Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Ashcroft Recuses Himself From Leak Investigation (washingtonpost.com)

He has finally done something right. They should name a street after this guy!
Thursday, December 25, 2003
Holy Crap!

The source said that at the time of the State of the Union speech, there was no organized system at the White House to vet intelligence, and the informal system that was followed did not work in the case of that speech. The White House has since established procedures for handling intelligence in presidential speeches by including a CIA officer in the speechwriting process.

Yeah, you read that correctly. Previous administrations have had such an "organized system at the White House to vet intelligence." They called it the National Security Advisor. There is no end to the distress brought on by the fact that so many Americans care more about partisan points and hating their neighbors because of differences on non-starter wedge issues than about the basic competency of the people tasked with their security. What, exactly, does Condi Rice do all day?

Let's take this back to a David Brooks editorial from a few days ago (my entry here). Brooks' crux: that George Bush is more qualified to be President than Howard Dean because Bush is an ideologue and Dean is a problem-solver. While this apparently makes sense to Brooks, one can only hope that repeated fuckups by incompetent officials like Condi Rice will lead a majority of Americans to see thiings differently.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Washington Goes to War (with Howard Dean)

Eric Alterman both catalogues and refutes the major pundit-driven attacks on Howard Dean. Now that the media's hasty rush to discredit Dean's statement that Hussein's capture did not make Americans any safer has been shut up by our lovely new orange alert, Americans might be ready to see the other major anti-Dean lies debunked. As Alterman--himself a recovering Kerry shill--rightly points out, the insecurity and fear driving these Washington insiders to attack Dean isn't even being concealed below the surface.

Saddam Hussein may be out of his spider hole, but Washington's real enemy is still at large. His name: "Howard Dean"--and nobody in America poses a bigger threat to the city's sense of its own importance.

No excerpt does the piece justice. Read on...
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
For Vietnam Vet Anthony Zinni, Another War on Shaky Territory

The WaPo has in-depth profile of retired Marine General Anthony Zinni.

It is one of the more unusual political journeys to come out of the American experience with Iraq. Zinni still talks like an old-school Marine -- a big-shouldered, weight-lifting, working-class Philadelphian whose father emigrated from Italy's Abruzzi region, and who is fond of quoting the wisdom of his fictitious "Uncle Guido, the plumber." Yet he finds himself in the unaccustomed role of rallying the antiwar camp, attacking the policies of the president and commander in chief whom he had endorsed in the 2000 election.

"Iraq is in serious danger of coming apart because of lack of planning, underestimating the task and buying into a flawed strategy," he says. "The longer we stubbornly resist admitting the mistakes and not altering our approach, the harder it will be to pull this chestnut out of the fire."
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Democrats Face the Wand

For the Democratic presidential candidates, it is hard enough hearing accusations that they are soft on terrorists. But should they be suspected of being terrorists?

Apparently so, since they are constantly getting frisked at airports. It does not matter that the screeners often recognize the candidates. Unless they charter their own planes (as Howard Dean and John Kerry usually do), the Democrats hoping to become commander in chief must repeatedly take off their shoes and stand patiently as the screeners wave the wand from head to toe and dig through carry-on luggage....

The candidates presumably get picked on because their campaigning often requires them to buy a one-way ticket at the last minute. That is popularly assumed to be the kind of ticket that sets off alarms at the T.S.A. The agency refuses to identify any of the criteria used by its screening system, much less explain why terrorists capable of plotting the destruction of an airplane would not be smart enough to buy a round-trip ticket ahead of time.
Nation's Threat Level Raised to Orange

But I thought America was safer now that Saddam Hussein has been captured? I'm so confused. If Howard Dean said we aren't safer, and he's a rotten commie liar, than that must mean we are safer, right? But now Tom Ridge tells us that we aren't safer. Is he a dirty lib'ruhl like Dean? Bush needs to fire him and replace him with someone willing to tell the truth about our newfound freedom from Saddam's imminent threat. Whatever is happening here, I'm sure it's ultimately Hillary's fault.
Napster Runs for President in '04

The elusive piece of this phenomenon is cultural: the Internet. Rather than compare Dr. Dean to McGovern or Goldwater, it may make more sense to recall Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It was not until F.D.R.'s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force. J.F.K. did the same for television, not only by vanquishing the camera-challenged Richard Nixon during the 1960 debates but by replacing the Eisenhower White House's prerecorded TV news conferences (which could be cleaned up with editing) with live broadcasts. Until Kennedy proved otherwise, most of Washington's wise men thought, as The New York Times columnist James Reston wrote in 1961, that a spontaneous televised press conference was "the goofiest idea since the Hula Hoop."

Such has been much of the reaction to the Dean campaign's breakthrough use of its chosen medium. In Washington, the Internet is still seen mainly as a high-velocity disseminator of gossip (Drudge) and rabidly partisan sharpshooting by self-publishing excoriators of the left and right. When used by campaigns, the Internet becomes a synonym for "the young," "geeks," "small contributors" and "upper middle class," as if it were an eccentric electronic cousin to direct-mail fund-raising run by the acne-prone members of a suburban high school's computer club. In other words, the political establishment has been blindsided by the Internet's growing sophistication as a political tool — and therefore blindsided by the Dean campaign — much as the music industry establishment was by file sharing and the major movie studios were by "The Blair Witch Project," the amateurish under-$100,000 movie that turned viral marketing on the Web into a financial mother lode.

The condescending reaction to the Dean insurgency by television's political correspondents can be reminiscent of that hilarious party scene in the movie "Singin' in the Rain," where Hollywood's silent-era elite greets the advent of talkies with dismissive bafflement. "The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool," intoned Carl Cameron of Fox News last summer as he reported that the runner-up group to Dean supporters on the meetup.com site was witches. "If you want to be a Deaniac," ABC News's Claire Shipman said this fall, "you've got to know the lingo," as she dutifully gave her viewers an uninformed definition of "blogging."...

From Mr. Trippi's perspective, "The Internet puts back into the campaign what TV took out — people."
Libyan deal shows need for shift in U.S. diplomatic tactics, analysts say

I realize that in the up-is-down world of Bush administration foreign policy, a diplomacy-driven disarming is somehow seen as an affirmation of the rejection of diplomacy, but noone has told this to the Carnegie Institute just yet:

"The president is trying hard to portray this as a victory for his strategy," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's nonproliferation project. "But when you look at this, it's almost the opposite of the Bush doctrine."

Announcing the Libya deal, Bush invoked the Iraq war that brought down Saddam Hussein as he issued a flat warning of "unwelcome consequences" for countries that do not follow Libya's lead.

White House officials promoted Friday's Libya announcement as vindication of Bush's decision to make war on Saddam, even though banned weapons, Bush's prime public reason for waging it, have not been found.

British officials say that perhaps just as important was the long diplomatic process of getting Libyan leader Gadhafi to take responsibility for the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Gadhafi initiated the weapons talks in March, amid the buildup in the Persian Gulf area to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The overtures came just after Libya agreed to a $2.7 billion settlement for the Pan Am bombing.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
The Death of Horatio Alger

A great Krugman piece on the impact of wealth inequality.
Friday, December 19, 2003

Rather than take responsibility for our common future, Bush has shifted costs to states and communities, who then pass them on to you. That’s the Bush Tax.

Across the country, people are seeing their property taxes skyrocket. That’s the Bush Tax.

State college tuition at 4-year schools has increased this year by an average of $579 nationwide. That’s the Bush Tax.

States and local government have cut vital services. That’s the Bush Tax.

We’re all having to pay more for less. That’s the Bush Tax.

Even worse, our children and grandchildren will be paying the Bush Tax. Bush promised, "I came to this office to solve problems and not pass them on to future presidents and future generations." Yet as a direct consequence of his tax policy, over six years an American family of four will take on $52,000 more in its share of the national debt. That’s the Bush Tax.
Krugman: Telling It Right

But even if all that happens, we should be deeply disturbed by the history of this war. For its message seems to be that as long as you wave the flag convincingly enough, it doesn't matter whether you tell the truth.

By now, we've become accustomed to the fact that the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — the principal public rationale for the war — hasn't become a big political liability for the administration. That's bad enough. Even more startling is the news from one of this week's polls: despite the complete absence of evidence, 53 percent of Americans believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, up from 43 percent before his capture. The administration's long campaign of guilt by innuendo, it seems, is still working.

