Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Wednesday, March 31, 2004  

Gallup Poll Data

A poll conducted by Gallup last week shows some interesting results in the wake of the Clarke news. I'd say it's premature to know what effect it will have in the long term (I expect a slow erosion), but even at that, the findings are instructive.

On terrorism, his support has slipped among Democrats and Independents, which is bad news for his re-election. I don't need to remind you that he won the election by getting a half-million few votes than Gore. If he loses the battle outside his base, he loses the election.

Handling of Terrorism (Percent approving), Dec 7, March 28
Republicans: 93%, 93%
Independents: 64%, 49%
Democrats: 42%, 26%

The Clarke material is harder to interpret. The rally-around-the-President effect offsets some of Clarke's charges, but Americans are following it, and it is having an effect. Seventy percent of Americans say they're following the Clarke accusations at least somewhat closely. On believability, Gallup writes:

So far, the American public has declared the verbal sparring contest a draw -- 44% say they believe Clarke in this matter and 46% side with current Bush administration officials. Responses to this poll question are strongly partisan -- 83% of Republicans believe current Bush officials, while 76% of Democrats believe Clarke. Independents are more likely to believe Clarke (51%) than the Bush administration (36%).

Add to that that 54% of Americans think Bush could have done more to prevent 9/11 (a figure not likely to go down), and 53% think the administration's trying to cover something up, and it looks grim for Dubya in the weeks ahead.

On the other hand, his overall approval is actually up, to 53%, and he's widened his lead over Kerry.

The figures are contradictory in some ways. I think this mainly reflects the public's relative unfamiliarity with John Kerry. They don't like Bush on the one hand, but they don't know Kerry on the other (except, perhaps, what they've learned in the Bush hit pieces). So while they're distrustful of Bush, they still have no basis for trusting Kerry, either. Of course, all of this will change, and it represents a good opportunity for Kerry.

I suspect people outside the base aren't going to reverse their mistrust of the President. His mendacity and shadiness have mostly been obscured to the general public behind his mien of "defender." But now, with attacks coming from all sides, and a press more willing to call him on his obvious misrepresentations, the chickens are coming home to roost. Kerry doesn't have to be that spectacular to capture wavering allegiances. I expect to see a general weakening of the President's approval numbers this summer. (I have, lately, been so far off base on my predictions that this speculation may be the best news Bushies have gotten in a long time.)

[Update: Liberal Oasis has some excellent analysis on this and other poll numbers.]

posted by Jeff | 12:06 PM |
 

I feel compelled to inquire. What's up with the comments? Generally people don't comment when my content dips--but then so do hits. That unfailing market logic. But folks seem to be visiting reliably. So what gives?

posted by Jeff | 10:48 AM |
 

Oh No! From deep within my windowless cinderblock building, I am only barely able to hear Al Franken broadcasting the first words of Air America. I'll try to endure the high buzz and hear what Al has to say, but I don't know how long I can handle this.

So far things are going pretty well for him, but you figure he must have had it scripted fairly tightly. After the embarrassing admission about the show's name, he seems to have gotten on track. ("Many people have asked me why 'The O'Franken Factor?' For one reason and one reason only--to annoy Bill O'Reilly." Oy. Let's hope his aspirations for the show are higher than that.)

Guests who are slated to appear: Bob Kerrey (2nd hour) and Michael Moore (3rd hour). Stay tuned...

[Update: At the risk of losing my exclusive front seat at this historic event, I'll point out that you can get a feed of the show here.]

posted by Jeff | 9:02 AM |
 

Let's recap: a high-ranking official goes on 60 Minutes and creates a firestorm with accusations from a recently-published book that the administration mishandled policy. The White House retaliates, not by refuting the charges, but by slagging the character of the official and suggesting he may have committed a crime by printing some of the information in his book. No, not Richard Clarke--Paul O'Neill.

And as we're watching a second scorched earth campaign in an uncannily-similar scenario against a former administration official, it bears mentioning that last week O'Neill was cleared of wrongdoing (in news I completely missed):

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who painted an unflattering portrait of President Bush in a book in January, received 140 government documents for the book that should not have been released after he left office, the Treasury Department's inspector general says.

The report Monday from Jeffrey Rush Jr. said that no federal laws had been violated in the release of the documents but that Treasury needed to improve the way it handled sensitive documents....

Treasury began its investigation in January after CBS's "60 Minutes" showed a document marked "secret" during an interview in which O'Neill promoted the new book, "The Price of Loyalty."

I have no doubt that Clarke will be cleared of wrongdoing, too. If the smear campaign works well enough to keep the Bush ship afloat and he somehow manages to win re-election, I expect to see another small report, probably by year's end, clearking Clarke of wrongdoing. But hey, that's then, right?

posted by Jeff | 7:21 AM |


Tuesday, March 30, 2004  

McClellan:

This was something that the President essentially -- well, one, I think that our White House Counsel's Office is always in close contact with the commission and in close contact with the chairman and vice-chairman to talk about ways we can meet their needs. And they have remained close -- the Counsel's Office has remained in close contact with the chairman and vice-chairman.

I think the President, essentially, over the weekend decided that we should pursue this with the commission, pursue the possibility of Dr. Rice testifying publicly under oath, provided that we can uphold this important principle. It's important to protect the principle of separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch. It's a very important principle. Certainly I think that it's important to protect for future Presidents, to make sure that they can continue to receive the kind of advice and information they need from their staff to protect the American people. So that's important.

It gets worse:

Q Scott, there's a rumor today that the President brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Can you confirm?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President carefully considered -- well, I think we need to look at the importance of nutrition and health. There are the berries, which I believe come from California, and the peanuts. Well, the peanuts, of course, are domestically-grown. The President has always been enthusiastic about peanuts. One thing we can say, essentially -- I mean, it's important to understand the broader context within which the sandwich, although I didn't personally see the sandwich, the reported sandwich was brought or believed to be brought. Because the President believes in nutrition. It's an important issue that the President feels very strongly about.

Okay, I made that second one up. But it was no less coherent than anything else he's been saying lately. Do you think it's possible for him to make a single, direct declarative statement?

posted by Jeff | 4:28 PM |
 

Waving the Flag

Writing at his spiffy new digs on the Washington Monthly website, Kevin "don't call me CalPundit no more" Drum wonders "why the Bush administration hasn't [just told the truth] in the case of Dick Clarke." He thereafter provides a plausible scenario about how the Clarke debacle might have played differently out had the Bushies stuck to the truth. (I should use the opportunity to opine that the Bushies have spent so much time in the spin cycle, "truth" is no longer a comprehensible concept. But I digress.)

I have a different question: who cares why? The fact is, the episode has again highlighted the achilles heel of this administration. They are incapable of ceding a point. Even when, as our newly dubbed Political Animal notes, the response is far, far worse than the initial charge. Like an enraged bull, when they see the red flag, the White House charges.

I say leave behind the psychoanalysis. I don't really care why the bull is enraged, but it seems a powerful fact that he is. Exploit it. If I were the Dems, I'd craft a "Piss off George" 90-day plan. The mechanism is clear: find credible, honest critics of Bush, and promote them. We already know NY firefighters hate Bush. Hire one of them to stand next to Kerry. The 9/11 families are alternately confused and angry. If they're the ones asking why we invaded Iraq instead of creating terror-fighting infrastructure, Bush will look ridiculous fighting back. There are so many people out there with a beef against this administration--parents of soldiers, the unemployed, the poor who have lost services, and on and on. Finding them isn't hard. What they need is a voice. Dems should be in the business of giving them opportunities to get their message out.

We know Bush can't abide criticism, so what happens next is fairly predictable.

posted by Jeff | 12:14 PM |
 

Air America

This whole liberal radio thing's a bit embarrasing, isn't it? I'm particularly embarrassed that Franken's calling his show the O'Franken Factor. Ouch--that's doesn't bode well.

On the upside, Portland's one of the four markets that gets Air America, so I can tune in tomorrow and see if it blows. Stay tuned.

[Update: Apparently Kos, Atrios, and Bill Scher are going to be on the radio tomorrow. Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged has posted a bunch of information at The American Street.]

posted by Jeff | 9:58 AM |
 

Condi gets her wish.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will be allowed to testify in public under oath before the commission investigating the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an administration official said Tuesday.

