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Sunday, March 21, 2004


Via SK Bubba I finally got to see the clip of the notorious Dennis Miller Eric Alterman "interview."

I don't think Jon Stewart has anything to worry about. Conservatives are not funny and they aren't entertaining. It's just a fact.

Big Night

Clarke's interview was even more devastating than I anticipated. Perhaps it was his delivery and demeanor, but it was the single most hard hitting criticism I've yet heard of Bush's terrorism policy. His charges were very ineffectually rebutted by Steven Hadley who seemed to be describing a Bob Woodward daydream rather than the Bush Whitehouse. Nobody ever really believed that Bush was in charge, particularly before 9/11. Even those who support the Bush administration always trusted in his advisors --- the vaunted grown-ups. In light of these charges, Hadley's description of Bush fighting his own team and insisting that the terrorism threat be a priority is embarrassingly absurd.

I have had some conversations recently with independent men who were completely persuaded after 9/11 that Bush was a ballsy guy who would do what needed to be done. They believe that the government knew things that the rest of us couldn't possibly have known. But, when they see a guy like Clarke, the ultimate non-partisan expert/insider saying that what we knew was ignored, these fellows are going to be pissed. If Bush loses these guys, he loses the election.

This may be the most important moment of the campaign. Bush's only real strength is the hagiography that was carefully cultivated after the attacks. Without that, they have very little. In fact, he becomes a failure of epic proportions. His entire campaign rests on the idea that Bush handled 9/11 flawlessly.

The press must be pushed on this. I already knew all of this stuff and it seemed very powerful to me. I would hope that the media would feel the heat from this story as well. The Democrats need to get together and push this over the next week, as the testimony at the hearings is highlighted. It is the chink in Bush's codpiece and it's time to administer a deadly blow.

Show Me Your Papers

Kevin the Political Animal muses about a national ID card, wondering a bit why some people are so adamantly against it. But, he has some reservations after reading this post by Mark Kleiman in which Mark wondered if it might be a good idea to curtail people's ability to buy alcohol rather than their ability to drive by using the drivers license to designate that a person convicted of an alcohol related offense isn't allowed to drink --- just as minors' drivers licenses do. Kevin then asks:

...when a driver's license starts becoming overtly more than just a driver's license, where does it end? Once people get the idea that it can be used to regulate more than just driving, why not use the same card to regulate and track sex offenders? Or resident aliens? Or handgun licensing? Or criminal records? It would be mighty handy to have all that stuff in one place, wouldn't it?

Yes it would and that is just one of the reasons you can add me to the list of libertarian wackos who are horrified at the prospect of a national ID card. It's not out of a knee jerk hatred of government, it's out of a lifetime observing bureaucrats, cops and politicians. I don't trust bureaucrats to handle information well; they screw it up a lot already and it's only getting worse with more information about individuals that's being collected.

This is one of the main arguments against the CAPPS II system, which is really a beta test of a national ID card database. Aside from a humongous error rate, and total unaccountability, you can see that the slippery slope has already had an effect. Here's how Anita Ramasastry explains the problem in a column from last Wednesday on FindLaw:

CAPPS II is designed to use commercial and government data to verify passenger identity, and to decide whether individual fliers pose security risks. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the agency tasked with implementing this program.

The program was initially intended to detect terrorists and keep them off airplanes. In August 2003, however, TSA announced that CAPPS II would also serve as a law enforcement tool to identify individuals wanted for violent crimes.

Based on privacy concerns that I have discussed in a previous column, Congress voted to block funding for CAPPS II unless the TSA could satisfy eight criteria relating to privacy, security, accuracy and oversight. (TSA may, at this time, move forward in testing CAPPS II, however.) In addition, Congress also asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct a review of CAPPS II to determine whether it met the relevant criteria.

This February, that report came in. And it concluded that CAPPS II has numerous problems, as I will explain.

Then today, March 17, a second report was released by the DHS. It confirmed that the TSA was involved in the transfer of JetBlue Airways passenger information to a Department of Defense subcontractor, Torch Concepts, for use in a data mining study (which I also discussed in an earlier column). Moreover, the DHS report found that, "The TSA employees involved acted without appropriate regard for individual privacy interests or the spirit of the Privacy Act of 1974."


Readers may object that we can live with a few errors in order to get greater security. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out that even a small error rate would create huge problems.

With CAPPS II checking an estimated billion transactions, the ACLU points out, "[e]ven if we assume an unrealistic accuracy rate of 99.9%, mistakes will be made on approximately one million transactions, and 100,000 separate individuals." (Emphasis added.) So even a tiny error rate will lead to many, many errors.

She also note that the commercial information they included such as credit reports are notoriously subject to error (or criminal manipulation as with identity theft) and much government information is secret and unchallegeable. The slippery slope is already in force as the TSA --- the Transportation Safety Administration is now in the business of helping law enforcement track down criminals. Why would they stop at that? How about IRS leins, bounced checks, or criminal convictions? And certainly there is no reason that they wouldn't use political activity as a criteria. In fact, they seem to have done that already.

As for law enforcement, I believe we need to hold the line on the fourth amendment in general. If we require people to have a national ID card, then it stands to reason that we will also be required to show it to law enforcement. And it won't be just another picture ID, it will likely be a hi-tech card with a magnetic strip that connects to a huge amount of information that I don't think the police have a right to access without probable cause. Right now a case is before the Supreme Court challenging a Nevada law that makes it a crime for a person to refuse to identify himself to police.

Under Nevada law, a citizen must reveal his or her name to a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that the person might be involved in a crime. Even if the suspect is innocent, the mere act of refusing to identify oneself is - itself - a crime.

Analysts say the law creates a legal irony. If the police officer possessed enough evidence to place the suspect under arrest, the suspect would be given a Miranda warning that he or she had the right to remain silent. But if the police officer possessed only reasonable suspicion - not the higher standard of probable cause needed to justify an arrest - a suspect could be arrested and convicted merely for refusing to identify himself.


In urging the US Supreme Court to overturn his conviction, Hiibel and his lawyers argue that police are free to ask a suspect any questions they want, but the suspect does not have to answer.

A law that can send someone to jail for refusing to speak violates both Fourth Amendment privacy protections and Fifth Amendment guarantees against being compelled to make incriminating statements, they say. "It is inimical to a free society that mere silence can lead to imprisonment," writes James Logan, a Nevada public defender and one of Hiibel's lawyers, in his brief to the court.

The Nevada Attorney General's Office counters that the state's interest in investigating crimes outweighs Hiibel's interest in keeping his identity private. "A person does not have a Fourth Amendment right to refuse to identify himself when detained on reasonable suspicion," says Conrad Hafen, senior deputy attorney general, in his brief. Asking someone's name is a minimal intrusion, Mr. Hafen says. Rather than forcing a suspect to make incriminating statements, repeating one's name does not provide evidence of a crime but merely assists an investigation, he says.

"Though the name may link the person to an outstanding warrant, it does not compel the person to inform the officer that he has an outstanding warrant," Hafen says. "A person's name is more like a fingerprint, voice exemplar, or handwriting analysis. It is used by law enforcement to identify the person."

Experts in electronic privacy disagree. "A name is now no longer a simple identifier: it is the key to a vast, cross-referenced system of public and private databases, which lay bare the most intimate features of an individual's life," says Marc Rotenberg, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

A national ID card would make it simpler to access all that information that the government has no business knowing unless they have probable cause to believe you have committed a crime. It should not be simple. Law enforcement should have to make a case before a judge in order to get it.

I don't trust politicians ever to do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts. Privacy and freedom are so closely linked in my mind as to be the same thing and they must be protected in law with sufficient safeguards against political repression and government surveillance. Allowing the government to access commercial information and generate even more, while requiring citizens to carry and produce a card that has the means for any government representative to access it, is a recipe for a police state. I know that sounds hysterical, but these things do happen, even to free nations if they don't remain vigilant against it.

Jon Stewart Wonders:

"Are they going to make us marry gay?"

"I think it must be mandatory because why else would anybody care? Unless the government is going to force you to make man-love, I really don't know why it would keep you up at night."

Little does he know that the next step is mandatory polygamous man-on-dog love with Fido and Fifi, as well. It's only a matter of time.

Via: The Sideshow

Preserved In Amber

I can't wait for this interview with Richard Clarke on 60 minutes and I can't wait to read the book. Judging by this article on the CBS website, it looks to be a doozy, as predicted.

First we find out that Rumsfeld wanted to bomb Iraq on 9/11. This does not surprise me. He wanted to bomb Iraq on 9/10 and the attacks on the WTC were a dandy excuse to go ahead with it. But, what's interesting is Clarke's account of the meeting in which he said it as opposed to the account of that meeting as duly recorded by Bob Woodward.

