Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a New Day (Enhanced) - will.i.am

Obama Inauguration Speech

The Price Of Their Security

The Price Of Their Security
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
Tuesday, December 23, 2008; Page A17

Understanding isn't the same as forgiving. The history-be-my-judge interviews that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been giving recently help me understand why they acted with such contempt for our Constitution and our values -- but also reinforce my confident belief, and my fervent hope, that history will throw the book at them.

The basic argument that they're making deserves to be taken seriously. I don't think either man would object to my summing it up in one sentence: We did what we did to keep America safe.

That terse formulation of the Bush-Cheney apologia leaves out important details. Cheney came into office with preconceived ideas about restoring executive branch powers and prerogatives that he believed had been lost after Vietnam and Watergate; Bush either shared Cheney's views or was willing to go along. But the main narrative of the Bush presidency began with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists -- the worst such assault ever on American soil.

In a not-for-attribution chat I had with a member of the Bush Cabinet a couple of years ago, conversation turned to Sept. 11. I said something like, "I can imagine what that day must have felt like for you." The response was immediate: "No, you can't."

The official went on to describe the chaos and anguish -- the shock of seeing the 110-story World Trade Center towers collapse into rubble, the fear that other hijacked planes might still be in the air, the gut feeling that the president and those around him were personally under attack. The official talked of how the president and his aides racked their memories to think of anything they might have done differently to prevent the attacks. I doubt that anyone in the White House Situation Room actually quoted Malcolm X, but essentially a vow was taken to protect the country from another assault "by any means necessary."

These were human reactions, understandable and appropriate at the time. The truth is that the administration had missed signs that an attack was brewing -- most famously, the president's daily brief titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But these portents were lost amid the avalanche of information that buries every president every single day. Anyone in Bush's position would have been filled with grief, anger and resolve.

Initial reactions are supposed to give way to reasoned analysis, however. For Bush and most of his top aides, this didn't happen until far too late.

For Cheney, apparently it never happened at all. In an interview broadcast Sunday, he invited Fox News' Chris Wallace to "go back and look at how eager the country was to have us work in the aftermath of 9/11 to make certain that that never happened again." People have since become "complacent," he said, but the administration's actions have "produced a safe 7.5 years, and I think the record speaks for itself."

That record, admirably, includes the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the dismantling of al-Qaeda's infrastructure and the killing or capture of some of the terrorist organization's most important operatives. Shamefully, however, it also includes the violation of international and U.S. legal norms by subjecting terrorism suspects to indefinite detention and cruel, painful interrogation; the creation of a mini gulag of secret CIA-run prisons abroad; and unprecedented domestic surveillance without court supervision -- all justified, Cheney maintains, by a state of "war" that has no foreseeable end.

The Bush-Cheney record also includes the invasion of a country -- Iraq -- that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sept. 11. This misadventure has claimed more than 4,000 American lives, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and grievously damaged our strategic position in the Middle East. In an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News this month, Bush claimed credit for vanquishing al-Qaeda's forces in Iraq. When Raddatz pointed out that there were no al-Qaeda forces in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion, the president answered, "Yeah, that's right. So what?"

Here's so what: Bush and Cheney, understandably shaken by an unprecedented act of terrorism, declared and prosecuted a "war" without specifying who the enemy was. Rather than focus on the architect and sponsor of the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, they turned away to lash out at others in preemptive blows that dishonored our nation's most precious ideals.

History will note that the point of the Constitution is that the ends don't always justify the means -- and that nowhere in the document can be found the phrase "so what?"

Bush Final Press Conference According to Doonesbury

8 Years On The Dark Side

8 years on the dark side
By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / December 20, 2008

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney said this week that he directly approved waterboarding to torture terror suspects. "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared," Cheney told "ABC News." Asked if he believes the simulating of drowning is an appropriate technique, he said, "I do."

Last week, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that the 2003 Abu Ghraib detainee abuse was not just the result of a few rogue soldiers. It said: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely."

Those items help cement this White House as among the most cancerous in American history. Cheney told us after 9/11 that the administration would protect us by working on "the dark side . . . in the shadows in the intelligence world." Cheney, Rumsfeld, and President Bush turned the dark side into a blind eye, the shadows into a shroud, and obliterated intelligent discourse on terrorism with raw fear. That was only the warm-up for twisting intelligence to invade Iraq for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

For eight years the administration never feared trampling truth and justice, even as Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 about Abu Ghraib, "Anyone who recommended that kind of behavior that I have seen depicted in those photos needs to be brought to justice." At the moment, the administration faces no serious repercussions for decisions that resulted in many times more deaths in Iraq than here on Sept. 11, 2001. Rumsfeld went from disgrace to a visiting fellowship at the Hoover Institution. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz went from miscalculating the need for hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq as "wildly off the mark" to counting the planet's dollars at the World Bank - until corruption ended his presidency there.