The war's more idealistic supporters do, I think, feel queasy about all this. That's why they lay so much stress on their hopes for democracy in Iraq. They're not just looking for a happy ending; they're looking for moral redemption for a war fought on false pretenses.
Snake in the Grass?

Here's a link to a Metafilter Post that I put together about the Bush campaign's recent move to define themselves as sort of grassroots underdogs. Funny stuff.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Kerry Mortgages Home to Keep Campaign Afloat

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) announced yesterday that he is putting $850,000 of his own money into his presidential campaign and will put more in as soon as he gets a mortgage on his home on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Wow. Is Dick Gephardt going to have to pawn his TV?
Keeping the Promise of America: Creating a New Social Contract for America's Working Families | December 18, 2003

Exactly zero cable news channels decided to carry Howard Dean's major domestic policy address today, but there were important stories like the guy in a helicopter above Michael Jackson's house, MSNBC's in-depth analysis of the Golden Globe nominees. FOX News at least paid some attention--choosing the revolutionary approach of showing him speaking siliently in the corner of the screen while their studio crew called Dean a conspiracy theorist because he wants to know what role Saudi Arabia played in 9/11.

In any case, the text of the speech is now available. One line really stood out for me, not because it was an important part of the speech but because it gives a key insight into Dean's political philosophy:

Foreign investors now control our currency. We are running a credit card economy.

Balanced budgets matter. They lead to economic growth. Social progressives should be fiscal conservatives, because only fiscal responsibility guarantees that the American people will have the government they need when they truly need it.

Dean also hints that he will soon make available his specifics on two of his most-hyped policy plans: agressive protection of and increased availability of capital for small business, and top-down tax reform.

Small Business:
Let me be clear: My program is pro-business and pro-jobs. It will help small businesses and emerging businesses. Entrepreneurs built America. They have always understood the promise of our nation, and seized the opportunity.
Small businesses create more jobs than big business. They’re part of our communities – they don’t move their headquarters or their jobs offshore. Fourteen million American women own small businesses – we must do more to help them grow and succeed.

Small businesses have the right to expect equal access to capital. I have proposed the creation of a major new financing tool for American small businesses, built on the model of the home mortgage finance system that has made our nation a leader in home ownership and the envy of the world.
Business also has the right to expect that government will help keep the nation’s economic engine focused on the future. This means investments for the future not only in our nation’s human capital, but also in the research, science and technology that builds a common base of knowledge for the future.
For instance, America should be a leader in developing and using alternative energy. It’s a major industry ready to take off – ready to create thousands of jobs and major sources of power. Whether it’s wind power, or solar energy, or hydropower, or other new technologies, all we need to do is open the market, take away the old subsidies and corporate welfare, and let them compete.

The New Social Contract I am proposing will include fundamental tax reform to ensure that every wealthy American individual and corporation is paying their fair share of taxes – and that the tax burden on working families is reduced.
Not paying your fair share is equivalent to turning your back on being an American. And that’s what American companies that move to offshore shelters are doing. They’re avoiding $70 billion a year in taxes – enough money to bring a real tax cut to every family.

Better and fairer tax enforcement could collect another $30 billion a year from known tax cheats. Closing corporate loopholes and ending unnecessary tax subsidies would bring $100 billion into the US Treasury each year – money that the rest of us are paying today.

I want to get rid of the Bush tax program and repeal the “Bush Tax”. Let’s start over with a real tax reform plan to make the code fairer and simpler, based on a few simple principles:

• We must eliminate abusive tax shelters and crack down on corporate tax evaders.
• Corporations and inherited wealth should pay their fair share of taxes.
• Individuals and small businesses should spend less time dealing with taxes, and the tax code must be simplified.

A great disservice that Republican talking points have done to American political discourse is their forced conflation of small business and big business. The juxtaposition of this tax position and this small business plan show that not only are the interests of megacorporations like Wal Mart far different from those of a local construction business or a family farm, but that in affirming the distinction between the two we are also identifying an engine for moving the economy forward.

The more that Dean talks tought about corporate reform the more I hope that he is talking with Elliot Spitzer about a cabinet position. The conventional wisdon is that he would make a great Attorney General, but I'd like to see him as the head of the SEC. Yikes!
Senators were told Iraqi weapons could hit U.S.

This story is nowhere in the national news. Not a shock, I guess.

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

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

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

The White House directed questions about the matter to the Department of Defense. Defense officials had no comment on Nelson's claim.

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

"They have not found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability," Nelson said.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
18% of American Voters Feel that the US is Safer after Saddam's Capture scroll down a bit

It's rare these days that I find myself in the political majority. Granted, polling data is always suspect, but at the least this checks out ideologically: CBS' was among the many news and editorial outlets participating in the pundit-driven establishment of the unsubstantiated untruth that capturing Hussein was somehow going to change the fact that our primary national security threat is from non-state actors such as al-Qaeda, as well the nations that support them, such as our "ally" Saudi Arabia.

When Diane Sawyer asked W. what he thought of the administration's pre-war claims about vast arsenals of WMD compared to their current claims that Saddam may have had weapons programs or that he intended to, Bush responded that he didn't see the difference. For the first time in a long time--and ironically just following an important development in the capture of Saddam Hussein--it looks like a majority of Americans likely understand that it was complete horseshit to conflate the war in Iraq wiht the broader "War on Terrorism."

And if you look at Iraq, the current situation is really entirely of our own creation: the complete non-existence of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction make clear that the reason we went to war--to disarm Hussein--was misguided at best. Now we are fighting what appears to be a nationalist insurgency (which obviouly wouldn't be there without a foreign occupier) and foreign terrorists who are dropping by just because we're in the neighborhood. And, we're bankrupting the United States while doing nothing to ensure that we don't just bail on Iraq after a while like we did in Afghanistan.

In my mind, even if all of these events weren't more or less predictable a year ago, the above just underscores the long-held sentiment that war ought to be declared to meet a real threat, and as a last resort.
Dean leads in Pennsylvania, holds Bush under 50%

Establishment Democrats like Dick Gephardt have tries to smear Dean with the mantle of "unelectability" ever since he began to pull ahead of the pack. For a while, a lot of polling data suggested that this may be correct, but it was never clear how much the poll result just reflected the fact that the other candidates were more well-known before beginning their campaigns.

In any case, that seems to be slipping. The latest Pennsylvania poll not only shows Dean with a commanding lead against Democrats, but shows him doing better against Bush than any other candidate--actually holding Bush under 50%. And Pennsylvania Democrats are typically fairly centrist.

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean is pulling ahead of the Democratic pack among Pennsylvania voters and is the only candidate to keep President Bush's support under 50%, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Quinnipiac University poll shows Dean, the former Vermont governor, holding a double-digit lead in the Keystone State, the nation's fifth-largest electoral prize. Dean nabbed 28% of the 1,092 registered voters surveyed. Undecided accounted for 18% of the vote — more than those supporting any other candidate.

Seventeen percent supported Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Dick Gephardt pulled 10%, Wesley Clark collected 9%, and Sen. John Kerry had 7%, the poll showed.

Two months ago, Dean held a mere 5% of support among state voters.

Bush led Dean by a margin of 49-43%. The president scored 50% against Lieberman, Kerry and Clark, and 51% against Gephardt, the poll shows.

It's worth noting that those who have echoed the "Dean is unelectable" mantra are largely the same Democrats who have made a living by losing elections right and left in the last few years. The political establishment and the media both are about two steps behind the Dean campaign at all times. They may be late to the game, but I think the party and the press are beginning to see that in fact Dean is the only candidate who is electable.
And They're Off!.

The American Prospect has this handy state-by-state chronological guide to the Democratic primaries and caucuses. A worthy book mark.

It is funny, though, to finally finish the Byzantine maze of which-state-does-what-when and read this:

When the battle's done, or sooner, the party's 715 unelected "superdelegates" take the field to shoot the wounded and anoint the winner—historically, the candidate with the plurality of delegates. Should that candidate be Dean, and should his lead be very slim, the superdelegates—chiefly members of Congress and the Democratic National Committee—may go for the second-place candidate if the conventional wisdom deems him the stronger challenger to Bush. But if Dean emerges with a plurality of any size, a move by the superdelegates to derail him would surely cause a civil war inside the party—something the superdelegates would never risk.

