Saturday, March 27, 2004

Digby goes to the bottom line

Clearly, I'm on a Digby jag here, for good reason. Here are his thoughts after watching Richard Clarke on Larry King Live:

Clarke, a 30 year veteran of the government and one who has a fierce reputation for cutting through the bureaucracy to get things done, says that the way to deal with an urgent national security threat is to force the issue to the top of the agenda by having the president personally lean on the cabinet heads to "shake the trees" in their own bureaucracies. That makes sense to me. When people are called to account by the boss on a certain issue they turn up the heat on their underlings. It's human nature and its certainly been my experience in the workplace.

And, he says that if that had been done in the spring and summer of 2001, when by all accounts there was a lot of intelligence that something "big" was about to happen, it's entirely possible that some of the "dots" would have been connected before they blew up the world trade center and the pentagon.

Clarke himself says that we will never know if we could have uncovered or disrupted the plot, but certainly it is clear that the system he describes in the Clinton administration was successful previously in disrupting the millenium bombing plot. That should count for something.

But, the bigger issue, I think, is that this illustrates once again what a grave mistake it is to have a president who is arrogant yet intellectually incurious and whose inexperience in life and government makes him manipulable by others. Clarke had previously worked for Reagan who was surrounded by highly professional foreign policy realists and Bush Sr who was a highly professional foreign policy realist himself. With Clinton he found a nimble, intelligent thinker who was open to new ideas and methods for dealing with post cold war threats and who was accessible and personally engaged in the decision making process.

But, George W. Bush was an inexperienced and overly protected executive with little personal depth and too much faith in a cabal of neocon radicals. He relied on an intellectually weak staff whose main job was to create unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to protect their boss from difficult problems. These layers of bureaucracy insulated him from the important issues of the day and made it impossible even for a brilliant bureaucrat like Clarke to cut through the maze and convince the ossified Iraq obsessives to look up from their dusty PNAC wish-lists and deal with the terrible threat we faced right that very minute.

The failure stemmed directly from the president because he is not in charge. No organization works under that kind of leadership much less a sophisticated bureaucracy. The system completely broke down under the effect of no real leadership, competing agendas and focus in the wrong direction.


It is true that the bigger question of how badly Bush dealt with the issue of terrorism AFTER 9/11 is probably a more potent campaign issue, because the results of going into Iraq are still fresh and easily observable. But, after listening to Dick Clarke for the last few days and beginning to read through is book, I am convinced that Bush dropped the ball.

But then, it was entirely predictable that he would drop the ball because he was never qualified to be president and that lack of qualification led him to make very poor choices in advisors and very poor judgements about the nation's priorities.

The bigger lesson in all of this, and one which I'm sure will go inheeded by many, is that you should not elect stupid people to the presidency. Smart ones can screw up, but it's not guaranteed that they will. But, a stupid yet arrogant president is bound to fail. The job is just too complicated for someone like that.

Digby, Billmon and Josh Marshall have the best stuff on the Clarke thing right now -- Kevin Drum, for some reason, hasn't been up to his usual standard.

Update (3/29): Kevin does have a good synopsis of Clarke's book.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 04:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What did Bush do?

Just to refresh everyone's memories, go to Politus and take a look at the important and challenging things that Bush was doing prior to 9/11, at the time that he wasn't dealing with fighting terrorism.

You can tell a lot about a president by the executive orders he signs. In executive orders he can set the tone and direction of his government, free from the constraints of legislative unpleasantries. If counterterrorism were a high priority it could be codified in executive orders demanding that all branches of the government cooperate in this or that counterterrorism initiative. At the very least, an executive order could be signed announcing the administration's counterterrorism goals.

Before the events of September 11, 2001, Bush had signed 24 executive orders. How many of them dealt with counterterrorism?

Go on, take a guess.

[Link via Digby]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 04:07:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kerry won't back down

Apparently, Kerry is using Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" as a campaign song. While I appreciate the sentiment (and I like the song), there's something just a little bit intransigent and, well, Bushian about it:

I Won't Back Down
by Tom Petty

Well I won't back down
No I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
... and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin me around
but I'll stand my ground
...and I won't back down

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down...)
hey I will stand my ground
(I won't back down)
and I won't back down...

(I won't back down...)
Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
hey I won't back down
(and I won't back down)
hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(and I won't back down)
hey I will stand my ground
(and I won't back down)
and I won't back down
(I won't back down)
No I won't back down...

Obviously, we don't want Kerry to back down from opposing Bush and knocking him out of office, but I sure hope that the back-to-the-wall I-won't-change-my-mind-no-matter-what tone of the song isn't how Kerry plans to run things once in office. It's just that kind of attitude that's alienated us from the rest of the world.

But let me take it in the spirit with which I think it's offered, that Kerry plans to take the battle right to Bush and not give up. Good.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 04:01:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Your media at work

Jog over to Digby's place, and take a look at juvenile dissing on Hardball.

Perhaps they should rename it Heatherball?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 03:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Descended Colin

As I watch Colin Powell testify (on C-SPAN's replay of the 9/11 Commission testimony), it's a shock to think how far he has fallen. After all, a lot of people thought he could have been elected president not too long ago.

Chalk him up as yet another Bush victim.

Update: OK, perhaps he was a willing victim, and at least some of his wounds were self-inflicted, and I'm well aware that, despite his rep, Powell wasn't completely on the up-and-up about his business dealings and his not-for-profit work, but still, overall, I see him as a victim of the Dark Side, a life which could have been put in real service to the country turned to servicing a weasal instead.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 03:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kerry's position

Kerry's decision to stay out of the Clarke controversy is wise (since throwing his support, or, generally speaking the support of Democrats, to Clarke will only make the whole thing look like partisan politics as usual to many people), and the imbroglio has, for the moment, somewhat stopped the clock on Kerry's need to go on the attack, and to parry Bush's attacks with positive and upbeat news of his own -- such as the announcement of a running mate or the rolling out of a "shadow cabinet". These things can now wait a while, as the Bush administration continues to shoot itself in the foot repeatedly with their all-out (and internally contradictory) attack on Clarke's credibility while almost completely ignoring the substance of his claims.

Sooner or later, though, the damage that Clarke has inflicted (and the damage inflicted on itself by the administration) will peak and the public will turn away from the sideshows and look to other things. The Bushies will certainly remount their attack on Kerry, possible at an even higher pitch (if that's possible), and the essentials of what many in the liberal blogosphere have been saying will again be in effect. Kerry will have to attack, not just respond, he'll have to get himself in the position of being tougher on terrorism than Bush (which is easier to do, now that Clarke has shown how weak on terror Bush actually has been), he needs to build a cadre of high-profile surrogates to carry his message far and wide (the purpose of the Shadow Cabinet idea), and he really should usurp the spotlight at the right moment by announcing his running mate well before the convention. (He can first pre-announce the announcement -- reveal his intention to make the choice -- then publicize the search, then announce it, all of which should take up a good deal of media time over the course of a week to ten days, maybe more.)

He also needs to present his positive, uplifting, feel-good program for the country, and the need to do so while at the same time attacking and parrying Bush is one of the primary reasons that I've been adamant that Edwards should be his choice for running mate.