Bush is sure to regale us about compassionate conservatism in his sugar-coated presidential library and Cheney will mumble from some undisclosed bunker about being the great liberator. All they currently face is the judgment of history.

It was something of a consolation for history that President-elect Barack Obama named Eric Shinseki to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki was the general who made the Iraq troop estimate that Wolfowitz criticized.

And at least we have some facts to go with the fiction. The Senate report released jointly by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona said Rumsfeld's authorization of techniques "was a direct cause of detainee abuse." It also said that Bush's presidential order saying the Geneva Convention for humane treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to al Qaeda "impacted the treatment of detainees."

Cheney and the report give us fresh clarity on their obfuscations. For instance, two years ago, Cheney was asked on a conservative radio talk show, "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney responded, "Well it's a no-brainer for me." The White House immediately trotted out the late White House spokesman Tony Snow and vice-presidential spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride to convince the press that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding.

McBride said, "The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning." Snow was challenged by reporters that it defied common sense to deny that a "dunk in water" was waterboarding. Snow still asserted, "he wasn't referring to waterboarding. He was referring to using a program of questioning, not talking about waterboarding." Pummeled by the press over this parsing, an exasperated Snow said, "I'm telling you what the vice president's view is, which is it wasn't about waterboarding. Period."

The not-so-funny thing is that Cheney's "no-brainer" remark was an honest window into his brain. True to the eight years of this administration, even the truth must be covered with a lie.

Take Me To Your Leader (last week)


Time to Reboot America

Time to Reboot America By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: December 23, 2008

I had a bad day last Friday, but it was an all-too-typical day for America.

It actually started well, on Kau Sai Chau, an island off Hong Kong, where I stood on a rocky hilltop overlooking the South China Sea and talked to my wife back in Maryland, static-free, using a friend’s Chinese cellphone. A few hours later, I took off from Hong Kong’s ultramodern airport after riding out there from downtown on a sleek high-speed train — with wireless connectivity that was so good I was able to surf the Web the whole way on my laptop.

Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.

The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented. The disgusting track-side platforms apparently have not been cleaned since World War II. I took the Acela, America’s sorry excuse for a bullet train, from New York to Washington. Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.

All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that’s the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.”

My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

America still has the right stuff to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse, innovative culture and open society — in a world where the ability to imagine and generate new ideas with speed and to implement them through global collaboration is the most important competitive advantage. China may have great airports, but last week it went back to censoring The New York Times and other Western news sites. Censorship restricts your people’s imaginations. That’s really, really dumb. And that’s why for all our missteps, the 21st century is still up for grabs.

John Kennedy led us on a journey to discover the moon. Obama needs to lead us on a journey to rediscover, rebuild and reinvent our own backyard.

Merry Christmas!

Ellen Goodman: Bush the last guy who should get a No Regrets Tour

Ellen Goodman: Bush the last guy who should get a No Regrets Tour

I was doing fine until I saw the rocking chairs. My attacks of Bush-bashing were in remission. I told myself it was time to move on, to embrace the change you can believe in and, well, you get the idea.

So when the president — he’s still the president? — popped up on television, I would repeat what Republicans told Democrats in 2000 after the Supreme Court ruling made George W. Bush president: Get Over It. Snap Out Of It. When he made a cameo appearance to socialize another piece of the economy, I silently counted the days of his tenure, backward.

I didn’t even squeal when they unveiled the presidential portrait of the man in his Casual Friday duds. And if I started to backslide, I logged on to YouTube. There — nepotism alert! — my comedian daughter Katie posted her own toodaloo to the president, a PG-13-rated satire called “Time to Say Goodbye to George W. Bush” that raised my spirits.

But then came the moment when the senior staff of Bush enablers gave two comfy rocking chairs to the man who described himself as “an old sage at 62 ... headed to retirement.” The symbolism was too much.

Hadn’t Bush just said, “this isn’t one of the presidencies where you ride off into the sunset, you know, kind of waving goodbye”?

Nevertheless, the chairs came with a video of the sunset over Crawford, Texas. It was a gift-wrapped reminder that after leaving the country in shambles, he is leaving the White House with peace of mind.

You see, what sticks in my craw is Crawford. What’s equally hard to swallow is Preston Hollow, the Dallas neighborhood where the Bushes bought a $2.1 million house that, as Jay Leno quipped, “thanks to his economic plan, he got it at a bargain.” What I can’t “snap out of” is the fact that he is preparing to write a book and design a library whose themes will undoubtedly be: “Heckuva job, George.”

