Friday, August 29, 2008

the change of cities I need

(DNC Day 4 • photo by me)

In transit today (and exhausted from a week of conventioneering at high altitude). I will post some of my more general impressions of the DNC soon.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clinton and Biden: topline thoughts

I’ll admit it, I sold President Clinton a little short today.

When asked about my thoughts (biases, really) going in to the Wednesday night speech, I wrote this:

The Dem Party of Bill Clinton circa 1992,3,4,5,6 is not the Dem Party of BHO 2008. The Big Dawg may not love that, may even be bitter (imo) that he is not being given more credit (earned or not) for what he "accomplished" in the 90s, but both Clintons know that what is best for them is what's best for the Democratic Party this cycle--and that is the election of Obama-Biden this November.

Bill might not give the best speech of his career, but he will embrace BHO in word and spirit--at least for public consumption.

But Bill Clinton exceeded my expectations by a goodly amount. First, Clinton wholly embraced the Obama candidacy, with lots of full-throated “I support Barack Obama,” “Barack Obama is the man for this job,” and “Barack Obama is ready to be the president of the United States.”

Clinton neglected—wisely—to say that Obama would be ready on “day one.”

My favorite lines from the Big Dawg’s speech (transcribed from scratch-pad notes):

Barack Obama knows the world will be more impressed with the power of our example than the examples of our power.


America can do better, and Barack Obama will do better.

Joe Biden met my expectations, but maybe just barely.

I have often thought of Biden as an informed speaker, but not so much a great orator (I don’t think I am alone here). Tonight’s speech basically confirmed that belief. It had the “red meat” that every anchor and pundit told us that this speech must contain, but it didn’t soar rhetorically. It was a little long, and peppered with those much too over-used call and repetition lines, which have mostly failed (as they did here) ever since Al Gore trotted out “It’s time for him to go” back in 1992.

Joe Biden’s best moment—and, again, I am sure I am not alone here—was his “Freudian slip,” accidentally calling John McCain “George.”

Biden—along with so many at this convention—stressed that John McCain just represents a continuation of the failed Bush Administration. Polls show that this argument tracks very well with voters. In this case, I am happy that the Dems are poll-driven.

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MSNBC gets the limo shot

Here in Denver, many of us heard the “rumor” that Sen. Obama would be making a surprise appearance with Joe Biden on the podium tonight after Biden’s acceptance speech. But, officially, that was just a rumor.

MSNBC just confirmed that rumor by running a live shot of the Obama motorcade entering the Pepsi Center perimeter. This shot was not on either CNN or FoxNews.

Did the DNC or the Obama campaign feed the motorcade timing to MSNBC for a reason?

Personal opinion: it sends a message for the next four years—“be fair with us, and we’ll be square with you.”

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every picture tells a story (don’t it?)

(DNC day 2 • photo by me)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

desperately seeking disunity

Riding the 16th Street bus between venues this morning, I encountered a young woman, DNC delegate credentials slung around her neck, sporting two buttons on her shoulder bag—one said “Hillary ‘08” and the other “Obama ’08.”

And that, as best my impressions tell me so far, is the extent of party disunity at the Democratic National Convention.

Perhaps you have a different impression, and if you happen to be somewhere else this week, maybe a place where your best news options are USA TODAY or a cable news channel, I don’t blame you.

Just take a gander at the number one story on the cover of today’s USA TODAY:

Poll: More than half of Clinton backers still not sold on Obama

DENVER — Fewer than half of Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters in the presidential primaries say they definitely will vote for Barack Obama in November, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, evidence of a formidable challenge facing Democrats as their national convention opens here today.

Sounds grim, right? But read past the first paragraph. . .

In the survey, taken Thursday through Saturday, 47% of Clinton supporters say they are solidly behind Obama, and 23% say they support him but may change their minds before the election.

Thirty percent say they will vote for Republican John McCain, someone else or no one at all.

