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Where Are the E-mails?

"That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested to wage these wars through 2008, according to the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. Its report, titled 'The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War,' estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000."

Bush, the Bereaved and the Bubble

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times about the bereaved families who get granted a private audience with the commander in chief.

"As Mr. Bush forges ahead with the war in Iraq, these 'families of the fallen,' as the White House calls them, are one constituency he can still count on, a powerful reminder to an unpopular president that even in the face of heartbreaking loss, some still believe he is doing the right thing. . . .

"Mr. Bush often says he hears their voices -- 'don't let my son die in vain,' he quotes them as saying -- when making decisions about the war. The White House says families are not asked their political views. Yet war critics wonder just whose voices the president is hearing."

For instance, one war protester who lost his son in Iraq tells Stolberg: "I can't help but be left with the suspicion that possibly his advance team screened those families for people who would be sympathetic."

Stolberg writes that "war critics say the sessions amount to little more than echo chambers to reinforce Mr. Bush's views. Charley Richardson, a founder of Military Families Speak Out, which opposes the war, said about 100 families who had lost loved ones were members of his group, but just one . . . had met Mr. Bush.

"'He doesn't hear the other voices,' Mr. Richardson said. 'If all the voices are supporting the war, it's a powerful emotional addition to the chorus.' . . .

"Mr. Bush also meets families in connection with Iraq-related ceremonies and speeches, where war supporters make up the audience."

As for those meetings with the bereaved: "God is a frequent topic. Robert Lehmiller . . . says the president brought religion into the conversation, telling him, 'If you truly believe the Scriptures, you will see your son again.'"

Waterboarding Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who turned the tide for [Michael Mukasey's nomination as attorney general], said that if the Senate did not approve Mr. Mukasey, the president would get by with an interim appointment who would be under the sway of 'the extreme ideology of Vice President Dick Cheney.' . . .

"That is precisely the sort of cozy rationalization that Mr. Schumer and his colleagues have used so many times to back down from a confrontation with Mr. Bush. The truth is, Mr. Mukasey is already in the grip of that 'extreme ideology.' If he were not, he could have answered the question about waterboarding. "

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes that Bush's "coyness about 'which techniques we may use' inevitably undercuts his repeated assertion that 'we do not torture.'

"It's time that Bush was challenged not only on the mixed message he is sending about the propriety of torture but on its underlying rationale: the so-called Ticking Time Bomb Scenario."

The USA Today editorial board writes: "Congress, which is considering several measures to prohibit waterboarding, should move promptly to eliminate any lingering doubt about where America stands."

Book Watch

From Ronald Brownstein's "timely and compelling new book," as quoted in New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani's review: "In his congressional strategy [Bush] consistently demonstrated that he would rather pass legislation as close as possible to his preferences on a virtually party-line basis than make concessions to reduce political tensions or broaden his support among Democrats."

Bush "sought not to construct a consensus for a common direction on Iraq, but rather to obtain acquiescence for the undeviating direction he had charted in his own mind. . . .

"The overriding lesson for both parties from the Bush attempt to profit from polarization is that there remains no way to achieve lasting political power in a nation as diverse as America without assembling a broad coalition that locks arms to produce meaningful progress against the country's problems."

Rove and Civility

Liberal bloggers weren't too impressed with former White House political guru Karl Rove's speech last week lamenting the loss of civility in politics on the Web. Thinkprogress reported that Rove "claimed that liberals use more 'bad words,' comparing sites like DailyKos and Democratic Underground to Townhall and FreeRepublic."

Duncan Black, who blogs as Atrios, replied: "I love civility lessons" from a man whose obscenity-filled tirade once shocked reporter Ron Suskind. Suskind, who while waiting for an interview unwittingly eavesdropped on Rove talking to a aide, wrote in 2003: "As a reporter, you get around -- curse words, anger, passionate intensity are not notable events -- but the ferocity, the bellicosity, the violent imputations were, well, shocking."

The 'Coup at Home'

Frank Rich writes in his New York Times opinion column that Bush has brought about an effective assault on American governmental institutions. "While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf's.

"More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he's championing democracy even as he strangles it. Mr. Bush repeated the word 'freedom' 27 times in roughly 20 minutes at his 2005 inauguration, and even presided over a 'Celebration of Freedom' concert on the Ellipse hosted by Ryan Seacrest. It was an Orwellian exercise in branding, nothing more. The sole point was to give cover to our habitual practice of cozying up to despots (especially those who control the oil spigots) and to our own government's embrace of warrantless wiretapping and torture, among other policies that invert our values. . . .

"To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal. . . .

"We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon."

Quote of the Week

ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, talking to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post about her frequent trips to international hotspots: "I'd probably go crazy if I had to stay every second at the White House and not go out and be a reporter. . . . I don't want to be a stenographer."

Cartoon Watch

Garry Trudeau on the White House's Iranian plan; Pat Oliphant, John Sherffius and Mike Luckovich on Bush and Musharraf; Joel Pett on the Bush legacy.

Live Online

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