NPR’s "Talk of the Nation" had Chalmers Johnson on Wednesday talking about his new book, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic." Johnson is a harsh critic of the way our military has come to dominate at least the foreign policy agenda of our government, and he offers no comfort for those (like me most of the time, to be honest) who believe we’ll just find a way to muddle through:

"One of the oddest features of political life in the United States in
the years since the terrorist attacks is how few people have thought or
acted like Barbara Lee. The public expresses itself in opinion polls,
which some students of politics scrutinize intently, but there is
little passion in the society, certainly none proportionate to the
threats facing our democratic republic. The United States today is like
a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most spectacular
falls in North America. A few people on board have begun to pick up a
slight hiss in the background, to observe a faint haze of mist in the
air or on their glasses, to note that the river current seems to be
running slightly faster. But no one yet seems to have realized that it
is almost too late to head for shore.

the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, Nazi, imperial
Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires in the
last century, we are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are
about to plunge over it."


And he also points out what’s obvious now that we’ve gotten to watch Congress’s first impotent response to Bush’s Iraq policy:

"I believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have led the country into
a perilous cul-de-sac, but they did not do it alone and removing them
from office will not necessarily solve the problem. The crisis of
government in the United States has been building at least since World
War II. The emergence of the imperial presidency and the atrophying of
the legislative and judicial branches have deep roots in the postwar
military-industrial complex, in the way broad sectors of the public
have accepted the military as our most effective public institution,
and in aberrations in our electoral system. The interesting issue is
not the damage done by Bush, Cheney, and their followers but how they
were able to get away with it, given the barriers that exist in the
Constitution to prevent just the sorts of misuses of power for which
they have become notorious."



Perusing the White House website this morning for more of the president’s wisdom, I came across the image to the left, which is still on public display. I see Senator Palpatine, in the middle; and Anikin, on the right. But I can’t quite place the figure on the left. Not the microphone–the other one.

Speaking of images, the San Francisco Chronicle this morning has a big front-page story on the identity of the source who in 2004 leaked transcripts from a federal grand jury to two reporters at the paper. Accompanying the story, both print and online, are pictures (different ones in each place, but taken at the same time and place by the same Chronicle photographer) showing the reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, and their Hearst Corporation lawyer. But there’s someone else in the pictures, too: Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein, who is such a key part of today’s stories that he is never mentioned. So why did the paper, which has a stack of Williams/Fainaru-Wada images as high as an elephant’s eye (speaking figuratively), use pictures with Bronstein? I can’t believe Bronstein had anything to do with choosing the images. In some way, it looks like the boss’s vanity and self-importance have become institutionalized.

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Last night I volunteered to do some more organizing work for MoveOn; essentially helping with the local MoveOn council to keep people organized and engaged for 2008.

Then I had this dream: I was at a MoveOn meeting at a house here in Berkeley. Vice President Dick Cheney was there. He was dressed casually–khakis and a red-and-white-checked shirt. He didn’t interact with anyone at the meeting. Instead, he seemed to take an interest in the profusion of hand-written posters and placards strewn around that carried pictures of him and Bush. I noticed we seemed to be collecting them–taking stuff off the walls and so forth and making a little pile of stuff. I looked at what he’d gathered and saw that it was anti-Cheney, anti-Bush material that was folded and torn. I asked him,, “Are you editing the room?” He looked at me, a little embarrassed, and said, “No–this is all damaged.”

‘You’re Doing a Heckuva Job’–Rumsfeld/Cheney Edition

Bush came out the other day to tell the world that Rumsfeld and Cheney are his guys for the rest of his term. No disaster they author is too large for the president to send them on a permanent vacation. Translation, by way of my brother John: “You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Dick and Rummy.” So now: How long before one of them–Rumsfeld, because the only way Cheney’s going down is if Darth Vader throws him into the Death Star’s reactor core (or whatever that was in “Return of the Jedi”)–is sent packing.

Maybe not long. Check out the Army Times editorial urging Bush to get rid of Rumsfeld:

‘So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion … it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth.’

“That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

“But until recently, the ‘hard bruising’ truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington.

“One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished,’ the insurgency is ‘in its last throes,’ and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing, are a few choice examples. …” (Read the rest.)

Score one for the reality-based community,

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From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

“Yesterday was a vital day of clarity for what has happened to America in the Bush presidency. …

“Q Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?

“THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President “for torture.” We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.”

It’s not torture. It’s a “dunk in water.” Like baptism. Or maybe like the dunk tank at the school carnival.

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Polling the Troops

Zogby International will get a ton of publicity for its new poll on how members of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq feel about serving there. The headlines so far focus on the poll’s finding that 72 percent of those surveyed — 944 people serving with various branches, a survey size Zogby says gives a 3.5 percent margin of error for the full sample — think the U.S. should withdraw sometime in the next 12 months. Twenty-three percent go along with the commander-in-chief’s suggestion that the forces should stay in Iraq “as long as they are needed.” The Marines are most gung-ho on staying — only three in five think we should be out within a year; four out of five National Guard members and reservists think it’s time to be winding things up.

More interesting numbers, to me: Three in five say they know why they’re in Iraq; two in five say they’re unclear on the reason. Nine out of ten reject the presence of weapons of mass destruction as a reason for invading. So why did we go in? Five out of six say it’s payback for Saddam Hussein’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Three out of four also think we wanted to make sure Saddam didn’t protect al Qaida in Iraq.