Some weeks ago, before Edwards dropped out, I think, I tried to write something to post but wasn't able to put it into satisfactory shape, Basically what I wanted to say that if Kerry's choices for v.p. were either Wesley Clark or John Edwards, the choice would indicate whether Kerry thought the economy or national security was going to be the dominant issue. With Clark, Kerry would present an extremely solid front on national security, given his own experiences, and with Edwards he would firm up his ability to present a positive vision for the country's economic well-being.

As it turns out, Clark was a poor enough campaigner (totally due to inexperience, I think) that I soon dropped the idea that he was a good choice for Kerry's running mate, and now that Bush's national security credentials have taken a substantial hit, perhaps there is no need for Kerry to even consider the necessity that his running mate be someone who is strong in that area. If this is so, that's even more reason why Edwards would be his best choice.

Obviously, there's little doubt where I stand on this, but I've also said before that Kerry's choice, whoever he picks, needs to be a bold one, not some party hack or person chosen to placate pressure groups or for "regional balance" or other narrow reasons. The running mate's appeal should be national, helping the team to do better everywhere, not simply in one state or one area. Edwards fills that bill, I think, but perhaps there's someone else who does as well. If Kerry doesn't pick Edwards, I hope to hell he surprised and delights me with his pick.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 03:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Armitage's folly

I have to admit that Richard Armitage confuses me, a little. I know that, generally speaking, he's part of the whole neo-con cabal, their mole in the State Department, but usually when I see him testify before Congressional committees he seems pretty straight--forward, a no-bullshit, no-nonsense sort of guy, similar in many respects to the read I get from Richard Clarke. I don't know enough specifically about Armitage to offset this visceral impression, so I generally just sort of give him the benefit of the doubt.

But I have to say a couple of things bothered me about his second appearance before the 9/11 Commission, shortly after Clarke has finished.

First off, I thought that when Richard Ben-Vensite asked him procedural questions about why Condi Rice wasn't appearing to testify and why the White House had asked Armitage to go instead, and Armitage cut it off by saying that Ben-Veniste was a lawyer, while he had gone into the Navy, that was a cheap shot -- but since Ben-Vensite seemed to shrug it off with good humor, we'll let it pass.

Primarily, it was his joking around about Clarke's book with a Republican commissioner (I think it was Thompson), saying that he had only given it a "Washington read" -- that is, he had checked to see if his name was in the index and what was said about him.

Now, that's a perfectly reasonable little joke in many contexts, but this is the 9/11 Commission, investigating why 3000 people died in the worst national security debacle since Pearl Harbor, and many family members of 9/11 victims were in the audience. It was their perservence in the face of massive disinterest from the Bush administration that got the commission created in the first place, and they are determined to find out why things happened they way they did. They had just, only an hour or so before, heard Richard Clarke's apparently heartfelt apology for the failure of the government, and himself, to keep them safe from harm, and then here comes Armitage joshing around as if it's an after-dinner conversation in some Georgetown salon.

I found it if not offensive, then certainly out of place, and in any case a really poor piece of judgment on Armitage's part.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 03:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What Condi might say

Six hours or so before I started to write my pitiful little parody about Condi Rice and her decision not to testify, Brad de Long posted a much better one, speculating on what Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission might be -- if she were ever to testify in public under oath, that is:

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

But the Clinton administration was not a normal administration. And Richard Clarke did not have a normal place in it. Rather than reporting to the NSC deputies committee, Richard Clarke chaired the NSC principals committee when it met on terrorism issues. Rather than have the policy options discussed and framed by the deputies, the policy options were framed by Clarke himself, with the departmental staffs of the cabinet members then having to play catch-up. And because Clarke held this special position--deputy president for terrorism affairs, more or less--he could command the appearance of people like the head of the FBI or the CIA at the White House in short notice more-or-less on his own whim.

I took a look at this situation, and I thought about the great foreign-policy disasters of the past. I thought about the Bay of Pigs, where Eisenhower administration holdovers had bullied President Kennedy into approving a hair-brained invasion plan that had not been properly reviewed by Kenney's own people. I thought about Oliver North, where a hairbrained NSC staffer had warped U.S. foreign policy in destructive ways for years. I thought: "Nothing like this is going to happen on my watch. Whatever ideas Richard Clarke has are going to be properly assessed and reviewed."

So I decided, when Richard Clarke asked me for an "urgent" NSC principals meeting to approve his ideas on what to do about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that he was not going to get one. Had he thought about the broader picture of South Asian and Middle Eastern diplomacy? What effect would his initiatives have on our ability to manage and contain the India-Pakistan conflict? The Taliban were clients of Pakistan's ISI: if we armed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, would the ISI react by giving nuclear technology to Iran? It seemed to me that Clarke's plans needed to be tested: he needed to convince the security department staffs and the members of the NSC deputies committee that he had thought these issues through, and if he hadn't then his plans needed to be improved by their input.

So I directed my deputy Steven Hadley to treat the problem of Al Qaeda and its Taliban-granted sanctuary in its proper context as part of South Asian/Middle Eastern policy, and to put the comprehensive review of South Asian/Middle Eastern policy in its proper place in the queue of issues: high, but not the highest.

In May, however, I discovered that my subordinate Richard Clarke was undermining my assessment of policy priorities. He and George Tenet had agreed to stuff George W. Bush's daily intelligence briefing--the PDB--with lots of material on Al Qaeda. And so in May George W. Bush asked for a plan to destroy Al Qaeda, and I assured him that such a plan was being worked on--and it was, at the deputies level, as part of the overall South Asian/Middle Eastern policy review.

But I was damned if any NSC senior director who worked for me was going to overturn my judgment on policy priorities by end-running. Richard Clarke was going to wait his turn while the NSC principals dealt with other more important and more urgent issue areas. Richard Clarke stayed in his place in the policy-development queue.

Also, check out deLong's list (via Robert Waldmann and Ryan Lizza) of the contradictory claims made by various Bush administration hit-men in their vain attempt to smear Richard Clarke.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 02:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


From the Annals of Corporate Stupidity

AP reports:

A record company that released a cover album by the band whose pyrotechnics sparked a deadly nightclub fire apologized Thursday for the title it gave the CD, "Burning House of Love."

The Italian company, Comet Records, said a producer picked the name without thinking about Great White's connection to the February 2003 fire, which killed 100 people in West Warwick.

In a statement to The Associated Press in Rome, Comet said it had no intention of exploiting the tragedy, and that distribution of the album will be halted.

"We at Comet are deeply sorry," the company said.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 01:46:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A simple statement of fact

Josh Marshall:

One side wants to find out; the other doesn't. This whole [Richard Clarke] story turns on that simple fact.

Precisely correct.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 12:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Building from the ground up

About three weeks ago, the New York Times carried an article about a small town in Montana where people rallied against a Discovery Institute-inspired attempt to get creationism (in the guise of "Intelligent Design") into the school curriculum. (The article has slipped into the NYT's pay archives, but a reprint of the text is available here.)

Even though the decision was, at the time of the article's publication, still up in the air, it was nevertheless heartening to read of everyday citizens rallying against the forces of ignorance. Still, I couldn't help but notice that the suggested policy change (even though fueled by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's propaganda) was presented by the town's own Baptist minister, while the opposition had to go to an outside expert from the National Center for Science Education in Oakland for their presentation. Given a choice between a local authority figure and an outsider, many people will, knowingly or not, side with the person they're familiar with and respect.