The official said the decision is conditioned on the Bush administration receiving assurances in writing from the commission that such a step does not set a precedent, said the official speaking on condition of anonymity. It appeared the administration already had such assurances verbally in private and is confident it will get them in writing.

White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales has sent a letter to the commission stating that Rice is prepared to testify publicly as long as the administration receives assurances from the panel that this is not precedent setting, the official said.

On Sunday she told Ed Bradley: "I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle here ... it is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress. " Apparently political calculations have trumped the principle. Politics guiding policy? That's something I never expected to see from this White House...

posted by Jeff | 7:23 AM |


Monday, March 29, 2004  



There's a local blogger who managed to get a front-page profile in the Oregonian today (and well deserved at that). For anyone who wonders what effect bloggers can have on journalism, this is a must read.

At the hearing on the park exclusions ordinance, b!X takes a seat in the back row of the City Council chambers, as is his custom (despite the fact that he needs glasses and must squint to make out anything far away). At one point, microphone difficulties make it hard to hear what Commissioner Randy Leonard is saying, and b!X leans forward, straining to hear, until his torso is almost parallel to the ground.

Later, on his Web site, he paraphrased Leonard's remarks and included this disclaimer: "The specific comments were difficult to make out, since Leonard's microphone either was on the fritz, or he wasn't making use of it. But the above is the general thrust of his continuing concerns."

Leonard is an avid reader of the site, visiting at least three times a day -- even after b!X once wrote the headline "Is Leonard Literate?" Leonard frequently posts comments on "Portland Communique," (as he did on the park exclusions entry to clarify what the microphone had failed to amplify), and he has on occasion alerted b!X to stories before the rest of the Portland news media.

Do-it-yourself journalism folks--and journalism that matters. Pretty cool stuff. (Although I'm damn envious, I'm proud he hails from our fair city--they don't call us "Little Beirut" for nothin'.)

posted by Jeff | 7:58 PM |
 

All right, enough fun and games with this Clarke business. Turns out there's actually an election on. The other guy, it further turns out, unveiled his economic plan on Friday. Who knew?

(Note to the Kerry campaign: fridays are usually the day when you put out news you don't want reported. That's why it's called the "friday news dump.")

There's more than just a little John Edwards in the plan. (Is there a Las Vegas line on who Kerry will select as his running mate? Edwards must like the looks of things from this proposal.) On his website, the economic plan has the catchy title "Restoring Jobs and Rebuilding Our Economy." More:

Democrat John Kerry's economic plan unveiled Friday includes a tax hike for upper-income Americans, an end to corporate tax deferral for companies that earn profits overseas, and a five percent tax cut on the corporate rate.

"We now have a tax code that does more to reward companies for moving overseas than it does to reward them for creating jobs here in America," Kerry said.

"So, if I am elected president, I will fight for the most sweeping international tax law reform in 40 years, a plan to replace tax incentives to take jobs offshore with new incentives for job creation on our own shores," Kerry said, adding that a company that relocates overseas could avoid paying taxes "perhaps forever."

I'll have to dig around later and see what the big brains of the economic wing of the blogosphere (Nathan, Brad, Max) have to say about it. So far, they're caught up in Clarkemania with the rest of us.

posted by Jeff | 2:11 PM |
 

In my continuing series of interviews with Oregon candidates, I have a wonderful interview with Democratic candidate Ross Carroll today at the Oregon Blog. Even if you don't live in Klamath County, Oregon, you may enjoy this interview. Mr. Carroll's answers are thoughtful and generous.

For ten years, Republicans and Democrats in the Oregon legislature have honed the art of vicious attack, even while the state slides into mismanaged chaos. Let's hope the good people of Southern Oregon elect Mr. Carroll--he's the kind of leader we need.

posted by Jeff | 11:42 AM |
 

On Credibility

The sole course of attack available to the White House against Richard Clarke's allegations is personal--he's not credible. The reason, obviously, is because his allegations are true. How do we know? Oddly, we know because the administration has told us so. If his accusations were false, the administration would be attacking his argument, not his credibility. That they can't find a single false claim to attack is the very proof of the claims' accuracy.

So let's talk credibility. Immediately following Clarke's 60 Minutes appearance, the White House tried to deny that Bush even met with Clarke on 9/12. Why would the WH think this is a good argument? Not meeting with the head of counterterrorism following 9/11 is more inexplicable than asking about Iraq. But never mind that--it was a lie, anyway. Later, once the WH learned there was proof the meeting happened, they decided to cop to it. Through all of this, of course, Clarke suffered ad hominem attack after ad hominem attack--and never changed his story.

So then the WH decided to try to show a discrepancy between Clarke's book and his previous comments. Bizarrely, it played the resignation-letter card. Scott McClellan trotted out this letter, which was cordial and thanked the President, saying it proved Clarke must have thought everything was hunky dory with WH policy toward terrorism. Again, why the WH felt this argument would somehow defame Clarke is incomprehensible. But never mind--Clarke had a response. Yesterday, on Meet the Press, he produced a handwritten letter from the President praising Clarke for leaving "a positive mark on goverment" and serving the nation "with distinction and honor." Why then is the White House attacking him like he's Osama bin Laden?

Then the biggie--the WH, this time through surrogates in the Senate, demanded the declassification of Clarke's testimony in 2002 before House and Senate intelligence committees. And then yesterday, Clarke agreed, demanding that they be declassified--knowing they will exonerate him.

Along the way, the administration tried to bolster its terror-fightin' cred. In a well-choreographed media assault, White House minions argued--against all evidence--that terrorism was its highest priority leading up to 9/11. Yet even Bob Woodward's book Bush at War--which has heretofore been used by the WH at every available PR opportunity--disputes this claim. As does all relevant declassified information currently available.

Now Condi Rice, affecting a disappointed face, laments she can't appear under oath before the 9/11 committee because it would set a dangerous precedent. But dang it, she'd surely love to. I have no doubt this will backfire. The reason Condi won't testify, obviously, is because the adminstration wants to avoid culpability. It will backfire because the administration's objection is a thin legal one, not a constitutional one. (The 9/11 commission isn't an official government body. Of course Condi could appear--and would, if the WH didn't have something to hide. How do I know? See my logical proof above.)

So throughout this whole sordid mess, every single allegation by Clarke has stood unrefuted. In the meantime, every single argument offered up by the White House has been refuted, abandoned, or called into serious question by contradictory evidence and facts.

So after a week of this nonsense, I'm compelled to agree with the White House. Once again, there is a huge "credibility" problem. I am not shocked: it tends to happen when you lie through your teeth.

[More:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by their former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week, political analysts said.

"The Bush administration and its allies have certainly not helped the story go away," said Howard Opinsky, a Republican operative who ran media relations for Arizona Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential bid.

"Instead, they adopted the risky strategy of trying to refute his charges, which makes it appear that they have something to hide," he said.

No--ya think?]

posted by Jeff | 8:09 AM |


Sunday, March 28, 2004  

Condi was on 60 Minutes tonight. Actually is on, if you're out here on the west coast. I took a peek at the transcript and saw the final exchange. Any more than that and it won't be any fun to watch.

ED BRADLEY::
But my question is, how did [Richard Clarke's] apology [at the 9/11 hearings] make you feel? Did you think he was grandstanding? Did you think it was sincere?

CONDOLEZZA RICE:
I - I'm not going to - to question what - Dick Clarke was or was not feeling. I think from my point of view, the families need to know that - everybody understands the deep loss.

ED BRADLEY::
Will the families of those people who were killed hear an apology from you? Do you think that would be appropriate?

CONDOLEZZA RICE:
The families, I think, have heard from this president that - and from me, and from me personally in some cases in that field in Pennsylvania or at the World Trade Center, how - deeply sorry everyone is for the loss that they endured. You couldn't be human and not feel the horror of that day. We do need to stay focused on what happened to us that day. And the best thing that we can do for the memory of the victims, the best thing that we can do for the future of this country, is to focus on those who did this to us.

