Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins AlterNet Archive

Molly Ivins's death on January 31, 2007 was a very sad moment and a major loss for AlterNet and the progressive community. The Texas Observer dedicated a tribute issue to Ivins, and Arianna Huffington
and Amy Goodman were among the many who wrote touching farewells to one of the greatest progressive journalists and opinion writers in American history. The following is the archive of Molly Ivins's superb collection of columns and articles published on AlterNet.

Stand Up Against the "Surge"
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders and we need to raise hell.
Posted on Jan 12, 2007

Now They're All For Bipartisanship
Apparently, the people of this country did not elect liberals to Congress last week. Nope, they elected populists!
Posted on Nov 15, 2006
Post-Election Etiquette
The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.
Posted on Nov 9, 2006
Campaign '06: Goodbye and Good Riddance
Congress stands before us so hopelessly corrupt that the stench has washed all over the country.
Posted on Nov 7, 2006
GOP Ineptitude and Advice for Dems
Victory looks likely; prepare for not gloating.
Posted on Oct 31, 2006
Rush Limbaugh's Sleaze Campaign
For misinformation and cruelty, not to mention plain bad manners, it is so hard to beat Rush Limbaugh.
Posted on Oct 26, 2006
Bush's Economy 'Doing Remarkably Well'
For those of us who aren't rich, however, incomes are stagnant while healthcare and education costs skyrocket.
Posted on Oct 24, 2006
Election Day Still a Long Way Off
I'm not close to calling this election, and I'm sure not into celebrating anything yet.
Posted on Oct 19, 2006
Iraq War: Despair is Not an Option
The administration has released three pages of the 30-page report. We may see the rest of it, but not 'til post-election.
Posted on Oct 17, 2006
Our Dear Leaders
Belligerent Mr. Bush has stirred up a hornet's nest in North Korea.
Posted on Oct 12, 2006
The Not-So-Great Texas Gubernatorial Debate
Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state.
Posted on Oct 10, 2006
Why the Torture Bill Matters
The detainee bill now in the Senate throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems necessary; basic principles of decency and law.
Posted on Sep 28, 2006
Noshing on the News
Stealing money from little kids' reading programs? What's that about?
Posted on Sep 26, 2006
A Tortured Debate
Bush's problem is that despite repeated warnings, he went ahead with 'the program' without waiting for Congress to provide a fig leaf of legality.
Posted on Sep 22, 2006
The Presidential Three-Year-Old
...Or the worst press conference in history.
Posted on Sep 21, 2006
Remembering Ann Richards
The recently deceased former Texas governor was a great reformer and staunch liberal in the reddest of states.
Posted on Sep 15, 2006
Cow Whisperers Against the War
What I learned from women peace activists: spill love and calm and reassurance and, well, peace all over them.
Posted on Aug 29, 2006
The New 'Activist' Judges
Somehow, activist judges are held responsible for gay marriage, Roe v. Wade and everything else Americans disagree about.
Posted on Aug 24, 2006
Truth-Telling Gone Wild
The Bushies are having the hardest time trying to un-lie.
Posted on Aug 22, 2006
Indiana: The New Terrorist Target?
The Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument might merit a little more attention than the Wabash Cannonball.
Posted on Aug 17, 2006
Stunned, Scared and Silent
The Bush administration's reliance on scare tactics -- to beat Americans into stunned submission -- is becoming outright laughable.
Posted on Aug 15, 2006
No Guts, No Grace
I'm starting to feel like Casey Stengel looking at the early Mets: 'Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?'
Posted on Aug 3, 2006
Media Coverage Doesn't Cut It
By the time Chapter 9,271 of the conflicts in the Middle East had gotten its own logo, everyone knew it was huge.
Posted on Jul 27, 2006
Bill Moyers for President
Can Moyers win? No, but he can show the Democrats what political courage looks like.
Posted on Jul 25, 2006
Capitalism's Suicide
Hedge funds are investment pools for the rich -- and they're causing serious harm to our country's economy.
Posted on Jul 18, 2006
The Politics of American Greed
Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers.
Posted on Jul 11, 2006
More Immigrant Bashing on the Way
House Republicans know a good, divisive election-year issue when they see one.
Posted on Jul 6, 2006
N. Korea and the 'Anti-Missile Missile'
If you think the "military standoff" with North Korea sounds silly, wait'll you hear about the diplomatic maneuvering.
Posted on Jun 30, 2006
An Epic Week of Cutting and Running
In the middle of the GOP's weeklong festival of referring to Dems as the party of 'retreat,' they abruptly announced their own cut'n'run program.
Posted on Jun 28, 2006
Credit Where Credit is Due
By declaring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument -- which will help protect its marine life -- Bush has made at least one good decision lately.
Posted on Jun 22, 2006
Our Pathetic State of Government
Attention, scandal-ridden Republicans: if you are put in charge of government, the least you can do is run it well.
Posted on Jun 20, 2006
Does the World See Bush As a Moron?
Do you suppose the rest of the world just assumes George W. Bush is a moron when he goes overseas?
Posted on Jun 15, 2006
Iraq: A Grudge Worth Holding
Morale, my ass. It's time the antiwar side in this country started using a few threats of its own.
Posted on Jun 13, 2006
An About-Face on Iran
Why is Bush now full of reason, offering to have diplomatic talks with the very people he's been denouncing as beyond vile?
Posted on Jun 8, 2006
What Republicans Worry About
Republicans are concerned with gay marriage and the burden of the estate tax on the rich, while the rest of us question war, economy, environment and civilization.
Posted on Jun 6, 2006
Bush & Enron: The Takeover is Complete
I'll be damned if Enron's No. 1 show pony politician, George W. Bush, should be allowed to walk away from this.
Posted on May 31, 2006
GOP: Outsourcing Everything
The administration just keeps passing off its dirty work: the war in Iraq, the war on 'foreigners' -- and that ingenius 50-foot wall to keep them out.
Posted on May 23, 2006
Bush's Wreckage
The minimum we should expect of Bush in return for dropping the issue of impeachment (or not) is that he cease breaking the law.
Posted on May 18, 2006
Is Bush a Lunatic?
Insane immigration policies, a new $70 billion tax cut for the rich, and increasing ineptitude in Iraq all indicate that this administration has lost its marbles.
Posted on May 17, 2006

Rolling Over for Bush
The extent to which corporate power has taken over the country can't be exaggerated. Thankfully, a slew of young authors know this.
Posted on May 11, 2006

The Best Little Whorehouse in Washington
Who can pass up a scandal involving poker, hookers and the Watergate building?
Posted on May 9, 2006

Republicans Wake a Sleeping Giant
They decided to play the race card when they tackled the immigration issue. Now what?
Posted on May 4, 2006

The No-Reform Lobby Reform Bill
This weak 'reform' bill proves that the entire Congress is rotten with corruption, and Republicans are proud of not cleaning it up.
Posted on May 2, 2006

The Great Bush Reclassification Project
Why does the FBI want to go through a dead man's files and reclassify public information?
Posted on Apr 28, 2006

Israel Lobby Nutjobs on the Loose
The abuse heaped on two academics by America's Israel lobby only proves the point that we need an honest debate on the topic.
Posted on Apr 26, 2006

Flawed Justice
As Zacarias Moussaoui and Ken Skilling illustrate, the quality of justice in this country is deeply affected by how much you can pay for it.
Posted on Apr 20, 2006

Election-Year Investigations
There always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. Now it's Rove's turn.
Posted on Apr 19, 2006

More 'Huh?'-Inducing News
The 'mobile weapons labs' introduced by Bush as pre-war evidence of WMDs were not, in fact, mobile weapons labs. What?
Posted on Apr 18, 2006

The Latest White House Whopper
Bush's newest defense of his rush to war in Iraq is another doozy in a regular stream of lies and deception coming from the Oval Office.
Posted on Apr 14, 2006

Special Favors for Special Interests
In another example of Congress' corporate shilling, the House just repealed more than 200 food safety protections -- with nary a public hearing.
Posted on Apr 11, 2006

A Good Swift Kick
I never minded DeLay being a tough guy -- it was his syrupy claims to carry the banner for Christianity that I found offensive.
Posted on Apr 6, 2006

Global Warming: What, Me Worry?
For a profession that thrives on pushing the panic button, many journalists are remarkably ho-hum about global warming.
Posted on Apr 4, 2006

Immigration 101
Racists seem to think that illegal workers -- the hardest-working, poorest people in the US -- are getting away with something.
Posted on Mar 30, 2006

Pardoning the Pentagon
The Pentagon has investigated its own habit of paying people to lie -- and, lo and behold, it found itself not guilty.
Posted on Mar 28, 2006

The Slow Death of Newspapers
For some reason, publishers assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful to people.
Posted on Mar 23, 2006

Democracy: What A Concept
Finally, there's a dandy way to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.
Posted on Mar 22, 2006

So Far, No Good
As Rep. John Murtha put it, 'The only people who want us in Iraq are Iran and al-Qaida.'
Posted on Mar 16, 2006

Internationalist or Isolationist?
For a president who openly scoffed at the idea of nation-building, Bush is meddling an awful lot in other countries' affairs.
Posted on Mar 15, 2006

You Call This Progress?
Despite Rumsfeld's public rationalizing, Iraq is in a deep pile of poop.
Posted on Mar 9, 2006

Abortion Rights Go South
Who needs choice when South Dakota senator Bill Napoli is around to decide for us?
Posted on Mar 7, 2006

The Cost of Incompetence
The Bush administration's unique brand of ineptitude is both chilling and really, really expensive.
Posted on Mar 3, 2006

Bush's Corporate Contortionist Act
The Dubai ports controversy is only the latest example of how willing Republicans are to bend over backwards to fight for Big Business's right to make massive profits.
Posted on Mar 1, 2006

It's the Corporation, Stupid
The government is willing to outsource American jobs for the holy grail of free trade. Why is it surprising that national security is ditto?
Posted on Feb 23, 2006

Will Reform Follow Scandal?
Abramoff got indicted; but all we got was this lousy $20 gift ban.
Posted on Feb 21, 2006

Dick Cheney Goes Hunting
Of course the Cheney shooting was an accident, but it still helps illustrate the Bush administration's curiously shifting history on issues of blame and responsibility.
Posted on Feb 14, 2006

Impeachment: The Cure For Executive Excess
In politics, as in kindergarten, the all-important word is 'no.'
Posted on Feb 9, 2006

Those Republican Jokers
Apparently, the push for energy independence is just another Bush punchline.
Posted on Feb 8, 2006

Bush vs. Reality
A rebuttal to Bush's naive assertions that we're doing well in Iraq.
Posted on Feb 3, 2006

Lying About the State of the Union
As Bush officials keep more and more information from us, they are less and less accountable for what they do.
Posted on Jan 31, 2006

Time for a Pragmatic Approach
We have made a horrible mess of this 'war on terrorism' -- now how do we fix it?
Posted on Jan 25, 2006

Why Hillary Won't Save Us
If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to own the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.
Posted on Jan 23, 2006

Time to Go Long
What matters here is not what the Republicans or the Democrats do -- it's what you do before November.
Posted on Jan 17, 2006

Making Incompetence a Reality
For sheer government incompetence, this administration sets new records daily.
Posted on Jan 12, 2006

Hang in, and Raise Hell
Corrupt politicians think we're morons. It's time to strike back -- with reform, not cheap cynicism.
Posted on Jan 11, 2006

Not Proud to Be an American
Abramoff and DeLay used nonprofit organizations to launder money and pay for high-flying perks. That's just Bad Taste.
Posted on Jan 10, 2006

Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden
So Bush unnecessarily breaks a law, then denounces anyone who discusses it as helping 'the enemy.'
Posted on Jan 5, 2006

Stupidity, Survived
The end of the year is occasion to pause in wonder that we have once again survived, even in the face of fresh heights of human stupidity.
Posted on Dec 31, 2005

For the entire listing of Ivins's work, visit her AlterNet author page.

