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The daily view from the oasis

March 5, 2004 PERMALINK
One Out Of Four Is Bad
(posted Mar. 5 12:30 AM ET)

A suggestion for our glorious media.

If a White House correspondent is told by the White House Press Secretary to check with the State Dept. about a question, consider picking up a phone, calling the State Dept. correspondent in your organization, and relaying the question that needs answering.

Just maybe, you'll actually get some answers.

Earlier this week, LiberalOasis extracted four key questions about Haitian President Aristide's departure that the White House dodged, which implied this was actually a deftly managed coup and not a voluntary resignation.

For two of those questions, the White House directed reporters to State.

Since then, there have been two press briefings by State. And those two questions were nowhere to be found.

However, another one of those questions has been answered: "Did the United States at any point say that it would not protect [President Aristide] if he stayed?"

The answer is yes.

And it was crafty issues management by the Bushies to stall a couple days before admitting that, after attention moved to what's next for Haiti and other unrelated matters.

As reported yesterday in the NY Times, Asst. Sec. of State Roger Noriega filled in some blanks at a contentious House subcommittee hearing:

Mr. Noriega acknowledged that the administration had told Mr. Aristide that it could not guarantee his safety as rebels made a final push toward the Haitian capital...

..."We do not have an obligation to put American lives at risk to save every government that might ask for help," said Mr. Noriega...

Mr. Noriega confirmed that an American diplomat had sought a letter of resignation from Mr. Aristide before giving him and his relatives safe passage out of Haiti on Sunday morning.

The reason, Mr. Noriega said, was to establish a "sustainable, political" solution after Mr. Aristide's departure.

The B. Globe added a little more:

Representative Charles B. Rangel...repeatedly asked...Noriega...if the US government told Aristide he had to resign as a condition for providing him safe passage from the country.

Noriega did not answer yes or no, but said: "We wanted to have a sustainable political solution."

But when asked whether the US government would have helped Aristide and his wife escape Haiti if he opted not to resign, Noriega said, "probably, yes."

Noriega still stuck to the party-line that Aristide made his own decision to leave, saying "Aristide's departure was never a U.S. demand."

But his other comments prove that, at minimum, the Bush Administration put life-or-death pressure on Aristide to get the results it wanted.

And he further implied that getting an actual resignation on paper wasn't essential to accomplishing its goal of removing Aristide.

You might think those comments would raise some more questions.

But amazingly, at the State Department press briefing the next day, Noriega's name never came up.

Which means -- despite valiant attempts, driven by the Congressional Black Caucus, to keep the story alive and get at the truth -- the media spotlight on Haiti will continue to fade.

And in turn, Bush's anti-democratic actions will have little effect on his public standing.

March 4, 2004 PERMALINK
Veepstakes Handicapping
(posted Mar. 4 1:45 AM ET)

The vice-presidential selection process is the most over-analyzed thing in politics.

How little does it matter? Michael Dukakis picked Lloyd Bentsen. George H.W. Bush picked Dan Quayle.

But we're all glued to it, because it's fun. And sometimes, it can matter.

So here is LiberalOasis' own handicapping on John Kerry's VP pick. This is pure gut speculation. Take with a block of salt.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)
3 to 1 odds, or 25% chance

Sorry folks.

He's one of the most right-leaning Dems. He is 100% DLC, and was completely contemptuous of Howard Dean's message.

But he just makes too much sense as veep.

No one else on the table can take a key state out of the Bush column and, at minimum, put it in play, if not lean Dem.

And is there any factor more important this year than the Electoral College, when one state could again be the difference?

Indiana's 11 electoral votes would win it for Kerry, if he held all the Gore states. The state hasn't gone Dem since 1964.

He has 69% approval in his state. He was won four statewide elections, two for Gov, one for Senate. The last two, he earned over 60% of the vote.

And he's a fresh face to the national stage, but bland enough not to cause any problems (probably).

If it is him, fellow liberals, take heart. Veeps (not named Cheney) don't set policy, presidents do.

One downside: he's up for re-election this year.

Would he risk giving up a safe seat? Or would he run for both at the same time? (He can legally do both in Indiana.)

Joe Lieberman got away with that in 2000, but CT was a lock for Gore.

Whereas in 1988, the Texas GOP encouraged people to vote for Bush AND Bentsen, hurting Dukakis' attempt to take the state.

A Bush-Bayh gambit could do the same.

Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO)
5 to 1 odds, or 16.7% chance

Missouri's a classic swing state, voting for the prez winner (if you count voting for Bush in '00) every time since 1960. Bush won it by a mere 3%.

