George W. Bush

2008 08 09
Recently read: “The Dark Side”

Jane Mayer. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

After the scandal of Abu Grieb, the Bush administration insisted that the torture and abuse of detainees had been the work of a few bad apples. But of course the abuse was only a manifestation of a much deeper rot, for which top officials bore primary responsibility. I’ve sometimes had the impression of similar excuse-making in the attitudes of even some of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration, in the claim that the Bush administration represents a radical and unprecedented break with the past. It strikes me as naive to depict the Bush administration as a few bad apples, in an otherwise upright tradition legal and ethical conduct. On the contrary, the Bush administration seems to me part of a larger moral and legal rot that is systemic, and has unfortunately deep roots in American political culture (alongside much more admirable tendencies and traditions).

Jane Meyer’s new book The Dark Side has helped me to reflect on, and to a certain extent, modify, these assumptions. Mayer is familiar with the Church Committee, and with past American abuses of power. She doesn’t base her argument for a significant break with the past on what the Bush administration has done so much as on the legal arguments that the administration has advanced, most often in secrecy, to defend and support its policies. Much of this is new, and its long-term consequences are likely to be wretched.

A great deal of the action in Mayer’s book is, for this reason, legal. The new legal doctrines advanced by David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel for the period covered by the book, and John Yoo, among others, were fiercely resisted by other lawyers in the administration. Meyer meticulously details the legal arguments and maneuvers used by various parties to this debate against the background of events in the so-called War on Terror.

Mayer book is, as far as I can tell, balanced, careful, and accurate, while rarely engaging in the pointless he-said/she-said style of reporting that so many journalists use to avoid the implications of their reporting. When an official lies, she points it out, clearly and unequivocally. A book like this is difficult to ignore, if you care at all about moral and legal issues surrounding torture and the Bush administration’s policies. If even a quarter of the book is accurate, the United States would only need to be a country serious about following its own laws for hundreds of people, from the President on down, to be put on trial for torture and other serious crimes.

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2007 01 16
We Have an Opportunity to Deal a Serious Blow to Democracy

Here’s a video of an “early draft” of Bush’s speech. Parts too cutesy, parts of it very sad.

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2005 05 31
Bush and the Amnesty Report

I see that Bush apparently doesn’t think much of the recent Amnesty Report blasting his administration for Guantanamo, etc. etc. etc. Not too long ago, Timothy Burke wrote a very nice post on a relatively neglected aspect of the larger debate about torture and abuse. It’s unfortunate that Bush doesn’t understand the main point Burke makes there.

Update: Ah, and if there’s anything to this, then it’s an even greater shame that Bush doesn’t get Burke’s point.

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2005 02 24
Lamest Bushism ever

They’ve really outdone themselves with this one. What the hell is wrong with saying what Bush said?

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 02 08
Uniquely American

On Feb. 4, 2005, President Bush was in Omaha, Nebraska participating in “a conversation on strengthening social security,” during which there was an amazing exchange:

THE PRESIDENT: Good. Okay, Mary, tell us about yourself.

MS. MORNIN: Okay, I’m a divorced, single mother with three grown, adult children. I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters.

THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. First of all, you’ve got the hardest job in America, being a single mom.

MS. MORNIN: Thank you. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You and I are baby boomers.

MS. MORNIN: Yes, and I am concerned about — that the system stays the same for me.

[Interlude of President airily trying to explain that SS will stay the same after he dismantles it.]

THE PRESIDENT: And so thank you for asking that. You don’t have to worry.

MS. MORNIN: That’s good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, hopefully, this will help you get you sleep to know that when we talk about Social Security, nothing changes.

MS. MORNIN: Okay, thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.

So working three jobs to support oneself and one’s “mentally challenged” son is a “fantastic,” “uniquely American” achievement? You know what else President Bush has called “uniquely American”? Let’s see, there’s Harley Davidsons, and, oh yeah, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein:

I say uniquely American issue because I truly believe that now that the war has changed, now that we’re a battlefield, this man poses a much graver threat than anybody could have possibly imagined. Other countries, of course, bear the same risk. But there’s no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us. There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.

The existence of working poor in this country is what we get when our president sees a defanged dictator as a uniquely American threat, and sees a woman working three jobs–who is, as she puts it, “unfortunately” near retirement–as a uniquely American achievment.

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2005 01 27
What about Poland makes Bush lie?

I have a t-shirt that says, in big red letters on the front: “Bush Lies”. Because I’m now living in Arlington, VA, those who notice it usually approve. But I wear it other places, too, and I am sometimes asked to defend the shirt’s thesis.

