Wednesday, November 30, 2005

W's Bubble Running out of Air: The incredible Shrinking base:

My favorite Journalist at the WaPo Online, Dan Froomkin Asked a great question the other day:

When was the last time that Bush spoke in a forum open to citizens who are representative of the diverse array of views in the country?

and the Answer is scary:

not since last October's presidential debates, and not often before then, either.

Consider that for a second.

It has been more than a Full year since the president put himself in a position to even potentially hear a dissenting viewpoint, or a complaint about his leadership.

But the Bubble by itself isn't news anymore. Thanks to Froomkin and others we've known about The WH's manipulative efforts to create pretty pictures for the evening news  while vigilantly protecting W from the dangers of  dissenting viewpoints, unhappy citizens and disagreeable bumper stickers for sometime

What is news is that the Bubble around the president has shrunk severely recently.  He's having a harder and harder time finding loyal crowds to speak in front of and his team is running to safer and safer locations

 Here's how bad its gotten:

During last year's campaign, White House advance teams began screening audiences at Bush events to insure that only supporters were allowed in. After the election, that policy gave way to a new, "invitation only" approach, in which tickets to so-called public events were distributed largely by Republican and business groups. Now Bush is in phase three, where almost everyone he appears before is either on the federal payroll or a Republican donor.

And He's not exaggerating. Consider W's most recent public appearances:

President Bush's safety zone these days doesn't appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers.

-[today], Bush gives a speech on the war on terror -- at the United States Naval Academy. Then he attends a reception for Republican party donors.

-[Yesterday], he visits a U.S. Border Patrol office, then attends a Republican fundraising lunch.

-[Monday] he spoke at  an Air Force base and a Republican fundraiser.

-Before leaving the country on his recent trip to Asia, Bush made one last speech -- at an Air Force base in Alaska

-A few days before that, he spoke at an Army depot in Pennsylvania.

-When he delivered a speech on Nov. 1 about bird flu, it was to an audience of National Institutes of Health employees

 SO lets review: He's now speaking infront of a) paid audiences who will expect to be paid back.  b0 People whose paychecks he signs, and who he can fire at will and c) People who face jail time/ dishonrable discharge if they aren't nice to him.

I believe this is more from necessity than choice.  As his poll numbers have made like Greg Louganis on the 10m platform; it's become impossible to find enough fantatic supporters without obvious mental defects and/or Drooling issues.  Consider what happened the last time they tried a "phase Two" approach:

The last speech Bush gave that was not explicitly controlled by the White House was in downtown Norfolk on Oct. 28. It wasn't exactly a random group. About half the crowd was in uniform, and more than 70 military members sat on risers on the stage behind him. But some tickets were available to the public through the local Chamber of Commerce.

The result: Bush got heckled. As Tamara Dietrich wrote in a column for the Hampton Roads Daily Press: "[A] man stood up in Chrysler Hall, yanked open his shirt to expose his 'Dump Bush' T-shirt in full view of shocked members of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network seated nearby and cried, 'War is terrorism! Torture is terrorism!' before he was hustled out by security people.

Not exactly the warm fuzzy visual they were looking for.

Gone are the days when his advance team could hand out tickets to local loyalists and party chairmen and ensure giant crowds of Cheering, worshipful, Glassy-eyed supporters; but not anymore.  Those Stepford crowds have simply ceased to exist.   W's most precious commodity was the Blind faith so many on the right were willing to place in him.  It seems like at long last that well has dried up.

What makes this Story so remarkable is how the President himself seems utterly untroubled by this reversal of fortune.  It begs the question how much of the real situation he truly understands.   This is s not the first time a President has been so unpopular with the American people that he barely dared to venture outside the Whitehouse,  But it may be the first time the President himself is unaware of  this fact.  Consider What a Defense official told Seymour Hersh recently :

 Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. 'Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,' the former official said, 'but Bush has no idea

Can this really be so?  Can W really be so far gone that he doesn't even recognize his own tricks as illusions anymore?

