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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bookends (Three Sets)

From June 22 to June 28, six different stories gained some press covereage and were interesting enough as individual events. However, they act as bookends around three larger stories which are all part of a larger plot with a disturbing theme.

ONE -- Right and Wrong and Abu Ghraib. These both happened last week:

a) The June 24 airing of 60 Minutes included a re-run of the story of the soldier from Cumberland, ML who turned in the photos of the Abu Ghraib abuse to CID officials for investigation. A hero? Hardly. At least not in the eyes of his own hometown. Even the local VFW leader criticized him for putting Iraqis (nevermind mostly INNOCENT Iraqis) above his own platoon.

b) The June 25 issue of The New Yorker included an article by Seymour Hersch about Major General Antonio Taguba and the investigation he lead into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. (#1) Taguba states he was "legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority." Taguba highlights several events which confirm interrogation techniques suggested by Major General Geoffrey Miller, reassigned to Abu Ghraib from Guantanamo Bay, were reviewed prior to 2004 by senior commanders in Iraq who concurred with their recommendations, which provide the gray area of accountability in which the abuse took place.

Many Americans have not yet acknowledged the true immorality surrounding our war in Iraq. Not the immorality of the deceit that launched it, the immorality of the tactical decisions made once it began, or the immorality of the faulty "better fight the bad guys on their land rather than ours" logic still used to justify continuation of the war.

TWO -- The Future of Iraqi Democracy. These both happened last week:

a) On June 22, CBS reporter Lara Logan filed a report from Baghdad that the Iraqis themselves have already given up on President Bush's surge strategy. An entire "shadow government" has been gathering on the sidelines in anticipation of the collapse of the current government within WEEKS. They recognize the factions within the current government are incapable of compromise and merely intend to use whichever levers of government they manage to control for their own advantage and to isolate and often murder the opposition. Logan's report included an interview with former Iraqi general Aziz Yasari who, on camera, characterized the surge thusly: "This is a waste of time / lives."

b) On June 25, a string of bombings killed about 40 people. One of the bombings hit the Monsour Hotel, thought to be one of the most secure buildings in Anbar province. The attack was conducted by a bomber who passed multiple security points to reach the lobby of the hotel where leaders of one alternative coalition were meeting. One of the people killed? Aziz Yasari, the very same guy interviewed by Lara Logan about waiting for a new government to emerge from the rubble of the current chaos. (#2)

The Iraq war certainly isn't over but America's Iraq war certainly is. We lost it. By every claimed objective at the start of the war, by every relocated milepost measure of success identified during the war, and by any useful criteria that could be identified now. No ifs, ands or buts. The only issue left is determining the lives to pride ratio that must be exceeded for our Congress to take the checkbook back and extract our troops from what will likely be a 20 year civil war. Democracy CANNOT work in an environment of polar opposites. It can only work where 75 percent of the citizens are roughly in agreement on 75 percent of key issues and the democratic process is used to steer the society on the little stuff. If no party in the society is willing to abide by ANY of the mores of any of the other parties, democracy will only last until it elects a faction capable of coalescing enough force and brutality to overtake and subdue the others.

THREE -- The Future of Democracy and the Rule of Law in America. These both happened in the last week:

a) On Friday, June 22, officials representing Vice President Dick Cheney filed a brief stating he has spent considerable time reviewing the Constitution and has decided he is not technically a member of the Executive Branch and therefore has no obligation to comply with document retention rules governing the White House or comply with subpoenas for Executive Branch documents. (#3)

b) After losing a 15-year Freedom of Information Act legal battle, the CIA finally released documents as old as 50 years old which confirm the CIA concocted a plan for the mob to kill Castro, tested drugs and chemical weapons on unwitting American citizens, intercepted private mail from US citizens sent abroad, illegally wiretapped reporters, spied on Americans, etc. The disclosure of the so-called "family jewels" confirmed much of the hysteria and dirty tricks involved with the previous great cold wars -- the one against communism and the one against people deemed insufficiently anti-communist. (#4)

We haven't learned a damned thing from 40 years of anti-communist cold war paranoia. The cold war evaporated when the opponent collapsed from within, leaving us with no bogeyman to scare the masses and distract us as our own government adopts many of the same centralized, top-secret-national-security, know-it-all tactics that toppled our previous idealogical opponent. Muslim terrorists have been more than eager to fill the role vacated by Communism since doing so allows America to become THIER bogeyman for exactly the same purpose --- distracting the Middle East masses from their own internal problems and solving them internally. The White House is filled with top leadership who earned post-doctorate degrees in paranoia from the Master -- Richard Nixon -- and have once again led America down an expensive, disastrous road.

