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September 25, 2005 - A Meme Snowballs

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In last Sunday's "Meme Watch" - Chasing the Zeitgeist - it seemed the current meme that had started making its way through the nation's discourse was that we were seeing "The End of the Bush Era," most openly stated by E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post on September 13th here.  Other folks have picked it up since - it's all over the place - and the latest mainstream iteration can be found in Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times on September 22nd - Voters' Remorse On Bush.  Herbert is always clear and earnest, and late.

[Note: Monday, September 19, the New York Times and its European sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, put all of the columnists who write for them behind a "wall." If you want to read them or quote them it will cost you around fifty dollars a year. You can see this as an attempt to recoup the cost of publishing a major newspaper. Editor and Publisher on September 20th carried this: "The New York Times Co. announced a staggering staff reduction plan Tuesday that will likely mean some 500 job loses at the company's many properties, including an expected 45 newsroom positions at The New York Times newspaper and 35 at The Boston Globe." Many subsequent stories add detail. The Herbert column noted is from a secondary source here.  Herbert is quoted here as allowed by the fair use doctrine.]

Herbert's take on the new meme? The public is "beginning to see through the toxic fog of fantasy, propaganda and deliberate misrepresentation that has been such a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, which is in danger of being judged by history as one of the worst of all time."

He reviews how things have been going for the Bush team and concludes, "Reality is caving in on a president who was held aloft for so long by a combination of ideological mumbo-jumbo, the public relations legerdemain of Karl Rove and the buoyant patriotism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush people were never big on reality, so sooner or later they were bound to be blindsided by it." The idea is Americans are finally catching onto is "the utter incompetence of this crowd" and that there is a general sense now that things are falling apart.

He says this is what happens "when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who'd be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame." And agreed, you'd never use that criterion "when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country."

No kidding.

So how widespread is this?

Robert Novak, the rightist of the right, who seems to have helped out that CIA agent to punish her husband for embarrassing Bush, on Thursday, September 22nd in the compendium of pro-Bush conservative opinion, Townhall, notes this:


For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem cell research, population control, the Iraq war and, especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections.

The Bush-bashing occurred last weekend at the annual Aspen conference sponsored by the New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Co.

... Longtime participants in Forstmann Little conferences ... told me they had not experienced such hostility against a Republican president at previous events. Yet, they were sure a majority of the guests had voted for Bush.

... U.S. News & World Report disclosed this week, with apparent disdain, that presidential adviser Karl Rove took time off from the Katrina relief effort to be at Aspen. He was needed as a counterweight. I settled in for serious fireworks, expecting Bush-bashers to assault his alter ego at the conference's final session. However, direct confrontation with a senior aide must have been more difficult than a remote attack on the president. It would be a shame if Rove returned to Washington without informing George W. Bush how erstwhile friends have turned against him.


The idea that "it's over" has spread wider than anyone guess.

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly:


Have they really turned against him? Or are they just letting off steam? I'd like to believe it's the former, but my gut tells me it's probably the latter.

I wonder how Republican fundraising is going right now?


Not well.

Thursday, September 22nd in Bloomberg News there's this from Jonathan Salant - Abramoff Probe May Threaten Leading Republicans as It Expands


The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington.

This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time. [Mentioned Monday in these pages here.]

Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends,'' already figures prominently in the investigation of the lobbyist's links to Republicans. The probe may singe other lawmakers with ties to Abramoff, such as Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, as well as Ney.


This is serious stuff, and if you're interested in detail, click on the link for paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of detail. And by the way, Safavian was one of three former Abramoff associates who joined the Bush administration. Another was Patrick Pizzella, assistant secretary of labor for administration and management. The third was Susan Ralston, special assistant to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. If you know the right people at the White House and ask about her, she's been reassigned - she now works for Rove "in a different capacity."

Note this from the Washington Post, Friday, September 23rd: "Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bragged two years ago that he was in contact with White House political aide Karl Rove on behalf of a large, Bermuda-based corporation that wanted to avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts, according to a written statement by President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general."

