Wednesday, March 31, 2004

One more thought about Nader.

He says that anyone who doesn't want him on the ballot is anti-democratic -- that having more candidates in an election is, by definition, good for democracy, no matter what the real-world implications of a particular candidacy may be.

Following that logic, shouldn't all of us -- or at least as many of us as possible -- try to get on the presidential ballot in as many states as we can? And shouldn't those of us who can't mount a petition drive to get on the ballot at least persuade as many of our friends and relatives as possible to vote for us as write-in candidates, even if (perhaps especially if) they're now planning to vote for Kerry?

After all, more choices are, by definition, better for democracy than fewer choices. So it doesn't matter if our friends and relatives back Kerry now. We should demand that they vote for us -- and tell them that they're anti-democratic supporters of a sold-out two-party duopoly if they don't.
From today's entry at Ralph Nader's campaign Web site:

Enter an independent candidacy in a duopolized system that does not believe the election has to be totally enclosed by zero-sum gaming among the major candidates. Instead there should be various strategies and probes and anticipations inside the electoral arena that in important ways escape the zero-sum mind so as to more likely achieve the common goal of ouster.

Just for publishing a paragraph like that, Nader doesn't deserve your vote.

Ralph Nader tells The New York Times why his candidacy is so obviously necessary:

He can recite, word for importuning word, the letters from old friends urging him not to run for president -- "all individually written, all stunningly similar" -- and he does so with the theatrical relish of a man whose public life has been one long, unyielding argument with the world.

"Here's how it started," he said, his soft voice taking on mock oratorical tones over dinner with a group of aides in Charlotte, N.C., last week: "For years, I've thought of you as one of our heroes." He rolled his eyes. "The achievements you've attained are monumental, in consumer, environmental, etc., etc." He paused for effect. "But this time, I must express my profound disappointment at indications that you are going to run."

"And the more I got of these," Mr. Nader said, "the more I realized that we are confronting a virus, a liberal virus. And the characteristic of a virus is when it takes hold of the individual, it's the same virus, individual letters all written in uncannily the same sequence...."

Yeah, that makes sense. It's sort of like when Sandy Berger told the Bush administration that al-Qaeda terrorism would be a big problem, and George Tenet told the Bush administration that chatter about al-Qaeda terrorism was looking like a big problem, and Richard Clarke told the Bush administration that chatter about al-Qaeda terrorism was looking like a big problem....

It was a virus! They were all saying the same thing!

No wonder Bush and Cheney and Condi and Rummy ignored them. Clearly, following Nader's logic, they were absolutely right to do so.
In his New Republic blog, Gregg Easterbook writes something that's surpassingly dumb:

Clarke now claims he knew after September 11 it would be a colossal mistake to pursue Al Qaeda and attack Iraq simultaneously. I asked, Why didn't he say so at the time? Clarke left government about a month before the assault on Iraq began. This means he had plenty of time to speak out, as a private citizen, against the Iraq attack--and at that moment, an antiwar statement by the president's own counterterrorism advisor would have had tremendous impact worldwide.

Yes, and we all know what great pains the Bush administration took to be responsive to world opinion in the weeks before the war started.

Easterbrook continues:

...on resigning from the National Security Council in February 2003, one month prior to the attack on Iraq, Clarke quickly signed as an on-air consultant to ABC News. During the month before the war, Clarke made several appearances on national television.... Clarke certainly wasn't holding his tongue, he was yakking nonstop. And yet by the most amazing and astonishing coincidence, Clarke apparently didn't mention any of the strongly-held antiwar views he has now suddenly remembered!

Easterbrook then quotes a Clarke appearance on ABC News from March 21, 2003, in which Peter Jennings says to Clarke, "Talk a bit about this targeting of Saddam" and Clarke, astonishingly, talks a bit about this targeting of Saddam. Apparently, by not flapping his arms and crying out, "The targeting of Saddam? I don't want to talk about the targeting of Saddam! Peter, I know that ABC hired me for my decades of experience in the area of counterterrorism, but it's morally wrong for me to do the job I was hired to do -- I'm going to talk about this ruinous war!," Clarke can now be seen as a fraud from the word go.

Not surprisingly, phony Democrat Mickey Kaus says in Slate that Easterbrook's observation is brilliant.

I'm worried that advocating a 50-cent hike in the gas tax in 1993 will be Kerry's Willie Horton. I expect it to be in every Bush campaign speech and in many, many ads. I think people will actually vote against Kerry for this long-abandoned idea.

Now, you might want to confiscate my liberal membership card after reading this, but I think a big gas-tax hike was a dumb idea, and I thought so in '93. It presupposed that all sorts of changes would happen to the way Americans get around, but it wasn't linked to any proposal to bring those changes about -- the assumption was that vast numbers of ordinary Americans would look at the price at the pump, say "Ouch!" and just decide to start taking public transportation (nonexistent for a lot of commuters) or carpool (a logistical nightmare for those who need to tack errands onto a work commute, or for the many people who can't leave work at 5:00 on the dot).

Now, remember why people were talking about this tax: In 1993, after twelve years in which the current president's father had been either president or vice president, we had run up massive federal deficits and a huge federal debt. Deficit hawks, folks like Ross Perot and the Concord Coalition, were wagging their fingers at politicians -- Democrats, mostly -- and saying that Tough Choices Had To Be Made. This was a Tough Choice. (Perot, incidentally, supported the 50-cent tax increase.)

In a way, Kerry's political instinct weren't completely off. In 1983, a similar sense of crisis about Social Security had led to the formation of a bipartisan commission, and thus to a large Social Security tax increase on ordinary workers -- a Tough Choice for which a fellow Democrat, commission member Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was praised to the end of his life. Moynihan was probably the least-bashed Democrat in Reagan and post-Reagan Washington -- maybe there was something to this Tough Choice thing.

But sticking ordinary Americans with the bill for the failed Reagan-Bush supply-side experiment-gone-horribly-awry was never a good idea, even if it might have reduced our dependency on fossil fuels. (A better idea, then and now, would be greatly increased funding of public transportation, especially in the Northeast, where many people actually like public transportation).

Bill Clinton got a much less painful gas tax through Congress in '93 -- 4.3 cents a gallon. It was part of the program that Republicans said would bring the U.S. economy to its knees. It did just the opposite.

You may not want to read through these details:

Residents mutilate ambush victims in horrific scenes at Iraqi hotspot

Furious Iraqis hacked up the charred bodies of two people, believed to be foreign civilians, and hung the remains from a bridge after their car was ambushed, saying this rebellious Iraqi town would be the "cemetery" of US-led occupation forces.

"Down with the occupation, down with America," they shouted as they hurled rocks at the bodies, one of them headless, that dangled from the bridge over the Euphrates River, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

The bodies were then taken down and placed on the ground for people to kick them and slash with knives.

Young men also strung a severed hand and a leg on an electricity pole on the main street of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, where the attack took place early Wednesday....


Ah, but surely the brave men of our new Iraqi police force stepped in to restore order, right?

Four policemen in a car who were near the bridge at the time were seen leaving the scene without intervening.

There's a slightly different but equally horrific version of the story from AP:

Jubilant residents yanked the bodies of four foreigners — one a woman, at least one an American — out of their burning cars Wednesday, dragged the charred corpses through the streets, and hung them from the bridge spanning the Euphrates River.

That's in addition, of course, to these incidents:

...five American troops died when their military vehicle ran over a bomb in a separate incident ... in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah....

In nearby Ramadi, insurgents threw a grenade at a government building and Iraqi security forces returned fire Wednesday....

Also in Ramadi, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy, witnesses said. U.S. officials in Baghdad could not confirm the attack.

On Tuesday in Ramadi, one U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded in a roadside bombing, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

Northeast of Baghdad, in the city of Baqouba on Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew up explosives in his car when he was near a convoy of government vehicles, wounding 14 Iraqis and killing himself....

On Tuesday, a suicide bombing outside the house of a police chief in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killed the attacker and wounded seven others.

A bomb exploded late Tuesday in a movie theater that had closed for the night. Two bystanders were wounded by flying glass....

Condoleezza Rice on ABC News last night:

CLIP OF RICHARD CLARKE: He [Bush] came back at me -- he said, 'Iraq. Saddam. Find out if there's a connection." And -- in a very intimidating way.