In another Prospect article, Matthew Yglesias addresses the spectacle of the Superdelegates facilitating a sort of coup at the convention.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Ashcroft's 2000 Senate Campaign Must Pay Fine

Apparently, even breaking the law wasn't enough to help John Ashcroft defeat a dead guy.
Bush’s Brilliant Saddam Ploy

Egbert F. Bhatty writes:
Whatever else one might think of President Bush, one has to admire his brilliance as a politician.

He has reduced the war on “terror” to a simple equation. Victory in Iraq equals victory in the war on “terror.” Of course, it’s not that simple. What about Osama bin Laden? What about Al Qaeda? What about international Islamic militancy that strikes at will from Bali to Baghdad to Morocco?

But, Bush has cleverly preempted that debate. He, as well as all the members of his Administration, have only talked of Iraq – and Iraq only. The military embeds on TV, and the talking heads from the Think Tanks, who should know better, have uncritically swallowed this Bush ploy.

The capture of President Saddam Hussein sent them into rapturous paeans to Bush across all of television. Bush, of course, in his special address to the American people, encouraged this hymnody. “The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq,” he declared with his usual hyperbole.

That remains to be seen. A single swallow does not a summer make. Nor, for that matter does the capture of Saddam Hussein....

The fact that President Bush has adroitly shifted the terms of the war debate from under the Democrat’s feet reflects his political brilliance. But such narrow political brillance can only win elections. Not the inter-generational war that Bush has ignited by his thoughtless venture into Iraq.
Patriots and Profits

Paul Krugman:

Last week there were major news stories about possible profiteering by Halliburton and other American contractors in Iraq. These stories have, inevitably and appropriately, been pushed temporarily into the background by the news of Saddam's capture. But the questions remain. In fact, the more you look into this issue, the more you worry that we have entered a new era of excess for the military-industrial complex.

Meanwhile, NBC News has obtained Pentagon inspection reports of unsanitary conditions at mess halls run by Halliburton in Iraq: "Blood all over the floors of refrigerators, dirty pans, dirty grills, dirty salad bars, rotting meat and vegetables." An October report complains that Halliburton had promised to fix the problem but didn't.

And more detail has been emerging about Bechtel's much-touted school repairs. Again, a Pentagon report found "horrible" work: dangerous debris left in playground areas, sloppy paint jobs and broken toilets.

Are these isolated bad examples, or part of a pattern? It's impossible to be sure without a broad, scrupulously independent investigation. Yet such an inquiry is hard to imagine in the current political environment — which is precisely why one can't help suspecting the worst....

Some Americans still seem to feel that even suggesting the possibility of profiteering is somehow unpatriotic. They should learn the story of Harry Truman, a congressman who rose to prominence during World War II by leading a campaign against profiteering. Truman believed, correctly, that he was serving his country.

On the strength of that record, Franklin Roosevelt chose Truman as his vice president. George Bush, of course, chose Dick Cheney.
Monday, December 15, 2003
David Brooks on Dean's Foreign Policy Address

Brooks has often impressed me of the most reasonable-sounding of his fraternity of neoconservative talking heads--though obviously Perle, Chalabi and Kristol are not the most rational of company--which is why I am surprised that his attempt to discredit Howard Dean's foreign policy address today was so half-hearted. It's one thing for a neocon op-ed guy to already have the story written before the event occurs (isn't that sort of their whole thing?), but it's another thing entirely for him to not even spruce up his article a bit after the speech he claims to be critiquing:

Brooks writes:
"Dean does not believe the U.S. has an exceptional role to play in world history. Dean did not argue that the U.S. should aggressively promote democracy in the Middle East and around the world."

Actual speech:
"Our campaign is about strengthening the American community so we can fulfill the promise of our nation. We have the power, if we use it wisely, to advance American security and restore our country to its rightful place, as the engine of progress; the champion of liberty and democracy; a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength."

Brooks writes:
"Howard Dean fundamentally sees the war on terror as a law and order issue." and "The world Dean described is largely devoid of grand conflicts or moral, cultural and ideological divides."

Actual speech:
"The next President will also have to attack the roots of terror. He will have to lead and win the struggle of ideas. Here we should have a decisive edge. Osama bin Laden and his allies have nothing to offer except deceit, destruction, and death. There is a global struggle underway between peace-loving Muslims and this radical minority that seeks to hijack Islam for selfish and violent aims, that exploits resentment to persuade that murder is martyrdom, and hatred is somehow God's will. The tragedy is that, by its actions, its unilateralism, and its ill-considered war in Iraq, this Administration has empowered radicals, weakened moderates, and made it easier for the terrorists to add to their ranks."

So, if you remove those few basically made-up claims that Brooks is shilling, his piece is left to hing on a single premise (one which Brooks himself establishes emphatically): that George Bush is an ideologue and Howard Dean is a pragmatist. What a bizarre and insular political subculture neoconservatism has become when that becomes a statement of comparative advantage for the ideologue. In a few short years the folks at PNAC and the American Enterprise Institute have achieved the intellectual equivalent of the inbreeding of the British Royal Family.

Avoid David Brooks' sad fate by reading Dean's address here.
Mr. Gephardt's Reform Values (washingtonpost.com)

OKAY, POLITICAL MONEY buffs, it's time for a game of connect-the-dots.

The machinists union endorses Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). The machinists union makes a "significant" contribution to Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values (AJHPV), according to union political director Richard Michalski. The same AJHPV, a new organization, runs television ads in Iowa and elsewhere attacking former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Mr. Dean is Mr. Gephardt's leading rival for votes in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

With us so far? Then continue: Leo Hindery, a cable television executive, is a national finance co-chair of the Gephardt campaign. Mr. Hindery is also a backer of AJHPV. The organization's chief fundraiser is a former Gephardt fundraiser, David Jones. Its president, Edward F. Feighan, a former Ohio congressman, has given the maximum $2,000 to the Gephardt campaign.

Is a picture beginning to emerge?

If so, it's not a pretty one, at least as it pertains to Mr. Gephardt, an ostensible supporter of campaign finance reform.

Raise your hand if you are surprised to find a likely Gephardt connection. Earlier today, I heard him referred to as "the Buffalo Bills" of the Democratic party.
Halliburton Gets More Business in Iraq

$222 million worth of new business, despite their rather bad week. Dick Cheney sure was brave to take on the Fedayeen and personally capture Saddam, so let's hope that measly few-hundred mil. is hardly the last well-deserved handout. Shit, after their shareholders get their part, Cheney's deferred cut of this installment is probably only a million or two. Can't we help a patriotic America out?
Blog for America : Dean Announces Foreign Policy & National Security Advisors

Governor Dean today announced the team of distinguished experts who will advise his campaign on national security and foreign policy.

I've got to admit that there are a couple of "who the hell is that" names on the list, but there are also some people who have proven themselves as solid thnkers, like Ivo Daalder, Elisa Harris and Stansfield Turner. Benjamin Barber is one of my faves. Both he and Daalder indicate that there will be an "outside the box" intellectual presence in Dean's foreign policy meetings.

All in all, a nice team. I wonder if Ken Pollack is advising anyone else's campaign? He would lend a lot of credibilty, and as author of the Coming Storm he would help to flesh out the nuance of Dean's Iraq policy.
The Politics of Saddam

The neocon mouthpiece the Weekly Standard never disappoints in their ongoing hubris pageant. It took them ~20 hours after Saddam was apprehended before their self-pleasing and cynical fatboy joy over the domestic political implications won out over any tinge of restraint. As if Iraq was a sort of photo-op and political victory farm league from which especially politically beneficial memes win a free trip to America. If you need to choke down the latest neocon party line, give it a read:

LET'S BE CRASS and assess the politics of the capture of Saddam Hussein. No one is boosted more than President Bush, the beneficiary of so much good news this fall (surging economy, 10,000 Dow, Medicare drug benefit).

I love the "let's be crass" line, as if anyone with half a wit doesn't know that the Standard exists simply to plop such useful spin into the comunity toilet that is our national political discourse. Such cluelessness fits well with their feigned shock at Dean's not focusing Iraqi debt relief, especially when their own editorial from last week decried Bush's restriction of Iraq contracts specifically because it will fuck-up Iraq's debt-restructuring prospects.

