Friday, September 23, 2005

Bush and Harken, Frist and HCA...Will They End up Like Martha?

SEC Probes Frist's HCA Share Sale; Records Subpoenaed (Update4)
Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's order to sell all his of shares of HCA Inc. a month before the price dropped on news of weaker-than-expected earnings, Frist's office said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan also has subpoenaed HCA documents that the company, the biggest U.S. hospital chain, believes to be related to the Frist stock sales, the company said in a statement.

The SEC ``contacted Senator Frist's office after the story appeared in the press about the sale,'' spokesman Bob Stevenson said in a statement. ``The majority leader will provide the SEC any information that it needs with respect to this matter.'' HCA said it ``intends to cooperate fully.'' HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott said today that the information in the subpoena indicated that the probe relates to Frist's stock sale. He declined to comment further.

Frist told trustees managing his assets to divest HCA stocks on June 13, one month before the company said second-quarter profit would miss earnings estimates and the share price fell almost 15 percent from a 52-week high on June 22.

Frist didn't know when or how many shares were sold and had no prior information about the company's earnings, spokeswoman Amy Call said this week. Call said Frist decided to sell the HCA shares after outside interest groups repeatedly suggested his stake in the company represented a potential conflict of interest.

Ethics Rules

The Senate ethics committee allows lawmakers to direct the trustees of blind trusts to sell all of the shares of a particular company, if they decide that holding the stock either creates a conflict of interest or the appearance of one, according to a copy posted on the panel's Web site.

Herb Hadad, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, and SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment.

Thomas Frist, the senator's father, and the senator's brother, Thomas Frist Jr., founded HCA in 1968 along with Jack Massey, the former owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Thomas Frist Jr., who stepped down as chairman of the company in 2002, still serves on the company's board of directors.

Trained in cardiothoracic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, Frist worked for the Nashville Veterans Administration Hospital for seven years, beginning in 1986 and joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1985, where founded and became surgical director of the multi-organ Vanderbilt Transplant Center.


Frist, 53, ranked as the sixth richest among 94 U.S. senators last year, according to financial disclosure forms released by the Senate in June. Frist had assets in 2004 valued between $15.4 million and $45.15 million.

Frist, a possible 2008 presidential aspirant, is paid $180,100 a year in his Senate job. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Medical School, Frist was elected to the Senate in 1994 by defeating incumbent James Sasser, a Democrat. He became majority leader in late 2002.

In 2003, HCA concluded several government investigations that began in 1997 into its business practices. In the five years ended in 2003, HCA paid about $2 billion in settlements for Medicare fraud and other claims, according to Hoover's.

The company allegedly took doctors on free hunting trips to Venezuela and Mexico, paid them for sham medical directorships and recruited doctors based on how many patients they had. The government also said HCA billed Medicare for costs in a 1987 spinoff that occurred when Thomas Frist ran the company.

Bush and Harken

[posted online on July 18, 2002]

Last week, while Bush spoke to Wall Street about corporate malfeasance, he was beset by questions about the timing of his sale of stock twelve years ago while he served as a director of Harken Energy. Bush sold the Harken stock about two months before the company reported huge losses and shortly before Iraq invaded Kuwait, leaving many asking whether the President had benefited from inside information. In addition, Bush was tardy in filing the appropriate sale-related forms with the SEC. Bush has said he filed the proper documents with the SEC on time--even though it arrived thirty-four weeks late--and suggested the agency must have lost the file. Last week, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said there had been a "mix-up" by the Bush lawyers who handled the paperwork.

While SEC reporting requirements may seem like a minor issue, it's crucial information for the average investor because it allows them to determine whether insiders have received undisclosed information about the company's financial condition. The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 requires company insiders to disclose publicly, in a report called a Form 4, all stock purchases and sales by the tenth day of the month following the transaction.

This week, as President Bush's own business acumen is being called into question, additional SEC documents show that Bush violated federal securities laws on three other occasions during his tenure at Harken by missing the deadline for filing documents about his stock transactions with the SEC.

Bush purchased stock in Harken three times between 1986 and 1989, and was several months late in reporting those transactions to the SEC, according to documents from the agency. One transaction, in which Bush purchased 25,000 shares of Harken stock on June 16, 1989, took place three days before Harken started selling its shares on the New York Stock Exchange, where the stock traded as high as $50. The stock had previously been sold in the over-the-counter market. Bush did not report the transaction to the SEC until September 7, 1989, more than four weeks after the deadline, according to SEC documents, and he reaped a windfall in profits by purchasing the additional shares before they were sold on the NYSE.

On November 1, 1986, Bush acquired 212,152 shares of Harken as a result of the merger of his failing oil company--Spectrum 7--with Harken, but did not report the transaction with the SEC until April 7, 1987, more than twelve weeks after the deadline. On December 10, 1986, Bush purchased another 80,000 shares in Harken and again missed the deadline for reporting the transaction by eight weeks, according to SEC documents. Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, was unable to answer why President Bush missed the deadline in reporting his stock transactions with the SEC on three other occasions, but said that the SEC obviously did not see the violation as an important matter either. "The SEC didn't do anything about it," Bartlett said. "It does not appear to be an important issue."

John Heine, a spokesman for the SEC, said the agency has never prosecuted anyone for missing the deadline to file insider-transaction forms with the agency. In fact, Heine said, insiders routinely miss the deadline. "It's something we're starting to crack down on," Heine said. Bush was investigated by the SEC for insider trading, but the probe ended in 1993 without any charges being filed against the President. Democrats, including former Texas Governor Ann Richards, have charged that the investigation was a whitewash because of Bush's political relationships.

Bruce Hiler, the associate director of the SEC's enforcement division, who wrote a letter to Bush's attorney saying the investigation was being terminated, now represents former Enron president Jeff Skilling in matters before the government. Richard Breeden, the SEC chairman at the time, was deputy counsel to Bush's father when he was Vice President and was appointed SEC chairman when H.W. Bush became President. James Doty, the SEC's general counsel at the time, helped W. Bush negotiate the contract to buy the Texas Rangers. Bush used the proceeds of his sale of Harken stock in 1990 to pay off a loan he took out for a minority stake in the baseball team. Doty has said that he recused himself from the SEC's two-year probe into Bush's sale of Harken stock.