RICE: I know this president very well, and the president doesn't talk to his staff in an intimidating way to ask them to produce information that is false.

Karen Hughes discussing Bush on ABC News ten minutes later:

HUGHES: Now, he was calling the terrorists "folks."

CLIP OF BUSH: ...the folks who conducted the act on our country on September 11th.

HUGHES: [I said to him,] "Mr. President, you know, these are trained killers. I'm not sure you want to be calling them 'folks.'" [Angrily:] "Well, anybody else not like anything I say?" he said -- he said, clearly not wanting anybody to speak up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

A mini-quagmire to add to Bush quagmire collection:

There are 1,940 American troops in Haiti, as well as 825 French troops, 435 Canadians and nearly 330 Chileans, according to the Pentagon. Administration officials have said they expect to cap the American presence at about 2,000 soldiers, and would welcome 2,000 or 3,000 troops from other countries.

The administration still hopes to pull out its troops within 60 days and see them replaced by peacekeepers as outlined by the United Nations. But that goal may be difficult. So far, only Brazil has committed itself to providing security forces for the second phase.

And why would that be?

At a summit meeting last week in St. Kitts, leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, withstood American pressure to embrace the new Haitian government led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and deferred a decision until July on whether to formally accept its legitimacy.

At the same time, the Caribbean leaders, who act by consensus, called for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances that led to the American-assisted exile last month of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Aristide, who is currently in Jamaica as a guest of the government, insists that his departure was coerced by American forces.

Ah, I see -- Bush pissed off some more countries with his hamfistedness, then asked those same countries for help. Funny how doing that never seems to work out.

Probe: Govt.'s Iowa Lab Not Secure for BSE Work

The U.S. government's main laboratory for testing mad cow disease, located in an Iowa strip mall, is not secure enough to store dangerous pathogens like the brain-wasting disease, U.S. Agriculture Department investigators said on Monday.

"The building housing the strip mall is close to other commercial businesses and has limited security at the entry and exit points," said a report by the USDA'S Office of Inspector General, which conducts independent audits and investigations of USDA programs....

"With unrestricted access, unauthorized personnel having knowledge of a laboratory's inventory could remove a biological agent or piece of equipment and place it in a terrorist's hands long before the theft was discovered," the report said....


I was appalled by this before I finished the first sentence. "The U.S. government's main laboratory for testing mad cow disease, located in an Iowa strip mall" -- isn't that appalling all by itself?
Is the love affair over? Once it was all pretty words and sweet nothings:

Woodward's series on George W. Bush's handling of the presidency post-Sept. 11 makes for very interesting reading because it sheds some light on the combination of qualities that make some men good leaders.

--Mona Charen, 11/25/02 column

Woodward's Bush is smart.... Woodward's Bush is disciplined, "deliberate, patient," yet bold.... Woodward's Bush is humanitarian....

In fact, Woodward's Bush is downright Reaganesque, a shrewd, centered leader who enjoys being underestimated.

--Gil Troy, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/8/02

Bob Woodward makes it official on "60 Minutes"...

President Bush is a STUD.

That's the impression you get from the excerpts from Woodward's new book "Bush at War," highlighted tonight on 60 Minutes. Much of it was based on lengthy interviews with Bush himself, who comes across as one tough customer.

--"ArcLight" at Free Republic, 11/17/02

But now, in the New York Daily News, Lloyd Grove writes:

I hear that "Plan of Attack," supersleuth Bob Woodward's still-secret study of President Bush's war on terrorism, will be very bad for the Bush reelection campaign - which is still reeling from gun-toting former terrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's critique of Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other administration figures in "Against All Enemies."

Woodward's book, to be released next month, will receive not only a multipart series in The Washington Post, but also the Mike Wallace treatment on "60 Minutes" April 18....

I'd love to know more, but I guess we won't have to wait long. Woodward's a weathervane -- if he's turned against Bush, then obviously turning against Bush is acceptable at the cool cafeteria tables in D.C. (though I guess W won't officially be a pariah until Most Popular Girl In Class Sally Quinn quotes David Broder saying so in print.)
In the post below, I should have mentioned Bush's pretzel incident, and the subsequent revelation that he may have lost consciousness while choking on the snack because he has abnormally low blood pressure. Lo and behold, when I did a Google search, the first newspaper story I found on the subject said that the pretzel made Bush pass out because he's in such superb health.

John Kerry may have thought he could have a simple orthopedic operation without raising questions about whether he's a frail invalid. If so, he was naive. Here's the lead from today's New York Times story on the operation Kerry's about to have:

Trying to head off concern over Senator John Kerry's planned shoulder surgery this week, his campaign on Monday released a letter from his doctor attesting to Mr. Kerry's "excellent health" and arranged for his orthopedist to answer questions about Wednesday's scheduled procedure.

The orthopedist, Dr. Bertram Zarins, said Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, will have to avoid the campaign practice of shaking hands for two to three weeks after the approximately 45-minute outpatient surgery, which will be done under general anesthesia. He should also refrain from hoisting babies, a favorite activity of his, until at least mid-May, Dr. Zarins said, adding, "If the shoulder gets sore, he'll just have to back off."...

By contrast, here's the lead from the story the Times ran last December, when it was revealed that President Bush has knee trouble:

For years, President Bush's joints seemed to defy the forces of age and time. He ran ever faster miles, instituted a professionally timed race for the White House staff and consulted running experts on improving his speed. But on Thursday, in the complex medical wording of a statement from his medical team, there it was for all to see: Mr. Bush, 57, finally has runner's knee.

A magnetic resonance imaging test of both presidential knees at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the morning showed that Mr. Bush had no serious problems — no ligaments torn away, no deep tears or flaps in any cartilage, no bones pressing on bones, no fluid leaking into the joint and no instability, restricted motion or weakness....

The Kerry article leads with a tone of concern. The Bush article begins by telling us all what a stud he is.

No surprise, really. We've been conditioned for a couple of decades now to regard the Republican Party as the party of manliness, strength, and virility, while the popular image of the Democrats is of sissified girly-men.

This despite the fact that Bush apparently isn't at his best unless he gets to sleep at 9:30, sleeping on a pillow from home even when he's on a plane (see David Frum's The Right Man, pp. 55-56, for some of the details, and for a defense of Bush's early bedtime that never quite explains why previous presidents also rose early but were able to stay awake much later), and even though Bush apparently becomes snappish when, as leader of the free world, he has to do what thousands of white-collar workers do regularly without complaint: function in his job while jet-lagged. Remember this?

[Bush] pounced on an American reporter whose double faux pas was to ask him why "there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you and your Administration" and to invite, in French, President Jacques Chirac to comment. "I'm impressed," Mr. Bush deadpanned. "Que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages." Mr. Bush's bad reaction was probably due largely to jet lag. (Source.)

Today's Kerry article runs frets over his recent prostatectomy (even though it was apparently highly successful), his frequent hoarseness (not that unusual, I'm told, for a guy who's making a lot of speeches), a high (but probably not worrisome) C-reactive protein number, and a number of other health signs that, yes, appear, well, normal.

The Bush knee article goes into no such details.

The Times did recently mention Bush's need for his own pillow, but only as part of an it's-good-to-be-the-king story about the creature comforts on Air Force One that was accompanied by a Leni Riefenstahl photo of Bush addressing a crowd amid American flags.

Message: Bush's special sleep needs are just one more aspect of his greatness.
So Rice is going to testify publicly and under oath. Good. I just wonder when exactly the administration is going to declassify cherry-picked portions of Clarke's 2002 testimony:

U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.

My guess is that the declassification will take place less than 24 hours before Rice testifies -- maybe two or three hours earlier. Enough time for the administration and its allies to paint Clarke as a liar and a perjurer, with all talking points neatly lined up in a row, but not enough time for there to be an effective rebuttal to the highly selective excerpting. And then Rice will testify -- also on message.

(Thanks to BuzzFlash for the NBC link.)
Lacking a comprehensive, bold strategy to eliminate Islamist terror altogether, like the one President Bush demanded of counterterrorism officials in his own administration in early 2001, authorities in England and the Philippines engaged in half-measures today in the war on terrorism.

In England, eight terrorism suspects were arrested and half a ton of ammonium nitrate was seized.

In the Philippines, four members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf were arrested and 36 kilograms of TNT were seized.

