Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Politics of fear

Politics of fear
Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, December 28, 2005

At year’s end, here’s a question worth pondering. Self-styled conservative Republicans dominate Washington. They currently control the White House and both houses of Congress. With the Samuel Alito nomination pending, they’ve got a good chance of turning the U. S. Supreme Court into a veritable right-wing star chamber. So how come they and their media enablers are acting like such soreheads and crybabies lately? Witness the so-called war on Christmas. This imaginary struggle was largely dreamed-up by FOX News personalities Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson. The subtitle of Gibson’s book gives the game away: “How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.” For conservatives” of Gibson’s ilk, the word “liberal” now means approximately what “Jew Communist” once meant to the Ku Klux Klan. But hold that thought. I was too busy posing disobedient basset hounds for their Santa Claus photo shoot to actually read the fool thing. But as near as I could tell, the most insidious “liberal” weapon against Christmas consists of substituting godless slogans like “Happy holidays” for “Merry Christmas.”

Never mind that “holiday” derives from “Holy Day,” in the same way “Christmas” does “Christ’s Mass.” (Or even that the White House Christmas card read “Happy Holidays.” ) It’s no longer enough to wish these knuckleheads health and happiness. Failure to actively acknowledge the superiority of Christianity to rival faiths is deemed blasphemy.

Never mind, for that matter, that according to the Catholic liturgical calendar that O’Reilly, the chief FOX News theologian, professes to revere, what he calls “the Christmas season” is actually Advent. What we’re witnessing is the mainstreaming of paranoid persecution fantasies that used to be the provenance of fringe outfits like the John Birch Society and the Klan.

As Michelle Goldberg pointed out on, the “war on Christmas” theme made its first appearance in Henry Ford’s 1921 anti-Semitic classic, “The International Jew.” The seeming irony of its now being peddled by Irish Catholics like O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan (Birchers and Klansmen feared the pope, too ) isn’t entirely new. The notoriously anti-Semitic radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, peddled the same poisonous line during the Thirties and Forties.

In a modest triumph of political repackaging, crimes once held to be exclusively Jewish—impiousness, disloyalty, cosmopolititanism, physical cowardice, sexual license, communism, etc. —are now held to be liberal. Maybe it’s even progress of a kind, because as Jewish friends are quick to observe, liberalism’s a voluntary state of mind, while the anti-Semitic undertones never go away.

In a nutshell, it’s the politics of fear. Authoritarian Catholics and fundamentalist divines of the Jerry Falwell / Pat Robertson / James Dobson persuasion now sing from the same hymnal. See, it’s not enough to be tolerant; anything but wholehearted agreement constitutes an attack on their faith. When I encounter that kind of frantic certitude, I figure it’s not me they’re working so hard to persuade.

All that I get. As I say, it’s an old story. The classic historical study of the subject is Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” What I cannot understand, however, is how the Bush White House appears to have succeeded in turning so many once-proud Americans into little whiny crybabies seemingly willing to abandon their constitutional freedoms in the name of the “war on terror.”

From the rise of Barry Goldwater onward, all we’ve heard from the American right is how we need to get government off our backs; how the scariest words in the language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you”; and how we need to wean ourselves from the government tit and strive to be rugged individualists like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, currently under indictment, once called agents of the Environmental Protection Agency the “Gestapo of government” and “a bunch of jack-booted thugs.” Then came 9/11, and what happened? My man Digby ( may have put it best: “Suddenly the he-men of Wal-Mart and the NRA leaped into Big Brother’s arms and shrieked ‘save me, save me! Do whatever you have to do, they’re trying to kill us all!’ They now look to Daddy Government... to check under the bed for them every night, reassure them that the boogeyman won’t hurt them and then read them a nice bedtime story about spreading freedom and democracy. It turns out that underneath all this swaggering bravado, the Republicans aren’t the Daddy party—they’re the baby party.” Constitution? We don’t need no stinkin’ constitution. Our dear leader, George W. Bush—the same guy who went fishing after somebody read him a Daily Briefing titled “bin Laden Determined to Strike in U. S.” —is the only guarantee we need to protect our freedoms. Just this morning, I had an e-mail from a Bush supporter who assured me that if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear. Thanks, comrade. Now I feel much better.


•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

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Vice Axes That 70's Show


We start the new year with the same old fear: Dick Cheney.

The vice president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive that if you use Google Earth's database to see his official residence, the view is scrambled and obscured. You can view satellite photos of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol - but not of the Lord of the Underworld's lair.

Vice is literally a shadow president. He's obsessive about privacy - but, unfortunately, only his own.

Google Earth users alerted The Times to this latest bit of Cheney concealment after a front-page story last week about the international fears inspired by free Google software that features detailed displays of things like government and military sites around the world.

"For a brief period," they reported, "photos of the White House and adjacent buildings that the United States Geological Survey provided to Google Earth showed up with certain details obscured." So Google replaced those images with unaltered photographs taken by a private company.

Even though the story did not mention the Cheney residence - and even though it's not near the White House - The Times ran a clarifying correction yesterday that said, "The view of the vice president's residence in Washington remains obscured."

Fitting, since Vice has turned America into a camera obscura, a dark chamber with a lens that turns things upside down.

Guys argue that women tend to stew and hold grudges more, sometimes popping up to blow the whistle on a man's bad behavior years later, like a missile out of the night, as Alan Simpson said of Anita Hill.

Yet look at Cheney and Rummy. Their steroid-infused power grabs stem from their years stewing in the Ford White House, a time when they felt emasculated because they were stripped of prerogatives.

Rummy, a Ford chief of staff who became defense secretary, and his protégé, Cheney, who succeeded him as chief of staff, felt diminished by the post-Watergate laws and reforms that reduced the executive branch's ability to be secretive and unilateral, tilting power back toward Congress.

The 70's were also a heady period for the press, which reached the zenith of its power when it swayed public opinion on Vietnam and exposed Watergate. Reporters got greater access to government secrets with a stronger Freedom of Information Act.

Chenrummy thought the press was running amok, that leaks should be plugged and that Congress was snatching power that rightfully belonged to the White House.

So these two crusty pals spent 30 years dreaming of inflating the deflated presidential muscularity. Cheney christened himself vice president and brought in Rummy for the most ridiculously pumped-up presidency ever. All this was fine with W., whose family motto is: "We know best. Trust us."