But my personal favorite line gives long-deserved vocalization to a phrase which I know has long resonated in the neoconservative unconscious:

Cute barbs aside, this editorial was just the first of what is a rapidly shaping spin on Hussein's capture: that it is--independently of other considerations or constraints--both a sufficient post-haste justification of the invasion and occupation and a decisive sign of victory. Strangely, this is not at all dissimilar to the general sentiment which accompanied the toppling of a statue of Saddam in April.

I think it is our sense of history as a frame of reference that leads us to put undue stock in symbollic victories. I say "undue" for two reasons:

1. It is very much unclear how Hussein's capture will effect the ongoing insurgency. It would certainly appear that his dirt hole afforded him all the military planning capacity of Baby Jessica, and the nationalist element of the insurgency may even be emboldened by his removal from the scene, as Juan Cole notes.
2. Much like the celebration when the war was first "won," the sort of all-encompassing vindication of the broader Iraq policy that some see in Hussein's capture reflects a fundamental and unnuanced misunderstanding of the scope and impact of our Iraq policy. Hussein's brutality will not be missed, but is his removal worth any cost? We do not know--and will not know for years--the true cost of this war in dollars, lives, and (perhaps most importantly) international politcal capital, but we do know that those who planned the war are as likely to have a coherent and effective plan for post-Saddam Iraq as they have been for any other stage of the endeavor.

But back to the question of history coloring our benchmarks for the present. Strongly symbollic events stand out as necessary for our understanding and evaluation of geopolitics (or everyday life), because they are the de facto labelling system of history. Every high-schooler (OK, maybe not some of the kids where I'm from, but every regular high-schooler) can tell you WWI started rockin' after Arch Ducke Ferdinand was killed in a dramatic stagecoach drive-by, but his assassination would have been far less significant outside of the context of absurdly intertwined treaties, overly complex, hedging and dishonest diplomatic relationships and a burgeoning arms race. The Boston Tea Party also comes to mind.

Such dramatic and symbollic occurences, and the clarity embued by the way they couch historical events, become our prefered means of extracting and assimilating the meaning of our contemporary goings-on. This CNN poll from today shows a significant change in the way that Americans look at the big picture in Iraq. People are now more confident that WMD will be found and even that the entirely unrelated Ossama bin Laden will be caught soon. Again, a man who entirely lacked the capacity to communicate with--let alone lead--a guerilla army was found hiding in a dirt hole. Yet the symbollic meaning, the mere imagery, tempers the views of most Americans far more profoundly than would even something with as much long-term resonance as a significant policy development.


That isn't to downplay the importance of all this to Iraqis, and likely Iraq itself over the long haul. But the CNN poll, and the slack-jawed Weekly Standard piece, and Joe Liberman, are not Iraqi. Sometimes, people are just politicking, and sometimes, it seems that people have evolved to be politicked to.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
If Nothing Else, We can all Agree that he could use a Good Shampoo:

OK, I'm as down with plucking dictators from dirt holes as anyone else is, but one aspect of the Saddam Hussein apprehension is beginning to look quite curious. It's quite easy to find references, both direct and passing, from the last ten years to Hussein's habit of dying his grey hair black to appear youthful.

Here a few such references:
The best, of course, is from an October column on Bushcountry.org (they might want to think about taking this page down):

Saddam Hussein is alive.

He has washed out the expensive black dye from his hair. He has shaved off his tell-tale moustache and rubbed desert sand into his skin. He is dressed in a simple Arab robe.

Gordon Thomas, a reasonably respected academic, did a 2002 profile of Hussein which included the following:

For the next thirty minutes, the barber trims Saddam’s moustache and touches up the black dye in his hair.

The chemicals used in the process came from Paris; each bottle has been tested to ensure it contains no lethal agent.

Saddam has an abiding fear that Mossad, or some other Western intelligence agency, would be able to tamper with the dye so that a nerve agent could penetrate his scalp and paralyse or even kill him.

His hair uniformly tinted to hide any trace of grey, his nails are then buffed and manicured with a colourless polish.

Mark Bowden wrote a similar account of Saddam's lifestyle in a 2002 Atlantic Monthly article:

The tyrant cannot afford to become stooped, frail and grey. Weakness invites challenge, coup d'├ętat. Death is an enemy he cannot defeat – only, perhaps, delay. So he works. He also dissembles. He dyes his grey hair black and avoids using his reading glasses in public.

This January, 2003 London Times article even reported that before the coalition invasion Hussein had allowed his beard to appear grey in public:

Despite his defiant rhetoric, Saddam’s appearance betrayed the strain of living with the constant threat of coup and assassination plots while weapons inspectors swarm over Iraq. Although the 65-year-old President was as dapper as ever in a dark suit, his face was puffy and his dyed black hair appeared to be thinning. He has finally permitted his moustache to appear its natural grey.

Even the US military has operated under the understanding that Hussein dyes his longsince greyed hair black:

Three other photos show Saddam -- always assumed to have been either a dyed brunet or wearing a dark-brown toupee -- with hair more fitting to his 66 years, ranging from white to salt-and-pepper grey. In two of those photos, he has a moustache to match.

So, why do I care about dictators' hair colors? Is it because I'm still shocked that Hitler wasn't a natural blonde? Not exactly...

The problem with this suggestion by the empirical record that Hussein's hair has gone grey is that the man snatched from a dirt hole behind an Iraqi farmhouse quite clearly has black hair and black roots (unless he had an exceptional stylist in that hole with him).

Call me an asshole, but I think we must at least consider the possibility that we have caught one of Saddam's legion bodyguards. The claim that his identity was confirmed by DNA testing is flimsy on two counts:
1. How the hell did they get a sample to compare it to, and how are they sure the original sample came from the original Saddam?
2. The timeline of the whole affair is fishy. DNA testing takes days or weeks, yet the military claims to have confirmed Hussein's identity in a few hours (because we can't possibly believe the other possibility, which is that he was captured some time and the announcement held for a moment of political weakness).
Lieberman: Dean Would Have Kept Saddam in Power

Hours after news broke of Saddam Hussein's capture, Democratic presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman slammed his party's front-runner Howard Dean as a defacto ally of the Iraqi dictator because of his long term opposition to the war.

"If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not in prison,” Lieberman told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I always felt he was ticking time bomb,” the Connecticut Democrat explained.

Newsmax got one thing wrong: he likes to be called Joe, damnit.

It's rather telling that on a day when Dean chooses not only to refrain from criticism of, but to actually compliment, the Biush Adminstration's capture of Hussein (which in a vacumm is pretty unambiguously cool), Lieberman jumps on the opportunity to (fallaciously) call Dean an appeaser. Does that mean that each American death in Iraq can be personally attributed to Senator Lieberman's vote in favor of the war? It seems more and more likely that when February rolls around, Lieberman's fingerprints will be on the bin Laden-themed smear commericals being run in Iowa.

What a simple man Joe Lieberman is, and what a strange and unnuanced world he inhabits. The war in Iraq was a mistake--and that case is hardly made less valid by the fact that we have devoted the lion's share of our military not to pursuing bin Laden but to finding a guy in a cement hole who had nothing to do with the events on which our "War on Terrorism" were to have been based--but certainly not because Hussein has bene captured. If that is the only standard, let's march into Pyongyang right now. Sure, San Francisco will get nuked, but we can capture Kim Jong Il, so let's roll.

Just maybe, if Dean were president Hussein would have been brought to justice by a credible international force and we wouldn't be bankrupting our country lining Halliburton's coffers.

And there is still no word as to whether troops found 10000 gallons of boultin virus and a million tubes of anthrax in that 8-foot dirt hole.
Saddam Hussein (or top-shelf lookalike) arrested in Iraq

Much of the right-wing presence in the blogging community is taking this moment to point out the obvious depravity of homocommunist terrorist coddlers like myself who doubt this will bring an immediate 180-degree turn-around in Iraq.

First of all, the US military deserves tremendous credit for acpturing Hussein, especially for doing so in such a manner that--unlike the capture of his sons--will allow him to be tried in a public forum, which is a likely must for any cohesive Iraqi state to emerge. There is no objective persepctive through which Saddam's capture is not an unmitigated positive. A good day for Iraq.

His capture is also a positive for the United States because it will finally allow us to shirk a powerful myth that has been guiding much of our Iraq policy to date: that the insurgency in Iraq is made up entirely of ex-Ba'athists and foreign-born Jihadis. If you look through the history of American military mis-estimations, the times when we demonstrably have made misguided decisions, one factor is at play every time. That factor is the underestimation of nationalism. It happened to us in Cuba and Central America, it happened to the Soviets everywhere, it may have happened most profoundly in Vietnam. If we henceforth prosecute our Iraq policy under the assumption that the insurgency was strictly a Hussein front and will now dissolve on its own, it will happen to us in Iraq.