Philippines president Gloria Arroyo boasted that this use of a Clintonesque, law-enforcement approach to the terror war prevented "a Madrid-level attack" in her country. President Arroyo failed to acknowledge that, in spite of the fact that the arrests may have prevented the loss of dozens if not hundreds of innocent lives, Islamist terror networks still exist throughout the world.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Yes, I do think it's rather odd that FBI files pertaining to John Kerry's anti-war activities were stolen from the home of writer Gerald Nicosia days after he discussed the files with reporters. Nicosia told CNN, "It was a very clean burglary. They didn't break any glass. They didn't take anything like cameras sitting by. It was a very professional job." Could "plumbers" from the Bush campaign have done this? (But why would they need to steal information to which the White House has access?) Then there are freelance right-wing Kerry-haters, some of whom are a bit obsessed with Kerry's protest days and are flat-out desperate to link him to unsavory deeds by the more radical members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Nicosia also speculates that the culprit might be "a thrill-seeker who wanted a piece of history." Well, maybe....
Cheney: 'Sisters' Gets Outed

In 1981, long before her husband was elected vice president, Lynne Cheney wrote "Sisters," a steamy bodice-ripper set in the 19th-century American West, featuring vivid tales of whorehouses, attempted rapes, a suspicious murder and several lesbian love affairs, of which Cheney writes approvingly. The paperback, published in Canada, has been out of print for nearly two decades.

But on April 6 the book is scheduled to be released for the first time in the United States. Many of the novel's most lurid details have already been unearthed on the Internet and by gay-rights activists, who believe Cheney's treatment of lesbian relationships in the book is at odds with the Bush administration's stance against gay marriage. (Cheney's been silent about gay marriage, although her daughter Mary is openly gay.) For example, in the book a woman says of her female lover: "How well her words describe our love -- or the way it would be if we could remove all impediments, leave this place and join together. Then our union would be complete. Our lives would flow together, twin streams merging into a single river."...


Preorder here.

Karen Ryan, the producer and on-air "reporter" of Medicare propaganda stories sent to TV news organizations by the Bush administration, is furious that The New York Times gave us peasants the opportunity to assess her work. In Television Week, she writes:

If the lessons of the Medicare VNRs [video news releases] are to have substance, it should be for debate in journalism classes and not on the front pages of national newspapers.

Well, excuse me. I helped pay for this propaganda, and I'm the son and son-in-law of Medicare recipients, but I guess I shouldn't be allowed to learn what techniques my government is using to try to influence my opinion on changes to the Medicare program -- apparently this is a fit subject only for the elect.

Ryan makes one valid point in her article: She's being called names now only because the stories she produced were political and it's an election year. In fact, she should have been called names a long time ago -- she's been a high-class sleazemonger for years, as is everyone who does what she does. In an ideal world, people who produce advertising disguised as news would be social pariahs, like snake-oil peddlers and spam generators.
What is it with Christian conservatives and violence? This is from a New York Times article on the latest book in the Left Behind series:

To those unfamiliar with Dr. LaHaye's views of Revelation, the most striking aspect of the novels may be the bloody massacre Jesus wreaks on the Antichrist's unbelieving armies.

"Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder," the authors write. "Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of God."

Loving God? Bloodthirsty God? I'm no theologian -- it's not for me to say. But I'm developing some theories about a certain subset of His U.S. flock.
Yeah, I feel really safe knowing that this book review appears in today's New York Times, readable by anyone in the world with Internet access:

...the Schweizers quote one unnamed relative as saying that George W. Bush sees the war on terrorism "as a religious war": "He doesn't have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know."

And there isn't even the possibility that this is a quote tweaked by a Bush enemy to make him look bad: The Schweizers are Peter and Rochelle Schweizer; Michiko Kakutani, the reviewer, notes that Peter Schweizer is "a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of a hagiographic book about Ronald Reagan and the cold war."
Odd -- I don't see anything on the cover of today's New York Post, or in the cover story, that says the book being excerpted, The Other Man: John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, and Me by Michael Bergin, is published by HarperCollins -- which, like the Post, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Gee, and last week there such a fuss over the fact that Viacom's 60 Minutes featured a Viacom book by Richard Clarke. You'd think, under the circumstances, that the Post would be more careful.

Guess not!

This was Saturday:

Iraq's U.S. administrator has set up an independent regulator for a burgeoning telecoms and media sector to encourage investment and deter state meddling.

The Iraq Communications and Media Commission established by Paul Bremer this month will be "an independent body, not a new information ministry", an adviser in the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) told reporters on Saturday....

Print media may operate without a licence, though the commission would work with the Iraqi press that would be self-regulated.

"We want to prevent the introduction of repressive press laws," the adviser said....


Today, we get a sense of what "work with the Iraqi press community" means:

American soldiers shut down a popular Baghdad newspaper on Sunday and tightened chains across the doors after the occupation authorities accused it of printing lies that incited violence.

Thousands of outraged Iraqis protested the closing as an act of American hypocrisy, laying bare the hostility many feel toward the United States a year after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein....

The letter ordering the paper closed, signed by L. Paul Bremer III, the top administrator in Iraq, cited what the American authorities called several examples of false reports in Al Hawza, including a February dispatch that said the cause of an explosion that killed more than 50 Iraqi police recruits was not a car bomb, as occupation officials had said, but an American missile....

But the letter outlining the reasons for taking action against Al Hawza did not cite any material that directly advocated violence....

--New York Times

Operation Iraqi Freedom....

Sunday, March 28, 2004

If you have any interest in mad cow disease and any suspicion that maybe we're not being told the whole truth about it, you need to read "The Case of the Cherry Hill Cluster," from this week's New York Times Magazine. Max writes about Janet Skarbek, who's discovered that there were eight victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) among people who ate food served at Garden State Race Track in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, between 1988 and 1992 -- far, far more cases than would be expected based on CJD's prevalence in the population at large. (Mad cow disease is one form of CJD.)

D. T. Max, the author of the article, presents a lot of reasons for doubting that Skarbek is on to something -- but none of them are very convincing, and one seems flat-out wrong. He writes,

Originally [Skarbek] was interested in victims who ate at the track often. Eventually she was interested in victims who ate there even once. This increased her pool considerably. Attendance at the racetrack from 1988 to 1992 was at least four million people.

I think he's misinterpreting what he was told. I doubt the racetrack was visited by four million unique people in that four-year period. That's just now how sports attendance figures are usually reported.

When the New York Yankees, for instance, report that their 2003 attendance was 3,465,600, they mean that an average of 42,785 tickets were sold for each of their 81 home games -- but plenty of people attended more than one game in 2003, and an individual who attended, say, five games was counted five times. (A full-schedule season-ticket holder would be counted 81 times.)

Maybe Garden State Race Track carefully identified each ticket holder over that four-year period and factored out the duplicates when reporting total attendance -- but I doubt it. I assume four million tickets were sold -- to far fewer than four million people. (Horse racing doesn't attract a lot of casual fans these days -- it's mostly aficionados and, well, gambling addicts. So I think it's a safe bet that many if not most ticket buyers were repeat customers.)

So if there were eight CJD cases among two million people who went to the track in that four-year period, or one million, that's a big cluster -- in the U.S., as the article notes, you have a one-in-a-million chance of getting sporadic CJD.

A rate two, four, or eight times the national race could still be pure chance -- but it's worth looking into.
David Hicks is an Australian citizen who's been held at Guantanamo for more than two years; he was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001.

According to The New York Times, Hicks's case will be heard by U.S. military tribunals and he is "likely to be charged by the tribunals with conspiracy to commit treason."

Does that make any sense -- an Australian citizen captured in Afghanistan being tried for conspiracy to commit treason against America? In Bush's warped world, is everyone on the planet now presumed to owe allegiance to America?

Friday, March 26, 2004

If there were anything in Richard Clarke's classified congressional testimony from 2002 that could thoroughly discredit him, don't you think it would have been declassified as soon after his 60 Minutes interview as possible? Sorry, I don't buy this "We're looking into the declassification process" story -- after all, Bill Frist already seems to know what Clarke said, and what he's revealing ain't much, beyond praise for the Bushies, the same sort of praise for the "company" that any unhappy employee would feel compelled to offer in a work situation:

[Frist] quoted Clarke as telling Congress behind closed doors, "the administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during its first 11 months in office." --Reuters

[Frist] noted that Clarke's testimony in 2002 was "effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration" and that Clarke had praised the administration's successes to reporters in 2002. --NewsMax

If there were a smoking gun in the testimony, we'd know. It would be declassified or someone in the right-wing media would have already gotten a leak -- bet on it. (Surely they know -- surely someone with a security clearance has picked over every word.)

