Saturday, September 10, 2005

Powell speaks out on Iraq


COLIN POWELL, the former US Secretary of State, harshly criticised the Bush Administration yesterday for its failures in Iraq, calling the country a mess and voicing concerns that it may slide into civil war.

General Powell, who left the Administration in January, also said that his speech in February 2003 to the UN, making the case for war, was a painful blot on his record.

Making his most damning remarks about the conduct of the war since he was replaced by Condoleezza Rice, General Powell criticised the White House and Pentagon for their post-war planning and failure to send sufficient troops.

Asked in an interview broadcast on ABC whether he regretted his support for the war, he replied: “Who knew what the whole mess was going to be like?” He added: “What we didn’t do in the immediate aftermath of the war was to impose our will on the whole country, with enough troops of our own, with enough troops from coalition forces, or by recreating the Iraqi forces, armed forces, more quickly than we are doing now.

“And it may not have turned out to be such a mess if we had done some things differently.”

Ah, but they didn't do things differently, and Powell, whatever he says now in retrospect, was one of them. I was for the war, at first, largely because reputable and respected people like Powell and Tony Blair were for it. Simply put, I trusted them, and, like many other liberal hawks, I found Powell's February 2003 speech to the United Nations utterly convincing. There is still much to admire about Powell, and I still consider him to be an admirable and honourable man, but that "blot" on his record -- that speech and his support for a war that went badly wrong -- won't be easily erased. Or forgotten.

Note: Powell was interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC's 20/20. Here's the article from ABC News, with a good account of the interview.

Bookmark and Share

Bush thanks Canada for Katrina help

Okay, okay, I know I just spent a long post criticizing his lack of leadership, but Bush isn't all bad, and today, I'm happy to report, he thanked Canada for helping with the relief and recovery efforts down in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast:

“Canada has sent ships with disaster supplies,” the president said in televised comments during the swearing-in for Karen Hughes, the State Department's new undersecretary for public diplomacy.

“Air Canada's planes assisted in the evacuation.”

“To every nation and every province and every local community across the globe that is standing with the American people and with those who hurt on the Gulf Coast, our entire nation thanks you for your support.”


Other Americans, too, have praised Canada in the wake of Katrina — praise that comes despite years of trade tensions between Canada and the United States over softwood lumber, cattle and other irritants.

Louisiana state Senator Walter Boasso says there are Canadian flags “flying everywhere” in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, after a Vancouver search-and-rescue team rescued 119 people last week before the U.S. military showed up. The community's fire chief also heaped praise on the squad.

In Los Angeles, TV news anchor Hal Fishman of KTLA Channel 5 lauded Canada's assistance on Thursday night, saying “the country has embraced us and offered support on myriad levels.” He added Canada stood above other countries in terms of the types of support and the different sectors that have offered help.

Three Canadian warships — the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan, frigates HMCS Ville de Quebec and HMCS Toronto — and the Coast Guard ship Sir William Alexander left Halifax on Tuesday packed with relief supplies, helicopters to deliver them, and about 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel ready for a variety of chores. They are expected to arrive off the U.S. Gulf Coast some time over the weekend.

Air Canada provided shuttle flights to help in the evacuation of about 25,000 people from New Orleans to San Antonio, Texas. The airline also used an Airbus passenger jet to fly a cargo of bottled water and relief supplies to New Orleans.

Canadian military planes have transported Canadian Red Cross and government officials to work in the disaster areas. Some 35 Canadian military divers are helping with inspecting dikes and clearing waterways. A shipment of supplies requested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has arrived in Atlanta from Canada. Donations are pouring in across the country, with a total of $6.9-million raised for the relief effort.

Our friendship trumps our political differences. Whatever the politics of Katrina, whoever deserves the blame, the important thing was that we all pulled together to make a difference during one of the worst crises in American history. As a Canadian, one who has spent a lot of time down in the U.S., all I can say is that I'm proud that we were able to help. I truly believe that Americans can always count on us to be there for them.