I mention this because one year ago today, on my birthday, Bush said one of the lies that makes my list. Here’s the list I typically give. Add your own in the comments section–that is, if you’re not sick and tired of talking about the moron.

1. “[B]y far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum.” (Said during 2000 campaign.) Not true, as demonstrated here, and here.

2. [This one might be my favorite, because it’s soooo brazen in the face of the truth:] Bush WH press conference, March 6, 2003:

He’s a master at deception. He has no intention of disarming — otherwise, we would have known. There’s a lot of talk about inspectors. It really would have taken a handful of inspectors to determine whether he was disarming — they could have showed up at a parking lot and he could have brought his weapons and destroyed them. That’s not what he chose to do.

Here’s what was really going on:

yesterday Iraq, reluctantly, agreed to the destruction of four of its outlawed al-Samoud 2 missiles. At a military base just outside Baghdad, bulldozers were brought in to crush the missiles under supervision of the UN.

A potential timetable to destroy the remaining 100-plus al-Samoud 2 missiles was also discussed with the UN. Around 50 of the missiles are with Iraqi forces scattered around the country and will have to be brought in to be destroyed…

And what chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called “a very significant piece of real disarmament”, the US called “propaganda wrapped in a lie inside a falsehood”, and the UK called “a cynical attempt to divide the Security Council.” I can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

3. Bush, to Polish journalist, May 29, 2003:

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.

Of course, they had no reason to think that was true, and good reason to think it was false. They certainly had no reason to state it as true. (Recall that Cheney was still claiming, in January of 2004, that those mobile labs were “conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.”

4. Bush, in WH press conference with Polish President, January 27, 2004:

I was hoping the United Nations would enforce its resolutions, one of many. And then we went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution — 1441 — unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.

5. Who knows if Bush himself knew about this, but I don’t really care. My fifth lie is the the lie the Bush Administration told Congress to get its Medicare prescription drug benefit passed. They said that it would cost $400 billion over 10 years, when in fact it was expected to cost $500 billion to $600 billion. But, not only did they lie about the cost, they threatened to fire the Medicare actuary who wanted to tell Congress about the true costs before they voted on it.

We might also add, in connection, the Administration’s production and distribution of “fake news broadcasts”. The GAO–our government’s official watchdog–has rebuked Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy for disseminating “fake news” segments designed to convince voters of their policies. The Administration has also just come under fire for paying so-called ‘independent’ commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to defend No Child Left Behind in his syndicated columns and radio show. Bush now says that, “we didn’t know about this in the White House.” That’s curious, given Bush Press Secretary, Scott McClellan’s response to inquiries about the matter with: “There are also questions about whether or not this commentator should have been disclosing this information publicly.”

6. And now I’ll add his claim that Social Security faces a crisis and is “flat bust, bankrupt”. Of course, that’s not even close to true either.

Well, that’s good for now. Of course there are others. But I said my gift to myself today was an abiding sense of abiding self-satisfaction from having worked so hard on my dissertation. So I’m off.

Howls of outrage (6)

2005 01 24

There was a time when Slate’s “Bushisms” feature was funny. They almost all seem lame now – many very lame. About as lame as today’s.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 01 21
Bush’s Speech

According to the editors of the New York Times, “Americans who did not vote for the man who’s being sworn in” are “called upon to acknowledge the chief executive, and at least come to terms with the process that got him there.” Apparently, then, even President Bush’s opponents are supposed to kick back, confident in the fact that his continued occupation of the White House is the result of a free and fair election, which in turn betokens “the basic principles that unite our country,” in the words of the editors. Yet relaxation comes hard for those who worry about election fraud in (e.g.) Ohio, Bush’s opponent’s milksop campaign (which included $15 million in unspent campaign funds), and the corporation-financed election that had both major candidates toeing the big-business- and Israel-friendly neoliberal line. If these are the basic principles that unite our country, one will have to forgive the restiveness that some of us find in our souls�yes, even on inauguration day.

Bush’s speech featured a number of rhetorical devices and turns of phrase that would rightly have irked his opponents. For instance, after conjuring images of the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of blacks and women, Bush proclaimed that universal suffrage “is the honorable achievement of our fathers.” Were not women involved with�indeed at the front of�these struggles? And what, exactly, is the nature of that “untamed” fire of freedom that “burns” those who fight against it? Should not the “force of freedom” have a steady, even hand, more reminiscent of a lion tamer than the beast he tries to break? And does Bush really want to pretend that while Americans are “tested” they are “not weary” from the tribulations of the “war on terror”? The claim to perpetual vigor and vibrancy might strike Army Reserve’s top general, Lt. Gen. James “Ron” Helmly, as odd, given his declaration that the Army Reserves–constituting 40 percent of the forces in Iraq–is fast becoming a “broken force”.

