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reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002

--- Winter Games Update ---

A few senators -- notably Ted Stevens, the man who would be president pro tempore -- have lined up behind Lott. Others are frantically gesturing and stage-whispering from the wings: "Ix-nay! Ix-nay! Ink-thay ark-May uhrman-Fay!".

Various sources have parsed Mississippi law re Senate vacancies. (See this from the Biloxi SunHerald.) An appointed replacement sits for 90 days if Lott resigns by the end of the 2002, or through November if he resigns in 2003. Note: from notice of vacancy, the Governor has 10 days to name a replacement. I assume (but have not confirmed) that this provision could NOT be exploited to toll the date logic and roll a 2002 resignation into 2003.

Dwight Meredith at P.L.A. logs a Count Your Fingers series on promises made to legislators and broken by Republican leaders, noting one deal even less likely to be honored by a vacant Lott.

A factor in that January 6 caucus date: most of 9 new GOP Senators won't be sworn in til then. Can mere Senators-elect vote in a leadership challenge? That depends on caucus rules. What are the rules? Don't know, but they're set by the caucus and (I assume) can be suspended by supermajority, or a 'done deal' could be adopted by gentleman's agreement before formal action in January.

Lott could score a committee chairmanship as payoff for stepping down but staying in the Senate. (Chuck Grassley's Finance Cmte. slot has been mentioned.) Lott gets a major chair, which gets yanked out from under some other senior R, who must then be bought off, which creates a chain reaction ... and its hard to find any chair that doesn't preside over racially sensitive subject matter.

Let the Mountain come to Murkowski ... who now hints he may not name his own replacement until after Christmas. Bids are open. It's a good time to be a Murkowski ... or a Chaffee ... or perversely, even a Friend of Lott.

Judicial appointments could be a huge bone of contention.
Positive Clinton would lose the 1996 race, Gingrich Revolutionaries blocked his picks from late 1994 forward. A few months of pre-election stalling would have been routine, the two-year speculative embargo was a stretch, but -- reinvigorated by impeachment prospects -- the blockade held through 2000 (punctuated by horsetrading exceptions). D's regained Senate control in 2001 with many scores to settle, blocking selected Bush nominations.
Lots of chips on the table, some big chips on big shoulders, and several guns drawn and cocked. In any grand cross-caucus bargain, these could be deal-breakers... or the currency by which hold-outs are bought into the fold.

Monday, December 16, 2002

--- Let the Winter Games Begin! ---

It was shaping up as a joyous holiday season for Senate Republicans. November's two-seat swing gave them the Majority. The Louisiana run-off seemed to promise an additional seat. They'd take their time fine-tuning January's Organizing Resolution, leveraging a 52-48 advantage to stick it to the losers. Any static that might emanate from this process would be of the "dividing the spoils" variety.

Suddenly they're clinging to a 51-49 edge with a terminally discredited Leader who threatens to take their Majority down with him. As curmudgeon Moe Lane remarks in a DailyKOS comments section "there's a little part of my brain that loves to see those slo-mo movies of test crashes and expensive glassware shattering on cobblestone floors". Ah, schadenfreude!

What happens now? Here's a pre-game run-down of basic rules, strategies, strengths and weaknesses, who's holding (and hiding) which cards, chips, guns.

For starters, time is of the essence. Normally the O.R. -- and subsidiary detail down to the last stick of furniture -- is negotiated between respective Leaders of both parties. Even before the crystal shattered, the R's brought high expectations to a difficult negotiating process. That process should be in full swing RIGHT NOW. [See this November outlook by National Review's Byron York.]

Until the new Senate adopts a new O. R., normally by U.C. (Unanimous Consent) it operates with no O.R. in force ... but it functions largely by terms of the old one. Daschle remains "Majority" Leader, D's retain a one seat margin (and the chair) on most committees. Committee staff and budgets are divided equally. Other important business stays in limbo until the Resolution is resolved. Rookie Senators (R's Alexander, Chambliss, Coleman, Cornyn, Dole, Lindsey Graham, Sununu, Talent, and Murkowski's unnamed replacement ... and the D's Pryor) wait for their committee seats. Appropriation subcommittees don't even meet ... and the 107th Congress left a ton of spending questions unsettled.

Thus R's are impatient to score a new O.R., while D's can afford to run out the clock. In a game of negotiations and coalitions, this gives D's a decided advantage.