Woodward's version has a bold and manly Bush taking charge of his confused and befuddled advisors who have more questions than answers until the steely-eyed rocket man gives them proper direction:

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., President Bush brought together his most senior national security advisers in a bunker beneath the White House grounds. It was just 13 hours after the deadliest attack on the U.S. homeland in the country's history...

"This is the time for self-defense," he told his aides, according to National Security Council notes. Then, repeating the vow he had made earlier in the evening in a televised address from the Oval Office, he added: "We have made the decision to punish whoever harbors terrorists, not just the perpetrators."

Their job, the president said, was to figure out how to do it.

That afternoon, on a secure phone on Air Force One, Bush had already told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that he would order a military response and that Rumsfeld would be responsible for organizing it. "We'll clean up the mess," the president told Rumsfeld, "and then the ball will be in your court."

Intelligence was by now almost conclusive that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, based in Afghanistan, had carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the aides gathered in the bunker-the "war cabinet" that included Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and CIA Director George J. Tenet-were not ready to say what should be done about them. The war cabinet had questions, no one more than Rumsfeld.

Who are the targets? How much evidence do we need before going after al Qaeda? How soon do we act? While acting quickly was essential, Rumsfeld said, it might take up to 60 days to prepare for major military strikes. And, he asked, are there targets that are off-limits? Do we include American allies in military strikes?

Rumsfeld warned that an effective response would require a wider war, one that went far beyond the use of military force. The United States, he said, must employ every tool available-military, legal, financial, diplomatic, intelligence.

The president was enthusiastic. But Tenet offered a sobering thought. Although al Qaeda's home base was Afghanistan, the terrorist organization operated nearly worldwide, he said. The CIA had been working the bin Laden problem for years. We have a 60-country problem, he told the group.

"Let's pick them off one at a time," Bush replied

And then he hitched up his codpiece and went to bed. It was, after all, 9:30.

Here's Clarke's version from the CBS article:

After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

"Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection."

Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Clarke then tells Stahl of being pressured by Mr. Bush.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke also describes the foreign policy advisors in the administration as "preserved in amber," (much more evocative than my earlier characterization of them as fossilized) which supports my observations over the last couple of years that the central problem with these guys is that they are unable to get past the cold war mythology that hooked them somewhere in their formative years and never let them go. It's like watching a bunch of middle aged freaks at a LOTR convention. Not a pretty sight.

And what's even more staggering about all this is that they still haven't learned their lessons. CBS reports that Steven Hadley of the NSC describes the Iraq misadventure as a success by basing it on the lie that al Qaeda and Saddam were in cahoots AND on the dangerous fallacy that terrorism has something to do with rogue states:

"Iraq, as the president has said, is at the center of the war on terror. We have narrowed the ground available to al Qaeda and to the terrorists. Their sanctuary in Afghanistan is gone; their sanctuary in Iraq is gone. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now allies on the war on terror. So Iraq has contributed in that way in narrowing the sanctuaries available to terrorists."

Jayzuz. The bombings in Madrid, Istanbul and Bali sure as hell didn't need any rogue state sanctuary --- they were all carried out by terrorist factions loosely connected to al Qaeda and managed on local soil. I can't even begin to comment on the ridiculous concept that we've somehow provoked a positive change in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. But, we can be sure that the Iraq war has contributed to terrorism all right. It served as an extremely useful rallying cry and cause for manipulation for no goddamned good reason other than a total lack of imagination and openness to changing facts on the ground.

It's not only the White House that refuses to see terrorism for what it is instead of what they'd like it to be, the right wing punditocrisy is similarly clinging to their outmoded cold warrior worldview. All this talk of appeasement in the Spanish elections fails to account for the fact that it doesn't really matter how any single country reacts to these Islamic terrorist actions. You can't appease them or not appease them because they are not operating from any real premise.

Al Qaeda terrorists have a delusional view of world events that's only rivaled by the neocons here in the US. And they share a similar misunderstanding of the forces that bring about change in the world. For instance, they BOTH believed that they destroyed the Soviet Union through their own superior military prowess. I think we all know that the American right wing is dedicated to the proposition that their God Ronald Reagan single handedly ended the cold war. Osama bin Laden takes similar credit. From a 1998 interview:

Allah has granted the Muslim people and the Afghani mujahedeen, and those with them, the opportunity to fight the Russians and the Soviet Union. ... They were defeated by Allah and were wiped out. There is a lesson here. The Soviet Union entered Afghanistan late in December of '79. The flag of the Soviet Union was folded once and for all on the 25th of December just 10 years later. It was thrown in the waste basket. Gone was the Soviet union forever.


Today however, our battle against the Americans is far greater than our battle was against the Russians. Americans have committed unprecedented stupidity. They have attacked Islam and its most significant sacrosanct symbols ... . We anticipate a black future for America. Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America.

You couldn't make this shit up. Al Qaeda thinks it brought down the Soviets and thinks it can bring down the US, too. Yep. And meanwhile, here in the new capital of Western Civilization we've got President Hopalong spewing nonsense about Good n' Evul while the SecDef says that we should bomb the countries with the best targets.

Dr. Strangelove, your table is ready.

Oh, and by the way, somebody ought to send a memo to the White House that its attempted character asissination of Clarke is extremely lame. They say he wrote this book to "audition" for the Kerry campaign. Yeah. The guy who ran counter-terrorism for Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Junior would need to audition. I hear Tom Cruise is doing a screen test for the next Mission Impossible movie, too. Paramount needs to see if he can do the job.


A Bush Surprise: Fright-Wing Support:

"I look like someone who should be hanging out with Marilyn Manson. In fact I have hung out with Marilyn Manson," Mr. Graves said. "It doesn't affect what my morals are."

"I think George Bush is a wonderful, competent leader," he added. "And I believe that he is bringing this country on a right and just course and he understands the true nature of evil."

I think we've finally found Ann Coulter a boyfriend.

Like Riding A Bike

Kevin at catch.com posts about Drudge's new obsession about Kerry falling down on a snowboard. I notice that Kaus is on the hunt, as well. I was shocked when I heard about it too. Imagine falling down while snowboarding. I think it pretty much disqualifies Kerry from the presidency.

Thank goodness we have a real athlete in the White House:

President Bush falls over the handle bars of a Segway.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Sis Boom Bah

All this talk about Richard Clarke's interview on 60 minutes tomorrow in which he says that Rummy was ready to bomb Iraq on 9/12, reminded me of Atrios' song contest. We all thought it was a joke. Apparently, it really is the Bush administration fight song. Junior, after all, has made his living most of his life as a cheerleader:

If you're happy and you know it, bomb Iraq (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, bomb Iraq (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it,
And you really want to show it
If you're happy and you know it, bomb Iraq

If your equities are falling, bomb Iraq
If your equities are falling, bomb Iraq
If your equities are falling,
and your losses are appalling
If your equities are falling, bomb Iraq.

If the euro keeps on climbing, bomb Iraq
If the euro keeps on climbing, bomb Iraq
If the euro keeps on climbing,
put your trust in W's timing,
If the euro keeps on climbing, bomb Iraq

If the GDP is shrinking, bomb Iraq,
If the GDP is shrinking, bomb Iraq,
If the GDP is shrinking,
And W's back to drinking,
If the GDP is shrinking, bomb Iraq,

If my polls are falling, bomb Iraq,
If my polls are falling, bomb Iraq,
If my polls are falling,
and Congress is stalling
If my polls are falling, bomb Iraq.

If the GOP is hurtin' , bomb Iraq
If the GOP is hurtin' , bomb Iraq
If the GOP is hurtin'
And November looks uncertain
If the GOP is hurtin' , bomb Iraq

If the talk has turned to Harken, bomb Iraq,
If the talk has turned to Harken, bomb Iraq,
If the talk has turned to Harken,
and that Krugman-dawg is barkin',
If the talk has turned to Harken, bomb Iraq!

Are they checking Halliburton? Bomb Iraq
Are they checking Halliburton? Bomb Iraq
If they're checking Halliburton
Cheney's rep will soon be hurtin'
If they're checking Halliburton, bomb Iraq

If your brother is a turkey, bomb Iraq
If your brother is a turkey, bomb Iraq
If your brother is a turkey
And Florida's goin' bazerk-y
If your brother is a turkey, bomb Iraq

If the pundits call you "moron," bomb Iraq
If the pundits call you "moron," bomb Iraq
If the pundits call you moron
Then it's time to get your war on
If the pundits call you "moron," bomb Iraq

If Noelle gets caught with crack...bomb Iraq
If Noelle gets caught with crack...bomb Iraq
If Noelle gets caught with crack
and the twins drop booze for smack
If Noelle gets caught with crack...bomb Iraq

To divert public attention bomb Iraq
To divert public attention bomb Iraq
To divert public attention
From the doings of your henchmen
To divert public attention bomb Iraq

To get drilling in the Artic, bomb Iraq,
To get drilling in the Artic, bomb Iraq,
You can run us out of oil,
With the Middle East aboil,
To get drilling in the Artic, bomb Iraq.