This only serves to point out the very vital importance of Howard Dean's new organization, Democracy for America. In Dean's speech on March 18, he pledged that DFA will:

Recruit and encourage progressive candidates to run for office at every level. We will help them find the resources to campaign successfully with small donations from grassroots supporters, to begin to break the stranglehold special interests have on the political process.

If he follows through on this, he will be mirroring the very effective tactics used by the religious right to gain control of school boards and local legislatures across the country in order to push through their anti-scientific agenda. If Dean is succesful at finding and electing progressive candidates at the local level, we're all going to find that sooner or later legislatures at all levels, local, state and national, will become more open to liberal ideas and progressive policies, and less apt to pass legislation like the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Giving money to Democracy for America isn't likely to do all that much this election cycle, but it could certainly make a real difference down the line. It's surely deserving of our support in its effort to help create the liberal infrastructure we need from the ground up.

Update: Just to clarify, I don't mean to imply that electing people with progressive and liberal political views to lower offices is going to somehow guarantee that the scientific outlook will be represented there. Certain the vast majority of those people will be opposed to creationism, I think we can take that for granted, but there's also a great deal of mushy unscientific thinking among progressives as well, unfortunately.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/27/2004 12:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, March 26, 2004

What d'ya think?

On Whiskey Bar, Billmon writes, in an aside:

[H]alf the time I don't know what I think about something until after I've written about it...

I found this an interesting remark because it's been my experience as well. Sometimes I really have no idea where I'm going to end up when I start to write about some subject, and other times I'm pretty certain what my basic opinions are, but I have no idea how I'm going to express them. On occasion, I've even changed my mind about something as a result of having worked through it on paper. (Well, not literally on paper, of course.)

Other people have noticed the same phenomenon:

The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, 'How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?'
Graham Wallas
The Art of Thought (1926)

I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.
Flannery O'Connor
quoted by Richard E. Cytowic in
The Man Who Tasted Shapes (1993)

We speak, not only to tell others what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think.
J. Hughlings Jackson
Hughlings Jackson on Aphasia and Kindred Affections of Speech (1915)
quoted by Daniel C. Dennett in
Consciousness Explained (1991)

I photograph to find out what something looks like photographed.
Garry Winograd
quoted by Susan Sontag in
On Photography (1977)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 11:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


George Carlin's Driving Rule

Quoth Carlin (more or less):

Everyone driving slower than you is an idiot. Everyone driving faster than you is a maniac.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 10:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Guess who?

A little pop quiz -- who wrote this and published it in 2002?

We ... have some unfinished business at the moment that should take precedence over invading Iraq. Namely, we first need to deal with the threat of terrorism. ... [T]he fact is that al-Qa'eda is attacking us right now and has demonstrated a capability that Saddam never has -- the ability to reach into the U.S. homeland and kill three thousand American civilians. We don't necessarily have to finish the war against al-Qa'eda before taking up arms against Saddam -- that is likely to be a very long fight because of the amorphous nature of bin Laden's terrorist network. However, we certainly need to be at a point where we do not have monthly government warnings of possible terrorist attacks. In the immediate wake of 9/11, we rightly devoted all of the United States' diplomatic, intelligence, and military attention to eradicating the threat from al-Qa'eda, and as long as that remains the case we should not indulge in a distraction and great as toppling Saddam. We cannot afford to alienate our allies over our policy toward Iraq and convince them to drag their feet in helping us against al-Qa'eda in return.


The best way to think about sorting out the priorities between Iraq and al-Qa'eda is to imagine that the United States invades Iraq and that while we are doing so, al-Qaeda conducts another terrorist attack that results in the death of several hundred Americans. In this hypothetical scenario, the president should be able to honestly tell the relatives of the victims killed in such a new terrorist attack that there was nothing else the U.S. government could have done to prevent the attack and there was nothing about the operations in Iraq that distracted or diminished the nation's vigilence against al-Qa'eda. Only when the administration can meet this standard should we embark upon so large an additional endeavor as invading Iraq. [Emphasis added. -- Ed]

Richard Clarke? Rand Beers? Howard Dean?

No, Kenneth M. Pollack, in his book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Pollack is anethema to many people on the left (but some of them never bothered to read his book -- one guy, after being lambasted by me for criticising Pollack without actually knowing the totality of his argument, announced one night on one blog's comments -- Eschaton -- that he was finally going the read the book. The next morning he announced on another blog -- Daily Kos -- that he had just finished the [427 page] book, and, strangely enough, his views about Pollack hadn't changed one iota!), but they do so mostly for the wrong reasons.

Pollack should be criticised not for making the best case he could for invading Iraq based on the evidence as he knew it, but for not adhering to the very specific and detailed program that he himself laid out in the book, things that the U.S. needed to do and conditions that had to be fulfilled before any thought could be given to taking out Saddam. But in the face of Bush's clear intention to invade now, Pollack abandoned his strictures and threw in his support.

One can almost understand why, if one believes (as I do) that Pollack genuinely believed that Saddam was a security and humanitarian disaster that was only going to get worse and needed to be resolved. If Bush pumped up for an invasion, and then backed down, there would be no practical possibility of another ramp-up occuring anytime in the near future. Facing this probablity, Pollack apparently decided that a bad invasion was better than no invasion.

But, of course, he has been proved wrong.

I haven't yet read Richard Clarke's book, but I when I do, I'll be interested to find out how different his views are from Pollack's. I have a strange feeling that they're probably not so far apart as one might think.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 10:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rice to resign?

Speaking of Condoleeza Rice, what's this about her leaving the Bush administration? Josh Marshall doesn't recall hearing about this before, nor does Kevin Drum, and I certainly don't remember anything about it.

Is this Rice falling on her sword, in a desperate attempt to restore some luster to Bush's claim to be the "war president"?

Update: Some Google News and Google searches on Rice's name and variations of "will leave", "step down", "end of the year", "resigned" and so on turned up nothing relevant except Powell's and Armitage's departure on January 21st.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


That liberal press

I generally like the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk website for its efforts to differentiate facts from spin, but I do have a bone to pick with this entry by Brian Montopoli. In an attempt to see if newspapers are really keeping their editorial stances out of their news reporting, Montopoli looks at four newspapers to see what he can find. He picks "two 'Times' and two 'Posts'", the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times and the New York Post, on the theory that the NYT and the WP are "left-of-center" and the two others are on the right.

The thing is, has Montopoli actually read the editorial pages of the WaPo and, to a lesser extent, the Grey Lady lately? It's increasingly hard to see any remnants of "leftness" there at all. If I had to categorize them on the left-right spectrum, I'd say that they are both basically centrist and drifting to the right, the Post somewhat more so than the Times.

The rags of Rupert Murdoch and the Unification Church, on the other hand, are resoundingly, proudly, unfailingly right-wing, pure and simple. It's difficult to compare them to any similar major-market daily papers on the left because there are no American left-wing daily papers. To categorize the New York Times and the Washington Post as liberal, or left-of-center is to accept at face value a major piece of right-wing spin that's not supported by the facts, or by simple observation.

Postscript: Michael Tomasky (now editor of The American Prospect) made a similar error in his study of editorial page bias for the Shorenstein Center of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where the conservative papers selected were the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, and the same two papers (the Washington Post and the New York Times) were picked as being liberal analogues. The same objection was raised then, and is just as valid (even more so) now.