Now, it's possible she delivered these words with some kind of Clintonian sympathy (though it would be the first time), so I don't want to jump the gun. There's been a whole lot of talk from the White House about credibility. Having read that, let me ask: who's sounding more credible right about now?

posted by Jeff | 6:23 PM |
 

Never Try to Bluff an Honest Man

"I would welcome it being declassified, but not just a little line here or there. Let's declassify all six hours of my testimony....

"Yes, and those documents I just referred to and Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission because the victims' families have no idea what Dr. Rice has said. There weren't in those closed hearings where she testified before the 9-11 Commission. They want to know. So let's take her testimony before the 9-11 Commission and make it part of the package of what gets declassified along with the national security decision directive of September 4 and along with my memo of January 25.

"In fact, Tim, let's go further. The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press. Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I've sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20 to September 11 and let's declassify all of it."

--Richard Clarke, Meet the Press, this morning

Whoops. The White House has been in spin mode so long they haven't the faintest clue which direction is up. I suppose they expected Clarke to cringe and shrink away from his record just as surely as they cringe and shrink away any time there's talk of investigating their own record. They forgot that sometimes a person goes to work, does the best job he knows how, and stands by his record. Clarke's happy to remind them.

Having seen that the President stoops quickly to personal attacks, Clarke pulled out some of his personal artillery--a letter from the President written after Clarke resigned.

"Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government." This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president's handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid--because all these people work for the government-- character assassination campaign.

There's quite a bit of discussion about Clarke's motivation there too--though personally I find it rather tedious. If you're stupid enough to question Clarke's motivation in writing the book, but not Bush's motivation in trying to smear Clarke, there's not anything anyone can say to penetrate your ignorance.

Russert: Bush Attack Dog
It is fairly evident that Tim Russert is carrying the White House's water again--he came in armed with the most damning information available (to friends of the administration). He also repeated the most vicious of the attacks on Clarke. Through it all, Clarke responded exactly as you would expect an honest man with nothing to hide to respond. Example:

MR. RUSSERT: Forty-two family members wrote an open letter which is in the papers today saying that the book is offensive and profiteering and maximizing book sales because of September 11. What do you say to those families?

That's a low blow if ever there was one. (He doesn't mention the families who were delighted that someone--anyone--from the White House finally apologized.) Clarke would be forgiven, in my view, for punching Russert in the nose. How did he actually respond?

MR. CLARKE: Well, I say I'd like them to read it. You know, as to Senator Frist's comments, that it's filled with highly classified information, it was approved by the White House for release. And anything that the White House found in it that they thought was highly classified was removed. You know, I had a very emotional meeting with the families after the commission hearing. I had asked for their forgiveness in my testimony. And several of them came up to me and said, "I forgive you, I forgive you." It was a moment that I will never forget. And for Senator Frist to say that I didn't have the right to ask for their forgiveness, that I didn't have the right to apologize, I just think is an example of how this whole debate has gotten overheated. And I'd like to return to a level of civility here.

Further evidence of Russert water-carrying: he spent a long time rehashing the Clinton material. Russert might have had Clarke on the show to offer his own views; instead, Clarke was in the interrogation room, grilled by Russert, the White House's proxy. When Russert finally arrives at what I think is the most damning claims by Clarke--that Bush attacked Iraq even though he knew it wasn't connected to al Qaida--it's to defend against Bush counterattacks aimed at Clarke. ("Did you speak out against the war inside the government?")

He rounds off the interrogation with the Kerry charges. Clarke, again, manages them admirably.

MR. RUSSERT: In 2004 you'll vote for John Kerry?

MR. CLARKE: I'm not going to endorse John Kerry. That's what the White House wants me to do. And they want to say I'm part of the Kerry campaign. I've already pledged I'm not part of the Kerry campaign and I will not serve in the Kerry administration.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you vote for him?

MR. CLARKE: That's my business.

The Bushies may finally have run up against their worst nightmare: an honest man.

posted by Jeff | 10:37 AM |
 

This week's New Yorker takes a close look at Bush's America--Cameron County in South Texas. If you have much human decency, it's not an easy read.

From her own improvisatory childhood, Lupita knew the tricks of low-budget householding: when even Wal-Mart is out of your price range, secondhand clothes can be purchased by the pound, the pallet, or the bale; the Port of Brownsville contains enough fresh crabs for three days’ dinner, if you have a bit of raw chicken and some string to fish them out. But, as the fall of 2003 progressed, her unemployment and health benefits had expired, her 401(k) from the textile factory had been cashed out, and she was still selling lunches. The state workforce commission had predicted that twenty-five medical-assistant jobs would open in Cameron County in 2003, but it would be difficult to secure one. In one class of laid-off textile workers alone, eighty-five people had been trained for the profession.

Other Cameron Park job-seekers sustained their hopes by lighting “miracle candles” sold in local grocery stores—candles emblazoned with messages like “Select Me for the Company” or “Increase the Wages Offered.”

In George Bush's Texas (and now America), the poor and politically weak offer opportunity. It's from their meager pocketbooks thta fantastic fortunes can built.

The hundred-and-fifty-three-year-old Fruit of the Loom company, owned by Warren Buffett’s Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, had just announced that its Cameron County factory would close by the end of the year. Much of its production would be shifted to Honduras....

Fruit of the Loom had chosen a few veteran laborers to go, briefly, to Honduras to train the cheaper workers who would replace them. Some of the others would board the meat- and poultry-industry buses that idled outside the county employment office, luring those sufficiently desperate to take short-term slaughterhouse jobs in the Ozarks. But, as Fruit of the Loom’s cutting machines and bleaching vats were cranked up on pallet jacks, loaded onto flatbeds, and hauled to the Port of Brownsville, many of the company’s workers pocketed a month’s severance and filed into Mario’s van. They applied for unemployment assistance equal to roughly half their former wages, took aptitude tests, and studied the twenty training brochures that were taped to the van’s walls.

And:

When she sold a plot, she negotiated the mortgage-payment terms and schedules, without the involvement of banks, in an arrangement known as “seller-take-back.” In a state where seventy-one per cent of the residents don’t have a checking account, let alone good credit, seller-take-back is a crucial niche in the real-estate market....

To house her family, María, in 1992, had bought a tiny lot from Elida Greenwood. The price was nine thousand dollars, with a twelve-per-cent interest rate.

Remember folks, he's a compassionate conservative.

posted by Jeff | 7:57 AM |


Saturday, March 27, 2004  

This was inevitable, yet Kerry did a fine job of letting the Bushies stew in their juices before he gave them another target.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - Prospective Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry challenged key White House adviser Condoleezza Rice on Saturday to testify publicly and under oath before a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Kerry accused President Bush's White House of stonewalling the commission by keeping Rice off its public witness list, and of attempting "character assassination" against its own former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke....

Noting that Rice planned an appearance Sunday night on CBS' "60 Minutes" program, the same forum Clarke used to attack Bush last weekend, Kerry added:

"If Condoleezza Rice can find time to do '60 Minutes' on television before the American people, she ought to find 60 minutes to speak to the commission under oath," Kerry said.

He said Franklin Roosevelt had had no problem cooperating with an investigation of America's unpreparedness for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II, and added:

"This administration has done the opposite -- stonewalled this commission."

posted by Jeff | 3:18 PM |
 

When trying to get a handle on the assumptions of an argument, it is generally useful to flip an argument. For example, the Bushies charge Clarke with lying in his book and testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Rather than following that rabbit down the hole, flip the argument: who has the greater motivation to lie--a President in the middle of a re-election campaign, or a retired beaurocrat?

On the debate over the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the debate is usually framed from the point of view of the status quo--what harm is being done by inserting the phrase into the pledge? After all, it's really not a specific God, and it's really not that religious. Where's the harm in a little mention? (See, as always, the cofunsed Rich Lowry for a prime example of this argument.)

All right then, let's flip it around: what's gained by leaving it in? If it really isn't religious, how is our allegiance clarified by its insertion? And if it is religious, just non-demoninationally so, why not opt for a less obviously Christian "God"--say Brahman or Allah?

Obviously, it's an explicit statement of Christian belief. If the Supreme Court wishes to allow the phrase to remain in the pledge, it should remain in there based on it's actual purpose, not because could also function as a metaphor for some distant, constitutional concept. We have an amendment that was created specifically to answer questions like this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." And we have a Congressionally-created pledge doing that very thing. The math isn't particularly tough here.