Bookmark and Share

Eagles, shmeagles

On a lighter note, it appears that Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and WR Terrell Owens have resolved their differences and are now getting along just splendidly.

Phew. I guess there's hope for world peace, after all.

(Not that I care. I'm a long-time Pittsburgh Steelers fan. But isn't the start of the NFL season a truly wonderful time of the year?)

Bookmark and Share

Friday, September 09, 2005

Where to lay the blame? Krauthammer on Katrina

I rarely quote him here -- and my guest blogger properly ripped him apart not too long ago -- but Charles Krauthammer has a sober, sensible column in today's Post. Focusing on where to lay the blame for Katrina -- or, rather, for the aftermath thereof, it's a must-read.

To be sure, one of Krauthammer's intentions is to deflect some of the criticism, some of the intense, knee-jerk partisan criticism, away from President Bush. But he is nonetheless non-partisan enough here to lay the blame where it truly belongs:
  1. Nature (or Nature's God)
  2. Mayor Nagin
  3. Governor Blanco
  4. (former) FEMA Director Brown
  5. President Bush
  6. Congress
  7. The American people

As some of you know, I've written about blame only reluctantly. At first, I even objected to laying any blame at all, mostly because I thought the focus should be on the relief and recovery efforts in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast rather than on politics. More recently, I've been critical of President Bush's lack of leadership, though I've acknowledged all along that there's more than enough blame to go around and that Nagin, Blanco, and Brown in particular deserve a good deal of it.

I'm not quite sure what my own rank-ordering of targets would be, and I'm not about to list the blameworthy according to culpability, but I do think that Krauthammer is right.

Almost. Sort of. To a point. Or... not.

It may very well be that Nagin and Blanco -- that is, municipal and state government -- deserve much of the blame for the initial incompetence of the relief and recovery efforts, but Bush is the president. In a time of crisis, the American people turn to their president for leadership, that is, for courage, conviction, and direction. On a logistical level, Nagin and Blanco clearly could have done better, but on a moral level, the level where statecraft is soulcraft, the level that he himself has touted as one of his key qualifications to be president, Bush failed miserably in those first few days after Katrina came ashore.

When Americans, and particularly those hardest hit by the hurricane, needed leadership, Bush was simply governing in denial -- as, to a certain extent, he still is. Some of the criticism levelled at Bush in recent days is, I agree, unfounded -- I think we all need to step back and grab some perspective -- but that doesn't mean that Bush shouldn't be held accountable for what went wrong, or at least for part of what went wrong, and certainly for what he didn't do, or at least for what he could have done better. Bush has the bully pulpit of the presidency at his disposal, after all, not to mention the entire executive branch of the federal government, including FEMA. He should have used the former to say the right things and the latter to mobilize the relief and recovery efforts over and against any opposition or dithering from Nagin and Blanco. Instead, he said some of the wrong things (praising Brown for doing a great job, claiming that no one thought the levees would give out, etc.) and failed to mobilize the federal government at a time when determined leadership was needed above all else.

Krauthammer is right to blame Bush for being "[l]ate, slow, and simply out of tune with the urgency and magnitude of the disaster". And, sure, if we're going to rank-order the blameworthy, then perhaps Bush does fall somewhere around Nagin, Blanco, and Brown. But, again, he's the president. And I, for one, expect more from the occupant of the Oval Office, the most powerful man in the world. It may be easy to blame state and local officials, but, let's face it, state and local officials aren't generally elected because they're prepared -- in terms of moral character, leadership skills, and overall competency -- to deal with crises of this magnitude, they're elected because of their positions (and records) on jobs, taxes, crime, service-delivery items like education, and a few wedge issues like abortion. Presidents, on the contrary, are elected precisely (it is hoped) because they possess the requisite moral character to govern the most powerful country in the world. And this president in particular ran on character. Gore and Kerry may have had the nuanced plans to deal with Iraq, the economy, the environment, and so on, but Bush countered with claims of rectitude and fortitude, even godliness. After 9/11, he argued, he was the right man to lead America through troubled times.

