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Torture, By Any Other Name

"Democrats contend Bush's outburst was the latest sign he's worried that he's going to lose control of Congress.

"'It's pathetic, and it's not working,' Senate Democratic spokesman Phil Singer said of Bush's harsh language."

Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune that White House officials are "privately voicing confidence that Hastert will weather the controversy."

Don't Ignore Me!

Holly Bailey blogs for Newsweek: "For a guy who's never had much use for reporters, President Bush sure seems to crave their attention. After he wrapped up a fund-raising event for GOP Rep. Dick Pombo in California, Bush bounded off stage and headed toward the audience to shake hands with supporters. But as he came down the stairs, he paused and shot a disappointed look toward the area where the White House press was corralled. Most of the scribes were buried nose deep in their laptops and didn't notice the president was on the move. 'Hello!' Bush called to them. No response. 'Hello, reporters!' he shouted again, leaning in and spreading his arms. Still, nothing. 'Hellllo!' Bush bellowed, waving his arms in the air and laughing."

The Bush/Hastert Love Affair

Bush on Tuesday had a few supportive words for Hastert.

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write for Newsweek: "It wasn't a glowing endorsement. After all, Bush didn't explicitly say that Hastert shouldn't resign.

"But for a White House that has often been happy to let scandal-plagued lawmakers twist in the wind -- the lobbyist troubles and race comments that crippled Tom DeLay and Trent Lott respectively come to mind -- Bush's decision to speak out on Hastert was notable and speaks to how much the White House relies on him as their go-to man on Capitol Hill.

"Of all congressional Republicans, Hastert has been viewed by administration officials as perhaps the most important figure when it comes to Bush's prospects of pushing through any of his agenda during his final two years in office. Even as a growing number of GOP lawmakers have rebelled against the White House in this second term, Hastert has been the coach who kept lawmakers from venturing too far off the mark."

Says one House GOP lawmaker: "I think Denny might be his closest friend on the Hill."

Poll Watch

According to an NC State press release , the results of a new survey out of North Carolina State University suggest that Americans appear unwilling to pay the future human and material costs of the war. . . .

"When asked to provide 'an acceptable number of U.S. military deaths' in Iraq, 61 percent of respondents said zero. . . . When asked later in the survey how much more money the United States should 'spend in order to complete the mission in Iraq,' 55 percent of respondents said no additional dollars should be spent. These views are undoubtedly related to the fact that 57 percent of respondents felt that the United States 'should have stayed out' of Iraq and that respondents were split 50-50 on whether U.S. efforts in Iraq would succeed or fail."

William A. Boettcher III and Michael D. Cobb , the two professors who conducted the poll, wrote a Raleigh News and Observer op-ed in August on the importance to opponents of the war of reframing the debate.

"The public is ready to re-evaluate the U.S. involvement in Iraq, but it can't discern an exit strategy so long as Iraq is viewed through the lens of the war on terrorism. It is time for leading critics of the war to step up and show them the way out," they wrote.

The full survey can be accessed from Cobb's Web page .

Woodward Watch

John Dickerson proudly announces that "Slate's reading guide fast-forwards you straight to the juicy parts" of Bob Woodward's new book.

Jacob Weisberg , also in Slate, writes: "Woodward never acknowledges changing his mind because he regards himself as a straightforward reporting machine, with no opinions of his own and no axes to grind. He can't say he's revising his judgments because he claims never to have made any. But, of course, Woodward does have a consistent worldview -- the conventional wisdom of any given moment. When tout le Beltway viewed Rummy as a commanding hunk, Woodward embodied the adoration. Now that we all know Rummy is a vicious old bastard, Woodward channels the loathing just as fluidly. I'm not holding my breath, but if the war in Iraq takes a turn for the better, Stud Rummy could well return in Woodward's Buns of Brass: Bush at War IV.

"What's maddening is the way Woodward reverses his point of view without acknowledging he ever had one -- then or now. You could charge him with flattering politicians only when they're up, and piling on when they're down. But you might as well accuse a weathervane of changing its mind about which way the wind should blow."

The White House, for its part, continued its offensive on Woodward's book, with another on of its " Setting the Record Straight " memos.