Nothing is lost by removing the phrase from the pledge. Much is lost, however, by leaving it in.

posted by Jeff | 9:29 AM |


Friday, March 26, 2004  

From the office of the White House

***For Immediate Release***
RICHARD CLARKE: DISGRUNTLED CLINTONITE ON A VENDETTA?

Recently, a former junior member of the Bush cyber security team, Richard Clarke, made some unsubstantiated allegations about the administration's foreign policy--apparently to promote a new tell-all book just hitting shelves. In routine background checks made since publication of his book, the administration has uncovered some disturbing facts about Mr. Clarke. In the interest of national security, the White House feels compelled--reluctantly--to release the findings of its inquiry.

Disgruntled
Richard Clarke was once a powerful man. In the Clinton White House, he held a cabinet-level position as so-called "Terrorism Czar." In that position, Clarke lorded his might over a retinue of underlings. The soft-willed president for whom he then worked catered to his every whim. In the heyday of his power, Clarke was seen around Washington in catered cars, laughing maliciously, and chewing on thick Cuban maduros.

All that came to a crashing halt under the eagle eye of a new, vigilent adminstration. Relieved of his minions, his cars, and his cigars, Clarke was struck low, compelled to toil in a windowless cinderblock building as a mere bureaucrat surfing the net for terrorist chatter. Oh how that must have chafed the embittered Clarke!

Secret documents produced by Attorney General Ashcroft show that Clarke was merely "biding his time" until he could resign and begin work on the very book published last week. Then, the documents said, he would "wreak a just vengeance upon his tormentors."

Clintonite
Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Clarke was a Reagan appointee who worked under three Republican Presidents and two Bushes. These belie a far more sinister past. Although he did, in fact, serve Presidents Reagan and Bush, he didn't like it. Past co-workers note that he was critical of Reagan, and suggested that the "trickle down" theory may have been flawed. Of the first President Bush, Mr. Clarke regularly observed that "that 'read my lips' thing is going to bite him in the ass." While working for both presidents, Clarke was described as "dour" and "tense."

But that all changed in January 1993 when one William J. Clinton came to town. Clarke's entire demeanor changed as rapidly as his ascent up the ladder of power. On more than one occasion, staffers watched as Clarke partied with internet millionaires in the Lincoln bedroom. According to some sources, Clarke was known as "Dick Party." It was not long before cars and cigars followed.

"Dick and Bill," said an anonymous source, "were like two bugs in a rug. A dirty, stained rug."

Finally, Secret documents by Attorney General Ashcroft also show that Mr. Clarke's Republican registration was no more than a ruse--part of his diabolical plot to defame the administration George W. Bush, banisher of evil, President and loyal defender of the United States of America.

####

posted by Jeff | 12:10 PM |
 

I expect to have a bit of satire up later today. In the meantime, enjoy this bit by Brad DeLong, in which he imagines what Condi would tell the 9/11 commission.

When I took office on January 21, I was immediately confronted by a profound bureaucratic anomaly: Richard Clarke. Typically, NSC senior directors take their instructions in day-to-day matters from my deputy, Steven Hadley. When they have policy proposals, they first seek consensus on what the policy options should be from a staff-level interdepartmental working group that they chair, and then take that consensus (and whatever limited points of disagreement on what the live options are remain) to the NSC deputies committee. After the NSC deputies committee has properly framed the issues, the matter is then discussed by the NSC principals committee--made up of cabinet members--that I chair, which decides what decisions the president needs to make and how the options on those decisions are to be presented to him.

More...

posted by Jeff | 10:23 AM |
 

According to a Pew poll released today, 90% of Americans have heard of Richard Clarke. So far, it doesn't look to be having a large effect on polling numbers, but you have to think that a scenario in which Clarke's accusations help the President is obscure indeed.

posted by Jeff | 9:05 AM |


Thursday, March 25, 2004  

George W. Bush is running for re-election based principally on his foreign policy "successes." I agree, he should run on that record. But lest we get caught up in the gauzey, soft-focus patriotism of 9/11, why not review that record for what it is? What I've compiled isn't exhaustive (though it is nevertheless overlong), but I think represents the President's record fairly well.

January 20 to September 10, 2001

  • Before the election, Bush argues against "nation building" and is swept into office by -500,000 votes. "I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation building core from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops."

  • Bush meets Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time, looks into his eyes and sees his soul.

  • By all accounts, the President dinks around on foreign policy, content to build up a cold-war defense in the age of terror. He begins by immediately putting Star Wars back on track. Even though NATO opposes it, the Bushies declare it necessary. It appears to contravene the ABM missile treaty, but never mind--Rummy immediately dismisses this criticism, even though a little less than a year later, the US will pull out of that very treaty.

  • Bush damages the US’s foreign policy position by thumbing his nose at international cooperation--the Kyoto agreement on environmentalism, the war crimes treaty (in 2002), and arms control treaties, including the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

  • On the Korean Peninsula, Bush abandons any policy, saying he’ll neither support the ‘Sunshine Policy’ nor negotiate with the North Koreans.

    September 11, 2001

  • Shortly after planes crash into the world trade center, Bush makes a brief announcement that he "unfortunately, will be going back to Washington after my remarks." Following the announcement, he leaves a Sarasota schoolroom and flies not to Washington, but Nebraska. Meanwhile, Rudolph Giuliani goes quickly to the site of the bombing and calms the nation.

  • Later that night, Bush gives the most-lauded statement of his presidency. In retrospect, it is akin to his usual speeches ("A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."), but notable for a line that is later used as a major feature of Bush policy: "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts? We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."


    September 12, 2001 and after

  • Following the 9/11 attacks, the White House enjoys unprecedented support from around the world. It is a mood of surprising evanescence.

  • In early October, Bush cites 9/11 as the cause for proposed tax cuts. But to make sure that the economy gets the boost it needs, Congress ought to come together quickly and accept the ideas that I've just laid out. We believe that will be the best way to make sure that America recovers from the terrorist attack of September the 11th."

  • Also in early October, Bush proposes an office of Homeland Security.

  • The 342-page Patriot Act is rushed through Congress and signed by the President on Oct 26.

  • October/November - US and allies invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and install Hamid Karzai as President. At the eve of 2002, Bush is still confident of capturing Osama bin Laden. "We're going to get him and it's just a matter of when."

  • December 14th, 2001--Bush pulls out of the ABM treaty with Russia.

  • Bush introduces a new legal concept: "unlawful combatants." In January of 2002, the first prisoners from Afghanistan are imprisoned in Guantanamo, Cuba. In all, over 600 are detained from 40 countries, none with legal standing or recourse. Rumsfeld: "As I understand it, technically unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Conventions." World support for the Bush foreign policy declines.

  • In the State of the Union, utters the famous "axis of evil" phrase. "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

    The Bush foreign policy takes a unilateralist turn, and world support for the Bush foreign policy declines further.

  • Terror gradually becomes a fuction of the Homeland Security Department, and Iraq begins to dominate the foreign policy of the President. The last time he mentions the name of Osama bin Laden publically is in October 2002.

  • The Department of Homeland Security gets off to a poor start. In March 2002, it introduces a color-coded terror alert system, but no actions are associated with the alert levels. Security Secretary Tom Ridge later suggests that people have on hand duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of terrorist attack. (Advice that's still available on the White House website.

  • More ominously, DARPA suggests an invasive information tracking system to follow the activities of citizens. Another proposal would turn public servants like postal workers into government spies. On the legal front, Attorney General rounds up Muslims, subjects "suspects" to random detainments, tortures detainees, and holds uncharged detainees on the "material witness" clause. Although the President expresses his desire for secret military tribunals, it so far remains legally or politically untenable. Source.

  • In September 2002, Bush introduces the pre-emption doctrine as part of the US policy for National Security. It claimed for the US the power to defend:

    ". . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country."

    Shortly after its introduction, Bush started pushing for an invasion of Iraq.

  • UN drafts a resolution to force Iraq to comply with weapons inspections and declare all aspects of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and ballistic missiles systems. Iraq complies and announces in 12,000-word document that it no longer has WMD. Inspections commence.