For President Bush, this is the fourth time in a decade he has been forced to answer questions about his business experience. And he still refuses to be forthcoming. Members of Congress are calling for Harvey Pitt, chairman of the SEC, to release all files related to Bush's Harken Energy days, but Pitt said on Meet the Press that he considers Bush's Harken transactions a dead issue and therefore he will not publicly release the files.

This kind of secrecy by the Bush Administration should come as no surprise to the American public. Vice President Dick Cheney has refused to reveal the names of people his energy task force met with prior to drafting a national energy policy. Cheney has come under fire for praising Arthur Andersen, the auditing firm convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron documents, in a promotional video years ago; Cheney's former company, Halliburton, where the Vice President was chairman, is under investigation by the SEC for accounting improprieties during Cheney's tenure. And there's still the thorny issue of Bush's archives from his days as governor of Texas, which are currently tucked away in his father's presidential library and difficult to access.

The Texas Legislature authorized its former governors to place their official records into a repository other than the state archives. The Texas State Library and Archives, however, houses the official papers of every Texas governor before Bush.

Bush secured a one-page agreement last December 19 to place records of his term in his father's presidential library. Soon after, Bush placed more than 1,800 boxes of documents into the George Bush Library at Texas A&M University. Within weeks of the records arriving at the Bush Library, the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, the Associated Press and Public Citizen had all submitted open-records requests for information from the Bush papers. Most of the requests involved correspondence between Bush and Harken and Enron officials, and records concerning energy deregulation. The records have yet to be released.

Can't Do President....Maureen Dowd

Sept. 21, 2005, 11:21PM

More nonstop disaster-ops and disastrous cronyism

The president won't be happy until he dons a yellow slicker and actually takes the place of Anderson Cooper, violently blown about by Rita as he talks into a camera lens lashed with water, hanging onto a mailbox as he's hit by a flying pig in a squall, sucked up by a waterspout in the eye of the storm over the Dry Tortugas.


Then maybe he'll go back to the White House and do his job instead of running down to the Gulf Coast for silly disaster-ops every other day.

There's nothing more pathetic than watching someone who's out of touch feign being in touch. On his fifth sodden pilgrimage of penitence to the devastation he took so long to comprehend, W. desperately tried to show concern. He said he had spent some "quality time" at a Chevron plant in Pascagoula and nattered about trash removal, infrastructure assessment teams and the "can-do spirit."

"We look forward to hearing your vision so we can more better do our job," he said at a briefing in Gulfport, Miss., urging local officials to "think bold," while they still need to think mold.

Bush should stop posing in shirtsleeves and get back to the Oval Office. He has more hacks and cronies he's trying to put into important jobs, and he needs to ride herd on that.

The announcement that a veterinarian, Norris Alderson, who has no experience on women's health issues, would head the FDA's Office of Women's Health ran into so much flak from appalled women that the FDA may already have reneged on it. No morning-after pill, thanks to the antediluvian administration, but there may be hope for a morning-after horse pill.

Bush made a frownie over Brownie, but didn't learn much. He's once more trying to appoint a nothingburger to a position of real consequence in homeland security. The choice of Julie Myers, a 36-year-old lawyer with virtually no immigration, customs or law enforcement experience, to head the roiling Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency with its $4 billion budget and 22,000 staffers, has caused some alarm, according to The Washington Post.

Myers' main credentials seem to be that she worked briefly for the semidisgraced homeland security director, Michael Chertoff, when he was at the Justice Department. She just married Chertoff's chief of staff, John Wood, and she's the niece of Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As a former associate for Ken Starr, the young woman does have impeachment experience, in case the forensic war on terrorism requires the analysis of stains on dresses.

Julie makes Brownie look like Giuliani. I'll sleep better tonight, knowing that when she gets back from her honeymoon, Julie will be patrolling the frontier.

As if the Veterinarian and the Niece were not bad enough, there was also the Accused. David Safavian, the White House procurement official involved in Katrina relief efforts, was arrested on Monday, accused by the FBI of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into the seamy case of "Casino Jack" Abramoff, the Republican operative who has broken new ground in giving lobbying a bad name. Democrats say the fact that Safavian's wife is a top lawyer for the Republican congressman who's leading the whitewash of the White House blundering on Katrina does not give them confidence.

Just as he has stonewalled other inquiries, Bush is trying to paper over his Katrina mistakes by appointing his homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, to investigate how her department fumbled the response.

Bush's "Who's Your Daddy?" bravura — blowing off the world on global warming and the allies on the Iraq invasion — has been slapped back by Mother Nature, who refuses to be fooled by spin.

When Donald Rumsfeld came out Tuesday to castigate the gloom-and-doomers and talk about the inroads American forces had made against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, he could not so easily recast reality.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.'s handpicked puppet president is still battling warlords and a revivified Taliban, and the export of poppies for the heroin trade is once more thriving.

Iraq is worse, with more than 1,900 American troops killed. Five more died Tuesday, as well as four security men connected to the U.S. embassy office in Mosul, all to fashion a theocratic-leaning regime aligned with Iran. In Basra, two journalists who have done work for The New York Times have been killed in the last two months.

The more the president echoes his dad's "Message: I care," the more the world hears "Message: I can't."

Dowd, based in Washington, D.C., is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times.

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Ants and Grasshoppers

Sept. 23, 2005, 1:25AM

Plague is coming for our nation of grasshoppers

''Be prepared" is the Boy Scout motto.

"Be prepared for what?" someone once asked the Scouts' founder, Robert Baden-Powell.

"Why, for any old thing," he replied.

For a people raised on that motto, Americans do remarkably little preparation. This is a nation of grasshoppers, not ants.

As the fable goes: All summer, the ants worked hard, busily storing grain. The grasshopper just played. Come winter, the grasshopper begged the ants for some of their corn. The ants asked him why he hadn't gotten ready for winter. He responded, "I was so busy singing that I hadn't the time."

When it comes to money, many Americans routinely don't think past the next paycheck. They're unprepared for things that are utterly predictable, much less the bolts from the blue.