Head Of Mush

Matthew Yglesias in this post notices that Donald Rumsfeld and the the blindered neocon faction of the GOP still don't seem to understand terrorism. He says:

Rogue states are bad -- don't get me wrong -- but in a fundamental sense the terrorism problem has nothing to do with them. The fact that Iran sponsors a regional terrorist enterprise (Hezbollah) and that Iraq and North Korea both did so in the past (and Iraq to a small extent continued up until Saddam's fall) is interesting, but not really relevant to the terrorism problem that the United States faces. Rumsfeld -- and Rice, and Bush -- don't get that.

They have been convinced, it seems since the beginning of time, that the only real threat to America and apple pie is the fearsome rogue state. And you can trace this completely erroneous line of reasoning as it applies to islamic terrorism to our good friend, the crazed Laurie Mylroie and her insistence that the first World Trade Center bombing was the work of Saddam Hussein. And you can go even further back to the notion that communism would be defeated only through a series of military victories against the states that adopted it. It appears that these folks' biggest problem in life, and the reason they should never be allowed to have unfettered power, is that their thinking is so fossilized that they can never, ever let go of an idea once they have adopted it, no matter what the facts and circumstances.

They are now so deeply confused by their own twisted worldview that nobody knows what the hell they are thinking. It is true, as Matt points out, that the threat of "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea are real and require extreme vigilance. It is also true that the War On Terrorism is really a war against a bunch of loose knit organizations held together by ideology and purpose rather than a state sponsor or central location. They are two separate threats, each difficult and each distinct.

There is one exception, however, and its a biggie. There is a rogue state out there that has openly supplied nuclear arms to other rogue states, is under the despotic undemocratic rule of a military junta and is deeply involved in the spread of islamic fundamentalist ideology. The government could easily fall into the hands of the wacko Wahabist faction that forms a significant part of the current president's ruling coalition. Yet our Secretary of State was just there last week passing out high fives as a great ally in the War on Terror. The war they insist can only be won by confronting militarily the rogue states that could someday give arms to the terrorists.

The New York Times put it this way in an editorial today:

Washington failed to protest when General Musharraf cut short the prosecution of the nuclear scientist at the center of the scandal, Abdul Qadeer Khan, with a presidential pardon. It did not object when he blocked the investigation of any military involvement. The least the administration can do now is to press privately for a full accounting. Americans are at least as threatened by rogue states and terrorists armed with Pakistani nuclear blueprints and bomb fuel as they are by fugitives holed up in South Waziristan.

Pakistan's official version of the nuclear transfers ? that civilian scientists acted entirely on their own for purely financial reasons ? defies belief. There is no way sensitive nuclear hardware and uranium could have been transported out of Pakistan without the knowledge and complicity of the country's all-powerful military high command and intelligence agencies. And Washington cannot know that the network has been shut down until its enablers and protectors have been identified.

Washington also needs to insist on an end to the ambiguous relations between Pakistan and the Taliban, which have allowed fighters to cross the Afghan border and attack American troops. The problem is, in part, a legacy of the Pakistani Army's close cooperation with the Taliban until General Musharraf officially severed these ties after 9/11. A more recent complication comes from the alliances General Musharraf has made with Islamist extremist parties to prop up his dictatorial rule. These parties, which are ideologically close to the Taliban, now wield substantial power along the Afghan border.

Instead of urging General Musharraf to stop maneuvering against unfettered elections and Pakistan's main secular parties, Mr. Powell lavished undeserved praise upon him for democratic progress. Such declarations diminish American credibility as a consistent force for democracy. Behind a constitutional facade, General Musharraf rules as a military dictator, accountable to no civilian authority and basing his power on Pakistan's armed forces. It is the army high command that General Musharraf must negotiate with if he truly wants to move against the Taliban, Kashmiri terrorist groups or the nuclear weapons establishment.

Mr. Powell struck a somewhat surreal note in Islamabad when he announced that Washington was preparing to designate Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally," easing access to military sales. Pakistan's efforts to capture Dr. Zawahiri are welcome, but it is excessive to offer even a symbolic promotion to one of America's least reliable allies.

Yes, well, there is an election coming up and nothing is more important than staging a big ole "Mission Accomplished" celebration that features bin Laden's head on pike.

I realize that countries like Pakistan need to be handled deftly. I'm not unhappy that they haven't sent John Bolton over there to call Mushareff a scumbag on Pakistani television. (Would that they would keep him away from North Korea.) It may even be smart to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" in this situation. If this team had shown even a tiny bit of real diplomatic and tactical finesse during the last three years I might think that's what they were doing. But they haven't and they're not:

India Saturday warned the U.S. decision granting major non-NATO ally status to Pakistan will impact bilateral ties between New Delhi and Washington.

A foreign ministry spokesman expressed surprise that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in New Delhi two days prior to the announcement and did not mention the decision to Indian officials.

Navtej Sarna said: "The Secretary of State was in India just two days before this statement was made in Islamabad. While he was in India, there was much emphasis on India-US strategic partnership. It is disappointing that he did not share with us this decision of the United States government."

Indian officials were reportedly embarrassed at being caught unawares.

"We are studying the details of this decision, which has significant implications for India-U.S. relations," Sarna said in a statement.

In a case where you have two nuclear powers, bitter rivals, seething with religious animosity and territorial disputes you go out of your way to insult the one that has no record of supporting islamic terrorism or selling nuclear weapons to our enemies and openly reward the one that does. And you do this in the name of fighting terrorism and rogue states.

They call this moral clarity.

Clearly, there is no Bush doctrine, and no deep belief in anything except the tired irrelevancy that Stalinist regimes like Saddam's and the DPRK must be defeated in the name of fighting communism. That is all these people know and it's all they will ever know. They do not understand the dangers of the post cold war world just as they didn't understand the threats of the cold war.

And it cannot be ignored that we have a leader who is an idiot. Here's the image of leadership that Karl Rove is running on, from the halcyon days of 2002. I know that those of us in blogland are aware that it is a fantasy, but a good number of Americans are not:

Lacking his father's deep reservoir of experience to draw upon, how does Bush resolve his advisers' titanic disagreements? He goes with his gut. He relies on an instinctive sense of who is good and who is bad overseas?and then he sticks at all costs with the call he has made. His confidence in this process has grown with his success in Afghanistan He took to heart the lesson that he should trust his moral sense and have faith in what a former Clinton aide, not without admiration, calls "rising dominoes"?the sense that if Bush unfurls a big bright flag and marches toward the mountains, the world will follow.

But when the world doesn't follow, Bush often just keeps marching. His defenders like to point out that the President's foreign policy has had no serious failures caused by allies' rebelling against him. That proves, they say, that raw power determines international politics. As a senior Bush adviser bluntly declared earlier this year: "The way to win international acceptance is to win. That's called diplomacy: winning." If other countries get restive, U.S. officials say, who cares? Even ganged up, they will be weaker than the U.S. alone. The President summed up his lead-a-lonely-but-moral-crusade approach to foreign policy in April when he was asked whether he understood that Palestinians consider the Israeli occupation to be a form of terrorism.

That's when he said, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important, if you believe in freedom. And people can make all kinds of excuses, but there are some truths involved. And one of the truths is, they're sending suicide killers in because they hate Israel. That's a truth. I know people don't like it when I say there's evil, this is evil versus good. But that's not going to stop me from saying what I think is right."

(If other countries get restive, U.S. officials say, who cares? Even ganged up, they will be weaker than the U.S. alone. That is another dangerous fallacy that animates the neocons. Again, there is no threat but the threat of a Stalinist rogue state. We'll have faith-base missile defense up by next fall and then everything will be perfect.)