The two regents turned back the clock to the Nixon era, bringing back presidential excesses like wiretapping along with presidential power. As attorney general, John Ashcroft clamped down on the Freedom of Information Act. For two years, the Pentagon has been sitting on a request from The Times's Jeff Gerth to cough up a secret 500-page document prepared by Halliburton on what to do with Iraq's oil industry - a plan it wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.). Very convenient.

Defending warrantless wiretapping last week, the vice president spoke of his distaste for the erosion of presidential authority in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam.

"I do believe that, especially in the day and age we live in, the nature of the threats we face, it was true during the cold war, as well as I think what is true now, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," he intoned. Translation: Back off, Congress and the press.

Checks, balances, warrants, civil liberties - they're all so 20th century. Historians must now regard the light transitional tenure of Gerald Ford as the petri dish of this darkly transformational presidency.

Consider this: when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported by President Ford, pushed a plan to have the government help develop alternative sources of energy and reduce our dependence on oil and Saudi Arabia, guess who helped scotch it?

Dick Cheney. Then and now, the man is a menace.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company
The Return of Total Information Awareness - Bush Asserts Dictatorial "Inherent" Powers
by Ted Rall

NEW YORK -- Civil libertarians relaxed when, in September 2003, Republicans bowed to public outcry and cancelled Total Information Awareness. TIA was a covert "data mining" operation run out of the Pentagon by creepy Iran-Contra figure John Poindexter. Bush Administration marketing mavens had tried to dress up the sinister "dataveillance" spook squad--first by changing TIA to Terrorism Information Awareness, then to the Information Awareness Office--to no avail. "But," wondered the Electronic Frontier Foundation watchdog group a month after Congress cut its funding, "is TIA truly dead?"

At the time I bet "no." Once a regime has revealed a predilection for spying on its own people, the histories of East Germany and Richard Nixon teach us, they never quit voluntarily. The cyclical clicks that appeared on my phone line after 9/11 corroborated my belief that federal spy agencies were using the War on Terrorism as a pretext for harassing their real enemies: liberals and others who criticized their policies. As did the phony Verizon employee tearing out of my building's basement, leaving the phone switching box open, when I demanded to see his identification. He drove away in an unmarked van.

So I was barely surprised to hear the big news that Bush had ordered the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA to tap the phones and emails of such dangerously subversive radical Islamist anti-American terrorist groups as Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Indian Movement and the Catholic Workers, without bothering to apply for a warrant. "The Catholic Workers advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology," an agent wrote in an FBI dossier, a man sadly unaware of the passings of J. Edgar Hoover and the Soviet Union.

Old joke: A suspect running away from a cop ducks down a long dark alley. When the policeman's partner catches up he finds the first cop walking around in circles under a bright streetlamp. "What are you doing?" the second officer asks. "The guy ran into that alley!" "I know," his colleague replies, "but looking for him out here is a lot easier."

No wonder they haven't found Osama bin Laden. Tapping the ACLU's phones is easier than traipsing through Pakistani Kashmir.

The return of brazen Nixon-style domestic eavesdropping --it undoubtedly occurred under presidents from Ford to Clinton, though on a smaller, more discreet scale--indicates that the White House is flipping ahead to the next page in its Hitler playbook, the part about exploiting a state of perpetual war to stifle internal dissent on a vast scale. "As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants," the New York Times reports, "the NSA has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications." Maybe I should worry about the real Verizon guy too.

But then, last week, Bush also claimed the right to spy within the United States. Despite Congressional denials Bush said that the resolution that authorized him to use force to go after the perpetrators behind 9/11--which he used to invade Afghanistan--also gave him the right to listen in on Greenpeace and infiltrate a PETA seminar on veganism (yes, really). Attorney General and torture aficionado Alberto R. Gonzales cited the president's "inherent power as commander in chief."

Actually, as Peter Irons documents in his outstanding War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, the Founding Fathers never intended for the "commander in chief" to have any powers beyond ordering troops to repel an invasion force. As everyone understood in 1787, the title was strictly ceremonial. A president can't declare war, much less violate our privacy, based on his commander-in-chief "authority."

Officials of a democratic republic derive their power and authority from law. As servants of the people, they can't do anything unless it's specifically authorized by law or judicial interpretations thereof. Only in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes may a legal theory be created that imbues the leader, as the personal embodiment of the state, with "inherent" powers. For example, the Nazi "führer principle," in which the head of state was answerable to no one and the legislative and judicial branches of governments were reduced to rubber stamps, required Hitler to assign himself inherent powers.

Bush and Gonzales' interpretation of their roles is alien, un-American. Do they understand our system of government? Or are they trying to change it to something more "efficient"--something closer to authoritarian state led by a strongman, or even outright fascism?

When I first read about Bush's domestic eavesdropping operation--which he promises to continue--I did what any left-of-center Bush-bashing cartoonist and columnist would do: I filed Freedom of Information Act requests to force the FBI, CIA and NSA to cough up whatever they've got on me. After all, if the feds are going after Ancient Forest Rescue, it isn't a big stretch to surmise that they might be interested in a guy who says that George W. Bush is illegitimate, dumb as a rock and the head of a cabal of sociopathic mass murderers who've done more to destroy the United States than Osama. I'll let you know what, if anything, turns up.

Interesting tidbit: When I visited the NSA's official website, my browser warned me that I was "about to enter a site that is not secure." Ain't that the truth.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Vietnam_Head_Shot_ Still a Favorite

Click on image to see full sized. You will open a page in my "Flick'r" photo collection from where you can see hundreds of other cartoons, as well as other pictures.

The cartoonist who penned this one in 2003 was threatened by the Bush administration with loosing his job! As crazy as that sounds, he was fired earlier this year by the new editor of the LA Times who said they don't need 'another cartoonist.'

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hey, W., It's Safe! Read This.


As a Christmas present for our president, who's been going through a rough time lately, I'm not writing the column this Christmas Eve.

In keeping with a holiday tradition I began last year, I'm giving the space to my conservative brother, Kevin, who delights in turning the Gray Lady a vivid shade of red.