I'll leave you with the same question Dan Froomkin used to open his article:

What does it say about the president of the United States that he won't go anywhere near ordinary citizens any more? And that he'll only speak to captive audiences?

By the way,  anybody know where we left our copy of the 25th Amendment?

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's sinking! Chief Rat on the SS WHIG strapping on his life vest

Don Rumsfeld has been called many things: Clueless Detached, Arrogant, Evil, Incompetent, a Power Mad Warmonger, even a Kung-fu Master of 1,000 syles But the most consistently applied adjective of all is Survivor.

Whatever his moral flaws as a human being, or indeed a chordate life form, it must be said that he is a bureaucrat par excellence. . Dandy Don always keeps his sails trimmed close to the wind and his ass firmly covered in memoranda and directives, all of which clearly show that no matter how much it seemed like he was in charge, whatever went wrong cleary isn't HIS fault

So, it'll come as no shock to you to find out that In an interview with the WaPo Rumsfeld reveals that he never really thought this whole "Iraq thing" was a great idea to begin with; and he has the memo to prove it:

If only he could show us the memo.

"It's still classified, I suppose?" says Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, looking toward his assistant.

"It's still classified," Lawrence DiRita replies, "along with a lot of the underlying planning."

Rumsfeld nods, apparently disappointed. He is interested in sharing the memo because the memo, as he outlines it, demonstrates that his critics are utterly mistaken. He did not dash heedless and underprepared into Iraq. Rumsfeld foresaw the things that could go wrong -- and not just foresaw them, but wrote them up in a classically Rumsfeldian list, one brisk bullet point after another, 29 potential pitfalls in all. Then he distributed the memo at the highest levels, fed it into the super-secret planning process and personally walked the president through the warnings.


"It was just on the off-chance we'd end up having a conflict. We didn't know at that stage."

See? We all wrong about Don, unlike those clueless idiots at the WH; he foresaw all the things that could go wrong, and actually wrote them down and warned W about them. So, clearly the resulting fiasco had nothing to do with him right? Right? Hello?

But then, of course Donny has a memo. Guys like him always do; Two, in fact, one for and one against. That way once things are over the appropriate one can trotted out to vindicate his forseight and wisdom.

Fortunately, David Von Drehle is an excellent writer and reporter and didn't take the bait for a microsecond, instead he engaged in a rarely seen journalistic maneuver called "putting things in context":

Some might quibble with Rumsfeld's description of the historical moment. At the
time he wrote the memo, dated October 15, 2002, Congress had recently voted to
give President Bush complete authority to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.
A White House spokesman had just confirmed that invasion plans were on Bush's
desk -- detailed plans, we now know, which Rumsfeld had been shaping and
hammering and editing for much of the previous year.

In other words, there was far more than an "off-chance" of conflict. All that remained to be done was for the president to reach his official decision. The train was loaded, its doors were shut, and it was ready to leave the station.

Adding a rarely seen degree of difficulty to his feat, our reporter hero then actually examines the motives of Rumsfeld's sudden revelations:

It seems awfully helpful of him to want to share a classified memo written expressly for the president of the United States, who was wrestling with his awesome power to wage war.

But then you wonder: Why did Rumsfeld write that memo, at that moment, and why is he flagging it now?....

Maybe Rumsfeld's memo was written not just for its moment, but also for the future, as proof that he remained sober even in an atmosphere of neoconservative enthusiasm for the war. Although classified, the memo keeps surfacing in this context, always putting a little distance between Rumsfeld and the audacious gamble in Iraq. Five weeks before the invasion, as others were promising a cakewalk, Rumsfeld and his memo surfaced in the New York Times. It surfaced again with Woodward. And now here it is again.

In other words as the fecal matter has begun to impact the rotating assembly of the air-circulation device, Rumsfeld has assiduously sought to clarify his enthusiasm, and indeed support for the actions taken via the US military in the Iraqi theatre.

Well, its a darn good thing Donny has that memo because other wise it certainly seemed like He was the one screwing up

When Army generals called for more troops to occupy the soon-to-be-leaderless country, Rumsfeld pushed for fewer.