  • In December, North Korea reactivates its nuclear plant and two weeks later expel UN inspectors. The President, occupied by Iraq, ignores this second member of the "axis of evil."

  • The US continues to threaten an invasion, despite a wholesale lack of support from the rest of the globe and negative results from Hans Blix’s inspection team. On September 5, Colin Powell makes the case that Iraq does indeed have WMD. Eleven days later, Blix announces that Iraq has been cooperative, removing any clear casus belli on the part of the Bush Administration. Only Britain supports the US, who invades on March 19.

  • No weapons of mass destruction have ever been found. Iraq appears to have been in compliance with UN resolutions when the US and UK invaded; certainly it did not meet the criteria necessary for invasion even in the extremely liberal Bush pre-emption doctrine.

  • April 30th, Bush proposes a "roadmap to peace" in Isreal. The situation continues to worsen. Over the course of the following year, Bush attends very rarely to the situation in Israel.

  • Over the course of late 2002 through 2003, the situation in Afghanistan worsens. President Karzai becomes a target for assassination and loses effective control beyond Kabul. Terrorism becomes increasingly common, but the US can’t provide much support.

  • The situation in North Korea worsens. In February, North Korea fires a test missile; in March, it intercepts a US plane. And in July, Pyongyang announces it has enough plutonium to make 6 nuclear bombs. The President's approach is to engage in multilateral talks, though little progress has been made.

  • On May 2, 2003, with a "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background, Bush announces the end of "major combat operations" from the deck of the USS Lincoln. A day earlier, Bush dressed in a flight suit and rode in an airplane as a PR stunt. Six months later, Bush claimed the White House wasn't responsible for the sign, though he admitted they had printed it. Of course, the situation in Iraq was far from resolved.

  • Late July, rebels stage an uprising in Liberia. Bush doesn’t respond.

  • Following the war, Iraq, now destabilized, becomes a focal point for terrorists, who stream into the country.

  • In December, US forces capture Saddam Hussein in a "spider hole" in Baghdad.

  • The plan for transfer of authority to Iraq remains unclear, even as the June date approaches. 3,354 troops have been wounded in Iraq, and 690 coalition troops have been killed.

  • In the war on terror, Bush claims to have captured 2/3rds of the leaders of al Qaida, though he does not mention what new permutations of leadership may have replaced those captured. Libya recently agreed give up pursuit of terrorism, one of the President's only clear successes in the war on terror.

  • posted by Jeff | 11:38 AM |
     

    Pop quiz:
    The next time the US is attacked by terrorists, who has a direct, secure line to Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?

    A. Local first responders--police, fire departments, port officials, etc.,
    B. A consortium of public utilities,
    C. State governors, who have the responsibility for activating National Guard units,
    D. Hospitals and health care professionals, or
    E. CEOs from 150 of the nation's largest companies, like Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, GE, Citigroup, and Bechtel.

    The answer is (E), of course, for reasons as obvious and banal as you would expect--the initiative, called CEO COM LINK, is a brainchild of the Bush White House, where the corporate interest is the only interest.

    Post continues at the American Street...

    posted by Jeff | 8:30 AM |


    Wednesday, March 24, 2004  

    Here's an interesting factoid: the last time President Bush mentioned Osama bin Laden's name publicly was in October 2002. It came during remarks after the Bali bombing. Here's the exchange:

    Q Mr. President, do you -- on that point, on Osama bin Laden, do you have a response to the letter that was put out today, allegedly under his name, praising the killing of the American Marine in Kuwait? And do you share the concerns of Senator Richard Shelby, who believes that this is, in fact, a new al Qaeda offensive?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- first, I don't know whether bin Laden is alive or dead. I -- you know, I do know al Qaeda is extremely dangerous. I do know that there are still some of his top lieutenants roaming around, and that we're doing everything we can to bring them to justice.


    posted by Jeff | 2:35 PM |
     

    This may also be hard to spin:

    Former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke sent a letter to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice one week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks urging Bush administration aides to imagine how they would feel if hundreds of Americans were killed in a terrorist strike.

    The existence of the letter came to light in testimony on Wednesday to the national commission investigating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon....

    "You urge policymakers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home and abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on Sept. 4, seven days before Sept. 11."

    In the letter, Clarke blasted the Pentagon and the CIA for failing to act against the al Qaeda organization.

    Wait. Scott, remind me again what Clarke's resignation letter said again? I think you really had him on the ropes with that one.

    posted by Jeff | 12:25 PM |
     

    The May Defense

    Global warming is either happening or it isn't. One of these is true. What's false is that it may be happening. "May" is a construction we use to indicate our own lack of certainty, not the ambiguity of global warming. We use "may" because, unlike gravity, it is not a proven law of science. Yet whether science can prove global warming or not is of little concern to the temperature of the air. It remains serenely unaffected by our uncertainty.

    Confronted with a question like global warming, we have the small advantage of knowing that the possibilities are limited, and we even know what the choices are: it's happening or it's not. You'd think, armed with this incontrovertable truth, that we'd agree to either address the phenomenon or not. We know what the possibilities are, and we know the arguments in favor of each. Pick one and move on, right?

    Unfortunately, in the age of Bush, we take the one course of action we know is wrong: we put our money on "may," ascribing our own uncertainty to the situation itself. Global warming? All signs point to yes, but it "may" not be happening. So let's improve CAFE standards marginally. Let's keep some pollution laws intact, but dispose of others.

    To address the terror threat, let's have a color-coded warning system that will alert us to the confidence of the "may." Green = terror threat may not be much of a worry; red = terror threat may be a really big fat worry. There's nothing to do in any case, but at least we can talk about the level of our uncertainty, as if the threat itself only partially exists.

    The economy may be bad. If so, tax cuts are the solution. On the other hand, it may also be improving. In that case, tax cuts are the solution. They may also create jobs. They may stimulate consumer purchases, which may jump-start industrial production. (Unless jobs have been shipped overseas, in which case industrial production doesn't much help us. Although you never know--it may.)

    Now we're witnessing the White House address the charges of Richard Clarke, its own head of counter-terrorism. Clarke alleges that the White House didn't take adequate precautions to prevent the 9/11 attacks; after they happened, he asserts the administration used them as an excuse to invade Iraq which, he says, they knew had no connection to 9/11. To these charges, will we see rebuttals? We will not. Instead, we've seen a magnificent display of the "may" defense. Clarke may have been disgruntled. He may not have been in the loop. He may be saying these things just to promote his book. He may be working for John Kerry. He may be a Clintonite.

    Global warming is either happening or it's not. George Bush either lied about Iraq so he could invade or he did not. We may not know the answer, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. And that may be the White House's biggest problem of all.

    posted by Jeff | 9:22 AM |
     

    Via Cursor, the Carpetbagger Report has a nice summary of some of the scandals currently facing the White House.

    In a similar fashion, tomorrow I intend to have a lengthy post about the Bush foreign policy record. He's running on that record, so we should have a closer look at it.

    posted by Jeff | 7:50 AM |


    Tuesday, March 23, 2004  

    More McClellan, this time trying to find traction with Clarke's resignation letter. (In case you were wondering what the sound of desperation was, read on.)

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we went through that yesterday. We went through a lot of the assertions that were being made. And I think maybe one thing to look back to is the Dick Clarke of January 30th, 2003, who submitted a letter of resignation on that day to the President of the United States. And I think this letter runs counter to what he is now asserting. Let me just read parts of this letter, and we'll be glad to make this letter available to you shortly here. This is in his own words.

    Mr. Clarke says, "It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months. I will always remember the courage, determination, calm and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th." Then he went on to say, "I will also have fond memories of our briefings for you on cyber-security and the intuitive understanding of its importance that you showed. I thank you again for the opportunity to serve you have provided me, and wish you good fortune as you lead our country through the continuing threats."

    So at this time period, when he was leaving, there was no mention of the grave concerns he claims to have had about the direction of the war on terrorism, or what we were doing to confront the threat posed by Iraq, by the former regime.

    Oh my!

    posted by Jeff | 4:24 PM |
     

    It's possible that I just installed an RSS feed. It's equally as possible that I didn't. I don't really know what the damn things are, but I've been certain for weeks that I need one. I know you'll inform me of any failures.