Banking on a 52-48 majority, R's had been drawing up an ill-conceived power offense -- acting like D's had no leverage and the pendulum would never swing back. R's would demand a 2-seat margin on most committees and a 2-to-1 ratio for supporting staff and budgets. [2-to-1 is the maximum ratio allowed under Senate rules, regardless of voting margin. With D's up 51-49, committee budgets were divided 50-50, plus 10% for admin.]

Landrieu's win pared the margin to 51-49, but caucus hotheads clung to the same objectives. In either case Daschle had, as he put it, "options" that would give R's cause to reconsider.

Now, with "all these troubles", everything is up for grabs. Everything. When the dust settles in January, control of the Senate might belong to the R's, or the D's, or somebody else.

An earlier post surveyed the creative options available to John McCain (beyond a mere party switch or a presidential bid). No reason to think he'll ever stumble across a better chance to lead. If he makes a move now, he's an 800-lb. eagle. If he stands pat now, he's only an 800-lb. parakeet.

How about Lott? I wish he'd spare us the gruesome spectacle of a man being dragged through racial sensitivity training every night on live TV, but he vows to stick it out. He further signals he would resign from the Senate if deposed. (A fallen Leader often cleans out his desk and goes home.) Mississippi's Gov. Musgrove is a D, who would likely appoint a D to replace Lott ... moving the Senate back to 50-50. The White House signals back, suggesting they would call this bluff if necessary. Is Lott bluffing? Is Bush? We don't know. Maybe they don't either ... not uncommon in games of mutual assured destruction.

Among the R's is Lincoln Chaffee, who might jump to join the D's. Conceivably he could jump even at 51-49. He'll be seated where his vote and voice can't matter much (perhaps paired up with a DINO like Zell Miller), since his RINO vote effectively reverses the R's one-seat advantage in committee wherever he sits. Where Chaffee has brokered bipartisan compromises (think Homeland Security) he's been double-crossed by his own side. This dilutes the usual incentive to stick with the Majority. A 52-48 margin gave R's options to manage (reward, punish, cushion) Chaffee's vote. 51-49 quashes some of those options. 50-50 gives Chaffee options.

The D's include Zell Miller, who fits in better with the R's. Zell, however, is loyal to who brung him. He's ticked off at the R's for shooting Georgia's Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes out of the saddle (and trading on Zell's good name in the process), unraveling Miller's lifelong crusade to reinvent his party in the South. He's really sore at the R's for reviving Confederate Revivalism. There's a slim chance he'd cross the aisle in a major reconfiguration, if the R's had different leadership ... or he might join a spoiler caucus if chaos and paralysis (or liberal triumphalism) were the evident alternative.

Another player to watch is Alaska's Frank Murkowski. Murkowski? He's not even in the Senate anymore, and wasn't a key player when he was there. Got elected Governor, took office, and now he gets to appoint his own replacement. The announcement was expected last week, but it's still pending ... and it's a much more valuable bargaining chip than it was a few days ago. At 51-49 or 50-50, any seat is a key seat and every player is a key player.

We won't detail the contenders today. The successful applicant for Lott's position should know the ropes ... should have served a full term or better. Can't be too dim-witted. Can't be too "liberal", or too independent. Probably can't be too southern, under the circumstances. Must be telegenic. Probably not in line to chair a major committee. And must be a smooth operator, adept at moderating the eternal, subtle, symbolic fight for the Party's heart and soul.

It's a short list ... and some of those names would alienate other key players, for reasons ideological or personal. Eager beavers include Don Nickles and Mitch McConnell. More viable picks might include Bill Frist and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Lott won't survive as Leader. For practical purposes he's not Leader now -- he can't discipline his members or negotiate binding agreements with the other side. There's no clear favorite, so Nobody is Leader, and Nobody is trying to look too ambitious at the moment. With precious time slipping away, things are coming unhinged.

The caucus would not ordinarily act on a leadership challenge until the Senate convenes again the first week of January. Now they'll have to take a break from their winter break (normally a time when batteries are recharged, fences mended, deep thoughts thunk). They'll probably have to come back to D.C. and grapple for position, with no predetermined outcome. Real smoke-filled room machinations, the kind we don't see much anymore. (Just in: they plan to meet January 6, 2003 ... that's too late! What's the real plan?)