Post-Election Etiquette

The sheer pleasure of getting lessons in etiquette from Karl Rove and the right-wing media passeth all understanding. Ever since 1994, the Republican Party has gone after Democrats with the frenzy of a foaming mad dog. There was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, not to mention the trashing of both Clinton and his wife -- accused of everything from selling drugs to murder -- all orchestrated by that paragon of manners, Tom DeLay.

Media Matters collected some gems of fairness. For instance, Monica Crowley with MSNBC, in the wake of John Kerry's botched program, astutely observed "how lucky we are that he was not elected president. ... The Republicans remain the grown-ups, the responsible ones on national security."

How many dead Americans has this grown-up war resulted in?

And how darling of Fox's Juan Williams, upon learning polls show the people favor Democrats on taxes, to say, "To me, that's crazy."

And how many times did Chris Matthews use the Republican talking points about Nancy Pelosi? Extremist, uncooperative, incapable, unwilling to work with the president.

So after 12 years of tolerating lying, cheating and corruption, the press is prepared to lecture Democrats on how to behave with bipartisan manners.

Given Bush's record with the truth, this bipartisanship sounds like a bad idea on its face. Go back to the first year of the administration, when Bush double-crossed Ted Kennedy in the No Child Left Behind Act. Think about it: You've said at the outset of your administration that you need cooperation to get anything done. Then you double-cross one of the senior senators of the other party when your re-education and labor agenda is dependent on him?

These people are not only dishonest -- they're not even smart. Not that I recommend nailing them at every turn, but I wouldn't be surprised if they try to do it to Democrats. If what Republicans have been practicing is bipartisanship, West Texas just flooded.

O.K., here's what the D's have going for them. New kids. Easy, popular first moves -- for example, increasing the minimum wage. Republicans so inept that it's painful. You want to look at some really, really basic legislation, try fixing the Medicare prescription drug bill. Or the bankruptcy bill. Or new dollar and trade policies.

Then we get to the real meat of this election. There are all manner of shuffle steps and politically shrewd thing for the D's to do. But now is not the time to be clever. The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.

I noticed when Republicans are forced to talk about how to end this, they tend to announce that it's all hopeless: They have no ideas at all. Thanks, guys. Of all the options, I would say splitting Iraq into three states is least advisable. First, it puts us in the position of screwing the Kurds once again. Second, Turkey has serious objections to a Kurdistan. Third, Turkey is not a militia. Fourth, it gives Iran and Saudi Arabia a pawn apiece. And there'd be an unimaginable amount of future hassle.

Do I have any good ideas? Yes, but it's not a solution. We need to start the Middle East peace process again. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it's what Bush should have done to begin with. Because we have to start somewhere.

GOP Ineptitude and Advice for Dems

"There's no doubt in my mind, with your help, Dave Lamberti will be the next United States congressman." -- President George Bush last week, endorsing Jeff Lamberti.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has announced his candidacy for the president of the United States. Until now, he's barely been noticed as a guy who took money from Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, whose bribes to Randy "Duke" Cunningham led to his resignation from Congress and a plea of guilty to bribery charges. Hunter is widely expected to be the next congressman indicted in this scandal.

As for the chair of the House Armed Services Committee's presidential candidacy, we have been thinking of scarcely little else around here. It's about time we had some good news.

There's so much evidence stacking up in the "Can't These People Do Anything Right?" File, you'd suspect their secret strategy is to reward incompetence. It's like the hiring of Michael "Brownie" Brown at FEMA or John Bolton at the United Nations -- it's just hard to imagine why.

So now the latest report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says we have lost track of hundreds of thousands of guns we shipped to Iraq, many of which are likely now being used to kill our soldiers. For this administration, "Who's in charge of getting the plastic forks for the potato salad at the company picnic?" has deadly consequences.

A depressing story like this, and the week has barely even begun. I hate to imagine what will be on our plates by Friday.

So with the Bushies continuing their tailspin, it might be time to review the rules in case WE WIN in the upcoming midterm elections:

I realize for many Democrats it has been so long since we won, we have completely forgotten the etiquette. And I realize I'm taking a chance here -- there's nothing more dangerous than overconfidence -- but you have to practice for victory as well as defeat.

First rule: No gloating. Actually, there is gloating allowed, but only in the exclusive presence of other Democrats. Gloating in the face of Republicans is rude and unsportsmanlike, and just gives them one more thing to complain about. Also, remember there is a possibility there may be some Republicans on the civil service staff -- I have seen this when the R's win -- and it is really not good manners to watch them wailing around with their eyes brimming with tears.

Second, I'm sure we will all be full of grand theories if Republicans lose and we win. Dems will be ready to be helpful, offer advice and sort of try to perk the R's up. I do not recommend this. It somehow never feels to me when R's are dumping truckloads of good advice on the D's that they are, actually, sincere about it.

Third, celebratory jigs, reels and renditions of "Danny Boy" are best limited to Irish bars.

Fourth, try to refrain from insulting Republicans en masse. A good start would be, "You know, it was mostly the ones under indictment that hurt you."

Election Day Still a Long Way Off

Stunning coincidence. The verdict in the long-running trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is now due two days before our congressional elections in November. Astounding. How ineffable.

Sometimes you know the Republicans have just lost the rag completely. This week, Dick Cheney said to Rush Limbaugh regarding the Iraqi government, "If you look at the general, overall situation, they're doing remarkably well." The vice president also acknowledged there's some concern because the war wasn't over "instantaneously." We have now been in Iraq just one month shy of the entire time it took us to fight World War II. Seventy Americans dead so far in October. Electricity in Iraq this year hit its lowest levels since the war started.

What infuriates me about this is the lying. WHY can't they level with us? Just on the general, overall situation.

Put me in the depressive Dems camp. We always look good going into the last two weeks, until we get hit with that wall of Republican money (though I do think Ohio is beyond political recall at this point for the R's). Of course, both sides always complain about unfair advertising, but I must admit that almost all political advertising strikes me as ludicrous and I don't notice the D's looking simon-pure. A little shading, a little emphasis here and there -- I'm hard to shock on political ads, but I do get more than miffed when they take the truth and just stand it on its head.

For example, if ever there has been a friend to Social Security it would be Rep. Chet Edwards from Waco, Texas, a D loyal to the FDR, LBJ and government-exists-to-serve-the-people tradition. So what are the R's attacking him on? Not supporting Social Security. All this kind of thing does is render political debate completely meaningless.

The argument now is that D's have a seven-point structural deficit going into any election. I see the problem, I just have no idea what the actual numbers are.

Let's start with the easy end, the Senate. From the book "Off Center" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, as recently quoted by Eric Alterman in his blog: "The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won 2.5 million more votes than Republicans. Yet now they hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily overrepresented in the Senate. As journalist Hendrik Hertzberg (of the New Yorker) notes, if you treat each senator as representing half that state's population, then the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million people."

OK, we all know about the small-state advantage in the Senate. How did the People's House get so far out of fair? Paul Krugman explains: "The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted -- they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the GOP to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts."

I should also point out that Democrats used to pack minority voters into the same districts when they drew the redistricting lines because of simple racism. Minority candidates need more votes to win, as polling consistently shows them several points ahead of where they actually finish because some people still cannot bring themselves to vote for black politicians even if they agree with them.

For instance, race is a factor this year in Harold Ford's Tennessee Senate contest -- even though political people keep pretending it's not.

I'm the one who has been writing for two years that the American people are fed up with the war in Iraq and with the Bush administration's lies and incompetence. I'm the one that keeps beating the Washington press corps about the head over how out of touch it is. I'm the one who has been insisting there's a Democratic tide out here, and that the people are so far ahead of the politicians and the media it's painful to watch.

So how come I'm not thrilled? Because I watched this happen two years ago -- same rejection of the Iraq war, same disgust with Bush and Co., same understanding Republicans are for the rich, period, same polls showing D's with the lead going right into Election Day. And the same geographic gerrymander and same wall of money in the last two weeks. I'm not close to calling this election, and I'm sure not into celebrating anything yet.

Our Dear Leaders

Nobody else seems to be asking the obvious question about Susan B. Ralston, former administrative assistant to Jack Abramoff and, until last week, assistant to Karl Rove. She got hired by Rove at $64,700 after the 2004 election and then received a raise to $122,000. Why? I've never gotten a 100 percent raise. Did you? Is this common?

I know next to nothing about North Korea, but I know how to find out. People who do know the weird country have been worrying about it in print for six years now. (See articles in The New York Review of Books.) Eric Alterman picked this bit up in "The Book on Bush:" "The tone of Powell's tenure was set early in the administration, when he announced that he planned 'to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off" in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, 'We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements,' he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean President (and Nobel laureate for peace for his own efforts with the North) Kim Dae-Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest, as well.

"A day later, Powell backpedaled. 'The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea,' Powell said. 'There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin -- that is not the case.'"

This was pre-9/11, when Bush's entire foreign policy consisted in not doing whatever Clinton had done, and vice versa. Also from "The Book on Bush": "As former Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush's carelessly worded 'Axis of Evil' address, 'Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president,' the speech would likely cause 'dangerous escalatory consequences, (including) ... renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast.' ... North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes (Washington Post) columnist Richard Cohen, was 'a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper ... as appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I.'"

Remember Bush's diplomatic interview with Bob Woodward, when he said, "I loathe Kim Jong-Il!" Waving his finger, he added, "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people." Bush also said he wanted to "topple him" and called him a "pygmy." How old were you when you learned not to antagonize and infuriate the local crazy bully?

Always a top diplomat. But I warn you, when Bush makes reference of this, as in "my gut tells me," we are in big trouble. By any measure, North Korea continued to be more dangerous than Iraq.

I don't see how this mess can be blamed on anyone but Bush, but I notice that a few Republicans have dragged out the shade of Bill Clinton because he tried to deal with North Korea. I would have thought there wasn't much water left in that bogeyman, but I guess he is the straw man for all seasons among Republicans. Why doesn't someone on Fox News ask him about it?

Meanwhile, our fiendishly clever president has dragged his daddy's old family consigliore, James Baker, out of retirement to think of something to do about Iraq. A three-part partition is mentioned. Michigan History Professor Juan Cole on his blog explains why that's a disaster, but I suspect that's where the poor Iraqis end up anyway, followed by war with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The Not-So-Great Texas Gubernatorial Debate

AUSTIN, Texas -- I sacrificed an hour Friday evening to watch the Texas gubernatorial debate on your behalf, since I knew none of you would do it. Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state -- he was intelligent, well-informed and even funny. But the question remains: Can Texas afford to lose that hair?

The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry simply disagreed, standing there proudly behind that 35 percent voter support he has so richly earned. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response.

At one point, the debate actually became more interesting, as a panel of reporters with Belo Corp. changed formats. Doing a quick pop quiz, they asked independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn who had won the election in Mexico. She informed us the winner had won by a narrow margin, and she is ready to work with him. They asked Goodhair the interest rate on a home mortgage. He said 5.9 percent, and it is 6.4 percent (I don't think I would have known that, either). Independent candidate Kinky Friedman didn't even try to guess the average cost of a year's tuition at the University of Texas ($7,630). They asked Bell when the battle of the Alamo was fought. He correctly answered 1836.

One overall impression: It seems to me both Strayhorn and Friedman damaged themselves. Lots of people are voting for Kinky for the fun of it, but the thin-skinned Texas Jew reacted badly to questions about his recent racist remarks. He first became defensive and then petulant -- sort of, if you can't take a joke, to hell with you. The politically incorrect humor didn't work because it wasn't funny ... in fact, it was painfully bad. Strayhorn seemed over-prepped and over-amped. As Texas political guru Bob Armstrong said, she talked 40 mph, with gusts up to 70.

So that leaves us with two Protestant white guys again. Just FYI, the percentage of minority citizens working for the state government has gone down steadily since Ann Richards.

Rick Perry and Chris Bell: Compare and contrast.

Rick Perry has really good hair.

Chris Bell has everything else.

Obviously, you think my prejudices are showing here, but others who reported on the debate, while often taking shelter behind the "no major blows landed" dodge, rather clearly thought Bell had done best, even if Perry won on the politics of it by not actually saying anything totally idiotic.