You don't have to be a history major or music major to hear the rhyme in these events. The monotony of the tune is overwhelming.

===============================

#1) http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/06/25/070625fa_fact_hersh

#2) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/25/world/middleeast/25cnd-Iraq.html

#3) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/22/washington/22cheney.html

#4) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070627/27cia.htm

Monday, June 18, 2007

VISTA: If It's This Painful for an Expert

Those Apple ads with the Windows dweeb and the hip Mac geek may be entertaining but they're grossly misleading. As a relatively knowledgeable engineer responsible for software development in my day gig, I can tell you Apple is being quite charitable about the Vista experience. The actual experience? FAR WORSE. Here's one geek's journey through computing hell and back.

Every Bad Journey Begins with That First Bad Step

The journey began because of another maddening aspect of consumer electronics today -- Moore's Law obsolescence and chincy manufacturing. I had a three year old Compaq computer I used as a LINUX box for both work and home "experiments." About a week ago, the box began randomly locking up -- a classic sign of a memory problem considering no new software had been added in months. Sure enough, I ran the extended memory tests included in the startup BIOS which confirmed memory problems.

No bigee. I'll just open that puppy up, get the EXACT part number off the memory DIMM to order a replacement. Hmmmm. Lots of power cables and disk drive cables all cramped around the DIMM slot. Lemme just disconnect the CPU fan to move that cable out of the way and that DIMM will come right out. The fan just clicks on the CPU then uses levers to firmly press it against the chip for good heat transfer. Just lift those levers up... CRACK. One of the clips attached to the mother board that gives the fan something to pull against breaks. Now the fan only has one side of its attachment mechanism.

No problem. CPU fans are a $30 item. Just google the Cooler Master brand, check their website for the part number and order a replacement.

Only Cooler Master doesn't make that exact fan anymore. Three years is so three years ago in the fast changing high-tech world of FANS. Now a decision has to be made.

A) Spending hours on the Internet trying to find another fan that can work with the special Intel 478 socket style used on the motherboard, spend $30 on that plus $60-70 on the memory DIMM and drop $90 plus several hours on a three year old machine

OR….

B) Start over with a new machine that only costs $500? Surely picking up a new machine at the local big box and spending an hour moving the hard drive would be quicker than ordering the parts on line, waiting a few days for the parts, then trying to get the work done in an evening after work later in the week.

I went with a new computer. A short amount of searching turned up a relatively speedy Compaq with a 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with 1GB of memory, a 160 GB hard drive, a combined CD-RW/DVD+RW drive and none of the extra video hardware that would be needed for a box used primarily for web development. I go to my nearby big box retailer and score one for $475. (The unit it replaced cost about $700 for a 2.66GHz processor three years ago.)

Vista or Precipice?

OK, now with the new system home, another choice has to be made. The unit came with Vista Home Basic "installed". Again, my main goal is to use the box for LINUX so I won't run Windows on it on a regular basis however….

…My work DOES involve testing web applications from a variety of browsers and operating systems so it wouldn't hurt to have some flavor of Vista box at least available, right?

I make the fateful decision to complete the installation of Vista and register it.

Now for a few sidebar comments before diving into the real story…

* Vista comes "pre-loaded" on virtually every PC sold to consumers in big box stores
* "pre-loaded" does not mean ready to run
* "pre-loaded" does not mean you get a copy of CD or DVD media as re-install disks
* it is now normal for consumers to have to burn their own backup media
* systems come with software that allows backup media to be burned exactly ONCE

Knowing that many consumers have had interesting (in the Chinese sense of being cursed to live an interesting life…) experiences upgrading old PCs to Vista, I thought it would be useful to take notes during a "clean" Vista install on a new out-of-the-box PC.

