Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Bush Presidency, in photos

This is a fascinating 'blog to me by Errol Morris of the New York Times, as it is a discussion with photographers who covered George W. Bush during his administration. It discusses the thoughts of the photographers as the shots were taken, and how the photographs were received afterwards. I am only posting the link, as the images are critical to understanding the discussion, but it's well worth the time to look at the images of the 43rd President, and hear from the people who are responsible for those images.

http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Roberts got the oath wrong

Excellent piece from the New York Times by Steven Pinker (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/opinion/22pinker.html) on a much less conspiratorial rationale for Chief Justice John Roberts' historic whiff on the Presidential oath. Warning - for grammar nerds only.

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Op-Ed Contributor
Oaf of Office

IN 1969, Neil Armstrong appeared to have omitted an indefinite article as he stepped onto the moon and left earthlings puzzled over the difference between “man” and “mankind.” In 1980, Jimmy Carter, accepting his party’s nomination, paid homage to a former vice president he called Hubert Horatio Hornblower. A year later, Diana Spencer reversed the first two names of her betrothed in her wedding vows, and thus, as Prince Charles Philip supposedly later joked, actually married his father.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Flubber Hall of Fame when he administered the presidential oath of office apparently without notes. Instead of having Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Chief Justice Roberts had him “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” When Mr. Obama paused after “execute,” the chief justice prompted him to continue with “faithfully the office of president of the United States.” (To ensure that the president was properly sworn in, the chief justice re-administered the oath Wednesday evening.)

How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage, among the best-known words in the Constitution? Conspiracy theorists and connoisseurs of Freudian slips have surmised that it was unconscious retaliation for Senator Obama’s vote against the chief justice’s confirmation in 2005. But a simpler explanation is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling.

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence. According to this superstition, Captain Kirk made a grammatical error when he declared that the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”; it should have been “to go boldly.” Likewise, Dolly Parton should not have declared that “I will always love you” but “I always will love you” or “I will love you always.”

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.

Though the ungrammaticality of split verbs is an urban legend, it found its way into The Texas Law Review Manual on Style, which is the arbiter of usage for many law review journals. James Lindgren, a critic of the manual, has found that many lawyers have “internalized the bogus rule so that they actually believe that a split verb should be avoided,” adding, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has succeeded so well that many can no longer distinguish alien speech from native speech.”

In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” On Tuesday his inner copy editor overrode any instincts toward strict constructionism and unilaterally amended the Constitution by moving the adverb “faithfully” away from the verb.

President Obama, whose attention to language is obvious in his speeches and writings, smiled at the chief justice’s hypercorrection, then gamely repeated it. Let’s hope that during the next four years he will always challenge dogma and boldly lead the nation in new directions.

Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard and the chairman of the usage panel of The American Heritage Dictionary.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bush legacy, Harper's Index-style

Little more need be said than the address of this brilliant piece of work (http://harpers.org/archive/2009/01/0082319)

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Number of news stories from 1998 to Election Day 2000 containing “George W. Bush” and “aura of inevitability”: 206

Amount for which Bush successfully sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1999: $2,500

Year in which a political candidate first sued Palm Beach County over problems with hanging chads: 1984

Total amount the Bush campaign paid Enron and Halliburton for use of corporate jets during the 2000 recount: $15,400

Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42

Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98

Years before becoming energy secretary that Spencer Abraham cosponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy: 2

Number of Chevron oil tankers named after Condoleezza Rice, at the time she became foreign policy adviser: 1

Date on which the GAO sued Dick Cheney to force the release of documents related to current U.S. energy policy: 2/22/02

Number of other officials the GAO has sued over access to federal records: 0

Months before September 11, 2001, that Cheney’s Energy Task Force investigated Iraq’s oil resources: 6

Hours after the 9/11 attacks that an Alaska congressman speculated they may have been committed by “eco-terrorists”: 9

Date on which the first contract for a book about September 11 was signed: 9/13/01

Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182

Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0

Number charged with an immigration violation: 762

Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0

Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden: 20

Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075

Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39

Chances an American in 2002 believed the government should regulate comedy routines that make light of terrorism: 2 in 5

Rank of Mom, Dad, and Rudolph Giuliani among those whom 2002 college graduates said they most wished to emulate: 1, 2, 3

Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000

Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50

Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069

Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100

Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0

Date on which Bush said of Osama bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him”: 3/13/02

Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1

Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25

Number of books by Henry Kissinger found in Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s mansion: 2

Number by then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller: 1

Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6

Factor by which the cause of death was more likely to be violence: 120

Chance that an Iraqi has fled his or her home since the beginning of the war: 1 in 6

Portion of Baghdad residents in 2007 who had a family member or friend wounded or killed since 2003: 3/4

Percentage of U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have filed for disability with the VA: 35

Chance that an Iraq war veteran who has served two or more tours now has post-traumatic stress disorder: 1 in 4

Number of all U.S. war veterans who have been denied Veterans Administration health care since 2003: 452,677

Number of eligibility restrictions for admission into the Army that have been loosened since 2003: 9

Percentage change from 2004 to 2007 in the number of Army recruits admitted despite having been charged with a felony: +295

Date on which the White House announced it had stopped looking for WMDs in Iraq: 1/12/05

Years since his acquittal that O. J. Simpson has said he is still looking for his wife’s “real killers”: 13

Minimum number of close-up photographs of Bush’s hands owned by his current chief of staff, Josh Bolten: 4

Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6

Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400

Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3

Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld’s vacation home: 25

Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8

Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200

Date on which USA Today added Guantánamo to its weather map: 1/3/05

Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897

Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110

Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79

Number of the thirty-eight Iraq war veterans who have run for Congress who were Democrats: 21

Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62

Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10

Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40

Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Percentage change since 2002 in the number of U.S. teens using illegal drugs: –9

Percentage change in the number of adults in their fifties doing so: +121

Number of times FDA officials met with consumer and patient groups as they revised drug-review policy in 2006: 5

Number of times they met with industry representatives: 113

Amount the Justice Department spent in 2001 installing curtains to cover two seminude statues of Justice: $8,650

Number of Republican officials who have been investigated by the Justice Department since 2001: 196

Number of Democratic officials who have been: 890

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Number of U.S. cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush: 92

Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: +466

Percentage of EPA scientists who say they have experienced political interference with their work since 2002: 60

Change since 2001 in the percentage of Americans who believe humans are causing climate change: –4

Number of total additions made to the U.S. endangered-species list under Bush: 61

Average number made yearly under Clinton: 65

Minimum number of pheasant hunts Dick Cheney has gone on since he shot a hunting companion in 2006: 5

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1

Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4

Portion of the $3.3 billion in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4

Percentage change in the number of Louisiana and Mississippi newborns named Katrina in the year after the storm: +153

Rank of Nevaeh, “heaven” spelled backward, among the fastest growing names given to American newborns since 2000: 1

Months, beginning in 2001, that the federal government’s online condom fact sheet disappeared from its website : 17

Minimum amount that religious groups received in congressional earmarks from 2003 to 2006: $209,000,000

Amount such groups received during the previous fourteen years: $107,000,000

Percentage change from 2003 to 2007 in the amount of money invested in U.S. faith-based mutual funds: +88

Average annualized percentage return during that time in the Christian and Muslim funds, respectively: +11, +15

Number of feet the Ground Zero pit has been built up since the site was fully cleared in 2002: 30

Number of 980-foot-plus “Super Tall” towers built in the Arab world in the seven years since 9/11: 4

Year by which the third and final phase of the 2003 “road map” to a Palestinian state was to have been reached: 2005

Estimated number of the twenty-five provisions of the first phase that have yet to be completed: 12

Number of times in 2007 that U.S. media called General David Petraeus “King David”: 14

Percentage change during the first ten months of the Iraq war “surge” in the number of Iraqis detained in U.S.-run prisons: +63