Although much of the assessment in the Time article has been proven wrong --- his allies did rebel and there have been real consequences --- that image has remained in the minds of many. John Kerry's team must find a succinct way of showing that this puerile nonsense about the braindead boy-man's PB&J filled gut has made the world far less safe than it was on September 11th, 2001. Bush's team continues to operate like a bunch of amateurs, refusing to learn from mistakes and screwing things up over and over again. Kerry must counter this absurd impression of Bush as having a gut of steel when what he really has is a head of mush. The sickness in this administration all flows from that.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Even More On The A-word

Atrios noted that Jim Pinkerton spewed his kool-aid on the appeasement question the other day, but he hurls the glass across the room in the above linked article in Salon:

So who lost Spain? Who thereby gave Old Europe a new lease on life? When Americans were told that toppling Saddam's regime would transform geopolitics, did anyone think that the next transformed regime would be José María Aznar's -- that "regime change" would ricochet back to Spain? The Bush administration was taken by surprise, of course, because it had chosen to ignore the huge majorities in democracies around the world who never agreed that the "war on terror" could be won in Baghdad.

President Bush pushed the Spanish -- and will soon push, probably, the British -- to change their government by pursuing policies that have cleaved Europe and America. Europeans, remembering centuries of experience in stomping out separatists, anarchists and fanatics, will now go their own way, without guidance from Paul Wolfowitz. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, looking like two cats who shared a canary, held a joint press conference in Paris on Tuesday touting their own approach to fighting terrorism; there they offered words of welcome to incoming Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, inducting him into their non-American -- maybe anti-American -- alliance. David Frum bewailed Europe's collective-security plan as "a defeat for the antiterrorist cause," and yet Western Europeans have concluded that stirring hornets nests in faraway places is not the way to keep from being stung.

Which brings us to Tony Blankley in the Washington Times, who gloomily projected a "four in 10 chance that the American electorate will come down with the Spanish disease this November" -- that is, boot Bush out of office; the alleged ailment might be called "appeasementitis." Yup, it's 1938 all over again, same as it ever was. The historically minded -- here comes the dreaded alternative diagnosis of the realists -- might point out that al-Qaida is a criminal gang, a cadre of loony loners and conspiratorial crazies scattered across the world. These realists understand that bin Laden's bunch is not a nation-state with a Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and Fuhrer. But no speck of realistic thinking seems ever to cloud the eternal 1930s-ness of the neocons' spotless mind.

Indeed, the most serious consequence of appeasement-accusing is the assumption that goes with it: That counterterrorism strategy and conventional war strategy are one and the same. The war on terror is not World War II; it requires dramatically different actions. The neocon strategists, stalled in the '30s -- searching for Neville Chamberlain tapping his umbrella on every cobblestone street, even as they scout out the next Winston Churchill -- are leading us into the bloody land of blowback.

I had noticed that Pinkerton had been sidling off the reservation about a year ago. And he's writing for Salon. I'd say we can put away the garlic in his presence.

From Beirut To The Twilight Zone

Kevin Drum takes on the Tom Friedman "appeasement" op-ed today on his great new blog Political Animal. (And why wasn't that one taken a loong time ago? Was somebody saving it for a renowned cat blogger to go big time?) Anyway, Kevin is definitely getting more animalistic. His take on what I agree was a steaming mound of something is downright combative:

This kind of stuff belongs on the pages of a third tier warblogger, not the op-ed page of the New York Times. It's juvenile and disgusting.

I love it. And Kevin is right. This nonsensical Friedman blather is even worse than his usual drivel and I didn't think that was possible. He suggests that even though the socialists ran on the platform of withdrawal from Iraq and even though the population never supported it and even though Friedman acknowledges that the Bush administration is making a total hash out of the occupation, the new Spanish government should not withdraw from Iraq because it would appease al Qaeda.

Picture if you will, September 11, 2001 and Al Gore is President of the United States. Terrorists attack London. Al Gore responds by joining Tony Blair in attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan and disrupting Al Qaeda's operation. Almost immediately, they begin planning to invade Iraq and do so just a little more than a year later, against the will of most US allies and most Americans. It soon becomes obvious that Blair and Gore's assertions of connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq were wrong (as were all the other national security rationales they set forth to justify the war.) The Republicans are going crazy, demanding special prosecutors, impeachment and criminal charges. (You know they would. Here are some of their comments on Kosovo.)

Meanwhile, Gore insists that the war in Iraq was absolutely necessary to protect America from the terrorist threat and he refuses to back down on this assessment. The first week in November the polls show the election is close. The economy is sluggish and people are restless. The war in Iraq is unpopular, but is no longer at the top of the newscasts. 3 days before people go to the polls, terrorists blow up several nightclubs in Miami, killing hundreds and wounding thousands.

The Gore administration casts the blame on pro-Castro terrorists. Doubts emerge immediately and within hours it becomes obvious that the Gore administration was again misleading the country about national security. He loses the election by a significantly wider margin than the polls had predicted.

The Republicans, chagrined and embarrassed, admit that the result was bad because the US has just "appeased" al Qaeda. Therefore, they promise to continue Al Gore's foreign policy, despite the fact that they completely disagree with it and a large majority of the country rejects it, because they know that it would be wrong to allow Al Qaeda to believe they were cowed by its terrorism.

And the next day Neo destroys the Matrix and live bats fly out of Lynn Cheney's mouth on Larry King Live.

Shave and Appeasement, 6 Bits.

Via Matt Yglesias, I read this post by Julian Sanchez on the Spanish elections and ensuing charges of "appeasement," by the hysterical gasbags on the right.

Aznar had defended the war in Iraq as measure necessary to "guarantee the security of Spaniards from any internal or external threat," and his government sought to dismiss claims that a Spanish club was targeted for bombing in Casablanca because of Spanish participation in the war. Meanwhile, PSOE officials had suggested that Spain, Britain, and the U.S. were "kicking a wasp's nest," that "the war in Iraq was going to provoke more hatred and rancor and, therefore, the threat of more instability." Transparently, Aznar was mistaken and the opposition was correct. Are Spanish voters to be tarred as cowards if they now hold Aznar accountable for his miscalculation? A few especially glib commentators have suggested that the Spanish should "blame the terrorists," not the PP. But why can't they blame both?

Well, yeah. Aside from it being seriously distasteful, this excessive stomping on the body politic of the site of the worst terrorist attack on european soil tells me the wing nuts are in desperate need of a shave with old Occam's Razor.

As I noted in a post yesterday on American Street, Mark Kleiman unearthed the shattering news that the turn-out was much higher than usual, probably as a result of the bombings and a desire to show public solidarity. It may be that those non-voters would have voted otherwise, but it may also be that they would have done what most voters in high turnout elections in Spain do, which is vote for the left candidate. It possible that the Spaniards are not, in fact, saying to the world, "We're askeered 'o ole bin Laden! Please don't hurt us again!" They may have just been saying, "I hadn't been paying that much attention to politics, but I usually back the socialists so that's who I'll vote for because I think it's important in this time of tragedy." Republicans ought to understand that. It's how they won the midterms.

On the other hand, the very simplest explanation for why people voted out the party in power is being totally ignored by everyone and it's a pretty good reason, too.

Man say he tough guy. He big friend of bigger tough guy. Man say his country must do what bigger tough guy say to keep country safe. Many people everywhere say bigger tough guy not know what he doing. Man say "too bad" to people.

Then bad guys blow up trains and kill and wound many. People think, tough guy and bigger tough guy not keep country safe like they say. We no like tough guy. We like other guy who not trust bigger tough guy, like we say. We make him our president.

It is hard to know how people would react in any country to a terrorist attack on the eve of an election. But, is it so impossible to believe that they might just BLAME the guys in charge of keeping the country safe for not actually, you know, keeping the country safe? I realize that this idea that you play into your enemies hands if you change your leadership is understandable to people who also believe that CEO's should be given huge bonuses when they destroy their companies, but isn't it a bit much for normal people to adopt this attitude? Surely, even Aeron-chair warriors must acknowledge that sometimes, when a leader fucks up, he needs to be replaced.

Then again, you could conclude that any response to terrorism that isn't total support of George W. Bush's policies is appeasement. Here in America it's clear that if we have no terrorist attacks in the US before November it will be because George W. Bush has kept our babies safe and we must re-elect him. To do otherwise would be appeasement. But, if there is another terrorist attack before November we must also re-elect him because to do otherwise would be appeasement.

And, we must shop til we drop. Not shopping is appeasement, too. As is gay marriage. And tax hikes on the rich. And Janet's nipple. It's all pretty much the same thing. Al Qaeda is desperately afraid of Bush's codpiece. Anything less than total support of it, no matter what, and the terrorists will have won.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Original Sin

I am gratified that Atrios has posted about this book by Alesina and Glaeser that discusses the relationship between race and social welfare. They know their stuff. Buy the book.

I wrote a long and boring mostly unread post about this a few months ago when we were all in the midst of discussing the Dean campaign's strategy in the south, in which I argued that one simply could not separate race from Americans' hostility to redistributive economic schemes and government social services. Indeed, they have been intertwined throughout our history. If I may be so bold as to quote myself:

The question has always been, why don't southern working class whites vote their economic self-interest?

