Wednesday, December 24, 2003

OK, I guess I'm out of here. I'll be traveling over the holidays and I don't have plans to post here, though it's possible I'll manage to slip something in. So I want to thank everyone who's read me, linked me, praised or chided me in e-mails -- you're great. Happy holidays -- I'll see you in the new year.
Which Democratic candidate said this, according to today's New York Times?

"Howard Dean may think you can conquer by dividing, but the truth is, in politics you win by uniting."

And which candidate said this, according to the same article?

"I know that some people believe that faith has no place in the so-called public square. They forget that the constitutional separation of church and state, which I strongly support, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Some people forget that faith was central to our founding and remains central to our national purpose and our individual lives."

Lieberman and Lieberman.

Look, Joe, it's a free country, and you're entitled to say exactly what Pat Robertson says about religion in America if youfeel like it. But don't demonize secularists like me, Joe, and then say someone else is being too divisive.
When a book is published and it's clear right away that it's not selling, it's common practice for its publisher and booksellers to drop the price to 50% off -- it's called a "shared markdown." Seller and publisher agree to make less money per copy, in a desperate attempt to get people to buy the damn thing.

Three new books I saw at 50% off at various Barnes & Nobles in the last couple of days were Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait, the mash note by Midge Decter; Reflections: Life After the White House, by Barbara Bush, rude, nasty mother of the current president and most prominent influence on his personality; and Red, White & Liberal: How Left Is Right & Right Is Wrong by Sean Hannity's TV doormat, Alan Colmes. The Decter and Colmes books, I see, are also at the fire-sale price on the B&N Web site.

It couldn't have happened to three more deserving people.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

If you missed it, Nader's not running....

******, at least not as a Green. Yikes -- what's wrong with me? Sorry, I posted this without getting all the facts. He's not ruling out an independent bid.
Democrats and Republicans complained about being "Borked" -- blocked in the confirmation process for a judgeship or other office -- but I think we need a similar word for what happens when the press, rather than a political party, decides it simply won't tolerate a candidate for office. I think we need to say such a victim of the press is being "dorked" -- made to look like a dork by the press so the public won't take him seriously.

Admittedly, some early victims of "dorkings" were Republicans -- Dan Quayle, and possibly the elder George Bush (at least at the hands of Maureen Dowd) in 1992. But it seems to happen a lot more to Democrats. It happened to Dukakis in '88 and to Gore in 2000 -- and now, I think, it's happening to John Kerry.

This entire article about Kerry campaigning in Iowa (from The New York Times) is an attempt at dorking. A sample passage:

There was the forced chitchat with construction workers at noontime in Davenport. "Has the wiring changed?" [Kerry] asked an electrician, Corey Higgins, who did not quite grasp the question. "What's an amperage you put into this thing? Where did you do your apprenticeship?" (Mr. Higgins later confided he would be sunning himself in Antigua during the caucuses.)

There was the curious conversation with a union man, set up by one of his aides for the commercial's film crew, in which Mr. Kerry pointed skyward, striking a visionary-looking pose, but was actually asking about the architecture of downtown Davenport and saying how he hated when old buildings were torn down.

The article ends with a sneering reference to Kerry's daughter quoting an astrology column in the newspaper -- as if we haven't all read parts of the paper we don't ordinarily read when we're engaged in a lot of hurry-up-and-wait traveling.

From this we learn absolutely nothing about Kerry's suitability for the office. The only difference between this article and a talk-radio blowhard calling Kerry "Ketchup Boy" is that this has more syllables.
From a New York Times business story today:

Living from paycheck to paycheck is the norm in the United States, economists say, and Wal-Mart's cash registers offer some proof of that. For more than a year, the retailer says, it has detected spikes in sales twice a month, around the 1st and the 15th, which is about the time that many people are paid.

For more than a year? But ... but the recession officially ended in November 2001! And now we're in the BUSH BOOM! How is this possible?

Go to the story to find out how a lot of people are really living in these "boom times."
Back on December 15, I said that "Al Gore wounded Michael Dukakis in '88 by bringing up Willie Horton." As Bob Somerby's Daily Howler has noted several times (e.g., here), Gore criticized the Massachusetts furlough program but never mentioned Horton's name or his race. My error. Gore did draw a tiny bit of Dukakis's blood, though, and GOP sharks circled soon afterward.
If I were a Democrat running for president, I'd just read this article out loud anywhere I saw a crowd or a microphone:

Logan International Airport is hundreds of screeners short during the busiest Christmas travel season since the 9/11 attacks -- just as the nation raises the terror alert to orange, its second-highest level.

The Transportation Security Administration yesterday acknowledged that efforts to replace full-time baggage and passenger screeners at Logan with part timers have largely failed, prompting the TSA to lift its freeze on hiring full-time workers.

"In the last month, it's come to the attention of headquarters that we're having a hard time finding part timers nationally and that we need to look to hire full-time screeners," said George Naccara, the agency's federal security director in Boston.

Some lines at Logan were long during the afternoon travel rush yesterday, but many passengers said their waits to be screened took less than 10 minutes.

The TSA stopped hiring full-time workers after it laid off 6,000 screeners nationally in May to cut costs and alleviate overstaffing....

--Boston Globe

This is Logan Airport -- y'know, where the planes that went into the Towers flew from? And there aren't enough screeners there now? And it's because the TSA had a hiring freeze for full-time workers? Now?

The mind reels.
I find this a bit sinister:

Chinese wooing thinkers on right

Talks with hard-liners seen as part of a push to lift influence in US

Building on strengthening ties between China and the Bush administration, Chinese leaders are quietly wooing influential conservative think tanks in Washington.

A delegation from the educational arm of the Chinese Communist Party last month held back-to-back meetings with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, incubators of conservative thought on everything from US foreign policy to taxation. The closed-door sessions, which were led in part by Republican Newt Gingrich, were unusual for their candor on such issues as Taiwan and China's growing AIDS problem, according to participants. The meetings revealed an increasingly confident China eager to discuss competing ideologies with hard-line American conservatives....

Members of the American Enterise Institute made the initial invitation. The delegation reciprocated by inviting Gingrich and institute president Christopher DeMuth to China....

Kevin A. Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who advised Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, during the 2000 presidential campaign, embraced China's argument that its $140 billion trade imbalance with the United States is a necessary but temporary price for economic growth in both countries.

"I do think the trade deficit issue is overblown," said Hassett.

...John Tkacik, an Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation, said the meetings were "cordial and professional. I told them what I think, and they told us what they think." Tkacik had just returned from a visit to China where he lectured various official groups and universities on American conservatism.

"They were mostly interested in trying to figure out who's who in the American conservative movement and the difference between neocons and regular cons. No one convinced anyone of anything but they were happy to have us because Heritage paid for the whole thing."

--Boston Globe

The Chinese model is big business without democracy. Are we surprised that the people in power find it appealing?
One pollster begs to differ:

The capture of Saddam Hussein had a minimal effect on President George W. Bush's approval ratings, which are hovering at their lowest levels since he took office in January, 2001, according to a poll.

The Harris Poll, conducted before and after the ousted Iraqi leader's capture on December 13, found only a slight improvement in the president's ratings, up from 48 percent positive, 51 percent negative, to 50 percent positive, 49 percent negative.

They were the worst monthly ratings Harris has reported for the president since the September 11 terrorist attacks of two years ago, and the highest negative ratings since he took office....

--Yahoo News/AFP

Naomi Klein, writing in The Guardian, lists a few countries that aren't run by nasty dictators anymore but aren't getting any debt relief:

...despite its now irrefutable complicity in Argentina's tragedy, the US has opposed all attempts to cancel the country's debt. And Argentina is hardly exceptional. The US has used its power in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to block campaigns to cancel debts accumulated by apartheid South Africa, Marcos in the Philippines, Duvalier's brutal regime in Haiti and the dictatorship that sent Brazil's debt spiralling from $5.7bn in 1964 to $104bn in 1985.

The US position has been that wiping out debts would be a dangerous precedent (and rob Washington of the leverage it needs to push for investor-friendly economic reforms). So why is Bush so concerned that "the future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt"? Because it is taking money from "reconstruction", which could go to Halliburton, Bechtel, Exxon and Boeing.