Maybe I'm out on a limb here, but I think they've got nothing. They're just trying to keep the cloud of suspicion over Clarke through the weekend and the Sunday talk shows.

(Reuters link via Atrios and Hammerdown.)
Most U.S. Companies Plan More Outsourcing - Survey

Most U.S. companies plan to outsource more of its back-office functions overseas where labor is cheaper, despite a public relations backlash and weaker prospects for cost savings, according to a survey of 182 companies released on Friday.

About 86 percent of U.S. companies plan to increase the use of offshore outsourcing firms, according to a poll by Chicago-based management consulting firm DiamondCluster International.

But companies have lost the illusion of dramatic cost savings from outsourcing, the survey said, because managing far-flung international operations can be costly and difficult. They expect outsourcing to save only 10 percent to 20 percent of their costs, down sharply from 50 percent two years ago....


So it's full steam ahead, even though the benefits have been greatly hyped. Wake me when this starts leading to massive amounts of job creation in this country.
In New Hampshire [yesterday], ... Mr. Bush prefaced his remarks by pointedly noting that the commission was looking at "the eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration."

--New York Times

I said this a couple of days ago and I'll say it again: The impact of what Richard Clarke is saying is blunted by the way the discussion is so often framed -- that Bill Clinton failed to capture or kill bin Laden for eight years, while George W. Bush failed for eight months. Framing the discussion this way glosses over the fact that (a) Bush hasn't been able to catch or kill bin Laden in more than three years, even with the world on his side now (which means it's not just a matter of boldness and lack of risk-aversion) and (b) we didn't have to catch or kill bin Laden to prevent 9/11 -- we just had to pay attention to the damn intelligence, and act accordingly.

Slate's William Saletan makes that point here.

The best shot at preventing 9/11 would have come not through a preconceived plan—Clarke's, Hadley's, or anyone else's—but through a process designed to pull together bits of useful information from various parts of the government. That process, as Clarke explained on 60 Minutes, was what President Clinton had ordered when faced with similar warnings of impending terrorism [prior to January 1, 2000]: a regular schedule of Cabinet-level meetings at which the attorney general, the CIA director, the secretary of defense, and other top officers of the government would have to explain what their agencies were doing to address the threat. To prepare for those meetings, the Cabinet members would have had to press their subordinates for regular updates, and so on, down the chain of command. Clarke and others call it "shaking the tree."

The most important thing isn't that prolonged development of a huge new global counterterrorism strategy made it impossible for the Bush administration to focus on destroying al-Qaeda -- it's that it seems to have made it impossible for the Bush administration to identify and arrest one or two guys, which could have ended 9/11 before it began.
Well, now we know where Robert Novak gets his ideas:

...chair-warmer Clarke claims that on the basis of Rice's "facial expression" he could tell she was not familiar with the term "al-Qaida."

Isn't that just like a liberal? The chair-warmer describes Bush as a cowboy and Rumsfeld as his gunslinger – but the black chick is a dummy. Maybe even as dumb as Clarence Thomas! Perhaps someday liberals could map out the relative intelligence of various black government officials for us.

--Ann Coulter column posted Wednesday, March 24

Robert Novak: Congressman, do you believe, you're a sophisticated guy, do you believe, watching these hearings, do you believe that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman, Condoleezza Rice?

Rahm Emmanuel: Say that again?

Robert Novak: Do you believe that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman, Condoleezza Rice?

Rahm Emmanuel: No. No. Bob, Bob, give me a break. No. No....

--Robert Novak on CNN, Thursday, March 25

(Thanks to Cursor for the Novak link.)

(UPDATE: O'Reilly link below is now obsolete -- go here.)

Via World O'Crap, I see that Bill O'Reilly is shocked, shocked, that some liberal pundits met with John Kerry a couple of months ago. O'Reilly writes:

According to an article in The New York Times Magazine, a non-publicized meeting was held in New York City early last December, attended by Senator John Kerry and a number of liberal leaning journalists including CNN's Jeff Greenfield, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post and Frank Rich of the aforementioned New York Times....

Can you image if executives from The Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Times had gathered at Camp David for a little slap and tickle with W? ...and nobody was told about it? And The New York Times found out about it? Can you say PAGE ONE BOLD FACE HEADLINE?

Yeah, can you imagine?

 Talk radio sets up shop on White House lawn

Originally published Thursday, October 31, 2002

Six days before Election Day, the White House opened its gates Wednesday to talk radio hosts, staging an invitation-only North Lawn gabfest that gave the select few direct access to Bush administration officials.

...About 50 radio talk shows and news programs participated in "Radio Day," held under a vast, heated tent just outside the White House's front door from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST on a cold, rainy day. Most of the shows broadcast live from the North Lawn, with the rest using material from stringers or correspondents.

Made available to them for brief interviews: Cabinet secretaries, senior Bush administration officials and White House staff....

Now, of course, these broadcasters weren't "executives" -- O'Reilly complained about "executives" meeting with Kerry. But Greenfield, Cohen, Alter, and Rich aren't "executives" -- they're pundits. They're opinion-mongers. And they work for news organizations that also employ opinion-mongers on the GOP side -- who undoubtedly will be courted by GOP presidential candidates in 2008. And there won't be any PAGE ONE BOLD FACE HEADLINES when that happens.

By the way, here's the article O'Reilly's so worked up about. It's the New York Times Magazine cover story on Al Franken. O'Reilly avoids mentioning his arch-nemesis, but he mischaracterizes the gathering, which Franken organized. O'Reilly:

Now this pow-wow might have been just an innocent 'get to know you' soiree, but there are hints it might have been quite something else. One of the attendees, Jim Kelly, the managing editor of Time Magazine, was quoted as saying that Kerry was asked a number of times about his vote on Iraq and, according to Kelly, "by the third go-round the answer was getting shorter and more relevant." ...

There is nothing wrong with news organizations endorsing a candidate or a columnist writing about his or her political preferences. But actively participating in political campaigns by coaching candidates and strategizing with them is absolutely against every journalistic standard, and it is happening, usually under the radar.

But they weren't coaching him -- they were grilling him:

Last fall, when Dean seemed the inevitable nominee before a single primary vote had been cast, Franken was troubled that John Kerry was being written off. ''I liked Dean, but I also think Kerry is just a really smart, capable man,'' he told me. ''I'd noticed that he was very good in a small gathering, so I thought, What if I invite some opinion makers over to hear him?' On Dec. 4, an impressive collection of the media elite and assorted other notables -- Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, Frank Rich of The New York Times, Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, Jim Kelly of Time, Jeff Greenfield of CNN, Eric Alterman of The Nation, Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Jacob Weisberg of Slate and others, including, as eminence grise, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. -- responded to his call and had a little powwow with Kerry at the Upper West Side apartment of Franken and his wife, Franni.

''The whole thing was odd, I would say, because people didn't know why they were there,'' Kelly said. ''But I think the idea was to put John Kerry into the belly of the beast. It may have been the actual beginning of the new approach he took -- 'I'm going to stay in this room and take every question you throw at me.''' Alterman grilled Kerry on his vote on Iraq, and he gave a long, tortured answer. Then he was asked about it a second time. ''By the third go-round, the answer was getting shorter and more relevant,'' Kelly said.

''It was a really interesting event,'' Alter said. ''A lot of these people hadn't actually met Kerry before. Al wanted them to get to know him. It was an example of him playing a sort of intermediary role in the nexus of politics, media and entertainment.''

Where does it say that the reporters were coaching Kerry to shorten his answer? The way I read it is that he was doing a better job of getting to the point as the evening wore on. This wasn't a coaching session -- it was an oral exam, and apparently he passed.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

From Romesh Ratnesar's hatchet job on Richard Clarke in Time:

As for the President, Clarke doesn't even try to read Bush's body language; he just makes the encounters up. "I have a disturbing image of him sitting by a warm White House fireplace drawing a dozen red Xs on the faces of the former al-Qaeda corporate board.....while the new clones of al-Qaeda....are recruiting thousands whose names we will never know, whose faces will never be on President Bush's little charts, not until it is again too late."

