Wednesday, March 31, 2004

THIS ISN'T AMERICA by Paul Krugman


Paul Krugmans's NY Times columns:


03/30/04 "New York Times" -- Last week an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin said, "This isn't America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack."

So even in Israel, George Bush's America has become a byword for deception and abuse of power. And the administration's reaction to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" provides more evidence of something rotten in the state of our government.

The truth is that among experts, what Mr. Clarke says about Mr. Bush's terrorism policy isn't controversial. The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sources — including "Bush at War," by Bob Woodward.

And new evidence keeps emerging for Mr. Clarke's main charge, that the Iraq obsession undermined the pursuit of Al Qaeda. From yesterday's USA Today: "In 2002, troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures."

That's why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassination.

Some journalists seem, finally, to have caught on. Last week an Associated Press news analysis noted that such personal attacks were "standard operating procedure" for this administration and cited "a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Richard Foster," the Medicare actuary who revealed how the administration had deceived Congress about the cost of its prescription drug bill.

But other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."

This administration's reliance on smear tactics is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics — even compared with Nixon's. Even more disturbing is its readiness to abuse power — to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics.

To be fair, Senator Bill Frist's suggestion that Mr. Clarke might be charged with perjury may have been his own idea. But his move reminded everyone of the White House's reaction to revelations by the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: an immediate investigation into whether he had revealed classified information. The alacrity with which this investigation was opened was, of course, in sharp contrast with the administration's evident lack of interest in finding out who leaked the identity of the C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame to Bob Novak.

And there are many other cases of apparent abuse of power by the administration and its Congressional allies. A few examples: according to The Hill, Republican lawmakers threatened to cut off funds for the General Accounting Office unless it dropped its lawsuit against Dick Cheney. The Washington Post says Representative Michael Oxley told lobbyists that "a Congressional probe might ease if it replaced its Democratic lobbyist with a Republican." Tom DeLay used the Homeland Security Department to track down Democrats trying to prevent redistricting in Texas. And Medicare is spending millions of dollars on misleading ads for the new drug benefit — ads that look like news reports and also serve as commercials for the Bush campaign.

On the terrorism front, here's one story that deserves special mention. One of the few successful post-9/11 terror prosecutions — a case in Detroit — seems to be unraveling. The government withheld information from the defense, and witnesses unfavorable to the prosecution were deported (by accident, the government says). After the former lead prosecutor complained about the Justice Department's handling of the case, he suddenly found himself facing an internal investigation — and someone leaked the fact that he was under investigation to the press.

Where will it end? In his new book, "Worse Than Watergate," John Dean, of Watergate fame, says, "I've been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Paul Krugmans's NY Times columns:

Thursday, March 18, 2004


From The Week, March 19, 2004:

The article:
A Los Angeles Times music critic who'd described an opera as "pro-life"--meaning celebrating life--was shocked to find that a copy editor had changed the phrase to "anti-abortion." Richard Strauss' Die Frau Ohen Schatten has nothing to do with abortion, said critic Mark Swed. The copy editor was adhering to a strict policy banning the phrase "pro-life" as offensive to people who support abortion rights.

The Week printed this little article in a section called "Only in America." I guess this was meant to belittle the situation.

As silly as the incident was, I was delighted to find out about the LA Times language policy. Perhaps The Week saw just humor in this, but I saw something more. I saw, finally, the media beginning to resist the conservative usurpation of language to achieve an extreme political and cultural goal.

"Pro-life" has always been one of the most flagrant and obnoxious examples of the success the right has achieved in framing the debate. "Partial-birth abortion" is another, among many.

Congratulations to that copy editor for a mistake that brought an enlightened policy to our attention, and to the LA Times for its stance.

Sunday, March 14, 2004


1,049 Federal Rights Available to Married Couples

In 1997, the General Accounting Office of the Federal Government compiled a list of 1,049 rights and benefits which were related to civil marriage. The list includes thirteen categories of rights and benefits, including:

Social Security and Related Programs, Housing, and Food Stamps
Veterans' Benefits
Federal Civilian and Military Service Benefits
Employment Benefits and Related Laws
Immigration, Naturalization, and Aliens
Trade, Commerce, and Intellectual Property
Financial Disclosure and Conflict of Interest

You can view the entire GAO report here:

Then click on "GAO report here." It's a pdf file.



