed so many? I’m thinking about this tonight because of two conversations I had earlier today.

Dragging a ruined chair from my house out to the common trash heap on my street, I saw an elderly neighbor, a small and genteel woman whose house suffered even more damage than ours. A blue tarp is lashed across part of her roof, and her attic is exposed at one corner. During the last week, she’s overseen the gutting of her first floor; moldy furniture from the parlor airs in her yard. When I greeted her, she introduced me to her daughter, visiting from out of town.

In response to the daughter's sympathetic comments about what we’d been through, I offered the stock response everyone seems to use these days. Yes, it’s bad, but others lost more than we did. Gesturing to include my neighbor, I added, "At least we’re all alive."

The woman sighed. “Actually, my first husband is still missing,” she told me. “That’s one reason I’m down here. Our children have to give DNA samples.”

My hand was still on the chair I had hauled out into the street. I realized I was squeezing its discolored back. I know what to say to comfort people who express their dismay over what I have lost, but I still have no idea what words to offer those I meet who have lost more than just their property. I stammered how sorry I was, how I hoped it would turn out all right. She nodded.

Then a few hours later, I got my first haircut since the hurricane hit. Marsha and I go to the same stylist, an old friend, so we had waited to get our hair cut until we were back in town. We thought, like everyone else who works here, she might need the business. I mentioned the conversation I had had with my neighbor’s daughter.

Our friend told us one of her customers, just having returned to town, had been in a few days earlier very upset. On the way over, the woman had stopped by a small house she rented out to see how it had fared in the storm. When she pulled up in front of it, she saw the spray-painted red X that rescue teams left on every flooded home they searched. To the right was a zero with a slash through it: no survivors found. But at the bottom was a one: they had discovered a body there. Her tenant, an older woman, must have decided to try to ride out the storm, she surmised. The landlady was so distressed, she had already decided to sell the house. She couldn’t possibly keep it, knowing what had happened there, she had explained.

But how fast did the water come up, to kill so many? I wondered aloud.

In answer, our friend told us the story of how another customer, who lived not far from us, in Lakeview, had survived. After the hurricane had passed without much damage to the neighborhood, the woman and her husband decided to walk their dog during a break in the weather that afternoon. Because communications were out across the city, they did not know that the levees were collapsing. As they strolled down their street, they looked up and saw water rushing toward them. They picked up the dog and ran for their house. The water caught them as they got inside, so they crawled up into the attic. The water kept rising.

Managing to force their way out through the roof, they and their dog spent the rest of the day and that night clinging to their rooftop, the water lapping at the gutters. The next day, they caught the attention of a man in a small skiff out rescuing whomever he could find. When he objected to taking the dog, the woman refused to leave the roof. As they argued, the boater somehow slipped and fell into the water. His hipboots filled and dragged him under. The couple managed to save him, and in return he took them — along with the dog — to a dry interstate cloverleaf, where they waited for a bus to bring them to a shelter.

They lived near the 17th Street Canal, where a 200-foot section of the levee had given way, so the water reached them in daylight. If the flood had hit them in the dark while they slept, I realized as our friend repeated their story, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.

So I imagine that’s how they died, many of the drowned, trapped in a dark house or in a pitch-black attic, if they made it that far, as water rushed in from failed levees our government could not find the funds to strengthen.

NY Metro: Blame Voters for High Cost of Campaigns

October 17, 2005
Metro Matters
Blame Voters for High Cost of Campaigns

YESTERDAY morning, after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recited his list of first-term accomplishments during an appearance in Brooklyn, a reporter asked why he was spending a piece of his personal fortune on his campaign if he was so confident of his record.

"What I'm trying to do is to get a message out to every single community in this city, to every one of the 8.1 million people that live here, of what we've accomplished," the mayor answered. "It's just hard to communicate with everybody."

For an incumbent mayor in media-clogged New York to suggest he has communications problems is like George Clooney saying he struggles to get a date. More likely, the mayor lavishly bankrolls his campaign, swamping the spending of his Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, because he can.