Recent headline: "Consumer spending rises, savings rate dips." The U.S. personal-savings rate in June was the lowest on record. In fact, it was minus 0.6 percent. That means people are not only failing to save, they're dipping into their reserves to spend money — or just borrowing more. Which brings us to the next headline:

"Debt load makes Americans vulnerable." Outstanding balances on credit cards now average $7,200 per household. That's more than double the level of a decade ago. And that doesn't include car loans, or mortgages.

For the past year, you couldn't pick up a newspaper without reading about the absurd housing prices in much of the country. Ignoring the alerts about a bubble soon to break, people continue to buy in risky markets. And to pay these high house prices, they are taking out risky mortgages.

Over a third of new or refinanced mortgages are the adjustable-rate type. The monthly payments in such mortgages are tied to changes in various interest rates. They are exactly the kind of mortgage you don't want when interest rates rise, which they will surely do.

As a come-on, lenders offer very low initial rates on these mortgages. The temporary low rates let people borrow more money than they ordinarily could or should. What will happen when their mortgage costs go up and housing values go down? Let's just say that it won't be pretty.

The banks pushing these mortgages are also not prepared. Mortgage-related loans now account for 61 percent of bank credit.

Banks are in the bubble big-time. Despite these rising risks, banks are setting aside little money to protect themselves against a tide of bum loans. In 1992, their reserves against losses from bad loans were nearly 3 percent. Now, they're 1.2 percent.

A personal finance rule of thumb is to save six months' worth of wages. The object is to protect the family against the loss of a job. How many of you out there have six months' worth of savings? Don't all raise your hands at once.

President Bush inherited a handsome budget surplus. It could have served as a cushion for the near future, when retiring baby boomers put extra strain on the Treasury. But as the swingers say, "Cash is trash." Our so-called conservatives slashed taxes and spent wildly, turning the surplus into a deep deficit.

Bush apologists like to blame "unforeseen events" for the spending: 9/11, the war in Iraq and now New Orleans. How could Bush have known about any of this?

Of course, he didn't know — but doesn't "stuff happen"? When in history hasn't it?

The Bush administration may be Bible-friendly, but it learns not from the Good Book. It certainly didn't take anything from the story of Joseph — the government adviser who urged setting aside grain during the seven fat years to feed people in the seven lean ones.

Frankly, the "events beyond our control" excuse doesn't float. "Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security," a Cato Institute report says, "Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years."

The report adds, "Since Bush took office, domestic spending has shot up by 36 percent." And that doesn't include the enormously expensive new Medicare drug benefit that will kick in next year.

Be prepared for an economic meltdown — as rising interest rates sink a people floating on debt. This grasshopper mentality is a plague upon the nation.

Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist based in Providence, R.I.


What Bush Should Do Now!

Sept. 20, 2005, 11:24PM

Bush should look in his playbook and find a 'reverse'

After President Bush's speech in New Orleans, many U.S. papers carried the same basic headline: "Bush Rules Out Raising Taxes for Gulf Relief." The president is planning to rely on "spending cuts" instead to pay for rebuilding New Orleans. Yeah, right — and if you believe that, I have some beachfront property in Biloxi I'd like to sell you. The underlying message of all these stories is that the Bush team sees no reason to change course in response to Katrina.


I beg to differ. Katrina deprived the Bush team of the energy source that propelled it forward for the last four years: Sept. 11 and the halo over the presidency that came with it. The events of Sept. 11 created a deference in the U.S. public, and media, for the administration, which exploited it to the hilt to push an uncompassionate conservative agenda on tax cuts and runaway spending, on which it never could have gotten elected. That deference is over.

If Bush wants to make anything of his second term, he'll have to do his own Nixon-to-China turnaround, reframe the debate and recast the priorities of his presidency. He seems to think that by offering to spend billions of dollars to rebuild one city, New Orleans, he'll get his leadership halo back. Wrong. Just throwing more borrowed money at New Orleans is not leadership. Bush needs to frame a new agenda for rebuilding all our cities and strengthening the nation as a whole. And what should be the centerpiece of a policy of American renewal is blindingly obvious: making a quest for energy independence the moon shot of our generation.

The president should have done that on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. The country was ready. But the president whiffed. Katrina — nature's Sept. 11 — has given him a rare do-over. Imagine — I know it is a stretch — that the president announced tomorrow that he wanted an immediate 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax — the "American Renewal Tax," to be used to rebuild New Orleans, pay down the deficit, fund tax breaks for Americans to convert their cars to hybrid technology or biofuels, fund a Manhattan Project to develop energy independence, and subsidize mass transit systems for our major cities.

And imagine if he tied this to an appeal to young people to go into science, math and engineering for the great national purpose of making us the greenest nation on the planet, to help liberate us from dependence on the worst regimes in the world for our oil and to help ease the global warming that is heating up the oceans, making our hurricanes more intense and our lowlands more vulnerable. America's kids are hungry to be challenged for some larger purpose, which has been utterly absent in this presidency.

Americans will change their long-term energy habits and companies will develop green products only if they are certain the price of gasoline will not go back down. A gasoline tax (Americans have already shown they'll tolerate higher prices) and stronger regulation would force U.S. companies to innovate in what is going to be one of the most important global industries in the 21st century: green technologies. By coddling our auto and industrial companies when it comes to mileage standards and the environment, all the Bush team is doing is ensuring that they will be dinosaurs and that Chinese, Japanese and Indian companies will take the lead in green technologies — because they have to and ours don't.

Look what Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, said: "America should strive to make energy and environmental practices a national core competency and by doing so, create exports in jobs. America is the leading consumer of energy. However, we are not the technical leader. Europe today is the major force for environmental innovation. European governments have encouraged their companies to invest (in) and produce clean power technologies. The same is true for nuclear power. And government policy that encourages this with subsidies and other incentives is giving European companies a leg up. While Europe has been a driver for innovation, China promises to be its market."

Setting the goal of energy independence, along with a gasoline tax, could help to solve so many of our problems today — from the deficit to climate change and national security. And Americans would pay it if they thought the extra money was going to renew America, not Iran, and not just New Orleans. And if the Texas-oilman president became the energy-independence president — now, that would snap heads and make this a truly relevant presidency.

No way, you say. Probably right. But either Bush does a Nixon-to-China or his next three years are going to be a Bush-to-Nowhere.

Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times and a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

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hey lady
yeah counting down the days.....thinking of how pretty VT was...the trip was's beautiful up there....but you know, I don't think Maine is too different.....we came down the VT border and stayed in Waterbury to do the Ben & Jerry's factory....Alexandria Bay was can you get land right on the river????? This island (Long) is way tooooo crowded....anyway thinking of reminded me of Marilyn and how plastic she said it was out there.....the land of fruits and nuts.....and then I pictured Paulie on the organic farm.....I think sometimes people like us are lucky to have been put onto a path to follow...trudging along following responsibility and making it as happy a journey as we can....imagine if you had the opportunity to seek out your find your calling....I couldn't even figure out what mine would be...and I'd be very lost....not that Paul is lost but how do you choose a path??? I keep thinking if this is my only only time....what the hell am I doing? and then I think...what else should I be doing.....I'm doing what I know, following the path....I think maybe something will end up grabbing Paulie...not the other way around......but who am I to say....just mulling to all over.... It's that whole if you could be doing anything you wanted, what would you be doing?...and why aren't you?...what's stopping you?....Is Paulie planning on going back to Boston or is Patchogue going to be home base?....does that work while you're in Maine?

The kids liked the trip as much as they could....they get on each others nerves (well E gets on A's nerves) I don't know how to reign his nastiness toward her in....I keep thinking he's 'growing' out of it...I say you're 14 an picking on your little lame......Mom has to remind me that Elise doesn't have any male role models and she'll end up seeking out abusive (at least verbally) men.....aye.. yi..yi.....when did it all get so complicated....or has it always been...... to you soon....if you feel like getting together let me know.....I've still got a little time!

Do No harm...New Orleans Vernacular Architecture

September 22, 2005
The New Orleans Shotgun: Down but Not Out
NEW ORLEANS is becoming a target for what used to be called urban renewal. Talking heads describe the city, beyond the French Quarter and Garden District, as a collection of "blighted neighborhoods" where the poor lived in "wooden shacks" that should long ago have been demolished, and that now will be. In their place, the argument goes, new homes will rise, better suited to modern life yet embodying the best of what was lost.

This line of thought recalls the 1960's, when federally sponsored demolition destroyed great swaths of cities like Cincinnati and St. Louis and handed them over to developers. If those old neighborhoods had survived, of course, we would be restoring them today. And as Richard Moe, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, pointed out last week, the building stock of New Orleans is particularly important to that city - representing its culture "more than even food."

The seeming trump card in the argument for demolition is that thousands of the wooden structures that give New Orleans its flavor are beyond saving. They were old to begin with, and Katrina's flooding and the ensuing rot and mold will surely finish them off.

In fact, though, even as some of the city's vernacular buildings may prove beyond repair, most - including whole neighborhoods now being characterized by politicians and developers as candidates for demolition - can and should be saved.

In the 19th century, local craftsmen devised structural techniques that allowed houses to stand securely on the city's pudding-like alluvial soil, and to survive in the region's notoriously humid climate, with its insects, termites and mold. In place of the heavy, water-absorbing brick-between-post construction that had been used earlier, or the brick masonry common on higher ground in the city, they began using light balloon frames, self-reinforcing structures of two-by-four joists that could be raised above ground on brick or stone piers. For these frames they used local cypress wood, which resists both water and rot, and for secondary woods they favored local cedar, which is nearly as weatherproof as cypress, and dense virgin pine.

The builders also used circulating air to ward off mold. Ten- to twelve-foot ceilings in even the smallest homes, as well as large windows, channel the slightest breeze throughout the house. And by raising the structures above the ground, builders assured that air would circulate beneath them as well, discouraging termites and rodents.

All this means that wooden structures in the New Orleans area are far tougher than they may seem. Thousands have undergone prolonged flooding in the past, yet survived. The owners cleaned them up, replaced secondary wood and wallboard, fixed wiring and replastered, and were back in business.

Between 1850 and 1910, whole streets of distinctive New Orleans houses were built in the Irish Channel, Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, Treme and Mid-City neighborhoods. These houses extended back from the street in narrow rows of rooms - some only 12 feet wide by 100 feet long - dictated by the long, thin plots laid out by the city's French (and later Spanish) surveyors. They came to be known as shotguns, for the fact that a shotgun blast at the front door could pass unimpeded through all the rooms to the back. A shotgun double consisted of two such houses sharing a common wall, while a camelback was a shotgun with a second floor added at the rear.

However small in scale, these buildings are anything but low-key in style. Early on, they had classical facades, often with galleries with columns that eventually evolved into Eastlake and Queen Anne porches. Later, a local industry poured out jigsaw brackets and ornaments that allowed even a New Orleans resident of modest means to indulge what Errol Barron, a New Orleans architect, calls New Orleanians' "deep-down operatic instincts."

These houses proved ideal engines for assimilating diverse people into a common life. French and Anglo-Saxon residents lived in shotguns all over the city, as did well-established Creoles of color; immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Italy; and African-American migrants from the countryside. There was no zoning, and no rigorous segregation. It was a society in which small homeowners of all races had equal stakes. Even today, fully 85 percent of those living in the impoverished Lower Ninth Ward are homeowners, a higher figure than in the Garden District. At a time when American cities have been lost in a tangle of suburbs or given themselves over to high-rises, New Orleans has maintained a distinctive urban life. The density created by those old French surveyors assured that people would interact with one another, as did the front porches and stoops built directly on the sidewalk. Even air-conditioning and TV did not end this situation. Is it any wonder that such neighborhoods have proved so fertile for what might be called the social arts? There are many reasons why New Orleanians have long excelled in cooking, music-making, dancing and story-telling, but the interaction of diverse cultures fostered by shotgun houses is certainly a major one.

Politicians and developers eying New Orleans today should bear all this in mind. Is it possible to create by destroying, especially when there is no need to do so? Why not treat those thousands of lower-income homeowners with the respect due to them as citizens, rather than as the objects of social experiments? Why not rehabilitate and restore, rather than demolish? Why not engage local practitioners of age-old crafts in this work, and build on their experience rather than obliterating it?

New Orleans is a damaged organism, but a living one. It deserves to be treated in the manner in which careful doctors treat their patients. In the words of the Hippocrates, "Do no harm."

S. Frederick Starr is the author of four books on New Orleans, where he owns a house built in 1826.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Bill Frist Says, "I'm No Martha Stewart!"