I asked Kevin, a salesman and father of three boys who lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, to write you, dear readers, a letter with his thoughts on the year. You will find his meditation a refreshing, or regrettable, change from me, depending on your perspective. Here it is, unexpurgated:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe it was the extended absence from the stern Franciscan nuns at Nativity grade school. But more likely it was the decorations, the songs, the movies like "A Christmas Carol" and "Miracle on 34th Street," that filled people with an unbridled joy and an unusual generosity of spirit. Christmas has generally been celebrated as both a secular and religious holiday in this country. Recently, the P.C. police have decided that the word Christ carries an unbearable religious aura, so they are working hard to strike the word entirely for the more generic Holiday. The battle for the soul of Christmas has heated up.

So first, I'd like to give a big thank you to Speaker Hastert for ordering the renamed Holiday tree to revert to its original title of Christmas tree. And why not? We do not decorate the tree for Easter or the Fourth of July. It is a Christmas tree.

We live in a country of 295 million people. Eighty percent of them are affiliated with religions. Ten percent don't believe anything at all. Who the hell does Christmas offend?

Go back two generations and you will find the real diversity that made our country the greatest in the world. Immigrants brought their customs with them and were accepted. We were taught by our parents to respect the customs and religious beliefs of other people. Let's reach around and give P.C. a swat, like an annoying child in the back seat of a long trip, before Santa and St. Patrick are casualties of war.

My mother hated political correctness. "In my day," she'd say, "people respected each other and minded their own business." Still good advice.

To the P.C. Elites: The founding fathers guaranteed Freedom OF Religion, not Freedom FROM Religion. Please go away, you are making my hair hurt.

To Target: You better check the sales and profit numbers that are CHRISTMAS related before you ban the word.

To Michael Moore, Rob Reiner, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin: When did you get back?

To MSNBC: Susan Estrich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Lanny Davis.

To Hillary: A hearty welcome to the Republican Party.

To Bill O'Reilly: Thank you for dragging the P.C. crowd into the open. Maybe they will learn that America doesn't want to be de-Godded.

To Maureen: Of course Men are Necessary; who else could write this column?

To Jesse Jackson, Sean Penn, Snoop Dog, Susan and Tim: Tookie Williams KILLED four people. Community service does not seem enough.

To Judge Jones of Pennsylvania: No Intelligent Design? You are going to be hoping for a Big Bang if St. Peter is checking ID's.

To President Bush: Stay the Course. The same people that are calling for troop withdrawal were under their beds on 9/12/01 screaming "Kill the Infidels!" Let's fight them there instead of here and bring our troops home with honor as soon as possible.

To my Mom: Thanks for teaching your children to love Christmas as much as you did.

In the 1950's, my mother used to take Maureen and me to the sloping hill outside the Church of the Nativity. There, workers had assembled a giant stable, complete with figures at least four feet high, on a bed of real straw. Driving north on 13th Street, you could see the floodlit display four blocks away. We stood and admired that display with our Jewish and Protestant neighbors. No one seemed offended. Across the top was an angel, holding a sign that said, "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men." Let's save that.

So, my friends, let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Blessed Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad and to all the rest of you: Have a nice day!


Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Arianna Huffington

2005: Things I Want To Forget

READ MORE: Valerie Plame, Tom DeLay, Tom Cruise, Supreme Court, Rep. John Murtha, Red State, New York Times, Iraq, Investigations, Intelligent Design, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane, Harriet Miers, Halliburton, Global Warming, George W. Bush, FEMA, Evolution, Dick Cheney, Bob Woodward, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Frist, Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Judith Miller

Dec. 21 -- The older I get, the more I'm convinced that the key to happiness is starting every day, if you can, with a clean slate. But it should certainly be done before the start of every new year. This task is particularly easy for me this year since forgetfulness seems to come along with the Bora Bora breeze here.

So here is my list of things from 2005 that I'd love to forget -- that, indeed, we'd all be better off never having cross our minds again:

Bill Frist, video diagnostician. Bill Frist, stock market genius. Bill Frist.

That drivers will soon have to take out a second mortgage before filling up at the gas pump.

Bill O'Reilly's enemies list. That HuffPo wasn't on it (we'll try harder next year).

That the president thought Harriet Miers was the most qualified candidate for the Supreme Court

That Harriet Miers thought George Bush was the most brilliant man she ever met.

The passage of the morally bankrupt bankruptcy bill.

That the New York Times held off running the NSA spying story for over a year.

Being Bobby Brown: "Hell to the no!"

The note President Bush passed Condoleezza Rice asking if it was okay to take a bathroom break during a UN Security Council meeting.

The missing $9 billion the U.S.-led occupation government in Iraq can't account for.

Jeff Gannon, White House correspondent -- aka Jeff Guckert,

That there is a debate about whether waterboarding is actually torture.

Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, Viveca Novak: The Three Media Stooges of Plamegate

The Fred Durst sex tape.

That 493 U.S. soldiers have died since Dick Cheney declared the insurgency was in its "last throes."

That Dick "5 deferments" Cheney was willing to go toe-to-toe with John "5 years as a POW" McCain over the issue of torture.

Jean Schmidt taking to the House floor and implying that Jack Murtha was a "coward."

That voters could have gone to the polls in 2004 knowing that Bush was spying on Americans, that a key White House aide was charged with felonies, and that the initial reasons for invading Iraq were bogus -- but didn't, thanks to the timidity of the mainstream media.

Tom Cruise vs. Brooke Shields

Tom Cruise vs. Matt Lauer

Tom Cruise vs. Oprah's couch

That, in a 60s flashback, the Pentagon is once again spying on the activities of anti-war activists.

Hillary Clinton's shameless attempts to rebrand herself as a red state friendly Democrat -- including her decision to sign on as a co-sponsor of an anti-flag burning bill.

Hillary's visit to Iraq where when she opined that suicide bombers are "an indication" of the "failure" of the insurgency, and that much of Iraq was "functioning quite well"

Hillary taking on "Grand Theft Auto."

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

That Phil Cooney, an oil-industry-lobbyist-turned-White House official, did extensive rewrites on government reports to make is sound as if global warming weren't really that big a problem.

Duke Cunningham's two defense contractor-provided 19th century French commodes.

That Paul Wolfowitz, one of the key architects of the war, has been successfully repackaged as the warm and fuzzy poverty-fighting president of the World Bank.