It has become popular to claim that the White House has been hijacked by neo-conservative ideologues in love with free-market dogma. I'm not convinced. If there's one thing the Wolfowitz/Baker dust-ups make clear, it's that the ideology of the Bush White House isn't neo-conservatism, it's old-fashioned greed. There is only one rule that appears to matter: if it helps our friends get even richer, do it.

Anyone have a better explanation?
Bush = toughness -- and don't you dare dispute that, even if you have facts at your disposal:

U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers was put on leave shortly after expressing concern that her department is understaffed. Her bosses are angry that she didn't keep the rest of us from knowing that. They're forgetting that a public official's first obligation is to the public - especially when safety is an issue.

Chambers, the park service's first woman chief and former Durham, N.C., police chief, gave interviews about a new Interior Department requirement that more park police officers guard the Washington Monument and several memorials. It means fewer officers to patrol other parks and parkways in the Washington, D.C., area. The result, she said: more accidents on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and homeless people and drug dealers in city parks, the Washington Post reported.

Chambers also said that her department budget fell short $12 million this year, and $8 million additional is needed next year. The Park Service deputy director has said her comments broke two federal rules: one prohibiting an official in her position from "lobbying," the other banning an official from talking about budget proposals before they're complete.

Self-serving rules, both of them.

They're designed to protect bureaucratic interests. They tell government managers to keep quiet. It took guts for Chambers to speak out anyway.

--editorial in the Des Moines Register

AP notes that "Vacancies on the force have left it 15 percent below its authorized strength."

Chambers's predecessor, who served from 1991 until 2001, has said he "also publicly complained about money and staffing but was never reprimanded" and that he "was never told by his superiors to avoid discussing such subjects with the media." But his term didn't overlap with that of the Steely-Eyed Flight-Suit Man Whose Administration's Absolute Devotion To Our Safety Cannot Be Questioned.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The New York Times notices that Donald Rumsfeld made nice to a chemical-weapons-deploying Saddam in the '80s.

Hey, better late than never.
Page A24 of today's New York Times had the jump of a story on the John Kerry campaign, which included this passage:

At the chili feed in Peterborough and another in Keene on Thursday, [Kerry] was roundly applauded when he took issue with Dr. Dean's assertion that the capture of Saddam Hussein "did not make America safer."

Every person in the room, he said, "would agree that the world is safer" because of the capture.

At the last stop of the day in Keene, where he arrived almost an hour late because of foggy roads, he demanded of Dr. Dean, "How can you possibly say that America is not safer?"

Right next to it -- one column over -- was the headline "Terror Alert Is Raised to 'High,' Increasing Scrutiny of Travelers."

Yet people are reading these two stories as if one doesn't have a thing to do with the other.
Current Newsweek poll, eleven months before Election Day:

Bush 53%, Dean 40%

Bush 53%, Clark 41%

Bush 52%, Lieberman 40%

Bush 54%, Gephardt 38%

So why is one of these men regularly described as much more unelectable than the others?

Sunday, December 21, 2003

I'm going to be in transit most of tomorrow, so I don't think I'll be posting again until tomorrow night. See you then.
This is creepy:

People with sophisticated safety and communications systems in their cars may be getting an unwanted feature. An appeals court decision last month revealed that the government may be able to convert some of the systems into roaming in-car wiretaps....

The technology involved, used by OnStar, ATX and others, combines a global positioning satellite transmitter with a cellular telephone. Drivers can use the services to seek information and emergency help....

The device discussed in the decision allows drivers to punch one of three buttons: for emergencies, general information and roadside assistance. The phone has a speaker and microphone, and it turns out that the microphone may be activated surreptitiously, allowing government agents to listen in on conversations in the car....

The appeals court decision, rendered after the wiretapping had concluded, ruled that the lower-court judge should not have allowed it. But the appellate ruling was narrow, based on the fact that safety features of the system in question had to be disabled to permit the government to listen in.

The majority had no objection in principle to converting the device into a bug; a dissenter would have allowed the eavesdropping even at the expense of safety....

--New York Times

These systems are in high-end cars now -- but who knows how long they'll be limited to pricier models?

Oddly, this decision was from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, which is regularl accused of out-of-control leftism by conservatives.

(In the article, Bob Barr denounces the ruling -- which would seem odd if you didn't know that the former scourge of Clinton has hooked up with the ACLU since leaving Congress.)
Most meaningless quote of the day, from General Ricardo Sanchez in Iraq, as quoted in The New York Times:

"Every time I go out, I ask soldiers if any of them believe we are not winning," he said. "No, they all believe we are winning, making a huge difference...."

As if anyone has ever told the truth when asked a question like that by the boss.
More on how the pie is divided up. Short version: Your piece got smaller.

This economic recovery is distinctly unkind to workers.

...while profits have shot up as a percentage of national income, reaching their highest level since the mid-1960's, labor's share is shrinking. Not since World War II has the distribution been so lopsided in the aftermath of a recession.

... [Workers'] average hourly wage, $15.46, is up only 3 cents since July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That wage is rising at an annual rate of less than 2 percent, barely enough to keep up with inflation, mild as it now is.

"We have never seen in the 40 years that we have this hourly wage survey, wage growth that has been this slow,'' said Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. ...

... pretax profits skyrocketed in the third quarter, to nearly 30 percent of national income, at an annual rate, from 27 percent in the first quarter of 2001....

---Louis Uchitelle in today's New York Times

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Just another day at the office:

U.S. troops mistakenly shot and killed three Iraqi police officers and wounded two others, thinking they were bandits, an Iraqi police officer said Saturday....

...Friday night, Iraqi police shot and wounded two people they said were trying to place roadside bombs on a route used by the U.S. army around al-Hawija, a town 15 miles west of Kirkuk.

Meanwhile in Najaf, gunmen attempted to assassinate Damiyah Abbas, a provincial party official believed to have participated in the repression of a 1991 Shiite uprising against the government of Saddam, who violently repressed Iraq's Shiite majority.

Police initially said she had died in the attack, as she was leaving her home, then said she was hospitalized in critical condition. Her 5-year-old son was killed instantly, they said.

Another Baath party official accused in the repression was lynched by an angry crowd and killed on Wednesday in Najaf, 100 miles southwest of Baghdad.

...On Friday, an explosion destroyed a west Baghdad branch office of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the biggest party supported by Shiites, who comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people and who were brutally repressed by Saddam.

Rahim Jaber said the pre-dawn blast killed his elderly sister, who was sleeping when the roof of their home collapsed, and injured seven other people. The front part of the one-story building was a party office -- some said an office of the party's armed militia -- and the back was occupied by people made homeless when the United States invaded.

Meanwhile tempers in Baghdad frayed as a gasoline shortage reached critical proportions in Baghdad. Mile-long lines of cars and 12-hour waits for fuel were common....


About those attacks on Baathists: I don't weep when Saddam loyalists suffer, but I suspect we're going see a lot more of that kind of thing now that Saddam is in custody. This could turn into a classic civil war, couldn't it?
Give David Brooks a tiny bit of credit: allowing Americans to create tax-free savings accounts for job retraining isn't a terrible idea. Oh, it's quite flawed -- it puts all the onus for dealing with job loss on workers themselves, it drains the treasury of yet more tax revenue (a Bush administration specialty), and the workers least likely to be able to take advantage are the workers who need help most, the ones who live paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to salt much cash away, tax free or not. But Clinton might have done something similar if he could have had a third term, so this won't be the worst thing in Bush's next State of the Union address.

But if you read Brooks's column on the subject, you can begin to see the difference between the Left and the Right. Call Paul Krugman a "zealot" and you won't get an argument from me -- but while he may be that, he's not a flack. Brooks is a flack. Here's an excerpt from the column:

In his State of the Union address, the president will announce measures to foster job creation. In the meantime, he is talking about what he calls the Ownership Society.

This is a bundle of proposals that treat workers as self-reliant pioneers who rise through several employers and careers. To thrive, these pioneers need survival tools.

Those capital letters in "Ownership Society" are a disgrace -- Brooks's editors should have lowercased them and told him that if he didn't like it he could go find work on Pennsylvania Avenue. Brooks capitalizes the term three times in the column, not counting the title -- he's helping the White House to create a brand, dammit.