(Tomasky's study is available here in PDF form, but Tim Noah summarized the findings in Slate.)

Aside: When did proper formatting of newspaper names change from, for instance, the New York Times and the Washington Post to the New York Times and the Washington Post? I have to think that the need for specific branding of media outlets in crowded Internet marketplace must be partly responsible. It's not enough that there be a muliplicity of newspapers named the Times and the Post which are differentiated only by their place of origin, each newspaper (especially powerhouses like the NYT and the WaPo) must have a specific and particular brand name in order to stand out from the crowd -- hence, the paper is no longer the Times of New York, it's the New York Times.

(See James Gleick's interesting article on names and the "namespace" in the New York Times Magazine for more insight on this.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 12:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The nub of Clarke's argument

Here's a good distillation of Richard Clarke's argument that the war in Iraq hurt the fight against terrorism, from the transcript of an NPR Fresh Air interview of Clarke by Terry Gross.

Clarke's criticism boils down to three parts:

First of all, [the invasion and occupation of Iraq is] costing us $180 billion in the first two years, and may be even more than that. That money could have been used to reduce our vulnerabilities here at home. In the wake of the Madrid bombing of the trains recently, people have realized what’s been true all along, that our railroads in the United States – our subways, our commuter rails – are not protected. Well, many things in the United States are not protected. There’s a long list of vulnerabilities which we could reduce. It would cost money. We’re not spending that money reducing those vulnerabilities very much. There are some token efforts. There should have been an all-out national effort akin to the Apollo Project, or the Manhattan Project.

But we didn’t do that. And in large part we didn’t do that because the money that would have been necessary is being spent on Iraq. So that’s the first thing: It’s costing us the alternative of reducing our vulnerabilities.

Second, actual military and intelligence assets that were in Afghanistan – looking for al Qaeda, looking for bin Laden – were removed and sent to Iraq. Now, in the last few weeks, they’ve been returned. But that’s two years too late. Two years during which al Qaeda has morphed into a hydra-headed organization with independent organizations and independent cells, and likely the group in Madrid. So we didn’t go after al Qaeda the way that we should have. And we didn’t secure Afghanistan.

We went into Afghanistan in a very slow way after September 11th. A few special forces troops were put up north with the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban. We did not send people into where we thought bin Laden was for almost two months – during which, of course, he escaped. And then, we only deployed 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Now let’s compare that. There are more police in Manhattan – not the city of New York, but just Manhattan – there are more police in Manhattan than the United States put troops into Afghanistan. And yet we were supposed to secure and stabilize the country so that never again would it be a base for terrorism. We were supposed to be draining the swamp.

Well, we haven’t. And one of the reasons we haven’t is that we withheld forces that should have been going into Afghanistan. We withheld them for the war in Iraq.


The third way is that, al Qaeda had been saying, bin Laden had been saying, that the United States is the “new crusader,” the new westerner come to occupy an Arab country, an oil-rich Arab country. And we did exactly that. We did exactly what bin Laden said we would do: We invaded and occupied an oil-rich Arab country that had not been threatening us. And the sights on Arab television of American troops fighting in Iraq, and now occupying Iraq, have infuriated Arab opinion.

The Pew Charitable Trust does opinion polling, very reliable opinion polling in countries such as Morocco and Jordan and Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan. Many of those countries – the government, at least – is our friend. We consider them allies, and we consider them moderates. And yet the opinion polls now show that up to 90 percent of people in those countries either hate the United States or have a very negative opinion of the United States. Osama bin Laden is a very popular figure in some of those countries. The most-often given name to new children in Pakistan after 9/11 was Osama.

So, we played right into their hands by invading and occupying, without any provocation, a Muslim country, and at the very time when we should have been doing the opposite. We should have been embracing our Islamic friends and saying, “work with us to have a counterweight, an ideological counterweight to al Qaeda.”

They won’t do that now with us, because many of these governments don’t want to be seen to be working too closely with us now in the Islamic world.

We can’t just arrest and kill terrorists. Even Donald Rumsfeld figured that out. In his internal memo in the Pentagon, which leaked, he said it may be the case that we’re turning out new terrorists faster than we’re killing and arresting them. He’s right; we are. And we have to win the war for ideas. And we can’t do that so long as we are reviled by occupying a country like Iraq.

[Link and transcript via The Gadflyer]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2004 12:00:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Respect for the press, by the press

The Gadflyer's Sean Aday has a bit of truth about the way contemporary "objective" journalism works:

[J]ournalism's adherence to the ideal of objectivity and its reliance on "two-sided" reporting make it structurally weak in the face of official mendacity. Reporters are taught that they are supposed to achieve balance at all costs and have difficulty when the scales are tipped in one direction, much less when one side is lying outright. [...] [J]ournalists often cling to the abstract notion of balance at the expense of truth, and can go fetal when confronted with unabashed deception by government officials.

And the liars (the "lying liars") do everything possible to take full advantage of this structural weakness.

You'd think that mainstream journalists would have more self-respect, and not allow themselves to be used in this way, especially considering that it's when the politicians are outright liars that we most need an active and accurate press to help protect us.

Incidentally, although it may be impolitic to point it out, this is not something that started with the Bush administration. The right-wing attempt to oust Clinton was office was possible in large part because the right was willing to blatantly lie and the press did not follow up adequately, until it became, in fact, a significant part of the overthrow effort.

The press needs to realize that objectivity does not mean manufacturing ambiguity where there is none. Sometimes lies are lies, and sometimes one side is more to blame than the other. At the end of the day, nothing is more important in journalism than getting the story right.

Update: Sean Aday's name corrected (from "Dean").

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/25/2004 11:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two hands at work

Many commentators, pundits and bloggers have noted the apparent contradiction between Condoleeza Rice's refusal to testify before the 9/11 Commission which is investigating that massive national security failure, and her many appearances in the media to attack Richard Clarke and defend herself against allegations that she is (not to put too fine a point on it) completely incompetent at her job. Rice says that she cannot testify for very important Constitutional reasons.

I would love to have been a fly in the wall when Ms. Rice informed her boss of that momentous decision:

Scene: The office of Condaleeza Rice.

The office is piled high with files, reports and dossiers, back issues of Foreign Affairs and Commentary. The shelves are full of impressive looking books on foreign policy, geopolitics and international affairs. Every inch of desk space is covered with mounds of paperwork, all of it in the process of being worked on, and all the lines on the phone are flashing.

We see RICE simultaneously reading a brief stamped "Top Secret", writing notes in the margins of another report, and carrying on two conversations on the phone in different languages, when suddenly the door burst open, and in comes George W. BUSH, who seems agitated.

BUSH: Condi, I need to speak with you.

RICE: Yes, Mr. President, I always have time for you. Let me just put Uzbekistan and Nairobi on hold. ... Now, sir, I apologize that there is no place for you to sit, but you know I had the chairs removed from my office so that no one will waste my valuable time -- how can I be of service?

BUSH: Well, I've just found out that you aren't going to testify to that committee, that .. uh... commission, the 9/11 people, that they asked you to testify and that you decided not to go. What's up with that?

RICE: Mr. President, that is indeed the case. It was a very, very difficult decision for me to make. But that is what I have decided is the best thing to do, the right thing to do.

