Book Talk Fills Weekend Before Election

By Jim Cullen

One of the best legacies of George W. Bush's tenure as Texas governor is the Texas Book Festival, which was founded in 1995 by his wife, Laura Bush, a former librarian and reading advocate. In its 11th edition the festival, which benefits Texas libraries, drew thousands of readers to the State Capitol Oct. 28-29 to listen to 200 authors representing a broad array of topics.

While nearly all events were free, limited seating in Capitol chambers and hearing rooms made for overflow crowds trying to get in to see popular authors. The hottest ticket was the keynote speech by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as hundreds of fans lined up more than three hours in advance to hear the author of The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts for Reclaiming the American Dream speak in the House Chamber.

Downstairs, it was easier for stragglers to see Clark Kent Ervin, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security from January 2003 through 2004 and author of Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack. Ervin said the government's impotence in response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast showed that the administration failed to develop efficient ways to evacuate cities or distribute food and medicine in case of disasters after 9/11. He added, "Unless and until we have competent leadership, the Department of Homeland Security will continue to be the failure it has been."

As an example of the sort of thinking that endangers national security, Ervin noted that when his agents testing airport security found a failure rate of 40% at one airport, the head of the Transportation Safety Administration asked him, "why not call it a success rate of 60%?"

Ervin said the Bush administration's record does not match its rhetoric on national security. "Subconsciously, the adminstration thinks it can't happen again," he said of another 9/11-style attack. He also rejected the criticism that his book endangers the nation by outlining holes in national security. "The terrorists already know everything in that book. It's the American people who don't know," he said.

Ervin, who worked in state government when Bush was governor, said he was "very surprised, and shocked, at how partisan the Bush administration has been, considering how bipartisan Bush was in state government." Ervin said it changed "almost from the moment they got on the plane to go to Washington."

Ervin, who remains a Republican, said Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, encapsulates the problem with the Bush administration. "I believe President Bush's faith is sincere [but] faith is not a basis for government and I think we've seen the consequences of that in the last six years."


In a panel on "Advice and Consent: Presidential Advisers", Jim Moore, a journalist and author of The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power, said hypocrisy runs rampant through the Bush administration. For example, Moore noted that Rove was raised by a stepfather who was gay, and he had a good relationship with his stepfather until his death, but that didn't stop Rove from pushing gay-bashing initiatives to further Republican interests.

Moore's co-author, journalist Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, noted that Bush and Rove have always understood the political utility of evangelical church groups. But Slater said Rove is an agnostic. "All he cares about is the utility."

Sidney Blumenthal, former adviser to President Clinton and columnist for, and author of How Bush Rules: Chronicle of a Radical Regime, recalled when he was with Clinton at a meeting with world leaders in December 2000 where Clinton assured the group that the president-elect would be like his father, working toward international consensus. Wrong assumption.

"Before 9/11, Bush had begun a radical agenda and strained relations with Western allies with his repudiation of the Kyoto treaty on global warming and the chemical and bio-weapon treaty," Blumenthal noted. "9/11 was a huge opportunity to move in another direction ... and five years later, the prestige and good name of the United States has never been at lower ebb."


In "State of the Union: Politics in America," Matthew J. Dowd, one of Bush's campaign advisers in 2000 and 2004, said one of the reasons Bush beat Kerry was that Bush connected at the gut level. "Americans want to connect at the gut level. They see everything through the filter of the gut or the heart ... Our fundamental statement was that you may not agree with George W. Bush, but you know where he stands ... while Kerry was a flip-flopper."

The summer of Katrina was when Bush became disconnected from the American public, said Dowd, author of Applebee's America. Dowd was a Democratic political consultant in Austin who ran two campaigns for Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a longtime Texas politician who took Bush under his wing after Bush was elected governor in 1994. Bullock helped Bush enact much of his legislative agenda as president of the state Senate. Dowd switched parties to run Bush's presidential campaign because he was impressed with his bipartisanship in Austin. "Probably the biggest disappointment" was the breakdown of bipartisanship after Bush arrived in Washington, Dowd said.

"After the Republicans took the Senate in 2002, there was no longer the necessity for bipartisanship," he said. The polarization of politics has set up a system "where 400 members of the House don't have to talk to anyone who doesn't agree with them," he said. "It's like a dodgeball fight where nobody wants to go to the middle."

He expected the Democrats to do well in the coming mid-term election, but expects "ungovernable majorities." He predicted that the Republicans would blame Nancy Pelosi for any gridlock (apparently not anticipating the loss of the Senate) and expects that people will become "even more frustrated" with the results. "One of the biggest hungers in the country" is for consensus, he said. One of Dowd's current clients, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, figured out how to build consensus, which is why he was sailing to re-election.

"My guess is that the Democrats, if they win, will misread the mandate. The same thing happens to the Republicans. ... It's going to be a stalemate and leading into 2008, the American public needs to break that stalemate."


