Friday, December 16, 2005

The emperor's fig leaves

At Simply Appalling I came across this discussion of practices that are . . . simply appalling:

While it has often seems to Leftish writers that "the emperor has no clothes" even as the Bush administration's nonexistent finery continues to be admired by the mainstream media (MSM), it is not quite exact that the emperor has no clothes; the emperor in fact is sporting a fig leaf. It isn't much of a fig leaf. It's partly transparent and certainly not big enough to cover all that the emperor would keep private. But he dons it anyway. What else is a naked emperor to do? And besides, it's good enough for the MSM.

Charles Babcock's story on the arrest of a female reservist charged with bid rigging in Iraq brought this to mind. The story almost fell off the back end of the Washington Post. A second reserve lieutenant colonel was arrested yesterday for participating in "a conspiracy to rig bids on Iraq reconstruction contracts." For her efforts Debra Harrison received two .45-caliber pistols, a Cadillac and an $80,000+ deck with hot tub. The contractor in the case, American Philip Bloom, was based in Romania. And the total of the contracts for which Bloom is alleged to have paid bribes comes to a mere $3.5 million.

What a contrast with the situation of Halliburton and their subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR)! One thing's for sure: They'll never be indicted for bid-rigging because they didn't bid for their contracts in the first place. And those were multibillion-dollar contracts.

The government is now going after bid-rigging involving $3.5 million when KBR managed to "lose" $18 million of equipment alone? When massive overcharges by KBR were alleged, not only was no criminal investigation begun but the Pentagon resumed full payment on KBR contracts even though it was entitled by law to withhold 15% while the dispute was negotiated. So I can only regard the investigation into this piddling Romanian contract as the fig leaf that attempts to hide the Halliburton cojones and a very big prick in the Pentagon.

Now that Bush (that's Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld) has finally acquiesced to Senator McCain's demand for a law outlawing the use of torture any time, anywhere against anyone, we're reminded that the fig leaf hiding the Iraqi contract scandal lies atop another that hides administration responsibility for the torture of detainees. The administration hopes that the arrest of small fry such as Debra Harrison and Lyndie England will cover their immodesty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Reflecting on the Reign of King Bush

Howell Raines take on the Bush legacy is, in my opinion, right on the mark.

At this point, the policy legacy of George Bush seems defined by three disparate disasters: Iraq in foreign affairs, Katrina in social welfare, and corporate influence over tax, budget and regulatory decisions. As a short-term political consequence, we may avoid another dim-witted Bush in the White House. But what the Bush dynasty has done to presidential campaign science - the protocols by which Americans elect presidents in the modern era - amounts to a political legacy that could haunt the republic for years to come.

We are now enduring the third generation of Bushes who have taken the playbook of the "ruthless" Kennedys and amplified it into a consistent code of amorality. In their campaigns, the Kennedys used money, image-manipulation, old-boy networks and, when necessary, personal attacks on worthy adversaries such as Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey. But there was also a solid foundation of knowledge and purpose undergirding John Kennedy's sophisticated internationalism, his Medicare initiative, his late-blooming devotion to racial justice, and Robert Kennedy's opposition to corporate and union gangsterism. Like Truman, Roosevelt and even Lincoln, two generations of Kennedys believed that a certain amount of political chicanery was tolerable in the service of altruism.

Behind George W, there are four generations of Bushes and Walkers devoted first to using political networks to pile up and protect personal fortunes and, latterly, to using absolutely any means to gain office, not because they want to do good, but because they are what passes in America for hereditary aristocrats. In sum, Bush stands at the apex of a pyramid of privilege whose history and social significance, given his animosity towards scholarly thought, he almost certainly does not understand.

Here is the big picture, as drawn by the Republican political analyst Kevin Phillips in American Dynasty. Starting in 1850, the Bushes, through alliance with the smarter Walker clan, built up a fortune based on classic robber-baron foundations: railroads, steel, oil, investment banking, armaments and materiel in the world wars. They had ties to the richest families of the industrial age - Rockefeller, Harriman, Brookings. Yet they never adopted the charitable, public-service ethic that developed in those families.

Starting with Senator Prescott Bush's alliance with Eisenhower and continuing through the dogged loyalty of his son, George HW Bush, to two more gifted politicians, Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the family has developed a prime rule of advancement. In a campaign, any accommodation, no matter how unprincipled, any attack on an opponent, no matter how false, was to be embraced if it worked.

The paradigm in its purest form was seen when the first President Bush, in 1980, renounced a lifelong belief in abortion rights to run as Reagan's vice-president. His son surpassed the father's dabbling with pork rinds and country music. He adopted the full agenda of redneck America - on abortion, gun control, Jesus - as a matter of convenience and, most frighteningly, as a matter of belief. Before the Bushes, American political slogans of the left and right embodied at least a grain of truth about how a presidential candidate would govern. The elder Bush's promise of a "kinder, gentler" America and the younger's "compassionate conservatism" brought us the political slogan as pure disinformation. They were asserting a claim of noblesse oblige totally foreign to their family history.