As a billionaire, he spends what he wants (which could be $100 million by Election Day) just as two multimillionaires, Douglas R. Forrester and Jon S. Corzine, have shattered spending records in New Jersey in their bids for governor.

Some wealthy candidates lose anyway. But once the United States Supreme Court equated spending one's own money on politics to free speech, which rich candidate was going to risk underspending?

Critics call the spending unfair, obscene and obnoxious, and it surely is offensive to many people. But the profligate spending of rich candidates is not the cause of the country's out-of-control campaign system. It's a symptom, and not the only one.

Candidates without personal wealth have to sell their souls to raise money and solicit support. Is it any less obscene when Gov. George E. Pataki buys the votes of a health workers' union with public funds, pledging to raise wages in exchange for an endorsement? Is it preferable that candidates lean on contributors to whom they will be obligated?

The alternative to Bloombergian spending is not a clean democracy, merely a different kind of obscenity. The real villain of this piece, we would like to suggest, is us. The voters.

Campaigns are not spending an average of 60 percent of their resources on the airwaves by accident. Voters say they object to those 30-second exercises in persuasion. But they respond to them. And the ads cost plenty - the personal resources of rich candidates. Otherwise it's public money, union money, industry money and other-people-seeking-favors money.

Critics say the Bloombergs of politics should voluntarily cut back. Some rich incumbents do. But if a wealthy candidate is convinced that spending money will equal victory, urging restraint can be like telling a child to eat just one slice of a large pizza. Critics of the current system favor giving opponents of wealthy candidates more public dollars. New York City, which has a voluntary system of public financing, already does that to a modest extent, but as of 10 days ago, Mr. Bloomberg had spent close to $50 million of his own money on his campaign - seven times Mr. Ferrer's spending. How much will the taxpayer be willing to donate to politics?

FRED WERTHEIMER, an advocate of strong campaign finance laws, favors free or low-cost TV time to mitigate the impact of personal wealth. "There are powerful interests, mainly in the broadcast industry, who make a fortune now from political campaigns," he said. "Can you address these problems? Yes. Is it very hard to do so? Yes. But that is not a basis for not continuing the battle."

Political advertising is a golden goose. It supports a layered subculture of experts, specialists in polling, in market research, in ethnic and racial voting patterns. There are consultants, technicians, creative teams, time buyers and ad specialists at the television stations, which profit handsomely in campaign season.

Records at just one New York station, WABC-TV, show that from last Tuesday to yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg's campaign spent $371,150 on 92 ads that cost as much as $10,800 for 30 prime-time seconds. Mr. Ferrer's campaign, at a sharp financial disadvantage and conserving resources for later in the campaign, spent $60,600 on 28 ads in the last week.

Consider how many people profited from those commercials at one TV station and it becomes apparent that the exorbitant advertising isn't going anywhere, with or without the vanity spending of billionaires.

It's hard to see what could change that. Other, of course, than the ads losing their power over the very people who perpetuate them, the voters.

The Incorruptible Observer: Barbara Ehrenreich

Bob Herbert "Herbert's Heroes"
Oct. 14, 2005
The Incorruptible Observer: Barbara Ehrenreich

Long before the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the writer Barbara Ehrenreich was saying that the poor needed to be more visible. “We have to do much more to dramatize poverty,” she said, “and make it something the politicians can’t look away from. It’s too easy right now for the poor to blend in.”

Ehrenreich is the author of the phenomenal best-seller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," and a new book, "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."

I have long admired her willingness to dodge the easy stories and go after the corrosion beneath the smiley-face veneer of America that is so often presented by politicians, corporations and the mainstream media. Over the past couple of decades, a time when most affluent Americans had turned completely away from the subject of poverty, Ehrenreich was learning as much as she could about it. She has used the term “state of emergency” to characterize the precarious existence of millions of poor Americans.

