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Between the Lines

January 30, 2004

Where’s Osama? Looks like we may have a pretty good idea

We have a variety of intelligence and we’re sure we’re going to catch Osama bin Laden and [fugitive Taliban leader] Mullah Omar this year.”
– Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan

Now wouldn’t that be convenient? Capturing the world’s most wanted man before the presidential election sure would give George Bush a boost.

Which raises the question of why our military, usually reasonably cautious about issuing promises, is suddenly saying bin Laden will soon be in the bag. Here’s Hilferty’s explanation: “We’ve learned lessons from Iraq and we’re getting improved intelligence from the Afghan people.”

In any case, U.S. forces are planning a major spring offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban. The plan apparently includes incursions into Pakistani terrritory. Bin Laden has long been thought to be hiding in the mountains of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said no U.S. forces would enter Pakistan. "That is not a possibility at all," Musharraf said. "It's a very sensitive issue."

But he would say that. Musharraf narrowly escaped two recent assassination attempts by Islamic extremists, and no doubt wants to do what he can to keep the lid on those of his countrymen who already think he’s a toady for the U.S. Indeed, the attempts on Musharraf’s life are said to be one of the major concerns underlying the coming U.S. offensive. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and if extremists killed the president and seized power … well, the term fallout might quickly assume a grim new meaning.

Posted by tbrown at 01:54 PM


Our friends the Saudis

I haven’t seen anything about this elsewhere, but it’s pretty interesting: Large numbers of Saudi “diplomats” apparently are being quietly expelled from the U.S. for sypathizing with – and possibly helping – al-Qaida. Here are two links.

Diplomats expelled.

Bin Laden hopes to prompt U.S. attack on Saudi Arabia.

Posted by tbrown at 01:51 PM


Richard Perle, patriot

Richard Perle, one of the godfathers of the Bush administration’s unilateralist foreign policy and a big fan of the war in Iraq, gave a speech last weekend at an event that likely had connections to a known terrorist group that was backed by Saddam Hussein.

That group is the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, a cult-like armed organization of Iranian dissidents based in Iraq. The MEK has been on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for years. Here’s how State Department spokesman Richard Boucher answered questions about MEK at a briefing last year:

QUESTION: Richard, do you have any language on the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the Foreign Terrorist Organization whose bases have been targeted recently by U.S. military in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Slow down. The answer is yes. I just have to find it. But the language I have is to say what you just told me, that Mujahedin-e Khalq is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State, as we note in our Patterns of Global Terrorism Report. This group mixes Marxist ideology and Islam and is engaged in anti-Western attacks, including support for the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and terrorist attacks inside Iran during the 1970s that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians.

The Mujahedin-e Khalq's forces were fully integrated with Saddam Hussein's command and control, therefore constituted legitimate military targets that posed a threat to coalition forces. …

That was then. Last Saturday, Perle addressed a crowd of 3,000 people who showed up for an event sponsored by the several organizations associated with the Iranian-American community and Iranian dissidents. The FBI and the Treasury Department were concerned enough about the sponsoring groups' likely connections to the MEK that they considered trying to block the event (it is illegal for U.S. residents to contribute money to the MEK because of its status as a terrorist group), according to the Washington Post.

Perle told the Post that he was unaware of any involvement by the MEK and thought he was speaking on behalf of a relief effort for victims of the recent earthquake in Bam, Iran. As with so many Perleisms, this is scarcely credible. Perle also told the Post that when he asked for more information about the sponsoring organizations he had received a letter describing the event as "solidarity with earthquake victims in Iran and an evening for Iranian Resistance." As the Post notes, “The Iranian Resistance is often an alias for the MEK. In August, the State Department shut down the U.S. offices of the political arm of the MEK, known as National Council of Resistance of Iran.” It is quite unlikely that a man whose stature rests on his Mideast expertise was unaware of all this.

Also, there’s the fact that among some officials in the Pentagon, where Perle still serves on the Defense Advisory Board, there was sentiment last year for removing the MEK from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and supporting its Iraq-based efforts to undermine the Iranian regime. Cooler heads prevailed, and that didn’t happen. The MEK is still listed as a terrorist organization that in the past killed Americans.

But Perle seems to have been undeterred. And no one gives a damn.

Posted by tbrown at 01:49 PM


It looks like a big Tuesday for Kerry

Seven states have primaries and caucuses next Tuesday. There are new polls from five of them, reflecting post-New Hampshire sentiment, and it looks like it’ll be a big day for Sen. John Kerry (our thanks again to dailyKOS for rounding these up):

The following four polls from John Zogby were conducted 1/27-29 and have a margin of error of 4.1%.

South Carolina
Edwards 25
Kerry 24
Dean 9
Clark 8
Sharpton 5
Lieberman 5

Missouri
Kerry 45
Edwards 11
Dean 9
Lieberman 4
Clark 3

Arizona
Kerry 38
Clark 17
Dean 12
Edwards 6
Lieberman 6

Oklahoma
Clark 27
Kerry 19
Edwards 17
Dean 9

North Dakota
(Conducted by Minnesota State University, 1/26-28, margin of error 4%.
Kerry 31
Clark 15
Edwards 6
Dean 5

Posted by tbrown at 01:44 PM


January 29, 2004

Dean is broke

So he may be cooked after all. Like many others, I had expected Dean to remain viable for at least a while by virtue of the simple fact that he’d raised way more money than any of the other Democratic candidates. What I didn’t know was that he’s spent it all. Out of some $40 million raised, the campaign reportedly now has between $3 million and $5 million left – and a corresponding amount in bills. As a result, he won’t be airing ads in the seven states that have primaries or caucuses next Tuesday.

Instead, he’s husbanding what few bucks he can for caucuses Saturday, Feb. 7, in Washington state and Michigan and a week later in Wisconsin.

"We're going to have to win eventually," Dean said today while campaigning in Michigan. "But the question was do we have to win on February 3. Of course we want to, but we don't have to."

So he’s basically conceding next week’s seven states to candidates who do have money for ads – primarily John Kerry and Wesley Clark and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards. The result is likely to be ugly for Dean – who hopes nonetheless to remain in the race by picking up delegates through some second- and third-place finishes.

Meanwhile, Democratic fund raisers have told Dean that second-place finishes aren’t good enough. More bad news, since second place is probably the best he can hope for next Tuesday.

Dean fired his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, who organized the Internet fund-raising effort that raised Dean from obscurity to, for a time, front-runner for the nomination, and replaced him with a former aide to Al Gore, Roy Neel.

All this may open the door for Kerry to solidify his front-runner status and move fairly quickly from there to enough strength to win the nomination.

Working the long-standing assumption that President Bush would rather run against Dean than any other Democrat, the satirical site Scrappleface has some fun by annointing Bush’s top adviser, Karl Rove, as new head of the Dean campaign.

Posted by tbrown at 10:50 AM


Is Cheney on the way out?

Maybe. There are rumbles that the veep, who was installed on the 2000 GOP ticket to be the voice of experience and moderation who would support the inexperienced Texas governor, is now seen as a liability. The rap: rather than moderation, he consistently supported extreme positions and became too much of a backstage power for many traditional Republicans.

Posted by tbrown at 10:47 AM


WMD timeline

I was going to put together a timeline to demonstrate just how disingenuous, and often downright untruthful, the Bush administration has been since Day One on the subject of Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction. But the Center for American Progress has done such a comprehensive job that I’m just going to send you there. It’s a solid refresher on a disgraceful period.

Posted by tbrown at 10:46 AM


Give this man a diet, any diet

What happens when you eat three meals a day at McDonald’s for a month? In the case of Morgan Spurlock, the results weren’t pretty. Of course, he did make a documentary film about it, which he’s trying to peddle …

Posted by tbrown at 10:44 AM


January 28, 2004

The mysterious charm of John Kerry

The senator from Massachusetts – whose candidacy was widely regarded as on life support as the new year began -- was the only Democrat who got what he needed in New Hampshire. His big win (39 percent of the vote) installs him as the front runner – at least until this time next week.

For Howard Dean, New Hampshire was a second disappointment in two weeks. His 26 percent of the vote was hardly insignificant, but he needed to finish much closer to Kerry to avoid the onus of being counted out in the pundit “expectations” game. Nonetheless, he’s not out of it – at least until this time next week.

It’s going to take a couple of real strong showings real soon to revive Wesley Clark’s campaign. Unless it happens by this time next week – which is still possible, but seeming less likely all the time -- he’s finished.

John Edwards’ fourth-place finish, with just 12 percent of the vote, is more ambiguous than it might seem. It obviously provided no real follow through from his surprising second-place finish in Iowa last week. On the other hand, Edwards was never expected to win in New Hampshire and he still finished strong enough to keep his name in the papers and on the tube – at least until this time next week.

By this time next week, we’ll have the results of primaries in seven more states. There will, no doubt, be considerable shifting of support as voters digest the outcomes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, based on pre-New Hampshire polls (view the numbers at Real Clear Politics), here’s how candidates were doing in the states that vote in either primaries or caucuses next Tuesday:

South Carolina: Edwards leading, but not dominating, with Kerry, Dean and Clark closely bunched behind.
Missouri: In a new poll out today, the Kansas City Star (free site registration required) has Kerry with 25 percent and everyone else in single digits, led by Edwards.
Delaware: Dean leading, Clark second.
Oklahoma: Clark leading, Edwards ahead of Kerry for second.
Arizona: Kerry leading, Clark second.
New Mexico (caucus): Dean leading, Clark second.
North Dakota (caucus): No polls

We should see later this week, when fresher polls are in hand, how these races are shaping up in light of New Hampshire.