If you're still reading at this point, it's important to note the experience below is from the perspective of someone who

1) UNDERSTANDS everything the system is doing during the process,
2) UNDERSTANDS why it thinks it needs to do it and
3) UNDERSTANDS what to look out for

In other words, I have very low expectations and a great deal of familiarity with the problem. This is NOT the situation for the average consumer. I simply cannot imagine how frustrating the experience would be for an average customer without someone to guide them through it. On a BRAND NEW PC out of the box!

Here's my tale of woe…

4:20pm -- power the unit on for the first time - accept the License and begin installing Vista
4:25pm to 4:29pm -- "checking system performance"
4:29pm -- the login page is shown for the first time - I build a single user named "admin"
4:33pm -- various Compaq/HP ads and support information displayed
4:35pm -- finished registering the computer with HP
4:36pm -- the system begins "personalizing" itself (I haven't given it any preferences)
4:37pm -- the very first message shown by the system after reaching the Start menu and desktop for the first time is: "Check Your System Security -- there are multiple security problems with your computer"

That's the first outright howler of the experience. I have done nothing TO the computer other than unpack it and plug it in and have done nothing productive WITH the computer and the very first notification from the computer to me is a complaint that the system has major security problems. Ya think?

4:40pm -- the Symantec software bundled with the system launches and begins its initialization
4:41pm -- I consent to the 60 day free license for Symantec updates, at which point the Symantec software demonstrates a rather annoying bug --- any action you take in completing a registration form with about 10 fields immediately takes you to the Next button rather than sequentially tabbing through the fields as you attempt to complete them -- you have to manually click the cursor BACK into each field to complete the form -- did Vista change the way dialog boxes work?


5:07pm -- Symantec (or is it Norton? Symantec, can you just pick ONE brand and eliminate the other?) begins downloading patches to its LiveUpdate software
5:09pm -- Norton (or is it Symantec?) thinks it has finished downloading its updates and requests another restart for the changes to take effect.

This is a good point to talk about a "unique" aspect of Windows computers. They're never terribly fast at booting but curiously, they're also not very fast at shutting down either. One thing that becomes painfully apparent to any longtime Windows users is that your machine typically never gets any faster than it was the first time you booted it. The more stuff you install and the more things that go into the registry, the sloooooowwwweeeeerrrr things get, even if you later uninstall many programs.

At this point for this new machine, a reboot of the system takes 40 seconds to shutdown and 57 seconds to reach the login prompt again. Stated another way, a brand new machine running nothing but the core operating system takes 40 seconds to STOP WHAT IT'S DOING!

Anyway, back to the story…


5:12pm -- Norton determines it needs to run LiveUpdate again (didn't I just do this?)

At this point with this prompt displayed, I am introduced to another "feature" of Vista -- the security manager so wickedly lampooned in the Apple ads. In an attempt to keep ne'er-do-wells out of the crown jewels, Vista can detect any attempt to modify files outside a user's Documents folder or change system / registry settings. When such attempts are detected, a warning is displayed prompting the user to confirm they actually invoked the change being made.

Great idea. Well, good idea. Well…. It's an idea…

The problem is Vista doesn't always seem to put the Security Manager alert in front of other windows. It was at this point I realized that the first Symantec attempt at updating its software actually FAILED because the Security Manager prompt was completely obscured on the screen behind the Symantec screen. I never approved the installation, so it failed.

5:14pm -- Norton encounters an error applying its updates and displays the message "LU6014: The current user doesn't have sufficient privileges to install this update. To install this update, log in as an administrative user then run LiveUpdate again." Hmmmm, I'm logged in as the only user defined on the system and SURELY the first user in should be defined as the Administrator role?
5:15pm -- Norton tells me "We recommend you restart your computer for the changes to take effect." I didn't actually complete the installation of anything but maybe to ensure it starts with a clean slate, I'll reboot. I got nothing but time.
5:17pm -- System reboots and Norton dutifully suggests I run LiveUpdate. AGAIN. For the third time.