Percentage change in the number of Iraqis aged nine to seventeen detained: +285

Ratio of the entire U.S. federal budget in 1957, adjusted for inflation, to the amount spent so far on the Iraq war: 1:1

Estimated amount Bush-era policies will cost the U.S. in new debt and accrued obligations: $10,350,000,000,000 (see page 31)

Percentage change in U.S. discretionary spending during Bush’s presidency: +31

Percentage change during Reagan’s and Clinton’s, respectively: +16, +0.3

Ratio in 1999 of the number of U.S. federal employees to the number of private employees on government contracts: 15:6

Ratio in 2006: 14:15

Total value of U.S. government contracts in 2000 that were awarded without competitive bidding: $73,000,000,000

Total in 2007: $146,000,000,000

Number of the five directors of the No Child Left Behind reading program with financial ties to a curriculum they developed: 4

Amount by which the federal government has underfunded its estimated cost to implement NCLB: $71,000,000,000

Minimum number of copies sold, since it was released in 2006, of Flipping Houses for Dummies: 45,000

Chance that the buyer of a U.S. home in 2006 now has “negative equity,” i.e., the debt on the home exceeds its value: 1 in 5

Estimated value of Henry Paulson’s Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary and sold it: $575,000,000

Estimated value of that stock today: $238,000,000

Salary in 2006 of the White House’s newly created Director for Lessons Learned: $106,641

Minimum number of Bush-related books published since 2001: 606

Number of words in the first sentence of Bill Clinton’s memoir and in that of George W. Bush’s, respectively: 49, 5

Minimum number of nicknames Bush has given to associates during his presidency: 75

Number of associates with the last name Jackson he has dubbed “Action Jackson”: 2

Number of press conferences at which Bush has referred to a question as a “trick”: 14

Number of times he has declared an event or outcome not to be “acceptable”: 149

Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1

Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37

Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Bush legacy for the GOP

Great article by Paul Krugman from the International Herald-Times (http://iht.com/articles/2009/01/02/opinion/edkrugman.php) on how the current President is the culmination of the "Southern strategy" Republican party, and how difficult that legacy will be to overcome for the GOP. Ordinarily I would caveat this as apocalyptic and a bit of wishful thinking for the left, but I really do believe that the Republican party is in an identity crisis that may take a generation to sort out. The marriage of social conservatives with unbridled business was always a difficult one to sustain, because the two have such disparate interests. But ultimately, a combination of inept leadership in the White House and the ability of new media to give platforms to people have put a huge split between the two wings of the GOP, and I don't see how they can be put back together as they were before. Truly, Barack Obama has a historical opportunity to remake the United States from both a political and a philosophical standpoint. Let's see what he does with it.

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Paul Krugman: Bigger than Bush
By Paul Krugman

Friday, January 2, 2009
PRINCETON, New Jersey: As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power here in the U.S., Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners.

Some of the whining almost defies belief. Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, "I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror"? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?

But most of the whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration's failure was simply a matter of bad luck - either the bad luck of President Bush himself, who just happened to have disasters happen on his watch, or the bad luck of the Republican Party, which just happened to send the wrong man to the White House.

The fault, however, lies not in Republicans' stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the Republican Party decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Bush as the party's champion, to the Bush administration's pervasive incompetence, to the party's shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: After the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to "make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second."

Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. "Government is not the solution to our problem," declared Ronald Reagan. "Government is the problem." So why worry about governing well?

Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the party's "Southern strategy," which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: "You're getting so abstract now you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites." In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.

Oh, and the racial element isn't all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro" - and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.

So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process.

And despite the claims of some on the right that Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party's divisive tactics - long before Sarah Palin, Bush declared that he visited his ranch to "stay in touch with real Americans" - and its governing philosophy.

That's why the soon-to-be-gone administration's failure is bigger than Bush himself: It represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.

The reality of this strategy's collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton's political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country - not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes - and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the Republicans into a cul-de-sac.

Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they'll learn two things: Not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn't play the way it used to.

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course.

But barring some huge missteps by Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real "real America," a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.