Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Disaster strikes

“In the presidential campaign last year, Democrats were said to be counting on some misfortune — terrorists attacking on American soil, the Iraq War taking a turn for the worse, the economy going south — to help them beat George W. Bush,” Brendan Miniter writes at

“That didn’t happen, of course. But now disaster has struck, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Democrats are better off for it. In ripping through the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina has peeled back the lid on Republican rule, and many Americans aren’t happy with what they see,” Mr. Miniter said.

“This isn’t about a slow response anymore. … And unless they change course, Republicans will pay a steep price in next year’s midterm elections and leave Democrats in the driver’s seat for 2008.

“What President Bush, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Republicans haven’t figured out yet is that deficit spending isn’t a problem for them unless it endangers the broader conservative agenda. If it does, it will become the electoral issue.

“And what we’re seeing is that Katrina is swamping every goal conservatives have, from limiting government to cutting taxes to reforming entitlement programs. Katrina spending has already imperiled plans to repeal the death tax, and Congress is already $60 billion into a spending binge.

“Handing out $2,000 debit cards was just the beginning. The conservative Congress has brought back the welfare state.”

Back and forth

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, crows in a note to supporters that the DCCC “has already started with hard-hitting campaign ads and accelerated candidate recruitment.”

“That claim is goofy,” says Jonathan Collegio, who works for Mr. Emanuel’s opposite number, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman.

“The DCCC is over $3 million in debt, and Emanuel lost five of his highest-profile challengers in the last week,” Mr. Collegio told Ralph Z. Hallow of The Washington Times.

DCCC chief spokesman Bill Burton fired back: “After another week of Republican indictments and arrests, I’m surprised that the NRCC has time to comment on anything besides the efficiency of their bail bondsmen.”

Weepy Dan

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said Monday that there is a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen in his more than four-decade career, according to a Hollywood Reporter article by Paul J. Gough.

Mr. Rather famously tangled with President Nixon and his aides during the Watergate years while Mr. Rather was a hard-charging White House correspondent.

Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years, politicians “of every persuasion” had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a “new journalism order.”

He said this pressure — along with the “dumbed-down, tarted-up” coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics — has taken its toll on the news business.

“All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms,” Mr. Rather said.

Mr. Rather was accompanied by HBO Documentary and Family President Sheila Nevins, both of whom received lifetime achievement awards at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards on Monday evening.

Miss Nevin asked Mr. Rather whether he felt the same type of repressive forces in the Nixon administration as in the current Bush administration.

“No, I do not,” Mr. Rather said.

Courting trouble

“It will be a damning indictment of petty partisanship in Washington if an overwhelming majority of the Senate does not vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. to be the next chief justice of the United States,” the Los Angeles Times said yesterday in an editorial.

“As last week’s confirmation hearings made clear, Roberts is an exceptionally qualified nominee, well within the mainstream of American legal thought, who deserves broad bipartisan support. If a majority of Democrats in the Senate vote against Roberts, they will reveal themselves as nothing more than self-defeating obstructionists. …

“Even if one treats this vote merely as a tactical game, voting against an impressive, relatively moderate nominee hardly strengthens the Democrats’ leverage” on the upcoming second nomination, the newspaper said.

“If Roberts fails to win their support, Bush may justifiably conclude that he needn’t even bother trying to find a justice palatable to the center. And if Bush next nominates someone who is genuinely unacceptable to most Americans, it will be harder for Democrats to point that out if they cry wolf over Roberts.”

Gitmo inmates

The number of detainees on a hunger strike at the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has fallen by almost two-thirds since last week, a military official told the Associated Press yesterday.

Forty-five detainees are currently on the hunger strike, down from 131 last week, Guantanamo spokeswoman Lt. Angela King-Sweigart said in an e-mail message.

No explanation was given for the sharp decrease, and calls to military officials at Guantanamo went unanswered last night.

Fifteen of the 45 detainees on the hunger strike have been hospitalized, Lt. King-Sweigart said. She could not immediately say if any were being tube-fed. Several detainees have been tube-fed during the hunger strike, either through their noses or intravenously.

Mexico bulldozes

Mexican officials bulldozed 31 abandoned buildings yesterday along the U.S. border in a village that has been a staging ground for illegal aliens and drug smugglers.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza agreed last month that the demolition was needed to help end lawlessness in the village of Las Chepas, which has only about 35 full-time residents.

“Bulldozing abandoned buildings in Las Chepas is a major step that sends a strong signal to anyone involved in illegal criminal activity on the border that it will not be tolerated,” Mr. Richardson said.

The operation was monitored from the U.S. side by Border Patrol agents, the Associated Press reports. Mr. Richardson declared a state of emergency last month in four New Mexico counties along or near the Mexican border.

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or

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