Well, where was all that "leadership" last week? No, don't tell me that Nagin and Blanco didn't do their jobs. Don't scapegoat Brown or Chertoff, Bush's subordinates. Tell me what Bush, President Bush, the most powerful man in the world, was doing to lead America through one of her most challenging periods, when a major metropolitan area found itself helpless, when tens of thousands of people found themselves stranded, when the death toll was climbing well into the thousands and the situation was getting worse.

Bush wanted to take the credit after 9/11. He wanted to be the one to protect America from her enemies. He wanted the responsibility that comes with being president. That's how he sold himself to the American people last year. Which is why, when things go wrong, like they did last week, there's really no one more deserving of blame than Bush himself.

He asked for it. Let him have it.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The politics of Katrina: No more aid for you!

What do these 11 conservative Republican congressmen have in common?

  • Joe Barton (Texas)
  • Jeff Flake (Arizona)
  • Virginia Foxx (North Carolina)
  • Scott Garrett (New Jersey)
  • John Hostettler (Indiana)
  • Steve King (Iowa)
  • Butch Otter (Idaho)
  • Ron Paul (Texas)
  • James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin)
  • Tom Tancredo (Colorado)
  • Lynn Westmoreland (Georgia)

They all voted against the $51.8 billion relief package for Katrina victims. (The vote was 410-11 in the House, 97-0 in the Senate.) Nice.

(From Oliver Willis, to whom my fellow TMV co-blogger David Schraub links -- with commentary.)

Bookmark and Share

Back in the U(kraine).S.S.R.

And in international news -- if I may turn away briefly from Katrina, Roberts, and Rehnquist -- there is yet more uncertainty in the Ukraine. You'll recall that last year's Orange Revolution toppled Moscow-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich after he was declared the winner of a rigged presidential runoff election held on November 21. Following mass protests and the rejection of the election results by the Supreme Court, his rival Viktor Yushchenko, poisoned and pockmarked, won a re-run election held on December 26, becoming the country's third president since independence in 1991. But now:

President Viktor A. Yushchenko of Ukraine dismissed his prime minister and the rest of the cabinet today as internal divisions and accusations of corruption splintered the political coalition that led last year's popular uprising against his predecessor's autocratic government...

Mr. Yushchenko, in somber remarks broadcast on national television, said he had acted to end internal struggles for power among those who organized what became known as the "Orange Revolution," when tens of thousands poured into the streets of Kiev to protest a fraudulent presidential election last fall...

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Yushchenko's action will staunch a slippage of popular support among Ukrainians, whose enthusiasm for his democratic, market-oriented reforms appears to have diminished because of inflation and signs of an economic slowdown, as well as the government's in-fighting...

Mr. Yushchenko referred poignantly and personally to the country's current state, citing the poisoning that disfigured his face on the eve of last year's election -- a crime that has yet to be solved...

"A year ago I ran for president not to see key state institutions struggling to find understanding and failing to find accord and mutual trust," he said. "That is not what I sought as I have been walking for a year with a face that is not mine."

Let's hope Yushchenko gets his government in order. Let's hope he lives up to the promise of the Orange Revolution.

Bookmark and Share

The latest on Katrina: Debit cards, FEMA, and $51.8 billion

Joe Gandelman has all the latest on Katrina -- debit cards for evacuees, Bush's $51.8 billion request to Congress, FEMA's blunders, images of the dead, Barbara Bush's foot-in-mouth comments, the expected economic fallout, political polarization, etc. -- in a long post over at The Moderate Voice.

For my recent posts at TMV, see here (Katrina and federalism), here (Bush/Pelosi), here (judging Rehnquist), here (anti-Roberts campaign), and here (spinning Katrina) -- most are variations of posts at The Reaction, though occasionally with additional analysis and commentary.