The R's primary objective now is to jettison Lott without losing control. They could easily lose control directly -- Lott resigns, Musgrove appoints a D, Chaffee jumps. They could lose control indirectly -- bridges are burned in the fight over Lott's office, or a new hard-line Leader alienates moderates, or McCain makes a "spoiler caucus" play.

Where are We The People in all this? A brokered resolution -- after the Supreme Court's intervention in Florida 2000, and the Jeffords jump -- would complete a trifecta of backroom deals. The voting public doesn't care much for backroom deals. It doesn't care much for gridlock either. Strangely enough, it likes divided government (2-to-1 in post-election surveys).

Landrieu's win reinforces this consensus in favor of division. Bush's star still shines, but less brightly. The economy is soggy. Iraq looks a bit boggy. The numbers don't work. Budgets are in real crisis in almost every state, even where Republicans live and vote. Dubya's famously tight-knit team is exposing loose thread here and there. A triumphant post-election Republican leadership porked the Homeland bill full of bastard provisions. Now Lott has gone and disgraced himself. [More than disgraced himself -- he's blown the Southern Strategy cover.]

Is this the "Contact With America" overreach redux? Don't know, but R's should not bank on churning up popular resentment against Demon Daschle.

R's have another tactical disadvantage. Republican leaders -- House, Senate, White House -- have not been conspicious as promise keepers lately (even to their own party allies), and they savaged their best Democratic allies of conveninece in Campaign 2002. When you are wheeling and dealing to save your skin -- especially offering the proverbial "player to be named later" -- memories of a broken deals take your options off the table. What more could be fairer?

But R's have options too. They are "motivated bidders". House R's control the purse, and the White House can bestow many favors (and punishments) by executive fiat, and via political fundraising and endorsements. They'd pay a handsome price to end this nightmare. And everything's negotiable, right?

In light of specified rewards (or threats), Mississippi's Gov. Musgrove might be induced to appoint an acceptable replacement. What's "acceptable", and to whom? Could he switch parties and appoint himself? Who knows? Everything's negotiable.

In light of specified rewards, Lott could be induced to finish out his term in the Senate ... or at least wait for the next shoe to drop. It's hard to reward Lott much -- or even keep him -- without embarrassing the Party, and threats seem superfluous at this point. But somebody can think of something, if they think hard enough. It's all negotiable.

In light of specified rewards, Tom Daschle might be induced to give the R's wiggle room. He might refrain from recruiting Chaffee, or swap Miller for Chaffee. He might take "majority" control but grant concessions in policy or structure, taking the R's halfway off the hook. In the process, he might trade away his own leadership position, substituting a more centrist Lieberman, Breaux or Graham. (He may want to escape the Leader's office anyway, as prelude to a presidential bid.) What price might he extract? Everything's negotiable.

Or, in light of specified rewards, Chaffee could be induced to stay with the R's, and all parties could play out the tightrope routine of a 50-50 Senate with Cheney's tie-breaking vote working in the R's favor. [The Constitutional tiebreaker applies to enactments, but probably not to internal matters such as the O.R. ... so D's might stay in the "Majority".] What would Chaffee want, and what could the R's offer? It's negotiable.

Or everybody could sit tight, watching events unfold. Fate can deal a wildcard at any time. Senators retire for reasons of health, opportunity, or even scandal. On both sides of the aisle, a majority of sitting senators would be replaced by appointees of the opposite party! Stuff happens. (That's one more reason -- a very good reason -- to refrain from overplaying one's hand.)

[For background, see the historic January 2000 50-50 O.R. (demonstrating Daschle's leverage even as R's held the high ground of the status quo ante majority AND Cheney's tie-breaker) ... the much shorter, more conventional June 2000 "Jeffords Jump" O.R. ... Roll Call's report on Daschle's leverage before Lott imploded ... and this Hill News run-down on jockeying for committee slots, etc. (after Lott's poorly chosen words, but before they were taken seriously). Possibly of note for "inside baseball" scuttlebutt, this Beltway Bloggers group blog.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

--- Sorely Posin' Blurbs (a paraphrase) ---

Trent Lott today allowed as how his remarks were "insensitive", bleating "What are you going to say, I wished you'd lost?". OK. Dub this the "Lack of Material" defense.