Also, Washington and Michigan hold caucuses on Saturday, Feb. 7.

A recent Survey USA poll gives no indication who likely Washington caucus participants may support, but has Kerry as the only Democrat who runs even with Bush in a prospective head-to-head matchup. As elsewhere, independent voters are the key to this result. With other Democratic candidates, they break 5-4 for Bush; with Kerry on the imaginary ticket, they go slightly his way.

In Michigan, a poll of likely caucus participants gives Kerry the lead, with Edwards a distant second.

The goal for the four candidates who can be said to still be in this thing will be to stay alive through next month, in hopes of putting together enough momentum to do well on March 2, when California, New York and Ohio vote, with scads of convention delegates at stake.

OK. Since Kerry is the front-runner for now, it seems fair to ask whether he has the right stuff to take the nomination and run a credible general-election campaign against President Bush.

Here are two assessments:

Al Giordano, who has been both a newsie and a community organizer, says yes in this post at The Blogging of the President, where he argues that the more pressure Kerry is under the better he does. Giordano was right about that and has been predicting a Kerry surge for a long time at his own blog, BigLeftOutside.

At Slate, William Saletan has a much bleaker view of Kerry’s viability.

I've asked myself how Kerry is persuading previously skeptical voters to change their minds about him. The answer is, he isn't. Other people are doing the persuasion. Other people are doing the testimonial ads, as first lady Christie Vilsack did for Kerry in Iowa. Other people are firing up his crowds. Other people are telling his story. Other people are touting his virtues at rallies because he doesn't reliably display those virtues himself. The man who stood up to serve his country as a soldier is being propped up as a candidate.”

A Kerry rally, Saletan says, is “like going to a concert and sitting through a bunch of speeches in which the musician's friends attest, ‘This guy can sing.’ "

Ouch.

Well, we’re nowhere near done yet and we’ve got time to see Kerry – and the others – in action.

Footnotes: Both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary had record Democratic turnout. In New Hampshire, 2,500 registered Republicans (out of the 57,000 who voted) wrote in one of the Democrats (thanks to DailyKOS for the latter). Yes, this could be an interesting year.

Posted by tbrown at 12:41 PM


January 27, 2004

Big stakes in a little place

It looks like today’s New Hampshire primary could be close, with John Kerry the most likely victor but with Howard Dean surging and John Edwards once again the dark horse. Or so say the polls. Whoever wins, the outcome won’t be decisive. It most likely will take several more primaries, and the slow accretion of delegates, to get a winner in this field. Briefly, here’s my read of the situation:

-- Even if Kerry wins in New Hampshire, he’s far from a shoo-in. He lacks money and organizational strength in the many of the states that are next up. So he really needs a big win here to get the kind of media coverage that contributes momentum to campaigns.

-- A strong finish could revive Howard Dean’s candidacy after his third-place flop in Iowa. It’s likely that he’ll place well enough to get at least some resuscitation. And Dean, unlike Kerry, does have money and organization for the upcoming slog through the February and March caucuses and primaries.

-- The guy to watch, here as he was in Iowa, is Edwards. The senator from North Carolina seems to be lighting a fire under voters who see him. If he edges Dean in New Hampshire – unlikely, but not impossible – he’ll establish himself as someone to be reckoned with.

-- Wesley Clark’s star seems to be fading before it ever really glowed. Despite a lot of campaigning, he appears to have little momentum in New Hampshire, where he seems to have been hurt by Kerry’s win in Iowa. Clark does, however, have enough money to carry on to the next round of primaries and he could make a comeback if a bad finish in New Hampshire or money woes cripple Kerry.

-- Joe Lieberman. No.

DailyKOS predicts that “ … this thing will be TIGHT. Dean still has a good chance at taking the victory. And given Edwards' buzz of late, I wouldn't be shocked if he came out of nowhere and won this thing or took second. Anyone who pretends to know how this thing will shake up is a liar. But the momentum -- hence the ability to surprise -- is all with Dean and Edwards.”

Later this week we’ll set up the next round of caucuses and primaries.

Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM


Empire, misconceptions and lies

There are a couple of good magazine pieces this week on Iraq, why it turned out he way it did and what it may mean for the future.

Joshua Marshall, in a New Yorker essay that surveys recent books and draws on his own extensive reporting on Bush administration policies, argues that the architects of pre-emptive war and American global domination have overlooked a few important facts of imperial life.

“American power is magnified when it is embedded in international institutions, as leftists have lamented,” says Marshall “It is also somewhat constrained, as conservatives have lamented. This is precisely the covenant on which American supremacy has been based. The trouble is that hard-line critics of multilateralism focussed on how that power was constrained and missed how it was magnified.

Conservative ideologues, in calling for an international order in which America would have a statelike monopoly on coercive force, somehow forgot what makes for a successful state. Stable governments rule not by direct coercion but by establishing a shared sense of allegiance. In an old formula, ‘domination’ gives way to ‘hegemony’—brute force gives way to the deeper power of consent. This is why the classic definition of the state speaks of legitimate force. In a constitutional order, government accepts certain checks on its authority, but the result is to deepen that authority, rather than to diminish it. Legitimacy is the ultimate ‘force multiplier,’ in military argot. And if your aim is to maintain a global order, as opposed to rousting this or that pariah regime, you need all the force multipliers you can get.”

Unfortunately, the most ideological officials of the Bush administration, and their amen crowd in think-tanks and the media, just don’t get it.

“Not all conservatives have been chastened by the setbacks of unilateralism; some have been stoked to greater outrage and resolve. This much is clear from ‘An End to Evil’ (Random House; $25.95), by David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, who helped coin the phrase 'axis of evil,' and Richard Perle, a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Rising disapproval from abroad doesn’t lead Frum and Perle to question their policies. It just confirms them in the belief that America has even more enemies than it realized. …

“The authors advise toppling more regimes in the Middle East, treating the French and the Saudis as the enemies they are, squeezing China, and launching an air and naval blockade against North Korea. At home, they propose aggressive reform in the State Department, the C.I.A., and the armed forces. 'Friends and Foes,' the penultimate chapter, turns out to discuss only foes. In sum, the prescription amounts to war, cold or hot, against pretty much everyone, everywhere, all the time—until everyone relents. And, if that doesn’t do the trick, more war.”

Such hubris.

At the Atlantic, Ken Pollack, a former Clinton administration official who supported the Iraq war and has a new book on prewar intelligence failures, in an interview reviews what went wrong with U.S. intelligence on Iraq and its weapons (or, rather, lack of them), and the administration’s misuse of intelligence to support the war.

Pollack says U.S. intelligence was wrong because it was next to impossible to get reliable human intelligence from within Saddam Hussein’s tight-knit, paranoid regime and because it simply failed to consider the possibility that he actually had no serious weapons programs as the U.S. prepared for war.

He saves most of his sharpest criticism for how our intelligence, such as it was, was used to prod the nation into a war that certainly was avoidable and probably was unnecessary:

“There are certain members of the Administration who did a disservice to the American people. I don't want to fault the entire Administration, because I think there were a lot of people in the Administration who were saying things that were completely true and what they were doing was completely above-board. But there were others in the Administration who really weren't.

“The thing that upset and disappointed me the most was that there were some Administration officials, and particularly some high Administration officials, who were making statements that weren't the whole truth. The one thing for which I can find no excuse is this question of not telling the American people the whole truth. The nuclear issue is the most important example of this. The judgment of the intelligence community, expressed in a number of written documents, some of which have been made public, was that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear-weapons programs and that he could possibly acquire a nuclear weapon in one to two years if he managed to get fissile material on the black market. The intelligence community felt that it was much more likely that he would not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon for five to seven years. In making the case for war, a number of high-level officials in the Administration stressed the one-to-two year figure, which made the threat from Iraq seem imminent. The intelligence community couldn't rule it out, but the best judgment was that it was a more distant threat.”

Why’d they do it?

“I think the Administration was only telling part of the truth to the American people because it was trying to justify a war in 2003. The intelligence estimates just didn't really support that imminence. The Administration could have said, ‘Look, the intelligence community thinks it may be five to seven years away, but they do think it's also possible that they could get it in one to two years. After 9/11, we shouldn't take even that kind of a risk.’ I think that would have been a much more honest way of presenting it to the American people.”


Honesty, however, might not have gotten the desired result.

“ … My sense is that the Administration recognized that that kind of argument would not generate the same enthusiasm for a war in 2003 as the argument the way they cast it did. As far as I'm concerned, these are not political arguments. This is an argument about U.S. national security and about going to war. That's supposed to transcend politics. Of course, I've lived in Washington long enough to know that it's rare that national security actually does end up transcending politics—but that doesn't make it right.

Indeed. But when you have a president who asks, “So what’s the difference?” whether Saddam actually had weapons, right is not what you get.

Posted by tbrown at 12:44 PM


The answer is ‘Yes’

The question, posed by Noah Schactman at Defensetech.org, is: “Cheney: Liar or Fool.”

He’s both, reviving talk about those celebrated “semis of mass destruction” that turned out to be trailers that were used to generate helium for observation balloons or, maybe, rocket fuel. But not weapons of mass destruction. All this as, David Kay, the Bush administration’s hand-picked weapons hunter, was saying Iraq had no active WMD programs. Even the White House has backed off from its insistence that Iraq had WMDs and that they will eventually be found.