And that use of "pioneer"? Straight from Newt Gingrich's Orwellian list of "optimistic positive governing words." (Though I'd love to see Brooks at an unemployment office trying to sell some ex-factory workers on the Pollyannaish nonsense that they're "pioneers.")

And give me a break, David -- workers don't "rise through several ... careers." At best, they rise through one, then, if they're driven out of it, they plummet to pretty close to the bottom of the ladder and maybe, maybe, rise to where they were in a new career after several years. And then maybe the whole cycle repeats after that.
Regarding warnings of possible terrorist attacks on New York City, there's this, from the New York Post:

The NYPD issued a statement saying they have received no specific warnings about a possible female homicide [sic] bomber targeting the city.

The FBI New York office said it was "not aware of any imminent threat."

I also heard that on the local news last night.

Weren't there similar panicky (and ultimately unfounded) reports last year around Christmas and New Year's? Or was it the year before?

Friday, December 19, 2003

Well, this got my attention:

Authorities are evaluating a surge of information related to possible terrorist threats to a number of cities in the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., ABCNEWS has learned.

Threat information is coming from intelligence intercepts, interrogation of recent detainees and other methods, sources say.

Sources say the threat to New York City possibly involves a female suicide bomber, but no specific target has been identified and intelligence sources are still evaluating the credibility of this threat. The New York City Police Department released a statement saying it has "no credible intelligence pointing to a specific or imminent terrorist threat" in the city.

In the threats received for other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, no mode of attack has been identified and no location or specific cells were named....

I'm not really worried -- nothing the feds have warned us about since 9/11 has actually happened, and I think the local police forces in the biggest cities get it -- but this is what's been in the back of my Manhattanite mind since 9/11: small, nasty terrorist attacks.

If these actually come, the polarization in this country is going to get even worse -- lots of people will just rally around Bush (no matter how much chaos there is, if a tough guy's in charge, people who like tough guys will always withhold blame from him), while many of the rest of us will, utterly justifiably, accuse the administration of not doing enough to make us safe (and the accusers will be called traitors, even the ones who've been wounded in attacks).

Remember how the right-wingers said after the fall of Baghdad that it was delusional to suggest that any Iraqi could possibly have been better off under Saddam? Then, as months went by, we saw that, brutal as Saddam had been, his brutality had left some people unaffected, and some of their lives were worse now -- and they themselves said so. Well, soon enough, the unsayable statement of Howard Dean -- that we're no safer than we were when Saddam was in the hole -- might be recognized as self-evidently true. It might even be seen as an understatement. Let's hope not.
A few days ago, Armstrong Williams, the black conservative radio host and syndicated columnist, wrote about Strom Thurmond and the child he fathered with a teenage black maid. Here was Williams's lead paragraph:

The truth has a biological advantage. It doesn't need the artifice of man to survive. It lives and breathes freely on its own.

Some might argue that it's awfully convenient for Williams if the truth can survive without human intervention, because Williams -- who worked for Thurmond many years ago -- has known about Thurmond's mixed-race child since at least 1996 and never uttered that truth until now:

There was a conversation that occurred at a 1996 Washington Urban League ceremony honoring myself and Sen. Thurmond for the growing bonds between black and white Americans. Back stage, Sen. Thurmond leaned over and said, "You know, I have deep roots in the black community -- deep roots."

His voice softened into a raspy whisper: "You've heard the rumors."

"Are they just rumors, senator?" I asked.

"I've had a fulfilling life," cackled Thurmond, winking salaciously.

The subject came up again while the senator and I were attending a S.C. State football game in Orangeburg. He mentioned how he had arranged for Williams to attend S.C. State College while he was governor. (Sen. Thurmond caused a stir when his official car rolled onto campus for a visit.)

"When a man brings a child in the world, he should take care of that child," said Thurmond, who then added, "she'll never say anything and neither will you -- not while I'm alive."

It's odd, though, that Williams never said anything about his ex-employer -- after all, Williams recently delivered a speech to fellow journalists called "On Moral Absolutes" in which he said,

The foundation of all journalists, whether you like it or not, is a sense of morality, a sense of fairness. That's what it's about. It is their moral compass. And no matter how flawed their moral compass may be, within themselves they feel they have a sense of right and wrong and what is right and wrong for the world, and that is what they write about. That's what we try to do every day: make the world better and make the world accountable.

Williams withheld the truth about Thurmond throughout the senator's life, and praised him at his death. He never tried to hold Thurmond accountable for denying that he was Essie Mae Washington-Williams's father for nearly eighty years.

But it all makes sense if you look again at that speech "On Moral Absolutes." In fact, the speech isn't about "moral absolutes" at all. Here are some more excerpts (emphasis mine):

Whatever the media writes and ascribes to, whether you call it religion or not, is simply differentiating between right and wrong. One of the best examples was Jesse Jackson, whom I have tremendous respect for. But when a rumor was revealed that he had had a child out of wedlock, he lost his moral authority. It became a moral issue....

With former President Clinton, his final downfall and his legacy had to do with morality. The greatest leadership in the world is not how you lead armies against tyrants. It's not how many victories you win or have in your scrapbook. The greatest leadership in the world is the leadership to guide and run your own life. The ability to wrestle with angels, the ability to have moral restraint, the ability when you have sexual temptation and you want to cheat on your wife, or lie to someone, and you find the moral fortitude within yourself to say, no, I must rise above it.

When others see that, when others see your moral compass, your moral judgment, you develop trust and respect and you will instruct others to say, you can do better, you must rise above the temptations of your own flesh and you must have the strength to overcome the demons that we all possess, that challenge us on a daily basis.

To Williams, immorality is wrong -- but, if you're immoral, you don't lose your moral authority until somebody talks.

Williams thought Ol' Strom had moral authority -- and he sure wasn't going to be the one to cause him to lose it.

Some of you will note, with a snicker, that (as Michelangelo Signorile has noted) Williams "was sued by a male bodyguard a few years ago who claimed he was sexually harassed by Williams, a case that was settled out of court." But whether or not Williams committed a moral wrong (by seeking to commit a homosexual act, if you're a traditionalist; by being a harasser, if you aren't), shouldn't he argue for a consistent moral code nonetheless? Isn't right right? Isn't wrong wrong?

For Williams, I don't think it is. I think, for Williams, the conservative moralist, wrong is only wrong when you get caught.

(First Williams link courtesy of Roger Ailes and Silver Rights.)
Agents for deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein have penetrated the U.S. command in Iraq, ABCNEWS has learned. As a result, they have the potential to undermine U.S. authority.

Among the documents found in Saddam's briefcase when he was captured last weekend was a list of names of Iraqis who have been working with the United States — either in the Iraqi security forces or the Coalition Provisional Authority — and are feeding information to the insurgents, a U.S. official told ABCNEWS.

"We were badly infiltrated," said the official....


Yup -- and if you goto the page for today's Morning Edition and scroll down to the story "Iraqi Rebels Vow to Keep Fighting," you can hear about just such a double agent. No surprise, of course -- it's an inevitable risk in "Iraqification."

(ABC link via Cursor.)
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled yesterday that Jose Padilla, who's a U.S. citizen, can't be detained indefinitely as an enemy combatant.

This morning on NPR, Nina Totenberg stressed the fact that the court cited a 1971 law requiring congressional authorization for such detentions. Totenberg said that it would be risky for the administration to go to Congress for express authorization because it might not get everything it wants.

I find this argument baffling. Excuse me -- this is Congress we're talking about. Congress -- you know, the place where the majority Republicans operate in absolute lockstep on virtually every key issue? The place where Democrats have been knuckling under to Republicans for nearly a quarter of a century, particularly when standing up would mean having their patriotism impugned?

I can't believe the administration wouldn't relish a fight in Congress over this. If there were any resistance at all, Rush could call Tom Daschle Satan again. Ads equating Democrats with Saddam and Osama could be shown on TV again. For the GOP, what could be more fun?
Poll: Public Confident of Osama Capture

Public confidence that Osama bin Laden will be caught is rising....

...Two-thirds in the [Associated Press] poll said they were confident the United States would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, who is believed to have orchestrated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That's up from about half who felt that way in a poll in September.

"I'm confident we'll capture Osama bin Laden," said Jill Chiccino, a surgical technician from Wilmington, Del. "I still don't feel that will solve terrorism, but it may help."...