That thanks to Bush budget cuts, one in five military families need food stamps, or Women, Infants and Children program aid to get by.

That China has become the second largest holder of U.S. debt.

That Democrats chose the insipid "Together, America Can Do Better" as their new slogan. And that they actually paid a messaging team to come up with it.

Drilling for oil in ANWR (I've been desperately trying to forget this one since 2001, but the White House just won't let me).

Bush strumming his guitar, Condi taking in Spamalot, and Cheney shopping for luxury digs -- all while New Orleans flooded.

That Bush waited five days before visiting the Gulf following Katrina. And that once he got there, he joked about his hard-partying days, congratulated Mike Brown on doing a "heck of a job," and promised to rebuild Trent Lott's house.

Brownie's resume -- especially his stint as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

That About 40 percent of Mississippi's National Guard and 35 percent of Louisiana's -- a combined total of roughly 6,000 troops -- were unable to help out after the storm because they were in Iraq.

That the first round of Katrina cleanup and reconstruction contracts went to that old gang from Baghdad: Halliburton, Bechtel, Fluor, and the Shaw Group.

The Post-Katrina Quote Hall of Shame:

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of levees" -- G. W. Bush

"Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" -- Tom DeLay to young evacuees in the Astrodome

"This is working very well for them." -- Former First Lady Barbara Bush on Katrina evacuees

"If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god." -- Mike Brown in an email sent in the immediate aftermath of Katrina

Click here to read Part Two.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Steve Bell:

Blair in Basra 122505
Originally uploaded by AJ Franklin.
Click on image to view full size. A new window will open in "Flickr" where you can view hundreds more political cartoons and images of all types.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Tax-Cut Zombies

If you want someone to play Scrooge just before Christmas, Dick Cheney is your man. On Wednesday Mr. Cheney, acting as president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of legislation that increases the fees charged to Medicaid recipients, lets states cut Medicaid benefits, reduces enforcement funds for child support, and more.

For all its cruelty, however, the legislation will make only a tiny dent in the budget deficit: the cuts total about $8 billion a year, or one-third of 1 percent of total federal spending.

So ended 2005, the year that killed any remaining rationale for continuing tax cuts. But the hunger for tax cuts refuses to die.

Since the 1970's, conservatives have used two theories to justify cutting taxes. One theory, supply-side economics, has always been hokum for the yokels. Conservative insiders adopted the supply-siders as mascots because they were useful to the cause, but never took them seriously.

The insiders' theory - what we might call the true tax-cut theory - was memorably described by David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director, as "starving the beast." Proponents of this theory argue that conservatives should seek tax cuts not because they won't create budget deficits, but because they will. Starve-the-beasters believe that budget deficits will lead to spending cuts that will eventually achieve their true aim: shrinking the government's role back to what it was under Calvin Coolidge.

True to form, the insiders aren't buying the supply-siders' claim that a partial recovery in federal tax receipts from their plunge between 2000 and 2003 shows that all's well on the fiscal front. (Revenue remains lower, and the federal budget deeper in deficit, than anyone expected a few years ago.) Instead, conservative heavyweights are using the budget deficit to call for cuts in key government programs.

For example, in 2001 Alan Greenspan urged Congress to cut taxes to avoid running an excessively large budget surplus. Now he issues dire warnings about "fiscal instability." But rather than urging Congress to reverse the tax cuts he helped sell, he talks of the need to cut future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Yet at this point starve-the-beast theory looks as silly as supply-side economics. Although a disciplined conservative movement has controlled Congress and the White House for five years - and presided over record deficits - public opposition has prevented any significant cuts in the big social-insurance programs that dominate domestic spending.

In fact, two years ago the Bush administration actually pushed through a major expansion in Medicare. True, the prescription drug bill clearly wasn't written by liberals. To a significant extent it's a giveaway to drug companies rather than a benefit for retirees. But all that corporate welfare makes the program more expensive, not less.

Conservative intellectuals had high hopes that this year President Bush would make up for this betrayal of their doctrine by dealing a death blow to Social Security as we know it. Indeed, he tried. His proposed "reform" would, over time, have essentially phased out the program. And he seemed to have everything going for him: momentum from an election victory, control of Congress and a highly sympathetic punditocracy. Yet the drive for privatization quickly degenerated from a juggernaut into a farce.

Medicaid, whose recipients are less likely to vote than the average person getting Social Security or Medicare, is the softest target among major federal social-insurance programs. But even members of Congress, it seems, have consciences. (Well, some of them.) It took intense arm-twisting from the Republican leadership, and that tie-breaking vote by Mr. Cheney, to ram through even modest cuts in aid to the neediest.

In other words, the starve-the-beast theory - like missile defense - has been tested under the most favorable possible circumstances, and failed. So there is no longer any coherent justification for further tax cuts.

Yet the cuts go on. In fact, even as Congressional leaders struggled to pass a tiny package of mean-spirited spending cuts, they pushed forward with a much larger package of tax cuts. The benefits of those cuts, as always, will go disproportionately to the wealthy.

Here's how I see it: Republicans have turned into tax-cut zombies. They can't remember why they originally wanted to cut taxes, they can't explain how they plan to make up for the lost revenue, and they don't care. Instead, they just keep shambling forward, always hungry for more.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Squires of Surveillance

Dick and Rummy are holed up in the den of Rummy's Chesapeake Bay retreat, Mount Misery, pawing through sheafs of transcripts of wiretapped telephone conversations, hunting for inside dope.

Chinook helicopters patrol the skies above the red-brick waterfront mansion. Rummy loves the take-no-prisoners lineage of his $1.5 million getaway, built in the 19th century by Edward Covey, an evil slave owner.

Winter weekends by a crackling fire are cozy and conspiratorial, now that the two men have nearby spreads in St. Michaels, Md.

These squires of surveillance while away their evenings sipping from goblets of Glenlivet and perusing the illegally bugged phone conversations of any American they please. Getting in the holiday spirit, they're mining data to revise their naughty and nice lists.

"Check this one out, Dick," Rummy says excitedly. "I've been reading Jennifer Aniston's conversations for the last six months now, and I gotta say, I don't get what she sees in this guy Vince Vaughn. 'Wedding Crashers' was funny. They shot that here in this village, you know. But I don't trust the guy. No way he's going to give up lap dancers and be true. I just don't want to see Jen get hurt again."