Eventually, Norton finishes getting its basic software updated and the first round of virus definition file updates loaded. OK, now before tackling the task of putting the hard drive of the previous system's LINUX installation in the new box, I decide it would be wise to make those recovery discs in case I smoke the machine putting LINUX back on it.

No prob. Every vendor ships a program with new PCs that will burn exactly copy of the original factory image after your first license acceptance and first round of configuration.

5:25pm -- I run the program and a screen appears summarizing my choices:

* find THIRTEEN recordable blank CDs for the backup
* find TWO recordable blank DVD drives for the backup

Well, I certainly don't want to sit like a monkey swapping 13 CDs into the tray and I have some blank DVD discs from my digital video recorder. OK, I'll get two of those and give it a whirl.

I put the first DVD blank on the tray, close the door and the system tells me I have the wrong kind of disc. OK, I'll buy that. My DVR uses a special "DVD-RAM" disc that has gained virtually no foothold in the fractured DVD media market. No biggie. I'll hop in the car, drive to a nearby Target, and pick up a box of the "right" media.

Now for another educational technology aside…

Did you know there are SIX different DVD media types? Without the use of Google, can you NAME all of them? If you can NAME all of them, can you explain what the differences are between them?

DVD ----- a standard "manufactured" pre-recorded DVD use for a movie, etc.
DVD-R -- a write-once recordable DVD
DVD+R -- a write-once recordable DVD made to avoid patents of the designers of the DVD-R format
DVD-RW -- the original format for a write-multiple times recordable DVD
DVD+RW -- an enhanced scheme for write-mulitple times recordable DVDs supporting faster write speeds
DVD-RAM -- a many-writeable format that doesn't require finalization but cannot be read by most players that require finalization

And of course this list doesn't include a newer type of DVD-like media called Blu-Ray that uses a laser operating at a different optical wavelength to cram up to 25GB on a disc (or 50GB on a dual-layer Blu-Ray disc).

While not having all the specifics committed to memory, I am at least aware that the differences exist and that there are many incompatibilities between them.

At 5:40pm, I head to the store and look at the shelves of blank discs at Target, my only problem is I initially cannot remember if my DVD drive in the new PC was labeled "DVD-RW" or "DVD+RW". I flip a mental coin, grab a box of the DVD+RW discs, checkout and head home.

After getting home, I run the recovery disc creation program, take the first DVD "plus" RW disc out of the package, drop it in the tray, close the tray wait for the system to begin writing…

...WHAT? "Please insert a blank DVD disc."

I just did. I push the door close again. The screen again displays an alert. "This is an erasable DVD. Please insert a blank DVD."

Now the blood pressure is off the charts. You don't care enough about me as a customer to give me the backup media for the operating system I was forced to buy with the machine, you don't care enough to simplify the new user experience by giving me appropriate blanks WITH the machine, but you DO care if I use erasable media?

Now at 6:05pm I have to make ANOTHER trek to the store to buy...

...exactly what kind of DVD disc? If you're picky enough to block me from using a DVD+RW disc, you're likely to also have a preference about DVD-R versus DVD+R. Of course, the program doesn't TELL you anything on screen about which type it will require or if it has a preference or requirement. I'm left with no choice but to buy a 5-pack of BOTH types to avoid another trip to the store later.

After returning from the store, I start with the DVD+R discs and the system seems to accept them. Fifteen minutes into burning the first DVD, a pop-up alert appears from nowhere helpfully informing me "the igfx video driver stopped responding and was successfully restarted." Well thank you Microsoft, maybe you can tell how things are on the pipeline between the CPU and the L2 cache. That would be really useful now too…

It takes nearly FORTY MINUTES to "prepare files", "record" and "verify" the two recovery discs. Finally, I'm prompted to insert one recordable CD to create a hardware diagnostic disk. That only takes about two minutes to complete.