If it does turn out to be the case that Saddam was unable to coordinate a sophisticated, complex and widespread paramilitary effort from his cement hole in a field, then we need to quickly reframe our approach to dealing with the insurgents. We also need to ask ourselves if history provides any usable template for foreign occupation of a nationalistic people (short answer: no).

So we can all high five each other and fire our Kalishnikovs into the air or whatever, but if the capture of Hussien is to have any actual significance it must be used as a way to gain leverage with those Iraqis who have not yet decided to take up arms. We cannot take for granted capturing Saddam will end the resistance anymore than toppling his statue ended the war.
Saturday, December 13, 2003
H. R. 3687 (For some reason, you have to manually search by the name of the resolution)

This awesome piece of legislation was introduced to the house on Dec. 8th of this year:

To amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for the punishment of certain profane broadcasts, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting `(a)' before `Whoever'; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:

`(b) As used in this section, the term `profane', used with respect to language, includes the words `shit', `piss', `fuck', `cunt', `asshole', and the phrases `cock sucker', `mother fucker', and `ass hole', compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).'.

"Piss" might be a difficult sell. I'm glad that our allegedly conservative Congress is devoting their time to such fruitless and unnecessary intrusions into the lives of private citizens. If nothing else, debate on this bill ought to make for some great C-SPAN.
Graham Introduces Legislation To Ensure America’s Votes Count

Bob Graham of Florida has introduced to the Senate what may be the single most important piece of legislation on the floor in their upcoming session. The Voter Verification Act would supplement the Help America Vote Act, passed in the wake of the 2000 elections. The problem with the old law, quite frankly, is that it mandates use of electronic voting machines with (intentionally) inadequate security measures. Furthermore, these machines keep no hard-copy recored of people's votes, making any manual or objective corroboration of the electronic vote count impossible.

Graham's--and it's companion bill in the House--will require voter-verified paper receipts to be printed, spooled, and stored at precincts in the event that a recount is called for. The introduction of this legislation, as well as the momentum of related efforts in the states of California and Nevada, is a victory for grassroots politics. This issue has been largely ignored by the mass media and the leadership of both political parties, but the pressure of individual citizens is ensuring an earnest attempt at redress--and at restoring integrity to the electoral process--much like the groundswell of popular opposition seems to have led many officials to have second thoughts about this summer's FCC deregulation.

The current buzz is that a Republican may co-sponsor Graham's Senate bill, which would greatly enhance its chances of passage.
Is Secrecy a Progressive Value? (washingtonpost.com)

A WaPo editorial excoriates the shifty tactics employed by Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values, the shadowy cell of disgruntled Democrats lashing out at their own party's likely presidential nominee:

Values that don't include letting voters know who's footing the bill. The group has spent $230,000 for the first week of ads, but it won't say where the money is coming from. Under the out-of-sync reporting schedule that governs such groups, donors' names don't have to be revealed until early February, after the caucuses are safely over. Meanwhile, its identity is getting more and more mysterious: Early last week, its president was Timothy L. Raftis, a former aide to Sen. Tom Harkin; now, a new president has suddenly appeared on the group's Web site: former representative Edward Feighan (D-Ohio). The group's treasurer is fundraiser David Jones, who has worked for one of Mr. Dean's chief rivals, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri -- but suddenly, it has a new spokesman, John Kerry's former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, which might suggest, to the conspiracy-minded, an effort to deflect attention from a possible Gephardt connection. (The Gephardt campaign says it knows nothing about the group.)

So is the money from unions that back Mr. Gephardt but don't want to be publicly connected to this anti-Dean campaign? At least some such unions have been solicited. Or is it from a few wealthy donors who don't like Mr. Dean -- and perhaps are backing another one of the trailing Democratic candidates? From Republicans who want to take Mr. Dean down a few notches? There's no way for a voter in Iowa to know, not in time for that information to make a difference. The group could voluntarily disclose its backers before the legal deadline, but it won't. "The reason is that's what we've chosen to do. . . . We want to ensure that we have full disclosure rather than piecemeal," Mr. Raftis told us. ...

...This outside-group dodge is troubling enough when employed by those who don't pretend to believe in campaign finance reform. From those who pose as champions of "progressive values," it's despicable. "I believe strongly in the view of Thomas Jefferson that an informed electorate helps insure the strength of democracy," Mr. Raftis said on the group's Web site. Informed, that is, of what he chooses to tell them. What hypocrisy.

I don't think I've ever heard the Post get that nasty in an editorial.
Yeah, I'm back. More on that later. Tell your friends.

Americans for Jobs, Healthcare & Progressive Values...

...is a sham name for a DLC-front organization. And also a harbinger of the impending coup within the Democratic Party.

What the hell am I talking about? Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, a political non-profit run by prominent Democrats (who, incidentally, have lost their own congressional seats to Republicans). A quick perusal of the "issues" page of their site demonstrates that the organization's sole aim is to launch political attacks on Howard Dean.

Negative, divisive, yada yada. It hardly merits specific complaint when yet another example of dirty cynical politics pops up. But what does merit mention is the intensity of their latest commercial attack ad, which they will spend $400,000 airing in Iowa: the ad is not designed to disadvantage Dean in the primaries so much as to serisouly tar him as an individual. The ad prominently features the face of Ossama bin Laden, backed by riotously sensationalistic statements on Howard Dean's inabilty to protect America (the ad does not address the issue of the establishment presidential candidates from Congress having had presided over a two-year failure to apprehend bin Laden). The ad seems concocted to specifically perpetuate the "weak on security" meme that is sure to be a centerpiece of the Rovian bashing Dean is due after the primaries are wrapped-up.

The DLC and other establishment Democrats are so frightened of the change that a motivated constituency and accountable leadership would inevitably affect in their failing party that some of them are actively sabotaging his general election bid.

It’s not that I can’t understand resistance to change, as it springs from some pretty basic predilections. But I can’t understand making such a prolonged effort (and expense) as is required to produce and air a tasteless attack-ad without even once seeing beyond your emotional veil. The strategies and message of the Democratic Party have failed its constituency since 1996. This latest crude commercial serves only to buttress a political methodology which has proven itself stale, an approach which leaves the party continuously lagging behind Republicans in fund-raising, which has steadily lost House, Senate and municipal seats, and which has so failed to cobble together a cohesive message that the Democratic Party is bleeding voters to the left and right—all this at a point in history when demographic trends would seem to encourage exactly the opposite on all counts.

Yet the Democrats are presented with a golden opportunity—a candidate who promises to bring tens of thousands of first-time and previously non-participating voters into the political process, as Democrats, and the only candidate with a viable national strategy—and party insiders such as these promptly take the opportunity to deliver the message that we are not welcome in their party. I will vote for Dean next fall, and will contribute to his national strategy to help congressional candidates. But I won’t do this to help “their” party; I will do this to take their party away from them and their entrenched and moneyed colleagues.

It ought to go without saying that factionalization of a political party is not helpful when it comes to actually, um, winning elections. Ossama bin Laden imagery? That is like Willie Horton squared. Don’t shit where you eat, fellow “progressives.”
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor

The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying push them out with reduced benefits for their ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no more doctor appointments are available from Oct. 14 through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.

"I have loved the Army. I have served the Army faithfully and I have done everything the Army has asked me to do," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company. Buckels served in the Army Reserves for 27 years, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Gulf War. "Now my whole idea about the U.S. Army has changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen."

Since getting back from Iraq in May, Buckels, 52, has been trying to get doctors to find out why he has intense pain in the side of his abdomen since doubling over in pain there.

After waiting since May for a diagnosis, Buckels has accepted 20 percent of his benefits for bad knees and is going home to his family in Mississippi. "They have not found out what my side is doing yet, but they are still trying," Buckels said.

One month after President Bush greeted soldiers at Fort Stewart -- home of the famed Third Infantry Division -- as heroes on their return from Iraq, approximately 600 sick or injured members of the Army Reserves and National Guard are warehoused in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field, waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or illnesses.

The Reserve and National Guard soldiers are on what the Army calls "medical hold," while the Army decides how sick or disabled they are and what benefits -- if any -- they should get as a result.