Bookmark and Share

Scenes of New Orleans (Photos, Part 8)

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fake news, fake leadership: Jon Stewart on George W. Bush

Jon Stewart was once again in fine form tonight, post-Katrina, his characteristic blend of irony, sarcasm, and self-deprecation bolstered by a somewhat uncharacteristic, if much appreciated, intimation of anger, frustration, and disgust -- not enough to overwhelm the humour, but just enough to lend weight and perspective to his "fake news" truth-telling in the wake of horrific tragedy and inexcusable incompetence.

Click here for Comedy Central's Daily Show page, here for some recent videos. "Inarguable Failure" and "Bush's Timeline" are, to say the least, highly recommended.

Bookmark and Share

Bush to Pelosi: "What didn't go right?"

Here's the context:

President Bush is "oblivious, in denial, dangerous," when it comes to the plight of the storm's victims, charged House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid, asked pointedly whether the chief executive impeded relief efforts by remaining at his Texas ranch last week while the storm churned toward the Gulf Coast...

Pelosi, speaking at a news conference, said Brown had "absolutely no credentials" when Bush picked him to run FEMA.

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said, 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

It's hard to know what to believe sometimes, but is it so hard to believe that Bush governs in denial, that he lives in abject ignorance of reality? Look at Iraq. Look at the economy. Look at the so-called war on terror. Now look at the aftermath to Katrina. As I've said before, over and over and over again, there's a lot of blame to go around, and I'm not about to pin it all on the president, but, for God's sake, does he have any idea what's going on out there? (Any more of an idea than his mother?) Sure, he went down there and showed that he's a compassionate man, and I don't doubt his sincerity. (Nor do I think that he doesn't care about black people -- thanks for that snippet of idiocy, Kanye, you're a great help.) But is it really too much to ask that the president of the United States be even remotely competent, or that he show some leadership in a time of crisis? Sure, he just sat there reading to those children when he learned of the 9/11 attacks, but at least he emerged to unite the country, if only temporarily, in the days and weeks that followed. Now he just seems to be leading an administration that seems to have no clue what it's doing. None whatsoever. The two other key players, Governor Blanco of Louisiana and Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, haven't exactly shown much leadership skill either, but, well, I expect more from the president of the United States. Don't we all?

Kevin Drum responds to the Bush-Pelosi exchange here, and he includes a link to an impassioned Andrew Sullivan:

The president is still out of it. I must say that the Katrina response does help me better understand the situation in Iraq. The best bet is that the president doesn't actually know what's happening there, is cocooned from reality, has no one in his high-level staff able to tell him what's actually happening, and has created a culture of denial and loyalty that makes fixing mistakes or holding people accountable all but impossible.

Exactly. (I said much the same thing in a post earlier this evening at The Moderate Voice.)

Where's the accountability? Where's the sense of responsibility? Where's the statesmanship?

Show some, Mr. President, if you are in any way worthy of your high office.

Bookmark and Share

Judging Rehnquist, Part II (Lithwick)

No, I won't let celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz have the final word on Rehnquist, certainly not here at The Reaction, and so I turn now to Slate senior editor and SCOTUS watcher Dahlia Lithwick, whose own assessment of Rehnquist's career, however "liberal," is rather less bloodthirsty.

Lithwick focuses on what Rehnquist didn't do. Unlike Thomas, he didn't grow "bitter," "reclusive," or "vengeful" in the face of criticism and ad hominen attacks (justified or not). Unlike Scalia, he didn't "[use] his writing as a showcase for his own brilliant, persuasive ideas" (assuming, I suppose, that Scalia's ideas are both brilliant and persuasive -- I do not make that assumption here). And unlike the other conservatives on the Court, he didn't vote to overturn Miranda in 1999.