If you haven't read the book, and you didn't see the 60 Minutes appearance, that image of Bush drawing X's on terrorists' faces sounds like wild, nasty, mean-spirited speculation -- no wonder Ratnesar's pissed!

Except that it's based on something Clarke says he actually experienced. From the book:

President Bush asked us soon after September 11 for cards or charts of the "senior AQ managers," as though dealing with them would be like a Harvard Business School exercise in a hostile takeover. He announced his intentions to measure progress in the war on terrorism by crossing through the pictures of those caught or killed. I have a disturbing image of [Bush] sitting by a warm White House fireplace drawing a dozen red Xs on the faces of the former AQ corporate board....

From 60 Minutes:

He asked us after 9/11 to give him cards with pictures of the major al Qaeda leaders and tell us when they were arrested or killed so he could draw X's through their pictures, and you know, I write in the book, I have this image of George Bush sitting by a warm fireplace in the White House drawing X's through al Qaeda leaders and thinking that he's got most of them...

Nice sleazy edit, Romesh.
More sandal-wearing peaceniks oppose Bush:

A group of 49 retired U.S. generals and admirals is urging President Bush to postpone the scheduled deployment this year of a multibillion dollar missile shield and spend the money instead on securing potential terror targets.

In a letter to be released at a news conference Friday, the officers, including retired Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1985 to 1989, described the complex technology as untested and a poor use of scarce defense dollars....

As the "militarily responsible course of action," the signers urged funds earmarked for missile defense go instead to bolster nuclear weapons depots and protect U.S. ports and borders against terrorists....

A spokeswoman for Bush, Claire Buchan, had no immediate comment on the letter, which included among its signers Gen. Joseph Hoar of the Marines, a former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Alfred Hansen, who headed the Air Force's logistics command....


Fat lot of good it's going to do, of course, and no doubt they'll be subject to character assassination if they do anything beyond the letter (I hear General Hansen once said he didn't think Bill Clinton regularly ate babies for breakfast...).
Earlier today I criticized ABC's one-hour prime-time Rumsfeld profile. The online story made it look like an in-kind campaign contribution.

Well, I caught a bit of the show. Part of it was pure hagiography, but there was also a reasonably good airing of the case against Rumsfeld. It didn't fit together -- it was like a Morning Edition piece gene-spliced with a film Karl Rove would do for the convention. Odd, but not as bad as I expected.

And it didn't really matter, because everyone in America was watching Friends or the NCAA.
"Our war on terrorism is not a war against Islam." --Condoleezza Rice, 10/15/01

"This is not a fight against Islam." --Tony Blair, 9/28/01

"I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world.  We respect your faith." --George W. Bush, 9/20/01

Apparently, political affiliates of one of our fine coalition partners still haven't received the memo:

Allies of Premier Silvio Berlusconi are pushing for a law that would require referendums on requests to build mosques in Italy, contending that Islamic culture is "historically antithetical" to Italian culture.

The Northern League, one of the parties in Berlusconi's conservative government coalition, unveiled the legislation being proposed in the Chamber of Deputies at a news conference in Rome Wednesday.

..The presence of "foreign workers on our territory has opened a debate on how to update, or, better, to regulate the presence of communities with cultures historically antithetical to ours," the text of the proposed law says. "The mosque is a political place and is symbolic of a civilization that has run a 1,400-year-long path in antithesis of Western culture." ...

--Dow Jones

"Cultures historically antithetical to ours" -- gee, wasn't some other group of people described that way in various European countries, oh, about 60 or 70 years ago?
The Bushies have a gazillion dollars in the campaign war chest, yet ABC is making free long-form TV ads for them:

Watch ABCNEWS' John McWethy's hourlong special on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Primetime tonight at 10 p.m.

...He wears a pedometer on his belt — to count every step he takes. He tries to walk 10,000 paces a day, about five miles.

The pedometer is part of Rumsfeld's extreme attention to detail: counting, obsessing, analyzing. It's how he solves problems. That devotion also frames how he lives his life....

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, 2001, he talked about the lessons of Pearl Harbor.

"There were plenty of signals, plenty of warnings, plenty of cautions, but they weren't taken on board. They didn't register," Rumsfeld said. "We've got to be wiser than that."

Then, eight months to the day after his warning of a surprise attack, Rumsfeld's fears became reality with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The months that followed sent his popularity and influence soaring. He was videotaped helping move the injured from the stricken Pentagon. The war in Afghanistan was widely supported. Bush called Rumsfeld "my administration's matinee idol for seniors."

His profile was raised so high that intelligence sources say he and his family were stalked by terrorists who at least once tried to kill him.

So it was hard to argue with the defense secretary when he began to make the case for war against Iraq....

Feh -- this is disgusting. This is your "liberal media."

Do you remember anything like this in, say, the spring of 1996?
Rape isn't legal yet in Colorado for athletes. Apparently that's an intolerable situation for a lot of people:

The parents of the alleged rape victim whose lawsuit sparked the University of Colorado's football-sex scandal broke two years of silence Wednesday to blame CU for leaking excerpts from their daughter's diary.

Lisa Simpson wrote that she wanted to "ruin the lives" of several CU football players she says were present when she was allegedly gang-raped, according to diary excerpts mentioned in an unredacted copy of Simpson's deposition that was obtained by the Rocky Mountain News and Longmont Daily Times-Call.

It's unclear who gave the documents to the newspapers, but Simpson's parents, Rick and Karen Burd, said the leak of diary excerpts sealed under court order "is another in a series of unconscionable acts" by CU....

Seven women say they were raped by football players or recruits since 1997, and three have sued the university, claiming that it fostered an environment of sexual harassment....

--Boulder Daily Camera

A ruling supported by the Colorado Supreme Court that allows Kobe Bryant's defense lawyers to question the woman accusing him of rape about her sexual history prompts questions about the future of the state's Rape Shield Law....

...the troubling element in the judge's decision is that it did not limit questioning by defense lawyers to concerns related to Bryant's defense. Instead, the alleged victim could have been required Wednesday to answer questions about her sexual history years prior to meeting Bryant. Bryant's lawyers can use the opportunity not only to address whether there were other partners close to the time of the incident, but also to create the impression that the woman was sexually promiscuous and could not have been forced into sex....

An estimated 16 percent of sexual assault victims report their cases to law enforcement, according to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The low rate is attributed to women who fear their privacy would be invaded or that the public would "blame" them for the assaults....

--Fort Collins Coloradoan

Look -- I don't know the truth in these cases. What I do know is that it's perfectly logical that someone who's actually been raped wants the rapist, and other rapists, to suffer. And I know that the interests of a pro-sports god have been weighed against those of all rape victims in Colorado, and the sports god's interests have won.
Back in the days of Bush the Elder, reporters used to like to talk about how absurdly competitive Poppy was -- how seriously, for instance, he would take a game of horseshoes. This was seen as comical, but also useful -- the guy who treated a simple backyard recreation like the seventh game of the World Series was the same guy who overcame a 17-point opinion-poll deficit against Michael Dukakis in a matter of months, in a presidential campaign that's still regarded, three full election cycles later, as the most vicious in modern history.

We tend to forget this whenever somebody decides to get in a Bush's face. We expect a big triumph. We overlook the fact that part of the horseshoe story is that the deep need to crush an opponent is a Bush family trait.

It's hard to beat one of the Bushes with a frontal assault. When directly confronted, Bushes turn vicious, like cornered rats. Richard Clarke tried, and they beat him until he was unrecognizable.

In big contests, two people managed to beat Poppy Bush -- Reagan in the '80 GOP primaries and Clinton in '92. Each of them did it with a smile. Neither one got really down and dirty with George.

There may be a lesson here for Kerry.
It's bizarre, but economists think we've been having a rip-snorting recovery for a while now. Ordinary citizens don't get it. Apparently we may be right:

U.S. Economy Recovering at Only Half Official Rate, Research Shows

America's buoyant economic recovery could largely be a statistical illusion, according to research released this weekend....

The latest analysis from Goldman Sachs suggests that the US economy may have grown by only about 2.2 percent in the year to the fourth quarter of 2003, considerably less than the official 4.3 percent....

Big flaws in the manufacturing data are responsible, according to the Goldman research. Real GDP for goods, which accounts for 33 percent of total GDP, has surged by 8 percent over the past year, the official figures say, more than double its 3.6 percent long-term trend. But these figures are in complete contradiction with the standard data for industrial production, a closely-related and far more reliable measure calculated using separate data.