'Mission Accomplished' Redux

Al Kamen wrote in The Washington Post on Sunday: "Remember that great 'Mission Accomplished' banner on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, when President Bush dramatically landed there to give his speech announcing the end of 'major combat operations' in Iraq?

"The White House said the banner was not its doing and must have been the Navy's idea.

"Now we find out, in Bob Woodward 's new book 'State of Denial,' that wasn't the case. None other than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld , on the record, tells Woodward that 'I took 'Mission Accomplished' out' upon reading a draft of the speech. 'And I fixed it and sent it back. They fixed the speech,' he said, 'but not the sign.'"

That even blows the White House's cover story, when it came out that they had produced the banner themselves.

You may recall that at an October 28, 2003 press conference , Bush said his staff was not responsible for the banner on the ship. "The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished," he said. "I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way."

But as Dana Milbank and Mike Allen wrote in the next day's Washington Post: "White House press secretary Scott McClellan later acknowledged that the sign was produced by the White House. He said the warship's crew, at sea for 10 months, had requested it. 'The original idea for the banner was suggested by those on the ship,' McClellan said. 'They asked if we would take care of the production of the banner. The banner was a way to commemorate the sailors and crew onboard the ship and the fact that they had accomplished their mission after a lengthy deployment."

Now, of course, there's reason to believe that wasn't true either.

Flash Back

That day on the Abraham Lincoln may truly have been the pinnacle of White House insincerity. This Dana Milbank story from The Washington Post on May 7, 2003 reminds me of yet another aspect of the grand charade: "President Bush chose to make a jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week even after he was told he could easily reach the ship by helicopter, the White House said yesterday, changing the explanation it gave for Bush's 'Top Gun' style event. . . .

"White House officials had said, both before and after Bush's landing in a Navy S-3B Viking jet, that he took the plane solely to avoid inconveniencing the sailors, who were returning home after a deployment of nearly 10 months. The officials said that Bush decided not to wait until the ship was in helicopter range to avoid delaying the troops' homecoming."

Gas Price Watch

Daniel Gross writes for Slate about "speculation about conspiracies led by the Bush administration, and those close to it, to engineer a sharp fall in the prices of oil and gas during campaign season."

Gross explores some plausible theories: "The administration has taken steps recently to remove a marginal, but important, buyer from the marketplace. After having delayed the summer's deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until the fall, the Wall Street Journal Monday reported that, 'The Energy Department will hold off purchases of oil for the government's emergency reserve through the upcoming winter.'

"And then there's the strange case of how Goldman Sachs, the investment firm formerly run by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, this summer shifted the weighting of gasoline in the Goldman Sachs Commodities Index in such a way that forced investors to dump speculative positions in gasoline, hence pushing down prices. It's a convoluted story, but this article from last Friday's New York Times lays it out pretty well."

But then Gross cavalierly dismisses those arguments and concludes that "the recent fall in energy prices is almost certainly not a Bush conspiracy, just a bit of electoral good luck."

Tough Crowds

Bush is only speaking at Republican fundraisers these days. Vice President Cheney leavens the mix with speeches at military bases. So leave it to Laura Bush to take the big risks -- like agreeing to an interview yesterday with AM 1700 TEEN RADIO:

Here's the transcript :

"Q This is AM 1700. I am Miss Diva, Amber Bellamy, here with the First Lady, the First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush. Wow, it's a great experience.

"MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Amber.

"Q And I'm here with Mrs. Bush and Amber Bellamy. This is DJ Whiter. We're here with Mrs. Bush, like Amber, Miss Diva, said.

"Q Mrs. Bush, the First Lady, this is a great experience, wow.

"Q Yes, real great."

Through the Viewfinder

Time White House photographer Christopher Morris says in a video interview that the most challenging part of his job "is the creative end of it." After all, he's been shooting "the same guy in the same suit for five years."

So how does Morris stay sane? He enjoys photographing the "entourage" more than the president. "I like to photograph the guy who holds the nuclear suitcase, his personal valet."

And he shoots "portraits of this cult of personality, the idolatry of the way that people look at the president, and kind of just the stare that people get."

Morris says he thinks his photos, now in book form and on exhibit , will make for a great anthropological study some day.

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich on Bush's best friend.

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