September 23, 2005
Agency Calls on Frist About Timing of Stock Sale
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - A spokesman for Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had contacted Mr. Frist's office about the sale in June of his shares in HCA, the giant hospital company founded by his family.

Mr. Frist, whose brother Thomas F. Frist Jr. is chairman emeritus and the largest individual shareholder of the company, disclosed earlier this week that on June 13 he asked the managers of blind trusts controlling many of his assets to sell any of his remaining shares in HCA.

The sales occurred just as the share price reached a new peak and shortly before the company's announcement in mid-July of lower-than-expected quarterly results sent the price tumbling.

Mr. Frist, the Senate majority leader and a potential presidential candidate, initially placed more than $10 million in shares of the company in his trusts, but his spokesman said he could not determine how much remained at the time of the sale.

Mr. Stevenson, the spokesman, said the securities commission had contacted Mr. Frist after news organizations published articles this week raising questions about the profitable timing of the sale. Only a few such contacts lead to formal investigations or penalties.

"The majority leader will provide the S.E.C. any information that it needs with respect to this matter," Mr. Stevenson said. "Senator Frist had no information about the company or its performance that was not available to the public when he directed the trustees to sell the HCA stock. His only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Mr. Stevenson said on Wednesday that Mr. Frist's holdings in HCA had been the subject of at least 19 news articles or public accusations about a possible conflict of interest.

Spokesmen for the S.E.C. could not be reached for comment on Thursday night; the agency customarily does not comment on its inquiries.

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Shame of the Nation: Jonathan Kosol

Apartheid America
By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Jonathan Kozol rails against a public school system that, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, is still deeply - and shamefully - segregated.

A black school in the North, circa 1905. Image has been altered.

"Segregation is not something that happens by chance, like weather conditions," says Jonathan Kozol. "It is the work of men." So it is not without irony that it has taken a hurricane - and the excruciating images of stranded black faces, beamed across cable airwaves - for Americans to confront the reality that vast numbers of their fellow citizens live in segregated ghettos and suffer from abject poverty. But for Kozol, who has built his career on exposing the race- and class-based injustices endemic to the United States' educational system, the knowledge that we live in a deeply divided society has long been a foregone - if heartbreaking - conclusion.

For 40 years, in bestselling books such as "Savage Inequalities" and "Amazing Grace," Kozol has reported from urban schools across the nation, befriending teachers and students who, despite the promises of Brown v. Board of Education, still live and learn in crumbling buildings and in overcrowded classrooms with scarce supplies. "I cannot discern even the slightest hint that any vestige of [the Brown decision] has survived within these schools and neighborhoods," he writes in his new book, "The Shame of the Nation." "I simply never see white children."

The America Kozol describes in "Shame" is in essence an apartheid state. White suburban districts receive disproportionate funding and praise, while inner-city schools that serve minorities are denied equitable federal aid, threatened by repressive testing mandates, and drained of creativity and joy. The book is also something of a polemic. Kozol accuses the Bush administration of implementing sinister educational policies in which rote memorization is valued more than imagination and children are treated as capitalist commodities to be molded into an army of obedient entry-level workers. Using the voices of dissatisfied students and teachers as a rallying cry, Kozol calls upon "decent citizens" of all political stripes to rise up against social and educational segregation - and reclaim the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Kozol, 69, lives outside Boston but was in New York last week on his book tour. I sat down with him and - in between sips of coffee and puffs on his cigarette - he explained why he believes that newspapers are partly to blame for America's reluctance to discuss race, "Winnie the Pooh" is more essential than standardized tests, and lazy liberals need to "get off their asses" and fight for educational equity.

In some of your earlier books you raised fears that the aims of Brown v. Board of Education were quietly being undermined. But "Shame of the Nation" goes so far as to call the contemporary American educational system an apartheid regime.

In earlier books, like "Amazing Grace," I certainly made it evident that the schools of the South Bronx were stunningly segregated. But it wasn't until the last five years that I realized how sweeping this change has been throughout the nation, and how reluctant the media is to speak of it. Newspapers in general, including those that are seen as vaguely liberal, by a convenient defect of vision refuse to see what is in their own front yard - or if they do see it, they refuse to state it. So, in a description of a 98 percent black and Latino school, the newspaper won't say what would seem to be the most obvious starting point: This is a deeply segregated school. They won't use the word "segregated." They do the most amazing semantic somersaults to avoid calling reality by its real name. "Gritty" is the New York Times' euphemism for segregated; "serving a diverse population with many minorities" - as though they might be Albanians! Then I go to this "diverse" school and there are 1,000 black and Latino kids, 10 whites and 12 Asians. So "diverse" has actually come to be a synonym for "not diverse."

Do you think the media is afraid of race?

Most newspapers, with a few notable exceptions, have a far greater interest in defending civic image and civic stability than in removing the cancer of segregation from the body of American democracy. It would cause them a lot of problems if they attacked school segregation in their own communities head-on, because then they'd also have to attack residential segregation. That would mean shining the spotlight directly at the prime architects of residential apartheid - major banks, lending institutions and realty firms. A large amount of the advertising revenues for newspapers comes from real estate.

Newspapers tend to boost almost any educational policy that seems to offer redemption, so every few years there's a new one, and basically every expert has a seven-point plan to prove that segregated schools can be successful. I call it the myth of perfectible apartheid. Most of these plans are organized bamboozlements, full of unassailable banalities. For example, No. 1: "Principal should have clear goals," as though most American principals have a secret predilection for obscurity. Or, No. 2: "Teachers should strive for excellence," as though most teachers had a genetic attraction to mediocrity. I've seen dozens of these plans come and go; they're boosted, schools claim immediate success and scores go up 3 percentage points - and five years later it's declared a failure and abandoned. I refuse to play this game.

Clearly, you're angry.

"Shame of the Nation" is a dead serious book, the angriest book I've written in my life. It is not a recipe book for polishing the apple of apartheid. It's a call for an all-out struggle for decent citizens to wage an onslaught on apartheid schooling itself. The percentage of black children who now go to integrated public schools is at its lowest level since 1968. If you took a photograph of the classes I visit in New York, Chicago or St. Louis, it would look exactly like a class from Alabama in the 1940s.