Here's what he wrote about a suspect's constitutional right to a police warning as guaranteed by Miranda ("You have the right to remain silent..." etc.): "We hold that Miranda, being a constitutional decision of this Court, may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress, and we decline to overrule Miranda ourselves... We do not think there is such justification for overruling Miranda. Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture."


Something else Rehnquist was not: He was not an Earl Warren. He did not expect or demand that the changes he sought would come with sudden, dramatic moves. He was the gentlest of constitutional chiropractors and—with the exception of Bush v. Gore—you rarely heard a crack or a snap over his tenure. Rehnquist didn't cajole his colleagues into unanimity and rarely used his assignment powers as strategically as his predecessors had. Indeed, he was notoriously fair about assigning cases. Rehnquist also refused to let the work of the court continue to grow exponentially. Where the Burger Court used to hear argument in 160 or so cases each year, the Rehnquist Court heard closer to 80. Rehnquist's style was to nudge the law back to the right slowly and inexorably, on issues ranging from civil rights to habeas corpus, from school busing to religion in public life. But he didn't throw constitutional bombs, and as a result his Supreme Court, as "activist" as the Warren Court by every possible measure, was not reviled and feared so much as respected and ignored.

What Rehnquist also refused to do was to jump on the judge-bashing bandwagon, even when he might have agreed with the tenor of the criticisms. Unlike his former law clerk John Roberts, with whom his views are otherwise remarkably congruent, Rehnquist did not tolerate expressions of contempt for the judiciary, or approve of measures to limit its powers. He used his Annual Report on the Judiciary, usually something of a snooze-fest, to castigate the Republican-led Senate for blocking Clinton’s judicial appointments and, more recently, to defend judges from attacks by right-wing demagogues. As he warned this year: "Although arguments over the federal Judiciary have always been with us, criticism of judges, including charges of activism, have in the eyes of some taken a new turn in recent years... Congress's authority to impeach and remove judges should not extend to decisions from the bench. That principle was established nearly 200 years ago in 1805. ... Any other rule would destroy judicial independence."

Which is to say, he wasn't Tom DeLay or any of the other right-wing fanatics who seek to turn the judiciary into their own political weapon. However:

No one will ever accuse Rehnquist of having been a liberal, or even a moderate. But, as Walter Dellinger points out today, time and again, in cases that implicated the supremacy of the judicial branch—cases that suggested that states or Congress might have the last word—Rehnquist was willing to part with his ideological buddies to promote a higher value than intellectual purity: the court itself.

And in this he triumphed:

Much will be made in the coming days of Rehnquist's so-called failures, most notably his failure to roll back the Warren Court's most sweeping rulings. Abortion, affirmative action, and gay sodomy are all legal in Rehnquist's America. But my guess is that Rehnquist, unlike Scalia, Thomas, or the court-bashers on the far right, was pragmatic enough to recognize that those were just side battles. He had won the war. A keen observer of history, Rehnquist always knew that he was making history and not merely law. With a potent blend of minimalism and control, he built a court that was, like himself, supreme, in terms of raw, cumulative power, national prestige, and public acceptance.

Whether America is better off after Rehnquist's war is another matter. He may have changed the course of American history, but victory, including legal victory, does not always come to the just.

Bookmark and Share

Judging Rehnquist, Part I (Dershowitz)

A few days ago, I said this: "There will soon be a good deal of discussion about Rehnquist's replacement, much of it excessively partisan, but, for now, let us mourn the loss of one of America's most prominent and influential jurists."

I don't take any of that back -- Rehnquist was one of America's most prominent and influential jurists -- but it's time to look more closely at Rehnquist's career, that is, at the substance of his prominence and influence. Here's what Alan Dershowitz, "a longtime critic of the late Chief Justice," had to say about Rehnquist at The Huffington Post:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist set back liberty, equality, and human rights perhaps more than any American judge of this generation. His rise to power speaks volumes about the current state of American values...