The Final Analysis

So here's the experience in a nutshell:

* a new $475 computer with Windows Vista Home basic "pre-loaded"
* two hours of time answering mindless prompts to finish the operating system installation
* two extra trips to the neighborhood big box purveyor of all things electronic
* eighteen extra blank DVD discs I may not need for quite some time in three different formats
* a brand new 3.2GHz machine that is not meaningfully faster at any task than a 2001 vintage 1.8GHz machine running Windows XP Professional:

XP on 1.8GHz: boot=90sec, sleep=4sec, awake=8sec, turn off=41sec
Vista on 3.2GHz: boot=76sec, sleep=8sec, awake=8sec, turn off=29sec

* an operating system so bloated that hard drive performance defeats any processor speed improvement - as long as consumer PCs keep shipping with 7200 RPM drives, effective speeds won't get any better (laptops are worse - they often use 5400RPM drives to reduce battery drain)
* an operating system that "looks" fresh but really doesn't improve ANY common task you need to perform
* a total of THREE HOURS spent on a new machine just for the operating system

Keep in mind that this experience was a relatively "simple" challenge. I'm not a hardcore gamer demanding the ultimate in video performance or a media nut trying to use the PC as a digital video recorder with Windows Media Center and a lot of extra tuner hardware with its own problems with software drivers, etc. And this was a new computer, not an upgrade of an older machine that might encounter many more conflicts with drivers or outright incompatibilities. The time involved would have been much greater if I actually had to migrate any applications or documents to the new machine. Since this will just be a "test" machine, none of my old applications had to be migrated and re-customized and configured.

God help the average consumer who tries this with a new machine on their own.

God help all the IT tech support employees in corporate America stuck deploying Vista to the multitudes of victims (I mean "users") who get no say in moving to Vista.

God really help all of you out there who are the "tech support" for your family and friends. You might want to buy a speakerphone. You've got HOURS ahead of you talking your "users" through the process. Then again, maybe you should change telephone numbers.

China: The New Critical Patient

China's economic growth and its interconnections to the world economy have attracted the concern of Americans across a wide spectrum. Stock watchers are interested in the impact of manufacturing outsourcing on margins and profits. Bond watchers are concerned about future Chinese demand for United States treasuries and the impacts of any possible reduction on interest rates. American workers nervously watch to see if the exodus in hands-on manufacturing jobs will extent upward and outward to other product development jobs. Politicians around the world are watching to see how the Chinese government attempts to integrate an unpredictable capitalist economy with the controls of a communist social system like a dessert topping and floor wax.

It used to be said that when the United States economy sneezed, the rest of the world caught a cold. The scale and alignment of the forces at work in China have made China the new critical patient of interest, in the economic, social and political senses.


China's Impact on Energy

If the Iraq quagmire wasn't uncertainty enough, additional violence in Afghanistan with suspected Iranian ties, the collapse of the Palestinian government and attacks in Lebanon have increased uncertainty over oil supplies and prices. Some investors view this uncertainty as a positive indicator to invest in energy stocks. The theory being higher absolute prices provide room for ever-so-slightly higher margins and higher profits.

I think it helps to really go back and think about the calculus behind a bet on energy. Energy is highly profitable for investors when energy prices are chasing demand that's chasing a growing economy. The problem is that an overly-energy dependent worldwide economy can drop energy demands precipitously when that worldwide economy slumps. The US recession in 1981-82 produced a sharp drop in oil prices, both directly by a drop in demand and as a second order effect as the initial price drops led OPEC members to scramble undercutting each other selling their output in a shrinking market. Those oil producing countries are no less dependent today than they were in 1981 to keep collecting oil revenues to fund their otherwise inefficient economies and placate their citizens.

For a bet on energy to pay off over the next 5-10 years, I think you have to bet on the following:

1) lack of a world-wide economic slowdown or outright recession

OR

2) continued economic growth in China, even if the US market slumps and demand for Chinese imports drops.

Option #1 seems doubtful for two key reasons. First, the political issues just mentioned have the potential to spike oil prices so high so quickly that the entire world economy would be put on ice in the event of a supply disruption or just drastically higher prices. Second, even in the absence of an actual disruption, the uncertainty over supply could raise prices high enough to hike inflation, hike interest rates, and slow the world and, in particular, the United States economy.