Industrial production increased by only 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003, compared with the same quarter of 2002. In February, production was up a mere 2.7 percent year on year, revealing a huge flaw in the US GDP figures....

Another reason why the US official growth rate may have over-stated growth is because of its use of "hedonic pricing", a method which adjusts inflation for quality, other economists say....

Because computers purchased today are more powerful that computers bought a year ago, a similar level of cash spending on IT would automatically be translated into strong growth in the GDP numbers, even if there has been no increase at all in the number of dollars spent by US companies or consumers from one year to the next....

Kurt Richbacher, editor of an eponymous investment letter, said: "These particular dollars are fictitious dollars that nobody has paid and nobody received. Obviously, such dollars inherently add nothing to profits...."

--Kinight Ridder's Sunday Business, London, via Miami Herald

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Yesterday we had this:

The White House, seeking to cool criticism from a former top anti-terror adviser, said Tuesday that Richard Clarke's resignation letter praised President Bush's "courage, determination, calm and leadership" on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months," said the Jan. 20, 2003, letter from Clarke to Bush. "I will always remember the courage, determination, calm, and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th." ...

White House spokesman Scott McClellan suggested Clarke's praise belies his later criticism of Bush's handling of the crisis....

This was absurd. If you want to know how seriously to take the praise in letters like these, aske Paul O'Neill and Ron Suskind:

O'Neill gave [his press secretary, Michelle] Davis [a former aide to Dick Armey] his resignation letter. "I hereby resign the office of the Secretary of the Treasury." One sentence.

"You can't do this," she said, getting over her tears from a moment before. "It's an affront. There is a way this is done. There are certain things you have to say, or their absence will create news."

"I refuse to say I'm leaving to spend more time with my family," O'Neill said, "or any of that bullshit."

She drafted a resignation letter. It was filled with standard resignation prose -- about what an honor it has been to serve this President, and how hopeful he was about the country's future, what a great team he'd been a part of -- four paragraphs of the stuff. "I'm not doing that," O'Neill said. "Makes me gag."

They compromised.

Dear Mr. President,

I hereby resign my position as Secretary of the Treasury.

It has been a privilege to serve the nation during these challenging times. I thank you for that opportunity.

I wish you every success as you provide leadership and inspiration for America and for the world.


Paul O'Neill

--Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 315

O'Neill refused to participate in the ritual. Obviously Clarke just went along with it.
Kim McFerrin was in seventh grade when she had her first asthma attack on the soccer field at her school in Northeast Salem, Ore.

"I kept sneezing and the more I kept sneezing, the harder it was getting for me to breathe and it got to the point where I couldn't breathe at all and I knew my inhaler was across the street and on the other side of the school," Kim recalled.

Kim's inhaler was locked in the principal's office, because even though the school knew about her illness, it was against school policy for her to carry an inhaler with her.

"I was actually afraid for my life. I didn't know if I would get back in time to be able to use my inhaler, or to be able to do anything to help me breathe," Kim said. "When you can't breathe you never know what can happen."

Eventually, Kim's mother encouraged her daughter to sneak her medicine into class with her, which she did until she graduated from high school in the spring of 2003.

...Across the United States, many schools have a strict "zero tolerance" policy toward all drugs, even prescription medication....


Are we living in the stupidest country in the developed world?
Richard Clarke and others say that the Bushies, entering office amid warnings about al-Qaeda, were fixated on Iraq. Clarke says that the fixation remained even after 9/11. Why would that have been the case? Tony Karon of Time magazine may have answered this question last summer:

One reason so many hawks seemed ready to make the case for retaliating against Saddam as well as bin Laden may have been the influence of Laurie Mylroie, a conservative scholar who had convinced herself and a number of influential conservatives, although not the U.S. intelligence community, that Iraq had been behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and was very likely behind 9/11, too. But as eccentric as her argument was to the U.S. intelligence community, it was hailed by Wolfowitz, who wrote in a blurb to her book that it "argues powerfully that the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was actually an agent of Iraqi intelligence." And invade-Iraq cheerleader Richard Perle, formerly head of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board, wrote in his own blurb: "Laurie Myroie has amassed convincing evidence of Saddam Hussein's involvement in the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. If she is right, and there are simple ways to test her hypothesis, we would be justified in concluding that Saddam was probably involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks as well."

Digby at Hullaballoo quotes that here, and has a lot more to say about Mylroie, as does Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect. Oh, and while you're at it, you might want to read Peter Bergen's Washington Monthly profile of Mylroie.

I invoke Ms. M. on a regular basis, but the influence of her ideas still isn't widely recognized. It might be an oversimplification to say that Mylroism made 9/11 possible. Then again, it might be pretty close to the truth.
Newsweek reports that in a new poll of young voters,

12 percent of young voters said they favored Nader over the Republican and Democratic Party candidates.


The poll is conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs; an early-March Ipsos poll of voters of all ages found that Nader got 6% of the vote -- and Bush was beating Kerry by 1%. Results of a newer Ipsos poll has Bush 46%, Kerry 43%, Nader 5%.

OK -- how do I put this without putting twists in Naderite knickers? I mustn't talk about Nader "taking votes away from" Kerry, because I don't need a lecture about daring to presume that anyone owes Kerry a vote. Fair enough. So let me try this: Naderites, do you really think it's such a brilliant frigging idea to have two nationally prominent candidates splitting the anti-Bush vote? There aren't two nationally prominent candidates splitting the pro-Bush vote. Until Bush clones himself and declares that his clone is a candidate to defeat himself, don't you think it just might be a good idea to rally around one electoral Bush slayer?

Oh well -- the news isn't all bad. Young people don't like Bush: Even with Nader in the race, Bush loses to Kerry, 47% - 38%. And

Just 44 percent of young voters approve of the president’s performance in office while 54 percent disapprove.

(Gosh, that's odd -- it wasn't long ago that Newsweek favored us with an article titled "Bush's Secret Weapon: Young Voters," which told us that, according to the same poll in January, 54% of youths approved Bush's job performance.)

The new poll also notes that young people don't get the vapors from on-screen raciness and don't think "politically-active religious groups have too little influence over public policy in the United States."
Also in that New York Observer article, Gail Sheehy reports that the "Four Moms from New Jersey" -- all 9/11 widows -- want this question pondered: Where was Rummy?

It is still incredible to the moms that their Secretary of Defense continued to sit in his private dining room at the Pentagon while their husbands were being incinerated in the towers of the World Trade Center. They know this from an account posted on Sept. 11 on the Web site of Christopher Cox, a Republican Congressman from Orange County who is chairman of the House Policy Committee.

"Ironically," Mr. Cox wrote, "just moments before the Department of Defense was hit by a suicide hijacker, Secretary Rumsfeld was describing to me why … Congress has got to give the President the tools he needs to move forward with a defense of America against ballistic missiles."

At that point, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the Secret Service, the F.A.A., NORAD (our North American air-defense system), American Airlines and United Airlines, among others, knew that at least three planes had been violently hijacked, their transponders turned off, and that thousands of American citizens had been annihilated in the World Trade Center by Middle Eastern terrorists, some of whom had been under surveillance by the F.B.I. Yet the nation’s defense chief didn’t think it significant enough to interrupt his political pitch to a key Republican in Congress to reactivate the Star Wars initiative of the Bush I years....

"Why did it take Condi Rice nine months to develop a counterterrorism policy for Al Qaeda, while it took only two weeks to develop a policy for regime change in Iraq?"

--Mindy Kleinberg, 9/11 widow, quoted by Gail Sheehy in this week's New York Observer
Did Bush actually capture or kill bin Laden when I wasn't looking?

Obviously he didn't -- I ask, though, because all the stories and opinion pieces about yesterday's hearings seem to contain the message that Bill Clinton is largely responsible for 9/11 (entirely responsible, in conservatives' eyes) because he never killed Osama or brought him into custody. The suggestion is that Clinton would have caught or killed Osama if he'd been competent and if he'd had the manliness and will; yes, the same thing is said about pre-9/11 Bush, but Clinton, of course, had eight years to do it, while Bush had eight months.