Gephardt has never run statewide in Missouri, but with his long history in Missouri, he should be able to make up a three-point difference.

And Missouri has the same number of electoral votes as Indiana.

The big strike against him: he's the opposite of a fresh face.

There won't be much of a media swoon following his pick, as he has been over-vetted.

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)
8 to 1 odds, or 11.1% chance

His bio is awesome. He's beyond qualified. His political skills are excellent. He's smooth and smart on TV.

And he's popular at home, with strong appeal to Latino voters, which could help take away '00 Bush states Arizona and Nevada.

Yet he's not a no-brainer.

Many people seem to have temporarily forgotten why he ran for governor in the first place.

Because his sterling rep got scuffed up, dealing with scandals as Secretary of Energy.

Some think he would have been Al Gore's running mate otherwise.

Instead, he returned to his home state for some political rehab: to get some more accomplishments on the resume and give him some distance from his Energy tenure.

Now, the fact that so few people think of his time of Energy means his rehab is going quite well. Still, it wasn't that long ago.

And as a veep candidate, you don't get much attention beyond the first week of publicity following the pick.

You want that week to be nothing but positive, not a rehash of an old flap.

Richardson surely can bat back the questions, but Kerry probably doesn't want to go through that process if he doesn't have to.

Conversely, if Kerry thinks it's no big deal and asks him anyway, Richardson may not see any value in taking the offer.

His stature is already grand, so VP doesn't give him much (except the possibility of more baggage down the line that he has no control over).

He likely has a game plan for president in '08 or '12, running on record of success as governor. (Just a few weeks ago, he said "I'm not running for vice president" and that he would "serve a full term.")

And more governors get elected president than sitting veeps. He doesn't need the job.

So LiberalOasis doesn't see it happening.

But, of course, if Kerry does ask, and party puts pressure on him, sometimes it's hard to say no.

Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)
9 to 1 odds, or 10% chance

The Kerry camp appears nonplussed by the Edwards hype, and for good reason.

Yes, Edwards gives the best stump speech of anyone in the party.

But that doesn't mean much for VP.

As noted above, after the week following the pick, the veep largely fades in the background, pretty much only popping up for one debate.

And winning that debate is usually of marginal importance (Bentsen's humiliation of Quayle didn't do a lot for Dukakis).

If Edwards could guarantee North Carolina, it'd be a different story. If he won a lot of southern states in the primaries, it'd be a different story.

But he is a more controversial figure in his home state, relative to Bayh or Gephardt.

And in the primaries, he only won his birth state of South Carolina.

There will probably be some Establishment pressure on Kerry to pick him, because many in the party see Edwards as the future, and want to give him additional grooming and attention.

But there are other ways to do that.

Attorney General, Secretary of Labor or US Trade Representative are more likely cushions for Edwards to land on.

Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA)
15 to 1 odds, or 6.3% chance

As The New Republic's Ryan Lizza noted, picking someone to snatch a state hasn't happened much lately (though LO would argue Joe Lieberman helped in Florida).

Another approach is what Lizza calls "magnification," what Bill Clinton did when he picked Al Gore, a similar candidate that helped sharpen the overall theme and feel of the campaign.

Lizza argued Wesley Clark may be able to serve that purpose for Kerry.

But in LO's view, he has Edwards' problem -- he didn't win much. (LO gives Clark 20 to 1 odds.)

Max Cleland is a loser too, but a symbolic one, the personification of how low the GOP will go, how willing they are to smear veterans in the name of patriotism.

(Kerry has already made this point as Cleland campaigned with him during the primaries.)

Kerry's veteran bio has been his strongest selling point.

The Bushies will try to diminish it. They'll have a harder time with Cleland at his side.

It would be a daring move to pick a one-term-and-out senator in a wheelchair, who may not be able to help in his home state.

But that's also what would make it interesting.

One possible problem: he told the NY Times he is currently undergoing treatment for depression triggered by his '02 loss. Would voters be understanding?

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL)
20 to 1 odds, or 4.8% chance

Everyone wants catharsis and snag Florida, but Kerry can't bank on either of these two to pick up extra swing votes.

Graham has a deep electoral history in the state, as two-term Governor and three-term Senator.

But his approval at home dropped markedly during his presidential run, as his historic support from GOPers left him once he ran hard at Bush.

Plus, let's face it, he's a little goofy on the campaign trail.

And Nelson? He's in the middle of his first Senate term, which he won with a slim 51%. He's a gamble.

Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
25 to 1 odds, or 3.8% chance

Both are right-leaning Dems in a state Bush won by 8 points.

Breaux is more popular then Landrieu (he won his last race by 34 points, she by 3).