But whether Bush the father was pandering or Bush the son was praying, the underlying political trade-off was the same. The Bushes believe in letting the hoi polloi control the social and religious restrictions flowing from Washington, so long as Wall Street gets to say what happens to the nation's money. The Republican party as a national institution has endorsed this trade-off. What we do not know yet is whether a Republican party without a Bush at the top is seedy enough to keep it going. Americans have had an ambivalent attitude toward their aristocrats. They have also believed that dirty politics originated with populist machiavells such as Louisiana governor Huey Long and Chicago mayor Richard Daley. The Bushes, with such minders as Rove, Cheney and Delay, have turned that historic expectation upside down. Now our political deviance trickles down relentlessly from the top. The next presidential election will be a national test of whether the taint of Bushian tactics outlasts what is probably the last Bush to occupy the Executive Mansion.

In 1988, the first President Bush secured office by falsely depicting his opponent as a coddler of rapists and murderers. In 2000, the current President Bush nailed down the nomination by accusing John McCain of opposing breast-cancer research. He won in 2004 with a barrage of lies about John Kerry's war record.

With the right leadership, the US can stop the blood-letting in Iraq, regain its world standing, avert the crises in health care and social security, and even bring disaster relief to the Gulf Coast. But that's not simply a matter of keeping Bushes and Bushites, with their impaired civic consciences, out of the White House. The next presidential campaign will show us whether these miscreant patricians have poisoned the well of the presidential campaign system. If so, there is no telling what we kind of president we might get.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Six affairs

THE FIRST AFFAIR:
A married man was having an affair with his secretary. One day, their passions overcame them and they took off for her house, where they made passionate love all afternoon. Exhausted from the wild sex, they fell asleep, awakening around 8:00 PM. As the man threw on his clothes, he told the woman to take his shoes outside and rub them through the grass and dirt. Mystified, she nonetheless complied. He slipped into his shoes and drove home. "Where have you been?" demanded his wife when he entered the house. "Darling, I can't lie to you. I've been having an affair with my secretary and we've been having sex all afternoon. I fell asleep and didn't wake up until eight o'clock." The wife glanced down at his shoes and said, "You lying bastard. You've been playing golf."

THE SECOND AFFAIR:
There was a middle-aged couple that had two stunningly beautiful teenage daughters. The couple decided to try one last time for the son they always wanted. After months of trying, the wife finally got pregnant and sure enough, delivered a healthy baby boy nine months later. The joyful father rushed into the nursery to see his new son. He took one look and was horrified to see the ugliest child he had ever seen. He went to his wife and told her there was no way he could be the father of that child. "Look at the two beautiful daughters I fathered." Then he gave her a stern look and asked, "Have you been fooling around on me?" The wife just smiled sweetly and said, "Not this time."

THE THIRD AFFAIR:
A mortician was working late one night. It was his jb to examine the dead bodies before they were sent off to be buried or cremated. As he examined the body of Mr. Schwartz, who was about to be cremated, he made an amazing discovery. Schwartz had the longest private part he had ever seen. "I'm sorry, Mr. Schwartz," said the mortician, "but I can't send you off to be cremated with a tremendously huge member like this. It has tol be saved for posterity." With that, the coroner used his tools to remove the dead man's amazingly huge wachamacallit. He stuffed his prize into a briefcase and took it home. The first person he showed it to was his wife. "I have something to show you that you won't believe," he said, and opened up his briefcase. "Oh my God" his wife screamed, "Schwartz is dead."

THE FOURTH AFFAIR:
A woman was in bed with her lover when she heard her husband opening the front door. "Hurry," she said, "stand in the corner." Then she quickly rubbed baby oil all over him and then dusted him with talcum powder. "Don't move until I tell you to," she whispered. "Just pretend you're a statue." "What's this, honey?" the husband inquired as he entered the room. "Oh, it's a statue," she replied nonchalantly. "The Smiths bought one for their bedroom. I liked it so much, I got one for us too." No more was said about the statue, not even later when they went to sleep. Around two in the morning, the husband got out of bed, went to the kitchen, and returned a while later with a sandwich and a glass of milk. "Here," he said to the statue, "eat something. I stood like an idiot at the Smith's house for three days and nobody offered me as much as a glass of water."

THE FIFTH AFFAIR:
A man walks into a nightclub one night. He goes up to the bar and asks for a beer. "Certainly, Sir, that'll be 1 cent." "One cent?", exclaimed the man. The bartender replied, "Yes." So the man glances over at the menu and asks, "Could I have a nice juicy T-bone steak with chips, peas, and a fried egg?" "Certainly, Sir," replies the barman, "but that comes to real money." "How much money?" inquires the man. "Four cents," the bartender replied. "Where's the guy who owns this place?" The bartender replied, "Upstairs, with my wife." The man says, "What's he doing upstairs with your wife?" The bartender replied, "The same thing as I'm doing to his business."

THE SIXTH AFFAIR:
Jake was dying. His wife, Becky, was maintaining a candlelight vigil by his side. She held his fragile hand, tears running down her face. Her praying roused him from his slumber. He looked up and his pale lips began to move slightly. "Becky my darling," he whispered. "Hush my love," she said. "Rest, don't talk." He was insistent. "Becky," he said in his tired voice, "I have something that I must confess." There's nothing to confess," replied the weeping Becky, "everything's all right, go to sleep." "No, no. I must die in peace, Becky. I � I slept with your sister, with your best friend, with her best friend, and with you mother." "I know, my sweet one" whispered Becky, "that's why I poisoned you."