In this paper (pdf) Sociologist Nathan Glazer of Harvard (bio), who has long been interested in the question of America's underdeveloped welfare state, answers a related question --- "Why Americans don't care about income inequality, which may give us some clues. Citing a comprehensive study by economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth called, "Why Doesn't the United States have a European-Style Welfare State?" (Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2/2001) he shows that the reluctance of Americans to embrace an egalitarian economic philosophy goes back to the beginning of the republic. But what is interesting is that both he and the economists offer some pretty conclusive evidence that the main reason for American "exceptionalism" in this case is, quite simply, racism.

"Racial fragmentation and the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities among the poor played a major role in limiting redistribution.... Our bottom line is that Americans redistribute less than Europeans for three reasons: because the majority of Americans believe that redistribution favors racial minorities, because Americans believe that they live in an open and fair society, and that if someone is poor it is his or her own fault, and because the political system is geared toward preventing redistribution. In fact the political system is likely to be endogenous to these basic American beliefs."(p. 61)

Glazer goes on to point out how these attitudes may have come to pass historically by discussing the roles that the various immigrant support systems and the variety of religious institutions provided for the poor:

But initial uniformities were succeeded by a diversity which overwhelmed and replaced state functions by nonstate organizations, and it was within these that many of the services that are the mark of a fully developed welfare state were provided. Where do the blacks fit in? The situation of the blacks was indeed different. No religious or ethnic group had to face anything like the conditions of slavery or the fierce subsequent prejudice and segregation to which they were subjected.

But the pre-existing conditions of fractionated social services affected them too. Like other groups, they established their own churches, which provided within the limits set by the prevailing poverty and absence of resources some services. Like other groups, too, thedependentpendant on pre-existing systems of social service that had been set up by religious and ethnic groups, primarily to serve their own, some of which reached out to serve blacks, as is the case with the religiously based (and now publicly funded) social service agencies of New York City. They were much more dependent, owing to their economic condition, on the poorly developed primitive public services, and they became in time the special ward of the expanded American welfare state's social services. Having become, to a greater extent than other groups, the clients of public services, they also affected, owing to the prevailing racism, the public image of these services.

Glazer notes that there are other factors involved in our attitudes about inequality having to do with our British heritage, religious background etc, that also play into our attitudes. But, he and the three economists have put their finger on the problem Democrats have with certain white Southern voters who vote against their economic self-interest, and may just explain why populism is so often coupled with nativism and racism --- perhaps it's always been impossible to make a populist pitch that includes blacks or immigrants without alienating whites.

So, we are dealing with a much more complex and intractable problem than "southerners have been duped by Nixon's southern strategy" or that liberals have been insulting them for years by supposedly devaluing their culture. Indeed, even the nostalgia that Howard Dean professes for FDR's coalition is historically inaccurate. A majority of whites have never voted with blacks in the south. (In the 30's, as we all know, southern blacks were rarely allowed to vote at all.) In fact, FDR had an implicit agreement with the southern base of his party to leave Jim Crow alone if he wanted their cooperation on other economic issues. The southern coalition went along out of desperation (and also because they were paying very little in taxes.) But, as soon as the economy began to recover, and Roosevelt began to concentrate on programs for the poor, the division that exists to this day re-emerged.

I quote myself at length here, not because I love the sound of my own words, (although they are delightfully boring yet somehow dull) but because I think this work by Glazer, Graezer and Alesina contains an important insight with which Democrats simply must come to grips if we ever expect to create a government that provides a decent enough safety net to maintain a solid middle class and thus a stable and thriving society.

This ancient attachment to racism in this country is going to finally bring us down if we do not force it out of the body politic once and for all. The need is urgent, not just on a moral basis --- the moral case is always urgent --- but on a pragmatic, survival basis as well. The American frontier is closed, our total dominance of the world economy is rapidly diminishing and globalization and technology are pressuring the middle and working classes of this country in ways that we are only now beginning to see. This path of ever lower taxes and higher deficits in service of a nonsensical insistence on the ruination of public schools, a refusal to endow universal health care, a systematic destruction of social security and the combined devastation of rolling back workplace regulations while destroying unions is based on a theological belief in unfettered capitalism and American "individualism." This romantic notion manifests itself as modern Republicanism but, in fact, it is nothing more than the same phony excuse for opportunism and racism that has existed since the founding. (It fueled the more virulent forms of anti-communism, as well.) Unless we commit ourselves to keeping this country's education and health care systems secure, ensure that workers continue to have the opportunity to thrive and achieve in the workplace and provide a decent safety net for those who cannot work, we are shortly going to find ourselves living in a high tech banana republic.

The power structure of the modern GOP is centered in the south and they cannot achieve victory without it solidly behind them. These studies reveal that there is no mystery as to why its philosophy of low taxes and minimal social services finds such loyalty among people who should logically believe the opposite. Democrats must recognize that this correlation between racism and the resistence to a fair and equitable redistribution of wealth is why populist appeals will not work for us in the south or among other demographics in which this correlation is salient.

And that means we must accept, once and for all, that our commitment to civil rights cannot be separated from our commitment to reasonable taxation in service of a stable society. In our culture they are inextricably bound to one another and we will never achieve one without achieving the other. As I wrote in my earlier post on this topic, racism is America's original sin. Until we politically and socially emasculate it, we will continue to be shackled by a fantasy of individualism and a Hobbesian worldview that can no longer be ameliorated by an endless frontier or global economic dominance.

The worst impulses of American culture are drawn from racism and those malevolent impulses are taking us into a highly competitive future without a safety net. There might be dumber reasons for a once great society to crumble but I can't think of any.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Klaatu Barada Nikto

South Knox Bubba finds the Non-Sequitor of the Week, which had me cleaning out my ears when I heard it as well.

BEGALA: Greg, one of the ads concludes with President Bush praising freedom, faith, families and sacrifice. What sacrifice has our president asked of the rich?

MUELLER: I think everybody's making money right now. We've got a Hispanic middle class, "The New York Times" reported about last year. George Bush created a Hispanic middle class.

Maybe the RNC is having a hard time recruiting talking heads or something but I'm hearing an awful lot of this kind of bizarre blather lately. I hear Ann Heche is available. She speaks fluent Martian.

Bad Hostess Behind Bars

On Friday, a jury convicted Martha Stewart of lying about a 2001 stock sale in which her broker gave her insider information concerning pharmaceutical maker ImClone. On Saturday, the media was saturated with coverage of the verdict--coverage that perpetuated the oft-repeated canard that the Stewart case was somehow an example of corporate wrongdoing. Meanwhile, in a real case of alleged corporate wrongdoing, Bernie Ebbers, the disgraced former WorldCom CEO, and Scott Sullivan, the company's head accountant, were indicted last week in the largest case of accounting fraud in the country's history. But those developments ended up serving as the week's undercard to Stewart's featured event--obscuring the fact that the two cases have little in common, and that the WorldCom case is far more important.

...apparently hungry for sensational news, many of the country's leading media outlets failed this weekend to explain the distinction. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Stewart the "highest-profile figure in a procession of corporate scandals that emerged after the tech stock boom-and-bust of the 1990s." The Los Angeles Times described her as "the first major figure convicted by a jury in the wave of corporate scandals." And The New York Times called her "the latest and most prominent executive to be convicted since a wave of corporate scandals unfolded with the collapse of Enron."

So-called "celebrity justice" features have long been a staple of tabloid journalism, but since the O.J. Simpson trial, the media has increasingly treated those cases as hard news...The Times and other upper-tier papers--which ostensibly shun "celebrity justice" news but were unwilling to miss out on the Stewart story--developed a narrative that made no distinction between Stewart's trial and the cases of Ebbers, Lay, and Rigas.

TNR goes on to say "it was a clever way for "serious" papers to get in on a piece of the Martha action--and also retain their respectability," and how this may result in less scrutiny for the more important Worldcom and Enron trials. The public, suffering from corporate scandal fatigue after Martha will feel that justice has been served and are no longer interested. Sadly, they are probably right.

But, I've always wondered why Martha became such a top tabloid story in the first place. She's famous, but that's not the most important element in a tabloid story, certainly not one that garners the kind of wall to wall coverage this one's gotten the last few days.

In order for it to be a truly fine tabloid story it must feature sex or violence, preferably both, neither of which were present in the Martha trial. But, when I watched the week-end coverage I realized where the tabloid element of this story lies. It's the prurient vision of Martha Stewart in a woman's prison, surrounded by tough, tattooed, hardened criminals. Seriously. I must have heard dozens of comments like:

"What will it be like for Martha behind bars, will she be kept from the general prison population for her own safety?"