It’s another black eye for the reality-based community, which has insisted for years that a) Saddam had no role in 9/11 (even Cheney, the promoter-in-chief of that myth, was eventually forced to concede the point) and b) Saddam had no substantive relationship with al Qaida. At the same time, though, the troops don’t seem to be buying one of the substitute rationales for the war: that it’s all about creating a model democracy for the Arab world. Only one in four respondents named that as a reason for the war.

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Conjoined Presidents

It’s a little surprising to look at The New York Times site, a full 24 hours after Dick “Gunner” Cheney announced he had been promoted to co-president, and find the paper still chasing reaction to the former vice president’s accidental wounding of a quail-hunting partner last week. If you missed the announcement, it came during Cheney’s appearance Wednesday on the administration’s broadcast arm, Fox News. He disclosed a fact that really wasn’t secret, yet hadn’t been widely reported: That nearly three years ago, Bush had issued an order extending the power to classify and declassify national security information to the vice president.

Although the Times and others might be a little slow on the uptake, Byron York of the conservative National Review did a nice analysis of the Cheney news that appeared first thing Thursday morning. York concluded:

“In the last several years, there has been much talk about the powerful role Dick Cheney plays in the Bush White House. Some of that talk has been based on anecdotal evidence, and some on entirely fanciful speculation. But Executive Order 13292 is real evidence of real power in the vice president’s office. Since the beginning of the administration, Dick Cheney has favored measures allowing the executive branch to keep more things secret. And in March of 2003, the president gave him the authority to do it.”

Of course, in his Fox interview, Cheney was talking about blabbing secrets, not keeping them. He mentioned his powers when the interviewer, Brit Hume, brought up the Scooter Libby case:

Q: On another subject, court filings have indicated that Scooter Libby has suggested that his superiors — unidentified — authorized the release of some classified information. What do you know about that?

A: It’s nothing I can talk about, Brit. This is an issue that’s been under investigation for a couple of years. I’ve cooperated fully, including being interviewed, as well, by a special prosecutor. All of it is now going to trial. Scooter is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He’s a great guy. I’ve worked with him for a long time, have enormous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case and it’s, therefore, inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case.

Q: Let me ask you another question. Is it your view that a Vice President has the authority to declassify information?

A: There is an executive order to that effect.

Q: There is.

A: Yes.

Q: Have you done it?

A: Well, I’ve certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions. The executive order …

Q: You ever done it unilaterally?

A: I don’t want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the President, but also includes the Vice President.

Cheney and Bush probably don’t think it’s a big deal to take formal steps to create a conjoined presidency. Maybe they’re right. During today’s White House press briefing? Not a single question on Cheney’s role as a manager of national intelligence.

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Dead Veeps Club

You know, looking at the histories of Dick “Gunner” Cheney and Aaron “Unfriendly Fire” Burr — brothers in the fraternity of vice presidents whose hunts have netted human trophies — disclosed yet another fact that until now escaped me: the number of U.S. vice president who have died in office. Here’s a brief list. Take note: November is the cruelest month for our unrevered second bananas, having claimed four of the seven executive understudies who died in office.

George Clinton (1739-1812): Served as vice president in Thomas Jefferson’s second term and was re-elected to the office for James Madison’s first term. Died April 20, 1812, the first vice president to expire in office.

Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814): Clinton’s office sat vacant, and Gerry — the Massachusetts pol whose skill at drawing imaginative legislative boundaries is memorialized in the word “gerrymander” — was elected for Madison’s second term. But serving as No. 2 for Madison proved too much for Gerry, too. He died November 23, 1814, having served just 20 months.

Daniel Tompkins (1774-1825; honorable mention): Just missed becoming the third consecutive veep to die in the traces. He served two terms as James Monroe’s vice president, leaving office in March 1825. He died three months later at age 50 after what one biography describes as “a decade of financial privation and heavy drinking, coupled with accusations that he had mishandled state and federal funds while serving as governor of New York. …”

William Rufus de Vane King (1786-1853): Served just six weeks as understudy to Franklin Pierce in March and April 1853. Actually, “served” might be padding King’s resume a bit. He suffered from tuberculosis when he was elected and was in declining health as his inauguration approached. He repaired to Cuba for his health and was granted permission to be sworn in there (reportedly the only vice president inaugurated outside the United States). With his condition apparently terminal, he returned home to his Alabama plantation, where he died April 18.

Henry Wilson (1812-1875): Grant’s second vice president. Died midway through his term on November 22, 1875. A former Senator from Massachusetts, he was eulogized thus by a former colleague: “He was not learned, he was not eloquent, he was not logical in a high sense, he was not always consistent in his political actions, and yet he gained the confidence of the people, and he retained it to the end of his life.” Except for the “confidence of the people” part, that sounds very familiar.

Thomas A. Hendricks (1819-1885): Elected vice president with Grover Cleveland as part of the first Democratic ticket to win since 1856. Hendricks died November 25, 1885, a little more than eight months into his term.

Garret A. Hobart (1844-1899): Elected with McKinley in 1896. I’m guessing that he and McKinley are probably the only running mates to both die in office — though McKinley wasn’t assassinated until early in his second term, when he had a brand spanking new vice president in place. Hobart, described in a Senate biography as a “rotund, jovial, hospitable man,” was beset by heart problems that finally killed him on November 21, 1899. Before passing into eventual blog fodder, however, Hobart cast the deciding vote against a resolution that would have promised independence to the Philippines. He made a difference.

James Sherman (1855-1912): Taft’s vice president, he came darn close to serving a full term before dying on October 30, 1912, of chronic kidney failure. He died just days before the presidential election (Taft vs. Wilson and Roosevelt, T.), thus became the only deceased candidate for national office to stand for election (that’s an unverified claim).