In “Nickel and Dimed,” Ehrenreich took a series of low-paying jobs in an effort to answer the question: “How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled?” The experience, at times, was harrowing. “My guess,” she said at one point in the book, “is that the indignities imposed on so many low-wage workers — the drug tests, the constant surveillance, being ‘reamed out’ by managers — are part of what keeps wages low. If you’re made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you are actually worth.”

It’s not just the poor, however. Ehrenreich reminds us that even in the mighty middle class, so often lionized as the epitome of all things good in America, all is not well. In “Bait and Switch,” she tackles the problem of the white-collar unemployed. These are the men and women who have done everything right — gotten a good education, worked hard, and developed what they believed were marketable skills — only to find themselves the hapless victims of downsizing, right-sizing, outsourcing, whatever.

To compile the material for “Bait and Switch,” Ehrenreich used her maiden name and went off in search of a job in public relations. She assumed that finding a job would be tough, which is why she was writing the book. But it was tougher than she imagined. Chapter 5 begins:

“I came home to the realization that my trip [to Atlanta], which cost me more than $1,000, airfare included, netted me little more than a lip pencil, a tube of foundation, and a handful of business cards. In fact, I am almost four months into my search — a point at which I expected to be running from interview to interview. The daffodils are fighting their way up in my tiny front yard and my cash reserves have sunk by almost $4,000, but I am not noticeably any closer to employment than when I started back in December.”

Ehrenreich’s work is a critique of society that keeps in mind that most Americans are ordinary people struggling with the not-so-easy task of putting a decent life together. What they don’t need is the constant threat of abuse and exploitation from those who are far wealthier, more powerful and much better connected — the insiders, the giant corporations, and the government officials who see themselves as rulers rather than representatives.

The powerful can look out for themselves. Ehrenreich’s writing over the years has urged us to keep in mind that a primary mission of the society is to look out for the integrity and the dignity of those who are not so powerful.

Last year Ehrenreich received the $100,000 Puffin/Nation Prize for her sustained commitment to social justice. “Barbara Ehrenreich urges us to remember there is a widening gap between the values this country was founded on and the values we present to the world today,” said Perry Rosenstein, president of the Puffin Foundation. “She encourages us to think of those of us who carry more than their fair share of the burden, and inspires us to do more to help the many Americans who are struggling.”

Hamilton Fish, president of the Nation Institute, recently told me: “Obviously, we wanted to honor her body of work, but also in this interlude of co-opted mainstream media we wanted to offer her as the model of journalistic independence. She’s the humane, inquisitive, incorruptible observer.”

Monday, October 17, 2005

Get It Together, Democrats By BOB HERBERT

October 17, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Get It Together, Democrats

A word of caution: Democrats should think twice before getting all giddy about the problems caving in on the Republicans and the prospects of regaining control of Congress in next year's elections.

For one thing, the Democrats' own house is hardly in order. While recent polls have shown growing disenchantment with President Bush and the G.O.P., there's no evidence that voters have suddenly become thrilled with the Democrats.

A survey taken by the Pew Research Center showed an abysmal 32 percent approval rating for Democratic leaders in Congress.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Congressional redistricting (anti-democratic in every sense of the word) has made it more difficult to oust incumbents. It would take a landslide of shocking proportions for the Democrats to win control of both houses of Congress next fall.

This is not to minimize the troubles facing the G.O.P. The party is in free fall. The war in Iraq has been a disaster and despite the vote on the constitution over the weekend there is no end in sight. The cronyism and incompetence of the Bush administration ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") have become a national joke, a given.

Tom DeLay has been indicted. Bill Frist and his lawyers are answering subpoenas and preparing a defense for possible insider-trading charges. The White House is in a state of highest anxiety over the very real possibility that criminal charges will be brought against one or more of the most important people in the Bush administration. And conservatives have formed a circular firing squad over the Harriet Miers flap.

It's no wonder the Democrats are gleeful.

They should get over it, and get on with the very difficult business of convincing the public that Democrats would do a better job of governing a country that is already in deep trouble, and sinking deeper by the day.