When, during the pre-invasion planning, the State Department sent a team of Iraq experts to the Pentagon to help prepare a major reconstruction effort for the aftermath, Rumsfeld turned some of them away.

He cut the time for training National Guard units, including the ones that wound up photographing themselves with naked prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

He dominated news briefings and congressional hearings like a tank rolling through small-arms fire, and he gloried in the hand-wringing of weaker souls. Behind the scenes, Rumsfeld and his civilian staff bulldozed skeptical generals and smashed rival bureaucracies in the planning and execution of the invasion

But perceptions can be so misleading. This was Never the Don Rumsfeld show, far from it. In fact, you may be shocked to learn that Rumsfeld was never even consulted on whether this war was a good idea or not: (quoting an earlier interview with the now discredited Bob Woodward)

For there comes a point when even the secretary of defense must realize that "it's not your decision or even your recommendation," Rumsfeld reflected with Woodward. By which he meant the Iraq war wasn't Don Rumsfeld's decision or recommendation.

As if to underline the point, Rumsfeld also told Woodward that he couldn't recall a moment,... when Bush asked whether his defense secretary favored the invasion. Nor did Rumsfeld ever volunteer his opinion.

Amazing that. All that hard work preparing and planning this attack, and not once did anyone bother to stop and say "hey Don, what do you think? Is this whole war thing a good idea"?

And such a pity too, I'm sure he would have been simply bursting with wise counsel that could have helped us avoid all the mistakes we've made. If only someone had thought to ask the Secretary of Defense what he thought about going to war. (Hell, he might have even given them a memo)

This no-so subtle ducking and covering on the part of the SecDef is the surest sign yet that the S.S. Iraq is broken beyond repair and taking on water fast. While W, and Dick are insisting that the bilge pumps are working just fine, and anybody who says otherwise is a traitor and saboteur, the Head Rat in Charge is quietly slipping into his life vest early to avoid the rush. Nobody in Washington has ever had a finer-tuned sense of political meteorology than Don Rumsfeld, he IS the Ultimate survivor, and that means knowing EXACTLY when to get out too

"The ramparts of Washington are littered with the bleached bones of people who said Donald Rumsfeld was not going to survive,"[Assistant Sec Def Lawrence] DiRita says happily. At 73, Rumsfeld is the oldest person ever to run the Pentagon, having also been the youngest when he was appointed for his first tour in 1975. Yet, apart from a slight hearing loss that can seem to wax or wane depending on whether he likes what he is hearing, he bears little sign of age.

Well he's proving that he's still certainly athletic enough to Jump ship isn't he?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

GAO Nails FDA on Plan B! Wingnut Pressure trumped science

There is strange news from Washington today,  it's so shocking that  I want you to sit down. According to a New report from the Government Accountability Office: the FDA ignored scientific data and made a politically motivated decision on over-the-counter sales of Plan B Contraceptives.:

A congressional audit released Monday cited "unusual" steps in the FDA's initial rejection of over-the-counter emergency contraception, including conflicting accounts of whether top officials made the decision even before scientists finished reviewing the evidence...

[the Report raises]the most serious questions to date about agency credibility

Well I know this comes as a terrible surprise to you all.  It barely seems possible that political ideology was able to trump science, especially in this administration. Its not like There is Video of an FDA appointee bragging about killing Plan B on white House orders or anything; but the Report lends itself to no other conclusion

 First for those in the class who didn't do the assigned reading, a brief recap on why this issue has gotten so huge:

In December 2003, FDA's scientific advisers overwhelmingly backed over-the-counter sales of the Plan B brand for all ages. They cited assessments that easier access could halve the nation's 3 million annual unintended pregnancies.

And since ensuring the  safety of drugs and food is  FDA's only mandate, and everybody wants to reduce unwanted pregnancies, when FDA's scientists overwhelmingly  said it was safe,  it was approved of course.  Right?