Unfortunately, that large chunk of America that believes bin Laden's capture is inevitable does not, apparently, include very many people with actual knowledge of the situation:

U.S. Says Catching Bin Laden Difficult

...More than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there is little indication that U.S. forces are about to capture bin Laden.

..."As opposed to finding the needle in the haystack, now the needle is in a mountain chain," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

...Officials have tried to pry information from al-Qaida suspects seized in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. After Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed to be al-Qaida's No. 3 figure, was arrested in March, information from his interrogation led to raids along the southwestern stretch of the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. But those didn't lead to any arrests.

"I'm not sure if there have been any close calls. I'm skeptical," said one U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some critics have said the United States should devote more resources — including military and special operations forces — to the hunt for bin Laden.

"The United States does not have unlimited military resources," said Larry Johnson, a former State Department deputy chief of counterterrorism. "If you're going to devote air assets to lifting troops in Iraq, those assets are no longer available to lift troops in Afghanistan."

But America's top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said this week that the United States, which has about 11,000 troops hunting militants in Afghanistan, is unlikely to send many more troops.

...While Saddam was found in a "spider hole," as it was dubbed by the military, "you've got spider caves by the hundreds in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs during the Clinton administration....


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Even though the vulnerability of troops is obvious --

American troops are dying in Iraq and suffering amputations and other massive injuries while they confront the Iraqi insurgency in Humvees not designed to withstand front-line combat....

The Army's sole contractor for putting the armor plating on the standard Humvee chassis, Armor Holdings Inc., is hiring 150 workers at its Ohio plant but won't go to round-the-clock shifts until February.

Peak production won't come until April, when the company hopes to make 220 armored Humvees a month....

--Newsday, 12/14/03

--the Army doesn't want any jury-rigging armor that might literally save soldiers' lives and limbs:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Fearing roadside bombs and sniper bullets, the members of the Army Reserves' 428th Transportation Co. turned to a local steel fabricator to fashion extra armor for their 5-ton trucks and Humvees before beginning their journey to Iraq earlier this month.

But their armor might not make it into the war, because the soldiers didn't get Pentagon approval for their homemade protection.

The Army, which is still developing its own add-on armor kits for vehicles, doesn't typically allow any equipment that is not Army-tested-and-approved, Maj. Gary Tallman, a Pentagon spokesman for Army weapons and technology issues, said Thursday.

"It's important that other units out there that are getting ready to mobilize understand that we are doing things" to protect them, Tallman said, "but there's policy you have to consider before you go out on your own try to do something."

The possibility that soldiers could be denied extra protection because of an Army policy has outraged some of the friends and neighbors who tied to help the Missouri reserve unit.

"I think it's the stupidest thing I ever heard of," said Virgil Kirkweg, owner of the Jefferson City steel company that rushed to meet the local reserve unit's armor request. "I just hope the government is not dumb enough to make them go out there without something that's going to protect them somewhat."

The 72 vehicles operated by the 428th Transportation Co. aren't designed for battle and so have thin metal floorboards and, in some cases, a canvas covering for doors....


The Bush administration never had an adequate plan for what would happen after Baghdad fell. This is a consequence.
Well, this amuses me:

Paris Hilton was a bigger television draw than President Bush this week. So, for that matter, was Mark Harmon.

ABC's interview of the president by Diane Sawyer, telecast Tuesday, only two days after the capture of Saddam Hussein was announced, was seen by 11 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Meanwhile, Fox's "The Simple Life," with Hilton terrorizing an Arkansas town, was seen by 11.9 million, Nielsen said Thursday. During the half-hour where the two shows competed directly, ABC's Bush interview had 11.3 million viewers.

Meanwhile, the CBS drama "Navy NCIS" starring Harmon had an audience of 12 million.

Bush can console himself with the knowledge that he was more popular than a "Whoopi" rerun, which had 7.3 million people watching on NBC.

--AP/Fox News
The Bushies assume they'll be able to put a big red bow on Iraq and essentially hand it over to a joyous, rose-petal-strewing citizenry next summer as TV cameras roll, Bush beams in olive drab, and a crestfallen Howard Dean scours the want ads. They may be jumping the gun just a bit:

Concerns surface about Iraq timetable

President Bush's top envoy in Iraq has told Washington that he wants as many as 1,000 additional personnel to beef up the U.S. occupation authority amid growing concern that the effort to return Iraqi sovereignty by next summer is falling far behind schedule.

The recent request by L. Paul Bremer, which is being fiercely debated by the president's aides, underscores growing alarm in some sectors of the government that Bush's exit strategy for Iraq is in trouble....

"Clearly, CPA is behind schedule on the accelerated timeline for handing over to the Iraqis," said one senior official....

Bremer has asked for experts in running elections and finance, as well as people with expertise in telecommunications, this official said....

Naturally, Rummy is pinching pennies like a lean-'n'-mean CEO, while his Pentagon is taking a harder line with the State Department than it is with Osama:

Another top official said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is resisting Bremer's request, arguing that the CPA should be slimming down, not beefing up, in anticipation of the sovereignty handover.

"Rummy tells me downgrade, and I need more," a State Department official quoted Bremer as telling Secretary of State Colin Powell in recent weeks.

...[A] State Department official said Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's No. 3 official, is continuing to block some people on a list submitted by State for deployment to Baghdad.

As the story points out, a major reason Bremer thinks he needs more people is that he's worried about the logistics if Iraq is to hold proper elections next year; Rummy, presumably, has a few ideas about where Bremer can stick his logistics.

(Link via Rational Enquirer.)
Seb at Sadly, No! points out (via e-mail) that I was wrong a couple of days ago when I said that the recent "WE BAG THE BUM" headline in the New York Daily News was a rerun of a News headline about Manuel Noriega -- in fact, the earlier occurrence of the headline was in reference to the capture of the Achille Lauro hijackers in 1985 (back then it was "BUMS," not "BUM").

I still think the seizure of Saddam is going to make about as much difference in our day-to-day lives here in America as the seizure of Noriega did -- not much difference at all. (And it's nice to see that John Glenn agrees that Saddam wasn't much of a threat to us over here.)
The Drudge Report confirms what Publishers Lunch reported a couple of days ago -- Bill O'Reilly was talking utter nonsense when he said to Matt Lauer on the Today show, "We're running against Hillary for most copies of non-fiction books sold this year." Drudge has the list of nonfiction bestsellers, as determined by Nielsen's BookScan service:

1. South Beach Diet, Agatston: 2,304,608 [units scanned]

2. Purpose Driven Life, Warren: 1,507,902

3. Living History, Clinton: 1,084,520

4. Ultimate Weight Solution: McGraw: 836,043

5. Lies and The Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken: 674,024

6. Who's Looking Out for You?, O'Reilly: 430,407

O'Reilly may catch up to Al Franken a bit -- Who's Looking Out for You? is #1 on the new New York Times list that was released last night (Lies is #3) -- but Franken is still well ahead for the year.

(UPDATE: Sadly, No! reminds us that, back in June, Rush Limbaugh claimed a Simon & Schuster "insider" insisted that S&S couldn't even successfully warehouse a million copies of Hillary Clinton's book -- "Where would we put a million books?" -- which is utter balderdash, because S&S has had to do just that a number of times in recent years for books by Stephen King, and had to do that a decade or so ago for the second book by Limbaugh himself, which had a seven-figure first printing. Note that the BookScan data show sales of more than a mil for Hill -- and remember that not all the stores in America report sales data to BookScan (in 2002, Salon gave the number as 70% of stores), so you can probably add 100,000 or 200,000 more to those Living History sales numbers.)

(FURTHER UPDATE: Publishers Lunch says the BookScan figures quoted by Drudge were "updated yesterday." So I really don't think O'Reilly's going to pass Franken at the end-of-the-year wire -- much less Hillary or South Beach.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Center stage at the Republican National Convention in New York next summer may be round, rotating and built on a platform high above the floor of Madison Square Garden, event organizers said yesterday.

While rock bands or performance artists have been known to use center-floor rotating stages, no presidential candidate has received his party's nomination from one at a national convention, organizers said.