But Bush’s speech contained more that was dangerous than even these justified complaints capture. It was a speech outlining the tenets of a biblical mission, undertaken by an Emperor who’s own sense of destiny absolves him of the need to consider the consequences�even the consequences for liberty itself�of his policies.

According to Mr. Bush’s worldview, there is no need to answer for actions done in the name of liberty. �We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation. The moral choice [is] between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.� This perspective has been eminently evident with regard to Iraq. The President frequently reminds journalists and opponents that �Saddam had a choice to make…� Once Saddam made the wrong choice, he alone is responsible for the consequences of the actions of those who, in the words of the speech, �do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny.�

While this way of thinking seems to weigh with many Americans when the topic is foreign policy, it rightly generates second-thoughts if applied to familiar situations at home. Imagine a bank-robber that has taken thirty people hostage as the result of a failed heist. The gunman’s �moral choice� is of course clear: he is in the wrong, and should give himself up and free his hostages. But what does being �on the side of good� mean for the conduct of the police, who’ve got the bank surrounded? Do they storm the place, not knowing how the gunman will react, or even how their own actions in the face of uncertainty will affect the innocent lives involved? Or do they temper their trigger fingers out of respect for the risk that their actions will do more harm than good? Police officers receive daily reminders that being on the side of good answers few practical questions.

Given this demonstration of the world’s moral complexity, Mr. Bush’s image of the �fire of freedom� was, it turns out, especially apt. For while in Bush’s view the fire of freedom infallibly �warms those who feel its power� and �burns those who fight its progress,� those of us who live in the real world know that playing with fire can be exceedingly harmful, even if it is lit by those with good intentions.

Conservatives often accuse liberals of ignoring reality and the real nature of man. Liberals are guided by their heart, whereas conservatives are guided by their heads. But if there is one thing that Bush’s speech made clear, it is that there is nothing the head could say to Bush that could tame the flame of freedom that burns in his heart: not the fact that the before-and-after pictures of Aceh province resemble the before-and-after pictures of Falluja; not the fact that tens of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives, and thus their prospect for liberty; not the fact dropping bombs on Mesopotamia and occupying Babylon serve effectively as recruiting posters for those who wish us harm (a point made over and over by policy and military advisers before the war, and finally admitted�begrudgingly�by Bush in the past week).

For my part, the most dangerous passage of the speech was this: �The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did, ‘Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.� It is dangerous because it connects Bush’s fundamentalist mission with Lincoln’s fight against slavery. It uses Lincoln’s rhetoric to conjure the image of an impetuous God who believes that freedom should not hesitate when it’s �on the march�. But consider: what would Americans now think of Bush-style liberation if instead of Lincoln’s waging a civil war, that good Christian Nation, Great Britain, had shocked and awed southern slave-owners (and their families, and their slaves, and their friends, and…) by unleashing its arsenal of cruise missiles and cluster bombs on their manors and plantations? My assumption is that the experience of those alternate-universe Americans would never have tolerated Bush’s �liberation� of Iraq, nor his plans to keep freedom on the march.

Despite the New York Times’s editor’s approval of the �universal� themes of Bush’s speech, there is much reason to fear its lofty rhetoric and goals. For Bush simply repeated and strengthened his belief that he who is on the side of good does no wrong. If that belief is indeed the motivating factor of �the great liberating tradition of this nation��as it indeed appears to be�then it belongs in the trash bin next to the Times’s editorial.

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2005 01 16
Bush on the election

From the WaPo today:

President Bush said the public’s decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

“We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections,” Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me.”

What is disturbing is that he actually has a point. A man with a sense of shame would feel differently, of course. It would matter to him to keep members of his own government accountable for their various failures even when the electorate has chosen not to. But he has a point. He has a point. And that is why I can hardly bear to read the news any more, or to write about it.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 01 13
C’mon baby. You know I would never hurt you…

Posted by in: George W. Bush

The guy just can’t say he’s sorry. He just can’t.

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2005 01 12
Bush on Religion, the Presidency, and Fairness

Bush on religion and the presidency in the Washington Times (via Dan Froomkin):

“I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit,” Bush said.

“That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have or one of the greatest freedoms is the right to worship the way you see fit.

“On the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord.”

“I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person,” Bush said. “I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that. I think that’s just the way it is.”

Just the way what is? Just what people say? Or just what it does in fact take to be patriotic?