BUSH: But, Condi, don't you see... This puts me in an awkward place, because I've said many times that everyone in my administration will cooperate with those people entirely because, you know, of how important the work they're... uh... engaging in is to all the people of the country, so...

RICE: Yes sir?

BUSH: Well, your refusal to go looks really bad, doesn't it, after I've said that and all? I mean, what reason can you possibly have for not testifying to the committee?

RICE: Sir, it's entirely a matter of principle. As you well know, our Constitution divides power and authority between three branches of government...

BUSH: Sure, the President, the Congress and those judges.

RICE: Yes, sir, and it's very, very important that those branches be kept separate in all possible ways, except those specific instances which are detailed in the Constitution.

BUSH: You mean, like where the Senate consoles and advisors me?

RICE: Yes, sir, advice and consent, exactly right. But outside of those very specific things, the Executive Branch, that's us, and the Legislative Branch, that's Congress, should be kept apart, because that's how our freedoms are guaranteed, otherwise Congress and the President could get together and do things which would hurt the people of the country.

BUSH: I see, and this committee....

RICE: The 9/11 Commission, yes sir...

BUSH: ...that' part of the Legislators Branch?

RICE: Oh yes, sir, very much so. The commission was authorized by an act of Congress, and that makes it part of the Legistlative Branch. If I were to go before them and testify, the separation of the branches would be breached, and it would be very bad for our country, as I think you can understand.

BUSH: Hmmm. But, don't you have things to tell them that nobody else can say? I mean, you're so important here and you know so much and all. Isn't it real darn important that you speak to them and tell them those things? I mean, this 9/11 thing was really really important, right? Everyone said that the whole world was changed by it, so shouldn't we make an exception?

RICE: Sir, I can't tell you how much I would like that to be that case. I am bursting to talk to the commission, sir, and tell them all the things that I know and nobody else does, but I'm afraid that once we make one exception, we're on the darn slippery slope again.

BUSH: The one that leads to bestiality and incest?

RICE: No sir, that's another slippery slope. This one leads to flagrant abuse of the power of the Federal government, because checks and balances would no longer be working to insure that the power of the government wasn't abused.

BUSH: And this thing you're talking about, the separation of the of the government, that's part of checking the balances?

RICE: Without a doubt sir, my testifying before the 9/11 commission would be the first step towards a terrible end, the misuse of governmental power by the people in office.

BUSH: Wow, that's... I'm so glad I came down here, I always learn so much.

RICE: It's always my pleasure, sir.

BUSH: But isn't there something we can do? I mean, You want to testify, I want you to testify, the committee wants you to testify. What can we do?

RICE: Well, I do have something of a plan, sir.

BUSH: I knew you'd come up with something!

RICE: I can't testify to the commission, because of all the reasons I've said, but there's no reason that I can't bring the relevant information to their attention in another way.

BUSH: You'll call them on the phone!

RICE: No, sir, I'm sorry, that would be just like testifying.


RICE: No sir, what I'll do is take the information I have, and I'll go on every news program that will have me, and I'll tell the American people directly all the things that I have to say, and that way the commission will hear the important things that they need to hear, but the separation of powers will be preserved.

BUSH: Hmmm. Let me get this straight. You can't testify to the 9/11ers, but you can say all those same things to the American people through the TV talk shows, like on Fox News.

RICE: Yes, sir. I know it seems like an anomaly...

[BUSH looks confused]

RICE: ...a very odd and strange thing, that a person in my position can't testify before the commission even though I very much want to, but that I can talk to the media... I mean, to the people through the media.

BUSH: Yes, very strange. ... I couldn't possibly get you to change your mind?

RICE: No sir, it's a matter of deeply held principle, with the state of the country and the integrity of our Constitution at stake. As much as I'd like to overlook it, I'm afraid I can't. You know how I am about principles.

BUSH: Yes, Condi, I do. I suppose your plan is the best we can do, huh?

RICE: Yes, sir, I'm afraid it is.

BUSH: Condi, you're a credit to this great country, and I'm damn proud to have you as part of my administration.

RICE: Sir, you flatter me.

BUSH: Well, it's time for my afternoon run. Keep up the good work, Condi, and remember my door is always open to good people like you.

RICE: Thank you, sir, and may I say once again what an honor and privilege it is to work for a man of such integrity and principle as you.

BUSH: Oh, go on with ya. [Laughs] See you at Bible study.

RICE: I wouldn't miss it, sir.

[CURTAIN as BUSH exits and RICE returns to her work.]

Update: I corrected the spelling of Condoleeza Rice's given name.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/25/2004 10:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Panda's Thumb

Here's a welcome development, a new blog called The Panda's Thumb

dedicated to explaining the theory of evolution, critiquing the claims of the anti-evolution movement, and defending the integrity of science education in America and around the world.

(The name is taken from one of Stephen Jay Gould's books.) I'm adding it to the blogroll.

[Link via Political Animal]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/25/2004 01:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One moment in time

I didn't see the beginning of Richard Clarke's 9/11 Commission testimony, when he apologized to the families of 9/11 victims, and said that he and the government had failed them (which apparently elicited well-deserved applause), but I did see a pretty amazing moment when he said, flat out:

President Bush, by invading Iraq, greatly undermined the war against terrorism.

Period. End quote. There was dead silence after that.

Incidentally, this came shortly after Clarke disavowed any interest in a position in the Kerry administration, and pledged not to take one if it was offered.

Update (3/25): Here is Clarke's earlier statement, from the transcript:

I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/11 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurance. I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11. To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and for your forgiveness.

Fred Kaplan on Slate thinks this was a knockout blow against Bush. I didn't see it, but it certainly reads that way -- when has anyone from the Bush administration apologized for what must, objectively speaking, be a cardinal failure of their responsibility to protect us from harm?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/24/2004 04:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, March 22, 2004

Democratic eyes on the ultimate prize

Amy Sullivan prescribes some tough love for the Democrats in dealing with some of their core constituencies: labor, teachers, African-Americans and pro-choice groups:

[Democrats do not] need to abandon their core constituencies if they want to win. On the contrary, many of these groups are responsible for giving the Democratic party its identity and for providing many of the values that drive progressive politics. But when Democrats focus on individual constituencies to the exclusion of their ability to appeal to a broader audience, they become simply unelectable. If they don't show some tough love to a handful of their oldest – and often most demanding – supporters, they will marginalize themselves beyond repair.


All of these constituencies are incredibly important, and both the issues and concerns they represent are key to defining what progressivism stands for. But – and listen carefully because this is an essential point – no one will be able to do a damn thing about any of those issues if progressives aren't in power. If you prefer arguing until you're blue in the face to winning back control of Congress and the White House (and possibly securing control of the Supreme Court), then go ahead and support the status quo.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 11:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rotting from the inside

Hey, here's a good one:

Whad'ya call a oil and mining lobbyist, a timber lobbyist, a power company lobbyist, a chemical-company lobbyist, a property-rights lobbyist, a ranching- and mining-company lobbyist, a coal-company lawyer and a lobbyist for oil, mining and chemical companies?

You call them the Bush administration's Department of the Interior.

Mother Jones has the details.