Well no, actually:

Conservatives who consider the pill tantamount to abortion intensely lobbied the Bush administration to reject nonprescription sales, saying it would increase teen sex.

{ these being the same fine upstanding folk who also

oppose a cervical cancer vaccine for the same reason

In May 2004, FDA leaders rejected the nonprescription switch, saying there was no data proving anyone under 16 could safely use the pills without a doctor's guidance

Which the FDA always worries about when approving drugs like this...except of course that they never had before.:

The age rationale was novel; FDA never before required special teen evidence for birth control   [and] could have extrapolated data from older teens showing no effect on sexual behavior. ....the women's health chief resigned in protest

Now, faced with these concerns, the durg's maker opted to roll with the punches and tried diplomatic compromise.   "worried about younger kids?, Well fine" sez the maker of the Drug, "we'll just sell it to those over 16:"

Maker Barr Laboratories reapplied, seeking to sell Plan B with age limits similar to those required for cigarettes: Females 16 or older could buy it without a prescription but younger teens would continue to need a doctor's note. In August, FDA leaders postponed a decision indefinitely, saying it wasn't clear how to enforce an age limit.

Well THAT didn't fly.  After all, the FDA reasoned, it's one thing to let teen girls buy cancer causing addictive substances  that we know will hurt them,  but a perfectly safe, over the counter drug?  Why that's just crazy.  What if it fell into the wrong hands?.

The FDA for its part is not taking this lying down. following the release of this damning report the FDA immediately overhauled it proceedures to remove a hint of political influence, attacked the messenger.

In a stunning display of the new: "I know you are but What am I?" PR technique pioneered last week by the president.  An FDA Spokeswoman criticized the report and questioned the integrity of the investigative process  apparently while maintaining a straight face:

In a statement, the FDA stood by its rejection and said the audit "mischaracterizes facts."

"We question the integrity of the investigative process that results in such partial conclusions," the agency said.

Yes She really DID just go there.  But perhaps she has a point.  I don;t see how you can reach the conclusion that this decision was politicized based on such flimsy evidence as:

_Minutes of a Jan. 15, 2004, meeting show that Dr. Steven Galson, then acting drug chief, told employees that rejection was "recommended" because of the young-teen question even though they hadn't finished reviewing the science. Other FDA officials told investigators that they, too, were informed a decision had already been made.

Now to be fair, Galson claims, he hadn't completely Killed the Plan B before reviewing the science, it was only mostly dead:

Galson denied making a final ruling until he had reviewed his employees' evidence a few weeks prior to the May rejection, although GAO said he did acknowledge that he was "90 percent sure" as early as January.

Because if there is one thing that is the Hallmark of good science, its reaching a conclusion before reviewing data.  

And then of course, was the completely coincidental fact that the poltical appointees at the FDA somehow managed to override the chain of command on this particular decision:

There was unusual involvement from high-ranking officials. During a Feb. 18, 2004, meeting, reviewers told then-Commissioner Mark McClellan there was no evidence to back Galson's concerns about young teens. Minutes show McClellan questioned those conclusions.

_Three FDA directors who normally would have been responsible for signing off on the drug's fate did not do so. They weren't asked to, and Galson did instead, because they were known to disagree with the decision.

And THIS of Course simply can't be believed because there has NEVER been a pattern in this Administration of "fixing facts and data around the policy"  and We've NEVER heard of analysts being pressured by their bosses to change conclusions based on a desired political outcome.

Well they've been caught red-handed caving to pressure from the radical right on this issue.   The real question is will it make any difference?  Does this administration even have a blush reflex anymore?

And if Not, do the Dems have the intestinal fortitude to run on this in '06?  Yes, it will piss the wingnuts off, but since they'd tattoo 666 on their foreheads before they'd vote democratic, I hardly see how losing them will matter overmuch.  And its NOT really about a Woman's right to choose, though that's certain a huge part of it for our base.  The real traction on this issue will come from a vast scared American middle that relies on the FDA to have the technical knowledge and integrity to protect them against dangers they can't even begin to understand.  If we show them how much that integrity has been undermined by these political hacks, I think we'll get a VERY strong surge for our side.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

W's Message Machine Breaks: ANOTHER WH photo-op disaster

Are you a little blue because there wasn't as much under the Fitzmas Tree as you were hoping?  