It's not enough to tell voters how terrible the Republicans are. (Leave that to the left-leaning columnists.) What Democrats have to do is get over their timidity, look deep into their own souls, discover what they truly believe and then tell it like it is.

Give us something to latch onto. Where do we go from here?

A friend reminded me recently of the old political adage that all campaigns are a battle between hope and fear. Ever since Sept. 11 President Bush and the G.O.P. have been pushing the nation's fear buttons for all they're worth. The public is frightened, all right - about terror, about the consequences of the war in Iraq, about economic insecurity here at home, about the future of the United States. But there is no longer much confidence that President Bush and the Republicans are competent to deal with these tough issues.

What the Democrats have to do is get off their schadenfreude cloud and start the hard work of crafting a message of hope that they can deliver convincingly to the electorate - not just in the Congressional elections next year, but in local elections all over the country and the presidential election of 2008.

That is not happening at the moment. While Americans are turning increasingly against the war in Iraq, for example, the support for the war among major Democratic leaders seems nearly as staunch and as mindless as among Republicans. On that and other issues, Democrats are still agonizing over whether to say what they truly believe or try to present themselves as a somewhat lighter version of the G.O.P.

I wonder what Harry Truman would think about today's Democratic Party?

Democrats need to put together a serious proposal for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq over a reasonable (which means reasonably short) period of time, and couple that with a broader national security plan that focuses on Al Qaeda-type terrorism and domestic security.

Democrats need to tell the country the truth about taxes, about the benefits of investing in the nation's physical infrastructure, about the essential need to bolster public education from kindergarten through college, and about the shared sacrifices that will be necessary if anything approaching energy independence is to be achieved.

They need to be optimistic and hopeful as they deliver their message to the country, explaining that all of these things are doable, that they will strengthen the U.S. in the short term and create a better future for the next generation and the one after that.

Competence is essential, but it's not enough. The great voices of history have always been the voices of optimism and hope.

The Big Squeeze By PAUL KRUGMAN

October 17, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

In 1999 Delphi, the parts division of General Motors, was spun off as an independent company. Now Delphi has filed for bankruptcy. Its chief executive, Robert S. Miller, wants the company's workers to accept drastic wage cuts, from an average hourly wage rate of about $27 to as little as $10 an hour.

There are a lot of questions about how Delphi and the auto industry in general reached this point. Why were large severance packages given to Delphi executives even as the company demanded wage cuts? Why, when General Motors was profitable, did it pay big dividends but fail to put in enough money to secure its workers' pensions?

But Delphi's bankruptcy is a much bigger deal than your ordinary case of corporate failure and bad, self-dealing management. If Delphi slashes wages and defaults on its pension obligations, the rest of the auto industry may well be tempted - or forced - to do the same. And that will mark the end of the era in which ordinary working Americans could be part of the middle class.

There was a time when the American economy offered lots of good jobs - jobs that didn't make workers rich but did give them middle-class incomes. The best of these good jobs were at America's great manufacturing companies, especially in the auto industry.

But it has been a generation since most American workers could count on sharing in the nation's economic growth. America is a much richer country than it was 30 years ago, but since the early 1970's the hourly wage of the typical worker has barely kept up with inflation.

The contrast between rising national wealth and stagnant wages has become even more extreme lately. In 2004, which was touted both by the Bush administration and by Wall Street as a year in which the economy boomed, the median real income of full-time, year-round male workers fell more than 2 percent.

Now the last vestiges of the era of plentiful good jobs are rapidly disappearing. Almost everywhere you look, corporations are squeezing wages and benefits, saying that they have no choice in the face of global competition. And with the Delphi bankruptcy, the big squeeze has reached the auto industry itself.

So what are we going to do about it?

During the 1990's optimists argued that better education and worker training could restore the economy's ability to create good jobs. Mr. Miller of Delphi picked up that argument as part of his public relations campaign for wage cuts: "The world pays knowledge workers far more than it pays manual, industrial workers," he said. "And that's what's sweeping over here."