Some of the soldiers said they have waited six hours a day for an appointment without seeing a doctor. Others described waiting weeks or months without getting a diagnosis or proper treatment.

The soldiers said professional active duty personnel are getting better treatment while troops who serve in the National Guard or Army Reserve are left to wallow in medical hold.

"It is not an Army of One. It is the Army of two -- Army and Reserves," said one soldier who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which she developed a serious heart condition and strange skin ailment.

Aside from his pesky pseudo-apocolyptic zeal, the biggest thing that Rumsfeld was supposed to bring to the table as Secretary of Defense was a major restructuring and modernization of our armed forces. One can't help but smirk at the incongruity of simultaneously streamlining the armed forces and engaging in multiple unilateral wars while eschewing international assistance. But that's a pretty pissed-off smirk, considering that the results are abusive towards the people forced to serve as pawns in this ridiculous chess game.

Some of the biggest losers in our nascent tax-cut empire are going to be the boatload of veterans that it produces. Stars and Stripes recently found that less than half of the active-duty soldiers in Iraq plan to re-enlist:

A broad survey of U.S. troops in Iraq by a Pentagon-funded newspaper found that half of those questioned described their unit's morale as low and their training as insufficient, and said they do not plan to reenlist.

The survey, conducted by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also recorded about a third of the respondents complaining that their mission lacks clear definition and characterizing the war in Iraq as of little or no value. Fully 40 percent said the jobs they were doing had little or nothing to do with their training.

I saw a trailer tonight for the Jessica Lynch movie, and there was an audible collective wretch throughout the theater.

There's a kid who lives across the street from me who I hang out with from time to time. He's 20 years old, he's not in school, and he's not rich at all. He works hard and all he's smart and rather wise for his age, I think. I wonder how long it's going to be before they start drafting people like him.
Friday, October 17, 2003
Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin May be an Idiot

“Well, is he [bin Laden] the enemy? Next slide. Or is this man [Saddam] the enemy? The enemy is none of these people I have showed you here. The enemy is a spiritual enemy. He’s called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan.”

Why are terrorists out to destroy the United States? Boykin said: “They’re after us because we’re a Christian nation.”

During a January church speech in Daytona, Fla., Boykin recalled a Muslim fighter in Somalia who bragged on television the Americans would never get him because his God, Allah, would protect him: “Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”

The Somali was captured, and Boykin said he told the man: “Mr. Atto, you underestimated our God.”...

Well, I guess we're fighting fire with fire. It's smart, really, when you think about it. If we're going to catch the fundamentalist psychos, we need to think like fundamentalist psychos. That's why Boykin is such a valuable part of the operation.

And, the punchline:

Boykin tells NBC News that, given his new assignment, he is curtailing such speeches in the future. He says, “I don’t want … to be misconstrued. I don’t want to come across as a right-wing radical.”

Oh yeah, that's the stuff.
Truth From these Podia

This is a pretty hefty PDF file, but well worth the download. Sam Gardiner, a retired US Air Force colonel, has put together an exhaustive account of the flimsy case for the Iraq war--from the perspective of a career military man (and hardly an antiwar knee-jerker, one would assume).

Gardiner had been working on a report with Mark Fineman of the LA Times, but when Fineman died while on assignment in Iraq, Gardiner decided to write up his findings himself. This guy is hardly a gifted writer, but he provides another excellent example of the fact that the most truthful (and toothful) criticism of the Bush Doctrine and its larger implications has come from inside the military and intelligence communities. If nothing else, that ought to give us an idea of the historic seriousness of the shit we have all just stepped in: these are the same people who were largely silent about Iran-Contra, the nastiness in Central America in the 1980's, and who even knows what else.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Bush orders officials to stop the leaks

This is positively the funniest news article I have ever read:

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

That's not a joke. It's a real story.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Officer was the one behind 500 letters

It turns out the there were 500 fake letters sent to American newspapers:

An Army battalion commander has taken responsibility for a public-relations campaign that sent hundreds of identical letters to hometown newspapers promoting his soldiers' rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo said he wanted to highlight his unit's work and "share that pride with people back home."

Army officials revealed Tuesday that 500 identical form letters were sent to newspapers across the country with different signatures. They said the mass mailing was the wrong way of getting the message out, but they didn't know whether the commander would be disciplined.
Monday, October 13, 2003
Senators Say Bush Needs to Take Control

Initially, my apologies for linking to an article with such a prominent picture of John Kerry's smug mug. That said, even Republican Dick Lugar is criticizing the President's Iraq policy, and his larger inability to act as the leader in his own administration.

A key Republican lawmaker urged President Bush yesterday to take control of his fractious foreign policy team and plans for Iraq's reconstruction, as one Democrat deepened his criticism of the administration's arguments for going to war.

"The president has to be president," Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That means the president over the vice president, and over these secretaries" of state and defense. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice "cannot carry that burden alone."

This comes at an especially bad time for the White House, as having a top Republican speak out is damaging to the underlying goal of their new PR campaign: to portray all policy criticism as pure partisanship. And the timing just makes Lugar's point all the more self-evidently clear, as the administration has given us a PR offensive instead of a substantive policy change.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Busted! (dumbasses)

Many soldiers, same letter

War spam, anyone?

Letters from hometown soldiers describing their successes rebuilding Iraq have been appearing in newspapers across the country as U.S. public opinion on the mission sours.
And all the letters are the same.

A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, also known as "The Rock," in 11 newspapers, including Snohomish, Wash.

The timing of this lazy viral PR campaign couldn't be any more convenient, coming on the heels of the administration's announcement of their own public relations campaign.


You might remember from a few months ago when a different letter was making similar rounds, decalring that "George W. Bush has demonstrated genuine leadership."

It's obvious to anyone that the internet provides new opportunities for communication and political activism, but the Bush administration doesn't seem to understand that it also opens up an entire new kind of accountability. It's harder to spin shit in black and white, and well-nigh impossile to explain away the occurence of such obvious astroturf.
Friday, October 10, 2003
Painkiller addiction forces Limbaugh into rehab

Intellectually and rhetorically, I couldn't have any less respect for Rush Limbaugh, and when I heard of his painkiller addiction and the ongoing investigation surrounding his illegal drug purchase, I was ready for him to start dishing out blame: the liberal media, his publicity-hound maid, the French.

I was shocked to read Limbaugh's statement today. Now this is a guy that has said some awful things about drug addicts, so it seemed a no-brainer that he would try to spin this until he was as dizzy as an, um, OxyContin addict. But to give credit where credit is due, Rush did no such thing:

"You know I have always tried to be honest with you and open about my life. So I need to tell you today that part of what you have heard and read is correct. I am addicted to prescription pain medication.
I first started taking prescription painkillers some years ago when my doctor prescribed them to treat post surgical pain following spinal surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful and I continued to have severe pain in my lower back and also in my neck due to herniated discs. I am still experiencing that pain. Rather than opt for additional surgery for these conditions, I chose to treat the pain with prescribed medication. This medication turned out to be highly addictive.

Over the past several years I have tried to break my dependence on pain pills and, in fact, twice checked myself into medical facilities in an attempt to do so. I have recently agreed with my physician about the next steps.

Immediately following this broadcast, I am checking myself into a treatment center for the next 30 days to once and for all break the hold this highly addictive medication has on me. The show will continue during this time, of course, with an array of guest hosts you have come to know and respect.

I am not making any excuses. You know, over the years athletes and celebrities have emerged from treatment centers to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons.

They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model. I refuse to let anyone think I am doing something great here, when there are people you never hear about, who face long odds and never resort to such escapes.

They are the role models. I am no victim and do not portray myself as such. I take full responsibility for my problem.

At the present time, the authorities are conducting an investigation, and I have been asked to limit my public comments until this investigation is complete. So I will only say that the stories you have read and heard contain inaccuracies and distortions, which I will clear up when I am free to speak about them.

I deeply appreciate all your support over this last tumultuous week. It has sustained me. I ask now for your prayers. I look forward to resuming our excursion into broadcast excellence together."

It's easy to join in the public schaudenfraude over this matter, but here's to hoping that this experience teaches Mr. Limbaugh something about human weakness and about his own fallibility. As much as I can't stand the guy, I do hope he gets his life back together and when he goes back to his radio show he brings a newfound ability to reserve judgments on the plights of others.