Dershowitz addresses Rehnquist's alleged anti-Semitism and mentions that he "defended the separate-but-equal doctrine embodied in the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson" in a memo he wrote as a law clerk. In addition, Dershowitz alleges that "Rehnquist began his legal career as a Republican functionary by obstructing African-American and Hispanic voting at Phoenix polling locations," that is, that "he started out his political career as a Republican thug". More:

Rehnquist’s judicial philosophy was result-oriented, activist, and authoritarian. He sometimes moderated his views for prudential or pragmatic reasons, but his vote could almost always be predicted based on who the parties were, not what the legal issues happened to be. He generally opposed the rights of gays, women, blacks, aliens, and religious minorities. He was a friend of corporations, polluters, right wing Republicans, religious fundamentalists, homophobes, and other bigots.

Rehnquist served on the Supreme Court for thirty-three years and as chief justice for nineteen. Yet no opinion comes to mind which will be remembered as brilliant, innovative, or memorable. He will be remembered not for the quality of his opinions but rather for the outcomes decided by his votes, especially Bush v. Gore, in which he accepted an Equal Protection claim that was totally inconsistent with his prior views on that clause. He will also be remembered as a Chief Justice who fought for the independence and authority of the judiciary. This is his only positive contribution to an otherwise regressive career.

Fair enough. Dershowitz, as usual, doesn't hold back, but is he right? If he is, even only in part, Rehnquist's admirers and apologists have a lot of explaining to do.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina, federalism, and the levying of blame

At Kausfiles, Mickey Kaus makes the interesting argument that perhaps, just perhaps, federalism is to blame for the whole Katrina aftermath "fiasco". That is, the lack of a clear chain of command across (or down through) the different layers of government (federal, state, municipal) prevented any one government from assuming responsibility and control: "This gratuitous complication of authority clearly crippled effective planning for a New Orleans catastrophe."

I disagree that states represent "an unnecessary level of government" -- given the size and scope of the U.S., does a centralized system with a unitary national government ruling over diverse municipalities make any sense? -- but it does seem to be the case that a power struggle between Washington (President Bush) and Louisiana (Governor Blanco), not to mention New Orleans itself (Mayor Nagin), was partly to blame for the initially inept response to Katrina, and hence for much of the death and devastation of those first few days.

Bookmark and Share

Wacko Jacko to the rescue

Well, I feel better, don't you? His heart's in the right place, I suppose, but he's just so creepy.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 05, 2005

The law of Qaim: Zarqawi loyalists take Iraqi border town

A brutal reminder that there's still a war/occupation going on in Iraq, one that really isn't going all that well, and certainly not according to plan:

Fighters loyal to militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi asserted control over the key Iraqi border town of Qaim on Monday, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law, according to tribal members, officials, residents and others in the town and nearby villages.

Residents said the foreign-led fighters controlled by Zarqawi, a Jordanian, apparently had been exerting authority in the town, within two miles of the Syrian border, since at least the start of the weekend. A sign posted at an entrance to the town declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim"...

The report from Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, marked one of insurgents' boldest moves in their cat-and-mouse duels with U.S. Marines along the Euphrates River. U.S. forces have described border towns in the area as a funnel for foreign fighters, arms and money into Iraq from Syria...

Fighters loyal to Zarqawi openly patrolled the streets of Qaim with AK-47 assault rifles and grenade launchers. The fighters included both Iraqis and foreigners, including Afghans. They draped rooftops with Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq banner of a yellow sun against a black background.

I don't think that Qaim is any kind of domino, nor that the insurgents are necessarily gaining the kind of strength to take over other towns, let alone large parts of the country, nor that we're about to witness some sort of Iraqi Tet Offensive. After all, the insurgents are still up against the most powerful country in the world. But it's also clear that Iraq's borders aren't secure, that the insurgents are capable of rising up in symbolic and occasionally quite significant shows of force, and that the Iraqi forces are nowhere near ready to take on the responsibility of securing the country by themselves.