--New York Times

If this really happens, I hereby pledge a hundred bucks cash to the first credentialed delegate who's willing to get up during Bush's acceptance speech and yell out "FREE BIRD!"
(UPDATE: Good Lord -- did I really say "double digits" in what I wrote below? That's nuts. I plead temporary insanity. But I stand by the general thrust of what I wrote nonetheless.)

Yeah, I've read that the Gore snub has given a "jolt of life" to Joe Lieberman's campaign, but it occurs to me that, of the six leading Democrats, Lieberman is the least electable.

Oh, sure -- Lieberman, Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Clark, and Edwards all poll roughly the same in a head-to-head matchup with Bush right now. But there's a good chance the presidential election isn't going to be a head-to-head matchup. There's a good chance Nader's going to run again.

Of the top six, which Democrat is most likely to alienate progressives? Lieberman. His candidacy would give Nader his biggest vote. Now, unless you're one of those people who think Nader could actually win -- sorry, I'm not -- that means the anti-Bush vote could be very badly split.

Every other candidate in the race has at least some potential for appealing to progressive voters. Lieberman, by contrast, seems to consider it a badge of honor that he pisses progressives off.

So: If Lieberman gets the nomination, Nader cracks double digits. And Bush wins -- handily.
What is it with conservatives? Nearly every day, some bloviating rightist or other publishes a pseudo-scientific essay intended to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all aspects of contemporary love and sex are utterly unnatural and a threat to civilization as we know it -- except the stuff right-wingers do. The latest such essay (the first of a two-parter!) appears at National Review Online today. Jennifer Roback Morse writes (emphasis mine):

So, what is the meaning of human sexuality anyhow? Sexual activity has two natural, organic purposes: procreation and spousal unity...

Spousal unity is the feature of human sexuality that makes it distinct from purely animal sexuality.... Males and females who attach themselves to each other, have a better chance of seeing their offspring survive long enough to produce grandchildren. Science can now tell us how the hormones released during sex help to create emotional bonds between the partners....

But for many people in modern America, sex has little or nothing to do with building community of any kind. Sex is a purely private matter, in the narrowest sense of private....

Instead of being something that draws us out of ourselves and into relationship with others, our sexual activity focuses us inward, on ourselves and our own desires. A sexual partner is not a person to whom I am irrevocably connected by bonds of love. Rather, the sexual partner has become an object that satisfies me more or less well.

This difference in worldview is at the heart of the culture wars. One side believes the meaning of human sexuality is primarily individual. Sex is a private activity whose purpose is individual pleasure and satisfaction. The alternative view is that sex is primarily a social activity. Sex builds up community, starting with the spousal relationship and adding on from there.

"For many people in modern America"? Try "for Strom Thurmond when he was 22."
Atrios's guest blogger cites a Washington Post story from late last week about the rather calculated Bush photo op:

Stars and Stripes is blowing the whistle on President Bush's Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad, saying the cheering soldiers who met him were pre-screened and others showing up for a turkey dinner were turned away.

The letter cited in the Post story is here. It's from Sergeant Loren Russell:

...Our D9 teams helped push units as famous as the 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait to as far as Mosul. We took mine blasts and got shot at as we breached obstacles and cleared roads. Again, all we asked for was leadership and three squares a day.

During the war, Meals, Ready to Eat were naturally the way to go. They were appreciated, even by the vegetarians who had only crackers and cheese after the veggie meals were gone. Now that we’re stationed at Baghdad International Airport almost 10 months later, my soldiers believe that several comforts have finally arrived for them, like the post exchange and dining facility. But imagine their dismay when they walked 15 minutes to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, only to find that they were turned away from their evening meal because they were in the wrong unit.

The one thing that they find a requirement was denied to them. They understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building?...

The subsequent Stars and Stripes article cited in the Post story is here. It claims -- I assume accurately -- that hours were rejiggered at the dining facility and no one was refused a meal. But

only those pre-selected got into the facility during Bush’s visit.

Everyone else was turned away -- they could come back later or make do with MREs.

How were these troops "pre-selected"?
This story ran Monday on the Florida Today Web site, under the heading "Local News." Why is this "local news"?

Senators were told Iraqi weapons could hit U.S.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday the Bush administration last year told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities.

Nelson, D-Tallahassee, said about 75 senators got that news during a classified briefing before last October's congressional vote authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Nelson voted in favor of using military force.

Nelson said he couldn't reveal who in the administration gave the briefing....

Nelson said the senators were told Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

"They have not found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability," Nelson said....

Why wasn't this a bigger story?

(Link via BuzzFlash.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

George Soros -- Satan's financier:

George Soros' Atheism Fuels Conservative Rage

Conservatives are fuming over the $15.5 million that billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros has pledged to defeat President Bush. But they're also anxious to fight back and expose what they consider to be Soros' "immoral" beliefs and atheist leanings.

...Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, an authority on Christian values, said Soros wants to destroy the values on which the United States was founded. Williams called Soros "morally bankrupt" and he wants the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his contributions.

"He hates God and his biblical principles. He hates everything that's godly," Williams said. "He's jumping up and down at the thought that same-sex marriages could happen in this country. It's a direct assault on the church, the institutions that restrain and restrict our behavior and remind us of the standard of morality and moral absolutes."...

"No one knows what demons drive Mr. Soros to consistently fund anti-family agendas," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America. "But he seems determined to turn the world upside down and replace morality with immorality."...

--from the right-wing news site

Oh, and, of course, he's Jewish -- but that's OK with the Religious Right these days ... or it would be if Satan Soros hadn't (gasp!) lost the faith and didn't (eek!) consider the policies of the current Israeli government unlikely to produce peace. On the right these days, that makes him Beelzebub's amanuensis.

From Publishers Lunch (alas, subscription only):

Dude, Where's Your Calculator?

Bill O'Reilly had some interesting things to say on The Today Show yesterday (goaded, in part, by Matt Lauer, who doesn't seem to know a lot about how sales work himself):

LAUER: Number one on the best seller list. You have bumped past Al Franken's book. Is there a little ecstasy in that for you?

Mr. O'REILLY: We've outsold that guy all over the place. We're running against Hillary for most copies of non-fiction books sold this year. That's who we want to beat, and that's why I'm here talking with you. It's a delightful experience on the TODAY show as always.

Without resorting to name-calling, those are claims that stand in sharp contrast to, say, a glance at recent Nielsen Bookscan lists. Unless "outsold that guy all over the place" actually means "have sold about half as many units." By those same charts, Clinton has outsold O'Reilly by a little less than three to one.

To be sure, "Who's Looking Out for You" is a verifiable bestseller, and one of the top books on the market right now. But other books not mentioned by O'Reilly also rank far ahead of his. As indicated here in a recent column, probably the biggest nonfiction book of the year is Rick Warren's phenomenon "The Purpose-Driven Life." The biggest book published in 2003 is Rodale's own "The South Beach Diet." Also exponentially ahead of O'Reilly just in recent Nielsen Bookscan tabulations are Phil McGraw's "Ultimate Weight Loss Solution," and Robert C. Atkins's "Atkins for Life." And on it goes.
Wal-Mart reports subdued US sales

Wal-Mart dampened hopes for strong holiday sales as it announced expectations that US December same-store sales growth would be at the low end of a 3-5 per cent growth forecast.

In a weekly sales summary, the world's largest retailer said more consumers were delaying holiday shopping and buying gift cards, which are not recorded as revenue when purchased.

Richard Hastings, analyst at Bernard Sands, said: "Wal-Mart shoppers are a huge aggregation of American society. The sales reflect that there are a lot of households insufficiently funded for the future," said Mr Hastings. "If you're an observer, you need to be very worried about this."...

--Financial Times

Is this God's way of telling David Frum that He's a Deanie baby?
Instead of trusting Joe Lieberman's characterization of what Howard Dean said yesterday ("If he truly believes the capture of this evil man has not made America safer, then Howard Dean has put himself in his own spider hole of denial"), maybe you should consider reading the speech itself. It's here.

I'm still not on the Dean bandwagon, but it's an utterly reasonable speech. And as for the sentence that got Lieberman so exercised, it was part of a matched pair:

The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will help keep our soldiers safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.