In a panel on K Street: An American Lobbying Scandal, Matt Continetti of the Weekly Standard, author of The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine, said the good news is that the K Street Gang of corrupt lobbyists and GOP officials has been broken up with the guilty pleas of Jack Abramoff and many of his associates. Abramoff has been cooperating so much, Continetti noted, that he has a desk at the FBI office. The bad news for Continetti is that "The K Street scandal shows that conservatism as a movement is exhausted. ... What started out as an idealistic conservative movement in the '80s is bereft of a governing philosophy. It's gone from compassionate conservatives to simple machine politics."

His consolation is that, "As conservatism is falling, liberalism isn't rising." He saw the Republican slump as "not so much a repudiation of Republicans as a repudiation of Washington." He thinks the time is ripe for a new optimist, like Reagan's emergence in the late 1970s. "There will be a new optimist. The question is what is her name or what is his name."

Peter Stone of National Journal, author of Heist: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington, noted that the Abramoff body count has been building all year. It helped to bring down former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, snared Rep. Bob Ney, and leads up to presidential adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman. "I think the scandal has been extraordinary for shaking up the congressional landscape and shaking up the lobbying landscape," Stone said.

Abramoff's business plan took advantage of people who knew little about Washington, but had lots of money and interests to defend. It reminded Stone of the scam in The Producers. "There is an element of hubris and chutzpah. He thought he was invincible. He was self-delusionary," Stone said of Abramoff, noting that six Indian tribes paid $66 million to a grassroots lobbying firm operated by an Abramoff associate, who split $42 million with Abramoff. The scam unraveled when Indian tribes started to smell a rat in 2003.


I.F. Stone was a prominent liberal journalist who worked for newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Post, P.M. and the New York Compass. When the Compass folded in 1952, he borrowed money from a friend to start his four-page weekly newsletter, putting it together on his kitchen table during the red-baiting years. He became a "Stone-age blogger," said Myra MacPherson, a journalist and author of All Governments Lie!: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone. He reported stories such as the legless World War II veteran who lost his government job because he was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, which, it turned out, was a Trotskyist faction that was opposed to the Stalinism of the Soviet Union. Stone was nearly deaf at age 30, but since he couldn't hear well, he started digging into documents. His hearing aid came in handy when it came to eavesdropping at closed doors, she noted. He built his newsletter into a circulation of 70,000 when he shut it down in the 1970s and "always called himself a war profiteer."

Peter H. Stone, a nephew, said his uncle was a loner who fought government misinformation and disinformation. His newsletter "contained nuggets that you wouldn't find in the New York Times or the Washington Post, or if you found them ... they were buried at the end of stories. He'd mine congressional transcripts for testimony the others had missed. ... He lived through times that were eerily familiar." But one thing is sure: "He would have been an implacable foe of the war in Iraq. He would've seen Saddam Hussein as a monster, but he would've seen the unwisdom of going into Iraq at a time when they were not a major enemy of the United States."

MacPherson noted that her title refers to one of Stone's famous quotations: "All governments lie ... but disaster lies in wait for countries whose leaders smoke the same hashish they give out."


In Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank and 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, said globalization has been a disappointment for the past 20 years. "Instead of 'A rising tide lifts all boats,' it should be, 'A rip tide knocks over lots of smaller boats, and if you don't have a life vest, you could drown,'" he said.

Poorest countries are left worse off while the United States and the European Union get the lion's share of the benefits, he noted.

When NAFTA was being debated, it was argued that the trade agreement would reduce disparity and migration pressure. Instead, both economic disparity and immigration increased. "Part of the problem was that it wasn't really a free trade agreement. If it were really a free trade agreement, it would need only a few pages, instead of its thousands of pages," he said.

"At the end of the Cold War we had a choice. The economic order could represent our values, or the economic order could represent our interests. Unfortunately, we chose the latter."

Economic globalization has outpaced political globalization, he said. "We don't have political and legal institutions to address the problems in a democratic manner."

The US trade representative is not told to come back with a fair trade agreement, he said. "He's told to come back with an agreement that's best for the United States -- and actually [what's best] for special interests."

Wages in the US are 30% lower since globalization was implemented, and it has been a force in weakening unions. But he noted that agricultural subsidies have doubled since George W. Bush has been president. "While American corn farmers get half their income from Washington, the price of corn in Mexico has fallen by 50%, increasing rural poverty and forcing unemployed farm workers north seeking work in the United States."


Other books worth checking out include Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann, on the White Line in Mississippi, a group of Confederate veterans who challenged elected governments in the South and terrorized freed blacks after the Civil War. After President U.S. Grant refused to send federal troops to reinforce the predominantly black state militia in Mississippi in 1875, black voters found polling places occupied by White Line gangs armed with cannons as well as light arms to prevent blacks from voting. When the election then put ex-Confederates in power, the "Mississippi Plan" was replicated in other Southern states in 1876. Republicans agreed to end Reconstruction in exchange for Democrats allowing the election of Rutherford Hayes in the Compromise of 1877.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2006

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