Good luck, Rush. I honestly wish you well, you fucking blowhard.
McClellan's non-Denial Denial

TPM has been following the White House's official statements of late, and is pointing out their abject refusal to actually deny the specific charges. When asked is Libby, Abrams, or Rove were involved in exposing Plame, McClellan will only answer crytpitcally. Today, when confronted directly and asked to anwer the question directly, be basically refused. He always adds the qualifier "were not involved in the leak of classified information," refusing to specifically say that anyone denies being involved in outing Plame as an undercover agent.

Let's pretend that McClellan is being honest, and that he really means to specifically deny this shit but is just physiologically unable to speak plainly, being a White House PR guy and all. Who else has he spoekn with? Are we to assume that the President has had no knowledge at all of these meetings, and is thus being honest when he says he has "no idea" who was behind this retaliation? And if so, why would the President fail to excercise any leadership--or even curiosity--whatsoever?

When the Novak column came out, Bush had the chance to demonstrate his commitment to our national security by tracking down the criminals personally and immediately. But instead, they have decided to try to play this scandal as some sort of back-handed political opportunity to squelch leaks of information, and in so doing this White House has thouroughly Watergated itself. In the interest of efficient corruption, it seems an obvious assumption that Bush was kept out of the know when this outing took place (it only makes sense to keep up the denibaility), but when he says he has "no idea" right now he is either lying or incompetent.
MoveOn.org: Affidavit Campaign

President Bush told the press on Tuesday that he doesn't "have any idea" whether the senior administration officials who blew a CIA operative's cover will ever be found. But if he just asked his staff to sign a legally binding affidavit confirming that they weren't involved, and referred anyone who wouldn't to the FBI, it's possible he could flush out the perpetrators in a day. To date, the President hasn't even discussed this matter with his staff.

We've already done the President's homework for him by writing the affidavit. Now let's show him how easy it is for innocent people to legally declare their innocence. You can sign the affidavit and send it to the President in under a minute by filling out the form:

While this is kind of funny, it also points out the futility of expecting this President to make the right choice when he inhabits a web of self-interest. But he's in charge, and obviously a little dumbfounded by the task of finding the criminals in his own administration, so let's help him out.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Josh Marshall Parses Bob Novak's Parsing of Bob Novak

Really, he does. Novak has backpedalled since the publication of his July 14 column which outed the wife of ambassador Joseph Wilson as an undercover CIA agent, claiming that he didn't know at the time that Mrs. Wilson (or Mrs. Plame, if you're a member of a foreign intelligence service trying to track her down and kill her with the help of the Bush administration) was undercover:

Now, since the story blew up a week and a half ago, Novak has been telling people that this reference was just some sort of slip-up, that in this case he meant ‘operative’ only in the generic sense of a ‘hack’ or a ‘fixer.’ On Meet the Press Novak said he uses “the word too much [and] if somebody did a Nexus search of my columns, they'd find an overuse of ‘operative.’”

Well, Novak does seem to use the word operative a lot. But as one of my readers pointed out to me this evening, ‘operative’ can mean all sorts of things in different contexts. The question is how Novak uses it in this particular context. Following up on my reader’s suggestion I did a Nexis search to see all the times Novak used the phrases “CIA operative” or “agency operative.”

This was a quick search. But I came up with six examples. And in each case Novak used the phrase to refer to someone working in a clandestine capacity.

I don't think I'm allowed to excerpt entire entries from TPM, so check out the meat-and-potatoes content on the link. Each time Novak comes up with a new wacky theory to account for the astronomically unlikely possibility that he didn't know he was doing to administration's dirty work by destroying the career of a person with three decades of service to the government, the clearer his goon status becomes.

As slimy as Novak has become in recent weeks--and as tempting as it is to forget his role altogether (as the statute that was violated clearly exempts journalists)--his spin is a crucial part of the foundation of plausible deniability being laid down by the entire Bush administration. And from the looks of it, they're going to have a hard time if tehy don't get some better lies than Novak is peddling.

But the really bottom line of this story is, and has been for months, that the president could end the scandal immediately. In five minutes he could demand the resignation of whoever broke the law and pissed on the principle of national security. He could ask each senior administration official point-blank. He could "restore honor and integrity," as was his campaign promise. But he is doing none of this, and he's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't care to.
Clark to Return Money He Made From Speeches

Wesley Clark proves his political outsider credibility by not knowing how the hell to follow election laws.

In at least three paid appearances at universities since announcing his candidacy, Clark discussed his presidential campaign and criticized President Bush's Iraq policy. Corporations, unions and universities are prohibited from paying for campaign-related appearances for presidential candidates. The Federal Election Commission considers such payments the same as contributions to the candidate. Several FEC experts said Clark may have violated the election law by talking too much about his campaign and accepting money for the speeches. Clark was paid $30,000 or more for each appearance.

To the cronies go the spoils

A sort of mini-index of war profiteers. Again, for an online magazine Salon leaves something to be desired in the "creating resources that actually utilize the web" department, but the information is good.

The also discuss New Bridge Strategies, a company whose founding was met with some fanfare during my blog hiatus:

Late in September, the Washington newspaper The Hill reported that some of the president's closest political allies had created a new firm, New Bridge Strategies, whose main goal is to help corporations "evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq." The company, which is headed by Joe Allbaugh, Bush's chief of staff in Texas and his campaign manager in 2000, was not exactly hard to find -- it has a Web site that boasts of its intimate ties to government officials: "New Bridge Strategies principals have years of public policy experience," the site says. The company's directors "have held positions in the Reagan Administration and both Bush Administrations and are particularly well suited to working with international agencies in the executive branch, Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the American rebuilding apparatus and establishing early links to Congress." Other New Bridge partners include Ed Rogers, vice chairman of the lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers, and a close political aide to George H.W. Bush; and Lanny Griffith, also at Barbour Griffith, who served in several positions in Bush senior's White House, including as Southern political director in the 1988 campaign.

I find the honesty with which these guys are exploiting bloodshed and bandying about their crony connections to be refreshing, though it is does elicit the rather rare urge to see Dwight Eisenhower come back to life and kick some Miltary Insustrial Complex ass.
The hacky sac intifada

While growing up, Kates enjoyed trips to the public library to check out her favorite books. Sbaihat, on the other hand, spent much of his childhood playing a strange version of hide-and-seek with Israeli soldiers -- they tried to throw him in jail, he tried to throw rocks at their heads.

Kates' father is a truck driver, her mother is a bank teller and her brother is a U.S. marshal. Sbaihat's father and uncles have all done time in Israeli prisons for civil unrest, and his religious Muslim mother will only leave the house if wearing a scarf on her head.

Both Kates and Sbaihat are college students in America. But only one of them is a radical pro-Palestinian activist who says that Israel has no right to exist. Only one of them advocates Palestinian resistance "by any means necessary" to liberate all of the land "from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea," land currently under the control of "Israeli oppressors."

This is a really intersting read from Salon, contrasting moderate Arab college students in the US with the (mostly) radical white kids who have taken up their cause. The primary distinction the piece draws is one of rhetorical tactics: the Arab kids tend to be more oriented toward solution-brokering, and framing the issues in terms chosen to generate the most mass appeal possible, and the American-born students are more likely to rely on bold unequivocal pronouncements about Israel having no right to exist.

While there is a certain amount of the piece--not to mention to the general tone--dedicated to wry mockery of the viewpoints of the American-born kids, I ultimately got something positive from the article. Sbaihat sums up the reason that those students born in the occupied territories are more concerned with problem sovling than with absolutes:

"I definitely view the Palestinian cause as more of a personal issue than one of international justice and human rights."

I do think that a valid end is served by framing this-or-that regional flap in terms of international human rights: this consistent single standard was always supposed to be the hallmark of internationalism, right? But one is also forced to wonder whether the Israelis and the Palestinians would still be so far from a lasting peace without the "help" of so many outside parties. Of course, it would be pretty difficult to make the case that human rights groups have complicated the situation half as much as the governments of the US and various illiberal Arab states have (or even as much as the settlement-funding dollars flowing in fram radical Christian fundamentalists in the US).

Egypt's air-conditioned Islam

This article from Metafilter, reminds us that radical fundamentalist Islam is a modern political phenomenon--arguably even more so than the far-right Likkud party--not to mention one that likely doesn't reflect that real day-to-day views of most people in the region.