    Carry on.

    posted by Jeff | 3:20 PM |
     

    Medicare Broke

    Medicare will have to begin dipping into its trust fund this year to keep up with expenditures and will go broke by 2019 without changes in a program that is swelling because of rising health costs, trustees reported Tuesday.

    The deteriorating financial picture for the health care program for older and disabled Americans is a result, in part, of the new Medicare prescription drug law that will swell costs by more than $500 billion over 10 years, according to the annual report by government trustees.

    posted by Jeff | 12:47 PM |
     

    Cheney is now giving a stock stump speech, similar to the one he gave last week at the Reagan Library. It looks a whole lot like the speech the President gave over the weekend in Florida.

    If you happened to see the transcripts online, you may have noticed an alarming trend. Here's an example from the Bush speech:

    THE PRESIDENT: He's following an interesting strategy. The other day, here in Florida, he claimed some important endorsements from overseas. He won't tell us the name of the foreign admirers. That's okay, either way I'm not too worried because I'm going to keep my campaign right here in America. (Applause.)

    AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!...

    THE PRESIDENT: It is the President's job to confront problems, not to pass them on to future Presidents or future generations. (Applause.) It is the President's job to step up and make the tough decisions and to keep his commitments. And that is how I will continue to lead our great nation. (Applause.)

    AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!...

    THE PRESIDENT: My opponent has a different view of tax relief. When we passed an increase in the child credit to help families, he voted against it.

    AUDIENCE: Booo!

    THE PRESIDENT: When we reduced the marriage penalty, he voted against it.

    AUDIENCE: Booo!

    THE PRESIDENT: When we created a lower 10-percent tax rate for working families, he voted against it.

    AUDIENCE: Booo!

    [etc.]

    Now, it's one thing to put stump speeches online. The President, as a public figure, should have all public statements catalogued. But it's quite another to include responses by an audience hand-selected by the President. Does this add anything to the transcript? Or rather, is it purely base promotion? More: is it even accurate? Was this the whole crowd? Were there competing comments? Will the White House post the audience's response when the President speaks at public gatherings (if he ever does such a thing)?

    The an official government website. Is it appropriate to sex it up like this? (That's actually an open question, not a rhetorical one. It seems slimy to me, but maybe I'm missing something.)

    posted by Jeff | 10:59 AM |
     

    It's been a long time since I've commented on what other bloggers are doing, and that's more than a small failing of mine. The blogosphere is, after all, a tapestry. My one thread isn't sufficient. Here are a few more:

    Mary Beth of Wampum discusses gas prices and the economy.

    I was relatively surprised to hear of the market's slide as I half-listened to Marketplace while preparing lamb curry for dinner. There, analysts asserted "terrorism fears" were the dominant reason for the slide, a conclusion the NYTimes supported as well. My interest, however, increased exponentially when I read the second half of the Times brief para on the subject in today's report:

    The turbulence in the Middle East discouraged equity investors already uneasy about a slow economic recovery and tepid job growth. Wall Street was also worried about decreased consumer spending due to rising oil prices. [emphasis mine]

    So I've only been blathering on about this very possibility for nigh over a year now, about every time we've seen a serious spike in prices. $40/barrel has generally been what more analysts regard as the potential tipping point back into recession, and prices have bounded above $38/barrel in recent weeks.


    (Comment: The Bushies' strategy regarding the economy--as with everything--is to isolate facts. You not only don't connect dots, but you pathologically sequester them. This is an under-reported dot.)

    In the round-up of the Sunday talk shows, Liberal Oasis points out something the Clarke obsessed (don't know who that might be) may have missed:

    On ABC?s This Week, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), was making a little confession of his own:

    I was wrong about Bush...

    ...In my many hours of discussions with him after 9/11, before we went into Iraq... I didn't think he was so fixated on Iraq.

    I didn't think he really was unrelenting, go into Iraq no matter what.

    Some people told me he was.


    And as he referred to "some people," he patted his friend Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) three times on the knee.

    Hagel didn't seem to mind, and he sought no clarification.

    (Comment: This is the secret problem the Bushies face this year--party division. As long as the economy continues to sink and foreign policy remains a muddle, GOP congressfolk are going to keep one foot on firm ground in case the Bush ship sinks. The more it lists, the more they'll be shifting their weight.)

    Bohemian Mama wants to save Angel, the TV show:

    The Save Angel Campaign got national coverage today. Quality television must be defended! Go Angel Savers!

    (Comment: Well, it's certainly a lot better than the competition.)

    In the midst of the Clarke storm, Norbizness points us to this fact (from Dana Millbank at the Post):

    In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows...

    ... Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for 'collaborative capabilities.'...

    ... A draft of Ashcroft's 'Strategic Plan' from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs"

    Comment: Millbank's Clintonite scum! No, wait...)

    Suburban Guerrilla: all of it.

    (Comment: Are those footsteps Atrios is hearing? Susan's been increasingly becoming the go-to blogger for news.)

    Since I started with the economy, let me finish there. Nathan Newman talks turkey--or rather, China. And jobs. It's one of the best posts I've read on the jobs issues, and you absolutely must click here.

    Some analysts will wave away the problem, noting that China's $168 billion in exports to the United States is only a bit more than 1% of the $11 trillion US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).... But dollars are not the real issue. Jobs are. And the question is how many jobs are represented by that $168 billion in exports by China....

    So think about the US economy this way-- to produce all the goods and services Americans consume, it takes 138 million American workers and 90 million Chinese workers (plus some additional number of workers producing other imported goods) to make them.

    posted by Jeff | 8:18 AM |


    Monday, March 22, 2004  

    Presto change-o, it's not about the administration, it's about disgruntled Richard Clarke:

    MR. McCLELLAN: It appears from what I've seen that he's been more focused on the process than the substance. It appears to be more about Dick Clarke than about the substance. For the President, it's more about the actions that we are taking to protect the American people. Mr. Clarke has been out there talking about what title he had; he's been out there talking about whether or not he was participating in certain meetings. So it appears to be more about the process than the actual actions we have taken.

    I'm going to quit harping on all this soon, but indulge me. The press briefing continues:

    Q That seems a little simple, doesn't it, Scott? I mean, the process matters when you work in the White House and have to get the attention of superiors who ultimately have the President's ear to make a decision. So isn't that a little disingenuous to dismiss it as a process complaint?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second here. This is a gentleman that left the administration one-and-a-half years ago. Certainly let's go to the facts. These threats did not happen overnight. These threats have been building for quite some time. Go back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Go back to the 1998 attacks on United States embassies. Go back to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. These threats had been building for quite some time. Dick Clarke was here for some eight years. This administration was here for some 230 days before the attacks of September 11th....

    Q Why do you think he's doing this?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let's look at the politics of it. His best buddy is Rand Beers, who is the principal foreign policy advisor to Senator Kerry's campaign. The Kerry campaign went out and immediately put these comments up on their website that Mr. Clarke made....

    Q Scott, the whole point of his book is he says that he did raise these concerns and he was not listened to by his superiors.

    I guess we see how the White House is going to handle this. By now it's become a pretty familiar pattern. Once again someone close to the President offers a version of how things played out that is damning. It also happens to cleave very closely to the facts as we watched them play out externally. The White House obfuscates and offers alternative explanations about how things happened, and these don't look anything at all like what we saw play out. Will it further erode the President's credibility? Hard to see how it won't.

    (Now I promise to drop the Clarke business.)

    posted by Jeff | 2:53 PM |
     

    I tuned in to the Limbaugh show this morning to get a sense about how White House apologists would respond to Clarke's statements. It wasn't a pretty sight. His take: it's an attack from the Clinton administration. Roughly: "The Clinton administration and officials, with help from their friends in the media, are desperate to rewrite history to save Clinton's legacy." Ignoring the fact that Clarke was a Reagan appointee who spent 14 of 22 years in GOP administrations, Rush is hoping to convince the dittoheads he's actually a Clintonite. (It'll probably work, but who cares--the dittoheads weren't wavering toward Kerry, anyway.) From there, he minimized Clarke's influence and has tagged him a man spurned by the Bushies bent on revenge.