And note this form a UCLA professor of public policy:


The linchpin seems to be Grover Norquist, whose Islamist sympathies - whether genuine or mercenary - have been an ill-kept secret.

... Rove was the acknowledged Grand Vizier of the Bushite Caliphate, Norquist, thorough the agency of Rove's assistant Susan Ralston, was able to determine which lobbyists could, and which could not, get through to the Boy Genius.


The lobbyist for this Islamic madmen had his girl in place as the gatekeeper to make sure Bush heard what he was supposed the hear? Read it if you wish. It's a bit wild.

But it's not any wilder than the idea John Bolton, our new UN ambassador - there by a recess appointment because the senate wouldn't confirm him - will be indicted as the one who actually orchestrated outing the CIA agent because her husband embarrassed Bush with the truth. The logic is there. The act fits what people say about his personality. We'll see.

As everyone has heard, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist seems to have secretly dumped somewhere between seven and thirty-five million dollars of his stock in HCA, the hospital chain his father founded, just before the stock dropped like a rock. Sold all his shares, all his wife's shares, all his children's shares. So did most of the senior management, a few weeks before a surprise earnings report that they we're making a whole lot less money than they had been saying previously. It was in a blind trust. Doesn't that mean he doesn't get to decide? What about insider trading rules? What about Martha Stewart? She landed in jail for such things. He explains himself here - he was just getting rid of a conflict of interest millstone he had carried around. He wanted to be able to vote on healthcare issues with anyone asking questions.

Now they're asking questions about timing here. He could have sold the stock long ago. Guess he was lucky to get around to doing it that particular week. Just a coincidence.

Those of us who have worked in hospital finance do remember that five years ago HCA pleaded guilty to fourteen criminal counts - they'd been filing fraudulent Medicare reports and paying doctors kickbacks for referrals. That finally cost them nearly two billion in fines and penalties. I myself have worked with large hospital accounting systems - I led teams of systems people programming and maintaining them. Such things do not happen by accident. And this does sound like the man licked a lucky day to dump all his stock in HCA.

People are noticing such things now, more widely than before.

And this. Wednesday 21 September the Federal Trade Commission announced they were opening a probe investigating whether gasoline price profiteering has occurred and if oil companies have constrained refinery capacity to manipulate fuel prices, an agency official said Wednesday. Who in charge of that? The head of the FTC he appointed last year - former top ChevronTexaco lawyer, Deborah Majoras.

Folks are beginning to notice such things. Teapot Dome crap.

Then there's just you run-of-the-mill bungling. Thursday, September 22nd this only gets page A23 in the Washington Post


The Pentagon has no accurate knowledge of the cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism, limiting Congress's ability to oversee spending, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released yesterday.

The Defense Department has reported spending $191 billion to fight terrorism from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through May 2005, with the annual sum ballooning from $11 billion in fiscal 2002 to a projected $71 billion in fiscal 2005. But the GAO investigation found many inaccuracies totaling billions of dollars.

"Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent," the report to Congress stated. The GAO said the problem is rooted in long-standing weaknesses in the Pentagon's outmoded financial management system, which is designed to handle small-scale contingencies.

The report said the Pentagon overstated the cost of mobilized Army reservists in fiscal 2004 by as much as $2.1 billion. Because the Army lacked a reliable process to identify the military personnel costs, it plugged in numbers to match the available budget, the report stated. "Effectively, the Army was reporting back to Congress exactly what it had appropriated," the report said.

The probe also found "inadvertent double accounting" by the Navy and Marine Corps from November 2004 to April 2005 amounting to almost $1.8 billion.


That gives you a lot of confidence. Those two years with the systems shop at the locomotive plant in Canada? This stuff would get you fired. GM would have tossed us out the door. All those forty-two hospitals in three states running Infinium and SMS Med-Series IV and HBOC Star? The software there was in the realm of "outmoded financial management systems." But we had to balance the books. The basic stuff matters.

This is the MBA president? These guys will responsibly fund the reconstruction of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities? And now maybe southeast Texas? Great.