According to the post-debate "fact check" article in the Dallas Morning News, Perry claimed he had pushed a tax bill through the Legislature "lowering property taxes by a record amount." He didn't mention that the bill is not a tax cut, it's a tax-swap -- it didn't lower taxes, it just moved them over to business and smokers.

He also claimed teachers could get a $12,000 raise under his school plan. Actually, the pay raise for teachers is $2,000 across the board, with the stated recommendation to the school districts that they add merit pay raises between $3,000 and $10,000. That's some mighty fancy slicing and dicing there.

Bell picked up a $1 million pledge that night from John O'Quinn, the Houston trial lawyer. The trial lawyers have almost blown a good shot here -- all it takes is one more vote than 36 percent, there is no run-off, this is winner-take-all, sudden death. Polls show two out of three Texas voters ready to vote against Perry. The Democrats have a base vote around 40 percent. I think it would be a real tragedy to throw this one away, and you know what is tripping us up? We think we can't win.

We're in a real "why try, why work, why contribute?" spiral, believing our guy doesn't have a chance. Nonsense. You couldn't ask for an easier win.

Why the Torture Bill Matters

Oh dear. I'm sure he didn't mean it. In Illinois' 6th Congressional District, long represented by Henry Hyde, Republican candidate Peter Roskam accused his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth of planning to "cut and run" on Iraq.

Duckworth is a former Army major and chopper pilot, who lost both legs in Iraq after her helicopter got hit by an RPG. "I just could not believe he would say that to me," said Duckworth, who walks on artificial legs and uses a cane. Every election cycle produces some wincers, but how do you apologize for that one?

The legislative equivalent of that remark is the detainee bill, now being passed by Congress. Beloveds, this is so much worse than even that pathetic deal reached last Thursday between the White House and Republican Sens. Warner, McCain and Graham. The White House has since reinserted a number of "technical fixes" that were the point of the putative "compromise." It leaves the president with the power to decide who is an enemy combatant.

This bill is not a national security issue -- this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies.

Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place.

The first reported case of death by torture by Americans was in The New York Times in 2003 by Carlotta Gall. The military had announced the prisoner died of a heart attack, but when Gall actually saw the death certificate, written in English and issued by the military, it said the cause of death was homicide. The "heart attack" came after he had been beaten so often on this legs that they had "basically been pulpified," according to the coroner.

The story of why and how it took the Times so long to print this information is in the current edition of Columbia Journalism Review. The press in general has been late and slow in reporting torture, so very few Americans have any idea how far it has spread. As is often true in hierarchical, top-down institutions, the orders get passed on in what I call the downward communications exaggeration spiral.

For example, on a newspaper, a top editor may remark casually, "Let's give the new mayor a chance to see what he can do before we start attacking him."

This gets passed on as, "Don't touch the mayor unless he really screws up."

And it ultimately arrives at the reporter level as, "We can't say anything negative about the mayor."

The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration's first proposal. In one change, the original compromise language said a suspect had the right to "examine and respond to" all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word "examine" and left only "respond to."

In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words "outside the United States," which means prosecutors can ignore American legal standards on warrants.

The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." Quick, define "purposefully and materially." One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.

The bill simply removes a suspect's right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.

As Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet dissident, wrote, an intelligence service free to torture soon "degenerates into a playground for sadists." But not unbridled sadism -- you will be relieved that the compromise took out the words permitting interrogation involving "severe pain" and substituted "serious pain," which is defined as "bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain."

In July 2003, George Bush said in a speech: "The United States is committed to worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right.

Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes, whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit."

Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems it necessary -- these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law.

I'd like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis.

Noshing on the News

  • The National Intelligence Estimate, agreed upon by 16 Bush-controlled spy services within the U.S. government, says the war in Iraq is making the war on terrorism harder and worse. It gives the phrase "leaking intelligence" a new meaning (a line not original with me).

    We've been having a debate in this country about whether to continue the war -- or "the comma," as the president calls it -- until it has become a semi-colon. Now, the debate is over, and what we need to discuss is the best way out. This war is not a goddamn comma.

  • According to The Associated Press, the directors of the Legal Services Corp., a program for poor people, have been trying to get rid of their inspector general, who has clocked them for, among other things, expensive meals, using limousine services and wasting money on a ritzy headquarters.

    The board members said the inspector general had a "fetish" for independence (how horrible) and that he's a character assassin backed by a delusional staff, and so forth. While this was going on, one half of the poor clients applying for legal services were rejected.

  • The AP reports the Education Department has ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wants. The billion-dollar-a-year Reading First program is apparently riddled with problems, including political favoritism, conflicts of interest and mismanagement. In a hair-raising memo, the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, wrote members of the staff at the Department of Education regarding one company, "They are trying to crash our party, and we need to beat the (expletive) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags."

    Doherty recently resigned from the department "to return to the private sector," a spokeswoman said. Isn't that nice? I kind of wish he was back in government helping to answer the eternal mystery, "Is our children learning?"

  • For the second time since August, the Army is ordering the combat tours of thousands of soldiers past the promised 12 months. This time, it's nearly 4,000 soldiers in the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored.

    Again in Iraq, the Army chief of staff is refusing to submit a budget because he says he needs billions more dollars before the Army can meet its obligations. He will surely get help from ol' "anything they ask for" Bush.

    The question is: Can these people run anything right? The other question is: Is there anything they can't screw up?

I don't know about you, but I think the Education deal has me more upset. I mean, we already knew the Big Comma was producing a backlash, didn't we, really? Where are we now -- 2,700 dead Americans, nearly 50,000 dead Iraqis ... come on, that's at least familiar, what Donald Rumsfeld would call a "known-known." But stealing money from little kids' reading programs? What is that about? Iraq -- Bush made a horrible mistake because he knows relatively little. But stacking the bidding in favor a reading program that may not be the best available? I suppose the answer is that Republicans (except for Bush) never did think having the feds in education was a good idea.

I'm ready to settle for a bar of common decency. Lead us into an insane war, get the troops killed, lie about whatever you want, eat fancy meals on the government tab ($14 for a chocolate dessert?), but please, oh please, do not rig the bids for reading material for our adorable little children, who will soon be appearing with President Bush in a rainbow of colors in ads dreamed up by Karl Rove. They're really great for photo ops.

A Tortured Debate

Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?

I'd like to thank Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham -- a former military lawyer -- and John Warner of Virginia. I will always think fondly of John Warner for this one reason: Forty years ago, this country was involved in an unprovoked and unnecessary war. It ended so badly the vets finally had to hold their own homecoming parade, years after they came home. The only member of Congress who attended was John Warner.

A debate on torture. I don't know -- what do you think? I guess we have to define it, first. The White House has already specified "water boarding," making some guy think he's drowning for long periods, as a perfectly good interrogation technique. Maybe, but it was also a great favorite of the Gestapo and has been described and condemned in thousands of memoirs and novels in highly unpleasant terms.

I don't think we can give it a good name again, and I personally kind of don't like being identified with the Gestapo. How icky. (Somewhere inside me, a small voice is shrieking, "Are you insane?")

The safe position is, "Torture doesn't work."

Well, actually, it works to this extent -- anybody can be tortured into telling anything that's true and anything that's not true. The more people are tortured, the more they make up to please the torturer. Then the torturer has to figure out when the vic started lying. Since our torturers are, in George Bush's immortal phrase, "professionals" and this whole legislative fight is over making torture legal so the "professionals" can't later be charged with breaking the Geneva Conventions, Bush has vowed to end "the program" completely if he doesn't get what he wants. (The same thin voice is shrieking, "Professional torturers trained with my tax money?")

Bush's problem is that despite repeated warnings, he went ahead with "the program" without waiting for Congress to provide a fig leaf of legality. Actually, we have been torturing prisoners at Gitmo, prisons in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan for years.

Since only seven of the several hundred prisoners at Gitmo have ever been charged with anything, we face the unhappy prospect that the rest of them are innocent. And will sue. That's going to be quite an expensive settlement. The Canadian upon whom we practiced "rendition," sending him to Syria for 10 months of torture, will doubtlessly be first on the legal docket. I wonder how high up the chain of command a civil suit can go? Any old war criminals wandering around?

I was interested to find that the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I'd like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don't know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as ... well, torture. And, um, wrong.

And I've smoked dope! Boy, everything those conservatives tell us about the terrible moral values of us liberals must be true after all. Now, in addition to the slightly surreal awakening to find we live in a country that's having a serious debate on a torture bill, can we do anything about it? The answer is: We better.

We better do something about it. Now, right away. What do we do? The answer is: anything ... phone, fax, e-mail, mail, demonstrate -- go stand outside their offices or the nearest federal building in the cold and sing hymns or shout rude slogans, chant or make a speech, or start attacking federal property, like a postal box, so they have to arrest you. Gather peacefully and make a lot of noise. Get publicity, too.

How will you feel if you didn't do something? "Well, honey, when the United States decided to adopt torture as an official policy, I was dipping the dog for ticks."

As Ann Richards used to say, "I don't want my tombstone to read: 'She kept a clean house.'"

The Presidential Three-Year-Old

Is it just me, or was that the worst presidential press conference in history? So I went back and read it over. Of course, in print you don't get the testy tone: I heard it on radio and thought the man was about to blow up -- not just because he was being questioned, which Bush appears to consider an offensive action in the first place, but because people continue to refuse to see things the way he does. How can they be so stupid or malign, he appears to wonder.

I ask: How can he be so repetitive, repeatedly using the oldest tactic of a verbal bully -- saying the same thing louder, as though that would make it true?

Last Friday's Rose Garden press conference seemed so awful I thought it worth wading through it again to see what set him off. Maybe if you saw it on television, it seemed better. Perhaps his banter with reporters works better on TV. But I left with the impression that this is a spoiled man whose frustration level when someone disagrees with him is that of a 3-year-old and that he's the last person you want to see operating under a lot of stress because he doesn't handle it well. See what you think:

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Remembering Ann Richards

Austin, Texas - She was so generous with her responses to other people. If you told Ann Richards something really funny, she wouldn't just smile or laugh, she would stop and break up completely. She taught us all so much -- she was a great campfire cook. Her wit was a constant delight. One night on the river on a canoe trip, while we all listened to the next rapid, which sounded like certain death, Ann drawled, "It sounds like every whore in El Paso just flushed her john."

She knew how to deal with teenage egos: Instead of pointing out to a kid who was pouring charcoal lighter on a live fire that he was idiot, Ann said, "Honey, if you keep doing that, the fire is going to climb right back up to that can in your hand and explode and give you horrible injuries, and it will just ruin my entire weekend."

She knew what it was like to have four young children and to be so tired you cried while folding the laundry. She knew and valued Wise Women like Virginia Whitten and Helen Hadley.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin' and greetin' at a furious pace. A group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller, moi, Charles Miles, the head of Bullock's personnel department, and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him, "Bob, my boy, how are you?"

Bullock said, "Judge, I'd like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer."

The judge peered up at me and said, "How yew, little lady?"

Bullock, "And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department." Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie's palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blonde, blue-eyed Ann Richards. "And who is this lovely lady?"

Ann beamed and replied, "I am Mrs. Miles."

One of the most moving memories I have of Ann is her sitting in a circle with a group of prisoners. Ann and Bullock had started a rehab program in prisons, the single most effective thing that can be done to cut recidivism (George W. Bush later destroyed the program). The governor of Texas looked at the cons and said, "My name is Ann, and I am an alcoholic."

She devoted untold hours to helping other alcoholics, and anyone who ever heard her speak at an AA convention knows how close laughter and tears can be.

I have known two politicians who completely reformed the bureaucracies they were elected to head. Bob Bullock did it by kicking ass at the comptroller's until hell wouldn't have it. Fear was his m.o. Ann Richards did it by working hard to gain the trust of the employees and then listening to what they told her. No one knows what's wrong with a bureaucracy better than the bureaucrats who work in it.