But that's a very 1999 sort of answer. During the technology bubble, it was easy to believe that "knowledge workers" were guaranteed good jobs. But when the bubble burst, they turned out to be as vulnerable to downsizing and layoffs as assembly-line workers. And many of the high-paid jobs that vanished when the technology bubble burst have never come back, partly because they have been outsourced to India and other rising economies.

Today, some of us like to stress the depressing effect of the dysfunctional American health care system on wages. A large part of the problem facing the auto industry and other employers that still provide good jobs is the cost of providing health insurance, both to their current employees and to retired workers.

If we had a Canadian-style system - which is enthusiastically supported by the Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. auto companies - the big squeeze might be averted, at least for a while. One more reason to be angry with auto executives is that they never threw their support behind national health care in this country, even though such a system is clearly in their companies' interest.

What if neither education nor health care reform is enough to end the wage squeeze? That's the possibility that makes free-trade liberals like me very nervous, because at that point protectionism enters the picture. When corporate executives say that they have to cut wages to meet foreign competition, workers have every right to ask why we don't cut the foreign competition instead.

I hope we don't have to go there. But denial is not an option. America's working middle class has been eroding for a generation, and it may be about to wash away completely. Something must be done.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

It's Bush-Cheney, Not Rove-Libby By FRANK RICH

October 16, 2005

THERE hasn't been anything like it since Martha Stewart fended off questions about her stock-trading scandal by manically chopping cabbage on "The Early Show" on CBS. Last week the setting was "Today" on NBC, where the image of President Bush manically hammering nails at a Habitat for Humanity construction site on the Gulf Coast was juggled with the sight of him trying to duck Matt Lauer's questions about Karl Rove.

As with Ms. Stewart, Mr. Bush's paroxysm of panic was must-see TV. "The president was a blur of blinks, taps, jiggles, pivots and shifts," Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post. Asked repeatedly about Mr. Rove's serial appearances before a Washington grand jury, the jittery Mr. Bush, for once bereft of a script, improvised a passable impersonation of Norman Bates being quizzed by the detective in "Psycho." Like Norman and Ms. Stewart, he stonewalled.

That stonewall may start to crumble in a Washington courtroom this week or next. In a sense it already has. Now, as always, what matters most in this case is not whether Mr. Rove and Lewis Libby engaged in a petty conspiracy to seek revenge on a whistle-blower, Joseph Wilson, by unmasking his wife, Valerie, a covert C.I.A. officer. What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove's boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby's boss, Dick Cheney.

Mr. Wilson and his wife were trashed to protect that larger plot. Because the personnel in both stories overlap, the bits and pieces we've learned about the leak inquiry over the past two years have gradually helped fill in the über-narrative about the war. Last week was no exception. Deep in a Wall Street Journal account of Judy Miller's grand jury appearance was this crucial sentence: "Lawyers familiar with the investigation believe that at least part of the outcome likely hangs on the inner workings of what has been dubbed the White House Iraq Group."

Very little has been written about the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Its inception in August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, was never announced. Only much later would a newspaper article or two mention it in passing, reporting that it had been set up by Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Its eight members included Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby, Condoleezza Rice and the spinmeisters Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Its mission: to market a war in Iraq.

Of course, the official Bush history would have us believe that in August 2002 no decision had yet been made on that war. Dates bracketing the formation of WHIG tell us otherwise. On July 23, 2002 - a week or two before WHIG first convened in earnest - a British official told his peers, as recorded in the now famous Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration was ensuring that "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq's W.M.D.'s "were being fixed around the policy" of going to war. And on Sept. 6, 2002 - just a few weeks after WHIG first convened - Mr. Card alluded to his group's existence by telling Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times that there was a plan afoot to sell a war against Saddam Hussein: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The official introduction of that product began just two days later. On the Sunday talk shows of Sept. 8, Ms. Rice warned that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and Mr. Cheney, who had already started the nuclear doomsday drumbeat in three August speeches, described Saddam as "actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons." The vice president cited as evidence a front-page article, later debunked, about supposedly nefarious aluminum tubes co-written by Judy Miller in that morning's Times. The national security journalist James Bamford, in "A Pretext for War," writes that the article was all too perfectly timed to facilitate "exactly the sort of propaganda coup that the White House Iraq Group had been set up to stage-manage."