So what do you say at somebody's 100th birthday celebration when you can't think of anything nice to say? Let's paraphrase the "poorly chosen words" in a different setting.

Occasion? A jocular public affair ... tribute to an aging German marathon record-setter.

Speaking? A major political leader ... the President of the United States.
"I want to say this about my state family:"
(effusive applause)

"When Strom Thurmond Adolf Hitler ran for president campaigned for Law and Order"
(anticipatory chuckles)

"we [Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker] voted for bankrolled him."
(hoots and hollers ... "wow, that's lettin' it all hang out!")

"We're proud of it!"
("Oh, man, what a set-up line ... what's he got up his sleeve!")

"And if the rest of the country had'a followed our lead"
("here comes the punch line ...")

"we wouldn'ta had all'o these problems over all'o these years, either!"
([dead silence] "Which problems? D-Day? Liberating the death camps? The A-Bomb? The Jews? The French? The Euro? Postmodern architecture? No, wait, the Cold War?!? No. I don't get it. Did I somehow get conveyed into a misimpression that he just embraced the discarded something of the something due to his poor choice of words?")
Are you offended? Praise Godwin, you might well be. Are you sure why? Make it a Joseph P. Kennedy anecdote ... still offended? Probably.

It comes down to this -- even in the highest of high spirits, even if you can think of nothing to say ... you don't say anything like this. You don't even think it. You don't excuse it. And you don't cozy up to anyone who does ... do you?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

--- Trent Lott Retirement Tribute Planning Begins in Earnest ---

CP tries to avoid beating well-beaten horses, but Jim Henley's Unqualified Offerings offers the best take yet on Trent Lott's "poor choice of words":
The best thing for the Democratic Party [is] Lott hanging on ... they'll wait to see what some dumbass says at the Trent Lott tribute.
Let the planning begin! How about that Sinatra ditty?
"My Way" (Revaux/Francois/Anka)
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows --
And did it my way!
But seriously now, folks ... let's hear it for the Singing Senator!

Lott's words were not extemporaneous, and they were not "poorly chosen". They were scripted with care, and with a serrated edge. It's the thought that counts, and the thought behind Lott's remarks was venomous.

Strom Thurmond's policies weren't merely "discarded" like the ultrawide neckties of yesteryear. (Maybe Trent still keeps those in the back of his closet, too, hoping they'll make a comeback.) And the spokesman-issued generic apology "to anyone who was offended by my statement" doesn't cut the mustard.

How many Mississippians today ever knew their state supported Strom's failed 1948 bid to block Harry Truman's anti-lynching laws? Yes, a political junkie might know, or an old-timer. Even so, it's not the first thing that pops into your head. And even if it does -- you know enough not to bring it up! It's not "tribute" material, and it's not the sort of thing that just slips out.

Given the light-hearted occasion, you could dredge up any number of safer, saner anecdotes. Praise Thurmond to high heaven for his heroic service in WW II. Toast his longevity and indefatigable interest in "the ladies". And discreetly avoid those regrettable episodes from his political history.

But Lott took an opportunity to go for the jugular, and he cut himself badly. In effect, he stood up on a public stage and mooned the national consensus on racial reconciliation ... the hard-won triumph of idealism over a gruesome ignoble legacy. Lott's outburst silenced the room. Nobody laughed, nobody cheered, too many looked the other way ... but enough are standing up and being counted. It stinks, and the stink is not going away.

On the outside, Gore rightly holds Lott's feet to the fire. On the inside, Daschle plays it cool ... politely holding the door open for more of Lott's serial apologetics. No reason for Dem's to push too hard. Lott's drawing enough high holy heat from the Right, where the exercise will help separate sheep from goats. (Robert Novak: "Party of Lincoln? Lincoln was more of a racist [than you think] ...") It may occasion a much-needed refresher course in US history for the younger set (and for absent-minded seniors).

What happens next? Lott simmers slowly in his own juices. If he escapes the frying pan of damage control through the fires of penitence, he's still scarred for life. Now every public appearance by the Southern Strategy's Master of Ceremonies gets scrutinized for back-masked subliminal hints of White Supremacy, and even innocently ill-chosen words reverberate in the echo chamber.