Except that Bush didn't have eight months. Bush has had three years and two months. And for more than two years of that time, Bush has had the unqualified support of most of the world in his pursuit of Osama. Yet he's failed. And he continues to fail.
By the way, I turned on the Atom feed of this blog a couple of days ago -- the link is

(There's also a link at right.) I'm still not doing the RSS/Atom/newsreader thing myself, but I've been told the feed is working.

(Oh, and I've also moved the e-mail link to the top of the link pile. Now if I could only get around to answer some of your e-mails....)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Well, forget it. It's over. I say this even though I didn't watch the hearings, I haven't read the transcripts, and I haven't even read a real news story on the hearings. Does that matter? I've watched a national news story and a local news story on the hearings today, which means that I'm now about as well informed on this subject as most Americans will ever be, and I know what the short version is: Clinton screwed up, Bush screwed up, everybody who testified today passed the buck, they're all bums. That's such a nice, easy-to-swallow conclusion that I'll be really surprised if it's ever supplanted as conventional wisdom.

Clinton didn't kill him, so Bush couldn't have prevented 9/11. And Rumsfeld, using that weird pronunciation of "bin Laden" with the long a, says that even if Clinton had killed him, or Bush had, it might not have prevented 9/11. Well, bin Laden was alive on 1/1/00 and Clinton's people prevented millennium terrorism -- what did the Clintonites do right that the Bushies did wrong? But I'm beating my head against a wall. Show's over, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Apparently I was wrong last night when I said Bob Woodward regularly plugs his books on Dateline NBC even though his publisher, Simon & Schuster, is owned by CBS's parent company, Viacom. Woodward did appear on CBS's 60 Minutes to promote his last book, Bush at War. But he went to Dateline NBC on June 23, 1996, for The Choice and on June 16, 1999, for Shadow; also, here's an ABC News online chat he did in 2000 for Maestro. And, of course, he's a semi-regular on Larry King Live on CNN (owned by Time Warner, parent company to Warner Books and Little, Brown).

Drudge won't let this go (see links below left), but it's absurd: If it's all about synergy, why was Al Gore on 60 Minutes when he was promoting a non-S&S book, or Michael Moore as he was just releasing his Bowling for Columbine DVD (MGM) and a new book (Warner Books)? Why does Andy Rooney write books for the non-Viacom PublicAffairs?

I'm not saying synergy didn't cross anyone's mind -- but if CBS hadn't done a story on Clarke, another network would have.
Jerry Falwell is welcome to believe all the fairy tales he wants -- that non-churchgoer Ronald Reagan made incidental allusions to God out of a deep spirituality rather than a desire to please his base, that "the majority of [Reagan's] supporters voted for him because of his confident foundation of personal faith," even that "it's not accepted these days to live out one's faith in the public spotlight" (gee, Jerry, you've been in our faces for a couple of decades now and I don't even think we've so much as hit you in the puss with a pie). But check out the title of Falwell's WorldNetDaily article on the Gipper:

The Passion of Ronald Reagan

Er, isn't that a bit close to idolatry? Isn't he implying that Reagan is both man and God?

I don't know what's with Republicans these days. It's not just this article -- remember when Bush's people were organizing photo ops so that photographers would get pictures like this? Is there a new translation of the Bible I don't know about, one that says, "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before Me -- unless it's a Republican who really loves missile defense and tax cuts"?

Asia Times reporter Pepe Escobar is a tad cynical about the big campaign-event-with-real-bullets on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border:

Any remaining "high value target" in Wana may have escaped by now - in a scheme not totally dissimilar to bin Laden's spectacular escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. At that time, hundreds of Arab and Chechen mujahideen put up very strong resistance in the frontline, while the "Sheikh" escaped to the Pakistani tribal areas using, among other means, a few tunnels. So it's no surprise that the Pakistanis have now also "discovered" a two kilometer long tunnel under the houses of the most-wanted tribal, Nek Muhammad. The tunnel may be instrumental in covering the Pakistani army's backs.

Apparently, this wasn't much of a "siege" -- anyone we would consider a "high-value target" knew it was coming and hightailed it out of the area a while ago:

It now appears that world public opinion fell victim to a Musharraf-inspired web of disinformation. In the early stages of the battle west of Wana in South Waziristan, Taliban spokesman Abdul Samad, speaking by satellite telephone from Kandahar province in Afghanistan, was quick to say that talk of al-Zawahiri being cornered was "just propaganda by the US coalition and by the Pakistani army to weaken Taliban morale"....

Sources in Peshawar ... confirm the Taliban claim that al-Zawahiri may have left South Waziristan as early as January and no later than early February, when word was rife all over the tribal areas about the upcoming spring offensive....

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party, grumbled that elected tribal leaders were not consulted about an operation which had been planned for three months: "Every high value target was allowed to escape months in advance while the tribal population was used as a sacrificial lamb to satisfy the power lust of the regime."

Escobar notes that

al-Qaeda jihadis who settled in Waziristan have managed to seduce tribals young and old alike with an irresistible deluge of Pakistani rupees, weapons and Toyota Land Cruisers.

From the Pakistani troops, by contrast, they get this:

Local trucks and minibuses have been nowhere to be seen for days. The roads are sealed. Electricity has been cut off. Families fled heavy bombing of "strategic targets" - on foot for dozens of kilometers. Villagers were hit by mortar fire. The Pakistani army used 15 Cobra helicopters, two F-17 fighters and dozens of artillery batteries.

All so Musharraf could pretend to be on our side in the terror war.
A big reason that it's harder to run against Bush '04 than against Bush '92 is, paradoxically, the fact that what we're charging Bush '04 with is so appalling: We're saying that he shed U.S. soldiers' blood in an utterly unnecessary war while pulling resources from the fight he should have been fighting -- that he took his eye off the ball and effectively suspended the fight against the mass murderers who should have been our prime target.

People can accept that their president, their commander in chief, their daddy, might be, you know, a bit of a screw-up -- that he might be tooling around cluelessly in a cigarette boat while the economy tanks. It's harder for most people to accept that he might duck into the Situation Room and send soldiers to die in the wrong country.

A crummy economy is frustrating and infuriating but not deeply frightening; in truly frightening times, an awful lot of us just want to believe that the guy in the Oval Office must know what he's doing and must be giving it his best shot.

Bush stumbled through September 11, 12, and 13, 2001, and we all noticed it -- but when he successfully delivered one effective sound bite through a bullhorn at Ground Zero on the Friday after the attacks, he was hailed as the second coming of Churchill; a merely competent speech a week later was praised as soaring and inspirational. Those three days when Rudolph Giuliani seemed like the leader our president should have been are now all but banished from the official narrative of what Bush did after 9/11 -- the official line is that we are grateful for Bush's steady leadership after 9/11. ("Don't you think he handled himself and hit all the right notes after 9/11, showed strength, got us through it, you don't give him credit for that?" --Lesley Stahl to Richard Clarke on 60 Minutes.)

Remember the situation when Kerry was starting to top Bush in the polls: The Madrid bombings hadn't happened yet; Iraq was clearly a quagmire that was continuing to cost lives of Americans and others -- but none of this was truly frightening to stateside Americans. It seemed to Americans that the violence was "over there." Now we have al-Qaeda back in business and scare headlines about possible Hamas attacks on the U.S.

Even if we weren't starting to get scared again, Richard Clarke's charges would remind us of the days when we were deeply scared. That's why I don't think Clarke's book and the 60 Minutes interview will lead to much voter disillusionment: Fence-sitting voters just don't want to go there. They don't want to remember their fear and think that the guy with his hand on the tiller didn't know which way to steer the boat. They certainly don't want to think that now, when they're getting scared again. They'd prefer any other version of the story.

If America is actively frightened on election day 2004, I think Bush wins. The more frightened Amertica is, the bigger his margin of victory. Unless there's an unambiguous smoking gun tying the administration directly to whatever is making America afraid, I don't think Bush's failings and shortcomings will matter -- most Americans will cleave to him if they're afraid. We aren't the Spanish.

I hope the Kerry campaign proves me wrong. I'm afraid it will need to -- I expect at least an orange alert, if not war drums (Syria! Iran!), come October and November. And if terrorists do strike, bizarre as it may seem, I think Bush wins in a landslide.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Anyone tempted to fall for the Matt Drudge line on Richard Clarke and his 60 Minutes interview -- namely that Viacom-owned CBS was shilling for a Viacom (Simon & Schuster/Free Press) book -- ought to know that Bob Woodward, who's also published by Simon & Schuster, has consistently shunned 60 Minutes over the last few years. Dateline NBC has done the first feature story about each of Woodward's most recent books.