Dick grunts. He's deeply absorbed in the classified reports on the F.B.I. infiltration of a Vegan Community Project and a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest against llama fur. He's ruminating over a naked picture of Pamela Anderson emblazoned with the PETA slogan, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

"Porter Goss tells me that Pam was shacking up with Mark McGrath - you know, he used to be with that band, Sugar Ray?" Rummy says. "Listen, Dick, we need to jawbone about this flapdoodle about our stateside spying operation that developed while you were on your whirlwind tour of American torture chambers in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Dick interrupts, "More torture."

"Some pansies are making unwarranted claims that we should have gotten warrants," Rummy continues. "But we can't worry about the Constitution's fine print during war. Besides, it's fun to secretly blow off the super-secret court. Sure, warrants would have been no problem - the court has turned down only five government requests since 1979. Why the dickens shouldn't we go in and eavesdrop on whoever we want? Who says we can't do sneak and peak searches whenever we dadburn please?

"Junior can try to model himself after Reagan, but you can't beat our old boss Nixon when it came to channeling paranoia in a productive way. Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover had it right: dark times call for dark measures. We're thinking too small, really. Let's sic the I.R.S. on Murtha, McCain and Feingold. Let's bug Condi and Lieberman - those back-stabbing sons-of-guns want our jobs. Condi has no clue who she's dealing with, right, Dick? I perfected the black art of infighting before Condi was born. And while we're at it, let's tap Risen's phone. His story in The Times about our wiretaps was an outrageous invasion of our privacy and an assault on our monarchy's - I mean, our executive branch's absolute power. We'll smoke out the rat who leaked that story."

Dick takes a sip of Scotch and nods. "More snooping," he says.

"Karl's new game plan of pretending to admit that we made some mistakes in Iraq seems to be working," Rummy muses. "The Kid's approval ratings are picking up. But I hope Georgie's not falling for that contrition guff he's peddling. We don't want him to go wobbly on us. We have a long way to go in Iraq. The Iraqi security forces are still curled in a fetal position. Oh, by the way, Chalabi called today. He thinks Iran did a better job trucking in stuffed ballot boxes for the Shiites than we did for the Sunnis." He adds slyly, "You'd think we'd be better by now at stealing elections."

"More fraud," Dick rumbles. "More rigged elections."

Dick points at the flat-screen TV over the roaring fireplace. It's time for their favorite Sunday night program.

"It isn't on yet, big guy," Rummy sighs. "The Kid is yakking again to the nation. He's so desperate he's pre-empting 'Desperate Housewives.' The gals won't be on for 20 minutes."

Dick glowers, sinking deep into his leather chair.

"Hey, I've got a great idea!" Rummy grins. "You wanna read a phone transcript of a big cat fight between Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan? Mueller just sent it over. Hot stuff!"

Dick perks up. Half his mouth inclines, indicating extreme joy. "More Nicollette Sheridan," he nods.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **

** Visit the Dahr Jamail Iraq website **

Iraqis Reject Increased Fuel Costs

*Inter Press Service*
Dahr Jamail and Arkan Hamed

*BAGHDAD, Dec 21 (IPS) - For two days demonstrations have continued
across Iraq in protest against the government's decision to raise the
price of petrol, cooking and heating fuels.*

With costs increased up to nine-fold, Iraq's oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr
al-Uloum has threatened to resign. Yet this has done nothing to quell
the outburst of anger in Iraqis towards the sudden and drastic price hike.

Iraq's Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told reporters that the
Cabinet raised the prices in order to curb a growing black market. Jihad
said that kerosene prices were raised fivefold, cooking gas threefold,
and diesel was raised nine-fold.

Iraqi response to the recent hiking of fuel prices has been one of
indignation and disapproval.

''Are we responsible for fuelling the American occupation forces with
petrol from our refineries?" asked Akram Mohamed, a consumer. ''Can you
believe they receive our gasoline then use it to kill our people? This
is something unacceptable to every honorable Iraqi!"

''It's a gift from the government after the elections," said Mohamed
sarcastically, ''Nobody wants the responsibility of raising the fuel
prices and they are afraid to announce it. That's why they raised it the
day after the elections."

Mohamed, who told IPS he had been driving his car as a taxi for decades,
believed the incoming government did not want to be responsible for
raising the fuel costs and believed members in the current government
were following orders from the U.S.

''This is the kind of sovereignty we Iraqis have," he added, while
waiting in a fuel line.

Announcement of the price increase on the Dec. 19 brought clashes
between police and demonstrators in Amarah, 290 km southeast of Baghdad.
When demonstrators refused to leave the front of the provincial
government headquarters, scuffles ensued.

Meanwhile in Tikrit, over 500 people protested, while demonstrators
marched in the streets of Najaf, Suleiminiyah, Kut, Kerbala, Baghdad,
Samawa and many smaller cities.

On the same day roads and petrol stations in Basra were blocked by
hundreds of demonstrators who burned tires and protested in front of the
governor's headquarters.

The price for a liter of locally produced fuel was increased seven-fold
to around 12 cents per liter.

While black market prices are already eight times the amount of those at
petrol stations, some stations in Baghdad were charging 11 times the
amount of the normal price ûa phenomenon which led many Iraqis to
believe some of the stations were taking advantage of the already huge
price increase.

Ahmed Chalabi, accused of providing false information to the Bush
Administration which led to the invasion of Iraq and who is now Iraq's
deputy Prime Minister, justified the government's decision by stating
that 330 million dollar of the funds generated by the increase would
''be redistributed to poor families''.

''I heard Ahmed Chalabi say that those of us who don't have cars are
missing out on how the government is helping the Iraqi people," said 36
year-old Ismael Hamoudi, ''To hell with that bastard for lying about
helping when so many people are now suffering; this will affect
everything in the market. Now all our food will be more expensive since
it is brought from outside the city and who will pay for the increased
transportation cost? We will, because everything will be more expensive

The Iraqi government in Baghdad has defended the move, saying it was
made in order to help jump-start the flagging economy in Iraq by
generating 500 million dollar with the move.

Shortly after protesters in Basra temporarily blocked the main road
between Basra, Amarah and Baghdad, the governor of Basra, Mohammed al-
Waeli, called an emergency provincial council meeting. During the
meeting members decided not to honor the price increases, and orders
were given to petrol stations to respect the decision.