And why even follow this story?


The Pentagon said today that it had blocked a group of military officers and intelligence analysts from testifying at an open Congressional hearing about a highly classified military intelligence program that, the officers have said, identified a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a potential terrorist more than a year before the attacks?

The announcement came a day before the officers and intelligence analysts had been scheduled to testify about the program, known as Able Danger, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


This ticked off the Republican senator


The Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee accused the Pentagon on Wednesday of stonewalling an inquiry into claims that the U.S. military identified four September 11 hijackers more than a year before the 2001 attacks?

The Defense Department barred several witnesses from testifying at a judiciary committee hearing and instead sent a top-level official who could provide little information on al Qaeda-related intelligence uncovered by a secret military team code-named Able Danger.

"That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee's activities, something we will have to determine," said the panel's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter.


Who cares about 9/11 any longer? So we knew who the bad guys were two years before the event. Like it matters now?

What matters now? Well, how about the new FBI squad to go after pornography by adults and for adults?  In addition, this is now "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  Along with the FBI's anti-porn squad, he's created an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a brand new part of the Justice Department. It takes prosecutors currently working on organized crime and racketeering, money laundering and computer crime cases and shifts them to this War on Porn. The Post link quotes an experienced national security analyst who calls the culture war initiative "a running joke for us." The Daily Business Review here says high-level Justice Department report prosecutors are being assigned porn cases "over their objections."  The Family Research Council said it gave them "a growing sense of confidence in our new attorney general."  Arianna Huffington is all over the story here, but she's Greek, isn't she?

Aren't there more important things? Isn't there a free speech issue involved here that has come up before? James Joyce's novel in Boston long ago - that sort of thing? But maybe it does matter to almost all Americans, more than the war or the dead floating in the streets of New Orleans or the economy tanking or anything else. They have the president's ear, and they're courted by Karl Rove. I'm not.

Now I try to like Dan Abrams at MSNBC, the lawyer with the degree from Duke Law School. I did my graduate work at Duke, and the law school is pretty good - heck, it turned out both Richard Nixon and Angela Davis. But the Abrams show is really irritating. It's him. He's a smart-ass. (But perhaps all of us Duke graduate folk turned out that way.) On the other hand, he's clear about these now efforts against porn here:


It sure seems like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is campaigning for a job on the U.S. Supreme Court. You see many on the far right have already announced they won't support him for fear he is not conservative enough on abortion and affirmative action.

Well surprise, surprise. In Tuesday's Washington Post we learn that Gonzales has decided the FBI will make pornography one of its top federal priorities - not child pornography, not violent pornography, just regular smut.
The justification? Pornography, even when viewed by mature, consenting adults, threatens families and children. Okay, maybe.

But that means the precious resources of the FBI are going to this instead of recruiting for, let's say, the terror task force.

No one is saying that terrorism isn't going to remain the FBI's top priority or that Gonzales considers combating pornography on par with combating al Qaeda. But what about other national crime concerns like cyber-crime, identity theft and corruption? I would rather expand other units rather than add 10 agents to make sure Ron Jeremy can't do anything else arguably inhuman.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, you would think Congress would have other priorities for our already-strained budget.

The Supreme Court recognizes it's often tough to distinguish legal pornography from obscenity. So making that distinction will now be a national priority? Come on. This is not the best use of resources in an effort to save American families.


Yeah, and if more in the mainstream start asking "What's up with THAT?" - then maybe something sensible will happen.

But don't count on it.  Religion is what matters now, as in this:


The House voted Thursday to let Head Start centers consider religion when hiring workers, overshadowing its moves to strengthen the preschool program's academics and finances.

The Republican-led House approved a bill that lets churches and other faith-based preschool centers hire only people who share their religion, yet still receive federal tax dollars.

Democrats blasted that idea as discriminatory.


Ah, don't let the godless heathens near the preschoolers. Whatever.

All this stuff!

Normally these sorts of things are only noted by those who fume on the internet.


But note - the meme that "it's over" depends on regular folks noticing this stuff and talking about it.  And they are.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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