But Landrieu has some street cred, facing down Bush in the midst of the war buildup to win re-election in ╬02.

The problem for both of them: Louisiana is a little small.

If Kerry added its 9 electoral votes to the Gore states, there'd be a 269-269 deadlock.

Also, while there's no obvious dirt on either of them, Louisiana politics are a little too colorful.

Does Kerry want the nation's press corps digging around that state all year?

March 3, 2004 PERMALINK
Start The $100 Revolution
(posted Mar. 3 12:15 AM ET)

Howard Dean called on two million Americans to contribute to "The $100 Revolution," as a way to take back the political system from the special interests.

In doing so, he refused federal campaign funds and the spending caps that go with them, in part to be able to match Dubya dollar for dollar.

Now, John Kerry is the effective nominee. A hearty congratulations is most certainly in order, but there is little time for victory laps (as he surely knows).

Kerry also is free of the caps and can raise unlimited amounts.

In turn, the "$100 Revolution" should not end with Howard Dean, and does not need to.

Until we have public financing of elections (and Kerry is one of the few Senators that has supported public financing for congressional elections) the fact is: money talks.

Corporate special interests will give to Kerry (though less so than Bush), and they will get access for it. That's not necessarily Kerry's fault, simply the system as it is today.

But that influence can be significantly mitigated.

A powerful message about what the Democratic party should represent, and who the party should answer to, will be delivered if the grassroots band together and give in small amounts.

Of course, there is a more immediate reason to give: to equip Kerry with the resources to beat Bush.

But the "$100 Revolution" looks beyond the immediate.

Every grassroots dollar devalues the power of a special interest dollar.

That reduces special interest influence, and increases the chance for legislation that benefits the people and not the powerful.

To move his campaign into the next phase, Kerry should actively take up Dean's call.

Dean, as part of the March 18 launch of his transformed organization, should announce the "$100 Revolution" can live on if his supporters donate to Kerry.

A few joint appearances couldn't hurt either.

But we don't have to wait, and we don't need words from Kerry or Dean to make this happen.

This can start on our own.

You can effectively buy a share of the Kerry campaign in the name of the people, and start the "$100 Revolution" by clicking here.

March 2, 2004 PERMALINK
Welcome To Dodge City
(posted Mar. 2 1:15 AM ET)
(minor edits Mar. 2 3:15 PM ET)

Four key questions on Haiti from reporters that the White House Press Secretary Scott McCellan completely dodged yesterday:

1. "Did the United States at any point say that it would not protect [President Aristide] if he stayed?"

Not answering this question, means that's exactly what the Bush Administration did.

Abandoning protection would have placed a wee bit of pressure on Aristide that may have made his resignation slightly less than a free will decision.

2. "Who is it that gave permission for the plane [that took Aristide away] to land in Haiti?"

The reporter rightly stressed this was a "crucial question," as it would show who was in charge of the situation, the US or Aristide.

McClellan stalled here, saying to check with the State Department or the embassy in Haiti. Perhaps he truly was in the dark about the "detailed specifics," but more likely additional dodging is in the offing.

3. "You said we took steps to protect him as he left Haiti [but] our forces were not around him as he left, [so] then what were the steps we took to protect him?"

This looked like a good ol' fashioned "oops" moment. Someone forgot to get all those talking points to line up.

McClellan tried to simply kick it to State.

But once a reporter noted, "you wouldn't have said it if you didn't have some knowledge of what those steps were," Scott got twisted around for a bit, then escaped after pleading again for people to ask State.

4. "Three weeks ago, the administration was stressing the fact that Aristide's was a democratically-elected government. Two days ago, you began saying that Aristide had failed as a leader. What changed over that time period to shift your focus?"

This was the one of the least important questions McClellan dodged, yet it was only one the NY Times bothered to allude to:

One difficulty faced by the administration was explaining how it moved so quickly from its declarations a week ago that Mr. Aristide was the legitimately elected leader, to a determination that he had to go.

Like much of the Administration's blather, about all you can say about the Grey Lady's assessment is it's, at best, technically accurate.

But the aggressive questioning of McClellan today (mixed in with some pathetic softballs slanted against Aristide) was a promising sign. We'll see if this goes anywhere.

QUICK HIT

Also From The WH Press Briefing: An Ominous Moment

REPORTER: Are we going to help Hugo Chavez the same way that we helped Aristide?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Different situations.

March 1, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Mar. 1 3:30 AM ET)
(minor edits Mar. 1 1:45 PM ET)

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was scheduled to appear on ABC's This Week yesterday. He didn't make it.

Instead, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) was there to talk about Aristide's forced exile.

He was not pleased.