In the end, Qaim may not mean much, but what's clear is that the insurgency isn't going away and that it continues to pose a very real threat to law and order. The Zarqawi loyalists in Qaim may melt away if and when they're challenged by U.S. forces, just as they did in Fallujah, but they'll just turn up somewhere else, ever fluid, presenting an aggressive reminder that they can more or less do what they want when they want and that not even the most powerful country in the world can stop them.

The taking of Qaim is a slap in America's face, but the problem isn't Qaim. The problem is that there are many Qaims and that they all need to be secured if Iraq is ever to make the successful transition to democracy.

What say you, President Bush?

Bookmark and Share

Chief Justice Roberts?

President Bush has nominated John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States. Essentially, then, Roberts will, if confirmed, be Rehnquist's replacement on the Supreme Court, a conservative for a conservative. As I've mentioned before, I'm not necessarily opposed to his confirmation, and, indeed, he may very well turn out to be a fine chief justice -- and I say this as someone who would prefer a more liberal Court.

Prediction: He'll be confirmed, and quite easily, though Democrats will put up a solid fight -- partly out of conviction, partly for show. So get ready for The Roberts Court.

But let the games begin anew:

For whom will Bush nominate to be O'Connor's replacement, now that we're back where we were a couple of months ago, when names like Gonzales, Luttig, Clement, Garza, Wilkinson, McConnell, and Jones wormed their way into our daily discourse and had us political junkies drooling in anticipation. And the same questions still apply: Will Bush pick a woman or a visible minority? Will he pander to his base and pick a right-wing ideologue? Will he go with a federal judge with a lengthy judicial record or with, say, a politician or government official?

Stay tuned. It's about to get interesting again.

See my earlier posts (in chronological order):

Needless to say, I'll have more on this in the days and weeks to come.

Bookmark and Share

It's the spin, stupid!

With Bush's approval rating on Katrina under 50%, and, more generally, with widespread disapproval of the government's (all governments') handling of the crisis, the well-oiled White House spin machine has kicked up its operations:

Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.

The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.

As a result, Americans watching television coverage of the disaster this weekend began to see, amid the destruction and suffering, some of the most prominent members of the administration -- Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state -- touring storm-damaged communities.

Mr. Bush is to return to Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday; his first visit, on Friday, left some Republicans cringing, in part because the president had little contact with residents left homeless.

Republicans said the administration's effort to stanch the damage had been helped by the fact that convoys of troops and supplies had begun to arrive by the time the administration officials turned up. All of those developments were covered closely on television.

In many ways, the unfolding public relations campaign reflects the style Mr. Rove has brought to the political campaigns he has run for Mr. Bush. For example, administration officials who went on television on Sunday were instructed to avoid getting drawn into exchanges about the problems of the past week, and to turn the discussion to what the government is doing now...

In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.

Nice, eh? I haven't been nearly as critical of Bush as many others have, and I would never suggest that he lacked compassion for the victims of Katrina, but the federal response to the crisis left much to be desired, and I have no doubt that the Bush Administrations deserves some of the blame. But on the polarized playing field of American politics, it's all about scoring political points against the opposition and, in this case, deflecting blame and shifting responsibility elsewhere. Perhaps it's true that state and local government could have done better, too, but this latest White House strategy is simply unbecoming of a presidency that claims to promote individual responsibility and moral accountability.

Unbecoming? How about disgusting? Four years ago, Bush rushed in to take advantage of 9/11, while his spin machine, gleefully backed up by Republican sycophancy, began the task of vilifying Democrats as somehow unpatriotic and certainly not up to the task of combatting international terrorism. Now, Bush and his cronies are once again targeting Democrats and, well, anyone and everyone but themselves. That sordid spin may reflect yet one more desperate effort to resurrect Bush's sagging support and flagging presidency, but, whatever the political motivations, it's truly and utterly vile.

For more, see:

Bookmark and Share

A reminder of human goodness

Amid the carnage and the wreckage, amid the looting and the violence, amid "the depravity and squalor wrought by Hurricane Katrina," not all is lost.