[via The Gadflyer]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 11:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Bush record on counterterrorism

This is from the Center for American Progress:

Since September 11, President Bush and his supporters have repeatedly intimated that many of the President's political opponents are soft on terrorism. In his State of the Union address, the President declared: "We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us." In comments aimed at those who seek changes in the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft said: "Your tactics only aid terrorists." One recent ad asserts, "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others."

But the real story is far different, as the following internal Department of Justice (DoJ) documents obtained by the Center for American Progress demonstrate. The Bush Administration actually reversed the Clinton Administration's strong emphasis on counterterrorism and counterintelligence. Attorney General John Ashcroft not only moved aggressively to reduce DoJ's anti-terrorist budget but also shift DoJ's mission in spirit to emphasize its role as a domestic police force and anti-drug force. These changes in mission were just as critical as the budget changes, with Ashcroft, in effect, guiding the day to day decisions made by field officers and agents. And all of this while the Administration was receiving repeated warnings about potential terrorist attacks.

Go over to the article for the specifics in the form of a timeline and supporting documentation.

Update: There's a graphic on this subject on uggabugga.

Update: More from the Center for American Progress, a fact-check sheet to counter Bush administration's charges against Richard Clarke:

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11.
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #2: "The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: If this is true, then why did the President and Vice President repeatedly claim Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11? President Bush sent a letter to Congress on 3/19/03 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11." Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on 9/14/03 that "It is not surprising that people make that connection" between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said "we don't know" if there is a connection.

CLAIM #3: "[Clarke] was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things."
– Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Dick Clarke continued, in the Bush Administration, to be the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President's principle counterterrorism expert. He was expected to organize and attend all meetings of Principals and Deputies on terrorism. And he did."
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #4: "In June and July when the threat spikes were so high…we were at battle stations…The fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's 'Strategic Plan' from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism 'the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area.'"
– Washington Post, 3/22/04

CLAIM #5: "The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11."
– National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks."
– Washington Post, 3/22/04

CLAIM #6: "Well, [Clarke] wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff…"
– Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/22/04

FACT: "The Government's interagency counterterrorism crisis management forum (the Counterterrorism Security Group, or "CSG") chaired by Dick Clarke met regularly, often daily, during the high threat period."
– White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #7: "[Bush] wanted a far more effective policy for trying to deal with [terrorism], and that process was in motion throughout the spring."
– Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Bush said [in May of 2001] that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and 'I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.' Neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." By comparison, Cheney in 2001 formally convened his Energy Task Force at least 10 separate times, meeting at least 6 times with Enron energy executives.
– Washington Post, 1/20/02 , GAO Report, 8/22/03, AP, 1/8/02

CLAIM #8: All the chatter [before 9/11] was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas.
– Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, 3/22/04

FACT: Page 204 of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 noted that "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August [2001]." In the same month, the Pentagon "acquired and shared with other elements of the Intelligence Community information suggesting that seven persons associated with Bin Laden had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States."
[Joint Congressional Report, 12/02]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 09:57:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Roll 'em out

Kos thinks that, given the pitiful response of the Kerry campaign to attacks launched while Kerry was on vacation, the timing is right for Kerry to roll out the shadow cabinet, an idea that's been kicked around in the blogosphere -- including, I'm glad to say, an explicit choice of running mate.

Since I've been saying for a while now that he needs to go public with the v.p. choice, of course I agree.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 09:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rice paper

Via Tapped, here's the link to that Foreign Affairs article written by Condaleeza Rice before the 2000 election, in which dealing with non-state terrorists like al Qaeda isn't even a blip on her radar.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 01:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The fallout

Tom Schaller has a succinct summary of the Richard Clarke's revelations:

So we now know that, within the first 12 days of the Bush Administration (or even sooner, during the presidential transition), the following occurred:

1. The departing Clinton national security team warned the Bush folks, with great emphasis, about the fact that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda would be the most pressing terrorist threat facing the country. This fact has been reported for some time, and will be reiterated by Clinton officials when they testify before the 9/11 Commission;

2. An urgent appeal made by Richard Clarke (a terrorism expert from the Clinton, Bush41 and Reagan Administrations) during the first week of the new Bush Administration to convene a top-level meeting about Al Qaeda was ignored until April. At that point, a lower-level meeting was finally convened, at which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz mocked Clarke’s concerns; and, finally

3. The detailed recommendations of the Hart-Rudman, bi-partisan terrorism commission (whose members included Newt Gingrich), were submitted to the Bush Administration on its 12th day in office (January 31, 2001). Despite several years and millions of taxpayer-funded dollars spent investigating terrorism (and recommending, most notably, the formation of a Homeland Security Department), the Bushies decided to create instead another, redundant Dick Cheney-led terrorism task force to study the question some more, which never met.

This sort of asleep-at-the-switch response makes Rip Van Winkle look like a cat-napper.

On Intel Dump Phil Carter looks at things from a military angle:

I think there is a great deal of merit to the assertion that the focus on Iraq has diverted all sorts of political, military, economic and diplomatic energy away from the fight on terrorism. Notwithstanding the pedantic assertions of neo-cons like James Taranto and others who constantly say we're not distracted, the pure military calculus of the issue is irrefutable. We have roughly 11,000 military personnel in Afghanistan right now according to GlobalSecurity.Org. In terms of combat personnel, this includes a sizable special operations component and roughly one brigade combat team of light infantry. In Iraq today, we have more than 10 times that number of aggregate personnel, including 16 brigade combat teams of heavy and light forces. American infantry and special operations forces have played a cat-and-mouse game with Al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than two years, and one has to wonder about how effective this would've been if we had put some of the combat power into Afghanistan that we have put into Iraq.

Moreover, the U.S. has devoted so much combat power to Iraq for the near term that it has substantially constrained its ability to (1) deploy additional forces to existing theaters of operations, e.g. Afghanistan and (2) deploy forces to new hotspots like Haiti or the Philippines, which may or may not be part of the global war on terrorism. So the question is not merely "How has the war on Iraq affected the U.S. war on terrorism?" -- the question is also "How has the war on Iraq constrained future exercises of American power abroad, by limiting the forces available to the President?"

And the questions which Kerry must now bring to the forefront and make the center of his campaign are "Did Bush do his best to protect you?" and "Are you safer from terrorism now than you were 4 years ago?" Clearly, the answer to both is a resounding "No!"

It continues to astound me that Bush can still receive any kind of a pass on this issue from anyone. I understand that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, people felt scared, confused and angry, and bonded with Bush as the closest thing available to a "Big Daddy", someone who can give comfort and alleviate anxiety. [Update: Paul Waldman writes: [T]he fact is, if a trained seal had been president on September 11 he would have gotten 90% approval ratings. The country (and this includes journalists) was desperate to feel that in our hour of pain, fear and anger we were being led by a strong and wise leader, not by someone who would lie to us and use those very emotions for political gain."] I also understand the rallying-around-the-flag effect when Bush launched the war against Iraq -- nobody wants to feel like an outsider in their own country or community. But at this distance from the al Qaeda attacks, 2 1/2 years on, certainly it should be possible to throw off the yoke of those emotional responses and see clearly the actuality of what Bush has done.

Let's take a quick look at the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So the defense of the country is a pretty basic thing, one of the small number of reasons given for banding the colonies together into a single country in the first place. Even most small government fanatics agree that defense is a primary legitimate function of the Federal government.