What's controversial about this? Dean is saying that over there the troops might be safer, though we don't know for sure -- which is conventional wisdom -- but that Saddam, while not a threat to anyone now, wasn't a threat to us over here even before his capture. Does Lieberman have any evidence to the contrary? As a result of sanctions and inspections and no-fly-zone bombs, Saddam had nothing with which he could harm us stateside even in his last years in power -- does Lieberman think he obtained terror weapons and the means to deploy them when he was in the hole? Well, Joe?
Writing about the capture of Saddam in National Review Online, David Frum declares,

it’s becoming increasingy difficult to doubt that God wants President Bush re-elected.

The links in the quote are Frum's; they're to stories about the uptick in GDP and the Dow topping 10,000, both of which, Frum suggests, are also signs that the Guy Upstairs is taking sides for '04.

Er, David, that's a slippery slope, and you don't really want to go there. After all, you yourself wrote (on page 272 of your Bush book) that "on September 10, 2001, George Bush was not on his way to a very successful presidency" -- a situation that began to change dramatically, in your opinion, the next day.

If you're going to argue, David, that any remarkable event that seems to aid your cause is the result of direct divine intervention, you're implying that maybe God killed 3,000 people in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field just because He wants to maintain GOP control of the Oval Office. After all, if we assume that God was responsible for recent events that pushed George W. Bush's approval ratings from the low 50s to the high 50s, shouldn't we also assume that He was responsible for the event that pushed those ratings to the 80s and kept them favorable for more two years? Want to explain to me how, in your view, the All-Powerful could be jiggering GDP and Iraq intel without also being in control of those four planes?

Sorry, David, but you brought it up.

(Frum link courtesy of Tapped.)

Monday, December 15, 2003

Strom Thurmond's family has acknowledged that Essie Mae Washington-Williams was his daughter. Thurmond fathered her when he was 22; the mother was a 16-year-old black servant. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Thurmond didn't see his daughter until she was 16.

Amazing, isn't it? There was no rock or rap music back then, the Supreme Court hadn't yet said that mandatory public-school prayer was unconstitutional, Bill Clinton hadn't had sex in the White House and Thurmond still managed to father a child out of wedlock with a teenager and then neglect the child for years. I simply don't know how he managed it. I thought immoral personal conduct was invented in the 1960s by hippies.
Er, what happened to that big we-got-him rally that was supposed to happen on Wall Street?
The front page of today's New York Daily News screams,


I'm shocked that I can find no online confirmation of this, but I'm certain that I've seen this tabloid headline before -- I've been chuckling over it and quoting it to people for years. As I recall, it first appeared after the capture of Manuel Noriega.*

Which is interesting because back then, under a president named Bush, we worried about the scourge of drugs almost the way we now, under a president named Bush, worry about the scourge of terrorism. And it may not have been said in so many words, but we were led to believe that the capture of Noriega was a huge victory in the war on drugs.

Remember how, after Noriega was captured, no one in this country used illegal drugs ever again?

No, I don't remember it either.


*Actually, it wasn't Noriega -- see this update.

Y'know, the Iraqi people just love seeing stuff like this.
Rick Perlstein on Joe Lieberman in The Village Voice this past October:

Then, as his star fades, he'll have only one viable strategy left, a manic, all-or-nothing strategy: trying to convince Democrats that the front-runner must be dumped altogether....

Lieberman still loses the nomination. But the successful nominee ends up, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, becoming just what the spoiler-candidate said he was: unelectable....

Senator Joe Lieberman on Meet the Press yesterday:

If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not in prison.

I was skeptical when I read Perlstein's article a couple of months ago -- I didn't think the limp Lieberman campaign could pose much of a threat to a front-runner. And I found it hard to imagine that history would repeat itself so exactly, as Perlstein imagined it would -- that Holy Joe would dig up an obscure but damaging fact from the front-runner's past, hurting the leader the way then-DLCer Al Gore wounded Michael Dukakis in '88 by bringing up Willie Horton.*

Now, though, I can imagine that Lieberman really might want to destroy Dean (who, to be sure, may not remain the front-runner). If it happens, I don't think Lieberman will be acting out of centrist "principle" as much as out of anger at Gore. But it's a worry nonetheless.


*Sorry -- that's not quite accurate. Gore brought up the furlough program, but not Horton.
Our fight against terrorism is a long-term war, and today we have won an important battle.

--Senator Charles Schumer on the capture of Saddam

Et tu, Chuckie?

Yeah, I know, you voted to authorize the war -- maybe even out of conviction, rather than merely a desire to cover your butt. But that moment has passed. This war was not about terrorism. You are reciting Karl Rove's bullet points when you say or imply that it was. Stop it.
Very interesting results from an instant Washington Post/ABC poll:

At least initially, the capture did not do much to change the overall shape of opinion on the war in Iraq.

Roughly 2 in 3 respondents said Hussein's capture would be at least somewhat helpful in ending attacks on U.S. troops and contributing to Americans' long-term security, although only 15 to 23 percent thought the arrest would "help a great deal." Larger percentages were hopeful the news would help restore stability to Iraq.

Nine in 10 Americans said big challenges still face the United States in Iraq, with fewer than 1 in 10 saying Hussein's capture would resolve the hurdles facing U.S. troops. Eight in 10 rejected the notion that with the former Iraqi president in custody, the United States should withdraw its forces from the country....

The public remains deeply divided as to whether "the war with Iraq was worth fighting," with 53 percent agreeing it was, and 42 percent saying it was not -- unchanged from last month.

...Meanwhile, more Americans say the war in Iraq is going worse than expected (27 percent) than say it is going better than expected (14 percent)....

And Bush's overall approval rating went up to just 57%, from 53%.

All the numbers are here.

I do think that polls taken within the next couple of days might show better numbers for Bush -- quite possibly because the Bushies will be trying to spread the "big victory for Bush" meme, and Beltway reporters will dutifully repeat the phrase. Then ordinary citizens will know what the "right answer" is and repeat it to pollsters when called.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Meanwhile, it seems to be business as usual among the real terrorists:

Pakistani authorities were last night investigating whether the country's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, was the target of an assassination attempt after a bomb detonated on a road minutes after his motorcade passed.

The explosion happened about a mile from the Islamabad International Airport as the president was returning home after a visit to the southern city of Karachi. Witnesses said the blast occurred at a bridge close to a military compound. Sheharyar Khan, whose car was stopped at a roadblock shortly afterwards, said: "As the president's motorcade passed, a huge explosion blew up the bridge."

...Talat Masood, a former senior defence official, said it was too early to say who was behind yesterday's attack, but the most likely suspects were extremist religious forces opposed to Mr Musharraf's policy on Afghanistan and his efforts to reform Islamic schools that have become hotbeds of radicalism.

Mr Masood said: "I think these are the forces who want to eliminate him."...

--The Independent
I can't find a link, but CBS News showed a clip tonight of Wesley Clark bringing up Osama bin Laden when asked about the capture of Saddam. He said he's regularly asked about the hunt for bin Laden -- and he's never asked about the hunt for Saddam. Good for him.

And CBS ran this Osama story tonight. It's awfully "balanced" (do people really think the capture of Saddam will make it easier to catch Osama?), but it does have this nice line:

If the U.S. does decide to mount an all-out effort to find Osama, more troops will likely be needed: 130,000 were available to find Saddam, but just 15,000 are based in Afghanistan where Osama may be hiding.

Thank you.
OK, the Big News:

Saddam was -- sure, I'll use the word -- evil. The capture is a good thing. I'm not going to be a knee-jerk contrarian and say, "It won't make a bit of difference" -- I think it really could help wind down the insurgency. I don't know that, but it seems quite possible.

But the news coverage has no perspective. We got here via 9/11, yet this has nothing to do with 9/11. It may be the right solution (or, rather, partial solution), but it's a solution to the wrong problem.

I don't know of any reporter or analyst who's touched on that. It's the most important fact, it should be pointed out over and over, yet it gets lost.

I haven't heard what all the Democratic candidates have said about the capture -- I've only heard Gephardt, who was on CNN this afternoon and handed Bush a big fat Christmas present by linking Saddam to 9/11 just the way Bush would have wanted him to. And Bush did it himself, subtly and deftly, in his football pregame show speech -- he dropped in the word "terrorists" about two-thirds of the way through ("We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East"), then moved on to "the war on terror."

This has nothing to do with the war on terror.