The administration's doomsday imagery was ratcheted up from that day on. As Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post would determine in the first account of WHIG a full year later, the administration's "escalation of nuclear rhetoric" could be traced to the group's formation. Along with mushroom clouds, uranium was another favored image, the Post report noted, "because anyone could see its connection to an atomic bomb." It appeared in a Bush radio address the weekend after the Rice-Cheney Sunday show blitz and would reach its apotheosis with the infamously fictional 16 words about "uranium from Africa" in Mr. Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address on the eve of war.

Throughout those crucial seven months between the creation of WHIG and the start of the American invasion of Iraq, there were indications that evidence of a Saddam nuclear program was fraudulent or nonexistent. Joseph Wilson's C.I.A. mission to Niger, in which he failed to find any evidence to back up uranium claims, took place nearly a year before the president's 16 words. But the truth never mattered. The Bush-Cheney product rolled out by Card, Rove, Libby & Company had been bought by Congress, the press and the public. The intelligence and facts had been successfully fixed to sell the war, and any memory of Mr. Bush's errant 16 words melted away in Shock and Awe. When, months later, a national security official, Stephen Hadley, took "responsibility" for allowing the president to address the nation about mythical uranium, no one knew that Mr. Hadley, too, had been a member of WHIG.

It was not until the war was supposedly over - with "Mission Accomplished," in May 2003 - that Mr. Wilson started to add his voice to those who were disputing the administration's uranium hype. Members of WHIG had a compelling motive to shut him down. In contrast to other skeptics, like Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner), Mr. Wilson was an American diplomat; he had reported his findings in Niger to our own government. He was a dagger aimed at the heart of WHIG and its disinformation campaign. Exactly who tried to silence him and how is what Mr. Fitzgerald presumably will tell us.

It's long been my hunch that the WHIG-ites were at their most brazen (and, in legal terms, reckless) during the many months that preceded the appointment of Mr. Fitzgerald as special counsel. When Mr. Rove was asked on camera by ABC News in September 2003 if he had any knowledge of the Valerie Wilson leak and said no, it was only hours before the Justice Department would open its first leak investigation. When Scott McClellan later declared that he had been personally assured by Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby that they were "not involved" with the leak, the case was still in the safe hands of the attorney general then, John Ashcroft, himself a three-time Rove client in past political campaigns. Though Mr. Rove may be known as "Bush's brain," he wasn't smart enough to anticipate that Justice Department career employees would eventually pressure Mr. Ashcroft to recuse himself because of this conflict of interest, clearing the way for an outside prosecutor as independent as Mr. Fitzgerald.

"Bush's Brain" is the title of James Moore and Wayne Slater's definitive account of Mr. Rove's political career. But Mr. Rove is less his boss's brain than another alliterative organ (or organs), that which provides testosterone. As we learn in "Bush's Brain," bad things (usually character assassination) often happen to Bush foes, whether Ann Richards or John McCain. On such occasions, Mr. Bush stays compassionately above the fray while the ruthless Mr. Rove operates below the radar, always separated by "a layer of operatives" from any ill behavior that might implicate him. "There is no crime, just a victim," Mr. Moore and Mr. Slater write of this repeated pattern.

THIS modus operandi was foolproof, shielding the president as well as Mr. Rove from culpability, as long as it was about winning an election. The attack on Mr. Wilson, by contrast, has left them and the Cheney-Libby tag team vulnerable because it's about something far bigger: protecting the lies that took the country into what the Reagan administration National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. William Odom, recently called "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history."

Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald uncovers an indictable crime, there is once again a victim, but that victim is not Mr. or Mrs. Wilson; it's the nation. It is surely a joke of history that even as the White House sells this weekend's constitutional referendum as yet another "victory" for democracy in Iraq, we still don't know the whole story of how our own democracy was hijacked on the way to war.