Amjad Abdul Qadr, a 21 year-old college student at Jadriya University in
Baghdad, expressed deep concern over the higher prices.

''I'm filling my father's car now but we have no extra money anymore,"
he told IPS, ''How can we exist with prices so high?"

Since the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government has subsidized
fuel prices. However, today the U.S.-backed Iraqi government is under
pressure from the World Bank, headed by former U.S. Deputy Secretary of
Defence Paul Wolfowitz, to cut the subsidies which have been keeping the
fuel prices down.

Iraq is currently importing nearly half of all its fuel, with the
government spending over 6 billion dollar each year on the importing of
oil products from other countries.

Amjad's father, 55 year-old teacher Mr. Abdul Qadr said, ''Those
bastards ruling Iraq now are animals. I will have to keep my son from
going to school so he can work with me. I have seven girls to finance,
to hell with school. We can't find bread to feed them."

Qadr expressed worries common to many Iraqis since the announcement was
made by the government: that he should sell his car, take another job,
find a way to make both ends meet.

''We don't have our car for entertainment but for survival," he added,
''What I would like to tell the new government is that by doing this now
they are digging their graves, but they should know there will be a day
when everybody will have his revenge on them."

Less than three days after the initial announcement was made in Baghdad,
at least two more of Iraq's 18 provinces have, like Basra, rejected the
price hike.

With the southern provinces Misan, Basra and Dhi Qar having refused to
implement the government increase and Iraqis around the country seething
with anger, it appears likely other provinces will join in the rejection.

(c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail.
All images, photos, photography and text are protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to reprint Dahr's Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice and a prominent link to the website.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bush uses lies, fear-mongering to defend war in Iraq, police state measures at home

By Bill Van Auken
20 December 2005

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In his nationally televised address from the White House Oval Office Sunday night, George W. Bush reprised the barefaced lies, distortions and appeals to fear and political backwardness that characterized the last such speech delivered by the US president, announcing the onset of the unprovoked US “shock and awe” onslaught against Iraq 33 months ago.

This time around, however, Bush found himself compelled to argue against those who “conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day”—a description that applies to many millions of Americans. He was forced to acknowledge that the attempt to quell resistance to the US occupation has been “more difficult than we expected,” and, while touting the turnout in Sunday’s Iraqi parliamentary elections, he admitted that the vote “will not mean the end of violence.”

Despite fleeting acknowledgements of massive popular opposition to the war, the essential message was that the administration has no intention of bowing to public opinion and withdrawing US troops. Rather, it plans to continue the slaughter in Iraq indefinitely in pursuit of the geo-strategic aims that motivated the war in the first place.

The speech was sandwiched between Bush’s live radio address Saturday and a White House press conference Monday, both of which he used to defiantly defend his secret and illegal use of the National Security Agency to spy on US citizens, arguing for what amounts to dictatorial powers.

The media made much of Bush’s admissions about “difficulties” and “setbacks,” his claim to having heard those who “did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq” and what the Washington Post referred to as his “forthright statement” and “more humble tone.”

These trappings of the speech, like Bush’s elaborate hand gestures, were all crafted by his political handlers with the aim of deceiving a portion of the public. The essential content of the address was the defense of an illegal war based upon lies and an attempt to intimidate those who oppose it.

The essential framework of this defense was the same as that utilized to drag the American people into this war in the first place—the lie that the invasion of Iraq was a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington and constituted an essential battle in the “global war on terror.”

The tragic events of September 11—and the Bush administration’s manifest failure to take any action to prevent them—have never been seriously investigated, much less explained. One thing is certain, however: They were seized upon by the administration as a pretext for carrying out a war planned years before, which was aimed at imposing US domination over the Persian Gulf in order to seize control of its oil resources and secure a decisive strategic advantage over US capitalism’s principal economic rivals.

Now Bush attempts to portray the war in Iraq as a confrontation between the US military and Al Qaeda terrorists who, if not defeated in Iraq, would soon be attacking the US. This is patent nonsense. The Pentagon and the CIA have repeatedly acknowledged that the resistance to the US occupation is a matter of Iraqis fighting to throw foreign invaders out of their own country. Tens of thousands have been killed or imprisoned by the US military in Iraq, yet only a handful of so-called “foreign fighters” have been counted among them.

“We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists,” Bush declared in one of the more ignorant passages in his speech. “We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens, and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.”

But Iraq was no “safe haven” for terrorists before the US invasion. The relation between the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was one of mutual hostility. And, as far as Iraq today is concerned, the occupation, as US military officers readily acknowledge, is most certainly producing tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are prepared to wage an armed struggle against American troops. Relatives of the innocent civilians killed at roadblocks and by bombing attacks, massacred in sieges like Fallujah or imprisoned and tortured in Abu Ghraib and other US concentration camps provide an inexhaustible source of recruits for the resistance.

Connected to the lie about the war in Iraq’s supposed connection to September 11 and terrorism is the assertion that the administration acted upon flawed intelligence. Bush acknowledged that the claims about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq were false, only to dismiss this fact as irrelevant.

“Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. And as your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq,” he said. “Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

The intelligence, however, was not merely “wrong,” it was deliberately fabricated in order to provide a phony justification for the war—Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction—and to terrorize the American people into accepting it.

In his speech, Bush tried to explain away the manufacturing of false intelligence by claiming that Saddam Hussein had “systematically concealed those programs and blocked the work of UN weapons inspectors,” and that “that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.”

The reality is that the weapons inspectors did the job that they were assigned, destroying all of Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons stockpiles. As for other nations, the great majority viewed Iraq as posing no imminent threat, and therefore blocked the Bush administration’s attempts to get the UN to authorize an invasion. The UN weapons inspectors themselves refuted the claims made by Washington.

Bush insists that the fact the war was waged on the basis of lies is of no consequence because the happy result is that the US intervention is establishing a “constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East” that “will serve as a model of freedom” for the region. This is also a lie.

First, the regime that is taking shape in Iraq—dominated by religious fundamentalists, torn by bitter sectarian divisions and ruling through the use of death squads and torture chambers—is hardly a model of democracy or freedom for anyone. Secondly, the US secures its interests throughout the region through the closest alliances with despots and dictators, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Pakistan.