I don't even hear Dean say that often enough. Everyone who's opposed Bush with regard to this war has to say it -- this is good, but it has nothing to do with the people responsible for 9/11. Bush doesn't just link Iraq and 9/11 -- he does it every chance he gets. He never neglects to do it -- every statement on Iraq makes the link.

So every statement on Iraq by his would-be opponents has to stress the lack of a link. This is more important than ever.
Something I was planning to post before the Big News hit:

Time columnist Joel Stein has substituted a couple of times for right-wing talk-radio host Mike Gallagher. Stein has conservative beliefs, but apparently he's not pure enough for the talk-radio audience. Here he is, in his most recent column, to tell us what he learned as a host:

I had invited a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on to talk about cockfighting, of which I'm an advocate. Yet just having the PETA woman on the show made listeners think I was a liberal. A caller said the PETA rep was a terrorist, which I agreed with, since the organization totally disrupted last year's Victoria's Secret fashion show. Then he said she was the same as Osama bin Laden. I questioned that, mostly because PETA hasn't killed anyone. He said that all terrorists were equal and that parsing out evil made me a sympathizer. I questioned his epistemology, at which point he called me a "stupid liberal kike," which caused the switchboard guy to hang up on him. That switchboard guy ruined all the fun.

..."A conservative can spot a liberal a mile away. You are, or you ain't," Gallagher told me. "It's not just an ideology or a philosophy. We have an ability to cut to the chase. Black and white isn't a bad thing. Liberals gravitate toward the gray to muddy the waters, to muddle people's thinking..."

...When I sat down to host the show, playing with all the dials until I realized the producer had wisely taken away all my powers, I was startled by the intro. It was a quote from Al Pacino in
The Recruit.... Pacino yells, "We believe in good and evil. And we choose good. We believe in right and wrong. And we choose right. Our cause is just. Our enemies everywhere. They're all around us."

Y'know, I'm still waiting for that Nicholas Kristof op-ed about non-Democratic haters.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Once again, for the willfully obtuse:

Iraqi Agent Denies He Met 9/11 Hijacker in Prague Before Attacks on the U.S.

A former Iraqi intelligence officer who was said to have met with the suspected leader of the Sept. 11 attacks has told American interrogators the meeting never happened, according to United States officials familiar with classified intelligence reports on the matter.

Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the former intelligence officer, was taken into custody by the United States in July. Under questioning he has said that he did not meet with Mohamed Atta in Prague, according to the officials, who have reviewed classified debriefing reports based on the interrogations....

--New York Times

This tall tale can't be debunked often enough, even though I'm sure it will never go away, not until the last neocon dog dies -- William Safire will never stop believing it, nor will Laurie Mylroie, nor will Dick Cheney.

And don't assume for a minute that Bush knows it's nonsense. You remember that Cheney told the tall tale on Meet the Press last September, and you remember that Bush immediately contradicted him. But he contradicted him only on 9/11, and he didn't say there wasn't a connection -- he said only that there was "no evidence" of one. The SOB absolutely thinks there was a connection. Here's what he said:

Mr. Bush, asked by a reporter today about Mr. Cheney's statement, said, "No, we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th," a far more definitive statement than his vice president made.

"Now, what the vice president said was is that he has been involved with Al Qaeda," Mr. Bush said. "And al-Zarqawi, an Al Qaeda operative, was in Baghdad. He's the guy that order the killing of a U.S. diplomat," he said, a reference to the killing in October of Lawrence Foley, on the doorstep of his home in Amman, Jordan.

Mr. Bush said that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is "still running loose, involved with the poisons network," and concluded, "there's no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties."

Friday, December 12, 2003

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here. See you soon, we hope. Signed, Your pals, the (real) evildoers. P.S. How are you enjoying Iraq?

KAMALZAI, PAKISTAN - With a bitter winter chill and the largest US ground offensive in nearly two years afoot in Afghanistan, Taliban commander Maulvi Pardes Akhund and his fighters are cheered by the warm reception and accommodations in a refugee camp for Afghans here.

Mr. Akhund's band, and others like them, have come to Pakistan's sprawling Balochistan Province for a bit of R&R and to recruit new blood for the Islamic militia's fight in Afghanistan. Recruitment is going well, Akhund says, with 10 new fighters joining the ranks this week, and donations from local people pouring in....

...Sources in religious circles here say the Taliban fighters are still getting financial support from the banned Al-Rasheed and Al-Akhtar Trust, which worked in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, and other welfare organizations, besides collecting huge amount of donations from rich and influential traders in Karachi. Many of these traders donate to the Taliban on a monthly basis.

..."From our village only, people donated 1.7 million rupees [around $30,000], and two truckloads of blankets, warm clothes, and medicines were dispatched for the Taliban," says Abdus Salam, a local villager in Killi Karbala. "People support the Taliban not only because they are Muslims, but when they were in power people here could travel across the border easily, as there was peace and security."...

...A former Taliban leader, who is now hiding in Balochistan, says, "Things are changing. Karzai is losing his control in Afghanistan. Initially we used to hide from our own shadows in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but now we can easily mingle with the locals who extend us all sorts of support."...

"Winter restricts our movement so we might have to scale down our military attacks, so we try to intensify political efforts against the infidels and defeat the loya jirga," says on former Taliban leader in Quetta. "But we are also working hard to reorganize and regroup through winter because we want our cause to blossom in spring."

--Christian Science Monitor

Yesterday I posted part of the transcript of Tim Russert's Hillary Clinton interview, in which she denied that she wants the '04 nomination and he wouldn't take no for an answer. An e-mailer writes:

I could not help comparing Russert's pressing Ms. Clinton about her willingness to accept the Democratic nomination with a Saturday Night Live appearance by John McCain ~1 year ago in which he was pressed on whether he would run for President in 2004.

McCAIN:  "I repeat I will not run."

INTERVIEWER:  "What if President Bush forgets to run?  Would you run then?"

McCAIN:  "If the president forgot to run, I would remind him."

INTERVIEWER:  "So you're saying you MIGHT be a candidate."

Eerie parallels.


(And yes, as McCain himself notes here, the "interviewer" was Tim Russert, played by Darrell Hammond.)

Are we getting the truth about troop deaths in Iraq? Lunaville notes that there are conflicting accounts of an incident in Ad Duluiyah on December 9 in which three soldiers died -- Centcom called it an accident, but a news story now cites an Iraqi attack. And last week Needlenose cited this Knight-Ridder story:

An influential Mississippi congressman has raised the possibility that the Pentagon has undercounted combat casualties in Iraq after he learned that five members of the Mississippi National Guard who were injured Sept. 12 by a booby trap in Iraq were denied Purple Heart medals.

The guardsmen were wounded by an artillery shell that detonated as their convoy passed the tree in which it was hidden, but their injuries were classified as "noncombat," according to Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. Taylor, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, learned of the classification when he visited the most seriously injured of the guardsmen, Spc. Carl Sampson, 35, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"How could no one have caught this?" Taylor said....

Is this just a fog-of-war thing, or is the Pentagon concealing the truth?
Please, please, please tell me they're not this stupid:

Saddam's Palace May Be New U.S. Embassy

U.S. bombs never hit Saddam Hussein's grandiose presidential palace in Baghdad, making its ample meeting rooms and vast conference tables an ideal headquarters for U.S.-led occupation authorities after the war.

Now the building — the physical seat and biggest symbol of Saddam's 23-year dictatorship — is the likely site for the next U.S. Embassy in Iraq, U.S. officials in Washington and Iraq said this week....

If the building does become the U.S. Embassy, analysts say its negative symbolism as the previous seat of Iraq's dictatorship will be reinforced when U.S. representatives move in....

No! Really? You think so?
Slouching towards The Handmaid's Tale in Italy....

Italy's Senate has overwhelmingly approved a law which bans the use of donor sperm, eggs or surrogate mothers.

It also limits the right to artificial fertilisation to "heterosexual couples in stable relationships", excluding gay couples and single women.

...The legislation, passed in the Senate by 169 votes to 90 on Thursday, will now be sent back to the lower house of the parliament for minor adjustments.

Officials say it will remain essentially unchanged.

Under the law, only infertile couples can apply for artificial insemination, and only to government-approved centres.

They have to prove that they are married or in a stable relationship.

Doctors can create up to three embryos for each attempt, and these cannot be frozen or used for research.