Every president is elected with an implicit promise to protect us from harm. We provide funds to pay for all the things he needs to perform that task. If he wants more, he asks for what he thinks he needs, and is usually provided with it. There may be some bargaining, and give and take about what material and equipment is appropriate or necessary, but there's never much disagreement about the need for an adequate defense of the country. (As a nation, we spend more on defense than most of the rest of the world combined.)

Protecting us from attack by unfriendly powers is not some ancillary thing, a mere unimportant afterthought, it's part of the very core of what the Presidency is there to do in the first place. Having failed to do that, to protect us, Bush and his people should then have put all their energy into correcting their mistakes and marshalling our considerable resources into programs and policies that would make us safer both by protecting us from further attacks and by reducing the risk of attack by fighting the causes of terrorism at their roots.

This is not some wimpy liberal plea to "understand the terrorists" so that we can pity them or "validate their pain," it's a call for a practical empirical program to reduce terrorism by any means possible.

What did we get instead? The USA Patriot Act, a disorganized and underfunded Department of Homeland Security, color-coded security levels, a botched (albeit necessary and justified) war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq, followed by another botched operation, the occupation. And terrorism by Islamic militants against the West continues practically unabated.

There's no doubt in my mind that if any of this had happened on Clinton's watch, he would have been impeached, and probably would have been booted out of office. There's no chance of that happening with Bush, so there's no point in wasting any of our energy even thinking about it, or censure, or whatever. Better to put everything into electing Kerry and getting rid of the most cynically corrupt and mendacious administration in recent memory, and the guy in the Oval Office who just happens to have failed in one of his primary responsibilties.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 01:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More lies, this time from Spector

Via The Gadflyer, take a look at the database of Bush mistatements about Iraq set up by House Democrats. So, when Arlen Spector says, on CNN:

[T]he Bush administration never made any claim that there was a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.

all you have to do is go to the database, select "Al Qaeda" and, whammo, you get 61 citations such as these:

Cheney: I continue to believe. I think there's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. (1/22/04)

Cheney: [Saddam's] regime cultivated ties to terror, including the al Qaeda network... (1/15/04)

Cheney: [Saddam] had an established relationship with Al Qaida -- providing training to Al Qaida members in areas of poisons, gases and conventional bombs. (10/18/03)

Rice: Saddam Hussein -- no one has said that there is evidence that Saddam Hussein directed or controlled 9/11, but let's be very clear, he had ties to al-Qaeda, he had al-Qaeda operatives who had operated out of Baghdad. (9/28/03)

Cheney: "[Since September 11] We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization. (9/14/03)

Bush: The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. (5/1/03)

Bush: The regime . . . has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda. (3/17/03)

Cheney: We know that [Saddam] has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization... (3/16/03)

Powell: We have seen connections and we are continuing to pursue those connections. . . . And the fact that there is also an al-Qaida connection, I think certainly adds to the case. (3/9/03)

Bush: [Saddam] has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations." (3/6/03)

Rice: Well, we are, of course, continually learning more about these links between Iraq and al Qaeda, and there is evidence that Secretary Powell did not have the time to talk about. (2/16/03)

Bush: Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraq intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in aquiring poisons and gases. We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. (2/8/03)

Rice: There is no question in my mind about the al Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we're learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al Qaeda organization. (2/5/03)

I stopped about halfway through the search results.

By contrast, what does Richard Clarke say about the putative connection between Saddam and al Qaeda?

There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever.

Let's take that again, slowly.


So, Joe Lieberman, that means that either Richard Clarke is lying, or Bush and his people are lying. Is that clear?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 04:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two clueless idiots

From the moment I heard the expression, I knew that "Anybody But Bush Again" (ABBA) was going to be my mantra for this election, and I was fully prepared to make whatever compromises were necessary to accept, endorse and enthusiastically work for whoever won the Democratic nomination. I'm no great fan of Al Sharpton (as a New Yorker, I've known him too long, and seen the seemier side of his act too many times), but if Sharpton had pulled off the miracle of the century and won the nomination, I'd be an Al Sharpton man right now. Not because Al is all that good (he's not), but because Bush is really and truly that bad. The Democratic nominee would have to be one worthless piece of sewer fruit to be worse than George W. Bush, and raise my hackles enough not to support him or her.

But, I have to tell you, I am so very grateful and happy that I didn't have to confront my principles in order to decide whether to support this bastard:

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said Sunday that he doesn't believe Clarke's charge that the Bush administration, which defeated him and former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election, was focused more on Iraq than al-Qaida during the days after the terror attacks.

"I see no basis for it," Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. "I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric."

Will someone please hit this man over the head with a hockey stick and clue him in to what's happening, please? And while you're at it, give a few whacks to this loser as well:

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that while he has been critical of Bush policies on Iraq, "I think it's unfair to blame the president for the spread of terror and the diffuseness of it. Even if he had followed the advice of me and many other people, I still think the same thing would have happened."

Frankly, I could give a rat's ass right now about "balance" and "objectivity" and "fairness". We are in a fight for the very life of this country, to prevent it from becoming so completely warped as to be unrecognizable to people who love the principles upon which it is founded. Those, like Biden and Lieberman (and Nader) who do not work to defeat George W. Bush are effectively helping him, and they rate nothing from me, no respect, no regard, and certainly no support in any future endeavors.

If they have concerns about what Clarke said, the only thing for them to do in this circumstance is to keep their mouths shut and say nothing. Pass their objections on to Kerry, certainly, the candidate should know what's what, but to make any public statement which has the ultimate effect of supporting Bush is unconscionable and the epitome of cluelessness.

Both of these guys join Zell Miller in my mind as worthless -- worse than worthless, in fact -- and I can only hope that they receive their comeuppance at a time when losing two Democratic Senators won't hurt us.

DHinMI has more on Liberman here.

Update: You can send e-mail to Lieberman here.

I wrote:

Dear Senator Leiberman:

Although I am not a constituent, I felt compelled to write after I read your comments in which you state your disbelief of Richard Clarke's charges that the Bush administration was focused on Iraq to the detriment of working to protect us from terrorism by al Qaeda.

I am extremely disappointed that you have chosen to defend the indefensible and make your qualms public. It may not have escaped your notice that there is a Presidential election campaign underway, one which it is vitally important be won by your colleague Senator Kerry.

We are no longer in a circumstance in which remarks of nationally prominent Democrats can be judged in any way other than whether they help to win the election, or help to keep Bush in office. In my opinion, your remarks were of the latter sort, and you should have exercised some discipline and refrained from commenting at all.

Look around you, Mr. Lieberman, the circumstances have changed, and the people who are now the vital core of your party are extremely serious about the necessity of the mission to defeat George W. Bush. If you wish to continue considering yourself a Democrat, you should share in that concern as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2004 01:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Props Department

A tip of the hat and a big sloppy unfutz kiss to Eliot Gelwan, proprietor of the always-interesting Follow Me Here, for linking to my October Surprise post, and for his kind words and comments on my argument.

Follow Me Here was one of the very first weblogs that I read regularly, and still a place I check out frequently (as you can tell from the number of items that I've filched from it).

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2004 07:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


And, while you're at it, put together a well-oiled machine, please

In an entry to his Daily Kos diary, Bob Johnson laments the lack of coordination among Democrats as compared to the opposition:

Rove and Gillespie have done an excellent job of disseminating their key talking points for any given day/week and making suer they have Party mouthpieces in place to drive those key poinst home... over and over and over.