I don't read the New Republic, haven't in years, and don't know much about Chait, but I've said myself some of what he's saying in this artcle, decided to let someone else rant about him this time.


Make You Ralph
by Jonathan Chait ,The New Republic

Post date: 02.29.04
Issue date: 03.08.04
As Ralph Nader prepares for another spoiler run at the presidency, liberals are again wringing their hands at the damage he may do not only to Democrats' chances of retaking the White House but to his own reputation as well. "The most regrettable thing about Mr. Nader's new candidacy is not how it is likely to affect the election, but how it will affect Mr. Nader's own legacy," editorialized The New York Times this week. "Ralph Nader has been one of the giants of the American reform movement. ... [I]t would be a tragedy if Mr. Nader allowed [his anger] to give the story of his career a sad and bitter ending." The same theme was sounded in November of 2000. "Bernie Sanders is right. Ralph Nader is 'one of the heroes of contemporary American society,'" argued Eric Alterman in The Nation. "How sad, therefore, that he is helping to undo so much of his life's work in a misguided fit of political pique and ideological purity." As Robert Scheer lamented in the Los Angeles Times, "What Nader did was to impulsively betray a lifetime of painstaking, frustrating, but most often effective, efforts on his part to make a better world. He is a good man who went very wrong."

The good-man-who-went-wrong assessment of Nader is virtually unchallenged among liberals. But, if you think about it for a moment, it's awfully strange. Heroes of history do not normally reverse themselves out of the blue. George Washington did not end his days pining for a return of the British monarchy to U.S. shores. George Orwell did not suddenly warm to the virtues of totalitarianism. Nor, for that matter, did Ralph Nader go wrong after decades of doing good. The qualities that liberals have observed in him of late--the monomania, the vindictiveness, the rage against pragmatic liberalism--have been present all along. Indeed, an un-blinkered look at Nader's public life shows that his presidential campaigns represent not a betrayal of his earlier career but its apotheosis.

Nader made his name with the 1965 publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, an exposé of the Chevy Corvair. Today, people generally remember the ways in which Nader was right--the appalling lack of concern for safety in the automobile industry and the need for federal regulations. Few realize that Nader's campaign against the Corvair was only the most visible edge of an uncompromising, conspiratorial worldview. Nader believed not only that the Corvair was dangerous but that General Motors (GM) knew it was. Justin Martin, in his fair-minded 2002 biography, Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon, shows how Nader hounded liberal Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff into investigating whether GM had lied about what it knew in testimony before Congress. In a letter to Ribicoff, Nader wrote, "Now comes decisive evidence which reveals a labyrinthic and systematic intra-company collusion, involving high General Motors officials, to sequester and suppress company data and films." Nader insisted he had an array of inside sources and documents that would reveal this conspiracy. Ribicoff dutifully assigned a pair of staffers to the case, and they spent two years chasing down Nader's leads. None of them panned out. The investigators found no evidence that GM knew of the Corvair's safety flaws. The failure to confirm Nader's suspicions enraged him. "He could not let go of the Corvair issue," one of the staffers told Martin. "He was fixated. And, if you didn't accept or believe the same things he did, you were either stupid or venal."

During the late '60s and early '70s, Nader developed a reputation as a wonk's wonk, a data-driven do-gooder with a stack of papers perpetually tucked under his arm. In fact, even then his work was driven by ideologically motivated fanaticism. In 1971, Nader pressured one of his associates, Lowell Dodge, to sex up his study "Small on Safety: The Designed-in Dangers of the Volkswagen." In his self-proclaimed 1976 hatchet job, Me & Ralph, former tnr managing editor David Sanford describes how Nader insisted that Dodge rewrite the conclusion of the study so that it began, "The Volkswagen is the most hazardous car in use in significant numbers in the U.S. today." Objecting that "the conclusion is not reflected in the data," Dodge left the project, allowing others to take credit as principal authors. "I have always carried around considerable guilt about what I regard as the extreme intellectual dishonesty of that conclusion," he told Sanford.

Nader's true fame came not from Unsafe at Any Speed but from the fact that its publication prompted GM to hire a private investigator to dig up damaging personal information that might discredit him. The irony is that Nader's grandiose paranoia predated this episode. Before publishing Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader worked as an obscure functionary at the Labor Department under then-Assistant Secretary Pat Moynihan. "Ralph was a very suspicious man," Moynihan told Charles McCarry in his 1972 biography Citizen Nader. "He used to warn me that the phones at the Labor Department might be tapped. I'd say, 'Fine! They'll learn that the unemployment rate for March is 5.3 percent, that's what they'll learn.'"