Option #2 could happen if enough Chinese see enough of an improvement in income / living standards to sustain more of their development internally rather than depending on exports to the US. Because the Chinese economy isn't very energy efficient, any growth in China will help minimize if not eliminate any net reduction in energy demand. So is this likely? This takes us to the next areas of interest.

China's Economic Balance

One YES argument for China continuing to sustain its rapid growth is that in one key aspect, the Chinese economy is evolving and growing differently than the last worldwide experiment in overnight capitalization - post communist Russia. Probably because Russia was already industrialized and had some experience with the economies of scale possible with highly centralized industry, the Russian economy quickly concentrated economic power in key industries in the hands of a well-connected and corrupt few - the oligarchs. The Chinese economy, in contrast, has left its economic power and manufacturing expertise spread across literally thousands of companies. The communist government is still involved at some layer with some regulation and corruption but the tactical decision makers interfacing with customers across the globe are still spread across thousands of firms. The longer this remains true, the better the chance that "invisible hand" effects might become obvious and provide the Chinese economy some better decentralized decision making that can mitigate some of the problems already taking root.

The NO argument is that the Chinese economy is going through the same social and environmental growing pains other industrialized nations went through in the early 1900s: shoddy environmental protections and resulting problems with bad air and polluted land and water, as well as working conditions that are appalling by Western standards. Without an Internet and instant telecommunications, it might be possible to get maybe an entire 20 to 30-year generation of Chinese to leave the collectives in the hinterlands and come to Shenzhing and assemble Dell computers or Cisco routers for 12 hours a day and $155/month. With an Internet, I'm not sure how long that can be sustained when those workers realize where all the profit is going. More importantly, how long will productivity continue improving in an environment of pollution likely to produce MAJOR, EXPENSIVE medical problems in the near future?

China's Political / Social Balancing Act

The July/August 2007 edition of The Atlantic has a cover story by James Fallows entitled Why China's Rise is Good for Us which is HIGHLY recommended. (#1) One of the most interesting points of the story is an insight gained from one entrepreneur operating as a "matchmaker" between Chinese suppliers and manufacturers and firms overseas wanting to outsource work to China. The insight? China is winning the manufacturing war not only because doing business is cheap but because doing business in China is FAST.

If you need to make a last minute design change in a new computer that requires a new specification on a part, you can find dozens of suppliers in a 20 mile radius who can supply the part in DAYS rather than weeks or months. There's an obvious chicken and egg aspect to this, of course. Since so much component manufacturing HAS been outsourced to China, there's bound to be a supplier in China versus Anywhere, USA that makes a suitable part. However, the value of speed versus pure labor savings alone should raise questions in American firms about the true cause of the competitive threat -- labor that's too expensive or management that's too slow in adapter to changing customer needs?

Fallows also makes a horrific point about the working conditions in China:

In the same week that 32 people were murdered at Virginia Tech, 32 Chinese workers at a steel plant in the north were scalded to death when a ladleful of molten steel was accidentally dumped on them. Even in Chinese papers, that story got less play than the U.S. shooting -- and fatal coal mine disasters are so common that they are reported as if they were traffic deaths.

It took American labor about 40-50 years to create a force to counterbalance the robber barons who developed America's industries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the practices that tipped the scales had to be invented on the fly. Now those methods (minimum wage laws, work hour limits, safety regulations, unionization) are certainly understood. China is about 15 years into the boom that has catapulted it into the manufacturing lead. How accelerated will their learning curve be in a Internet age? Will it take Chinese workers 50 years of 12 hour days to demand change?

Chinese entrepreneurs and managers are also learning many lessons about the benefits of capitalism which will make it increasingly difficult for the Chinese government to continue to push centralized planning and limited individual rights in a world where thousands (millions?) of citizens are exposed daily to the benefits of the alternatives. As a result, workers and managers are operating in a mode where their individual interests are being aligned together but in ways 180 degrees out of phase with the government. How long can the government keep the lid on that pressure cooker?