Rangel made it quite clear that the Bushies not only betrayed Haiti, but himself as well:

I was speaking last night with Secretary Powell.

And he would have me to believe that we were still negotiating with the opposition to have them to respect the Constitution and election of President Aristide...

...But while they were saying this, they made it abundantly clear that Aristide would do best by leaving the country.

Which means that the rebels, the looters, and even those soldiers that General Powell chased out of Haiti [in 1994, were] given to believe that they should never never never accept Aristide as the president.

And he didn't bother with any poll-tested, weasel words when describing what that meant:

...We are just as much a part of this coup d'etat as the rebels, as the looters, or anyone else...

...One thing is clear: if you're elected as president of a country, don't depend on the United States to respect the rule of law.

Serious stuff.

LiberalOasis would have preferred Rangel connected the dots -- for example, pointing out the Bush role in the failed Venezuela coup, and the footsie played with the torturers running Uzbekistan.

That way, you could build the charge (as argued here before) that Bush is a hypocrite when it comes to promoting democracy abroad, which in his own words, is the key to our long-term national security.

Also, Rangel shouldn't have said "don't depend on the United States," which comes off as anti-American, when he really meant, "don't depend on the Bush Administration."

Nevertheless, it's good that someone senior in the Democratic Party is willing to call the Bushies to account on their anti-democratic actions.

Still, Rangel is mostly alone in charging the Bushies with being coup enablers (if not plotters). It's not an organized message effort. Others Dems have been critical, but not to that level.

(Notably, Kerry gets close, charging Bush with giving the rebels disincentives to compromise).

In another media era, a major charge like Rangel's would create real sparks and provoke deeper scrutiny about Bush's actions.

But today, even though the media have treated Bush more skeptically as of late, news articles appeared to largely follow the White House line, with Dem criticisms buried (W. Post), relegated to sidebars (Reuters, CNN) or left out completely (New York Times).

And overall, there is far more to this story than what the headlines indicate: that Aristide lost support and control as he turned increasingly dictatorial.

Definitively ascertaining the truth from your computer is not so simple, but these articles from Council of Hemispheric Affairs, The Nation, San Francisco Chronicle, The New Yorker, and Black Commentator may help piece it together.

Particularly interesting is the Black Commentator piece from last April, which may have foreshadowed today's events:

A few select members of [Aristide's] Lavalas party recently described ...what they view as the first phase of Washington's scheme for Haiti.

They defined its three major concurrent objectives as:

1) to create an opposition force capable of seizing power,

2) demonize Aristide and Lavalas within and without Haiti and,

3) separate the base of Lavalas from the leadership.

They may well have been right. It doesn't look like the mainstream media is going to try to find out.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Inside The Bonesmen

With John Kerry the presumptive Democratic nominee, a Bush vs. Kerry showdown in November is a foregone conclusion.

Therefore, it behooves us to consider the ramifications of the first presidential election pitting two members of Yale's famed secret society, Skull and Bones.

Fortunately, my Yale contacts are still warm and I was able to do some calling and find out a bit more about the "Bonesmen."

Through these contacts (whom I shall call "Deep Throat" and "Gag Reflex") I was able to gain access to the inner workings of one of the most powerful, secretive cabals on the planet.

And once inside the offices of Howard Fineman, I was able to find out more about the Skull and Bones Society, too!

MARK SPITTLE: Tell me a little about your time in the Skull & Bones. When were you inducted?

DEEP THROAT: I was accepted in 1965, a few years before George W. Bush, and one year before John Kerry.

GAG REFLEX: I was in 1968, the same year as Bush.

SPITTLE: What was it like?

THROAT: Well, I had been in a number of secret societies previous to that, so it wasn't anything terribly new for me. I had been in the Rosicrucians, the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Salvation Army. In comparison, the Bonesmen were amateurs.

REFLEX: He's right. A lot has been made of the society, but it really wasn't much. A dark room, lots of recitations, some masturbation.

SPITTLE: How was that different from the Salvation Army?

THROAT: The Sallies masturbated with the lights on.

REFLEX: Skull and Bones was a lot like Peepland on 42nd Street in the 70's and 80's. But no one ever credits Peepland for conspiracies.

SPITTLE: So, there's no credence to the theory that the society is bent on world domination?

THROAT: (Laughs.) Oh, no, no, no.

REFLEX: (Laughing.) Tell him about the panties! The panties!

THROAT: (Laughing.) Oh, yeah! Really, it was about panties. That's about it.

Back then panty raids were a big deal. I mean in the 50's in Yale you never saw panties. It was like the Holy Grail to see a pair of girl's panties.

REFLEX: I'm pretty sure Bill Buckley still hasn't seen any!