Will Cheney join the chorus of assorted hawks and nutbars who claim Saddam's weapons are buried in Syria? Stay tuned.

Posted by tbrown at 12:31 PM


Cheney also did business with the Axis of Evil

While Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the company set up a mail drop in the Cayman Islands, apparently to skirt U.S. sanctions, so it could do business with Iran, which was (and is) on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Halliburton also did business with Iraq on Cheney’s watch. The Center for American Progress rounds up the links here.

Posted by tbrown at 12:28 PM


January 26, 2004

It’s warm in frozen New Hampshire

Here’s the latest from New Hampshire, where Democrats vote in the state’s presidential primary tomorrow:

-- John Kerry appears to be the likely winner. He leads in every poll I’ve seen. He also seems to be taking large bites out of Wesley Clark’s support. Kerry’s key: broader-based support among Democrats than Howard Dean, who (according to the Survey USA poll linked below) leads only among liberal Democrats.

-- However, Dean seems to be bouncing back from his third-place Iowa finish and his “I have a scream” speech. Dean looks to be a solid second and may be in a position to challenge Kerry.

-- John Edwards is gaining support. If he edges past Clark – a distinct possibility according to these polls – it would be a major blow to the former general’s chances.

DailyKOS has the tracking poll results here.

And here is a new Survey USA poll. This is not a tracking poll, but a full poll of more than 400 “certain” New Hampshire voters.

Lots of bloggers are working New Hampshire.

Our cross-state colleagues at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane are blogging by camera-phone. Among other things, the paper's Jim Camden has put together the sound track for this campaign movie from the favorites the candidates are playing at their appearances:

-- John Kerry: Springsteen’s “The Rising” and “No Surrender.”

-- Howard Dean: Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” and Eric Clapton’s “Come Back Baby.”

-- John Edwards: John Mellencamp’s “Born in a Small Town.”

-- Wesley Clark: “In the Mood” and other swing favorites (this was at a VFW post, where the crowd included some War 2 vets).

Camden reports that one CNN veteran of the 1992 New Hampshire campaign said any music was OK, "as long as we don’t have to listen to Fleetwood Mac,” a band that was a Clinton favorite.

Also see:

Joshua Marshall

Tapped, which reports that Dean is the first Democratic candidate to get his own “Mean Dean” action figure – which, of course, plays the “I have a scream” speech. But we have to ask: is it a good thing for any Dem to be in company with President "Mission Accomplished" and Ann Coulter?

Posted by tbrown at 11:52 AM


Playing catch up

I took a day off from blogging Friday and, predictably, a lot of things surfaced that are worth noting. Here are a few:

Grand jury takes testimony in the Valerie Plame case: Time mag says jurors are hearing first from “third party” witnesses -- people who were not directly involved in the leaking of the CIA agent’s name, but may know who was. Later, those more directly involved presumably will be called. "No one knows what the hell is going on," says someone who could be a witness, "because the administration people are all terrified and the lawyers aren't sharing anything with each other either." Kind of warms your heart, doesn’t it?

Steven Aftergood’s excellent Secrecy News notes that "Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and several colleagues introduced a ‘resolution of inquiry’ to request that the Bush Administration provide Congress with ‘all documents... relating to the disclosure of the identity of Ms. Valerie Plame as an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency during the period beginning on May 6, 2003, and ending on July 31, 2000.’ " Window dressing? Not necessarily. Such resolutions "are often much more effective in obtaining information from the executive branch than one would expect," according to a Congressional Research Service report cited by Aftergood. (You can view Secrecy News archives or subscribe to it for e-mail delivery here.)

Halliburton watch: The oilfield services company formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, already under investigation in France for possible bribery in Nigeria, had to cut a check for $6.2 million to the U.S. government to reimburse “overpayments” that may, in fact have been kickbacks to some officials of its KBR subsidiary. (Thanks to reader Zak Johnson for the link.)

This prompted Cheney to complain that the good name of his former employer is being unfairly besmirched.

Rush Limbaugh’s shark tries to plead him out: It looks like Rush really doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. Maybe he's a hypocrite after all. Can you believe it?

“Palm Beach County prosecutors rejected an overture last month from Rush Limbaugh's attorneys that would have allowed the conservative commentator to enter drug rehabilitation rather than face criminal charges for prescription drug abuse.

Prosecutors say they think they have evidence that Limbaugh committed at least 10 felonies by illegally obtaining overlapping drug prescriptions … "

I have little faith in the legal system when it comes to prosecuting rich, white junkies. But this is beginning to look interesting.

Posted by tbrown at 11:45 AM


January 22, 2004

Ex-spooks speak up

"The disclosure of Ms. [Valerie] Plame's name was an unprecedented and shameful event in American history and, in our professional judgment, has damaged U.S. national security, specifically the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence-gathering using human sources."
-- Letter from 10 former CIA agents requesting an immediate congressional investigation into the disclosure that Plame was an undercover agent.

The Valerie Plame affair has been perking along for months. But there’s been no resolution, and the intelligence community is getting angrier by the day.

The latest evidence of this is a letter from 10 former agents – two of whom were overseas CIA station chiefs – demanding a congressional investigation into the outing of Plame.

The New York Times reports:

The unmasking of Ms. Plame is viewed within spy circles as an unforgivable breach of secrecy that must be exhaustively investigated and prosecuted, current and former intelligence officials say. Anger over the matter is especially acute because of the suspicion, under investigation by the Justice Department, that the disclosure may have been made by someone in the White House to punish Ms. Plames's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for opposing administration policy on Iraq.”

All clues so far point to the highest levels of the Bush administration – the President’s or Vice President’s offices (or both) – as the likeliest culprits.

Posted by tbrown at 12:28 PM


An insider’s look at the Mabton mad cow

A fellow named Dave Louthan, who says he worked at Vern’s Moses Lake Meats, where the one U.S. cow that has tested postive for mad cow disease (so far) was slaughtered, paints a picture of the handling of diseased animals and the haphazard and most likely ineffective USDA testing program that makes for unsettling reading.

Among other things, Louthan says that had the mad cow – which, by the way, he says was still walking – not arrived with several “downer” animals it never would have been tested

Read it all here.

Posted by tbrown at 11:36 AM


More GOP ‘law and order’

The Senate Republican leadership is implicated in a deepening dirty-tricks scandal that’s threatening to slop right over the tops of their ample hip waders. The Boston Globe reports that for a year Republican staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access the restricted files of Democratic members -- which they did and used what they found for partisan purposes.

Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics,” the Globe says.

The continuing investigation into this mess – which appeared more limited in scope when it was first disclosed in November – has led to the seizure of four Judiciary Committee servers, one server from the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and several hard drives from individual desktop machines.

The Judiciary Committee has, of course, been the central arena of the fight between Democrats and Republicans over President Bush’s judicial appointments. The computer security hole apparently allowed GOP staffers direct access to Democratic memos about their strategies for opposing Bush nominees. The contents of those memos wound up in a column by Robert Novak (the guy who also outed CIA agent Valierie Plame after a separate leak by “senior administration officials”), the Wall Street Journal and a conservative web site.

The GOP staffer the Globe says seems most clearly implicated, one Manuel Miranda, is in full CYA mode. "There appears to have been no hacking, no stealing, and no violation of any Senate rule," Miranda said. "Stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document. . . . These documents are not covered under the Senate disclosure rule because they are not official business and, to the extent they were disclosed, they were disclosed inadvertently by negligent [Democratic] staff."

OK, pal. We’ll see what lawyers higher up the food chain think when the investigation is complete. Given that this little problem reaches all the way up to Frist’s office, there’s going to be a scapegoat and it just might be Miranda.

Regardless of the outcome, though, this incident just says volumes about the nature of the current Senate leadership, since the chances are nil that information this sensitive would have been obtained and leaked without a wink and a nod at the top.

Posted by tbrown at 11:23 AM


New Hampshire watch

More tracking polls are in today with results from respondents who were aware of John Kerry’s victory in Iowa. The new crop shows Kerry leading Howard Dean by as much as 10 points, Dean second but probably slipping and Wesley Clark third, but perhaps moving up slightly. John Edwards, second in Iowa, trails but is gaining strength.

Today’s numbers are here.

Joshua Marshall is blogging from New Hampshire and in this post discusses the qualities that at first blush make Edwards seem an ideal candidate … but later leave Marshall wanting more.

Update: The American Prospect's blog, Tapped, offers this important footnote to the conditions that prevailed when Dean let forth his damaging primal scream after the Iowa caucuses:

DEAN'S BARBARIC YAWP. It's been played on all the cable shows and already has been re-mixed into a techno tune, but one thing about Howard Dean's full-throated cry during his concession/fight speech that hasn't been much discussed was that it was really loud in there at the Val Air Ballroom when he made his speech, which is something the TV mikes -- and hence film footage -- did not pick up.

So it's worth noting for the historical record that I -- and others -- could scarcely hear what Dean was saying on the stage from the press section in the back of the room because several thousand Deaniacs were making so much noise (Dean wasn't the only one screaming) and the acoustics in the room weren't very good. From inside the room, it seemed that he was feeding off the energy of a crowd that was cheering him on, and that they got louder and louder in concert with eachother. Anyway, none of that will matter in the end. Richard Nixon was sick during his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy, too, but there are no excuses in politics.