Did you go to bed last Wednesday night dreaming of a Frogmarch Karl  Indictment Figure with the real metal handcuffs, only to have to settle for a Scooter Libby without any of the treason charges accessory pack?

Well cheer up little camper, even if it isn't obvious, Fitz's investigation has done some serious damage to the WH and it's getting worse every day.

It Seems that KR is so busy scuttling around trying to save his own skin, that he's neglecting his other duties  like expertly running the WH's Image Manipulatron-5000.  Apparently, in  his absence, apparently the amateurs have been trying to do it for themselves.  ( he told them NEVER to push the RED button)

And the results would be horrifying if they weren't so side-splittingly, pee-your-pants  and blow- coke-out-your-nose-funny

Witness W's disastrous visit to Howard U last week:

Before we start: Yes THAT Howard U.  The Harvard of Historically Black Colleges,  The birthplace of the Civil Rights Legal Brain trust, the Alma Mater of  Thurgood Marshall, and home to student body that, if recent polls are to believed, like him about the same as they like their milk; which is to say 2%.  

Not the First  place you'd think would be well disposed to give the president a real warm welcome to be sure.

But apparently desperate times call for desperate measures.

  Ol'  Georgie is a uniter not a divider after all, and he was bound and determined to show that he was down with his African American Peeps.   He'd show that nasty Kanye West he was wrong.    HE  did too care about Black People.

 So, our hero  bravely ventured out of NW DC, for a photo-op of him nodding attentively while some random black people spoke, and then he'd join them  for dinner and eat their unique native foods:

It was Soul Food Thursday at Howard University last week, and many students were looking forward to their favorite meal: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. At lunchtime, however, students discovered that much of the campus had been locked down and that the school's cafeteria was off limits.

Apparently, many of them did not know that President Bush and first lady Laura Bush had arrived for a "youth summit" at the Blackburn Center, where the dining hall is located. Stomachs began to growl, tempers flared, and, eventually, a student protest ensued.

Okay lets pause the film strip  right there for second and consider the staggering bone-headedness of the WH advance team.  Whatever sycophant empty suit is  currently  running the WH PR  dept while KR is scurrying around trying  to find an alibi big enough to cover his ass;   arranged a Presidential visit on Soul Food Night!

Someone was capable of thinking it was a good Idea  for W to be shown proclaiming  his concern and understanding for the problems facing African Americans  while tucking into a big ol' mess of Fried Chicken and greens!

 Holy God! I'd hate to think what would have happened if watermelon had been in season!

And then to make matters worse, W was scheduled  to enjoy this sumptuous repast , during the main dinner hour  while actual black people, which is to say, Howard U's own Students  were locked out of the dining hall.  

OH yeah, this was gonna go over well.

Fortunately,   some incredibly sensitive soul came up with a Brilliant plan to calm tensions:

But the visit went from bad to worse. On a day when the U.S. Senate passed a resolution paying tribute to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who died last week, campus security guards were telling students that if they wanted to eat they'd have to come back when the president and first lady were gone, then go to a service door at the rear of the dining hall and ask for a chicken plate to go.

Wipe your eyes a couple times,  shake your head and blink really quickly.  Nope. It's still there.  Yes you really did just read that.

On the very day that mighty Miss Rosa was lying in state at the Capitol, on the Very Day that every Howard U student had a moment to reflect on the  civil rights pioneers who had gotten them where they were today,  and the indignities suffered by their parents and grandparents during segregation;  on THAT day, they were told they had to go around to the REAR of the cafeteria and get food at the SERVICE Entrance.