Your view of the government and prevailing American culture is quite scathing. But do you really think policymakers and suburban families are actively racist? Or is this simply a case of cruel indifference?

Look, whether it's cruel indifference or the natural predilection of a parent to do the best she can for her own child, or originates in some very profound racist suppositions about minority children - it doesn't make a damn bit of difference to the kids that I write about. There are unquestionably overtly racist white folks in the country, but I don't think that is an accurate portrayal of most white people in America. I think there is something peculiar about the culture wars that thrive in New York City; there's a venomous atmosphere around racial issues here that I don't find in most of the United States. Most white Americans with whom I talk - and I don't mean people who read the Nation and the New York Times, just regular Americans - are fair-minded and generous.

For instance, some of the children I write about endear themselves to readers. One little girl in the Bronx named Pineapple, whom I first met in kindergarten, and still remain close friends with, was just an irresistibly charming little kid; she used to boss me around, like a pint-sized Oprah Winfrey. And people read about her in Ohio or wherever, and they fall in love with her. And if they met her, they would do anything they could to give her the same opportunities they gave their own children. The genius of segregation in America is that it never gives most decent white Americans the opportunity to meet a child like Pineapple. And because they don't know these children in their years of innocence, they are protected from their own best instincts. If they knew them, most good people in this country could not tolerate the destruction of these children's destinies. People are more decent than the politicians they elect. At the highest levels of government - and especially George W. Bush - our politicians appeal to the worst instincts of Americans rather than their most generous.

I couldn't help thinking as I was reading your book that one unexpected outcome of Hurricane Katrina has been that it has revealed to Americans the state of poverty and segregation in their country, and given a pretty clear picture of what happens when the privileged desert the powerless.

Yes, it's a lot easier for white folks of good conscience to acquiesce in the immiseration of thousands of black and Latino children if we keep them at a distance. To me, segregation is not simply a demographic dilemma or some kind of a bureaucratic mistake - it is a conscious, deliberate and morally intolerable form of social policy. It doesn't happen by accident, it's not like a weather pattern. American segregation has been created by men and will only be undone by the acts of men and women. And that's why this book calls for another passionate political upheaval in this country. I hope I live to see it. I think there is a huge, untapped political restlessness in young people today, especially young teachers. And the teachers are the best witnesses to this crime because they see it in front of their eyes every day. You can't tell them that apartheid is a vestige of the past; you can't buy them off with sentimental stories of black kids crossing the color line 40 years ago.

Segregation is the oldest failed experiment in U.S. social history. We all know it didn't work in the century just past, and it's not going to work in the century ahead. And those that tell us otherwise are guilty of absolute deception. And if you read the newspapers, you know how it works - every year there is a new plan. This year it's small segregated and unequal schools, last year it was segregated and unequal schools with scripted phonics texts and kids in uniforms, and another year it was segregated and unequal schools with self-help incantations plastered on the walls. There is a kind of evasive game being played by many liberals, which is basically, "Let's try another cute and poignant way to make these schools more 'innovative'" - and the press loves this because it gives them something entirely unthreatening to promote. But if interesting and even benevolent innovations on the part of school reformers were able to create successful segregated schools, we would have learned it in the past 100 years.

Is segregation simply inherently incompatible with effective education?

Yes, I don't believe that segregated schools, with the exception of a very few boutique examples, will ever be equal to the schools that serve the mainstream of society.

And that is because there are more than academic issues at stake when you talk about school segregation?

Yes, it goes far beyond the question of academic concerns - it goes to the question of whether we are going to be one society or two, whether our children will grow up to know one another as friends or view each other eternally as strangers, and especially as fearful strangers. But it also speaks directly to academic issues, because overwhelmingly segregated schools in the United States are the schools that have the lowest scores, the highest class sizes, the least experienced teachers, and the most devastating dropout rates. And of course these are the schools that always receive the least amount of money. Segregated schools, despite occasional exceptions, are almost always funded at far lower levels than the schools that serve white and middle-class children. Nationally, on average, a school serving primarily black and Latino students gets $1,000 less per pupil than an overwhelmingly white school. That's a lot of money when you realize that kids aren't educated individually but in a class of 25-30 kids - that's a difference of $25,000-$30,000 every year for every class. So when the neocons ask in their perennially idiotic way, "Can you really buy your way to better education?" I want to tell them to ask any principal anywhere in America what she could do with an extra $25,000 per class. In New York, the difference is twice that high. The kids up in the Bronx that I write about get a little over $11,000 per pupil, per year. But lift up one of them in your grown-up arms and plunk her down 10 miles away in the Westchester suburb of Bronxville, and she'd be getting $19,000 every single year.

So it is basically a capitalist system where kids are seen as investments - and it comes down to who is worth the money and who isn't?

Exactly. What's happened in many of these inner-city schools is that kids are no longer perceived as children but rather as economic units - like pint-size deficits or assets for the American economy. No one asks whether they are good or they are happy. The only question is will they be useful to our corporations in a global marketplace. It is not like this in the suburbs. There, children are still valued because they are children and childhood is still regarded not merely as a prelude to utilitarian adulthood but as a perishable piece of life itself. In the inner-city schools, even though most of the teachers I know would like to do the same, there is tremendous pressure on the principals to view these children as products, with "value-added" skills that they pump into them. And if you view children as products, it makes sense to have a lot of product testing.

I used to teach in the suburbs, and I heard many complaints about the testing system. It's not really fair to ignore the effects there either, is it?

Principals and teachers in suburban schools don't like the testing regimen - they find it to be a tremendous annoyance and distraction. But it doesn't create a sense of siege, because they're likely going to do well anyway. And besides, if the federal government penalizes them by withholding funds, they've got plenty. It's the inner-city schools where the principal is subjected to the threat of public humiliation - because the lowest-scoring schools are named in the newspaper - and the more specific threat of being penalized by loss of federal funds, that makes principals and teachers feel compelled to turn the school into an efficiency factory. And because a lot of these schools are so poor, they are deluded into creating partnerships with businesses. Corporations love to claim they have become school partners with inner-city schools - so the very same banks that have redlined these kids into segregated lives then pose as allies to the children.