Still, when the final story of the Dean campaign is written, the difference between what was going on inside that room and what it looked like on television will make an instructive chapter.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted by tbrown at 11:20 AM


It’s still the economy – and it’s not good

Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high, and jobs are on the rise.”
-- President Bush in his State of the Union Address

The polls show increasing discontent with Bush’s economic policies, which becomes quite understandable when you consider the bad news he left out of his speech.

An estimated 2.5 million jobs have been lost on his watch and no matter what happens between now and November they will not be recouped. Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to complete a four-year term with a net loss of jobs. And it will be a big net loss.

Furthermore, when those jobs are recovered it’s quite likely that the bulk of them will pay much less than the jobs they replaced. So says a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, using data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“In 48 of the 50 states, jobs in higher-paying industries have given way to jobs in lower-paying industries since the recession ended in November 2001,” the EPI says. “Nationwide, industries that are gaining jobs relative to industries that are losing jobs pay 21% less annually. For the 30 states that have lost jobs since the recession purportedly ended, this is the other shoe dropping—not only have jobs been lost, but in 29 of them the losses have been concentrated in higher paying sectors. And for 19 of the 20 states that have seen some small gain in jobs since the end of the recession, the jobs gained have been disproportionately in lower-paying sectors.”

The EPI finds, for example, that in Washington state, jobs in growing industries pay an average of $36,838 a year, compared with $52,351 paid in declining industries (which, in Washington’s case, would include aerospace). That’s a 30 percent difference. In California, the gap is even wider, 40 percent, between expanding industries, which pay $37I,742, and declining ones, which pay $57,800.

But no doubt we left-coasters deserve what we get. Unfortunately for Bush, however, the same thing is going on in the industrial heartland. In fact, the only two states where the phenomenon is not at work are Nebraska and Nevada.

Here’s an L.A. Times piece on the California situation (free site registration may be required).

Posted by tbrown at 11:14 AM


January 21, 2004

New Hampshire realignment

The Iowa caucuses are, no doubt, causing some New Hampshire Democrats to think again about who they’ll vote for in next Tuesday’s primary. The first tracking polls in which at least some participants were aware of the Iowa results are trickling in. The short form is:

-- Howard Dean still leads narrowly.

-- Kerry trails, but is within the margin of error, so it’s a statistical dead heat. Also, Kerry leads among respondents polled after the Iowa results were in. Again, though, all was within the margin of error.

-- Wesley Clark is either stable or, more likely, slipping some. Clark appears to be trying to solidify his support by contending that his military career is more noteworthy than Kerry’s. Maybe there’s room for only one war hero in this race.

-- John Edwards, the surprise second-place finisher in Iowa, may be gaining a little strength, but nothing dramatic so far.

DailyKOS has the raw numbers.

Remember, these are tracking polls, which taken singly are not very reliable. Also, we’ll have to wait for the next set, later this week, to see numbers in which all respondents were questioned after the Iowa results were in.

Here’s some commentary from two of the polling companies:

American Research Group: While Howard Dean has a 2 percentage-point lead over John Kerry in the 3-day average, Kerry has a 1 percentage-point lead in the 2-day average (sample size of 508 likely Democratic primary voters) and Kerry has a 5 percentage-point lead in the one-day sample on January 20 (the sample size of 302 likely Democratic voters, theoretical margin of error ± 6 percentage points). Also, from January 19 to January 20, Wesley Clark is up 1 percentage point and John Edwards is up 3 percentage points. There is no change for Joe Lieberman.

Zogby International: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry trails Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean by two-points, 25%-23%, in polling for New Hampshire’s January 27th Democratic primary, according to the new Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby Poll. Retired General Wesley K. Clark holds third place with 16%, followed by North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman with 7% each. Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt canceled his bid for president after the Iowa caucus.

There will probably be further shifting around before election day. Stay tuned.

.This site has a rundown of recent polls in other states with early primaries

Posted by tbrown at 11:09 AM


SOTU SNAFU

No State of the Union address, especially by this president, would be complete without one real eye-roller. Here you go:

Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictatator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.”

Translation: Kay spent millions of dollars looking for WMDs but didn’t find any weapons or even any evidence of serious weapons programs, so the major justification for war was untrue. But I can’t say that, can I?

Update: Oh, yeah. I forgot this:

“To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.”

WTH? Steroids? In a State of the Union address?

And the Democratic response to Bush? Way, way worse than the speech. So bad it was almost beyond belief. But not quite. They are Democrats, after all.

Posted by tbrown at 11:04 AM


Meanwhile, in Iraq …

U.S. dead now number 502, including 346 killed by hostile action. Wounded total 2,904, including 2,508 by hostile action.

In addition, 96 troops of coalition partners have been killed.

Here are two databases:

Lunaville

Antiwar.com

The civilian dead in the war now number between 8,015 and 9,852, according to Iraq Body Count.

Posted by tbrown at 11:02 AM


January 20, 2004

The best possible outcome

Well, now. We’ve got a real race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And Iowans made one thing seem clear: when it comes time to caucus or cast a primary ballot, Democratic voters are asking themselves the Big Question: Which one of these guys can beat Bush?

This is the best outcome Democrats could have hoped for. The Democrats need a vigorous primary season to find the candidate who can carry their concerns into the general election, not an early runaway by Howard Dean.

For individual candidates, of course, results varied:

Howard Dean: A major defeat, but hardly a fatal one. Dean still has more money than any other Democratic candidate and better organization. These didn’t pay off for him in Iowa, but they’re not to be dismissed. In addition, the most recent polls in New Hampshire (taken before Iowa), show Dean leading in the runup to next Tuesday's primary there, with Iowa winner John Kerry and Iowa non-participant Wesley Clark closing the gap. Despite Iowa, Dean is still the front-runner unless subsequent tests prove otherwise.

Dean’s major problem remains what made him the front-runner for months: an eruptive personality that his core supporters like but that may come off, especially on TV, as too hot for other voters. It’s not Dean’s so-called anger that is disconcerting – most Democrats are angry at Bush and his administration, as the supporting tables for major polls consistently show. Rather, his problem is his tendency to seem on the edge of losing control of his emotions. Americans want someone in the White House who is in control, not someone whom might go out of control. Democrats are no different in this than Republicans or independents.

In this sense, Dean gave himself no help in the long run with his speech to his supporters last night. It was a fiery speech, and one good thing Dean has brought to the race for the Democratic nomination is fire; before he began actually attacking Bush and his policies, it was hard to find another Democrat who could rub two sticks together. So last night, in a speech seemed to leave him almost breathless, he exclaimed:

Not only are we going to New Hampshire ... we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York. And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. To take back the White House.”

Music to his core fans’ ears. And he should have calmed down right there. But it was not to be. He then yelled, “Yeeaaaarrh!” in a manner that can accurately be described as unsettling. "You've got to have some fun in this business," he explained today, and promised more. Hmmm.

Slate’s Chris Suellentrop, meanwhile, says Dean’s ad campaign may have killed his chances in Iowa.

John Kerry: A huge win for a candidate whose campaign seemed near failure until his sudden surge in Iowa and a smaller, but significant move up in the (pre-Iowa) polls in New Hampshire. Kerry put together a solid organization in Iowa and poured in tons of money for ads. It is notable, though, that Kerry, who all along has sounded remote and detached even from his own campaign, relied heavily on Sen. Ted Kennedy’s magic among traditional Democrats to help get him over the hump in Iowa. Kennedy’s support no doubt will help in New Hampshire, too, but if Kerry is going to win the whole thing he’s going to have to do it himself, because there are great swaths of delegates from places where Ted won’t play all that well.

Here, Time analyzes how Kerry won Iowa.

John Edwards: Another huge winner. Edwards came from nowhere a couple of weeks ago to place second to Kerry. Working for him were the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, the state’s largest paper, and Edwards’ (so far) determinedly sunny, optimistic campaign, which seemed to resonate well with Iowans.

"It's a huge boost," Edwards said. "It's like a fire spreading over Iowa over the last two weeks, and to finish the way we did was extraordinary."

He says his upbeat campaign can win in November. "Not only does this message work with Democratic primary voters, with independents and caucus-goers, this is a message that will go across the country and across party lines," he said this morning. The notion that one can run a positive campaign on issues and win is both welcome and, I fear, naive. Should Edwards win the nomination he’ll find that out.

Edwards apparently plans to split his time among New Hampshire and other states holding primaries or caucuses soon after, including South Carolina (where he was born, and where polls have showed him trailing Dean).

Dick Gephardt: His ads beat up Howard Dean in Iowa, but didn’t help Gephardt, who finished a distant fourth. He bowed out of the race this morning.

"I gave this campaign everything I had in me," Gephardt told a news conference. "Today my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end. I'm withdrawing as a candidate and returning to private life after a long time in the warm light of public service." (Gephardt already had decided not to seek re-election to his House seat in Missouri, where he has served 14 terms).

Wesley Clark: Winner or loser? Good question. Clark passed on Iowa in order to devote full attention to New Hampshire, where polls showed him closing in on Howard Dean. Now he faces the prospect of squaring off with Kerry, who before Iowa had lagged in New Hampshire, and, just possibly, with Edwards as well, with Dean still very much alive but probably diminished to an undetermined degree by Iowa.

New tracking polls later this week should give some insight into how things are shaping up.

Posted by tbrown at 01:08 PM


January 16, 2004

A big day for the Dems Monday

The Iowa caucuses will provide the first quantifiable test for the Democratic presidential hopefuls, and as we noted yesterday the race seems wide open if you credit the tracking polls. (Today’s Zogby poll, by the way, shows John Kerry moving into the lead there, with 24% support among probable caucus participants, followed by Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt at 19% each and John Edwards with 17%.)