The way I see it, that is an aggregate 70% strong or moderate support of Democratic nominee Barack Obama among former supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps this lead, from the New York Times, is more to your tastes:

Delegates for Clinton Back Obama, but Show Concerns

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention arrive in Denver having largely put aside the deep divisions of the primary fight between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, although some hold lingering concerns about Mr. Obama’s level of experience, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

More than half of the delegates that Mrs. Clinton won in the primaries now say they are enthusiastic supporters of Mr. Obama, and they also believe he will win the presidential election in November, the poll found. Three in 10 say they support Mr. Obama but have reservations about him or they support him only because he is the party’s nominee. Five percent say they do not support him yet.

The poll, which was taken before Mr. Obama selected Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as his running mate, also suggests that Mrs. Clinton’s 1,640 pledged delegates are evenly split over whom they plan to vote for on the floor of the convention during the roll call vote on Wednesday evening.

A much more accurate read, as I’m seeing it here in Denver.

Of course, the two articles above are based on different polls, so you might assume that the given biases of Gallup/USA TODAY versus NYT/CBS might account for the different takes on the same story. Or maybe you’ve noticed that the USA TODAY survey is of registered voters, while the Times story focuses on DNC delegates. But my look at the numbers (as far as the two news organizations will let me look, anyway) tells me that the stories with the disparate headlines are based on very similar stories.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination was over-long (that’s the party’s fault, not the candidates’) and hard fought. A lot of time, money, energy, and self-esteem was invested, and with that much invested, it is hard for some to just flip a switch and sing Kumbaya.

But we do not elect presidents by group sing. We vote. And by the measures of both polls, an overwhelming majority of Democrats are going to vote for Barack Obama

So, why the fascination with the “schism” narrative?

Yes, in this giant sports metaphor we call American culture, conflict always seems like a sweeter story than unity. The “I belong to no organized political party—I’m a Democrat” narrative is older than the man that coined that phrase, Will Rodgers. And, if you buy into the idea that the establishment media has a vested interest in keeping the general election race (Obama vs. McCain) close, then stories about possible Democratic defections are a natural. But I can’t help but feel that there is something else, something, perhaps, much more insidious, at work here.

What does it say when you tell voters over and over that some people just can’t vote for an African American? What does it say when you repeat ad absurdum that Clinton supporters, mostly identified as women, are not team players? What does it do to paint well in advance of a possible victory a Democratic president with the taint of illegitimacy?

Besides reinforcing traditional biases, besides incubating distrust where there might have been none (or, at least, little), the repetition of these memes discourages participation in, and the evolution of, the system.

In sum, it breeds cynicism. And nothing kills hope like cynicism.

I don’t necessarily want to start singing Kumbaya myself. I have not been drinking the Kool-Aid inside the Pepsi Center (in fact, I have not been drinking ANYTHING—there is nothing besides a drinking fountain in the press center, and I am THIRSTY). I did see one man here passing out “Hillary ‘08” stickers. There are some divisions over issues inside the Democratic Party. And there are likely a few people here (and I think that is a very few) who will have an episode of blind cynicism themselves and vote for four more years of failed and corrupt Republican leadership. But all of that is so clearly outweighed here in Denver by a strong sense that in order to march the ball up the field (to use a sports metaphor myself), in order to move this country forward, in order to restore some modicum of responsibility and morality to the White House, Democrats of all stripes will be voting Obama-Biden come November.

But don’t take my word for it, read the papers—past the headlines if you must.

Can Democrats unite behind a single ticket this election cycle? From here in Denver, the word is (OK, words are): Yes we can!

UPDATE: Amy Sullivan of Time Magazine—who is here in Denver—gets it right:

Given all that buildup, it may come as a surprise that the Democrats who will gather around the gavel in Denver are actually more united than perhaps at any other point in the past 30 years. When Obama accepts the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, he will inherit a party focused on its determination to take back the White House, and that overarching goal should paper over any lingering resentments or policy differences, at least until after Election Day.

It’s a solid article all the way through. Does being in Denver give reporters a different perspective?