This week's national security/defense attack on Kerry was carried out by Bush in a speech, Cheney in a speech, Rumsfeld on the Sunday morning circuit, Rice on the network news, Hannity and Limbaugh from their media pulpits, in print and and electronic media by mouthpieces like David Brooks (who appeared on both NPR and The News Hour in addition to his Times column), and other sources. They all were "on message" and on point. It was a coordinated attack, executed strongly.

We seem to get little or no such coordination out of our Party leadership and/or the Kerry campaign. And that should be worrisome to us all.

True, and with Kerry on vacation (he's entitled to it, I think, and clearly needed it), where were the responses from his surrogates and the national leadership? I keep hearing that the Kerry campaign is taking control of the party apparatus, and that's just fine, but let's see some visible results of that, please.

(Unfortunately, I think Johnson's main thrust -- that a piece of amateurish Flash animation on the DNC website is indicative of a party-wide problem -- is a bit overblown. Not that the animation wasn't bad, it was, but I don't think his conclusions follow from his observations. And, in any case, it's much more important that the Democratic message be well-coordinated and that reponses to Bush's smears be fast and effective, as they were immediately after Edwards dropped out and Rove launched the campaign against Kerry.)

Update: In a response to a comment by me on Daily Kos, Johnson agrees:

That's my main point. While Kerry was getting ripped by a tight, coordinated effort from dozens of voices of the right, we were, for the most part, silent.

And our response is a disjointed, poorly animated, extremely poorly voiced Flash ad?

It's not about the ad.

It's about the lack of a coordinated, multi-pronged attack on our part.

Read his diary entry for his thoughts on what Kerry's campaign should be doing. (Johnson is in advertising and marketing, with his own firm for the last 13 years.)

1. Choose your three main themes (no more than three, but less than three is acceptable).

2. Boil down those themes into 50 word, 30 second soundbites (with longer, supporting points).

3. Distribute them widely to everyone even tangentially associated with your effort.

4. Line up appearances for your "mouthpieces" in local media, national media, speaking engagements and any other public forum.

5.Repeat your main points ad infinitum.

He says that the Republicans are very good at doing this, and he's right. Anyone who spends any time at all watching and reading the media representatives of the GOP notices sooner or later that they all say just about the same thing at about the same time, using variations on the same phrases. It's a little wierd if you take in a lot of it, but most people don't, which is one of the things, I think, that makes it effective.

If everyone in America was a media junkie or a politics junkie, it would soon become apparent that Republicans are operating from a script, and with that realization the technique wouldn't be nearly as powerful -- but that's not the case. Most people just get the drive-by version on the nightly news or in their morning paper, and the GOP's "wall of sound" insures that these casual consumers will get the right's message.

Update: As long as we're giving advice to Kerry's campaign (again), Tom Schaller has some good stuff to offer in The Gadflyer, including this:

[T]he Kerry campaign [should add] to the senator's stump speech a nice little sound bite that goes something like this:

The President needs a bi-lingual translator. Fortunately, I'm fluent not only in English, but Bush-Speak, the President's second tongue. Let me prove it to you with a few examples. Every time he calls me a liberal, that translates to, "I've got nuthin' to say about my record-setting deficits." Every time he talks in Bush-Speak about some vote I cast in the Senate from 10, 15 or 20 years ago, what he's saying in English is, "I've done nuthin' in the last 10, 15 or 20 months to create and protect jobs in this country." And when he says I'm soft on terrorism and defense, that converts to, "I've got nuthin' to say about the intelligence failures of 9/11 and the weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq." So you see, the President's got nuthin' to offer and he's even admitting it in public. You just have to speak the President's second language to understand.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2004 01:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kerry, take arms against a sea of b.s. ...

Josh Marshall has good advice for Kerry:

Don't complain; fight.

The press is too lazy and insensible to be a watchdog [...].

Everybody knew who Kerry is going up against. As [Eleanor] Clift notes, this is what Kerry told them to bring on. And they're bringing it on. Democrats gave Kerry this chance to take on the president -- whose reelect number is hovering in the low to mid-forties -- because they believed he would fight and that he was electable.

Kerry is a fighter. I saw it first hand during his 1996 senate race against Bill Weld. But Kerry will never successfully parry these hits by getting tangled and stuck in the molasses of the president's lies and distortions. Getting sidetracked into a discussion of legislative maneuvering isn't the answer to the president's attacks; it's precisely what they're trying to elicit.

The answer is simply to say they're lies (while having surrogates and staffers explain why) and then to go on the attack.


The winning campaign against the president is equally clear. He doesn't tell the truth. Almost nothing he has told the American people has turned out to be true (from budgets to jobs, from wmds to his personal past). In many cases, that's because he's lied to them. In others, it's because he's promised things he had no reason to believe were true. In some instances, he just failed to deliver.

As you'll note from the Clift column, Republicans themselves know this is his central vulnerability. [Links in original -- Ed]

This is good advice, and I hope the Kerry campaign is listening.

(And while they're at it, they should also listen to my advice: right now is a damn good time to play the v.p. card -- and the choice had better be a humdinger, no party hacks or sops to "regional interests", the running mate needs to be a high profile national figure who will bring instant and prolonged media attention to the campaign and generate a lot of interest among the general public.

Needless to say, there are only a couple of people who fit this bill, and the governor of Iowa ain't one of them.)

There is little or no downside to Kerry's attacking Bush. In general , negative campaigning does suppress turnout on both sides, but that's out of Kerry's hands, since Bush is clearly going negative in a major way whether Kerry does or not. As noted in the previous post, the media will complain about how negative the campiagn is even if one candidate's claims are factual and objectively correct and the other's are baseless smears, misrepresentations and lies. (That's the corner the media has painted itself into with its obsession with "balance," which seems to preclude actually evaluating anything for its substantive truth.)

So... GO, JOHN, GO!

Update (3/21): Earlier in the piece I excerpted above, Josh Marhsall wrote, about Kerry's vacation:

A thought: if your opponent has $100 million to portray you as an effete snob, don't go on vacation to a fancy ski resort in Idaho.

Nobody's asking, but just for the record, I think this is a bit of a low blow.

No matter where Kerry went, the right would make fun of his vacationing, because that's what they do. If he went to any of the other places a man of his income bracket and public status would normally go, they'd make fun of his elitism. If he checked into a Motel 6 on the strip in Panama City and mingled with the hoi polloi while swimming in the Gulf, they'd make fun of his trying to pass for a regular guy. There's no way to win against that kind of b.s., so why try?

I assume the decision on where to go was made on the basis of what would best relax, rejuvenate and reinvigorate Kerry, and that's only as it should be, because he clearly needed it. There's a very long haul ahead of him, 7+ months of non-stop campaigning against a man who has $200 million dollars and an official bully pulpit to get what he wants.

There's no reason that Bush will let up between now and the election, which means that Kerry has to go that distance without stopping as well. There will be few opportunities for relaxation and restoration between now and then, so let the man go where he can get the most good, and, in this particular instance, damn the silly comments from the right.

Here's a good way to look at it: will Jon Stewart, Jay Leno or David Letterman make fun of Kerry for skiing? Probably not, so don't worry about it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2004 12:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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