The rest of the speech consisted largely of jingoistic bluster and attempts at political intimidation. The president employed his usual cheap trick of portraying any attempt to end a dirty war that has claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 American soldiers as a betrayal of the troops.

“Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost,” he said, adding, “We would undermine the morale of our troops by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed.”

The morale of “our troops” found a more accurate expression during Vice President Dick Cheney’s lighting visit to Iraq on the same day Bush gave his speech. Addressing US troops, Cheney—whose trip was conducted in secrecy and under extraordinary military protection—assured them the resistance was in its “last throes.”

Press reports portrayed a sullen uniformed audience, however. Among those selected to address questions to the vice president was a Marine corporal who said to Cheney, “From our perspective, we don’t see much as far as gains” in the war. “I was wondering what it looks like from the big side of the mountain.”

Another Marine, asked the vice president, “Sir, what are the benefits of doing all this work to get Iraq on its feet?”

In its report on the meeting, the Associated Press provided a graphic illustration of the skepticism and outright hostility of many soldiers to the administration’s war: “When he [Cheney] delivered the applause line, ‘We’re in this fight to win. These colors don’t run,’ the only sound was a lone whistle.”

Bush likewise used his prime time speech to brand anyone who opposed his declared policy of war until victory as a “defeatist,” guilty of endangering “the security of our people.”

The speech had the desired effect upon the Democratic Party, whose leadership has made it clear that it has no intention of mounting a challenge to Bush over the war. Leading Democrats praised Bush for his supposed new-found conciliation and “candor.” A typical reaction was that of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who said, “The president has reached out and spoken more directly than ever before about how we went to war and why it is important to achieve victory, a goal we all share.”

In an interview with the Washington Post published last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat, California) made it clear that her declaration of support for a resolution put forward by Democratic Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania calling for a US military withdrawal in six months did not signal a party position. Rather, she said, Democrats’ attitude toward the war would be a “matter of individual conscience.” In other words, the party will do all in its power to downplay the war, which is overwhelmingly opposed by Democratic voters, in the 2006 midterm elections. The last thing the party leadership wants is for the elections to become a referendum on the war.

Despite the Democrats’ support for the continuation of the war, the Bush administration is well aware that this bipartisan position is deeply unpopular among a vast section of the American population.

To counter this mass opposition, the administration has chosen to launch a campaign of fear-mongering coupled with calls for ever greater police state powers. This is the significance of its decision to go on the offensive over the revelations of the illegal domestic spying operation mounted by the National Security Agency under Bush’s orders.

In a one-hour press conference Monday that was dominated by the NSA revelations, Bush mentioned the September 11 attacks at least 15 times, claiming that after the terrorist attacks, the US was at war, and that he required extraordinary powers to protect the American people. He insisted, essentially, that his constitutional role as “commander in chief” coupled with the Congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Al Qaeda gave him limitless power.

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in defending the NSA spying operation, dismissed concerns over the legality of domestic espionage by pointing out that the US Supreme Court had already upheld the president’s power to declare US citizens “enemy combatants” and secretly detain them indefinitely without charges.

At the press conference, one reporter asked Bush, “If the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we’re going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?”

Bush responded angrily to what he termed “ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president.” As for checks on presidential power, he declared, there is the “check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters”—in other words, a government over whose activities there is no enforceable oversight and whose word is supposed to be accepted on faith by the people.

Bush reserved his greatest anger, however, for those in the Senate who, citing threats to civil liberties, blocked the reauthorization of provisions of the USA Patriot Act. “I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to explain why these cities are safer” without the renewal of these measures, he said.

Speaking on Monday, Cheney made a similar criticism. Appearing on the ABC news program “Nightline,” he declared, “What I’m concerned about . . . is that as we get farther and farther from 9/11 . . . we seem to have people less and less committed to doing everything that’s necessary to defend the country.”

Taken together, these statements have an ominous significance. Desperate regimes take desperate measures. Facing mass opposition and besieged on all sides by revelations of criminal activities ranging from torture to secret prisons to illegal spying, the Bush administration is responding with a drumbeat of warnings that September 11 could happen again. The question is whether this administration is preparing to either engineer or allow such an attack as a means of suppressing domestic dissent and furthering its policies of militarism abroad and reaction at home.
(emphasis added by aj)

See Also:
Bush defends illegal spying on Americans: the specter of presidential dictatorship
[19 December 2005]

Don't worry you son of a bitch. We all want to know who leaked it so you can fire them.

Bush calls leak of spy program 'shameful' - The Boston Globe: "Bush calls leak of spy program 'shameful'
Eavesdropping program aids war on terror, he says

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | December 20, 2005

WASHINGTON -- President Bush used his year-end news conference yesterday to resume his public relations offensive against his critics, saying he wants the Justice Department to find out who committed the ''shameful act' of leaking word that he secretly approved a special program to spy on US citizens, and blasting senators who have blocked the renewal of the Patriot Act."

(Lying, felonious mother fucker. The world won't sleep easily until he is stretching a rope after a war crimes tribunal finds him guilty on 1000 or so illegal murders and violations of every constitutional constraint on a "President" that exists in the constitution. What a hypocrite!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tankers on the Take

Not long ago Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Policy Innovation, seemed on the verge of becoming a conservative icon. Before the Bush administration's sales pitch for Social Security privatization fell flat, admiring articles about the Bush plan's genesis often gave Mr. Ferrara credit for starting the privatization movement back in 1979.

Now Mr. Ferrara has become a different sort of icon. BusinessWeek Online reports that both Mr. Ferrara and Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, were paid by the ubiquitous Jack Abramoff to write "op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients."

Now, I never had any illusions about intellectual integrity in the world of right-wing think tanks. It has been clear for a long time that so-called analysts at many of these think tanks are, in effect, paid to support selected policies and politicians. But it never occurred to me that the pay-for-play schemes were so blatant.

In fact, most deals between lobbyists and conservative intellectuals probably aren't that blatant. For the most part, people employed by right-wing think tanks don't have to be specifically paid to support certain positions, because they understand that supporting those positions comes with the job. Senior fellows at Cato don't decide, after reconsidering the issue, that Social Security shouldn't be privatized. Policy analysts at the Heritage Foundation don't take another look at the data and realize that farmers and small-business owners have nothing to gain from estate tax repeal.