In the end Lott must retreat -- at least to the back bench -- but no hurry ... first, let's find out who wants to stand up with him.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

--- McCain, the 800-Lb. Lone Eagle ---

It's reorg time in the US Senate, and John McCain now has more strategic options -- and more strategic motivations -- than he can shake a stick at. Will he just stand there shaking that old stick ... or will he throw it? [On this decision tree, there's a hornets nest at the end of every branch.]

What options am I talking about?
There's some buzz about a double-switch ... Lincoln Chaffee (r-RI) and McCain (R-AZ) crossing the aisle, joining the D's (or caucusing with them), giving them effective majority control.

There's chatter about a third party ... some sort of Bull Moose contraption that might attract non-southern Republicans and southern Democrats.
Third parties rarely make much sense. In McCain's heart he's still a Republican, anyway, though the party of his youthful heart barely has a pulse these days.

The switch might make sense -- just not for McCain. The GOP is no longer the Party of Lincoln (Chaffee). He'll never win top committee slots or drive legislation as a Republican, so he'd not sacrifice much influence by joining the minority. He's tired of hanging around in hopes of saving the Republicans from their bad selves, or staking out the leftmost margin to preserve wiggle room for other Northeast moderates.

Let's count Chaffee, then, as a prospective effective D ... dividing the Senate 50-50 with VP DIck Cheney still the tiebreaking vote.

But McCain has more diverse and interesting options on the board.

By crossing the aisle (all the way or halfway as Jeffords did), he can flip the balance. That gives him a ton of bargaining power on both sides of the aisle.

With this bargaining power he can effectively dictate organization of the Senate. Committees will be divided equally, and McCain could decide who gets which Chair ... which give him immense bargaining power with individual senators.

Using the threat to switch -- and to drive committee seats accordingly -- he could quite possibly make himself Majority Leader on the GOP side. From that seat he might wield powers he could not exert as key player on a Dem-centered coalition. For instance, he would control GOP appointments to the 9/11 Commission (something he couldn't do from the other side). He could enforce the late-session agreement to "revisit" certain unattributed midnight additions to the Homeland Security package.

On this basis, he could place an even higher premium on his option to cross the aisle. He could negotiate his choice of Democratic Majority Leader, for instance, and insist on a number of other committee and policy fiats.

On the third hand, he could form a swing caucus in the Senate, without going through the corresponding set of (less practicable) third-party gyrations. Attracting a small number of temporary followers from both parties, he/they could control the reorg -- and the agenda -- and the subsequent directional debate in both parties -- without either permanently defecting or quietly capitulating.

McCain probably doesn't want to be Leader on either side (too much bean-counting and nuancing, not enough swashbuckling), but he could be the one who gets to decide who gets to be Leader on one side, or the other side ... or on both sides!!!

Those are the basic elements. A slew of creative combinations are conceivable.

How about McCain's motivations? Some are policy-centered, some political, some patriotic, and some personal. He thinks less these days of living in the White House, but he senses trouble ahead for his beloved Republican Party ... and maybe his Republic. As with Jeffords, the "last straw" was likely both personal and principled. The Bush/Rove/Lott machine has been futrifling with McCain lately, mostly for no good reason.

On top of the 2000 campaign smears, on top of the unceremonious McCain-Feingold signing snub, Bush & Co. delivered a series of sharp insults that go beyond the personal ... they go to questions of honor and substance ... to substantive agreements negotiated with a United States Senator, and later dishonored.

They double-crossed McCain on a Federal Elections Commission appointment (agreed in return for a pass on other appointments). They waved a red flag in front of the Bull Moose by larding up the Homeland bill with a Thousand Points of Pork. They'll screw him again when these points are "revisited". They are moving now to screw him on previously agreed 9/11 Commission appointments. They won McCain's contempt beyond their wildest dreams with their Cleland/Osama posters and Confederate battle flag themes, and maybe even with their pissing on (fellow maverick) Paul Wellstone's grave (blithely reversing Wellstone's last amandment, a provision against corporate tax turncoats).

[These and other moves have also earned contempt from folks like Zell Miller and John Breaux, in ways that may end up pivotal in the drama to follow. Why do GWB & Co. do stuff like this? Simple. They just can't help themselves.]

"Word is bond". A great deal of important business is done -- and can only be done -- on one's word of honor. FuTrifle with that, trifle with a Senator on an oral agreement, and you're trifling with the great machinery of the Constitution made real. So "Bust a deal, face the wheel", and as this wheel slowly turns, may it grind exceedingly fine.