The Blogging of the President: 2004 has a cautionary setup piece by Matt Stoller.

“In terms of the caucuses, no one knows what's going on. Turnout, usually at 3% of the state population at most, is expected to be much higher than normal, which throws all calculations off. Turnout in a caucus is a substantial part of the battle, so it seems like ground organization, which Dean and Gephardt have, will be hugely important. Dean is investing a lot in college students; we see a lot of Dean canvassers around here, and no one from other campaigns. At the same time, Dean is suffering from the attacks on him as 'gaffe-prone', 'angry', and 'negative'; there are many leaning Dean supporters who are thinking of going undecided as a result.”

The site also has a lengthy analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Demo candidates both in Iowa and elsewhere by Stirling Newberry.

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, rounds up some mainstream press coverage of Iowa and concludes that Edwards’ late surge is due to the fact that, suddenly, “nice is in.”

Upper Left, a Washington state blog by Kerry supporter Shaun Dale, attributes Dean’s slide (and Kerry’s surge) to Dean attack ads, which don’t seem to be playing well with voters.

Posted by tbrown at 12:42 PM


Relax. What you don’t know can only kill you

Federal and state officials have been assuring us that that of course U.S. beef is safe despite the discovery that one dairy cow tested positive for mad cow disease. How do we know? Because we test suspect cows.

Unfortunately, that’s mostly bureaucratic myth.

UPI, through a public-records request, obtained federal documents showing that there were no tests of cattle in Washington state in the first seven months of 2003. Which makes it likely that the mad cow from Mabton was the only one tested in Washington until it turned up positive for the disease.

“In addition,” UPI reports, “no mad cow tests were conducted during the two-year period [2001 to 2003] at any of the six federally registered slaughterhouses in Washington state. This includes Washington's biggest slaughterhouse, Washington Beef in Toppenish -- the 17th largest in the country, which slaughters 290,000 head per year -- and two facilities in Pasco that belong to Tyson, the largest beef slaughtering company in the United States.”

So is the state beef supply safe? We wouldn’t know, would we?

Nationally, the situation is no better, UPI says:

-- Tests were conducted at fewer than 100 of the 700 plants known to slaughter cattle.

-- Some of the biggest slaughterhouses were not tested at all.

-- Cows from the top four beef producing states, which account for nearly 70 percent of all cattle slaughtered each year in the United States, only accounted for 11 percent of all the animals screened.

-- Though dairy cattle are considered the most likely to develop mad cow, some of the top dairy slaughtering plants were sampled only a few times or not at all.

It’s probably true that the chances of contracting mad cow disease from U.S. beef is low, as officials claim. The fact, however, is that we don’t know that because the U.S. testing program is wholly inadequate to the task of finding out. The USDA says that in 2002 alone, 35.7 million cattle were slaughtered in the U.S. The number tested for 2002 and 2003 totalled 35,000, or about one-half of one percent of the animals. By comparison, Japan – which has banned U.S. beef imports for what is likely to be some time – tests every cow designated for human consumption.

Feel safer now?

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM


January 15, 2004

Kerry by a nose in Iowa, with Edwards moving up on the outside

Ah, tracking polls. They’re a political art form that, like other art, may not always mean what they seem to on the surface. They are often quite volatile because of difficulty getting good, random samples of voters on a given day and because of the limitations of cost (here’s a piece that explores their shortcomings).

So while the importance of individual tracking polls shouldn’t be exaggerated, they do often capture new trends.

And the trend in Iowa, where Democrats caucus next Monday to choose delegates to their national convention, is toward a real horserace.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has been the early leader, appears to be flagging. As likely caucus participants prepare to cast their votes, they’re paying increasing attention to other candidates at Dean’s expense, according to the latest tracking poll by John Zogby.

Zogby now finds it a four-man race, with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts holding a statistically insignificant lead over Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri (22%-21%-21%), and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina surging to 17 percent following his endorsement by the state’s largest newspaper last weekend. Former Gen. Wesley Clark has not campaigned in Iowa.

“This race is actually a four-way statistical dead heat,” Zogby says. “Kerry leads among singles and college educated, but Dean is NOT in a free fall. Gephardt still has the organization, but do not count out Edwards, who leads in the Central part of the state and is running strong among college graduates."

We’ll see Monday whether things actually turn out to be this close.

In New Hampshire, which holds its primary Feb. 1, Dean support also has softened some, but he maintains a solid core. According to American Research Group, the numbers there now are:

Dean 29%
Clark 24%
Kerry 15%
Edwards 5%

“There are three important points to be aware of when reviewing today's tracking,” ARG says. “First, Howard Dean's core support remains around 30%. His strongest supporters have not wavered while soft supporters have left him. Second, when the 15% undecided in the ballot is included, about 45% of likely Democratic primary voters are not firmly committed to any candidate. And third, Wesley Clark has not been the only beneficiary of the shift from Howard Dean that began over the weekend. John Kerry and John Edwards have also benefited as some women continue to have concerns about Clark. …

“The race remains unsettled because likely Democratic primary voters tell us that they want -- and would switch to -- a candidate they believe can defeat George W. Bush. They are still looking for the candidate who makes the most convincing argument for victory in November.”

Nationally, the Rasmussen tracking poll finds Dean and Clark are in another statistical dead heat, (Dean 21%, Clark 19%).

Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM


Saddam Hussein, POW – II

The Geneva Conventions accord certain rights to all prisoners of war, and after the Pentagon decided to declare Saddam a POW blogger Billmon took the time to check out the former dictator’s new entitlements.

I can only wonder how Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public are going to react when they hear Uncle Sam has put Saddam on the payroll (officially, this time) or that the Butcher of Baghdad is lounging around, smoking bargain-priced French cigarettes and reading Hustler, while his camp orderly polishes his medals and the interest compounds on his $750,000 nest egg.”

Interesting stuff.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM


January 14, 2004

Judge not

Saying you’re a secularist where government is concerned has become the equivalent of tattooing “666” on your forehead. Nonetheless, separation of church and state remains a critically important cornerstone of representative government as practiced in this country. For an example of why let’s take a quick trip to the Land of Hanging Chads.

Some members of Florida’s judicial nomination commission for the 15th Judicial Circuit are asking prospective candidates some quite unusual questions:

One candidate said she was asked, "Will you be able to balance your duties as a single mother of twins with your duties as a Broward judge?" (Link via Calpundit.)

-- Whether they are active in their church.

-- Whether the candidate is a "God-fearing person."

-- How they feel about the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling striking down a Texas law [this is in Florida, remember] criminalizing homosexual activity.

-- How they would feel about having the Ten Commandments posted in their courtrooms.

Carol Licko, a former general counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush, who serves on the Florida Bar's Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, says such questions won’t be asked by Bush or his staff when finalists for judicial seats are interviewed in Tallahassee. That leaves just one small problem: to become a finalist you have to get past the busybodies who do ask.

Posted by tbrown at 01:00 PM


Cheney watch

I wrote here last week about a French investigation of Halliburton and its KBR subsidiary in a purported bribery scandal in Nigeria. Today’s development is that the London Daily Express says the French magistrate conducting the probe plans to subpoena Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Halliburton CEO at the time of the alleged offenses.

It’s still hard to tell how serious this situation is (London tabloids are, shall we say, less than totally reliable). However, as the liberal Center for American Progress notes, the Express story is consistent with what has been reported so far in Paris papers.

A subpoena by itself would, of course, prove nothing. But it would be embarrassing.

And there’s still the possibility that the supposed probe of Cheney himself (as distinct from Halliburton and its French, Italian and Japanese partners in the Nigerian venture) could be tied up with French pique over the U.S. investigation into the takeover of the bankrupt U.S. insurer Executive Life by the French bank Credit Lyonnais. That scandal continues to be an embarrassment to French President Jacques Chirac.

While we’re waiting for this to sort itself out, here’s a Dallas Morning News story on the background to Nigeria case (site registration required).

Posted by tbrown at 12:55 PM


In the mail

Reader Robert A. Platt of Universal City, Texas, took exception last week to this post.

“Don't be so pompous,” he wrote. “Come on now, with a humongous gaggle of leftist journalists and media outlets ready to pounce on every misstep the administration takes, is it any wonder that they're somewhat cautious. At least the president acknowledges that he is a conservative . . . unfortunately, the self righteous 'media,'or 'press' or whatever you call yourselves, can't muster up the courage to define themselves accurately.”

On the other hand, the Rev. Dayffd Miles Board of Abercraf, Wales, wrote, “A few years ago, I was involved with the Church in producing a response for our national Commission on Journalism, and the chief point we made was that the very process of reportage sometimes wantonly leaves background analysis as a neglected area. I feel this also as a former current affairs broadcast producer. It was so often difficult because of our very immersion in events to realize that the public had not grasped essential background issues and even information. Often enough, we too had not spent sufficient time and attention working on them, to the impoverishment of what we did more topically.

" 'Between the Lines,' had I … been able to see it then, I would have cited as a paradigm of how the job should be done ... I found the three pieces of analysis and data alike stylish, witty and highly relevant -- indeed most illuminating. Great job, both you yourself, and the Times for sponsoring it.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:52 PM


January 13, 2004

The national security state wins one

And it’s a big one. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it's just fine for the government to arrest people who might, perhaps, be associated with terrorism and hold them indefinitely, without disclosing their names and without allowing them legal representation. That’s what happened to at least 750 mostly Arab and/or Muslim men right after the 9/11 attacks.