I know that it takes a remarkably narrow focus to turn two unrelated Israel/Palestinian article into a commerical for a presidential candidate, but the above sentiments remind me of how far the US has to go toward being a useful participant in the Middle East. Howard Dean states that we needed to be "even-handed" and "honest"--nothing more than that, nothing along the lines of pro-this or anti-that--and was scorned from all possible angles. So I say that's let them solve their own problems, not because of cynicism or ostrich syndrome, but because I'm sure they'd do better without our influence.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Kerry accuses Dean of liking the Yankees

Now the campaign has gotten dirty. You can say someone hates Medicare, or loves Hitler, or ran a secret drug and murder ring in Arkansas, but to insinuate that someone is a Yankees fan is beyond hte pale. For shame, John Kerry. For shame!
Jim Marcinkowski, ex-CIA Agent, on the Plame Affair

Josh Marshall, who has been all over this story from the beginning, notes the words of yet another irate former operative who appeared on Paula Zahn's CNN show.

ZAHN: Mr. Marcinkowski, help us understand what this means to an agent in the field, particularly a covert one. Do they now view their government as a threat?
MARCINKOWSKI: Certainly, the act itself has been an unprecedented act. This is not the leak, as usual from Washington, of classified information. And that should not be condoned. However, this is the leak of an identification of an intelligence agent of the United States. So the fact that it's unprecedented sends a ripple effect throughout the intelligence community and drastically affects national security throughout -- throughout the world, and the United States in particular.

As an operations officer on scene in a country, the effects of this are that anyone who knows you or did know you now will look at your mosaic. They will look at the people you've come in contact with. They will suspect those people, be they official contacts or innocent contacts. They will suspect those persons of being intelligence agents. They could be subject to interrogation, imprisonment and even death, depending on the regime that you may be operating under.

There's also ramifications for CIA morale. I'm not naive enough to say this is having a huge impact, but certainly, it contributes to a decline in morale when you know that your own government can identify you as a clandestine operator. Certainly, there's going to be a reluctance on the part of foreign nationals that may want to help the United States in these trying times. They're going to be reluctant to serve and help us with information, based on the fact that their identification may be revealed by the government.

The ranks of pissed-off ex-members of the intelligence ranks continue to swell. The right wing is fighting like mad to spin this scandal away--calling it purely political, further trying to discredit and intimidate the Wilsons--but they are missing a very central point: the CIA invented spin. By trying to paint anyone reacting to the exposure as a partisan Democrat the right appears to be laboring under the assumption that this is actually the case. I would imagine that we can rest assured that this belief will bite them in the ass. Hmmm... Bob Novak and Karl Rove vs. the an institution that can topple governments, cause individuals to disappear, and virtually created psy-ops? I know who my money would be on.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Study: Wrong impressions helped support Iraq war

I saw this a few days ago, before my self-imposed blogging exile ended.

A majority of Americans have held at least one of three mistaken impressions about the U.S.-led war in Iraq, according to a new study released Thursday, and those misperceptions contributed to much of the popular support for the war.

This, in and of itself, isn't such a profound insight. When you successfully lied your way to war, it can be assumed that you fooled some people. What is interesting, are the trends detailed in their graphic: how "out-of-the-know" one is seems to bear a direct relationship with the identity of their primary information source. Interesting.

The 5pm Deadline is approaching, but the White House doesn't care. The White House--expected to turn in all documents relevant to the Justice Department investigation of the Plame affair--has instead decided that a team of lawyers ought to spend two weeks determining which evidence can be used against their clients.

That's nice. I wonder if Jeffrey Dahmer was allowed to decide which torsoes could be subpeonaed?
Novak Leak Column Has Familiar Sound

Dana Millbank's piece from today's Post has me wondering exactly where one draws the line between two events being analogous or being part of pattern:

Let's review: Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak gets a leak of classified information from foreign-policy hardliners. The column he writes causes a huge embarrassment for the Republican White House and moderates throughout the administration. Capitol Hill erupts with protests about the leak.

Sound familiar? Actually, this occurred in December 1975. Novak, with his late partner Rowland Evans, got the classified leak -- that President Gerald R. Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were ready to make concessions to the Soviet Union to save the SALT II treaty. Donald H. Rumsfeld, then, as now, the secretary of defense, intervened to block Kissinger.

The main leak suspect: Richard Perle, then an influential aide to Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.) and now a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and a confidant of neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The account was described in a 1977 article in The Washington Post, noting Perle's "special access" to Evans and Novak.

Millbank does go on to note that there is nothing to suggest that Perle is connected to the current leak fiasco, but we can be sure that a couple of his homeboys are.

The Center for American Progress, which is a new think tank that I've got to learn more about, dug around Novak's past columns and found this absolute nugget:

Will the columnist reveal his sources? Here, too, there is a precedent in Novak's writings.

In July 2001, Novak revealed that newly accused spy Robert P. Hanssen was his primary source for a column a few years earlier about an FBI agent who resigned after refusing a demand from Attorney General Janet Reno for names of secret sources in China. He wrote: "Disclosing confidential sources is unthinkable for a reporter seeking to probe behind the scenes in official Washington, but the circumstances here are obviously extraordinary."

So for all Novak's talk of the sacredness of confidentiality (not that protecting sources isn't important,), we know two things:

1. He doesn't consider protection of sources to be absolute so much as to have a high threshhold.
2. Exposing a prior source has not hurt his ability to continue getting juicy classified information.

Number one just further bolsters that case that Novak is too much of a shit-talker to be taken seriously as a reporter, and the paradox at the center of number two is easilly accounted for: the hardliners who talk to Novak off-the-record are just interested in using his monkey ass anyway.
76 Days

You know, sometimes when a story unfolds over the course of weeks and months, as opposed to during a single brilliant event, it is easy to get a skewed perspective of what has gone down and how it all fits together. It's important to try to see the big picture even as it is occuring, but that big picture must be gleaned and cobbled together from drtails. 76 Days passed between Robert Novak's initial story leaking the name of an undercover CIA agent--published on July 14--and October 1. Blogger Brian Flemming has provided a detailed day-by-day accounting of President Bush's leadership on this matter. Check out the link to see if President Bush's inaction on the matter is getting blown out of proportion by the liberal press.
Monday, October 06, 2003
In very bizarre breaking news, our next military draft will be conducted by the free market. Somewhere Milton Friedman is pleasuring himself.

Pentagon Plan Would Convert 10,000 Military Jobs to Civilians

The Defense Department hopes to shift about 10,000 jobs performed by the military to civilians in the coming fiscal year, if Congress approves and money can be found to finance the conversions.

Top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, have told Congress that shifting jobs to civilians would free up military personnel for the war against terrorism and the reconstruction of Iraq.

The proposal to replace military personnel with civilians is part of the Pentagon's plan to revamp the pay and personnel rules for about 746,000 civil service employees at the Defense Department. The Pentagon plan, called the "national security personnel system," was included by the House in the fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill. The measure has stalled, primarily because of contentious provisions unrelated to job conversions.

And, out of curiosity, I wonder if those gentlemen would venture a guess as to exactly which companies would be getting those contracts. What was that Rummy? Oh, I thought so.

Let's back up for a second. Suppose that Rumsfeld's larger plan for restructuring the military--the stuff in Rebuilding America's Defenses that isn't ideological pap--is right on. Wouldn't these guys care enough about that transition to at least pretend not to be completely wrapped up in self-interest? Believing the PNAC cabal is like not being alarmed by a missionary who makes a little coin on the side selling liquor to the natives.
24 hours from now this man will be placed in charge of the world's 5th largest economy:

Fortunately, the campaign to recall his time-travelling cyborg ass will begin about 15 minutes after the inauguration. And I've got my recall candidate:

Democracy may well be overrated. The neoconservatives are right: we don't have the ability to fucking rule ourselves for shit. Henceforth I am deferring all of my major decisions to either Paul Wolfowitz or Jean-Claude van Damme.
Graham Quits as Democratic Candidate (washingtonpost.com)

Graham hasn't run the best of campaigns, but he has done a decent job of using the extra press brought on by his presidential bid to draw attention to the Joint Congressional 9/11 report, among other things. I predict that this won't be the last we hear of Graham: he seems a possible running mate for someone, or at least a possible cabinet appointment.

His popularity in Florida is too good to pass up in what looks like a tight election.

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