"Martha will be serving time with the type of women she normally doesn't invite to her dinner parties in Connecticut."

"The women in those prisons probably don't think much of Martha's decorating tips."

"Martha's going to need to learn how to negotiate with women who don't wear aprons and get 300 dollar haircuts."

Now, it's obvious that there are quite a few misogynist men who simply think the uppity business bitch must be shown her place. And, among many women there seems to be a strong resentment of her cold perfectionism. I don't pretend to understand why she evokes such strong feelings in some people.

But, the tabloid media interest in the story became clear as the week-end went on. They are aroused and tittilated by the idea that Martha Stewart could be forced to endure some sort of prison violence, sexual or otherwise. The gleam in their eye as they speculated about her fate was very revealing. Corporate wrongdoing never made these vultures so breathless and flushed.

Our press corps seems to suffer from a strange form of mass sexual neurosis. I don't know why, but time after time they act out a twisted form of immature sexuality when covering certain public figures who apparently confuse them in some way. They really need to talk to somebody about this. This is the kind of thing that can lead people to do bad things and then who knows what could happen? Kelly Arena could find herself in a woman's prison, scantily clad and vulnerable, at the mercy of Big Mama, the ex-Hell's Angel and leader of the cell block who likes to "initiate" all the new girls....

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Ad War

With all of this hoopla about the president's ad campaign, I am grateful that Matt Stoller at BOP news, found this great resource at the Museum of the Moving Image called The Living Room Candidate, which shows political TV ads going back to 1952. If you have time, you should look at all of them.

I was particularly fascinated by the
1992 Election Page which showed a Bush Sr ad campaign that was almost entirely based on character assassination. Trust, trust, trust. Character, character, character. Lots of "man on the street" interviews with average Americans saying "there's just something about him I don't trust."

I wouldn't be surprised to see a reprise of this campaign. It's what these guys do. Just check out 1988, if you want to see more (and also dispell the idea that Dukakis never fought back. He did, but he didn't attack back, he defended. That's the difference.)

Anyway, thanks to Matt for the link. It's a fascinating site.

All The World's A Stage

Ellen Goodman asks:Presidential election or casting call?

I have long believed that it is a casting call. Just as I think, sadly, that for many people 9/11 and Iraq are now seen as reality TV shows from last season. Kind of like Survivor. The question in this election is whether they want to watch the re-runs.

It's a little bit much, however, that a member of the fourth estate would act surprised by this. After all, Goodman and her ilk cover politics and news events as if they were television shows, critiquing the "performances" of the players, even (especially) themselves, and look at all events through the lens of a pre-ordained narrative.

The president of the United States plays the role of a cowboy rancher when he can't ride a horse and didn't buy his "spread" until he was running for president. He lands in a fighter plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier, prances around in a skin tight jumpsuit and the press never bothers to correct the erroneous impression that he actually flew the plane.

Why in the hell shouldn't the Democrats get a little of that action too? If we are casting the role of "President" I'm definitely going for the face that belongs on Mt Rushmore rather than the one that appears on the cover of MAD Magazine.

This is the way it is, boys and girls, and while I'm not thrilled, I think it's long past time that Democrats got with the program. The TV program.

Smite Me

Josh 'n Matt are all shocked 'n shit that the Bush administration is reportedly blocking an Israeli pullback from Gaza until after the elections.

I guess they forgot that our esteemed leader informed the players long ago that he was on a tight evil-smiting schedule and they had to move fast:

"God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

Mideast peace will just have to wait. The elections have come and God has told him to strike the Democrats. He has no choice. He'll get back to them next December after he smites the sodomites and takes a little R&R in Crawford.


Over at Pandagon: Kerry vs. The Extremists, Ezra very wisely points out that Nader is probably not someone to be ignored, no matter how much we might like to. As I wrote last week, I think we ignore him again at our peril.

For some reason I'm reading a lot of overly optimistic commentary about this election that strikes me a naive. We have a good chance to win, but there is absolutely no reason to assume that it's a slam dunk, either on the basis of poll numbers, money or enthusiasm. Both sides are loaded for bear. The smart move is to assume that this election is going to be very close and strategize accordingly.

I know that people don't want to hear this, but Uncle Karl has a mountain of money and this being America, that mountain of money is power. And they're not just using it for ads; they are building a turn-out operation the likes of which we've never seen. He has the power of his office to get Judy Botox to cut away at a moments notice to cover his boring flag draped stump speech every single day, replete with canned cultlike shrieks of approval and hand picked children of color. He can control world events in ways that we don't even want to think about. Incumbency is very, very powerful.

All this means is that despite the fact that he is a manipulable moron and a demonstrable failure, he'll be able to command the loyalty of his 45 percent no matter what he does. And, if they play their cards right he'll get a few dumb swing voters who think they are watching American Idol.

Ralph is polling right now at 6%. I'm sure that's too high and he'll come nowhere close to that. But, he will continue to cause trouble and he'll continue to have salience with some who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for Kerry on idealistic grounds. If this election is close --- and I believe that we should plan for it to be --- then it is important to deal with Ralph. If we are going to fight for every vote, all the way down to the precinct level, it's foolish to ignore someone who could possibly get half a million votes, a fraction of which could make the difference.

Ezra's advice is for Kerry to use Nader as a liberal foil. That was my first thought as well. It can only help Kerry look more moderate for Nader to be in the race. The strategy here is that we could possibly get more swing voters by running against both Nader and Bush as extremists.

On the other hand, maybe we could try to convert the Naderites. They were impossible to deal with during 2000, but perhaps we are dealing with a different phenomenon this time. It may be that they could be persuaded with a better knowledge of John Kerry's history of fighting the Republican proclivity for supporting death squads and arming dictators around the world. And maybe if they knew that Kerry was the reigning expert (and senate prosecutor) on the single most corrupt multinational, bipartisan big money scam in history, BCCI, they might be persuaded that he isn't such an establishment tool after all.

Of course, Nader supporters generally demand that a politican be a sort of Knight errant, pure of heart and spirit in every way. So, perhaps the best way to deal with this problem would be to expose their candidate to the same harsh spotlight they shine on Democrats. It wouldn't be pretty, but it might be effective.

Josh Marshall quoted a Gore insider friend of his as saying:

We took Nader too lightly in 00. We didn't challenge him. We didn't point out his sizable personal fortune, his complete lack of assistance on any environmental cause for decades, his sources of funding. Oh progressives do not make this mistake twice in your lifetime or Nader's.

Whether that would convert any votes to Kerry, either swing voters from the middle or shocked and disappointed Naderites from the left, is another question. And that is the question that must be answered.

There are ways to deal with Ralph. But we must deal with him. We can't afford to leave anything to chance.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Passionate Denial

Bob Sommerby is defending "The Passion" this week and I don't have a lot to say about it because I haven't seen, and have no intention of seeing, the film. However, I do find it interesting that Sommerby quotes Gibson as saying unequivocally that, contrary to his father's views, he is not a Holocaust denier:

SAWYER: In that New York Times Magazine interview, [Gibson's father] seemed to be questioning the scope of the Holocaust, skeptical that six million Jews had died. So what does Gibson think?

GIBSON: Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do, absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

SAWYER: And you believe there were millions, six million?


SAWYER: I think people wondered if your father's views were your views on this.

GIBSON: Their whole agenda here, my detractors, is to drive a wedge between me and my father. And it's not going to happen. I love him. He's my father.

To be clear, Sommerby was responding to a correspondent who wondered why nobody had ever asked Gibson right out if he was a Holocaust denier. He isn't trying to defend Gibson's views, per se, although he does say that he didn't find the film anti-Semitic.

Again, I haven't seen the movie so I have no idea if it is or not. But, I did happen to read this Peggy Nooner interview with Gibson in Reader's Digest while I was standing in the grocery store line and his answer was just a little bit more "nuanced":

PN: I read that your father has some very conservative religious beliefs and that he has questioned some of the accepted versions of the Holocaust.

Gibson: My dad taught me my faith and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life. He lost his mother at two years of age. He lost his father at 15. He went through the Depression. He signed up for World War Two, served his country fighting the forces of fascism. Came back, worked very hard physically, raised a family, put a roof over my head, clothed me, fed me, taught me my faith, loved me. I love him back. So I'll slug it out until my heart is black and blue if anyone ever tries to hurt him.

PN: The Holocaust happened, right?

Gibson: I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. World War Two killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933.

I don't know about you, but that sounds to me like a guy who doesn't think that the systematic genocide of Jews in WWII was much of a big deal. Moreover, like his father in the New York Times Magazine article that Sawyer references, he is clearly questioning the "scope" of the Holocaust. He even has some handy statistics to back him up as if he's given it quite a bit of thought and has made the point before.