(h/t Ian Fried)

(cross-posted on capitoilette, The Seminal and Daily Kos. . . and, I hear, Air America, too! Welcome!)

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Flyin’ with the Juniors

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows—exhibit one: my flight to Denver.

Sorry for the quality of this hastily snapped photo—but yes, that is Rev. Al Sharpton Jr. and Harold Ford Jr. waiting together for their luggage at the Denver Airport. So much to talk about!

Actually not. After some pleasantries and a handshake or two for the assembled media, Sharpton and Ford seemed to have little to say to each other. Hey, I don’t know, maybe they talk all the time. . . .

(I will be blogging from Denver, the site of the Democratic National Convention all week. Stay tuned for more earth shattering revelations. . . and, who knows, maybe some high-minded analysis, as well.)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

submitted without comment (almost)

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

. . . .

The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” the letter said. It was signed by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

As the end of the Bush administration nears, the White House has been seeking to formalize in law and regulation some of the aggressive counterterrorism steps it has already taken in practice since the Sept. 11 attacks.

. . . .

The Democratic senators said the draft plan appeared to allow the F.B.I. to go even further in collecting information on Americans connected to “foreign intelligence” without any factual predicate. They also said there appeared to be few constraints on how the information would be shared with other agencies.

[emphasis added]

Of course, I said "almost." To get the few choice words I just couldn't suppress, please head on over to capitoilette.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mrs. McCain’s sister act

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I have sometimes wondered whether Tolstoy had that quite right, and so, by way of explanation, I submit to you (and to Leo) Mr. and Mrs. McCain.

Last Tuesday, NPR did a story about Cindy McCain, second and current wife of presidential wannabe John McCain, and referred to her as the only child of wealthy beer baron Jim Hensley. It’s not surprising that they reported such:

McCain herself routinely uses the phrase "only child," as she did on CNN last month. "I grew up with my dad," she said then. "I'm an only child. My father was a cowboy, and he really loved me very much, but I think he wanted a son occasionally."

There’s a problem with that touching little anecdote, however—Cindy McCain has an older sister, and Cindy McCain knows it.

Documents show Kathleen Anne Hensley was born to Jim and Mary Jeanne Hensley on Feb. 23, 1943. They had been married for six years when Kathleen was born.

Jim Hensley was a bombardier on a B-17, flying over Europe during World War II.

He was injured and sent to a facility in West Virginia to recuperate. During that time, while still married to Mary Jeanne, Hensley met another woman — Marguerite Smith. Jim divorced Mary Jeanne and married Marguerite in 1945.

Cindy Lou Hensley was born nine years later, in 1954.

She may have grown up as an only child, but so did her half sister, Kathleen, who was raised by a single parent.

[Kathleen Hensley, now Kathleen] Portalski says she did see her father and her half sister from time to time.

"I saw him a few times a year," she says. "I saw him at Christmas and birthdays, and he provided money for school clothes, and he called occasionally."

Big Jim helped put Kathleen’s kids through college, and did give about $10,000 in gifts to their family, but when Jim Hensley died in 2000, he left all of his vast fortune to Cindy. Kathleen got $10,000; her children—Jim’s grandchildren—got nothing.

It is a slight that Cindy Hensley McCain has never attempted to redress.

While it is true that Cindy McCain is not the one running for president, I think there is still something here to explore.

My takeaway on this is that Cindy McCain is icky. I know that sounds a tad juvenile and reductive, but I mean it to be visceral, because that's how I think this story is relevant to the presidential election.

Had her husband chosen a less public line of work, Cindy's family schism would be her affair, but thinking about it in the context of the life and career of Arizona’s oh-so-senior senator, this revelation just adds a (OK, another) sleazy taint to the whole McCain clan. Yes, Pa Hensley made this mess, but Cindy could have gone a long way toward cleaning it up by first correcting the reports that billed her as an only child, and second by sharing some small part of her substantial fortune with the family her father chose to screw.