Another tid-bit from a WaPo article today:

Bush argued that his Social Security plan would be a boon to black men, whose life expectancy is about six years shorter than that of white men. Under his plan, people could pass the private accounts from one generation to the next. “African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people,” Bush said. “And that needs to be fixed.”

Yeah, Bush, a real civil rights hero. Sadly, the “fairness” Bush refers to here is the same fairness that is lacking when Bill Gates (counterfactually) pays into the social security system but receives no check, you know, because he’s filthy rich already. It’s the same sort of fairness that is lacking when employers have to pay half of an employee’s social security contribution, instead of leaving the employer to “take ownership” of her own future well-being. (Don’t be naive: we all know that the “employer contribution” is paid for by reducing an employees wages.) It’s the same sort of fairness that is MIA when Wal-Mart is forced to pay minimum wages, instead of what they could pay the poor if they were granted full freedom of contract. It is not the fairness that ensures that citizens enjoy an equality of citizenship and respect within their political community. It is rather an atomistic, economic fairness that prescribes the trading of “economic equivalents for economic equivalents”, and nothing more. Don’t be naive: this Social Security hubbub is not about a system that is in crisis; it is about a system that does not jibe with the radical Right’s pornographically individualistic conception of fairness.

UPDATE: Today’s Progress Report tells of the cancellation by newly minted Republican governors in Indiana and Missouri of the collective bargaining rights of tens of thousands of state workers. You can also find there information about the Bush Administration’s Labor Relations Board’s bias toward business over the unionizing rights of workers.

UPDATE II: The Daily Show on Bush’s “African-American Male life expectancy” quote: “Sure, nevermind attempting to address the causes of lower life expectancy for African-American males. The solution is to just give them private retirement accounts, so that they can better enjoy their sunshine year.” (paraphrase)

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 12 01
Bush:American People ::Kim Jong Il: Kim’s father


Interviews with dozens of North Korean refugees in China and South Korea reveal a popular disillusionment with Kim…They suggest he hid the collapse of the economy in the 1980s from his father by feeding him a string of false statistics. People first began starving to death in the 1980s, but Kim Jong Il persuaded his father to accelerate the nuclear-weapons program and inflate the size of the military.

Other notable news is that while Kim Jong Il does seem to be toning down the cult rhetoric, he “continues to be addressed with more than a thousand honorifics such as ‘The Lodestar of the 21st Century’ and ‘Guardian of Our Planet.’

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 11 04
In poor taste

Cheney, in a rare moment of accession, lets George go out on a joy ride.

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2004 10 30
Bush, Kerry and secrets

The invaluable Secrecy News contrasts Kerry and Bush on the issue of government secrecy. The whole thing is also below the fold:
Continue Reading »

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2004 10 30
Silly Matthew Yglesias

Silly Matthew Yglesias thinks that the fact that OBL is still around to taunt Bush is a sign of weakness:

The most interesting thing about the Osama tape is the reference to My Pet Goat. That business was, even when Michael Moore did it, closer to being a joke than a serious argument. So now Osama’s cracking jokes at our expense. He’s not afraid, he’s not injured, he’s not on the run, he doesn’t worry that the courier that delivers his videotapes might betray him, or that the local government wherever he is is going to find him. He’s sitting — wounds healed, shura council reconstituted, ideological network growing — and he’s laughing at us.

Capturing OBL is not the be-all and end-all of the war on terrorism, but if you want to know what kind of weakness invites the wolves in for supper, then you saw it right there on video. A man plots and organizes the slaughter of thousands of Americans and three years later there he is, distributing his latest threats and boasts over a global satellite network. Laughing at us. At all of us. And all because the president couldn’t be bothered to nab him.

But we know that what Yglesias says is false because Republicans are almost by definition stronger on national defense. At least, that’s how they’ve defined themselves, and if there were anything objectionable in that I’m pretty sure the media would have called them on it by now.

Once we think about things this way, we can help ourselves to a theory with an incredible amount of explanatory power: It helps us understand why J.F.K. cravenly backed down over the Cuban missile crisis (after coming to power by foolishly assuring everyone that there was no gap in Soviet and American military capabilities); it explains why Johnson deescalated the conflict in Vietnam; why Reagan stood firm after the attacks in Lebanon; and so on and so forth. Finally, this powerful theory explains why Bush is not weak, even though if bin Laden were now taunting President Gore on a video a few days before the election, no one would be able to stop making comparisons to Jimmy Carter. And no one – absolutely no one – would imagine that he had any hope of reelection. Rightly so, too. Gore’s a democrat, and we know what they’re like: they’re weak.

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