    Cheney spent two segments on the show, but spoke only a fraction of the time. It was a staged PR event in which Rush was allowed to assert a number of false facts while Cheney mildly backed up the President. The most salient thing he said was this (again, roughly, from memory):

    "He was the head of terrorism there [the Clinton administration] for several years, and I didn't notice they had a particularly strong effect on terrorism."

    So that's what they're saying on the fringe: Clarke's a spurned Clintonite who's lashing out because he got demoted by Bush.

    (No one, so far, seems to be rebutting Clarke's sharpest accusation: that there was no intel linking al Qaida and Iraq, and that the White House knew this, but decided to invade anyway. I wonder why?)

    [Update: Josh points us to the Limbaugh/Cheney transcript. The quote I paraphrased actually read like this: "As I say, he was head of counterterrorism for several years there in the nineties, and I didn't notice that they had any great success dealing with the terrorist threat."

    And since we have the transcript, here's Rush's feeble attempt to cast this as Clinton's fault: "[Y]ou have the Clinton administration, if they defended the country as eagerly and with as much fervor as they are attempting to defend themselves in all this, we might have -- I don't expect you to comment -- we might have escaped some of the attacks that we've had."]

    posted by Jeff | 10:59 AM |
     

    Dick Cheney is about to join the Rush Limbaugh show...

    posted by Jeff | 10:00 AM |
     

    Last night's interview with Richard Clarke did not disappoint. As a Reagan appointee and former "terrorism czar" under Clinton (a position Bush eliminated), Clarke's loaded with cred. The White House is sufficiently freaked to go on the attack (launching the dogs). They're starting with the pit bull, Condi Rice, who writes in today's Washington Post.

    It's an interesting document. Rice begins by giving a point-by-point "rebuttal" of Clarke's charges, but they essentially amount to nothing more than a "we did too prepare for al Qaida." It's not particularly convincing--but it's clearly language crafted to keep the White House on the right side of the truth. Listen:

    "We committed more funding to counterterrorism and intelligence efforts. We increased efforts to go after al Qaeda's finances.... We pushed hard to arm the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle so we could target terrorists with greater precision.... We also considered a modest spring 2001 increase in funding for the Northern Alliance."

    She goes on to make statements that do seem to run against Clarke's charges, though, and charges that will certainly be challenged in days to come.

    Through the summer increasing intelligence "chatter" focused almost exclusively on potential attacks overseas. Nonetheless, we asked for any indication of domestic threats and directed our counterterrorism team to coordinate with domestic agencies to adopt protective measures....

    Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free U.S.-held terrorists.

    But that's not the impression Clarke, the president's lead man on terrorism, gives. Clarke:

    "George Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the president - because he briefed him every morning - a major al Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead. He said that in June, July, August."

    Clarke went on to give some details of existing intel pre-9/11--including the fact that the US knew two of the suspected bombers were in the US already.

    "[Bush] never thought it was important enough for him to hold a meeting on the subject, or for him to order his National Security Adviser to hold a Cabinet-level meeting on the subject."

    "The cabinet meeting I asked for right after the inauguration took place-- one week prior to 9/11."

    Finally, Rice is forced to make one admission--and it's possibly the most damaging of all. In the 60 Minutes interview, Clarke accused the White House of immediately trying to use 9/11 as an excuse for invading Iraq. Rice rebuts this, but admits:

    Once advised that there was no evidence that Iraq was responsible for Sept. 11, the president told his National Security Council on Sept. 17 [2001] that Iraq was not on the agenda and that the initial U.S. response to Sept. 11 would be to target al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    So the White House had recieved intelligence that there was no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Why then did the administration continue to promote those links? Why then does Dick Cheney continue to promote those links?

    posted by Jeff | 7:42 AM |


    Sunday, March 21, 2004  

    Bracing for the Dog Launch

    A more complete article with the Clarke reports about 9/11 and Iraq is here. Excerpts:

    Clarke, who is expected to testify Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, writes in a new book going on sale Monday that Bush and his Cabinet were preoccupied during the early months of his presidency with some of the same Cold War issues that had faced his father's administration.

    "It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier," Clarke told CBS for an interview Sunday on its "60 Minutes" program....

    Clarke acknowledges that, "there's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too." He said he wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 24, 2001, asking "urgently" for a Cabinet-level meeting "to deal with the impending al-Qaida attack." Months later, in April, Clarke met with deputy cabinet secretaries, and the conversation turned to Iraq.

    "I'm sure I'll be criticized for lots of things, and I'm sure they'll launch their dogs on me," Clarke said. "But frankly I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something...."

    "Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this,'" said Clarke, who told the president that U.S. intelligence agencies had never found a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.

    "He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection,' and in a very intimidating way," Clarke said....

    "Bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country.' This is part of his propaganda," Clarke said. "So what did we do after 9/11? We invade ... and occupy an oil-rich Arab country, which was doing nothing to threaten us."

    posted by Jeff | 12:14 PM |
     

    See, I told you Gonzaga was going to win it all.

    (You'd think that after my prediction about Howard Dean, I'd have learned. You'd think.)

    posted by Jeff | 8:10 AM |


    Saturday, March 20, 2004  

    Cognitive Dissonance*

    1. Thousands of protesters turned out nationwide Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war on Iraq and call for the removal of American troops from the Middle East country.

    A Manhattan rally was one of 250 anti-war protests scheduled around the country by United for Peace and Justice. Hundreds of thousands of activists also raised their voices at rallies in London, Cairo, Tokyo and other cities around the globe.

    -----------------

    2. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately urged President Bush to consider bombing Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, says a former senior administration counterterrorism aide.

    Richard A. Clarke, the White House counterterrorism coordinator at the time, recounts in a forthcoming book details of a meeting the day after the terrorist attacks during which top officials considered the U.S. response. Even then, he said, they were certain that al-Qaida was to blame and there was no hint of Iraqi involvement.

    -----------------

    3. President Bush used the first rally of his re-election campaign to cast Democrat John Kerry on Saturday as a serial tax-raiser who has voted for tax increases 350 times. He also mocked Kerry's claims of support from undisclosed foreign leaders.

    That all makes sense to you, right?
    ________________
    * Those are all stories from today's AP wire (20 March '04)

    posted by Jeff | 2:23 PM |
     

    Testing the Media's Independence

    Not only is Bush attempting to saddle Kerry with the title of dictator-coddling, confused coward, but he has the temerity to announce it as part of a precise 90-day strategy of slander:

    President Bush's campaign is following an aggressive and precise 90-day media strategy to define Senator John Kerry as indecisive and lacking conviction, with a coordinated blitz of advertisements, speeches and sound bites, senior campaign advisers said this week.

    The goal, several campaign aides said, is to first strip Mr. Kerry of the positive image that he carried away from the Democratic primary contests and then to define him issue by issue in their own terms before the summer vacation season. The central thrusts will be national security and taxes, they said.

    The aides said the strategy was planned weeks ago in coordination with Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political aide, while Mr. Kerry was battling for his party's nomination.

    The aides are following a tight timetable, they said, and they want to have defined Mr. Kerry on their terms between now and early June, when they expect voters to stop paying close attention to politics, at least for a time.

    If there was ever an action that was more wholly symbolic of the approach of this administration, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with it. What arrogance! The administration is in effect saying: "we plan to subvert the media's voice, and we're telling you ahead of time how we plan to do that so that you (the media) may more effectively capitulate to it. We intend to create a wholly artificial impression of a presidential candidate that we created from careful focus-grouping and polling, and we expect you to dutifully present it as fact." It is, by the way, also a fantastically arrogant view of the malleability of the electorate:

    "The goal is right now," said a Bush adviser, "while he's weak, while they're financially struggling, to strip him of all the good that somehow in my opinion erroneously got attached to him."

    Poor, woeful voters, somehow attaching "all the good" to this candidate. The Bushies will soon disabuse them of their own opinions. When they're done, a quarter of a billion dollars later, they will have instilled the proper beliefs into the heads of the feebleheaded voters.

    The real question is whether the press will go along with it. Even a quarter of a billion dollars won't help if the paid advertisements run starkly in contrast to what journalists report. The Bushies aren't worried, though. They obviously think reporters will fall in line and parrot their talking points. Bushies have little reason to think otherwise--so far the press hasn't challenged the President even once when he rolls out one of his embarrassingly dubious claims.