The 1990 race for governor was one of the craziest I ever saw, with Ann representing "New Texas."

Republican nominee Claytie Williams was a perfect foil, down to his boots, making comments that could be construed as racist and sexist. Ann was the candidate of everybody else, especially for women. She represented all of us who have lived with and learned to handle good ol' boys, and she did it with laughter. The spirit of the crowd that set off from the Congress Avenue Bridge up to the Capitol the day of Ann's inauguration was so full of spirit and joy. I remember watching San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros that day with tears running down his cheeks because Chicanos were finally included.

Ann got handed a stinking mess: Damn near every state function was under court order. The prisons were so crowded, dangerous convicts were being let loose. She had a long, grinding four years and wound up fixing all of it. She always said you could get a lot done in politics if you didn't need to take credit.

But she disappointed many of her fans because she was so busy fixing what was broken, she never got to change much. The '94 election was a God, gays and guns deal. Annie had told the legislature that if they passed a right-to-carry law, she would veto it. They did, and she did. At the last minute, the NRA launched a big campaign to convince the governor that we Texas women would feel ever so much safer if we could just carry guns in our purses.

Said Annie, "Well, you know that I am not a sexist, but there is not a woman in this state who could find a gun in her handbag."

Cow Whisperers Against the War

I know it's bad form to brag, but I am now a graduate of Texas A&M University, and you can't stop Aggie pride. I became a diplomee of the great institution in College Station after successfully completing the three-day short course in beef cattle this summer. I specialized in forage management and graduated "Quel fromage!" meaning "avec distinction."

It is also true that I was banned from the campus of Texas A&M many years ago after some students invited me to make a political speech. Also Quel Fromage! So you see how far we have all come.

The most amazing part of cow college was meeting the cow whisperer. Think of everything you know about moving cattle from one place to another -- for shots, round-up or loading into trucks for market -- just physically moving a lot of cattle. GEE, GIT ON, GO DOGIE, whistle, whip crack, move 'em out, chase 'em down. Turns out all these years we've been doing it wrong.

What happens when you scare a cow by making a lot of noise and chasing it down and forcing it to move where it doesn't want to go is the cow responds by relieving itself. And since a cow has three stomachs, it can unload up to 20 percent of its total weight at one go, the last thing you want just before you take it to market to sell.

So the latest thing in cattle handling is cow whispering (I'm not making this up -- this is straight from A&M). Either on foot or horseback, you just kind of sidle around your herd without upsetting them, talk to them gently and suggest they might like to go THAT way for a while, and then perhaps a tour along the pen line, and then perhaps some consideration of the gate and another little tour of the pen line. But all of this is done without loud noise, sudden movements or eruptions of testosterone. It's such a revolutionary development of an American macho tradition it's a little like watching NFL teams come onto the field in tutus. But it also works a lot better on the cows.

I bring this up because I recently attended a women's peace movement meeting, sponsored by the Code Pink group founded by Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans and Diane Wilson. (Ha, now you think you see where I am going.) The women peacemakers also included Cindy Sheehan, writer Anne Lamott and Col. Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the Army and more than 15 years in the Foreign Service, before resigning in protest over Bush's drive to war in Iraq.

I must say, they were a lot more emphatic than the cow whisperer. In fact, as I left, they were saddling up to ride down to President Bush at his ranch with a people's posse peace warrant. Lots of whooping about it.

Women peace activists, as rule, have totally solved the gnarly old dilemma: What do you do about hating the haters? If you're a woman peace activist, this is Step 101 -- you spill love and calm and reassurance and, well, peace all over them. (Which is why it's especially funny that George Bush is so afraid of Cindy Sheehan.) For those of us who have not mastered this advanced technique, a Revolution in Favor of Kindness and Libraries seems like a nice idea.

Anne Lamott, one of the funniest people in America, has developed a scenario for a Revolution With Good Manners, in which we are all extremely Nice to one another. Good manners never hurt anything. "Our Revolution decrees that we will fight tooth and nail for these things, politely."

I am still lamentably stuck in the middle -- not that I hold with hating the haters, we can all see where that leads -- but I am always tempted to shout them down. "One, Two Three, Four: We Don't Want Your F-ing War." Now does that repel more potential supporters or attract more people who really NEED to sound off?

What I learned from Code Pink is that this is not an either-or question. The peace movement is a matter of And and And and And. You just keep adding more people, from those like Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in the stupid debacle, to the Iraqi Veterans Against the War, easily the strongest, most moving group of young people in America. They have learned in the hardest way what politics is.

War is about rounding up people with Shock and Awe and really loud noises, and about thinking you can herd them by hurting and killing them. Politics is what you do if you're not so stupid you walk into an unnecessary and unprovoked war. I'm founding Cow Whisperers Against the War.

Truth-Telling Gone Wild

Royal Masset, a Texas Republican political consultant who has been accused of being less than brilliant, recently had this to say about Karl Rove: "I think we actually like Karl a lot more now than we did when he was more active locally." He told the San Antonio Express-News he believed that Rove in Washington is remaining loyal to Bush while "fighting the good fight. He's fighting budgets. He's fighting wars. He's doing conservative kinds of things."

When Rove was in Texas, Masset continued, "there was a real sense of him being a total self-centered (person) who didn't care about anybody. He would literally destroy people who tried to oppose him." Plenty o' food for thought in that. But first we should maybe figure out how to smuggle Royal out of the country with a fake passport. The Bushies are having the hardest time trying to un-lie now. For example, at his Monday press conference, the president asserted, "Nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the (Sept. 11) attack."

How true: What Vice President Cheney in December 2001 said about links between 9-11 and Iraq was that it was "pretty well confirmed" that hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence. On June 17, 2004, Cheney said: "We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don't know. ... I can't refute the Czech claim, I can't prove the Czech claim, I just don't know."

In July 2004, the CIA's own report stated it does not have "any credible information" that the alleged meeting ever took place. The CIA said the whole concoction was based on a single source "whose veracity ... has been questioned" and that the Iraqi official allegedly involved was in U.S. custody and denied the meeting ever took place. The 9-11 commission had already concluded the meeting never occurred.

Cheney has a consistent pattern of exaggeration on intelligence related to Iraq. The tragedy is that at least half the American people believed Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9-11 plot -- and most soldiers serving in Iraq still believe this.

It's pretty embarrassing when the British intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, accuse the FBI of leaking like a sieve. British intelligence has a lengthy history in the leaking-like-a-sieve department -- so that's some pot calling our kettle black. Nevertheless, they are making the point that our leaks about the "liquid terror" plot have pretty well bollixed up the case. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was so annoyed he referred to the entire Bush performance in the Middle East as "crap." This truth-telling has gone too far.

Or, come to think of it, maybe it's just begun -- and it's high damn time we got on with it. I'd suggest starting with the reality on the ground. Iraq is a disaster. The most credible estimate of how long it would take to fix it -- if it is fixable -- is another 10 to 25 years and a commensurate amount of dollars. Is it doable? Is it worth it? What are the consequences if we do or do not continue the effort? What are the consequences if the most likely result of our withdrawal -- partition into three parts -- takes place? (That's also a likely consequence of our staying.)

It seems to me that those who advocate withdrawal ASAP have just as much of a duty to make the arguments for doing so -- and to admit how much they don't know -- as those who got us into this mess five years ago with that titanic combination of misinformation and ignorance.

Let's start with what Donald Rumsfeld once described as "the known unknowns" and then see how far we get. Let's have what we should have had at the beginning -- as informed and unideological a debate as possible, with attention to the effects on our allies and the region. Onward.

Bill Moyers for President

Dear desperate Democrats, here's what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.

The poor man who is currently our president has reached such a point of befuddlement that he thinks stem cell research is the same as taking human lives, but that 40,000 dead Iraqi civilians are progress toward democracy.

Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War. Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds--he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others.

Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me.

Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate ... what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn't triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. Bill Moyers doesn't have to endorse a constitutional amendment against flag burning or whatever wedge issue du jour Republicans have come up with. He is not afraid of being called "unpatriotic." And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.

It won't take much money--file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates. Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win.

One time in the Johnson years, LBJ called on Moyers to say the blessing at a dinner. "Speak up, Bill," Lyndon roared. "I can't hear you." Moyers replied, "I wasn't speaking to you, sir." That would be the point of a run by Moyers: He doesn't change to whom he is speaking just because some president is yelling at him.

To let Moyers know what you think of this idea, write him at P.O. Box 309, Bernardsville, NJ 07924.

The Politics of American Greed

I don't get it. What's the percentage in keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour? After nine years? This is such an unnecessary and nasty Republican move. Congress has voted seven times to raise its own wages since last the minimum wage budged. Of course, Congress always raises its own salary in the dark of night, hoping no one will notice. But now it does the same with the minimum wage, quietly killing it.

Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers -- this is Bush country, where a rising tide lifts all yachts.

According to the current issue of Mother Jones:

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More Immigrant Bashing on the Way

While the rest of you were celebrating life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I was keeping an eye on Karl Rove -- because someone has to.

A "Bush Signals Shift in Stance on Immigrants" headline is the early warning sign that we're about to get an all-out immigrant-bashing campaign for the fall, complete with xenophobia, racism and blaming the weakest, least powerful people in the country for everything that's wrong with it.

House Republicans, who know a good socially divisive issue when they see one, are perfectly happy to blame illegal workers for everything. Trade policy, repealing taxes for the rich, corruption in Congress -- it's all done by illegal workers. Everywhere you look in this society, there's a bunch of people named Gomez and Ramirez, all of them making decisions from the top -- in charge of the Pentagon, heading the military-industrial complex, deciding the rich need tax relief, in charge of this stupid war, making decisions on Wall Street.

What do you mean, the only people you know named Gomez and Ramirez push brooms and pick cantaloupes? Can't you see that everything that's wrong with this country is because of illegal aliens? It's all their fault. The people in charge have nothing to do with it.

Besides, immigrant-bashing is such an old American tradition. Back at the time of the Revolution, many Anglo-Americans worried about the terrible number of Germans engulfing the country (see, Karl?). Since then, we've managed to work up a snit over the Irish, the Jews, the Polish, the Swedes, Bolivians, Bavarians, Bosnians, Russians, Italians, Sicilians, a great variety of Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Maltese (sorry you missed that one -- the Maltese once overran New York City deli counters), Cubans, Puerto Ricans and so forth.

If you haven't been here long enough to get upset about at least one other group moving in, you must still owe the coyote (as immigrant-smugglers are called). Think of the rich verbal history of ethnic insults -- Bohunks, Krauts, Polacks, Micks.

I don't see why we should stop blaming newcomers for our troubles just because they're not in charge of anything. You gotta admit, prejudice is as American as apple pie. I hear tell these Mexicans keep crossing the border so they can get on welfare and get healthcare and all these goodies. Funny, we don't have goodies in Texas, but they keep moving here to work anyway.

Bush was planning to take a stab at resolving the problem, particularly on the Mexican border, with a guest-worker program. But the House Republicans had a hissy fit, claimed it was an "amnesty program" and demanded harsher measures, militarization of the border, a big fence. Not gonna work, y'all. Build a 50-foot fence, and they'll build a 51-foot ladder. Hire Halliburton with a no-bid contract to build the fence, and it will hire illegal workers to do it.

The catch-and-release program currently run for Mexicans by the U.S. government is damn silly. So what will work? If you want to stop Mexicans from crossing the border to work here, put Americans who hire them in jail. Since the Americans who hire them are also often (not always) large donors to the Republican Party, you will have to take that up with them.

Fixing Mexico certainly does not involve interfering in Mexican elections. I had to laugh at the number of American pundits who solemnly lectured the Mexicans on how their tied election was such a delicate situation for their democracy. Like it never happened to us?

Helping to fix Mexico involves, in my opinion, redoing NAFTA, so that labor and environmental standards can be included. I've always liked Lou Dobbs, who at least cares about middle- and working-class Americans. But to some extent, he's got the immigrant issue by the wrong end. If you don't want Mexicans walking into this country, make sure no one is offering them jobs. You could even pass a law about it. You could even enforce the law. Don't blame them.