Nader's friends recalled that often he would act furtively, speaking in code, always convinced he was being monitored or phone-tapped. When he insisted in 1966 that he was being followed, one of his friends replied, according to Martin, "Ralph, your paranoia has grown to new extremes." Of course, it turned out that in that instance Nader was being followed. But this merely proved the old adage that sometimes even the paranoid have enemies plotting against them.

Nader sued GM and won $425,000, which he used to found activist organizations that helped push through a staggering series of consumer and environmental reforms, most of them in the late '60s and early '70s. Nader rightly wins credit for spurring progress during the era. And yet, even during his heyday, Nader habitually denounced liberals and their work, sabotaging the very causes he claimed to believe in. Martin's biography is filled with examples. In 1970, Nader championed a report by his staff savaging Ed Muskie, the liberal senator from Maine. Muskie, who helped engineer the Air Quality Act of 1967, had a reputation as an environmental ally, but Nader's report called the act "disastrous," adding, "That fact alone would warrant his being stripped of his title as 'Mr. Pollution Control.'"

That same year, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to create a Consumer Protection Agency (CPA), what Nader called his highest legislative goal. But, just days after praising the bill, Nader turned against it, saying that "intolerable erosions" had rendered the bill "unacceptable." As Martin writes, "Without Nader's backing, the bill lost momentum" and died in committee. The pattern repeated itself, as the CPA passed either the House or the Senate five more times over the next six years, but Nader rejected every bill as too compromised. "Ralph could have had a consumer agency bill in any of three Congresses," liberal consumer activist and former Nader associate Mike Pertschuk told Martin. "But he held out for the perfect bill."

The final defeat came in 1978. Again, Nader's strategy was to impugn every Democrat who harbored any reservations at all about the bill. He maligned Washington Representative Tom Foley as "a broker for agribusiness"--despite the fact that Foley had bucked agribusiness to pass a bill regulating meatpackers. He attacked Colorado liberal Pat Schroeder, who had supported earlier versions of the CPA but had minor reservations this time, as a "mushy liberal" selling her vote to corporate contributors. He so alienated Democrats that, as the measure went down to defeat, one reportedly said as he voted no, "This one's for you, Ralph." House Speaker Tip O'Neill told The Washington Post, "I know of about eight guys who would have voted for us if it were not for Nader."

For Nader, it was almost axiomatic that anybody who disagreed with him was a corporate lackey. "Nader sees critics as enemies," wrote Sanford, a former ally. "Those who do not serve him serve the evil elements of corporations." This Manichaean worldview came through in everything Nader did. In the 1970s, he worked to establish automatic funding for Public Interest Research Groups (pirg) on campus--proto-Naderite outfits to train the next generation of like-minded activists. Nader's preferred funding mechanism was for every student to automatically contribute $1; those who objected could go to the college administration for a refund. But the administration at Penn State University in 1975 opted instead for a positive checkoff, whereby each student would check a box if he wanted to pitch in $2 for the pirg. Nader attacked Penn State as "a citadel of fascism" and threatened one Penn State board member: "I would advise Mister Baker to study very carefully the meaning of conflict of interest if he wants to understand the kind of disclosures that will be forthcoming in the coming year."

The Jimmy Carter presidency only saw a heightening of Nader's schismatic tendencies. "I want access. I want to be able to see [Carter] and talk to him. I expected to be consulted," he told The New York Times. That Carter filled his administration with former Naderites didn't help. Less than a year after Carter put former Nader deputy Joan Claybrook in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nader denounced her, demanding she resign for implementing an air-bag regulation with "an unheard of lead time provision." In 1980, Nader told Rolling Stone, "In the last year we've seen the 'corporatization' of Jimmy Carter. Whereas he was impotent and kind of pathetic the first year and a half, he's now surrendered. ... The two-party system, by all criteria, is bankrupt--they have nothing of any significance to offer the voters, so a lot of voters say why should they go and vote for Tweedledum and Tweedledee." (Liberals today who anguish over Nader's insistence that no important differences exist between the two parties should note that this belief dates back more than two decades.) In the summer of 1980, Jonathan Alter (now a Newsweek columnist) worked on Nader's voting guide for the presidential election. Alter came away amazed by Nader's fury at Carter. "He didn't seem overly distressed at the idea of Ronald Reagan becoming president," Alter later told Martin. As Nader addressed a gathering of supporters in 1981, according to The Washington Post, "Reagan is going to breed the biggest resurgence in nonpartisan citizen activism in history."