All families have past sins—it is what a person does to address those sins that matters.

According to campaign surrogates and a fawning press, we are to believe that one of John McCain's great strengths is his judgment. He himself harped on judgment Monday in a speech before the VFW. His camp loves to talk up the idea that you can judge how maverick-alicious he is by the company he keeps. Well, what does it say about McCain and his judgment that he chooses a life partner that is so, I'll say it again, icky?

Obviously, when attacking McCain, this wouldn't be the head of the spear—there are plenty unsavory alliances to fill an anti-McCain quiver—but I am all for letting McCain be judged by the company he keeps. The icky company.

And, I'll just add a nagging question that says so much, I think, simply as a nagging, unanswered, question: Why was it important to the McCain campaign to perpetuate the idea of Cindy as an only child?

Is it perhaps because the Hensley’s unhappiness is so similar to the unhappiness John McCain caused his first family?

What would Tolstoy think?

(cross-posted on capitoilette, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

tell me again why we don’t want to ban handguns. . .

Bill Gwatney, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, was fatally shot in his office in Little Rock on Wednesday morning, police officials said.

The officials said a gunman fired several shots at Mr. Gwatney, a former state legislator, in the party’s headquarters near the Capitol. After a long car chase, the suspect was fatally wounded in a shootout with the police, the authorities said.

Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, identified the suspect as Timothy D. Johnson, 50, of Searcy, Ark. Mr. Gwatney, 48, was rushed to the medical center of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, but a family friend who asked not to be identified said doctors determined that he was too unstable to undergo surgery. He died several hours later, police officials confirmed.

This tragedy follows close on the heels of a fatal shooting at a Tennessee Unitarian church, and while the motives in the Arkansas event are not yet understood, it is just completely unacceptable in my eyes that those with violent urges—be they deranged, disgruntled, or distraught—can have such easy access to guns.

In the days after the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, I posted my thoughts on America’s gun problem and the broader problem of gun violence in the context of Bush’s America. (I think that piece—and this one—are still relevant, so I ask you to click on over and take a look.) I closed with this quote from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

In [the] United States, many people who are seriously depressed can’t afford to see a doctor, let alone get a prescription. Unlike every other advanced nation, we do not provide universal health care, or ready access to mental health services. But unlike every other advanced nation, we do allow almost anyone [to] buy a handgun.

Much to my surprise, those thoughts (when cross-posted to Daily Kos) were met with a fusillade of negative comments from a broad swath of left-leaning gun lovers. I did not find it a productive discussion, and said so. That post was met with less derision, but no real exchange of ideas, so I then posted these questions:

To those that love their guns. . .

Please don’t resort to screaming about how I want to take away your guns. . . I don’t. Just tell me why you oppose:
gun registration,
better background checks,
additional licensing procedures for concealed weapons,
mandatory waiting periods,
restrictions on assault-style weapons, Saturday night specials, and extended clips,
mandatory safety training and periodic recertification,
closing so-called gun-show loopholes,
legal liability for gun manufacturers commensurate with other consumer product liability,
and limits on the number of guns and rounds of ammo you can purchase at any given time and over the course of a year.

At the time, I did not get anything close to a sufficient answer from any of the ammo-enamored. I still haven’t. Considering the fresh crop of fatherless children and grieving spouses, friends, and relatives, care to try it again?

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

celebrity: McCain doth protest too much

With all the back and forth on “celebrity” in the presidential campaign ad wars, and with John McCain’s camp continuing to run ads calling Barack Obama “the biggest celebrity in the world” or some permutation thereof, I think you might find this interesting.

I stumbled across a post I had written just ten weeks ago titled “McCain ‘Smitten with the Celebrity of Power’” that takes on new meaning given the current ad cycle. In that piece, I include this excerpt from one of the stories in the New York Times’ series “The Long Run”:

Mr. McCain has often said he decided to run for office because he felt his war injuries would make attaining the same rank as his father and grandfather “impossible.” But Mr. Lehman, now an adviser to the McCain campaign, and two other top Navy officers familiar with Mr. McCain’s file insist that was not the case.