An Epic Week of Cutting and Running

And then along comes Cut'n'Run Casey. We spend all last week listening to cut'n'run Democrats talking about their cut'n'run strategy for Iraq, and the only issue is whether they want to cut'n'run by the end of this year or to cut'n'run by the end of next year, and oh, by the way, did I mention that Republicans had been choreographed to refer to the Democrats' plans as cut'n'run?

As Vice President Dick ("Last Throes") Cheney said Thursday, redeployment of our troops would be "the worst possible thing we could do. ... No matter how you carve it--you can call it anything you want--but basically it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight."

Then right in the middle of Cut'n'Run Week, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., held a classified briefing at the Pentagon and revealed his plan to reduce the 14 combat brigades now in Iraq to five or six. And here's the best part: Rather than wait till the end of this year or, heaven forefend, next year, Casey wants to start moving those troops out in September, just before whatever it is that happens in early November. They don't call him George W. Jr. for nothing.

One has to admit, the party never ends with the Bush administration. The only question about Cut'n'Run Week is whether they meant to punctuate a weeklong festival of referring to Democrats as the party of "retreat" and "the white flag" with this rather abrupt announcement of their own cut'n'run program. Was it an error of timing?

I say no. I say Karl Rove doesn't make timing mistakes. This administration thoroughly believes the media and the people have a collective recollection of no more than one day. Five days of cut'n'run, one day off and BAM, you get your own cut'n'run plan out there.

Republicans have, in fact, a well-developed sense of aesthetics. Regard the superb pairing of the decision not to raise the minimum wage with the continued push to repeal the estate tax. House Republicans had almost opened their marble hearts and raised the minimum, now at $5.15 an hour, to a whopping $7.25 an hour by 2009. (Since 1997, when they last raised it, members of Congress have hiked their own pay by $31,000 a year.)

This might have gone well with their decision to reduce the estate tax yet again, so that only the top half a percent of estates will pay it, while it will cost the treasury $602 billion over the first 10 years--but even better, no increase in the minimum wage to match the vote to decrease taxes on the very, very, very richest. Is that suave or what?

Also, very slick move on the Voting Rights Act extension. No amendments, no exemptions, the South rose again and blocked the whole deal. Which Southern state do you think will be the first to pass laws to hold down the black vote? My money is on 'Bama--for sentimental reasons.

And now, on to flag burning. What flag burning, you may well ask. Just because something doesn't happen is no reason not to outlaw it. Or, for that matter, not to amend the Constitution of the United States.

I am considering introducing an amendment to require everyone in the audience at "Peter Pan" to clap for Tinkerbell. I believe 99.8% of them do, but that's no reason not to amend the Constitution. I don't believe we should allow people to be different. If someone wants to burn a flag as symbolic political protest, I believe they should be beheaded. Also, flipping the bird at George W. should merit the same--but not flipping off Clinton, Bill or Hillary.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Yea, Bush! Way to go! I realize this is last week's news, but I'm a great believer in giving credit where credit is due. By designating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument, Bush has put one more level of federal protection around a vast spread of islands and irreplaceable marine life.

As he rather touchingly insisted, this IS a big deal -- 140,000 square miles of water that contains more than 7,000 rare species. Word is the president decided to declare the area a marine sanctuary after watching a documentary by Jean-Michel Cousteau. The thought that it might be possible to move George W. Bush to action by something as simple as watching a movie came as a new thought to many who are dying to try it on other issues.

But the environment is an area in which a simple plea often moves Bush. For example, Ol' Ernie Angelo, who used to be mayor of Midland and represent Texas on the Republican National Committee, sent a note to Karl Rove in 2002 complaining about an Environmental Protection Agency rule designed to keep groundwater around oil drilling sites clean.

Well, you can imagine Angelo, an oilman, was not happy about this sucker. In fact, he informed Rove, the rule was causing many in the oil industry "to openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity."

Rove forwarded the note to the White House environmental advisers, demanding a "response ASAP." So the rule finally took effect this month, but after intense industry pressure, court battles and behind-the-scenes lobbying at the agency and in Congress, it's more hole than rule. And guess what? It has no teeth in it.

Yep, Ernie and oil industry got what they wanted: the end of the Clinton-era proposal to require special EPA permits for construction sites smaller than 5 acres as a way to keep groundwater clean. Imagine the immense burden that would put on the oil companies. Really, unless the Bush administration took this kind of special care, Exxon might suffer a drop in profits.

Next, we find the EPA has decided not to release information on 140 Superfund sites -- these are toxic waste sites that present risk of exposure to those nearby, as the exposure remains uncontrolled. You might, if you hadn't been paying attention, assume information collected by the government and paid for by the citizens would be, uh, public.

"This isn't a question of left or right," said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. "This is a question of right and wrong." According to the Los Angeles Times, "The EPA said that it had blocked only information related to law enforcement and that the public had access to all relevant health-risk data for the sites."

That's the kind of sentence reporters write with a straight face.

Actually, what the EPA is keeping secret is how much money and time it will take to clean up the Superfund sites. Why? "Republicans said Democrats want to manufacture a political issue, and noted that Senate tradition had long prevented the release of sensitive information," said the Times. What political issue? The reinstatement of a "controversial tax" -- i.e., the Superfund tax on chemical, oil and other polluting companies.

In case you haven't been following this, the Superfund is broke and has been largely inactive for four years. The fund was allowed to run dry when Congress failed to renew the tax on polluters. You may not believe this, but the oil and chemical companies complained mightily about being asked to pay for the cleanup of messes they had created. What a concept.

Other environmental controversies continue to simmer all the time -- out of sight, out of mind. Just one more regulation chopped here, just one more law changed there, just a little information hidden.

But do be sure to give Bush credit for declaring the already protected Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument. That's a good thing. Is there an election any time soon?

Our Pathetic State of Government

Gee, the Republicans seem to have lost their moral compass since Tom DeLay quit. Who knew it could get worse without that pillar of rectitude from Texas? What a snakes' nest of corruption and nastiness. The latest involves Speaker Denny Hastert and a land deal.

Hastert had sold to a developer a 69-acre portion of a 195-acre farm that had been purchased in his wife's name. The developer also purchased an adjacent plot of roughly equal size owned in trust by Hastert and two of his "longtime supporters." The area of west of Chicago is growing madly, and Hastert -- through an earmark appropriation process -- dedicated $207 million in taxpayer dollars as the first appropriation on the Prairie Parkway, which will run 5.5 miles from the Hastert land. Went through in the fall of 2005. Three months later, Hastert and his partners sold the land for a $3 million total profit, $1.8 million to Hastert.

In a staggering display of brass-faced gall, Hastert is now claiming a freeway running 5.5 miles from his land is not close enough to affect the price of the farm. Then what did the developer pay the extra $3 million for? Hastert is said to be furious with the Sunlight Foundation, which broke the story, and the Chicago newspapers, which pounced on it gleefully. This is what I don't get about Republicans. Apparently they think they are genuinely entitled to get these special deals.

Also making news is California Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is in deep with a lobbying firm that is El Stinko. This wouldn't matter so much if Lewis were just another congressman, but he is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the one that hands out the money. Lewis' family and friends have profited nicely from contractors and lobbyists who court his favor. Such cozy arrangements.

Just for example, one Lewis aide, who had gone to work for the lobbying firm and then returned to the congressman's staff, was paid $2 million by the firm in 2004 while on the public payroll. With a fine sense of ethical behavior, members of the House have voted to continue earmarking, including $500,000 for a swimming pool in Lewis' district (bringing the total federal money allotted for this pool to $1 million).

Meanwhile, back on the Jack Abramoff-and-related fronts (lest we forget good old Dusty Foggo, ex-No. 3 at the CIA), a letter had been found, despite initial denials by the Department of Homeland Security, from the now-convicted ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham recommending that the government use the limo firm that allegedly ferried whores to the poker parties given by defense contractors who were paying off Cunningham.

Don't Democrats have scandals, too? Yes, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana is in deep doo-doo. Among other things, the Fibbies found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. So the Democratic caucus kicked him off his important seat on the Ways and Means Committee. Republicans just keep on trucking.

Meanwhile, the entire Department of Homeland Security is beginning to look like a Republican playground. According to The New York Times, over 90 former officials at DHS or the White House Office of Homeland Security are now "executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars' worth of domestic security business." Now isn't that a dainty dish to set before the king? Can Republicans run anything right? Where is the CEO administration that was supposed to straighten out government? It may be that Bush deserves credit for having initially opposed a DHS, knowing that Republicans would make a giant new federal agency.

But he later changed his mind and supported the thing. The rest of us thought we were getting an agency that would provide homeland security, but what an endless saga of misspent money, stupid decisions, waste, fraud, abuse and political logrolling -- and still no port protection.

It seems to me there is a direct connection between the Republicans' inability to run anything governmental ("Heckuva job, Brownie") and the fact that they don't believe in government. The simplest purposes of government have long been defined for us -- to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is, or should be, a benign enterprise, making life better for citizens.

I carry no special brief for government -- many years of studying the Texas Legislature will disenchant anyone. But if you are put in charge of government, the least you can do is run it well. Bill Clinton took government seriously -- he was interested in how to make it work better, interested in government policy. Clinton declared the era of Big Government over and indeed pruned the federal structure and finished with a surplus. Bush is giving us fat, bloated, inefficient, corrupt government, all of it running on a huge deficit -- not counting the expense and growing body count in Iraq.

As the man said -- "2,500 is just a number."

Does the World See Bush As a Moron?

I think we need to stop President Bush from looking people in the eye. On Tuesday, he told the new prime minister of Iraq that he had come to Iraq to "look you in the eye."

Do we even know if the cultural significance of "looking someone in the eye" is known or accepted in the Middle East? Even if Middle Easterners are kindly disposed toward looking one another in the eye -- say it's not considered rude or worse -- would they know what to make of Bush's declaration to U.S. troops that he came to look at "Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are."

Who knows if Iraqis think this is determinable by the deep-eye look. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it is.

People interpret things differently. Not long ago, I was in the beautiful home of an exceptionally rich person, even by Texas standards. And I saw what I took to be a lovely sort of "treatment" on the spiral staircase -- a swathe of cloth draped artistically about the twisting spiral. Commentator/author Bud Trillin was with me, and he thought the painters had been there and just left a drop cloth on the stair rail, which is the reason you can't take Bud anywhere. Maybe it's like that in the Middle East with the deep-eye look -- people just can't tell.

Now here's the media all in a tizzy because the president went to Iraq without telling hardly anyone -- a big shock. I don't want to ruin anyone's surprise, but I trust you have considered that the president couldn't let anyone know he was coming in advance because the bad guys would try to kill him. Sorry to take any of the fizz out of the celebration of the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but let's not get overexcited.

Bush said his message to the Iraqi people is, "Seize the moment." Do we think they knew what he meant? Is carpe diem part of Iraqis' general knowledge? Then, the president urged the Iraqis to end sectarian strife. I, too, think this would be a good idea. Thought so for at least three years. Basically, what I'm getting at here is, do you suppose the rest of the world just assumes George W. Bush is a moron when he goes overseas?

I realize the trip was arranged to try to take advantage of the killing of Zarqawi, for Bush to "get a bounce out of it," as they say back in Washington politics. But I'm just not sure there's much bounce left in Iraq. It's not good enough anymore to turn a corner or see a light at the end of the tunnel -- too many corners, too many lights later. I guess we can still seize the moment, although the confusion over how Zarqawi died kind of undercuts that.

The trouble with Iraq is what keeps happening there. We haven't rebuilt the place -- in fact, it keeps getting worse in terms of basic services. You have to admit, leaving a place worse off than Saddam Hussein kept it is not a bragging point. Number of people killed keeps going up, signs of militias out of control, sectarian violence, spreading anarchy ... not good.

Years ago, Mrs. T. Cullen Davis, of tacky Texas murder trial fame, said as her husband tried to grab a fabulous necklace he gave her, "This ain't no takesie-backsie." (You may now take a deep breath while considering the depth of that comment.)