Of course, that did not happen. But twelve years of Republican rule failed to dim Nader's conviction that little difference existed between the two parties. Even Nader's critics seem to forget that he began running against Democrats in 1992, when he urged New Hampshire primary voters to write in "None of the above." "None of the above" meant Nader himself, as he would tell audiences: "Hello, I'm 'None of the above,' and I'm not running for president." Nader demanded that the major candidates address what he deemed the important issues of the day. In his 2002 memoir, Crashing the Party, Nader alleges that Bill Clinton leaked the Gennifer Flowers adultery revelations himself to avoid having to address Nader's agenda. "I'm almost certain that [Clinton] and his supporters knew [the Flowers scandal] was coming," he posits. "Clinton knew how to stay on message, and nothing was going to get him to take a stand on President Bush's nafta proposal before Congress, or on nuclear power, or on the failing banks in New Hampshire." This assertion neatly encapsulates Nader's style of thinking--the fevered conspiracy-mongering, the moral righteousness, and the laughably outsized role he assigns himself in world events.

s Nader embarks upon his fourth protest run against the Democrats in as many elections, there is something slightly ridiculous about the shock of his liberal critics. They still don't know who they're dealing with. Nader is not a heroic figure tragically overcome by his own flaws; he is a selfish, destructive maniac who, for a brief historical period, happened upon a useful role.

In the waning days of the 2000 election, some of Nader's campaign advisers urged him to concentrate on uncontested states, like New York and California, where he could attract local media without competition from the major-party candidates and win liberal voters who needn't fear tipping the race to George W. Bush. Instead, he chose a whirlwind tour of battleground states, campaigning in Pennsylvania and Florida, where votes would be harder to come by but more consequential to the outcome of the race. Liberals assume Nader tried to maximize his vote total without regard to how it affected Bush and Gore. The truth is that he actively sought to help Bush, even at the expense of his own vote total.

It's therefore both comic and sad when liberals take Nader at his word that he does not believe he affected the outcome of the 2000 race. The website patiently explains how, if Al Gore had netted even 1 percent of Nader's 97,000 Florida votes, he would have overcome Bush's 537-vote margin. Like other liberals, the people behind the website seem to think, if they could only persuade Nader that his candidacy might help reelect Bush, it would dissuade him from running. More likely, it would have the opposite effect. The real mystery is not why Nader would do something so destructive to liberalism. It's why anybody ever thought he wouldn't.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Hillary moves to the right.

In today's news: "But while the Republican mayor of America's largest city says he supports same-sex marriage, both of New York's Democratic senators have come out against it. Spokespeople for U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton told the New York Post they would not support marriage rights for gays and lesbians."

Oh Hillary, what the hell are you thinking? A Republican taking a more liberal and compassionate stance than you?

Add this to your wimpy record and almost inaudible voice against the Bush cabal, and I am ready to abandon you to the clutches of the DLC and the road to political impotence. Did you leave your brain and courage behind you when the press belittled you during the Affair of the Blue Dress? Are your ambitions such that you won't make waves at a time when a sunami is what's needed to dislodge the usurpers? Are you still listening to hubby, who also still thinks the party's success lies in staying in the capitulating and pandering center, rather than proudly building on its liberal past?

Shame on you, Hillary. This is a betrayal of your own political history and all who supported you then and now. You are on the verge of marginalizing yourself, and if that happens, you have only yourself to blame. For example, I'm writing you off, unless or until you show the spunk and fortitude we expected from you.

Renfrew Zetz

Thursday, March 04, 2004


March 4, 2004

Mr. Arthur Cohen
xxx xxxxxxxxx Street
xxxxxxxxx, Massachusetts 02466-2105

Dear Mr. Cohen:
On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your e-mail. The President appreciates learning your views and welcomes your suggestions.

President Bush is dedicated to pursuing policies and programs that make America safer and more prosperous for all citizens.

Thank you for writing. Best wishes.

Desiree Thompson
Special Assistant to the President
and Director of Presidential Correspondence

This needs no comment.