THROAT: (Laughs) Oh, stop. That's just wrong.

Anyway, back in the 1800's when the society was formed, Christ, to see some bloomers would have blinded you! It was really started just as a means to organize the raids on women's undergarment storage.

REFLEX: Prescott Bush, one of the more famous early Skullies, scored over 150 sets of undies in one semester. He nabbed the Society's only sanitary napkin once, back when they had belts and hooks.

That guy is a God in Bonesman history. It's said he even got laid, which was unheard of in the Society until about 1961, when the brothel opened up down the street.

SPITTLE: But the society developed more sinister ambitions after that?

THROAT: Well, sort of. This was Yale, after all, and some of the lads were pretty clever and very well organized. Eventually it took on more structure.

REFLEX: Yeah, the arrival of the hookers really changed the Society. The whole "panty panache" was gone, and the guys needed a focus.

They toyed around with world domination for about a week, but I guess that reputation stuck in the minds of the general public. But really it was a quick phase.

SPITTLE: What replaced it?

REFLEX: Copyright law.

SPITTLE: Yikes!

THROAT: Yeah, the Yalies were smart. World domination sounded so melodramatic, so James Bond. But they had the ambition for it, so they figured out an easier way to accomplish much of the same thing without all the work. Hubert Humphrey had a lot to do with that.

SPITTLE: Does the Society have anything to do with the music industry's lawsuits against internet file sharers?

REFLEX: Of course! Duh! I mean, who else would do anything so obviously craven?

SPITTLE: Tell me about Bush's experiences in those days. What kind of Bonesman was he?

THROAT: Well, not a very good one. He only got into the Society because of his connections.

SPITTLE: Ahh, his father...

THROAT: No, he knew a guy who had the keys to the back door of the beer distributor down town. He was so obnoxious that even his father's connections couldn't land him in Yale. It all came to down to access to booze.

REFLEX: He got very powerful very fast, though.

SPITTLE: How so?

REFLEX: Well, as you know, Bonesman are forced to admit their most personal, humiliating sexual experiences to their fellows. That information is used by the other Bonesmen to keep that guy in line, even into late adulthood.

THROAT: Yeah, the problem was, Dubya was so obnoxious, so ill-mannered, and had such poor hygiene that he didn't have any sexual exploits to admit to. That made him the most powerful Bonesman ever.

REFLEX: Who would've thought being an ugly, stupid ass that no girl would go near would work for a guy?!

SPITTLE: What about Kerry?

THROAT: Kerry was never much liked. He was always a bit pompous, a bit off-putting.

REFLEX: Good panty man, though.

THROAT: Yeah, he managed to revive the panty raids. At least for a few years.

REFLEX: Great panty man.

THROAT: But the problem with Kerry is that you never knew where he stood.

SPITTLE: Ahh, you mean his reputation as a man whose principles are derived from political convenience went as far back as Yale?

THROAT: No, I mean literally. You never knew where he stood. He wouldn't follow directions.

We'd be having a ritual, some kind of group masturbation or something, and the leader would say, "Kerry, stand over here," and he'd be off in some other direction. It's really annoying when you've got a group of thirty naked kids with boners trying to get organized and you've got this one guy who can't take direction.

REFLEX: I don't think Ol' Willy ever forgave Kerry for that one time!

THROAT: (Laughs.) No, I don't either! Talk about your "close encounter!"

SPITTLE: But, tell me, do you think that their association with the Bonesmen in any way helps their ability to rule the free world? Or does it hurt it?

THROAT: I'd say it helps.

REFLEX: Oh, sure.

SPITTLE: Why so?

THROAT: The Society prepares you for a world of sick, perverted, devious behaviors motivated by lust, greed and avarice.

REFLEX: Right, but since a lot of guys don't make it into the NFL, it makes for great Washington training, too, which isn't a bad consolation prize.

SPITTLE: Are their any current Bonesmen that we should be watching out for?

THROAT: Dave Polotska, Bonesman '99. Great speaker, impeccable grades, and because he was in a car accident that left him a eunuch, completely impervious to the control of other Bonesmen. A real independent force.

REFLEX: I'd put my money on Foxworth Tannhauser, Bonesman '02. Kid's got a lot of heart, and his family's connected not only with Ahmed Chalabi and Harmid Karzai, but also John Major and even the Montoya Colombian drug family.

To top it off, he's focusing his post-grad work in intellectual property law, and he's been romantically linked to Nicky Hilton. This kid's got it going on.

SPITTLE: No women?

THROAT: ...you're kidding, right?

REFLEX: Jeesh, talk about your stupid questions, Mark.

**************

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