I feel that Iraq is also a "no takesie-backsie." It is a putrid human, social and political disaster, and getting worse, not better. The people who got us into this should not be forgiven - - they should not even get a "bounce" from it. There is only one thing I want from them -- to get us and our Army out of there, instead of cavalierly announcing that will be left to "future presidents."

An About-Face on Iran

It occasionally occurs to me that if I could understand the Bush administration's foreign policy, I might like it. After months of threatening Iran with everything up to and including nuclear war, we are now full of Sweet Reason and offering to have diplomatic talks with the very people we have been denouncing as Beyond Vile.

I never mind a good about-face in foreign policy myself. Always reminds me of the times when that great duo Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided it would be a good thing to convince the world they were both quite perfectly mad. They succeeded. (Bonus point: What did Richard Nixon say upon first seeing the Great Wall of China? He said, "This is, indeed, a great wall." Almost as good as the time George H.W. Bush barfed on the prime minister of Japan.)

John Bolton is my favorite Bush administration diplomat. He's the one they sent to the United Nations, since he has all the characteristics of a really clumsy bull in a China shop. Ambassador Bolton, his white mustache positively bristling in horror, has assured us over and over that we cannot consent to have diplomatic talks with Iran No Matter What.

Iran's highly unpleasant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad started uttering anti-Semitic screeds. Condoleezza Rice has been wandering around saying the same thing as Bolton to the European allies, who kept tugging her sleeve and whispering, "Have talks, good plan, we'll do the hard part."

At least Rice realized threatening Iran was getting us nowhere -- particularly since we had already violated the nuclear weapons ban by making a deal with India. The great diplomatic lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis during JFK's presidency is that one can always choose to hear the less hostile response. Likewise, we can give a two-toned response -- both "no enrichment" and "some enrichment. "

It's so entirely pleasant to see the Bushies actually using diplomacy, one veritably vaults toward other cases where it might be helpful. All of Latin America? China? Denny Hastert? Who knows where this might take us.

And all with John Bolton in the lead, his moustache at full bristle, dropping imprecations upon one and all. I'm telling you, there's a great sit-com in this.

Meanwhile, there is nothing funny about Iraq, as we slide toward being just one more militia in the chaos. I had a slightly insane discussion the other day with a winger who wanted urgently for me to understand that the Haditha massacre is the kind of thing that happens in war. Whereas I was trying to point out to him that the Haditha massacre is the kind of thing that happens in war.

I think we both got that massacres occur in war -- but for me, it felt like a "don't teach your grandma to suck eggs" moment. Why would anyone who hadn't lived through My Lai try to explain Haditha?

I realize it's silly to let really stupid people upset you, but I have had it with the wingnuts who go about claiming that liberals are delighted about Haditha or want to use it for nefarious public relations purposes. Listen, twits, if you can't stop your petty little partisan political games long to enough to recognize Sad when you see it, then shut up.

What Republicans Worry About

Thank goodness the Republicans are around to tell me what to worry about. The flag-burning crisis -- here in Austin, there's that pall of smoke rising from the West every morning (it's from an area called Tarrytown, where they burn hundreds of flags daily).

You didn't know hundreds of flags were being burned daily? Actually, you can count on your hand the number of incidents reported over the last five years. For instance, there was one flag burned in 2005 by a drunken teenager and one by a protester in California in 2002. This appalling record of ravishment must be stopped. You're clearly not worried about what matters.

Gay marriage, now there's a crisis. Well, OK, so there isn't much gay marriage going on here in Texas. None, in fact. First, we made it illegal. Then, we made it unconstitutional. But President Bush is all concerned about it, so I guess we have to alter the U.S. Constitution. Gus and Captain Call (of "Lonesome Dove" fame) will be an item -- with who knows who waiting in line right after them.

Also of great concern to Republicans is God Almighty, who, rather to my surprise, has been elected chairman of the Texas Republican Party. That's what they announced at the biannual convention in Fort Worth this week: "He is the chairman of the Party." Sheesh, the Democrats couldn't even get Superman.

Also weighing down the nation with a heavy burden is the estate tax, which the Senate will try to repeal this week. The estate tax applies to around 1 percent of Americans, and I have yet to find any record of it costing anyone a family farm or business. It affects only very, very, very rich people, of whom you are probably not one. And they don't, actually, need another tax break.

These are the things we are supposed to be worrying about, and you notice that it frees us of quite a few troubles we might otherwise fret about.

The war in Iraq? No sweat. Impending war with Iran? We're carefree. The economy? Hey, did you see that employment report? Well, ignore it. Budget out of control, shipwreck ahead? Never mind -- Bush doesn't. Worst class divisions since the Gilded Age, rich so much more enormously richer than everybody else, country starting to get creepy? Don't worry, be happy.

Torture, massacre, extraordinary rendition, hidden gulag of prisons in foreign countries, Guantanamo, and massive violations of international law, American law and the Constitution? Well, you can see why gay marriage is a far greater menace.

Wipe out for the environment; hundreds of regulations and laws changed to favor those who exploit and damage natural resources; all so common, no one is keeping track of them all? Let her rip. Global warming? In the first place, it's Al Gore's issue. In the second place, it's a downer. In the third place, who cares if it's too late in a few years?

Homeland security/war on terror? With the highly excellent disposition of anti-terror funds once more judiciously applied by the Department of Homeland Security, we truly have nothing to worry about. We're ready to stop terrorist attacks in Wyoming, and there are no important cultural sites in New York City, so let's rock.

Oil crisis? Ha! What oil crisis? You want a $100 rebate you can then give the oil companies? Hey, we're going to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and that should see us through ... oh, about nine months.

Windfall profits? You think the oil companies are ripping us off for windfall profits? Who? ExxonMobil? Why, they would never!

I believe what we have here is a difference over moral values. The Republicans are worried about the flag, gay marriage and the terrible burden of the estate tax on the rich. The rest of us are obviously unnecessarily worried about war, peace, the economy, the environment and civilization. Another reason to vote Republican -- they have a shorter list.

Is Bush a Lunatic?

I hate to raise such an ugly possibility, but have you considered lunacy as an explanation? Craziness would make a certain amount of sense.

I mean, you announce you are going to militarize the Mexican border, but you assure the president of Mexico you are not militarizing the border. You announce you are sending the National Guard, but then you assure everyone it's not very many soldiers and just for a little while.

Militarizing the border is a totally terrible idea. Do we have a State Department? Are they sentient? How much do you want to infuriate Mexico when it's sitting on quite a bit of oil? Bush knows what the most likely outcome of this move will be. He was governor during the political firestorm that ensued when a Marine taking part in anti-drug patrols on the border shot and killed Esequiel Hernandez, an innocent goat-herder from Redford, Texas.

That's the definition of crazy -- repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

I suppose politics could explain it, too. It's quite possible that lunacy and politics are closely related. It's still damned hard cheese for the Guard, though. The Guard is heavily deployed in Iraq, currently 20 percent of those serving, down from 40 percent last year. Some soldiers are sent back for multiple tours. Lt. Gen. James Helmly, head of the Army Reserve, said the Reserve is rapidly degenerating into "a broken force" and is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements."

Happy hurricane season to you, too. The Guard is also short on equipment and falling short on recruiting goals. But right-wingers are very unhappy with Bush right now, and this is a strong, red-meat gesture that will make them happy, even if it does nothing to shut down the border.

You want to shut down illegal immigration? You want to use the military as police? Make it illegal to hire undocumented workers and put the National Guard into enforcing that. Then rewrite NAFTA and invest in Mexico.

Meanwhile, further proof that the entire party is cuckoo comes to us with the passage of another $70 billion tax cut for the rich. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the average middle-income household will get a $20 tax cut, while those making more than $1 million a year will get nearly $42,000.

The Washington Post editorialized, "Budgetary dishonesty, distributional unfairness, fiscal irresponsibility -- by now the words are so familiar, it can be hard to appreciate how damaging this fiscal course will be."

Both President Bush and Veep Cheney are still going around claiming if you cut taxes, your tax revenues increase. No, they don't. Now we're just in whackoville. It's not true. Their own economists tell them it's not true, but they go about claiming it is with the same desperate tenacity they clung to false tales of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How pathetic.

Speaking of lunacy, the saddest report from Iraq is that American soldiers showing signs of psychological distress and depression are being kept on active duty, increasing the risk of suicide. The Hartford Courant reports that even soldiers who have already been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome are kept on duty. This has led to an increase in the suicide rate -- 22 soldiers in 2005. And as I have reported before, the military is unprepared to deal with the flood of head cases coming back from Iraq. How many ways can we mistreat our own soldiers, while the right makes this elaborate show of devotion to "the troops"?

The consistent pattern that runs through all these problems is the failure to distinguish fantasy from reality. Mexican immigrants keep crossing the border because they can get jobs here -- and most of those jobs are provided by companies whose CEOs support George W. Bush. That's where he can have an impact on the problem, should he choose to do so.

The $70 billion tax cut is part of a continuing right-wing fantasy going back to the Laffer Curve. Of course, clinging to demonstrably false economic precepts is understandable when you benefit from them, but at some point reality does intervene.

As for the Iraq fantasy and those who pushed it on a reluctant country through lies, disinformation and bending intelligence -- isn't there a law against that?

Rolling Over for Bush

As I occasionally survey the pack of sycophantic shih tzus in the Washington press corps, wriggling on their bellies to kiss the feet of those in power, I feel plumb discouraged about the future of journalism.

It's like a cross between Versailles under Louis XIV and high school: obsequious courtiers flattering their way to favor, plus the silly cliques of the "in crowd" and "out crowd." On the other hand, I am greatly cheered by the young journalists in the blogosphere who have now whelped a perfect litter of books worth paying attention to.

For my marbles and chalk, the pick is David Sirota's Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government -- and How We Take It Back. Sirota is a new-generation populist who instinctively understands that the only real questions are "Who's getting screwed" and "Who's doing the screwing?"

The extent to which corporate power has taken over the country and is running the table cannot be exaggerated and must not be ignored. Sirota has not only collected much new and useful information, he has put it into a package that provides handy weapons to fight back. Si, se puede.

Eric Boehlert, who writes for the online magazine Salon, has taken on the MSM (mainstream media) and dipped it for ticks in his book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.

He recounts some breathtaking journalistic malfeasance -- ignoring the Downing Street memos, the Valerie Plame case and many others. As usual, sins of omission dominate. The Washington press corps (which I think should be separated from "normal" parts of the press) is breathtakingly craven. In the face of intimidation and the lure of official approval, it has shown neither courage nor enterprise. I don't know how to account for this pitiable performance. One hears terrifying tales of when the press corps "turns," when it rips and attacks like sharks in a "feeding frenzy." Darn, not a shark in sight. The president's approval ratings are at 31 percent, and not a single shih tzu will yap at him.

Sometimes misunderstandings between bloggers and the MSM are the result of simple ignorance. For example, there was the recent volley of disapproval from bloggers about the MSM's failure to pay attention to comedian Stephen Colbert's brilliant riff at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

They weren't ignoring Colbert -- as I understand it, Colbert was the final speaker, and no paper can get much in after 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Stories have to be written, edited and printed, the presses roll and then the trucks roll. It's OLD media, kids -- we do not just punch a button at our shops.

It seems to me both MSM and the blogosphere could benefit from reading the new biography of Izzy Stone by Myra MacPherson, out in September. Because Izzy was pretty much the perfect journalist, we can all learn from All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone.

What a pleasure! What a joy to read about the old dog on the hunt. Surprising, too. While Stone famously broke story after story by actually reading government documents instead of taking what the press was spoon-fed, MacPherson reminds us he was also a shoe- leather reporter, who went out to interviews, press conferences and the daily bash, where he occasionally harassed spokesmen.

Today, the bloggers seem to me to be breaking more toward opinion than journalism, which I think is a shame.

A noble exception is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, which is completely on top of its chosen topics. Of course, Stone practiced opinion journalism, as do I, but with him the hard reporting always came first.

