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.”

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