China's fast growth rate and sheer size are producing enormous tensions between the forces enabling the economic growth and the forces that can tear it apart if it grows without correcting some major problems. Whether you look at things through an economic (or investment), social or political lens and whether you focus on domestic impacts or worldwide impacts, China has to play a major part in your decisions.


----------------------

#1) http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200707/shenzhen

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Republican Party's Real Problem

Peggy Noonan penned an article in the June 2, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal summing up her frustration with the Administration of George W Bush. The piece, entitled Too Bad, might have been more appropriately entitled Too Late.

Noonan's piece was prompted by recent signs of revolt within the Republican Party over aspects of immigration reform legislation being promoted by the Bush White House and criticism from Bush of conservative Republicans over their opposition. As Noonan sees it, the Bushies' strategy for defending their proposal has progressed from a "too bad" approach (really just a family-friendly rephrasing of the true "tough sh**" vibe actually employed) to a more individual, "you're bad" vibe. For Noonan, this new arrogant, self-serving, self-righteous, holier than thou approach to government has suddenly become intolerable. Intolerable in her thinking because, as she puts it, "What Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition."

After cracking open the door of recognition about the numerous failures of the GWB Administration, Noonan lays out a more far-reaching conclusion -- that GHWB and GWB have both been "great wasters of political inheritance." In her mind as she wrote the piece, this concept of "inheritance" and the squandering of that inheritance by two generations of Bush Presidents is promoted as a justification for a sudden abandonment of support of the Bush agenda and absolution of any responsibility for the consequences of supporting its flawed policies and incompetence. Her attempt not only fails to provide that absolution but actually highlights the culpability of the conservatives who were co-opted by electoral success into putting thieves, perverts and idiots into power because they spouted the proper sound bytes every two or four or six years.

Her "inheritance" concept itself is the most apropos encapsulation of everything that has come back to plague the Republican Party. The very word "inheritance" has no useful application in a democracy yet its use makes it clear true blue Republicans view history since 1968 as a forty year entitlement to the West Wing with two pesky interludes (77-81 and 93-2001) where power was temporarily relinquished due to a bogus corruption scandal over a "third rate burglary" and a Republican incumbent President who was punished for breaking the faith by hiking taxes. I really feel there is no exaggeration here. Think back to 2000. When Bush took office, the primary mood at the time within the Republican Party was not one of winning an election in a longer series of see-saw battles with legitimate 50/50 odds but rather one of vindication, of winning back an trophy unjustly taken away and, in particular, of avenging the embarrassing loss of the father by the victory of the son.

More importantly, think of the logic that led to the Bush candidacy in 2000. He used his name recognition to win the Governor's seat in Texas (a traditionally weak Governorship due to the Texas Constitution -- the Texas House Speaker has nearly as much power as the Governor). After winning re-election in a landslide in 1998, GWB basically concluded on Inauguration Day in January 1999 that if re-election as Governor was this easy, the Presidency was also within reach. Like Dad, he had no particular goal for what to do AS President, he just wanted to BE President. With nothing to do as Texas Governor, plenty of time was available for fundraising, putting Bush millions ahead of the pack before filing for a single primary. The Republican primary was virtually locked up before the first ballot was cast.

Going back, think of Bush Senior's career. GHWB despised many of the policies of Ronald ("voodoo economics") Reagan. He accepted the second chair gig as a consolation prize to keep his career arc going. GHWB ran for President in 1988 (and won) because he wanted to be President -- not that he had any identifiable goal to accomplish once he got there, he just thought being in charge to react as things happened was the next logical progression in the arc of his career. Eight years in dutiful service to the party as Vice President entitled him to first crack at the lead once the part became available.

Going further back, think of the events that toppled Nixon. Despite a likely win in 1972, Nixon and his supporters felt entitled to a landslide and engaged in two years of dirty tricks that wound up toppling his Presidency once uncovered. Given the staff from the Nixon Administration that wound up in the GWB administration, it is quite easy to argue that many of the controversial Presidential Directives and the antagonistic attitude of the GWB administration towards Congress, the Courts and, well, pretty much EVERYONE stems directly from the "get even" philosophy brought back into the White House from these players.