Only one of them, Zacarias Moussaoui, was charged in connection with the attacks, and the administration has been unable, so far, to effectively prosecute that case. Another 129 were charged with other crimes (most likely immigration violations, but due to all the secrecy we just don’t know). As of last summer, 74 were still in custody. Most of the others arrested in that initial sweep had overstayed their visas and were given the choice of being deported to their home countries or remaining in custody for questioning. Their immigration hearings were ordered closed. Unsurprisingly, most chose deportation. So what we have here is a secret government fishing expedition, which appears to have landed one genuine suspect in a serious crime, combined with a sort of legal ethnic-cleansing-by-deportation. Those arrested were, as far as we know, foreign nationals, who always have had fewer legal rights than American citizens.

It is chilling, however, that the government has been able to act in ways similar to those common in police states with virtually no examination of its actions. These are unusual times, and there are, no doubt, security matters that should remain confidential during terrorism investigations. However, in this instance even the names of those who were cleared of suspicion have never been made public other than the few who individually came forward to complain after their release.

Coming later this year will be a far more important Supreme Court ruling on whether the president has the legal authority to declare U.S. citizens “ unlawful enemy combatants” and hold them without charges in secret military custody.

I wish there were reasons to feel optimistic about the outcome of this case, which seems to deal with a clearly unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch. But I can’t find any.

Posted by tbrown at 12:14 PM


The neocon book tour

Meanwhile, Richard Perle, one of the architects of this administration’s foreign policies, and David Frum, who used to be a speechwriter for Bush, are busily peddling their new book, “An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.”

I haven’t read the book yet, but the excerpts I’ve seen indicate it’s more scary claptrap by two guys who so far have been wrong about just about everything having to do with Iraq and the war on terrorism. But never mind. They’ve got some more great ideas for us:

-- All Muslims living in the U.S. should be placed under special government scrutiny. Actually, Muslims already are under close scrutiny, as the post above shows. But no doubt these guys believe we should go further. No half-measures here.

-- With that problem under control, all U.S. citizens, should be required to carry government-issued national identity cards. This is one of those internal security measures that people from this same political camp, rightly, used to scorn when the Soviet Union did it. But it’ll be OK in their hands. Just trust them.

-- By the way, make sure all your kids are registered for the draft. We’re going to have one again if these guys get their way. They advocate overthrowing the governments of Syria and Iran, preventing the formation of a Palestinian state and blockading North Korea. Perle added as an afterthought the other day that Saudi Arabia should be promoted to the Axis of Evil, up there with Iran and North Korea. Taking care of all these little problems should keep us busy for a while.

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent roundup of opinions on Perle, Frum and their book, including favorable comment from some quarters.

Posted by tbrown at 12:11 PM


January 12, 2004

Polls and more polls

First, perceptions of political coverage …

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press says the Internet “is now on par with such traditional outlets as public television broadcasts, Sunday morning news programs and the weekly news magazines” as a source for political news. In other words, behind traditional media, but making substantial and pretty rapid inroads.

While 13% of Americans regularly learn something about the election from the Internet, up from 9% at this point in the 2000 campaign, another 20% say they sometimes get campaign news from the Internet (up from 15%),” Pew reports

Is this good news?

Yes: The Internet has become a source of amazingly diverse and unfettered political opinion. No matter your affiliations or beliefs, you can find many sites that share them. Furthermore, because many web sites and bloggers have clearly defined views, they are much more likely to pursue stories adverse to their ideological opponents than the mainstream media. If you think a story is being mistold, buried or ignored, you can find a version of it you like on the Internet. Guaranteed. For the same reasons, web sites are often the first to really focus attention on genuine news stories that are in their infancy. The net is unhampered by the deadlines and production schedules of conventional media.

No: The Internet’s very diversity is also its drawback. There is a lot of political junk on the web, even at supposedly respectable sites. Unfortunately, it is easy to pursue the path of least resistance and read only what reinforces one’s own opinions. Easy, but unproductive and even dangerous. Representative government relies on vigorous debate to sort out ideas, so that voters can make decent judgments about who has the better part of the argument. Those who seek, and hear, only one side of the debate are woefully ill informed. In this regard, the great advantage of major newspapers, and to a lesser extent of broadcast and cable TV networks, is that, in general, they reduce the amount of outright quackery and misrepresentation and, over the course of a campaign, usually present a pretty balanced view of what’s at stake.

The problem is that when political polarization reaches extremes such as we’re seeing today – the times when open debate is most necessary – people are less inclined to read, much less believe, anything that contradicts their own opinions.

Here’s Pew again:

“The survey also finds that the nation's deep political divisions are reflected in public views of campaign coverage. Overall, about as many Americans now say news organizations are biased in favor of one of the two parties as say there is no bias in election coverage (39% vs. 38%). This marks a major change from previous surveys taken since 1987. In 1987, 62% thought election coverage was free of partisan bias. That percentage has steadily declined to 53% in 1996, 48% in 2000, and 38% today.

“Compared with 2000 a much larger number of Democrats believe that coverage of the campaign is tilted in favor of the Republicans (29% now, 19% in 2000). But Republicans continue to see more bias in campaign coverage than do Democrats. More than four-in-ten Republicans (42%) see news coverage of the campaign as biased in favor of Democrats; that compares with 37% in 2000. Among independents there also has been a significant decline in the percentage who say election news is free of bias (43% now, 51% then), though independents remain divided over whether the coverage favors Democrats or Republicans.”

There is this bit of good news:

“The survey finds that two-thirds of Americans (67%) prefer to get news from sources that have no particular political point of view, while a quarter favors news that reflects their political leanings. Independents stand out for their strong preference of news that contains no particular viewpoint (74% vs. 67% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats).”

Pew also found that “young people, in particular, are turning away from traditional media sources for information about the campaign. Just 23% of Americans age 18-29 say they regularly learn something about the election from the nightly network news, down from 39% in 2000. There also have been somewhat smaller declines in the number of young people who learn about the campaign from local TV news (down 13%) and newspapers (down 9%).”

The poll summary is here.

Detailed demographic breakdowns of the poll are available here.

… and now some poll numbers about the Democratic campaigns

-- A new Zogby tracking poll shows a very close race between Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt in the runup to next Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses. Sen. John Edwards, though still far behind, has been moving up strongly since his endorsement by Iowa’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register.

-- An L.A. Times poll of likely participants in the Iowa caucuses shows Dean with a solid 30%-23% lead over Gephardt. Democratic opinions in the state remain in flux, however, with about 10 percent undecided and another 40 percent saying they could change their minds before next Monday.

-- An American Research Group poll of New Hampshire voters finds Dean maintaining his nearly 2-1 lead there over retired Gen. Wesley Clark, with the rest of the field lagging. In addition, ARG says nearly 9 in 10 Dean supporters say they would be unlikely to switch their support to anyone else, compared with about 6 in 10 Clark voters who express similarly strong support for their candidate. (Thanks to Joshua Marshall for the links to the Iowa and New Hampshire polls.)

Posted by tbrown at 12:30 PM


Saddam Hussein, POW

One potentially important story of the weekend that has been little explored is why the Pentagon decided to classify Saddam Hussein as a prisoner of war, and thus covered by the Geneva Conventions. It may appear self-evident that Saddam should be considered a POW since he was the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army. But in war, things frequently are not what they seem, and that is at least as true in this war as it has been in others.

The decision has alarmed the Iraqis, who have been angling to try Saddam themelves (and who President Bush has said should decide his fate).

It is baffling why the Department of Defense has made this ruling.” says Juan Cole, in an interesting and pertinent post. “ … Makes no sense. And government actions that do not obviously make sense mask hidden intentions.”

Posted by tbrown at 12:17 PM


Mad cows, hockey and Pamela Anderson

Why isn't Canada part of the Axis of Evil? Libertarian Gene Caldwell wants to know.

Posted by tbrown at 12:15 PM


January 09, 2004

French investigation targets Halliburton … and Cheney

There’s an interesting brouhaha percolating beneath the U.S. media radar involving Halliburton, its KBR subsidiary (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root) and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Halliburton CEO until he was elected. At this point, it’s hard to tell what to make of it, and it may well turn out to be a non-issue for Cheney. But since he is, as the old cliché has it, a heartbeat away from the presidency, it deserves at least some cursory exploration.

Here’s the short form:

A well-known French investigating magistrate, Renaud van Ruymbeke, is conducting a probe into whether about $180 million paid to Nigerian officials in connection with the construction of a $6 billion plant to liquefy natural gas for export constituted bribery. Additional crimes could include money laundering and misuse of corporate assets, according to the French press. The plant was built by a partnership called TSKJ, consisting of Technip Group of France [hence Van Ruymbeke’s interest], Snamprogetti of Italy, Kellogg Brown & Root and JGC Corporation of Japan.

Bribery is commonplace in Nigeria, and it’s worth noting that Halliburton earlier this year admitted that KBR paid bribes totaling $2.4 million to a tax official in Nigeria in an effort to obtain favorable tax treatment. Halliburton said several employees were fired as a result.

Van Ruymbeke apparently believes a longtime Halliburton employee, a London lawyer named Jeffrey Tesler, made the supposed payoffs. If this case fizzles and becomes just another “mistake” like the tax-bribery case, Cheney’s got nothing to worry about. But $180 million is a lot of grease, even for the oil industry, and if all, or even most of this money was, in fact, paid out as bribes it is inconceivable that upper management was ignorant of what was happening.