The 43rd president is going home with less remorse and fewer regrets than my grandchildren express for spilling their cereal.
This is the tenor of the farewell tour being conducted across the landscape from ABC to the American Enterprise Institute. It’s the No Regrets Tour, the non-reflective “reflections by a guy who’s headed out of town. “

George W. Bush will be remembered with names such as Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and Katrina. With phrases such as “weapons of mass destruction” and “mission accomplished.” He came in with a budget surplus and leaves with a massive deficit. He blew the good will of the post-9/11 world. But being this president means never having to say you’re sorry.

Leaving office, he takes credit for seven years of safety and no debit for a day of disaster. He takes credit for the boom — “it’s hard to argue against 52 uninterrupted months of job growth” — without taking responsibility for the deregulated bust. He takes credit for the surge, not the disastrous pre-emptive war.

“The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq,” he said. But would he have led us to war anyway? “It’s hard for me to speculate.”

No. 43 has the lowest approval ratings in modern presidential history. But he told Charlie Gibson, “I will leave the presidency with my head held high.” This is what puts me between a rocking chair and a hard place.

Bush says he doesn’t worry about short-term history. “I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it.” Yet on this farewell tour, he sounds like an artist scorned by the public and sure that he’ll be seen one day as Vincent Van Gogh.

Well, history is a funny business. In an offhand survey of historians, 61 percent ranked Bush dead last among presidents, below even the barrel-scraping James Buchanan. Bush, of course, prefers Harry Truman, who rose from the ashes of his reputation.

But Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has a simple way of assessing presidents. “Great presidents rise to the occasion; poor presidents fall to the occasion.”

So Bush is headed to Texas with his rocking chairs and we’re headed into a new year with Barack Obama. I am reminded that January is named after the Roman god of beginnings and endings who looked forward and backward at the same time.

There are no do-overs. But there is no forgetting either. George W. Bush fell to the occasion.

Time to Say Goodbye to George W. Bush - Katie Goodman

"A Race to the Bottom" By BOB HERBERT

A Race to the Bottom

Toward the end of an important speech in Washington last month, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said to her audience:

“Think of a teacher who is staying up past midnight to prepare her lesson plan... Think of a teacher who is paying for equipment out of his own pocket so his students can conduct science experiments that they otherwise couldn’t do... Think of a teacher who takes her students to a ‘We, the People’ debating competition over the weekend, instead of spending time with her own family.”

Ms. Weingarten was raising a cry against the demonizing of teachers and the widespread, uninformed tendency to cast wholesale blame on teachers for the myriad problems with American public schools. It reminded me of the way autoworkers have been vilified and blamed by so many for the problems plaguing the Big Three automakers.

But Ms. Weingarten’s defense of her members was not the most important part of the speech. The key point was her assertion that with schools in trouble and the economy in a state of near-collapse, she was willing to consider reforms that until now have been anathema to the union, including the way in which tenure is awarded, the manner in which teachers are assigned and merit pay.

It’s time we refocused our lens on American workers and tried to see them in a fairer, more appreciative light.

Working men and women are not getting the credit they deserve for the jobs they do without squawking every day, for the hardships they are enduring in this downturn and for the collective effort they are willing to make to get through the worst economic crisis in the U.S. in decades.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate this month, the president of the United Auto Workers, Ron Gettelfinger, listed some of the sacrifices his members have already made to try and keep the American auto industry viable.

Last year, before the economy went into free fall and before any talk of a government rescue, the autoworkers agreed to a 50 percent cut in wages for new workers at the Big Three, reducing starting pay to a little more than $14 an hour.

That is a development that the society should mourn. The U.A.W. had traditionally been a union through which workers could march into the middle class. Now the march is in the other direction.

Mr. Gettelfinger noted that his members “have not received any base wage increase since 2005 at G.M. and Ford, and since 2006 at Chrysler.”

Some 150,000 jobs at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have vanished outright through downsizing over the past five years. And like the members of Ms. Weingarten’s union (and other workers across the country, whether unionized or not), the autoworkers are prepared to make further sacrifices as required, as long as they are reasonably fair and part of a shared effort with other sectors of the society.

We need some perspective here. It is becoming an article of faith in the discussions over an auto industry rescue, that unionized autoworkers should be taken off of their high horses and shoved into a deal in which they would not make significantly more in wages and benefits than comparable workers at Japanese carmakers like Toyota.

That’s fine if it’s agreed to by the autoworkers themselves in the context of an industry bailout at a time when the country is in the midst of a financial emergency. But it stinks to high heaven as something we should be aspiring to.