Instead, many who knew him say, Mr. McCain seemed bored by Navy life. “Sitting down with Anwar Sadat or Deng Xiaoping and being treated as an equal — that is pretty heady stuff,” said Rhett Dawson, a former aide to Mr. Tower who is now president of an electronics trade group. “It had opened his eyes to a much broader world.”

Mr. McCain was captivated, recalled Jeffrey Record, then an aide to former Senator Sam Nunn, the hawkish Georgia Democrat. “He thrives on competition, and he thrives on political combat,” Mr. Record said. “He saw the glamour of it. I think he really got smitten with the celebrity of power.”

[emphasis added]

McCain? Smitten with the celebrity? Gosh, ya’ think?

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

as if you needed more evidence

For all you scared, greedy, stupid, or cynical Representatives and Senators who voted for the FISA revisions last month, here’s a little something that got lost in the Friday Olympics-vs.-sex-scandal news dump:

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the newspapers’ Indonesia bureaus in 2004.

Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., disclosed the episode in a phone call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, and apologized for it. He also spoke with Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, to apologize.

F.B.I. officials said the incident came to light as part of the continuing review by the Justice Department inspector general’s office into the bureau’s improper collection of telephone records through “emergency” records demands issued to phone providers.

The records were apparently sought as part of a terrorism investigation, but the F.B.I. did not explain what was being investigated or why the reporters’ phone records were considered relevant.

While these cases probably didn’t fall under the direct purview of FISA/FISC (though we really have no way of knowing), it is yet another example of Bush Administration spying on journalists (Lawrence Wright, Christiane Amanpour). And, it should serve as a yet another wake-up call to lawmakers and citizens alike, reminding them that the Bush/Cheney obsession with warrantless surveillance has little to do with the legal pursuit of terrorists, and a lot more to do with the suppression of information and dissent.

The FBI now says that they have corrected the problem that led to this latest known incidence of illegal spying, but as both the New York Times and the Washington Post make clear, the Department of Justice has continued to reenact the same sorts of abuses, just under a different name. Without aggressive congressional oversight and investigation, the arrest and prosecution of lawbreakers, and a rewriting of a decade’s worth of Constitution-eroding laws, there are simply no guarantees that this sort of abuse won’t happen again—indeed, there is no real guarantee (beyond the occasional and absurd “trust me”) that the abuse has ever stopped. Be it the Patriot Act (I & II), the Military Commissions Act, the Protect America Act, or the recent FISA capitulation, Congress has repeatedly chosen the coward’s path—synonymous with the White House’s path—rather than exercise its rights as a coequal branch of government.

I have argued in the past that if we know of illegal administration spying on journalists and other non-suspects, and we know of pre-9/11 surveillance, then we for all intents and purposes know that these are not programs designed to fight some foreign terrorists threat. I have often wanted to ask Democratic leaders if they realize that their phone calls and e-mails are being swept up in Bush Administration dragnets—and then I want to ask them if they care.

You see, while the New York Times and the Washington Post have their lawyers to turn to when they are the victims of intelligence abuse (and the lawyers have been brought in for this current case), most of us only have our elected representatives to watch out for our Constitutionally guaranteed rights. If Congressional leaders can’t be convinced of the gravity of this situation, we’re all screwed.

And that’s a gold medal scandal.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

there is no “right front” in the GWOT™

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

nothing says “change” like 3,000 cops in riot gear

Just a little taste of what awaits me in Denver.

Last month, under pressure from the A.C.L.U. lawsuit, the city released a list of expenses related to the convention showing that the police were preparing for large demonstrations and mass arrests and that the department had spent $2.1 million on protection equipment for its officers, $1.4 million for barricades and $850,000 for supplies related to the arrest and processing of suspects.

In disclosing the cost breakdown, city officials denied rumors that had circulated for weeks that they had contemplated buying exotic nonlethal weapons that fired an immobilizing goo, or that used radiation or sonic waves to incapacitate people or vehicles.