The direct result of this is that even the best principals and teachers - and I write this book with tremendous empathy for them - in poor inner-city schools, as compared to the suburbs, feel totally compelled to teach to the tests. They feel compelled to exclude from the curriculum anything that will not be tested, which means the children must be trained to give predictable answers and the teacher cannot indulge an unexpected answer. If one little boy, in the middle of a lesson on consonant blends, insists on telling the teacher about a visit to the zoo with his uncle, the teacher has to cut him off. She can't let him get to the end of his story. The child who wants to ask the teacher about something he finds funny or something that brings him close to tears, she has to cut him off. In many of these schools teachers have to hold timers in their hands - especially schools using the Success for All classes - every minute has to be directed toward something that will be on state exams.

In the suburbs, a teacher can listen as a child piles on "ands" and "buts." In good schools in the suburbs where the teachers aren't running scared and may only have 16 kids in a class, teachers can listen. And at the end of all those "ands" and "buts" there may be a hidden treasure that can unlock a child's motivation. In the test-driven school, the teacher will never find that key to motivation. Instead the school is based upon externally created motivations and in the worst of these SFA schools, the motivation is almost exclusively anxiety and fear. It is a stimulus-response curriculum based upon the rat control experiments of B.F. Skinner and the teacher is told they cannot deviate.

The country desperately needs engaged, intelligent teachers. Is the culture of No Child Left Behind actually driving good teachers out of schools?

So many teachers in poor, inner-city schools have great personalities, but they have to deny them and adopt a rigidity, a false persona. A teacher who loves literature cannot say, "I read 'Winnie the Pooh' aloud with my class today, and they loved it." That would suffice in a good suburban school. But in the test-driven school in the age of George W. Bush, she can't do that. She has to say, "I used the story of Pooh and Piglet to deliver the following three proficiencies that will be on the state exam." And then she has to list those proficiencies on the blackboard with a number next to each of them, saying, "We used Pooh's disappointment about the honey pot to deliver the following three skills." What happens in these schools is not only that the children are treated as industrial products in preparation but that they're also subjected to a type of rote and drilled training that denies them almost all access to the joy of learning and to any form of cultural capaciousness.

So even when school systems sometimes boast that they've reduced the learning gap between the races, in fact they have increased the cultural gap between the races. And these test score gains are always spurious and temporary. It means nothing; this is the result of teaching to the test, and in some cases, like Houston, it's the result of cheating. If these were real gains - learning gains, not testing gains - you'd see the results four years later when they get to eighth grade. But I meet the same kids four years later and they can't write a cogent sentence and they can't read a social studies text, and by the 12th grade the difference is catastrophic. The numbers that come from the Education Trust say that the average 12th grade black and Latino student in America reads and does math at the level of the typical seventh grade white student. George Bush says his testing plan is working, and it is a flagrant lie; it's a deadly lie because it's deceiving the parents of the poor, and it's the worst possible crime because once these years are taken from the kids you can't ever give them back.

Probably the most shocking passage in your book is one in which you speak with a student named Mireya, from Freemont High School in Los Angeles, who is moved to tears of frustration because she wants to go to college, but the only classes available to her are sewing and hairdressing courses, rather than college prep classes.

Everyone who has read the book has said that is the story that made them cry. Mireya wanted to go to Boston University. She was eloquent, and her teachers said she was perfectly capable of going to a first-rate university. She said the school had made her take sewing the previous year, and when I spoke with her, they were going to make her take hairdressing. This was a school of 5,000 kids in South Central Los Angeles, with hardly a white kid in the school. Now, it turns out hairdressing and sewing weren't exactly required, but that students were expected to take two classes in what were called "the technical arts." But at Beverly Hills High School that requirement could be filled by taking a class in residential architecture, computer graphics or broadcast journalism - things that perhaps have some relevance to college preparation. At Freemont the choices were sewing and hairdressing. Mireya cried and said to me, "I don't need to sew; my mother's a seamstress in a sewing factory." That's when a terrific student, Fortino - he reminded me of a sort of Latino Malcolm X, because he had this look of cynical intelligence in his eyes - said to her, "The owners of the sewing factories need workers, don't they?" And she said, "Well, I guess they do." And he said, "They're not going to hire their own kids for those jobs." Another student naively said, "Why not?" And Mireya said, "Because they can grow beyond themselves, but we remain the same." To me that was the most moving bit of dialogue in the whole book.

When I am in New York I go just outside Queens, on suburban Long Island, to visit the Roosevelt school district - which is a totally segregated district, 100 percent black and Latino. Seventh- and eighth-graders there have to take two mandatory years of sewing. You try doing that in Scarsdale, [N.Y.], Glencoe, [Ill.], Winnetka, [Ill.], Beverly Hills, [Calif.] or Concord, Mass. The principal would be fired in one hour.

What makes you so convinced that the inequalities stem from race and not class? If any one of the children you befriended in the Bronx suddenly inherited $100,000, wouldn't they be able to buy themselves a new start? Poor is poor, whether you're black or white.

I believe the racial factor is the most decisive. A lot of intellectuals, even radical intellectuals, love to shift the ground to class instead of race, and I think there's a reason. It's because for all its unfairness, class injustice sounds less toxic. It's less of a theological abomination than racial injustice, which has its roots in the sins of American history. In this nation our racial history is our greatest national humiliation. In any case, it's a distinction without a difference because the most deeply hyper-segregated schools in America are far, far more likely to be schools of concentrated poverty than are racially integrated schools. So I still believe race is at the heart of it.

There is a lot of controversy these days, both in urban and suburban schools, regarding the repercussions of using corporate money and sponsorships to infuse struggling school budgets with cash and supplies. Given the extent of their need, it seems as if the schools you write about would be particularly vulnerable to that influence. Do you believe a corporate presence in schools can ever be beneficial?

Some of the most grotesque examples of the apartheid curriculum are when corporate indoctrination invades not simply the high schools but the elementary schools. I'm thinking of the schools I write about in Ohio - and there are many like these across the country - where little kids in second and third grade were learning to read by reading want ads and learning to write by writing job applications. And they had on their desks earnings charts, which said, basically, "How much is my sentence worth?" And then there was a classroom bank on the wall where your earnings would be accrued and they had pictures of dollar bills as an incentive. I think most enlightened white American parents, because they have power, would tear down a school that made such a reductionist curriculum. Sure, most middle-class white Americans would love their kids to be successful economically, but they also want them to be culturally empowered, they want them to love beauty for its own sake, they want them to read a good book, not in the robotic voice of children who have been drilled nonstop in phonics and only in phonics, but with real comprehension.