I have no objections to anyone breaking into the guild of journalism without the credentials of journalism school or experience on a print daily (though I highly recommend especially the latter). I do object to those who jump from political hackery to flackery and expect respect. Truly, if you can't cover a five-car pile-up on Route 128, you should not be covering a presidential campaign.

The danger of the blogosphere is reading only those you agree with. While there are right-wing blogs that are entertaining freak shows, it's hard to find substantial journalism there. I hate to list bloggers I like because I'm bound to leave out so many, but here goes: Daily Kos, Eschaton, Altercation, Political Animal and Media Matters.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Washington

Of course I am above sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. So serious a servant of the public interest am I, I can fogey with the best: On my better days, I make David Broder look like Page Six.

I don't care what anyone smoked 20 years ago, I approve of those who boogie till they puke, and I don't care who anyone in politics is screwing in private, as long as they're not screwing the public.

On other hand, if you expect me to pass up a scandal involving poker, hookers and the Watergate building with crooked defense contractors and the No. 3 guy at the CIA, named Dusty Foggo (Dusty Foggo?! Be still my heart), you expect too much. Any journalist who claims Hookergate is not a legitimate scandal is dead -- has been for some time and needs to be unplugged. In addition to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Hookergate is rife with public-interest questions, misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance, and many splendid moral points for the children. Recommended for Sunday school use, grades seven and above.

But for starters, let us consider the unenviable record of Porter Goss at the CIA. From the beginning of his tenure, Goss has been criticized for politicizing the agency. He brought a bunch of political hacks with him for staff, one of whom turns out to be the poker player called "Nine Fingers." And in the end, he was probably fired for not having politicized the agency sufficiently.

What is the point of politicizing an intelligence agency? So the CIA officials would get a report from some agent in Iraq saying, "Looks bad." The first thing they'd ask was, "Is this agent a Republican or a Democrat?"

Maybe there really are conservatives who believe everything in Iraq is hunky-dory and there's a giant media conspiracy to hide the joyous tidings. But as you may recall, the ever-nimble minds at Donny Rumsfeld's shop have already tried paying public relations people to invent good news about Iraq and then plant it in newspapers there -- it didn't work. In fact, it was so stupid it was humiliating. Fortunately, the Pentagon was once again able to investigate itself and determine it had done nothing illegal.

So now they're turning the CIA over to a general who not only ran the warrantless wiretap program but still can't figure out that it's unconstitutional. Why do I get the feeling this is W. and Karl again flipping the finger at some grown-up they don't like?

Gen. Michael Hayden had mixed reviews as director of the National Security Agency -- he's evidently not a good manager, which makes him a perfect Bushie. But is he straightforward enough to have admitted that some warrantless spying has been done for political reasons? None of the usual Washington insiders seems to have a bead on this. Hayden would theoretically report to John Negroponte, Bush's supposed intelligence czar. Negroponte is widely considered worthless. His major achievement so far seems to be organizational charts and buying furniture.

You know me, no conspiracy theories here, but the Bush administration, which doesn't seem to be able to run much, set out to retool the CIA after 9/11 and the Iraq war. Problem is, everything that worked at the CIA -- that it warned about 9/11 and said the Iraq war was a bad idea -- was on the hit list. The Bushies wanted to eliminate the people who were right and promote those who were wrong. This is no way to shape up an intelligence agency, not to mention the White House spit fit over Joe Wilson's wife.

Next, we need to contemplate sincere, old-fashioned, non-ideological greed, theft and bribery. In the beginning, there was only Duke Cunningham, the high-living, fun-loving super-patriot congressman from San Diego. His yacht was called The Duke-Stir, and he had nice taste in 19th century French commodes. While we all are happy to see our elected representatives enjoying themselves in Washington, that's real people's money. Actually, the yacht and commode were paid for by defense contractor Brent Wilkes (keep an eye on that player). It was people's money that paid for the defense contracts Wilkes allegedly bribed public officials into landing for his clients.

The former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, Clark Kent Ervin -- that would be the DHS equivalent of a police department's internal affairs chief -- tried to blow the whistle on shady contracts at DHS and instead was thrown overboard himself. Folks, we'll never get government straightened out again if we don't keep the IGs strong and independent.

If the Bush administration continues to fall apart at this clip, I think we'll be grateful for incompetence as an excuse.

Republicans Wake a Sleeping Giant

Dec. 16, 2005, is a day that will live in infamy in the Hall of Fame of Unintended Republican Consequences.

A bunch of the guys were just noodling around in the House of Representatives in Washington, see, kind of fooling around with the idea that they might get some traction out of immigration as a hot-button issue. The old hot buttons have kind of cooled off here lately, with people up in arms about Iraq, oil, health insurance and all this other stuff that makes the boys say, "Who me?" Where's a good divisive social issue when you need one? They weren't that far wrong -- some variation on the "race card" usually works.

Trouble is, they played the card, tried to make every illegal worker in the country a felon and woke up the Sleeping Brown Giant, instead. Who knew? Unions, organizers, community workers, priests and preachers, and Lord knows the Democrats have been trying to wake the Sleeping Giant for years. That it would happen someday was an article of faith when I first started watching Texas politics 40 years ago. Who knew all it would take was one softly played, very ugly, very nasty little piece of racial political pandering. And there was the Giant, out on the streets in the millions. For those who know the Latin emphasis on respect and dignity, maybe it's not such a surprise after all.

The Waking Giant clearly makes a good part of Anglo America uncomfortable -- I suppose if the R's really want to push racial division, it will work and we can commit some monumental folly like building a fence on the border. But as a founding member of the Anti-Hypocrisy on Border Issues Party, I'm ready to bet Republican money, which after all hires the illegal workers, has too much at stake to let their party go off on a racist toot. You can let the right-wing radio commentators bloviate all they want, to get the young jackboots all stirred up, but it's still Wal-Mart hiring these people. Believe me, their employers are big Republican donors.

The solution to this problem is so simple: Do the right thing. As that great economist "High" Hightower of Denison, Texas, said, "Everyone does better when everyone does better." We won't need a fence or even a border when Mexico is doing better.

It does not take great economic acumen to realize that Mexico was damaged by NAFTA, that the surge in immigration has been caused by our own selfish and stupid trade policies, which benefit few of us, also.

And domestic policies, I might add. The conservatives have been preaching this "Me First" stuff as though life were a race to the finish and the only object is to pick up as much money as you can. It doesn't work -- not even if you wind up with a lot of toys. As another noted economist said, we are becoming a nation of private opulence and public squalor.

Look, we all do better when we all do better. You raise the minimum wage, it works for everyone.

Rabbi Michael Lerner ("The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right") is urging a 20-year commitment of 5 percent of GDP to end world poverty. The money would not be committed to governments, but to NGOs with solid records. And I say, why the hell not?

Is selfish and stupid working out so well for us? The progressive religious people will be meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 17-20 for a Spiritual Activism Conference. Naturally, being lefties, they pose no threat to separation of church and state. Amazing how easy it is to keep that clear just by thinking it through.

The No-Reform Lobby Reform Bill

Either the so-called "lobby reform bill" is the contemptible, cheesy, shoddy piece of hypocrisy it appears to be ... or the Republicans have a sense of humor.

The "lobby reform" bill does show, one could argue, a sort of cheerful, defiant, flipping-the-bird-at-the-public attitude that could pass for humor. You have to admit that calling this an "ethics bill' requires brass bravura.

House Republicans returned last week from a two-week recess prepared to vote for "a relatively tepid ethics bill," as The Washington Post put it, because they said their constituents rarely mentioned the issue.

Forget all that talk back in January when Jack Abramoff was indicted. What restrictions on meals and gifts from lobbyists? More golfing trips! According to Rep. Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, former chair of the House Ethic Committee, passage of the bill will have no political consequences "because people are quite convinced that the rhetoric of reform is just political."

Where can they have gotten that idea? Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, told the Post, "We panicked, and we let the media get us panicked."

By George, here's the right way to think of it. The entire Congress lies stinking in open corruption, but they can't let the media panic them. They're actually proud of not cleaning it up.

The House bill passed a procedural vote last week 216 to 207, and it is scheduled for floor debate and a final vote on Wednesday -- which gives citizens who don't like being conned a chance to speak. Now is the time for a little hell-raising.

Chellie Pingree of Common Cause said, "This legislation is so weak it's embarrassing." Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and a longtime worker in reformist vineyards, said: "This bill is based on the premise that you can fool all of the people all of the time. This is an attempt at one of the greatest legislative scams that I have seen in 30 years of working on these issues."

Come on, people, get mad. You deserve to be treated with contempt if you let them get away with this.

I'm sorry that all these procedural votes seem so picayune, and I know the costs of gas and health insurance are more immediate worries. But it is precisely the corruption of Congress by big money that allows the oil and insurance industries to get away with these fantastic rip-offs.

Watching Washington be taken over by these little sleaze merchants is not only expensive and repulsive, it is destroying America, destroying any sense we ever had that we're a nation, not 298 million individuals cheating to get ahead.

I'm sorry these creeps in Congress have so little sense of what they're supposed to be about that they think it's fine to sneer at ethics. But they work for us. It's our job to keep them under control until we can replace them. Time to get up off our butts and take some responsibility here. Let them hear from you.

The Great Bush Reclassification Project

It's nice to know that the investigative reporter Jack Anderson is still under investigation, although seriously dead.

Anderson died last year, and for 19 years before his death he suffered from Parkinson's disease and was increasingly less active as a reporter. Now that he's safely deceased, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to go through nearly 200 boxes of his files to see if there are any classified documents in there. If it's classified, they want it back -- even though Anderson was in the habit of printing anything he ever got that was of any interest.

This is apparently part of the Great Bush Reclassification Project, in which government information that has previously been declassified and offered for public consumption is now being reclassified as secret so nobody can find out about it. Those who saw government documents between declassification and reclassification are just going to have to forget what they saw. That, or some Man in Black will be sent around to zap your memory with a little thingamajig.

For some reason, the FBI thinks Jack Anderson, despite Parkinson's disease, had some papers involving two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who have been criminally charged with receiving classified information. That case is a crock in itself, and to use it to dig through Anderson's archived stuff is just ludicrous.

Among Anderson's targets of old was the Federal Bureau of Investigation itself -- gee, still worried he might have photos of J. Edgar Hoover in a dress after all these years?

Anderson was a hardworking investigative reporter. Among his scoops was exposing the CIA's plots to kill Fidel Castro and breaking details of the Iran-Contra affair. I always liked him because he was so un-Establishment, a Mormon with nine kids. Anderson never had time for the Washington dinner party circuit and never gave a damn about it.

Even some other journalists looked down on him -- he was never part of D.C.'s "cool" in-group. But the proof was in the work, and although he made a few memorable mistakes, he was consistently so far ahead of the pack he made his detractors look like the lazy snobs they were.

Anderson's son Kevin said family members are willing to go to jail rather than let Anderson's papers be confiscated. "It's my father's legacy," he told The New York Times. "The government has always, and continues to this day, to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father's view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they're up to."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is so hopelessly confounded by the problems of secrecy, it has now fired a CIA agent for allegedly leaking the truth concerning a gulag of "black site" prisons we keep in Eastern Europe (remember when only the Soviets did that?). And of course Bush claims he has the right to instantly declassify anything in order to back up a phony charge against a political opponent. How lovely.

I listened to that pompous self-righteous blowhard Bill Bennett saying the other day that several reporters who won Pulitzers this year should be in jail. I guess the responsibility of being the Virtue Czar has finally driven Bennett daffy. If he can't see that the problem is an administration that runs torture programs, gulags and illegal domestic spying programs, rather than reporters who find out about these programs and print the truth, then I say it's time for a new Virtue Czar.

Jack Anderson was right: The people in government work for us. What they do is our responsibility because they do it in our name and with our money -- that's why we have a right to know about it.

The other day I heard a young man say, "I have an issue with torture." Turns out he was offended by some scenes in a movie he'd been to. I have an issue with torture, too. I get upset when it's real and it's my country doing it. I guess I wouldn't make a good Virtue Czar.