Tim Harper has been doing some excellent reporting for the Toronto Star, and here's how he puts it in his latest piece: "For every tale of depravity borne of desperation, there are many more tales of incredible heroism and human resolve."

How true, yet how easily forgotten. And this is no exception.

Bookmark and Share

The wrath of Katrina and the failure of government

More grim news. The death toll in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast will be in the thousands, and it may take weeks or months before anything resembling a firm figure is reached. Here are three informative articles in The New York Times, The Times-Picayune, and the Toronto Star.

From the Times, putting it all in perspective:

Seven days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the New Orleans known as America's vibrant capital of jazz and gala Mardi Gras celebrations was gone. In its place was a partly submerged city of abandoned homes and ruined businesses, of bodies in attics or floating in deserted streets, of misery that had driven most of its nearly 500,000 residents into a diaspora of biblical proportions.

And, if I may expand upon a recent post, here's more on Bush and the incompetence of the government:

The administration's problems in the crisis seemed to crystallize in a dramatic appearance on the NBC program "Meet the Press" by Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans. Sobbing, he told of an emergency management official receiving phone calls from his mother, who, trapped in a nursing home, pleaded day after day for rescue. Assured by federal officials, the man promised her repeatedly that help was on the way.

"Every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' " Mr. Broussard said. "And he said, 'Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you.' Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night."

Mr. Broussard angrily denounced the country's leadership. "We have been abandoned by our own country," he said. "It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."

Congress, returning from a summer recess, is widely expected to undertake investigations into the causes of and reaction to the crisis, and even some Republicans warned that the government's response, widely viewed as slow and ineffectual, could further undermine Mr. Bush's authority at a time when he is lagging in the polls, endangering his Congressional agenda.

Yes, we need those investigations. We need to know what went wrong and what could have been done better. And what could be done next time to prevent a similar tragedy.

Bookmark and Share

Reaction to science: Humans and chimps -- one big happy genetic family?

So it seems, according to National Geographic:

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee and found that humans are 96 percent similar to the great ape species.

"Darwin wasn't just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes—he didn't go far enough," said Frans de Waal, a primate scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. "We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament."

Because chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, the chimp genome is the most useful key to understanding human biology and evolution, next to the human genome itself. The breakthrough will aid scientists in their mission to learn what sets us apart from other animals...

Humans and chimps originate from a common ancestor, and scientists believe they diverged some six million years ago.

Click on the link and read on. It's fascinating stuff.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

Bookmark and Share

Cheney and Katrina: Lethargy, avoidance, irresponsibility

Uh, so, where is Dick, anyway?

Duh, on vacation.

Not good.

Bookmark and Share

Bush and Katrina: Lethargy, incompetence, irresponsibility

Kevin Drum has a nice round-up of the latest Katrina-related news from a variety of sources. Let's just say that it looks like things could have been done better. Much, much better.

Also, President Bush's approval rating for his handling of Katrina -- or, rather, Katrina's aftermath -- stands at an amazing 46%, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll (with an intensely partisan divide: 74% of Republicans approve, while only 17% of Democrats do). I would have expected a lower approval rating for the president, given that a solid majority of respondents said that all levels of government responded too slowly to the crisis and that the federal government has handled most aspects of the crisis poorly. But I suppose that, like me, many people are holding back their criticism of Bush (and government generally) until a more appropriate time. Rescue and evacuate, then blame.

As I've said before, now is not the time for politics, let alone the brutal, blame-the-other-side-for-everything partisanship of American politics. Still, it's obvious that there's a lot of criticism to go around -- starting with Bush and his atrociously lethargic response to the crisis, as Andrew Sullivan forcefully argued in yesterday's (London) Times and as he has repeatedly stressed at his own blog (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example -- all fairly short posts).

Bookmark and Share

Scenes of New Orleans (Photos, Part 7)

Bookmark and Share