Beyond that, GWB -- after a 2003 of damage control followed by a 2004 of creative desertion -- may not run. McCain can still be "Mr. Republican" without really trying.

As with Jeffords, some fraction of the electorate might interpret post-election shenanigans as corrupt practice. Party switches might furnish Rove with more propaganda fodder, and contribute to even greater electoral alienation, and keep Bush from being held accountable for ... well, everything. These are some of the hornets nests I mentioned earlier.

But post election polling says most voters never wanted Bush to control both houses of Congress. This factor -- wind-aided by Landrieu's victory, confirmed by DiIulio's "Mayberry Machiavelli" disclosures, reinforced by Trent Lott's Confederate cheerleading -- give McCain much freer rein. If McCain makes a move, most Americans will appreciate it as a move in the right direction ... and especially so if it's a move he doesn't have to make alone.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

--- Machiavelli's, Mayberry's, and Moron-Like Entities ---

In The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams reminds us the universe of relevant information is expanding rapidly, while our minds are not. Thus every one of us is becoming ever more functionally, relativistically idiotic by the minute ... even as we sleep.

Part I: Henry the Palterer* and the Chamber of Secrets

December 1968. Daniel, a RAND Corporation defense theorist and Vietnam subject matter expert, is briefing Henry, a newly elected president's top national security appointee. [Henry will later help turn the City of Secrets upside down in an effort to destroy Daniel ... but that's another story.] Daniel speaks:
Henry ... you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty ... higher than top secret.

... I have a pretty good sense of what the effects ... are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed ...

First, you'll be exhilarated ... almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions ... having literally rubbed shoulders [with those] who did have access ...

Then ... you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only ... that all those other people are fools.

... two or three years -- you'll eventually become aware ... it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times ...

... meantime ... you'll be thinking ... 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? ...' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. ...

You will deal with a person ... only from the point of view of what you want him to believe ... since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know... you'll become something like a moron ... incapable of learning from most people ...

... I'd long thought of this kind of secret information as something like the potion Circe gave to the wanderers [who] became incapable of human speech and couldn't help one another to find their way home.
[Ellsberg, Secrets, Ch. 15]
Henry took to Circe's potion like a pig takes to mud. He practised the torturous arts of juggling secrets within secrets, lies within lies ... eclipsing all past masters. He dealt with people only from the standpoint of what he wanted them to know, and kept them from suspecting what he knew.

Ever more nimbly, he learned to traverse the fractal labyrinths of his own interior landscape ... compartments within compartments, false fronts, secret panels, hidden passages, coded tumblers, disappearing ink, mirror boxes and flash powder.

Somewhere in this palace of mirrors, behind nth-order reflections of shadows of smoke, ten million ghosts of men, women and children -- mostly children -- are waiting patiently for the instant the juggler loses his touch ... but that's another story.

[... thirty-four years pass as if in a dream ...]

December 2002. A Commission to investigate the 9/11 horrors is to be divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with a distinguished chairman -- Henry -- appointed by the President. George, who had steadfastly opposed any such quest, has abruptly reversed course, but announces (contrary to Congressional charter) that the panel's mission is to ponder what horrors might lie ahead, but to never look back.

Dr. K. -- Henry -- is still something like a moron, incapable of learning from most people. Then again, he's more like a wizard with moron rays at his fingertips, capable of suspending the passage of time and transforming whole academies into villages of idiots. The Secrets are safe ... for now.

[* palter: to speak or behave insincerely; see equivocate, tergiversate, evade, dodge, fudge, beat around the BUSH]

Part II: Opie-Dopie and the Traveling Mayberry's
Somewhere up towards the North Pole, a government functionary has made the PR imbecile's career-limiting move ... referring to George as a "moron". [Whaddya want? Even her boss is a Cretien.]
In terms of a once-authoritative diagnostic scale (now considered offensive), a moron can attain the adult mental development of a typical 7 to 12 year old ... potentially amenable to limited vocational training.
George is not a moron -- not literally. Morons don't graduate from Harvard Business School, or pilot jets, or even get elected POTUS. But "moron" can also be used descriptively in a relative sense. Among HBS students, or fighter pilots, or P'sOTUS, there are inevitably some as dim as they can be and still function. George is -- in his own reference set -- a Moron-Like Entity. A minor laughing stock among heads of state, except that this MLE named George has bigger bombs and a shorter fuse.