Israel Lobby Nutjobs on the Loose

One of the consistent deformities in American policy debate has been challenged by a couple of professors, and the reaction proves their point so neatly it's almost funny.

A working paper by John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, called "The Israel Lobby" was printed in the London Review of Books earlier this month. And all hell broke loose in the more excitable reaches of journalism and academe.

For having the sheer effrontery to point out the painfully obvious -- that there is an Israel lobby in the United States -- Mearsheimer and Walt have been accused of being anti-Semitic, nutty and guilty of "kooky academic work." Alan Dershowitz, who seems to be easily upset, went totally ballistic over the mild, academic, not to suggest pretty boring article by Mearsheimer and Walt, calling them "liars" and "bigots."

Of course there is an Israeli lobby in America -- its leading working group is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby," and it attempts to influence U.S. legislation and policy.

Several national Jewish organizations lobby from time to time. Big deal -- why is anyone pretending this non-news requires falling on the floor and howling? Because of this weird deformity of debate.

In the United States, we do not have full-throated, full-throttle debate about Israel. In Israel, they have it as a matter of course, but the truth is that the accusation of anti-Semitism is far too often raised in this country against anyone who criticizes the government of Israel.

Being pro-Israel is no defense, as I long ago learned to my cost. Now I've gotten used to it. Jews who criticize Israel are charmingly labeled "self-hating Jews." As I have often pointed out, that must mean there are a lot of self-hating Israelis, because those folks raise hell over their own government's policies all the time.

I don't know that I've ever felt intimidated by the knee-jerk "you're anti-Semitic" charge leveled at anyone who criticizes Israel, but I do know I have certainly heard it often enough to become tired of it.

And I wonder if that doesn't produce the same result: giving up on the discussion.

It's the sheer disproportion and the vehemence of the denunciations of those perceived as criticizing Israel that make the attacks so odious. Mearsheimer and Walt are both widely respected political scientists -- comparing their writing to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is just silly.

Several critics have pointed out some flaws in the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, including a too-broad use of the term "Israel lobby" -- those of us who are pro-Israel differ widely -- and having perhaps overemphasized the clout of the Israel lobby by ignoring the energy lobby.

It seems to me the root of the difficulty has been Israel's inability first to admit the Palestinians have been treated unfairly and, second, to figure out what to do about it. Now here goes a big fat generalization, but I think many Jews are so accustomed (by reality) to thinking of themselves as victims, it is especially difficult for them to admit they have victimized others.

But the Mearsheimer-Walt paper is not about the basic conflict, but rather its effect on American foreign policy, and it appears to me the authors' arguments are unexceptional. Israel is the No. 1 recipient of American foreign aid, and it seems an easy case can be made that the United States has subjugated its own interests to those of Israel in the past.

Whether you agree or not, it is a discussion well worth having and one that should not be shut down before it can start by unfair accusations of "anti-Semitism." In a very equal sense, none of this is academic. The Israel lobby was overwhelmingly in favor of starting the war with Iraq and is now among the leading hawks on Iran.

To the extent that our interests do differ from those of Israel, the matter needs to be discussed calmly and fairly. This is not about conspiracies or plots or fantasies or anti-Semitism -- it's about rational discussion of American interests. And, in my case, being pro-Israel. I'm looking forward to hearing from all you nutjobs again.

Flawed Justice

"Compare and contrast," read the directions for essay exams in the old college blue books. Compare and contrast the trials of Zacarias Moussaoui and Jeffrey Skilling.

Moussaoui appears to be headed for the death penalty, despite having an alibi of the lead-pipe-cinch variety. He was in jail on Sept. 11, 2001, so we know he wasn't out hijacking jets and killing people. He also appears to be seriously crazy, or at the very least a chronic liar, but that's a separate argument.

Although Moussaoui is a member of al-Qaida, there is evidence that they thought he was a crazy screw-up, too. Peter Bergen, author of two books about Osama bin Laden, told The Washington Post, "Even al-Qaida tried to cut this guy loose."

In Texas, we are quite accustomed to seeing people who haven't actually hurt anyone sentenced to death. One classic case featured a kid whose entire contribution to the annals of crime consisted of holding open a screen window. Another kid crawled through said window to burgle a house, surprised the householder, and shot and killed her. The perp then rolled on the screen-holder, who bought the death penalty for abetting in the commission of a felony with firearm.

Nor would Moussaoui's mental state draw much note here. Where's Dr. Death when you need him? Dr. James Grigson testified in hundreds of capital murder cases in Texas and was always certain that the defendants were going to commit more violent crimes and should be executed -- even though he never met with some of them before testifying.

If I were to make an argument against the death penalty for Moussaoui, it would be on grounds of practical public relations. Why let this guy have martyrdom and world fame when we could just put him away?

Meanwhile, back in Houston, we have our laughs, too. Jeff Skilling was testifying along about the great rip-off that almost pushed California into bankruptcy when he observed that the state formerly called "Golden" had a regulatory environment like that of Brazil. Prosecutor Sean Berkowitz stared at him. "Do you think it was funny what happened in California? You're smiling."

Skilling backtracked and said he regretted joking about it. But isn't it almost funny, what happened in California? Remember the Enron energy traders who thought it was so funny they joked about ripping off "Grandma Millie," the citizens of California, and how unfair it was that they wanted their money back? All that madness when California was caught in this hopeless bind, having to buy energy at grossly inflated prices?

If the California legislators had been stupid enough to deregulate electricity in such a disastrous way on their own, they would deserve being laughed at. But they had help -- from Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Enron spent more than $345,000 lobbying in California.

Skilling himself testified to utility commissioners that deregulation could save the state $8.9 billion: "You can triple the number of police officers in Los Angles, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego. The stakes are huge, and every minute that we delay bringing competitive markets to California allows the meter to keep ticking."

Enron was very busy creating the regulatory climate of Brazil nationwide in those years. From 1997 to 2000, 24 states adopted energy deregulation, and Enron repeatedly sent Lay and Skilling to testify. The company spent more than $1.9 million in campaign contributions to more than 700 candidates in 28 states since 1997, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Enron had a huge fleet of lobbyists and even enlisted George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas, to call Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania to lobby for deregulation. According to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, "In early 1998, Enron Corp. secured a $750,000 contract for political operatives tied to (then) House Majority Whip Tom DeLay to secretly conduct an aggressive grass-roots campaign pushing energy deregulation. … The contract was awarded after DeLay personally recommended to Enron officials that they hire the team of strategists who make up the inner circle of his political and fund-raising machine."

I doubt it will startle any citizen to read that the quality of justice in this country is deeply affected by how much you can afford to pay for it. If Zacarias Moussaoui could afford the jury coach Jeff Skilling has sitting in the courtroom, he'd doubtlessly be less at risk.

But in both cases there is the same feeling that maybe we've missed the point -- the real culprits in Moussaoui case were the FBI higher-ups who stifled the investigation and have never paid any price. In the Enron case, our political system should be a co-defendant -- campaign contributions, lobbyists, sell-outs and all.

Election-Year Investigations

An interesting semi-historical footnote concerning Dick Cheney's oft-reiterated references during the 2000 presidential campaign to President Clinton's weaseling under oath. "He knows what the meaning of 'is' is," says Cheney in his campaign stump speech to show the moral superiority of the Republican camp.

Which leads us to this story about Karl Rove, Bush's campaign manager and the man they call "Bush's brain."

Rove, as all the world knows, has been a longtime Republican political operative in Texas prior to heading to Washington with Bush. During that time, Texas Democrats noticed a pattern that they eventually became somewhat paranoid about: In election years, there always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press.

After the election was over, the allegations often vanished, although in the case of Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, three of his aides were later convicted. The investigations were conducted by FBI agent Greg Rampton, who was stationed in Austin in those years.

In 1989, Rove was nominated for a position with the federal Board for International Broadcasting. He answered a questionnaire from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was later obtained by subpoena. One of the questions was: Have you been interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative or grand jury investigation in the past 18 months? If so, provide details.

Rove responded, "This summer I met with agent Greg Rampton of the Austin FBI office at his request regarding a probe of political corruption in the office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower."

In 1991, Rove was undergoing state Senate confirmation hearings for an appointment to the East Texas State University board of regents. Sen. Bob Glasgow was questioning Rove about his work for Gov. Bill Clements in the 1986 campaign against Gov. Mark White.

A now-forgotten incident of that campaign involved a listening device allegedly found in Rove's office by a private security firm a few days before a televised debate. The case made headlines around the state. It was investigated by Rampton, who never found the alleged perpetrator.

Glasgow: "Ah, Mr. Rove, would you now tell us publicly who bugged your office that you blamed upon Mark White publicly and the press statewide?"

Rove: "Ah, first of all, I did not blame it on Mark White. If, ah, if you'll recall I specifically said at the time that we disclosed the bugging that we did not know who did it, but we knew who might benefit from it. And no, I do not know. …"

Glasgow: "And are you now satisfied that Mark White and the Democratic Party did not bug your office as you -- as you released, ah, to the newspapers?"

Rove: "Senator, I never said Mark White bugged my office, I'm not certain he has an electronic background. I never said the Democratic Party bugged it either. … As to who bugged it, Senator, I do not know -- and the FBI does not know. …"

Glasgow: "How long have you known an FBI agent by the name of Greg (Rampton)?"

Rove: "Ah, Senator, it depends -- would you define 'know' for me?" Glasgow: "What is your relationship with him?"

Rove: "Ah, I know, I would not recognize Greg (Rampton) if he walked in the door. We have talked on the phone a var- -- a number of times. Ah, and he has visited in my office once or twice, but we do not have a social or personal relationship whatsoever. …"

Glasgow: "During the Rick Perry campaign (against Jim Hightower), did you have any conversations with FBI agent Rampton about the course and conduct of that campaign?"

Rove: "Yes, I did, two or three times. …"

Glasgow: "Did you issue a press release in Washington, at a fund-raiser, about information you'd received from the FBI implicating -- implicating, ah, Hightower?"

Rove: "We did not issue a press release. … We did not issue a news release. I talked to a member of the press …"

Glasgow: "I'm gonna let you expound on anything you want to. Ah, involved in campaigns that you've been involved in, do you know why agent Rampton conducted a criminal investigation of Garry Mauro at the time you were involved in that campaign, pulled the finance records of Bob Bullock at the time you were involved in that campaign, pulled the campaign records of Jim Hightower at the time you were involved in that campaign?"

Rove: "Well, Senator, first of all, as I said before, I was not involved in either Bob Bullock or Garry Mauro's campaigns or the campaigns of their Republican opponent. I'd be hard pressed to tell you who Garry Mauro's opponent was in 1986. Ah, and I'd -- think I'd be hard pressed even to remember who Bob Bullock's opponent was in 1986. So I can't answer that part of the question. I do know that I became involved in Rick Perry's campaign in November of 1989. At that point there was already an investigation ongoing of the Texas Department of Agriculture, prompted by stories which had appeared in August and September, I believe, in The Dallas Morning News regarding the use of Texas Department of Agriculture funds."

Glasgow shifts to the Board for International Broadcasting appointment: "And in answering a question for that perspective (sic) federal appointment, did you make a claim in there that you were involved in the Hightower investigation at the request of special agent Rampton of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?"

Rove: "No, sir."

Glasgow: "You did not make that statement in response …"

Rove: "I did not, and I was …"

Glasgow: "Let me finish my question. Did you make that statement in response to a written questionnaire?"

Rove: "Ah, Senator, ah, no, I did not make that statement, but I …"

Glasgow: "Thank you very much."

Rampton, who was subsequently involved with the FBI operation at Ruby Ridge, said that he had not talked to Rove about the Hightower case. Told that Rove had so claimed in his federal questionnaire, Rampton said: "Let me think. I couldn't recall talking to him on that particular case at all. My memory, if there was a conversation we had on that case, well, I can't recall it. He was not an integral part of that case. I don't even remember bouncing anything off him as somebody who was familiar with politics in Austin."

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