"What is 'Exactly the Same policy used by Segregated Lunch counters in South'"?  okay I'll take 'Incredibly Offensive" for $2000 Alex"

The Students, as you might imagine, reacted with calm grace and decorum to these developments:

During the protest, dozens of students locked arms around a flagpole in the Quadrangle, a designated forbidden zone at the center of the campus, and refused to move despite warnings from campus security that Secret Service rooftop snipers might open fire on them.

This was of course because Bull Connor has passed on and nobody could remember where he'd put the firehoses apparently.

And through it all Incurious George soldiered on, with the vapid obliviousness that's become his trademark  in recent weeks:

What might have been a public relations coup for Bush -- a visit to a historically black college to show concern for at-risk youths -- ended up as another Katrina-like moment, with the president appearing spaced-out, waving and smiling for television cameras while students were trying to break through campus security to get to the cordoned-off cafeteria.

Wow. Wowie Wow Wow.  What an unmitigated, utter DISASTER for a White House that's had an increasingly long string of them lately.  Apparently  Patty Fitz's little investigation had  has become a 10lb bag of sand poured directly into the fine-tuned well-oiled machine that Was the White House Message Machine.  Their unstoppable juggernaut has not only jumped the tracks;  it's headed straight for the cliffs.  

 Republicans have got to be looking at that the WH  in  dismay and wondering "Can't anybody there (besides Karl) play this game?"

The Death of Roe v. Wade, abortion is only the tip of the iceberg.

There's a lot of Talk about whether the New Supreme Court nominee will vote to uphold or overturn Roe V. Wade but almost nobody who hasn't read the opinion realizes that it's about a hell of a lot more than abortion. It really about bodily autonomy in all it's forms. Take that away and things could be very different. I'm not usually an alarmist but Consider this:

Roe V. Wade held that a woman's fundamental right to privacy trumped any compelling state interest in protecting a fetus until at least the 2nd trimester (it's very important to read the text of these decisions, there are many who fundamentally misunderstand what Roe really said)
Suppose Alitio is the critical 5th vote to "overturn" Roe, thus making Abortion subject to regulation on a state by state basis, but also finding that states can regulate all phases of a woman's pregnancy without Constitutional impediment.

Now lets look at what some of those states have passed into law:
Several Red states have passed laws stating unequivocally that "life begins at conception". This used to be nothing more than an election year sop thrown to their conservative base, but in a post Roe world, it suddenly has huge significance. If life begins at conception then by definition, the state now also has a compelling interest in protecting that life and the mother has no counterbalancing constitutional right to privacy.

In order to vindicate their interests in protecting those unborn lives, a state could theoretically require weekly pregnancy tests of every woman of child bearing age. If anyone tested positive, they could immediately ban their consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, or whatever else they chose, in order to "protect the life of the fetus" . (if you think I'm exaggerating, look at several prosecutions of mothers who have had what prosecutors decided was inandequate pre-natal care) And it gets worse:

Now I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a pregnancy test that is capable of detecting pregnancy at the moment of conception. Even the fastest ones usually require a week or two. and THAT means that those poor fetal lives have 1-2 weeks in which the state cannot detect their presence and protect them. Therefore, a state could, if it wished to be absolutely vigilant in protecting those fetuses (Fetii?), simply skip the pregnancy test and make it illegal for ANY woman of Childbearing age to indulge in any of these vices.

And that would be the tip of the iceberg, because, when passing a law that impinges on a fundamental right, the law is subject to "strict scrutiny" by the court which means for the law to be valid the state is required to show:

  1. 1) A Compelling State Interest: that is, that the state has an important interest to protect

  2. AND
  3. 2) Least Restrictive Means: That the law passed vindicates that interest by the least restrictive means possible

Now where a fundamental right is NOT involved the law is subject only to the "rational basis test" which means that the state merely has to show only that the law had some rational basis for being passed OR the Court can find a conceivable rational basis for the law whether or not there is any evidence this really was the basis for the law. It's an incredibly low standard that lets nearly ANY law passed stand unless it infringes a constitutional right

In other words, if Roe goes away, Margaret Atwood could look tame compared to what comes next.