George is apparently near average intelligence (or at least he was at the front end of two dissolute decades). He is also apparently learning disabled. [Mother's emphatic and very specific insistence that George is NOT dyslexic suggests a concerted diagnostic effort.]

Like many LD kids, George acquires exceptional coping skills ... faking comprehension by speaking in lofty generalities, and simulating depth by markedly EMphasizing the rare polySYllable ... wrapping vague pronouncements in non-falsifiable claims (claiming to have looked into men's eyes and seen their souls). The wily LD'er may hone skills of social interaction to win approval for inferior work, and get others to shoulder his assignments.

So George is Tom Sawyer, and here we all are today ... white-washing the old fence while he dreams of high adventure.

Leaders and LD'ers alike rely on effective social manipulative. Genuine leaders -- LD or not -- combine the art of getting people to follow them with the art of sniffing out better paths to better destinations. Their followers tend to make progress. Mere social-coping charismatics may succeed only in running their gangs into destructive clashes with rival gangs. Their followers tend to take casualties.

But President Opie isn't the only MLE in our show of shows. Poll internals consistently demonstrate that a decisive fraction of the electorate can't figure out whether 'yes' means yes or 'yes' means no -- even in simple one-line questions. And we don't really care. Most of us coast along assuming if the issue was really important, somebody (else) would have done something about it already ... which turns out to be almost true enough, almost often enough.

In the space between our Dear LD'er and them that don't know the difference between ignorance and apathy (and don't care), we find the MLE's of journalism. George has shown he can make major media newshounds roll over, play dead, or attack on cue by treating them like dogs ... calling them across the lawn with distinctive one or two-syllable nicknames, relying on simple consistent command gestures, vocal inflections and facial expressions of approval or disapproval.
Did humans domesticate dogs by incrementally manipulating wolves? Or did wolves turn themselves into dogs by incrementally "learning" to manipulate humans? There's a lively debate afoot on this co-evolutionary topic, directly relevant to White House and Pentagon press briefings.
News-slingers can fake their part of the show, too -- and escape the backbreaking burden of actual information-bearing -- by learning a few gimmicks of their own. Mainstream news is pitched to the verbal comprehension of a typical 12 year old ... and the emotive/narrative comprehension typical of a 7 year old (black hat, white hat, "bang, you're dead!").

In this context, witness the DiIulio gambit. Truth -- the "Mayberry Machiavelli" thesis -- was proffered, then retracted ... sort of. In the ordinary course of business, Truth from the mouth of a Opie-whacker would receive zero notice, and Truth shared by a disgruntled Opie-backer would receive scarcely more notice. The goodhearted gullible Opie, in particular, would never hear the alarm John D was trying to raise.

But DiIulio -- though he may self-delude on occasion -- is no moron. He stumbled on a way to give the Truth longer legs ... by adding drama, or at least melodrama, appealing to journalism's inner 7-year-old.
Ron: Bang! You're dead!

Karl: Am not!

Ron: Are too!

Ari: Bang! Bang! YOU'RE dead!

Ron: Am not!

Ari: Are too!

Ron: Nyah, nyah, this is bulletproof!

Ari: Is not!

Ron: Is too!

John: Is not!

Ron: Hey, you said bulletproof!

John: Did not!

Matt: Did so! Look here!!!

John: Made ya look!

Karl, Ari, Ron, Matt: Hey, which side are you on?

John: Opie!

Opie: Hey, guys, what's all the ruckus?
So, with sufficient reverberation in the echo chamber, George may hear John's alarm after all.

Just before this tempest blew up, Matthew Yglesias posted an astute observation re low turnover in the upper ranks of GWB's posse:
Bush is ... not very curious about things ... he'll probably take his trusted advisors' advice about what to do with his less-trusted advisors. ... It's in the interests of advisors Bush trusts to keep non-trusted advisors around since it diminishes the amount of competition they have ... the circle of trusted advisors may get smaller and smaller as time goes on ...
Oh, well, how does the saying go? "People get the government they deserve." OK, And hit it, Traveling Wilbury's!
Sometimes you think you're crazy
But you know you're only mad
Sometimes your better off not knowing
How much you've been had
More turkey, anybody?