As the article makes clear, all of this over-the-top preparation is to contain political protestors—not to protect against a terrorist attack—even though authorities admit that there is no credible threat of either terrorism or violent protest.

The federal government is also sending Denver an additional $50 million for security, and while I’m not so naïve as to think that no additional security is required, my experience in New York in 2004 (coupled with the stories I have heard about Boston) tells me that all this extra muscle will encourage authorities to err on the side of imagined security while actively suppressing the First Amendment rights of many protesters and passers-by.

Just imagine what some of that money and organization could do to feed, house, or clothe some of the Denver-area needy. . . . Just sayin’.

And now, a wag of my finger at the New York Times. The photo above, which ran with the story under the headline “Denver Police Brace for Convention,” is not actually a picture of the Denver Police, or any auxiliary that might be in Denver, for that matter. As the half-tone caption informed me (and I only noticed the caption because I wanted to reproduce the image for this post), this photograph, by Bob Bukaty of the AP, is actually from Boston, from the day before the Democratic Convention of 2004. Running this picture under a headline about Denver reminds me of nothing so much as an “artist’s interpretation”—like those you might see of aliens in the Weekly World News—and can only serve to alarm readers about the violence that supposedly awaits the Democrats this year in Denver. Violence, as the story will tell you, that is not indicated by any pre-convention intelligence.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Suskind: Bush misdeeds “the sort of thing taken up in impeachment hearings”

Journalist and best-selling author Ron Suskind, appearing on Morining Edition in advance of his new book, The Way of the World, which comes out today, has accused the Bush Administration, and, indeed, President Bush, himself, of deliberately ignoring evidence that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction prior to the US invasion. Suskind also accuses Bush of continuing to make pronouncements to the contrary in the run up to the war—even though Bush knew what he was saying was untrue.

The Politico also interviewed Suskind:

Suskind writes that the White House had “ignored the Iraq intelligence chief’s accurate disclosure that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.

They secretly resettled him in Jordan, paid him $5 million – which one could argue was hush money – and then used his captive status to help deceive the world about one of the era’s most crushing truths: that America had gone to war under false pretenses,” the book says.

When challenged by ME host, Steve Inskeep, who asks repeatedly whether Suskind is accusing President Bush of lying, Suskind, while not using the “L” word, does not back down or qualify his accusation.

Suskind also accuses the White House of ordering the CIA to create a forged, backdated document linking 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta with Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes that the forgery “operation created by the White House and passed to the CIA seems inconsistent with” a statute saying the CIA may not conduct covert operations “intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies or media.”

“It is not the sort of offense, such as assault or burglary, that carries specific penalties, for example, a fine or jail time,” Suskind writes. “It is much broader than that. It pertains to the White House’s knowingly misusing an arm of government, the sort of thing generally taken up in impeachment proceedings.”

Suskind did not talk of impeachment on NPR as he did with The Politico, but the two interviews taken together are unflinchingly critical of the Bush Administration in a way that Suskind’s interviews in support of his previous two books were not.

Needless to say, the White House has rolled out the usual talking point: shoot the messenger, ignore the message.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly how they handled the prewar intel that Suskind has unearthed.

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calling all economists: suppose you could solve the gas crisis. . .

I am sick and tired of trying to argue about the price of gas within the frame of whether or not more offshore drilling is going to have an effect now, seven years from now, twelve years from now, or ever—that is just fucking lame. That is the Republican game plan, pure and simple, and we should be smarter than to play on their turf.

Further, a return to “cheap” gasoline may not be desirable. The increased consumption will force the price up, not to mention drive up pollution and greenhouse emissions and again undercut moves toward alternative energy options.

All that said, real people are feeling real pain every time they have to gas up—so what’s our answer? (And don’t you even start with trying to explain the windfall profits tax, it’s not only a political non-starter, and bloody hard to define, it probably doesn’t solve the immediate problem.)