But it turns out that implicit deals between think tanks and the interests that finance them are sometimes, perhaps often, supplemented with explicit payments for punditry. In return for Abramoff checks, Mr. Bandow and Mr. Ferrara wrote op-ed articles about such unlikely subjects as the entrepreneurial spirit of the Mississippi Choctaws and the free-market glories of the Northern Mariana Islands.

BusinessWeek Online doesn't mention it, but earlier this year an article by Franklin Foer in The New Republic titled "Writers' Bloc," which tracked Mr. Abramoff's remarkable ability to get his clients favorable treatment on op-ed pages, pointed out that Mr. Ferrara endorsed another odd cause: U.S. friendship with Malaysia. (I've checked, and Mr. Bandow did the same.) I was particularly interested in that one, since a couple of years ago right-wingers accused me of having been a paid agent of the Malaysian regime. I wasn't, but Mr. Abramoff reportedly was.

Mr. Bandow has confessed to a "lapse of judgment" and resigned from Cato. But neither Mr. Ferrara nor his employer believe that he did anything wrong. The president of Mr. Ferrara's institute told BusinessWeek Online that "I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements." Alas, he's probably right.

Let's hope that journalists set out to track down those people with "similar arrangements," and that as they do, they don't fall into two ever-present temptations.

First, if the latest pay-for-punditry story starts to get traction, the usual suspects will claim that liberal think tanks and opinion writers are also on the take. (I'm getting my raincoat ready for the slime attack on my own ethics I'm sure this column will provoke.) Reporters and editors will be tempted to give equal time to these accusations, however weak the evidence, in an effort to appear "balanced." They should resist the temptation. If this is overwhelmingly a story about Republican lobbyists and conservative think tanks, as I believe it is - there isn't any Democratic equivalent of Jack Abramoff - that's what the public deserves to be told.

Second, there will be the temptation to ignore the backstory - to treat Mr. Abramoff as a rogue, unrepresentative actor. In fact, before his indictment, Mr. Abramoff wasn't off on his own. He wasn't even a lobbyist in the traditional sense; he's better described as a bag man, running a slush fund for Tom DeLay and other Republican leaders. The point is that there really isn't much difference between Mr. Abramoff's paying Mr. Ferrara to praise the sweatshops of the Marianas and the Department of Education's paying Armstrong Williams to praise No Child Left Behind. In both cases, the ultimate paymaster was the Republican political machine.

And inquiring minds want to know: Who else is on the take? Or has the culture of corruption spread so far that the question is, Who isn't?

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Hot Monkey Love


As President Bush tries to shake off his dazed look and regain his swagger, he will no doubt dust off his cowboy routine: his gunslinger pose, his squinty-eyed gaze, his dead-or-alive one-liners, his Crawford brush clearing.

But this time, he may want to think twice before strapping on a Texas-shaped belt buckle. W. might inadvertently conjure up images of Bushback Mountain.

The High Plains, one of the few remaining arenas where men were men, may now evoke something more ambiguous, like men with men. After "Brokeback Mountain," pitching that pup tent on the prairie will never seem the same.

Can a culture built on laconic cowboys like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood survive one rough-hewn cowboy crooning to another, as Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist tells Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar, "Sometimes I miss you so much, I can hardly stand it," and, "I wish I knew how to quit you"?

The Duke's tough "Pilgrim, you could've gotten somebody killed today and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth" has a different ring than Jake's vulnerable entreaty, "It could be like this, just like this, always."

Hmm. Maybe it's time to take another look at that sway in John Wayne's stride.

Everything will have to be re-evaluated. "High Plains Drifter" now sounds like a guy who might get arrested in a bus station bathroom. And audiences may be ready for "The Good, the Bad and the Bad Hair Day."

For decades, Republicans have had electoral success exploiting the simplistic frontier myth. Ronald Reagan galloped in from the West to rescue Washington. Dick Cheney's aides cast him as the stoic rancher who would blast a shotgun at rustlers if they messed with his cattle.

In 2004, the G.O.P. convention was staged like "The Magnificent Seven," with a gunslinging posse - including Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain - riding in with W. and Vice to save the town from the black hats. Poor John Kerry had to fall back on sailor imagery, skippering a boat into Boston and saluting the crowd with "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." At least he managed not to use the Village People's "In the Navy" as his theme song.

A president who hates dissonance, who prefers a world in black and white, is now confronted by confusing gray shades everywhere he looks.

Hollywood is busy sensitizing - and emotionally layering - archetypal macho guys, including our most famous alpha male. He's still strong and decisive. His back's as hairy as ever. But it's just not the same Kong.

This lovable overgrown monkey is more like the brooding, wounded and steadfast romantic heroes Heathcliff and Rick Blaine. Like Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy, Peter Jackson's big ape goes for gals with spunk. He likes babes who juggle more than jiggle.

This gorilla doesn't go around tossing "gorilla dust," as Ross Perot used to call it, just to get into another alpha's space. He doesn't look for a T. rex simply to rip its jaws apart - he only protects his loved ones. He'd rather hang out on his mountain, enjoying the sunset and watching his gal juggle and do pratfalls.

In a way, the new images of alpha archetypes are subversive precisely because the cowboys and the king of the jungle remain macho even as they become more nuanced.

The latest Kong waits for the blonde to come to him. "This time, he really seems to have the qualities of a hero in a woman's romance - he's distant, he's suffering, he's aloof," says Cynthia Erb, a professor and the author of "Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture."

As the hairy antihero grows more sensitive with each remake, the Ann Darrow character gets more sexual and aggressive. "She goes from a naïve, innocent, screaming, virginal character in the 30's to a sexually free, liberated feminist woman in the 70's," Ms. Erb notes. "In this one, she has the benefits of feminism and is the one who in some ways initiates the courtship. She actually works to earn his interest." And tries to save him.

For all its dazzling digital spectacle, "King Kong" is not as daring as it could be. Peter Jackson could have made Kong a woman. Or, while he was borrowing "Titanic" imagery for the lovers' parting on the Empire State Building, he could have gone all the way and made "Brokeback Island."

Just picture it: Leonardo DiCaprio, blond, doe-eyed and smitten, curled in the ape's epicene yet hairy grip. Kong, swinging both ways.

John Tierney is on vacation.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company