You write that "passion and delight" are seen as luxuries in most inner-city schools. Do you mean to say white kids have the luxury of childhood and kids of color do not?

I go out of my way at the end of the book to devote an entire chapter to inner-city schools that try very hard to resist those trends. I go into great detail to describe one school in the South Bronx and one in Durham, N.C., in which good, hard skills are delivered to children but where it's also fun to be in school and where the teachers have a chance to be fascinated by the children's fascination, which is one of the great rewards for a teacher. If you take that away from a teacher, if you take away the delight and mischievousness of childhood, it's hard to see what's left to compensate her for her rotten pay and for the limited respect she gets in this society. The president has the arrogance to blame these teachers if test scores don't go up; he accuses them of "low expectations" and charges them with "soft bigotry." That's a lot of chutzpah for a president who has never lifted a finger to even touch on the issue of school segregation or to give the segregated schools funds to meet his demands.

Just after Katrina, Bill O'Reilly went on the air saying that the looting of New Orleans should serve as a lesson to poor black kids who are messing up in school and "living the ghetto lifestyle." Personal accountability is also a big buzzword in this administration. What's the problem with telling kids to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

Conservatives love to see ghetto schools that are plastered with self-help posters. I quote one where the children have to chant, "If it is to be, it is up to me." Well, that's about as far from the truth as imaginable. But accountability in the president's worldview is all one way. Most of these kids, by the way, are denied preschool. The president has cut Head Start, so now less than 50 percent of eligible students get to participate. The president does nothing to provide these kids with pre-K education, while friends of mine send their children to $20,000-a-year preschools - lovely little Montessori schools - starting at the age of 2 and a half. When the kids who are denied preschool get to third grade, they're given a high-stakes exam and they're held accountable for their performance. There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an 8-year-old accountable for her performance on an exam but doesn't hold the president accountable for robbing her of what he gave his own kids when they were 2 and a half years old.

As someone who has had every educational advantage, I find it hard not to feel sick and ashamed after reading your book.

A lot of privileged white kids read my books because for some reason the wealthiest white high schools tend to assign my books to their seniors. And these kids send me poignant letters and say, essentially, "My victories are won in a game that was rigged to my advantage in advance." And yes, they are proud that they got into Harvard or Michigan or Reed or wherever, but they also feel embarrassed by the fact that these are not pure victories, they are tarnished ones. We have a meritocracy in the U.S. but it's increasingly a hereditary meritocracy in which the lines are both lines of class and of race.

I didn't write this book simply to provoke another incestuous and interesting debate among inert liberals. I wrote this book to ask my liberal friends to get up off their asses and deal with an injustice which is right before their eyes. There are too many books about the heroic struggles of the 1960s and the courage people showed then. Those books exempt us from summoning up the courage we need to face the injustices from which we still benefit today.

Our Cheerleader President...Bob Herbert

Voters' Remorse on Bush
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Thursday 22 September 2005

Maybe, just maybe, the public is beginning to see through the toxic fog of fantasy, propaganda and deliberate misrepresentation that has been such a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, which is in danger of being judged by history as one of the worst of all time.

Mr. Bush's approval ratings have tanked as increasing numbers of Americans worry that their president, who seems to like nothing better than running off to his ranch to clear brush and ride his bike, may not be up to the job.

The most recent New York Times/CBS News Poll strongly indicated that the public - tired of the war-without-end in Iraq and dismayed by the federal response to the catastrophe in New Orleans - "has growing doubts about [the president's] capacity to deal with pressing problems."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans do not see Mr. Bush as a strong and decisive leader. In an article in USA Today, Carroll Doherty of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center said of Mr. Bush: "He's lost ground among independents. He seems to be starting to lose ground among his own party. And he lost the Democrats a long time ago."

Reality is caving in on a president who was held aloft for so long by a combination of ideological mumbo-jumbo, the public relations legerdemain of Karl Rove and the buoyant patriotism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush people were never big on reality, so sooner or later they were bound to be blindsided by it.

Remember, there was already a war going on when Katrina came to call. I've always believed that war is a serious matter. But the president was on vacation. Dick Cheney was on vacation. And Condi Rice was here in New York taking in the sights and shopping for shoes. That Americans were fighting and dying on foreign soil was not enough to demand their full attention. They were busy having fun. So it's no wonder it took a good long while before they noticed that a whole section of America had been wiped out in a calamity of biblical proportions.

What Americans are finally catching onto is the utter incompetence of this crowd. And if we didn't know before, we're learning now, in the harshest possible ways, that incompetence has bitter consequences. The body count of Americans killed in Iraq has now passed 1,900, with many more deaths to come. But there's still no strategy, no plan. The White House hasn't the slightest clue about what to do. So the dying will continue.

Mr. Bush's "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was two and a half years ago. It was another example of the president in fantasyland. The war was a botch from the beginning. Mr. Bush never sent enough troops to get the job done, and he never provided enough armor to protect the troops that he did send. Thin-skinned, the president got rid of anyone who had the temerity to suggest he might be wrong about some of the decisions he was making.

Here at home, even loyal Republicans are beginning to bail out on Mr. Bush's fiendish willingness to shove the monumental costs of the federal government's operations - including his war, his tax cuts and his promised reconstruction of the Gulf Coast - onto the unsuspecting backs of generations still to come.

There is a general sense now that things are falling apart. The economy was already faltering before Katrina hit. Gasoline prices are starting to undermine the standard of living of some Americans, and a full-blown home-heating-oil crisis could erupt this winter. The administration's awful response to the agony of the Gulf Coast has left most Americans believing that we are not prepared to cope with a large terrorist attack. And Osama bin Laden is still at large.

This is what happens when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who'd be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame. You'd never use that criterion when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country.

Mr. Bush will be at the helm of the ship of state for three more years, so we have no choice but to hang on. But the next time around, voters need to keep in mind that beyond the incessant yammering about left and right, big government and small, Democrats and Republicans, is a more immediate issue, and that's competence.