I don’t claim to have all the answers—however, if you read what I have to say over on capitoilette, you might think that I do. . . claim, that is, claim to have the answers. . . . I don’t, really, but I give it the old college try, so go, read already. . . .

(And, if you are an economist or have similar skills, please help me with the numbers—I would appreciate your input.)

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Friday, August 01, 2008

GWOT report card, summer school edition

Is there a grade worse than “F”?

A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.

. . . .

The extraordinary turn of events followed the government's payment in June of a settlement valued at $5.82 million to a former government scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, who was long targeted as the FBI's chief suspect despite a lack of any evidence that he had ever possessed anthrax.

The payout to Hatfill, a highly unusual development that all but exonerated him in the mailings, was an essential step to clear the way for prosecuting Ivins, according to lawyers familiar with the matter.

Except there now won’t be any prosecution. No testimony in open court. No hearing that might shed a little light on how the government chased the presumably wrong lead for five years before a shakeup at the FBI shifted focus to Ivins. Now we are to believe that the case is closed because the alleged suicide is somehow tantamount to a confession.

In Bush-Cheney terms, a dead “culprit” without having to go through open US courts is a BIG win.

* * * *

And then there’s the global part of the Global War on Terror™:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

. . . .

The information linking the ISI to the bombing of the Indian Embassy was described in interviews by several American officials with knowledge of the intelligence. Some of the officials expressed anger that elements of Pakistan’s government seemed to be directly aiding violence in Afghanistan that had included attacks on American troops.

Some American officials have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral American action against militants based in the tribal areas.

Well, on its face, this would look like a complete failure for the Bush Administration: With the US no closer to capturing bin Laden or al Zawahiri, one of our chief allies in the hunt seems to be in league with the very folks that helped protect the al Qaeda leadership in the first place. But look at this again. The White House now has brand new excuse for why the US has failed to crush al Qaeda or the Taliban—we’re not just fighting a ragtag band of dead-enders or some such, we have to outwit a nuclear power, a country with a large and sophisticated intelligence apparatus and a well-stocked military (we should know, we stocked it). Why, that might require—wait, what is it? right—“unilateral American action.”

Really, when you’re looking at it through the Bush team’s binoculars, what more could you want?

* * * *

And speaking of unilateral action:

Seymour Hersh — a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for The New Yorker — revealed that Bush administration officials held a meeting recently in the Vice President’s office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran.
In Hersh’s most recent article, he reports that this meeting occurred in the wake of the overblown incident in the Strait of Hormuz, when a U.S. carrier almost shot at a few small Iranian speedboats. The “meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. ‘The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,’” according to one of Hersh’s sources.

. . . .

HERSH: There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.

The team in Veep’s office apparently rejected the plan because “you can’t have Americans killing Americans.” Really? Sorry to sound the cynic here, but I can’t imagine Vice President Cankles getting all that upset about sending American troops to their death in order to accomplish his broader goals—“I mean, come on! This is the War on Terror, people! You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet! You saw Wanted—the ancient order must be preserved!”

Sorry, I got a little too into that. . . .

But, seriously, the team might have rejected that particular casus belli, but I can assure you there are plenty more where that came from. And, with the combination of a presidential directive allowing defensive fire from covert teams of US operatives already inside Iran, and the Congressional authorization that basically declared a large portion of the Iranian military a terrorist organization, the whizzing sound of shots fired in anger is only a heart-clogging breakfast away.

But there are some logistical matters to work out—namely, the US is woefully under-equipped for a third military incursion, the Secretary of Defense is not so hot to start a hot war, and Cheney’s favorite proxy warrior, Ehud Olmert, just had to step down from his PM post because he is an incompetent commander-in-chief and corrupt as the day is long.

Really, it’s like the Patty Duke Show of international affairs. . . .

But as far as a grade on this front in the GWOT™, because no Iranians are yet dying by America’s hand, we’ll have to give them an incomplete.

I know you are as excited as I am for the fall semester.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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