"Some" Jews were killed in concentration camps, sure. War is hell. Atrocities happen. What a bummer.

I can't say absolutely that he is anti-semite based on this comment, but it's not much of a stretch to make that assumption. No matter what, however, it's probably a mistake to be too awfully impressed with his theological scholarship. The guy is clearly a cretinous airhead.

"Narrowin' the Noose"

I have been on the case of this little group of Bush administration dirty tricksters called the Office of Global Communications(OGC) formerly the Coalition Information Center (CIC), for over a year and when the Plame thing was first revealed, this guy, Jim Wilkinson, was who I first suspected. When the story first leaked last July, I wrote:

It would be very wrong of me to speculate wildly that the infamous smear operation of the South Carolina primary that is now working right in the White House "communications shop" could possibly be behind this (or, more trivially but just as telling, behind the Drudge Report expose of the "Gay Canadian" reporter.)


I'm certain that these same people who now work extremely closely with George W. Bush and his advisors would never resort to such dishonorable and undignified behavior in the sacred office of the President of the United States. It's merely a coincidence that the tactics are so very similar.

According to Newsday today:

Also sought in the wide-ranging document requests contained in three grand jury subpoenas to the Executive Office of President George W. Bush are records created in July by the White House Iraq Group, a little-known internal task force established in August 2002 to create a strategy to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

So, it now turns out that the "Iraq Group," the supervisory marketing arm of the Iraq march to war is in the sights of the Plame grand jury. Jim Wilkinson is the one member of the administration who is simultaneously a member of the OGC and the Iraq Group.

The thing to remember about both the OGC and the Iraq Group is that they are not just spin artists. They are propagandists. They were very involved with Alisdair Campbell in the "sexing up" of the WMD threat, so it will be very interesting to see if these documents are turned over without a lot of national security hoo-hah.

There is a big story in those documents, perhaps much bigger even than Plame, although the subpoenaes are only for July 2003 so they won't reveal the really interesting stuff about the blatent WMD lies. Because, not to go into too much tin-foil hat territory, there is a very interesting story to be told about the unprecedented "PR" sell-job that the White House coordinated to convince the American (and British) people that Saddam was a "grave and gathering" danger.

Many of you have probably read the paper written by Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College ( in PDF here) in which he claims to have found more than 50 instances of demonstrably false stories planted in the press in the run up to the war and charges the OCG and the Iraq Group as the culprits. This overview of the paper, originally published in The Edge brings up something quite interesting that ties it into the Plame affair:

Colonel Sam Gardiner (USAF, Ret.) has identified 50 false news stories created and leaked by a secretive White House propaganda apparatus. Bush administration officials are probably having second thoughts about their decision to play hardball with former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Joe Wilson is a contender. When you play hardball with Joe, you better be prepared to deal with some serious rebound.

After Wilson wrote a critically timed New York Times essay exposing as false George W. Bush's claim that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, high officials in the White House contacted several Washington reporters and leaked the news that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.

Wilson isn't waiting for George W. Bush to hand over the perp. In mid-October, the former ambassador began passing copies of an embarrassing internal report to reporters across the US. The-Edge has received copies of this document.

The 56-page investigation was assembled by USAF Colonel (Ret.) Sam Gardiner. "Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II" identifies more than 50 stories about the Iraq war that were faked by government propaganda artists in a covert campaign to "market" the military invasion of Iraq.


According to Gardiner, "It was not bad intelligence" that lead to the quagmire in Iraq, "It was an orchestrated effort [that] began before the war" that was designed to mislead the public and the world. Gardiner's research lead him to conclude that the US and Britain had conspired at the highest levels to plant "stories of strategic influence" that were known to be false.

The Times of London described the $200-million-plus US operation as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein."

The multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign run out of the White House and Defense Department was, in Gardiner's final assessment "irresponsible in parts" and "might have been illegal."

"Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to the right decisions," Gardiner explains. Consequently, "Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage." For the first time in US history, "we allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs... [W]hat has happened is that information warfare, strategic influence, [and] strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies."

Joe Wilson apparently knew that this propaganda machine inside the White House had something to do with his wife's outing if he was handing out this inflammatory report by Sam Gardiner.

It could have been any one of the Iraq Group miscreants who leaked Plame's identity. I still think that one of them is very likely to have been Jim Wilkinson. He was, after all, privy to the highest levels of information. As Gardiner notes in the paper:

One of the things that struck Gardiner as revealing was the fact that, as Newsweek reported: "as soon as Lynch was in the air, [the Joint Operations Center] phoned Jim Wilkinson, the top civilian communications aide to CENTCOM Gen. Tommy Franks."

It struck Gardiner as inexplicable that the first call after Lynch's rescue would go to the Director of Strategic Communications, the White House's top representative on the ground.

As far as the honor and integrity of these fine people, we have only to look, again, at Jim Wilkinson, strutting around in a phony uniform (just like his boss) who told a member of the press in Iraq:

"I have a brother who is in a Hummer at the front, so don't talk to me about too much fucking air-conditioning." "A lot of people don't like you." "Don't fuck with things you don't understand." "This is fucking war, asshole." "No more questions for you."

Presumably, he toned down his goosestep as he walked away.

Joe Wilson has a new book coming out in May. I can hardly wait.


CNN has Ann Coulter on Blitzer's show defending the president's ad camapign. Ann Coulter. The hideous, evil slag who just two weeks ago claimed that Max Cleland was not a war hero:

Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman ? or what Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.

This is, naturally, a lie.

Ed Gillespie must be sorely desperate if the RNC has to resort to being serviced by the saber toothed harpy of West Palm Beach. Too bad Ailene Wuornos isn't available. She would have made a helluva campaign spokewoman, too.

This liar should never be allowed to comment on the air without the "journalist" host of the show confronting her about her years of outrageous lying and slanderous insults. (George W. Bush should also be asked whether he stands by her statements. That seems to be required for Democrats, anyway.)

Somebody ought to tell Wolfie a thing or two about the GOP spokespersons he has on his show.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

King Mook Has Been Radicalized

Whether it's true, nobody yet knows. But, the fact that Howard Stern is telling his loyal radio audience that he was fired by Clear Channel because of his antipathy for Bush is good news for our side. And, it wouldn't be the first time Clear Channel did it.

From Salon:

From the moment last week when Clear Channel Communications suspended Howard Stern's syndicated morning show from the company's radio stations, denouncing it as "vulgar, offensive and insulting," speculation erupted that the move had more to do with Stern's politics than his raunchy shock-jock shtick.

Stern's loyal listeners, Clear Channel foes and many Bush administration critics immediately reached the same conclusion: The notorious jock was yanked off the air because he had recently begun trashing Bush, and Bush-friendly Clear Channel used the guise of "indecency" to shut him up. That the content of Stern's crude show hadn't suddenly changed, but his stance on Bush had, gave the theory more heft. That, plus his being pulled off the air in key electoral swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

This week, Stern himself went on the warpath, weaving in among his familiar monologues about breasts and porn actresses accusations that Texas-based Clear Channel -- whose Republican CEO, Lowry Mays, is extremely close to both George W. Bush and Bush's father -- canned him because he deviated from the company's pro-Bush line. "I gotta tell you something," Stern told his listeners. "There's a lot of people saying that the second that I started saying, 'I think we gotta get Bush out of the presidency,' that's when Clear Channel banged my ass outta here. Then I find out that Clear Channel is such a big contributor to President Bush, and in bed with the whole Bush administration, I'm going, 'Maybe that's why I was thrown off: because I don't like the way the country is leaning too much to the religious right.' And then, bam! Let's get rid of Stern. I used to think, 'Oh, I can't believe that.' But that's it! That's what's going on here! I know it! I know it!"

Stern's been relentless all week, detailing the close ties between Clear Channel executives and the Bush administration, and insisting that political speech, not indecency, got him in trouble with the San Antonio broadcasting giant. If he hadn't turned against Bush, Stern told his listeners, he'd still be heard on Clear Channel stations.


Walker, South Carolina Broadcasters Association's 2002 radio personality of the year, is suing Clear Channel for violating a state law that forbids employers from punishing employees who express politically unpopular beliefs in the workplace.

"On our show we talked about politics and current events," she tells Salon. "There were two conservative partners and me, the liberal, and that was fine. But as it became clear we were going to war, and I kept charging the war was not justified, I was reprimanded by [Clear Channel] management that I needed to tone that down. Basically I was told to shut up." She says she was fired on April 7, 2003.