Indeed, the freezing of any embryo or sperm is outlawed, as is screening for abnormalities, even in couples who suffer from genetic disorders.

Women are also not allowed to use the sperm of a deceased partner....


But the story notes that abortion isn't being banned -- yet.
Here's a report that points out just who might benefit from the drug discount cards in the Medicare bill -- David Halbert, a friend of George W. Bush's since 1986. Halbert happens to be the CEO of AdvancePCS, one of the biggest guns in the pharmaceutical benefit management field. Bush was an early investor in the company (he reported a $1 million capital gain when cashed out in 1996); Halbert, in turn was an early investor in -- er, contributor to -- candidate Bush.

The report, in turn, cites this story, by Newsday's Knut Royce (writing for The Public i). It's complicated, but if you make your way through it, you'll see that Bush sold Harken Energy stock in 1990 at a nice profit just before Harken collapsed -- which you probably knew -- and Halbert's energy business, Advance Petroleum Marketing, after agreeing to buy a failing division of Harken from a partnership of Harken insiders, got much more favorable terms when Harken was forced to renegotiate the deal. (Halbert's gain was Harken's loss -- the very loss that helped send Harken's stock price plummeting to $2.37 a share weeks after Bush sold his Harken stock for $4 a share.)

(Thanks to Nick Confessore at Tapped for spotting this.)
The BUSH BOOM!'s GDP spike gets front-page treatment. This, by contrast, gets buried on the back page of the business section:

According to the minutes [of an October 28 meeting] released on Thursday, members of the Fed's policy-making committee were convinced in late October that inflation would remain quite low "for the next year or two" and that the "slack" in both the job market and in factory use would not disappear until "the latter part of 2005 of even later."...

According to the October minutes, members of the policy-making committee argued that the rapid rise in productivity over the last year would curb job creation....

The projected 4 percent economic growth for 2004 might not be enough to ignite inflationary pressures, because productivity has been climbing at more than 5 percent a year. If productivity continues to climb at that pace, the economy could expand by 4 percent and still not have a meaningful drop in unemployment.

--New York Times

So there's no boom yet for unemployed, and it looks as if there won't be one for a good long time. And it's not Paul Krugman who's saying this -- it's Alan Greenspan's Fed. Shouldn't this be bigger news?

Thursday, December 11, 2003

CNN, December 14, 1999:

Former GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander endorsed Republican front-runner George W. Bush Tuesday, becoming the latest in a long line of Republican figures to back the Texas governor.

...Appearing at a news conference with Bush, Alexander said Bush is assured of winning the nomination -- even though the first caucuses and primaries are more than a month away and Bush is facing a strong challenge from Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"The process is almost over," Alexander said....

USA Today, January 4, 2000:

Elizabeth Dole endorsed George W. Bush Tuesday for the Republican presidential nomination, invoking Ronald Reagan and asserting that the Texas governor would restore trust to the White House.

...After picking up Dole's endorsement four weeks before the New Hampshire primary, Bush headed to Iowa to stump for votes in advance of the Jan. 24 presidential caucuses there....

Associated Press, January 4, 2000:

Bush is the endorsement champion this time. He has the support of 29 of the 55 Republican senators, including the newest, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island....

Twenty-five of the 31 Republican governors have endorsed Bush. He has the backing of 166 of the 222 GOP House members so far....

As I recall, the press response to this was awestruck admiration -- what a mighty machine the Bush campaign was! No one found any of the endorsements "puzzling." No one argued that they disenfranchised voters. No one argued that decent human beings would have waited two months.

Joe Lieberman, stop whining -- and everyone else, stop feeling sorry for him. That's what Michael Tomasky says in this American Prospect article. Tomasky says Gore graciously stepped aside for Lieberman, but Lieberman squandered the opportunity, so why shed tears over his snub by Gore?

Tomasky also reminds us that there's been friction between the two for a while. In case you've forgotten:

Leaders of a centrist Democratic group, the Democratic Leadership Council, meeting last week at a policy conference in New York, complained about Gore's economic populism theme from the 2000 campaign. They said they did not believe a theme of "the people versus the powerful" was a winning formula for Democratic candidates.

--USA Today, 8/4/02

I believe Governor Bill Clinton and I were right to maintain, during our 1992 campaign, that fighting for "the forgotten middle class" against the "forces of greed." Standing up for the people, not the powerful was the right choice in 2000. In fact, it is the ground of the Democratic party's being, our meaning and our mission.

The suggestion from some in our party that we should no longer speak that truth, especially at a time like this, strikes me as bad politics and wrong in principle. This struggle between the people and the powerful was at the heart of every major domestic issue of the 2000 campaign and is still the central dynamic of politics in 2002.

--New York Times op-ed by Al Gore, 8/4/02

Al Gore's 2000 running mate said Sunday that Gore's populist themes did not accurately reflect the Democrats' pro-growth campaign for the White House.

"The people versus the powerful theme was too subject to misunderstanding and not representative" of the economic growth that occurred during the 1990s under President Clinton and Vice President Gore, said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

The populist approach, Lieberman said, was "also not expressive of the fiscally responsible, pro-growth, grow-the-middle-class campaign we were running" that included targeted tax cuts and other centrist proposals championed by the Democratic Leadership Council.

--USA Today, 8/4/02

Gore has moved to the left, and Lieberman and the DLC have responded by taking potshots at him. So who was rude first?

A half-hour after Dean alarmed party regulars over television Sunday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on NBC titillated worried Democrats by hesitating at closing the door for 2004.

--Robert Novak today

MR. RUSSERT: So no matter what happens, absolutely, categorically, no?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, I am going to do everything I can to support this nominee, whoever that person might be.

MR. RUSSERT: But just say no. You would...

SEN. CLINTON: I have said no and no and I’m trying to think of different ways of saying no and no. And I hope that in ’08, I’ll be supporting a Democratic president for re-election.

MR. RUSSERT: But you would never accept the nomination in 2004?
SEN. CLINTON: You know, I have said over and over again—and, you know, my view on all of this is that...

MR. RUSSERT: You’ve said over and over what?

SEN. CLINTON: That I’m not running, I’m not in this race.

MR. RUSSERT: But you wouldn’t accept the nomination?

SEN. CLINTON: The nomination—it’s not going to be offered to me, that’s one thing.

MR. RUSSERT: But if it is...

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, Tim, you know, I—it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, but if it did happen?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, I have—I am...

MR. RUSSERT: I think the door is opening a bit, Senator.

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, no, it’s not. Now, don’t you try to make something out of nothing.

MR. RUSSERT: Oh, no, no, no.

SEN. CLINTON: No, no. I’ve said, no. I’ve said no, no, no, no. And I...

MR. RUSSERT: OK, so the door is sealed.

SEN. CLINTON: The door is shut. The door is shut.

MR. RUSSERT: “I will never accept the nomination in 2004”?

SEN. CLINTON: I am not accepting the nomination. I am going to work for whoever the nominee is.

--Transcript of Meet the Press for December 7, 2003

What the hell more do these people want?
George W. Bush doesn't hate the earth -- hey, he favors the development of clean-burning hydrogen cars!

And how does he want to generate the hydrogen for those hydrogen cars?

Nuclear power!

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Daniel Hirsch and George M. Woodwell explain:

Buried in the president's energy budget proposal is a "nuclear hydrogen initiative." Building upon it, the energy bill hashed out behind closed doors by congressional Republicans includes $1.1 billion to construct an atomic reactor in Idaho to produce hydrogen.

That's right. Nuclear hydrogen. Who says these guys don't have a sense of humor? A public that yearns for, and has now been promised, "pollution-free" energy will be given instead something that produces plutonium, strontium, cesium and dozens of other highly toxic radioactive waste products.

There are more goodies for the nuclear industry in the energy bill (which is two Senate votes away from becoming law), including $6 billion to stimulate construction of reactors, and a reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act,

the most extraordinary piece of corporate socialist legislation in U.S. history. Price-Anderson immunizes the nuclear industry from as much as 99 percent of the liability it might face in case of a serious release of radioactivity in a major accident.

Oh, and

the conference committee's rewrite of the energy bill inexplicably relaxes protections against nuclear terrorism.


(Thanks to Green Boy at Needlenose for this.)