The Nation, the liberal U.S. journal, asks “Will France Indict Cheney?” That seems quite unlikely even given the low ebb of relations between Washington and Paris because of the Iraq war. But when investigators begin untangling a ball of yarn like this one it’s difficult to predict the outcome.

Here are some links:

-- The Guardian explains some of the legal background on why the French would have jurisdiction in this case. The paper also points out speculation that the investigation of Halliburton could be payback for a U.S. probe of the French bank Crédit Lyonnais in connection with its buyout of Executive Life Insurance Co.

-- The conservative Paris newspaper Le Figaro appears to be the original source of the report that Van Ruymbeke is specfically investigating Cheney. I’ve been unable to locate a sophisticated translation of the story. There is this, but it looks to me like the product of one of those automatic web translators and is murky, to say the least. An important distinction in the case, as we know it so far, is that Van Ruymbeke has ruled out prosecuting Cheney for bribery, but could go after him for lesser charges.

-- And here’s a blogger who has a good time turning the whole thing into one of those Nigerian e-mail scams we all wish our spam filters would delete.

Posted by tbrown at 02:15 PM


January 08, 2004

The Abundantly Cautious Bunch

Remember "The Wild Bunch"? The Bush administration is different. It says so all the time.

Well, I think it's an abundance of caution.”
-- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on raising the terror alert level over the holidays

"We have no evidence that this went beyond the discussion stages. But in an abundance of caution, we wanted to notify our local law enforcement partners."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, explaining an earlier terror alert

"The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation."
-- Deputy Attorney General James Comey, explaining why AG John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame

Now, I remind you that we're taking this recall action in an abundance of caution, because from this animal was removed the highest risk materials -- that is the brain and the spinal column.”
-- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on the Mabton mad-cow meat recall

We took this measure out of an abundance of caution.”
-- Ken Peterson of the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service on the Mabton mad-cow meat recall

That Peterson really knows how to stay on message. I feel better already. Let’s go grab a burger.

Posted by tbrown at 01:09 PM


Is al-Qaeda on the skids?

“O Muslims: The situation is serious and the misfortune is momentous. By God, I am keen on safeguarding your religion and your worldly life. So, lend me your ears and open up your hearts to me so that we may examine these pitch-black misfortunes and so that we may consider how we can find a way out of these adversities and calamities. ... “
-- From Osama bin Laden’s latest tape

The lastest pronouncement from the world’s No. 1 terrorist hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. Maybe it should.

Strategic Forecasting, a private seller of "actionable intelligence on geopolitical, economic and security affairs" to its customers says Osama bin Laden’s last tape is “a gloomy analysis of al-Qaeda’s situation … “

Stratfor makes these points:

-- The U.S. is beginning to get the upper hand against Iraqi insurgents. (Though it may not seem so because of events such as today’s downing of a Blackhawk helicopter, killing nine soldiers, and yesterday’s mortar attack on a base outside Baghdad that killed 1 and injured 34).

-- Iraq’s Sunni minority, which provides most of the bodies for the insurrection, is becoming increasingly concerned about eventual domination by the majority Shiites and is beginning to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

-- Other Muslim states in the region are moving quickly to shore up their relationships with the U.S. Iran began trying to improve its relationship with Washington last September, Libya has announced it will suspend its WMD programs, Saudi Arabia has been cracking down hard on suspected terrorists, and even Syria has begun to make conciliatory noises.

-- Islamic jihadis have failed in two assassination attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose country has an established nuclear weapons program that would be a huge prize in a new extremist regime.

“At the moment, nothing is going al Qaeda's way. That does not mean al Qaeda is defeated. The war isn't over 'til it's over, and as the United States is showing in Iraq, reversals in war are common; the measure of victory is how quickly and effectively one adjusts to the reality and creates a new strategy. Al Qaeda has clearly lost the first round; it is readying for the second.

“This second round appears to consist of two parts. One has been clearly defined: Al Qaeda will try to bring down the Saudi government. … Whether al Qaeda can overthrow the regime is unclear, but bin Laden's statements make it clear that this is where his focus will be.

“There is then the question of an attack on the United States,” but when that will come, what it will involve and – most importantly – whether it will achieve al-Qaeda’s political goals is quite unclear.

Posted by tbrown at 01:05 PM


What Iraqis are thinking

Middle East scholar and blogger Juan Cole has an interesting post on a new poll of Iraqis taken late last year by a Baghdad newspaper.

Some key findings:

-- 75% say that they would feel a lack of security were the American forces to decide to leave the country.

-- On the other hand, 75% said that the U.S. should leave once an independent government is established.

-- 48% said that the current role of the US in Iraq is positive.

-- 38% said that the British role is positive.

-- 47% say that the Western form of democracy cannot be implemented in Iraq, and 45% of respondents disagreed with them, saying democracy is not a monopoly of the West.

-- 88% say that political leaders must be elected by the people.

Posted by tbrown at 12:59 PM


January 07, 2004

The new Iraqi army

The redoubtable John Burns of the New York Times takes a look at Iraq's new army and finds both weirdness – recruits marching by to the strains of the theme from the old movie “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” – and reasons for optimism.

“Through the parade and the soldiers' exuberant tribal dancing that followed, there was an air of expectancy, hesitant but still real, that Iraq can overcome the paralyzing insurgency of recent months and construct the Arab Middle East's first, or at least fullest, democracy,” Burns writes.

“Just as palpable was the soldiers' unease at the shadow still cast by Mr. [Saddam] Hussein, in whose cause, or memory, many of the insurgent attacks have been made, and many threats have been leveled against any man joining the new army.

“It was a moment for the politicians vying for power in the new Iraq, and for the British and American officers, to speak proudly, or at least hopefully, of the role the new army of 40,000 men can play in burying the grim memories of Mr. Hussein. They are to be deployed by September.”

It’s hard to escape the conclusion, though, that we could have gotten to this point a whole lot quicker if our Iraqi viceroy, Paul Bremmer, hadn’t peremptorily dissolved the old Iraqi army: 60 percent of the new recruits are former soldiers.

Posted by tbrown at 02:11 PM


Budgie blogging

Yes, this post is about birds. Little green parakeets, to be more specific. If Kevin Drum can blog weekly about cats and Andrew Sullivan can write occasionally about his beagle, then, just this once, I can blog about my favorite birds.

Besides, more people care about their pets than about Iraq or politics, right?

Over the New Year’s holiday, there was some good and bad news in Seattle about budgies. The stories have in common a couple of bird adventures. But one story has a happy ending and the other doesn’t.

First, there was the entertaining and heart-warming tale of Wayne Jernberg and his bird, Otis.

Otis left Jernberg’s Capitol Hill condo late last month on the shoulder of a friend and, as budgies will, promptly set out to explore. He was outside for four days in cold weather before being rescued by employees of a bank branch in Wedgwood, seven miles from home, where he spent his time charming bank employees and customers. Eventually, Otis was reunited with his owner. For Jernberg, who is disabled with diabetes and heart disease, it was a godsend. His bird is his constant companion

Otis "is love and acceptance for me," Jernberg said, the bird pecking at his ear. "Oty's a good boy."

If you missed this story, you can read it all here (registration at seattletimes.com is required).

At my household, things were somber. Uncle Feather, another little green budgie with a great big personality, took his last flight. He'd been with us for 11 years and it was sad indeed to watch him pass on.

Purchased by my son with allowance money and named after a talking mynah in a grade-school book, Uncle Feather was a bird with an attitude who led a colorful life, especially in his early years. My wife ran her own consulting business from a home office then and the bird grew up there, quickly becoming quite a chatterbox. He mimicked words, phrases and, especially, human speech patterns. Soon he was imitating my wife's business phone and answering in his own way. "Riiing! Maggie Brown!"

Small birds lead vivid lives that focus on food to fuel their very high metabolism, constant vigilance for predators or other threats and socializing. As soon as I got home from work, our bird would be perched on my shoulder babbling on at length about his day. None of it made any sense, of course, except such occasional interjections as, "Let's get pizza!" and, of course, "Pretty bird!" Unlike Otis, I can't remember him mentioning sexually transmitted diseases, at least in English -- but, then, Jerry Springer wasn't on his somewhat limited TV schedule.

Few things look more pathetic than a parakeet hiking around the house, hopping up and down stairs, so we soon let him grow full flight feathers. He loved to whiz around, through barely opened doors, up the stairs, down to the daylight basement, usually in search of company. When no one was available, he'd perch in front of a mirror and talk to himself.

One day, when Feathers (as we nicknamed him) was about Otis' age, I stupidly walked out into the backyard with him on my shoulder, with predictable results. In seconds he was in the upper branches of a neighbor's 70-foot fir, bragging about how cool he was to anyone who'd listen. He looked down bemusedly as I tried to lure him down, but wasn't interested. The warm day faded into a cool evening and the many birds that frequented our yard went wherever they go at night. So did Feathers, and I thought we'd never see him again. My kids were upset. My wife was upset. I felt like an idiot.

The next morning, I got up just after sunrise. I figured that if Feathers was ever coming home it would be then because he'd most likely be hungry. White millet and other favorite treats are in short supply in Seattle's woods. I'd scarcely gotten out the door when a half-dozen sparrows and our wayward parakeet settled down in an ornamental tree in our back yard. Feathers stood out like a little neon sign in the midst of his drab pals. I walked over slowly, talking to him and trying not to spook his friends. He fluttered down and lit on my finger and we went back inside.