The United States is secretly training several senior former Iraqi army officers to advise Iraq's nascent postwar military establishment, former Iraqi officers and a politician said on Sunday.

U.S. army spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said he had "no information" about such a training program.

The politician, who refused to be named, said six major-generals and 11 other senior officers active in the Iraqi army until last year's U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein were being trained, mostly in the United States....


We're assured, however, that these are nice, apolitical Saddam-era officers, not nasty ones.

(Link via INTL-News.)
Three British citizens just released from Guantanamo have said they almost died in November 2001 in a mass slaughter of prisoners by the Northern Alliance. Their story jibes with the findings of a forensic anthropologist who's investigated the deaths. The Observer reports:

...Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed, from Tipton in the West Midlands, told in their interviews how weeks before they were handed over to the Americans, they were captured by Northern Alliance forces led by General Abdurrashid Dostum in November 2001, as they tried to flee war-torn Afghanistan.

At Shebargan, they were herded into two of several truck containers. Then, Iqbal said, the doors were sealed. He and the others lost consciousness, and when he came to he was 'lying on top of dead bodies, breathing the stench of their blood and urine'.

'We lived because someone made holes with a machine gun, though they were shooting low, and still more died from the bullets. When we got out, about 20 in each container were still alive.' ...

The article quotes forensic anthropologist William Haglund and a colleague from a Physicians for Human Rights investigative team, John Heffernan.

...Heffernan said: 'After taking into account the thousands crowded into the dilapidated prison, the whereabouts of many taken captive remained unknown. We began to suspect some might have met their fate on the way there. After we left the prison and travelled down the road a few miles into the desert, we smelled the unmistakable odour of decaying flesh and soon found bulldozer tracks and skeletal remains.' Haglund came back under United Nations auspices a few months later.

By chance, on the day he arrived at Shebargan, Dostum had gone into the mountains, he said, leaving behind a military escort which allowed him to open the grave. 'I uncovered one small corner, exposing 15 remains which were quite complete, and did autopsies on three. There were no signs of trauma and these were all young men. This is consistent with death by asphyxiation.

'I told Dostum's security chief that they had died from suffocation, and there was this big silence hanging over the desert.' ...

The atrocities were reported at the time, you may recall. They didn't get much attention then and they're not getting much now.

(Observer link via INTL-News.)
Condoleezza Rice has responed to Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes interview and book, and here's the ABC News headline:

He Said, She Said

There it is -- the last word on the subject. Obviously I don't mean the last word chronologically, but trust me, this is going to be the consensus version of the Clarke story once it's all been hashed out: He says this, she says that, who the hell knows? The American people (including even some who plan to vote for Kerry) think Bush is doing a good job in the war on terror (whatever that may or may not encompass), and there isn't a smoking-gun memo, so it's just going to be seen as a politicized Beltway dust-up, something we can't possibly get to the bottom of.
A full transcript of Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes appearance is here (plain text file here).

Even though I'm pleased to see Clarke blowing the whistle on the Mayberry Machiavellis, I think what he's doing would have a lot more impact if a majority of Americans realized that Iraq and Afghanistan are separate countries. This is fun for now, but let's not get our hopes up -- it's not going to turn the tide.
Incidentally, in the post below I linked the printer-friendly version of Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times article. Here's the version with full graphics.

Now remember, the story in question is about Bush liking his own comfy bed and a nice ballgame from ESPN on Air Force One -- so why is it illustrated with a flag-drenched Leni Riefenstahl photo of Bush?

The same photo tops today's "Campaign 2004" page at the Times site, and it accompanies the Bumiller story in the print Times.

I think Kerry needs to increase the number and size of flags at his rallies, so photographers have ample opportunity to get shots like this. But will newspapers run them? Or is visually equating politicians with America just reserved for Republicans?
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from Elisabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter" in today's New York Times is that Bush is an overgrown brat -- here's Bush, attempting to tune in a basketball game on Air Force One's newly installed big-screen TV and just plain whining:

Once on board, though, Mr. Bush had a little trouble with the controls. "He gets the remote and nothing's happening," [Representative Peter] King recounted. "He calls the steward and says, 'What's wrong with my television?' The look on his face was, 'I'm the most powerful guy in the world and I can't get my television to work.' And the guy comes back and says, 'It takes seven minutes to warm up.' "

Mr. Bush, Mr. King said, seemed amused, but threw a mock tantrum. "He said, 'Seven minutes!' " Mr. King recalled. " 'The game could be going into overtime! Anything could happen in seven minutes!' "

But what strikes me is the control-freak aspect of the TV incident:

Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who spent eight hours with Mr. Bush on a trip to Long Island this month, said the president insisted that he and Representative Vito J. Fossella, another New York Republican, watch sports on the trip back to Washington.

"Coming back in the car," Mr. King said, "he's telling us: 'We're going to relax on the way back. You guys are going to watch the basketball game.' He was telling us about this new screen he has, how you can get ESPN."

"You guys are going to watch the basketball game." Not "You guys can watch the basketball game." It's an order.

It reminds me a little of the bullying Bush revealed in the bizarre New Mexico diner appearance back in January:

...Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food? ...

I see a little of this desire to bully and control in Bush's speech last Friday:

Today, as Iraqis join the free peoples of the world, we mark a turning point for the Middle East, and a crucial advance for human liberty.

There have been disagreements in this matter, among old and valued friends. Those differences belong to the past.

Obviously those differences don't just belong to the past, but it's as if Bush is trying to will the statement to be true -- and is daring anyone to disagree.
Does anybody really want to catch bin Laden and Zawahiri? Noor Khan reports for AP from Shkin, an Afghan village on the border with Pakistan:

...The elders repeat a common complaint of Afghans here in Paktika province — that neither side, Pakistani or Afghan, does anything to close the frontier.

In two days in the border mountains of Paktika, an Associated Press reporter saw no Afghan troops in the countryside, and only a few American soldiers.

Afghans here insist they welcome the U.S. forces, seeing them as the promise of reconstruction, aid and security. But they said the Americans have not sought help from locals who know the hundreds of cross-border trails.

"If they want to stop al-Qaida, they have to get support of the local people living and belonging to this area. They know all the ways," [tribal elder Mohammad] Safai said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, says it is confident that its paramilitary and soldiers can track down militants.

"Our people who are guarding the border know these tribesmen very well," Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, spokesman for Pakistan's Interior Ministry, said in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

Looking at Salor Gai mountain, Safai scoffed.

"If you wanted to, you could walk from there to Kabul, and not hit a single checkpoint," he said.
'Dawn of the Dead' Debut Tops 'Passion'

Audiences feasted on zombies as the fright flick "Dawn of the Dead" ruled the box office, debuting with $27.3 million and bumping "The Passion of the Christ" from the top spot.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion" took in $19.2 million, slipping to second place after three straight weekends on top, according to studio estimates Sunday....


Hmmm ... The Passion ... Dawn of the Dead ... in some ways they're the kind of the same movie, aren't they?

Sunday, March 21, 2004


You have to read to the 25th paragraph of this New York Times story to get the point. Here are paragraphs 1 and 2:

Senior American commanders in Iraq are publicly complaining that delays in delivering radios, body armor and other equipment have hobbled their ability to build an effective Iraqi security force that can ultimately replace United States troops here.

The lag in supplying the equipment, because of a contract dispute, may even have contributed to a loss of lives among Iraqi recruits, commanders say. A spokesman for the company that was awarded the original contract said much of the equipment had already been produced and was waiting to be shipped to Iraq.

Paragraph 10 explains that

The first batch of equipment for the Iraqis has been paid for and was to have been delivered under a $327 million contract to a small company, Nour USA Ltd., of Vienna, Va. But the Pentagon canceled that deal this month after protests by several competing companies led to a determination that Army procurement officers in Iraq botched the contract.

Now, here's the first sentence of paragraph 25:

Nour USA's president, A. Huda Farouki, is a friend of Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who has close ties to several senior Pentagon officials.

Oops -- sorry, almost forgot to mention that. But hey -- it's really OK!

But Nour executives and senior Army officials say that relationship played no role in awarding the contract to Nour.

Do they really think anyone on the planet is going to read that sentence without bursting out laughing?