    What's amazing is that the administration is not only confident the press will fall in line, but they're confident they can show them exactly which manipulations they'll use and still expect them to fall in line. Will they? Time will tell.

    posted by Jeff | 9:39 AM |


    Friday, March 19, 2004  

    [I received an email this morning from someone who wished to post a comment containing the following exchange between Richard Holbrooke and Wolf Blitzer. That thousand-word limit got in her way, so she just forwarded it as email. I'm taking the liberty to post it here. (Be sure to read the end.]

    Here's what Richard Holbrooke had to say when Wolf Blitzer tried to play up the non-issue of Kerry's not naming the foreign leaders (Notice the graceless way in which Blitzer introduces Holbrooke to CNN viewers, a telling detail):

    Back now to the battle over allies between President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry. Earlier today I spoke with the former diplomatic troubleshooter Richard Holbrooke. The one-time ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, is now a foreign policy adviser for the Kerry campaign . . .

    BLITZER: Ambassador Holbrooke, thanks very much for joining us. A little revised version of what John Kerry said. He said, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you got to win. This you got to beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that." So there is enormous energy out there. The president today said, if he makes an accusation, he has a responsibility to back it up. What do you say?

    RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FRM. U.S. AMB. TO U.N.: John Kerry committed an unpardonable crime in Washington: he spoketh the truth. What he said is self-evidently true.

    There's a new poll out today by the Pew Institute, a worldwide pool, which shows massive and growing anti-Americanism around the world. Now American voters need to make up their own mind who they prefer, George W. Bush or John Kerry. But they also ought to know this administration is isolating us in the world, weakening us. Recent events in Spain, this election are another example.

    John Kerry said something everybody knows is true. And, Wolf, you know it's true.

    And why don't I say just one other thing. Why don't you, instead of staging a silly he said/he said between the White House, which is throwing all this mud at John Kerry after he said something true. Why don't you poll your foreign correspondents on CNN. And ask them who the population and leaderships in the world would prefer to see elected? Very simple.

    BLITZER: That may be for future course of action. But there's no doubt that when the president of the United States says to John Kerry, you make this charge, back it up, what's wrong with that? Why can't he say this leader said this to me, this leader said that to me. Why can't he just explain what he meant?

    HOLBROOKE: I have been in the last six months in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. I have met with leaders and members of the leadership that lead in every one of those countries.

    BLITZER: Be specific.

    HOLBROOKE: Look, Wolf, if you want me to say that such and such a foreign minister...

    BLITZER: I do, if that's what they said to you.

    HOLBROOKE: Wolf, you've been a foreign correspondent for many years, you don't reveal your sources when they're said in confidence. And it would be inappropriate and wrong -- these foreign ministers -- and you know this perfectly well as a very distinguished foreign correspondent.

    These foreign leaders say something to you in confidence. They have to work with the incumbent administration. The Bush administration knows that you as a journalist have [to] protect sources. It is self-evident.

    John Kerry simply said the truth. Everyone knows it. Look at...

    BLITZER: Let me interrupt. When I interviewed Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary on Sunday, he pointed it out there's an unprecedented coalition of the willing. Ninety countries have backed the president in the war on terror. And there are 30 or 40 countries with the U.S. in Iraq right now.

    HOLBROOKE: Mighty allies like Palau and the Marshall Islands. Let's get real. The United States did not forge a wide enough coalition.

    Look, I supported the effort to overthrow Saddam. I'm glad he's is gone. So did John Kerry. But the fact is the way the administration did it fractured a lot of our traditional alliances. We have less support in the world today, Spain is exhibit A, than we've ever had before. And we need to rebuild it. That's what John Kerry will do.

    BLITZER: Is the major lesson from the Spanish election that the people of Spain oppose the U.S. policy in the war against Iraq, in the war on terrorism? Or is it that the former Spanish government misled everyone by saying it was ETA, the Basque separatists movement, when it turns out, apparently, to have been some sort of Islamist group?

    HOLBROOKE: It's clearly a combination of both those factors. And the real lesson here is that 90 percent of the Spanish people oppose the support of the United States. Aznar was brave and I admire him for supporting us, as has Tony Blair been, as Berlusconi in Italy been.

    But the Spanish people decided that they wanted to change course and that was the issue that did it. I think it's extremely unfortunate that terrorism may have played a part in this. But the fact is the Spanish people and the new leader don't support the United States.

    BLITZER: But isn't this a win for the terrorists that they managed to topple a government in the aftermath of a horrible terrorist strike?

    HOLBROOKE: George Will wrote in today's column in "The Washington Post" that it is the biggest victory for terrorism that the most immediate consequences that he believes has happened in history.

    I don't buy that. I think the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 which started World War I was a much bigger event.

    I don't want to portray this as a triumph for terrorism. The terrorist who did this should not be encouraged. The American public will not react the same way the Spanish people did. I understand Will's point, but I'm not ready to share it.

    BLITZER: I know you're a major supporter of John Kerry, you're a good Democrat. You want to be secretary of state?

    HOLBROOKE: I am personally right now focused solely on assisting Senator Kerry, a long-term friend in achieving his goal and leading this country in a new direction which we desperately need. The American public seems to think while they favor Senator Kerry on every domestic issue, that this administration is stronger national defense and the war on terrorism.

    My goal is to assist him in demonstrating clearly that this just isn't true. He has more experience in international affairs than the incumbent, he has traveled all over the world for years for years, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, service in Vietnam, father was a career diplomat. And that is my only goal right now.

    BLITZER: Being the good diplomat that you are yourself. Thanks very much.

    HOLBROOKE: Thank you, good journalist that you are yourself.


    posted by Jeff | 10:31 AM |
     

    Iraq Invasion:
    Assessment of the Rationale


    A year ago the bombs started flying. It's time for a reassessment. In celebration of this grim anniversary, I'm going to look back at a document I wrote in September, 2002 which argued against an invasion.

    On the side of war, Bush and his boys have offered essentially four reasons to invade. They argue that: 1) Saddam Hussein's a bad man, 2) Saddam's repressed his own people, 3) Saddam's got weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 4) Saddam's a terrorist and/or terrorist supporter.

    Corollary threats have been mentioned, although they haven't been identified in formal resolutions, either to the UN or congress. They include the sense that Iraq contributes to instability in the Middle East and that any restructuring of that region must begin with Iraq. In his words, "In one place, in one regime, we find all these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive forms exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront."

    We know a lot more about those claims now. The first two were never in question--but they certainly didn't justify an invasion. The third and fourth have been proven false. This leaves the Bush administration with the corollary benefits, which include regional stability and individual Iraqi freedoms. In commercials and speeches, these seem adequate to rouse American hearts. But we didn't invade Iraq for corollary benefits. We invaded because Bush introduced a new doctrine--pre-emptive invasion. According to this doctrine, Bush reserved for the US the power to defend:

    ". . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country." (emphasis added)

    The burden for invasion was extremely high. The confusion here arises where it always arises--in the confused rationales of the ideologically diverse Bush administration. On the one hand, neocons like Wolfowitz and Cheney approach foreign policy in a radical messianic mode, in which spreading American-style democracy is a moral imperative. Thus the rhetoric about an "axis of evil." On the other hand, cold warriors like Powell and Rumsfeld regarded invasion as an act of realpolitik, the movement of power by force into an important strategic region. For them, the "evil" business was merely justification.

    But that confusion shouldn't hide the facts: the doctrine of pre-emption was the justification of this war. And by its own definition, it failed to meet the criteria. Pre-emption is: 1) a doctrine developed to combat terror; and 2) a doctrine that depends on immanent threat, even if the threat isn't immanent enough to qualify under accepted rules of war. But Iraq was not a terrorist state (or in the language of the Pentagon, not an "exporter of terror"), nor was there any threat to the US. Never mind the historic presence of WMD--we didn't invade punitively. We invaded because the White House told us that Saddam was an immanent terrorist threat and that American lives were at stake.

    The war was an illegal one.

    posted by Jeff | 7:15 AM |
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