Feathers managed to get outside twice more, but came back both times. I think his last venture, when he flew off the balcony into a holly tree, soured hiim on the great outdoors. It was the last time he tried to go anywhere.

Over the last year or so, Feathers had begun to show his age. He was still a big talker and socializer, but spent more time in his cage and was just taking life at a slower pace. Suddenly, last Saturday, he became quite disoriented and flew into the window behind his cage. A couple of minutes later he suffered a seizure that left him unable to even stand, much less fly. I picked him up and held him in the palm of my hand, talking to him and stroking him. This seemed to lessen his distress, but it was clear he was quickly going downhill. Perhaps 10 minutes later, he cocked his head slightly and looked up at me with a still-glittering black eye. Then he snuggled his beak into my hand, closed his eyes and was gone.

A fading poinsettia sits where his cage was. A poor substitute for my little green pal’s chatter and the music of his wings.

Posted by tbrown at 02:09 PM


Yes, it’s a joke – and a bad one

Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point about religious zealots, the “sanctity” of marriage and Britney Spears in this post.

"BRITNEY'S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT: Look, I know some of you will object to the logic, but can you not see how something like Britney Spears' insta-marriage in Las Vegas might infuriate long-committed gay couples who, even now, don't have a shred of the rights Ms Spears enjoyed for a few days? It is one thing for people to declare their commitment to traditional marriage - i.e. procreative, life-long, heterosexual. It is another thing when that ideal has almost no relationship to civil marriage as it now exists for straights; and when it is nevertheless used to deny gay people access to the institution. Over the holidays, I found myself watching all those VH1 list shows, and happened across the top ten or twenty (I forget which) shortest Hollywood marriages in history. Ha ha ha. We live a world in which Britney Spears just engaged in something "sacred" (in the president's words), where instant and joke hetero marriages and divorces are a subject of titillation, and where a decades-long monogamous lesbian marriage is a threat to civilization as we know it. Please. Can we have a smidgen of consistency here?"

Don't hold your breath.

Posted by tbrown at 02:00 PM


January 06, 2004

Cheapening political debate

There are some excellent blog posts this morning that deal with a discouraging – and dangerous – development: The attempts by conservatives to foreclose debate on serious national policy issues by demonizing liberals, libertarians, or anyone else who disagrees with the Received Wisdom of the Bush administration. Those issues include the war in Iraq, unilateralism in foreign affairs, and the increasingly spooky narrowing of basic American civil liberties in the name of national security. These are big issues that beg for spirited examination. Instead, the administration’s water boys are doing everything they can to make sure such debate doesn’t happen, and are utilizing some of the lowest rhetoric at their command to do so.

Joshua Marshall takes on columnists Joel Mowbray at Townhall.com and David Brooks of the New York Times for the particularly pernicious and inexcusable practice of equating opposition of policies that originated with the neoconservative wing of the Republican party with anti-Semitism. Here’s Marshall:

“We’ve now gone from arguments where anti-Semitism is perceived at the margins of critiques of neoconservative intellectuals to the current practice in which it is treated as a given that 'neoconservative' is simply a code word for Jew and criticisms of the same are one shade or another of anti-Semitism.

“Let’s be clear on what’s going on here.

“Pressure groups exist in politics. The loose association of people generally termed 'neoconservative' use the term to describe themselves. And while no group is monolithic in its thinking, they generally think of themselves as a group and act in that fashion. …

“The point is that this is an ideological group in American politics. The people who are a part of it see it as such, as do its critics and opponents. And yet many now want to use blanket criticisms of anti-Semitism to stigmatize and ward off any and all criticism.”

Though Marshall doesn’t specifically mention it, one good reason to reject the contention that criticizing neocons equals anti-Semitism is that not all neocons are Jewish, as Billmon points out in this Christmas Eve post. Their primary distinguishing characteristic is where they came from. They were leftists -- in fact sometimes Trotskyists (that's right, commies) -- who mutated into conservative Democrats before shifting their allegiance to the GOP. Hence the term neoconservatives. He also gives a good rundown on which administration officials (or influencers) are neocons and which aren’t.

Another disgusting rhetorical development is that while people like Mowbray, Brooks and others are demeaning critics of the neoconservative movement as anti-Semitic, others on the right – admittedly the fringe right – are themselves indulging in utterly transparent anti-Semitism.

Consider this dropping from the execrable Cal Thomas on Howard Dean (link via Atrios):

“Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself.

Dean's wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering that the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.”

It’s hard to know where to begin addressing this kind of junk. I’m no theologian, but even I know that Congregationalism was brought to these shores on the Mayflower. Its tradition was Calvinist, which I do not believe anyone equates with liberalism. (Yes, Congregationalism no doubt has evolved over the last 400 years and no doubt is more liberal now than it was then.) Besides, that Great Republican Calvin Coolidge was a Congregationalist. But maybe he wasn't rightwing enough for Cal.

More amazingly, Thomas doesn’t seem to understand that there are many Protestant denominations that believe their churches should be essentially self-governing, without close hierarchical oversight by a potentially corrupt centralized authority. What does he think the Reformation was about?

And the stuff about Dean and his wife is simply appalling. She’s Jewish? So what?

Then – a link even further down the food chain – is this diatribe by Matt Grills:

“Howard Dean’s comments place him squarely in the ‘Jesus of convenience’ camp. His wife and children are Jewish. Cool. But I have to wonder: if Howie’s faith in Jesus Christ is so important to him, why didn’t he marry someone with the same faith?”

No mixed marriages in the Wonderful World of Cal and Matt, I guess.

So you can see what’s happening. Liberals, and others who differ with neoconservative policies, can’t criticize them because that makes them anti-Semitic. At the same time, it’s fine for rightwing zealots like Thomas and Grills to bait Dean about his Jewish wife – because it allows them to make him seem anti-Christian!

Lovely, isn’t it?

Then there’s the closely related issue of dehumanizing your opponents. Billmon, taking as his example yet another loony column by retired military intelligence officer Ralph Peters (who I noted here is openly advocating war crimes in Iraq), explores how this technique was perfected during the last century, with horrible results.

We’ve got a long political year ahead of us.

Posted by tbrown at 12:35 PM


January 05, 2004

The Plame Affair redux

Despite attempts by the Bush administration to ignore it and by most pundits to dismiss it, the unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame by senior administration officials is back in the news. It looks like this little piece of nastiness may yet come back to bite the administration.

If you missed it, here’s a brief update on developments last week (politicians love dumping bad news around holidays because of the simple reality that it’s likely to get lost, or at least underplayed). Thus, last Tuesday, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation into who leaked Plame’s name, a potential felony. Ashcroft’s deputy said his boss was acting out of “an abundance of caution.” He didn’t bother to explain why Ashcroft hadn’t located this abundance last September, when the investigation was launched. But it seems safe to conclude that it’s either:

-- Because the investigation has, indeed, unearthed evidence of criminal behavior by people high in the administration, putting the AG in an ethical box that he can’t escape without stepping aside.

-- Because the AG wants to distance himself from the investigation so that when the administration completes its coverup, Ashcroft can claim he had nothing to do with it.

Either is possible. However, it seems likeliest that the FBI agents working this case are doing their jobs and have, indeed, found evidence that is at the very least embarrassing to the administration and that may very well be chargeable. Here’s why I find this the more likely possibility:

First, Mike Allen of the Washington Post – the only big-media reporter who’s actually been working this story – reported the day after Christmas that the probe into who blew Plame’s cover was “gathering momentum,” with the appointment of a fourth prosecutor to the case. One potentially important item he noted is CIA anger that the administration is still leaking classified information intended to undermine Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat who blew the whistle on administration claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium ore from the African country of Niger.

Second, Ashcroft recused himself just four days later. Though he didn’t appoint a special prosecutor, as administration critics had been urging, he did turn the case over to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago. Fitzgerald appears to be widely respected as a straight-shooter.

Third, names are beginning to be named. Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst who at one time worked with Plame, all but named Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief assistant, Lewis “Scooter” Libby as one of the leakers. Blogger Joshua Marshall, meanwhile, archly referred to one of the likely miscreants as “Hopper.”

Fourth, administration apologists are already lining up their defense: it might not have been a crime for the Bushies to name Plame if they didn’t know she was an undercover agent. (Unfortunately for them, as blogger Mark A.R. Kleiman points out, the applicable federal statute contains no exemption for the Dumb and Dumberer defense.)

Marshall has been blogging up a lather on Plame, here, here, here and here.

Slate’s Timothy Noah makes the case for the coverup scenario here.

Michael Kinsley notes that Ashcroft’s appointment of Fitzgerald means that the investigation, which already is costing taxpayers millions of dollars, will to some extent have to be begun anew. He suggests that Robert Novak – whose column was the vehicle for making Plame’s name public – and other reporters who were spoonfed similar information by the administration should step forward and name the culprits.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit still just hopes it’ll go away. But his arguments, as so often in this matter, just don’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean -- the FBI has found crimes perhaps committed by Plame? Puhleeze.

Stay tuned for much more in the weeks, and probably months, ahead.

Note: Who are "senior administration officials" anyway? This term is journalistic jargon for a relative handful of people at the top ranks of the White House and key departments, such as Defense and State, who almost always speak only if reporters agree not to use their names (the exception, of course, is at news conferences, where they try to avoid saying anything substantive). Here's a good working list from Washingtonian magazine. As you can see, it's not long.

Posted by tbrown at 02:44 PM




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