Phoenix talk show host Charles Goyette says he was kicked off his afternoon drive-time program at Clear Channel's KFYI because of his sharp criticism of the war on Iraq. A self-described Goldwater Republican who was selected "man of the year" by the Republican Party in his local county in 1988, Goyette -- more recently named best talk show host of 2003 by the Phoenix New Times -- says his years with Clear Channel had been among his best in broadcasting. "The trouble started during the long march to war," he says.

While the rest of the station's talk lineup was in a pro-war "frenzy," Goyette was inviting administration critics like former weapons inspector Scott Ritter on his show, and discussing complaints from the intelligence community that the analysis on Iraq was being cooked to support the White House's pro-war agenda. This didn't go over well with his bosses, Goyette says: "I was the Baby Ruth bar in the punch bowl."

Soon, according to Goyette, he was having "toe-to-toe confrontations" with his local Clear Channel managers off the air about his opposition to the war. "One of my bosses said in a tone of exasperation, 'I feel like I'm managing the Dixie Chicks,'" Goyette recalls. "I didn't fit in with the Clear Channel corporate culture."

Writing in the February issue of American Conservative magazine, Goyette put it this way: "Why only a couple of months after my company picked up the option on my contract for another year in the fifth-largest city in the United States, did it suddenly decide to relegate me to radio Outer Darkness? The answer lies hidden in the oil-and-water incompatibility of these two seemingly disconnected phrases: 'Criticizing Bush' and 'Clear Channel.'"


At least one radio pro suggests Stern's sudden turn against Bush could prove costly to the administration during this election year. "Absolutely it should be of concern for the White House," says Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, a nonpartisan trade magazine serving talk radio. "Howard Stern will be an influential force for the public and for other talk show hosts during the election. Despite the shock jock thing, Stern has credibility. He's looked upon as an honest person.

I think he was probably dumped because Clear only had him on 6 stations and they could make their point without losing much money. But, it was a political decision whether it was designed to support the wing-nut agenda or because of Stern's "incorrect" opinion of Bush. It's really the same thing.

The only thing that matters is that Stern is pissed and he's connecting the dots for his audience. It's another weapon in our arsenal. This election isn't going to be polite anyway and as we know, radio is hugely influential. It's helpful to have have somebody with a large and loyal audience openly on our side for a change.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Back In The Tent

I'm relieved. Primaries are tough. It's never comfortable fighting among your philosophical brethren even when you know it's absolutely vital to give the candidates an exhibition season. This one's been a doozy. It's the most memorable primary since 1980, maybe even 1968, despite the early finish.

I'm glad to see that the candidates have been so gracious as the field has been winnowed these last few weeks. They have shown a lot of class by endorsing the winner and pledging their support for the party. In fact, I'm impressed by our bench, generally. It may be the best group of candidates I've seen in my lifetime in one presidential nominating race. It's nice to know that we'll have the necessary talent available to put immediately to work undoing the damage that Junior and the Retreads have caused in virtually every sector of the government . (The sheer volume of destruction they've managed to create in three short years is amazing.)

But then Democrats have often been called upon to clean up the messes that Republicans make of our foreign and economic policy. It seems to be our special burden. And, if we are lucky we are able to advance the cause of progress a bit along the way.

The Democratic Party is on fire right now, thanks to this primary and the perfidy of the opposition. If we can stick together for another eight months, the GOP is going to have to raise the dead to beat our turnout. (Don't think they won't try to do just that, if that's what it takes.)

Now the REAL campaign begins. Good.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Beat Me, Hurt Me

Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis to appear jointly on 'Tonight Show'

Is there anyone out there who believes that even one Republican would support Davis if the shoe were on the other foot? Jayzuz, will we ever learn?

Empowering Schwarzenneger like this is a recipe for disaster for California Democrats. As I wrote on American Street, he is hugely popular and is going to put every bit of his popularity on the line for George W. Bush. I'm not saying it will work, but he can guarantee that Kerry is going to have to spend money and time in super expensive California, which he should not have to do.

Boxer, Feinstein and even John Burton are giving Arnold big slurpy BJ's and lending support to these two propositions as if they were sacred texts from Mt Sinai. It's ridiculous. These propositions are band aids at best and simple GOP propaganda at worst. They are not going to solve the budget crisis but they are certainly going to cement the dominance of the Cult of Arnold in the electorate.

The Republicans always fight, even when they don't have to. We, on the other hand, say "thank you sir, may I have another." We have given up the moral high ground on the undemocratic recall travesty and are actively empowering the cyborg they used to seize power. It's pathetic.

Sunday, February 29, 2004


Am I the only one who thought that Elizabeth Bumiller made an ass of herself this morning in the NY debate? I know they probably told her to try to keep it moving, but she certainly seemed to relish interrupting with what were usually non-sequitors. She was inappropriately hostile, as if she were upset that the candidates were not giving her proper respect. It was odd, I thought. She should keep her day job as a Heather because she certainly isn't ready for day time.

Not that the others were great. Dan Rather looked as if he needed a double shot of espresso. I don't know what's happened to that guy. At one time he was right up there with Woodward and Bernstein in exposing a corrupt president. He personally turned poor Ron Zeigler into a walking rolaids commercial.

Oh wait. He 's still just like Woodward and Bernstein. Just like them he's part of a fat and flaccid establishment press that is paid to write historical fiction about Junior's bravery and go on television and profess to be willing to sign on to whatever the president wants him to do. I forgot.

Friday, February 27, 2004

The Price Of Allowing An Idiot To Be President

Ron Suskind has a mind blowing article up on Slate called The Free-Lunch Bunch - The Bush team's secret plan to "reform" Social Security.

During the 2000 campaign, candidate George W. Bush seemed particularly confident about his ability to pay for Social Security reform. Despite independent estimates that creating the kind of "voluntarily" private accounts he envisioned could cost more than $1 trillion, Bush consistently took the position that he could reform Social Security for free, without undermining promises to baby boomers anticipating retirement over the next several decades.

Why was Bush so sure of himself? According to documents unearthed yesterday from the trove of 19,000 files given to me by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and a bit of additional probing, candidate Bush and later President Bush believed in the "Lindsey Plan." These documents show us what the president thought about Social Security reform at the only moment over the past three years—the fall of 2001—when he was fully engaged with this issue.

Larry Lindsey, Bush's tutor on economics during the campaign and later chairman of the White House's National Economic Council, devised a scheme based on creative accounting principles. Essentially, it proposed that the government would issue substantial new debt to sustain old-style benefits. This debt would be serviced and paid down by confiscating revenues from the higher returns from those opting for new-style personal accounts

For the first nine months of the administration, this was called the "free-lunch" plan—a painless way to convert to a blended, private-accounts model. Inside of the Treasury Department and the Council of Economic Advisers, however, officials were befuddled by it. Lindsey seemed to have never called upon analysts inside the Social Security Administration to run the traps on his idea. Treasury and CEA did—and the numbers didn't even come close to working out. But that didn't stop Lindsey, or the president, from believing in and promoting the "free-lunch" plan. These two memos on RonSuskind.com, which have never before been released, show what Bush and others in the White House were actually thinking about Social Security reform.


In the post-9/11 environment, the report vanished with little notice. But should the president take Greenspan's recent suggestion and instigate a debate about Social Security again, we will now have some idea what he means by "reform."

Junior's courtiers are magical thinkers. Bush himself is not nearly intelligent enough to understand this stuff and he trusts all the wrong people. His vaunted instinct is nothing more than emotional responses to appeals to his vanity. How is it possible for one administration to find an important position for every single nutjob in the party?

Oh that's right:

(This discusses foreign policy, but the total cock-up in economic policy is the result of the same forces.)

...Cheney was put in charge of the presidential transition (the period between the election in November and the accession to office in January). Cheney used this opportunity to stack the administration with his hardline allies. Instead of becoming the de facto president in foreign policy, as many had expected, Secretary of State Powell found himself boxed in by Cheney's right-wing network, including Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Bolton and Libby.

The neo-cons took advantage of Bush's ignorance and inexperience. Unlike his father, a Second World War veteran who had been ambassador to China, director of the CIA and vice-president, George W was a thinly educated playboy who had failed repeatedly in business before becoming the governor of Texas, a largely ceremonial position (the state's lieutenant governor has more power). His father is essentially a north-eastern, moderate Republican; George W, raised in west Texas, absorbed the Texan cultural combination of machismo, anti-intellectualism and overt religiosity. The son of upper-class Episcopalian parents, he converted to southern fundamentalism in a midlife crisis. Fervent Christian Zionism, along with an admiration for macho Israeli soldiers that sometimes coexists with hostility to liberal Jewish-American intellectuals, is a feature of the southern culture.

Let's face it. He's a childlike man who is manipulated by people who make him feel powerful.