To read Noonan's column in June 2007, you'd think these insights suddenly came from nowhere like a stroke of lightning at midnight. In reality, it's been high noon for quite some time. In October 1992, Molly Ivins described the exact same intra-party debate over whether the Reagan revolution really accomplished anything or if the extra trillion or two in debt racked up might come back to haunt us. Maureen Dowd's best-selling 2004 book Bushworld accurately described the bizarre, inter-generational psychodrama between GWB and GHWB in which GWB attempts to un-do the embarrassing mistakes of his father by systematically attempting the polar opposite of virtually everything his father did. The political equivalent of rolling back the odometer of history.

In contrast, Noonan's columns seem to quite transparently sell the official Republican Party line without hesitation. Here's an excerpt from her November 2, 2000 column supporting George Bush (#2) (emphasis added):

In foreign affairs Mr. Bush's intentions are marked by moral modesty and a lack of illusions: America, he repeated in the last debate, must fully engage the world, but with humility. His first and most crucial foreign-affairs endeavor will begin, appropriately, at home: improving the national defense, remedying the effects of eight years of confusion and neglect, enhancing responsiveness to future challenges, increasing morale, restoring those aspects of the old military culture that are positive and needed.

In character, personality traits, history and attitudes, Mr. Bush seems the opposite of both Bill and Hillary Clinton and of Mr. Gore. Mr. Bush has an instinctive personal modesty, an easygoing sense of both human and governmental limits. He will know how to step aside and let the country take center stage; he will know how to show respect for others; he will not bray endlessly about his own excellence, will not compare himself to Nelson Mandela, Mark McGuire, or the heroes of the novels "Love Story" or "Darkness at Noon"; he will not discuss his underpants. Laura Bush will not announce that her husband's power is hers, that she is co-president, and that she will soon nationalize 17% of the gross national product. Both Bushes seem not emotionally troubled but mentally balanced, which was once considered the lowest of expectations for our leaders but now seems like a gift to the nation


After four years of the Bush Administration, how much did Noonan learn? Nothing. Check out this excerpt from her first column after the 2004 election: (#3)

George Soros cannot buy a presidential election. Savor. "Volunteers" who are bought and paid for cannot beat volunteers who come from the neighborhood, church, workplace and reading group. Savor.

The leaders of the Bush effort see it this way: A ragtag band of more than a million Republican volunteers who fought like Washington's troops at Valley Forge beat the paid Hessians of King George III's army. Savor.


Of course, we've learned much about voter registration shenanigans conducted by paid professionals operating under direct supervision of Karl Rove (#4) so the comparison of Republican operatives to our troops huddled in Valley Forge would seem a tad overwrought. As a final grace note in her 2004 piece, she congratulated three fellow talking heads who similarly kept the faith in the face of some troubling exit polls:

Oh, another last note. Tuesday I heard three radio talkers who refused to believe it was over when the ludicrous, and who knows but possibly quite mischievous, exit polls virtually declared a Kerry landslide yesterday afternoon. They are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. The last sent me an e-mail that dismissed the numbers as elitist nonsense and propaganda. She is one tough girl and they are two tough men. Savor them too.


So four years into an Administration that had already blown over $100 billion on a war we didn't need, failed to capture public enemy number one, and sowed the seeds of our long-term failure in that unneeded war, Noonan seemed jubilant. Her guy won, her party gained seats, how bad could it be?

So what's different now? The same policies are being pursued. The same problems are going unaddressed. The same pattern of decision making that is producing these problems is still being used. What's different? Oh, your party is being tarred with the results? Oh, THAT'S what's different.

A conservative deathbed conversion at this stage of the game really doesn't cut it. Noonan's recent commentary doesn't reflect a new awareness of a flawed process that gave power to incompetent politicians with dangerous ideas and her party's role in that process. It reflects an even greater denial about the real problem -- a preference for supporting winners rather than leaders. There's a difference, Peggy.


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#1) http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110010148

#2) http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=65000525

#3) http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110005844

#4) http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/052507J.shtml