The economic downturn, however severe, should not be used as an excuse to send American workers on a race to the bottom, where previously middle-class occupations take a sweatshop’s approach to pay and benefits.

The U.A.W. has been criticized because its retired workers have had generous pensions and health coverage. There’s a horror! I suppose it would have been better if, after 30 or 35 years on the assembly line, those retirees had been considerate enough to die prematurely in poverty, unable to pay for the medical services that could have saved them.

Randi Weingarten and Ron Gettelfinger know the country is going through a terrible period. Their workers, like most Americans, are already getting clobbered and worse is to come.

But there is no downturn so treacherous that it is worth sacrificing the long-term interests — or, equally important — the dignity of their members.

Teachers and autoworkers are two very different cornerstones of American society, but they are cornerstones nonetheless. Our attitudes toward them are a reflection of our attitudes toward working people in general. If we see teachers and autoworkers as our enemies, we are in serious need of an attitude adjustment.

The Bush Legacy

A look back as the sheriff rides off into the sunset
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
January 19, 2009
For many of us, the end of George W. Bush's presidency could not come quickly enough. But as power changes hands peacefully, the result of a decisive democratic verdict, the most important question is: What can our new president learn from the one heading back to Texas?

The Bush administration's specific failures -- in foreign and domestic policy and on matters related to civil liberties -- are clear enough. Yet the deeper cause of the public's disaffection goes beyond these specifics.

From the very beginning of his presidency, won courtesy of a divisive Supreme Court decision that abruptly ended his contest with Al Gore in 2000, Bush misunderstood the nature of his lease on power, the temper of the country and the proper role of partisanship in our political life. His win-at-all-costs strategy in Florida became a template for much of his presidency, reflected especially in the way the Justice Department was politicized.

Bush did not respect the obligation of a leader in a free society to forge a durable consensus. He was better at announcing policies than explaining them. He dismissed legitimate opposition and plausible doubts about the courses he wished to pursue.

It is in part because of these failures that Americans reacted by selecting a successor with such a profoundly different political personality.

Barack Obama's first response to a political problem is to offer a detailed analysis and to put whatever challenge he is confronting into some larger context. He absolutely loves sparring with his intellectual adversaries. And his "if you have a better idea, I'll take it" approach is the antithesis of the my-way-or-the-highway politics of the last eight years.

Bush was capable of considerable charm, but he never really engaged his opponents. He rolled over them. He did not try to win expansive electoral majorities. Instead, he sought to build a compact, ideologically pure coalition that he could use on behalf of dramatic conservative departures. He claimed mandates he did not win.

Maintaining long-term support for the Iraq war required him to do more than just push a resolution through Congress on the eve of a midterm election with political threats and campaign trail rhetoric.

"It's better to fight them there than here" was not an argument that took the average citizen's intelligence seriously. Cutting taxes rather than asking citizens to pay for the war suggested that while the president might ask others to sacrifice their priorities, he would never sacrifice his own.

Ironically, the clearest evidence of Bush's larger failure can be found in the areas where he can claim genuine success.

Bush's prescription-drug plan under Medicare and his No Child Left Behind education program were far from perfect. But they reflected broadly shared goals -- expanding health coverage, promoting accountability in education -- and involved actual bipartisan wrangling and negotiation.

Aspects of both programs will endure.

Bush's dedication to the victims of AIDS in Africa and his dramatic increases in foreign aid were admirable, and surprised his fiercest critics. In the final days, his supporters were touting these least typical of his achievements.

For a few months after Sept. 11, 2001, the president governed as a truly national leader. At that moment, we saw the consensus-builder he promised to be in 2000. He might have built a durable majority for his party on the basis of more moderate, consensual policies. Instead, he moved to ridiculing those who doubted the wisdom of his Iraq adventure and used the war on terror for electoral advantage.

A hyperpartisan domestic politics of us vs. them followed naturally from the president's instinct to confuse moral certainty for moral clarity. In his farewell address, he reminded his listeners yet again that "good and evil are present in this world, and between the two, there can be no compromise."

Yes, but the hardest moral decisions are usually not between good and evil but between competing goods (security vs. liberty) or lesser evils (a draining war in Iraq vs. a messy, long-term strategy to contain Saddam Hussein).

Our new president will make his own characteristic mistakes. He risks overestimating his capacity to persuade his most implacable foes. He may forget that a two-party system inevitably creates its own dynamic of loyalty and opposition.

But he is decidedly not an us-vs.-them guy. He gets both the uses and the limits of partisanship. He has been known to quote the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on the dangers of moral arrogance. He could make nuance and complexity cool again. It's not enough. But it's a start.